The Garden Guide

Book: Journey and Embassy to Samarkand
Chapter: Preface

Clavijo Embassy

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Clavijo resolved to write a description of all the countries he passed through, that his travels might be had in memory; and a most curious chronicle of his journey to Samarkand was the result. He begins with an account of the occurrences of each day, during the voyage from Cadiz to Constantinople; gives a minute description of all the public edifices of the great capital of the empire of the east, before it fell into the hands of the Turks; graphically describes the dangers of his voyage in the Black Sea; recounts his adventures in the long journey from Trebizond to Samarkand, and enters fully into all the magnificence of Timur's court. He introduces some historical narratives; and repeats many stories concerning lands which he did not visit, received at second hand. Mariana gives some account of this mission, and says that Clavijo 'minutely related the particulars of the embassy, and many other wonderful things, if true.' {Mariana, lib. xix, cap. xi. The old Spanish historian devotes this chapter to an account of the 'great Tamerlane.' Gibbon derived his knowledge of Clavijo's embassy from Mariana} The historian of Spanish literature says of Clavijo, -'we may trust to his faithfulness, as much as to the vigilant and penetrating spirit he shows constantly, except when his religious faith, or his hardly less religious loyalty, interferes with its exercise.' {Ticknor, i, p. 187} Oviedo, the Spanish chronicler, relates that Clavijo had heard that Timur had a ring, with a stone which had the property of becoming dim when any lie was told in its presence {Gonzalo Fernandez de Oviedo, chronicler to the catholic kings, in his general history of Spain, relates this anecdote. Argote de Molina repeats it, but confesses that it is unworthy of a place in a serious history}. He, therefore, related many things concerning the grandeur of Spain, which, though not strictly true, were so in a metaphorical sense. As what he said was true to some extent, Timur saw that the stone preserved its bright colour, and was much surprised. Clavijo said that the king had three vassals who brought six thousand knights into the field, with golden spurs, alluding to the masters of Santiago, Alcantara, and Calatrava: he said that there was a bridge in Spain, forty miles broad, on which a thousand head of sheep found pasture, alluding to the land under which the river Guadiana flows, until it appears again: that there was a lion and a bull in Spain, which were maintained every day by the milk of many cows, meaning the famous cities of Leon and Toro; that there was a town surrounded by fire, and built upon water, alluding to Madrid, where there are many springs, and which is surrounded by a wall of flint: and that there were three wolf dogs {canes}, which fought in the field, each with two hundred lances; meaning the three towns named Can de Roa, Can de Muno, and Can de Zurita.