19.10.09 Coulon/Gadrat-Ouerfelli (eds.), Le Voyage au Moyen Age

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Renate Blumenfeld-Kosinski

The Medieval Review 19.10.09

Coulon, Damien et Christine Gadrat-Ouerfelli. Le voyage au Moyen Âge. Le temps de l'histoire. Aix-en-Provence, France: Presses universitaires de Provence, 2017. pp. 178. ISBN: 979-10-320-0104-2 (paperback).

Reviewed by:
Renate Blumenfeld-Kosinski
University of Pittsburgh

This collection of ten essays (plus introduction and conclusion) had its origin in two colloquia held in 2014, one in Strasbourg (organized by Damien Coulon) on travel writing and processes of individuation, and one in Aix-en-Provence on travel literature and geography, organized by Christine Gadrat-Ouerfelli. Only the contributions by medievalists were included in this volume. The editors and contributors are seasoned scholars in the field of medieval travel literature, an extremely fertile area in medieval studies. Just in the three years between the two colloquia and the publication of these selected papers several important studies on medieval travel have appeared, as well as Gadrat-Ouerfelli's own 576-page landmark study of Marco Polo manuscripts. [1] The three anglophone studies all adopt a coherent theoretical framework, working with concepts such as medieval ethnography and the dialogic imagination (Khanmohamadi), Orientalism and post-colonialism (Phillips), or travel as capital for a new kind of "elite self-fashioning" (Legassie, ix). The essays in the volume under review do not espouse any encompassing theoretical stance: in fact they resist any kind of easy classification since they deal with a wide array of individual travelers, many different types of texts, and a plethora of geographical locations. The volume's sub-title nonetheless demonstrates that the editors attempted to bring some kind of order or focus to these rather disparate studies.

Part one aims to remedy the disconnect that some scholars see between geography/ cartography and travel narratives. Julia Roumier analyzes the late-fourteenth-century Libro ultramarino in manuscript 3013 of the Biblioteca Nacional in Madrid. This is a Castilian compilation that brings together translations of Jacques de Vitry's early-thirteenth-century Historia Orientalis, the only Castilian version of the Letter of Prester John, and Odorico de Pordenone's Relatio of his trip through Asia (1330). Roumier shows how the compiler and translator's selection process was influenced by a desire to create a book of marvels (15), largely ignoring, for example, the political aspects (such as the reconquest of the Holy Land) visible in the first Castilian translation of Jacques de Vitry's text. In Odorico's original text we find instances of cannibalism and strange sexual customs that aimed to incite readers' condemnation and rejection of the other, while in the Libro ultramarino these same customs are presented mostly as occasions for wonderment, not condemnation or disgust. The same can be said for the other texts translated here, where anecdotes are strung together without the polemic/spiritual goals of the originals but rather aim to entertain through encounters with the marvelous. Marianne O'Doherty looks at a convergence of travel narratives and geography by analyzing the Latin Vulgate version of Mandeville's Travels. Preserved in at least thirty-nine manuscripts--but without a modern edition--this was the first version of Mandeville to be printed (in 1483). The remanieur omits many of Mandeville's more fabulous sequences and rearranges the protagonist's itinerary so that it follows a more logical course. Three maps provided by O'Doherty illustrate this new geographical coherence, which was later used by people like the engineer and cosmographer Giovanni da Fontana (1395-1455). The article also provides a table of notes or glosses in one manuscript and one incunable as compared with Odorico's original text in order to show medieval readers' engagement with this refashioned version. In the last piece of section one Nathalie Bouloux focuses on the conflict between ancient sources and humanist travel accounts that often contained new discoveries. She shows that eye-witness accounts were not necessarily considered more trustworthy than ancient authorities like Pliny or Ptolemy. Only if the humanist author managed to construct absolute authority could he prevail over the ancients. Thus the account of the voyage to India undertaken by the merchant Niccolò de' Conti was written by the well-known scholar Poggio Bracciolini and therefore considered trustworthy enough to be used by geographers, for example in their revisions of various toponyms. But other scholars of the period stuck to the ancient geographers and cosmographers, even in the face of contrary contemporary evidence. This kind of conflict between authoritative older texts and new discoveries resurfaces in some articles in parts two and three as well.

The framework the editors chose for parts two and three was inspired by Nicole Chareyron's important and expansive study published posthumously in 2013. [2] Chareyron's dual perspective, what she calls duplication littéraire (15), that is, traveling and then writing about it by creating an agent focalisateur after the fact (26), gives shape to these sections, focusing on travel and experience of the world, and travel and the process of individuation respectively.

Part two is the most heterogeneous, bringing together articles about a voyage to Serbia, the function of some Arabic travel narratives, the quest for the identity of a German traveler, and a study of Breydenbach's famous picture book on the Holy Land. Elisabeth Malamut follows a 1327 embassy of Nicéphore Grégoras to Serbia where he was sent by the Byzantine emperor Andronikos II. Although Malamut tries to clarify the historical background for this mission, non-Byzantinists will still have a hard time to follow the ins and outs of the political situation described here, especially since few definitions of technical terms likepanhypersébaste are provided. The article is essentially a summary with some comments of the letter to a friend in which Nicéphore describes his trip. He is often filled with fear, encounters difficulties, and disdains the alterity of the Serbs. But what is this otherness exactly? Is it religious, is it ethnic? Some theoretical framing and reflections would have made this article more useful, especially for non-Byzantinists. Yann Dejugnat as well assumes that his readers are well versed in Arabic/Andalusian culture of the twelfth to fourteenth centuries. In a densely argued article (impossible to summarize) he reviews previous critical opinions of the function of the rihla or travel narrative. As do some of the other articles, this one deals with a huge cast of characters, some of them well-known travelers, others less so. The rihla, Dejugnat explains, chronicles a quest for knowledge, and as the centuries progress, we find a new balance between travel/travel narrative as a search for wisdom and as an exploration of geography and cultures. Christine Gadrat-Ouerfelli tries to find out more about the mid-fourteenth-century German traveler Ludolf of Sudheim. She analyzes the manuscript situation of the two versions, gives a summary of the account of his five-year trip through the Near East (as chaplain to a knight in the service of the Armenian king), and examines how he chose and treated his sources, all in a quest to get a better sense of his subjectivity and individuality, which, we learn, were characterized by curiosity and an avid desire to acquire knowledge. The final piece in part two deals with one of the most popular pilgrimage accounts of the late Middle Ages, Bernhard von Breydenbach's richly illustrated (with splendid engravings by Erhard Reuwich) Liber peregrinationis. Also addressing the issue of the conflict between tradition and lived experience, Emmanuelle Vagnon highlights the book's visual innovations, for example, the creation of perspectives that reproduce the point of view of pilgrims arriving in Jaffa. Indebted in some ways to Elizabeth Ross' recent study of Breydenbach (frequently cited) [3], Vagnon shows that the book is much more than a pilgrimage narrative or guide: it is a historical, geographic and ethnographic study of the Near East. Several color images illustrate her well-taken points.

The volume's last part (on processes of individuation) introduces us to three intriguing characters: an emotional thief of relics, an aristocratic visitor to Saint Patrick's Purgatory, and a noble introspective pilgrim to the Holy Land. Benoît Tock is preparing an edition of the thief's text, the Translatio sanctae Monicae that chronicles the 1161-1162 travels to Italy of Gautier d'Arrouaise, a canon regular of the diocese of Arras. Sent by his abbot Fulbert on a mission to meet with Pope Alexander III, he alights in Ostia and hears about the relics of Monica, Saint Augustine's mother, which he decides to "translate," that is, steal. Tock shows how Gautier stars in his own narrative as a conflicted human being, dramatizing his emotional turmoil. While paying much attention to criticism on medieval autobiography, Tock does not tap into the vast recent work on emotions in the Middle Ages. A slightly more theoretical approach would have enhanced his analysis; nonetheless, by simply presenting this captivating character Tock has done his readers a service. Damien Coulon focuses on Ramon de Perellòs, a fourteenth-century counselor to two kings of Aragon, who decided to visit Saint Patrick's Purgatory in Ireland. There he encounters the recently deceased king John I (d. 1396) whom he had served. Though based in large part on Henry of Saltrey's late twelfth-century account (translated into Catalan around 1320), Ramon's text nevertheless evinces a pronounced quest for individual salvation and, in Coulon's words, an auto-promotion (154). Finally, we meet Nompar de Caumont, a French nobleman traumatized by the English/French conflict of the Hundred Years War who decides to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem in 1419-1420. Béatrice Dansette provides a close reading of his account, detailing the reasons for his departure, the provisions he makes before leaving, and the transformations he undergoes during his trip. Nompar realizes that he is an individual pilgrim but also part of a vast collective of Christian pilgrims. He becomes himself in Jerusalem, as Dansette puts it, and upon his return leaves France for England, whose king Henry V had just been recognized by the French king Charles VI as the heir to the French throne in the shameful Treaty of Troyes (1420). Nompar's account is a fascinating text that deserves to be widely known.

Patrick Gautier Dalché in a brief conclusion tries to sum up some of the volume's major findings, not an easy task given the wide range of topics. The volume features a cast of hundreds (though no female travelers or pilgrims) as well as references to a very large number of texts from many different centuries and regions (an index would have been useful!). It opens some new avenues, refines others, and is thus a welcome addition to the enormous and still growing field of studies on medieval travel and its representations.



1. Shirin A. Khanmohamadi, In Light of Another's Word: European Ethnography in the Middle Ages (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014); Kim M. Phillips, Before Orientalism: Asian Peoples and Cultures in European Travel Writing, 1245-1510(Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014); Shaine Aaron Legassie, The Medieval Invention of Travel (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2017); Christine Gadrat-Ouerfelli, Lire Marco Polo au Moyen Âge: Traduction, diffusion et réception du Devisement du Monde (Turnhout: Brepols, 2015).

2. Éthique et Esthétique du récit de voyage à la fin du Moyen Âge (Paris: Champion, 2013). Chareyron also authored previous important studies of medieval travel and pilgrimage.

3. Elizabeth Ross, Picturing Experience in the Early Printed Book: Breydenbach's Peregrinatio from Venice to Jerusalem (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2014).

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