Travels of Sir John Mandeville and finishing things

One of my new intentions is to try and finish things. For example, I have hundreds of drawings lying around that I have been too lazy to finish. One of the ‘first fruits’ of my newfound ambition is the drawing of a creature known to our ancestors as a ‘Blemmye,’ at right.

“Blemmyes” belong to that class of creature which today would be called an ‘urban legend’ or ‘folk lore’ — like leprechauns or the Loch Ness monster. But in the 16th century, before satellites were constantly photographing the earth from overhead and everything had been google-earthed, there were still lots of blank spaces on the map marked with question marks. Someone (author unknown) wrote about“The Travels of Sir John Mandeville.” Mandeville had apparently travelled to some of those blank spaces on the map and returned to tell of the tale.

Mandeville gives details of the lives of different species of humans like the ‘Skiapods,’ ‘Cynocephales,’ the ‘Cyclopes’ and the ‘Blemmeyes.’ As you can see, the Blemmyes have no head (making decapitation and buying shirts difficult) and their faces are on their chests. Belatedly, I realized that my Blemmeye has no ears; in some of the classic illustrations, the Blemmye is portrayed as having ears that flank his eyes… and female Blemmyes are portrayed as having boobs that start on their cheeks.

Another favorite is the ‘Cynocephales;’ a race of men with the heads of dogs (sometimes portrayed with fur). Their speech apparently sounds like barking and Mandeville notes that although they are very intelligent and reasonable, they worship a god who takes the form of an ox (I suppose thinking that god could be an ox seems just silly to Mandeville, since, as a Christian, he knows that god is really a dead man nailed to some wood).

‘Skiapods’ have one leg and a single giant foot which the Skiapod uses to shield himself from the sun. The classic illustrations of the Skiapods I have seen almost always portray them as lying on their back in the shade of their own giant foot (like in the period woodcut at right); I wonder if the skiapod puts sunscreen on the sole of his foot? Or does he just wear a big-ass shoe?

A sample of the unknown author’s prose:

From this land men go to another isle that is clept Silha. And it is well a 800 miles about. In that land is full much waste, for it is full of serpents, of dragons and of cockodrills, that no man dare dwell there. These cockodrills be serpents, yellow and rayed above, and have four feet and short thighs, and great nails as claws or talons. And there be some that have five fathoms in length, and some of six and of eight and of ten. And when they go by places that be gravelly, it seemeth as though men had drawn a great tree through the gravelly place. And there be also many wild beasts, and namely of elephants.

The book is filled with all sorts of creatures, countries, personalities and observations; like giant snails, dragons, Prester John and other weird stuff. I’ve only read bits of “The Travels of Sir John Mandeville;” maybe I’ll have to make time to read some more of it.

(edit: corrected spelling of ‘Blemeye’ to ‘Blemmye’; and discovered this was also the name used by the Romans for a tribe of Nubian nomads with conventional anatomy (it is not known what they called themselves) — how the name came to be applied to the headless people of Mandeville’s travel is unknown… also found out that ‘cockodrill’ probably means ‘crocodile.’)


3 Comments on “Travels of Sir John Mandeville and finishing things”

  1. The Blemeyes illustration is superb! It looks like you channeled a bit of Trampier without totally aping him. Nice!

  2. mikemonaco says:

    I've been meaning to model small armies of the various “Plinian races” like Blemmyae, sciopods, and cynocephs for quite some time. (which would require extensive conversion of existing minis and so keeps getting pushed back)

    I can't understand why these guys were never picked up by any RPGs.

    Great illustration.

  3. limpey says:

    Mikemonaco said: I've been meaning to model small armies of the various “Plinian races” like Blemmyae, sciopods, and cynocephs for quite some time.
    What a cool idea! If one got ahold of some naked people with clubs and spears (Roman Empire era Germans might work), cut off their heads and add faces to their chests, one might get quite passable Blemmyae!


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