Volume 1, Chapter 12, Sections 16-22 -- Travels of Oderic of Portenau, into China and the East, in 1318: *section index*


Volume 1, Chapter 12, Section 16 -- Of the four Solemn Feasts held yearly by the Great Khan.

The great khan celebrates four great feasts every year; on the anniversaries of his birth, his circumcision, his coronation, and his marriage. Sitting upon his throne of state, all his kindred, barons, and stage-players, attend in great ceremony and in rich attire; the highest order being dressed in green, the second in red, and the third in yellow, all girt with golden girdles, half a foot broad, and every one holding a small ivory tablet in his hand, they all stand in regular order, keeping the most profound silence. On the outside, all the stage-players, and the musicians, with their musical instruments, are arranged. In one of the corners of a certain great gallery, all the philosophers or magicians attend, waiting for certain hours and moments, and when the fortunate moment is arrived, a crier calleth out in a loud voice, "Prostrate yourselves before the emperor," and then all fall upon their faces. After a certain interval, the crier again orders the whole assembly to rise up, and they do so. At another particular moment, fixed by the philosophers, orders are given in a loud voice, for every one to stop their ears with their fingers; afterwards they are called upon to take out their fingers. Many similar things are performed in this manner, which they pretend to be significant, but which, being vain and ridiculous, I gave no attention to, and am not inclined to write. When the hour of music comes, the philosophers give the word, and they all sound their instruments, making a great and melodious noise; after which, orders are given to cease from the music. Then come the women musicians, who sing sweetly before the emperor, which I thought delightful. After them, the lions are led in, and are made to pay their obeisance to the emperor. Then the jugglers cause golden cups, full of wine, to fly up and down in the air, and to apply themselves to mens mouths, that they may drink. And many other strange things are performed, which I omit to mention, as no one would believe me.

I was informed by certain credible persons, that in the mountains of Kapsei, in the kingdom of Kalor, which is in the dominions of the great khan, there grow certain gourds, or pompions, which open when ripe, and a little beast is found within them, resembling a young lamb. I have likewise heard, that there grow certain trees upon the shore of the Irish sea, which carry a fruit like gourds, and that these fall into the sea at certain times, and are changed into birds called Bernacles.



Volume 1, Chapter 12, Section 17 -- Of various Provinces and Cities of the East.

After a residence of three years in Cambalu, I departed from the empire of Kathay, and travelled fifty days to the west, when I arrived in the dominions of Pretegoani,[1] whose principal city is Cosan. Continuing my journey for many days, I came to the province of Casan, which is well inhabited, and one of the first countries in the world, for abundance of provisions, and commodities of all kinds, especially of chesnuts; and is so extremely populous that on leaving the gates of any one city, we may always have the gates of another within sight. This country is fifty days journey in breadth, and it is above sixty days journey in length. This is one of the twelve great provinces belonging to the great khan.

Farther on, I came into another kingdom belonging to the khan, called Tebek or Thibet, which is, in my opinion, more abundant in bread and wine than any other country in the world. The inhabitants mostly dwell in tents of black felt. The principal city is surrounded by beautiful walls, built of large white and black stones, disposed chequerwise; and all the highways of the country are well paved. In this country, from certain religious notions, no one dares shed the blood of a man, or of any beast. The Abassi, who is their Pope, dwells in the city already mentioned, being the head or prince of all the idolaters, on whom he bestows gifts; just as our Pope of Rome considers himself to be the head of all the Christians. The women of this country wear a prodigious number of ornaments, and they have two long teeth like the tusks of a boar. When any man dies in this country, his son assembles all the priests and musicians that he can procure, to do honour to his father, whose body he causes to be carried out into the fields, accompanied by all the kindred, friends, and neighbours of the family. Then the priests, with great solemnity, cut off the head of the deceased, which they give to his son; after which, they divide the whole body into small pieces, which they leave strewed about the place; and then the whole company return home in solemn procession, accompanied with prayers, the son bearing his fathers head. On their departure from the field, the vultures of the country, accustomed to similar banquets, come down from the mountains, and carry off all the remains of the deceased person; who is thereupon pronounced holy, because the angels of God, as they say, have carried him to paradise. When the procession returns to the dwelling of the deceased, the son boils the head of his father, and eats the flesh, converting the skull into a drinking cup, out of which he, and all his family, and kindred, carouse with much, mirth and solemnity, in remembrance of his father. This nation has many other vile and abominable customs, which I refrain from describing, because no one would believe them unseen.

[1] This strange word, both in the Latin and English of Hakluyt, is obviously the Italian for Prester John, information concerning whom will be found in the travels of Marco Polo.--E.



Volume 1, Chapter 12, Section 18 -- Of a certain Rich Man, who was Fed by fifty Virgins.

While in the province of Mangi, or Southern China, I passed by the palace of a rich man, who is continually attended upon by fifty young virgins, who feed him at every meal as a bird feeds her young; and all the time they are so employed, they sing to him most sweetly. The revenues of this man are thirty toman of tagars of rice, each toman being 10,000 tagars, and one tagar is the burthen of an ass. His palace is two miles in circuit, and is paved with alternate plates of gold and silver. Near the wall of his palace, there is an artificial mound of gold and silver, having turrets and steeples, and other magnificent ornaments, contrived for the solace and recreation of this great man.[1] I was further informed, that there are four such great men in the kingdom of Mangi. It is reckoned a great mark of dignity, among the great men of this country, to have their nails of great length; more especially their thumb nails, which are sometimes of sufficient length to be wrapped round the hand. The beauty, and even the rank of their women is supposed to consist in the smallness of their feet; for which reason, mothers bind up the feet of their daughters when young, to prevent them from growing large.

[1] This seems an ill-digested account of a pagoda, or idol temple, of great extent and magnificence, richly gilt, similar to those of which we have splendid views in the relation of the embassy to Ava, by Colonel Symes.--E.



Volume 1, Chapter 12, Section 19 -- Of the Old Man of the Mountain.

Proceeding on my travels towards the south, I arrived at a certain pleasant and fertile country, called Melistorte,[1] in which dwells a certain aged person called the Old Man of the Mountain. This person had surrounded two mountains by a high wall, within which he had the fairest gardens, and finest fountains in the world, inhabited by great numbers of most beautiful virgins. It was likewise supplied with fine horses, and every article that could contribute to luxury and delightful solace; on which account it was called by the people of the country the terrestrial paradise. Into this delightful residence, the old man used to entice all the young and valiant men he could procure, where they were initiated into all the delights of the earthly paradise, in which milk and wine flowed in abundance, through certain hidden conduits. When desirous of assassinating any prince or nobleman who had offended him, the old man would order the governor of his paradise to entice into that place, some acquaintance or servant of the prince or baron whom he wished to slay. Allowing this person to take a full taste of the delights of the place, he was cast into a deep sleep by means of a strong potion, in which state he was removed from paradise. On recovering from his sleep, and finding himself excluded from the pleasures of paradise, he was brought before the old man, whom he entreated to restore him to the place from whence he had been taken. He was then told, that, if he would slay such or such a person, he should not only be permitted to return into paradise, but should remain there forever. By these means the old man used to get all those murdered, against whom he had conceived any displeasure; on which account all the kings and princes of the east stood in awe of him, and paid him tribute.

When the Tartars had subdued a large portion of the earth, they came into the country of the old man, and took from him his paradise. Being greatly incensed at this, he sent out many of his resolute and desperate dependents, by whom numbers of the Tartar nobles were slain. Upon this, the Tartars besieged the city of the old man of the mountain; and, making him prisoner, they put him to a cruel and ignominious death.

[1] It is impossible to explain this strange word, Melistorte. The dominions of the old man of the mountain, and his earthly paradise, in some other travels of the present volume, are said to have been situated in the north of Persia.--E.



Volume 1, Chapter 12, Section 20 -- Of several wonderful things in those parts.

In that place,[1] the friars have the special gift, that, through the power of the name of Jesus Christ, and of his precious blood, which was shed on the cross for the remission of our sins, they speedily expel devils from those who are possessed. And as there are many possessed persons in those parts, they are brought bound, from the distance of ten days' journey all around, to the friars; and being dispossessed of the unclean spirits, they immediately believe in Christ, who hath delivered them, and are baptized in his name, delivering up to the friars all their idols, and the idols of their cattle, which are usually made of felt, or of women's hair. Then the friars kindle a great fire in some public place, into which they cast the idols before all the people. At the first, the idols used to come out of the fire; but the friars, having sprinkled the fire with holy water, threw in the idols again, where they were consumed to ashes; and the devils fled away in the likeness of black smoke, when a noise was heard in the air, crying out aloud, "Behold how I am expelled from my habitation!" By these means, the friars have baptized great multitudes; but they mostly return soon again to their idols, on which account, the friars have continually to abide among them, to exhort and instruct them in the faith.

I saw another terrible thing in those parts. Passing by a certain valley, near a pleasant river, I saw many dead bodies therein, and I heard issuing therefrom many sweet and harmonious musical sounds, especially of lutes; insomuch that I was much amazed. This valley is at least seven or eight miles long, into which whoever enters, is sure to die immediately; for which cause, all who travel by that way pass by on one side, no one being able to travel through that valley and live. But I was curious to go in, that I might see what it contained. Making therefore my prayers, and recommending myself to God, I entered in, and saw such vast quantities of dead bodies, as no one would believe, unless he had seen them with his own eyes. At one side of the valley, I saw the visage of a man upon a stone, which stared at me with such a hideous aspect, that I thought to have died on the spot. But I ceased not to sign myself with the sign of the cross, continually saying "The Word became flesh, and dwelt with us." Yet I dared not to approach nearer than seven or eight paces; and at length, I fled to another part of the valley. I then ascended a little sand hill; from whence, looking around, I saw on every side the before mentioned lutes, which seemed to me to sound of themselves in a most miraculous manner, without the aid of any musicians. On the top of this sand hill, I found great quantities of silver, resembling the scales of fishes, and gathered some of this into the bosom of my habit, to shew as a wonder; but, my conscience rebuking me, I threw it all away, and so, by the blessing of God, I departed in safety. When the people of the country knew that I had returned alive from the valley of the dead, they reverenced me greatly; saying, that the dead bodies were subject to the infernal spirits, who were in use to play upon lutes, to entice men into the valley, that they might die; but as I was a baptized and holy person, I had escaped the danger. Thus much I have related, which I certainly beheld with mine own eyes; but I have purposely omitted many wonderful things, because those who had not seen them would refuse to believe my testimony.

[1] The place in which these wonderful things were seen, is no where indicated; neither is the omission to be regretted, as the whole is evidently fabulous.--E.



Volume 1, Chapter 12, Section 21 -- Of the Honour and Reverence shewn to the Great Khan.

I shall here report one thing more concerning the great khan of Cathay, of which I was a witness. It is customary, when he travels through any part of his wide dominions, that his subjects kindle fires before their doors, in such places as he means to pass, into which they fling spices and perfumes, that he may be regaled by their sweet odour. And numberless multitudes flock from all quarters, to meet him, and do him homage. Upon a certain time, when the approach of the khan to Cambalu was announced, one of our bishops, together with several minorite friars and myself, went out two days journey from the city to meet him. When we came nigh to his presence, we bore aloft a cross upon a pole, and began to sing Veni Creator, in a loud voice, while I carried the censer. When he came up to the place where we were singing by the way side, he called us to come towards him; for no man dare approach within a stone's throw of his chariot, unless called, except those only who are appointed to attend upon his person. When we came near, he took off his cap or helmet, of inestimable value, and did reverence to the cross. I immediately put incense into the censer; and the bishop, taking the censer into his own hands, perfumed the khan, and gave him his benediction. Besides this, as those who approach the great khan always bring with them some offering to present to him, according to the ancient law, "Thou shalt not come empty handed into my presence," so we carried some apples along with us, and reverently offered them to him on a salver; and he was pleased to take two of our apples, of one of which he ate a part. The khan then gave a sign for us to depart, lest we might have been injured by the crowd of horses; upon which we turned aside to certain of his barons, who had been converted to the Christian faith, and who were then in his train, to whom we offered the remainder of our apples, which they joyfully received, as if we had made them some great gift.



Volume 1, Chapter 12, Section 22 -- Conclusion of the Travels, and Account of the Death of Friar Oderic.

All the above were put down in writing by friar William de Solanga, as dictated to him by friar Oderic, in the year of our Lord 1330, in the month of May, and in the place of St Anthony at Padua. He hath not attempted to render these relations into fine Latin, or in an eloquent style, but hath written them even as rehearsed by Oderic himself.

I, friar Oderic of Portenau, in the Friuli, of the order of minorites, do hereby testify, and bear witness to the reverend father Guidotus, minister of the province of St Anthony, in the marquisate of Trevigi, by whom I was commanded so to do, that all which is here written, was either seen by myself or reported to me by credible and worthy persons; and the common report of the countries through which I travelled, testifies all those things which I have seen and related to be true. Many other wonderful things I have omitted, because they were not seen by myself. It is farther mine intention, soon again to travel into foreign and far distant lands, in which I may live or die, as it may please the Almighty Disposer of events.

In the year of our Lord 1331, friar Oderic, resolving to enter upon his intended journey, determined to present himself before Pope John XXII[1] on purpose to receive his benediction, that his labour might be the more prosperous; as he intended to travel into the countries of the infidels, with certain friars who had agreed to accompany him. While journeying to the residence of the pope, and not far distant from the city of Pisa, he was encountered by an old man in the garb of a pilgrim, who saluted him by name, saying, "Hail to you, friar Oderic." And when Oderic inquired how he should know him, the old man answered, "While you were in India, I well knew both you and your holy purpose; but now be warned from me, and return to the convent whence you came, for in ten days you shall depart out of this world." Upon this the old man immediately vanished, from his sight; and Oderic, amazed at his words, determined to return to his convent, which he did in perfect health, feeling no illness, or decay of his body or faculties. And ten days afterwards, being then in his convent at Udina, in the province of Padua, and having received the holy communion, as preparing himself unto God, yea, being strong and sound of body, he happily rested in the Lord, according as it had been revealed. Which holy death was signified unto the foresaid supreme pontiff, under the hand of a public notary, in the following words:

"On the 14th of January, in the year of our Lord 1331, the blessed Oderic, a friar of the minorite order, deceased in Christ; at whose prayers God shewed many and sundry miracles, which I, Guetelus, public notary of Udina, son of Dora. Damiano de Portu Gruario, at the command and direction of the noble lord Conradus, of the borough of Gastaldion, one of the council of Udina, have written down with good faith to the best of my abilities; and I have delivered a copy of the same to the friars minors: Yet not of the whole, because they are innumerable, and too difficult for, me to write."
[1] This pope reigned from about 1317 to 1334, so that the original editor, or fabricator, of these travels, has so for been fortunate in his chronology.--E.

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