Belief in the existence of monstrous races of human beings was central to medieval thinking, although almost everything about them was open to debate and discussion. The only characteristic universally agreed upon was that they were always to be found far away, beyond the borders of the world as it was then known. Almost as common were references to the physical deformities of the monstrous races: there were gigantic races and tiny races, those with extremities misshapen, missing, enlarged, or multiplied, and every variety of human/animal hybrid.
Detail of a miniature of the allegorical personifications of Friendly Expression and Courteous Manner, catching flighty hearts in their net; from Pierre Sala, Petit Livre d’Amour, France (Paris and Lyon), c. 1500, Stowe MS 955, f. 13r.
“References to the relationship between Pierre and Marguerite are all over the book. The initials M and P appear often in decorative borders, and are even carved into the intricate patterns adorning the book’s carrying case. The small volume could be slipped inside this protective box for Marguerite to carry it with her. The rings on the side of the box attached to chains, by which she could suspend it from her girdle.”
Detail of a miniature of Pierre Sala dropping his heart into a daisy; from Pierre Sala, Petit Livre d’Amour, France (Paris and Lyon), c. 1500, Stowe MS 955, f. 6r
Structure of the Heavens: This text was written to train scholars in the field of astronomy, a science that Islamic tradition traces back to Adam and to the Prophet Idris. The author discusses how to use the movements of the stars to calculate the beginning of the seasons and how to cast horoscopes, among many other aspects of astronomy. Displayed is a diagram demonstrating the rotation of the heavens. Nasir al-Din Abu al-Abbas Ahmad ibn al-Hajj al-Amin al-Tawathi al-Ghalawi. Kashf al-Ghummah fi Nafa al-Ummah (The Important Stars Among the Multitude of the Heavens), copied 1733. Loaned by the Mamma Haidara Commemorative Library, Timbuktu, Mali (1)