4. Mirabilia Descripta.


Mirabilia Descripta. The Wonders of the East, by Friar Jordanus, of the Order of Preachers and Bishop of Columbum in India the Greater (circa 1330). Translated from the Latin Original, as published at Paris in 1839, in the Recueil de Voyages et de Memoires, of the Society of Geography, with the Addition of a Commentary, by Colonel Henry Yule, 1st series, 31, 1863 (1862).

This small volume runs to no more than 68 pages including text, index, preface and luxuriantly learned notes by the translator, Colonel Henry Yule who, after retiring from the Indian Army, became a dominant figure in the Hakluyt Society and an active presence in the Royal Asiatic Society and the Royal Geographical Society. In his preface, Yule discusses the author, a French-Catalan Dominican about whom little is known, and the text where he opines that the coincidence of statement and expression with Jordanus’s predecessor, Marco Polo, and with his successor, Ibn Battuta, derives from the traditional yarns of Arab sailors with whom they voyaged.

Mirabilia Descripta

It seems that Jordanus twice went to the east, in 1321–3 and in 1330. In the latter year, a bull of Pope John XXII appointed him bishop of Columbum which Yule identifies as Quilon in modern Kerala. Jordanus has a wide geographical range of observations and reports from Ethiopia, where he locates Prester John, as well as from the Middle East, Central Asia and the Far East.

The core of his short work concerns Lesser India (apparently the west coast down to a point above Malabar), Greater India (Malabar and eastward) and India Tertia (East Africa). Curiously, there is very little about Christianity in India. He remarks that it was so decayed that there was no knowledge of baptism. Still, he reckoned that 200–300 preaching friars could achieve mass conversions. This appealed to the Victorian editor who thought that India’s salvation lay through Christianity. Existing local customs, such as sati and selfdecapitation, caught his attention. The title notwithstanding, Jordanus is exuberant rather than fabulous. He brings to his readers, whoever they may have been, much interesting information about Indian flora, fauna and society with passing judgements, for example, about Indian justice and truthfulness, which provoke reflections from Yule on changing times.

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