Desert Ecstasies

  • Michael Uebel
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


Travelers, fictional letter writers, and natural historians provide most of the material concerning the desert that was inherited directly by and incorporated into medieval writings. Fragments of the Alexander legend, such as the Epistola Alexandri ad Aristotelem, functioned as a kind of conduit through which ancient and late-antique material was transmitted to the Middle Ages. In the Alexander material, one crucial bit of knowledge passed on to medieval writers concerns the particularity of the natural world in India and in Africa, namely, the ways in which natural environments themselves seem especially productive of marvelous, utterly alien life forms. When Pliny observes that “India and Ethiopia are especially noted for wonders,” he is drawing attention to the extent to which the land itself, in these two regions, forming worlds unto themselves, breaks down the normal order of creation.2 Here are regions wherein

la nature parait…jouer avec la distinction des especes… Livrée à une fécondité inépuisable, clle s’amuse à créer de nouvelles formes, à diversifier ses oeuvres, elle s’abandonne à une séduisante et terrible anarchie

[Nature seems to be…playing with the classifications of species… Dedicated to a boundless fertility, she delights in creating new forms, in diversifying her works; she gives herself over to a seductive and terrible anarchy.]3


Social Body Smooth Space Dialectical Structure Late Thirteenth Century Renaissance Painting 
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© Michael Uebel 2005

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  • Michael Uebel

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