Mandeville’s Travels and Culture Essay

Mandeville’s Travels and Culture Essay

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Many regions of the world define what is outside of their normative and accepted practices to be taboo and therefore, these foreign practices face condemnation. However, through expanding ones view of the world and myriad divergent regional practices, one is better able to perceive different regions of the world as not superior or inferior to one another yet equal but different. In his Travels (1360CE), explorer John Mandeville details various practices of the foreign peoples he had encountered in his travels around the world; many of these rituals would be highly denounced by the European readers for whom Mandeville writes this book. Though Chapter 22 of Travels does not contain an explicit mention tolerance as a primary motivation for the work, the reader’s comprehension of perceivably heinous yet permissible acts in these foreign lands sketches alternate models of normative behavior. Sixteenth century European members of popular cultures, such as Ginzburg’s Menocchio, apply their interpretative filter the reading and synthesize notions that are more reflective of their popular lifestyle. Mandeville’s accounts of foreign cannibalism, disfigured peoples, idolatry and an emphasis on nature face popular interpretation in the sixteenth century that formulates a defiant and tolerant worldview in response to the imposing cultural center/defining of superior culture by the Council of Trent.
Mandeville’s account of foreign cannibals attributes a newfound significance to the act in that it intends on limiting the suffering of an inevitable victim of sickness. Whereas most in Europe perceive cannibalism as an abhorrent act of carnal violence, others such as the island of Dondia view it as a charitable act of preventing one from unnecessa...


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...igher culture, who the side of a popular culture?” This question illuminates the faults of the Council of Trent in regards to tolerance in that by defining a cultural center; there will always be groups outside of the center. These groups divergent from the established center became the popular culture. Mandeville’s travels shed light on how unusual accounts of foreign ritual collaborate with popular culture to form a new system of tolerance, one that the Catholic Inquisition would neglect in considering the equal standing of a co-existing popular culture.



Works Cited

Ginzburg, Carlo. The Cheese and the Worms. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1980.
Jones, Doug. “Voyages of Discovery.” Lecture at Binghamton University, Binghamton, NY, March 18, 2014.
Mandeville, John. The Travels of Sir John Mandeville. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 2011.

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