Friday, May 08, 2009

Apocalypse, Swan Knight and the Crusades

Turning a bit to more esoteric matters, the legend of the Swan Knight, it has been mentioned, was included in the genealogy of the famous leader of the First Crusade, Godfrey of Bouillon.

William of Tyre around the year 1170 was the first to mention this connection:

We pass over, intentionally, the fable of the Swan, although many people regard it as a fact, that from it he (Godfrey de Bouillon) had his origin, because this story seems destitute of truth.

From this quote we can surmise that the story of Godfrey's descent from the Swan Knight was already current and that there were "many people" who took it quite seriously; although William of Tyre was not one of them. The latter, who was archbishop of Tyre, was raised in Jerusalem when that city was co-ruled by Melisende, the daughter of Godfrey de Bouillon's cousin Baldwin II.

The legendary crusader histories, known as the Crusade Cycle, beginning shortly after William of Tyre wrote the statement above, appear to have been composed by those believers in the Swan Knight story.

Whether fictional or, at least party, based in truth, the Swan Knight origin of Godfrey de Bouillon can be shown to have links with the millenial thought that pervaded Europe in the period leading up to the First Crusade.

Apocalypse and the Crusades

There is some evidence that many people in Europe expected the apocalypse around the year 1000. The texts of Adso, Abbo and Glaber seem to indicate an increasing concern in this area in the lead up to the new millenium. Some believed the invasion of the Magyars heralded the beginning of the end-times.

When the year 1000 came and past, these millenarian feelings did not subside. These apprehensions were based as much on extra-biblical prophecies like the Sibylline oracles and Pseudo-Methodius, and their reworkings, as on the canonical works like Daniel or Revelations.

Pope Gregory VII in 1074 might be considered the first to, unsuccessfully, call for a crusade when he mentioned his plans to himself lead an expedition of 50,000 in liberating the Holy Sepulchre. It appears from Gregory VII's statements that he was casting himself as the Last Emperor mentioned in the Tiburtine Sibyl.

In 1086, Benzo, bishop of Alba, called on the emperor Henry IV to conquer Rome, Constantinople and Jerusalem, again mentioning the prophetic liberation of the Holy Sepulchre and reworking passages from the Cuman Sibyl into his message. In describing the Second Crusade, Otto of Freising quoted Sibylline works that mention the "pilgrim God" (peregrini Dei), and he describes the invading crusaders as "pilgrims" to the Holy Land.

H. Hagenmeyer's analysis of the Gesta Francorum, the anonymous chronicle of the First Crusade written by a member of Bohemund I of Antioch's expedition, gives an idea of the importance of the sibyls to crusader thought. Hagenmeyer found that the only written works referred to in the Gesta are the Bible and the "Sibylline prophecies."

Sibylline literature is known for its references to a savior "king from the east," a concept that I believe is important in both Godfrey's Swan Knight link and in the claims made in the letters of Prester John in the following century. Pseudo-Methodius, whose prophecies were also popular during this time, has his own version of the king from the east in Jonitus, the extra-biblical fourth son of Noah who settles in the "region of the Sun" (hiliu chora) to the East where we find the lands of Eden and Nod.

Pseudo-Methodius predicts one or two conquering Christian emperors in the last days. One will come from "the seed of Chuseth, the daughter of Phol, king of Ethiopia" arising as 'King of the Romans.' There is also a conquering king who descends, at least in collateral line, from Jonitus in the East. The prophecies do not clearly separate these two and that may be why latter writers wrote of two prominent Christian kings in the end-times. For example, Jacques de Vitry in the early part of the 13th century, wrote of a King of the West, who he equates with Frederick Barbarossa, and a King of the East, or Prester John, whom de Vitry identifies with the news trickling in of Genghis Khan's conquests.

We know from three prominent Benedictine historians of the period -- Guibert of Nogent, Baldric of Bourgueil and Robert the Monk -- that the crusades were viewed , in certain circles at least, as fulfillment of biblical prophecy. Another indication of the millenarian environment is the case of Count Emicho of Flonheim and leader of the "German Crusade" who claimed he was himself the Last Emperor who would lead his armies to the final battle.

The King of the East concept appears to be directly linked with Godfrey de Bouillon's descent from the Swan Knight in the Crusade Cycle and other medieval literature.

House of Bouillon and the Swan Knight

The three earliest versions of the story linking Godfrey de Bouillon with the Swan Knight are Dolopathos, Elioxe and Beatrix, generally dated between the last quarter of the 12th century and first half of the 13th century.

  • Dolopathos -- A king meets a fairy woman who claims to be queen of the forest. The two marry and produce seven children with golden chains around their neck. The sons become swans until all except one are changed back to humans. The brother that remains a swan pulls a knight, the Swan Knight, in a boat using his gold chain.

  • Elioxe -- King Lothair from 'beyond Hungary,' meets the fairy Elioxe who comes from inside a mountain. They have seven swan children including one who is said will become a "king of the orient," (un roi d'Orient). Again one brother remains a swan and pulls the boat of his Swan Knight brother.

  • King Oriant of Lillefort (Illefort) the "strong island," marries Beatrix and the rest of the story follows the same pattern with swan children, and the Swan Knight drawn in his boat by his swan brother. "Oriant" or "Oryant" is an archaic form of French "Orient," and this name has been linked by some with "un roi d'Orient" of Elioxe.

  • These early stories mention either a 'king of the east' or indicate a fairy kingdom, which might also be an indication of an eastern location. Elioxe places the scene vaguely "beyond Hungary." The late 13th century Lohengrin places the Swan Knight in India along with the Holy Grail.

    From the 15th to 17th centuries, a series of works claiming earlier sources have the Swan Knight born in the terrestrial paradise, and founding the House of Cleves rather than that of Bouillon. In 1478 Gert van der Schuren, secretary of the first Duke of Cleves, says that the Swan Knight "comes from the earthly paradise, which some call the Grail." He claimed to have learned this from a lost 13th century work of Helinandus. Dutch historian John Veldenaer in 1480 also citing earlier sources says: "Some chronicles say that the Knight of the Swan came out of the ' Gral,' as the paradise on earth was earlier called."

    In 1609, the tutor of the Duke of Cleves named
    Stephanus Vinandus Pighius claimed that: "Some ancient chronicles assert that this Helius came from a certain splendid earthly paradise called Grail and that he came in a boat."

    The words gral, grail, graele, etc. in these accounts is thought to be the same "graal" first mentioned by Chretien i.e, the Holy Grail; and thus refers to the Grail Realm. In Parzival, Wolfram von Eschenbach writes:

    Upon a silken cushion green
    She bore the wish of paradise,
    Root and branch before their eyes.
    A thing it was they called the grail.
    Earthly wishes' fullest tale...

    The grail's a prize from Eden's shore,
    Earthly pleasures' fullest store,
    In much 'tis heaven's counterpart

    The Swan Knight associated with the House of Cleves was not apparently the same one found in the legend of Godfrey de Bouillon as Pighius says that the knight arrives at Nimegen in 732. According to the legend, the Swan Knight is called forth on his mission by a bell located in the earthly paradise or in some mountain on his unknown home. Therefore, he is sent periodically over the ages to perform his calling, which seems linked with protecting the rights of women. In three cases, he defends the duchesses of Brabant and Cleves; and the countess of Bouillon -- all in the Low Countries that are today known as Benelux -- from marauding dukes intent on forcibly taking their inheritance.

    Pighius, Hermann Stangefol (1656) and other later writers tended to dismiss the wondrous tales of an earthly paradise and gave other explanations, for example, that the Swan Knight came from a monastery called Paradise in Thurgau.

    However, in the earlier accounts the concept of the terrestrial paradise places it squarely at the furthest East in the Indies. Even Parzival's Wasteland, the realm of the Grail, while appearing to refer to Jerusalem in part, also by analogy, points to the eastern paradise and it was there that Lohengrin, his Swan Knight, was born.

    The Ebstorf Map (1234) of Gervase of Tilbury is a traditional "flat earth" type of map showing the world in the form of the Corpus Domini. Notice the head of Christ at the top of the map, which signifies the East, near Paradise; with the feet at the bottom, or West; and the hands in the directions North and South, or right and left respectively. Click on image for full scalable version.

    Close-up showing Christ's head signifying the East, to the left of which is the Terrestrial Paradise in an inset with Adam, Eve, the Tree of Knowledge and the Serpent. Notice the word "India" below this depiction of the Garden of Eden near the right-hand corner.

    Gervais crammed all the legendary places of the East and the Indies found in the Alexandrine and other romances in his mappa mundi. Click on image for full version detailing certain locations and peoples including Chryse, the Cynocephali, the Kingdom of Women and the Tomb of St. Thomas.

    Now the Crusade Cycle generally has the Swan Knight coming in his boat to Nijmegen (Nymegen) or Mainz, drawn by a swan, to rescue the lady of Bouillon from the Duke of Saxony. Their daughter becomes the mother, so they say, of Godfrey of Bouillon.

    We find the story of a child, Sceaf, coming on a rudderless boat to Scandea (Scandinavia) in Beowulf and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle both of the 8th century. Here it appears to be borrowed partly from Pseudo-Methodius as Sceaf is called, like Jonitus, the fourth son of Noah in the Anglo-Saxon genealogies and regnal lists. The European writers further made Sceaf the ark-born son of Noah from which idea apparently was derived the Swan Knight's boat.

    Jonitus was closely associated in medieval Europe with Paradise, living himself in Nod to the east of Eden; and credited with having brought the seeds, fruit or branches of the Tree of Paradise from which was planted the tree used to make the cross of Christ.

    Again, it was one of the lineage of Jonitus who would come in the end-times to conquer the Saracens and Jerusalem heralding the Second Coming. In Gerbert de Montreuil's continuation of Chretien's Conte du Graal written around 1226-30, Perceval is told in a vision that he will have a son from whose seed will descend the Swan Knight, who will in turn liberate Jerusalem and the Holy Sepulchre. Here again we find the Tiburtine Sibyl's prophecy of the Last Emperor who regains the tomb of Christ.

    Whether fiction or (partly) truth, giving Godfrey the leader of the First Crusade a descent from the Swan Knight was to link him, at least through analogy, with Sibylline prophecies of the "king from the East," and with those of Pseudo-Methodius by suggesting lineage from Jonitus.

    Swan Knight tales are centered in the multi-lingual areas of French Walloon, Flemish and Dutch speakers -- now known as Benelux -- and a bit southward into the German-speaking area of Mainz. Across northern France was the locus of fairy-related tales in Brittany and Anjou, also multi-lingual. This whole region between and including Brittany and the Netherlands contributed most of the participants in the First Crusade.

    Interesting from an esoteric standpoint were the stories of the marriages of the Swan Knight and the Melusine, the female fairy type, with "humans." In the case of the Melusine, her husband was instructed never to look at her while she bathed. Inevitably the curious husband would succumb to curiosity discovering his wife's serpent form. The Swan Knight had the condition that his wife should never ask his true name or origin. Again, the wife would eventually break the agreement upon which the Swan Knight would take his leave on a swan-pulled boat headed for regions unknown.

    In each case, there was a need to keep the real identity, the fairy identity, secret. Interesting also is the swan or bird identity of the male fairy, while the female fairy is serpentine -- a pattern that we have discussed here before.

    The case of Prester John

    In the century that followed the First Crusade, we find also that Prester John apparently makes claims in his famed letters based on the same concept of the millenarian "king from the east."

    There have been attempts to analyze the internal evidence provided by the Prester John letters, one of the best undertaken by Vsevolod Slessarev.

    Slessarev surmised, primarily due to the negative comments made against the Byzantine emperor, that the author of the letter to Manuel must have been a forgery by a Western Christian author. However, as noted by Sabine Baring-Gould, the slights against Rome appear even more intense in the same letter. Indeed, the eastern king says that one of his descendents would conquer Rome and all the Western Christian kingdoms!

    In the letter addressed to the "Emperor of Rome" (Frederick Barbarossa) and the "King of France," Prester John only mentions his promise to retake the Holy Sepulchre and "all the Promised Land."

    Nowhere does Prester John claim to be a member of, or the desire to be a member of, the Byzantine or Roman churches. Indeed, the importance given to St. Thomas and the titles of church officials attached to his kingdom give, as Baring-Gould notes, a solid indication of Nestorian bias. And in the message given by Hugh of Gabala earlier in the century, Prester John is expressely described as a Nestorian king.

    The insults to Byzantine and Western Christian kingdoms make it unlikely also that the letters were sent by anyone living in those kingdoms. Yet, the knowledge of the political intrigues of Jerusalem, including those involving the Templars, hint that the letters were at least informed by someone living close to but not in the crusader kingdoms.

    One manuscript of the letter to Emperor Manuel contains a note indicating it was translated from Greek into Latin by Archbishop Christian of Mainz. Versions of this letter do contain Greco-Latin forms such as "Romeon" instead of "Romanorum." Another manuscript claims to be translated into Latin from Arabic. Quite probably, the letters mentioned by Albericus in the Chronicon were in different languages -- the one to Emperor Manuel in Greek and that to Emperor Frederick in Latin -- for example.

    There would have been little difficulty in obtaining translators for these letters. Many learned Arabs were very familiar with Greek, having helped preserved the ancient Greek corpus, and some were also versed in Latin. Aspects of the Alexandrine romantic literature, which pervade the Prester John letters, would have been widely familiar to scholars in the Muslim world.

    As to the claim of forgery, we can note again as earlier in this blog that both letters mentioned here give indications of a previous meeting of envoys, who may also have aided in the composition of the letters between the monarchs.

    In the letter to Manuel, we read:

    Receive the dignity of our hierarch in our name and use it for they own sake, because we gladly use your vase of oil, in order that we mutually strengthen and corroborate our virtue.

    Also according to Albericus:

    Our Majesty has been informed that you hold our Excellency in love, and that the report of our greatness has reached you. Moreover we have heard through our treasurer that you have been pleased to send to us some objects of art and interest, that our Exaltedness might be gratified thereby.

    Being human, I receive it in good part, and we have ordered our treasurer to send you some of our articles in return.

    And in the letter to Frederick and Louie VII, Prester John states:

    We beg you to keep in mind the holy pilgrimage, and may it take place soon, and may you be brave and of great courage, and pray, do not forget to put to death those treacherous Templars and pagans and, please, send us an answer with the envoy who brought the presents.

    These statements indicate that envoys had been working behind the scenes and also suggest a previous exchange of gifts. Similar contact between envoys in found in Pope Alexander III's letter to Prester John. Obviously had such contact not taken place, the letters would be immediately revealed as fraudulent. Thus, a consistent tradition would indicate that such diplomatic contacts had taken place during the events recorded by Albericus starting in 1165. There must have been reasonable cause for the Pope, emperors and other kings to whom the letters were sent to have believed in their validity and in the integrity of the envoys. In addition, they must have had some reason to believe in the possibility of the self-described "Prester John" to fulfill some of the promises he offered in the correspondence.

    However, the reason for mentioning these letters here is that both give indications that Prester John was appealing to the same millenarian yearnings that helped fuel the crusades, and which were likely linked with the Swan Knight legend.

    In the letter to Frederick Barbarossa and Louis VII, Prester John promises to liberate the Holy Sepulchre and capture the entire Christian Holy Land -- a link with Sibylline prophecy. Furthermore he states that his own success was prophesied to his father:

    Know that I had been blessed before I was born, for God sent an angel to my father who told him to build a palace full of God's grace and a chamber of paradise for the child to come, who was to be the greatest king on earth and to live for a long time.

    The letter to Manuel also gives apocalyptic utterances:

    These accursed fifteen nations will burst forth from the four quarters of the earth at the end of the world, in the times 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 to our son who will be born, along with all Italy, Germany, the two Gauls, Britain and Scotland. We shall also give him Spain and all the land as far as the icy sea. The nations to which I have alluded, according to the words of the prophet, shall not stand in the judgment, on account of their offensive practices, but will be consumed to ashes by a fire which will fall on them from heaven.

    Prester John was in effect claiming to be the promised "king from the east" of the pre-crusade prophecies.

    As an aside it is worth mentioning that Prester John apparently had also requested Alexander III for permission to build a church in Rome and an altar in Jerusalem. Previously we have noted that the king of Zabag had engaged, as part of his policy of attraction, in building projects in India and China. Edrisi, writing around 1154, states that the king of Zabag was still actively trading along the African coast at that time. However, we hear nothing of the envoy sent by Alexander III to Prester John. Maybe this is not too surprising as Chinese annals record that the last envoys sent from this kingdom came in the year 1178, only a year after Alexander III's envoy was dispatched. The eastern king was named in transliterated Chinese characters Si-li-ma-ha-la-sha.

    After the 1178 embassy, no more is heard of the kingdom during the remainder of the Sung dynasty or in the Yuan dynasty that followed.

    Swan Knight as sleeping hero

    In most versions of the Swan Knight tale, the hero comes sleeping on a boat from his mysterious homeland.

    In the Wartburgkrieg written in the first half of the 13th century, we read:

    How Arthur lives within the mount and many heroes bold,
    Hundreds she to me did name;
    With him from Britain's isle they came,
    Nor may their names to any churl be told.

    And Arthur too has sent forth knights
    To Christendom since he departed mortal sight.
    Hear how these a tocsin calls

    Many thousand miles away,
    Wherefrom a noble count hath lost his life in fray;
    Hear how pride hath made him false,

    Hear too the tale about this bell: all of Arthur's singers
    Must leave their art and cease to sing,
    For in their ears the bell doth ring,
    Whence in the court no trace of pleasure lingers.

    The Sibyl's child, Felicia,
    With Arthur there both she and Juno are,
    That from Saint Brandan's lips I know full well. Nor yet does Klinsor this explain,
    Who is the knight whom Arthur has sent out again,
    And neither does he say who 'tis who rings the bell. . . .

    Canst thou to us in song explain
    How Loherangrin by Arthur was sent forth again?"

    Here King Arthur lives within a far-off hollow mountain together with Loherangrin, the Swan Knight, and other notables -- the Roman goddess Juno; Felicia, daughter of the Sibyl; and St. Brandon, who sailed east from Ireland to the "Island of Paradise" also called the "Promised Land of the Saints" never to be heard from again. This is the mountain of the "sleeping heroes" that appears so often in later medieval works.

    Arthur probably first appears in a subterranean realm in Etienne's Draco Normannicus (1167-9) were he is described as 'King of the Underworld' in the far-off Antipodes. This is Avalon, or as called in Tristan, 'Avelun, the fairy land.'

    Gervais of Tilbury and Caesarius of Heisterbach, both writing in the same period as the Wartburgkrieg also mention the underground realm of Arthur. However, rather than place the Arthurian underworld in the Garden of Eden, they rather place it in or on Mt. Aetna in Silicy, the entrance to Hell in some medieval traditions. Caesarius writes:
    At the time when Emperor Henry had subjugated Sicily there was in the bishopric of Palermo a certain deacon who was, I think, a German. When one day he lost his best palfrey he sent his servant to look for it in various places. The servant met an old man who said to him: ' Where are you going and what are you looking for?' When the servant replied that he was hunting for his master's horse the old man rejoined that he knew where it was. ' And where?' asked the servant. ' In Mount Gyber [Aetna],' was the reply: ' there my lord King Arthur has it, and this mountain spits forth fire like Vesuvius.' To the astonished servant he said further, ' Tell your master that he come here in forty days to the court of King Arthur. If you neglect to tell him you will be heavily punished.' The servant went back and tremblingly told his master what he had heard. When the deacon heard he had been invited to the court of Arthur he laughed, but on the day set he was stricken and died. These things Godescalcus, canon of Bonn, told us, and said that they happened in recent times.

    In this description, the domain of Arthur is described in volcanic terms as it "spits forth fire like Vesuvius."

    Joe and the Volcano

    The idea that the grail paradise of the Swan Knight was volcanic may also be seen in a latter tradition that equates this mountain home with the Venusberg of Tannhauser fame.

    The Saxon Chronicle of Caspar Abel discovered in 1732 but dated to the 15th century says of Lohengrin "that he came from that mountain where Venus is in the grail." This hollow mountain of Venus is likened to hell and the fires of Vesuvius in the Tannhauser literature.

    We can venture to the land of Prester John during medieval times for signs of active volcanoes near the area where most medieval geographers placed the Terrestrial Paradise.

    In the mid-ninth century, we read in the Akbar al-Sin wa'l Hind: "...near Zabaj is a mountain called the Mountain of Fire, which it is not possible to approach. Smoke escapes from it by day and a flame by night, and from its foot comes forth a spring of cold fresh water and a spring of hot water."

    Al-Mas'udi, writing about a century later, says:

    There is no volcano on earth which makes a greater noise, nor any the smoke of which is more black, or the flames more copious, than that which is in the kingdom of the Maharaj [Zabag].

    He further describes this volcano:

    From these mountains issues fire, by day and night. By day it has a dark appearance, and at night it shines red. It rises to such a height, that it reaches the regions of the heaven (i.e. it ascends above the atmosphere). The explosion is accompanied with a noise like the loudest thunder. Sometimes a strange sound proceeds from these volcanos, which is indicative that their king will die; and, if the sound is lower, it foretells the death of one of their chiefs. They know the meaning of these sounds, by long habit and experience. This is one of the great chimneys (craters) of the earth. At no great distance is another island, from which, constantly, the sound of drums, lutes, fifes, and other musical instruments, and the noise of dancing, and various amusements, are heard. Sailors, who have passed this place, believe that the Dajjal (Antichrist) occupies this island.

    Prester John's letters mention a river of stones and sea of sand that can also be interpreted as representing volcanic activity:

    "Three days' journey from this sea are mountains from which rolls down a stony, waterless river, which opens into the sandy sea. As soon as the stream reaches the sea, its stones vanish in it, and are never seen again....In our territory is a certain waterless sea consisting of tumbling billows of sand never at rest. None have crossed this sea -- it lacks water all together, yet fish of various kinds are cast up upon the beach, very tasty, and the like are nowhere else to be seen."

    The river of stones is part of a quite unusual reference to the Sambatyon River that sequestered the Lost Ten Tribes of Israel. The references to the Sambatyon in Jewish literature appear to describe volcanic events. We also find in Prester John's letter to Emperor Manuel, mention of the salamander and the fire-proof cloth that it was supposed to spin:

    In one of our lands, hight Zone, are worms called in our tongue Salamanders. These worms can only live in fire, and they build cocoons like silkworms, which are unwound by the ladies of our palace, and spun into cloth and dresses, which are worn by our Exaltedness. These dresses in order to be cleaned and washed are cast into flames.

    Similar tales are told in Chinese works at least by 520 CE in the Liang Si Gong Zhi where we hear of the "Island of Fire" and "Burning Mountain" located near Fusang, the Cynocephali and the Kingdom of Women. These latter kingdoms are linked to very much the same region that is later known as Sanfotsi and Toupo i.e, the lands of Zabag and Wakwak, although the Liang Si Gong Zhi gives exaggerated distances between these lands.

    Upon the summit of the mountain Yen- kuen [Burning Mountain] there live fire rats (ho-shu), the hair of which serves also for the fabrication of an incombustible stuff, which is cleansed by fire instead of by water.

    Berthold Laufer thought the material described was not asbestos, as sometimes suggested, but instead a type of barkcloth made of "a certain wood, which, laid in the fire, burns, sparkles, and flames, yet consumes not, and yet a man may rub it to powder betwixt his fingers."

    He quotes the Liang annals contemporary with the previous source: "On Volcano Island there are trees which grow in the fire. The people in the vicinity of the island peel off the bark, and spin and weave it into cloth hardly a few feet in length. This they work into kerchiefs, which do not differ in appearance from textiles made of palm and hemp fibres...".

    Curiously, Sung Dynasty writings do not mention the volcanic eruptions given for the 100-year period between the 9th and 10th centuries found in Muslim works. Ma Tuan-lin does mention volcanic islands in the region concerned, but he appears to be copying much earlier works.

    If we take that this volcano mentioned is Pinatubo, the documented eruptions are either too early or too late to match the related time period. However, J.C. Gaillard has noted that wood samples dating from 1670-1802 bp related to the filling of the paleo-shoreline of the Pampanga Bay may indicate an undocumented eruption phase. A vast area of the Pampanga Bay was filled with sediment, and Gaillard rightly notes that this likely did not happen after the last pre-Pinatubo eruption known as the Buag phase (800-500 bp), since Spanish chronicles make no mention of the phenomenon.

    The wood sample dated at 1670 bp (WW-4685) would put the event very close to the eruptive activity indicated in the Liang Dynasty records. And there is evidence that the sedimentation mostly ended by 1000 bp when sea levels reached their present state. We could then postulate that instead of one massive explosive eruption, there was a long eruptive phase likely consisting of periodic eruptions that gradually filled in the Pampanga Bay between 1800 bp and 1000 bp.

    Such eruptive activity and filling in of the Pampanga Bay could account for the river of stones and the sea of sand mentioned in Prester John's letter that would have been written about a century after the shoreline stabilized. However, either some minor activity may have continued or else the long history of volcanic eruption had worked its way into local tradition.

    Additionally we find that both Prester John's letter and the Chinese notices of Sanfotsi (Zabag) contain references to subterranean regions.

    From Prester John:

    Near the wilderness trickles between barren mountains a subterranean rill, which can only by chance be reached, for only occasionally the earth gapes, and he who would descend must do it with precipitation, ere the earth closes again.

    And from Zhao Rugua's description of Sanfotsi:

    There is an old tradition that the ground in this country once suddenly gaped open and out of the cavern came many myriads of cattle, which rushed off in herds into the mountains, though the people all tried to get them for food. Afterwards the crevice got stopped up with bamboo and trees and disappeared.

    We can see then a good match between the volcanic, underworld paradise of the Swan Knight and Arthur, and the historical eastern kingdoms of Zabag-Sanfotsi; and I would also suggest the kingdom of Prester John.

    Here we have the same region where Iranian legend places Kangdez the hollow mountain fortress of sleeping heroes waiting for the apocalypse, and the Sea of Milk where Visnu's sleeping avatars await the end of the old era before awakening.

    Paul Kekai Manansala


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