English Literature

The Far East

The Far East

Accounts of the Far East appealed to medieval people’s pleasure in wonder and their desire for political, moral, historical, and geographical intelligence. According to medieval Christian geography, the Orient is the top of the mappa mundi. It is the East, farther away but also the natural extension of a spiritual line from Europe at the bottom of the map, up by way of Rome and through Jerusalem, the center of the world. At the top center of the great continent of Asia is earthly paradise, and marvelous and diverse lands, peoples, and creatures fan out below it. The first half of Mandeville’s Travels contains depictions of the Holy Land derived from travel guides (for the Mandeville author and the Book’s composition, see “Amazons,” p. 88). Descriptions of the lands beyond Jerusalem occupy the second half and are based on Friar Odoric of Pordenone’s fourteenth-century Relatio as well as encyclopedias such as Vincent of Beauvais’ Speculum historiale and romances.

But fast besyde that yle1 for to passe be see is a gret yle and a gret contree that men clepen Java, and it is nygh two thousand myle in circuyt. And the kyng of that contree is a fulle gret lord and a riche and a myghty, and hath under him seven other kynges of seven other yles abouten hym. This yle is fulle wel enhabyted and fulle wel manned. There growen alle maner of spicerie more plentyfouslich than in ony other contree, as of gyngevere, clowe gylofres, canelle, zedewalle,2 notemuges, and maces. And wyteth wel that the notemuge bereth the maces. For right as the note of the haselle hath an husk withouten that the note is closed in til it be ripe and after falleth out, right so it is of the notemuge and of the maces. Manye other spices and many other godes growen in that yle, for of alle thing is there plentee saf only of wyn. But there is gold and silver gret plentee. And the kyng of that contre hath a paleys fulle noble and fulle merveyllous and more riche than ony in the world. For alle the degrez to gon up into halles and chambres ben on of gold, another of sylver, and also the pavmentes of halles and chambres ben alle square, on of gold and another of sylver. And alle the walles withinne ben covered with gold and sylver in fyn plates, and in tho plates ben stories and batayles of knyghtes enleved,3 and the crounes and the cercles abouten here hedes ben made of precious stones and riche perles and grete. And the halles and the chambres of the palays ben alle covered withinne with gold and sylver so that no man wolde trowe the richess of that palays but he had seen it. And witeth wel that the kyng of that yle is so myghty that he hath many tymes overcomen the Grete Cane of Cathay in bataylle,4 that is the most gret emperour that is under the firmament, outher beyonde the see or on this half. For thei han had often tyme werre betwene hem because that the Grete Cane wolde constreynen him to holden his lond of him but that other at alle tymes defendeth him well ayenst him. After that yle in goynge be see men fynden another yle gode and gret that men clepen Pathen,5 that is a gret kyngdom fulle of faire cytees and fulle of townes. In that lond growen trees that beren mele wherof men maken gode bred and white and of gode savour, and it semeth as it were of whete but it is not allynges6 of such savour.

And there ben other trees that beren hony gode and swete. And other trees that beren venym ayenst the whiche there is no medicyne but [on], and that is to taken here propre leves and stampe hem and tempere him with water and than drynke it, and elles he schalle dye, for triacle wil not avaylle ne non other medicyne. Of this venym the Jewes had let seche of on of here frendes for to enpoysone alle Cristiantee, as I have herd hem seye in here confessioun before here dyenge. But, thanked be allemyghty God, thei fayleden of hire purpos, but alleweys thei maken gret mortalitee of poeple. And other trees ther ben also that beren wyn of noble sentement.7 And yif you lyke to here how the mele cometh out of the trees, I schalle seye you. Men hewen the trees with an hachet alle aboute the fote of the tree tille that the bark be perced in many parties. And than cometh out therof a thikke lykour, the whiche thei resceyven in vesselles and dryen it at the hete of the sonne. And than thei han it to a mylle to grynde, and it becometh faire mele and white. And the hony and the wyn and the venym ben drawen out of other trees in the same manere and put in vesselles for to kepe. In that yle is a ded see that is a lake that hath no ground. And yif ony thing falle into that lake it schalle never comen up ayen. In that lake growen reedes that ben cannes8 that thei clepen thaby,9 that ben thirty fadme10 long, and of theise cannes men maken faire houses. And ther ben other cannes that ben not so longe that growen nere the lond and han so longe rotes that duren11 wel a four quarteres of a furlong ore more. And at the knottes of tho rotes men fynden precious stones that han gret vertues.12 And he that bereth ony of hem upon him, yren ne steel ne may not hurt him ne drawe no blod upon him. And therfore thei that han tho stones upon hem fighten fulle hardyly bothe on see and lond, for men may not harmen [hem] on no partye. And therfore thei that knowen the manere and schulle fighte with hem, thei schoten to hem arwes and quarelles withouten yren or steel, and so thei hurten hem and sleen hem. And also of tho cannes thei maken houses and schippes and other thinges, as wee han here makynge houses and schippes of oke or of ony other trees. And deme no man that I seye it but for a truffulle, for I have seen of tho cannes with myn owne eyyen fulle many tymes lyggynge upon the ryvere of that lake, of the whiche twenty of oure felowes ne myghten not liften up ne beren on to the erthe.

After this yle, men gon be see to another yle that is clept Calonok,13 and it is a fair lond and a plentifous of godes. And the kyng of that contrey hath als many wyfes as he wole, for he makth serche alle the contree to geten him the fairest maydens that may ben founde and maketh hem to ben brought before him. And he taketh on o nyght and another another nyght, and so forth contynuelly sewyng,14 so that he hath a thousand wyfes or mo. And he liggeth never but o nyght with on of hem and another nyght with another but yif that on happene to ben more lusty to his plesance than another. And therfore the kyng geteth fulle many children, sumtyme an hundred, sumtyme an two hundred, and sumtyme mo. And he hath also into a fourteen thousand olifauntz or mo that he maketh for to ben brought up amonges his vileynes be alle his townes. For in cas that he had ony werre ayenst ony other kyng aboute him, thanne maketh [he] certeyn men of armes for to gon up into the castelles of tree made for the werre that craftylly ben sett upon the olifantes bakkes for to fyghten ayen hire enemyes. And so don other kynges thereaboute. For the maner of werre is not there as it is here or in other contrees, ne the ordynance of werre nouther. And men clepen the olifantes warkes. And in that yle there is a gret mervayle more to speke of than in ony other partie of the world. For alle manere of fissches that ben there in the see abouten hem comen ones in the yeer, eche manere of dyverse fissches, on maner of kynde after other, and thei casten hemself to the see banke of that yle so gret plentee and multitude that no man may unnethe see but fissch. And there thei abyden three dayes, and every man of the contree taketh of hem als many as him lyketh. And after that maner of fissch after the thridde day departeth and goth into the see. And after hem comen another multitude of fyssch of another kynde and don in the same maner as the firste diden other three dayes. And after hem another tille alle the dyverse maner of fisshes han ben there and that men han taken of hem that hem lyketh. And no man knoweth the cause wherfore it may ben. But thei of the contree seyn that it is for to do reverence to here kyng that is the most worthi kyng that is in the world, as thei seyn, because that he fulfilleth the commandement that God bad to Adam and Eve whan God seyde, “Crescite et multiplicamini et replete terram.”15 And for because that he multiplieth so the world with children, therfore God sendeth him so the fissches of dyverse kyndes of alle that ben in the see to taken at his wille for him and alle his peple. And therfore alle the fissches of the see comen to maken him homage as the most noble and excellent kyng of the world and that is best beloved with God, als thei seyn. I knowe not the resoun whi it is, but God knoweth. But this, me semeth, is the moste merveylle that evere I saugh. For this mervaylle is ayenst kynde and not with kynde, that the fisshes that han fredom to enviroun alle the costes of the see at here owne list comen of hire owne wille to profren hem to the deth withouten constreynynge of man. And therfore I am syker that this may not ben withouten a gret tokene. There ben also in that contree a kynde of snayles that ben so grete16 that many persones may loggen hem in hire schelles, as men wolde don in a litylle hous. And other snayles there ben that ben fulle grete but not so huge as the other. And of theise snayles and of gret white wormes that han blake hedes, that ben als grete as a mannes thigh and somme lesse as grete wormes that men fynden there in wodes, men maken vyaunde rialle17 for the kyng and for other grete lordes. And yif a man that is maryed dye in that contree, men buryen his wif with him alle quyk, for men seyn there that it is resoun that sche make him companye in that other world as sche did in this. From that contree men gon be the See Occean be an yle that is clept Caffolos.18 Men of that contree, whan here frendes ben seke, thei hangen hem upon trees and seyn that it is better that briddes that ben angeles of God eten hem than the foule wormes of the erthe. From that yle men gon to another yle where the folk ben of fulle cursed kynde, for thei norysschen grete dogges and techen hem to strangle here frendes whan thei ben syke.

For thei wil nought that thei dyen of kyndely deth, for thei seyn that thei scholde suffren to gret payne yif thei abyden to dyen be hemself as nature wolde. And whan thei ben thus enstrangled, thei eten here flesch instede of venysoun. Afterward men gon be many yles be see unto an yle that men clepen Milke.19 And there is a fulle cursed peple, for thei delyten in nothing more than for to fighten and to sle men. And thei drynken gladlyest mannes blood, the whiche thei clepen dieu. And the mo men that a man may slee, the more worschipe he hath amonges hem. And yif two persones ben at debate and peraventure ben accorded be here frendes or be sum of here alliance, it behoveth that every of hem that schulle ben accorded drynke of otheres blood. And elles the accord ne the alliance is noght worth, ne it schalle not be no repref to him to breke the alliance and the acord but yif every of hem drynke of otheres blood. And from that yle men gon be see from yle to yle unto an yle that is clept Tracoda,20 where the folk of that contree ben as bestes and unresonable and duellen in caves that thei maken in the erthe, for thei have no wytt to maken hem houses. And whan thei seen ony men passynge thorgh here contrees, thei hyden hem in here caves. And thei eten flessch of serpentes, and thei eten but litille, and thei speken nought but thei hissen as serpentes don. And thei sette no prys be non aveer21 ne ricchess but only of a precyous ston that is amonges hem that is of sixty coloures. And for the name of the yle thei clepen it Tracodoun, and thei loven more that ston than ony thing elles. And yit thei knowe not the vertue thereof, but thei coveyten it and loven it only for the beautee. After that yle men gon be the See Occean be many yles unto an yle that is clept Nacumera,22 that is a gret yle and good and fayr, and it is in kompas aboute more than a thousand myle. And alle the men and wommen of that yle han houndes hedes, and thei ben clept canopholos.23 And thei ben fulle resonable and of gode understondynge saf that thei worschipen an ox for here god. And also everych of hem bereth an ox of gold or of sylver in his forhed in tokene that thei loven wel here god. And thei gon alle naked saf a litylle clout that thei coveren with here knees and hire membres. Thei ben grete folk and wel fyghtynge, and thei han a gret targe24 that covereth alle the body and a spere in here hond to fighte with. And yif thei taken ony man in bataylle, anon thei eten him. The kyng of that yle is fulle riche and fulle myghty and right devout after his lawe. And he hath abouten his nekke three hundred perles oryent, gode and grete and knotted as Pater Nostres here of amber. And in maner as wee seyn oure Pater Nostre and oure Ave Maria, cowntynge the Pater Nostres, right so this kyng seyth every day devoutly three hundred preyeres to his god or that he ete. And he bereth also aboute his nekke a rubye oryent, noble and fyn, that is a fote of lengthe and fyve fyngres large. And whan thei chesen here kyng, thei taken him that rubye to beren in his hond, and so thei leden him rydynge alle abouten the cytee. And from thensfromward thei ben alle obeyssant to him. And that rubye he schalle bere allewey aboute his nekke for, yif he hadde not that rubye upon him, men wolde not holden him for kyng. The Grete Cane of Cathay hath gretly coveyted that rubye, but he myghte never han it for werre ne for no maner of godes. This kyng is so rightfulle and of equytee in his doomes that men may go sykerlych thorghout alle his contree and bere with him what him list, that no man schalle ben hardy to robben him but, yif he were, the kyng wolde justifye anon. Fro this lond men gon to another yle that is clept Silha,25 and it is welle a eight hundred myles aboute.

In that lond is fulle mochelle wast, for it is fulle of serpentes, of dragouns, and of cokadrilles, that no man dar duelle there. Theise cocodrilles ben serpentes yalowe and rayed aboven and han four feet and schorte thyes and grete nayles as clees or talouns. And there ben somme that han five fadme in lengthe, and somme of six and of eight and of ten. And whan thei gon be places that ben gravelly, it semeth as though men hadde drawen a gret tree thorgh the gravelly place. And there ben also many wylde bestes and namelych of olyfauntes. In that yle is a gret mountayne,26 and in mydd place of the mount is a gret lake in a fulle faire pleyn, and there is gret plentee of water. And thei of the contree seyn that Adam and Eve wepten upon that mount an hundred yeer whan thei weren dryven out of paradys. And that water thei seyn is of here teres, for so moche water thei wepten that made the forseyd lake. And in the botme of that lake men fynden many precious stones and grete perles. In that lake growen many reedes and grete cannes, and there withinne ben many cocodrilles and serpentes and grete waterleches. And the kyng of that contree ones every yeer yeveth leve to pore men to gon into the lake to gadre hem precyous stones and perles be weye of almess for the love of God that made Adam. And alle the yeer men fynde ynowe. And for the vermyn that is withinne thei anoynte here armes and here thyes and legges with an oynement made of a thing that is clept lymons, that is a manere of fruyt lych smale pesen,27 and thanne have thei no drede of no cocodrilles ne of non other venymous vermyn. This water renneth flowynge and ebbynge be a syde of the mountayne, and in that ryver men fynden precious stones and perles gret plentee. And men of that yle seyn comounly that the serpentes and the wilde bestes of that contree ne wil not don non harm ne touchen with evylle no strange man that entreth into that contree but only to men that ben born of the same contree. In that contree and othere therabouten there ben wylde gees that han two hedes.28 And there ben lyouns alle white and als grete as oxen, and many othere dyverse bestes and foules also that be not seyn amounges us. And witeth wel that in that contree and in other yles thereabouten the see is so high that it semeth as though it henge at the clowdes and that it wolde coveren alle the world. And that is gret mervaylle that it myghte be so, saf only the wille of God that the eyr susteyneth it. And therfore seyth David in the Psautere, “Mirabiles elaciones maris.” . . .29 [Mandeville continues to describe the lands of the Far East, coming to present-day Korea.] In that same regioun ben the mountaynes of Caspye that men clepen Uber30 in the contree. Betwene tho mountaynes the Jewes of ten lynages ben enclosed, that men clepen Goth and Magoth, and thei mowe not gon out on no syde. There weren enclosed twenty-two kynges with hire peple that dwelleden betwene the mountaynes of Sychye,31 there Kyng Alisandre chacede hem betwene tho mountaynes, and there he thoughte for to enclose hem thorgh werk of his men. But whan he saugh that he myghte not don it ne bryng it to an ende, he preyed to god of nature that he wolde parforme that that he had begonne.

And alle were it so that he was a payneme32 and not worthi to ben herd, yit God of his grace closed the mountaynes togydre so that thei dwellen there alle faste ylokked and enclosed with high mountaynes all aboute, saf only on o syde, and on that syde is the see of Caspye. Now may sum men asken, “Sith that the see is on that o syde, wherfore go thei not out on the see syde for to go where that hem lyketh?” But to this questioun I schal answere: that see of Caspye goth out be londe under the mountaynes and renneth be the desert at o syde of the contree and after it streccheth unto the endes of Persie. And alle though it be clept a see, it is no see ne it toucheth to non other see, but it is a lake, the grettest of the world. And though thei wolden putten hem into that see, thei ne wysten never where that thei scholde arryven. And also thei conen no langage but only hire owne, that no man knoweth but thei. And therfore mowe thei not gon out. And also yee schulle understonde that the Jewes han no propre lond of hire owne for to dwellen inne in alle the world but only that lond betwene the mountaynes. And yit thei yelden tribute for that lond to the queen of Amazoine, the whiche that maketh hem to ben kept in cloos fulle diligently that thei schulle not gon out on no syde but be the cost of hire lond. For hire lond marcheth to tho mountaynes. And often it hath befallen that summe of the Jewes han gon up the mountaynes and avaled33 down to the valeyes. But gret nombre of folk ne may not do so, for the mountaynes ben so hye and so streght up that thei moste abyde there maugree34 hire myght. For thei mowe not gon out but be a litille issue that was made be strengthe of men, and it lasteth wel a four grete myle. And after is there yit a lond alle desert where men may fynde no water ne for dyggynge ne for non other thing. Wherfore, men may not dwellen in that place, so is it fulle of dragounes, of serpentes, and of other venymous bestes that no man dar not passe, but yif it be strong wynter. And that streyt passage men clepen in that contree Clyron.35 And that is the passage that the queen of Amazoine maketh to ben kept. And thogh it happene sum of hem be fortune to gon out, thei conen no maner of langage but Ebrew so that thei can not speke to the peple. And yit natheles men seyn thei schulle gon out in the tyme of Antecrist and that thei schulle maken gret slaughter of Chistene men. And therfore alle the Jewes that dwellen in alle londes lernen alleweys to speken Ebrew in hope that whan the other Jewes schulle gon out, that thei may understonden hire speche and to leden hem into Cristendom for to destroye the Cristene peple. For the Jewes seyn that thei knowen wel be hire prophecyes that thei of Caspye schulle gon out and spreden thorghout alle the world and that the Cristene men schulle ben under hire subjeccoun als longe as thei han ben in subjeccoun of hem. And yif that yee wil wyte how that thei schulle fynden hire weye, after that I have herd seye, I schalle telle you. In the tyme of Antecrist a fox schalle make there his trayne36 and mynen an hole where Kyng Alisandre leet make the gates, and so longe he schalle mynen and percen the erthe til that he schalle passe thorgh towardes that folk.

And whan thei seen the fox, they schulle have gret merveylle of him because that thei saugh never such a best. For of alle othere bestes thei han enclosed amonges hem, saf only the fox. And thanne thei schullen chacen him and pursuen him so streyte tille that he come to the same place that he cam fro. And thanne thei schullen dyggen and mynen so strongly tille that thei fynden the gates that Kyng Alisandre leet make of grete stones and passynge huge, wel symented and made stronge for the maystrie. And tho gates thei schulle breken and so gon out be fyndynge of that issue . . . And beyonde the lond and the yles and the desertes of Prestre Johnes lordschipe37 in goynge streight towardes the est, men fynde nothing but montaynes and roches fulle grete. And there is the derke regyoun where no man may see nouther be day ne nyghte, as thei of the contree seyn. And that desert and that place of derknesse duren fro this cost unto paradys terrestre, where that Adam oure formest fader and Eve weren putt that dwelleden there but lytylle while, and that is towardes the est at the begynnynge of the erthe. But that is not that est that we clepe oure est on this half where the sonne riseth to us. For whanne the sonne is est in tho partyes toward paradys terrestre, it is thanne mydnyght in oure parties o this half for the roundeness of the erthe, of the whiche I have towched to you of before.38 For oure lord God made the erthe alle rownd in the mydde place of the firmament. And there as mountaynes and hilles ben and valeyes, that is not but only of Noes flode that wasted the softe ground and the tendre, and felle doun into valeyes. And the harde erthe and the roche abyden mountaynes whan the soft erthe and tendre wax nessche thorgh the water, and felle, and becamen valeyes. Of paradys ne can I not speken propurly, for I was not there. It is fer beyonde, and that forthinketh me, and also I was not worthi. But as I have herd seye of wyse men beyonde, I schalle telle you with gode wille. Paradys terrestre, as wise men seyn, is the highest place of erthe that is in alle the world, and it is so high that it toucheth nygh to the cercle of the mone, there as the mone makith hire torn. For sche is so high that the flode of Noe ne myght not come to hire that wolde have covered alle the erthe of the world alle abowte and aboven and benethen, saf paradys only allone. And this paradys is enclosed alle aboute with a walle, and men wyte not wherof it is, for the walles ben covered alle over with mosse, as it semeth. And it semeth not that the walle is ston of nature ne of non other thing that the walle is. And that walle streccheth fro the south to the north, and it hath not but on entree that is closed with fyre brennynge so that no man mortalle ne dar not entren. And in the most high place of paradys, evene in the myddel place, is a welle that casteth out the four flodes that rennen be dyverse londes,39 of the whiche the firste is clept Phison or Ganges (that is alle on) and it renneth thorghout Ynde or Emlak,40 in the whiche ryvere ben manye preciouse stones and mochel of lignum aloes and moche gravelle of gold. And that other ryvere is clept Nilus or Gyson that goth be Ethiope and after be Egypt. And that other is clept Tigris that renneth be Assirye41 and be Armenye the Grete.42 And that other is clept Eufrate that renneth also be Medee43 and be Armonye and be Persye. And men there beyonde seyn that all the swete watres of the world aboven and benethen taken hire begynnynge of that welle of paradys, and out of that welle watres comen and gon . . . And yee schulle understonde that no man that is mortelle ne may not approchen to that paradys. For be londe no man may go for wylde bestes that ben in the desertes and for the high mountaynes and grete huge roches that no man may passe by for the derke places that ben there and that manye.

And be the ryveres may no man go, for the water renneth so rudely and so scharply because that it cometh doun so outrageously from the high places aboven that it renneth in so grete wawes that no schipp may not rowe ne seyle agenes it. And the water roreth so and maketh so huge noyse and so gret tempest that no man may here other in the schipp though he cryede with alle the craft that he cowde in the hieste voys that he myghte. Many grete lordes han assayed with gret wille many tymes for to passen be tho ryveres toward paradys with fulle grete companyes, but thei myght not speden in hire viage. And manye dyeden for weryness of rowynge ayenst tho stronge wawes. And many of hem becamen blynde and mane deve for the noyse of the water. And summe weren perisscht and loste withinne the wawes so that no mortelle man may approche to that place withouten specyalle grace of God, so that of that place I can sey you no more. And therfore I schalle holde me stille and retornen to that that I have seen.

6 thoughts on “The Far East

  1. searched my character in the literature play… hahaha! bring it on, plowmon! (haha i tried to rhyme)

  2. Happy 116th birthday to Mr. F Scott Fitzgerald! There is not better piece of literature than “The Great Gatsby.”

  3. Angus Peter Campbell reads at the event we’re co-hosting to mark National Poetry Day (Oct 4):

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