The Travels of Sir John Mandeville, by John Mandeville

Chapter XXXII

Of the Goodness of the Folk of the Isle of Bragman. Of King Alexander. And Wherefore the Emperor of IND IS CLEPT PRESTER John

AND beyond that isle is another isle, great and good and plenteous, where that be good folk and true, and of good living after their belief and of good faith. And albeit that they be not christened, ne have no perfect law, yet, natheles, of kindly law they be full of all virtue, and they eschew all vices and all malices and all sins. For they be not proud, ne covetous, ne envious, ne wrathful, ne gluttons, ne lecherous. Ne they do to any man otherwise than they would that other men did to them, and in this point they fulfil the ten commandments of God, and give no charge of avoir, ne of riches. And they lie not, ne they swear not for none occasion, but they say simply, yea and nay; for they say, he that sweareth will deceive his neighbour, and therefore, all that they do, they do it without oath.

And men clepe that isle the Isle of Bragman, and some men clepe it the Land of Faith. And through that land runneth a great river that is clept Thebe. And, in general, all the men of those isles and of all the marches thereabout be more true than in any other countries thereabout, and more rightfull than others in all things. In that isle, is no thief, ne murderer, ne common woman, ne poor beggar, ne never was man slain in that country. And they be so chaste, and lead so good life, as that they were religious men, and they fast all days. And because they be so true and so rightfull, and so full of all good conditions, they were never grieved with tempests, ne with thunder, ne with light, ne with hail, ne with pestilence, ne with war, ne with hunger, ne with none other tribulation, as we be, many times, amongst us, for our sins. Wherefore, it seemeth well, that God loveth them and is pleased with their creaunce for their good deeds. They believe well in God, that made all things, and him they worship. And they prize none earthly riches; and so they be all rightfull. And they live full ordinately, and so soberly in meat and drink, that they live right long. And the most part of them die without sickness, when nature faileth them, for eld.

And it befell in King Alexander’s time, that he purposed him to conquer that isle and to make them to hold of him. And when they of the country heard it, they sent messengers to him with letters, that said thus; What may be enough to that man to whom all the world is insufficient? Thou shalt find nothing in us, that may cause thee to war against us. For we have no riches, ne none we covet, and all the goods of our country be in common. Our meat, that we sustain withal our bodies, is our riches. And, instead of treasure of gold and silver, we make our treasure of accord and peace, and for to love every man other. And for to apparel with our bodies we use a silly little clout for to wrap in our carrion. Our wives ne be not arrayed for to make no man pleasance, but only convenable array for to eschew folly. When men pain them to array the body for to make it seem fairer than God made it, they do great sin. For man should not devise ne ask greater beauty, than God hath ordained man to be at his birth. The earth ministereth to us two things, — our livelihood, that cometh of the earth that we live by, and our sepulture after our death. We have been in perpetual peace till now, that thou come to disinherit us. And also we have a king, not only for to do justice to every man, for he shall find no forfeit among us; but for to keep noblesse, and for to shew that we be obeissant, we have a king. For justice ne hath not among us no place, for we do to no man otherwise than we desire that men do to us. So that righteousness ne vengeance have nought to do among us. So that nothing thou may take from us, but our good peace, that always hath dured among us.

And when King Alexander had read these letters, he thought that he should do great sin, for to trouble them. And then he sent them sureties, that they should not be afeard of him, and that they should keep their good manners and their good peace, as they had used before, of custom. And so he let them alone.

Another isle there is, that men clepe Oxidrate, and another isle, that men clepe Gynosophe, where there is also good folk, and full of good faith. And they hold, for the most part, the good conditions and customs and good manners, as men of the country abovesaid; but they go all naked.

Into that isle entered King Alexander, to see the manner. And when he saw their great faith, and their truth that was amongst them, he said that he would not grieve them, and bade them ask of him what that they would have of him, riches or anything else, and they should have it, with good will. And they answered, that he was rich enough that had meat and drink to sustain the body with, for the riches of this world, that is transitory, is not worth; but if it were in his power to make them immortal, thereof would they pray him, and thank him. And Alexander answered them that it was not in his power to do it, because he was mortal, as they were. And then they asked him why he was so proud and so fierce, and so busy for to put all the world under his subjection, right as thou were a God, and hast no term of this life, neither day ne hour, and willest to have all the world at thy commandment, that shall leave thee without fail, or thou leave it. And right as it hath been to other men before thee, right so it shall be to other after thee. And from hence shalt thou bear nothing; but as thou were born naked, right so all naked shall thy body be turned into earth that thou were made of. Wherefore thou shouldest think and impress it in thy mind, that nothing is immortal, but only God, that made the thing. By the which answer Alexander was greatly astonished and abashed, and all confused and departed from them.

And albeit that these folk have not the articles of our faith as we have, natheles, for their good faith natural, and for their good intent, I trow fully, that God loveth them, and that God take their service to gree, right as he did of Job, that was a paynim, and held him for his true servant. And therefore, albeit that there be many diverse laws in the world, yet I trow, that God loveth always them that love him, and serve him meekly in truth, and namely them that despise the vain glory of this world, as this folk do and as Job did also.

And therefore said our Lord by the mouth of Hosea the prophet, PONAM EIS MULTIPLICES LEGES MEAS; and also in another place, QUI TOTUM ORBEM SUBDIT SUIS LEGIBUS. And also our Lord saith in the Gospel, ALIAS OVES HABEO, QUE NON SUNT EX HOC OVILI, that is to say, that he had other servants than those that be under Christian law. And to that accordeth the avision that Saint Peter saw at Jaffa, how the angel came from heaven, and brought before him diverse beasts, as serpents and other creeping beasts of the earth, and of other also, great plenty, and bade him take and eat. And Saint Peter answered; I eat never, quoth he, of unclean beasts. And then said the angel, NON DICAS IMMUNDA, QUE DEUS MUNDAVIT. And that was in token that no man should have in despite none earthly man for their diverse laws, for we know not whom God loveth, ne whom God hateth. And for that example, when men say, DE PROFUNDIS, they say it in common and in general, with the Christian, PRO ANIMABUS OMNIUM DEFUNCTORUM, PRO QUIBUS SIT ORANDUM.

And therefore say I of this folk, that be so true and so faithful, that God loveth them. For he hath amongst them many of the prophets, and alway hath had. And in those isles, they prophesied the Incarnation of Lord Jesu Christ, how he should be born of a maiden, three thousand year or more or our Lord was born of the Virgin Mary. And they believe well it, the Incarnation, and that full perfectly, but they know not the manner, how he suffered his passion and death for us.

And beyond these isles there is another isle that is clept Pytan. The folk of that country ne till not, ne labour not the earth, for they eat no manner thing. And they be of good colour and of fair shape, after their greatness. But the small be as dwarfs, but not so little as be the Pigmies. These men live by the smell of wild apples. And when they go any far way, they bear the apples with them; for if they had lost the savour of the apples, they should die anon. They ne be not full reasonable, but they be simple and bestial.

After that is another isle, where the folk be all skinned rough hair, as a rough beast, save only the face and the palm of the hand. These folk go as well under the water of the sea, as they do above the land all dry. And they eat both flesh and fish all raw. In this isle is a great river that is well a two mile and an half of breadth that is clept Beaumare.

And from that river a fifteen journeys in length, going by the deserts of the tother side of the river — whoso might go it, for I was not there, but it was told us of them of the country, that within those deserts were the trees of the sun and of the moon, that spake to King Alexander, and warned him of his death. And men say that the folk that keep those trees, and eat of the fruit and of the balm that groweth there, live well four hundred year or five hundred year, by virtue of the fruit and of the balm. For men say that balm groweth there in great plenty and nowhere else, save only at Babylon, as I have told you before. We would have gone toward the trees full gladly if we had might. But I trow that 100,000 men of arms might not pass those deserts safely, for the great multitude of wild beasts and of great dragons and of great serpents that there be, that slay and devour all that come anent them. In that country be many white elephants without number, and of unicorns and of lions of many manners, and many of such beasts that I have told before, and of many other hideous beasts without number.

Many other isles there be in the land of Prester John, and many great marvels, that were too long to tell all, both of his riches and of his noblesse and of the great plenty also of precious stones that he hath. I trow that ye know well enough, and have heard say, wherefore this emperor is clept Prester John. But, natheles, for them that know not, I shall say you the cause.

It was sometime an emperor there, that was a worthy and a full noble prince, that had Christian knights in his company, as he hath that is now. So it befell, that he had great list for to see the service in the church among Christian men. And then dured Christendom beyond the sea, all Turkey, Syria, Tartary, Jerusalem, Palestine, Arabia, Aleppo and all the land of Egypt. And so it befell that this emperor came with a Christian knight with him into a church in Egypt. And it was the Saturday in Whitsun-week. And the bishop made orders. And he beheld, and listened the service full tentively. And he asked the Christian knight what men of degree they should be that the prelate had before him. And the knight answered and said that they should be priests. And then the emperor said that he would no longer be clept king ne emperor, but priest, and that he would have the name of the first priest that went out of the church, and his name was John. And so ever-more sithens, he is clept Prester John.

In his land be many Christian men of good faith and of good law, and namely of them of the same country, and have commonly their priests, that sing the Mass, and make the sacrament of the altar, of bread, right as the Greeks do; but they say not so many things at the Mass as men do here. For they say not but only that that the apostles said, as our Lord taught them, right as Saint Peter and Saint Thomas and the other apostles sung the Mass, saying the PATER NOSTER and the words of the sacrament. But we have many more additions that divers popes have made, that they ne know not of.

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