Date of Award

Summer 2020

Degree Type

Masters Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



Committee Chair

Leah Pope Parker

Committee Chair School


Committee Member 2

Alexandra Valint

Committee Member 2 School


Committee Member 3

Christopher Foley

Committee Member 3 School



This thesis aims to illuminate early medieval anxieties about sex, procreation, and congenital physical difference by applying a lens of critical disability theory to the Old English Wonders of the East, primarily as it survives in the eleventh-century manuscript, London, British Library, Cotton MS Tiberius B.v. This thesis focuses on the textual and illustrative representation of one Wonder, the Blemmye—an approximately eight-foot-tall, eight-foot-wide androgynous humanoid, whose eyes and mouth are in their chest and who does not possess a head—as a historic embodiment of what disability meant in relation to the early medieval English worldview. This thesis considers the Blemmye with respect to cultural theories of disability, as well as ideas of monstrosity, abjection, and the visual gaze, to expose certain cultural attitudes, particularly that of the early medieval English, towards disability.

This thesis demonstrates that when viewing medieval texts such as Wonders of the East through a lens for disability, the desire to classify and master extraordinary bodies exposes itself as part of the early medieval English consciousness. Their illustrative construction of the Blemmye body obscures the presence of genitalia, despite the text presenting the Blemmye as a sexually procreative being. While the text raises ideas of procreation, the illustrations suggest an unwillingness on behalf of the early medieval English to recognize the sexual and procreative capacities of the Blemmyes. Consequently, this project sheds light on the anxieties toward congenital physical difference evident in the textual and illustrative treatment of the Blemmye in Wonders of the East.