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Medieval Perceptions Of The Natural World

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Chapter Summary

Medieval Europe is most commonly envisioned as a world of farms, fields and villages tucked in among woodlands and wastelands. Whales had a defined place in the medieval world. Medieval perceptions of whales relied on classical precursors. The Greeks and later the Romans were hyperaware of their environment particularly because the natural world rustled with deities and supernatural forces that demanded and deserved their respect. Medieval attitudes towards the natural world have been more oversimplified than the classical, homogenized and distorted into a sort of virulent anthropocentric hubris. The fusion of classical, pagan and Christian thought is well observed in accounts of whale encounters, magical, monstrous, and mundane. The two categories of whales of the medieval seas, the monstrous and the mundane, were not seen as incompatible. Whales were simultaneously familiar and foreign. The complexity in perception makes whales conceptually challenging within the understanding of the natural world.

Keywords: Christian; Europe; Greeks; medieval perceptions; natural world; Romans; whales



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