A new book called Medieval Monsters, which documents the bizarre pictures of headless men, dog demons, and other frightful and fantastical creatures that illustrated religious tomes and travelling texts from the middles ages, could provide proof that aliens have been visiting this little rock of ours longer than previously believed.
Using the British Library manuscripts as its resource, Medieval Monsters collects together the unworldly creatures which were thought to have once actually dwelt in far-flung lands and littered the undiscovered corners of the globe.
Such creatures, which wouldn’t look out of place in Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings film, were feared by sailors, and their possible existence even held sway over the minds of such legendary historic explorers as Christopher Columbus.
Academics Damien Kempf and Maria Gilbert, who complied Medieval Monsters, explained to the Daily Mail that during the fifth and the 15th century, commonly known as the Middle Ages, people questioned the significance of creatures outside of humanity.
“Medieval people believed that monstrous races lived on the edges of the world, in the recesses of the furthest mountains in the remotest islands. For some, fabulous races were against nature; for others they manifested God’s power to create different forms of life.
“Medieval writers and artists rejoiced in bringing to life these fanciful, grotesque creatures – demons, dragons, fantastic beasts, human-animal hybrids.”
The Psalter World Map, drawn in the 13th century, is key to understanding the medieval mind’s concept of the world at large.
The map depicts Christ watching over a circular earth surrounded by a vast ocean. Asia sits at the top, Europe is situated on the lower left, Africa is its neighbor, and Jerusalem takes center stage.
The Psalter World Map portrays the remote, hostile, and inhabitable places discussed by Piny the Elder, Herodotus, and other authors from antiquity, which, as the Medieval Monsters authors explained, were known as the “monstrous zone.”
“The fact that the world is round was already known in the Greco-Roman period and transmitted as such to the medieval period. The Psalter World Map, thus called because it was included in a thirteenth-century English psalter, is representative of western maps of the time, with Jerusalem located in its centre and its peripheries inhabited by monstrous creatures.
“The monstrous zone, depicted as a band of tiny orange and blue compartments, is found along the coast of Africa. Not surprisingly, it stands at the very periphery of the known world, bordering on the coldest and hottest regions.”
The monsters who stalked the Middle Ages like an ungodly plague were routinely identified by their physical deformities. Some of the creatures from the abyss would have no heads and a solitary eye situated in their chest or ears which look like arms.
So bizarre do these unfathomable creatures seem that their appearance is as alien to us now as it would be to our god-fearing ancestors. These strange specimens also boasted exotic names, such as Panotii, which translated from the Greek means “all ears.”
As Kempf and Gilbert point out, the Panotii got their name for a very good reason.
“Their ears were so large that they served as blankets on cold nights, but the Panotii were also very shy creature and they used their ears as wings to fly away from strangers.”
During his legendary voyages, Christopher Columbus always kept a copy of The Travels of Sir John Mandeville upon his person. The book, which details an English knight in the 14th century’s exploit in Ethiopia, India, China, and the Holy Land, was hugely popular at the time, and medieval society relied upon it for a rich source of geographic material.
Such books by Mandeville, Pliny, Martianus, and Marco Polo were immensely influential and filled the medieval mind with awe, wonder, and such marvels as, “People with ears so large that they cover their back; men without mouths who subsist on the smell of fruits, flowers, and roasting flesh; and cannibal humans with dogs’ heads.”
Medieval Monsters states that Mandeville’s book was filled with an abundance of freakish fiends and describes Pygmies as being both harmless and toothless.
“Instead of their mouth they have a little round hole and when they shall eat or drink, they take through a pipe or a pen or such thing, and suck it for they have no tongue.”
Although Pygmies were regarded as friendly fellows, the dog-headed Cynocepali were definitely not. Medieval soldiers were mortally afraid of these hellish hybrids of man and dog.
“They were the most popular monstrous races that allegedly inhabited the edge of the world,. Their legend may have been influenced by ancient representations of the Egyptian god Anubis, which was familiar to the ancient Greeks.
“In his fifth century BC treatise On India, the Greek writer Ctesias described the Cynocephali as creatures living in the mountains of India dressed in animal skins and communicating only by barking.”
Uniquely, unicorns were seen as the one creature alien to man that became a powerful symbol of goodness and purity in the medieval mind because they were thought to be representative of Christ.
“As early as the third century AD, the unicorn was described by Christian authors as a symbol of Christ, the horn of the unicorn symbolising the cross. Like the unicorn, Christ is irresistible and unsubjected to man.”
Although there are many proponents of the idea that ancient man interacted with ancient aliens, and thus we have such depictions that fill the pages of Medieval Monsters in the first place, the bizarre creatures which litter the book are probably not so much from out of space but products of a very zealous, extremely intolerant, and obsessively religious imagination which considered non-Christian people to be alien hybrids.
“Non-Christians or the religious ‘other’ were sometimes depicted as monsters and once converted, became human. For example, at times Norsemen were referred to as Cynocephali and once converted to Christianity, their status changed to human.”
Before his conversion to Christianity, Saint Christopher himself is described in some legends as a dog-headed pagan whose “otherness” was to be feared.
“As the Psalter World Map shows, the Monstrous Races were part of the world governed by Christ, that is, they were human beings capable of being redeemed if converted to Christianity.
“This form of ‘otherness’ is frequently expressed by depicting them as monsters – composite beings that are a mix of human anatomy, and sometimes animals and reptiles. It is not only fear that is shown in monsters, but also a lack of comprehension of foreigners and the idea that they were inferior or non-civilised.”
When a Franciscan friar from Florence named John of Marignoilli went on a papal mission to China in 1338, he reported home a distinct lack of “monsters.”
“I could never ascertain that such races of men exist [as the monsters he heard described]. Nor as reported are there people who use one foot to shade themselves. But as all the Indians commonly go naked, they are in the habit of carrying a thing like a little tent-like roof on a cane handle, which they open out at will as a protection against the sun or rain… but poets have converted this into a foot.”
As time passed, more trade routes opened, the remote corners of the world were more frequently visited, and the “monsters” who lived in the earth’s dark corners became a lot less common to the point of extinction.
Or was it more a case of the aliens simply hopping in their UFOs and returning home?
The truth is out there… somewhere!
[Images via Medieval Monsters/Daily Mail]