Author: Juliana (Page 1 of 2)

John Mandeville Map Comparison

For this assignment, I redid my modern map to focus on a different part of Mandeville’s text. I took locations he describes in chapters 14 and 15 and mapped them on a modern map and the Hereford Mappa Mundi. While it was a little challenging to map some locations onto the modern map, as some of the place names Mandeville uses are different than they are today, it was much easier than mapping on the Hereford map. This was partially due to different technology between the two; Google Maps is intuitive to me and I understand how to use it efficiently, but I found it challenging to zoom in enough on the Hereford map and read the place names. I found myself wishing I had a high resolution, searchable version of it, like a fully searchable version of the interactive website, so I could simply look up where Ethiopia or Ezurum are on the Hereford map. I also found it hard to work with the Hereford map because of the language barrier – all of the writing is in Latin, and it was tricky to decipher the handwriting. I ended up using the modern map and a few different websites that pointed out specific places on the Hereford map to find locations in relation to each other. For example, one website had a cropped image of Babylon and the Euphrates river, which I used alongside my modern map to find some other locations in relation to the Euphrates. I also was able to find places such as Hereford, Jerusalem, Crete, and Mt. Etna to get my bearings and help decipher where locations such as Armenia were. However, I was not able to find exact locations of any places in my chosen route (with the exception of the Euphrates river), so I ended up making my best guess and circling areas where I thought these places were.

Comparing the two maps, I am not confident in my placement of several places, primarily Ethiopia and India. However, Mandeville is not accurate in his placement of them either. Making guesses about where places are in relation to each other seems in the spirit of a medieval travel narrative – I have not visited any of these places myself, so I used the resources at my disposal to make an educated guess about where they might be. Looking at the modern map, I question Mandeville’s proposed route – from the beginning of this route, he seems to zigzag and go back and forth more than is necessary, beginning at Trabzon, then going to Armenia, then turning around and going back towards Trabzon to reach Ezurum. Mapping the journey on the Hereford map exaggerates this problem, especially when it comes time to map Ethiopia and India. This is partially why I question my placement of these two locations, because it doesn’t make sense to me to go such a long ways west (down on the medieval map), then turn around and go almost the exact same journey east (up on the medieval map). Mandeville puts India and Ethiopia close to each other, but as I couldn’t read the place names on the Hereford map, I based my points on the modern map. I would like to know whether the Hereford Mappa Mundi is closer to a modern map in terms of accuracy, or whether the geography is closer to Mandeville’s text.

The Book of John Mandeville: Tartary and Prussia

In chapter twelve, Mandeville presents a route to Jerusalem that does not take travelers by sea at all, instead allowing them to travel entirely by land. He claims that this route is “extremely long and dangerous and so full of hardships” that people generally take a different route (61). The hardships he describes come primarily when travelers reach Tartary and Prussia, and take the form of terrain, weather, and the people one might meet there. In Tartary, he describes both the people and the environment as “wretched,” claiming that it is an infertile land with very little agricultural potential and “no wine, no beans, no pulses” (61). There are a lot of animals, however, and Mandeville says that the people there eat all kinds of meat, from cats and rats and mice and other wild animals (61). He describes the weather as different extremes, either extremely cold or extremely hot, with “gales and thunderstorms” in the summer “which kill a large number of people and many animals” (61). In Prussia and the other areas surrounding Tartary, Mandeville focuses on the environment and its hazards, explaining that it is hard to travel through this area unless the seas are completely frozen. However, while the extreme cold allows travelers to cross rivers more easily when they are frozen, it presents other challenges, such as making areas uninhabitable and forcing travelers to carry all the provisions they will need until they reach the next habitable place (61-62).

Based on his description of Tartary, Prussia, and the surrounding areas, Mandeville seems unaccustomed to harsher environments where food does not grow easily and temperatures are more extreme. His description of the food that is and is not available reveals what he kinds of food he is used to; he makes the point that there isn’t any wine, beans, or pulses (part of the legume family), and he sees eating meat from cats, rats, and mice as unusual and perhaps even uncivilized, as he follows this observation with the claim “they are extremely wretched people and have a wicked nature” (61). Mandeville is most concerned with the agricultural potential of the land and the diets of the people there; he does not see them as substantial enough, seeming to be concerned about a lack of resources when he says “Princes and other gentlemen eat only once each day, and a very small amount at that” (61). He is also very judgmental towards the people who live in this area, describing them and their habits as wretched; he also warns travelers about the journey between Prussia and “the habitable lands of the Saracens,” saying that local spies will alert people when they see Christian travelers arriving in order to take them captive (62).


(pp. 61-62)

The Book of John Mandeville: Hebron

In his description of the Valley of Hebron, Mandeville focuses on the valley’s biblical legacy and the places pilgrims might like to visit while they are there. He describes Hebron’s history and relates it to biblical figures and events, claiming that Adam lived there, King David ruled over it for seven and a half years, and the patriarchs and their wives (Adam and Eve, Abraham and Sarah, and Jacob and Rebecca) are buried there (36). He also relates the biblical legacies of locations he describes, talking about the church where the patriarchs are buried, a cave where Adam and Eve supposedly lived after the Fall, the place where Abraham’s house was, and the grave of Lot two miles outside of Hebron (36-37).  Mandeville doesn’t spend much time talking about practical aspects of this location, choosing instead to essentially lay out a guide for sightseeing. However, travelers have to pass through a desert to reach Hebron and Mandeville mentions hills and rocks, giving the impression that it is a valley within a dry, mountainous area (36-37).

Mandeville prioritizes the religious aspects of Hebron, as well as other locations he describes prior to this, which makes sense given that this part of the text describes various routes which pilgrims can take to Jerusalem. Mandeville seems to think that his readers will mainly care about the religious histories of these locations and their connections to biblical stories, as well as what relics and religious locations they would be able to see during their travels. He doesn’t talk much about the people in Hebron, aside from grouping them by religion and talking about Christians, Jews, and “Saracens”; he also doesn’t give much attention to economics, trade, or government. His focus is solely to provide a kind of “Guide for Pilgrims” hitting all the religious must-sees in this area. I find Mandeville’s focus on religious legacy specifically interesting, as he tries to relate every place he describes in this location to at least one (usually more) stories from the Old Testament. It’s as though he needs to show his readers the reasons this place is significant and explain why they should stop there and what they should pay attention to. Given that pilgrimages are generally about journeying to a place to pay homage to its historical and cultural significance, this makes sense; however, I do find it unusual that he would spend so much time on places along the way to Jerusalem. The potential pilgrimages his text prevents seem almost like a leisurely road trip, in which travelers take their time getting to their destination and stop to see sights along the way.


(pp. 36-37)

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