The paper aims to discuss parallels in medieval Western and Islamic depictions of Maritime Southeast Asia and its inhabitants. The earliest Arabic accounts of the region date back to 850 A.D., while European travellers started to frequent its shores only in the 13th century. But European and Middle Eastern medieval writers seem to share similar ideas of the Archipelago, as both traditions tend to see it as a part of India and draw upon the works of classical geographers. The images of Southeast Asians in Western and Islamic medieval literature represent a blend of actual observations of travellers and stereotypical features attributed to an ‘exotic other’, the former often being interpreted in the light of the latter.
How were animal metaphors used to convey ethnic or national stereotypes in late medieval England? In this paper, I will consider their role in the portrayal of foreign peoples and also try to understand how they participated in the definition of an ‘ideal’ English character. At first sight, the use and development of an animal metaphor to characterise a foreign group or the English themselves often seems to sum up contemporary attitudes to the Stranger and to illustrate the construction of a specific English identity in relation (and opposition) to the Other. In order to carry out this research, I will rely on a wide range of sources, including romances, political poems and prophecies, chronicles and state papers. Besides, animal metaphors can often be traced back to medieval ‘reference works’, which will enable us to expose the highly stereotyped nature of medieval mentalities.
The representation of Ethiopians in Early Christian writers reflects in the Antiquity and the early Middle Ages the singular conception of alterity about people with a different skin colour. Being black was considered, in a first instance, as the colour of the Devil: this concept changes radically with the Origenes’s exegesis of the ‘I am black but lovely, daughters of Jerusalem (Sol. 1:5)’ where the blackness turns into ‘Ethiopian beauty’, and the marriage of Moses to a black Ethiopian woman: the representation of an ecumenical Church.