Article

Travel and Travelers

James Muldoon

in Medieval Studies

ISBN: 9780195396584
Published online December 2010 | | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/obo/9780195396584-0102
Travel and Travelers

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  • Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500)
  • Literary Studies (Early and Medieval)
  • Medieval and Renaissance Philosophy
  • Byzantine and Medieval Art (500 CE to 1400)
  • Anglo-Saxon and Medieval Archaeology

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There is a common belief that medieval men and women lived their lives within a narrow geographical and psychological space, the village and the neighboring fields for the most part. According to this opinion, it was not until the Renaissance and the voyages of Columbus and those who followed him that Europeans became aware of the wider world around them and shed the blinders that had constrained them for centuries. What makes this opinion so at odds with medieval reality is that one of the most famous and widely read pieces of medieval literature, Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, deals with the travels of a group of medieval Christians who range from a crusading knight to farm laborers, individuals representing a cross section of the middling levels of 14th-century English society. Merchants, crusaders, missionaries, pilgrims, exiles, and others motivated by simple restless curiosity traveled around Europe, to the edges of the Christian world, and then all the way to China and India and, sailing westward, to North America. Travel and travel imagery also played an important role in Christian life. The Bible begins with the creation of the world, traces the course of God’s involvement with his people over time, and concludes with the end of the world, the ultimate goal of mankind as defined by the Creator. The life of the individual Christian is a pilgrimage within this context, the movement of the soul to union with God, a microcosm of this larger narrative. It is no coincidence that the most famous work of medieval literature, Dante’s Divine Comedy, was cast as a travel tale.

Article.  11448 words. 

Subjects: Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500) ; Literary Studies (Early and Medieval) ; Medieval and Renaissance Philosophy ; Byzantine and Medieval Art (500 CE to 1400) ; Anglo-Saxon and Medieval Archaeology

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