September 05, 2021

John Mandeville's Travelogue Predicts the Magellan-Enrique Circumnavigation

Left: Mandeville; right: travelers approach
the town dock at Jaffa

A handful of medieval travelogues were the closest thing Ferdinand Magellan had to a travel guide when he sought a westward route to Asia—accounts credited to Marco Polo, John Mandeville, and others, and those all echoed the same monsters and myths repeated since the time of Pliny the Elder, the Roman author whose Naturalis Historiae helped inspire the encyclopedia.

It gets little mention today, but The Travels of Sir John Mandeville was a world atlas of sorts in medieval Europe, essential reading for navigators and explorers. The accounts became circulated widely in Europe in the fourteenth century. They detail travels in North Africa and the Middle East, and in India, China, and even the Malay Peninsula—which would have been of particular interest to Ferdinand Magellan, and also Enrique of Malacca, Magellan’s interpreter-slave.

It was clear early on that much of the Mandeville travelogue was borrowed, yet it’s a collection of knowledge and tales and, importantly, a record of the medieval European mind-set.

The author introduces himself as Sir John Mandeville, an English knight, though no historical collaboration exists. The work was possibly written by a Flemish monk named Jan de Langhe in the early 1300s, a prolific writer and collector of travelogues. The earliest surviving text is in French.

The departure of Odoric.
It’s possible also that the author did not in fact travel: Much of the manuscript is commandeered from other sources. His accounts of East Asia including the Malay Peninsula mirror those from Odoric of Pordenone (1286–1331), an Italian missionary explorer. 

Odoric, a Franciscan friar, was sent to Asia as a missionary around 1316, where he remained until 1329. His travels took him beyond the normal reach of medieval Europeans, to the north coast of Sumatra and the southern coast of China. He may also have reached Lhasa, in Tibet, on his return.

The Mandeville travelogue borrows directly from Odoric, but often sensationalizes Odoric’s accounts. 


One gem among Mandeville’s wild tales turned out to predict what would take place two centuries later:


And therefore hath it befallen many times of one thing that I have heard counted when I was young, how a worthy man departed some-time from our countries for to go search the world.  And so he passed India and the isles beyond India, where be more than 5000 isles.  


And so long he went by sea and land, and so environed the world by many seasons, that he found an isle where he heard speak his own language, calling on oxen in the plough, such words as men speak to beasts in his own country whereof he had great marvel, for he knew not how it might be.  


But I say, that he had gone so long by land and by sea, that he had environed all the earth …


Two hundred years after Mandeville wrote this, it happened. Ferdinand Magellan in his early years traveled eastward to Asia, around the Cape of Good Hope. He was with the Portuguese fleet that sacked Malacca, a regional trade hub for merchants from China, Persia, Arabia, and India.


While there, Magellan “captured” a slave he christened Enrique, and in 1512-13, sailing with Magellan and the Portuguese, Enrique began what would become the first circling of the earth.


He traveled with Magellan first back to Portugal and then to Castile. From there, he joined Magellan on the Armada de Molucca, the fleet that found the strait and crossed the Pacific.


After three months at sea, with many crew dead of starvation and scurvy, the remaining three ships reached Limasawa Island (modern-day Philippines) on March 28, 1521.

There, they were greeted by eight men in a canoe, and probably very much to everyone’s delight, Enrique spoke their language.

Enrique was Magellan's slave, but he was listed on the fleet's roster as an interpreter—with a high salary—and by reports had become fluent in Portuguese and Spanish. At Limasawa, for the first time his job title proved accurate.

Enrique had gone in the opposite direction of Mandeville’s traveler, but he had traveled in one direction so far that he circled the earth and came to "an isle where he heard speak his own language." Enrique of Malacca had completed at minimum a linguistic circumnavigation.





Extra: Interesting blog post on Flemish inspiration in The Travels of Sir Mandeville.



Images:
Top: (left) Sir John Mandeville, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons; (right) British Library, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Middle: Unknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.





(C) 2021 by John Sailors. All rights reserved.



See Also:


On March 28, 1521, Enrique of Malacca became the first person to complete a
linguistic circumnavigation of the globe—he traveled so far in one direction that he reached a point where his language was spoken. Enrique’s journey began a decade earlier following the sack of Malacca, when he became a slave of Ferdinand Magellan. A teenager, he accompanied Magellan back to Portugal, then to Spain, and finally on the Armada de Molucca to locate a westward route to the Spice Islands.  Read more:




Ferdinand Magellan’s historic journey swept up several unlikely travelers along the way, among them a seven-year-old boy at Guanabara Bay (Rio de Janeiro). Half-Portuguese, half-Tupi Indian, he is remembered in history as Joãozito Lopes Carvalho. The young boy became the first native of Brazil and likely all of South America to cross the Pacific Ocean—on a year-and-a-half journey that for him ended at Brunei five hundred years ago this summer.

Joãozito was the son of João de Lopes Carvalho and a Tupi Indian woman in what is now Brazil. A Portuguese pilot, João Carvalho had traveled to Guanabara Bay in 1512 on the Bertoa, a commercial vessel sent to pick up dyewood there. A decade earlier a Portuguese fleet had landed at Guanabara Bay and claimed the area for Portugal, naming it Rio de Janeiro for the month they arrived, January 1502. Read more.

Antonio Pigafetta's account of the Magellan-Elcano voyage gives us both first-hand historical detail and color—the human aspects of the journey. The Italian scholar learned all he could about the cultures that Magellan's fleet encountered, even sitting down and recording samples of languages.

An excellent example of Pigafetta's curiosity and fascination is his description of the coconut and the palm tree, which he learned about soon after the fleet's arrival in the Philippines. Like the pineapple Magellan tried in Rio, the coconut was an unknown. "Cocoanuts are the fruit of the palmtree. Just as we have bread, wine, oil, and milk, so those people get everything from that tree. Read more.



A handful of medieval travelogues were the closest thing Ferdinand Magellan had to a travel guide when he sought a westward route to Asia—accounts credited to Marco Polo, John Mandeville, and others, and those all echoed the same monsters and myths repeated since the time of Pliny the Elder, the Roman author whose Naturalis Historiae helped inspire the encyclopedia.

It gets little mention today, but The Travels of Sir John Mandeville was a world atlas of sorts in medieval Europe, essential reading for navigators and explorers. The accounts became circulated widely in Europe in the fourteenth century. They detail travels in North Africa and the Middle East, and in India, China, and even the Malay Peninsula—which would have been of particular interest to Ferdinand Magellan, and also Enrique of Malacca, Magellan’s interpreter-slave. Read more.





Reni Roxas and Marc Singer brought the story of Enrique to life for children in 
First Around the Globe: The Story of Enrique. Twenty years on they released this anniversary edition in 2017 from Tahanan Books, Manila. Read more.




On March 16, 1521, Magellan and his crew reached the Philippines, where they would finally be able to recover after three months crossing the Pacific. They were unable to stop long at Guam—their encounter with the Chamorros they met there did not go well, as seen in their sendoff. As they were departing, more than a hundred of the Chamorros’ outrigger canoes followed for more than a league.

As Pigafetta wrote, “They approached the ships showing us fish, feigning that they would give them to us; but then threw stones at us and fled. And although the ships were under full sail, they passed between them and the small boats [longboats fastened astern], very adroitly in those small boats of theirs. We saw some women in their boats who were crying out and tearing their hair, for love, I believe, of those whom we had killed.” Read more.



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(C) 2022 by Enrique's Voyage, EnriqueOfMalacca.com. All rights reserved.