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The Travels of Friar Odoric of Pordenone

Like his predecessor William of Rubruck, Odoric was a one-named Franciscan who inexplicably ended up in Kublai Khan’s China. These friars were not the brave, determined travellers that we usually imagine pioneers to be, but zealous men sent by their superiors into faraway lands – God help them. Odoric, from a small town in Northern Italy, returned from the lion’s den intact, only to fall ill and die shortly thereafter. While sick, he dictated an account of his travels to a Brother William of Solagna, who wrote them down for future falconry researchers to read.

A half-century after Odoric’s journey, a book called The Travels of Sir John Mandeville became spectacularly successful, translated into several languages and circulated throughout Europe. An English knight’s fantastic descriptions of Asia, the book was even an inspiration to Christopher Columbus, but it turns out Mandeville had never even been abroad; in fact, he’d probably never existed at all. An unknown scribe had pillaged Odoric’s writings, adding dubious details, and stuck another name on them. Thanks to the fictional Mandeville, Odoric became even more well known.

In the 19th century, with proper attribution, Odoric was popularized by Henry Yule in a compilation of travelogues called Cathay and the Way Thither. It is this work that is available for our perusing today.

Odoric stayed with that famous Khan, Kublai, for three years, and while summering with him in Xanadu he witnessed a spectacle of falconry that has now become quite famous:

The king travelleth in a two-wheeled carriage, in which is formed a very goodly chamber, all of lign-aloes and gold, and covered over with great and fine skins, and set with many precious stones. And the carriage is drawn by four elephants, well broken in and harnessed, and also by four splendid horses, richly caparisoned. And alongside go four barons, who are called Cuthe, keeping watch and ward over the chariot that no hurt come to the king. Moreover, he carrieth with him in his chariot twelve gerfalcons; so that even as he sits therein upon his chair of state or other seat, if he sees any birds pass he lets fly his hawks at them. And none may dare to approach within a stone’s throw of the carriage, unless those whose duty brings them there. And thus it is that the king travelleth.

The rest of the text can be read at the Internet Archive.