The imaginary king who changed the real world - Matteo Salvadore
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In the medieval phase, Europeans imagined Prester John as an Asian sovereign believed to be located either in the Far East, Central Asia, or India. The medieval Prester John has been studied from the perspectives of Christian mythology, postcolonial criticism, and the history of European fantasy.
In the 15th century the myth became increasingly associated with Africa and eventually Ethiopia.
For anyone interested in reading primary sources, starting from the Letter of Prester John, this volume is the most comprehensive and accessible option. Instead, Prester John, the Mongols and the Ten Lost Tribes includes an eclectic collection of some of the most influential works on the myth published between the 1950s and 1990s.
Those interested in visual depictions of Prester John will enjoy this essay, which overviews representations in paintings, book plates, and maps. Historians of European cartography have dissected the ever-changing location and extension of Prester John’s kingdom in the European mind to shed light on European geographical imagination before and during the era of oceanic exploration.
The Portuguese sought Prester John, which they imagined as a pious and powerful African sovereign while they were hard at work enslaving Africans by the numbers. Hence, the myth’s African chapter is of particular interest for anyone interested in understanding the evolution of European ideas of race.
Prester John has also been featured novels to check out by clicking here, here and here. He was similarly featured in comics which you can read more about here.
Associate Professor of History
American University of Sharjah
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