On Whether Man Like Monsters reported by Geographers really Exist
Aethel Fledeck, Brother of Jarrow
Northumbrian Monk of the Early Eighth Century?
Original Manuscript: 589430 -B
Translator: Edgar Rutherford
I write now of things pertaining to the pursuit of wisdom and knowledge so that brothers and laymen alike might be edified by this exercise in reason. For some decades now the brothers have taken on a task that benefits both our understandings of heaven and earth, the material and the immaterial. The rigorous effort to preserve texts from both Rome and Greece has been an experience that the brothers have taken much joy in; the contemplation of these texts has answered many questions but has perhaps left us with more queries that we could not imagine asking before we set out on this venture. A tailor from the village who often comes by the monastery to buy cabbages had asked me why we thought it worthy to devote so much time to texts written by pagans who had not come to a knowledge of the light of Christ. This tailor – a good but unlettered man – had often taken interest in the learnings of the monastery and I had joyfully relayed some of the history and geography I had obtained, especially those things which pertain to better understanding the histories of the various nations mentioned within holy scripture. I used this knowledge as a means of defending the order’s decision to copy these texts and distribute them throughout Britannia and Hibernia. I argued that these books of old did not hinder our study of the word but rather added new light and context to our studies which had been lost for centuries. Our dear tailor eventually came around and agreed. However, his contentious spirit took a hold of him once more and he put forward another question. “what about these monsters on the edge of the world? Surely you – learned monk – do not fall for such obvious fantasies?” He replied with an indomitable spirit and likeable arrogance. You see, dear brothers previously I had relayed with him stories of creatures from the far ends of the earth, dog headed men once worshipped in Egypt, ‘Blemmynes’ those headless cannibals of Maturia and Ethiopia, Giants in India, Pygmies in Africa, I had spoken to much in the excitement of previous conversations and had shown a lack of restraint which certainly was not Christ like. Nonetheless, the damage had been done but to my luck, this tailor is no superstitious heathen and had not spoken to the other town folk about it. Should the folk of Tyne learn these things, the tail spread its wings quickly and everyone from Bamburgh to Whiteby will speak ridiculous tales of monsters and cannibals. Yet this concern is not the subject of my writing, I write to answer the question of whether indeed these creatures exist.
We know that God - divinely perfect and loving – is no author of confusion and therefore why would he seek to blur the bounds between beast and man, lest the saints should not be able to identify those beings which have the spirit of a beast and live only a few years on earth before they return to the dust and the spirit of man which lives forever and is judged according to his works and faith. Man – being fallen and in need of salvation – ought to be identified clearly, so that those brethren fulfilling the commission of Christ might reach them. The Picts, Norse Men and those who dwell in the dark forests east of the Franks are lost in darkness and in sometimes appear as though they share more with beast than man, however, we know that they are still men; they meet in communes, reason together and build homes for themselves. They, though lost in the darkness of pagan ways, are men of our likeness and only those with prejudice will deny this. I am of the Angles, a people who not long ago were as savage as any Norseman or Pict and are cousins of the folk of the Eastern forests. All man is made in the image of God, we are one and all in need of Christ. Therefore, should we blaspheme and say that God has the appearance of a dog? For if a dog headed man is indeed a dog, then the dog, with its wildness and foolishness shares such characteristics with God. However, these men merely appear as dogs, and it is said that they reason among themselves, build communes and even worship primal deities. Not all of these races are beast like either, are not Giants and Pygmies merely extremes of the standard human stature. We know that Norse folk are great in height and Jews short in stature, they both are men with similar likeness but differentiating features. Should we then be surprised if there are men who radically differentiate in appearance of ourselves? Nay! Perhaps, the middle ground is this: some of these peculiar races exist and others do not. How then do we know which exist and which do not? In our holy scriptures, Joshua fought with Giants, men now seemingly long gone from the Earth. Therefore, Giants must have walked the earth in those days for the word of the Lord speaks of it! However, perhaps they no longer exist, and the stories which the geographers of old recorded are merely memories retold of a bygone era. These memories too tend to be embellished themselves as they travel across land and time. Perhaps, the dog headed men are not manlike at all and it is only exaggeration which has given them that status. Could it be possible that in the far reaches of Asia and Africa there are animals in the likeness of creatures we know who stand upright?
Yet, standing upright does not endow a beast with a soul, for our souls are the result of our reason, the body of a beast, whether it has two or four legs, has nothing to do with an ability to reason. I once read an account that a dragon in the forests of Mercia used to seek the company of travellers and merchants to speak too. This is obviously foolishness, yet even still, I would argue more for that dragon’s soul than the soul of a creature that looked like man but could not reason. For the dragon could speak in the complex tongues of men and as such had an intellect which could also comprehend good and evil. If a beast can comprehend good and evil than he is as man, a wilful being in need of Christ. It would be a good work then to send men to beasts of comprehension, because they are not really beasts at all, rather they are children of Adam, long lost in the memories of men and scattered afar from Babel. Concerning the Blemmynes if they are not men but monsters, then by eating men, they are not cannibals. If a lion devours a man, he does so as a man devours a fish, without prick of conscience for he knows he is placed on a higher ring of the worldly hierarchy, he is not a traitor to his own. What application then can be made? The tales of these creatures so reported by the great men of old should be treated with caution and discrimination. If we say they are not real, and they are, we have falsely testified of a thing in the presence of God. Perhaps, he will send one to our doorstep so that we might bring Christ to him. However, we ought not to bring the knowledge of them to the laity, lest they slip into the confusion of their forefathers. For it would seem more likely that these creatures are a fantasy in the minds of men and as such it is not worthy of much more study, lest we spend time contemplating in fallacy.
Grace and Peace be upon those who read this letter in Lindisfarne and Ripon, I and the brothers send regards. May the Spirit of Truth guide you in your meditations.