Here Be Monsters

To Roman citizens, the place to be was a Roman city or villa. The pagus, the uncultivated countryside, inevitably suggested discomfort and hardship. The inhabitants of the pagus – pagani, or pagans – were country bumpkins, rustic, unreliable, threatening. Roman Christians assumed this prejudice without examining it. Augustine, in his profundity, realized that the ahistorical Platonic ascent to Wisdom through knowledge and leisured contemplation was unaccomplishable and that it must be replaced by the biblical journey through time – through the life of each man and through the life of the race. Still, the words iter (journey) and peregrinatio (pilgrimage) made him shudder. As bishop of Hippo, he almost never visited the country districts over which he held nominal sway, and once when he did he was nearly ambushed by Circumcellions, radical Donatists who were a sort of Chrsitian combination of Act Up and the Party of God. His travels to Rome and Milan as a young man were never repeated, nor would he in a million years have thought of venturing beyond the Ecumene, outside the Imperium, lay chaos unimaginable: “Here do be monsters,” the medieval maps would say of unmapped territory.

Cahill, How the Irish Saved Civilization, pp. 107-108

Photo by Viktor Forgacs on Unsplash

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