The world beyond England was a source of continuing curiosity for the Anglo-Saxons, as is particularly evident in this manuscript, a miscellany of historical, geographical, and astronomical material compiled in Southern England during the second quarter of the 11th century. It contains lists of popes, Christ’s disciples, Roman emperors, high priests and bishops of Jerusalem, Anglo-Saxon kings, bishops and abbots of Glastonbury, and extracts from the works of important figures such as Bede (d. 735), and the Roman authors Pliny (d. 79), Macrobius (active during the fifth century) and Cicero (d. 43 BC). There is also a calendar, and a mappa mundi or ‘map of the world’.
The book’s penultimate text is an extravagant and eclectic collection, usually known as the Marvels of the East, versions of which appear in three distinct manuscripts that survive from the early medieval period (one of which is Cotton MS Vitellius A XV). This copy of the text has lavishly illustrated parallel Latin and Old English descriptions of some 37 marvels. The creatures described include double-headed serpents, camels and elephants, dragons, and blemmyae, headless men whose faces appear in their torsos.
- Article by:
- Alixe Bovey
Men with dogs’ heads, creatures with giant feet, griffins, sirens and hellish demons can all be found in the illustrated pages of medieval manuscripts. Dr Alixe Bovey delves into the symbolic meaning of a variety of monsters to understand what they can teach us about life and belief in the Middle Ages.