ANST - RE: period travel guides

C. L. Ward gunnora at
Fri Apr 27 06:42:51 PDT 2001

Jovian asked:
>I assume that people wrote "travel guides"
>during the Middle Ages and Renaissance. Have
>any survived? Where can they be found? What
>do they cover?

Medieval "travel guides" aren't generally what you'd find today if you go to
the "Travel" section of a bookstore.  The accounts are much less factual in
many cases, and as far as I've seen never are the kind of document that
lists "what sights to see".

There are a number of more-or-less factual travellers' accounts, and then
you also get into medieval geography, which is often largely fictional or
based on hearsay.  And then there are the "fantastic travels" which I think
must descend from the common desire to astound and amaze those folks back
home.  At the edges of the world people always envisioned strange and often
dangerous creatures. For ancient peoples the earth's farthest perimeter was
a realm radically different from what they perceived as central and human.
The alien qualities of these "edges of the earth" became the basis of a
literary tradition that endured throughout antiquity and into the
Renaissance, despite the growing challenges of emerging scientific
perspectives. This phenomenon is so widespread that a number of books have
been written on the subject. In fact, the same phenomenon continues today,
providing us the many and varied aliens of science fiction and speculative

Some good ones to look at include:

* Palsson, Hermann and Paul Edwards.  Vikings in Russia: Yngvar's Saga and
Eymund's Saga.   Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. 1989. Out-of-print,
to have do a book  search for it go to:

* M. Reinaud, trans. Geography of Abu al-Fida'. Paris. 1848. Describes the
Norse ca. early 14th century under the heading "Northern Regions of the

* Allen, W. E. D., trans. The Poet and the Spae-Wife: An Attempt to
Reconstruct Al-Ghazal's  Embassy to the Vikings. Dublin: Allen Figgis & Co.
[A translation of the Arabic text describing al-Ghazal's visit to Turgeis,
ruler of the  Vikings in Ireland ca. 845. This account dates to the early

* Al-Mas'udi. Meadows of Gold. trans. A. Sprenger. London. 1941.
[Describes the Rus market of Bulghur prior to 947.]

* Al-Mas'udi. The Meadows of Gold: The Abbasids. Paul Lunde and Caroline
Stone, trans and  eds. Kegan Paul International. 1989. To order from

* Ibn Battuta. The Travels of Ibn Battuta. trans. H.A.R. Gibb. Hakluyt
Society 2. Cambridge.  1962. To order from

* S. Janicsek. "Ibn Battuta's Journey to Bulghar." Journal Royal Asiatic
Society. 1929. pp.  792-800.

* Smyser, H. M., trans. "Ibn-Fadlan's Account of the Rus with Some
Commentary and Some  Allusions to Beowulf." Franciplegius: Medieval and
Linguistic Studies in Honor of Francis  Peabody Magoun Jr. eds. Jess B.
Bessinger and Robert P. Creed. New York: University Press.  1965. pp.
[A translation of the Arabic text describing ibn-Fadlan's journey among the
Rus or Russian  Vikings ca. 921. This account dates to the early 1200's.]
See also the text, which I have on my webpage at:

Babcock, William Henry. Legendary Islands of the Atlantic: A Study in
Medieval Geography. New York: American Geographical Society. 1922.
Out-of-print, to have Amazon look for it:

Babcock, William Henry. "The So-Called Mythical Islands of the Atlantic in
Medieval Maps", Scottish Geographical Magazine 31/32 (1916).

Flint, Valerie I. J. The Imaginative Landscape of Christopher Columbus.
Princeton University Press. 1992. To buy from

Fuson, Robert H. Legendary Islands of the Ocean Sea. Pineapple Press. 1998.
To buy from

Harvey, P. D. A. Mappa Mundi: The Hereford World Map. British Library
Studies in Medieval Culture</CITE>. University of Toronto Press. 1996. To
buy from
[This map is a great example of medieval mythical geography and how it
intermixes with the knowledge of the real world.]

Jakobsen, Alfred. "Geographical Literature."  in: Medieval Scandinavia: An
Encyclopedia.  Phillip Pulsiano et al., eds.  Garland Reference Library of
the Humanities 934.  New York & London: Garland. 1993. pp. 224-225.
Out-of-print, to have Amazon search for it:

Romm, James S. The Edges of the Earth in Ancient Thought. Princeton:
Princeton University Press. 1992. To buy from

Simek, Rudolph.  "Elusive Elysia or Which Way to Glæsisvellir."
Sagnaskemmtun: Studies in Honor of Hermann Pálsson on his 65th Birthday.
Rudolph Simek et al., eds.  Vienna, Cologne & Graz: Böhlau. 1986. pp.
247-275. Out-of-print, to have Amazon look for it:

Tomasch, Sylvia and Sealy Gilles, eds. Text and Territory: Geographical
Imagination in the European Middle Ages. The Middle Ages Series. University
of Pennsylvania Press. 1997. To buy from

Westrem, Scott D., ed. Discovering New Worlds: Essays on Medieval
Exploration and Imagination. Garland Reference Library of the Humanities
1436. New York: Garland Publishing. 1991. Out-of-print, to have Amazon look
for it:


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