Sunday, 3 January 2016

prester john

(marvel comics depiction of Prester John)

A footnote on researching monsters for some new text for Josephine... the letter of Prester John, c.1165:
Our land is the home of elephants, dromedaries, camels, crocodiles, meta-collinarum, cametennus, tensevetes, wild asses, white and red lions, white bears, white merules, crickets, griffins, tigers, lamias, hyenas, wild horses, wild oxen, and wild men -- men with horns, one-eyed men, men with eyes before and behind, centaurs, fauns, satyrs, pygmies, forty-ell high giants, cyclopses, and similar women. It is the home, too, of the phoenix and of nearly all living animals.
Our land streams with honey and is overflowing with milk. In one region grows no poisonous herd, nor does a querulous frog ever quack in it; no scorpion exists, nor does the serpent glide amongst the grass, not can any poisonous animals exist in it or injure anyone...
A hoaxed letter describing a Christian kingdom in the East. It was, as Umberto Eco points out in Serendipities, used as justification for Western expansion for several generations. Created a kind of quest narrative for Christian invasion. The land is suitably mythical sounding; really, a beautiful example of the power of list-making. There is something of the Medieval bestiary tradition (itself modelled on a classical tradition) to that list. See how the collective imagination, even when its eye is political, looks encyclopaedic. Plutarch:
...the Divinity does not hate variety and changes, but takes great pleasure in them, as one may conjecture by the circuits, conversions, and mutations observable in the heavens...

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