Sir John Mandeville

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Malcolm Letts (essay date 1949)

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 4012

SOURCE: "The Times," in Sir John Mandeville: The Man and His Books, The Batchworth Press, 1949, pp. 23-40.

[In the excerpt below, Letts describes the historical context in which Mandeville wrote and remarks on his critical reception and influence on other writers.]

Before we come to the journey itself, it may be well to sketch in outline the historical background against which Mandeville lived and wrote. During practically the whole period covered by the so-called travels England and France were at war. The Hundred Years' War broke out in 1338. Crécy was won in 1346, Calais was taken in 1347, and at Poitiers, in 1356, the French King was taken prisoner. Mandeville speaks in his Epilogue of the destruction and slaughter and the accumulations of evils produced by the war, and of the two kings having made peace, but writing, as he appears to have done, in his library at Liége, the struggle, under God's protection, left him untouched. Liége cannot, however, have been always a haven of rest. The town went through much the same domestic upheavals as other Flemish towns, and local disturbances must have figured largely in the daily life of the people, even if they left our author in peace.

During the whole of the century the hope of recovering the Holy Land was never absent from men's minds. The Crusade of 1270 led by Louis IX of France had ended in disaster, and Mandeville, like others, must have viewed the growing power of Islam with dismay. He refers again and again to the need for a new crusading spirit, but he realised that, unless Christian princes composed their differences and presented a united front with the Church, there was no hope of success. The Holy Land was lost by sin and could only be recovered by righteousness. But quite apart from the quarrels of princes, the affairs of the Church were in such disorder that no joint effort was possible. Between 1305 and 1378 the popes were at Avignon. The Franciscans were demanding evangelical poverty for the pope and all churchmen. They denounced the wealth and splendour of the papal court and were preparing the way for Wycliffe. Mandeville makes no effort to conceal his feelings about the papacy, but he was probably only reflecting the views of thousands of others. There is no reason to believe that his anti-papal feelings affected his general outlook or disturbed his peace of mind.

There was one event, however, which must have gravely affected our author's tranquility—the Black Death, which decimated Europe from 1347 onwards. There is no reference to this in the 'Travels,' but Mandeville, alias de Bourgogne, lived through it. He speaks of himself in his de Pestilentia as having practised medicine for forty years, and refers to his experiences at Liége during one outbreak which raged there in 1356.

Mandeville knew what he was doing when he sat down to write a book of travels, for during the first part of the fourteenth century, travel was in the air.1 The Polos had returned to Venice in 1295 from their long sojourn in Asia, and for the next fifty years, that is roughly between 1290 and 1340, a steady stream of travellers took the eastern road. The Tartar conquests of the first part of the thirteenth century had accomplished one of the most striking revolutions in history, by bringing the East into touch with the West. In 1214 the Tartars swept from Mongolia upon China, taking Peking and conquering most of Eastern Asia. They then turned westward, spread across Asia and over a large part of Russia, into Poland, Hungary and Persia, so that by 1259 one empire extended from the Yellow River to the banks of the Danube, and from the Persian Gulf to Siberia. At first Europe was horror-struck by the invasion. It seemed as if the end of the world was at hand, and that Gog and Magog and the armies of anti-Christ had at last burst forth from their mountain fastnesses to destroy Christianity and overrun the whole world. Then, after much hesitation and confusion of mind, it dawned upon the West that, horrible and brutal as the conquerors were, they might be useful as allies in breaking down the power of Islam. The Tartars were known to be tolerant of all creeds. The first thing was to convert them to Christianity, and then, with their help, to recover the Holy land. It was a vain hope, but it produced a wave of missionary zeal which is one of the glories of the medieval Church—the episode of the missionary friars. There are few brighter or more romantic stories in history than the tale of the journeys, successes and failures of the Christian pioneers in Asia. But, although the best travel-books were written by missionaries—Mandeville makes use of two of them—the real impetus to travel was given by trade, and it was by the traderoutes that merchants took the road to Cathay. The journey must have been hazardous enough, according to modern ideas, but the merchants seem to have made light of it. They appear to have penetrated everywhere in the East. Luckily, we know a good deal about their journeys and the difficulties they had to face from the Pratica della Mercatura,2 a kind of merchants' handbook, written about 1340 by Pegolotti, an agent of the great Florentine house of Bardi. The book deals with the trade between the Levant and the East, and describes the route from Tana to Peking, with all kinds of practical suggestions for the novice. He must let his beard grow and hire a dragoman at Tana. His servants must speak Kuman and he would be wise to take a Kuman woman with him if he wished to study his comfort, although comfort is a strange word to use when one realizes that the journey was likely to take some six or seven months (Mandeville says eleven or twelve months from Venice or Genoa to Cathay), travelling at times with ox-wagons, camel-carts and pack-asses, with only outlying and remote halting places for rest and refreshment. One of the most striking commentaries on medieval commercial intercourse is the statement by Pegolotti that the road from Tana to Peking was perfectly safe whether by day or night, but this must surely be an overstatement. Mandeville has several references to merchants, but he never makes light of their difficulties.

Mandeville's ideas of geography were those of his age. By his time geography had lost its character of a science and had become once more the subject of myth and fancy. In the Middle Ages there were two schools of geographical thought, the ecclesiastical or patristic, and the Arabic. The Arabs' approach to geography was scientific, speculative and progressive. The ecclesiastical outlook was traditional, stereotyped and hide-bound by authority, and it is with this school that we are concerned. The Fathers of the Church would have nothing to do with original thought. For them the Ptolemaic writings and the studies of Arabic geographers might never have existed. Nothing could be sanctioned which had not the authority of Holy Writ. This clerical hold on scholarship was responsible, among others, for two conspicuous features of medieval geography—the belief that Jerusalem was the centre of the earth—'I have set it in the midst of the nations' (Ezekiel V.5)— and the situation of the Earthly Paradise. Both the Earthly Paradise and Jerusalem as the centre of the earth figure largely in Mandeville, as they do in all the medieval picture maps, and in the pilgrim and other geographical literature of the Middle Ages.

Taken as a whole, Mandeville's world was a circle enclosing a sort of T-square. The east was at the top. Jerusalem was plumb in the centre. The Mediterranean sea straggles across the lower half, which was divided between Europe and Africa. The top was devoted to Asia, which was expanded to an enormous extent, and, as very little was known about it, the medieval mapmakers filled up the blanks with monsters and other strange creatures which they took from the Bible, Crusaders' tales and other sources. If we want to know what Mandeville's world looked like we have only to examine the great Mappa Mundi in Hereford Cathedral which was made about 1300. The T-square fits into it perfectly. The Earthly Paradise is at the top. Jerusalem is in the centre, and here and there, particularly in Africa, are pictures of all the strange monsters described by Mandeville, with their idiosyncracies pithily set forth in crabbed Latin legends. I shall have more to say about this map later, but the resemblance between it and Mandeville's notion of geography is too marked to be overlooked.

Mandeville had no doubt that the world was round, that its circumference was 20,425 miles (or more) and that in the heart and midst of it was Jerusalem. There could be no doubt about this, for men could prove and shew it 'by a spear that is pight into the earth, upon the hour of midday, when it is equinox, that sheweth no shadow on no side,' which seems to imply that the Holy City was on the equator! Mandeville was concerned about the antipodes because of the suggestion (by the supporters of the flat-earth theory) that, if the earth were in fact a sphere, the men on the sides and lower surface would be living sideways or upside down, even if they did not fall off into space, and, if men could fall off the earth, there was no reason why the great globe itself (being so great and heavy) should not topple over into the void, which was of course unthinkable. 'But that may not be, and therefore saith our Lord God, Non time as me, qui suspendi terram ex nihilo.' Moreover, as Mandeville implies, if a man thinks he is walking upright he is in fact walking the right way up, as God meant him to do, and that is all that matters. As to the roundness of the earth, it was beyond all question, for in his youth Mandeville had heard tell of a worthy man who went so far by sea and land that he came at last to an island where, to his amazement, he heard a ploughman calling to his beasts in his own language. The traveller had encompassed the whole earth without knowing it.

To these observations the author adds some sensible remarks on the way in which astronomers apply mathematical reasoning to the mapping of the firmament and the earth. These observations, and his familiarity with the use of the astrolabe, suggest that he was not only abreast of, but actually at times in advance of, the scientific knowledge of his time. …

It is not easy to trace the development of modern criticism concerning Mandeville, and it is strange how the pendulum swings to and fro. An air of verisimilitude was undoubtedly given by the statement in the English versions that Mandeville, on his way home, submitted his book to the pope at Rome, and that the holy father approved of it, but this passage does not appear in any of the French manuscripts and is clearly an interpolation. For most contemporary readers the book had to rest on its own foundations, and as the marvels which Mandeville sets down as sober facts can be capped and even outrivalled by other writers—the author of Prester John's Letter, for instance—the reading public of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries probably swallowed their Mandeville whole. Bale, who published his Catalogue of British Writers in 1548, had no doubt about the authenticity of the 'Travels,' and his contemporary Leland (who died in 1552), goes even further, for he placed Mandeville above Macro Polo, Columbus, and Cortez and other travellers (nemo tarnen illorum tamdiu labori insistebat, quam noster Magnovillanus), and he compares Mandeville with Mithridates for his knowledge of foreign languages.3 Leland tells us that as a boy he heard much about Mandeville from an old man called Jordan, and that at Canterbury he had seen among the relics at Becket's shrine a crystal orb containing an apple, still undecayed—an offering, so he was told, from Mandeville himself.

Purchas4 thought Mandeville 'the greatest Asian Traveller that ever the World had,' and accused some other writer (probably a friar) of having stuffed his book full of fables. He placed Mandeville next (if next) to Marco Polo, and accused Odoric, who really was a great Asiatic traveller, of thieving from Mandeville, whereas in fact the substance of Mandeville's travels in India and Cathay was stolen without acknowledgement from Odoric. As we shall see, Mandeville, in his account of his adventures in the Valley Perilous, states that among his companions were two friars minor from Lombardy. The whole passage is worked up from Friar Odoric, and the reference to the two friars may well have been intended to anticipate a possible charge of plagiarism, and to suggest that Mandeville and Odoric travelled together. The result can be seen in a manuscript at Wolfenbüttel of the Liber de Terra Sancta, attributed to Odoric, which begins: 'Itinerarius fidelis fratris Oderici, socii militis Mandavil, per Indiam, licet hic prius et alter posterius peregrinationem suam descripsit.'5 As Sir George Warner points out, the friar is doubly wronged here by the assertion that Mandeville's work was written first, whereas Odoric's was written in 1330. It may be noted that in the Antwerp (Gouda) Latin edition of Mandeville, printed in 1485 (and reprinted in the first edition of Hakluyt), frequent references to Odoric have been inserted in the text, and the description of the Valley Perilous ends with a statement that Odoric did not suffer as much there as Mandeville. The whole subject is discussed later (p. 89).

But poor Odoric was to suffer still greater indignities at a later date. In the collection of travels called 'Astley's Voyages' published in 1745-7 Odoric's narrative is described as superficial and full of lies, and in the index he fares even worse, his name being entered as 'Odoric, Friar, Travels of, IV, 620. A great Liar.'

There is a curious Mandeville reference in the English translation of Estienne's Apology for Herodotus, 1607, by R. Carew. In his Introduction to the Reader, the translator writes: 'imagine not that thou hast either … Goularts Admiranda, or Wolfius his Memorabilia, or Torquemeda's Mandevile of Miracles, or any such rhapsodie of an indigested history.' This last reference is to the "Jardin de Flores Curiosas" by Antonio de Torquemada, 1570 translated by Ferdinando Walker as "The Spanish Mandevile of Miracles," 1600.'

But the English title is not quite fair either to the Spanish author or to Mandeville. The book is a curious but amusing hotch-potch of monsters, the vagaries of fortune, strange countries, dreams, spirits, witches and hags, mostly from Spanish sources, such as Robert Burton would have loved. There is a good deal about the Earthly Paradise, Cathay and Prester John. Mandeville is mentioned here and there, and we learn with interest, what Sir John does not tell us, that he received wages and a pension from the Great Chan, but most of the eastern stories come from Marco Polo. The translator seems to have done his work well and does not appear to have added anything of his own, nor is there anything in his Dedication to explain the title-page. All we can say is that he must have been reflecting the views of his contemporaries.

Neither Robert Burton nor Sir Thomas Browne subscribed to Purchas's opinion of Mandeville. The former dismisses Mandeville quite briefly as a liar.6 It does not appear from the list of Burton's books at the Bodleian and Christ Church that he even possessed a copy of the 'Travels.'7

Sir Thomas Browne says much the same but in more temperate language.8 The writer on Mandeville in Chalmer's Biographical Dictionary (1815), asserts that many things in the book, which were looked on as fabulous for a long time, had then been verified beyond all doubt, but giving up his giants of fifty feet high, there did not appear to be any very good reason why Sir John should not be believed in things that he relates from his own observation, and this seems to be the line taken generally in the eighteenth century. But it is difficult to know what is meant by personal observation. Mandeville claims in his Prologue to have visited all the countries he mentions, and the not infrequent interjections—'This I saw not': 'I was not there' and so on—imply that he saw and experienced whatever else he describes; but in Pollard's edition, containing 209 pages, I have counted only twenty-three specific personal statements—I saw, I dwelt, I came, I departed, I asked, and so on. And of these, one at least, the passage through the Valley Perilous, required a good deal of justification at the hands of the German translator, Velser, before it could be presented to his readers.9 Hugh Murray, in the early nineteenth century, was shrewd enough to realise that much of Mandeville was lifted from Odoric and others and had no hesitation in pronouncing the work to be pure and entire fabrication—'What he added of his own consists, I think, quite exclusive of monstrous lies.'10 We can cap this with a quotation from an old Play:11

Drake was a didapper to Mandevill.
Candish and Hawkins, Frobisher, all our
Went short of Mandevill.

But shortly after Murray's indictment an anonymous writer was busy compiling a long justification of Mandeville, which appeared in the Retrospective Review for 1821, vol.III, part II, p. 269. The writer protests in no uncertain terms against the great outcry of fraud which had been raised against Mandeville. There was no question of falsehood. All that could be charged against him was want of judgment. The writer's concluding words are worth quoting. 'The literature of the middle ages has scarcely a more entertaining and interesting subject; and to an Englishman it is doubly valuable, as establishing the title of his country to claim as its own the first example of the liberal and independent gentleman, travelling over the world in the disinterested pursuit of knowledge unsullied in his reputation; honored and respected wherever he went for his talents and personal accomplishments.' Curiously enough, this is much the line taken by Halliwell in his Introduction to the 1839 reprint of the 'Travels.' And so matters remained until the 1870's when Nicholson laid the foundations for a new approach to the whole subject in his letter to The Academy on 11 November, 1876. His subsequent letters appeared in that journal on 12 February, 1881 and 12 April, 1884.

But whether truth or fiction, Mandeville's influence on the literature of the sixteenth century was profound. Many of his stories and most of his monsters, as depicted by his artists, found their way into the Nuremberg Chronicle, and Münster's Cosmographia (1544). Like the Nuremberg Chronicle, Münster's book was extremely popular, there having been as many as forty-seven editions in seven languages before 1650.

Münster was a very learned person. He had 120 collaborators to help him in his work, and when he wrote there was already a considerable literature in existence with which he was perfectly familiar, and to which he could have turned for an accurate and sober account of late geographical discovery. But, so far as Asia, India and Africa are concerned, he made little use of this material. Instead, we have the old stories and pictures of cannibals, one-eyed, one-legged and headless men, Amazons, pigmies and Brahmans, dragons, unicorns, gold-digging ants and griffins. Münster does not mention Mandeville by name (he acknowledges his debt to Marco Polo and Haiton, the Armenian), but it was Mandeville who created the popular demand for stories of this kind, and it was a demand which had to be met.

There can be no doubt that this demand was increased by the great discoveries of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Eastward and westward by 1530, the route lay open to the Indies, and although the English at first had troubled little about conquest and the planting of colonies, the foreign press teemed with accounts of the New World and the East, and each returning traveller added something fresh. Münster's Cosmographia was abridged and translated into English in 1552, and in 1564 appeared a curious and interesting book which showed that the English were not to be outdone in the hue and cry after wonders and marvels. This was A Dialogue against the Fever pestilence by Wm. Bullein, a man of learning and a physician. Bullein had obviously read and studied Mandeville, Münster and any other books of travel he could come across, and he disliked and distrusted what he read—and a good many other things as well. But he did a very dangerous thing. He satirised travel literature as a whole.

The result, which Bullein cannot have foreseen, is that his book owed any popularity it may have had, not to his attacks on usury, lawyers, legacy-hunters and the Church of Rome, not even to his timely and suitable remarks on fresh air, diet, and herbs as remedies for the plague, but to the introduction into his dialogues of a traveller called Mendax, one of the most amusing and attractive liars in literature. The name Mendax, we learn, signifies 'in the Ethiope tongue, the name of a great Citie, the mother of holie religion and truth,' and once the reader has met Mendax his interest never flags. It would be out of place here to follow Mendax in his travels in the East, diverting as they are, but it is sufficient to say that, among other adventures, he was turned into a dog (only temporarily), whereas his boy, a gentleman of good house, and would have married with one Jone Trim, was so strongly bewitched that he was a dog still. Most of Mandeville's stories re-appear, including the loadstone rocks, which Mandeville saw afar off, but on which Mendax and his companions were wrecked, escaping with their lives but losing their treasure.

Mandeville has much to say about the Antipodes. It was reserved for Mendax to discover there, foot against foot, another England, where were 'Gaddes Hill, Stangate Hole, Newe Market Heath, like ours in all points,' with this exception that, whereas there one found honest men, here there were none at all. We read of dancing geese, of parrots playing chess with apes and discoursing in Greek or singing descant, of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba seen in a magic mirror, attended by 14,000 ladies, and a race of men who cast their skins like snakes: 'Marie,' says he, 'they were full of hooles.' Here we have lying reduced to a fine art, but what Bullein did not realise was that the English have always loved a good liar and that satire is a two-edged weapon. It is possible that his book actually increased the demand for tall stories instead of killing it. In any event Mandeville continued to sell. A popular English edition with wooducts appeared in 1568. In the eighteenth century the 'Travels' appeared as a chap-book. The sales went on all through the nineteenth century and its popularity has never waned, whereas Bullein's satire is now almost entirely forgotten.


  1. On the whole subject see the brilliant chapter by the late Eileen Power, 'Routes to Cathay' in Travel and Travellers of the Middle Ages (1926), ed. Newton.
  2. Extracts in Yule's Cathay and the Way Thither, Hakluyt Society, second ed. vol. III.
  3. Bishop Tanner's Bibliotheca Britannico-Hibernica (1748), p. 505, quoted by Warner, p. 31.
  4. His Pilgrimes (1625), reprint XI, pp. 188, 364.
  5. Warner, p. 22. Cf. Yule, Cathay and the Way Thither, II, p. 45, who refers to another MS at Mainz with the same opening statement.
  6. Anatomy of Melancholy, ed. Shilleto, II, p. 46. But then Burton also calls Marco Polo a liar.
  7. Oxford Bibliographical Society, Proceedings, I pt. III, 1925, p. 224 ff.
  8. 'Vulgar Errors,' in Works, ed. Wilkin, II, p. 236.
  9. See below, p. 92.
  10. Historical Account of Discoveries and Travels (1820), I, ch. iv.
  11. Quoted by Beazley, Dawn of Modern Geography, III, p. 322.

Zoltán Haraszti (essay date 1950)

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 3521

SOURCE: "The Travels of Sir John Mandeville," in The Boston Public Library Quarterly, Vol. 2, No. 4, October, 1950, pp. 307-16.

[In the following essay, Haraszti provides an overview of Mandeville's Travels, remarking on the subjects treated in the account, the identity of its author, and the work's sources and textual history.]

At the Kreisler Sale held in New York on January 1949 the Boston Public Library acquired a number of extremely valuable fifteenth-century and other early printed books. One of the most valuable among them was a copy of the German translation of the Travels of John Mandeville—Reysen und Wanderschafften durch das Gelobte Land—printed by Anton Sorg in Augsburg in 1481.1 This was believed to be the first appearance of the German text in print until Professor Schramm called attention to an earlier, undated edition by Sorg, probably printed in 1478, an imperfect copy of which he had discovered at Munich.2

The volume is printed in small folio format, comprising ninety-one unnumbered leaves. The type is that round Gothic characteristic of the work of most of the Augsburg printers. The text is illustrated by 117 woodcuts, each enclosed in a double border. Most of these measure 76 x 78 mm., but some, 74 x 118 mm. There are two full-page cuts, of the size of 118 x 197 mm. The first, which serves as frontispiece, represents a young knight with a sword on his left side and holding a banner in his right hand; through the open door a landscape with a church is visible, and above a scroll is inscribed "Johannes Montevilla," the Latin form of the author's name. The second large cut shows the Emperor of Cathay, seated at his table with his three wives, his scribes recording his words. In the Library's copy the first leaf with the frontispiece is supplied in facsimile; otherwise the copy is in excellent condition—the pages are clean, the woodcuts are uncolored, and the binding (oak-boards, half-covered with tooled leather) is original.

"I, John Mandeville, Knight," the narrative begins, "that was born in England, in the town of St. Albans, passed the sea in the year of our Lord Jesu Christ, 1322, in the day of St. Michael; and hitherto have been long time over the sea, and have seen and gone through many diverse lands, and many provinces and kingdoms and isles and have passed throughout Turkey, Armenia the little and the great; through Tartary, Persia, Syria, Arabia, Egypt the high and the low; through Lybia, Chaldea, and a great part of Ethiopia; through Amazonia, Ind the less and the more, a great part; and throughout many other Isles, that be about Ind; where dwell many diverse folks, and of diverse manners and laws, and of diverse shapes of men. Of which lands and isles I shall speak more plainly hereafter …"3 The work ends with the return of the knight, now suffering from gout and "artetykes," thirty-four years later. On his way back he visited the Pope, who absolved him of all that weighed on his conscience. "Amongst all," the author writes, "I shewed him this treatise, that I had made after information of men that knew of things that I had not seen myself, and also of marvels and customs that I had seen myself, as far as God would give me grace …" Upon his request, the Pope had the book examined by his council which proved it for true.

The marvels which Mandeville reported were remarkable indeed. He knew of giants thirty feet tall who ate nothing but raw flesh and fish; of people who had no heads and whose eyes were in their shoulders; of others who had a flat face, without nose and mouth; and of pygmies who could not speak but made signs to one another, and who lived by the smell of wild apples. Some islands were inhabited by a folk with horses' feet, or by evil women who had precious stones in their eyes, slaying men with their glances as do the basilisks. He could tell endless stories of the great Chan of Cathay—of his prodigious palace dubbed with precious stones and pearls; of his sumptuous private banquets and magnificent public feasts; of his journeys from country to country, riding in a chariot drawn by four elephants and accompanied by innumerable kings and lords. He could not miss, of course, gathering first-hand information about the Christian Emperor of the Inds, Prester John, who dwelled in the Isle of Pentexoire. Prester John's domains were full of splendor and abounded in all kinds of goods, but they also had deserts peopled with wild men who were horned and grunted like pigs. Mandeville passed through the whole length of the Empire. He drank of the Well of Youth at Polombe; descended into the Vale Perilous which was guarded by a horrible devil, and where the ground was strewn with gold, silver, and jewels. He had not visited the Earthly Paradise, the Garden of Eden, so modestly he told only what he had heard about it from wise men. In the islands of the Sea of Java he met hordes of vicious cannibals, yet in that sea was located also the Land of Faith. The happiness of the Isle of Bragman was marred by no thief, murderer, loose woman, or beggar; its people prized no wealth, but lived soberly and long. "And albeit that these folk," the English traveller observed, "have not the articles of our faith, natheles, for their good faith natural, and for their good intent, I trow fully that God loveth them." On the other island he found that the king was chosen not for his riches but for his good manners and could not doom any man to death without the assent of his councillors.

Of all the wonderful descriptions of the world, Mandeville's Travels was the most fabulous. It was natural, therefore, that it was read avidly by all the nations of the West. The blending of the personal element with the mass and variety of information added to the fascination of the book. The public of Marco Polo was limited compared with the multitudes who read Mandeville; and not one out of a thousand of his devotees ever heard of the voyages of William of Boldensele or of Odoric of Pordenone, whose narratives, taken over verbatim and then embellished by fables, constitute the larger portion of the Travels. Well over three hundred manuscripts of the work exist, and the fifteenth-century printed editions alone—in Latin, French, English, Dutch, German, and Italian—number at least thirty-five.

To be sure, the value of the work was questioned even by some of the earlier writers. Jean-Pierre Niceron, for instance, remarked in his Memoires of 1734 that the book was rare, which however, was no great loss, for it was "a mass of fables and little else." Yet Dibdin still spoke of Mandeville with his customary enthusiasm as "a venerable English author"; and J. O. Halliwell, in reprinting the 1725 English edition of the Cotton manuscript, regarded the suggestion that Mandeville might never have gone to the East at all but had compiled his book out of previous journals as a "wholly unjustifiable conclusion."

Mandeville's trustworthiness was first seriously attacked after the middle of the nineteenth century. In his Bibliographia Geographica Palaestinae, published at Leipzig in 1867, Titus Tobler explained the small number of the Latin editions by the fact that "the adventures and lying stories with which the author tried to win readers did not particularly appeal to learned people, and therefore in every country the work assumed the character of a folk-book." Finally Sir Henry Yule, an eminent geographer, and Edward B. Nicholson, librarian of the Bodleian, demolished all belief in Mandeville's veracity and good faith. In a joint article published in the ninth edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, in 1883, they called attention not only to Mandeville's dependence upon Boldensele and Friar Odoric, but also showed that the rest of his story was mainly taken from Vincent de Beauvais's Speculum Historiale and Naturale and from Voragine's Golden Legend. Since then the origin of every passage of the Travels has been investigated by two scholars working independently—Albert Bovenschen, of the University of Leipzig,4 and George F. Warner, of the British Museum.5 Indeed, with the exception of one or two sections, the entire work has been proved to be a patchwork of various narratives, a compendium of plagiarisms—a rank literary imposture.6

The first part of the Travels treats of the Holy Land and the routes to it, together with Egypt and Sinai. "If any of the matter was drawn from personal knowledge and observation," Warner writes, "it is contained within the first fifteen chapters only."7 It has been thought probable that Mandeville had really travelled as far as Palestine and Egypt, although the description of the route to Constantinople, through Hungary, has nothing in it of a personal nature. "Troweth not," the reader is warned, "that I will tell you all the towns and cities and castles that men shall go by, for then should I make too long a tale; but only some countries and most principal steads …"—and these latter were taken from the history of the First Crusade by Albert of Aix. In the chapter on Constantinople, which the author pretends to know intimately, he copied verbatim William of Boldensele, and in that on the routes from Constantinople to Jerusalem, the twelfth-century Latin Itineraries. The account of Egypt, for which no sources have been found, may be the most important part of the work. Mandeville claims to have spent a long time in the service of the Sultan, fighting in his war against the Bedouins. "And he would have married me full highly," he writes, "to a great prince's daughter, if I would have forsaken my law and my belief; but I thank God, I had no will to do it, for nothing that he behight me."8 Even Sir Henry Yule, among the first to brand Mandeville a "profound liar," saw here evidences of personal experience.

The larger part of the work, all that comes after Palestine, was appropriated from Friar Odoric and then from the Voyages of Joannes de Plano Carpini, Hayton (Hetoum) the Armenian, and other writers, the whole "swollen" with interpolated fables. Yet Mandeville never mentions Odoric; nor does he give any hint about his other sources. As to his use of Pliny, Solinus, Jerome, and Isidore of Seville, Dr. Warner remarks that he may have consulted these authorities directly or he may have derived his information from Vincent de Beauvais's excerpts.9

However, one should not deny Mandeville his due. He insists that Jerusalem is in the midst of the world, where a spear stuck into the earth has no shadow on shadow on either side at midday in the time of the equinox; yet some of his astronomical notions were correct. He knew that latitude could be ascertained by the observation of the lode-star, and that there were antipodes. "Men may well perceive," he wrote, "that the land and the sea be of round shape and form; for the part of the firmament sheweth in one country that sheweth not in another country. And men may well prove by experience and subtle compassment of wit, that if a man found passages by ships that would go to search the world, men might go by ship all about the world and above and beneath."10

The deceitfulness of the author, made even more obvious through his constant reiteration of minute personal knowledge, has led to doubts about the existence of Mandeville himself. The name is not rare in English records of the period; however, no connection of it with St. Albans has been discovered as yet. John Bale's catalogue of British writers, first published in 1548, contained a lengthy notice of Sir John Mandeville, but this was based entirely upon statements found in the work.11 Mandeville's tomb at Liége has been described by several early historians, who note that he was a physician, died in 1372, and was also called "John with the Beard." The contemporary Liége chronicler Jean d'Outremeuse, however, offers the surprising information that there died in the city in that same year a certain Jean de Bourgogne "with the Beard," who on his deathbed had revealed himself to him as Jean de Mandeville, knight, seigneur of Montfort, lord of the isle of Campdi and Perouse, who, having killed a count, was forced to leave his country. It should be noted that, in the common Latin version, Mandeville relates that he met at Cairo, at the court of the Sultan, a venerable and skillful physician who was "sprung from our own parts"; and that long afterwards at Liége he wrote his Travels at the advice and with the help of the same man. It was by chance that they met again. Mandeville, confined by his gout, was treated by several physicians, in one of whom, "Master John with the Beard," he recognized his old acquaintance.

Dr. Warner suggests that the bearded doctor's real name was, and always had been Jean de Bourgogne; and that, "having written his book of travels under the assumed name of Mandeville, he was tempted by its success to secure himself a posthumous fame by reversing the facts and claiming as his veritable name that which was fictitious."12 The same writer also found that there was in England a certain John de Bourgoyne, chamberlain to John de Mowbray, who in 1322, after the execution of his patron, was banished—the date agreeing with that of Mandeville's departure for his voyages.

The identification is based, admittedly, on mere speculation; and the problem is becoming more and more complicated by the discovery of new candidates. Thus more recently a John Mangevilayn has been put forward, a man who was similarly embroiled with Mowbray in Thomas of Lancaster's revolt. The name may be a variant of Magnevillaine, meaning "of Magneville"; and it has been pointed out that the Mandevilles, Earls of Essex, were originally styled "de Magneville." Endless variations of the name seem possible. The situation has been summed up with fairness by Dr. Warner:

The last word on the subject has doubtless not yet been spoken; but after all, now that the work is known for what it is, the question of its authorship is of greatly diminished importance. Whether it was written by a real or fictitious Mandeville, whether the Liége physician's story was more or less true or wholly false, or whether it was a mere invention by its reporter, the belief in the great English traveller who spent the best part of his life in wanderings through the known world from England to China and returned home in old age to write an account of them—this still lingering belief must be finally abandoned as an exploded myth. The Travels indeed remain, and it is to be hoped, will always be read, both for curiosity of matter and certain indefinable charm of style; but to quote them as possessing any authoritative character, and to count Sir John Mandeville among our English worthies as a foremost pioneer of travel and adventure is utterly unwarrantable.13

The prologue of the English version contained in the Cotton Manuscript (British Museum) ends with the assertion: "Ye shall understand, that I have put this book out of Latin into French, and translated it again out of French into English, that every man of my nation may understand it." The other prominent English version, that of the Egerton manuscript (also in the British Museum), has no such passage; but the French version from which it was derived states: "Know that I should have put this book into Latin to be more concise; but seeing that many understand Romance better than Latin, I have put it into Romance …" The priority of the French version was, indeed, conclusively proven from internal evidence by Carl Schönborn, who also made it clear that none of the Latin texts originated with Mandeville.14 In fact, there are no less than five distinct Latin versions, each with errors of its own and each pointing to a French original.15

The Cotton manuscript's ascription of the authorship of the English translation to Mandeville himself is without foundation. Both the Cotton and Egerton manuscripts, dating from 1410-1420, contain a number of glaring errors which prove that the translators often completely misunderstood their texts. (For example, the Cotton MS. renders montaignes as "hille of Aygnes" and signes du ciel as "swannes of heuene," and the Egerton Ms. calls ly Comainz—that, is, the "Cumani"— "comoun pople.") The seven other English manuscripts in the British Museum have a big gap, lacking a part of the section on Egypt as well as chapters on Sicily, Mount Sinai, and the Church of Saint Catherine. Dr.Warner assumed the existence of a similarly defective common ancestor of the Cotton and Egerton MSS., both of which, he thought, were filled out later from a complete French manuscript. On the other hand, J. Vogels, who was the first to compile a census of all the English manuscripts, maintained that the Cotton manuscript was the original English version, and that the Egerton manuscript, which made use also of a new Latin translation of the French text, was a mere reediting of it.16 In any case, the anonymous author, whoever he was, produced one of the earliest prose works in English.

The German version published by Sorg was made by Michel Velser (Michelfeld), probably a native of Bavaria. He must have finished his work before 1409, for there is a German manuscript in Munich which is dated of that year. Little is known of the translator, except that he had travelled in Italy, visiting Pavia and Genoa. He used a French text, which he faithfully followed, apart from a few abbreviations and explanatory sentences. The language is simple, yet indicative of an intimate understanding of the text. The manuscript has often been copied; in Munich alone there are five codices. It is illustrated with pictures which served as models for the woodcuts of the first printed edition.17 About the same time, Otto von Diemeringen, a prebendary of the cathedral of Metz in Lorraine, prepared another version, also based on a French original, which however omits many of Mandeville's adventures.18 This version was first printed at Basel, probably in 1481.19

Muther described the woodcuts as "naive," adding that the nudes are "not unskillfully depicted." Schreiber finds them "done with ability, and their engraving carefully executed," so that "the work occupies an important place among the Augsburg imprints of the period." He also notes that the Nuremberg Chronicle of 1493 copied many of the monsters and curious animals. This is, however, a mistake. Folio xii of the Chronicle contains twenty-one such pictures, none of which resembles the woodcuts of Mandeville. They are illustrations of stories of Pliny, Augustine, and Isidore—the common sources of inspiration of both the Chronicle and the Travels.

All the printed editions of Mandeville are extremely rare. The one issued by Sorg exists in two other copies in America.


  1. Hain *10647; Muther 166; Schreiber 4798; Klebs 651.1; Stillwell M142; Schramm iv, 579-698.
  2. Albert Schramm, Der Bilderschmuck der Frühdrucke, Leipzing 1921, 11.
  3. Quoted from A. W. Pollard's version of the Cotton Manuscript in modern spelling, The Travels of Sir John Mandeville, London 1915, 5. This epilogue is not included in the German text as printed by Sorg, which ends with the brief statement: "I Johannes de Montevilla … returned and had to rest because of my illness, although I would have gladly experienced more wonders; and I was away twelve years." The difference of the duration of the travels is especially noteworthy.
  4. Die Quellen für die Reisebeschreibung des Johann von Mandeville, Berlin 1888.
  5. The Buke of John Maundeuill, Printed for the Roxburghe Club, Westminister 1889.
  6. Characteristically enough, C. Raymond Beazley's comprehensive work The Dawn of Modern Geography, Oxford 1897-1906, devotes only four pages to Mandeville as against 144 to Marco Polo and 37 to Odoric. "As a masterpiece of plagiarism," the author writes, "the work will always deserve attention; but, except for the student of geographical mythology and superstition, it has no importance in the history of Earth-Knowledge." (III, 320.)
  7. Warner, op. cit., xv.
  8. Pollard, op. cit., 24.
  9. Warner, op. cit., xxiii.
  10. Pollard, op. cit., 120.
  11. Illustrium Majoris Britannae Scriptorum … Summarium, Ipswich 1548, f. 149b. An English translation was printed in the preface to the 1727 edition, and also reprinted by Halliwell.
  12. Warner, op. cit., xxxix.
  13. Warner, op. cit., xli.
  14. Bibliographische Untersuchungen über die Reise-Beschreibung des Sir John Maundevile, Breslau 1840.
  15. J. Vogels, Die Ungedruckten Lateinischen Versionen Mandeville's, Crefeld 1886. Quoted by Warner, op. cit., vi.
  16. Handscriftliche Untersuchungen über die Englische Version Mandeville's Crefeld 1891, 35, 41. Yule and Nicholson regard Vogels's explanation "labored and improbable."
  17. Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie, Leipzig 1895, XXXIX, 576.
  18. Francis Edward Sandbach, Handschriftliche Untersuchen über Otto von Diemeringen's Deutsche Bearbeitung der Reisenbeschreibung Mandeville's, Strassburg 1899, 7-8, enumerates eighteen such passages.
  19. The annotation for No. 283 in the Fairfax Murray Catalogue is altogether confused: "Second (?) edition of the first German translation, by Otto von Diemeringen, canon of Metz cathedral, but it is not at all certain that it might not precede Sorg's edition of 1481 (Augsburg), considered the first, though it certainly seems more probable that the book was first published in Germany."

Josephine Waters Bennett (essay date 1954)

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 10038

SOURCE: "The Transformation of the Materials" and "The Romance of Travel," in The Rediscovery of Sir John Mandeville, The Modern Language Association of America, 1954, pp. 26-38, 39-53.

[In the following excerpt, Bennett compares Mandeville's Travels with the account of Odoric of Pordenone's travels, from which Mandeville borrowed extensively, and argues that Mandeville's text is far richer because his imagination and literary skills brought the materials to life.]

Mandeville has been called a forger, a "mere plagiarist," and even a "mere translator." His debt to William of Boldensele has been somewhat exaggerated, although it is real enough; but his borrowings from Odoric of Pordenone are not only extensive but continuous, and therefore they will serve best to illustrate how skillfully he transformed his materials to build up the illusion of reality which is the foundation of successful fiction. The comparison is easily made, because he follows Odoric's itinerary step by step. But he adds, deletes, revises, and changes the character of the whole, including the personality of the traveler, in a way which strikingly demonstrates his conscious artistry.

The two begin their journey together at Trebizond,1 about which city Mandeville borrows some of Odoric's very words. He omits, however, Odoric's simple marvel of some partridges which followed a man like so many chickens. Instead he elaborates what Odoric has to say of St. Athanasuis: that he "made the Creed," and is buried at Trebizond. Madeville adds to this bare statement the story that the saint was put in prison for heresy and while there wrote a psalm with embodied his faith. He sent it to the Pope, who was thereby convinced that he was a true Christian and ordered his release.2

Next Odoric says that he went to Armenia, to a city called Erzeroum (Erzrum). The mention of Armenia reminds Mandeville of a good story, and he proceeds to tell of the castle of the sparrowhawk—a story which accounts for the sorrows of that land. This is a beautifully proportioned little folktale, involving three men and three trials with different results. Whether Mandeville invented it, or not,3 apparently he was responsible for the attachment of this story to the legend of the house of Lusignan. The king of Armenia, when the Travels was being written, was a member of the house of Lusignan (1342-75), as Mandeville undoubtedly knew.

Next Mandeville repeats, verbatim, what Odoric has to say of Erzrum, amplifying a little the account of the Euphrates.4 Then Odoric mentions "Sarbisacalo," the "mountain whereon is Noah's Ark. And," he says boastfully, "I would fain have ascended it, if my companions would have waited for me," although the people of the country reported that no man could ever ascend it because it was not "the pleasure of the Most High."5 Mandeville changes the whole spirit of the account and enriches it with graphic details. He says, first of all, that the mountain is also called "Ararat," and by the Jews "Taneez"; that it is seven miles high; and then, to Odoric's statement that Noah's Ark rests on its summit, he adds, "And men may see it afar in clear weather." In reporting the inaccessibility of the summit, he converts Odoric's futile boast into an impersonal but graphic explanation: "And that mountain is well a seven mile high. And some men say that they have seen and touched the ship, and put their fingers in the parts where the fiend went out, when that Noah said, Benedicite. But they that say such words, say their will. For a man may not go up the mountain, for great plenty of snow that is always on that mountain, neither summer nor winter" (p. 100). So no man since Noah's time has been up, except one monk who brought away a plank from the ark which is preserved in the monastery at the foot of the mountain. Marco Polo, Hayton, and Friar Jordanus all mention the snow, and the inaccessibility, and Rubruquis tells the story of the plank, although not in quite the same form. Warner found no source for the height of the mountain, for the Jewish name for it, or for the hole in the ark where the fiend went out.6 The last sounds like an episode in a Noah play.

Mandeville has not only changed the whole tone and spirit of Odoric's account, but he has created a visual image by adding details of sense impression—the ark can be seen afar in clear weather. He also injects a reassuring note of scepticism by his disbelief that anyone has been up to touch the ark, and he gives a characteristically reasonable explanation why it is impossible. Then he makes the difficulty of the ascent vivid by telling the story of the monk who got to the top only with the help of an angel. The economy of the whole episode, fifteen lines in Pollard's text, is perfect in its kind, and as far above Odoric as the work of a master artist is above that of an ordinary reporter.

Next, both Odoric and Mandeville speak of Tauris (Tabriz), where Odoric reports the famous "dry tree." Since Mandeville has other and more effective use for this marvel, he omits it here. He also omits Odoric's comment, "And there are many things else to be said of that city, but it would take too long to relate them."7 The wandering friar often expresses his impatience with his task and lets the reader down in this way, as Marco Polo does also. Mandeville seldom, or never, resorts to generalization, and one of his charms is that he has no set phrases.8

He follows Odoric past the summer palace of the Emperor of Persia, at Sultânieh, and on to Cassan (Kashan), which, Odoric remarks, is the city of the Magi. Mandeville drops out the "bread and wine, and many other good things," which interested Odoric, and concentrates his whole attention on the story of the three Magi. Neither does he stop here to describe the dry sea, to which Odoric devotes a sentence. Mandeville saves this marvel until near the end of his book, and then he draws upon the more imaginative Letter of Prester John for his materials.9

Odoric is fond of such flat and colorless generalizations as "And there are many other matters there" or "It aboundeth in many kinds of victual." Mandeville regularly omits such Statements. For example, Odoric says, "At length I reached the land of Job called Hus which abounds in all kinds of victuals." Mandeville omits the victuals and concentrates on the story of Job.10 Odoric next mentions some mountains good for pasturing cattle. Then he says, "There also is found manna of better quality and in greater abundance than in any part of the world. In that country also you can get four good partridges for less than a Venetian groat." Mandeville wastes no time on the cattle or the partridges, but he writes (out of Vincent of Beauvais) as if he had seen and tasted the manna: "In that land of Job there ne is no default of no thing that is needful to man's body. There be hills, where men get great plenty of manna in greater abundance than in any other country. This manna is clept bread of angels. And it is a white thing that is full sweet and right delicious, and more sweet than honey or sugar. And it cometh of the dew of heaven and falleth upon the herbs in that country. And it congealeth and becometh all white and sweet. And men put it in medicines for rich men to make the womb lax, and to purge evil blood. For it cleanseth the blood and putteth out melancholy" (p. 102).

Surely it is no wonder that there are four or five times as many manuscripts of Mandeville's Travels as there are of Odoric's. Mandeville knew how to select and develop his material. He takes the reader with him, giving a sense impression of what he describes, so that we can see and feel and taste it. As Lowes said of the later voyagers, he has a way "of clothing the very stuff and substance of romance in the homely, direct, and everyday terms of plain matter of fact."11 He knows also the trick of comparing the strange with the familiar, cultivated to such good advantage by Hakluyt's worthies, two centuries later. Odoric says of the women of Chaldea that they wear short gowns with long sleeves that sweep the ground. Mandeville adds, "like a monk's frock."

Next Odoric describes inland India as a place where men live almost entirely on dates, "and you get forty-two pounds of dates for less than a groat; and so of many other things."12 Here Mandeville, impatient at this dull commercial stuff, leaves him (pp. 102-108) to return to Ur of the Chaldees, and to remind us that here Abraham was born, and here Ninus, who founded Ninevah, was king, and Tobet lies buried. He speaks of Abraham's departure with Sarah to the land of Canaan, and of Lot and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, and he says that beyond Chaldea is Scythia, the land of the Amazons, to whose history he devotes a page, mentioning Tarmegyte (Merv?), where Alexander built cities, and Ethiopia and Mauritania, where live the men who have only one foot and use it for a sunshade.13 Then he passes to India to tell, not of dates, but of diamonds. He gives us a wonderful story of how diamonds breed and grow like animals, and of how, in the far North, ice turns to crystal, and on the crystal grow the good diamonds. He goes on more soberly to the various uses and kinds of diamonds, ending with practical suggestions about how to tell a good diamond from an inferior one.

Nor is he ready, even yet, to rejoin Odoric. First he must tell of the Indus with its great eels "thirty foot long and more" (according to Pliny and his successors), and of the vast population of India which travels but little because it is ruled by Saturn, whereas "in our country is all the countrary; for we be in the seventh climate, that is of the moon. And the moon is of lightly moving …, and for that skill it giveth us will of kind for to move lightly and for to go divers ways, and to seek strange things and other diversities of the world" (p. 109).14

At last Mandeville is ready to rejoin Odoric at Ormes (Hormuz), where he repeats Odoric's surprising information that the great heat makes ly perpendicles del homme, i.e. testiculi hang down to their knees.15 He adds, from Marco Polo or the Letter of Prester John, that "in that country and in Ethiopia, and in many other countries, the folk lie all naked in rivers and waters" to escape the heat.16 Then, apparently of his own invention, comes the further detail that "men and women together … they lie all in the water, save the visage … and the women have no shame of the men, but lie all together, side by side, till the heat be past" (p. 109). Mandeville actually describes what he had not seen but only imagined, while Marco Polo, who had seen it perhaps, reports without attempting to describe.

Both Odoric and Mandeville speak of the ships built without nails (a procedure for which Mandeville supplies a reasonable explanation), and of the great rats at Thana. But next Odoric gives us a long, pious tale of four friars who got into trouble with the authorities and were slain. They were able to stand unharmed in fire, so their heads were cut off. Then their flesh refused to rot, and they were finally buried by the Christians. Odoric claimed that he gathered up their bones and carried them all the way to China (by sea), performing miracles with them along the way.17 Mandeville shows no interest whatever in this typical medieval miracle. The only trace of the martyred friars in the Travels is the remark (borrowed from the midst of Odoric's recital) that at Thana the dead are not buried because the sun soon dries up dead bodies.18 The comment is oblique but revealing, both of the personality of Mandeville and of his attitude toward Odoric. In place of the long account of the martyred friars, he devotes his attention to the strange religions of India. Odoric says, "The people thereof are idolaters, for they worship fire, and serpents, and trees also."19 He is not interested in the how or the why. Mandeville is interested in both, because he recognizes that these people of strange lands are human beings like himself. His attempts to understand them gives his narrative the human interest which vitalizes it and makes his imaginary travel more real than the actual peregrinations of Odoric, or even of Marco Polo.

He elaborates the account of the religion of these people, crediting them with natural religion, "for they know well that there is a God of kind [nature] that made all things, the which is in heaven" (p. 110). They worship the sun because it is so profitable that they know "God loveth it more than any other thing," and they worship the ox because it is the most patient and profitable of beasts. He is attempting to rationalize what Odoric and others have merely reported. He adds, moreover, an account of their superstitions, mentioning similar superstitions among Christians, and adding the charitable comment that, since Christians who are well instructed have such beliefs, it is no marvel that the pagans "that have no good doctrine but only of their nature, believe more largely for their simpleness." He has seen augurs foretell the future by the flight of birds, but nevertheless "therefore should not a man put his belief in such things, but always have full trust and belief in God our sovereign Lord" (p. 112).

Mandeville's tolerance and charity are in striking contrast to Odoric's rigid orthodoxy. To Odoric the heathen are simply "idolaters" and the Nestorian Christians, who befriended the Roman missionaries in all parts of Asia, are "schismatics and heretics," or "vile and pestilent heretics."20 Mandeville, on the other hand, includes nine Nestorians among the fifteen men who went with him into the Valley of Devils, a feat which Odoric considered evidence of his own special holiness. Mandeville is sure that "all the divers folk, that I have spoken of … have certain articles of our faith and some good points of our belief … But yet they cannot speak perfectly (for there is no man to teach them), but only that they can devise by their natural wit" (p. 206). His tolerance and charity give an impression of urbanity which dignifies and enlarges the mind of the author. The field of his interests is much above Odoric's.

The divergence in the account of the pepper forests of Minibar (Malabar) shows another facet of the contrast. Odoric says that the pepper forests are full of snakes which must be burned out before men can gather the pepper.21 Mandeville says that "some men say" fire is used to drive out the snakes, but it is not so, for fire would burn up the pepper. What they really do, he says, is to anoint themselves with the juice of lemons (the Cotton text mistranslates "snails"), and the snakes dislike the smell and do not trouble them (p. 113). Odoric's remedy for snakes in the pepper can be found in Isidore of Seville. Mandeville apparently invented his, taking a hint from another part of Odoric's Itinerary, where Odoric says that lemon juice is used in Ceylon to keep off leeches.22 Neither man is reporting from first-hand observation. Both are dependent upon "the authorities," but Mandeville creates the impression of careful observation and good sense by saying, "For if they burnt about the trees that bear, the pepper should be burnt, and it would dry up all the virtue, as of any other thing." Friar Jordanus denies the use of fire,23 but it was not until John of Marignolli published his report, the same year the Travels was finished, that Europeans were told pepper did not grow in forests at all, but in gardens.24 The passage illustrates Mandeville's tendency to disagree with his authorities and to look for a reasonable explanation which does not violate the laws of nature.

After the pepper forests, Odoric describes Polumbrum (Quilon, in Malabar) and reports the worship of the ox and the "abominable superstition" of anointing with its ordure. He also reports the sacrifice of children, the practise of suttee, and he says, "there be many other marvelous and beastly customs which 'tis just as well not to write."25 Mandeville, in repeating all this, raises it from a depressing kind of anthropology to high romance. He begins by interpolating an account of the Fountain of Youth, which he borrows from the Letter of Prester John and locates at Polumbrum. He says, by way of authentication. "I have drunken there of three or four sithes, and yet me thinketh I fare the better" (p. 113)—surely a modest way of making a wild boast! Next he describes the worship of the ox, borrowing the name of the priest who officiates, the "archiprotopapaton," out of the Letter of Prester John, and making an elaborate religious ceremony out of Odoric's "abominable superstition."26

So this ill-sorted pair journey uneasily together, like the two horses of Plato's chariot of the soul, one all fire and spirit, the other pedestrian and earthy, interested chiefly in the quality of the victuals and the wickedness of the heathen. Both report the worship of the Juggernaut, but Mandeville alone is moved to say: "And them thinketh that the more pain, and the more tribulation that they suffer for love of their god, the more joy they shall have in another world. And, shortly to say you, they suffer so great pains, and so hard martyrdoms for love of their idol, that a Christian man, I trow, durst not take upon him the tenth part the pain for love of our Lord Jesu Christ" (p. 117). Odoric traveled in the flesh, but how much more truly Mandeville traveled in the spirit!

Odoric, following Marco Polo, remarks that at Lamary (Sumatra) "I began to lose sight of the north star, as the earth intercepted it."27 Mandeville picks up this sentence and elaborates it into his famous account of the roundness of the earth and the practicability of circumnavigation. Indeed, at every step of the way, Mandeville illuminates and vivifies and humanizes Odoric's account of his journey. He adds details which are picturesque, as in the case of the king of Campa (Cochin China), whose fourteen thousand elephants Odoric mentions.28 Mandeville equips them with "castles of tree" which he says are put on their backs for fighting.29 Both report the fish which come up onto the land every year, and Odoric says that the natives claim they come to pay homage to their emperor. Mandeville repeats this explanation, and then suggests that perhaps the real reason is that they come to feed the offspring of this king, who has a thousand wives (according to Odoric), and so obeys the commandment given to Adam and Eve: Crescite et multiplicamini et replete terram. Then he adds, more soberly: "I know not the reason why it is, but God knoweth; but this, meseemeth, is the most marvel that ever I saw. For this marvel is against kind [i.e., natural law] and not with kind … And therefore I am siker that this may not be, without a great token [i.e., miracle]" (pp. 28-129).30 He never loses sight of the principle that God is also the creator and God of the heathen, though he has only revealed Himself to them through His works. Mandeville's assumption that the laws of nature operate even on the other side of the world is a fundamental part of his belief that it is possible to sail all the way around it. In fact, his conception of natural law as universal makes it highly improbable that he believed at all in the unnatural marvels which he retold from Odoric and Solinus and the Letter of Prester John.

Twice, into Odoric's sufficiently fanciful account of the islands of the Indies, Mandeville inserts additional marvelous islands. After Odoric's account of the dog-headed men of Nacumera31 he has some additions, and again after Odoric's Dondin, where men kill and eat the sick. After Dondin, Odoric goes directly to Manzi (Marco Polo's name for China), merely remarking that there are "a good twenty-four thousand islands" which he will omit. Mandeville says, at this point, that the king of Dondin has fifty-four (note the modest number) great isles in subjection, each with a king who paid him tribute. He populates these islands with a whole list of marvels collected out of Pliny by Solinus and incorporated in Isidore of Seville, Vincent of Beauvais, and others. Here are the islands of cyclops, men without heads, men with mouths in their backs, men without faces, men with upper lips so large they used them for sunshades, pigmies with mouths so small they had to eat through a pipe, men with ears that hang down to their knees, centaurs, men who go on all fours, hermaphrodites, men with eight toes, and "many other divers folk of divers natures" (pp. 133-135).

This perfect spate of absurdities, all crammed into a single page (fol. 191 of the MS. written in 1371), perhaps was brought on by Odoric's protest that "there be many other strange things in those parts which I write not, for unless a man should see them he never could believe them. For in the whole world there be no such marvels as in that realm. What things I have written are only such as I was certain of, and such as I cannot doubt but they are as I have related them."32 Mandeville's outburst fills this omission in Odoric's text. Evidently he did not want to omit any marvels, but we might well ask ourselves whether he actually believed in them, or expected his readers to believe. John de Marignolli, in his account of his embassy to the Great Khan, explains that while freaks do occur in nature, such as six-legged calves and two-headed birds, whole races of them do not exist anywhere.33 Marignolli was a learned man, but not an intellectual giant. He denied the possibility of circumnavigation, which Mandeville argued in favor of, and he confused the great rivers of Asia in an absurd way. But he was not simple and credulous, like Friar Odoric.

Odoric reported more marvels than Marco Polo, who reported enough to discredit him with such practical men as King John of Portugal in the days of Christopher Columbus. Mandeville certainly knew Marco Polo's book, but he elected to follow Odoric, whose account of the East was much briefer and full of marvels. Odoric's contemporaries found his report hard to credit. Sir Henry Yule calls attention to the affidavit which Odoric was called upon to append to his narrative, and he mentions also the apologies made by Odoric's ecclesiastical biographers. Henry of Glatz, Odoric's contemporary, declares, "that if he had not heard such great things of Odoric's perfections and sanctity, he could scarcely have credited some of his stories."34 Mandeville, in following and improving upon Odoric, was writing the first romance of travel in modern times.

The step by step comparison of Mandeville's Travels with Odoric's Itinerary shows most clearly the differences between the two works. Odoric records, without selection, whatever came to his attention along the way; or rather, since he dictated his account after his return, whatever he happened to remember. Mandeville's is a literary undertaking, the product of much reading and of literary rather than purely geographical interests. He everywhere substitutes local history for Odoric's comments on the food supply. The two accounts differ in form, in substance, and in purpose.

Mandeville was writing in a literary genre which has a long history, from the Odyssey and the lost Arimaspeia of Aristeas, through Ctesias, Megasthenes, and parts of Herodotus, Strabo, Aelian, Photius, and the lost novel of Antonius Diogenes about the wonders beyond Thule. Pliny collected these travelers' tales indiscriminately, and Solinus, perhaps Mandeville's closest forerunner, made a selection from Pliny of choice geographical wonders. Lucian travestied the genre in his True History, but St. Augustine included a chapter on the fabulous races of men in his City of God. In his day, the romance of Alexander was beginning its long history with the Pseudo-Callisthenes and the Epistle of Alexander to Aristotle about the marvels of India. In the seventh century Isidore of Seville repeated much of this lore, and shortly afterwards the pseudo-Aethicus produced his Cosmographia, which shows the same disregard for the changes wrought by time, and the same appropriation of other people's experiences complained of in Mandeville. In the Renaissance the popularity of Solinus and Aethicus tended to eclipse Mandeville!

Sometime between the third and seventh centuries a letter was invented which purported to be from "Fermes" to the Emperor Hadrian, describing a journey to the East on which the writer saw all the traditional marvels of strange beasts and stranger men. A book of Marvels of the East was made, mostly out of "Fermes." It is preserved in both a Latin and an Anglo-Saxon text.35 At the opening of the thirteenth century, Gervase of Tilbury included all of "Fermes" in his Otia Imperialia. Meanwhile, about 1165, the Letter of Prester John appeared and circulated widely. In the thirteenth century, when Europeans had an opportunity to visit China, they reported not only what they saw, but what they expected to see.

As a result, they merely added some fresh marvels to the old ones, and the better educated or more sceptical regarded all alike as "great liars." Marco Polo's difficulties with the incredulous are well-known, and even Friar Odoric's sanctity did not entirely protect him from the sceptics. Mandeville was free, therefore, to add and subtract, to polish, change, and interpret what he found in his sources. He does not omit the best of the traditional wonders of the earth, but he found, in the newer reports of the Orient, things more marvelous than in the old. For example, he took from Odoric the lake at Sylan (Ceylon) formed by the repentant tears of Adam and Eve. Marco Polo reported that the king of Nicoveran had a necklace of one hundred and four great pearls and rubies, which he used, like a rosary, to say his prayers.36 Odoric raises the number to three hundred pearls,37 and Mandeville follows Odoric. This same king had a famous ruby, which Marco Polo said was "a large palm long and quite as thick as the arm of a man."38 Odoric makes it "a good span in length and breadth," and Mandeville reports it "a foot of length and five fingers large" (p. 131). Modern critics have called Marco Polo's statement "hearsay," Odoric's "gullibility," but Mandeville's "sheer mendacity." It was, rather, pure fiction.

In his account of Manzi, or China, Mandeville shows much less dependence on Odoric than in the earlier part of the journey. He omits the visit to Zaiton, where Odoric left the bones of the four friars; and he omits some of Odoric's cruder marvels, such as the mountain on one side of which everything is black, while on the other everything is white.39 He uses other sources of information, as when he substitutes otters for the birds which, according to Odoric, are trained to catch fish for their masters.40 Both otters and cormorants were actually used, but, perhaps because birds were used for hunting in Europe, the otter seemed the greater marvel. He does not approve of crude exaggeration, however. Where both Marco Polo and Odoric say that Cansay (Hang-chow) is a hundred miles in compass, Mandeville says it is fifty-one miles.

He is much interested in the monastery, reported by Odoric, where the monks feed animals which have human faces, and which they believe are the souls of men. Odoric claimed that he argued with the monks that they were only animals.41 Mandeville substitutes a characteristic suggestion: "And I asked them if it had not been better to have given that relief to poor men, rather than to those beasts. And they answered me and said, that they had no poor men amongst them in that country; and though it had been so that poor men had been among them, yet were it greater alms to give it to those souls that do there their penance" (p. 137). The point of view which he is attributing to the Chinese monks is the same as that taken by many Christian churchmen of his day about masses for the dead, but if his intention is ironic, it is gently and subtly so.

Such implications as this constitute his commentary on mankind, and on the life of his time. He describes the strange customs of other lands and lets his reader draw what parallels he will. But we should observe that he has turned Odoric's reaction into something entirely different. He constantly assumes that human nature is the same everywhere, and he uses the familiar to explain the strange, and the strange to suggest comment on the familiar. Yet he is content to observe, clearly and simply, with the full, sympathetic, and imaginative understanding which is true charity.

The pigmies, whom Odoric reported,42 interested Mandeville, and he adds to every statement that Odoric makes about them, adding also their war against the cranes, which had been traditional since Homer. His greatest contribution to the literature of the pigmies, however, is his account of their relationship to men of normal size. Here, it has been suggested, he set the model for Swift. He says that the pigmies do the finer work, such as weaving, while men of normal size do the farming, "And of those men of our stature have they as great scorn and wonder as we would have among us of giants, if they were amongst us" (p. 138). So Gulliver found it.

Mandeville's descriptive skill is beautifully illustrated by his account of the palace of the Great Khan. He turns Odoric's red leather walls43 into panther skins which exude a sweet smell, are red as blood, and shine in the sun (p. 141). They are prized, he says, more than fine gold.44 Odoric mentions next some mechanical peacocks, operated "by diabolic art, or by some engine underground."45 He gives them about six lines. Mandeville, with a better sense for creating a word-picture, sets the stage first by describing the jeweled throne of the Khan with its three "seges" of graduated heights for his three wives. Next he explains how the Khan is served at table, and how his secretaries write down every word he utters. Then he is ready to tell how, at solemn feasts, mechanical peacocks are displayed in motion. The story is much more impressive at this point. He says that the peacocks "dance and sing, clapping their wings together … and whether it be by craft or by necromancy I wot never; but it is a good sight to behold, and a fair; and it is great marvel how it may be." Then he dramatizes his own curiosity and the cleverness of the Chinese by claiming, "I did great business for to have learned that craft, but the master told me that he had made a vow to his god to teach it to no creature, but only to his eldest son" (pp. 142-143).

Next he adds the famous vine, with leaves of gold and fruit of precious stones, out of the Epistle of Alexander, De Situ Indiae, and some cups of emerald, sapphire, and topaz, from which the Emperor is served, and then he mentions the practical detail of guards kept in the hall, and explains how he came to see it all: "And ye shall understand, that my fellows and I with our yeomen, we served this emperor, and were his soldiers fifteen months against the King of Mancy, that held war against him. And the cause was for we had great lust to see his noblesse and the estate of his court and all his governance, to wit if it were such as we heard say that it was" (pp. 143-144). Here he is adapting a story of Marco Polo's to his own use, but the suggestion of scepticism effectually reassures the reader and makes it possible for Mandeville to find everything more wonderful than he had heard that it was, "insomuch that we would never have lieved it had we not seen it. For I trow that no man would believe the noblesse, the riches ne the multitude of folk that be in his court, but he had seen it." Then he adds the comparison with things familiar which distinguishes his narrative from that of his sources. He says, "it is not there as it is here. For the lords here have folk of certain number as they may suffice; but the great Chan hath every day men at his costage and expense as without number. But the ordinance, ne the expenses in meat and drink, ne the honesty, ne the cleanness, is not so arrayed there as it is here; for all the commons there eat without cloth upon their knees, and they eat all manner of flesh and little of bread, and after meat they wipe their hands upon their skirts, and they eat not but once a day. But the estate of lords is full great, and rich and noble" (p. 144).46 The comparison not only creates the air of simple candor which is Mandeville's specialty, but it also saves the pride of his readers and sets the seal of apparent authenticity on his work.

Having drawn the picture of the Great Khan, he turns next (Chapters XXIV-XXVII in the Cotton text) to a sketch of the origin and history of the Tartars, out of Hayton, Vincent, and others. Odoric has very little to say on these subjects, but he was apparently the first to bring to Europe the wonderful Chinese story of the vegetable lamb, which Mandeville could not possibly omit.47 He has no use, however, for Odoric's unimaginative account of Tibet, the land of Prester John. Odoric says that not a hundredth part of the stories about it are true48 (Carpini says not a tenth part). Here Mandeville turns to the Letter of Prester John and gives his readers what will delight them.

He makes use of both Odoric49 and Marco Polo in his story of the Old Man of the Mountain, but as usual the interpretation is his own. Probably from Marco Polo, he got the "fair halls and fair chambers depainted all with gold and azure,"50 but Marco Polo locates the garden in a valley between two mountains. Odoric puts the wall around two mountains. Mandeville is reminded of the Christian traditions of the Earthly Paradise, so he puts it on top of a mountain on an island (where Tasso put his garden of Armida).51 Marco Polo says that it is in Saracen country, and that the Old Man represents it to his followers as the paradise promised by Mahomet. Odoric calls it simply "a paradise."

Mandeville represents the Old Man as quoting the Bible on a land flowing with milk and honey—a concept which Coleridge caught up in the line, "For he on honey-dew hath fed, / And drunk the milk of Paradise." Mandeville even has the Old Man hint of the higher, heavenly paradise, which also belonged in the medieval Christian tradition (p. 184). Marco Polo mentions four conduits flowing with wine, milk, honey, and clear water.52 Mandeville mentions these, but he adds three wells, "fair and noble, and all environed with stone of jasper, of crystal, diapered with gold, and set with precious stones and great orient pearls," which could, at will, be made to run with wine, milk, and honey. Like Marco Polo, he mentions the fruits and flowers, but he adds mechanical beasts and birds "that sung full delectably and moved by craft, that it seemed that they were quick." Perhaps he was remembering the mechanical peacocks, or similar mechanisms of the romances.53 At any rate, he is probably responsible for the mechanical birds which appear in the artificial paradise described by Spenser.

Mandeville owes to Odoric much of his account of the Valley of Devils, which follows next, but here Odoric is especially vainglorious, saying, "all the Saracens, when they heard of this [that he had traversed the valley], showed me great worship, saying that I was a baptized and holy man."54 Mandeville, on the other hand, remarks whimsically of his courage at this point in the journey, "I was more devout then, than ever I was before or after" (p. 187). He says (in the French, but not in the English text) that his party consisted of fourteen: nine Nestorians, two Greeks, and three Spaniards. Only nine passed through, but some, he says, went around another way. He describes how the party debated whether they should go through, or not, and he says that they were "shriven and houseled" by two friars minor of Lombardy that were in their company. Odoric was a Franciscan friar of Lombardy, and he traveled with a single companion! It is characteristic of Mandeville's sly humor that he should imply that Odoric was his confessor in this tall tale he is borrowing from him.

His description is far better than Odoric's, however. Odoric says that the devils that infest the valley play "nakers" and make sweet harmonies to allure travelers.55 Mandeville turns this into "great tempests and thunders, and … great noise, as it were sound of tabors and of nakers and of trumps, as though it were a great feast" (p. 185). Odoric says the place was full of dead bodies. Mandeville marvels at the freshness of the bodies, and the great multitude of them, "as though there had been a battle between two kings, and the mightiest of the country, and that the greater part had been discomfited and slain." If he was not thinking of the fields of Crécy and Poitiers, his readers must have been reminded of them, and perhaps have drawn an inference from the fact that he makes the valley a test of covetousness. Here again, by comparing the strange with the familiar, a literary device which he did not find in his sources, he has enabled his readers to create a visual image.

After his account of the Valley of Devils, Odoric ends abruptly with profuse protestations of the truth of everything he has recounted. How he got home he does not say. Obviously he had been in the land of hearsay and pure fantasy for some time. Mandeville ends in a more orderly way, bringing his reader home through India, past the land of the Bragmans which Alexander failed to conquer, and Taprobane with its hills of gold protected by ants (out of Herodotus via Vincent of Beauvais). He tells of the four rivers of Paradise, and of the land of darkness.56 He makes skillful use of bits from Odoric, omitted earlier, such as the funeral service in Tibet where birds are fed the flesh of the dead, and a cup is made out of the skull.57 From Odoric's account of China he is now ready to tell the story of the rich epicure who lives "in ease as a swine that is fed in a sty for to be made fat" (p. 205). Odoric follows this by a mention of the Chinese fashion of wearing long fingernails. Mandeville puts the two together, using the nails as the reason that the man has to be fed by others, the inconvenience of long nails immediately occurring to him.

He ends with a defense of the beliefs of the heathen, and of his own. He says that they all have "some articles of our faith," but imperfectly, because they have only natural religion, and not the revelations of the Bible, to guide them. He defends the Christian use of "simulacres," which he distinguishes from idols, saying, "we worship not the images of tree or of stone, but the saints in whose name they be made after." Then, with characteristic humor (since what he is writing is fiction), he leaves the door of adventure open to his successor. He says that he has not told all of the marvels of the world, but only what he has seen (sic!); and he has not told all of those, so that other men who go thither may, as a reward for their labors, find enough that is new to tell of.

How much the travelers of the next two centuries found to tell can be read in the compilations of Hakluyt and Purchas, but in these later accounts we keep coming upon reminders that these men, in their youth, had read Mandeville as well as Pliny, Solinus, and Strabo and the more "authoritative" ancients. They could have learned some of their narrative art from Mandeville, for much that Lowes describes as the art of the voyagers—their simple, lucid style, their conveying of sense perceptions, their expression of the unknown by homely comparisons with the familiar—all these elements are characteristic of Mandeville.

There are other things which Mandeville did not borrow from Odoric or from Marco Polo. Odoric piles on his marvels indiscriminately, the bad with the good, without proportion or arrangement. Mandeville, like a careful gardener, weeds, prunes, transplants, and arranges his materials to insure variety, harmony, and continued interest. Obviously those who call Mandeville a "mere plagiarist" have not compared the two. Nor is he to be compared to Marco Polo, for Polo, as his most recent editors point out, was not writing a narrative of his travels, but a description of the world. He takes up China, province by province, and city by city, giving for each the location, size, government, religion, currency, taxes, measures, products, and the things which a merchant might want to know. His descriptions are informative catalogues, always expressed in general terms, never in pictorial detail. It has been said of him that he had "looked at everything and seen nothing."58 His stories are artless and long-winded in a fashion which suggests that his amanuensis, the romance writer, Rusticiano de Pisan, was largely responsible for his literary form.59 Mandeville, on the other hand, gains his effects by the proper selection and arrangement of details and the apt use of simile, in a way which could, and probably did, give lessons to such moderns as Defoe and Swift.

He writes like a man of reading and social experience, who brings to his travels more than he finds in books. He looks through the eyes of others and sees more than they have recorded. He was writing, at least in his account of Asia, entirely out of his reading; but he had read so widely that the source-hunters, intent on proving that he had not traveled at all, have succeeded in proving that he had read most geographical works from Pliny to Marco Polo. What is more important, he read with his imagination. In the school of Solinus and Aethicus he was writing an epitome of the new travel literature of his own time. He was writing literature, not a dishonest travel book.

He does not pretend to confine himself to the experience of an actual traveler. He enriches his narrative, wherever he can, by telling of the religious and literary associations of whatever place he is describing. In the first part of the book, he reports not only the religious associations of the Holy Land, but the classical and romance associations as well. He understands the use of literary allusion, and he combines the pleasures of novelty and of recognition.

He is artist enough to go a step further and create literary associations. He succeeded in attaching folk tales to new places. He has an unfailing instinct for what is appropriate. Warner remarks that his folklore is always right for the region to which it is assigned.60 Perhaps he has had a larger share than has been recognized in forming our concepts of what is appropriate to various regions. At any rate he localized the castle of the watching of the sparrowhawk in Armenia, where it took its place quite naturally in the folklore of the East. He borrowed the story of the perilous kiss, perhaps from the romance of Le Bel Inconnu (the English version, Libeaus Desconus, by Thomas Chester, was written 1325-50), localizing it at Lango, or Cos, making the dragon-woman a daughter of Hippocrates. The association is plausible, because Hippocrates was born at Cos, was associated with the serpent cult of Aesculapius, and had a son or grandson named Draco. Whether Mandeville knew all this, or whether his invention was merely a fortunate one, its effectiveness is shown by the fact that it was adopted into both the romances and the local histories.61 The dragon-woman of Cos is referred to in Bondelmonti's Liber Insularum (ca. 1420), in Porcacchi's L'Isole più Famose (Venice, 1576), and as late as Boschini's L'Arcipelago (Venice, 1658). Mortorelli incorporated it verbatim into his fifteenth century romance of Tirante lo Blanch.62 Evidently Mandeville had the same power to localize folklore which Washington Irving displayed so notably. It is a literary gift of great value.

Mandeville was not responsible for localizing the tale of the Gorgon's head at the Gulf of Adalia, or Satalia. It had been traditional there from the time of the early crusades,63 but he modified the story in several ways. Where others say that the head was thrown into the gulf and made it dangerous, Mandeville says that because of it the city sank into the sea and the gulf was formed. He also suppressed the cruder elements of magic in the story, converting it into a romance of a lost city,64 and created a more polished narrative without violating the nature of the folktale he was revising.

Perhaps the best example of his instinct for what is right in folklore appears in the case of the orb which he says has fallen from the hand of the statue of Justinian at Constantinople. He says that it will not stay when it is put back, because it "betokeneth the lordship that he had over all the world," much of which had been lost by the Eastern Empire. A careful checking of the reports of other travelers indicates that the orb was still in the statue's hand in Mandeville's day,65 but symbolism required that it should have fallen out. A similar tale of a giant idol on the shore at Cadiz, said to have been erected by Mahomet, told of a key destined to fall out of the idol's hand when a king should be born in France who should restore Christianity to Spain.66 Mandeville may have been imitating this story in his account of the statue of Justinian. At any rate he knew what was appropriate.

Warner comments on the aptness of his mention of St. Nicholas in juxtaposition with the Greek Sea, because the Greek islanders of the Middle Ages attributed to St. Nicholas what their forefathers had fabled of Poseidon.67 On the other hand, sometimes Mandeville may make a bold transfer of a bit of folklore; for example, he attributes to a tribe in India a superstition about the breaking of maidenheads which Julius Caesar had attributed to the Britons. The historians of travel literature have been particularly outraged by this transposition, but Mandeville was certainly right in putting the belief in a far country. In fact, he may not have been following Caesar at all, but Solinus, who tells a slightly different version of the story about the Augyles, who live next to the Troglodites in Ethiopia (which in the Middle Ages was considered to be a part of India.)68 He has been accused of transferring the castle of the sparrowhawk from Aries to Armenia, but there is no evidence that the watching test was a part of the Mélusine legend before Jean d'Arras borrowed it from Mandeville and added it to the end of his romance of Mélusine by calling the fairy mistress of the sparrowhawk Melior (Mandeville does not name her), and making her a sister of Mélusine.

Mandeville's dependence on his authorities, and especially on Odoric of Pordenone, is so great that it does not seem possible that he had traveled in the Far East. But if he did not travel with Odoric, neither did he merely plagiarize from him. He made of the bald and undiscriminating Itinerary of the Friar what is, indeed, another book, as different from Odoric's as the personality and education of Mandeville are different from Odoric's. The Travels is incomparably richer than the materials out of which it was made because the imagination of a writer of genius has shone upon those materials and brought them to life. Mandeville is neither a plagiarist nor a "forger," but the creator of a romance of travel, a field in which he holds his place with the best.


  1. For his account of the Holy Land, from Bethlehem on, Mandeville drew heavily on a De Terra Sancta which was attributed to Odoric; see Warner's notes to pp. 35 ff.
  2. The story seems to be a confused reflection of the troubles St. Athanasius had with various Roman emperors, and was probably not original with Mandeville. Warner, note to p. 73, 1. 4, comments on the confusion of two bishops named Athanasius. I quote the translation of Odoric in Sir Henry Yule's Cathay and the Way Thither, II, 97 ff.
  3. … Jean d'Arras added the story to the Melusine legend by making the heroine, Melior, a sister of Melusine. Leo Hoffrichter, "Die ältesten französischen Bearbeitungen der Melusinensage," Romanistische Arbeiten, XII (1928), 33-34, points out that the last king of Armenia of the Lusignan line died in Paris in 1393, after the romance of Melusine was completed, but the fairy curse falls on Armenia and the whole line of kings, not on any particular one. Hoffrichter says that the transfer of the castle from Arles to Armenia is probably due to the Lusignan connection, and R. S. Loomis agrees: Arthurian Tradition and Crétien de Troyes (New York, 1949), pp. 89-95.
  4. Pollard's ed., p. 100.
  5. Cathay, II, 102.
  6. Notes to p. 74, 11. 17 and 23; and see Letts, p. 53 n.
  7. Cathay, II, 104.
  8. Some of the later, but not the early MSS., begin almost every paragraph with the word "Item," and call every country an "isle," but it is not so in the original.
  9. Pollard, p. 180; and Zarncke, Der Priester Johannes, VII, 914.
  10. The story of Job, Warner's French text, p. 76, 11. 29-34, beginning "Iob fuist paen …" and ending "quant il Morust, CCXLVIII ans," is omitted in the 1371 MS., but appears on fol. 48 of the better text of this redaction, Bibl. Nat. MS. nouv. acq. fr. 10723.…
  11. J. L. Lowes, The Road to Xanadu (Boston, 1927), p. 313.
  12. Cathay, II, 111-112.
  13. They are described by Pliny, Solinus, Isidore, Vincent, Higden, and even St. Augustine; see Warner's note to p. 78, 1. 22.
  14. Warner, note to p. 81, 1. 5, quotes a similar passage from Gower (ed. 1857, III, 109). Hamelius hastens to point out that both England and Liège are in the seventh climate; see his note to p. 108, 1. 6.
  15. See Cordier's note 4, in Yule's Cathay, II, 112-113.
  16. This passage is cited by Warner, note to p. 81, 1. 17, and Sir Henry Yule, "Mandeville" in the Encyclopaedia Britannica, as the only borrowing from Marco Polo in Mandeville, but there are others: the mark made by the crocodile's tail in the sand, details of the garden of the Assassins, etc.… The detail of the crocodile is not in Odoric, or in Vincent, as Warner notes on p. 98, 1, 4. Marco Polo does not make the statement about the sexes; see A. C. Moule and Paul Pelliot, Marco Polo: The Description of the World (London, 1938), I, 124-125, and, on the mark of the Crocodile's tail, I, 279.
  17. Marco Polo also records miracles of this type, such as the moving of a mountain by prayer, and the existence of a church in which the roof is supported by pillars which do not touch the ground: Moule, I, 105-112, 144-146.
  18. Cathay, II, 137. Pollard, p. 112.
  19. Cathay, II, 114.
  20. Cathay, II, 117, 142. On the importance of the Nestorians in China in the 13th and 14th centuries, see Budge, The Monks of Kûblâi Khân, pp. 36 ff.; and A. C. Moule, Christians in China befare the Year 1550 (London, 1930).
  21. Cathay, II, 136.
  22. Cathay, II, 171.
  23. The Wonders of the East, trans. and ed. Sir Henry Yule, Hakluyt Soc., No. 31 (1863), p. 27. Friar Jordanus was in India just before Odoric.
  24. Marignolli's Itinerary is translated in Yule's Cathay, III (Hakluyt Soc. 2d Ser. No. 37 for 1914), see p. 217; and see Warner's note to p. 83, 11. 17, 18.
  25. Cathay, II, 140.
  26. See Warner's note to p. 84, 1. 18. The Zoroastrians of India use the urine and ordure of the bull in their lustrations.
  27. Moule, I, 371, 373; Cathay, II, 146-147.
  28. Cathay, II, 164.
  29. Marco Polo mentions these "castles" on the elephants of Zanzibar; Moule, I, 433; and of Tibet and India, I, 287.
  30. Warner, in his note to p. 95, 1. 24, cites records of the similar behavior of fish. Many fish, such as salmon and carp, spawn in shallow water, and one species actually buries its eggs in the sand at high tide.
  31. Cathay, II, 167. Odoric created them by combining what Marco Polo says about three different islands, "Necuveran," where the men behave like dogs (Moule, I, 377-378), and "Angerman," where the men have heads like mastiffs (Moule, I, 378), and "Maabar," where a miniature of the ox is worn on the forehead (Moule, I, 404); see Warner's note on p. 97, 1. 13.
  32. Cathay, II, 176.
  33. Cathay, III, 254-256.
  34. Cathay, II, 24.…
  35. Edited by M. R. James for the Roxburghe Club (1929). In his Introduction (p. 25), James gives a brief summary of the genre. The letter to the Emperor Hadrian is discussed also by E. Farel, "Une Source Latine de L'Histoire D'Alexandre: La Lettre sur les Merveilles de L'Inde," Romania, XLIII (1914), 199-215, 353-370. On Solinus and Aethicus see C. R. Beazley, The Dawn of Modern Geography (London, 1897-1906), I, 250 ff., and 360 ff.
  36. Moule ed., I, 383-384.
  37. Cathay, II, 169. Mandeville and Marco Polo, but not Odoric, say that the king uses the jewels "as our ladies wear paternosters."
  38. Moule ed., I, 380. Jordanus says much the same, op. cit., p. 30.
  39. Cathay, II, 187.
  40. Ibid., p. 190.
  41. Ibid., pp. 201-203.
  42. Ibid., p. 207.
  43. Ibid., p. 220.
  44. Warner suggests confusion with the stone pantheros which was described as red and shining; note to p. 106, 1. 1. Letts (p. 66) cites Vincent of Beauvais, who mentions the sweet odor.
  45. Cathay, II, 222.
  46. Warner gives Carpini as the source; note to p. 108, 1. 5. Jordanus gives a similar account of the eating habits of the Persians, op. cit., p. 10.
  47. See Warner's note on pp. 212-213, and Cathay, II, 240-241. Bot Odoric and Mandeville compare this lamb which grows on a tree to the barnacle goose.
  48. Cathay, II, 244-245.
  49. Ibid., 257-260. Mandeville changes the name of the Old Man from Marco Polo's Alaodin (Ala-ed-din), the name of the last leader of the Assassins of Persia, destroyed in 1256, to Gatholonabes, and the name of the place from Marco Polo's Mulecte and Odoric's Millestorte to Mistorak. A recent account of the assassins is C. E. Nowell, "The Old Man of the Mountain," Speculum, XXII (1947), 497-519. The name of the place was Alamut in the Mulihet Mountains, according to Rubruquis. The story of the assassins was well-known in Europe by Mandeville's time, but the legend of the garden paradise does not go back of Marco Polo in Europe and seems to be of oriental origin: F. M. Chambers, "The Troubadours and the Assassins," Modern Language Notes, LXIV (1949), 245-251.
  50. Moule ed., I, 129. Lois Whitney, "The Literature of Travel in the 'Faerie Queene'," Modern Philology, XIX (1921-1922), 165, notes that the Romans de Bauduin de Sebourc has an account of the Old Man of the Mountain, out of Marco Polo, which includes the gold and azure palace and streams of claret, honey, and another wine.
  51. … On traditions of the earthly and heavenly paradise see H. R. Patch, The Other World (Cambridge, Mass., 1950).
  52. Odoric mentions briefly a fountain of water, two conduits, girls, and horses.
  53. Earlier instances of singing metal birds are noted by Otto Söhring, "Werke bildender Kunst in altfranzösischen Epen," Romanische Forschungen, XII (1900), 582-586; and Frederic E. Sweet, in his edition of Johann von Konstanz, Die Minnelehre (Boston, n.d., ca. 1934), pp. lxxii-lxxiii.
  54. Cathay, II, 266.
  55. Ibid., p. 264. J. L. Lowes suggests that Odoric's valley derives from Marco Polo's account of the desert of Lop, or Gobi, where also strange, alluring music is mentioned: The Road to Xanadu, pp. 489-490, n. 4, and "The Dry Sea and the Carrenare."
  56. Marco Polo puts it in the far north: Moule ed., I, 472-473. He attributes the darkness to magic employed to rob the natives of their furs. He says the Tartars get in and out by using mares, since they will return to their colts without guidance.
  57. Cathay, II, 254. This Zoroastrian custom is still being reported: see Lt. Col. Ilia Tolstoy, "Across Tibet from India to China," National Geographic Magazine, XC (1946), 181. He does not mention the skulls.
  58. Moule ed., 1, 40.
  59. P. Paris suggested that Marco Polo's companion in prison, who wrote down his account of his travels, was Rusticiano, or Rustichello de Pisan, compiler of the Table ronde, and grandfather of Christine de Pisan: "Extrait d'une notice sur la relation originale de Marc-Pol, Vénitien," Journal Asiatique, 2d Ser, XII (Sept. 1833), 244-254, extracted from the Bulletin de la Société de Géographie, 1st Ser, XIX (1833), 23-31. L. F. Benedetto, Marco Polo: Il Milione (Florence, 1928), pp. xiii-xxxiii, has demonstrated the truth of this theory, and Moule and Pelliot, in their edition, accept the identification, 1, 40-43.
  60. Note on p. 12, 1. 16.
  61. Ibid. A discussion of Mandeville's source, with references to other discussions, is G. Huet's "La Légende de la Fille d'Hippocrate à Cos," Bibliothèque de l'Ecole des Chartes, LXXIX (1918), 45-59. Huet argues that it was a local legend at Cos.
  62. Warner, note on p. 12, 1. 16.
  63. It is reported in detail by Benedict of Peterborough, Roger of Hoveden, Gervase of Tilbury, Walter Map, and others. Warner's note on p. 14, 1. 6, gives references and also notes that the story figures in the Vulgate version of the Livre d'Artus. See also Hamelius' note, 11, 33-34.
  64. Several hundred local legends of engulfed cities, monasteries, etc., were recorded by René Basset, "Les Villes Englouties," Revue des Traditions populaires, V-XXXIV (1890-1919). The cities are usually under lakes, and were often engulfed because of sins or curses, but none of the stories resembles Mandeville's significantly. H. M. Smyser, "The Engulfed Lucerna of the Pseudo-Turpin, " Harvard Studies and Notes in Philology, XV (1933), 49-73, summarizes Basset.
  65. Warner, note on p. 4, 1. 16, says that the cross on the orb was blown down in 1317 and repaired in the same year. Boldensele does not mention the loss of the orb, nor does Bondelmonti in 1422. Stephen of Novgorod (1350), Zosimus (1420), and Clavijo (1403) describe it as still in place. Schiltberger (1427) repeats Mandeville's story, but he also tells Mandeville's story of the watching of the sparrowhawk, and several others of his fictions. His learned editor, evidently unaware of his debts to Mandeville, has some amusingly puzzled notes on these points: see The Bondage and Travels of Johann Schiltberger, trans. J. Buchan Telfer with notes by P. Bruun, Hakluyt Society, Vol. 58 (1879), Chaps. 30, 31, 38, and 57, with the note on pp. 228-229. Clavijo: Embassy to Tamerlane, 1403-1406, translated by Guy Le Strange, is in the Broadway Traveler Series (London, 1928), see p. 72. Robert Fazy, "Jehan de Mandeville: Ses Voyages et son séjour discuté en Egypte," Asiatische Studien, 1-4 (1950), 30-54, argues that this and other details of the account of the Near East are authentic and show that Mandeville had been there.
  66. C. Meredith-Jones, Historia Karoli Magni et Rotholandi ou Chronique du Pseudo-Turpin (Paris, 1936), Chap. IV, pp. 100-102; R. N. Walpole, Philip Mouskés and the Pseudo-Turpin Chronicle (Berkeley, 1947), pp. 327-433, provides a source study; and another text in "The Burgundian Translation of the Pseudo-Turpin Chronicle in Bibliothèque Nationale (French MS. 25438)," Romance Philology, 11 (1949), 177-215; also edited by H. M. Smyser, The Pseudo-Turpin, Mediaeval Academy of America Publications, 30 (1937), see p. 60 and p. 20 and note.
  67. Note on p. 11, 1. 16.
  68. See Chap. 31 of the Polyhistor, ed. Th. Mommsen (Berolini, 1864); or A. Golding's translation (London, 1587), Chap. 34.

M. C. Seymour (essay date 1967)

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2577

SOURCE: An introduction to Mandeville's Travels, Oxford at the Clarendon Press, 1967, pp. xiii-xxi.

[In the excerpt below, Seymour comments on style and structure in Mandeville's Travels and places the work in the context of medieval literature.]

Mandeville's Travels was written in French on the Continent, possibly at Liège and probably not by an Englishman, about 1357. Nothing else is known, and little more can be inferred, about the immediate origins of the book. None of the various attempts to pierce the author's anonymity, which began in the fourteenth century at Liège and which have successively associated the book with Jean de Bourgogne, a Liège physician (d. 1372), and Jean d'Outremeuse, a Liège notary (d. 1399), as well as with the author's adopted name, will bear critical examination.

The book was immediately successful. Approximately 250 manuscripts survive to attest its tremendous popularity. Within a hundred years it had been translated, often many times, into Latin, English, High and Low German, Danish, Czech, Italian, Spanish, and Irish; it had been abridged and epitomized for widely differing audiences, and even turned into an English metrical romance; and in almost every part of Europe successive editions began to appear as soon as printing presses were set up. In England alone five distinct versions are known to have circulated in manuscript, alongside one French and four independent Latin versions, and Richard Pynson and Wynkyn de Worde printed at least four separate editions in the reign of Henry VII.

The fascination of Mandeville's Travels is not hard to understand. In an easily digestible form it made available the newly discovered wonders of the East and, plentifully supplied with fable, it satisfied without wearying both the seeker of knowledge and the lover of marvels; as the author rightly claimed (p.228), 'men seyn alleweys that newe thinges and newe tydynges ben plesant to here'. Moreover, a large part of the book is concerned with a description of the Holy Land, a perennial source of interest as the author noted (p. 3), and his essential Catholicism, at once pious and tolerant in the best medieval tradition, must have seemed especially attractive to a world divided by self-interest and heresy. This many-sided appeal is reflected in the various abridgements which appeared in the fifteenth century; for some the book was a fascinating storehouse of fable, for others an apparently genuine guide to the Holy Land, for others a theme for moral exhortation, while in England especially the romantic interest attaching to a seemingly historical knight adventurer (who perhaps served as the model for Chaucer's verray parfit gentil knyght) rivalled the popularity of the traditional heroes of romance. At all points the book touched contemporary life—indeed, in a very real sense, it is itself an epitome of the later Middle Ages—and it furnished a splendid and spectacular example of God's plenty.

It is perhaps ironical that this exotic book should over-shadow the popularity of Marco Polo's Divisament dou Monde, and that the genuine and truthful traveller should be dubbed Il Milione, a liar who described everything in millions, while the fictitious 'Mandeville' should be believed by all. For Mandeville's Travels is a compilation at second-hand of other mens' travels and contains a sufficient number of inaccuracies and inconsistencies to make it extremely improbable that its author ever left his native Europe.

The chief source of Mandeville's Travels was a series of French translations of genuine itineraries, completed by Jean le Long, monk of St. Omer, 150 miles from Liège, and justly styled 'the Hakluyt of the Middle Ages', in 1351. The major works in this huge compilation were the account of the Holy Land by William of Boldensele (1336), the description of the East by the Franciscan missionary Odoric of Pordenone (1330), and Haiton's Fleurs des Histoires d'Orient (before 1308); of which Jean le Long followed Nicholas Falcon's Latin translation. These travellers were factual and accurate observers and 'Mandeville' copied large extracts from their writings (slightly distorted by scribes and translators) into his own book.

'Mandeville' used several other sources, particularly the medieval encyclopedia of Vincent of Beauvais (c. 1250), which was based on earlier compilations (such as those of Solinus and Isidore of Seville) and preserved verbatim lengthy quotations from classical and earlier medieval writings. The reverence for the written word was such that virtually any account could be uncritically transcribed and believed, and thus the monsters of classical antiquity (the dog-headed men, the basilisk-eyed women, and the rest) found their way into Mandeville's Travels. Perhaps the most curious example of this uncritical repetition is the description of the 'isle' in the land of Prester John (p. 208) where the incestuous inhabitants derive, by way of Vincent of Beauvais, from the ancient Britons described by Caesar. And elsewhere this unwary approach is responsible for two descriptions of Ceylon, variously called Silha (p. 144) and Taprobane (p. 218) in different sources.

Yet, given the intellectual climate of the time, 'Mandeville' himself cannot be harshly criticized for reproducing these absurdities. And when due allowance is made for such exceptions and for those scribal contaminations which distort all medieval books, it may be fairly claimed that Mandeville's Travels accurately incorporates much, indeed most, of medieval knowledge of the world. The belief that the world is round, for example, a doctrine that had been reborn in the University of Paris in the thirteenth century, and which 'Mandeville' did much to popularize, is explained in great detail (pp. 132-7), and many of the marvels which more cynical generations have mocked, such as the annual running of spawning fish (p. 141), have a substantial basis of fact. Thus, the reputation of the father of lies' which 'Mandeville' has enjoyed since the eighteenth century is misleading. Though there is much in the book which may not be credited, such as the author's statement that he drank at the miraculous Well of Youth (p. 124), it is incontrovertible that 'Mandeville' himself and his contemporaries believed implicitly in the wonders that he recorded.

To support this structure of marvellous fact 'Mandeville' chose to erect an entirely fictitious framework. He tells us that he was born and bred at St. Albans, that he left England on Michaelmas Day (29 September) 1322, and that, having served both the Sultan and the Great Khan and visited most of the known world, he wrote his book from memory while incapacitated by arthritic gout. And throughout the work this engaging fiction is supported by a number of personal avowals, disclaimers, and protestations, most notably perhaps his acceptance of the justice of the Sultan's strictures on evil-living Christians (pp. 100-1). None of this is true. The date of departure is taken from William of Boldensele's letter of dedication to his patron, Cardinal Talleyrand-Périgord; the name 'Mandeville' is probably borrowed from the satiric French romance le Roman de Mandevie, written about 1340; the service in the court of the Great Khan is copied from Odoric; and so on. The pretence is skilfully maintained by brief references to England, and even today exercises its force on the unwary. In its own day scribes and translators felt its fascination and cheerfully interpolated a horde of spurious detail, such as a dedication to Edward III and the story of the visit to the Pope at Rome (pp. 228-9).

This marrying together of medieval fact and fiction seems at first sight a monstrous paradox, which critics have been at pains to explain. Some have seen 'Mandeville' as a deep and mocking satirist, others as an arch/heretic seeking to undermine the power of the Pope, others as a consummate artist bent on creating a literary masterpiece, others as the creator of prose fiction, and others as the perpetrator of the biggest literary hoax in history. All these views are purblind. Any critic who ignores the essential accuracy of the book betrays a naïveté more than medieval. The spur of fame and prosperity is not relevant to the writing of an anonymous work in the Middle Ages, and though it is possible that the author was inspired by the example of some genuine traveller, Marco Polo for instance, it seems most probable that Mandeville's Travels was designed as a popular encyclopaedia where the narrator should, like the Dreamer in Piers Plowman or Dante Alighieri, hold together the various threads of knowledge. The idea of the fictional narrator was slowly maturing in the European consciousness and in the later Middle Ages was used increasingly, in and out of the pulpit, to teach wayward man the road to wisdom. As the Nun's Priest says, in a pointed paraphrase of Romans xv. 4,

For Seint Poul seith that al that written is
To oure doctrine it is ywrite, ywis,

and however personal his immediate motives might be, every medieval writer was vividly aware of this essential purpose.

In such a context the problem of the anonymity of Mandeville's Travels, which has bedevilled literary criticism of the work for far too long, is no longer crucial. In a medieval community to make available a vernacular and easily read abridgement of diverse accounts of the wonders of the world was a charitable office which was its own reward, and there is no reason to doubt the sincerity of the author's final prayer: 'Wherefore I preye to alle the rederes and hereres of this boke, yif it plese hem, that thei wolde preyen to God for me.' A close and illuminating parallel is provided by Caxton, whose Preface to Le Morte Darthur, for example, attests both the piety and the concern for the common good, expressed by the same quotation of St. Paul, which are the hallmarks of medieval literary endeavour.

The structure of Mandeville's Travels is eminently suited to an edited selection of other men's writings. The book has an obvious autobiographical beginning and end, and there is a sufficient number of cross-references and statements about the need for conciseness to show that the author was working to a general design. There are even moments of sustained personal drama, in the colloquy with the Sultan and the journey through the Valley Perilous (pp. 100-1, 203-5) for example. But over all there is no intense preoccupation with the form of the book. The author's sense of control is easy and unobtrusive, perhaps for the most part even unpremeditated. He chose from his sources what seemed to him to be of most interest; the routes to the Holy Land, for example, are described in much more detail than those to the East; and the final impression of the book is one of natural selection. To praise this naturalness as consummate artistry, as some have done, is misleading. The author frequently copies lengthy verbatim extracts from his sources and rarely, if ever, moves far from his authorities, even though this restriction leads him at times into repetition and confusion. If the book pleases, it is because its contents appeal to the reader in exactly the same way as they appealed to the educated and gentle author. There is no more studied artistry in Mandeville's Travels than there is in, say, Johnson's Lives of the Poets. Both are, within their general framework, and mutatis mutandis, the spontaneous productions of lively minds, which speak across the centuries with an engaging and stimulating freshness.

The style of Mandeville's Travels reflects this ease and unobtrusiveness. Just as the author journeys from land to land and from story to story with little more than geographical direction, so he writes in a simple, unselfconscious manner, entirely free from rhetorical ornament and stylistic device; in both cases offering a close parallel to Huckleberry Finn adrift on the Mississippi. Where the reader finds 'Mandeville' obscure or contorted, even in passages like the calculations of astrology which determine the size of the globe (pp. 133-7) by concepts and terms unfamiliar today, it is always because of distortion by scribe or translator. Yet here also it is misleading to think in terms of a conscious and independent artist deliberately reshaping his material. 'Mandeville' wrote in the familiar descriptive idiom of his time, the doulz franceys justly admired throughout fourteenth-century Europe for its precision and grace, and he was untrammelled by, and probably unaware of, any need for allegorical or stylistic conceit. He was, it is true, always concerned with an immediate clarity, at pains to explain the unfamiliar, and carefully glossing exotic words and phrases; but his explanations are exactly phrased in the terms of his sources (themselves often derivative and generally in translation). Thus, when he appears most vivid, for example in the description of the crocodile (p. 144)— 'and whan thei gon be places that ben grauelly, it semeth as though men hadde drawen a gret tree thorgh the grauelly place'—he is most derivative. In the same manner as Robert Burton, whose habit of incorporating extensive and unacknowledged quotation from earlier writers into the Anatomie of Melancholy has betrayed more than one critic into absurdity, 'Mandeville' sweeps his drag-net across the styles of many men and many centuries. The clarity and freshness of Mandeville's Travels are undeniable and are often reflected in the many non-French versions of the book, but they are essentially the characteristics not so much of the author as of his age.

In England this caveat is especially necessary. Though he is no longer praised as 'the father of English prose', 'Mandeville' is still in some quarters held in high repute as a stylist. In fact, the earliest English translation (an abridged text known as the Defective Version) is a workmanlike rendering made before 1400, but in no way superior to any other contemporary translation from the French, such as the Book of the Knight of the Tour Landry; and the conflation based on it, the Cotton Version (which has held the field since 1725, and is printed in this edition), is decidedly inferior. The conflator had an unhappy command of French idiom and produced more mistranslations and clumsy renderings of gallicisms (as the Textual Commentary shows) than any of his contemporaries whose work is still extant.

None the less, Mandeville's Travels is a deservedly popular and entertaining book. More than any other work, it popularized many of the facts and fictions of our classical inheritance—the representation of the True Cross in the banana, the weeping crocodile, 'the men whose heads do grow beneath their shoulders', and a hundred other colourings of popular imagination, draw their strength from Mandeville's Travels; and in Thomas East's 1568 edition of the Defective Version, which maintained its dominance for two centuries, it fertilized the minds and kindled the hearts of generations of poets and playwrights. Inevitably and perhaps reluctantly men have had to bid farewell to the griffon and the hippocentaur and the other monstrous inhabitants of the isles in the Great Ocean Sea, and Mandeville's Travels has become something of a fairy tale in consequence. It is a sad fate. The great Eastern travellers of the Middle Ages, Marco Polo and Friar Odoric and their fellows, made possible the great sea voyages of the Renaissance, and 'Mandeville' was, more than any other, their trumpeter. When the Santa Cruz sighted land on 12 October 1492, a copy of Mandeville's Travels lay beside Marco Polo's book in the admiral's day-cabin, a not ignoble destiny for a work designed as a popular encyclopaedia, and one which might well give pause to those tempted to dismiss it as 'a fanciful narrative of superstitious ignorance'. For as in its own day Mandeville's Travels was the most popular secular book in circulation, so it remains one of the most endearing monuments of medieval civilization.

Christian K. Zacher (essay date 1976)

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 14853

SOURCE: "The Pilgrim as Curious Traveler: Mandeville's Travels," in Curiosity and Pilgrimage: The Literature of Discovery in Fourteenth-Century England, The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1976, pp. 130-57.

[In the following excerpt, Zacher presents an overview of Mandeville's Travels, focusing on Mandeville's treatment of the Holy Land, and argues that the work is worth interest because of "its peculiar attitude toward pilgimage and exploration, its intricate sturcture, and its sophisticated point of view. "]

Mandeville's Travels was internationally popular in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries (over 250 manuscript versions of it survive): it influenced contemporary writers like Chaucer and the Gawain-poet,1 and Columbus, among other explorers, turned to it for advice before making his ocean voyages.2 In our time, however, it is largely unread and seldom discussed by medievalists. There may be some excuse for this neglect. The complicated manuscript tradition of the Travels has long demanded most of the attention scholars have given the work (there are, for example, three modern editions of the Cotton MS English version alone, which dates from about 14003). Debate about the provenance of the book has led to a concentration on the date of composition, the author's still-uncertain identity and nationality, and his reading and sources.4 New discoveries about these matters will surely be made, but more attention should begin to be given to the Travels as imaginative literature and to its contribution toward modern understanding of certain intellectual concerns of its time. Except for an occasional remark in commentaries to editions and in some portions of two book-length studies of the work, there has been little discussion of the literary worth of the Travels.5 Readers have long been fascinated by its revelations about Asia, but the book—a "romance of travel," in Josephine Bennett's view6—ought to interest us also because of its peculiar attitude toward pilgrimage and exploration, its intricate structure, and its sophisticated point of view. And what should intrigue us above all is the insistent presence of a narrator who interests us in him and his travel book because he himself is so curiously interested in the world. The mind of its author is at once naive, inquisitive, ironic, self-deprecating, and serious; it is a mind that intelligently speculates about the differing mores and values of late medieval Christian and pagan cultures. Approaching the book with this in mind at least would enable us to shunt aside what seems an irrelevant issue: the longstanding assertion of historians, geographers, and textual scholars that the work is an unoriginal mixture of half-truths mostly borrowed from other sources, a fraud, a hoax.7 These, in substance, are the opinions Mandeville's readers have untiringly rendered—and the application of a term like "fraud" to both the identity claimed by the author and the veracity of what he reports has accounted for confusion and harshness and misunderstanding in many of these judgments.

Mandeville's Travels is in part the record of a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, but it is in greater measure the account of a curious man's exploration of the earth. And the book is not simply a diary-like summary of successive experiences, composed seriatim (as, for example, Marco Polo's), but a consciously arranged sequence of adventures. Structurally, the book breaks into two parts, and these reflect the differing motivations of the traveler.8 The first part recounts the pilgrimage routes through the known world from Europe to Palestine; the second and slightly longer part describes the marvels of the unknown world that stretches beyond Jerusalem to the lands of Prester John, the Great Chan of China, and the Terrestrial Paradise. The changing nature of Mandeville's itinerary corresponds to (and indeed demonstrates) the author's actual motives for traveling. In the linear narrative of the book, the devout pilgrim metamorphoses into the wide-eyed curious wanderer. But at the same time, in a number of other ways Mandeville shows himself to us, from the moment of departure from "the west syde of the world," as an incorrigible curiosus, made so in part by the thirty-four years he spent "longe tyme ouer the see." Furthermore, Mandeville's book reveals that for him, as for humanists like de Bury, curiositas was rather a happy condition of mind than a moral fault. Unlike the Chaucer of the Tales, Mandeville viewed pilgrimage not as an ideal spiritual practice become desiccated but as only one form of travel, which can and must be supplemented by a further, worldly kind of travel. I wish to show that in the Travels we are witnessing, as it were in a compressed form, the shifting motivations that distinguish the medieval pilgrim from the Renaissance voyager. Within this one book pilgrim piety is replaced by confessed curiosity. And that curiosity leads Mandeville to a perception of the cultural and religious diversity of the world—a world gradually seen to be larger, stranger, and more deserving of investigation, the world that in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries thinkers and travelers (often inspired by this book) began to uncover.9

Mandeville's Prologue explains why Christians should go to the Holy Land and why he has chosen to describe this pilgrimage route. Christians journey to the "Lond of Promyssioun" because Christ selected it over all other lands inasmuch as it is "the herte and the myddes of all the world" (1).10 Aristotle had said "The vertue of thinges is in the myddes," but common sense also teaches that anyone wishing to make public an announcement "wil make it to ben cryed and pronounced in the myddel place of a town," as Christ wished his Word to become known "euenly to alle the parties of the world" (2).11 Throughout the first portion of the Travels, as he moves toward Jerusalem, Mandeville often reminds us that Christ's home is the focal point of every pilgrim's journey, and once in the city he will allude to the exegetical and mystical beliefs that pictured Jerusalem as the navel of the world. All good Christians also need to make the "holy viage" to "chacen out alle the mysbeleeuynge men" (2). Earlier itineraria to the Moslem-beseiged Holy Land normally began with this call to crusade, and Mandeville, though somewhat less vigorously, follows suit.12 Aziz Atiya would have us understand Mandeville's Travels as "paramountly a work of propaganda," an exhortation to the nobility to put aside vice and unite to repel the Saracens.13 However, unlike contemporary crusade propagandists, Mandeville is eager to describe the wonders of the East, and he displays little serious interest in the military stance of the enemy aside from estimating Saracen fighting strength (26). He does worry that pride, covetousness, and envy have made fourteenth-century European lords "more besy for to disherite here neyghbores more than for to chalenge or to conquere here right heritage" (2-3). The immorality of a lax nobility—a perennial topic with homilists of the time—is a recurrent theme in the Travels, and it may partly account for the frequent inclusion of Mandeville's book in collections of moral treatises.14

But having made the standard plea for lords and "comoun peple" to go and disperse the heathens, Mandeville turns to his real motives for writing the book. He writes, he says, for the "many men" who "desiren for to here speke of the Holy Lond" but have been deprived of news because there has been for a "longe tyme … no generalle passage ne vyage ouer the see" (3); he also, of course, is writing a guidebook for pilgrims planning to visit the region. In between these brief statements of intention, Mandeville tells us his name, says he was born in England at St. Albans, and notes that he went to sea in 1322. His credentials as a world traveler are more imposing than Chaucer's Knight's. He has journeyed through "Turkye, Ermonye the Litylle and the Grete, thorgh Tartarye, Percye, Surrye, Arabye, Egypt the High and the Lowe, thorgh Lybye, Caldee, and a gret partie of Ethiope, thorgh Amazoyne, Inde the Lasse and the More a gret partie, and thorghout many othere iles that ben abouten Inde." Clearly he is going to give us more than a guide to the Holy Land. His assumed audience includes all curiosi waiting to be transported from the known to the unknown world. Mandeville wants us to believe he is no vicarious encyclopedist; he everywhere makes us feel he has been there, seen it all, and returned home to take us back with him; and he has taken pains to convince us that what follows are his own observations, his own experiences. Indeed, not until the last chapter is there any explicit admission that he has also used "informacoun of men that knewen of thinges that I had not seen myself" (228). With a further reminder that he has traveled East "often tymes," much as Chaucer's Knight had "riden, no man ferre, / As wel in cristendom as in hethenesse," Mandeville calls upon other competent authorities to correct or add to his book and begins "To teche you the weye out of Englond to Constantynoble."

Through chapters I-XIV Mandeville sketches the pilgrimage routes on a map that extends from "the west syde of the world"—specifically England, Ireland, Wales, Scotland, and Norway—to Palestine. He describes not the whole network of pilgrimage roads but only the "most princypalle stedes," because to name them all would (as he has occasion to say so often during the book) "make to long a tale" (5); and, besides, for Christians "the weye is comoun and it is knowen of many nacyouns" (39). Since the book is meant to entertain curious readers who like "to here speke of straunge thinges of dyuerse contreyes" (15) as much as to instruct potential pilgrims, these chapters offer a mixture of local history, mileage estimates (given in terms of "iourneyes"), and descriptions of cities, shrines, and relics. This initial decision to write for two audiences, the pilgrim and the expectant armchair reader, proved to be Mandeville's guarantee of popular success. As an incessant curiosus he was naturally equipped for the task.

His first pause along the road to Jerusalem is in Constantinople at Saint Sophia, "the most fayr chirche and the most noble of alle the world" (6). In front of the church stood a gold statue of Emperor Justinian on horseback; a round gold apple he once held in his hand, Mandeville observes, "is fallen out therof. And men seyn there that it is a tokene that the emperour hath ylost a gret partie of his londes and of his lordschipes.… This appulle betokeneth the lordschipe that he hadde ouer alle the world that is round." Bennett says "symbolism required that it should have fallen out," agreeing with other commentators that the apple, in Mandeville's time, was still in place, not fallen.15 Mandeville mentions the statue, of course, because it was a pilgrims' landmark and because the moral sentence echoes what he says elsewhere about lords who grow too fond of the world. He understood the fallen apple as a sign of Justinian's lost empire; and the world where fallen man has lived since Adam "ete the appulle" (8) was commonly enough symbolized by that fruit in the late Middle Ages.16 But it is clear Mandeville is also very much interested in the roundness of the apple; the object is not only a symbol but also the first of a series of spherical images he will discover in surveying the religious geography of the Christ-centered pilgrim world that wheels about Jerusalem. In chapter X he describes in detail the various circular structures in and around the city lying in the middle of the world. And he finds in Egypt a temple "made round after the schappe of the temple of Ierusalem" (34); the apple tree of Adam (35), whose seed produced the tree later used to make Christ's cross (8)17; and a fruit (in actuality the banana) the Egyptians call the apple of Paradise, which, when cut open, reveals in its core "the figure of the holy cros of oure lord Ihesu" (35).

Mandeville's eye lighted on the round object Justinian held because it suggested all this. The mappamundi he will tell us he saw in the Pope's chambers on his way home to England (229) (a map probably similar to the Ebsdorf and Hereford T-O maps) might have represented the earth as round and two-dimensional and depicted Jerusalem (a round or square emblem at the center), the circular maze at Crete (usually moralized as the labyrinth of this world), the garden of Eden at the top circled by a wall, and Christ's head, hands, and feet visible at the four sides of the map as though He were crucified on the globe.18 While Mandeville generally adheres to this conception of a Jerusalem-centered world, there is a further implication in the nature of the world's roundness—but he saves that till later. The world, he will say, is round in three dimensions, not just two; a man might go all the way around it; and, strangest of all, he will probably find other men living all over it.19 All these ideas are withheld at this early point in the book because the pilgrims are merely going to the Holy Land; it is the curiosi who think about circumnavigating the earth.

Only in Jerusalem could pilgrims visit the site of their Savior's crucifixion, but they might receive a foretaste of the experience in Constantinople, where the cross Saint Helen found, Christ's coat, the sponge of gall, and one of the nails were preserved. Mandeville in passing warns pilgrims against believing the monks of Cyprus, who, in order to defraud visitors, wrongfully pretend to possess half of the cross (7, 20), then describes the four kinds of precious wood used to fashion the cross. He notes, perhaps for the benefit of English readers, that Saint Helen's father and son were English kings. As for the crown of thorns, half of it is in Constantinople and the other half in Paris. Mandeville brags a bit by confiding that he has "on of tho precyouse thornes," and says, almost as if all eyes are on him and he is still examining it, that it "semeth liche a white thorn, and that was youen to me for gret specyaltee" (9). Continuing on through Greece, Mandeville informs us that men honor Aristotle at his tomb "as though he were a seynt" (12), and this reminds him that back in Saint Sophia the body of another ancient pagan, Hermogenes, was unearthed along with a tablet on which he proclaimed his belief in the Savior who would be born to Mary (12-13). He assays a short explanation of the doctrinal differences between the Greek and western churches and cheekily repeats the Greek patriarch's curt reply to Pope John XXII's demand for obedience, a reply that ended with the taunt, "Dominus tecum quia dominus nobiscum est.… Lord be with the, for oure lord is with vs" (13). Mandeville refrains from criticizing the autonomous stand of the Greeks; even when he sees that they "sellen benefices of Holy Chirche," he wryly mentions that "so don men in othere places" (14).

Sacred and worldly marvels are as numerous in the islands and seaports of the Mediterranean as on the continent. At Ephesus one can visit the grave of John the Apostle and watch it "steren and meuen as there weren quykke thinges vnder" (16). Not far off is the isle of Lango (here we are in romance territory) where a fair lady in the shape of a dragon waits for the brave knight who will kiss her and thus become lord of the region (16-18). There is Tyre, where Christ preached, and, eight miles away at Sidon, the home of Dido "that was Eneas wif" (21). After arriving at the port of Jaffa (named for Japhet, son of Noah), pilgrims can proceed directly to Jerusalem; but Mandeville interrupts to say that some pilgrims may go first to Mount Sinai through the wilderness, up to Babylon, before going to Jerusalem—and this means meeting the Saracens.

Babylon is the seat of Saracen rule, and Mandeville rehearses the history of its rulers, customs, and military conquests at some length, for the account would have interested still-hopeful crusaders as well as pilgrims wandering by the way. He gained his thorough familiarity with Islam, we are to believe, during long service at the sultan's court "as soudyour in his werres a gret while ayen the Bedoynes" (24); the sultan even offered Mandeville the chance to marry a prince's daughter, but (unlike Constance in the Man of Law's Tale) he refused the proprosal since it would have meant forsaking "my lawe and my beleue" (24). As an after-thought, he tells us that this city of Babylon (present-day Cairo) is distinct from that other Babylon "where the dyuersitee of langages was first made for vengeance by the myracle of God, whan the grete tour of Babel was begonnen to ben made" (28). The "tour of Babiloyne," now surrounded by desert, dragons, and serpents, was built by Nimrod, "the firste kyng of the world," the same man responsible for inventing "the ydoles and the symulacres" (28).

Mandeville guides us back from old Babylon to the new one and the pilgrim's road, though not before mentioning the awesome names of the Great Chan and Prester John, whose distant realms he promises to speak of later. In a quick survey of the sweep of the Arabian desert from east to west, he identifies Mecca ("where Machomet lyth") and, again mindful of English and French legendary ancestry, the city of Carthage "that Dydo that was Eneas wif founded, the whiche Eneas was of the cytee of Troye and after was kyng of Itaylle" (30). Egypt would have been the major attraction for pilgrims taking the southern route to go up through Sinai, and Mandeville devotes a long chapter to this country, combining edifying tales about a deformed desert beast that believed in Christ and the phoenix bird who is like the resurrected Lord with practical advice on how not to get duped when buying balm from Saracens and his sure opinion (one very few actual travelers disputed) that the pyramids were once Joseph's grain garners and not, as "sum men seyn," tombs.20

The nearer the peregrini are brought to the Holy Land, the more their progress is slowed by the increasing number of shrines and holy places lying in their way. Mandeville has so far described two prominent overland routes from western Europe, one leading through Egypt and the other bypassing it, and now, in chapter VIII, he pauses to insert an alternate itinerary for pilgrims who desire a speedier journey. This route leads by sea from Italy and includes stopovers at Sicily (the site of Mount Etna and volcanoes that "ben weyes of Helle"), Crete, Rhodes, Cyprus, Constantinople, Alexandria, and finally the new Babylon. Here pilgrims who have arrived by ship join others to go through the Arabian wasteland where "Moyses 1adde the peple of Israel" (41) on an earlier and more memorable pilgrimage. Mandeville misses none of the historic spots along the way, he is careful to note the exact lengths of various legs of the journey, and he adds an occasional bit of factual information (the Red Sea, for instance, "is not more reed than another see"). We are made to notice several monasteries in the desert, particularly one lying at the foot of Mount Sinai. It adjoins the Church of Saint Catherine, where men may go to see the burning bush of Moses. Indeed, says Mandeville, since all the birds of the country come there annually "as in pilgrymage" to honor the virgin Catherine and do so lacking "kyndely wytt ne resoun," therefore "wel more oughten men than to seche hire and to worschipen hire" (43). With the slyness Chaucer's Pardoner might have appreciated, Mandeville the curiosus has here quietly rebuked the impiety of Christian pilgrims; but no reader could have done less than nod in pious agreement, since he would not learn until much later that Mandeville is ultimately concerned more with terrestrial than spiritual observations. The final stage of the trek through the desert brings the pilgrims, in succession, through Beersheba and Hebron—where Adam wept one hundred years over the death of Abel—past the dry tree that will grow green again only when "a lord, a prince of the west syde of the world" wins back the Holy Land, through Bethlehem and, then at last, only two miles farther on (about as far as Canterbury lay from Harbledown), into Jerusalem.

That city has been the reader-pilgrim's destination all along, but it would be wrong to make too abrupt an entry. Thus, Mandeville spends four chapters (X-XIII) showing pilgrims and readers the abundant sacred wonders of the Holy Land.21 The shrines and miracles that may have edified pilgrims up to this point were merely stimuli urging them on along over the many ways that, like spokes of a wheel, "comen to on ende," Jerusalem. Nearly everything Mandeville describes in these chapters underscores that major consideration of traditional Christian geography, the actual and symbolic location of Jerusalem at the center of the world, the orbis terrarum comprising Europe, Africa, and Asia.22 The lands surrounding Judea, the country about Jerusalem, exist at the four points of a compass whose center is Jerusalem: Arabia lies east, Egypt south, the Great Sea and Europe on the west, and Syria on the north (54). Within a smaller circuit lie the cities of the Holy Land, described here in terms of their distances from the city of peace.

And there are holy spots within spots in the central city of Christendom. Men's "first pilgrymage" in the city is to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, a building "alle rownd," in the middle of which rests the tabernacle enclosing Christ's tomb. Inside the church pilgrims will also find the rock of Golgotha, on which is written in Greek and Latin, "This God oure kyng before the worldes hath wrought hele in myddes of the erthe" (Psalm 74:12). As men "gon vp to that Golgatha be degrees" they can find wonders of history miraculously condensed in a small space: the head of Adam, discovered on the rock after Noah's flood, the place of Abraham's sacrifice, and the tombs of crusaders Godefroy de Bouillon and Baldwin and other Christian kings of Jerusalem (56). By this point in the description, none of Mandeville's readers would be amazed to learn that "in myddes of that chriche" a "compas" or circle in which Joseph of Arimathea laid Christ's body was also "the myddes of the world" (58).

It is a short walk from the Holy Sepulchre to the Temple of Jerusalem, which is similarly "alle round." Mandeville takes a moment to boast that while the Saracens usually forbade Christians to enter the temple, the sultan gave him a special pass and instructed subjects that he be allowed to "seen alle the places" throughout the country and be shown "alle the mysteries of euery place" (60). As one might expect, there are some places the pilgrim cannot go that the curious man with the right connections can. We are given the history and dimensions of the temple and the names of its builders and protectors. The remains of Biblical history to be seen around it on every side overwhelm the pilgrim: the ark containing the Ten Commandments; Aaron's rod and Moses' staff; the rock of Jacob's ladder (in Christian mystical thought, a means of ascent to heaven usually located at the navel of the earth, along with Mount Tabor, the rod of Jesse, and the cross23); the headquarters of the Knights Templar; Herod's house; Mount Sion; the innumerable scenes from Christ's life and passion (67-72). Mandeville concludes his tour of the Holy Land in the next two chapters (XII-XIII), offering the long-suffering pilgrim-reader a visit to the Dead Sea and towns along the Jordan, a summary of the arguments over the authenticity of a head of John the Baptist kept in Samaria, a prediction of what the Last Judgment will be like, and the information that Cain lived two thousand years before being slain by Noah's father.

In chapter XIV Mandeville closes the portion of his book devoted to the itineraria hierosolymitana. He admits that the routes he has shown us from England to Jerusalem are the "farrest and longest" ones, and in short order he lists three other faster and more direct routes. It is worthwhile knowing these ways, because

some men will not go the other; some for they have not spending enough; some for they have no good company, and some for they may not endure the long travel, some for they dread them of many perils of deserts, some for they will haste them homeward, desiring to see their wives and their children, or for some other reasonable cause that they have to turn soon home.24

We are not halfway through his book, yet already we sense that Mandeville would not count himself among those travelers who might choose safer and quicker routes. Here and there in the Travels he implies that he journeyed in a style befitting a knight, a friend of sultans, and at times a mercenary. He enjoyed traveling in the "gode companye of many lordes" (3) and had an unusual liking for "long travel," as his thirty-four years of journeying testifies. Later we will watch him risk not only the "perils of deserts" but a valley full of devils, "on of the entrees of Helle" (203). And at the end we will hear him grudgingly confess to having returned home not in haste but "mawgree myself … ayenst my wille, God knoweth" (229).

John Mandeville was no ordinary pilgrim, but a far-traveler whose guide to the Holy Land was only the preamble to an account of the longer excursions that dominate the Travels. He wrote a book of travels, not just another itinerarium, and pilgrimage was to him but one form of travel, undertaken, he realized, for various spiritual reasons and with particular destinations in mind. Pilgrims gloried in hearing saints' stories and in learning of the world symbolically fallen from an emperor's hand as they journeyed on toward Jerusalem, the city symbolic of the higher world. But Mandeville's book effectively subordinates pilgrimage to a form of travel motivated by love for this world. Ultimately, though Mandeville speaks of the divided earth as if it were two equal halves, his greater interest is not in the commonly known Christian world but in the vast, unknown, non-Christian sphere lying beyond; not in the familiar tales of saints but in anecdotes about Alexander and the Chan; not in moral significances but in empirical speculations about the round earth diverse races of men inhabit. At chapter XV Mandeville left the pilgrim to retrace his way home, while he pushed past Jerusalem. In his narrative he goes on to do what cartographers like Fra Mauro and Bianco a few generations later began to do: he decentralizes Jerusalem (and the objectives of pilgrimly travel) because his mental map of the world is much larger and his reasons for travel are other than spiritual.25 He is eager to tell "of the marches and iles and dyuerse bestes and of dyuerse folk" in the East—"yif it lyke you," he adds, playing with our curiosity as Chaucer, turning from the solemn Knight's Tale, playfully apologized for the Miller's Tale to "whoso list it nat yheere."

Since Mandeville's exact itinerary in the rest of the book would have been of little practical use to readers, we do best to discontinue following his progress from one place to another. Besides, his curiositas—as I have already suggested—is really discernible from the very start of the Travels, not just in the second part of the book. To expose this curiosus disguised in pilgrim's clothing we must look all over his book at once.

At the beginning and end of the Travels Mandeville quite openly admits that he has written the book for people like himself who enjoy seeing and hearing about strange new things; but it is not until midway through the work that he takes the occasion to explain why he and kindred curiosi are the way they are. His reaction to the enormous population of Ind prompts him to remark that the people there

han this condicoun of kynde, that thei neuere gon out of here owne contree, and therefore is ther gret multitude of peple. But thei ben not sterynge ne mevable because that thei ben in the firste clymat, that is of Saturne; and Saturne is slough and litille mevynge, for he taryeth to make his turn be the xii. signes xxx. yeer, and the mone passeth thorgh the xii. signes in o moneth. And for because that Saturne is of so late sterynge, therfore the folk of that contree that ben vnder his clymat han of kynde no wille for to meve ne stere to seche strange places.

But sloth and inertia have no such hold on Mandeville's countrymen:

[for] in oure contrey is alle the contrarie, for wee ben in the seuenthe clymat that is of the mone, and the mone is of lyghtly mevynge and the mone is planete of weye. And for that skylle it yeueth vs wille of kynde for to meve lyghtly and for to go dyuerse weyes and to sechen strange thinges and other dyuersitees of the world, for the mone envyrouneth the erthe more hastyly than ony other planete. (119-120)

Mandeville's explicit coupling of curiosity with travel and of both preoccupations with Englishmen seems to have hardened into a conviction among English writers by the fourteenth century.26 Ranulph Higden, the historian, observed that the English are

curious, and kunneth wel i-now telle dedes and wondres that thei heueth i-seie. Also they gooth in dyuers londes, vnnethe beeth eny men richere in her owne londe othere more gracious in fer and in straunge londe. They konneth betre wynne and gete newe than kepe her own heritage; therefore it is that they beeth i-spred so wyde and weneth that euerich other londe is his owne heritage.27

The ever-restless palmers, said Chaucer, "longen … for to seken straunge strondes, / To ferne halwes, kowthe in sondry londes." In Confessio Amantis Gower accounted for the Englishman's wanderlust with the same astrological evidence Mandeville used:

… he schal his places change
And seche manye londes strange:
And as of this condicion
The Mones disposicion
Upon the lond of Alemaigne
Is set, and ek upon Bretaigne,
Which nou is cleped Engelond;
For thei travaile in every lond.28

This influence of the moon, which, as C.S. Lewis said, was thought to produce wandering of two kinds, traveling and lunacy,29 also occurred to Caxton as an explanation for the wide variance of English dialects. "For we englysshe men / ben borne vnder the domynacyon of the mone which is neuer stedfaste but euer wauerynge / wexynge one season / and waneth & dyscreaseth another season / And that comyn englysshe that is spoken in one shyre varyeth from a nother."30 Ruled by the moon and "this condicioun of mynde"—curiosity, manifested by ceaseless travel—Mandeville went forth to search the world. He could have wished it said of him as it was said of Marco Polo, that he "observed more of the peculiarities of this part of the world than any other man, because he travelled more widely in these outlandish regions than any man who was ever born, and also because he gave his mind more intently to observing them."31

Mandeville is the main character of the Travels as well as its author; he is present at the center of every experience. Sometime after 1400, in fact, the book was recast into an English metrical romance, centering on the adventures of "Sir Iohn Mavndevile."32 Indeed, "I, John Mandeville"33 resembles that other popular medieval hero, Alexander the Great, whose reputation in the romances as a curious wanderer may explain in part his conspicuous presence in the Travels. In one well-known episode from Alexandrian romance, the young king voyaged as far as the garden of Eden but was prevented from entering by gatekeepers who gave him an eye as a sign "that thine eye is not satisfied with riches, nor will thy desire be satisfied by thy roaming over the earth."34 In one of Mandeville's own tales, Alexander's combination of curiosity and pride earns him a rebuke from the islanders of Gynosophe who cannot understand why he is "so besy for to putten alle the world vnder his subieccoun" (213). To be "busy" is one delight of the curiosus, and Mandeville himself is always "busy"; for example, he stresses that he "did gret besyness" at the Chan's court to learn the trick of making metal birds dance and sing (157). The magicians there refused to teach him, claiming that Chinese could "seen with ii. eyen, and the Cristene men see but with on, because that thei ben more sotylle than thei" (157). Most Christians, knowing what thinkers like Augustine and Bernard had said about lust of the eyes, might meekly accept that remark as a compliment. But to Mandeville it must have been as painful a rebuff as any teacher could give an aspiring student.

However, Chinese opinion to the contrary, Mandeville in various ways everywhere exhibits a curious eye. In the Travels we have "one of the few descriptions of Islam in the literature of medieval Europe"35 only because Mandeville obtained permission from the sultan to see and learn "alle the mysteries of euery place." He prided himself on witnessing things at first hand. He assures us he saw the spear that killed Christ (10), that he had "often tyme seen and radd" the Koran (96) (an unusual and questionable activity for any European of his day), and that he personally observed the efficacy of pagan auguries and prognostications (though, naturally, a Christian should not "putten his beleeve in suche thinges") (123). He vouches for the existence of Asian reeds thirty fathoms long (perhaps bamboo shoots or else the redwood-sized reed trees mentioned in earlier Alexander sagas) and fish that cast themselves out of the sea in homage to a king (140-42) by stressing that he saw them "with myn owne eyyen" (140). He takes a special detour to visit the castle of the sparrow-hawk in Armenia, explaining that "This is not the right weye for to go to the parties that I haue nempned before, but for to see the merueyle that I haue spoken of" (108). As we are wondering whether Mandeville actually saw all these marvels, he abruptly disarms us with candid admissions that there are some other places he has not been to. As for the dragon-lady of Lango, "I haue not seen hire" (16); he heard of, but never saw, the trees of the sun and moon that conversed with Alexander (36, 215). Yet Mandeville often credited reports of things he had never set eyes on. As he tells us, he was just as skeptical of the Chan's power and riches as we might be, "til I saugh it" (159); and once he had actually experienced fear in the valley of the devils "I was more deuout thanne than euere I was before or after" (205). For the curious, most of the time anyway, seeing is believing.

In other ways, Mandeville keeps reminding us that he conscientiously sought out and investigated all phenomena, both the marvelous and the more strictly miraculous (Mandeville equates these two things, in fact, throughout the book, just as de Bury treated holy and secular books as companionable storehouses of learning). He examines the crown of thorns at Constantinople to check its authenticity and verifies the Jewish plot to poison all Christianity by listening in on Jews' confessions (139). He learns that Saracens counterfeit balm and Indians falsify diamonds, figures out how to tell the genuine article in both cases, and passes along the information for other travelers (36-37, 117-18). Though at times he accepts a rumor or story because it is supported by authority, at other times he makes a point of testing opinions by his own experience. The land Christ chose to dwell in naturally sits in the middle of the world because, as Aristotle said, virtue lies in the middle way, and because a message is best spread equally to all men from the center of population. But, as Mandeville confidently adds, the centrality of Jerusalem can also be "preuen" by placing a spear into the ground there at noon and observing that it casts no shadow (134). As a curiosus, Mandeville always keeps an eye out for matters of scientific interest. Egypt, he says, is an ideal place for astronomers to work, since "the eyr is alwey pure and cleer" (32). He twice mentions the ingenuity of the Chinese magicians and astrologers, whose ruling authority is second only to the Chan's (157, 169-70). With apparent seriousness (we can never be sure) he claims to have taken the "smale children" engendered by "male and femele" diamonds and watered them with May dew until they grew (116). In a more practical vein, he argues after long thought, experimentation with the astrolabe, and "sotyle compassement of wytt," that "yif a man fond passages be schippes that wolde go to serchen the world, men myghte go be schippe alle aboute the world and abouen and benethen" (132).

The curious man betrays an unflagging desire to examine all that he sees; he also reveals himself by telling tales that are strange, or unbelievable, or both. Putting aside for the moment the possibility that Mandeville's Travels is one gigantic tale-in the sense of a fiction, or even in the sense Mandeville's modern critics mean when they call it plagiarism—it is feasible to read the book as if it were a miscellany of tales. Pilgrims were expected to be tale-tellers (Chaucer and his Canterbury folk knew that), and the individual stories John Mandeville offers us are often as unusual as this curious book as a whole. To define what he meant by "tales," or to classify them as legends, fables, saints' lives, and romances, is unnecessary. As a curiosus and a believer in the heterogeneity of earthly inhabitants, Mandeville found all varieties of stories useful, and for two purposes: to amaze, but finally to enlarge his readers' outlook on the familiar and the unfamiliar worlds.

There are all sorts of tales about his new-found wondrous world that need to be recorded. He writes about an abbot's lamp that lights and quenches itself (and expresses annoyance at the monks' refusal to tell him how it happens); he describes the sea off Java that seems higher than the land and the perpetual zone of darkness in Persia that once protected Christians from heathens; but in each instance he eventually accounts for the wonder by quoting relevant passages from the Psalms about God's mirabilia (44, 145, 188). For a far-traveler who sees exploration as an inevitable extension of pilgrimage, God's miracles and the inexplicable marvels of God's creation are one. Mandeville satisfies the pilgrim audience's liking for anecdotes about the saints, then enthralls them with a story of the woman in the shape of a dragon who has killed two knights that feared to kiss her and, like Joyce's Earwicker, still sleeps, waiting to be restored to human form (16-18). In between a capsule life of Saint Athansius (106-7) and a skeptical report about a monk who said he climbed Mount Ararat (109) Mandeville's readers could find a tale—so far traceable to no known literary source—about "a faire lady of fayrye" who would grant men "wyssche of erthely thinges." To a rich lord who asked for her body she gave instead poverty and strife, to a Knight Templar she gave riches that eventually destroyed his Order, but to a poor boy she gave fame and wealth (107-8). The Travels also offered readers a selection of extracts from the romances about Alexander,36 a tale of trees that grow and disappear in a day—truly "a thing of fayrye" (198)—and a story of the insidious Gatholonabes, the original Assassin, who lured "lusty bacheleres" into an enclosed garden that he called Paradise (200-202). Mandeville could usually match these wonders with an invention or two of his own, most notably the intriguing story "I haue herd cownted whan I was yong" about a precocious medieval Magellan who traveled all around the world till he reached home again (135). The fact that manuscripts of the Travels were often bound together with romances suggests one effect all these disparate tales had on readers' understanding of the book.37 Mandeville realized perfectly well that "men han gret likyng to here speke of straunge thinges" and that "newe thinges and newe tydynges ben plesant to here" (228). Chaucer, like his curious pilgrims, knew it too. And one must wonder where on his eclectic shelves de Bury would have placed this incredible book, had he lived long enough to purchase it.

The audience's curiosity, as much as the author's, fed on novelty and strangeness. This appetite extended beyond the assorted tales of unusual human behavior and supernatural happenings to the beasts that, having escaped from maps and other manuscripts' margins, romp across the pages of the Travels and to Mandeville's stories about that fantastic Christian ruler in Asia, Prester John. Bestiaries must have provided Mandeville with models for many of the strange animals that dot his African and Asian landscapes, but except for the phoenix, which was undeniably "lykne … vnto God" (34), most of his creatures amble by without symbolic trappings. Like the pictorial zoos that crowded the medieval world maps, and like the vulgar oddities Bernard objected to, Mandeville's beasts no doubt had the straightforward appeal "of the strange and the wonderful, the appeal to the imagination of men who … had not ceased to dream of marvels at the far corners of the earth."38 The legendary Prester John, whose mighty armies European Christians once expected to crush the Saracens boldly from the rear, had the same imaginative appeal. Karl Helleiner has suggested, in fact, that stories about this figure affected medieval readers much as science fiction affects modern readers; both audiences "derived vicarious pleasure from visualizing fantastic accomplishments and experiences of a race of superior beings."39 If so, then Mandeville's further speculations about the inhabitable lands lying eastward beyond Prester John's domain (chapters XXXIII, XXXIV) would have been all the more appealing to the imagination.

Mandeville's tale-telling, added to his interest in exotic animal life and in the lore surrounding Prester John, reflects the same "awakening desire to know more of the great world and its secrets beyond the limits of the local patria" that G. R. Owst has documented in English sermon materials of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.40 (Mandeville would have well understood the plan of a later Jerusalem-bound English pilgrim, the humanist John Tiptoft, to take an artist along on board to make accurate drawings of any strange birds, animals, and scenes he might encounter in the East41— the kind of project naturalists of later centuries routinely carried out on voyages.) A passion for the strange or new identical to Mandeville's pervaded the writings of the important group of fourteenth-century English friars whom Beryl Smalley considers incipient humanists. Curiositas "was devouring the minds of educated clergy and laity alike"; it led scholars like Thomas Waleys and Robert Holcot to indulge their taste for tales from history and mythology with such enthusiasm that the sacred matters under consideration became obscured by all the profane embroidery. To these men of Mandeville's generation, almost anything "nova et inusitata" was worth repeating.42

Storytellers like Mandeville thrive on novelty, and as the range of their experience widens, their repertoire becomes richer. But at the same time their sense of the differences among the accumulated items of that experience forces them to examine the meaning of human diversity. "Undoubtedly Philosophers are in the Right," Gulliver comes to realize (for a time, anyway), "when they tell us, that nothing is great or little otherwise than by Comparison."43 From the very beginning of his book Mandeville is aware that the world is composed of "dyuerse folk and of dyuerse maneres and lawes and of dyuerse schappes of men" (3). This fascination with diversity is present all through the Travels; the curious man who makes his home in the climate of the moon feels compelled to immerse himself in the "dyuerse weyes and to sechen strange thinges and other dyuersitees of the world" (120). Toward the end of the Travels Mandeville will speak of the fundamental unity of all men; but, being curiously disposed, he is at first more concerned to make discriminations between cultures and religions. He appreciates the diversity of languages (as did Chaucer), and he senses the need (as did Bacon and de Bury) for all westerners, not just pilgrims, to become more aware of them. Patiently, although not too accurately, Mandeville describes the alphabets of the Greeks (14), Egyptians (38), Hebrews (79), and Arabs (104), treating us in the last instance with a short lecture on linguistics:

And iiii. lettres thei haue more than othere for dyuersitee of hire langage and speche, for als moche as thei speken in here throtes. And wee in Englond haue in oure langage and speche ii. lettres mo than thei haue in hire abc, and that is þ and Ʒ, the whiche ben clept thorn and yogh.

An English traveler of the fifteenth century, William Wey, compiled handy (and more reliable) English-Greek, Greek-Latin, and Greek-English glossaries for pilgrims going to the Levant, but Mandeville's alphabets would have been of less real value to pilgrims.44 They were, in both the medieval and modern senses, curiosities, and Mandeville put them in for anyone who wished merely to "knowe the difference of hem and of othere" (38).

Morton Bloomfield has pointed out that Mandeville's sense of cultural diversity—shared by Chaucer and by very few other English contemporaries—owed something to the thirteenth-century schoolmen's attempt to prove that a belief in the existence of God was implanted in all men by the light of natural reason. "The far-reaching implications of this attempt led to the belief that all men could arrive at some concept of the truth. This in turn involves the belief that to some extent other cultures are worth some consideration."45 In a passage Bloomfield singles out, Mandeville writes:

And yee schulle vndirstonde that of alle theise contrees and of alle theise yles and of alle the dyuerse folk that I haue spoken of before and of dyuerse lawes and of dyuerse beleeves that thei han, yit is there non of hem alle but that thei han sum resoun within hem and vnderstondynge-but yif it be the fewere-and that han certeyn articles of oure feith and summe gode poyntes of oure beleeve; and that thei beleeven in God that formede alle thing and made the world and clepen Him God of Nature … (227)

In a slightly earlier passage Mandeville makes the same point but with even more feeling.

And therefore alle be it that there ben many dyuerse lawes in the world, yit I trowe that God loueth alweys hem that louen Him and seruen Him mekely in trouthe, and namely hem that dispysen the veyn glorie of this world, as this folk don and as Iob did also.… no man scholde haue in despite non erthely man for here dyuerse lawes, for wee knowe not whom God loueth ne whom God hateth" (214).

It is wrong, I think, to argue from these sentiments, as some have, that Mandeville doubted Christianity's superiority over other religions.46 Rather, it seems that in these moments of reflection and summary his aim is to remind other Christians that they should love their neighbors—and also tolerate and try to understand them, Moslems and Mongols as well as Greek Orthodox. As Chaucer put it in the Troilus, "ecch contree hath his lawes" (II, 42). At any rate, Mandeville's interest in the strangeness of other religions follows as a corollary from his perception of cultural diversity.

This broad moral viewpoint rests heavily on Mandeville's firm belief that the earth is not only round but inhabitable "vnder as above," and is inhabited everywhere. His lengthy proofs for this idea, which are set forth in chapter XX, spring, he says, from observation, scientific calculation, and intuition. First, he asserts what most knowledgeable men had believed since classical times, that "the lond and the see ben of rownde schapp and forme" (132).47 For Mandeville it follows that if men found the right passages they could "serchen the world … be schippe alle aboute the world."48 So positive an assertion was astounding for a mid-fourteenth-century man. Nicole Oresme in the 1370s went only as far as to say that a man might be able to circumnavigate the earth (though he was quite sure of the time it would take: four years, sixteen weeks, and two days).49 Mandeville says he would have been curious to undertake such a voyage himself "yif I hadde had companye and schippynge for to go more beyonde" (133). He may also have felt that inquisitive men could go around the world as easily as their governing planet the moon "envyrouneth the erth."

But having said the round earth is circumnavigable, a statement that had a profound impact on Renaissance voyagers50 and on Renaissance geographers like Toscanelli,51 Mandeville cannot escape the theologically unsettling conclusion: sailing around the earth one "alleweys … scholde fynde men, londes, and yles als wel as in this contree [Lamary]" (134).52 Few men before or during his time would have suggested that the earth was inhabited all over or expressed the opinion so forthrightly. In 1410 Pierre d'Ailly was still reluctant to deny the authority of the Bible and Augustine and admit the antipodes were populated; and that curious pilgrim, Felix Fabri, expressed the same reservations in the 1480s.53 Such hesitation was understandable, for all humankind, it must be remembered, was thought to reside only on the three joined continents, which were surrounded by the wide Ocean Sea and cut off from any other hypothetical land masses. Mandeville's notion thus undercut the traditional belief that all peoples were descended from Adam and Eve and, furthermore, that the Gospel of Jesus had been able to reach all men (Romans 10:18).54 Mandeville does not grapple with the theological implications of what he has just said; instead, he proceeds to support his theory with an anecdote about a man who did circumnavigate the globe-twice.55 The inference he draws is really an observation on human nature that will become the foundation for his ideas about diversity and tolerance. "For fro what partie of the erthe that man duelle, outher abouen or benethen, it semeth alweys to hem that duellen that thei gon more right than any other folk" (135). Good Christians, especially pilgrims, rightly focus their eyes on Jerusalem, the sacred midpoint of the world; but explorers who look with care and curiosity to the world beyond Christendom come to adopt a perspective on the ways men live and worship that the true Christian pilgrim would be uninterested in sharing.

Mandeville's recognition that there is great diversity and contrariety between "this half and beyond half" is important because it underlies the total principle of organization in the Travels. M. C. Seymour has allowed that the work "has an obvious autobiographical beginning and end, and there is a sufficient number of cross-references and statements about the need for conciseness to show that the author was working to a general design," but his opinion is that "overall there is no intense preoccupation with the form of the book."56 Intense it may not have been, but Mandeville did have a definite sense of the form of the book, a conception of its organization that depended chiefly on his dual role as pilgrim and explorer. Structrally, he separates the goal of pilgrimage from the other distant goals of exploration.

So the book divides easily into two sections: the first comprises the principal and secondary pilgrimage routes from England to the Holy Land, and the second is a longer account of travels through other parts of the world. En route and at its destination, the pilgrimage of chapters I-XIV pauses at points of Christian worship, while the wanderings of the rest of the book take Mandeville and the reader through regions made marvelous by secular and non-Christian news. Pilgrims find their goal at Jerusalem where they adore the land their Savior favored as the center of the world; their pilgrimage done, these men are free to "turn soon home." After a chapter (XV) full of information about the crusaders' enemy, Mandeville invites us to follow him on a journey to other destinations. In the words of a thirteenth-century traveler to Asia, it is like "stepping into another world."57 By chapter XXII we are among one-eyed, headless, and flat-faced peoples; in this looking-glass land, as Gulliver later found, there is a race of pygmies who employ normal-sized humans to labor for them. "And of tho men of oure stature han thei als grete skorn and wonder as we wolde haue among vs of geauntes yif thei weren amonges vs" (152). Farther on in this topsy-turvy region we meet the most powerful king on earth, the Chan, whose round and walled palace-city contains inside it other palaces and a hill on which sits still another palace (154-55). Going still farther, we encounter the gloriously Christian Prester John. And, at last, somewhere near the extreme eastern edge of the Asian continent, we approach the Terrestrial Paradise.

If Prester John's existence was thought miraculous and the Chan's domain unbelievably marvelous (159), then Eden is both at once. It is protected by fire "so that no man that is mortalle ne dar not entren" (220); surrounded by a wall (depicted as a golden O in the duc de Berry's Tres riches heures58); it rests on the highest point of the earth—"like a woman's breast," thought Columbus, who believed he had found it in South America and tried to enter.59 For Mandeville the moon-driven traveler, the earthly paradise—which "toucheth nygh to the cercle of the mone, there as the mone maketh hire torn" (220)—has turned out to be his true destination. With other Christian pilgrims he went to Jerusalem, and of course he hoped some day to reach the heavenly paradise. But being an earth-bound curiosus he also sought, like Alexander before him, to find the terrestrial one: a place located (medieval tradition had it) at the pole exactly opposite Jerusalem.60 Mandeville never gets inside the garden, but even in defeat his curiosity prevails:

Of Paradys ne can I not speken propurly, for I was not there. It is fer beyonde, and that forthinketh me, and also I was not worthi. But as I haue herd seye of wyse men beyonde, I schalle telle you with gode wille. (220)

Mandeville's inquisitiveness produced not the promised guidebook "specyally" for pilgrims but a small compendium concerned mainly with earthly regions most pilgrims would never enter. The Prologue advertises a pilgrimage and something more, but by the final chapter it is the curious journey and Mandeville's curious speculations that have dominated the book. One last time he affirms that all he has written is true and that he has told it all because men enjoy hearing strange new things. Indeed, his desire to obtain a papal imprimatur and have his confession heard by the pope (228-29) may reflect some momentary worry about much of what he put in this unusual book.61

Mandeville's curiosity asserted itself most noticeably once he advanced beyond the Holy Land. All the concomitants of the explorer's curiosity—his pilgrim fondness for tales, his appreciation of human diversity, and his acceptance of cultural relativity—became increasingly evident with each stride into the unknown. Along the pilgrimage roads he only occasionally doubted the veracity of miracles; for the most part he held his tongue and took on faith what a Christian had no business questioning. Beyond the Christian pale, however, he allowed his speculative urges fuller rein, continually testing with his senses the workings of magic, the inferences to be drawn from the sphericity of the globe, all the phenomena of nature. His accounts of saints, relics, and events of Christian history mostly echoed received opinion, but his narration of Asian experiences depended on the claim of having seen and heard everything at first hand. There was no end of the tales to be collected and passed on about the lands of the East, and indeed the climate there brought out the best in Mandeville. Informed by the natives of Caldilhe that a particular fruit contained edible animals, he matched them with "als gret a merueyle," a description of the fruit in "oure contree" that becomes flying birds that men catch and eat. He seems to have won that exchange, for the natives thought his story so amazing "that summe of hem trowed it were an inpossible thing to be" (191). Medieval and Renaissance travelers consistently worried that readers would not believe some of their stories or discoveries, and in the process of denying that they were lying they often only confirmed the wary audience's opinion. In responding to the Caldilheans with his own barnacle geese tale, Mandeville offers us a little parable about this whole problem of credulity toward the unfamiliar. The reader may believe or disbelieve the natives' story, or Mandeville's, or both; the final effect is to broaden the mind, to encourage westerners to become as open as curious Mandeville is to the possibility of the improbable—in short, to share Mandeville's sense of the cultural diversity of man. The curiosus thrives on the implications of multiple points of view. Two hundred years later, Walter Ralegh reported that he had located a tribe of people in Guiana with eyes in their shoulders and mouths in their chests: just such a people as Mandeville imagined in the Travels. Ralegh was forced to admit that "Such a nation was written of by Mandeville, whose reports were holden for fables many years; and yet since the East Indies were discovered, we find his relations true of such things as heretofore were held incredible."62 Ralegh tried; Mandeville—by trading the flying birds for the animal fruits and making us decide—succeeded.

Mandeville's strange, improbable world, the unknown half of the globe, however, has meaning only when gauged against the known. The pilgrimage in the first fourteen chapters of the book must of necessity come first because it provides, as it were dramatically, the background and norms against which any intelligible judgments about the non-Christian world can be made. To make a convincing case for the plenitude of the world and for his forward-looking belief that the world is more mysterious and exciting than most of his contemporaries thought, Mandeville chose to prepare them to accept the improbable by reminding and summarizing for them the understood Christian world. Thus, for example, unfamiliar eastern religious practices can be explained in terms familiar to the western Christian audience: the pagans chant prayers like ours (143, 225), they have orders of holy men and leaders corresponding to our monks (148), friars (150), bishops (103), and pope (224). Saracens kneel before the sultan's signet-ring as Christians genuflect before the "corpus domini" (60-61), and the people of Milke—one of the several cannibalistic nations Mandeville visits—gladly drink human blood "whiche thei clepen dieu" (143). Sometimes Mandeville compares non-Christians with Christians to criticize failings of the latter. The natives of Calamye in India revere the arm and hand of Saint Thomas the Apostle and let it adjudicate all "doubtable causes"; they also make pilgrimages to a gilded idol "with als gret deuocoun as Cristene men gon to Seynt Iames or other holy pilgrimages" and endure so much self-inflicted punishment "for loue of hire god. … that a Cristene man, I trowe, durst not taken vpon him the tenthe part the peyne for loue of oure lord Ihesu Crist" (128-29). The familiar world of Christian pilgrimage must precede the new, unpredictable, curiously seen world which follows.

Medieval readers and librarians variously responded to Mandeville by shelving his book with other works on eastern travel, or with romances, or with moral treatises and social criticism. It was bound once with Chaucer's A Treatise on the Astrolabe (which opens with remarks on the diversity of speech and learning in the world before describing the workings of Mandeville's favorite instrument); once it was put with the book of another curiosus, Richard de Bury's Philobiblon. 63 The Travels had a many-sided appeal. Moreover, it gave evidence of having been shaped out of older materials for a particular reason. Mandeville's readers could have learned much of what he told them by turning to Vincent of Beauvais or any number of Holy Land itineraries or eyewitness reports of travelers like Polo, Odoric, Carpini, and Rubroek—as in fact we know Mandeville had turned to them. But Mandeville's ingenious yoking of the two kinds of journeys offered his countrymen a different perspective on the "newe thinges and newe tydynges" they enjoyed hearing. As far as I know, it is the first "travel book" of its kind to combine a pilgrimage itinerary with an account of worldly exploration. The two worlds, two sorts of journeys, and two kinds of travelers embraced by the Travels and its author finally complement rather than oppose each other. Pilgrims, inevitably and historically, develop into curious wanderers: pilgrimage converts to exploration.

Christopher Columbus, the last medieval traveler, consulted his copy of Mandeville before sailing out to find China; Ralegh had it in mind while writing about Guiana; and Frobisher took along a copy of the book on his search for the northwest passage in 1578.64 Throughout the centuries the Travels continued to be read, though less as an authority on Asia and more as a source of entertainment—for what Thomas Browne called its "commendable mythologie"65 or for what one dull contemporary of Browne's called an idle man's waste of time.66 Thomas More and Jonathan Swift were influenced by the book; Renaissance travelers quoted from it, authors of Renaissance romances and plays drew on it.67 Samuel Johnson, facetiously or not, recommended Mandeville as a valuable guide for a friend going to China in 1784.68 It is likely that medieval audiences read it for both amusement and instruction. As the curious John Leland said, John Mandeville was England's greatest traveler: Britain's "Ulysses," he called him.69 Scholars of this century and the last, suspicious that "I, John Mandeville" may not have been the actual historical person he claimed to be and irritated by his unmodern habit of "plagiarizing" from earlier writers, have generally judged the book and its author to be frauds.70 If the mysteries of "John Mandeville's" identity are ever cleared up, the facts may turn out to be of some interest. Such investigations could substantiate the theory that the Travels was written by someone with a different name or prove that a real John Mandeville was a great traveler. But would it not be as easy to argue that the "I" of the narrative had simply an intended fictional existence: that he was a character, a persona, like Chaucer the pilgrim, or the "I" of Troilus and Criseyde, or the "I" of another book of travels, Lemuel Gulliver?71 It does not matter what the author's name was, for, finally, it is our awareness of this narrator's presence that holds us to the book, and what we sense is his inquisitive fascination with a world he wants to make us imagine. Mandeville was a reader (and perhaps, to an extent, a traveler) who wrote for other readers, not really a returned world traveler, immobilized by "gowtes artetykes," writing for other travelers. Even the tactic of worrying about whether his audience will believe his accounts (159, 191, 229 et alia)—whether the worry was serious or playful—works to keep us alert, to keep the readers (like Ralegh) as curious as the writer about what is possible and imaginable. Should a historical "John Mandeville" be turned up one day, it might happen that in discovering him we will lose another, equally valuable Mandeville.

The modern resolve to discount the factuality of the Travels is, moreover, a condescension to the medieval reader as much as a rebuke to the author. To say Mandeville was a deceiver is to imply that his readers were gullible and that he somehow possessed an intellect superior to theirs. In truth, Mandeville's book is no more susceptible to the charge of untruthfulness than Isidore's etymologies, or the bestiary's zoology, or the oddly outlined medieval maps of the world, or the selective techniques of medieval chroniclers. His and their conception of history and truth was different from ours, and not as rigorous. Etymologies, Mandeville knew, were intended to convey more than linguistic origins (and therefore "Ham" gives us "Chan"), animals had symbolic meanings that were sometimes more important than the factual ones, mappaemundi were artistic enjoyments for the eye and not charts meant for navigators,72 and interest more than relevance was the criterion historians normally abided by in arranging their materials.73 So for the same reasons that Mandeville made no solid distinctions between what we would think of as fact and fiction, his readers would have been unperturbed by the thought that the author might not really have been everywhere he claimed and might have written it all out of other men's books. He was, as John Updike somewhere says of Marco Polo, a "mental traveller," and he dreamed a world more and more medievals were ready to realize. As one medievalist has remarked in explaining the attitude toward fact and fiction shared by a contemporary of Mandeville's,

If Holcot could attach exempla to real authors with no justification, may he not have invented authors as well as exempla? He used a medley of classical and medieval sources, medieval commentaries on classical texts in particular. The borderline between what he read and what he invented must have been thin.… Holcot not only pillaged antiquity and improved on it, but invented ancient tales and ancient authors when it suited him. He had the qualities of a historical romancer.74

Whether Mandeville copied his book from other men's books or whether he traveled as he said (and, of course, he could have done both) remains a partial mystery, but it does not pose an obstacle to our understanding of the Travels. The narrator and character John Mandeville had been to all those places, as much as Gulliver had been to Lilliput, risked devils in the Valeye Perilous, measured the earth, and come home to tell about it; his story would be read alongside other romances, for his exploits were as entertaining as any romance hero's. And then, as for the unknown author who must lie behind this adventurer, we still know very well what kind of man he was. Like de Bury inside his study and Chaucer inside his book of fictive pilgrimage, Mandeville was the armchair curiosus, whose satisfaction was gotten vicariously. Like Petrarch, who rejected an offer to accompany a friend on a Palestine pilgrimage but agreed to write a guidebook for the man (a nobleman with the curious name of Giovanni di Mandello), Mandeville chose "not to visit those countries a single time by ship, on horseback, or on foot—interminable journeys!—but to make many brief visitations with maps, and books, and imagination."75

It is odd that scholars have labored so long to prove that Mandeville's Travels was not a tale of an actual journey, that its author was a fake; and that at times other scholars, hoping to discover Chaucer's interest in pilgrimage, have stressed that Chaucer lived in Kent, must have been to Canterbury, knew the route well, and so forth. One almost wishes the facts of Chaucer's life were unknown and that a full biography of a Sir John Mandeville of St. Albans existed. What is important is that both men knew what pilgrimage had meant traditionally; and although they seem to have had different opinions on the matter, both knew that pilgrimages in their day had become vehicles for curiosity— an urge that could be socially and institutionally detrimental or valuably enlightening. And what is important in reading the Travels is to be able to see the world, a new world, through the eyes of a blissfully curious pilgrim-explorer. Mandeville's broad humanist perspective on this world is finally that of the following generations of thinkers and voyaging discoverers; as Elisabeth Feist Hirsch has said of them, "The humanists, it becomes clear, thought of Christian unity in different terms than did the men of the Middle Ages. For them the idea of one Christendom exploded; they put in its place a Christian world composed of varied elements."76

The fellowship de Bury shared with his beloved books and colleagues is not unlike the larger fellowship Mandeville encourages his audiences to see among the "varied elements" of east and west, a fellowship of understanding and tolerance based on the love God holds for all creatures on the water-linked land mass. Chaucer's pilgrims lack fellowship, partly because of their individual curious urges; but perhaps each one of them, given the chance to travel alone and as far as Mandeville, would reach the goals de Bury, Mandeville, and Chaucer himself sought in their separate intellectual endeavors, in their readings and writing, in their travels and intersecting associations with Italy, St. Albans, and Avignon. Possibly one more Chaucerian invention—say, an unthinkable hybrid of learning and wayfaring called "The Clerk of Bathe"—would best typify the feeling for nature, interest in new scientific discoveries, sense of the past, and curiosity about new lands and peoples that characterize the kind of fourteenth-century English world the humanist bishop, the poet, and the explorer reveal to us. With them we are in the great age of poetry, learning, and discovery that has already dawned.


  1. Hugo Lange, "Chaucer und Mandeville's Travels," Archiv für das Studium der neueren Sprachen, 173 (1938), 79-81; Josephine Waters Bennett, "Chaucer and Mandeville's Travels,"MLN, 68 (1953), 531-34. These articles were superseded by the discussion of Chaucer's and the Gawain-poet's debt to Mandeville in Josephine Waters Bennett's The Rediscovery of Sir John Mandeville (New York: MLA, 1954), pp. 221-27. Bennett's book, for a time out of print, has been reissued (New York: Kraus Reprint Co., 1971).
  2. Marianne Mahn-Lot, Columbus, trans. Helen R. Lane (New York: Grove Press, 1961), p. 54.
  3. The Cotton version of the Travels is found in British Museum MS Cotton Titus C. xvi. It was first printed in 1725 and has been edited in modern times by A. W. Pollard (1900; rpt. New York: Dover, 1964; modernized spelling); by P. Hamelius, EETS, O.S. 153 and 154 (London: Oxford Univ. Press, 1919 and 1923); and by M.C. Seymour (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1967). Seymour, who has become the current authority on the textual problems associated with the Travels, is presently preparing an edition of the so-called Defective Version, which was made in England before the Cotton version. The fullest treatment of manuscripts and editions is to be found in Bennett, Rediscovery, pp. 265-385; Seymour, pp. 272-78, condenses Bennett's enormous amount of information into a convenient list. See also Seymour's "The English Manuscripts of Mandeville's Travels," Edinburgh Bibliographical Society Transactions, 4 (1966), 169-210.
  4. In his edition (p. xiii) Seymour says that the Travels was written originally in French on the Continent and "probably" not by an Englishman; in his introduction and notes and in articles on various manuscript versions of the Travels he has discussed his reasons for believing "Mandeville" was a name made up by the author, who (for some reason Seymour has not yet divulged) wanted to convince people he was English. Bennett, who believes that Mandeville was probably English, discusses earlier theories of the author's identity and nationality, pp. 89 ff. J. D. Thomas, "The Date of Mandeville's Travels;' MLN, 72 (1957), 165-69, concludes that the work was composed between 1356 and 1366. Arpad Steiner, "The Date of Composition of Mandeville's Travels," Speculum, 9 (1934), 144-47, had put it slightly later, between 1365 and 1371. Seymour, in his new edition of The Metrical Version of Mandeville's Travels, EETS, 269 (London: Oxford Univ. Press, 1973), p. xvi, repeats his belief that the book was first composed on the Continent, c. 1357, and that the first copy of the work probably appeared in England about 1375. On the sources of the Travels, see Bennett's plentiful treatments, Seymour's commentaries in his 1967 edition, and Malcolm Letts, Sir John Mandeville: The Man and His Book (London: Batchworth Press, 1949), esp. pp. 29-33.
  5. In addition to Bennett's and Letts's books, see Donald R. Howard, "The World of Mandeville's Travels," YES, 1 (1971), 1-17; and C. W. R. D. Moseley, "The Metamorphoses of Sir John Mandeville," YES, 4 (1974), 5-25.
  6. Rediscovery, p. 53.
  7. Hamelius's notes to his edition are replete with suggestions that Mandeville merely copied from other travel writers. The remark by C. Raymond Beazley, The Dawn of Modern Geography (1897, 1901, 1906; rpt. New York: Peter Smith, 1949), III, 320, is rather typical of the way geographers and historians of travel have viewed the Travels: " … except for the student of geographical mythology and superstition, it has no importance in the history of Earth-Knowledge." Zoltan Haraszti, "The Travels of Sir John Mandeville," The Boston Public Library Quarterly 2 (1950), 306-16, speaks of "the deceitfulness of the author." J. H. Parry, The Age of Reconnaissance (New York: Mentor Books, 1964) admits that the book "did more to arouse interest in travel and discovery, and to popularize the idea of a possible circumnavigation of the globe" than any other medieval travel book, but it was still a collection of "lying wonders" which had little value for serious explorers (p. 24).
  8. Various scholars have commented on the two-part structure of the book, usually to stress that the pilgrimage portion is worthwhile and credible while the rest of the book is fanciful nonsense; see, for example, Kenneth Sisam, ed., Fourteenth Century Verse & Prose (1921; rpt. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1967), p. 94. But Howard, "The World of Mandeville's Travels," has detected significant, purposeful reasons for the author's decision to juxtapose the two parts.
  9. Parry, p. 24. C. W. R. D. Moseley is currently preparing a lengthy study of the strong influence Mandeville had on Renaissance voyagers.
  10. I use Seymour's edition (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1967) and cite page references (in Arabic numerals) and chapter references (in Roman numerals) within parentheses in the body of my text.
  11. B. G. Koonce, Chaucer and the Tradition of Fame: Symbolism in The House of Fame (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1966), pp. 152-53, treats some of the medieval associations between Jerusalem and the centrum or medium of the world. He cites Bersuire's gloss on Joel 3 which sounds very much like Mandeville's remark about publishing news from the middle of a town.
  12. Aziz S. Atiya, The Crusade in the Later Middle Ages (1938; rpt. New York: Kraus Reprint Co., 1965), ch. VIII.
  13. Ibid., p. 163.
  14. The popularity of such criticisms is demonstrated by G. R. Owst, Literature and Pulpit in Medieval England, 2nd ed. (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1961), pp. 287-331. Mandeville berates the nobility for their sinful lives often in the book, but the sermon he says he heard from the sultan (100-102) is probably the strongest statement of this sort in the work. And when the sultan has finished, Mandeville adds some more complaints of his own. For evidence that the Travels was looked upon as a moral treatise and was often bound with such works, see Bennett's appendix on MSS and editions, pp. 265 ff.; and Seymour, "The English Manuscripts," 172-75.
  15. Rediscovery, pp. 51-52. In their critical notes, Hamelius and Seymour cite reports of eye-witnesses who saw the apple in the statue's hand; also see the long note on the matter in The Buke of John Maundevill, ed. George F. Warner, Roxburghe Club (Westminster: Nichols and Sons, 1889), p. 158. The notes in Warner's edition of the Egerton MS are invaluable.
  16. It is difficult to say when the Latin words malum and pomum began to mean apples specifically and not just fruit in general; at least by the twelfth century the forbidden fruit had been translated as meaning apple (as in the sculpture of Eve in St. Lazarus Cathedral at Autun). The metaphor of the fallen world as an apple could only occur once the fruit Eve and Adam ate had been understood to be an apple. Richard of St. Victor relates lust of the eyes to the apple (Sermo 43, PL 177: 1015). Nicholas Bozon (c. 1300) says the world is like a cedar-apple-sweet on the outside but bitter within; see Les Contes Moralisés de Nicole Bozon Frère Mineur, ed. L. T. Smith and P. Meyer (Paris: Firmin-Didot, 1889), p. 109. The Book of Vices and Virtues, ed. W. Nelson Francis, EETS, O.S. 217 (London: Oxford Univ. Press, 1942) equates the apple with the world and opposes it to heaven (p.80). Mandeville, like Bozon, mentions the apple that is bitter within from the cinders God rained down on Sodom (74). In Piers Plowman we are told that "Adam and Eue eten apples vnrosted" (B, V, 612); see also St. Erkenwald, 1. 295; Cleanness, 1. 241; and Pearl, 1. 640.
  17. There is a succinct explanation of the growth of this popular medieval legend by Hugo Rahner, "The Christian Mystery and the Pagan Mysteries," in The Mysteries: Papers from the Eranos Yearbooks, ed. Joseph Campbell, Bollingen Series XXX, Vol. 2 (New York: Pantheon Books, 1955), pp. 369 ff., esp. 384-85.
  18. These features are found variously on the Ebsdorf and Hereford maps. Seymour (Cotton edition, p. 258) mentions some other maps that may have been available to Mandeville in Rome during his supposed visit there. There are good reproductions of the Ebsdorf and Hereford maps in Leo Bagrow, History of Cartography, rev. by R. A. Skelton (London: C.A. Watts, 1964), plates E and XXIV. Letts, Sir John Mandeville, ch. xi, has drawn a number of parallels between pictures on the Hereford map and certain descriptions found in Mandeville.
  19. Mandeville's preoccupation with round objects and the roundness of the earth may have been an esoteric concern of some significance to him. There is a strange story that comes down from the sixteenth-century antiquarian, John Leland: he said that he saw an undecayed apple enclosed within a crystal orb among the relics at Becket's shrine at Canterbury and was told it had been a gift from Mandeville (Commentarii de Scriptoribus, ed. Antonius Hall [Oxford, 1709], I, 368).
  20. In his edition (p. 236) Seymour says Mandeville was sharing a popular European "credulity" which genuine travelers (who reported the pyramids to be tombs) did not hold to. However, in my reading I find that a great number of medieval and Renaissance travelers, many of them otherwise reliable observers, called the pyramids the granaries of Joseph; among them were an anonymous 1350 traveler, Marino Sanuto, Frescobaldi, Sigoli, and Pero Tafur.
  21. For a summary of the places usually visited in the Holy Land, see John G. Demaray, The Invention of Dante's Commedia (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1974), ch. 1.
  22. On the various associations of the three known continents with the Trinity, see George H. Williams, Wilderness and Paradise in Christian Thought: The Biblical Experience of the Desert in the History of Christianity and the Paradise Theme in the Theological Idea of a University (New York: Harper, 1962), pp. 169-71. G. R. Crone, The World Map by Richard of Haldingham in Hereford Cathedral circa A.D. 1285 (London: Royal Geographical Society, 1954), p. 24, says the tripartite division of the earth was not a biblical concept but began with the Romans, perhaps Sallust.
  23. See Eleanor Simmons Greenhill, "The Child in the Tree: A Study of the Cosmological Tree in Christian Tradition," Traditio, 10 (1954), 323-71, and esp. 335-37 on the idea of Jerusalem as the navel of the world; and Mircea Eliade, Images and Symbols: Studies in Religious Symbolism, trans. Philip Mairet (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1961), ch. 1.
  24. Half of this passage is missing from the Cotton MS and what I have quoted here appears in another version of the Travels, the Egerton MS. I quote from Pollard's edition, which includes it (p. 83); the spelling has been modernized.
  25. Fra Mauro's world map dates from the mid-fifteenth century; in placing Jerusalem off-center, he apologized for abandoning the ancient tradition; see G. R. Crone, Maps and Their Markers: An Introduction to the History of Cartography (1962; rpt. New York: Capricorn Books, 1966), pp. 54-55. On Bianco's map and its implications, see R. E. Skelton, Thomas E. Marston, and George D. Painter, The Finland Map and the Tartar Relation (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1965), pp. 124-26.
  26. Bennett, Rediscovery (p. 9 n. 14), says "Wyclif, Gower, and Higden all comment on the Englishman's love of travel, and Chaucer gives his knight that characteristic, but all of these comments were written after the Travels had begun to circulate." She does not describe the love of travel as curiositas.
  27. Polychronicon, ed. Churchill Babington, Rolls Series (London: Longman and Co., 1869), II, 169.I quote from Trevisa's translation of Higden.
  28. The English Works of John Gower, ed. G. C. Macaulay, EETS, E.S. 81-82 (London: K. Paul, Trench, Trübner, 1900-1901), 11, 253.
  29. C. S. Lewis, The Discarded Image: An Introduction to Medieval and Renaissance Literature (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1964), p. 109.
  30. The Prologues and Epilogues of William Caxton, ed. W. J. B. Crotch, EETS, O.S. 176 (1928; rpt. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1956), p. 108.
  31. The Travels of Marco Polo, trans. Ronald Latham (Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1965), p. 10.
  32. M. C. Seymour's edition; see note 4 above.
  33. C. W. R. D. Moseley notes that the inclusion of phrases like "I John Mandeville" occurred with more frequency as the work became more popular and more copied—although he admits that the sense of an authority addressing us is present already in the earliest versions; see "Sir John Mandeville's Visit to the Pope: The Implications of an Interpolation," Neophilologus, 54 (1970), 79.
  34. Mary Lascelles, "Alexander and the Earthly Paradise in Mediaeval English Writings," MÆ, 5 (1936), 39.
  35. Atiya, p. 165.
  36. On Mandeville's familiarity with Alexandrian romances, see the notes in Seymour's edition (1967), pp. 209, 211, and 254.
  37. Bennett, Rediscovery, pp. 83-84. Polo's travel account was composed with the aid of a professional romance-writer, who may have added romance material to Polo's factual record.
  38. Grover Cronin, Jr., "The Bestiary and the Mediaeval Mind-Some Complexities," MLQ, 2 (1941), 196.
  39. "Prester John's Letter: A Mediaeval Utopia," Phoenix, 13 (1959), 56-57. The best recent study of the impact Prester John had on the medieval European consciousness is Vsevolod Slessarev, Prester John: The Letter and the Legend (Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota Press, 1959).
  40. Literature and Pulpit, pp. 173-76.
  41. R. J. Mitchell, The Spring Voyage: The Jerusalem Pilgrimage in 1458 (London: John Murray, 1964), p.42.
  42. "Thomas Waleys O.P.," Archivum Fratrum Praedicatorum, 24 (1954), 74-76. The phrase "nova et inusitate" occurs in a fourteenth-century moralist's attack on curiositas in sermons; see Th.-M. Charland, Artes Praedicandi: Contribution à l'Histoire de le Rhétorique au Moyen Age (Paris: J. Vrin, 1936), p. 316.
  43. Gulliver's Travels, in The Prose Works of Jonathan Swift, ed. Herbert David (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1941), II, 71.
  44. The Itineraries of William Wey, ed. G. Williams, Roxburghe Club (London: J. B. Nichols and Sons, 1857), I, appendix.
  45. Morton W. Bloomfield, "Chaucer's Sense of History," JEGP, 51 (1952), 310-11.
  46. Hamelius was convinced that Mandeville's book embodied a running attack on the papacy, and he argued that Mandeville was possessed of a covert unorthodoxy; see his commentary and notes, passim. Margaret Schlauch, English Medieval Literature and Its Social Foundations (Warsaw: Panstwowe W. Naukowe, 1956), p. 196, finds in the Travels a deliberate burlesquing of the Christian religion. See Howard, "The World of Mandeville's Travels," for another theory of what Mandeville was trying to do in polarizing Eastern and Western religions.
  47. For a short summary of classical and medieval opinion on the shape of the earth, see Charles W. Jones, "The Flat Earth," Thought, 9 (1934), 296-307.
  48. Bennett observes: "Mandeville's assumption that the laws of nature operate on the other side of the world is a fundamental part of his belief that it is possible to sail all the way around it" (Rediscovery, p. 36).
  49. Nicole Oresme le livre du ciel et du monde, ed. Albert D. Menut and Alexander J. Denomy, trans. Albert D. Menut (Madison: Univ. of Wisconsin Press, 1968), pp. 576-77.
  50. See Parry, The Age of Reconnaissance, p. 24, Bennett, ch. 15, and Moseley's forthcoming study.
  51. Toscanelli corresponded with Columbus (who read Mandeville); Columbus also was stirred by d'Ally's remarks (c. 1414) that the ocean might be navigable, if winds were fair. On the indirect influence of Mandeville and late-medieval geographical thinkers on those of Columbus's generation, see Thomas Goldstein, "Geography in Fifteenth-Century Florence," in Merchants and Scholars: Essays in the History of Exploration and Trade, ed. John Parker (Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota Press, 1965), pp. 9-32.
  52. See Arthur C. Cawley, "'Mandeville's Travels': A Possible New Source," N&Q, N.S. 19 (1972), 47-48; he finds in Macrobius a likely source for Mandeville's comments on the antipodeans (ch. XX).
  53. Imago Mundi by Petrus Ailliacus, trans. Edwin F. Keaver (Wilmington, N.C., 1948), ch. 7; The Wanderings of Felix Fabri (London: Palestine Pilgrims' Text Society, 1897), III, 376.
  54. For a full explanation of this problem, see Edmundo O'Gorman, The Invention of America: An Inquiry into the Historical Nature of the New World and the Meaning of Its History (Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana Univ. Press, 1961), pp. 54-55; Don Cameron Allen, The Legend of Noah: Renaissance Rationalism in Art, Science, and Letters (Urbana: Univ. of Illinois Press, 1949), pp. 113 ff.; and Bennett, Rediscovery, pp. 233 ff.
  55. Scholars have not pinned down the source of Mandeville's tale of the Norwegian who twice circumnavigated the globe, although it has been suggested that Adam of Bremen (or some other writer who mentioned accounts of early voyagers) could have reminded Mandeville of Viking sailors. Any number of sources, oral or written, might exist. I am currently preparing a study on the probable influence of Gautier de Metz's Image du Monde on Mandeville's notions and especially on Mandeville's anecdote. It may be that the now lost Inventio Fortunatae, a written account of a voyage by an Englishman (possibly Nicholas of Lynne) to the Arctic area during the mid-fourteenth century, was known to Mandeville and influenced him on this whole issue of circumnavigation.
  56. Seymour, introduction, p. xvii.
  57. The phrase occurs in an account contained in The Mongol Mission: Narratives and Letters of the Franciscan Missionaries in Mongolia and China in the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Centuries, ed. Christopher Dawson (London: Sheed and Ward, 1955), p. 93.
  58. For a convenient representation, see plate 89 in D. W. Robertson, Jr., A Preface to Chaucer : Studies in Medieval Perspectives (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1962).
  59. Relations des Quatre Voyages Entrepris par Christophe Colomb …, ed. M. F. de Navarrete (Paris: Treuttel et Wurtz, 1828), III, 32.
  60. On the tradition that Eden lay opposite Jerusalem, see Charles S. Singleton, "A Lament for Eden," in Journey to Beatrice: Dante Studies 2 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press, 1958), pp. 141-58. For a summary of traditional views about Eden as a remote or nonexistent spot, see A. Bartlett Giamatti, The Earthly Paradise and the Renaissance Epic (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1966), ch. 1; and on Mandeville as representative of the medieval view about terrestrial Eden, see Howard Rollins Patch, The Other World According to Descriptions in Medieval Literature (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press, 1950), pp. 164-73.
  61. See Moseley, note 33 above. Whatever the "tretys" was that Mandeville says he showed the pope on the way home-and assuming he might have stopped at Avignon, if not Rome-it obviously was not the finished version of the Travels. It is clear from the Prologue and the last chapter that while the work may have been sketched out by the man during his journeys (and perhaps shown to the pope in some rough draft), the complete book was, as Mandeville says at the end, "fulfilled" later. Of course, if the author never traveled or never visited the pope, all this is just more of the apparatus of the fiction.
  62. The Discovery of Guiana, in Voyages and Travels Ancient and Modern, ed. Charles E. Eliot (Boston: The Harvard Classics, 1920), pp. 359-60. See Bennett, Rediscovery, p. 245.
  63. Bennett, Rediscovery, pp. 82-84; Seymour, "The English Manuscripts of Mandeville 's Travels," 200 (the Travels bound with Chaucer's Astrolabe); and Bennett, Rediscovery, p. 299 (the Travels bound with the Philobiblon).
  64. The Three Voyages of Martin Frobisher, ed. Vilhjalmur Stefansson (London: The Argonaut Press, 1938), II, 77.
  65. Pseudodoxia Epidemica, in The Works of Sir Thomas Browne, ed. Geoffrey Keynes (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1964), II, 54.
  66. See Louis B. Wright, Middle-Class Culture in Elizabethan England (1947; rpt. Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1958), p. 86.
  67. See Bennett, Rediscovery, pp. 237-38 (on More), pp. 255-56 (on Swift); see W. T. Jewkes, "The Literature of Travel and the Mode of Romance in the Renaissance," in Literature as a Mode of Travel (New York: The New York Public Library, 1963), pp. 13-30; C. W. R. D. Moseley, "Richard Head's 'The English Rogue': A Modern Mandeville?" YES, 1 (1971), 102-7; and Moseley's "The Lost Play of Mandeville," The Library, Series 5, 25 (1970), 46-49.
  68. Johnsonian Miscellanies, ed. George B. Hill (New York: Harper & Bros., 1897), II, 387.
  69. Commentarii, pp. 366-67.
  70. The name "Mandeville" and the various dates mentioned in the manuscript versions continue to be major targets for those intent on figuring out the author's identity. Beazley (III, 320-2 l)-apparently following a suggestion of Warner's-remarked that perhaps the name Mandeville was derived from a satirical French romance, Mandevie, written by one Jean du Pin about 1340. Seymour repeats this idea and also notes that the date Mandeville gives as his time of departure from England—Michaelmas Day (September 29), 1322—was probably taken from the itinerary of William of Boldensele, another fourteenth-century traveler (introduction, p. xvi).
  71. Letts, Sir John Mandeville (p. 125), notes that in one eighteenth-century edition of the Travels the date 1372, which appears in some fourteenth-century versions of the work, was inadvertently altered to read 1732; and there is a remark in that edition to the effect that "Mandeville is turned into another Gulliver." Gulliver's Travels was published in 1726, the year after the famous first printing of the Cotton MS version of Mandeville.
  72. Lewis, p. 144.
  73. On this point see William J. Brandt, The Shape of Medieval History: Studies in Modes of Perception (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1966), ch. 2.
  74. Smalley, "Robert Holcot O.P.," Archivum Fratrum Praedicatorum, 26 (1956), 82.
  75. Letters from Petrarch, trans. Morris Bishop (Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana Univ. Press, 1966), p. 261.
  76. "The Discoveries and the Humanists," in Merchants and Scholars, p. 40.

C. W. R. D. Moseley (essay date 1982)

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SOURCE: An introduction to The Travels of Sir John Mandeville, Penguin Books, 1982, pp. 9-39.

[In the following excerpt, Moseley discusses the work's author, reputation, values, and sources. The critic contends that the popularity of Mandeville' s Travels demands that the work be given serious attention if scholars want to understand the world view of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.]

When Leonardo da Vinci moved from Milan in 1499, the inventory of his books included a number on natural history, the sphere, the heavens—indicators of some of the prime interests of that unparalleled mind. But out of the multitude of travel accounts that Leonardo could have had, in MS or from the new printing press, there is only the one: Mandeville's Travels. At about the same time (so his biographer, Andrés Bernáldez, tells us) Columbus was perusing Mandeville for information on China preparatory to his voyage; and in 1576 a copy of the Travels was with Frobisher as he lay off Baffin Bay. The huge number of people who relied on the Travels for hard, practical geographical information in the two centuries after the book first appeared demands that we give it serious attention if we want to understand the mental picture of the world of the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Yet soon after 1600 Bishop Joseph Hall can speak of 'whetstone leasings of old Mandeville', Richard Brome can hang an entire satiric comedy (The Antipodes) on the book and its author—which suggests just how widespread was knowledge of the book—and assume (rightly) that virtually nobody then would regard the work at all seriously. The modern dismissive attitude to the book is heir to this later tradition; yet its astonishing popularity (which continued even after it had ceased to command respect as a work of information) can be shown to depend on genuine merits. Ironically, both the earlier attitude of uncritical acceptance and the later rejection are based on a distorted view of what the author was trying to achieve.

1 The Book and its Author

The Travels first began to circulate in Europe between 1356 and 1366. Originally written in French (quite possibly in the Anglo-Norman still current in English court circles), by 1400 some version of the book was available in every major European language; by 1500, the number of MSS was vast—including versions in Czech, Danish, Dutch and Irish—and some three hundred have survived. (For comparison, Polo's Divisament dou Monde is extant in only about seventy.) The very early printed editions testify at once to the importance attached to it and to its commercial appeal. The MS history is extremely complicated; briefly, the MSS divide into two broad groups, a Continental and an Insular version. The latter—circulating, so far as one can see, mainly in England and mainly preserved in British libraries—makes no mention of a peculiar story in the Continental version which connects the author with a certain Dr Jean de Bourgogne (author of an extant treatise De Pestilentia) and a dull, wordy and industrious Liège notary, Jean d'Outremeuse. There is no serious doubt that d'Outremeuse handled a text and influenced the scribal tradition considerably, but there is not a shred of evidence which would compel the conclusion that 'Mandeville' was either de Bourgogne's or d'Outremeuse's nom de plume, as was first suggested at the end of the nineteenth century. If d'Outremeuse is an unreliable witness (as we know from elsewhere he is) and if the references to de Bourgogne depend on d'Outremeuse, one would be inclined to regard the MSS of the Insular version as the less contaminated. But here is not the place to go into this complex matter fully1—and what I have just said makes the cutting of the Gordian knot look diffident by comparison; the text I have chosen for this edition is one of the three (I think the best) early English translations from the Anglo-Norman of the Insular version (all extant in MSS of the late fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries). Its relation to the others is briefly indicated in the note preceding the text.

Despite the ingenuity of scholars, then, nothing is known of the author apart from what he tells us in his book, and he may, of course, be creating to a greater or lesser degree a fictional persona. He tells us that he was an English knight, that he travelled from 1322 to 1356 (1332 to 1366 in some texts) during which time he saw service with the Sultan of Egypt and the Great Khan. He may indeed have been one of the Mandevilles of Black Notley in Essex, but the evidence is again inconclusive. Nevertheless, the case for an English author is quite good: the narrative is wholly consistent in its references to 'this country', 'our country', the discussion of the peculiarly English letters Ʒ and þ, the barnacle geese reputed to breed in Britain, and so on. The unsystematic consistency of such little details is persuasive.2 Moreover, the chronicler Thomas Walsingham, writing probably between 1370 and 1396, in his discussion of famous people connected with St Albans, as Mandeville is reputed to have been, clearly accepted the story of the English authorship, and the Abbey of St Albans seems to have been something of a centre of dissemination for MSS of the Travels. But the really crucial question, as yet unanswered, is, if the author was not English, what conceivable motive had he in so cleverly pretending to be? (And if he was not, then our opinion of his book must be the higher because of the brilliant and convincing fiction.) The original's being in French is no argument, for the natural language for literary endeavour of a secular (non-religious and non-scholarly) nature for an Englishman born in the early 1300s would be Anglo-Norman French —even if, like Henry of Lancaster (or John Gower) he felt the need to apologize for his handling of it.3 There is nothing in the early texts against our accepting the author's own account of himself as an Englishman.

How far he travelled (if at all) is a similar question. The post-Renaissance view of Mandeville is to see him as the archetypal 'lying traveller'. He claims to have travelled as far as China, though not, interestingly, as far as the Japan visited by Marco Polo. Though very unusual, such journeys were not in themselves improbable. The Franciscans, like Odoric of Pordenone or John of Plano de Carpini, and a few merchants, like the Polos and Balducci Pegolotti, penetrated in some numbers during the period of Tartar hegemony— roughly the century after 1220—to the Far East and lived to write their memoirs. But two factors have severely damaged Mandeville's credit. First, since the European voyages of discovery, we have a completely different picture of the world and no longer accept the stories of monstes and marvels that descended to the medieval mind from Pliny, Aethicus, Solinus and Herodotus. If Mandeville reported them, then he was a liar. But this is not an entirely valid argument; for what you see (and can write about) depends to a large extent on the conceptual and methodological structures you have in your mind; the fact that we see lepers as victims of a disease while the ancient writers saw them as 'flatfaces' (or, similarly, sufferers from elephantiasis as sciapods) depends on our respective assumptions. The cargo cults of the Pacific provide an illustration: to us, a prosaic aeroplane, yet to a different mind—and equally 'truly'—a great silver bird which brings gifts from the gods. The second factor is the convincing demonstration of Mandeville's vast dependence on a large number of earlier accounts of the East. This has led one critic to say roundly that Mandeville's longest journey was to the nearest library. But this again is far from conclusive. The medieval convention - not only accepted but admired—of reworking 'olde feeldes' for 'newe corne', 'olde bokes' for 'newe science', the reliance on auctoritas, would make a book that did not rely on others unusual in the extreme. Plagiarism is a charge beside the point; borrowing is an accepted artistic norm. Marie de France, for example, can rework Robert of Flamborough's Poenitentiale, using the first person and thus claiming experiences she could not have had, without any unease. Likewise, Mandeville's claim to have lived with the Great Khan at Manzi (p. 144)—an imitation of his source Odoric of Pordenone— is impossible as it stands since the kingdom of Manzi fell at the end of the Sung dynasty in 1278. So far, then, Mandeville is working within a normal pattern. But, more to the point, later travellers, like Johann Schiltberger, captured after Nicopolis in 1396, and about whose wanderings there is absolutely no doubt, can be shown to have borrowed freely from Mandeville to flesh out their own accounts. Even the estimable Polo, like Herodotus before him, repeated hearsay. Neither of these factors, then, disproves Mandeville's having travelled. Indeed, there are some elements and details, inexplicable in terms of sources, which just could be firsthand reporting. The story of 'Ypocras" daughter at Cos, for example, has no known source; yet the reliable Felix Fabri found it current in the island when he visited it in 1483. Again, Mandeville says the walls of the Great Khan's palace were covered with the sweet-smelling skin of 'panthers' (p. 142), a detail not in his source Odoric, who mentions only leather. The detail is included for no obvious reason. The commentators have discoursed about the sweet smell the Bestiaries attached to the panther; but the red panda does smell of musk, and the Nepali word 'panda' could easily be misheard as the Latin 'panthera'. Finally, it would be very odd indeed if a man with so great an interest in far countries should have found no way of getting at least as far as the Holy Land in a century when (just as on the Muslim Hajj to Mecca) relatively large numbers of people of all social classes took advantage of the pilgrim routes thither; these were organized almost as comprehensively as the modern package tour—even to the hiring out of sleeping rolls for the sea voyage by a man who worked from the Piazza San Marco in Venice. The motives for going, then as now, were never entirely pure. Some just liked 'wandringe by the weye'—whatever Chaucer may have meant by that; some went out of genuine devotion; all looked for souvenirs. It is entertaining that Mandeville reports a Saracen solution to problems of tourist pressure on ancient monuments identical to that adopted by the Department of the Environment (p. 77). Now none of this proves Mandeville travelled; but equally it is not possible to dismiss his claim entirely. If this man did not travel at all, our opinion of his literary ability must be the higher: his book conveys a superbly coherent illusion of a speaking voice talking of firsthand experience, even to the important (and often amusing) disclaimers when he is unable to tell us something: 'Of Paradise I cannot speak properly, for I have not been there; and that I regret' (p. 184). The irony is that the more one questions Mandeville's truthfulness, the higher one has to rate his literary artistry.

But these questions, though interesting, are relatively side-issues. Many people wrote travel books; only this one achieved an enormous and lasting popularity.4 The reasons for that popularity and the considerable influence it exerted must be sought in the nature of the book and its treatment of its material—and in the handling of the audience's assumptions. To a modern reader, the form seems loose and inconsequential. This is deceptive. The journey narrative has the great advantage of being inclusive of many diverse elements (a quality beloved of the medieval mind) and provides a basic structuring for the material against a landscape (in the first half of the book at least) geographically and politically recognizable to fourteenth-century eyes. At least in part, too, the narrative caters for the same sort of taste as the Alexander Romances and Prester John's letter (which latter had lost, by the time Mandeville was writing, some of its initial political urgency). Mandeville uses elements of both. The language and form are accessible to a wide audience, and thus provide an ideal medium for a haute vulgarisation of authoritative 'geographical' thought. Mandeville was a serious writer, taking his matter from sources he believed (generally correctly) to be accurate; his book was as accurate and up to date and account of knowledge of the world as he knew how to make it. He deliberately draws together—remember the medieval delight in the summa and the compendium—material of very different kinds that could not so readily be found elsewhere; but unlike the compendium writer—for example, Vincent of Beauvais, whose Speculum Naturale and Speculum Historiale he used—he does not just compile. One of his most remarkable and interesting achievements is to have synthesized so many sources so that the joins do not show. He adapts and shapes to fit his plan, unifying all with the stamp of a valuing subjectivity. The medieval ideal of lust and lore—pleasure and instruction—seems to be the goal. We must not forget, either, the medieval (and indeed Renaissance) assumption that all writing must have a serious moral intent which is discoverable by intellectual understanding penetrating the surface of the text. The earth, likewise, is to be understood as a factual place first; therefore we have the careful and authoritative account of the size and shape of the earth; but it is also to be understood morally, and so we have a pleasant story of the reproduction of the diamond followed by its moral significance from the lapidaries (pp. 118-19), or an emphasis on there being a significacio for fish coming to land to be caught (p. 133). It is also a place where we must judge experience: 'Let the man who will, believe it; and leave him alone who will not' (p. 144). The medieval view of the world, as of literature, was polysemous, carrying many meanings; the physical world itself was the umbra from which Faith could be supported by Reason:

Yit nevertheless we may haif knawlegeing
Off God Almychtie, be his Creatouris …
(Robert Henryson, The Morali Fabillis
of Esope the Phrygian,
ll. 1650ff.)

'All that is written is written for our profit.' And so Mandeville's impeccable geographical thought (in the sense in which we use the term 'geographical' in our methodology), despite its intrinsic interest for us as the picture of the world that a well-educated medieval man would have held, is only part of the importance of the Travels, just as is the delight in strange things (p. 44) that Mandeville assumes in his reader or hearer (p. 189).

It is really the difference in our mental maps and assumptions governed by them that makes a just assessment of Mandeville's impact in his time so hard. We simply do not look at the world in the same way. The precise spatial relationships of, for example, Dante, are almost unique in the writing of this period, and even those are moral and philosophical metaphors drawing heavily on a Thomist world model. The physical face of the earth is never, in my experience, as concretely articulated as Dante's universe. The landscape of the romance King Alisaunder, or the Roman de toute chevalerie of Thomas of Kent, is completely lacking in physical sequence and detail. The spatial vagueness and mysteriousness of descriptions of the earth in this period is more akin to a kind of description found only in fiction and fantasy now—the sort of setting in E. R. Eddison's The Worm Ourobouros or Ursula 1e Guin's A Wizard of Earthsea. But these two latter are the result of choice. Mandeville's, or anybody else's, was not. Thus it is meaningless to attempt, as some editors have done, to plot Mandeville's places and journey on a modern map outline, for the rigid spatial relationships of the modern map, for us so important a part of the meaning of map conventions, are conceptually incompatible. Even direction is vague to the medieval mind. We easily forget how much the relatively modern inventions of coordinates and the compass rose have altered our modes of understanding our world. But that we see the world differently does not imply that the medieval idea was in its time unworkable—it clearly was not—nor that we are more 'right' than they were. Indeed, it is the root from which our way of thinking has grown. Mandeville's insistence that had he found company and shipping he too could have girdled the entire globe (and it is, incidentally, a modern slander that the medievals believed the earth to be flat) played, with his discussion of the Pole star, some part in the dissemination of important geographical concepts and in preparing for the great voyages of the next century on which our world-view is partly based.

Learned though it is, 'a compendium' is not the only key to the nature of the book. It also includes Romance elements and stories, which I discuss below. It shares to some degree that element, easily forgotten by us, in all western writing about the East that is not pure romance, of political interest in a strategic linking with the Tartars and Prester John against a menacing Islam. (This strategic concern was one of the three chief motives that spurred Prince Henry of Portugal to his sponsoring of the voyages of discovery—and it is one of the reasons he was so interested in Mandeville.) It provides a moral and political perspective (quite deliberately) for Europe (for example, pp. 149, 156). European's assumptions about their superiority in politics, law, virtue and religion are either directly or ironically challenged. And last, it is, at least in part, a quite careful and genuine pilgrim's devotional manual for the journey to the Holy Land. One owner of the Cotton text apparently so used it (see p. 23). Now these different genres, homogenized by the journey narrative, result in a complex and subtle book which can very easily make a fool of an inattentive or incautious reader. These elements, including the handling of sources, will need some discussion later, after we have looked in more detail at the structure and control of the book.

The tight categorical and proportional structuring of narrative, where everything relates to everything else, where balanced structure is an important clue to meaning, that we find in, for example, Dante, Gower or Chaucer, is largely lacking. There are, however, certain topics Mandeville refers to frequently—the insistence on Christians' unworthiness to possess Palestine, the corruption and complacency of the Western Church, the goodness in works of non-Christians. These could be said to be the thematic keys of the work. Almost exactly half-way through, the division is clearly marked between the parts dealing with the Holy Land and the Far East. Both these parts open and close with a repeat of their first ideas—the ways to the Holy Land, and the division of the world by the four rivers of Paradise. The last pages echo the ideas of the prologue. The narrative is clearly signposted, the signposts marking divisions of the matter (for example, pp. 44, 103, 111, 188). I also see a certain almost 'typical' linking between the repeated insistence on the inability of the Christians to take Palestine (not recognizing their need for moral and social reform before so doing) and the impossibility of Mandeville himself reaching the balm near Alexander's Trees of the Sun and Moon (p. 181, cf. p. 66), or the impossibility of great lords with all their power attaining to the Earthly Paradise (p. 185) because of the opposition presented by the very nature of the world. So a simple formal structure is supported by a thematic one.

The response of the audience is controlled in crucial places by the device of a persona. Though nowhere near as complex or as developed as, for example, Chaucer's or Langland's, nevertheless Mandeville's persona is significant. It is set up as a somewhat sceptical reporter, firmly rooted in experience—the 'first-hand' convention. It is very noticeable that in the early versions the persona is carefully made to question and to refuse to give an opinion, as well as, occasionally, to affirm the truth of the material; later redactions are marked by a multiplication of asseveration, often in a style much more emphatic than what we find in the earlier—'I, John Mandeville, saw this, and it is the truth.' The building up of this figure is interestingly oblique. He introduces himself, with an engagingly modest protestation of this unworthiness, as an experienced pilgrim who travels in good company (p. 45); he possesses a thorn from the Crown of Thorns (a king's ransom!) and implies he was given it by the Byzantine Emperor; he served as a soldier with the Sultan, and was offered a princess in marriage—'but I did not want to' (p. 59); he is experienced in the tests for good balm, and shows a sturdy independence of mind at the monastery of Saint Katherine on Sinai (pp. 66, 71). The Sultan gave him special letters of introduction ('to me he did a special favour', p. 80) to the Temple authorities. He has a 'private' talk with the Sultan (p. 107). He is ready to disclaim knowledge 'I never followed that route to Jerusalem, and so I cannot talk about it', p. 103). He is very plausible in relating what is supposedly his own experience in seeing the southern stars (p. 128). The boasting is amusing; but gradually his trustworthiness as a guide for us in our response is built up. He is made to be detached about his own job as a reporter or narrator; he is cautious about the Ark on Ararat (pp. 113-14), and about the supposed cross of Dismas in Cyprus and other relics (pp. 46, 55). He is sensible about the pepper forests (in fact he contradicts his source, p. 123, because it is talking patent nonsense) and reflective about the problems of belief in unfamiliar material (p. 144). When going through the Vale Perilous, there is a linguistic emphasis on seeming, illusion, fantasy—a distrust of his own cognition (p. 173)—and, by implication, ours, and our response to his material. Almost the last remark in the book is deliciously ironic: 'I shall cease telling of the different things I saw in those countries, so that those who desire to visit those countries may find enough new things to speak of for the solace and recreation of those whom it pleases to hear them' (p. 188). This persona is also used for comic or evaluative effect. Sometimes this is done by tone, or by the positioning of a clause. I have already quoted his apology for not telling us about Paradise, but he did drink of the Well of Yough, and characteristically claims not the instant rejuvenation one would expect from the (interpolated) Letter of Prester John, but 'ever since that time I have felt the better and healthier'. Going through the Vale Perilous (one of the stimuli, by the way, for Bunyan's Valley of the Shadow) he and his companions were much afraid: 'We were more devout then than we ever were before or after' (p. 174). In Lamory, he reports the 'evil custom' of fattening children for the table; but our expected horror is pointed by the deadpan, sardonic positioning at the end of the paragraph of the simple remark: 'They say it is the best and sweetest flesh in the world' (p. 127). The statement that '[Hippopotami] eat men … no meat more readily', is carefully booby-trapped by the insertion of the clause 'whenever they can get them' (p. 167). But most important are the occasions when the persona involves himself in dialogue. During his confidential talk with the Sultan his laconic unease introduces the Sultan's fluent indictment of Christian conduct, and he is wrong-footed at every turn (p. 108). This episode is comic in precisely the same way as the persona Gulliver is comic when talking to the King of Brobdingnag. But he can also be used not only to trigger a moral assessment of his own culture but to point out false values in others'—for example, his expostulation at the obscurantism of the monks on Mount Sinai (p. 71). Or he can modify our initial reactions in the direction of sense and understanding; for instance, when he asks Judas's question of the monk of Cassay (p. 139) who is feeding the animals, it elicits two things: the good organization of a state so that the poor do not exist and the fact that there is a rational explanation for a very odd act. (His source, Odoric, merely 'laughed heartily' at this pagan piety). And is not that act exactly parallel to the European custom of Masses for the dead? At the court of the Great Khan, the persona is confident that the marvels are not 'diabolic' as Odoric said, but capable of rational explanation on terms he can understand. And, finally, the persona can direct our moral response in a quite unambiguous way. The approval and admiration for the Gymnosophists is supported by a second reference to the important figure of Job (p. 180, cf. p. 115). All the accumulated authority of this figure is behind the remark 'we know not whom God loves nor whom He hates'—a generalized statement subsuming all the hinted warnings against too uncritical a judgement or too ready an acceptance of the unusual and strange. The handling of the persona, therefore, is the key to the book's success.

2 The Use of the Sources

We must now look at the handling of sources and the genres used in the book. Apart from those I mentioned above (p. 12) there are important elements for which no source is known. Some of these are Romance elements like the story of the Castle of the Sparrowhawk, or the story of the circumnavigation of the world. But the list of discovered sources is large:

Albert of Aix, Historia Hierosolomitanae

Jacopo de Voragine, The Golden Legend
William von Boldensele, Itinerarius
Jacques de Vitry, Historia Hierosolomitana
Haiton of Armenia, Fleurs des Histors d'Orient
William of Tripoli, De Statu Saracenorum
Odoric of Pordenone, Itinerarius
pseudo-Odoric, De Terra Sancta
Caesarius of Heisterbach, Dialogus Miraculorum
Pilgrims' manuals
The Letter of Prester John
Alexander Romances,
including Alexander's letter
    to Aristotle
Vincent of Beauvais, Speculum Historiale and
    Speculum Naturale, including extracts from
    John of Plano de Carpini, Pliny and Solinus

and possibly:

Burchard of Mount Sion, Descriptio Terrae Sanctae
John of Sacrobosco, De Sphaera
Brunetto Latini, Livre dou Tresor

Quite a reading list. Even allowing for the fact that several are anthologized in Vincent of Beauvais, and that many of the travel accounts occur conveniently in the compendium of travels made by Jean le Lone of Ypres (which Mandeville quite possibly used), Mandeville still did a good deal of research. But the sources are used with quite remarkable assurance: there are certainly verbatim liftings (as there are in Shakespeare) but one is never conscious of where Mandeville leaves one source and moves to another. He moves backwards and forwards between them with complete confidence, dovetailing Haiton into Odoric and mixing in Vincent exactly as he requires.5 This, however, suggests a mere scissors-and-paste job; the impressive thing is the freedom with which the source has been altered and shaped. Reported speech is transposed into the much more arresting direct—for example, when Mandeville reworks Haiton's story of the advice of the dying Great Khan (p. 148). Many elements are amplified with considerable ingenuity. Three examples will show the different levels on which this is done.

First, Odoric,6 that homespun Odysseus, has one sentence (Yule, p. 114) on his trip on one of the stitched ships (which, incidentally, still exist in the Gulf region). Mandeville uses the story twice: once, briefly, in describing Ormuz (p. 120)—the right region for them, in fact; again, as a result of one of the many perils of the sea off Prester John's land. Odoric's sentence is blown up into a circumstantial account, full of personal observation. It is vastly more interesting.7 Second, Odoric's story of the Vegetable Lamb of Tartary (Yule, p. 240f.): Mandeville again expands, and alters the whole tone of the incident. Odoric merely mentions an unusual 'melon' he has been told of, which story (he feels) may be true, as there are trees in Ireland which produce birds. Mandeville's account is much more circumstantial, both of the fruit and his reaction:

There there grows a kind of fruit as big as gourds, and when it is ripe men open it and find inside an animal of flesh and blood and bone, like a little lamb without wool. And the people of that land eat the animal, and the fruit too. It is a great marvel. Nevertheless I said to them that it did not seem a very great marvel to me, for in my country, I said, there were trees which bore a fruit that became birds that could fly; men call them barnacle geese, and there is good meat on them … And when I told them this they marvelled greatly at it. (p. 165)

The persona's intervention emphasizes by implication one of Mandeville's key ideas—that the same Nature rules everywhere and what is impossible in Europe is impossible in Cathay. If the impossible seems to happen, either our knowledge or our interpretation is at fault. He hints that just as the East looks odd to the West, the West looks odd to the East.

Finally, Odoric's journey through the Vale Perilous. His account demonstrates both the problem of assimilating new experience outside normal conceptual patterns, as mentioned above, and the essential qualities of his narrative. Odoric was undoubtedly a truthful reporter and a man of considerable courage. The singing sands of the deserts of Asia are quite beyond his previous experience, but the idea of devils is not; and so the noises and appearance of the Valley become supernatural and threatening:

I went through a certain valley which lieth by the River of Delights. I saw therein many dead corpses lying. And I heard also therein sundry kinds of music, but chiefly nakers (drums) which were marvellously played upon. And so great was the noise thereof that very great fear came upon me. Now, this valley is seven or eight miles long; and if any unbeliever enter therein he quitteth it never again, but perisheth incontinently. Yet I hesitated not to go in that I might see once for all what the matter was. And when I had gone in I saw there, as I have said, such numbers of corpses as no one without seeing it could deem it credible. And at one side of the valley, in the very rock, I beheld as it were the face of a man very great and terrible, so very terrible indeed that for my exceeding great fear my spirit seemed to die within me. Wherefore I made the sign of the cross … I ascended a hill of sand and looked about me. But nothing could I descry, only I still heard those nakers play which were played so marvellously. And when I got to the top of that hill I found there a great quantity of silver heaped up as it had been fishes' scales, and some of this I put into my bosom. But as I cared nought for it, and was at the same time in fear lest it should be a snare to hinder my escape, I cast it all down again to the ground. And so by God's grace I came forth scathless. Then all the Saracens, when they heard of this, showed me great worship, saying I was a baptized and holy man. But those who had perished in that valley they said belonged to the devil. (Yule, pp. 262-6)

Now compare Mandeville's version (pp. 173-4). This is obviously much expanded and much more vivid, particularly in the development of details. But, crucially, Mandeville has made the crossing of the Vale a test of covetousness; he develops Odoric's picking up and then casting away of the silver into a warning— for some fail the test. Odoric, somewhat complacently, relies for safety merely on his profession of faith; Mandeville insists that to be safe even Christians must be 'firm in the faith … be cleanly confessed and absolved' and must 'bless themselves with the sign of the Cross'. Mandeville not only questions the evidence of the senses and judgement based on them—a serious enough issue in itself, and one not insignificant as a motif in the whole book; he also, with some finesse, suggests that he was accompanied by two Franciscans who sought safety in numbers! Mandeville tempers Odoric's seriousness with a wry humour. Clearly the passage is the work of an extremely competent writer, who knew exactly what he wanted.

This shrewd judgement in the handling of sources cannot, of course, be separated from the use of the persona. Too emphatic a commitment to the personal experience of everything would diminish returns rapidly; and Mandeville knew that. So the sources are not only shaped by amplificatio but sometimes, as in the case of Haiton's personal experience of the Land of Darkness, abbreviated and objectified. Generally, then, the sources are unified and the key ideas controlled by the device of the persona and the journey framework.

3 Modes and Values

The modes (and the expectations they arouse) used in this book are an interesting and unusual mixture. The hearer or reader coming to the book for the first time might easily assume he is embarking on a devotional guide, a manual of the pilgrim voyage to the Holy Land, like many others of the period. There are striking methodological and stylistic parallels between Mandeville's description of Jerusalem's relics and places and the description of those of Rome and Jerusalem in the pilgrims' manuals, like The Stacions of Rome or the Informacōn for Pylgrymes into the Holy Londe, printed by de Word in 1498. This sort of book was useful as a reminder to the returned pilgrim, a guidebook for the new, and an armchair voyage for the sedentary. In all three cases there was some devotional response—at the lowest level, the detailed recalling of the events and places that witnessed the individual reader's salvation. The concrete place is frequently used as a mnemonic stimulus for a biblical text and for a figuring of the Passion.8 Wherever Mandeville is dealing with the Holy Land or the Saints of the Church and their miracles, this stylistic mode is used. Sometimes, indeed, the details are so vividly filled in—as in the story of Samson, or the detail about the auger hole in the Ark whence the Devil escaped (pp. 57, 113)— that one wonders whether Mandeville is drawing on another religious mode as well, the mystery play. Just as Mandeville certainly used pilgrims' manuals, so a number of later works—some much later—borrowed Mandeville's remarks and incorporated them into devotional guides. (For example, the Pylgrymage of Sir Richard Guylford to the Holy Land A. D. 1506, and the forgery based on it, the Pylgrymage of Sir Richard Torkyngton, 1517.) One owner of the Cotton text of the Travexls tore out those pages that could be used as a pilgrim guide—one suspects in order so to use them. (The mode itself is astonishingly durable, still being traceable in Henry Maundrell's A Journey from Aleppo to Jerusalem at Easter, 1697.) The pilgrimage motif is itself a metaphor for the life of man on earth as a journey to the Heavenly Jerusalem, specifically picked up in the last words of the book, and this casts an ironic light on Mandeville's claim to be writing in furtherance of a crusade. The 'Land of Promise'— earthly or heavenly—can only be won if Christians reform themselves according to the truth they profess. (The alert reader will notice an ironic backward glance at Christian pilgrimage when Mandeville speaks of the devout pilgrims to the shrine of the Juggernaut, pp. 125-6.) And when the need arises, he can adopt the quite recognizable style of the sermon (for example, p. 180, with its careful array of biblical texts). With this devotional interest is mingled a deal of practical advice on the various routes, of modern observations on tourist attractions and on a tourist vandalism familiar to us today (pp. 77, 99). A choice of pilgrimage could quite sensibly be based on Mandeville's description of the different journeys.

But the first half of the book, on the ways to Jerusalem, does not deal only with devotional material. Here, as later, the narrative is frequently suspended by digressions into other modes. Mandeville is fond of a good story, and he took them from other places as well as the appropriate Golden Legend. They rarely remain only stories. The lurid mixture of necrophilia and disaster in the story (current in the chroniclers) of the 'Bane of Satalye', near Adalia in Turkey (p. 55) is used not simply to account for the ville engloutie which fascinated many pilgrims but to make a moral point about the consequences of man's sin in the macrocosm. The charming story of the Field of Flowers is similar to one told of Abraham's daughter; it is paralleled in Machaut's Dit du Lion (1342) and the Apocryphal legend of Susanna; Mandeville, however, uses it rather like a Golden Legend story, to account for the existence of roses and to demonstrate the saving grace of God. The Watching of the Sparrowhawk (pp. 112-13) is a splendidly told story (which reappears in the Mélusine romance which was thus linked to the House of Lusignan) which is concerned not just with sensation but with personal moral and ethical choice and behaviour. Later, the Old Man of the Mountains is worked up from Odoric to emphasize the conscious and mechanically engineered deceit of his fake Paradise. Europe had heard enough of that medieval Mafia boss to be fascinated by how he got his assassination squads to work. Similarly, the long-nailed Mandarin, whom he took from Odoric again, is made much more voluptuous and then is 'placed' as an icon of gluttony. (He reappears in The Further Adventures of Robinson Crusoe.) So the stories generally are used to demand a moral response from the audience. Some actually do not need overt moralizing; the well-known ones, like the story of the 'hills of gold that pismires [ants] keep' (p. 183) are automatically a symbol of the foolish industry of men working to gather for themselves what they cannot possess and another enjoys. The digressions, then, are not only enjoyable diversions but functional supporters of the central ideas of the book.

Those central ideas spring essentially from two concerns: the moral state of Christendom, and the nature of the world we inhabit. Some critics have been so impressed by the remarks about Christendom that, like the late Professor Hamelius, they have seen the Travels as no more than 'an anti-papal pamphlet in disguise'. This is going too far, despite the demonstrable coolness towards the papacy, and oversimplifies a very complex book. Nevertheless, the amount of moral comment and how it is achieved demands our attention.

I have already referred to the way Mandeville insistently reiterates the need for moral reform before Christians can hope to possess the holy places. First, it is set out clearly in the prologue: the scheme of salvationhas been set up, yet 'pride, envy and covetousness have so inflamed the hearts of lords of the world that they are more busy to disinherit their neighbours than to lay claim to or conquer their own rightful inheritance'. The common people are left leaderless, like sheep without a shepherd. Social divisions have a moral origin. The same note is sounded again, briefly, as a hope for eventual reform, in the most appropriate place, the chapter on Jerusalem (p. 77). Then Mandeville attacks from a different angle. The persona is made to suffer the Sultan's comprehensive and systematic attack on the gap between profession and practice; all the sins are noted and the behaviour of the estates castigated (p. 107). The force of this is increased by having it in direct speech, and by making the speaker a Muslim who condemns Christians on Christian terms. We are made to see the attack as an objective appraisal from outside the Christian sensibility and données of the persona—in fact, we partly identify with the persona. Europocentric confidence in moral and religious superiority is challenged often. The Saracens, benighted as they are, administer justice better than Christians: 'They say that no man should have audience of a prince without leaving happier than he came thither' (p. 61).9 The pagan monk of Cassay indicates a social system more efficient in preventing poverty than a religion that specifically honours the poor. The Bragmans (Brahmins) take the idea further; here is a detailed account of a people not Christian yet living lives which, in terms of works, Christians ought to envy. The passage (pp. 178-9) is full of echoes of Dominical injunctions. Alexander is said to have wanted to conquer them, and Mandeville uses their traditional reply to attack the vainglory and deceitfulness of Western values. Alexander, like the persona earlier, is sent away with his tail between his legs. Mandeville is deliberatelysetting up more or less differing mirror societies as a commentary on Christian practices and failings—just as, indeed, Utopian fiction was later to be employed, often using Mandeville's own travel motif (for example, Utopia itself, or Bishop Hall's Mundus Alter et Idem).The attack starts destructively but gradually becomes more and more idealistic, finally culminating in the deliberate repetition of the account of the virtuous Bragmans in the paradisal innocence (symbolized by nakedness) of Gynoscriphe (the land of the Gymnosophistae; pp. 179-80). In the process, the good, peaceful government of the Chinese is used as a contrast to the internecine quarrels of Europeans; Prester John's kingdom is the ideal Christian state; the almsgiving of the Saracens challenges the moral superiority of Europe. The account of suttee is used to show that pagans take Heaven more seriously than Christians, and the horrific piety of the pilgrims to the Juggernaut (pp. 125-6) first shocks by its violence, and then by its direct moral: 'And truly they suffer so much pain and mortification of their bodies for love of that idol that hardly would any Christian man suffer the half—nay, not a tenth—for love of Our Lord Jesus Christ.'

This general critique is not unsupported by detailed complaint. Hamelius was right to detect an anti-clerical note—virtually every writer in this century (even the churchmen) forcefully attacks the abuses of the Church. Those who should be the shepherds are specifically criticized. The manner can vary from the open 'For now is simony crowned like a king in Holy Church' to the more oblique suggestion whose thrust is pointed by the positioning of the clause and the falter in the rhythm: 'They sell benefices of Holy Church, and so do men in other places.' Both these examples come from the generally accurate account of Greek Orthodoxy, the first of many descriptions of different rites and religions. The summary of the Greek position is remarkably neutral at a time of strained relations with Byzantium. Mandeville quotes without comment a letter of the Greeks to Pope John XXII damning the claims of the papacy and accusing it of avarice. His silence suggests approval and enjoyment of the Pope getting his comeuppance. The Jacobite Christians practise a real devotion, despite their not using 'the additions of the popes, which our priests are accustomed to use at Mass' (p. 79). The Tibetans have a religious leader (p. 186), 'the Pope of their religion, whom they call Lobassi … and all the priests and ministers of the idols are obedient to him'; the sentence and the paragraph close with the deliciously sardonic phrase, 'as our priests are to our Pope'—this, in the century of the Babylonish Captivity when the respect for the papacy reached probably its lowest ever level of respect!10

The consequence of this cool look at western Christendom is apparent in the attitude to other sects, religions and societies. His accounts of the Eastern Churches and Islam are quite untypical of the period in their accuracy and lack of animus. Despite centuries of contact and trade, it was not only in 'popular' writing that the Saracens were seen, with a total ignorance of their theology, as virtual devils incarnate. The miracle plays, and romances like The Sowdone of Babyloine, echo the standard idea Lydgate repeats of Muhammad as a false prophet, glutton, and necromancer (Fall of Princes, IX, 53ff). The scholars (some Mandeville's sources), despite odd exceptions like Abélard, William of Malmesbury and Roger Bacon, are no better. Few men studied Islamic books at all deeply; those who did, like Ramon Lull and Ricold of Monte Croce (both of whom preached in Arabic), either carried little weight or confirmed the prejudices of their audience. Lull's agonized vision of a vast army of souls trooping down to Hell for want of Christian doctrine led him to plead in 1315 at the Council of Vienne for centres of Islamic study; the plea was ignored, and even Lull comes round to advocating military force. Ricold used his learning to seek points of difference, merely writing polemic. A bishop of Acre, Jacques de Vitry, shows complete misunderstanding of Muslim theology; even the remarkably fair-minded Burchard of Mount Sion gives a far less neutral account than Mandeville. The same intolerant ignorance extends to other religions and peoples; John of Plano de Carpini, Mandeville's source on the Tartars, clearly loathed them; Ricold, despite wide travels, only abuses them, and William of Rubruck saw all eastern religions as diabolic aberrations. The politic Greek was distrusted (not without reason); nevertheless it is chilling to find the gentle Burchard recommending the seizing of Constantinople and the burning of all dubious books. Ludolf von Suchern emphasizes that the Pope has given full permission for the forcible dispossession of Greeks from their lands and for their being sold as cattle. Now it is fair to object that all these writers are clerics and have, to some extent necessarily, a parti-pris position; but elsewhere it is clear from the silence that tolerant understanding is not even considered. Gower, perhaps, reveals moral unease at the idea of a crusade (Confession Amantis, III 2488-96), as did Wiclif; and Langland's Anima hopes that Saracens and Jews will alike be saved (Piers Plowman, B, 382ff, 488ff., 530ff). But that is as far as it goes. There is nothing comparable to the Muslim Averroës' assertion that God is worshipped satisfactorily in many ways.

The importance of Mandeville's treatment of these topics has been largely overlooked. The imaginative leap necessary for his tolerance is itself remarkable; and because the book was so widely read, many would get their first reasonably accurate account of the Koran from it. His summary of Muslim attitudes to Jesus and Muhammad is fair, sensible and detailed. (It is noticeable how this balance and openness was coarsened and indeed cancelled in later reworkings of the Travels. The norms reassert themselves.) Similarly, he treats the Greeks, the Muslims, the Jacobites and the Bragmans as interesting and honourable and worthy of sympathetic respect, not merely as sticks to beat European complacency with. He not only diverges from his source, de Vitry, on the Jacobites and Syrians. He describes their rites neutrally, supports their doctrine of confession with a goodly array of biblical texts (pp. 97-8) and he concludes merely with the sentence— astonishing in its period—'all their differences would be too much to relate'. Most of his contemporaries would have revelled in the castigation of such variance.

The same tendency radically to redirect his source is apparent in the descriptions of Far Eastern cults and societies. Odoric's sensibilities were particularly upset by the cannibalism and sexual promiscuity of Lamory: 'It is an evil and a pestilent generation', he cries (Yule, p. 127). But Mandeville delights in expanding the details and provides a biblical text to justify the sexual licence—'Increase and multiply and fill the earth' (p. 127). Thus he forces his audience to justify the opposite standards they take for granted. He can so easily climb inside the skin of a man brought up in a totally different, if invented, culture that the preconceptions of Europe must necessarily be questioned. Perhaps the best example of this redirection of material and consequent upending of European assumptions is Mandeville's interpolation (drawing, possibly, on Isidore of Seville) in Odoric's account of Tana; where he saw only 'idolaters', Mandeville saw 'a variety of religions' (p. 121) and introduces a long discussion of the philosophical and cult difference between an image (simulacre) and an idol. It is conducted resourcefully and intelligently, and allows him to 'place' the worship of the ox, and human sacrifice. His implication is that intention to worship is more important than any failing in cultus. Odoric's marvellous and beastly customs' hide universal man.

The crucial idea, that men behave rationally according to their lights, is the key to understanding how Mandeville treats all other strange societies. Just because the society of Amazons reverses our social norms, it does not mean it will not work. Just because we are revolted by Jainism, or necrophagy, or the strange use of one's ancestors' skulls in Tibet, does not mean that there is not real piety in the actions. All these threads of tolerance, understanding, charity and questioning are woven together in a crucial passage linking those Bragmans who live well by works with the virtuous pagan Job (p. 180): 'And even if these people do not have the articles of our faith, nevertheless I believe that because of their good faith that they have by nature, and their good intent, God loves them well and is well pleased by their manner of life, as He was with Job, who was a pagan … For we know not whom God loves nor whom He hates.' And notice that in the passage is a warning of the fallibility of human judgment.

The diversity of the world we inhabit, then, is comprehensible by reason. The final topic we must briefly mention is Mandeville's idea of nature. Nature is a mirror of providence, a reliable guide to understanding. The Dead Sea (p. 89) has qualities that are apparently 'against nature', yet those qualities are consequences of sin 'against nature', and designed by God so that man's mind by contemplation of the marvel will understand the sterile denial of nature implicit in all sin. (The Gawain poet uses the Dead Sea in this way too.11) First appearances are a dubious basis for judgement; the pygmies (p. 140) cannot be dismissed as the freaks their appearance might suggest; they are 'very clever, and can judge between good and evil'.

Throughout the book there is the implication that nature is ultimately rational, if one looks far enough. A necessary consequence of this insight that the marvellous is explicable is that men may have confidence in the world behaving according to the same rules wherever they travel. And, if they have company and shipping, they can travel everywhere.

The Travels, then, is a complex and thoughtful book, executed with skill of a high order. The diverse material that has been gathered into it has been drawn into the service of a unified purpose, controlled successfully by a clever manipulation of the reader's response. Its immediate popularity rested on its meeting a number of tastes—the interest in the mysterious East, the desire for devotional Baedekers, and its provision of a very considerable amount of information. But that popularity could not have been achieved and sustained had the book not had that indefinable quality, that quidditas, which distinguishes the outstanding from the merely competent. I think much of that continuing attraction lies in the credibility of the persona's good sense and good nature. Mandeville, whoever he was, old, infirm and travel-worn, deserves the prayers he asks for.

4 The Career of the Travels

All old authors suffer from the vicissitudes of reputation. The differing estimates held of a book reveal quite as much about the readers as they do of the book, and thus almost any significant work can be used as a tool to diagnose the values and emphases (and blind-spots) of a culture. Up to 1750 only Chaucer among other fourteenth-century English works has a comparably large and constant body of readers; and Mandeville's was a more heterogeneous body than Chaucer's and his reputation much more complex. The response to and use of the Travels can be used as a kind of intellectual litmus to test the assumptions, values and perceptions of a given period. There is, unfortunately, not space to go into this entertaining question here. It is only worth mentioning in order to emphasize that significant shifts in the reputation and use made of the Travels need seeing in a wider context. All we can do is sketch the importance of the Travels in Renaissance geographical thought and discovery, and its literary influence.

The happy accident of its being written first in French ensured that it immediately acquired a European readership as well as an English one. Within a hundred years of its writing the rapid proliferation of MSS made it available in most countries of Europe; the early translation into Latin—the language, significantly, of scholarship, and thus an indicator of how some early readers felt about its material—allowed it to cross any remaining linguistic boundaries. These MSS do, of course, show a greater or lesser degree of adaptation and contamination. Some of them are not so much copies as versions, made for special interests. The spread of the printing press probably tended to standardize the text in general circulation on a copy text; thus in England after Pynson's edition of Defective (1496) (see p. 38), all subsequent printed editions known in English of the Travels in the sixteenth century are offshoots of Defective, and the same process is repeated after the 1478 and 1481 Augsburg editions of Anton Sorg, or the 1480 Milan edition of Comeno. The earliness of these printings is remarkable: before 1500 eight German printings are known, seven French, twelve Italian, four Latin, two Dutch and two English. There are Czech and Spanish editions before 1520. Clearly there was money as well as interest in Mandeville.

Very early on in its manuscript career, the Travels was included in the compendia, collections of important texts on a particular area. It was included, with Odoric of Pordenone, in the Livre de Merveilles of 1403, an authoritative collection of material on the East. Michel Velser's German translation, made about 1393, is included in an MS miscellany of astronomical works, presumably because the compiler thought the account of the Pole star important. A couple of centuries later, this still goes on. Hakluyt's first edition of the Principall Navigations (1598) was specifically gathered to provide a ready fund of information for his countrymen aspiring to commercial exploits in the Orient—the book is both commercial inducement and geographical information; it includes Mandeville in the version known as the Latin Vulgate (a Continental text). Hakluyt extolled the scholarship and good sense of Sir John, yet is aware that the text has been corrupted by scribes and printers—blanket acceptance or rejection of the text as fact will not do and only the discerning mind will find it useful. Hakluyt's view of Mandeville's usefulness changed radically as the next ten years saw a flood of information about the New World reaching England from English travellers and translated Spanish sources, and he dropped Mandeville from his second edition. But Samuel Purchas, a most eager Elisha, clawed Hakluyt's mantle down on himself in his publication of Purchas his Pilgrimes (1625)—a text which Coleridge loved. His collection is less concerned with trade statistics and discovery than with picturesque descriptions and theological and missionary musings. A heavily cut Mandeville appears, and his portrait appears on the title page with Columbus and King Solomon and others. It is important that two writers, one ostensibly following the other, should, in so short a time, use Mandeville for such different purposes. The Travels was also pillaged, extracted, or epitomized in such seminal books as the Nuremberg Chronicle (1493), and Münster's Cosmographia (1544), chiefly for its information on the East. Much of Mandeville's material then flows indirectly through these conduits, as well as directly, into the sum of European knowledge in the Renaissance.

The practical importance of this sort of dissemination cannot be discounted. The Travels was anthologized because it was authoritative; it was given new authority by being anthologized, and so it gets into the hands of men who over two centuries were responsible for the European discovery of the East and of America. The Travels was used as a source in the outstanding Catalan Atlas of 1375. Abraham Cresques made this atlas for Peter III of Aragon, who was very interested indeed in reports of the East and Prester John. It incorporates the very latest geographical knowledge. The Travels again seems to have been used (as Polo was not) in the Andrea Bianco map of 1434. And the so-called 'Behaim' globe made in Nuremberg in 1492— the earliest to have survived—quotes Mandeville wholesale, with great respect. Now this is crucial; these maps represent the picture of the world the explorers took with them and the basis on which their backers financed them.

Prince Henry of Portugal is not unique in being interested strategically, commercially and religiously in the East, nor in having his agents scour Europe for information on the East; the hard-headed German commercial empire of the Fuggers put money into these voyages, and one wonders whether the Augsburg editions of the Travels may have some connection with Fugger interest. (It is indeed a curious coincidence that right up to the end of the sixteenth century there are noticeable increases in the frequency of editions of the Travels coinciding with major voyages of exploration.) Several important explorers are known to have used Mandeville as one of their sources of information—for example, the principal sources of Columbus's ideas were Polo, Mandeville and Ptolemy. It may indeed be that Columbus's determination to sail west to Cathay was fuelled by Mandeville's story of circumnavigation. Frobisher, in his attempt on the Northwest passage, took with him a copy of Mandeville for its information on China. The expectations aroused by Mandeville led the first discoverers to see the New World not objectively but in preconceived terms: Columbus seems, from surviving letters, to have died believing he had found islands off Mandeville's Cathay. Even after America was known to be a new continent, the old legends were still operative, merely being transferred to the unknown interior. When the native Amerindian myth of the regenerative land of Bimini reached the ears of the first Spanish settlers, they eagerly grafted on to it the story of Mandeville's Well of Youth, of which Mandeville had drunk, and Ponce de Leon led two expeditions, in 1513 and 1521, to look for it. The result was the finding of Florida. The English descriptions of the Roanoke voyages, again, are full of the topoi of the travel literature of the past, and (probably unconsicously) exploit the conceptual and semantic parameters of the icons of innocence from the Bragmans to the Earthly Paradise. Sir Walter Raleigh's Discoverie of Guiana shows clearly his heavy conceptual dependence on these old accounts of the wonders of the East, and, indeed, he quotes Mandeville by name. Once again, the new is misunderstood in terms of the old, as we see with Odoric; and seeking Cathay to satisfy the dream of their fathers, the voyagers found an image of Paradise for their children.

It is somewhat oversimple to look at the geographical influence of Mandeville in this way. It is nevertheless doubly useful; first, it shows a deliberate and widespread use of only a part of what we saw above as the totality of meaning of the Travels; secondly, the effect of the explosion of geographical knowledge resulting partly from Mandeville and his confident and unusual insistence that the world was everywhere traversable radically altered the esteem in which the book was held and the uses to which it could be put. Although Richard Willes, in his Historie of Travaile (1577) can still treat Mandeville as a prime authority, this is becoming less and less possible. Gerard Mercator in that same year, in a letter, accepted Mandeville's story of his circumnavigation (and used him as a source for his map) but seriously questioned his judgement in reporting what he saw—an unease felt, as noted above, by Hakluyt. Although Mandeville's material still found its way into scientific compilations, it did so less and less frequently. By about 1600, his reputation has fallen sharply; he is now outdated by new knowledge and his work often treated with contempt. There are however, supplementary reasons for this.

Just as the Travels' real nature had been distorted to serve the interests of the learned, so it was reworked for other partialities. At the same time that Prince Henry was using it for political and commerical information, it was available in re-editings as a book merely of wonders, as a devotional guide, as a romance. Part (much cut) was put into heavy-footed octosyllabic verse at about the end of the fifteenth century, as a popular account of the East, strongly pointed with a muscle-bound Christianity; another late-fifteenth-century ancestor of McGonagall made a nearly complete version in coarse octosyllabics, as a sort of popular Romance (the Metrical Version) incorporating many other legendary wonders. Everything is sensationalized, and the original delicate balance between matter and treatment has completely gone. The Metrical Version points firmly to the much later career of the book as a chap-book for children; it is the nearest thing to the 'film of the book' (complete with regular stars like Alexander and the Nine Worthies) that the Middle Ages could manage.

So, by the end of the fifteenth century, 'Mandeville' could mean many different things to different people— or to the same person at the same time. The process intensifies. William Warner in 1586 published in Albion's England an account in fourteener verse of mythical English history down to the voyages of his time, and in Books XI and XII interlards it with a surgary romance in which Mandeville's travels are reduced to knight errantry resulting from an unhappy love affair. Albion 's England seems to have been an influential source for the Elizabethan dramatists and also for Milton. It must have been difficult to have taken Mandeville seriously as a source of information or anything else when Warner's bland fourteeners plodded into your consciousness.

It would be even more difficult if you had seen the play of Mandeville which ran fairly successfully in the 1590s; if, as I suspect, the source was Warner and it is to this play Nashe refers in his Nashes Lenten Stuffe (1599), the prospect of such vapid drama is alarming. Clearly, by the end of the century, the knight is an almost mythical figure, the archetypal traveller, the grandfather of lies that are like truth. It is exactly in this way that Richard Brome's comedy The Antipodes (1636) regards him. Significantly, his name can even be used in a book title: The Spanish Mandeuile of Miracles (1600), the title given to the translation of Antonio de Torquemada's Jardìn de Flores Curiosas (1570). The multiple Mandeville tradition plus the revolution in knowledge of the world finally killed the book's serious career as a work of information—even though as late as the eighteenth century we find the odd anomalies of Dr Johnson recommending it to a friend for information on China, and a catchpenny re-editing (claiming Mandeville set out in 1732!) with the travels of the excellent Jonas Hanway and Lionel Wafe issued about 1760 by a consortium of London publishers. Nevertheless, illustrated printed editions and chap-book versions still continue to be made and sold. The knowledge of the Travels remains general; the attitude to it changes irrevocably.

It is a labour of very doubtful value to seek out specific borrowing from Mandeville in other authors. It can be done, and a list of Man deville's debtors, from the Gawain poet to Coleridge, is huge. The really interesting thing, which can here be touched on only briefly, is how the Travels as a whole fertilized something already in a writer's mind and helped it to fruit. For example, the development of Mandeville's use of 'mirror' societies was clearly a most useful tool for Saint Thomas More whose Utopia is the parent of all subsequent writing in that important mode. It is significant how often satiric or moral Utopias of the sixteenth or seventeenth century borrow details and techniques from the Travels. Again, Mandeville is the first fully to develop the travelfiction form; it was enthusiastically adopted by Rabelais, by Joseph Hall, by Richard Head—whose debt in The English Rouge to Mandeville is very large—and by Defoe and Swift. (Oddly enough, the 'I' of Robinson Crusoe—especially in The Further Adventures—and of Gulliver's Travels both seem close to the persona of the Travels; Robinson Crusoe was published in 1719, Gulliver in 1725 and the Cotton text of Mandeville in 1725.) Interestingly, these uses (particularly the latter) depend on both reader and author taking for granted that what is consistenth presented as truth is in fact fiction. Such a sophistication is, I feel, present in some degree in the Travels and is not framed by the usual suspenders of disbelief we find commonly in medieval poetry. The final example of this curious symbiosis between the Travels' nature and the mood, interests and assumptions of various ages is in fact the beginning of a totally new development in the reading of the Travels in the eighteenth century. In the 6 November 1711 issue of the Spectator, Addison sounds for the first time the note that will resound in La Natchez and, modulated, in Ivanhoe, the 'delight in contemplating those Virtues which are wild and uncultivated'. Steele, in The Tatler No. 29 (1710), connects this half-moralizing taste for the outlandish with an escapist delight in 'unscientific' travel-books—especially Mandeville 'all is enchanted ground and Fairyland'.12

Here is a revolution indeed! No moral disapproval of the lying traveller, only a delight in fiction as a safe escape. Here is the germ of that curiously sentimental and patronizing early-eighteenth-century delight in old books simply because they are old—a germ that developed into the foundations of serious medieval scholarship as we know it. The publication of the Cotton text in 1725—the first scholar's text—could hardly have happened without this taste being present; and it is extremely significant in itself. In an entirely new way, Mandeville is now in the province of the scholar and the dilettante; the chapbooks and the continuing Defective versions are clearly to be distinguished from an authoritative old text, and gradually we meet a growing surprise at the quality revealed when the Travels are read in a good text. But that very change in taste and attitude ensures that from then on the lively luxuriation of Mandevilliana will stop; as the integrity of the book was at last guaranteed, its power to change and inform imaginative thought was almost killed. Nothing grows in formalin.

And I, like John Mandeville, 'am now come to rest, as a man discomfited for age and travel and feebleness. I must now cease telling of diverse things so that those who follow may find things enough to speak of.' …


  1. The most helpful discussions of this tangled matter are in the works by Drs de Poerck and Seymour and by Mrs Bennett. … Mrs Bennett's book contains a list with descriptive details of the known extant MSS.
  2. When authors try to assume the character of a national of a country not their own it is very common to find slips which betray them. For example, in 1708 the London Monthly Miscellany published a 'Letter from Admiral Bartholomew da Fonte', purporting to describe a voyage from the Pacific to the Atlantic in 1640. The circumstantial detail is good. But the fictious da Fonte's credibility is destroyed by having him reckon his dates from the accession of Charles I of England. (Reprinted in H. R. Wagner, 'Apocryphal Voyages to the West Coast of America', Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society 41 (1931), pp. 179-234.) Similarly, George Psalmanazar (1679?-1763) was unable to maintain his assumed Formosan nationality and passed from ridicule to obscurity, despite the friendship of Dr Johnson.
  3. 'Jeo doie estre escusee, pur ceo qe jeo sui engleis et n'ai pas moelt hauntee 1e franceis' (Livre de Seyntz Medecines, ed. E. J. Arnould (Oxford, 1940), p. 239). The rhetorical figure of diminutio—a polite apology for one's real or potential inadequacy—may be behind Henry's and Gower's remarks. But it is just possible that both are aware of the growing fashionableness at this period of the Paris French dialect as a literary language. Chaucer's cutting remark about his Prioress's Flemish French suggests that one so conscious of what is comme il faut ought to have been more up to date in the matter of a polite language.
  4. This and the previous point are highlighted by comparing the Libro del Conoscimiento (ca. 1350) written by a Spanish Franciscan (translated for the Hakluyt Society by C. Markham, 1912). This man did go all over Africa and the East, and did not just compile; yet he includes all the fabulous monsters and stories of the ancient tradition. His ineffable dullness and lack of detail underline how vastly more informative and entertaining Mandeville is.
  5. This does not mean that there are not occasional awkwardnesses, which modern filing systems and methods of writing books would have sorted out. Sometimes the sources are not fully digested, and very occasionally two conflicting versions of the same event happen—for instance, the two stories of Muhammad's prohibition of wine, Chapters 9 and 15. Sometimes one single ultimate source comes to Mandeville by two routes, and is thus doubleted—for for instance, the double account of Silha and then Taprobane (chapters 21 and 33). But this last is in no way Mandeville's fault.
  6. Translated by Sir Henry Yule, in Vol. II of Cathay and the Way Thither, an invaluable collection of accounts of the East. …
  7. One might here just note how different Polo, Odoric and Mandeville are: Odoric plods worthily on his way, Polo is a keen and accurate observer, and Mandeville is the creator of a memorable fanciful trope. See The Travels of Marco Polo (Penguin Books, London, 1958), p. 66.
  8. The strong devotional interest in the book is borne out by the way it was illustrated, Among Other things. The early-fifteenth-century MS, Addit. 24189, in the British Library, is simply a picture-book Mandeville, without text; it has a picture for each of the Crownings of Our Lord, and the first five chapters are expressed in twenty-eight superb illustrations. Another illustrated Mandeville appears in the compendium MS Addit. 37049, which is entirely composed of devotional material.
  9. This may be deliberate irony: Pope Clement VI used to say this of his own role.
  10. The story of the book'S having been authorized as true by the Pope is an interpolation, found only in the English versions, that must date from after 1377, when Gregory XI returned the papal seat to Rome.
  11. Compare Clannes 977-1052, And below, P. 34. See also the comments in Gollancz and Day, Clannes: Glossary and Illustrative Texts (Oxford, 1933), pp. 75, 91-2, and 96-8, and in R.J. Menner, Yale Studies in English 61 (New Haven, 1920), p. Xlff. It has long been recognized that the Gawain poet knew the Travels, and I have argued elsewhere that Chaucer and the poet of the Alliterative Morte Arthur did too.
  12. See p. 37. Mandeville is here well on the way to being bracketed with Münchausen in most people's minds—yet they make a pair only in the alliteration of their names.

Mary B. Campbell (essay date 1988)

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SOURCE: "'The Other Half': Mandeville Naturalizes the East," in The Witness and the Other World: Exotic European Travel Writing, 400-1600. Cornell, 1988, pp. 122-61.

[In the excerpt below, Campbell argues that Mandeville's Travels was a parody and an early precursor of the modern novel.]

With Mandeville's Travels, the developing genre of travel literature in the West reaches a complicated and long-sustained climax. The book's popularity has been greater than that of any other prose work of the Middle Ages, and its practical effects farther reaching.1 To investigate the reach and nature of its artistic effects, it will be necessary first to stand back and take the long view of the tributaries that feed it and the genre for which it helped carve a new bed.

Although his most important modern critic, Josephine Waters Bennett, calls Mandeville's book a "travel romance," that is precisely the term I hope to avoid in sketching Mandeville's literary context. The capacity to conceive and construct romance out of the materials of history is an accomplishment for which medieval writers had long been sitting on their laurels. Mandeville was up to something more novel. In a sense crucially qualified by the nature and degree of his readers' imaginative receptivity, he was writing realistic prose fiction—for the first time since Petronius. Fiction was not of course entirely foreign to prose in the fourteenth century. Prose romances such as the thirteenth-century French Lancelot had kept alive the possibility of fictional meaning for secular prose narrative, but in the safe confines of material too unremittingly marvelous ever to be mistaken for actuality. (According to Auerbach's scathing dictum, "the courtly romance is not reality shaped and set forth by art, but an escape into fable and fairy tale"; Mimesis, 138). But Mandeville's realism was a challenge to an ancient dichotomy between the "fables" of poets and the "truth" of science and history which was still seen as nearly identical with the rhetorical opposition of verse and prose. From the beginning, the question of his creation's epistemological status has confused its most perceptive readers. The controversy over the "truth" of Mandeville's document suggests that in it may be found one seed of the crisis over historicity and significance which signaled the birth trauma of the modern novel.

The generally acknowledged complicity of romance in the genesis of the novel is a peculiarity perhaps insufficiently appreciated as peculiar. To begin with, romance is a genre characterized by its material, while the novel is characterized by its technique. And to whatever extent the novel could be said to have a generic material, it lies at the furthest extreme from that of romance: where romance wanders among marvels in distant or otherworldly places, the novels of "the Great Tradition" tend to play themselves out in the intimate and familiar settings of bedrooms, kitchens, and parlors. (Under the influence of this tradition, Hawthorne called "romances" those of his novels set in the past or in Europe.) Ultimately, though, we recognize a novel more by its delivery than by its setting. Its earliest protagonists are in fact wanderers, and many of them wander far from home. Robinson Crusoe and his island are the stuff of romance, but Robinson Crusoe is emphatically not. The palpability of its presentation works against the marvelous elements in it, and out of nameless, exotic flora Crusoe constructs a bedroom, a kitchen, a parlor—in exhaustive, gratuitous detail.

Concern with the details of the phenomenal world once belonged most properly to the prose of history and "natural philosophy." But an aerial view of the novel's prehistory in medieval narrative and prose will disclose a vast, slow shift in consciousness which redefined the mutual boundaries of history, geography, and romance and thus helped set the stage for Robinson Crusoe. Mandeville's Travels was an important enabling factor in this process, but its precocious realism is not historically inexplicable. By Mandeville's time the fabulous and romantic Matter of the East had already begun to intersect with the more or less documentary forms of chronicle and itinerarium. The Crusades had domesticated the Levant, bringing it closer to the sphere of the mundane and merely natural (and at the same time pushing back the threshold of the "fabulous" East so far that, in the end, men like Columbus could begin to think of sailing west to reach it). That foothold in the mundane essential even to "magical realism" was at last available to a man who wanted to write about Elsewhere.

The demystification of the actual East begins as early as Fulcher of Chartres's eyewitness account of the First Crusade, the Historia Hierosolymitana (finished c. 1127). After describing an eclipse of great beauty, Fulcher expostulates over God's power to create wonders and says:

Consider, I pray, and reflect how in our time God has transformed the Occident into the Orient.

For we who were Occidentals have now become Orientals. He who was a Roman or a Frank has in this land been made into a Galilean or a Palestinean. … We have already forgotten the places of our birth; already these are unknown to many of us or not mentioned any more.… Indeed it is written 'the lion and the ox shall eat straw together' [Isa. 62:25]. He who was born a stranger is now as one born here; he who was born an alien has become a native. (III.xxxvii).2

Fulcher at least finds this conflation of Occident and Orient a matter for wonder. The process of demystification has gone even further by the time of the Fourth Crusade, when Villehardouin can speak this matter-of-factly of Constantinople's Hagia Sofia (traditionally a catalyst for expressions of solemn awe and wonder): "And then [Dietrich] went back with a great party of the emperor Henry's men; and found that the castle was pulled down, and he closed up and fortified the church Sainte Sophye, which building is high and fine, and held it to use for the war" (La conquête de Constantinople, 2:271).3

The opening up of China by missionaries and merchants in the thirteenth century and the annexing of Palestine by European powers during the period of the Crusades had enlarged the oikumene of Europe and allowed for significant overlap of this world and the Other World of the imagination. Mandeville's terms for West and East are "on this half" and "in that half." Halves of what? Of one physical, spherical whole in which the laws of nature operate unilaterally and where if one sails far enough one ends up back at home:

And therefore hath it befallen many tymes of o thing that I have herd cownted whan I was 9ong, how a worthi man departed somtyme from oure contrees for to go serche the world, And so he passed ynde and the yles be9onde ynde … And so longe he wente be see & lond & so enviround the world be many seisons, that he fond an yle where he herde speke his own langage, callynge on oxen in the plowgh such wordes as men speken to bestes in his own contree, Where of he hadde gret mervayle. (XXI, 122)4

It may not be too farfetched to see reflected in thislittle tale the peregrinations of fiction itself, from thewanderings of Odysseus across what Joseph Campbellcalls "the Threshold of the Known" to the wanderingsof Leopold Bloom among the transformed streets ofhis hometown, "where of he hadde gret mervayle."5 For eventually the Threshold of the Known was pushedpast even far Cathay, to the Caribbean, to Roanoke, toNew Jersey, and the Earthly Paradise filled up withfarms and cabins and post offices and, in the end, withshopping malls.

By the time of Mandeville (in the Cotton text, the Travels is dated 1356 by its author), travel to the once sacred or fabulous places of the East had dropped off sharply: the Crusades were over, and the relatively gregarious Mongol Empire had been overthrown in China and was being absorbed by hostile Saracen Turks closer to home.6 But the chronicles of crusaders and travel accounts of missionaries had familiarized both the Near and Far Easts for Europe's reading public and themselves had grown even a little stale.

It was the perfect moment for a literary hoax (though Mandeville made something more than that). With actual contact slowed to a trickle, "news" of the East was out of the question and the Matter was going stagnant again. The forms in which the Matter was contained were widely familiar and, because they were infrequently used, had rigidified in their conventions. And with so few Eastern travelers around, verifiability was not a pressing restriction on the writer's art.

The "hoax" worked because it imitated something recognizable. There is evidence that at least some people believed in the Travels for a long time. Ralegh, Frobisher, and (apparently) Columbus all read it earnestly—Frobisher even brought it with him to Baffin's Bay in 1576. Mercator and Ortelius cite Mandeville as an auctoritas in their world atlases. Hakluyt included it in the first edition of his Principall Voyages (from which he excluded the probably authentic Relation of David Ingram for lack of "credibility").7

Since we now know that Mandeville's credibility was founded neither in personal experience nor for the most part in the transmission of accurate facts, it must be a literary credibility, a sort of intertextual verisimilitude.8 Mandeville must be received as truth (where he is so received) because he sounds like truth. A close look at the Travels, then, will be in part a close look at its genre in little, as the genre had come to be understood by the time of its first great parody (since Lucian). That the Travels is in part a parody, however, cannot be forgotten: it discards and subverts and extends the possibilities of many of its inherited characteristics. And the spirit that shapes it is almost wholly new.9

We have already taken note of most of the main currents feeding the Travels' stream: the eyewitness pilgrimage narratives, the Alexander romances and their spin-offs, the mercantile and missionary accounts of India and Cathay. But there are other, newer sorts of texts around by 1356 which also convey the reader to places I have been calling Elsewhere. Accounts of the Holy Land best termed guidebooks (foreshadowing the degradation of eighteenth-century Grand Tour accounts into nineteenth-century Baedekers) are a flourishing subliterary genre, and of course the Crusades have been thoroughly chronicled. Neither kind of book contributed much directly in the way of style or topics to the Travels, but both form part of its literary context and helped shape Mandeville's opportunity.

The guidebooks are the sadly degenerated offspring of Egeria's letter to her Venerable Sisters—not quite a return to the itineraries of late antiquity, but lifeless and depersonalized. Some features of the style of a representative fourteenth-century account are identical with some of Egeria's. Almost all the places described are "places where" some scriptural (or, by this time, apocryphal) event took place; miraculous features are qualified by "it is said"; transitions from one description to another announce distances: "Thence you shall go forty miles to Gaza." But in place of Egeria's experienced pauses for prayers and readings at the holy places, we are confronted with the formulas "and there is an indulgence for seven years and seven Lenten seasons" and "there is absolution from pain and guilt." The work is completely nonnarrative in structure and, most importantly, voiceless. No particular person administers or receives the absolutions and indulgences. No one judges among the marvels, hikes up the mountains, chats with a bishop: no one even writes the book—at least half of it is plagiarized from a thirteenth-century guidebook and seamlessly so. In the following extract, section 40 is plagiarized and section 41 is new:

(40) Thence you come to the doors, and in the midst of the choir is the place called the Centre of the World, where our Lord Jesus Christ laid his finger, saying, 'This is the centre of the world.' And there is an indulgence for seven years and seven Lenten seasons.

It should also be known that at the great altar is an indulgence for seven years and seven Lenten seasons, and at all the altars constructed within the church.

(41) Thence you come to a pillar near the chamber of the holy sepulchre, above which it is said that the following miracle took place. A certain Saracen entered the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and looking round saw the aforesaid image painted above the pillar. Then he tore out the eyes of the image, and straightway his own eyes fell out on the ground. (Bernard, "Guidebook to Palestine," 8-9)10

But although the structure of the work is nonnarrative, it is full of stories: some from Scripture, some from the Apocrypha, some from martyrologies, some from legend. Egeria and Arculf retold stories as well, but for the most part far more briefly. Of the mountain Agrispecula, for instance, Egeria says: "This is the mountain on which Balac, son of Beor, put the soothsayer Balaam to curse the children of Israel and God, as it is written, was unwilling to permit that" (XII. 10). Egeria's micronarratives are reminders of stories told in full in the Scriptures and function chiefly to identify the places she describes. In the fourteenth-century guidebook they are amplified in both length and number, and drawn from almost every possible source. Like the epic simile, they function far beyond the limits of their apparent task:

(66) As you go down Mt. Sion is the place where the Apostles, as they bore the body of the Blessed Virgin to burial in the valley of Jehoshaphat, laid down the bier. And the Jews who lived in the village hard by collected at the spot, that they might carry off the body to burn it. Then the chief priest of the Jews, more bold and imprudent than the rest, laid his hand on the bier, whereupon his hands were withered. Then he besought blessed Peter to pray for him, and to restore his hands to him. To whom blessed Peter said, 'If thou believest that this is the mother of Christ, and art willing to be baptized, thou shalt be made whole.' And he believed, and was restored to his former health. And there is an indulgence for seven years and for seven Lenten seasons.

(78) Then you come to a declivity of Mount Olivet, two furlongs eastward, to Bethphage, which is, being interpreted, the House of Figs. There our Lord sent two of his disciples, viz., Peter and Phillip, for the ass and her colt on Palm Sunday, saying, 'Go into the village over against you, and straightway ye shall find an ass tied, and a colt with her; and they, having gone, brought the ass and the colt, and they set Him thereon.' [Matt. 21:2, 7] And He was led upon the ass from that place to Jerusalem with hymns and praises, and was received with honour by the children of the Hebrews bearing palm branches. And there is an indulgence for seven years and seven Lenten seasons. ("Guidebook to Palestine," 13-14, 16)

About two-thirds of the length of each of the two representative sections quoted above is given over to anecdote, narrated at much greater length than the needs of identification would require. The stories are not new or otherwise difficult of access: their charm is the unadorned charm of narrativity itself. They compensate for the guidebook's lack of structural narrativity— a necessary absence in an itinerarium without an itinerant.

Not all the guidebook's narrative excurses qualify as full stories, but the urge toward amplification is evident everywhere, even in the briefest of notices: "(107) Also near the church, it is said, was the palace of King Herod; and near there was the house of Judas the traitor, where he lived with his wife and children" (II, emphasis mine). This development from Egeria's mere identifications to a framework literally "stuffed" with tales has a musical analogy in the thirteenth century's development of the motet from the clausula: the brief phrase of the clausula acquired a full and usually secular text in its ornamental upper part, which resulted ultimately in a new and self-contained musical form, the motet.11

Such hypertrophy of an ornament is surely a sign of exhaustion in the host form, as is the extensive plagiarism among the later accounts of the Holy Land. But why not plagiarize? With the closing of the Crusades there was little new information to bring back, at least under the traditional heads, and the pilgrimage routes were almost as old and established as the Gospels that had inspired them. The guidebook is the detritus of a tradition a millennium old, and in a literary culture bound by a rhetoric of set topoi, figures, and arguments, the notion of plagiarism is almost beside the point. Tradition dictates not just the loci to be described, and their relative importance, but even their characterizing details. Of Mt. Olivet: "and the stone which He had under His feet still retains their impression, and it is visible to this day" ("Guidebook to Palestine," 15); "Within this [chapel] may be seen the mark of Christ's left foot, which He imprinted on the stone when He ascended into heaven" (Poloner, Description of the Holy Land, 9); "Know that on Mt. Olivet Jesus Christ went up to heaven on the day of the Ascension, where the form of his right foot appears yet in a stone" ("City of Jerusalem," 40).

What there was to be seen, even the order in which it ought to be seen, had been so extensively codified that an autobiographical account could offer only the addition of the author's own personality. Necessary as this may seem from a literary viewpoint, it was of course problematical from the devotional angle. Hundreds of years had passed since the times of tentative and scanty travel in which Egeria's and Arculf's personalizations of their accounts were justified. It still happened now and again—for instance in Ludolph von Suchem's account, almost exactly contemporaneous with Mandeville's, and to some extent in that of his traveling companion, Wilhelm von Boldensil, from whom Mandeville plagiarized parts of his work. But the guidebooks were the rule, a rule that called out to be broken with the flamboyant magnificence Mandeville expended on his task.

One of the few original conceptual features of the itineraria of the later Middle Ages is found in their occasional reference to the scriptural future and to the present as marking the fulfillment of old prophecies. This is even more notable, naturally enough, in the Crusade chronicles: on the arrival of the army of the First Crusade at Nicaea, Fulcher says:

What then shall I say? The islands of the seas and all the kingdoms of the earth were so moved that one believed the prophecy of David fulfilled who said in his Psalm "All the nations whom thou has made shall come and worship before Thee, O Lord" [Ps. 85:9], and what those who arrived later deservedly said "We shall worship in the place where His feet have stood" [Ps. 131:7]. Of this journey moreover we read much more in the prophets which it would be tedious to repeat. (History of the Expedition, I.xlix)

How like and yet unlike Egeria's instructions to her Venerable Sisters to read further in Numbers about the place she has mentioned, as she is too pressed for time to describe it herself. The peculiar relationship of text and Scripture, by way of a geographical materia that is itself a figure or a sign, remains the same, but present time as well as present space seem now to participate in the reality to be transcribed.

Time and its events provide the backbone of the Crusade chronicle, and the form is for that reason important to the development of a fully narrative genre of travel writing. But to the extent that public reality is more important in the chronicle than private experience, and topography only significant from a military perspective, it is at most tangentially related to the still spatially oriented, descriptive, and (potentially) subjective genre on which we are focused. Traveling with an army into occupied territory certainly insulates the eyewitness chronicler from immersion in the alien: still, in its reintroduction of the first-person narrative to the mise-en-scène of the Eastern world, the form in its rhetorical aspect demands some commentary here.

Justifying a first-person narration in the chronicle form is no trouble—most of the chronicles were written by real movers and shakers whose experience was indeed history. But this history was taking place on ground until now the province of the pilgrimage narratives and biblical commentaries, in which description and identification of the Holy Places were a matter of course. Under the influence of this literary heritage, the chroniclers bring together again the separated functions of autobiography and geographical description, or at least make them visible between the covers of a single book. This fortuitous intersection may have helped pave the way for the resurgence of autobiographical matter in the pilgrimage accounts, and certainly it nourished the art of prose narrative. (At the end of the fourteenth century, Philippe de Mézières produced the weird hybrid Le songe du vieil pèlerin, a fictional, allegorical, autobiographical prose itinerarium propagandizing for a new crusade. As a prose fiction set in historical time and geographical space for serious moral purposes, it deserves at least a mention in the history of the novel. But as allegory and propaganda, its fictionality is too blatant and its structure too antimimetic to provide a really new experience for the imaginations of its first readers.)

As I have said, the result of the domestication of the East by the crusaders and their chroniclers was to push back its border, toward India and China. The fabulous place is still there, and it is still Elsewhere. At home in Palestine for twenty years, Fulcher, during a lull in the crusading action of which his chronicle has become a running commentary, undertakes to summarize the flora, fauna, and ethnography of his new country. He takes almost all of his data from Pliny's third-century epitomizer, Solinus, and it is mostly about the animals of Egypt and India: "The very little that I have said I have excerpted as far as possible from that most sagacious investigator and skillful writer Solinus. What Alexander the Great likewise found in India and saw there I shall relate later on" (III.xlix).

This borrowing suggests that what has come to be called the "marvels material" is so intimately a part of any account of the East that it finds its way perfunctorily into even a work written in a nondescriptive, historical genre, by the magnetic virtue of the setting. It is on every level a digression from the business at hand as it appears in Fulcher, and as such testifies to an overwhelming impulse of confused literary decorum. Fulcher is one of the very first Crusade chroniclers, and as I have said, the literary heritage on which he must draw includes not only previous chronicles of other historical events, but the existing literature on the East. But the displacement of his attention from the part of the East in which he lives into other parts of which he is conscious of having no authority to speak is a telling gesture. Coming as it does toward the end of a relentlessly autobiographical eyewitness account, it is a particularly clear sign of the link between the ideas "marvels" and "Elsewhere." Busy in the work of sacking and fortifying cities, he has seen no marvels here in Palestine. If, as he puts it, the Occident has become the Orient, then the imperative Orient of the mind's geography must lie farther to the East, and to the South. Since he is writing about the East, he must include the marvels material, but since the East has become Home, that material must belong elsewhere.12

That this tortuous logic directs his pen instead of the urge to describe what flora and fauna he has actually become familiar with is also suggestive. The title of the chapter on animals is "The Different Kinds of Beasts and Serpents in the Land of the Saracens."… India, Ethiopia, and Scythia do not really qualify as Saracen lands, and he has not even visited them. The duty of the travel writer, which for a moment he has become, must then be, at least in Fulcher's eyes, to reiterate the existence of Nature's "fringe elements," to reassure the homebound that Nature is indeed more healthy at the center and more exciting on the edges.

In "Geography, Phenomenology, and the Study of Human Nature," Yi-fu Tuan speaks of the importance of the binary opposition "home-journey" to the continued felt identity of the term "home": "Home has no meaning apart from the journey which takes one outside of home" (188). That this opposition has been unsettled in Fulcher's colonial experience is clear from the slightly pensive extract, quoted earlier in this chapter, on God's miraculous transformation of Occidentals into Orientals. This later reinstatement of the characteristically bizarre Elsewhere may function in part to steady the writer's own nerves.

The Lord of Joinville inserts a similarly parenthetical account of the lands farther East in his hagiographical Vie de Sainte Louis (finished c. 1207), a chronicle of the Seventh Crusade, during which Joinville acted as a special adviser (and close friend) to the king. Envoys sent to the khan to negotiate an alliance against the Saracens have returned with bad news, and Joinville takes the opportunity to report other "news" they have brought back, chiefly ethnographical and historical, about the Tartars, Prester John, and Gog and Magog. Outside of a passage on the cult of the Assassins, it is the only such reporting in the book; the rest focuses entirely on the deeds of Louis, the events of the Crusade, and Joinville's personal relationship with the king.

The Vie de Sainte Louis is a beautiful book and difficult to pass over without a little further comment. In it is advanced to the highest degree since perhaps Augustine's Confessions the technique Richardson was to call "writing to the moment" and which was to prove so central to the technique of the sentimental novel. In the following extract, the passage of narrative time is so minutely detailed as almost to replicate the real duration of the incident recounted, and this reverence for the minutiae of time is essential to the concerns of the novel:

(431) While the king heard grace, I went to an open window which was in an embrasure next to the head of the king's bed. And I passed my arms through the bars of the window. And I thought that if the king went into France that I would go to the prince of Antioch, who thought of me as a father and who had sent to ask for me, until such time as another expedition came to the country by which the prisoners might be delivered, according to the counsel that the lord of Boulaincourt had given me.

(432) While I stood there, the king came and leaned on my shoulders, and held my head in his two hands. And I thought that this was my lord Phelipped'Anemos, who had irritated me enough already that day because of the counsel I had given. And I said thus: "Leave me in peace, my lord Phelippe." Unfortunately, as I turned my head the hand of the king fell across my face and I knew that this was the king by an emerald that he had on his finger.

And he said to me: Keep quite still. Because I want to ask how you could be so bold, that you who are a young man dare advise me to remain, against all the great men and the sages of France who advised me to go.

(433)—Sir, I said, even if I had the cowardice in my heart, still I would not for anything advise you to do it.—Are you saying, said he, that I would be doing wrong if I went away?—So help me God, sir, said I, yes. And he said to me: "If I remain, will you remain?" And I told him yes, "if I can, either at my own or at someone else's [expense]."—Then rest easy, said he. Because you are in my good graces for what you have advised me. But don't say it to anyone all this week. (La vie de Sainte Louis, pars. 431-33)

There is nothing like this in Mandeville; indeed, European prose will wait long for another such detail as the king's hand sliding down his vassal's face until Joinville recognizes the emerald ring. But the amplification of detail to render an object or event both credible and accessible is a technique Mandeville will put to important use, as will be seen later in this chapter. Its appearance in an account of distant travel marks a crucial shift in the nature of the genre's attention to its subjects. Wonder is brief; sympathy is ample.

The chronicles display a number of novelistic features: in particular the use of suspense and the depiction of character over time (as opposed to the iconographic effictio prevalent in romance and more detached historical writing). But their major contribution to travel writing itself, as it then stood, conditioned by the status of its most typical subject matter, the Near East, lay in their focus on present time. For Egeria and her descendants, events were over, sealed into places, and already recorded in Scripture. Fulcher's events are fulfillments of scriptural hints and prophecies, and many of his "places" are in the process of becoming sacred almost as he speaks. (Even Joinville's essentially biographical "chronicle" is hagiographical, intent on rendering its crusader-king as a saint, an agent of divine history.) The Crusades are seen as a chapter in eschatological history, taking place on the same soil as the history recounted in the Bible. With this perception, their chroniclers can and do speak of events in the Holy Land, at last, in the present tense. It remains for the curiositas of the later Middle Ages to secularize this present tense, to detach it from the eschatological frame so that it can carry the events of a private man's excursion across the "Threshold of the Known."

Mandeville and Fiction

In his Manual of English Prose Literature (1872), William Minto grandly called Mandeville the "father of English prose." M. C. Seymour, Mandeville's most recent editor, is convinced that he was French, but convinced of little else—he refers to him in the notes as "Mandeville," inside quotation marks. Robert Burton denounced him (in the same breath as Marco Polo) as a "Liar"; recently, Donald Howard and Christian Zacher have published elegant close readings that implicitly issue him a poetic license to "call the sun a rush candle if it pleases him."13 But Mandeville was neither simply a liar nor simply a poet, and if it is true enough that he fathered English prose, it is also true that his book was written originally in French.14 Even looked at in the light of its genre and its time, the book is singular and, beneath its dazzle, baffling. But the standoffs between its critics are perhaps unnecessary; at least in part they stem from incomplete consideration of the issues and conventions of its literary and "scientific" genealogy, as they were understood to function in Mandeville's own era.

The world owes the rediscovery of Mandeville's Travels as a work of art primarily to three people: Josephine Waters Bennett, Donald Howard, and Christian Zacher.15 They have performed an important imaginative task in realizing and publicly re-presenting the beauty and delicacy of the book. But they have perhaps leapt too quickly over old-fashioned problems of authorial intention and audience reception and in the process misrepresented some of its beauty. In his letter to Can Grande, Dante, Mandeville's near contemporary, reiterates the old list of points to consider in interpreting a work of literature; "form" and "purpose" are two of them.16 Neither can be understood rightly from the vantage point of a literary culture in which the words science and art refer to activities opposed in both method and language.

Bennett argues that the Travels has been received from the very beginning as a work of what we now call art:

He is free to mix truth with fantasy because he can trust his readers to distinguish between them. He is free to decorate the borders of his moral earnestness with delicate (and indelicate) grotesques without fear that those for whom he is writing will be unable to distinguish between the text and the decoration. The decoration is intended to amuse, just as the impish monsters and absurd postures in the borders of the fourteenth century missals and psalters were intended to amuse, without detracting from the seriousness of the text they illuminated. (Rediscovery of Mandeville, 78)17

A presupposition lurks here with which one must agree—that we have no business discussing the Travels as an object constructed to stimulate imaginative pleasures if it could not have so stimulated its original readers. But a number of more careless assumptions lurk with it about that readership and about the nature of "truth" in the fourteenth century

It is true that Dante mixed "truth" with fantasy for a receptive audience at about the same time. According to Curtius, the long tradition of Homeric and Virgilian allegoresis allowed him to do so with impunity—though even so, there were complaints.18 But Dante, like Homer and Virgil, wrote in verse, which gave his audience a necessary rhetorical cue. Mandeville wrote in the vernacular prose of a scientific popularizer, and there are no borders or margins in such discourse to make the separation obvious between "moral earnestness" and "delicate grotesque." Nor was the level of geographic and ethnographic knowledge high enough in the fourteenth century to permit even the most sophisticated reader to dismiss the Acephali (still being "earnestly" reported by Ralegh two and a half centuries later), while attaching his belief to the historical but almost equally bizarre "Old Man of the Mountains."

Mandeville himself knew when he wrote, as we know now, that he was in many instances lying, plagiarizing, fictionizing. But he was making use of a form devised to transmit facts and never previously used with any antifactual intent. It is also important to remember that many of his "delicate grotesques" had claimed the status of fact for at least two millennia and would continue to do so well into the eighteenth century.

A fact and its linguistic representation are clearly separable entities in a culture long possessed of experimental science. Nor is descriptio any longer the only method of representing facts: facts are now displayed in the forms of graphs, charts, statistical columns, photographs, their significance discernible without much linguistic mediation to anyone familiar with the conceptual systems that provide their contexts. Before the advent of museums and the taxonomic organization of such sciences as botany, zoology, ethnology, and geology, men were dependent for their knowledge of the visible world on the prose descriptions of select eyewitnesses and their epitomizers. (Astronomy presents an obvious exception: a significant portion of the night sky is visible to anyone.) A fact and the words in which it was encapsulated were much more clearly identical than they are now: for all practical purposes a change in wording was a change in fact, a mistranslation could alter the world. What Margaret Hodgen, in Early Anthropology, sees as a stubborn, paralytic resistance to new knowledge could be seen more generously as a linguistic conservatism motivated by the need literally to conserve what data were already available.19 Iconographic representation (the characteristic method) simplifies and restricts knowledge. It also preserves it, or at least preserves a fuller spectrum of possibility than would otherwise be visible. In the form of the conventional unicorn, memory of the rhinoceros was preserved in western Europe for thousands of years. The manticore memorialized the man-eating tiger, the Gymnosophists the habits and habitat of the Yogis.20

The presence in the Travels of the formulaic marvels material suggests neither a scorn for facts nor a mere delight in the picturesque. The material is not our clue to the fictive nature of the Travels, nor was it likely to have been separated out by the men of that time. Subsequent redactions, epitomes, and chapbook descendants of the original isolate parts of its material on the basis of subject matter, devotional or sensational appeal, but not according to truth value.21

The facts and data of the Middle Ages were not just wrong, they were literary or at least linguistic objects, attributable in that aspect to the specific authors who first promulgated them. Thus Fulcher carefully quotes Solinus even to describe the one animal he is likely to have seen, the crocodile (III.xlix). In the twentieth century we are continually trying to alter and refine our descriptions of facts, while at the same time trying to stabilize literary texts in "definitive" editions. The description of a fact has no acknowledged literary value and becomes disposable at a moment's notice. The description of a fantasy, once canonized as literature, becomes immutable.

It is therefore a task requiring some care from us to avoid anachronism in imagining the "form" and "purpose" of a literary work of the fourteenth century which sets out to describe "sum partie of thinges that there ben." Knowledge was scarce, reverenced, and largely inseparable from the particular texts that transmitted it. At the same time, texts themselves were fluid: plagiarized, misquoted, mistranslated, interpolated upon, bowdlerized, epitomized, transformed, and transformable at every stage of their complex dissemination. When new knowledge did arrive it was easily enough corrupted into older images, particularly in the process of translation. Marco Polo's information about the short days and long nights of the Russian winter had regressed into the year-round "Land of Perpetual Darkness" by the time of the "Geographic Text."22 The authors of the encyclopedias and cosmographies that perpetuated the scientific misinformation of the Middle Ages were shoring fragments against a ruin: in their manic comprehensiveness can be seen an attempt to halt the endless fluctuation and circulation of verbal data-ions by cramming them all together in a small container. Without articulated taxonomies this attempt was bound to fail: proximity does not necessitate bonding.

Mandeville's book can be seen as part of this same serious struggle and the learned plagiarist as confronted by the same debilitating array of disconnected data that inspired the encyclopedists. Mandeville did not invent a taxonomy; instead, he shaped a fiction. His building blocks were those peculiar entities impossible for us to define either simply as data or simply as passages from other works. For him they were above all building blocks; his aim and his contribution were (at last) to build something with them. What he built was true because coherent; like any good building, it was used and it lasted.

Unlike most good buildings, though, it was subversive. Its coherence lent authority to the misinformation included in it, and its prose assertiveness disturbed, for some, the conventional credibility of prose. (Not that travel accounts had not always strained credulity: the anxious, even florid, claim to veracity and reliability is a conventional feature of any premodern, first-person narrative of travel and is parodied in the very title of Lucian's A True Story.) But most subversive of all is Mandeville's aesthetic attitude toward fact: he is a hedonist of knowledge. Unable to test the truth of his materials, he settled for arranging them, as if they were in fact just so many words, as if "everything possible to be believ'd is an image of truth," as if beauty were truth, truth beauty—Keats never wrote a geography.

Although Mandeville's prologue has a familiar feel to it, many of the conventions and topoi we might expect are absent from it or subverted. There is no address to the reader and no dedication. There is no occupatio in which the traveler claims only a humble style and an incapacity for the task ahead. There is only the most deliciously ambiguous of truth claims, and the long sentences that promise to explain why the writer should write, or the reader read, yet another account of "the lond of promyssioun" drift to an end without delivering.

But it elaborately amplifies a topos hinted at in the first chapters of Fulcher's History of the Expedition to Jerusalem, in Burchard of Mt. Sion's splendid thirteenth-century Descriptio, and in Ludolph von Suchem's Itinerarium (c. 1350):23 the contrast between the decadent West, where lawlessness and faithlessness are rampant, and the sacredness of the Holy Land, which the West has allowed to fall into the hands of the infidels. Ludolph and Mandeville both refer to the Holy Land as "the Promised Land"—Mandeville in his very first sentence. Desire to possess, or repossess, has become a new face of the West's desire for the East and a breach opened for an earthly utopianism to replace the old quandary of the pilgrim who found in Jerusalem only the shadow of his celestial goal.

That lond he [Jesus] chees before all other londes as the beste & most worthi lond & the most vertuouse lond of all the world.… Wherefore every gode cristene man that is of powere & hath whereof scholde peynen him with all his strengthe for to conquere oure right heritage and chacen out all misbeleevynge men.… But now pryde couetyse and enuye han so emflawmed the hertes of lordes of the world that thei are more besy for to disherite here neyghbores more than for to chalenge or to conquere here right heritage before seyd. (Prologue, 1-3)

This sort of thing is very earnest in Fulcher and the others, but in Mandeville a little less so, since we find him later employed by "misbeleevynge men" as a mercenary (xxiv, 144), and putting an eloquent speech of moral wisdom and rebuke into the mouth of the Saracen "soudan" (xvi, 88-90).

There are two conventional reasons for writing an account of the Holy Land: because men want to hear about it who cannot go there ("possessed by a desire to picture to their minds those things which they are not able to behold with their eyes"; Burchard, Description of the Holy Land, 4), and because the author is an eyewitness ("I have dwelt in those parts for an unbroken space of five years"; Ludolph, Description and the Way Thither, 1). Two long, unfinished sentences in Mandeville's prologue hint at these topics but do not deliver. The dependent clauses become so enthusiastic and thus so long that they end at last without result clauses:

For als moche as the londe beƷonde the see that is to sey the holy londe that men callen the lond of promyssioun or of beheste passynge all othere londes it is the most worthi lond most excellent and lady and souereyn of all othere londes & is blessed & halewed of the precyous body & blood of oure lord jhesu crist; in the whiche land it lykede him to take flesch & blood of the virgyne marie to envyrone that holy lond with his blessede feet; And there he wolde of his blessedness enoumbre him in the seyd blessed & gloriouse virgine marie & become man & worche many myracles and preche and teche the feyth & the lawe of crystene men vnto his children. (Prologue, 1)

And for als moche as it is longe tyme passed that ther was no generall passage ne vyage ouer the see and many men desiren for to here speke of the holy lond and han there of gret solace & comforte, I John Maundevylle knyght all be it I be not worthi that was born in Englond, in the town of seynt Albones & passed the see in the Ʒeer of oure lord jhesu crist Mill ccc & xxij. in the day of seynt Micheli & hiderto haue ben longe tyme ouer the see & haue seyn & gon thorgh many dyuerse londs & many prouynces & kyngdomes & jles And haue passed thorghout Turkye Ermonye the lityll & the grete [the sentence continues without grammatical resolution for several more lines]. (Prologue, 3)

It could be that Mandeville cannot handle so complex a syntax as he initiates in these two sentences and, intoxicated with his amplificationes, forgets about the claims of grammar and sense. If so, it is his last spate of such weakness. On the other hand, these highly conventional rhetorical moments are perfect opportunities for a quasi-parodic abandonment of sense. The reader should know what sentiments and justifications lurk in the wings.

It is even easier to put these deliriously collapsed sentences down to artfulness when we encounter the coy and suggestive truth claim that concludes the prologue:

And Ʒee schull vndirstonde that I haue put this boke out of latyn in to frensch and translated it aƷen out of frensch in to Englyssch that euery man of my nacioun may vnderstonde it. But lordes & knyghtes and othere noble & worthi men that conne not latyn but lityll & han ben beƷonde the see knowen & vnderstonden Ʒif I seye trough or non. And Ʒif I err in deuising for forƷetynge or ell that their mowe redresse it & amende it. For thynges passed out of longe tyme from a mannes mynde or from his syght turnen sone in to forƷ because that mynde of man ne may not be comprehended ne with holden for the freeltee of mankynde. (4)

It is true that some of the more suggestive touches in the English version may be the results of mistranslation or interpolation by the Englisher (although Mandeville may have been the Englisher himself). In good medieval fashion, Mandeville's Travels (like the far earlier Wonders of the East or the more recent Travels of Marco Polo) is the product of more than one consciousness, and a certain amount of unconsciousness as well. But in general drift, the French and English versions agree: in place of the anxious vow to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, Mandeville leaves it up to the traveled among his readers to gauge his veracity. This is cagey in two ways: first, it begs the question of whether or not he has been the eyewitness his "I John Maundevylle" sentence implies he was—his work can contain nothing but "facts" and remain "untrue" by virtue of its fictional narrative frame. Second, in the very first chapter he comes out with a lie that a traveled reader would probably recognize as such: describing the famous golden statue of Justinian that stood before the Hagia Sofia, he falsely claims that the "round appell of gold in his hond" has fallen out (and when replaced will not remain) because "this appull betokeneth the lordschipe that he hadde ouer all the world that is round"—which lordship has been broken.24

The imagined traveled reader thus knows early on "Ʒif I seye trouthe or non." At this point the traveled reader is confronted with a new twist to the reading experience, the aesthetically justified "lie." The lie does a number of things for the book that mere truth could not accomplish. It allows Mandeville to emphasize the presence of the "fallen West" as a starting point in both space and time—this is of enormous structural importance in a work that takes us eventually to the gates of the Earthly Paradise in the farthest East, takes us back to an unfallen place and time as it takes us to the cardinal point geographically opposed to England in the extreme West. And it ties this theme of the fallen world to his theme of the round world. The "round appell of gold … betokeneth the lordschipe that he hadde ouer all the world that is round." Both the hope and the pessimism of the writer are bound together in this image of the fallen golden orb, to bear fruit in the peculiarly passionate chapter on "the roundness of the erthe" and all that that implies.

But how about the untraveled reader, who may also "conne not latyn but lityll" and therefore be unable to compare Mandeville with his sources and contemporaries? This more likely reader has had a marvel thrust upon him that is perhaps even more striking as "fact" than as pure symbol. Fortuitous congruences of matter and significance had (and still have) a hold over the Christian imagination, anchored as it is by the Incarnation and nurtured on allegoresis. For this reader, Mandeville is not the artist, God is. Mandeville merely reports His artistry. While Mandeville was writing in an age without extended prose fiction, it was also an age that saw symbolic meaning everywhere—in letters, comets, stones, and maps, in the number of the fixed stars and the quills of the porcupine. In an Age of Faith, the symbolic nature of Christ's life on earth allowed for a conception of life in which reality need not be restructured by the literary artist for significant pattern to inhere in it. Even such a random event as the hooting of an owl in the night could carry symbolic overtones of a restricted kind. The history of the earth itself was seen as a fiction created by God, and … the geography of the earth was a physical figure of spiritual realities. In this atmosphere, even the naïve reader who accepted the book as "factual" could have and would have seen beyond concrete detail. If life was allegorical, then so was a record of it. We are looking back to a vanishing point where not only fact and text, but fact and fiction partake more of each other's natures than they are now felt to do. But by consciously constructing the "facts" himself, Mandeville is taking a step in our direction.

Of course, in between these two readers, the traveled and the naïve, there must have been a skeptical third who recognized the anatomy of marvel formation and suspected the traveler's traditional impulse to overshape his rendering of the exotic. The skeptical third was to inherit the earth; in his eyes, all the language strategies with which the medieval traveler converted the Unknown into the knowable were fictions in the meanest sense.25 But Mandeville does not write for him: "And tho that han ben in tho contrees and in the gret Canes household knowen wel that I seye soth And therfore I will not spare for hem that knowe not ne beleue not but that thei seen for to tell Ʒou a partie of him and of his estate" (XXIV, 145). To Mandeville the skeptical reader is a Doubting Thomas whose failure of imagination makes him dismissable. He wants belief, but this may include the special kind Coleridge called suspension of disbelief: "And whoso that wole may leve [believe] me Ʒif he will, And whoso will not may leue also" (XXIV, 145).

Mandeville's fictionality is not to be gauged by the truth value of his inherited data: he is not a liar whose charm has cozened a later age into dubbing him a poet. In undermining the reader's desire and ability to simply believe or disbelieve his account, he is creating an imaginative freedom for his reader and himself, and directing our attention toward a realm in which faith— the active form of belief—is required of us, and contemplation matters more than the acquisition of knowledge. At the root of fiction is a magical gift, like the shield of invisibility or the shoes of flight: we are released by this mode of discourse from having to deal responsibly with new knowledge. We can view and consider data that we need not integrate into our survivalist map of the actual. There are of course facts in every fiction; historians piece together pictures of the daily lives of past peoples from their poems and novels, no doubt fairly accurately. But when fiction functions as itself it is precisely to allow us a sabbatical from the hunting and gathering of information, the most obvious device for signaling our freedom to us is the introduction of the impossible, the presence of the unreal—the magic ring, the flying horse, the one-eyed giant. Travel writing, then, hovers at the brink of the fictional abyss. In the days before travel was common and photographs offered conclusive documentation, travel writing presented its readers with an inherently problematic experience. A marvel in any other context signals the freedom I have been talking about. But here it may provoke the attempt to alter radically one's map of the actual and possible. In fact it did, as Augustine's struggle with the monostrous races gives evidence.

The customary claim to veracity with which medieval travel narratives open (or close, or both) is a response to this problem— a problem inherent not only in the material but in the formulas through which much of it was characteristically transmitted. The much later Pilgrim's Progress opens with the defensive epigraph (taken from Hosea), "I have used similitudes." The Bible's use of similitudes, as Curtius clearly outlines, occasioned a whole literary apologetics among medieval churchmen, for similitudes are figures, and figures are "mendacia poetarum."26 The Bible, it was decided, uses similitudes to hide its wisdom from the vulgar. The travel writer has no such motive; in fact his use of similitudes has precisely the opposite intention—to convey his knowledge to the vulgar. The defensiveness of Bunyan's loud announcement indicates a still vivid sense in his readership that figures are lies and lead away from, not toward, the truth.

How much more vivid must have been Mandeville's sense of mendacity, an author who was not writing an obvious allegory and who was using a traditionally documentary form. The absence of an unambiguous truth claim in his prologue, then, is a matter of real importance in our assessment of his literary intention, and his intention a matter of inspired illumination concerning the nature and potential of his chosen genre. He has taken the doubt with which the reader may greet the figural encoding of the alien and exotic and transformed it into the potential experience of free imaginative contemplation. And the total object that he gives us for that contemplation is a redeemed world, a world he insists is round and human, where God is present "in alle places" and worshiped in most of them.

Mandeville and Travel Writing

So far I have been dealing chiefly with Mandeville's relation to the development of fiction. That an analysis of this most glorious of all premodern travel works should entail a discussion of fiction is significant, but it is time now to look at the work under the rubric of travel writing per se. Although we will uncover a structure that has significance of the sort that the structures of fiction do, the flesh of the Travels is the same stuff of which Odoric, Burchard, Ludolph, and William made their itineraria—often quite literally the same.

William of Boldensil provides much of the flesh of part 1, the account of the Holy Land. Odoric of Pordenone, who journeyed as a missionary to the khan between 1316 and 1330, is the primary source for part 2, the excursion into the Utter East.27 Marvelous information from Vincent of Beauvais's Speculum historiale and Speculum naturale is scattered strategically throughout, as are motifs from legend and romance belonging more or less to the public domain. If Mandeville had done nothing but combine William's and Odoric's accounts into one journey, he would still have made a notable breach in the consciousness of his age. The journey to Palestine was always formally motivated by the central religious purpose of pilgrimage (the Crusades, called "general passages," were considered large-scale pilgrimages). The journey farther East was of two types, mercantile or missionary, and as we have seen in the last chapter these purposes provided characteristic organizing criteria for the writer as well. Mandeville-the-narrator emerges from his conflation of these subgenres as a pure wanderer, and travel as an activity in and of itself. Thus, if we are naming fathers, we can call Mandeville not only the "father of English prose" but the father of modern travel writing.28 It is a felicity of history that the first such traveler did all (or most) of his travel in his head and that the first such account was essentially a fiction. The form and attitude of this fiction were so prophetic of those of later "true stories" that, as late as 1866, Sir Henry Yule (no mean traveler himself) was making use of Mandeville to corroborate or explicate details in Odoric.

Mandeville starts us at Home and takes us back there at the end; the first chapter is called "To teche you the weye out of Englond," and in the last he tells us "now I am comen home mawgree myself to reste for gowtes Artetykes that me distreynen, that deffynen the ende of my labor aƷenst my will god knoweth" (XXXV, 210). Thus the Other World is drawn into some contiguity with this one, and though there is no overt description of home (such as begins Bruce Chatwin's In Patagonia or ends Robert Byron's The Road to Oxiana), there is a marvelously covert inclusion, in a late chapter on the Vale Perilous, of Tacitus's description of Britain. The multiple ironies of Mandeville's plagiarism of a depiction of his own people, as seen through the eyes of a more civilized foreigner of antiquity, inserted at the proverbially wildest margin of the earth, belong to the history of fiction in the way they complicate the relation of prose statement to meaning. But the coming to consciousness of travel writing as a vehicle for irony is also a notable event in itself.

Donald Howard has already commented on the irony that structures and flavors the Travels, and says about the link between travel and irony: "If his book is ironic, it is because travel itself is ironic: things are other than what we expect at home, and the contrast turns us back upon ourselves" ("World of Mandeville's Travels," 10). He also notes in passing that Mandeville "grasped this instructive feature of traveling better than previous authors" and speculates that this is because "he saw from afar, through a world of books." But if "travel itself is ironic," why should the untraveled Mandeville be the first to notice it? And to what extent do the pilgrimage and missionary accounts betray any sense of expectations surprised? (William of Rubruck does in fact convey that sense: his eye was keen and his disillusionment deep. But his tone is anomalous within the genre up to this point.) The continued and central presence of the marvels material in accounts of the Far East, and the mutual repetitiveness of the pilgrimage accounts, argues that travel as an experience may have been a quite different thing for Mandeville's predecessors from what it is for Naipaul, Rabin, Chatwin, Theroux, and their confederates. We have observed moments of change in the painfully slow opening up of perception in Western travelers over the millennium between Egeria and Mandeville, but the breaches have been small and induced by the kinds of cataclysmic historical events that require read-justment in even the most rigid dynamic of perception. It is as if the mentality of the West rejected the possibility of real surprise in the experience of travel, and it may be that that rejection was designed to protect an archetypal imago mundi of the sort described in chapter 2 and revealed so clearly in medieval world maps. The desire for a world that contains both text and border, Home and Elsewhere, mundane and sacred territory, and that contains them as somehow polar and unmixed, opposed and absolute, is a desire served admirably by the imperturbable repetitions of Pliny and Solinus and the ethnographic bareness that preceded Mandeville.29

It may also be that the world's love-hate relationship with the Travels stems from the irony with which it subverts the image of that desire. Perhaps Mandeville was hailed as a liar because his ultimately round and human world was too mixed and contingent to satisfy the requirements of the ancient dream, and perhaps he was loved and believed because it was getting to be time for one of those brief periods of wakefulness in which history prods itself into continuing.

The chapters themselves may seem, to modern eyes, to have been constructed "dream-wise." This is partly the result of the book's category-shattering scope: it is not the record of a journey (except intermittently), nor is it the strict verbal map Burchard had produced, nor is it focused by a purely spiritual or purely mercantile interest in one specific territory. It is determined to be encyclopedic, but nothing like the modern encyclopedia's formal set of subheadings has yet been generated, and what has is insufficient to the task at hand. The bonds between the pieces of data conveyed in any one chapter are usually eidetic, contributing enormously to our overall sense of being presented with an "image of truth"—an image that, qua image, is more amenable to interpretation than simple belief.

Chapter 5, untitled in the Cotton manuscript, seems at first glance a mere grabbag of information in which the reader's consciousness is asked to skip not only from topic to topic, but from mode to mode—from fable to history to flat topographical description—without transitions. And yet there is clearly something like the "concatenation" we saw in Wonders at work here, and something more. The chapter begins with the tale of a fallen city, "Cathaillye"—"lost thorgh folye of a Ʒonge man." When this young man's paramour died, he climbed down into her marble tomb and "lay be hire," from which union was begotten a hideous adder "the whiche als swithe fleigh aboute the cytee & the contree & sone after the cytee sank down." Besides rearranging the motifs of the previous chapter's tale (of a serpent-woman under Diana's curse who can only be freed of her monstrous form by the kiss of a knight), this story leads us on to a number of other linked images.

"In the castell of amoure lyth the body of Seynt Hyllarie & men kepen it right worschipfully." "In Cipre is the manere of lordes & all othere men all to eten on the erthe, for thei make dyches in the erthe all aboute in the hall depe to the knee and thei do paue hem." "And there is the welle of the whiche holy writte speketh offe & seythe: FONS ORTORUM & PUTEUS AQUARUM VIUENCIUM, that is to seye the welle of gardyns and the dych of lyuinge waters. In this cytee of Thire seyde the womman to oure lord: BEATUS VENTER QUI TE PORTUIT & UBERA QUE SUCCISTI, that is to seye: Blessed be the body that the baar & the pappes that thou sowkedest. And there oure lord forƷaf the womman of Chananee hire synnes." Then, in connection with the "port Jaff," we hear about Noah's Flood, and the rock where "Andromade a gret Geaunt was bounden & put in prisoun before Noes flode." Then by the river of Belon (at the site of an ancient glassworks sometimes mentioned by pilgrims on account of its glassy sand) we have the bottomless sea of "gravel schynynge brighte" which, like the "dych of lyuynge watres" or "the pappes that thou sowkedest," "be neuere so meche taken awey there of on the day at morwe it is as full aƷen as euere it was." Finally we are reminded of the story of the "tresoun of Delida" and Sampson's entombment of himself, "his paramour," and the Philistines in their "gret halle whan thei were at mete." We are led out of this chapter by way of a "wylderness and desert" where "all weys men fynden god jnnes & all that hem nedeth of vytaylle" (v, 16-20).

Although other images are scattered throughout which bear superficial connections to one or another of these cited above, the major cluster is tomb/ditch/pit/well/breast/flood: earth and water, body and spirit, fecundity and carnality and necrophilia. Paradox is the major arrangement: the sea of gravel, the desert full of "vytaylles," impregnation of a dead body, entombment in the dining hall, the saint's body kept "ryght worschipfully" in the "castell of amoure."30

The East remains a kind of mantra in Mandeville's hands, or a setting for dreams. But this chapter does not dream about the East as a simple object of wishfulfillment fantasy, as Marco Polo's chapters do. These "dream thoughts" are about the body, which is made of earth and eats in tombs, and the spirit, which drinks from a well of living waters, and this world, in which the Word was made flesh, in which women give birth to both beasts and gods, and the desert is full of "vytaylles" (for those who know where to look). The East remains a convenient screen for imaginative projection, as it was for earlier pilgrims and merchants of our acquaintance. But even this isolated chapter suggests that what is being projected is not so much a starved or hidden aspect of a culture's personality as it is a whole self. The issues that unify the concatenations are not necessarily galvanized by concentration on the East, Elsewhere, the Other World—they unify the Vita nuova, the Roman de la rose, the Canterbury Tales, the great poems and fictions of the later Middle Ages.

This is not to suggest that the overt charm of Mandeville's opus is not what it has always seemed to be. It is a book of marvels, it is a book about Elsewhere, its atmosphere is both grotesque and otherworldly. Overtly, it is a fitting culmination to a tradition reaching back to the Odyssey (and lingering into our time in Alexandra David-Neel's Magic and Mystery in Tibet.)31 And without this tradition (and the scarcity of data that underlies it) Mandeville would not have had the freedom to put his pieces together "dreamwise," nor to exploit in us the freedom of fictional contemplation. It is a moment of deeper change I am charting here, a change of attitude and understanding, clothed in the conventions and formulas and even the very words of what came before it. Mandeville is not averse to supplying his readers with a khan every bit as splendid as Marco's or Odoric's, and he is more willing than Marco to supply marvelous beasts and plants, more willing than Odoric to supply monsters. As usual, the farther we penetrate into the East, the weirder it gets, and the comparisons and similes used to help us visualize what we hear about have the usual alienating effect. Every ripple on the surface of this stream is familiar; it is the current that has shifted.

Some attention to the ways in which Mandeville fiddles with Odoric's account of the Far East, even when he is most clearly following it, will be revealing in the latter regard. Many of these instances have been pointed out before, by stern editors and admiring critics, usually as evidence of mendacity or broadmindedness in the author (which they are). Perhaps most problematic for current critics is Mandeville's inclusion of almost the whole gamut of the Plinian monstrous races at precisely that point in Odoric's account of "the gret yle that is clept DONDUN" where the friar disdains to report marvels that no one could believe. As this seems an obstacle to the prevailing desire to see Mandeville as enlightened beyond his era and a believer in natural law as geographically universal, Bennett says: "It is highly improbable that he believed at all in the unnatural marvels which he retold from Odoric and Solinus and the Letter of Prester John" (Rediscovery of Mandeville, 36). Moseley goes even further, into flatout untruth: "Comparison of Mandeville's Travels with its sources shows that the author deliberately edited so as to reduce the incidence of 'wonders'" ("Metamorphosis of Mandeville," 6). Hamelius, in his notes to chapter 23, refers at this juncture to Mandeville's "licentious imagination" (Mandeville's Travels, 2: 110).

But Mandeville's context is at every point denser, richer, more constraining than has been possible in previous, less nearly metaphysical works. He may or may not believe in the monstrosities (or he may have an apprehension of them conforming to their previously discussed status as part fact/part text). What matters more is that they operate in the service of some truths unfolding beneath the surface of their chapter. This is the chapter of the Cornucopia, the prelude to the long, conventionally superlative treatment of the khan—a locus for the theme of plenitude since Marco Polo's initial swoon.32

The diversity and plenitude of human forms and customs manifested in the list of mostly monstrous races are followed immediately by a discussion of "Mancy": "And it is the beste lond & on the fairest that may ben in all the world, and the most delectable & and the most plentifous of all godes that is in power of man. … And there is more plentee of peple there than in ony other partie of ynde.… In that contree is no nedy man ne non that goth beggynge" (XXIII, 135). And so on. Then we come to the idols (stripped of Odoric's gleeful hooting at the way they receive only the smoke of sacrifices while the worshipers get the meat), the abbey where the monks feed "Apes, Marmozettes Babewynes & many other dyuerse bestes," and, at the gateway of "the gret Chans" domain, the "PIGMEYES."

Mandeville in this chapter compresses into smaller compass and neater geographical organization a particularly meandering and xenophobic stretch of Odoric's text, as well as adding from other sources the account of the Plinian races.33 His most obvious amplifications and changes are in the direction of tolerance and understanding: he omits to tell us, as Odoric did not, that DONDUN, means "unclean" or that the cannibalistic funeral rite of its people is "foul," and he leaves out the anecdote of Odoric's berating them over it. In place of Odoric's dogmatic conversation with the monks who feed apes, about whether or not the apes are reincarnated men, Mandeville questions, with far more humanity, the justice of feeding animals instead of the poor: "And their answerde me & seyde that thei hadde no pore man among hem in that contree" (XXIII, 137). From one sentence in Odoric—"But these pygmies have rational souls like ourselves" ("habent autem animam rationalem sicut nos"; 316)—he develops a whole cultural being for the pygmies, and one that includes an irony so pungent in relation to Odoric that one must wonder if Mandeville's text is at open war with its source: "This lityll folk nouther labouren in londes ne in vynes but thei han grete men amonges hem of our stature that tylen the lond & labouren amonges the vynes for hem. And of tho men of oure stature han thei als grete skorn & wonder as we wolde haue among us of geauntes Ʒif thei weren amonges us" (XXIII, 138).34 Touché!

But Mandeville's understanding goes beyond the rejection of Odoric's offensive xenophobia. He has explained idol worship in a previous chapter, and the difference between idols and simulacra: "For symulacres ben ymages made after lykness of men or wommen or of the sonne or of the mone or of ony best or of ony kyndely thing, & ydoles is an ymage made of lewed will of man that man may not fynden among kyndely thinges" (XIX, 109). He (or else a scribal interpolator) has also told us what a monster is: "a thing difformed aƷen kynde bothe of man or of best" (VII, 30). Here we find idols and monsters in the same chapter, a chapter suffused with a spirit of toleration and organized around the theme of plenitude. Mandeville's examples of idols given in the earlier chapter include "an ymage that hath jiii hedes" and one that is "of an ox the on parte & the other halfondell of a man." Among the monsters in chapter 23 we find "folk that han non hedes" and "folk that han hors feet." (See fig. 6 for an illustration of monsters worshiping an idol.) He has been kind toward the idol worshipers, and kind toward Pliny and Solinus, and made an astonishing identification of our emotions with those of the pygmies. Is it too much to claim for this characteristically ironic and generous sensibility that he has sensed a strain of idol worship in the West's tenacious attachment to its geographically displaced monsters, and forgiven it in the same breath with Odoric's "idolators" (who become, in Mandeville's words, "gode religious men after here feyth & lawe"; XXIII, 137)?

At any rate, the monsters were a part of his "data,' part of the total but till now fragmented image of the world he had set out to make coherent and redemptively significant. He has included them in such a place that certain of his readers' braces must relax. If there are monsters, then the idols that resemble them are no worse than the benign simulacra. If there are not, then our belief in them is little better than the "ymages" of the gently tolerated idolators. And whether God's creation or our own, they form part of the plenitude of this "fairest … & most delectable" of lands. "And whoso that wole may leve me Ʒif he woll, And whoso will not may leve also."

One notable aspect of the pageant of monsters in Mandeville is its iconographic mode of presentation— notable in that this is not usually Mandeville's way. Perhaps he has fooled Moseley into believing that he edited "so as to reduce the incidence of monsters" by his more characteristic amplitude. Scorning as he does, with effects already discussed, the conventional strategies of inducing belief in his readers (truth claims, refusal to report what will be too hard to credit, reliance on the auctoritas of his sources), he is forced to rely on a kind of proto-verisimilitude. One of his many techniques (among which might be numbered his growing presence as an actor on the scene, in the second and more incredible part of the book) is the amplification of his inherited iconographic images. The sheer length of his treatment of the pygmies, as compared to Odoric's, makes them more vivid and thus "realer" to the imagination. Of course this method extends and emphasizes the marvels, but it also rationalizes them and "naturalizes" them. Odoric's pygmies are conveyed in the usual fashion: in five sentences, five disconnected features of their physical nature, habitat, and custom are listed, and then we are off to another topic. Mandeville, while exaggerating one marvelous aspect— Odoric's pygmies procreate at age five, Mandeville's "whan they ben half Ʒere of age"—invents another marvelous aspect to rationalize the first: "thei lyuen not but .vi Ʒeer or .vij at the moste." Mandeville's pygmies are not only more detailed, their details complement and make sense of one another. In the world of nature as it operates in England, life span and body size are logically related. So they must be in "the lond of PIGMANS."35

It is a feature of the iconographic mode that its selectivity of detail can make a marvel out of anything unfamiliar.36 It is also the case that a detailed enough description, provided there be usefully interrelated categories in which to anchor the details, can demystify a marvel, unfold the data hidden within. Mandeville's unusually long descriptions are part of a literary step forward toward the establishment of a scientifically usable fund of information. The other major steps— development of the "scientific method" and taxonomies—were the task of natural philosophy. Slow refinements in the rhetorical conventions of travel literature were to prove useful to the philosophers in their task.

But so far as he is concerned, Mandeville's method is a literary device in the service of imaginative, not philosophical, truth. Another of his devices for establishing verisimilitude is to claim that he has not been somewhere, not seen something with his own eyes, and cannot necessarily vouch for the truth of other men's reports. This device is put to particularly poignant use at the end of part 2, when after transforming Odoric's final story, of a perilous valley fraught with devils (Mandeville calls it "on of the entrees of helle"), geographical logic leads him to "paradys terrestre … towardes the EST at the begynnynge of the erthe" (XXXIV, 202).

Odoric's narrative ends with the Vale Perilous, from which he "came forth scathless" because he was "a baptized and holy man" (Cathay, 262-66). His account is almost criminally self-congratulatory; it is tempting to see behind Mandeville's inclusion of a complementary sacred place, unvisited because "I was not worthi," an intentional corrective. But there are a number of broader considerations. Mandeville has aimed for an unprecedented totality in his coverage of the lands beyond, and to leave out the Earthly Paradise would be to place a black hole on the mappa mundi. On the other hand, he is writing in a cultural climate that considers curiositas a sin and the limiting of intellectual greed a matter of moral propriety.37 There is an angel at the gate of paradise with a sword of flame: what better place to be brought up short? The traditional mode of presentation for paradises is what Patch calls the "negative description": it is appropriate to the increasingly narrative method of the Travels at this point that "paradys terrestre" be present as a place not visited.38

But present it must be, as a redemptive complement to the "entree of helle," as the ironically located birthplace of the human race (the point furthest from what we now call Home), as the primitive and original place in which Mandeville's backward journey through historical time (elegantly traced by Donald Howard) can find a fitting climax.39

And as Christian Zacher points out, "for Mandeville the moon-driven traveler, the earthly paradise—which 'toucheth nygh to the cercle of the mone, there as the mone maketh hire torn'…—has turned out to be his true destination" (Curiosity and Pilgrimage, 151). Mandeville has earlier pinned his predilection for travel on his national origin and its climatic influence: "For in our contrey wee ben in the seuenthe clymat that is of the mone. And the mone is of lyghtly mevynge & the mone is planete of weye. And for that skyll it Ʒeueth vs will of kynde for to meve lyghtly & for to go dyuerse weyes & to sechen strange thinges & other dyuersities of the world, For the mone envyrouneth the erthe more hastyly than ony other planete" (XIX, 108). How right and lovely that his destination should be paradise, like that of the pilgrims before him, and like theirs one he cannot enter. And how true to what appears to be an essential paradox of travel—that "you can't get there from here" (or, as Joyce puts it in Ulysses, "the longest way round is the shortest way home").

Elsewhere has been moving steadily East for some time, as Home has expanded its borders. It was Mandeville's last move to place it ultimately out of man's reach, beyond the "derke Regyoun" (descended from Marco's Russian "Land of Darkness") on the "highest place of erthe" and "enclosed all aboute with a wall." The Elsewhere of sub- or supernature, into which the West had so long projected the other halves of its divided self, is not accessible to the earthly traveler, and Mandeville has rendered the places and peoples that once belonged to it as "part of nature, part of us." He has rolled all that truly Otherworldly sweetness up into one ball and perched it at "the begynnynge of the erthe," beyond a veil of darkness, at the place where time began for us, and all our woe—at the place and moment of our birth.

It is precisely at this point that he reminds us of the "roundeness of the erthe, of the whiche I haue towched to you of before." The inaccessible paradys terrestre is really only temporally "at the begynnynge of the erthe." For "that is not that EST that we clepe oure EST on this half, where the sonne riseth to us, for whanne the sonne is EST in tho partyes toward paradys terrestre, it is thanne mydnyght in oure parties on this half for the roundeness of the erthe."

It is in his avoidance of the absolute and its closure that Mandeville is perhaps most new. His paradise is many things, including—figuratively—his destination. But it is not the end, nor even the end of the book. Geography, shapeless and real, must here part company with the shapely hierarchy of the theological map. The center of a spherical world cannot be found on its surface, and the edge cannot be found at all. Mandeville has used his geography symbolically, as did the makers of the mappae mundi and the biblical commentaries. But his method is an inversion of theirs: they imagined a geography expressive of preordained ideas. He shaped ideas out of the geography of the real.

Mandeville the artist was indeed "ahead of his time," ahead, as good artists are, of any time. The climate and conditions of his moment permitted him his emotional and intellectual lucidity; the quasi-scientific, quasi-imaginative status of his genre permitted his balancing act with two kinds of truth. But as the later history of his book reveals, he was soon to be romanticized and literalized, as the intellectual realms that coalesced in the Travels began to draw apart. Columbus may have been both his best and worst reader, who sailed West over "the roundeness of the erthe" to reach, not America, but that high place from which "the iiij flodes" flow. And all our woe.


  1. Josephine Waters Bennett lists about 250 surviving manuscripts in Appendix 1 of The Rediscovery of Sir John Mandeville. The book was first printed in 1470, one of the earliest of all printed books. According to George Sarton (in "The Scientific Literature Transmitted through the Incunabula"), Mandeville is the eighth most popular author on Arnold Kleb's list of the incunabula; none of the leading seven is a medieval prose writer.
  2. All quotations from Fulcher will be cited, by volume and chapter numbers, from Frances Rita Ryan's translation, A History of the Expedition to Jerusalem. Ryan's translation is based on Heinrich Hagenmeyer's definitive text, Fulcheri Carnotensis historia Hierosolymitana(1913).
  3. "Et cil s'en rala a grant partie de la gent l'empereor Henri; et trova que li chastiaus ere abutez et ferma et horda le moutier Sainte Sophye, qui mult ere halz et biels, et retint iqui endroit la guerre."
  4. This and all further quotations are indicated by chapter and page number, and are taken from the Early English Text Society edition of Hamelius (1919). This is a documentary edition of MS Cotton Titus Cxvi. Although the Cotton manuscript is not the version Hakluyt disseminated so importantly in the first edition of his Voyages, and in fact did not reach print until 1725, I have chosen it as my chief text of the Travels because it is closer to the French original than the once prominent "Defective Version," and I am as much interested in the author's conscious artistry as in the wider influence of the work in its many abridged versions. References to Hamelius's notes will be cited by volume and page number of the EETS edition.
  5. The terms of Joseph Campbell's Jungian analysis of what he calls the "monomyth" of the heroic journey (in The Hero with a Thousand Faces) can be applied with some usefulness to accounts of actual travel to the East and to the New World, although Campbell is talking about myths, folktales, and dreams. The connection lies in the fact that the travelers whose accounts we are looking at had themselves a mythic understanding of their activity: they were on pilgrimage to the World Navel, or, in going farther East or sailing to the New World, they were leaving the oikumene behind them and entering "a dream landscape of curiously fluid and ambiguous forms."
  6. Shortly after the fall of Acre in 1291, the Persian khan Oljaitu converted to Islam. The Mongols in Persia, Russia, and Turkestan were quickly absorbed into the Moslem cultures around them, and relations with the West broke down. A Christian mission remained in China, but fell with the fall of the Mongols there: the last Western missionary, John of Marignolli, left China in 1347, and the Christians were expelled in 1369 by Chinese nationalists.
  7. Hakluyt's successor, Samuel Purchas, admits that he "smell[s] a Friars (Lyars) hand in this," but hints that it was Odoric—the real traveler from whom Mandeville adapted much of the second half of his book—who later "stuffed" it full of "Fables" (Purchas, Purchas His Pilgrimes, 11:363-64). For the story of Ingram see Adams, Travelers and Travel Liars, 133-34.
  8. The credit for first bringing to light the extent of Mandeville's plagiarisms belongs to two nineteenth-century scholars: Albert Bovenschen, whose dissertation "Die Quellen fur die Reisebschreibung des Johann von Mandeville" was published in Berlin in 1888, and Sir George Warner, who edited the Egerton manuscript for the Roxburghe Club in 1889. It is difficult to believe that some of this was not noticed far earlier, as the Travels was often bound in manuscripts together with some of its sources. (See Bennett, Rediscovery of Sir John Mandeville, Appendix 1.)
  9. Iain Higgins (currently working at Harvard University on a dissertation about Mandeville 's Travels) has suggested that I qualify my use of the word parody in connection with the Travels, since current usage restricts its meaning to a kind of stylistic joke. The word in its older, etymological, sense suggests a text that stands alongside other texts in critical or ironic imitation of them, and it is in that sense that the Travels is parodic. Higgins's wide-ranging and sensitive study of the Travels did not reach my attention until this book was in press; it will be a valuable addition to Mandeville scholarship.
  10. Section 40, according to Bernard, is one of many in the work stolen from the thirteenth-century account of Phillipus Brusserius Savonensis.
  11. Pope John XXII's encyclical of 1322 (quoted in chap. 3, n. 20) forbidding the increasingly florid ornamentation of liturgical music, and particularly outraged at the "stuffing" (inculcare) that introduced secular texts into the performance of the organa, was effectively an attempt to halt the development of polyphony. And yet the fourteenth century saw the creation not only of the earliest extant polyphonic mass (the "Tournai mass") but also the initial development of the "parody mass," in which all the voice parts were borrowed from another, secular, text. These musical instances of the simultaneous presence of two or more nonconsonant "voices" and/or texts in one extended musical work are nicely analogous to Bakhtin's ideas of "polyglossia" and parody as essential generic features of the novel. Musical and purely verbal "polyglossias" seem parallel in instinct and related as well to the institution of the farce, originally a comic/ parodie interlude between acts of a liturgical drama (in fact, the term farcing was synonomous as a musical—and culinary—term with stuffing.) That the structure of Mandeville's book can be illuminated by these terms, in its weaving together of the anecdotes and the very words of such disparate texts as Marco Polo's, Wilhem von Boldensil's, Odoric of Pordenone's, and Vincent of Beauvais's encyclopedias will soon be clear. A feeling for the spirit of polyphony is useful for a full appreciation of Mandeville's art, and a combined analysis of the terms polyphony and polyglossia might even unearth some suggestive common denominator in the literary and muscial developments of the later Middle Ages.
  12. Olschki observes that Marco Polo tends to push the most extravagant of his descriptions of Oriental splendor into Japan, the Utter East that he has not himself visited: "It is only beyond the boundaries of Cathay that he mentions gold for the first time—in order to evoke the riches of Japan, where he had never set foot" (Marco Polo's Asia, 60). Something, obviously, has changed by the time Montaigne can say: "Wee neede not goe to cull out miracles and chuse strange difficulties: me seemeth, that amongst those thing we ordinarily see, there are such incomprehensible rarities, as they exceed all difficulties of miracles" (Essayses,2:509). It is this sentiment that most clearly divides the modern novel from the travel narratives in which it incubated. And it is perhaps something more than a felicitous figure for this development in the scope of literary attention that, as the Renaissance drew near, the marvels crept closer to Home. In his article "The Basilisk" (in Mythical and Fabulous Creatures), Laurence Breiner notes "the general shift of the basilisk into a domestic European monster," and certainly the crown of necromancy was shifting from Chaldea to Britain during this period.
  13. See Donald R. Howard, "The World of Mandeville's Travels" (1971); idem, Writers and Pilgrims: Medieval Pilgrimage Narratives and Their Posterity (1980); Christian K. Zacher, Curiosity and Pilgrimage: The Literature of Discovery in Fourteenth-Century England(1976), chap. 6.
  14. The controversial point is whether the author did indeed, as the English texts claim, English the book himself. Hamelius finds gross errors in the translation from the French that would be hard to account for if the author had done his own translation. On the other hand, Bennett says "enough manuscripts survive to provide ample evidence that the original version was written in the French of Gower and the English court in the mid-fifteenth [sic] century, and that it was written, in all probability, in England, since the best texts are written in English hands and are still preserved in English libraries" (Rediscovery of Sir John Mandeville,176). Howard follows her, citing "the greater subtlety of the English diction" ("World of Mandeville 's Travels," 4n).
  15. Sir Malcolm Letts preceded them in 1949 with his Sir John Mandeville: The Man and His Book. But his treatment of the book is a recapitulation of the most amiable of old attitudes and assumptions, and contributed little to its newly elevated status.
  16. "Sex igitur sunt quae in principio cuiusque doctrinalis operis inquirenda sunt, videlicet subiectum, agens, forma, finis, libri titulus, et genus philosophiae" (Toynbee, Letters of Dante, x6.119-22).
  17. Cf. Letts: "For most contemporary readers the book had to rest on its own foundations, and as the marvels which Mandeville set down as sober facts can be capped and even outrivalled by other writers—the author of Prester John's letter, for instance—the reading public of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries probably swal-lowed their Mandeville whole" (Sir John Mandeville,34).
  18. See Curtius, European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages, chap. 12. In this chapter Curtius quotes from the preface of the Tractatus de reprobatione monarchie composite a Dante of Guido Vernani: "In the preface Dante is described as a poetizing visionary and verbose sophist, whose delusive pictures lead the reader away from the truths of salvation ('conducit fraudulenter ad interitum salutiferae veritatis')" (221).
  19. See chap. 2, p. 74, for quotation from Hodgen on this point.
  20. According to Friedman, "even the improbable-sounding Hippopodes may have had a basis in fact. A tribe exists today in the Zambesi valley on the border of Southern Rhodesia among whose members 'lobsterclaw syndrome' has become an established characteristic. This condition, which is hereditary, possibly via a single mutated gene, results in feet that are divided into two giant toes instead of five smaller ones—'ostrich feet,' as they are described by neighboring tribes. The remoteness of the region and a considerable amount of inbreeding have encouraged the trait" (Monstrous Races in Medieval Art and Thought, 24).
  21. See C. W. R. D. Moseley, "The Metamorphosis of Sir John Mandeville," for a full account of the Travels' rich and various Nachleben. According to Moseley, subsequent "bastard versions" in both prose and verse tended to flatten "the subtleties and curiosities of (Mandeville's) description" (14), concentrating on the Travels' information rather than on Mandeville's arrangement or delivery of it, his readers, he concludes, "used it as a storehouse of exempla as well as for entertainment and instruction" (10). Although some redactions turned the Travels into a "Wonderbook," real "wonders" were also retained or added, such as descriptions of the khan's court or, in the "Metrical Version," of Rome.
  22. … The process of scribal transmission can of course create new marvels as well, in the "curiously fluid and ambiguous" context of accounts of the East. Paul Gibb gives an example of a scribally created bird-centaur in his introduction to Wonders of the East: "Loose punctuation, together with the curiously inverted ut aves leni voce, 'with a soft voice like birds,' seems to have caused ut aves to be reinterpreted as part of the preceding clause in line 17:3, resulting in the untenable corruption longis cruribus ut aves, 'with long legs like birds'—a most unusual way of describing Centaurs" (23).
  23. See Fulcher, History of the Expedition to Jerusalem, l.i-v; Burchard of Mt. Sion, Description of the Holy Land, 1-3; and Ludolph von Suchem, Description of the Holy Land, 3.
  24. "The cross on the orb was blown down in 1317. Boldensele and Bondelmonti (Liber insularum Archipelagi, ed. 1824, p. 122) saw the apple in its place. John of Hildesheim … also describes the statue as holding its orb and threatening the Saracens in the East with its right hand" (Hamelius, Mandeville's Travels, 2:25).
  25. Next to Odoric of Pordenone's name in the index to the eighteenth-century Astley 's Voyages the editor has written "A great Liar." The eighteenth century in England was the inheritor of the Royal Society's "correspondence instructions" to travelers, and the voluminous travel literature it produced has erected a monolithic norm of "objectivity" behind which it is difficult to see how serious and authentic the reports of earlier travelers might be. The combined amplitude and impersonality personality of the eighteenth-century observer's style and its serene assumption that objectivity is possible in the situation of the traveler abroad have reached their own climax in the emergence of the modern "foreign correspondent." The temptation to believe in the self-supposed transparency of such reportage can be overcome by reading an article or two from a Chinese newspaper's coverage of the day's events in Washington.
  26. See Curtius, European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages, chap. 12, especially sec. 3.
  27. A scholarly translation of Odoric is available, with copious notes and a Latin and an Old Italian text appended, in volume 2 of Sir Henry Yule's compendium Cathay and the Way Thither. Quotations from Odoric will be taken from this edition, cited by chapter number. There is no English translation of William of Boldensil. The most recent printed edition is that of C. L. Grotefend, "Itinerarium Guilielmi de Boldensele," in Zeitschrift des Historischen Vereins für Niedersachsen (1852).
  28. As Percy Adams rightly pointed out in a note on the manuscript of this book, "every father has a grandfather." But for the purpose of identifying junctures in the longue durée, it is convenient to characterize as a father one who not only broke radically with his genre's stance and structure as they prevailed before him, but who, in so doing, redefined for others that genre's potential. No writer really fathers (or mothers) anything but his own book, but Mandeville is more than just an example of a new trend. His name came to signify "traveler" (as well as "liar") for European culture.
  29. For all its smug "objectivity," the eighteenth century, at least in England, showed signs of a similar stasis in the imago mundi preserved by its travel literature. The Grand Tour (primary object of this literature) became so codified, and the writer so fearful of egotism, that it became possible once again to plagiarize seamlessly. (See Adams, Travelers and Travel Liars, especially chap. 8, "Peculiar Plagiarisms.") The link between the genre and its essential subject matter is tight enough that it comes to seem part of the travel writer's task to preserve certain root images or necessary fictions, as much as to extend the horizon or intimacy of our knowledge. Annotation of the beloved world image of the English eighteenth century is outside the scope of this book: some of its outline can be gleaned from Charles L. Batten, Jr.'s Pleasurable Instruction: Form and Convention in Eighteenth-Century Travel Literature.
  30. Saint Hilarion, for whose life our primary source is Saint Jerome, was a desertdwelling ascetic who lived on fifteen figs a day for years. Inconveniently popular, especially with women, he was driven from place to place around the Mediterranean in search of solitude. His miracles included stopping a tidal wave, bringing rain to the desert, and making a barren woman fruitful (by supernatural means). In short, his vita displays the same themes as Mandeville's chapter, arranged in similar paradoxes.
  31. As Tibet has remained artifically unreachable into modern times, books about it are written under conditions that in some ways simulate those of the travel writers of antiquity and the Middle Ages. David-Neel, a relatively cool-minded Western scholar of Buddhism, went to Tibet to obtain precisely the sorts of information Hodgen berates the medieval writers for not seeking and not receiving. But the title of her book, Magic and Mystery in Tibet, is a clue to the kind of information it contains—in large part what Hodgen calls "the abnormal, the monstrous, the trivial." The proportion of lascivious anecdote is as high as in Marco's treatment of Tibetan mores, and her fascination with necromancy as intense as Odoric's, if less horrified. (And like Marco, Odoric, and Mandeville, she is a lot of fun to read.)
  32. The cornucopia is a feature equally of literal and imaginative journey tales—it represents an expectation of the psyche. In his study of the paradises and hells of both folk and "serious" literature, The Other World, Howard Patch documents the motif of abundances as essential to the imagination of paradise—abundances of trees, of birds, of colors, of gems, of food, and often of women. (Marco Polo's claim that twenty-thousand prostitutes were living on the outskirts of one of the khan's cities for the convenience "of the foreigners" is a good instance of the last.)

    Since Joseph Campbell is ultimately interested in the progress and liberation of the individual human psyche, he concentrates on cornucopian events at the climax of the Hero's journey, rather than on places. In this connection he quotes from the Jataka a description of the state of the universe after the Buddha reaches enlightenment under the Bo tree: "Throughout the ten thousand worlds the flowering trees bloomed; the fruit trees were weighed down by the burden of their fruit; trunklotuses bloomed on the trunks of trees; branch-lotuses on the branches of trees; vine-lotuses on the vines; hanging lotuses in the sky; and stalk-lotuses burst through the rocks and came up by sevens" (192).

    Mandeville, like Marco before him, scatters the cornucopian largesse all across his East—here a "land of Feminye," there a "welle of Ʒouthe"—but as in Marco's book, the khan is its magnetic center. The New World voyagers were perhaps even more obsessed with this image: the cornucopia has become the symbol of the first specifically American holiday, and even before they landed, sailors could smell it in the shore breeze off Roanoke.

  33. See Odoric, Travels, chaps. 26-35.
  34. The predictable fact that manuscripts of Mandeville and Odoric were often bound together supports the possibility of their being read in this relation accurately. So too does Mandeville's most whimsical bit of play with Odoric's text, completely lost on anyone not familiar with Odoric: in the episode of the Vale Perilous, a personal anecdote stolen from Odoric, Mandeville mentions that his company for this adventure included two "worthi men Frere Menoures, that weren of lombardye that seyden that Ʒif ony mon wolde entren, thei wolde gon in with us" (XXXII, 188). Odoric was a Minorite friar from Lombardy who traveled with a colleague. But in Odoric's self-serving version, "I hesitated not to go in that I might see once for all what the matter was" ("Et quamquam in illa sic omnes moriantur, tamen volui intrare ut viderem finaliter quid hoc esset"; Cathay, 2:332).
  35. Mandeville's sense of humor was basically sneaky. Although at first glance his amplification of Odoric has the effect of rationalizing the marvel, he has in part remarvelized the PIGMANS in the same breath. Now that they live only to the age of six or seven, their giving birth at six months is proportionately just as strange as Odoric's pigmies giving birth at five years old.
  36. The Lilliputians' report on the contents of Gulliver's pockets is an instructive inversion of the traveler's perspective. It parodies the results to be expected from the Royal Society's "correspondence instructions" to the travelers of the new scientific age by producing, via the new method, the same old marvel material— out of a pocket watch: "And we conjecture it is either some unknown Animal, or the God he worships" (Swift, Gulliver's Travels, 18).
  37. See Zacher, Curiosity and Pilgrimage, chap. 2.
  38. See Patch, Other World, 12-13.
  39. "The second half of the book, from chapter 16 on, is a voyage into the Orient, but it is integrated with the first part in a remarkable way and differs from other members of its genre precisely because it is cast in the form of a quasi- or anti-pilgrimage through a state of nature. We pass beyond the land of Prester John to a shrine one may not enter: 'Paradise Terrestre, where that Adam our foremost father and Eve were put that dwelled there but little while, and that is towards the east at the beginning of the earth' (33). The pilgrimage to Jerusalem was a journey backward in time: one saw the relics of New and Old Testament times, what the Middle Ages would have called the Age of Grace and the Age of Law (that is, the law of Moses). Mandeville keeps this reverse order: in the second part we learn that Noah's ship is on Mt. Ararat; that each of Noah's sons inhabited one of the three continents, Asia, Africa, Europe; that the round earth was wasted by Noah's flood; that there is a lake in Ceylon where Adam and Eve wept a hundred years. In this world of the distant past lies the dispersal of individuals, peoples, and languages; at the root of all, the expulsion from Paradise. We pass through the leavings of the first age of the world, the age before the law of Moses, the Age of Nature" (Howard, Writers and Pilgrims, 272).

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