Of the Goodness of the Folk of the Isle of Bragman. Of King Alexander. And wherefore the Emperor of Ind is clept Prester John
AND beyond that Isle is another Isle, great and good and plenteous, where there be good Folk and true, and of good Living after their Belief and of good Faith. And albeit that they be not christened, nor have any perfect Law, yet, nevertheless, by natural Law they be full of all Virtue, and they eschew all Vices and all Malices and all Sins. For they be not proud, nor covetous, nor envious, nor wrathful, nor Gluttons, nor lecherous. Nor do they to any Man otherwise than they would that other Men did to them, and in this Point they fulfill the 10 Commandments of God. And they set no Weight on Possessions or on Riches. And they lie not, nor swear they, on any Occasion, but they say simply, Yea and Nay; for they say, He that sweareth will deceive his Neighbour, and therefore, all that they do, they do it without Oath.
And Men call that Isle the Isle of Bragman, and some Men call it the Land of Faith. And through that Land runneth a great River that is clept Thebe. And, in general, all the Men of those Isles and of all the Borders thereabout be more true than in any other Countries thereabout, and more righteous than others in all Things. In that Isle is no Thief, nor Murderer, nor common Woman, nor poor Beggar, nor ever was Man slain in that Country. And they be as chaste, and lead as good a Life, as though they were religious Men, and they fast all Days. And because they be so true and so righteous, and so full of all good Conditions, they were never grieved with Tempests, nor with Thunder, nor with Lightning, nor with Hail, nor with Pestilence, nor with War, nor with Hunger, nor with any other Tribulation, as we be, many times, amongst us, for our Sins. Wherefore, it seemeth well, that God loveth them and is pleased with their Faith and their good Deeds. They believe well in God, that made all Things, and Him they worship. And they prize not earthly Riches; and so they be all righteous. And they live full orderly, and so soberly in Meat and Drink, that they live right long. And the most Part of them die without Sickness, when Nature faileth them, for old Age.
And it befell in King Alexanders Time, that he purposed him to conquer that Isle and to make them to hold it of him. And when they of the Country heard it, they sent Messengers to him with Letters, that said thus; What may be enough for that Man to whom all the World is insufficient? Thou shalt find nothing in us, that may cause thee to war against us. For we have no Riches, nor covet we any, and all the Goods of our Country be in common. Our Meat, that we sustain withal our Bodies, is our Riches. And, instead of Treasure of Gold and Silver, we make our Treasure of Accord and Peace, and the Love of every Man for the other. And to apparel our Body with, we use a simple little Clout to wrap our Carrion in. Our Wives be not arrayed to make any Man Pleasure, but in suitable Array to eschew Folly. When Men pain themselves to array the Body, to make it seem fairer than God made it, they do great Sin. For Man should not devise nor ask greater Beauty, than God hath ordained Man to be at his Birth. The Earth ministereth to us 2 Things,our Livelihood, that cometh of the Earth that we live by, and our Sepulture after our Death. We have been in perpetual Peace till now, that thou be come to disinherit us. And also we have a King, not to do Justice to every Man, for he shall find no Forfeit among us, but to keep Nobleness, and to shew that we be obeissant, we keep a King. For Justice hath not among us any Place, for we do no Man otherwise than we desire that Men do to us. So that Righteousness and Vengeance have nought to do among us. So that nothing may thou take from us, but our good Peace, that always hath endured among us.
And when King Alexander had read those Letters, he thought that he should do great Sin, to trouble them. And then he sent them Sureties, that they should keep their good Manners and their good Peace, as they had used before, of Custom. And so he let them alone.
Another Isle there is, that Men call Oxidrate, and another Isle, that Men call Gynosophe, where there is also good Folk, and full of good Faith. And they hold, for the most Part, the good Conditions and Customs and good Manners, as Men of the Country abovesaid; but they go all naked.
Into that Isle entered King Alexander, to see the Manners. And when he saw their great Faith, and their Truth that was amongst them, he said he would not grieve them, and bade them ask of him what that they would have of him. Riches or anything else, and they should have it, with good Will. And they answered, that he was rich enough that had Meat and Drink to sustain the Body with, for the Riches of this World, that is transitory, be not of Worth; but if it were in his Power to make them immortal, thereof would they pray him, and thank him. And Alexander answered them that it was not in his Power to do it, because he was mortal, as they were. And then they asked him why he was so proud and so fierce, and so busy to put all the World under his Subjection, right as thou wert a God, and hast no Term of this Life, neither Day nor Hour, and willest to have all the World at thy Commandment, that shall leave thee without Fail, or thou leave it. And right as it hath been to other Men before thee, right so it shall be to other after thee. And from hence shalt thou bear nothing; but as thou wert born naked, right so all naked shall thy Body be turned into Earth that thou wert made of. Wherefore thou shouldest think and impress it in thy Mind, that nothing is immortal, but only God, that made all Things. By the which Answer Alexander was greatly astonished and abashed, and all confused departed from them.
And albeit that these Folk have not the Articles of our Faith as we have, nevertheless, for their good natural Faith, and for their good Intent, I trow fully, that God loveth them, and that God taketh their Service in Favour, right as He did of Job, that was a Paynim, and held him for His true Servant. And therefore, albeit that there be many diverse Laws in the World, yet I trow, that God loveth always them that love Him, and serve Him meekly in Truth, and especially them that despise the vain Glory of this World, as this Folk do and as Job did also.
And therefore said our Lord by the Mouth of Hosea the Prophet, Ponam eis multiplices Leges Meas; (I have written to him the great Things of my Law;) and also in another Place, Qui totum Orbem subdit suis Legibus, (Who subjected the whole World to His Laws.) And also our Lord saith in the Gospel, Alias Oves habeo, que non sunt ex hoc Ovilis, (And other Sheep I have which are not of this Fold;) that is to say, that he had other Servants than those that be under Christian Law. And to that accordeth the Vision that Saint Peter saw at Jaffa, how the Angel came from Heaven, and brought before him divers Beasts, as Serpents and creeping Beasts of the Earth, and of other also, great Plenty, and bade him take and eat. And Saint Peter answered; I eat never, quoth he, of unclean Beasts. And then said the Angel, Non dicas immunda, que Deus mundavit, (What God hath cleansed, that call thou not common.) And that was in Token that no Man should have in Despite any earthly Man for their diverse Laws, for we know not whom God loveth, nor whom God hateth. And for that Example, when Men say, De Profundis, they say it in common and in general, with the Christians, Pro animabus omnium defunctorum, pro quibus sit orandum, (On behalf of the Souls of the Dead, for whom we ought to pray.).
And therefore say I of this Folk, that be so true and so faithful, that God loveth them. For He hath amongst them many of the Prophets, and always hath had. And in those Isles, they prophesied the Incarnation of our Lord Jesu Christ, how he should be born of a Maiden, 3000 Year or more ere our Lord was born of the Virgin Mary. And they believe well in the Incarnation, and that full perfectly, but they know not the Manner, how He suffered His Passion and Death for us.
And beyond these Isles there is another Isle that is clept Pytan. The Folk of that Country neither till, nor labour the Earth, for they eat no manner of Thing. And they be of good Colour and of fair Shape, after their Greatness. But the small be as Dwarfs, but not so little as be the Pigmies. These Men live by the Smell of wild Apples. And when they go any far Way, they bear the Apples with them; for if they had lost the Savour of the Apples, they should die anon. They be not full reasonable, but they be simple and bestial.
After that is another Isle, where the Folk be all full of feathers and rough as a rough Beast, save only the Face and the Palm of the Hand. These Folk go as well under the Water of the Sea, as they do above the Land all dry. And they eat both Flesh and Fish all raw. In this Isle is a great River that is well a 2 Mile and an half of Breadth that is clept Beumare.
And from that River a 15 Days Journey in Length, going by the Deserts of the tother Side of the River, whoso might go it,for I was not there but it was told us by them of the Country,that within those Deserts were the Trees of the Sun and of the Moon, that spake to King Alexander, and warned him of his Death. And Men say that the Folk that keep those Trees, and eat of the Fruit and of the Balm that groweth there, live well 400 Year or 500 Year, by Virtue of the Fruit and of the Balm. For Men say that Balm groweth there in great Plenty and nowhere else, save only at Babylon, as I have told you before. We would have gone toward the Trees full gladly if we had might. But I trow that 100,000 Men of Arms might not pass the Deserts safely, for the great Multitude of wild Beasts and of great Dragons and of great Serpents that there be, that slay and devour all that come anent them. In that Country be many white Elephants without Number, and Unicorns and Lions of many Manners, and many of such Beasts that I have told of before, and of hideous Beasts without Number.
Many other Isles there be in the Land of Prester John, and many great Marvels, that were too long all to tell, both of his Riches and of his Nobleness and of the great Plenty also of precious Stones that he hath. I trow that ye know well enough, and have heard say, wherefore this Emperor is clept Prester John. But, nevertheless, for them that know not, I shall say to you the Cause.
It was sometime an Emperor there, that was a worthy and a full noble Prince, that had Christian Knights in his Company; as he hath that is now there. So it befell, that he had great List to see the Service in the Church among Christian Men. And then endured Christendom beyond the Sea, through all Turkey, Syria, Tartary, Jerusalem, Palestine, Arabia, Aleppo and all the Land of Egypt. And so it befell that this Emperor came with a Christian Knight with him into a Church in Egypt. And it was a Saturday in Whitsun Week. And the Bishop was conferring Orders. And he beheld, and listened to the Service full attentively. And he asked the Christian Knight what Men of Degree they should be that the Prelate had before him. And the Knight answered and said that they should be Priests. And the Emperor said that he would no longer be clept King nor Emperor, but Priest, and that he would have the Name of the first Priest that went out of the Church, and his Name was John. And so ever-more since, he is clept Prester John.
In his Land be many Christian Men of good Faith and of good Law, and especially them of the same Country, and have commonly their Priests, that sing the Mass, and make the Sacrament of the Altar, of Bread, right as the Greeks do; but they say not so many Things at the Mass as Men do here. For they say not but only that, that the Apostles said, as our Lord taught them, right as Saint Peter and Saint Thomas and the other Apostles sung the Mass, saying the Pater Noster and the Words of the Sacrament. But we have many more Additions that divers Popes have made, that they know not of.