Prester John: The Legend and its Sources  book cover
1st Edition

Prester John: The Legend and its Sources

Edited By

Keagan Brewer

ISBN 9780367879044
Published December 12, 2019 by Routledge
352 Pages

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Book Description

The legend of Prester John has received much scholarly attention over the last hundred years, but never before have the sources been collected and coherently presented to readers. This book now brings together a fully-representative set of texts setting out the many and various sources from which we get our knowledge of the legend. These texts, spanning a time period from the Crusades to the Enlightenment, are presented in their original languages and in English translation (for many it is the first time they have been available in English). The story of the mysterious oriental leader Prester John, ruler of a land teeming with marvels who may come to the aid of Christians in the Levant, held an intense grip on the medieval mind from the first references in twelfth-century Crusader literature and into the early-modern period. But Prester John was a man of shifting identity, being at different times and for different reasons associated with Chingis Khan and the Mongols, with the Christian kingdom of Ethiopia, with China, Tibet, South Africa and West Africa. In order to orient the reader, each of these iterations is explained in the comprehensive introduction, and in the introductions to texts and sections. The introduction also raises a thorny question not often considered: whether or not medieval audiences believed in the reality of Prester John and the Prester John Letter. The book is completed with three valuable appendices: a list of all known references to Prester John in medieval and early modern sources, a thorough description of the manuscript traditions of the all-important Prester John Letter, and a brief description of Prester John in the history of cartography.

Table of Contents

Contents: Foreword; Introduction: Believing in Prester John; The beginnings of Prester John (12th century); Prester John and the Fifth Crusade (early 13th century); Mongols and travel writers (mid-13th to 14th centuries); Prester John in Africa (15th to early 17th centuries); Legends and lies (late 16th and early 17th centuries); Unravelling Prester John (17th and 18th centuries); Appendices; Select bibliography of secondary sources; Index.

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Keagan Brewer is affiliated with the Centre for Medieval Studies at the University of Sydney, Australia.


"Keagan Brewer has done both scholars and students a great service in bringing a major corpus of medieval and early modern Prester John literature into English translation for the first time." - John Eldevik, Hamilton College

"This welcome addition to the Crusade Texts in Translation series will prove useful, informative, and interesting to a wide readership: historians, and also folklorists, literary critics, historical geographers, and cultural historians. This book brings together for the first time key texts in the legend of Prester John: edited texts from the twelfth to fourteenth centuries with English translations, and translated texts from the fifteenth to eighteenth centuries. These texts provide a fascinating window on changing perceptions, beliefs, and discoveries about lands east of Europe, while documenting the legend of a great Christian kingdom in Asia, which first captured European imagination in the twelfth century as European Christian powers confronted Islamic powers." - Helen Phillips, Cardiff University, Wales