1902 Encyclopedia > Odoric (of Pordenone)

(Odoric of Pordenone)
One of the chief travellers of the later Middle Ages
(c. 1286 - 1331)

ODORIC (c. 1286-1331), styled of Pordenone, one of the notable travellers to the farther East in the Middle Ages, and a Beatus of the Roman Church, was born at Villa Nuova, a hamlet near the town of Pordenone in Friuli, in or about 1286, and, according to ecclesiastical biographers, in early years took the vows of the Franciscan order and joined their convent at Udine, the capital of Friuli. Under CHINA (vol. v. p. 628) the remarkable opening of communication, both commercial and ecclesiastical, with that country during the first half of the 14th century has been spoken of. There had arisen also during the latter half of the 13th century an energetic missionary action, extending all over the East, on the part of both the new orders of Breaching and Minorite (or Dominican and Franciscan) Friars, and houses of those orders, of the last especially, became established in Persia, in what is now southern Russia, in Tartary, and in China.

Friar Odoric was despatched to the East about 1316-18, and did not return till near 1330, but, as regards inter-mediate dates, all that we can deduce from his narrative or other evidence is that he was in western India soon after 1321, and that he spent three years in China between 1322 and 1827. His route to the East lay by Constan-tinople and Trebizond to Erzeroum, and thence to Tabriz and Sultaniya, in all of which places the order had houses. From Sultaniya he proceeded by Kashan and Yezd, and turning thence followed a somewhat devious route by Persepolis, Shiraz, and Baghdad to the Bersian Gulf. At Ormuz he embarked for India, landing at Tana, still the chief station of the island of Salsette, and which wras then _one of the chief ports of western India. At this city four brethren of his order, three of them Italians and the fourth a Georgian, had shortly before met death at the .hands of the Mohammedan governor, who held the place under the dominion of the sovereign of Delhi (then Ghaias-fiuddm . Tughlak). The bones of the martyred friars had been collected by Friar Jordanus of Severac, a Dominican, who carried them to Supera—the Sup-para of the ancient geographers, near the modern Bassein, about 26 miles north of Bombay—and buried them there. Odoric tells that he disinterred these relics and carried them with him on his farther travels. In the course of these he visited Malabar, touching at Pandar&ni (20 miles north of Calicut), at Cranganore, and at Quilon, proceeding thence, apparently, to Ceylon and to the shrine of St Thomas at Mailapur near Madras. From India he sailed in a Chinese junk to Sumatra, visiting various ports on the northern coast of that island, then Java, the coast (it would seem) of Borneo, Champa (South Cochin China), and Canton, at that time known to western Asiatics as Ghin-Kaldn or Great China (Mahaehln). Thence he went on to the great ports of Fuh-keen, at one of which, Zayton or Chwanchow (see CHIN-CHEW, vol. v. p. 673), he found two houses of his order; in one of these he deposited the bones of the brethren who had suffered in India. From Fu-chau he struck across the mountains into Che-keang and visited Hang-chow, then renowned under the name of Camay (" King-sze," or royal residence) as one of the greatest cities in the world, of the KDlendours of which Marco Folo, Ibn Batuta, and others have given such notable details. Passing northward by Nan-king and crossing the Great Kiang, Odoric embarked on the Great Canal and travelled to CAMBALUC or Peking, where he remained for three years, attached, no doubt, to one of the churches founded by Archbishop John of Monte Corvino, at this time in extreme old age. Turning west-ward in the neighbourhood of the Great Wall and through Shensi, the adventurous traveller entered Tibet, and appears to have visited Lhasa. But no distinct indication of his homeward route is given, though it may be gathered from fragmentary notices that he passed through Khorasan, and so probably by Tabriz to Europe, reaching Venice in the end of 1329 or beginning of 1330. During a part at least of these long journeys the companion of Odoric was Friar James, an Irishman, as appears from a record in the public books of Udine, showing that shortly after Odoric's death a present of two marks was made to this Irish friar, Socio beati Odorici, amore Dei et Odorici. Shortly after his return Odoric betook himself to the Minorite house attached to St Antony's at Padua, and it was there that in May 1330 he related the story of his travels, which was taken down in homely Latin by Friar William of Solagna. Travelling towards the papal court at Avignon, Odoric fell ill at Pisa, and, turning back to Udine, the capital of his native province, died in the convent there, 14th January 1331. The fame of his vast journeys appears to have made a much greater impression on the laity of his native territory than on his Franciscan brethren. The latter were about to bury him without delay or ceremony, but the "gastald*' or chief magistrate of the city interfered and appointed a public funeral; rumours of his wondrous travels, and of posthumous miracles were diffused, and excitement spread like wildfire over Friuli and Carniola; the ceremony had to be deferred more than once, and at last took place in presence of the patriarch of Aquileia and all the local dignitaries. The sanctity of Odoric was now fully recog-nized, and was taken up at last by his own community, who employed an eminent preacher to declaim to the people the history and pious deeds of this brother, whom they probably had regarded till now only as an eccentric, who told questionable stories about the Grand Cham and islands of the anthropophagi. Popular acclamation made him an object of devotion, the municipality erected a noble shrine for his body, his fame as saint and traveller had spread far and wide before the middle of the century, but it was not till four centuries later (1755) that the papal authority formally sanctioned his beatification. A bust of Odoric was set up at Pordenone in 1881.

The numerous MSS. of Odoric's narrative that have come down to our time (upwards of forty are known), and chiefly from the 14th century, show how speedily and widely it acquired popularity. It does not deserve the charge of general mendacity brought against it by some, though the language of other writers, who have spoken of the traveller as a man of learning, is still more injudicious. Like most of the mediaeval travellers, he is indiscriminating in accepting strange tales ; but, whilst some of these are the habitual stories of the age, many particulars which he relates attest the genuine char-acter of the narrative, and some of those which Tiraboschi and others have condemned as mendacious interpolations are the very seals of truth. Odoric's credit was not benefited by the liberties which Sir John Mandeville took with it. The substance of that knight's alleged travels in India and Cathay is stolen in bulk from Odoric, though largely amplified with fables from other sources and from his own invention, and garnished with his own unusually clear astronomical notions. We may indicate a few passages which stamp Odoric as a genuine and original traveller. He is the first European who distinctly mentions the name of Sumatra. The cannibalism and community of wives which he attributes to certain races of that island do certainly belong to it, or to islands closely adjoining. His description of sago in the archipelago is not free from errors, but they are the errors of an eye-witness. In China his mention of Canton by the name of Chin-Kalan, his description of the custom of fishing with tame cormorants, of the habit of let-ting the finger-nails grow extravagantly, and of the compression of women's feet, as well as of the division of the empire into twelve of that age ; Marco Polo omits them all.

The narrative was first printed at Pesaro in 1513, in what Apostolo Zeno calls lingua inculta e rozza, probably, therefore, in a Venetian dialect. Ramusio's collection first contains it in the 2d vol. of the 2d edition (1574), in which are given two versions, differing curiously from one another, but without any prefatory matter or explanation. Another (Latin) version is given in the Acta Sanctorum (Bollandist) under 14th January. The curious discussion before the papal court respecting the beatification of Odorie forms a kind of blue-book issued ex typographia rev. camerm apostolicse,, Rome, 1755. Professor Kunstmann of Munich devoted one of his valuable papers to Odoric's narrative (Histor. -Polit. Blättern von Phillips und Görres, vol. xxxviii.). The collection called Cathay and the Way Thither, by Colonel Yule (Hak. Soc, 1866), contains a careful translation and commentary, &c. A new edition in Italian has been recently issued in Italy, but it is not of value. (H. Y.)

The above article was written by: Colonel Sir Henry Yule.

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