Author: Sam

Sir John Mandeville, The Book of Marvels and Travels: India

India is not like previous lands that Sir John Mandeville has traveled to in previous chapter. This is a whole new world, it seems, for Mandeville and we can tell this through his tone and use of language. He seems very neutral throughout writing this and quite observational rather than opinionated. He notes a variety of different things throughout the journey, as this is such a new place for him. He gives a brief overview of the land and terrain. The first thing to note about this aspect is that he thinks India is much larger than what it actually was or even is today. He actually thinks that India is made up of “more than five thousand different islands.” (74)

Throughout reading Mandeville, I’ve noticed that he goes on strange stream-of-consciousness tangents (much like I do in these blog posts). For example, while he is described where India is situated in terms of other places he has been to, he goes on about how there are diamonds in this land and how they don’t compare to some of the other diamonds he has come across in Asia. He talks about how they are unbreakable how they have some kind of special courage giving powers (73). These are facts that I don’t think have any deeper meaning, but they struck me in a way that I could not ignore, so they are now included in this blog post.

When talking about the people in India, he is extremely condescending. The first sentence that even mentions people is this, “The people living near that river have a foul yellow-and-green complexion.” It doesn’t take much analytical interpretation to see that he is pretty grossed out by these people because they do not look like him, an “intellectual” and “civilized” man, or shall we say, “white.” There is an interesting part where he contradicts my earlier argument where I say that he is very condescending towards the people of India. He talks about the peoples’ different styles of religion. In this sense, he seems a bit understanding of how they worship. He wants to make clear that there is a difference between an idol and an effigy. Obviously in Christianity, the worship of anything other than God himself is idolatry and strictly intolerable. So why make the distinction between an effigy and an idol if he didn’t actually understand where they were coming from? “They say they know full well these effigies are not God, who made all things; but they are godly because of the miracles that they perform, and therefore they worship them.” (75) On some level, although he does not believe in the things that they do, he connects with them on this mere technicality.

Sir John Mandeville, The Book of Marvels and Travels: Jerusalem

Sir John Mandeville writes extensively on Jerusalem, or the Holy City. He describes it’s geographical nature in the first few paragraphs; how it is “well situated amongst the hills” (39) and how it isn’t near any kind of natural water source. He notes the city’s surroundings very briefly. The kingdom of Arabia borders Jerusalem to the east. Egypt is in the south. The Mediterranean Sea is in the west. The Kingdom of Syria and the Cypress Sea are both in the north. These are very basic geographical landmarks so that a reader will be able to know roughly where Jerusalem is; much like someone from Havertown, PA would say they are “outside of Philly.” It’s interesting how this sort of tactic is used back then just as we do now, so that people know generally where things are. All of these things are very quickly mentioned right at the beginning of this Jerusalem notation. However, I would say that his main focus throughout the narrative is the importance of Jerusalem as an iconic state, especially religiously. He talks about how the city has been in the hands of many peoples from different faiths.

Mandeville has a tendency to provide a lot of historical background to cities like Jerusalem. These little facts are interspersed throughout his telling of the cities. For Jerusalem, he talks about how it used to be called “Jebus” and then later “Salem,” until Solomon came around and combined the two names to make “Jerusalem.”  Everything has to do with Christianity when it comes to Mandeville’s accounts of most of the places he notes, but especially in Jerusalem. It is, after all, the Holy City. He constantly notes places at Jesus Christ had been to, and the legends and shrines that surround them. One particularly interesting description of one of these places is the Valley of Jehoshaphat, which is outside of the city walls during his time. “Our Lord entered through that gate on Palm Sunday, riding on an ass, and the gate opened for Him when He wished to go to the Temple.” (43) Just in this phrase, you can see how important these religious events are to him through his tone, such as the way he addresses Jesus Christ as “Our Lord.” He also is clearly writing for a mainly Christian audience and assumes that people will care about these religious factoids just the same as he does. This is fitting, however, since he is a French man and everybody in France during his time was Christian in some way. There is a religious significance outlined in every single place he goes to.

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