The Earliest States of Eastern Europe
DG-2016, 196-210

Pagan and Christian Elements in the Early Medieval Cosmological and Geographical Concepts

A. V. Podosinov

This article deals with the representation of the ancient mythological Rhipaean
mountains, as if stretching along the northern borders of Eurasia. The
cosmological aspect of this concept was the early enveloped theory, according
to which the sun passes his night journey behind these mountains to appear in
the morning in the east. This point of view was shared by many ancient authors,
among them by Anaximenes, Aristotle and others. In antiquity was also
widespread theory about the increase of land to the north (τῆς γῆς ὑψηλά), that
was an allusion to the Rhipaean mountains, because this doctrine is closely connected
with the theory of the cosmic mountain. The origin of this theory lies
in the Ionian science and is associated with the notion of the Earth as a disc
or washer. The localisation of the Rhipaean mountains was in very close relationship
with the localisation of the mythic country of Hyperboreans, who
lived behind these mountains, often named also as ‘Hyperborean mountains’.
The article discusses how these very ancient ideas were received in the early
medieval geographical and cosmological literature (especially, in Cosmographia
of Ravenna Anonymous, approx. in 700). Pagan presentation, discussed by this
author in the 1st book, appear here in a frame of Christian doctrine and the Holy
Scriptures which were to justify the borrowing of these ideas from the pagan
literature. The аrticle contains the Latin text of this passage from Cosmographia
and its Russian translation with a commentary. The Anonymus’ text shows that,
although some scholars argue that the traditions of the ancient science did not
find any noticeable reflection in his Cosmographia, it contains a huge collection
of the geographical materials, compiled generally from the ancient sources.
Moreover, now we can see that even the Christian theology of the Cosmographia,
which is impregnated with a medieval ideology, was exposed to the powerful
influence of ancient ideas. Cosmographer, polemizing with his opponents, who
argued that the sun at night goes beneath the Earth, writes, in full accord with
the ancient theories and recalling some phylosophi et prudentes viri, that in the
northern part of the land in front of the ocean the huge unknown mountains
are situated at a great extent, by divine assent. Behind them the sun after his
decline in the west goes all night to appear in the next day to the people in the
east. Interpretation of the Cosmographer punctuated by references to the Holy
Scriptures, which should confirm the validity of this theory. But since the Bible
never touched this problem, references to its authority look not particularly convincing.
However, immediately after the citation of Scripture, the Anonymous
author refers to authorities of the ancient authors: “but they argue that and some
pagan philosophers attest the same...”, and here we must see following ancient
tradition, that was known to Ravennate. At the end of the article an attention
is attracted to the similar ideas of the Byzantine author Cosmas Indicopleustes
(6th century). Like many ancient writers and like Ravennate, he wrote, being in
line with the Antioch exegetical school, that the earth's surface increases (τὸ
ὕψος τῆς γῆς) to the north and west. That is why the sun hides at night behind
this elevation, what is considered in modern literature as dependency of Cosmas
from ancient tradition. The manuscripts of his Christian topography preserved
a magnificent image of а mountain in the north of Europe, behind which the
sun goes down. The same ideas we find in works of Ephrem the Syrian, Pseudo-
Caesarius and Severianus of Gabala (4th– 6th centuries).

Keywords:
Rhipaean mountains, cosmological views of ancient authors, “Cosmographia” of Ravenna Anonymous, Cosmas Indicopleustes, Christian representations of the pagan concepts
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