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Writing East

The "Travels" of Sir John Mandeville

By Iain Macleod Higgins

Publication Year: 1997

No work revealed more of the mysterious East to statesmen, explorers, readers, and writers of the late Middle Ages than the Book of John Mandeville. One of the most widely circulated documents of its day, it first appeared in French between 1356 and 1371 and was soon translated into nine other European languages. Ostensibly the account of one English knight's journeys through Africa and Asia, it is, rather, a compilation of travel writings first shaped by an unknown redactor.

Writing East is a study of how Mandeville's Travels came to appear in its various versions, explaining how it went through a series of transformations as it reached new audiences in order to serve as both a response to previous writings about the East and an important voice in the medieval conversation about the nature and limits of the world. Higgins offers a palimpsestic reading of this "multi-text" that demonstrates not only how the original French author overwrote his precursors but also how subsequent translators molded the material to serve their own ideological agendas.

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press


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pp. i-ii


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pp. iii


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pp. iv


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pp. v

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pp. vii-ix

DEFINED IN THE MOST GENERAL TERMS, the present book is a case study in two subjects: textmaking and worldmaking. By worldmaking, a term I borrow from Nelson Goodman, I mean here the discursive construction of a specific geographical, natural, human, and theological world out of already existing worlds that were likewise fashioned discursively and/or cartographically. By textmaking, I mean in particular the common medieval practice ...


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pp. xi

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1. Introduction

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pp. 1-27

FOR ADAM AND EVE ON THEIR JOURNEY from Paradise into History, east was the direction of exile, loss, and new' beginnings. Behind them lay the unpeopled enclosure of a naturally blissful life, barred now by cherubim and a flaming sword, while ahead lay a cursed existence on "the subjected Plain;" soon to be the boundless scene of manual and maternal labor, fraternal murder, and further exile for some of their progeny. For their medieval Christian ...

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2. Here Begins the Book of John Mandeville, Knight

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pp. 29-62

LIKE MANY MEDIEVAL WRITINGS INTENT on establishing their claim to serious attention, The Book of John Mandeville opens with a formal expository prologue in virtually every textual isotope. Even more than the epilogue, whose task is to draw matters to a close, the exordium occupies a privileged space in the text, where it serves to call into being not only the text itself, but also the author and the audience. For whatever their historical reality, both ...

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3. "Choses Estranges" in Constantinople and the Eastern Mediterranean

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pp. 63-91

ONCE THE BOOK'S FORMAL EXORDIUM HAS called the work, Sir John, and the imagined Christian and noble audience into being, the text in the Continental and Insular Versions lingers no longer on further preliminaries than it takes to invoke God's name-"Or orrez en nom de Dieu le glorieus" ("Now hear in the name of God the glorious") 1-and gets down to the business of writing East: that is, to fulfilling Sir John's two promises about ...

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4. Marvels, Miracles, and Dreams of Re-Expansion in Egypt and the Holy land

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pp. 92-123

AFTER THE DIGRESSIVE INITIAL VISIT TO Constantinople, as we saw in the previous chapter, The Book has hardly recommenced teaching the way to the Holy Land before it digresses yet again, this time into several religious and erotic legends about the eastern Mediterranean. Following this second expansive digression, which confirms and develops The Book's roundabout forma tractandi, the instructive itinerary reaches the Palestine coast.

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5. Earthly Symmetry and the Mirror of Marvelous Diversity in and Around Ynde

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pp. 124-155

HAVING CAPPED ITS TOUR OF THE biblical East, as we saw in the previous chapter, with the long coda on Saracen beliefs, The Book returns once again to the instructive itinerary, announcing its intention to fulfill Sir John's initial promise in the Continental and Insular exordium by describing part of the diverse East beyond the Holy Land, a broadening of geographical focus that represents the Mandeville-author's principal innovation.1

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6. Faith and Power in the Great Khan's Cathay and Prester John's Land

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pp. 156-202

ONCE THE BOOK HAS COMPLETED ITS marvelous survey of Ynde and surrounding isles-which, as we saw in the previous chapter, closes with the brief catalogue of Plinian races written into Odoric's Relatio where the friar declines to describe any more mirabilia-the Mandeville-author follows his textual template across the Ocean Sea into a quite different world. Leaving behind for now the isles whose inhabitants are shown dwelling largely in a state of nature, ...

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7. Personal and Pagan Piety in the Direction of Paradise

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pp. 203-238

AT THE END OF ITS LEISURELY ACCOUNT of the Khan's and Prester John's imperial dornains- which effectively concludes, as we saw in the previous chapter, with a contrastive look at the Assassins' false Paradise-The Book leaves off describing cities and courts and returns to depicting the world in a state of "nature," malting its brisk way through IT10re than a dozen marvelous isles toward the Earthly Paradise.

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8. Having Come to Rest Despite Myself

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pp. 239-264

AT THE END OF ITS TOUR OF Prester John's Land and surrounding isles, as we saw in the previous chaper, The Book takes its projected audience still farther east to the dark and mountainous region near the world's beginning, where it offers them a distant glimpse of the mossy wall enclosing their original homeland. In a text that set out from the farthest "parties doccident," and that traces the itinerary of no one traveler in particular, this last inaccessible ...

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pp. 265-268

"MEDIEVAL WRITING DOES NOT PRODUCE variants; it is variance." Such was the founding assumption of the present study, and its validity has been fully confirmed by the isotopic evidence laid out in my reading of the mandevillean multi-text. So too has its utility. If nothing else, this reading has shown that recognizing variance as essential to medieval writing-rather than as an accident to be repaired by a textual scholarship founded on the belief ...


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pp. 269-299

Works Cited

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pp. 301-314


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pp. 315-335

E-ISBN-13: 9780812202267
Print-ISBN-13: 9780812233438

Page Count: 336
Publication Year: 1997