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From Rome to the antipodes: the medieval form of the world

The Terrestrial Sphere of Crates of Mallus (ca. 150 B.C.).From Rome to the antipodes: the medieval form of the world

By Amelia Carolina Sparavigna

International Journal of Literature and Arts, Vol.1:2 (2013)

Abstract: Here we discuss how some medieval scholars in the Western Europe viewed the form of the world and the problem of the Antipodes, starting from the Natural History written by Pliny the Elder and ending in the Hell of the Divina Commedia, written by Dante Alighieri. From the center of the Earth, Dante and Virgil ascend to the Antipodes: eventually, their existence was accepted. Among the others, we will discuss the works of Bede, Gerbert of Aurillac who became Pope Silvester II, and Robert Grosseteste.

Introduction: The most commonly given date for the beginning of the Middle Ages is 476 AD, when Romulus Augustus, emperor of the western part of the Roman Empire, was deposed by Odoacer. The end of the Middle Ages is coincident, depending on the popular context, on specific events such as for instance, the Christopher Columbus’s first voyage in 1492.

 

In fact, the crisis of the Western Roman Empire started a century before the deposition of Romulus Augustus, when a large number of Goths crossed the Danube River, the Eastern border of the Empire. The deposition of the last roman emperor had as a consequence that the empire was scattered among the conquerors. After a century from their coming, Theodoric the Great (454–526 AD) became king of the Ostrogoths and regent of the Visigoths, sovereign of a large part of the western roman territories. It was a period of religious struggle among Christians and against Pagans. However, within his kingdom, Theodoric allowed Roman citizens to be under the Roman law. The Goths, meanwhile, lived under their own customs.

At the end of the reign of Theodoric, some quarrels arose with the Byzantine emperor and the relations deteriorated. After Theodoric’s death, the kingdom of the Ostrogoths began to wane and it was conquered by the Byzantine Empire. We have to wait until the kingdom of Charlemagne (800 AD) to see the rise of a Roman Empire again.

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