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The Travels of Sir John Mandeville, Knight
by Jehan de Bourgoigne (?)
The original, squashed down to read in about 20 minutes

From a MS. in the British Museum.


It remains entirely unclear who (if anyone) John Mandeville was, or where, precisely, his extraordinary tales of travel in strange lands originate. Opinion as to an author seems to centre around a physician from Liège called something like Johann or Johains a le Barbe or Barbe or Bourgogne. The fantastical nature of the stories has kept them a favourite ever since they first appeared in Norman French in the 14th Century.

Abridged: JH/GH

The Travels of Sir John Mandeville

I. - Of the Holy Land and the Way Thereto

For as much as the land beyond the sea, that is to say, the Holy Land, 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 Jesus Christ; 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; wherefore, every good Christian man, that is of power, and hath whereof, should strive with all his strength for to conquer our right heritage, and chase out all misbelieving men. And for as much as many men desire to hear speak of the Holy Land, I, John Mandeville, Knight, albeit I be not worthy, that was born in England, in the town of Saint Albans, passed the sea, in the year of our Lord Jesus Christ 1322, on the day of Saint Michael, and hitherto have been a long time over the sea, and have seen and gone through many divers lands. And I shall devise you some part of things that there be, when time shall be, after it may best come to my mind; and specially for them that are in purpose for to visit the Holy City of Jerusalem, and I shall tell the way that they should hold thither. For I have oftentimes passed and ridden that way, with good company of many lords; God be thanked.

In the name of God, glorious and almighty, he that will pass over the sea to go to the city of Jerusalem, if he come from the west side of the world, as from England, he may and he will go through Almayne and through the kingdom of Hungary, that marcheth to the land of Polayne. And after go men to Belgrave and enter into the land of Bourgres, and through the land of Pyncemartz, and come to Greece, and so to the city of Constantynoble. 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. From Constantynoble he that will go by water goeth to an isle that is clept (1) Sylo, and then to the isle of Patmos.

From Patmos men go into Ephesus, a fair city and nigh to the sea. And there died Saint John, and was buried behind the high altar, in a tomb. And in the tomb of Saint John is nought but manna, that is clept angels' meat. For his body was translated into Paradise. And Turks hold now all that place, and the city and the church. And all Asia the less is clept Turkey. And ye shall understand that St. John made his grave there in his life, and laid himself therein all quick. And therefore some men say that he died not, but that he resteth there till the Day of Doom. And forsooth there is a great marvel, for men may see there the earth of the tomb apertly many times stir and move, as there were quick things under.

And from Ephesus men go through many isles in the sea, and to the isle of Crete, and through the isles of Colos and of Lango, of the which isles Ypocras was lord. And some men say that in the isle of Lango is yet the daughter of Ypocras, in form and likeness of a great dragon that is a hundred fathom of length, as men say, for I have not seen her. And they of the isles call her Lady of the Land. And she lieth in an old castle, in a cave, and showeth twice or thrice in the year. And she doth none harm to no man but if man do her harm. And she was thus changed and transformed from a fair damsel in the likeness of a dragon by a goddess that was clept Diana. And men say that she shall so endure in the form of a dragon unto the time that a knight come that is so hardy that dare come to her and kiss her on the mouth; and then shall she turn again to her own kind, and be a woman again, but after that she shall not live long.

And it is not long since that a knight that was hardy and doughty in arms said that he would kiss her. And when he was upon his courser and went to the castle and entered into the cave, the dragon lifted up her head against him. And when the knight saw her in that form so hideous and so horrible, he fled away. And the dragon bore the knight upon a rock, and from that rock she cast him into the sea; and so was lost both horse and man.

Egypt is a long country, but it is strait, 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 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 the flood of that river. And for as much as it raineth not in that country, but the air is always pure and clear, therefore in that country be they good astronomers, for they find there no clouds to let them.

In Egypt is the city of Elyople, 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 the temple at the end of 500 years; for so long he liveth. And at the 500 years' end the priests array their altar honestly, and put thereupon spices and sulphur 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 after men find a bird quick and perfect; and the third day next after, he flieth away.

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 is no God but one, and also that our Lord arose from death to life the third day. This bird men see oftentime flying in the countries; and he is not much greater than an eagle. And he hath a crest of feathers upon his head more great than the peacock hath; and his neck is yellow; and his back is coloured blue as Ind; and his wings be of purple colour, and the tail is yellow and red. And he is a full fair bird to look upon against the sun, for he shineth fully gloriously and nobly.

From Egypt men may go by the Red Sea, and so by desert to the Mount of Synay; and when they have visited the holy places nigh to it, then will they turn toward Jerusalem. They shall see here the Holy Sepulchre, where there is a full fair church, all round and open above and covered with lead. And then they may go up to Golgatha by degrees, and they shall see the Mount of Calvarie. Likewise they will behold the Temple of our Lord; and many other blessed things all whereof I cannot tell nor show him.

II. - Of Strange Peoples and Strange Beasts in Divers Lands

From the south coast of Chaldea is Ethiopia, a great country that stretcheth to the end of Egypt. Ethiopia is departed in two principal parts, and that is the East part and the Meridional part. And the folk of that country are black, and more black than in the other part, and they be clept Moors. In Ethiopia be folk that have but one foot, and they go so fast that it is a marvel; and the foot is so large, that it shadoweth all the body against the sun, when they will lie and rest them. In that country when the children be young and little they be all yellow, and when they wax of age that yellowness turneth to be all black. And as men go forth towards Ind, they come to the city of Polombe, and above the city is a great mountain.

In Ethiopia be folk that have but one foot

And at the foot of that mount is a fair well and a great, that hath odour and savour of all spices, and at every hour of the day he changeth his odour and his savour diversely. And whoso drinketh three times fasting of that water of that well he is whole of all manner of sickness that he hath. And they that dwell there and drink often of that well they never have sickness, and they seem always young. I have drunken of it, and yet, methinketh, I fare the better. Some men call it the Well of Youth, for they that often drink thereof seem always young and live without sickness. And men say that that well cometh out of Paradise, and that therefore it hath such virtue.

To that land go the merchants for spicery. And there men worship the ox for his simpleness and for his meekness, and for the profit that cometh of him. And they say that he is the holiest beast in the earth. For it seemeth to them that whosoever is meek and patient he is holy and profitable; for then they say he hath all virtues in him. They make the ox to labour six years or seven, and then they eat him. And the king of the country hath always an ox with him; and he that keepeth him hath every day great fees.

Now shall I tell you of countries and isles that lie beyond those countries that I have spoken of. Wherefore I tell you that in passing by the land of Cathay toward the higher Ind, men pass by a kingdom that they call Caldilhe, that is a full fair country. And there groweth a manner of fruit, as it were gourds; and when they be ripe men cut them in 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 nevertheless, I told them of as great a marvel to them that is among us; for I told them that in our country were trees that bear a fruit that become birds flying, and those that fall into the water live, and they that fall on the earth die anon; and they be right good for man's meat. And thereof they also had great marvel, that some of them trowed it were an impossible thing to be.

And beyond this land, men go towards the land of Bacharie, where be full evil folk and full cruel.

Trees that bear wool

In that land be trees that bear wool, as though it were of sheep; whereof men make clothes, all things that may be made of wool. And there be also many griffons, 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 griffon hath the body more great and is more strong than eight lions; of such lions as be of this half; and more great and stronger than a hundred eagles such as we have amongst us. For one griffon there will bear, flying to his nest, a great horse, 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. From thence go men, by many journeys, through the land of Prester John, the great Emperor of Ind.

III. - Of the Land of Prester John

The Emperor Prester John holdeth a full great land, and hath many full noble cities and good towns in his realm, and many great isles and large. And he hath under him seventy-two provinces, and in every province is a king. And these kings have kings under them, and all are tributaries to Prester John. And he hath in his lordships many great marvels. For in his country is the sea that men call the Gravelly Sea, that is all gravel and sand without any drops of water; and it ebbeth and floweth in great waves, as other seas do, and it is never still nor in peace. And no man may pass that sea by navy, nor by no manner of craft, and therefore may no man know what land is beyond that sea. And albeit that it have no water, yet men find therein and on the banks full good fish of other manner of kind and shape than men find in any other sea; and they are of right good taste and delicious to man's meat.

In the same lordship of Prester John there is another marvellous thing. There is a vale between two mountains, that dureth nigh on four miles; and some call it the Vale of Devils, and some call it the Valley Perilous. In that vale men hear often time great tempests and thunders and great murmurs and noises all days and nights; and great noise, as it were sown of tabors, and of trumpets, as though it were of a great feast. This vale is all full of devils, and hath been always. And men say there, that is one of the entries of hell. And in mid place of that vale under a rock is a head and the visage of a devil bodily, full horrible and dreadful to see, and it showeth not but the head to the shoulders.

But there is no man in the world so hardy, Christian man nor other, but that he would be in dread for to behold it and that he would be ready to die for dread, so is it hideous for to behold. For he beholdeth every man so sharply with dreadful eyes that be evermore moving and sparkling as fire, and changeth and stareth so often in diverse manner with so horrible countenance that no man dare come nigh him. And in that vale is gold and silver and rich jewels great plenty. And I and my fellows passed that way in great dread, and we saw much people slain. And we entered fourteen persons, but at our going out we were but nine. And so we wisten never whether that our fellows were lost or turned again for dread.

But we came through that vale whole and living for that we were very devout, for I was more devout then than ever I was before or after, and all for the dread of fiends, that I saw in diverse figures. And I touched none of the gold and silver that meseemed was there, lest it were only there of the subtlety of the devils, and because I would not be put out of my devotions. So God of His grace helped us, and so we passed that perilous vale, without peril and without encumbrance, thanked be Almighty God.

These things have I told, that men may know some of all those marvellous things that I have seen in my way by land and sea. And now I, John Mandeville, Knight, that have passed many lands and many isles and countries, and searched many full strange places, and have been in many a full good honourable company, and at many a fair deed of armes - albeit that I did none myself, for mine unable insuffisance - now I am come home - mawgree myself - to rest. And so I have written these things in this book. Wherefore I pray to all the readers and hearers of this book that they would pray to God for me. And I shall pray for them, and beseech Almighty God to full fill their souls with inspiration of the Holy Ghost, in saving them from all their enemies both of body and soul, to the worship and thanking of Him that in perfect Trinity liveth and reigneth God, in all worlds and in all times; Amen, Amen, Amen.

(1) Clept = "known by the name of"

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