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One of the most influential books of the medieval period, John Mandeville's fourteenth-century work was written, ostensibly, to encourage and instruct pilgrims traveling to the Holy Land. A thorough compendium of medieval lore, the travel book proved to be a great success throughout Europe. (Among his alleged readers were Leonardo da Vinci and Christopher Columbus.)
The Travels professes to relate Mandeville's experiences in the Holy Land, Egypt, India, and China—where he served in the Great Khan's army—followed by his journey to "the lands beyond," countries populated by "dog-headed men, cannibals, Amazons, and pygmies." Five centuries after Mandeville recorded his observations in those distant lands, the volume's remarkably exacting accounts of events and geography were found to be probable fabrications.
Nevertheless, the book's widespread popularity and influence make it essential to the study of medieval English literature. An engaging mix of fact and fantasy, enhanced with more than 100 rare woodcut illustrations, it has retained its place as one of the greatest and most entertaining works of early English vernacular prose.
To teach you the Way out of England to Constantinople
IN the name of God, Glorious and Almighty!
He that will pass over the sea and come to land [to go to the city of Jerusalem, he may wend many ways, both on sea and land], after the country that he cometh from; [for] many of them come to one end. But troweth not 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 all only some countries and most principal steads that men shall go through to go the right way.
First, if a man come from the west side of the world, as England, Ireland, Wales, Scotland, or Norway, he may, if that he will, go through Almayne and through the kingdom of Hungary, that marcheth to the land of Polayne, and to the land of Pannonia, and so to Silesia.
And the King of Hungary is a great lord and a mighty, and holdeth great lordships and much land in his hand. For he holdeth the kingdom of Hungary, Sclavonia, and of Comania a great part, and of Bulgaria that men call the land of Bougiers, and of the realm of Russia a great part, whereof he hath made a duchy, that lasteth unto the land of Nyfland, and marcheth to Prussia. And men go through the land of this lord, through a city that is clept Cypron, and by the castle of Neasburghe, and by the evil town, that sit toward the end of Hungary. And there pass men the river of Danube. This river of Danube is a full great river, and it goeth into Almayne, under the hills of Lombardy, and it receiveth into him forty other rivers, and it runneth through Hungary and through Greece and through Thrace, and it entereth into the sea, toward the east so rudely and so sharply, that the water of the sea is fresh and holdeth his sweetness twenty mile within the sea.
And after, go men to Belgrade, and enter into the land of Bougiers; and there pass men a bridge of stone that is upon the river of Marrok. And men pass through the land of Pyncemartz and come to Greece to the city of Nye, and to the city of Fynepape, and after to the city of Dandrenoble, and after to Constantinople, that was wont to be clept Bezanzon. And there dwelleth commonly the Emperor of Greece. And there is the most fair church and the most noble of all the world; and it is of Saint Sophie. And before that church is the image of Justinian the emperor, covered with gold, and he sitteth upon an horse y-crowned. And he was wont to hold a round apple of gold in his hand: but it is fallen out thereof. And men say there, that it is a token that the emperor hath lost a great part of his lands and of his lordships; for he was wont to be Emperor of Roumania and of Greece, of all Asia the less, and of the land of Syria, of the land of Judea in the which is Jerusalem, and of the land of Egypt, of Persia, and of Arabia. But he hath lost all but Greece; and that land he holds all only. And men would many times put the apple into the image's hand again, but it will not hold it. This apple betokeneth the lordship that he had over all the world, that is round. And the tother hand he lifteth up against the East, in token to menace the misdoers. This image stands upon a pillar of marble at Constantinople.CHAPTER 2
Of the Cross and the Crown of our Lord Jesu Christ
AT Constantinople is the cross of our Lord Jesu Christ, and his coat without seams, that is clept Tunica inconsutilis, and the sponge, and the reed, of the which the Jews gave our Lord eysell and gall, in the cross. And there is one of the nails, that Christ was nailed with on the cross.
And some men trow that half the cross, that Christ was done on, be in Cyprus, in an abbey of monks, that men call the Hill of the Holy Cross; but it is not so. For that cross that is in Cyprus, is the cross, in the which Dismas the good thief was hanged on. But all men know not that; and that is evil y-done. For for profit of the offering, they say that it is the cross of our Lord Jesu Christ.
And ye shall understand that the cross of our Lord was made of four manner of trees, as it is contained in this verse,—In cruce fit palma, cedrus, cypressus, oliva. For that piece that went upright from the earth to the head was of cypress; and the piece that went overthwart, to the which his hands were nailed, was of palm; and the stock, that stood within the earth, in the which was made the mortise, was of cedar; and the table above his head, that was a foot and an half long, on the which the title was written in Hebrew, Greek and Latin, that was of olive.
And the Jews made the cross of these four manner of trees; for they trowed that our Lord Jesu Christ should have hanged on the cross, as long as the cross might last. And therefore made they the foot of the cross of cedar; for cedar may not, in earth nor water, rot, and therefore they would that it should have lasted long. For they trowed that the body of Christ should have stunken, they made that piece, that went from the earth upwards of cypress, for it is well-smelling, so that the smell of his body should not grieve men that went forby. And the overthwart piece was of palm, for in the Old Testament it was ordained, that when one was overcome he should be crowned with palm; and for they trowed that they had the victory of Christ Jesus, therefore made they the overthwart piece of palm. And the table of the title they made of olive; for olive betokeneth peace, as the story of Noe witnesseth; when that the culver brought the branch of olive, that betokened peace made between God and man. And so trowed the Jews for to have peace, when Christ was dead; for they said that he made discord and strife amongst them. And ye shall understand that our Lord was y-nailed on the cross lying, and therefore he suffered the more pain.
And the Christian men, that dwell beyond the sea, in Greece, say that the tree of the cross, that we call cypress, was of that tree that Adam ate the apple off; and that find they written. And they say also, that their scripture saith, that Adam was sick, and said to his son Seth, that he should go to the angel that kept Paradise, that he would send him oil of mercy, for to anoint with his members, that he might have health. And Seth went. But the angel would not let him come in; but said to him, that he might not have of the oil of mercy. But he took him three grains of the same tree, that his father ate the apple off; and bade him, as soon as his father was dead, that he should put these three grains under his tongue, and grave him so: and so he did. And of these three grains sprang a tree, as the angel said that it should, and bare a fruit, through the which fruit Adam should be saved. And when Seth came again, he found his father near dead. And when he was dead, he did with the grains as the angel bade him; of the which sprung three trees, of the which the cross was made, that bare good fruit and blessed, our Lord Jesu Christ; through whom, Adam and all that come of him, should be saved and delivered from dread of death without end, but it be their own default.
This holy cross had the Jews hid in the earth, under a rock of the mount of Calvary; and it lay there two hundred year and more, into the time that St. Helen, that was mother to Constantine the Emperor of Rome. And she was daughter of King Coel, born in Colchester, that was King of England, that was clept then Britain the more; the which the Emperor Constance wedded to his wife, for her beauty, and gat upon her Constantine, that was after Emperor of Rome, and King of England.
And ye shall understand, that the cross of our Lord was eight cubits long, and the overthwart piece was of length three cubits and a half. And one part of the crown of our Lord, wherewith he was crowned, and one of the nails, and the spear head, and many other relics be in France, in the king's chapel. And the crown lieth in a vessel of crystal richly dight. For a king of France bought these relics some time of the Jews, to whom the emperor had laid them in wed for a great sum of silver.
And if all it be so, that men say, that this crown is of thorns, ye shall understand, that it was of jonkes of the sea, that is to say, rushes of the sea, that prick as sharply as thorns. For I have seen and beholden many times that of Paris and that of Constantinople; for they were both one, made of rushes of the sea. But men have departed them in two parts: of the which, one part is at Paris, and the other part is at Constantinople. And I have one of those precious thorns, that seemeth like a white thorn; and that was given to me for great specialty. For there are many of them broken and fallen into the vessel that the crown lieth in; for they break for dryness when men move them to show them to great lords that come thither.
And ye shall understand, that our Lord Jesu, in that night that he was taken, he was led into a garden; and there he was first examined right sharply; and there the Jews scorned him, and made him a crown of the branches of albespine, that is white thorn, that grew in that same garden, and set it on his head, so fast and so sore, that the blood ran down by many places of his visage, and of his neck, and of his shoulders. And therefore hath the white thorn many virtues, for he that beareth a branch on him thereof, no thunder ne no manner of tempest may dere him; nor in the house, that it is in, may no evil ghost enter nor come unto the place that it is in. And in that same garden, Saint Peter denied our Lord thrice.
Afterward was our Lord led forth before the bishops and the masters of the law, into another garden of Annas; and there also he was examined, reproved, and scorned, and crowned eft with a sweet thorn, that men clepeth barbarines, that grew in that garden, and that hath also many virtues.
And afterward he was led into a garden of Caiphas, and there he was crowned with eglantine.
And after he was led into the chamber of Pilate, and there he was examined and crowned. And the Jews set him in a chair, and clad him in a mantle; and there made they the crown of jonkes of the sea; and there they kneeled to him, and scorned him, saying, Ave, Rex Judeorum! that is to say, 'Hail, King of Jews!' And of this crown, half is at Paris, and the other half at Constantinople. And this crown had Christ on his head, when he was done upon the cross; and therefore ought men to worship it and hold it more worthy than any of the others.
And the spear shaft hath the Emperor of Almayne; but the head is at Paris. And natheles the Emperor of Constantinople saith that he hath the spear head; and I have often time seen it, but it is greater than that at Paris.CHAPTER 3
Of the City of Constantinople, and of the Faith of Greeks
AT Constantinople lieth Saint Anne, our Lady's mother, whom Saint Helen let bring from Jerusalem. And there lieth also the body of John Chrisostome, that was Archbishop of Constantinople. And there lieth also Saint Luke the Evangelist: for his bones were brought from Bethany, where he was buried. And many other relics be there. And there is the vessel of stone, as it were of marble, that men clepe enydros, that evermore droppeth water, and filleth himself every year, till that it go over above, without that that men take from within.
Constantinople is a full fair city, and a good, and well walled; and it is three-cornered. And there is an arm of the sea Hellespont: and some men call it the Mouth of Constantinople; and some men call it the Brace of Saint George: and that arm closeth the two parts of the city. And upward to the sea, upon the water, was wont to be the great city of Troy, in a full fair plain: but that city was destroyed by them of Greece, and little appeareth thereof, because it is so long sith it was destroyed.
About Greece there be many isles, as Calliste, Calcas, Oertige, Tesbria, Mynia, Flaxon, Melo, Carpate, and Lemnos. And in this isle is the mount Athos, that passeth the clouds. And there be many diverse languages and many countries, that be obedient to the emperor; that is to say, Turcople, Pyncynard, Comange, and many other, as Thrace and Macedonia, of the which Alexander was king. In this country was Aristotle born, in a city that men clepe Stagyra, a little from the city of Thrace. And at Stagyra lieth Aristotle; and there is an altar upon his tomb. And there make men great feasts for him every year, as though he were a saint. And at his altar they holden their great councils and their assemblies, and they hope, that through inspiration of God and of him, they shall have the better council.
In this country be right high hills, toward the end of Macedonia. And there is a great hill, that men clepe Olympus, that departeth Macedonia and Thrace. And it is so high, that it passeth the clouds. And there is another hill, that is clept Athos, that is so high, that the shadow of him reacheth to Lemne, that is an isle; and it is seventy-six mile between. And above at the cop of the hill is the air so clear, that men may find no wind there, and therefore may no beast live there, so is the air dry.
Excerpted from The Travels of Sir John Mandeville by John Mandeville. Copyright © 2006 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
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Posted October 10, 2008
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