Sir John Mandeville (fl. 1357), knight of St. Albans, was the ostensible author of The Voiage and Travaile of Sir John Mandeville, a geographical treatise which, despite its wild inaccuracy, became one of the most popular books of its era. Long-standing disputes over the author's real name and nationality have not yet been finally settled.
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The Voiage and Travaile of Sir John Maundevile, Kt.
Quotations in Middle English are cited from J. O. Halliwell (ed.) The Voiage and Travaile of Sir John Maundevile, Kt. (London: Edward Lumley, 1839); quotations in Modern English from Arthur Layard's translation The Marvellous Adventures of Sir John Maundevile Kt. (Westminster: Archibald Constable, 1895).
- And Men seye in theise Contrees, that Philosophres som tyme wenten upon theise Hilles, and helden to here Nose a Spounge moysted with Watre, for to have Eyr; for the Eyr above was so drye. And aboven, in the Dust and in the Powder of tho Hilles, thei wroot Lettres and Figures with hire Fingres: and at the zeres end thei comen azen, and founden the same Lettres and Figures, the whiche thei hadde writen the zeer before, withouten ony defaute.
- And Men say in these Countries, that Philosophers some time went upon these Hills, and held to their Noses a Sponge moisted with Water, to have Air; for the Air above was so dry. And above, in the Dust and in the Powder of those Hills, they wrote Letters and Figures with their Fingers. And at the Year's End they came again, and found the same Letters and Figures, the which they had written the Year before, without any Default.
- Ch. 3
- Describing early ascents of Mounts Olympus and Athos.
- This Ryvere comethe rennynge from Paradys terrestre, betwene the Desertes of Ynde; and aftre it smytt unto Londe, and rennethe longe tyme many grete Contrees undre Erthe: And aftre it gothe out undre an highe Hille, that Men clepen Alothe, that is betwene Ynde and Ethiope, the distance of five Moneths Journeyes fro the entree of Ethiope. And aftre it envyronnethe alle Ethiope and Morekane, and gothe alle along fro the Lond of Egipte, unto the Cytee of Alisandre, to the ende of Egipte; and there it fallethe into the See.
- This River cometh, running from Terrestrial Paradise, between the Deserts of Ind, and after it smiteth into the Land, and runneth long time through many great Countries under Earth. And after it goeth out under an high Hill, that men call Alothe, that is between Ind and Ethiopia the distance of 5 Months' Journeys from the Entry of Ethiopia; and after it environeth all Ethiopia and Mauritania, and goeth all along from the Land of Egypt unto the City of Alexandria to the End of Egypt, and there it falleth into the Sea.
- Ch. 5
- I have herd cownted, whan I was zong; how a worthi man departed somtyme from oure Contrees, for to go serche the World. And so he passed Ynde, and the Yles bezonde Ynde, where ben mo than 5000 Yles: and so longe he wente be See and Lond, and so enviround the World be many seysons, that he fond an Yle, where he herde speke his owne Langage, callynge on Oxen in the Plowghe, suche Wordes as men speken to Bestes in his owne Contree: whereof he hadde gret Mervayle: for he knewe not how it myghte be. But I seye, that he had gon so longe, be Londe and be See, that he had envyround alle the Erthe, that he was comen azen envirounynge, that is to seye, goynge aboute, unto his owne Marches, zif he wolde have passed forthe, till he had founden his Contree and his owne knouleche. But he turned azen from thens, from whens he was come fro.
- I have heard recounted many times when I was young, how a worthy Man departed some-time from our Countries 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 Folk speak his own Language, calling on Oxen at 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; and environing, that is to say, going about, he was come again unto his own Borders; and if he would have passed further, he had found his Country and Things well-known. But he turned again from thence, from whence he was come.
- Ch. 17
- For fro what partie of the Erthe, that men duelle, outher aboven or benethen, it semethe always to hem that duellen, that thei gon more righte than ony other folk. And righte as it semethe to us, that thei ben undre us, righte so it semethe hem, that wee ben undre hem.
- For on whatever Part of the Earth that Men dwell, either above or beneath, it seemeth always to them, that they go more up-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.
- Ch. 17
- Sir John Mandeville [was] an encyclopedist whose mostly invented stories still ring true, thanks to his gift for writing the first realistic Western fiction since Petronius. We do not know who this man was or even what language he wrote in, but modern textual analysis suggests that he rarely left his study. Rather than travel, he scavenged and plagiarized the works of others, improving their prose as he claimed their discoveries. In a period of continental isolation, Mandeville satisfied Europe's appetite for news by making up an East that sounded real. In expanding editions and translations, his Voyages and Travels became the most popular prose book of the Middle Ages.
- Michael Wolfe One Thousand Roads to Mecca (New York: Grove Press, 1999) p. 75.
- The work deserved its success for its own merits, for despite the narration of many marvellous sights, the author remained urbane and tolerant. He was a superb storyteller with a vivid imagination, who was able to combine the novel with the familiar, and moral exhortation with entertainment.
- N. F. Blake, in Whitney F. Bolton (ed.) The Middle Ages (London: Sphere, 1970) p. 381.
- I trust my readers will join me in grandly ignoring the complaints of sour-faced and grumpish scholars that "no such person" ever existed and that his Boke of Voiages and Travailes is a hoax and a forgery. What do they know, the old frumps, who have never dared emerge from their dusty libraries to tread the heaving quarterdeck and raise sail for Golden Ind, and Far Cathay, and the Islands of Prester John?