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The Christians of medieval Europe believed Asia to be a region of fabulous riches, strange marvels and wise sages. Cannibals and dog-headed men dwelt there and lambs grew from the soil as plants. The Travels of Sir John de Mandeville, written sometime between 1357 and 1371, gave an account of the marvels of Asia that was supposedly based on the author’s journeyings. However, Mandeville’s Travels was no kind of Rough Guide to Asia, providing reliable information for prospective travellers.
He became depressed by his failure to do this, although every day the vizier encouraged him to hope for success. When this had been going on for a long time, one day as he was sitting there, a respectable, dignified and sedate old woman arrived, dressed as a person of piety and followed by two slave girls, beautiful as moons. ’ She then greeted him, and when he had returned her greeting, he gave her a seat beside him. ’ ‘You are an honoured visitor,’ she told him, before going on to ask what goods and materials he had and asking him to show her something beautiful that would be suitable for royalty.
If you want to climb the next step on the ladder, try to marry the daughter of a qadi or of an emir, for why must you look for the hand of the daughter of the leading sovereign of the age? She is a virgin who knows nothing of the world and has never seen anything in her whole life except for the palace where she lives, but for all her youth she is intelligent, sensible and shrewd. She has a sound mind, acts with propriety and shows penetration in her judgement. She is her father’s only child and is dearer to him than his own life.