Monsters and Christian Enemies

Debra Higgs Strickland examines the extraordinary demonology of medieval Christendom and the way it endowed strangers and enemies with monstrous qualities.

Western medieval Christians saw many monsters, both living and imaginary. Although very real to believers, demons and the elusive ‘Monstrous Races' did not really exist; but Jews, Muslims, Mongols, and Black Africans - all deemed 'monstrous' by the Christian majority - actually did. But not every monster was necessarily bad; holy persons and even God himself were sometimes represented as ‘monsters'. Highlighting what these disparate groups had in common from the Christian viewpoint helps explain what being a ‘monster' meant in the later Middle Ages.

The imaginary Monstrous Races, may be defined as malformed, mal-contented and misbehaving creatures believed to inhabit the periphery of the known world, primarily India, Ethiopia, and the far North. The race of Panotii, for example, whose name means ‘all ears' were believed to possess ears so large they could sleep in them. The Cynocephali, or Dogheads, communicated only by barking. The Blemmyai were headless and had their faces on their chests. The Sciopods, although one-legged, were very swift and used their single large feet as parasols.

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