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Lertices and Blemmyae from the 'Marvels of the East', in a Scientific Miscellany

Lertices and Blemmyae from the 'Marvels of the East', in a Scientific Miscellany

Medium: Ink and pigments on vellum

Date: 1040

Shelfmark: Cotton MS Tiberius B V

Item number: f.82r

Genre: Illuminated manuscript

While the Anglo-Saxons understood natural science within a framework of Christian doctrine, it represented a secular facet of their knowledge. This manuscript contains a calendar, a map of the world, astronomical materials, and a 'Marvels of the East' (on the strange inhabitants of other parts of the world). Written in Old English and Latin, it is one of the most lavishly illustrated secular books of the early middle ages. Nonetheless, its origins are not easily determined. Its features point to Canterbury, Winchester and Gloucester, with current opinion supporting Christ Church, Canterbury. How it was used is unknown: it is so unique nothing compares with it. In the 12th century it belonged to the library of Battle Abbey. One of the most entertaining if not interesting 'scientific' treatises of the early middle ages, the 'Marvels of the East' draws upon ancient Greek and Roman traditions of writing on the exotic inhabitants of foreign lands. In the middle ages, such treatises were popular and nearly always illustrated, although not always so lavishly as in this manuscript which shows two creatures on each page. Here are the lertices, which have asses' ears, sheep's wool and birds' feet, and the famous blemmyae, eight-foot square, headless men with eyes and mouths in their breasts. The one depicted seems to show off his prehensile feet as well.

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