Marvelous tales from our new imperial age

John Larner in his elegant micro-study, Marco Polo and the Discovery of the World, tells us that the “marvelous… was an essential element in medieval geography.” On medieval maps and in travel books that preceded Polo’s “adventures,” that “marvelous” included accounts of “Cynocephali or dog-headed men; the Blemmyae with faces on their breasts; Sciopods, with only one leg, yet running with amazing swiftness, and who, at rest, used their vast foot as a sunshade; ‘The Anthropophagi, and men whose heads/ Do grow beneath their shoulders’, and so on. Together with the monstrous races were found strange beasts: camels and elephants… unicorns, griffins, the rhinoceros, mantikhoras with the body of a lion and the face of a man, crocodiles, dragons, [and] serpents with two feet.” (pp. 9-10)


Thus spake Dick Cheney (while — you choose — either scotching an administration negotiating position with China over North Korea’s nuclear weapons program or trying out for a major role in the Lord of the Rings, part IV): “[A} senior official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, quoted the vice president as saying in one pivotal [intra-administration] meeting on North Korea: ‘I have been charged by the president with making sure that none of the tyrannies in the world are negotiated with. We don’t negotiate with evil; we defeat it.’” (Warren Strobel, “Cheney hard line blocks Korea talks,Mercury News [Knight Ridder], 12/20)


The geography of the present also includes the following degraded marvels:

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