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earthly paradise, claims as his subjects all the peoples of prodigy, and describes in detail his human menagerie in the Caucasus. The accursed fifteen nations imprisoned there eat their foes, only desisting at Prester John's word. They will “burst forth at the end of the world, in the time of Antichrist, and overrun all the abodes of the Saints as well as the great city Rome, which, by the way, we are prepared to give our son who will be born, along with all Italy, Germany, the two Gauls, Britain and Scotland.”
Whether this letter was ever received or no, Pope Alexander III did dispatch to Prester John a letter which, between the lines, reads like the reply to an irritating missive. It asserted the papal claims to universal dominion and demanded that the priest-king recognize them. The messenger who bore it eastward in 1177 was never heard of again. Meanwhile the pagan Mongols had broken into Europe and it became papal policy to conciliate their good will and if possible win them over as allies of the Cross against the Crescent. The monkish envoys who penetrated the heart of Asia found a power as vast as that claimed for the Christian monarch, but it was in the hands of the sons of Genghis Khan; and there was no Prester John.
This was a Nestorian fable, said Rubruquis; "about nothing they make a great fuss.” As to their King John, “I traversed his pastures and no one knew anything about him.” Rubruquis speaks of Ung-Khan, prince of a province in Mongolia southeast of Lake Baikal. According to Marco Polo, who entered Asia in the same generation, this was Prester John. The Christian chief of a Hunnish tribe, he was defeated and slain by Genghis Khan. The legend faded out of the consciousness of the west, only to be revived and domiciled in Abyssinia when Europe learned of the power of its sovereigns and that they were Christians of the Coptic faith.
The tale of this Asiatic priest-king who wanted to put his armies at the disposal of the hard-beset Christians of the west has the irony and pathos of allegory. Without purporting to do so, it tells the story of a great eastern adventure of the church which the Greek and Roman communions had almost forgotten. The Nestorians had been cast into outer darkness in one of the schisms of the Eastern Empire in the unhappy sixth century,
when, as Gibbon says, Christians were “more solicitous to explore the nature, than to practice the laws, of their founder.” The offense of Nestorius, patriarch of Constantinople, was that he called Mary the Mother of Jesus and not the Mother of God, and contended that in Christ the divine and human natures subsisted independently of each other. He was excommunicated, and died in exile.
His followers, driven from the empire, went forth into Asia and established an empire of the spirit wide as that afterward claimed for the Prester John of legend. They founded churches in Persia, Bokhara, Siam, and Sumatra. They penetrated India and contended with Buddhism in Tibet. They won millions of followers in Cathay, where their religion was tolerated under an imperial edict of the seventh century as “virtuous, mysterious, and pacific.” From Palestine to China they held the field for the Christian faith, and their communicants were more numerous than those of either the Greek or Roman church. There are places in Asia which have not seen a Christian missionary since the Nestorians passed, as soon they did. In Kurdistan and Persia their faith survives in the affections of perhaps three hundred thousand worshipers.
It was the weakness of this faith that it nowhere had a country of its own, and therefore no powerful central hierarchy sleepless in its cause. For better or worse it was never able to draw the sword; it spread itself only by persuasion and the tolerance of pagan countries whose princes followed other cults. It must be that some dreamy Nestorian monk, familiar with the west and its ways, and pondering what his church had done in Asia and might have done had the fates been kinder, wrote in the days of its decline the letter which gave it the country it lacked and set forth its spiritual dominion in terms the west would understand. The Witch Realm of Lapland
In the dark ages a tradition arose that there was a witch nation in the north of Europe. Its citizens were the Lapps, whose descendants still fish, hunt and pasture their reindeer in the wilder districts of Norway, Sweden, Russia, and Finland. They are the most timid and inoffensive of men. They seem
never to have had government of their own, but have been overtaxed, exploited, and at times enslaved by stronger neighbors. Swarthy, dwarfish, and shrill-spoken, with broad heads, upturned noses, and bandy legs, they may be the survivors of the small, dark race that once overspread the continent. Such a people would need supernatural powers to overcome their manifold handicaps, and with these legend endowed them.
Their sinister reputation came to them because of their gnome-like aspect, because they were still in the stone age of culture, and perhaps because they were pagans after the remainder of Europe had become Christian. Their magic drums were the terror of settled lands. They could make themselves invisible. They could raise the winds. “They tye three knottes on a strynge hangying at a whyp,” wrote Richard Eden in 1577. “When they lose one of these they rayse tollerable wynds. When they lose another the wynd is more vehement; but by losing the thyrd they rayse playne tempests as in old time they were accustomed to rayse thunder and lyghtnyng.” Tales of ships which went too near to Lapland and were heard of no more were rife among the seafaring states. Yet Ivan the Terrible sent for Lapp magicians to read the portent of a comet, and the Norse princess Gunhild lived in their country to learn its lore.
Much of the superstition of the neighbor Finns has entered into the Lapland tradition. Their magic songs picture their small cousins as living in almost legendary lands—Lapland itself, a dark, vague northern country where the people wore tall hats and spoke in whining, mumbling voices: Turja Fells, with its wonder-working maidens; and Pohjola, “home of the north,” where the old woman, Louhiatar, “the blind whore of Pohjola," queened it in a realm that had neither sun nor moon. These songs have much to say of hazy headlands and spells wrought upon them and on the main. A furious old wife sweeps the sea, with a cloth of sparks on her head, and on her shoulders a cloak of foam. Four maidens of the air mow grass on a cloudy cape in a foggy island. The sharp maiden Terhetar sifts the mist on a shrouded promontory. A wood spirit shrieks at people and fills the forest with murk when they wander there.
In the Orkney and Shetland islands, the Lapps were known
as Finn-folk. Sometimes they crossed the North Sea and, hiding their identity, appeared among the islanders, with whom they intermarried; skilled persons, however, detected them by their wrinkled visages and the odd blemishes upon their skins. The visitors knew the language of birds and beasts, into which, indeed, they could transform themselves; and with impunity they rode the tricky water-horse. They could control the weather, predict the future, cure diseases of men and cattle. It was a slight task for them to make the passage from the continent. Most people believed they swam across—for either they were seals who took human form, or men who could take the seal form. Sometimes when fisher folk harpooned a large seal they found a strange little man struggling in the waves.
These credulous island tales carry the legend of a witch nation of the north almost into the twentieth century. The Spice Islands
The ninth edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica forgot to mention the Moluccas. A standard atlas of the world published in the United States neglects to describe them. A day's sail to the southeast from the large Philippine island of Mindanao brings one to them, but American travelers do not make this trip. Only a strait, to the right and to the left, separates the group from New Guinea and Celebes, and narrow are the seas between it and Java to the south; yet these are names of consequence in modern geography, while it is a name all but unknown. There is magic, modern magic, in the tropic islands of the Pacific. These islands do not share it, though they lie on both sides of the Line in the fairest of summer seas.
They have another name, the Spice Islands. For the space of two centuries men who followed the great waters thought of them and of little else. It was spices that Columbus sought when he sailed west from Palos in 1492 and the man who discovered sassafras in America had honors comparable to his own. It was an eastern route to the spice regions that engaged Portuguese endeavor and conducted the ships of da Gama into the Indian Ocean in 1497. It was a western route to the Spice Islands that Magellan sought in his voyage around the world a score of years afterward. The royal grant to del Cano, who
brought one ship home from that expedition, was conditioned on the annual payment of two cinnamon sticks, three nutmegs, and twelve cloves; and the coat of arms which he was licensed to bear had the effigies of two Malay kings holding spice branches; to have gone around the world seemed to Spain a lesser thing than to have discovered a route to these islands. To reach them was the object of the attempts to open a northeast passage around Asia and a northwest passage around America. To determine their ownership was the subject of two papal bulls and a dynastic agreement between the royalties of Spain and Portugal; and they fell at last as a prize of war to Holland.
In the age of discovery India and China were small words compared with the Spice Islands. The place this forgotten group once held in the imagination of men is one of the great illusions of commercial geography.
Nor was it all illusion. If the world trade of antiquity was mainly in incense, the world trade of the Middle Ages was mainly in spices, and for a similar cause—with the primitive transportation of the period, less valuable and more bulky things could not be carried far at a profit. Nowadays the meats, grains, vegetables, and fruits of all climes travel long distances to the dinner table, and men's diet has both variety and quality. In former times the range of eatables was small, the quality poor. The service of spices was to improve and diversify the flavors of viands, to disguise the shortcomings of mediæval cookery as well as mediæval larders. The salt-fish diet of European winters created the spice trade with the east.
When the Turkish seizure of Egypt in 1521 closed the southern overland route to the east the same year that both the Portuguese and the Spanish reached the Moluccas, the stage was set for the romance of spice. Passing from unknown sources through various hands, it had reached the west at a tenfold price. Here was opportunity to deal direct in what all Europe wanted.
It was known that these were not the only spice lands. Cassia grew in Somaliland and cinnamon in Ceylon, and both were used in food as well as incense. The ginger root came from a reed of Cochin-China. Benjamin of Tudela, Ibn Batuta, and Friar Odoric had described the pepper "forests” of Malabar,