37 From: The Travels of Sir John Mandeville

“Full-page Portrait of Sir John Mandeville” by unknown artist, c. 1459. Wikimedia Commons.


by Ana Jalomo


Sir John Mandeville was the alleged author of The Travels of Sir John Mandeville, an autobiography and travelogue which first appeared between 1357 and 1371. The narrator identifies himself as “a knight of St. Albans,” a town northwest of London. However, nineteenth-century scholars concluded that the content of the book had been largely plagiarized and adapted from previous travel accounts and there are numerous theories as to who the real author was. More recent scholars point to “Jan de Langhe, a Fleming who wrote in Latin under the name Johannes Longus” (1315-1383) who was also a Benedictine monk and avid collector of travelogues himself (“John Mandeville”). Though clearly drawn from 11th and 12th-century source material, it proved wildly popular in its day and was translated into at least ten different languages and circulated throughout Europe. The book was intended to be a guidebook for pilgrims but by the time readers read the book in the 13th century, the information was largely outdated (“Sir John Mandeville”).  It survives in about 300 manuscripts in total and the English version first surfaced in about 1375. The author relays tales of real-world adventure mixed with obvious embellishment and fantastical elements to create a compelling account of globetrotting over 100 years before Columbus would set sail for the Americas.



The Travels of Sir John Mandeville consists of 35 chapters and a prologue. In the selection below, we focus on the prologue and four other chapters. In the prologue, the author explains that his account was written as a guidebook for pilgrims venturing to the holy land and translated from “Latin into French, and translated it again out of French into English, that every man of [his] nation may understand it” (Mandeville).  We begin with chapter seven describing Egypt and its surroundings; in the desert, Mandeville and his companions encounter a monster that looks like a man with two horns on his forehead. Chapter fifteen examines the religious beliefs of the Saracens as well as the origins of Mohammad (Mahomet). John Mandeville writes about the book of the Gospels of their Lord named Missus est Angel Gabriel. Chapter 20 explains how Mandeville thought the earth and sea were of round form, proved by the south star.  Chapter 29 describes the Chinese emperors that are enclosed by the Great Wall of China. In this quest through the country that he sees more griffins than in any other county.



As one of the most popular medieval secular texts, the “central element” seems to be “the text’s fixation on Jerusalem as the center of the world and rightful inheritance of Christendom and recalling crusader history” (Norako). The Travels of Sir John Mandeville begins with similar guides to the Holy Land emphasizing the importance of the Christian community. Throughout their journey, geographic centrality is emphasized reminding the audience that Jerusalem is the world’s center. The Travels may contain facts and knowledge of actual travels and residence in the eastern world, though it is apparent that the stories are blended with facts and fantasy revealing deeply-held and historic attitudes towards other races and religions.

Works Cited

“John Mandeville.” Wikipedia. 02 Nov. 2019. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Mandeville Accessed 09 Dec. 2019.

Mandeville, John. “From: The Travels of Sir John Mandeville.” An Open Companion to British Literature I.  Pressbooks, 2019. https://earlybritishlit.pressbooks.com/chapter/from-the-travels-of-sir-john-mandeville/ Accessed 09 Dec. 2019.

Norako, Leila K. “The Travels of Sir John Mandeville.” The Crusades Project, University of Rochester. N.d. d.lib.rochester.edu/crusades/text/the-travels-of-sir-john-mandeville Accessed 09 Dec. 2019.

“Sir John Mandeville.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 13 May 2012, http://www.britannica.com/biography/John-Mandeville Accessed 09 Dec. 2019.

Discussion Questions

  1. Does the mystery surrounding the existence of a historical John Mandeville influence the reading of this work?
  2. Sir John Mandeville collected many traveling stories and his intention was to create a guideline for pilgrims exploring the holy land. Why would he alter their stories?
  3. What stereotypes do you see already forming here about other countries, other lands in this text?
  4. Why do you believe this book explored religious differences through the use of fantasy?
  5. Why do you believe this story has survived for this long and what made it so popular?

Further Resources

  • A video clip of Bookworm History’s review of The Travels of Sir John Mandeville
  • A blog post by Volodymyr Bilyk on Medium looking at the book, the author, and the journey
  • A site called “Mapping Mandeville” that has a visual map representing the journey of Mandeville

Reading: From The Travels of Sir John Mandeville



For as much as the land beyond the sea, that is to say the Holy Land, that men call the Land of Promission or of Behest, passing all other lands, is the most worthy land, most excellent, and lady and sovereign of all other lands, and is blessed and hallowed of the precious body and blood of our Lord Jesu Christ; in the which land it liked him to take flesh and blood of the Virgin Mary, to environ that holy land with his blessed feet; and there he would of his blessedness enombre him in the said blessed and glorious Virgin Mary, and become man, and work many miracles, and preach and teach the faith and the law of Christian men unto his children; and there it liked him to suffer many reprovings and scorns for us; and he that was king of heaven, of air, of earth, of sea and of all things that be contained in them, would all only be clept king of that land, when he said, Rex sum Judeorum, that is to say, ‘I am King of Jews’; and that land he chose before all other lands, as the best and most worthy land, and the most virtuous land of all the world: for it is the heart and the midst of all the world, witnessing the philosopher, that saith thus, Virtus rerum in medio consistit, that is to say, ‘The virtue of things is in the midst’; and in that land he would lead his life, and suffer passion and death of Jews, for us, to buy and to deliver us from pains of hell, and from death without end; the which was ordained for us, for the sin of our forme-father Adam, and for our own sins also; for as for himself, he had no evil deserved: for he thought never evil ne did evil: and he that was king of glory and of joy, might best in that place suffer death; because he chose in that land rather than in any other, there to suffer his passion and his death.  For he that will publish anything to make it openly known, he will make it to be cried and pronounced in the middle place of a town; so that the thing that is proclaimed and pronounced, may evenly stretch to all parts: right so, he that was former of all the world, would suffer for us at Jerusalem, that is the midst of the world; to that end and intent, that his passion and his death, that was published there, might be known evenly to all parts of the world.

See now, how dear he bought man, that he made after his own image, and how dear he again-bought us, for the great love that he had to us, and we never deserved it to him.  For more precious chattel ne greater ransom ne might he put for us, than his blessed body, his precious blood, and his holy life, that he thralled for us; and all he offered for us that never did sin.

Ah dear God!  What love had he to us his subjects, when he that never trespassed, would for trespassers suffer death!  Right well ought us for to love and worship, to dread and serve such a Lord; and to worship and praise such an holy land, that brought forth such fruit, through the which every man is saved, but it be his own default.  Well may that land be called delectable and a fructuous land, that was be-bled and moisted with the precious blood of our Lord Jesu Christ; the which is the same land that our Lord behight us in heritage.  And in that land he would die, as seised, to leave it to us, his children.

Wherefore every good Christian man, that is of power, and hath whereof, should pain him with all his strength for to conquer our right heritage, and chase out all the misbelieving men.  For we be clept Christian men, after Christ our Father.  And if we be right children of Christ, we ought. for to challenge the heritage, that our Father left us, and do it out of heathen men’s hands.  But now pride, covetise, and envy have so inflamed the hearts of lords of the world, that they are more busy for to dis-herit their neighbours, more than for to challenge or to conquer their right heritage before-said.  And the common people, that would put their bodies and their chattels, to conquer our heritage, they may not do it without the lords.  For a sembly of people without a chieftain, or a chief lord, is as a flock of sheep without a shepherd; the which departeth and disperpleth and wit never whither to go.  But would God, that the temporal lords and all worldly lords were at good accord, and with the common people would take this holy voyage over the sea!  Then I trow well, that within a little time, our right heritage before-said should be reconciled and put in the hands of the right heirs of Jesu Christ.

And, for as much as it is long time passed, that there was no general passage ne voyage over the sea; and many men desire for to hear speak of the Holy Land, and have thereof great solace and comfort; I, John Mandeville, Knight, albeit I be not worthy, that was born in England, in the town of St. Albans, and passed the sea in the year of our Lord Jesu Christ, 1322, in the day of St. Michael; and hitherto 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; and I shall devise you of some part of things that there be, when time shall be, after it may best come to my mind; and specially for them, that will and are in purpose for to visit the Holy City of Jerusalem and the holy places that are thereabout.  And I shall tell the way that they shall hold thither.  For I have often times passed and ridden that way, with good company of many lords.  God be thanked!

And 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.  But lords and knights and other noble and worthy men that con Latin but little, and have been beyond the sea, know and understand, if I say truth or no, and if I err in devising, for forgetting or else, that they may redress it and amend it.  For things passed out of long time from a man’s mind or from his sight, turn soon into forgetting; because that mind of man ne may not be comprehended ne withholden, for the frailty of mankind.



Of the Country of Egyptof the Bird Phoenix of Arabiaof the City of Cairoof the Cunning to know Balm and to prove itand of the Garners of Joseph.

Egypt is a long country, but it is straight, that is to say narrow, for they may not enlarge it toward the desert for default of water.  And the country is set along upon the river of Nile, by as much as that river may serve by floods or otherwise, that when it floweth it may spread abroad through the country; so is the country large of length.  For there it raineth not but little in that country, and for that cause they have no water, but if it be of that flood of that river.  And forasmuch as it ne raineth not in that country, but the air is alway pure and clear, therefore in that country be the good astronomers, for they find there no clouds to letten them.  Also the city of Cairo is right great and more huge than that of Babylon the less, and it sitteth above toward the desert of Syria, a little above the river above-said.

In Egypt there be two parts: the height, that is toward Ethiopia, and the lower, that is toward Arabia.  In Egypt is the land of Rameses and the land of Goshen.  Egypt is a strong country, for it hath many shrewd havens because of the great rocks that be strong and dangerous to pass by.  And at Egypt, toward the east, is the Red Sea, that dureth unto the city of Coston; and toward the west is the country of Lybia, that is a full dry land and little of fruit, for it is overmuch plenty of heat, and that land is clept Fusthe.  And toward the part meridional is Ethiopia.  And toward the north is the desert, that dureth unto Syria, and so is the country strong on all sides.  And it is well a fifteen journeys of length, and more than two so much of desert, and it is but two journeys in largeness.  And between Egypt and Nubia it hath well a twelve journeys of desert.  And men of Nubia be Christian, but they be black as the Moors for great heat of the sun.

In Egypt there be five provinces: that one is Sahythe; that other Demeseer; another Resith, that is an isle in the Nile; another Alexandria; and another the land of Damietta.  That city was wont to be right strong, but it was twice won of the Christian men, and therefore after that the Saracens beat down the walls; and with the walls the tower thereof, the Saracens made another city more far from the sea, and clept it the new Damietta; so that now no man dwelleth at the rather town of Damietta.  At that city of Damietta is one of the havens of Egypt; and at Alexandria is that other.  That is a full strong city, but there is no water to drink, but if it come by conduit from Nile, that entereth into their cisterns; and whoso stopped that water from them, they might not endure there.  In Egypt there be but few forcelets or castles, because that the country is so strong of himself.

At the deserts of Egypt was a worthy man, that was an holy hermit, and there met with him a monster (that is to say, a monster is a thing deformed against kind both of man or of beast or of anything else, and that is clept a monster).  And this monster, that met with this holy hermit, was as it had been a man, that had two horns trenchant on his forehead; and he had a body like a man unto the navel, and beneath he had the body like a goat.  And the hermit asked him what he was.  And the monster answered him, and said he was a deadly creature, such as God had formed, and dwelt in those deserts in purchasing his sustenance.  And [he] besought the hermit, that he would pray God for him, the which that came from heaven for to save all mankind, and was born of a maiden and suffered passion and death (as we well know) and by whom we live and be.  And yet is the head with the two horns of that monster at Alexandria for a marvel.

In Egypt is the city of Heliopolis, that is to say, the city of the Sun.  In that city there is a temple, made round after the shape of the Temple of Jerusalem.  The priests of that temple have all their writings, under the date of the fowl that is clept phoenix; and there is none but one in all the world.  And he cometh to burn himself upon the altar of that temple at the end of five hundred year; for so long he liveth.  And at the five hundred years’ end, the priests array their altar honestly, and put thereupon spices and sulphur vif and other things that will burn lightly; and then the bird phoenix cometh and burneth himself to ashes.  And the first day next after, men find in the ashes a worm; and the second day next after, men find a bird quick and perfect; and the third day next after, he flieth his way.  And so there is no more birds of that kind in all the world, but it alone, and truly that is a great miracle of God.  And men may well liken that bird unto God, because that there ne is no God but one; and also, that our Lord arose from death to life the third day.  This bird men see often-time fly in those countries; and he is not mickle more than an eagle.  And he hath a crest of feathers upon his head more great than the peacock hath; and is neck his yellow after colour of an oriel that is a stone well shining, and his beak is coloured blue as ind; and his wings be of purple colour, and his tail is barred overthwart with green and yellow and red.  And he is a full fair bird to look upon, against the sun, for he shineth full gloriously and nobly.

Also in Egypt be gardens, that have trees and herbs, the which bear fruits seven times in the year.  And in that land men find many fair emeralds and enough; and therefore they be greater cheap.  Also when it raineth once in the summer in the land of Egypt, then is all the country full of great mires.  Also at Cairo, that I spake of before, sell men commonly both men and women of other laws as we do here beasts in the market.  And there is a common house in that city that is all full of small furnaces, and thither bring women of the town their eyren of hens, of geese, and or ducks for to be put into those furnaces.  And they that keep that house cover them with heat of horse dung, without hen, goose or duck or any other fowl.  And at the end of three weeks or of a month they come again and take their chickens and flourish them and bring them forth, so that all the country is full of them.  And so men do there both winter and summer.

Also in that country and in others also, men find long apples to sell, in their season, and men clepe them apples of Paradise; and they be right sweet and of good savour.  And though ye cut them in never so many gobbets or parts, overthwart or endlong, evermore ye shall find in the midst the figure of the Holy Cross of our Lord Jesu.  But they will rot within eight days, and for that cause men may not carry of those apples to no far countries; of them men find the mountance of a hundred in a basket, and they have great leaves of a foot and a half of length, and they be convenably large.  And men find there also the apple tree of Adam, that have a bite at one of the sides; and there be also fig trees that bear no leaves, but figs upon the small branches; and men clepe them figs of Pharaoh.

Also beside Cairo, without that city, is the field where balm groweth; and it cometh out on small trees, that be none higher than to a man’s breeks’ girdle, and they seem as wood that is of the wild vine.  And in that field be seven wells, that our Lord Jesu Christ made with one of his feet, when he went to play with other children.  That field is not so well closed, but that men may enter at their own list; but in that season that the balm is growing, men put thereto good keeping, that no man dare be hardy to enter.

This balm groweth in no place, but only there.  And though that men bring of the plants, for to plant in other countries, they grow well and fair; but they bring forth no fructuous thing, and the leaves of balm fall not.  And men cut the branches with a sharp flintstone, or with a sharp bone, when men will go to cut them; for whoso cut them with iron, it would destroy his virtue and his nature.

And the Saracens clepe the wood Enonch-balse, and the fruit, the which is as cubebs, they clepe Abebissam, and the liquor that droppeth from the branches they clepe Guybalse.  And men make always that balm to be tilled of the Christian men, or else it would not fructify; as the Saracens say themselves, for it hath been often-time proved.  Men say also, that the balm groweth in Ind the more, in that desert where Alexander spake to the trees of the sun and of the moon, but I have not seen it; for I have not been so far above upward, because that there be too many perilous passages.

And wit ye well, that a man ought to take good keep for to buy balm, but if he con know it right well, for he may right lightly be deceived.  For men sell a gum, that men clepe turpentine, instead of balm, and they put thereto a little balm for to give good odour.  And some put wax in oil of the wood of the fruit of balm, and say that it is balm.  And some distil cloves of gilofre and of spikenard of Spain and of other spices, that be well smelling; and the liquor that goeth out thereof they clepe it balm, and they think that they have balm, and they have none.  For the Saracens counterfeit it by subtlety of craft for to deceive the Christian men, as I have seen full many a time; and after them the p. 35merchants and the apothecaries counterfeit it eft sones, and then it is less worth, and a great deal worse.

But if it like you, I shall shew how ye shall know and prove, to the end that ye shall not be deceived.  First ye shall well know, that the natural balm is full clear, and of citron colour and strongly smelling; and if it be thick, or red or black, it is sophisticate, that is to say, counterfeited and made like it for deceit.  And understand, that if ye will put a little balm in the palm of your hand against the sun, if it be fine and good, ye ne shall not suffer your hand against the heat of the sun.  Also take a little balm with the point of a knife, and touch it to the fire, and if it burn it is a good sign.  After take also a drop of balm, and put it into a dish, or in a cup with milk of a goat, and if it be natural balm anon it will take and beclippe the milk.  Or put a drop of balm in clear water in a cup of silver or in a clear basin, stir it well with the clear water; and if the balm be fine and of his own kind, the water shall never trouble; and if the balm be sophisticate, that is to say counterfeited, the water shall become anon trouble; and also if the balm be fine it shall fall to the bottom of the vessel, as though it were quicksilver, for the fine balm is more heavy twice than is the balm that is sophisticate and counterfeited.  Now I have spoken of balm.

And now also I shall speak of another thing that is beyond Babylon, above the flood of the Nile, toward the desert between Africa and Egypt; that is to say, of the garners of Joseph, that he let make for to keep the grains for the peril of the dear years.  And they be made of stone, full well made of masons’ craft; of the which two be marvellously great and high, and the tother ne be not so great.  And every garner hath a gate for to enter within, a little high from the earth; for the land is wasted and fallen since the garners were made.  And within they be all full of serpents.  And above the garners without be many scriptures of diverse languages.  And some men say, that they be sepultures of great lords, that were sometime, but that is not true, for all the common rumour and speech is of all the people there, both far and near, that they be the p. 36garners of Joseph; and so find they in their scriptures, and in their chronicles.  On the other part, if they were sepultures, they should not be void within, ne they should have no gates for to enter within; for ye may well know, that tombs and sepultures be not made of such greatness, nor of such highness; wherefore it is not to believe, that they be tombs or sepultures.

In Egypt also there be diverse languages and diverse letters, and of other manner and condition than there be in other parts.  As I shall devise you, such as they be, and the names how they clepe them, to such intent, that ye may know the difference of them and of others,—Athoimis, Bimchi, Chinok, Duram, Eni, Fin, Gomor, Heket, Janny, Karacta, Luzanin, Miche, Naryn, Oldach, Pilon, Qyn, Yron, Sichen, Thola, Urmron, Yph and Zarm, Thoit.


Chapter 15

Of the Customs of Saracensand of their Law.  And how the Soldan reasoned meAuthor of this Bookand of the beginning of Mohammet

Now, because that I have spoken of Saracens and of their country—now, if ye will know a part of their law and of their belief, I shall tell you after that their book that is clept Alkaron telleth.  And some men clepe that book Meshaf.  And some men clepe it Harme, after the diverse languages of the country.  The which book Mohammet took them.  In the which book, among other things, is written, as I have often-time seen and read, that the good shall go to paradise, and the evil to hell; and that believe all Saracens.  And if a man ask them what paradise they mean, they say, to paradise that is a place of delights where men shall find all manner of fruits in all seasons, and rivers running of milk and honey, and of wine and of sweet water; and that they shall have fair houses and noble, every man after his desert, made of precious stones and of gold and of silver; and that every man shall have four score wives all maidens, and he shall have ado every day with them, and yet he shall find them always maidens.

Also they believe and speak gladly of the Virgin Mary and of the Incarnation.  And they say that Mary was taught of the angel; and that Gabriel said to her, that she was for-chosen from the beginning of the world and that he shewed to her the Incarnation of Jesu Christ and that she conceived and bare child maiden; and that witnesseth their book.

And they say also, that Jesu Christ spake as soon as he was born; and that he was an holy prophet and a true in word and deed, and meek and piteous and rightful and without any vice.

And they say also, that when the angel shewed the Incarnation of Christ unto Mary, she was young and had great dread.  For there was then an enchanter in the country that dealt with witchcraft, that men clept Taknia, that by his enchantments could make him in likeness of an angel, and went often-times and lay with maidens.  And therefore Mary dreaded lest it had been Taknia, that came for to deceive the maidens.  And therefore she conjured the angel, that he should tell her if it were he or no.  And the angel answered and said that she should have no dread of him, for he was very messenger of Jesu Christ.  Also their book saith, that when that she had childed under a palm tree she had great shame, that she had a child; and she greet and said that she would that she had been dead.  And anon the child spake to her and comforted her, and said, “Mother, ne dismay thee nought, for God hath hid in thee his privities for the salvation of the world.”  And in other many places saith their Alkaron, that Jesu Christ spake as soon as he was born.  And that book saith also that Jesu was sent from God Almighty for to be mirror and example and token to all men.

And the Alkaron saith also of the day of doom how God shall come to doom all manner of folk.  And the good he shall draw on his side and put them into bliss, and the wicked he shall condemn to the pains of hell.  And among all prophets Jesu was the most excellent and the most worthy next God, and that he made the gospels in the which is good doctrine and healthful, full of clarity and soothfastness and true preaching to them that believe in God.  And that he was a very prophet and more than a prophet, and lived without sin, and gave sight to the blind, and healed the lepers, and raised dead men, and styed to heaven.

And when they may hold the Book of the Gospels of our Lord written and namely Missus est Angelus Gabriel, that gospel they say, those that be lettered, often-times in their orisons, and they kiss it and worship it with great devotion.

They fast an whole month in the year and eat nought but by night.  And they keep them from their wives all that month.  But the sick men be not constrained to that fast.

Also this book speaketh of Jews and saith that they be cursed; for they would not believe that Jesu Christ was come of God.  And that they lied falsely on Mary and on her son Jesu Christ, saying that they had crucified Jesu the son of Mary; for he was never crucified, as they say, but that God made him to sty up to him without death and without annoy.  But he transfigured his likeness into Judas Iscariot, and him crucified the Jews, and weened that it had been Jesus.  But Jesus styed to heavens all quick.  And therefore they say, that the Christian men err and have no good knowledge of this, and that they believe folily and falsely that Jesu Christ was crucified.  And they say yet, that and he had been crucified, that God had done against his righteousness for to suffer Jesu Christ, that was innocent, to be put upon the cross without guilt.  And in this article they say that we fail and that the great righteousness of God might not suffer so great a wrong: and in this faileth their faith.  For they knowledge well, that the works of Jesu Christ be good, and his words and his deeds and his doctrine by his gospels were true, and his miracles also true; and the blessed Virgin Mary is good, and holy maiden before and after the birth of Jesu Christ; and that all those that believe perfectly in God shall be saved.  And because that they go so nigh our faith, they be lightly converted to Christian law when men preach them and shew them distinctly the law of Jesu Christ, and when they tell them of the prophecies.

And also they say, that they know well by the prophecies that the law of Mahomet shall fail, as the law of the Jews did; and that the law of Christian people shall last to the day of doom.  And if any man ask them what is their belief, they answer thus, and in this form: “We believe God, former of heaven and of earth, and of all other things that he made.  And without him is nothing made.  And we believe of the day of doom, and that every man shall have his merit, after he hath deserved.  And, we believe it for sooth, all that God hath said by the mouths of his prophets.”

Also Mahomet commanded in his Alkaron, that every man should have two wives, or three or four; but now they take unto nine, and of lemans as many as he may sustain.  And if any of their wives mis-bear them against their husband, he may cast her out of his house, and depart from her and take another; but he shall depart with her his goods.

Also, when men speak to them of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, they say, that they be three persons, but not one God; for their Alkaron speaketh not of the Trinity.  But they say well, that God hath speech, and else were he dumb.  And God hath also a spirit they know well, for else they say, he were not alive.  And when men speak to them of the Incarnation how that by the word of the angel God sent his wisdom in to earth and enombred him in the Virgin Mary, and by the word of God shall the dead be raised at the day of doom, they say, that it is sooth and that the word of God hath great strength.  And they say that whoso knew not the word of God he should not know God.  And they say also that Jesu Christ is the word of God: and so saith their Alkaron, where it saith that the angel spake to Mary and said: “Mary, God shall preach thee the gospel by the word of his mouth and his name shall be clept Jesu Christ.”

And they say also, that Abraham was friend to God, and that Moses was familiar speaker with God, and Jesu Christ was the word and the spirit of God, and that Mohammet was right messenger of God.  And they say, that of these four, Jesu was the most worthy and the most excellent and the most great.  So that they have many good articles of our faith, albeit that they have no perfect law and faith as Christian men have; and therefore be they lightly converted, and namely those that understand the scriptures and the prophecies.  For they have the gospels and the prophecies and the Bible written in their language; wherefore they ken much of holy writ, but they understand it not but after the letter.  And so do the Jews, for they understand not the letter ghostly, but bodily; and therefore be they reproved of the wise, that ghostly understand it.  And therefore saith Saint Paul: Litera occiditspiritus autem vivificat.  Also the Saracens say, that the Jews be cursed; for they have befouled the law that God sent them by Moses: and the Christian be cursed also, as they say; for they keep not the commandments and the precepts of the gospel that Jesu Christ taught them.

And, therefore, I shall tell you what the soldan told me upon a day in his chamber.  He let void out of his chamber all manner of men, lords and others, for he would speak with me in counsel.  And there he asked me how the Christian men governed them in our country.  And I said him, “Right well, thanked be God!”

And he said me, “Truly nay!  For ye Christian ne reck right nought, how untruly to serve God!  Ye should give ensample to the lewd people for to do well, and ye give them ensample to do evil.  For the commons, upon festival days, when they should go to church to serve God, then go they to taverns, and be there in gluttony all the day and all night, and eat and drink as beasts that have no reason, and wit not when they have enough.  And also the Christian men enforce themselves in all manners that they may, for to fight and for to deceive that one that other.  And therewithal they be so proud, that they know not how to be clothed; now long, now short, now strait, now large, now sworded, now daggered, and in all manner guises.  They should be simple, meek and true, and full of alms-deeds, as Jesu was, in whom they trow; but they be all the contrary, and ever inclined to the evil, and to do evil.  And they be so covetous, that, for a little silver, they sell their daughters, their sisters and their own wives to put them to lechery.  And one withdraweth the wife of another, and none of them holdeth faith to another; but they defoul their law that Jesu Christ betook them to keep for their salvation.  And thus, for their sins, have they lost all this land that we hold.  For, for their sins, their God hath taken them into our hands, not only by strength of ourself, but for their sins.  For we know well, in very sooth, that when ye serve God, God will help you; and when he is with you, no man may be against you.  And that know we well by our prophecies, that Christian men shall win again this land out of our hands, when they serve God more devoutly; but as long as they be of foul and of unclean living (as they be now) we have no dread of them in no kind, for their God will not help them in no wise.”

And then I asked him, how he knew the state of Christian men.  And he answered me, that he knew all the state of all courts of Christian kings and princes and the state of the commons also by his messengers that he sent to all lands, in manner as they were merchants of precious stones, of cloths of gold and of other things, for to know the manner of every country amongst Christian men.  And then he let clepe in all the lords that he made void first out of his chamber, and there he shewed me four that were great lords in the country, that told me of my country and of many other Christian countries, as well as they had been of the same country; and they spake French right well, and the soldan also; whereof I had great marvel.

Alas! that it is great slander to our faith and to our law, when folk that be without law shall reprove us and undernim us of our sins, and they that should be converted to Christ and to the law of Jesu by our good ensamples and by our acceptable life to God, and so converted to the law of Jesu Christ, be, through our wickedness and evil living, far from us and strangers from the holy and very belief, shall thus appeal us and hold us for wicked livers and cursed.  And truly they say sooth, for the Saracens be good and faithful; for they keep entirely the commandment of the holy book Alkaron that God sent them by his messenger Mahomet, to the which, as they say, Saint Gabriel the angel oftentime told the will of God.

And ye shall understand, that Mahomet was born in Arabia, that was first a poor knave that kept camels, that went with merchants for merchandise.  And so befell, that he went with the merchants into Egypt; and they were then Christian in those parts.  And at the deserts of Arabia, he went into a chapel where a hermit dwelt.  And when he entered into the chapel that was but a little and a low thing and had but a little door and a low, then the entry began to wax so great, and so large and so high as though it had been of a great minster or the gate of a palace.  And this was the first miracle, the Saracens say, that Mahomet did in his youth.

After began he for to wax wise and rich.  And he was a great astronomer.  And after, he was governor and prince of the land of Cozrodane; and he governed it full wisely, in such manner, that when the prince was dead, he took the lady to wife that hight Gadrige.  And Mahomet fell often in the great sickness that men call the falling evil; wherefore the lady was full sorry that ever she took him to husband.  But Mahomet made her to believe, that all p. 95times, when he fell so, Gabriel the angel came for to speak with him, and for the great light and brightness of the angel he might not sustain him from falling; and therefore the Saracens say, that Gabriel came often to speak with him.

This Mahomet reigned in Arabia, the year of our Lord Jesu Christ 610, and was of the generation of Ishmael that was Abraham’s son, that he gat upon Hagar his chamberer.  And therefore there be Saracens that be clept Ishmaelites; and some Hagarenes, of Hagar.  And the other properly be clept Saracens, of Sarah.  And some be clept Moabites and some Ammonites, for the two sons of Lot, Moab and Ammon, that he begat on his daughters that were afterward great earthly princes.

And also Mahomet loved well a good hermit that dwelled in the deserts a mile from Mount Sinai, in the way that men go from Arabia toward Chaldea and toward Ind, one day’s journey from the sea, where the merchants of Venice come often for merchandise.  And so often went Mahomet to this hermit, that all his men were wroth; for he would gladly hear this hermit preach and make his men wake all night.  And therefore his men thought to put the hermit to death.  And so it befell upon a night, that Mahomet was drunken of good wine, and he fell on sleep.  And his men took Mahomet’s sword out of his sheath, whiles he slept, and therewith they slew this hermit, and put his sword all bloody in his sheath again.  And at morrow, when he found the hermit dead, he was full sorry and wroth, and would have done his men to death.  But they all, with one accord, said that he himself had slain him, when he was drunken, and shewed him his sword all bloody.  And he trowed that they had said sooth.  And then he cursed the wine and all those that drink it.  And therefore Saracens that be devout drink never no wine.  But some drink it privily; for if they drunk it openly, they should be reproved.  But they drink good beverage and sweet and nourishing that is made of gallamelle and that is that men make sugar of, that is of right good savour, and it is good for the breast.

Also it befalleth some-time, that Christian men become Saracens, either for poverty or for simpleness, or else for their own wickedness.  And therefore the archflamen or the flamen, as our archbishop or bishop, when he receiveth them saith thus: La ellec olla SilaMachomete rores alla; that is to say, ‘There is no God but one, and Mahomet his messenger.’

Now I have told you a part of their law and of their customs, I shall say you of their letters that they have, with their names and the manner of their figures what they be: Almoy, Bethath, Cathi, Ephoti, Delphoi, Fothi, Garothi, Hechum, Iotty, Kaythi, Lothum, Malach, Nabaloth, Orthi, Chesiri, ȝoch, Ruth, Holath, Routhi, Salathi, Thatimus, Yrthom, Aȝaȝoth, Arrocchi, ȝotipyn, Ichetus.  And these be the names of their a. b. c.  Now shall ye know the figures. . . . And four letters they have more than other for diversity of their language and speech, forasmuch as they speak in their throats; and we in England have in our language and speech two letters more than they have in their a. b. c.; and that is Þ and ȝ, which be clept thorn and ȝogh.


Chapter 20

Of the evil customs used in the Isle of Lamary.  And how the earth and the sea be of round form and shapeby proof of the star that is clept Antarcticthat is fixed in the south

From that country go men by the sea ocean, and by many divers isles and by many countries that were too long for to tell of.  And a fifty-two journeys from this land that I have spoken of, there is another land, that is full great, that men clepe Lamary.  In that land is full great heat.  And the custom there is such, that men and women go all naked.  And they scorn when they see any strange folk going clothed.  And they say, that God made Adam and Eve all naked, and that no man should shame him to shew him such as God made him, for nothing is foul that is of kindly nature.  And they say, that they that be clothed be folk of another world, or they be folk that trow not in God.  And they say, that they believe in God that formed the world, and that made Adam and Eve and all other things.  And they wed there no wives, for all the women there be common and they forsake no man.  And they say they sin if they refuse any man; and so God commanded to Adam and Eve and to all that come of him, when he said, Crescite et multiplicamini et replete terram.  And therefore may no man in that country say, This is my wife; ne no woman may say, This my husband.  And when they have children, they may give them to what man they will that hath companied with them.  And also all the land is common; for all that a man holdeth one year, another man hath it another year; and every man taketh what part that him liketh.  And also all the goods of the land be common, corns and all other things: for nothing there is kept in close, ne nothing there is under lock, and every man there taketh what he will without any contradiction, and as rich is one man there as is another.

But in that country there is a cursed custom, for they eat more gladly man’s flesh than any other flesh; and yet is that country abundant of flesh, of fish, of corns, of gold and silver, and of all other goods.  Thither go merchants and bring with them children to sell to them of the country, and they buy them.  And if they be fat they eat them anon.  And if they be lean they feed them till they be fat, and then they eat them.  And they say, that it is the best flesh and the sweetest of all the world.

In that land, ne in many other beyond that, no man may see the Star Transmontane, that is clept the Star of the Sea, that is unmovable and that is toward the north, that we clepe the Lode-star.  But men see another star, the contrary to him, that is toward the south, that is clept Antartic.  And right as the ship-men take their advice here and govern them by the Lode-star, right so do ship-men beyond those parts by the star of the south, the which star appeareth not to us.  And this star that is toward the north, that we clepe the Lode-star, ne appeareth not to them.  For which cause men may well perceive, 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.

The which thing I prove thus after that I have seen.  For I have been toward the parts of Brabant, and beholden the Astrolabe that the star that is clept the Transmontane is fifty-three degrees high; and more further in Almayne and Bohemia it hath fifty-eight degrees; and more further toward the parts septentrional it is sixty-two degrees of height and certain minutes; for I myself have measured it by the Astrolabe.  Now shall ye know, that against the Transmontane is the tother star that is clept Antarctic, as I have said before.  And those two stars ne move never, and by them turneth all the firmament right as doth a wheel that turneth by his axle-tree.  So that those stars bear the firmament in two equal parts, so that it hath as much p. 121above as it hath beneath.  After this, I have gone toward the parts meridional, that is, toward the south, and I have found that in Lybia men see first the star Antarctic.  And so far I have gone more further in those countries, that I have found that star more high; so that toward the High Lybia it is eighteen degrees of height and certain minutes (of the which sixty minutes make a degree).  After going by sea and by land toward this country of that I have spoken, and to other isles and lands beyond that country, I have found the Star Antarctic of thirty-three degrees of height and more minutes.  And if I had had company and shipping for to go more beyond, I trow well, in certain, that we should have seen all the roundness of the firmament all about.  For, as I have said to you before, the half of the firmament is between those two stars, the which halvendel I have seen.  And of the tother halvendel I have seen, toward the north under the Transmontane, sixty-two degrees and ten minutes, and toward the part meridional I have seen under the Antarctic, thirty-three degrees and sixteen minutes.  And then, the halvendel of the firmament in all holdeth not but nine score degrees.  And of those nine score, I have seen sixty-two on that one part and thirty-three on that other part; that be, ninety-five degrees and nigh the halvendel of a degree.  And so, there ne faileth but that I have seen all the firmament, save four score and four degrees and the halvendel of a degree, and that is not the fourth part of the firmament; for the fourth part of the roundness of the firmament holds four score and ten degrees, so there faileth but five degrees and an half of the fourth part.  And also I have seen the three parts of all the roundness of the firmament and more yet five degrees and a half.  By the which I say you certainly that men may environ all the earth of all the world, as well under as above, and turn again to his country, that had company and shipping and conduct.  And always he should find men, lands and isles, as well as in this country.  For ye wit well, that they that be toward the Antarctic, they be straight, feet against feet, of them that dwell under the Transmontane; also well as we and they that dwell under us be feet against feet.  For all the parts of sea and of land have their opposites, habitable trepassable, and they of this half and beyond half.

And wit well, that, after that that I may perceive and comprehend, the lands of Prester John, Emperor of Ind, be under us.  For in going from Scotland or from England toward Jerusalem men go upward always.  For our land is in the low part of the earth toward the west, and the land of Prester John is in the low part of the earth toward the east.  And [they] have there the day when we have the night; and also, high to the contrary, they have the night when we have the day.  For the earth and the sea be of round form and shape, as I have said before; and that that men go upward to one coast, men go downward to another coast.

Also ye have heard me say that Jerusalem is in the midst of the world.  And that may men prove, and shew there 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.  And that it should be in the midst of the world, David witnesseth it in the Psalter, where he saith, Deus operatus est salutem in media terrae.  Then, they, that part from those parts of the west for to go toward Jerusalem, as many journeys as they go upward for to go thither, in as many journeys may they go from Jerusalem unto other confines of the superficiality of the earth beyond.  And when men go beyond those journeys toward Ind and to the foreign isles, all is environing the roundness of the earth and of the sea under our countries on this half.

And therefore hath it befallen many times of one thing that I have heard counted when I was young, how a worthy man departed some-time from our countries for to go search the world.  And so he passed Ind and the isles beyond Ind, where be more than 5000 isles.  And so long he went by sea and land, and so environed the world by many seasons, that he found an isle where he heard speak his own language, calling on oxen in the plough, such words as men speak to beasts in his own country whereof he had great marvel, for he knew not how it might be.  But I say, that he had gone so long by land and by sea, that he had environed all the earth; that he was come again environing, that is to say, going about, unto his own marches, and if he would have passed further, till he had found his country and his own knowledge.  But he turned again from thence, from whence he was come from.  And so he lost much painful labour, as himself said a great while after that he was come home.  For it befell after, that he went into Norway.  And there tempest of the sea took him, and he arrived in an isle.  And, when he was in that isle, he knew well that it was the isle, where he had heard speak his own language before and the calling of oxen at the plough; and that was possible thing.

But how it seemeth to simple men unlearned, that men ne may not go under the earth, and also that men should fall toward the heaven from under.  But that may not be, upon less than we may fall toward heaven from the earth where we be.  For from what part of the earth that men dwell, either above or beneath, it seemeth always to them that dwell that they go more right than any other folk.  And right as it seemeth to us that they be under us, right so it seemeth to them that we be under them.  For if a man might fall from the earth unto the firmament, by greater, reason the earth and the sea that be so great and so heavy should fall to the firmament: but that may not be, and therefore saith our Lord God, Non timeas mequi suspendi terram ex nihilo?

And albeit that it be possible thing that men may so environ all the world, natheles, of a thousand persons, one ne might not happen to return into his country.  For, for the greatness of the earth and of the sea, men may go by a thousand and a thousand other ways, that no man could ready him perfectly toward the parts that he came from, but if it were by adventure and hap, or by the grace of God.  For the earth is full large and full great, and holds in roundness and about environ, by above and by beneath, 20425 miles, after the opinion of old wise astronomers; and their sayings I reprove nought.  But, after my little wit, it seemeth me, saving their reverence, that it is more.

And for to have better understanding I say thus.  Be there imagined a figure that hath a great compass.  And, about the point of the great compass that is clept the centre, be made another little compass.  Then after, be the great compass devised by lines in many parts, and that all the lines meet at the centre.  So, that in as many parts as the great compass shall be departed, in as many shall be departed the little, that is about the centre, albeit that the spaces be less.  Now then, be the great compass represented for the firmament, and the little compass represented for the earth.  Now then, the firmament is devised by astronomers in twelve signs, and every sign is devised in thirty degrees; that is, 360 degrees that the firmament hath above.  Also, be the earth devised in as many parts as the firmament, and let every part answer to a degree of the firmament.  And wit it well, that, after the authors of astronomy, 700 furlongs of earth answer to a degree of the firmament, and those be eighty-seven miles and four furlongs.  Now be that here multiplied by 360 sithes, and then they be 31,500 miles every of eight furlongs, after miles of our country.  So much hath the earth in roundness and of height environ, after mine opinion and mine understanding.

And ye shall understand, that after the opinion of old wise philosophers and astronomers, our country ne Ireland ne Wales ne Scotland ne Norway ne the other isles coasting to them ne be not in the superficiality counted above the earth, as it sheweth by all the books of astronomy.  For the superficiality of the earth is parted in seven parts for the seven planets, and those parts be clept climates.  And our parts be not of the seven climates, for they be descending toward the west †[drawing] towards the roundness of the world.  And also these isles of Ind which be even against us be not reckoned in the climates.  For they be against us that be in the low country.  And the seven climates stretch them environing the world.


Chapter 29

Of the Countries and Isles that be beyond the Land of Cathayand of the fruits thereand of twenty-two kings enclosed within the mountains

Now shall I say you, suingly, of countries and isles that be beyond the countries that I have spoken of.

Wherefore I say you, in passing by the land of Cathay toward the high Ind and toward Bacharia, men pass by a kingdom that men clepe Caldilhe, that is a full fair country.

And there groweth a manner of fruit, as though it were gourds.  And when they be ripe, men cut them a-two, and men find within a little beast, in flesh, in bone, and blood, as though it were a little lamb without wool.  And men eat both the fruit and the beast.  And that is a great marvel.  Of that fruit I have eaten, although it were wonderful, but that I know well that God is marvellous in his works.  And, natheles, I told them of as great a marvel to them, that is amongst us, and that was of the Bernakes.  For I told them that in our country were trees that bear a fruit that become birds flying, and those that fell in the water live, and they that fall on the earth die anon, and they be right good to man’s meat.  And hereof had they as great marvel, that some of them trowed it were an impossible thing to be.

In that country be long apples of good savour, whereof be more than an hundred in a cluster, and as many in another; and they have great long leaves and large, of two foot long or more.  And in that country, and in other countries thereabout, grow many trees that bear clove-gylofres and nutmegs, and great nuts of Ind, and of Canell and of many other spices.  And there be vines that bear so great grapes, that a strong man should have enough to do for to bear one cluster with all the grapes.

In that same region be the mountains of Caspian that men clepe Uber in the country.  Between those mountains the Jews of ten lineages be enclosed, that men clepe Goth and Magoth and they may not go out on no side.  There were enclosed twenty-two kings with their people, that dwelled between the mountains of Scythia.  There King Alexander chased them between those mountains, and there he thought for to enclose them through work of his men.  But when he saw that he might not do it, ne bring it to an end, he prayed to God of nature that he would perform that that he had begun.  And all were it so, that he was a paynim and not worthy to be heard, yet God of his grace closed the mountains together, so that they dwell there all fast locked and enclosed with high mountains all about, save only on one side, and on that side is the sea of Caspian.

Now may some men ask, since that the sea is on that one side, wherefore go they not out on the sea side, for to go where that them liketh?

But to this question, I shall answer; that sea of Caspian goeth out by land under the mountains, and runneth by the desert at one side of the country, and after it stretcheth unto the ends of Persia, and although it be clept a sea, it is no sea, ne it toucheth to none other sea, but it is a lake, the greatest of the world; and though they would put them into that sea, they ne wist never where that they should arrive; and also they can no language but only their own, that no man knoweth but they; and therefore may they not go out.

And also ye shall understand, that the Jews have no proper land of their own for to dwell in, in all the world, but only that land between the mountains.  And yet they yield tribute for that land to the Queen of Amazonia, the which that maketh them to be kept in close full diligently, that they shall not go out on no side but by the coast of their land; for their land marcheth to those mountains.

And often it hath befallen, that some of the Jews have gone up the mountains and avaled down to the valleys.  But great number of folk ne may not do so, for the mountains be so high and so straight up, that they must abide there, maugre their might.  For they may not go out, but by a little issue that was made by strength of men, and it lasteth well a four great mile.

And after, is there yet a land all desert, where men may find no water, neither for digging ne for none other thing.  Wherefore men may not dwell in that place, so is it full of dragons, of serpents and of other venomous beasts, that no man dare not pass, but if it be strong winter.  And that strait passage men clepe in that country Clyron.  And that is the passage that the Queen of Amazonia maketh to be kept.  And though it happen some of them by fortune to go out, they can no manner of language but Hebrew, so that they cannot speak to the people.

And yet, natheles, men say they shall go out in the time of anti-Christ, and that they shall make great slaughter of Christian men.  And therefore all the Jews that dwell in all lands learn always to speak Hebrew, in hope, that when the other Jews shall go out, that they may understand their speech, and to lead them into Christendom for to destroy the Christian people.  For the Jews say that they know well by their prophecies, that they of Caspia shall go out, and spread throughout all the world, and that the Christian men shall be under their subjection, as long as they have been in subjection of them.

And if that you will wit how that they shall find their way, after that I have heard say I shall tell you.

In the time of anti-Christ a fox shall make there his train, and mine an hole where King Alexander let make the gates; and so long he shall mine and pierce the earth, till that he shall pass through towards that folk.  And when they see the fox, they shall have great marvel of him, because that they saw never such a beast.  For of all other beasts they have enclosed amongst them, save only the fox.  And then they shall chase him and pursue him so strait, till that he come to the same place that he came from.  And then they shall dig and mine so strongly, till that they find the gates that King Alexander let make of great stones, and passing huge, well cemented and made strong for the mastery.  And those gates they shall break, and so go out by finding of that issue.

From that land go men toward the land of Bacharia, where be full evil folk and full cruel.  In that land be trees that bear wool, as though it were of sheep, whereof men make clothes and all things that may be made of wool.

In that country be many hippotaynes that dwell some-time in the water and sometime on the land.  And they be half man and half horse, as I have said before.  And they eat men when they may take them.

And there be rivers of waters that be full bitter, three sithes more than is the water of the sea.

In that country be many griffins, more plenty than in any other country.  Some men say that they have the body upward as an eagle and beneath as a lion; and truly they say sooth, that they be of that shape.  But one griffin hath the body more great and is more strong than eight lions, of such lions as be on this half, and more great and stronger than an hundred eagles such as we have amongst us.  For one griffin there will bear, flying to his nest, a great horse, if he may find him at the point, or two oxen yoked together as they go at the plough.  For he hath his talons so long and so large and great upon his feet, as though they were horns of great oxen or of bugles or of kine, so that men make cups of them to drink of.  And of their ribs and of the pens of their wings, men make bows, full strong, to shoot with arrows and quarrels.

From thence go men by many journeys through the land of Prester John, the great Emperor of Ind.  And men clepe his realm the isle of Pentexoire.

Source Text:

Mandeville, John. The Travels of Sir John Mandeville. Macmillian and Co. Limited, 1900, is licensed under no known copyright.




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An Open Companion to Early British Literature Copyright © 2019 by Allegra Villarreal is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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