The Medieval Review 10.09.16

Bailey, Lisa, Lindsay Diggelmann, Kim M. Phillips. Old Worlds, New Worlds: European Cultural Encounters, c. 1000-c. 1750. Late Medieval and Early Modern Studies. Turnhout: Brepols, 2009. Pp. x, 210. $90 ISBN 978-2-503-53132-8. .

Reviewed by:

Ingrid Baumgrtner
ibaum@uni-kassel.de

This volume, with sixteen black and white illustrations, examines cultural encounters between Europe and other parts of the world from around 1000 to the middle of the eighteenth century in a wide range of topics and perspectives. The aim is to show the diversity of Western responses to new people and unknown places as well as to forced and voluntary encounters within and beyond colonial contexts. At the same time, the editors look at the impact of these discoveries upon the formation of Europe and reconsider the recent theoretical approaches in this field. The authors develop the argumentation on three very broad levels: first, the temporal dimension, that is the period from 1000 to 1750; second, the spatial setting, that is the geographical area from the Americas to Australia and Tahiti, from the Mediterranean (Sicily, Cyprus) to China; and third, the approaches of different disciplines which are derived from the type of analysed sources (for example, travel reports, maps, artefacts, geographies, historiographies, philosophical treatises and utopian literature). In their introduction the editors (1-9) emphasize the potentially wide range of disciplines involved in this enterprise and the necessity to abandon artificial separations, like periods or regions. According to the editors, the consequences of real and imaginary journeys could be productive and destructive, but in any case created new ideas about race, ethnicity and human nature.

Nine experts on medieval and early modern cultural encounters offer reflections on concrete examples. They all share the belief that such encounters must be interpreted within their individual political, social and intellectual contexts, that texts tell us more about European practices of representation than about the inhabitants of foreign worlds, and that misunderstandings and prejudices started within the European world itself. The significant results of the articles can only briefly summarized.

The article of Lindsay Diggelmann ("Of Grifons and Tyrants: Anglo-Norman Views of the Mediterranean World during the Third Crusade," 11-30) analyses the clash of cultures between the Crusaders' armies of Richard I of England and of Philip II of France on the way to the Holy Land in 1190/91 and the Greek populations of Sicily as well as of Cyprus. A few descriptions of eyewitnesses like Roger of Howden's chronicle and Ambroise's poem Estoire de la guerre sainte demonstrate the cultural and ethnic views on the Greek population, disparagingly called "Grifons." Built on earlier negative stereotypes, the Anglo-Norman authors denigrated the Greeks as inadequate, unmanly, treacherous and emotionally instable. Even the portrayal of Isaac Comnenos, the self-styled emperor of Cyprus, as an arrogant and insolent tyrant was part of the strategy to reinforce the crusaders' superior masculinity. Diggelmann convinces the reader that these prejudices inform us more about the values of the crusading society than about the nature of the Greeks in the two islands. For the Anglo-Normans they remained "effeminate Grifons" in spite of the complexity of their societies and the ability of their individuals.

The article of Christopher MacEvitt ("The King, the Bishop, and the Dog who Killed Him: Canine Cultural Encounters and Medieval Armenian Identity," 31-51) reveals the transformations of Armenian historiography from the eleventh to the fourteenth century. During this time the Armenians established the Kingdom of Cilicia (1080-1375) after the conquest of their homeland and had to create a new identity based on the experience of exile. The story of a Byzantine archbishop who was eaten by his own dog, a murdered Armenian king, and the act of revenge became a symbol for this search. Over the centuries, different authors changed the narrative according to their purposes and intentions. By analysing four chronicles, MacEvitt can explain how modifications of the text allowed Armenians to come to terms with the Byzantine Empire which was the target of old resentments but at the same time the embodiment of an ideal; they also helped to form the Armenian community and to strengthen its Christian faith.

On the basis of anthropological studies Kim M. Phillips ("Oriental Sexualities in European Representation, c. 1245-c. 1500," 53-74) explores the representations of Far Eastern sexualities in late medieval travel reports from the first Franciscans John of Plano Carpini and William of Rubruck to later travellers like Nicol de'Conti. Examining the use of erotic themes as a criterion for the perception of differences, she establishes three categories of travellers and reports: first the diplomats, who inform about Asian people; second the missionaries, who do not mention sexual habits; and third merchants and imaginative voyagers like Marco Polo and Mandeville, who tried to satisfy the hunger of the European reader for wonder and curiosity.

For voyagers and writers the encounter could be a double one, a physical encounter with new lands and a literary one by reading and transforming previous texts. Heather Dalton ("Fashioning New Worlds from Old Words: Roger Barlow's A Brief Summe of Geographie, c. 1541," 75-97) shows how the travelling merchant Roger Barlow created his cosmographical narrative which was the first English description of the Tupi-Guaraní world in southern Amazonia. Barlow translated the Castilian Suma de geographia, published by Martin Fernández de Enciso in Sevilla 1519. He inserted additional material from Varthema and other accounts of cannibalism and mixed it with his own assumptions and aspirations on foreign behavior that he thought his readers would consider deviant. In this way, the work reveals more about himself and sixteenth-century Europe than about overseas fauna, people, and customs.

Daniel R. Brunstetter ("Old World Philosophy in a New World: From Natural Slave to Natural Man," 99-118) argues convincingly that the unexpected discovery of the Amerindians caused deep reflections on the nature of man and humanity. According to him, the validity of traditional categories of medieval Aristotelian philosophy was challenged and led to a new concept of human nature. Brunstetter focuses on Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda and Michel de Montaigne, two thinkers with divergent ideas. The first viewed the Amerindians as natural slaves; the political consequence was that the "superior" Spanish had to conquer and dominate the "inferior" Amerindian. The second saw them instead as the epitome of natural man; the conclusion was to look at the cannibals as a potential source of good qualities, as an example of innocence and virtue, and to criticize the Europeans as conquistadors who represented the human evil. Brunstetter claims that the radical divergence of the two philosophical ideas and the construction of the two faces of human nature marked the beginning of modernity.

Another reaction to the practises of the New World is shown by Karen Jillings ("'As much desired as it was wonderer at': Old World Encounters with New World Tobacco," 119-138). She concentrates on the reception of tobacco as a paradigm of cross-cultural exchange in the sixteenth and the beginning of the seventeenth centuries. Her analysis of contemporary descriptions reveals that its distribution in the European society was amazingly successful, even if the novel product was linked to Amerindian spiritual activity and demonized. To smoke tobacco became popular because of its broad appeal, including joyful intoxication and seductive addictiveness, while also being nourishment for the poor and having therapeutic values. Thus, the encounter challenged and confirmed Old World habits.

Looking at the notion of physiognomic differences in seventeenth- century travel reports, Mark S. Dawson ("Humouring Racial Encounters in the Anglo-Atlantic, c. 1580-1720," 139-161) explores the discussions on the significance of the body and the development of racism. He demonstrates that the English used bodily signs for a status-based classification and discrimination of new people, while the practices of physiognomy were dominated by the English view of their own social elite. Only in the later seventeenth century did skin gain more importance, while bodily signs lost their relative meaning. Thus, racism as a modern phenomenon was developed later than we would expect. Other bodily signs are the starting point for a utopian satire: Nicholas Keen ("Hermaphrodites in the New World: Gabriel de Foigny and Terra Incognita Australis," 163-181) examines the narrative about the young hermaphrodite Nicolas Sadeur, who was shipwrecked in Australia and discovered a land of bi-sexed creatures like himself. The description of their civilized and rational behavior and their profound education is a harsh critique of the European society.

In her careful analysis, Mercedes Maroto Camino ("Mission to Tahiti: Cultural Translations in Eighteenth-Century Spanish Journals and Coastal Views," 183-210 with 16 figures) examines the two voyages by Domingo de Boenechea to Tahiti between 1772 and 1775. In this case, multiple sources like objects, maps and narratives from both sides allow the author to trace different perspectives of a unique cross- cultural encounter. The version of Máximo Rodríguez, a young Peruvian sailor, who learned Tahitian, lets us understand the capability of the Tahitians to incorporate foreign knowledge and how it contrasted with the assumed superiority of the Europeans. Juan Pantoja y Arriga's account is proof of cultural relativism. The role of the native informant makes the picture less asymmetrical and creates a kind of "contact zone," even when the Spanish-Tahitian exchange never was reciprocal and geographical maps as well as narrative views were inextricably linked to European colonial strategy.

On the whole, this erudite and well-grounded anthology shows how encounters between different worlds could reinforce or change pre- existing categories of cultural understanding. As a result, it seems necessary to use pluralistic concepts of Old and New Worlds. Furthermore, the volume offers many different examples of today's research on the cultural history of travel and European expansion. The authors illustrate in great detail the high potential of the material. A list of contributors and an index (213-217) will serve as a helpful point of orientation. Therefore, the book can be recommended as a stimulating compilation of source-oriented studies.