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Travail and Authority in the Forgotten Age of Discovery

Travail and Authority in the Forgotten Age of Discovery

(p.59) Chapter Two Travail and Authority in the Forgotten Age of Discovery
The Medieval Invention of Travel
Shayne Aaron Legassie
University of Chicago Press

As scholarly tradition would have it, geographic modernity begins with Columbus, and unfolds like a morality play—an allegorical triumph of “empiricism” (nebulously defined) over “authority” (narrowly identified with the reading practices of the medieval university). Stereotype depicts the Middle Ages as a period that cleaved dogmatically to ancient authorities such as Aristotle, Cicero, and Augustine, while greeting new ideas with a mixture of indifference and twitching paranoia. In reality, not only did medieval people eagerly anticipate new geographical knowledge, they also engaged in searching debates about its potentially disruptive implications. Relatedly, they also thought in complex ways about the basis of the traveler’s authority and about how that authority could best be translated into textual form for a world where written information—not all of it reliable—seemed to proliferate, mutate, and spread faster than it ever had before.

Keywords:   geographic exploration, authority, legal writing, The Book of John Mandeville, Odoric of Pordenone, John of Plano Carpini, missionaries, Mongol Empire, merchants, Franciscans, Mandeville's Travels

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