Author: Alexis Wiggins (page 2 of 2)

The Book of John Mandeville: Constantinople

The author’s description of Constantinople continues the pattern mentioned in my previous post where he tends to write more as a form of entertainment than an actual travel narrative. The city of Constantinople is described in chapter two, “One Way to Jerusalem” because, according to the author, it is a major city europeans must pass through to travel to Jerusalem. The author spends most of the chapter supposedly on the subject of Constantinople, however I say supposedly because a lot of the time he is on a religious tangent that distantly relates to the city. Nevertheless he does provide concrete information. The author tells us that the emperor of Greece usually lives in Constantinople, and briefly describes the emperor’s palace. He gives some history of the Greek empire, mixing this history in with descriptions of local attractions. He also touches on some of the cultural importance and local superstitions of these places, and lists a few other relics and famous bodies buried at Constantinople. He explains what the city physically looks like as well as the geography around it in describing the mountains, listing the islands nearby and including local stories about certain geographical points.

However, the bulk of the chapter is spent on religious information. In the middle of describing the city, the author goes into a tangent about the story of Jesus on the cross. He describes the different forms of wood used to make the cross and why they were used, includes a short story about Adam, and ends with explaining what happened to Jesus on the night he was arrested. While the story distantly relates to Constantinople, it is a weak connection and modern readers would consider it a unrelated inclusion. However, it is apparent that religion is an important subject to the author because he spends another considerable part of the chapter explaining how the religion practiced by citizens of Constantinople, while technically considered Christianity, is different from the normal practices.

The vast amount of time the author spends on the subject of religion, be it the random religious stories or the detailed explanation of why Constantinople christianity is different, reveals the deep importance of religion, and christianity in particular, to the author and the culture he is writing for. Roughly four out of the eight pages spent on Constantinople are actually about religious aspects. On one hand, it is true that the information the author provides about the difference in the practice of Christianity would be helpful for travelers during that time because it would give them an idea of what to expect from a community of people that they identify with. However, the religious stories of Adam and Jesus on the cross really give no necessary information about travel to Constantinople, and these take up most of the religious portion.  The lack of legitimate helpful information in this chapter lends to the argument that this book was written more as an piece of entertainment than an actual guidebook or an travel record. The author structured his book to be a form of amusement for a culture in which Christianity and religion was a vital part of daily life.

The Book of John Mandeville: Babylon

The section of “The Book of John Mandeville” about Babylon focuses on a variety of different aspects of the travel narrative. The author describes the important aspects of doing the physical act of traveling to the area. He describes how travelers need permission from the Sultan to actually travel to Babylon. He also describes where others need to travel to get to Babylon. He lists routes from various places and includes information about the people who live there. The author also describes some of the interesting physical aspects of the locations. He describes buildings many of which are included because of their religious history, most of which he includes as well.  The author spends a great deal of time describing the Sultan, who lives in Babylon. How this Sultan lives, the areas over which he rules, how he commands his military force, his marriages and his sexual habits are all described in detail. The history of the Sultans is also included, which seems to be made up of each new Sultan killing off the old one, or occasionally being elected by the people, along with royal etiquette and how visitors are expected to act towards the Sultan. The author also includes some information about the surrounding area’s geography and weather, as well as the history of the old Babylon.

The section of the book describing Babylon is interesting when thinking about questions of purpose. While the author does refer to himself and his experiences in the narration, it is relatively low-key. This section is written as more a form of guide than a account depicting the author’s travel experiences. He speaks directly to the reader, giving suggestions and directions, as well as general information. While all of this information is supposedly coming from the author’s own travels to the place, he does not include much directly about his own experiences. From this, I see the purpose of the book itself meant as either a direct guidebook for other travelers, or simply as a form of entertainment for those not planning to travel at all. The book has pieces that are important for a guidebook. The author includes different routes to travel to Babylon and things that travelers should know before attempting to journey there, like the fact that they need permission from the Sultan first. He also includes information about the landscape and people, and even more information about the Sultan himself and how visitors are supposed to act in his presence. However, I’m inclined to believe that this book is meant more as home entertainment than an actual guidebook. Much of the history and cultural information included about Babylon is very general. The author includes short anecdotes of the historical context of things or religious stories, and describes some of the places in more of a entertainingly visual way than a practical, useful way. This book was meant to entertain people reading in their home, who did not plan to actually go anywhere, but could use the narrative as their own escape.

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