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Cyprus in a Late Medieval Illustrated Encyclopedia of Geography

Abstract

What image did Europeans have of Cyprus in the fifteenth century? An important but little-known answer to that question is provided by the chapter on Cyprus in an anonymous fifteenth-century geographical encyclopedia titled Les merveilles du monde (The Wonders of the World), which survives in three manuscripts that date from 1427 to c.1480. Many of the chapters of the book are about islands, and thus the work has something of the character of an isolario, though its text is completely independent of the isolario tradition. I will compare the text of the chapter, which discusses three religious myths relating to Cyprus, with the very different account of the island given by Petrarch in the fourteenth century, and also with the chapters about Cyprus in two late fifteenth-century isolarios, those of Henricus Martellus and Bartolomeo dalli Sonetti. I will also discuss the illustrations of the island in the three surviving manuscripts of Les merveilles du monde. The manuscript illustrations bear little relation to reality, but they are some of the very few visual records of the conception of Cyprus in Europe in the fifteenth century.

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