Perceptions of Hot Climate in Medieval Cosmography and Travel Literature
By Irina Metzler
Reading Medieval Studies, Vol.23 (1997)
Introduction: This article is an attempt to examine bow climate, especially hot weather in exotic locations, was viewed by European travellers and writers in the middle ages. Of course, hot weather, especially bot summers, were not unknown in the Europe of the medieval period. One has only to think of ‘the little optimum of the middle ages [which] caused Europe to experience various gusts of warmth, and even sometimes great heat’.
The interests of this article, however, concern the response to the differences in temperature perceived by medieval travellers when they journeyed to foreign climes, to the south and to the east of the known world of medieval Europe, and bow the climate was seen to affect the inhabitants in those places, both in the writings of actual observers (travellers) and in the texts of those evaluating and commenting on natural phenomena (scholastics and other non-travelling authors).
Most of the sources I have used can be found in the accounts of Marco Polo, travelling to China and East Asia between 1271 and 1292, Odoric of Pordenone who visited almost the same regions a little later between 1318 and 1330, and the highly popular travelogue by the author known as Sir John Mandeville, who compiled his fictional account from the corpus of travel literature available to him around 1356, drawing heavily on Odoric amongst others; texts by other authors I have used are provided with references and details in the notes as they occur.
Medieval Europeans did of course have some knowledge of East Asia and of China prior to Marco Polo’s travels there, and several of these now not so well-known travellers and authors directly or indirectly influenced the picture of the world the better-known travellers bad, especially the subsumption of Greek geographical and cosmographical theories via the translation of Arabic authorities into western European science.