Things Get Weird Past Cathay

April 9, 2008 § Leave a comment

Now reading: The Travels of Sir John Mandeville.

Mandeville’s been in cartographic/touristic/historian mode for a while, but he really lets it all hang out near the end of the book. After he’s described the Mongol lands and China, he just starts repeating whatever he’s heard (or embellishing whatever he’s read, perhaps). A couple of choice examples from chapter 29:

Maybe the most famous cock-and-bull story here is the one which the editor speculates might be hearsay about Korea: “There there grows a kind of fruit as big as gourds, and when it is ripe men open it and find inside an animal of flesh and blood and bone, like a little lamb without wool. And the people of that land eat the animal, and the fruit too.” Even weirder, Mandeville gets all world-weary and says it’s no big deal, since in England they have trees whose fruits bear geese if they fall on water. Uh, yeah, sure.

An interesting apocalyptic story, too: according to Mandeville the Gog and Magog references in Revelation are to the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel, which are trapped in a mountainous land. When the Antichrist appears, a fox will dig a hole into this land from just outside the gates that were built by Alexander the Great to hold these Jews in, and since they don’t have foxes there they’ll be so intrigued that they will chase him and dig after him and thereby escape their prison. It’s got a very old, very Freudian, very ugly-early-medieval-folklore feel, this story.

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