Prisoners of Prester John

The Portuguese Mission to Ethiopia in Search of the Mythical King, 1520–1526

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About the Book

During the 16th century, Portugal endeavored to locate the mythical kingdom of Prester John—a Christian nation rumored to be somewhere in the Orient, amidst the pagans and Muslims. This study chronicles Portugal’s final attempt, a six-year odyssey in Ethiopia that resulted in a tragicomic collision with a proud but isolated Christian kingdom. After summarizing the Prester John myth and the many efforts it spawned, the work focuses on the Ethiopian mission’s chronicler, Father Francisco Álvares, who fell in love with the country and its people, became a friend of its king, hid the Abyssinians’ heresies from his superiors, and set in motion events that saved Ethiopia from imminent destruction. Unique in the annals of Europeans’ initial contacts with African peoples, the Portuguese mission is a portrait of hopeful preconceptions buffeted and eventually transformed by encounters with a fascinating, utterly unexpected reality.

About the Author(s)

Cates Baldridge, a professor of English at Middlebury College in Vermont, is the author of two books and several journal articles. In 2008, he travelled to Ethiopia to retrace the route of the Portuguese embassy that is the subject of this book.

Bibliographic Details

Cates Baldridge
Format: softcover (6 x 9)
Pages: 305
Bibliographic Info: 11 photos, 4 maps, notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2012
pISBN: 978-0-7864-6800-3
eISBN: 978-0-7864-9019-6
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments      ix

Preface      1

A Note on the Text      5

1. News from Nowhere      7

2. Stalking a Phantom      25

3. The Lake of Fire      47

4. Strangers in a Strange Land      68

5. The Far Pavilions      89

6. The King and I      110

7. After Strange Gods      134

8. Divided We Fall      156

9. The Magic Mountain      178

10. The Last Crusade      201

11. Sermons in Stone      232

12. Duty’s Prisoner      259

Chapter Notes      283

Bibliography      289

Index      293