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ODORIC (c. 1286-1331)

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Originally appearing in Volume V20, Page 10 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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ODORIC (c. 1286-1331), styled "of Pordenone," one of the chief travellers of the later 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. According to the ecclesiastical biographers, in early years he took the vows of the Franciscan order and joined their convent at Udine, the capital of Friuli. Friar Odoric was despatched to the East, where a remarkable extension of missionary action was then taking place, about 1316-1318, and did not return till the end of 1329 or beginning of 1330; but, as regards intermediate dates, all that we can deduce from his narrative or other evidence is that he was in western India soon after 1321 (pretty certainly in 1322) and that he spent three years in China between the opening of 1323 and the close of 1328. His route to the East lay by Trebizond and Erzerum to Tabriz and Sultanieh, in all of which places the order had houses. From Sultanieh he proceeded by Kashan and Yazd, and turning thence followed a somewhat devious route by Persepolis and the Shiraz and Bagdad regions, to the Persian Gulf. At Hormuz' he embarked for India, landing at Thana, near Bombay. 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 Mahommedan governor. The bones of the martyred friars had been collected by Friar Jordanus of Severac, a Dominican, who carried them to Supera--the Suppara of the ancient geographers, near the modern Bassein, about 26 m. north of Bombay—and buried them there Odoric tells that he disinterred these relics and carried them with him on his further travels. In the course of these he visited Malabar, touching at Pandarani (20 M. north of Calicut), at Cranganore, and at Kulam or Quilon, proceeding thence, apparently, to Ceylon and to the shrine of St Thomas at Maylapur near Madras. From India he sailed in a junk to Sumatra, visiting various ports on the northern coast of that island, and thence to Java, to the coast (it would seem) of Borneo, to Champa (South Cochin-China), and to Canton, at that time known to western Asiatics as Chin-Kalan or Great China (Mahachin). From Canton he travelled overland to the great ports of Fukien, at one of which, Zayton or Amoy harbour, he found two houses of his order; in one of these he deposited the bones of the brethren who had suffered in India. From Fuchow he struck across the mountains into Cheh-kiang and visited Hang-chow, then renowned, under the name of Cansay, Khanzai, or Quinsai (i.e. Kingsze or royal residence), as the greatest city in the world, of whose splendours Odoric, like Marco Polo, Marignolli, or Ibn Batuta, gives notable details. Passing northward by Nanking and crossing the Yangtsze-kiang, Odoric embarked on the Great Canal and travelled to Cambalec (other-wise Cambaleth, Cambaluc, &c.) 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. Returning overland across Asia, through the Land of Prester John and through Casan, the adventurous traveller seems to have entered Tibet, and even perhaps to have visited Lhasa. After this we trace the friar in northern Persia, in Millestorte, once famous as the Land of the Assassins in the Elburz highlands. No further indications of his homeward route (to Venice) are given, though it is almost certain that he passed through Tabriz. The vague and fragmentary character of the narrative, in this section, forcibly contrasts with the clear and careful tracing of the outward way. 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 Fratris Odorici, amore Dei et Odorici. Shortly after his return Odoric betook himself to the Minorite house attached to St Anthony'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 on the 14th of January 1331. The fame ofhis 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. Popular acclamation made him an object of devotion, the municipality erected a noble shrine for his body, and 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 copies of Odoric's narrative (both of the original -text and of the versions in French, Italian, &c.) that have come 'down to our time, chiefly from the 14th century, show how speedily and widely it acquired popularity. It does not deserve the charge of mendacity brought against it by some, though the adulation of others is nearly as injudicious. 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 from Odoric, though 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, after Marco Polo, 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 Censcolam or Censcalam (Chin-Kalan), and his descriptions of the custom of fishing with tame cormorants, of the habit of letting the finger-nails grow extravagantly, and of the compression of women's feet, are peculiar to him among the travellers of that age; Marco Polo omits them all. Seventy-three MSS. of Odoric's narrative are known to exist in Latin, French and Italian: of these the chief is in Paris, National Library, MSS. Lat. 2584, fols. 118 r.-127 v., of about 1350. The narrative was first printed at Pesaro in 1513, in what Apostolo Zeno calls lingua inculta e rozza. Ramusio's collection first contains it in the 2nd vol. of the 2nd edition (1574) (Italian version), in which are given two versions, differing curiously from one another, but without any prefatory matter or explanation. (See also edition of 1583, vol. ii. fols. 245 r.-256 r.) Another (Latin) version is given in the Acta Sanctorum (Bollandist) under the 14th of January. The curious discussion before the papal court respecting the beatification of Odoric forms a kind of blue-book issued ex typographia rev. camerae apostolicae (Rome, 1755). Professor Friedrich Kunstmann of Munich devoted one of his valuable papers to Odoric's narrative (Histor.-polit. Bl¢tter von Phillips and Gorres, vol. xxxviii. pp. 507-537). The best editions of Odoric are by G. Venni, Elogio storico alle gesta del Beato Odorico (Venice, 1761) ; H. Yule in Cathay and the Way Thither, vol. i. pp. 1-162, vol. ii. appendix, pp. 1-42 (London, 1866), Hakluyt Society; and H. Cordier, Les Voyages . du . . frere Odoric . . . (Paris, 1891) (edition of Old French version of c. 1350). The edition by T. Domenichelli (Prato, 1881) may also be mentioned ; likewise those texts of Odoric embedded in the Storia universale delle Missione Francescane, iii. 739-781, and in Hakluyt's Principal Navigations (1599), ii. 39-67. See also John of Viktring (Joannes Victoriensis) in Ponies reruns Germanicarum, ed. J. F. Boehmer; vol. i. ed. by J . G. Cotta (Stuttgart, 1843), p. 391; Wadding, Annales Minorum, A.D. 1331, vol. vii. pp. 123-126; Bartholomew Albizzi, Opus conformitatum . B. Francisci . . bk. i. par. ii. conf. 8 (fol. 124 of Milan, edition of 1513); John of Winterthur in Eccard, Corpus historicism medii aevi, vol. i. cols. 1894-1897, especially 1894; C. R. Beazley, Dawn of Modern Geography, iii. 250-287, 548-549, 554, 565-566, 612-613, &c. (H. Y.; C. R. B.)
End of Article: ODORIC (c. 1286-1331)
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