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.
John Mandeville begins and ends by giving a physical description of the land and its geography, as well as its position in relation to other cities of note. He does not seemed concerned with the people of Jerusalem; the only time he references them is when he makes comments on the pilgrims. Instead, the majority of his account is concerned with telling the stories of the religious landmarks and monuments in the city and giving detailed descriptions, especially of churches and chapels with great architecture. He is incredibly specific with his details, even going so far as to count out stairs, steps, and other measurements.
John Mandeville does not give many specifics when speaking of his journey to Jerusalem. He informs the reader of how long it might take one to travel as he did and advices on the the best route for a person to take, but he doesn’t tell the reader about his own personal journey.
John Mandeville is a deeply religious man. The majority of his account of Jerusalem has nothing to do with the city itself, but rather involves Mandeville listing the religious sites he sees, recounting their histories, and explaining their importance to the reader. He often references religious figures who have passed through Jerusalem themselves; he tells the stories of Lot, Abraham, Mary Magdalene, King Herod, and more. When he does describe the landscape of the city, many of his descriptions still stem from a religious context. For example, he describes the trees as “bearing prettily colored fruit which appear to be ripe, but when one splits them or cuts them open one finds nothing but cinders and ashes; this is a token of God’s vengeance through which these cities were burned with hellfire.” (pg. 51)
The Book of Marvels and Travels does not appear to have been written with the intent of giving a detailed, useful, or even accurate account of the city of Jerusalem. Almost the entire section written on Jerusalem is an informative religious narrative. It is written directly to the reader, and the phrases “you need to know”, “you should be aware”, etc are used on almost every page. John Mandeville does not seem concerned with informing the reader about his journey to the city of Jerusalem or his experiences there; rather, he is educating the reader on Jerusalem’s religious history and importance. He briefly describes the city and its surroundings, but he is mostly concerned with the religious landmarks and their accounts. He gives no description of the people or culture within the city, other than when mentioning the actions of the pilgrims (and once the Saracens) in holy places and around religious monuments. This makes sense, given the context that The Book of Marvels and Travels was not really written by a traveller. The main purpose of writing the book is to inform those who cannot visit Jerusalem themselves an idea of what it might be like, and the author clearly wants to take the opportunity of a curious audience to spread the Christian faith.
Here you will write an annotation about the location named in the post’s title, according to the following guidelines:
Guidelines: For each post, you will choose a location featured in your travel narrative. You will then answer two factual questions to the best of your ability (some locations or narratives may not include all of this information):
- What kinds of things does the author describe there? Is (s)he focused on the buildings, the culture, the people, the environment?
- What do we learn about the practical or physical aspects of the traveler’s journey (food, lodging, weather, terrain)? When did they arrive, and how long did they stay?
Once you have summarized the factual information about the traveler’s stay, you must also interpret these facts in some way that is interesting to you. Example questions might be:
- What might we assume about the traveler’s own culture based on the observations noted here?
- What aspects of this location, or this description of the location, are particularly unusual to you as a modern reader? Which are unusual to the medieval traveler? Are these the same?
- What do you think is the writer’s purpose in recording this information? To whom is s(he) writing?
You should not attempt to answer all of these questions, and you do not have to choose any of them. The point of this assignment is to move from facts to an interpretation of the facts. What do you find particularly interesting or significant about this stop on the traveler’s journey?