Biblical, mythical, and foreign women in the texts and pictures on medieval world maps
The Hereford world map: medieval world maps and their context, (University of Chicago Press, 2006)
On the mappamundi of Hereford Cathedral, which dates back to the late thirteenth century, Richard of Holdingham or Sleaford, who is thought to have designed the map, portrayed several women who rarely receive attention. These figures can be classified as belonging to one of three types of femininity: biblical, mythical, or foreign women. All three categories manifest themselves on the map in several single figures. The first type, biblical women, is most notably embodied in Eve, who succumbed together with Adam to the snake as temptation in Paradise before both were drivenout of Eden by the angel with the flaming sword. Another biblical motif is obvious in the story about Lot’s wife,who, while fleeing, looked back at the destroyed cities of Sodom and Gomorsah on the shores of the Dead Sea and was turned into a pillar of salt. The second type, mythical women, is exemplified on the map by a mermaid west of the Greek Island of Naxos. Others include a sphinx-with feathers, a snake’s tail, and a girl’s head, shown close to the Nile, and the explicitly drawn Blemmyes, depicted with penis and vulva on the outermost edge of Africa. The third type of femininity on the map comprises the women who violate European norms of behaviour. Among them are the dominant women in India who are shown in the Far East below Paradise, as it were at the end of the world.