Medieval Beginnings: The Travels of Sir John Mandeville

Irina Dumitrescu and Mary Wellesley

For the final episode of Medieval Beginnings, Mary and Irina look at by far the most popular text (in its time) of all that have featured in the series: The Travels of Sir John Mandeville. The fictional traveller’s fantastical descriptions of different places, peoples and animals across the Holy Land and Asia are almost certainly drawn mainly from other textual sources, rather than direct experience by the unknown author, and yet the work was often used as a source of reference as well as entertainment or prurient interest. Many of the writer’s observations of different political and religious practices could be taken as radical critiques of his homeland. Yet while it often urges appreciation of other cultures, the book is undoubtedly xenophobic and racist in places, foreshadowing the European quest for colonisation: indeed, Christopher Columbus had a copy with him when the Santa Cruz sighted land on 12th October 1492.

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