God created, according to their kinds, the sea monsters and every living creature that moves in the waters: The centrality of the monstrous in medieval maritime imagination

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Abstract

The reflection we propose to carry out here is guided by a fundamental issue: the centrality of the figure of the monster in medieval maritime imagination and the important role of the monstrous in structuring that imagination. In medieval man’s worldview, fantasy and reality, truth and the implausible had no boundaries. Everything was interconnected in a mental process resulting in the entire receiving public avidly “drinking in” information about strange and exotic things originating from places beyond the boundaries of what was known, i.e., beyond the Order and safety ensured by Christian authority. Because it is immense, unstable and above all unknown, the ocean is par excellence one of these places. And for this reason, it is also perceived as being widely inhabited by monstrous beings. Although in the late medieval period, metamorphosed by increasingly frequent experiences of the high seas and especially by a number of religious solutions which, by sacralising the ocean, enabled people to face it as well as the risk of contact with the excessive and portentous beings that inhabited it, the mental state of apprehension and fear caused by sea monsters remained until at least the last decades of modernity.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)111-138
Number of pages28
JournalLusitania Sacra
Volume40
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2021

Keywords

  • Monster
  • Middle Ages
  • Religious imagination
  • Fear
  • Ocean

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