Reviews

P. G. Borbone has realised a large scale project through this translation of a text of primary significance on the period of its writing. In China, two Christian monks of the Eastern Church, Sauma and Marcos, decided to go to pilgrimage to Jerusalem, but when they arrived to Mesopotamia after an extremely difficult journey, they realised that they could not reach the ultimate goal of their travel. At this time the relations between Ilkhans and Mamluks were making impossible a trip to Palestine. Both men resumed their monastic life in the monasteries of Ilkhanid Persia. After the Katholikos’ death Marcos was elected as his successor under the name of Mar Yahballaha III. On his advice, Rabban Sauma was then named by Arghun as the leader of an embassy sent to the rulers of Europe and to the Pope, with the aim of obtaining their military alliance against the Mamluks. The narrative is the first travel account by a Chinese Christian in the West. This explains the text’s historical value, but also its contribution to the history of the perception of the ‘Other’ in the mediaeval world.

Shortly after its first translation by P. Bedjan in the late nineteenth century (see supra review 102), other translations were made: in French by J.-B. Chabot, in English by J. A. Montgomery in 1927 (a translation limited to the first part of the text, reprinted by Gorgias Press in 2006) and by E. A. Wallis Budge in 1928, in Russian by N. V. Pigulevskaia (1958). Another part of the text was translated into German by F. Atlheim (1961), and another one, still shorter, in English by S. P. Stock (1969). There is also an Arabic translation by L. Sako, and a translation into neo-Aramaic published in Kirkuk in 1961, that was kindly put at our disposal by Mattay d-bet-Patros. These relatively ancient translations have been made obsolete by the publication of those by P. G. Borbone (in Italian, in 2000) and the one presently reviewed. All previous translations had been realised out of the editions printed by P. Bedjan.

So did P. G. Borbone, but he also could collate the manuscripts and bring some corrections to their initial editions. Another contribution of P. G. Borbone’s translations is the introduction that precedes them on the manuscript tradition, with hypotheses on the text’s author, its literary genre, etc. (pp. 13-30). This introductive part is followed by a tentative relocation of Rabban Sauma’s text in its initial context (pp. 31-57; more elements on this mission can be found in Morris Rossabi, Voyager from Xanadu: Rabban Sauma and the First Journey from China to the West, Tokyo – New York – London, 1992. Another major interest of P. G. Borbone’s work is its comment on the translation (pp. 171-296), indispensable on points like rituals of the Eastern Church, some practices of the Mongol power, on the identification of special populations, place names, technical terms, etc.

Appendixes have also been added, which comprise texts useful for the understanding the translation of Rabban Sauma’s text: A Life of Mar Yahballaha III (297-302) from the Book of the Tower by Mari b. Sulayman; the Mêmrâ in Honour of Mar Yahballaha III (302-4) which found at the end of a Gospel discovered in 1926 in a village of the vicinity of Mosul; a Narrative of the election of Mar Yahballaha III (304-5) according to Barhebraeus; the narrative of a continuator of Barhebraeus about Rabban Sauma’s mission (305-6); the institution of the tent church in Arghun’s court in Armenian sources (306-7); the Mongol-language letter by Arghun to King of France Philippe the Fair (1289), translated in 1962 (308); and the Diplomatic Note by Buscarello Ghisolfi (1289), translated from mediaeval French by J.-B. Chabot in 1894 (309-11), and was intended to be delivered by Rabban Sauma to Western rulers during his embassy to Europe. One can also find the Mongol-language letter by Arghun to Pope Nicholas IV (1290), translated in 1952 (312).

P. G. Borbone concludes his work with some reflections on the itineraries and open questions that show the existence of still numerous mysteries in Rabban Sauma’s text. This large set of documents has been collected for the first time into one volume, enriched by numerous notes and a detailed comment, completed by a rich bibliography of primary and secondary sources, by maps and by a very useful index. His translation, realised by a prominent specialist of Syriac studies, will remain a major reference during many years. The reader disposes of an excellent translation relying at the same time on P. Bedjan’s edition and on the collation of the manuscript tradition of the text. His comment will show useful to non-specialists of the Eastern Church and of the Mongols.

Denise Aigle, Practical School for Advanced Studies, Paris
CER: II-3.1.B-109