03.03.11, Kline, Maps of Medieval Thought; Kline, Wheel of Memory

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Dan Connolly

The Medieval Review baj9928.0303.011


Kline, Naomi Reed. Kline, Naomi Reed, ed.. Maps of Medieval Thought: The Hereford Paradigm. A Wheel of Memory: The Hereford Mappamundi. Woodbridge, UK: Ann Arbor, MI: Boydell Press, University of Michigan Press, 2001. 2002. Pp. xiv, 261. Pp. CD-ROM. ISBN: 0-85115-602-9.
ISBN: 0-472-00274-0.

Reviewed by:
Dan Connolly
Western Michigan University

It is unfortunate that this book and CD-Rom do not accompany each other as a single product, for the contents of each are so nicely complementary. What the book lacks in imagery or in details of the Hereford map are wonderfully present in the CD; and the specifics of research and scholarly apparatuses are, conversely, located in the book. But while the interdependence of these projects bespeaks their unitary genesis, their publication as separate products, as well as their different audiences, requires individual treatment by the reviewer.

The Hereford mappamundi is a monument of medieval ideas of space and time, or perhaps more specifically, of medieval ideas of history and its arrangement on the surface of this world. It is a richly textured and extremely wrought confection of what its makers knew not only about geography -- for that is but one avenue of inquiry into medieval cartography in general -- but also about how creation itself is both a mystery and riddle awaiting theological solution. At a basic level, then, the mappamundi is a kind of spatialized encyclopedia/miscellany that brings together seemingly disparate bits of information and lore, presenting it all as an "estoire," as one of its more than one-thousand inscriptions states. It seems then, almost of necessity, to lack any sort of programmatic structure; but like an encyclopedia, its various and heterogeneous entries could lead the researcher off into the most arcane and obscure corners of medieval life and thought. Naomi Kline's new book rightly, I think, approaches this daunting task by taking on a limited number of themes, which nonetheless give an accurate picture of the map's rich contents. An otherwise deeply researched and interesting book, however, is marred by a lack of organizational clarity and a frustrating lack of details of the map itself. In part, one can understand that the latter arose from conflicts between the two different publishers of these materials -- the scholarly book, and the more broadly conceived CD-Rom. Rearranging the order of some of the book's materials or even chapters would have alleviated somewhat the former.

Kline begins with the promising question of how this unique survivor -- though not, we know, unique production -- from the Middle Ages would have been perceived and remembered in a culture where literacy was prized, though not readily available. And in so doing, she wants to weave interpretations from the threads of experience that medieval viewers would have had of the map, either as a 'picture' of the world, or as a 'portrait' of their conception of the world, the latter of which she means to consider from within the personal context of artistic memory and medieval thought. But rather than explore how medieval systems of memory would have helped to build a personal 'portrait' of the world, Kline spends far more time investigating the structures of the map's visual hierarchy and how that influenced and determined its reception. There is very little in the way of memory at work here.

The book is broken down into four parts, and each part is introduced with a schematic of that portion of the map under discussion. The schematic identifies and numbers the legends discussed in that part. This schematic, and the color plate at the beginning, are the only images of the map; there are no details. Transcriptions and translations follow the schemas. One should be aware that Kline does not discuss every feature of the map, or provide all of its texts.[[1]] Part I emphasizes the ubiquity of circles in medieval diagrammatic visual culture, to which the illiterate might presumably have had some access whereby to seek associations with the map. The circle is, for Kline, the medieval container of concepts par excellence, and would have been the most fundamental design sought out for comparison. Part II examines the painted pictorial frame of the map, which provided information about the patron, his intentions, as well as historical sources and contexts for the map as a whole. Additionally, the information in the frame provides a constant reference point for the contents of the map within the inner circle. Part III moves to the interior of the map, breaking down its various geographies into selective categories and their visual and textual sources. Part IV takes some of her ideas and conclusions and explores them in other maps and their frames.

Although Kline begins with the notion of audience reception, she does not dwell on its articulation, but moves to a more straight-forward search for the sources and comparanda of the concepts of the map. It is here that I would have wished to read her last section first. But as it is, Part I becomes an exploration of the uses and meanings of circles in medieval diagrammatic materials, a discussion in which the availability of these strategies to lay audience, for whom Kline builds her interpretation, is lacking. World maps, argues Kline, functioned within the larger family of cosmological rotae, in which encyclopedic knowledge was often ascertained as what she calls "wheels of memory." These cosmological rotae were transmitted through the fairly learned environment of monastic textbook illustration, though the extent to which they functioned as mnemonic devices is not made clear. Here, one would have liked a more sustained discussion of medieval memory systems, one that incorporated more the fundamental work of Mary Carruthers. But the positive value of this section lies in the wealth of visual materials that Kline brings to bear upon the general scheme of mappae mundi, not only in their circularity, but in their design of concentric regions as possible parallels of medieval ways of visually mapping out knowledge. Rotae, Wheels of Fortune, and the Rose Window from the Cathedral of Lausane set the stage for a discussion of Hereford's map, whose frame, it is argued, participated in that same concentricity of cosmological knowledge; and it is with the understanding that the frame will form a controlling interpretive strategy for the whole of the map, that Kline only gives the briefest of visual analysis of the map itself, which is unfortunate, since she had proved so able an interpreter of the far more recalcitrant diagram.

In part 2, Kline begins an investigation into the outer frame of the map (that area surrounding the outer wheel discussed above); this area is filled with dedicatory inscriptions of the donor/patron, references to Caesar's historical survey of the world, and, above, a fairly complex image of the Last Judgment. The texts, she notes, are in the more accessible language of Anglo-Norman, and so may have acted as a kind of frame for the audience's eventual perusal of the interior. (This is a recurring strategy for Kline -- nearly all of the content of the map is interpreted in light of this literally over-arching image). Considering each of these in their contexts, Kline interprets these passages as movements in time, from an historical past, to the present of the donor's life, to the future of the Last Judgment. And, like the movement of passing underneath so many tympana of church portals that also contained images of the Last Judgment, so Christ above this image of the world similarly inaugurates movement into the map itself, what Kline calls a "visual journey." While laudable in its interpretive dimension, the attempt to retrieve her previous ideas of memory and memory devices falls short in this section, and again it is for a lack of theoretical engagement with those issues of memory and medieval memory systems. It may not be enough simply to state that rotae or architecture were tools of memory, and then compare them to the map, and not come to an understanding of how memory systems themselves operated in medieval learned culture.

Kline situates the map in the north transept of Hereford Cathedral, inside its putative altarpiece-like frame, the recording of which John Carter made in his 1770 drawings of the monuments of English cultural heritage. In those drawings, the mappamundi sits as the central panel of a triptych, whose side doors showed a scene of the Annunciation, the archangel Gabriel on the left, and Mary on the right. In this fairly public space, accessible to the pilgrims who visited the shrine of Bishop Thomas Cantilupe, the mixture of religious and secular ideas would have been read by, and perhaps, taught to assembled audiences. The placement of a map inside an altarpiece raises the perplexing issue of whether there were cultic practices ever associated with this or any other map. Kline weighs in on the negative side of that issue, and instead suggests that its retable like frame was a convenient case for its display -- although one can imagine the thematic relationships established in this setting between the map as an image of creation and the moment of the Incarnation.

But that public display does broaden the likely audience for the map to include those who read French and Latin, as well as those who may have been read to or who were simply used to looking at medieval imagery and its layout. And herein lies one of the strengths of Kline's book. Her concern for the reception of the map and the context or visual culture, by which the map would have made sense, opens up the inquiry to include viewing and interpreting practices or strategies encouraged by the public display of this richly decorated and multi-lingual artifact. And while she is not always successful in the articulation of specific strategies, she nonetheless manages to outline the manner in which so complex an imagery could take on meanings.

Part 3 launches us into the world of the medieval bestiary, really the core of the book, and the true focus of Kline's interest. Although she continues to use the vaguely defined ideas of experiential memory, it is not clear what that is or how it operated. In trying to tease the classical origins of animal representation, referenced on the map itself, from the understanding that a viewer would have of the map, Kline turns to the imagery and popular lore of the Bestiary as the intellectual filter through which the map was viewed. But this central premise does not seem to hold, especially in her discussion of the elephant. For while loaded with interesting anecdotes about their proximity to Paradise and their reluctance to mate, her discussion is not able to convince the reader of a connection between these details and the depiction of the elephant on the map and its relatively sparse text; the elephant, in fact, is placed by the Bestiary in India, looking away from Paradise, and, as she states, the Hereford Map overlooks those aspects entirely. What Kline seems to be arguing is that, regardless of authorial intent, the reception of the map's imagery would have called for such associative leaps by its audience since precisely so little information is given about this, or any other animal. And for most viewers, those associative leaps would necessarily have depended upon the memories of lectures or sermons heard, and, so one gathers, viewing and coming to grips with the contents of the map was a process of "experiential memory." It is unfortunate that this interpretive strategy, so central to Kline's project is not set out more clearly and earlier in the book. For the Bestiaries she examines do indeed seem to hold many of the elements that would have equipped a medieval viewer with the building blocks of a strategy to make sense of the map: discussion of the various animals and monstrous races, circular diagrams that foregrounded the totality of creation, stories of Genesis and even a map of the world. Her discussion of the Bestiary as a primary tool of comprehending the Hereford is the most important and sets out most clearly the themes and strategies of her book; it might have been better to have given it greater priority in the book.

"The World of Strange and Monstrous Races" only very briefly discusses what modern viewers have probably come to understand as the most emblematic of a medieval map's content -- those familiar examples of geographical lore like the dog-headed race of people (Cynocephali), the race of headless people with eyes in the chest (the Blemyae) and other assorted deformities. While her notes make clear that Solinus is once again the likely main source for these and other fantastical assemblages, Kline argues that a medieval audience would have read these races through the lens of the Wonders of the East, which provided, one gathers, a more popular and available compendium of medieval ethnography. And yet there is an unfortunate lacuna of visual comparisons that could convince the reader that a medieval audience would themselves have seen the links that Kline suggests. Ultimately, Kline reads this theme, as she has with many other, as reflective of the visual hierarchies created by the outer frame. The strange and monstrous races are here Christianized by their inclusion and subordination to the Latin West's standards of figural proportions, epitomized in the hierarchically placed scene of the Last Judgment.

"The World of Alexander" and "The World of the Bible and the Crusades" round out Kline's exploration of the subject matter of the Hereford map. Her main concern seems to be an explanation of the strategies by which the audience would have understood this material. And yet because those inscriptions and images are strewn across the surface of the map, interspersed amidst the various beasts and monsters already discussed, reading about Alexander is at best a disjointed, intermittent encounter with this classical hero. Kline again turns to the wheel, this time the Wheel of Fortune, as the controlling metaphor through which to view Alexander's historical events. Crusading and biblical stories are given equally sparse treatment in the final chapter of this section. The image of Jerusalem at the center of the Hereford map repeats certain key features of the "Situs Jerusalem" maps which accompanied crusader accounts. For Kline, this sets up an integral opposition between that which lies at the center -- the goal of the crusades -- and that at the edge -- monstrous races in need of conversion. Maps and crusading can be thematically related in their drive to acquire that which they depict. In the end, however, (and as Kline repeatedly states), it was left to the individual viewer to make connections between the sometimes disparate material presented by the map and its (her) contexts.

The final section of the book, Part IV, returns to the framework of the map, this time, however, Kline looks at the cartographic contexts in which the Hereford map seems to participate. It is peculiar that this section comes last, since art-historical studies usually begin with the question of the form of the object under investigation and then proceed from that to the contexts in which to find possible answers. The situation of the image of Christ within, behind or extending from the space of the world is key visual structure whose analogue in the Hereford map is the scene of the Last Judgment. With this sort of building block set out earlier in the book, Kline's study would have benefited from reference to these antecedents or comparanda as the key ingredients of a visual culture that informed the production and receptions of the map. Although it made for a nice symmetry to come full circle, as it were, and return to the frame as the guiding principle of the study, the reader of this book may feel like he too has gone in circles.

It is unfortunate, as well, that the CD-Rom does not accompany the book, for it presents nearly all of the image details that are wanting in the book's discussion of the map's contents. The CD-Rom, however, has a far different audience in mind, one more general, less scholarly. I can well imagine using the CD for the classroom or as independent assignments to undergraduates. In addition, the kind of associative reasoning adumbrated in her book gain a greater presence precisely for the abundance of imagery provided. Plus, the kind of perusal encouraged in the electronic presentation, a quick scanning and clicking and jumping back and forth may have been just the sort of paratactic reading encouraged by the encyclopedic nature of the map itself. Medieval chant layered over deep, resounding bass drums doesn't hurt either.

The CD opens quite dramatically, and will doubtless capture the attention and imagination of a classroom. It is very clearly laid-out in organization, displaying the same major sections and substantive chapters as the book: a section on Wheels and rotae, one on other mappaemundi, the artifact of the map and its historical context, and on the frame as an interpretive tool. The subject matter of the map is divided again into different "worlds": animals, strange races, Alexander the Great, the Bible, and the Crusades. The CD's commentary and content, in fact, so closely track the book's that one gathers that the book is an elaboration of the CD. But whereas that organization in the linear journey of a book depends upon sustained narrative and argument, in the CD, you get to jump around some. And that too is both fun and encouraged by the various hypertexts. Within any given section or sub-section, clicking on highlighted words and phrases brings up explanatory texts or glossary entries. Drop down menus and ancillary lists or highlighted parts of the map can also lead on to different parts of a given section. In fact, one quickly loses one's "way" in exploring what leads on to what. But like any well planned web-page, there are "back" buttons and a "home" page that can keep you anchored in the otherwise dizzying array of information.

Two new additions to the book's content are worth highlighting: an additional chapter on the "World of Geography," which lays out the various parts of the map -- the continents, seas, oceans, mountains, rivers, islands, etc. Also, and perhaps most useful to scholars and students, is the database, which allows you to explore all of the map, its inscriptions and images and gives transcriptions and translations, as well as commentary and bibliography. Although the mechanics of the database is a little confusing -- since you cannot zoom in on any given item in the map and access that database entry, but must first browse and then take note the region, city or particular entry, which you then look up in the database. Nonetheless, the wealth of both textual and visual information and its ease and multi-media interactivity make the CD, I think, a great addition to a growing arsenal of teaching materials that can make the medieval world come alive for today's students.

[[1]] For that more thorough treatment, see Scott Westrem's recent transcriptions and translations, which however, does not provide much in the way of interpretation of the visual materials, their sources or their meanings (see Scott D. Westrem, The Hereford Map [Turnhout, 2001]).

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Author Biography

Dan Connolly

Western Michigan University