Debunking the Middle Ages

Ever since (and before) he directed "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" with Terry Gilliam in 1975, Terry Jones has had a keen interest in all things medieval. Recently, I came across an episode of his "Medieval Lives" series in which he debunks a medieval myth that has been particularly persistent: the notion that people in the Middle Ages thought that the earth is flat.
As Jones shows, this was not at all true. Seafaring people from across the European continent had been well aware of the fact that high buildings, boat masts and mountains always appear first when you approach them from the sea. Only a curvature in the earth's surface could explain that. In fact, medieval scholars even imagined a range of weird creatures known collective as Antipods, who supposedly lived on the other side of the globe.
So why do we all think that medieval people believed in a flat earth? Because the 19th-century American author Washington Irving, writing a highly dramatized account of Columbus embarking for the New World, invented church officials who tried to stop Christopher from proving the heresy that the world may be round. Nothing could be further from the truth, but the lie persists to this day.

Posted by cronopio at 12:53 PM, September 28, 2005