Odoric of Pordenone on the “Vale Perilous,” from his Relatio, c. 1330 (cf. Mandeville, 112-13)


There was another terrible thing which I saw there. Passing by a certain valley, which is beside a pleasant river, I saw many dead bodies, and in the valley also I heard divers sweet sounds and harmonies of music, especially the noise of citherns. I was greatly amazed. This desert valley is in length seven or eight miles at the least, into which any one who enters dies presently, and can by no means pass alive through it. Moreover, I was tempted to go in, and to see what it was. At length making my prayers, and recommending myself to God in the name of Jesus, I entered, and saw such swarms of dead bodies there as no man would believe unless he were an eye-witness thereof. At the one side of the valley in a certain rock, I saw the face of a man, which beheld me with such a terrible aspect that I thought verily I should have died in the same place. But always this sentence, "The Word became Flesh, and Dwelt amongst us," I began to pronounce, making the sign of the cross, and nearer than seven or eight paces I dared not approach to the face in the rocks. But I departed and fled to another place in the valley, ascending up to a little sandy mountain, where looking round about, I saw nothing but heard the citherns, which continued sounding and playing by themselves without the help of musicians. And being upon the top of the mountain, I found silver there like the scales of fishes in great abundance; and I gathered some into my bosom to show for a wonder, but my conscience rebuking me, I cast it up. And so, by God's grace, I departed without danger. And when the men of the country knew that I was returned out of the valley alive, they reverenced me, saying that I was baptized and holy, and that the bodies were men subject to the devils infernal, who used to play upon citherns, to the end they might allure people to enter, and so murder them. Thus much concerning those things which I beheld most certainly with mine eyes, I, Friar Odoric, have here written. Many strange things also I have of purpose omitted, because men will not believe them unless they see them



Odoric of Pordenone on idolatry in “Thana,” from his Relatio, c. 1330 (cf. Mandeville, 75-76)


. . . and in the space of twenty-eight days  I arrived at the city of Tana, where four of our friars were martyred for the faith of Christ. This country is well situated, having abundance of bread and wine, and of other victuals. This kingdom in old time was very large and under the dominion of King Porus, who fought a great battle with Alexander the Great.  The people of this country are idolaters worshipping fire, serpents, and trees. Over all this land the Saracens rule, having taken it by main force, and they themselves are now subject to King Dili. Here are many kinds of beasts, namely, black lions in great abundance, and apes also, and monkeys, and bats as big as doves. Also there are mice as big as our country dogs, and therefore they are hunted with dogs, because cats are not able to encounter them. Moreover, in the same country every man has a bundle of great branches standing in a water-pot before his door, which bundle is as great as a pillar, and it will not wither, so long as water is applied. There are many other novelties and strange things which would bring great delight to hear tell.


Odoric of Pordenone on Tibetan funeral practices, from his Relatio, c. 1330 (cf. Mandeville, 121-22)


Going on further, I came to a certain kingdom called Tibet, which is in subjection to the great Khan also, wherein I think there is more bread and wine than in any other part of the world. The people of this country do, for the most part, live in tents made of black felt. Their principal city [Lhasa] is surrounded with fair and beautiful walls, being built of white and black stones, which are disposed chequerwise one by another, and curiously put together. Likewise all the highways in this country are exceedingly well paved. In this city none dare shed the blood of a man, or of any beast, for the reverence they bear a certain idol. In this city their Abassi, that is to say, their Pope, is resident, being the head and prince of all idolaters, upon whom he bestows and distributes gifts after his manner, even as our Pope of Rome accounts himself to be the head of all Christians.

       The women of this country wear their hair plaited in over a hundred tresses, and they have two teeth in their mouths as long as the tusks of a boar. When a man's father dies among them, his son assembles together all the priests and musicians that he can get, saying that he is determined to honour his father. Then they carry the body to a field, all his kinsfolk, friends and neighbours accompanying them. Here the priests with great solemnity cut off the father's head, giving it to his son, which being done, they divide the whole body into morsels, and so leave it behind them, returning home with prayers in the company of the son. So soon as they are departed, certain vultures, which are accustomed to such banquets, come flying from the mountains, and carry away all the morsels of flesh; and from thenceforth a fame is spread abroad that the said party deceased was holy, because the angels of God carried him into paradise. This is the greatest and highest honour that the son can devise to perform for his deceased father. Then the son takes his father's head and, first cooking it and eating the flesh, he makes of the skull a drinking cup, from which himself with all his family and kindred do drink with great solemnity and mirth, in the remembrance of his dead father. Many other vile and abominable things does this nation commit, which I mean not to write, because men neither can nor will believe, except they should have sight of them.



William of Rubruck on Tibet, from his Itinerarium (c. 1255)


Beyond these are the people of Tibet, men which are in the habit of eating the carcasses of their deceased parents; that for pity's sake they might make no other sepulchre for them, than their own bowels. However, of late they have left off this custom, as they became abominable and odious to all other nations on account of it. But they still to this day make fine cups of the skulls of their parents, so that when they drink out of them, they may, amidst all their jollities and delights, call their dead parents to remembrance. This was told me by one who saw it.