The Medieval Antipodes

Alison Peden looks at what the Middle Ages speculated on and thought was theologically correct about the edges of the medieval world.

Imagining unknown lands used to be the task of the cosmographer or visionary; now it engages astronomers and science fiction writers. As the known world grows ever larger, the areas beyond experience become ever more distant and exotic: forty years ago, Dan Dare's creator imagined him encountering life on Venus, but now space-heroes move in completely new dimensions.

In the Middle Ages, western scholars were confronted not only by scientific theory about the world and its unknown parts, but also by theological attitudes to it. Both considerations conditioned approaches to the idea of lands beyond the known world and the possibility of their being inhabited. Then, as explorers broke into these unknown worlds, the imagined gave way to the real, and fantasy had to move farther away still.

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