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Pale Arts issue, September XI
Above are two maps of the same area drwn some ten centuries apart. While the modern map is the truer to geographical accuracy, the older one is truer to the values of the Middle Ages. More important to the Irish scholar who drew the world map for Bishop Sigeric was the socio-theological accuracy represented.
The Irishman's map shows the important position that the Mediterranean Sea held for Medieval people. It was the major avenue for trade and the usual means taken to reach the Holy Land, the center not only of the map but of the Crusader's and their families' thoughts. The forces of greed and devotion did manage to get mixed in those troubled times. Such is the nature of a "Holy War".
One of the most powerful forces in the exploration and mapping of the furthest reaches of the known world was the quest for Prester John. He was the fabulous Christian king of the mysterious East who would be the help needed to win back the Holy Land from the Moslems. It wasn't until several centuries later that the Portuguese missionaries discovered tht Prester John was a mistranslation of the Abyssinian title Precious Jeanam and a confusion with the Mongol king Yelutashih who fought the Turks in the middle of the Twelfth Century.
The search for the wealth both in riches and manpower of the Kingdom of Prester John extended throughout the Three Indias. This includes not only the subcontinent of Asia that we now call India but also India Ethiopie and India Eqyptii of Africa. The travellers' talesof all the strange peoples and creatures of these far-off places blended into a grand legend of the Fortunate Isles of Saint Brendan of a thousand years before, and enough to lead Columbus and Cortez on their own voyages of discovery of a New World.
Beazley, C. Raymond, Dawn of Modern Geography 900-1260 (John Murray: London, 1901)
Kirtland, John, Geographical Lore of the Time of the Crusades (Geographical Society, Concord, NH, 1925)
Newton, Arthur Percival, Travel and Travellers in the Middle Ages (Alfred Knopf, New York, NY, 1930)