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Itinerary of Richard I and others to the Holy Land

Geoffrey de Vinsauf

translated by A Classical Scholar and A Gentleman Well-Read in Mediǽval History


To the Itinerary of those who went in pilgrimage to the Holy Land in the time of Saladin, and to the exploits of Richard king of England, and of the king of France, and of the emperor of Germany.

It sometimes happens, that exploits, however well known and splendidly achieved, come, by length of time, to be less known to fame, or even forgotten among posterity. In this manner the renown of many kings has faded, and their deeds have sunk with them into the grave where their bodies lie buried - deeds that had been performed with great splendour, and were much celebrated in their own times, when their novelty brought them into favour, and unanimous applause set them up as models before the people. The ancient Greeks, aware of this, were wise enough to use the pen as a remedy against oblivion, and zealously stimulated their writers, whom they termed historiographers, to compile histories of noble deeds. Thus the silence of the living voice was supplied by the voice of writing, so that the virtues of men might not die with them. The Romans, emulating the Greeks, with the view of perpetuating merit, not only employed the service of the pen, but also added sculpture: and thus by exhibiting the ancients they excited their descendants, and impressed the love of virtue the more strongly on the minds of its imitators, conveying it in various ways, both through their eyes and through their ears. Who would now know anything about the voyage of Jason, the labours of Hercules, the glory of Alexander, or the victories of Cǽsar, if it had not been for the service which writers have rendered? And, to adduce the examples of the Holy Fathers, I may say, that neither the patience of Job, the liberality of Abraham, nor the gentleness of David, would have remained as an example among the faithful of after-ages, if antiquity, with a due appreciation of truth, had not bequeathed history for our perusal. Indeed, kings formerly, when they became the objects of praise, were most anxious, that, whilst they stood high in the estimation of their contemporaries, they might also descend to the knowledge of posterity. However numerous have been the historians, most of them have recorded what they heard; few what they have seen. If Dares Phrygius(1) is more readily believed about the destruction of Troy, because he was an eyewitness of what others related only on hearsay, we also, who treat of the history of Jerusalem, are justly entitled to credit; for we testify what we have seen, and celebrate these deeds with the pen, whilst our memory of them retains its freshness. If the fastidious reader require a more elegant style, let him consider that we wrote while in the camp, and that the noise of war did not admit of calm and silent meditation. Truth has charms enough in herself, and even though not decked out in pompous array, still possesses sufficient attractions for all who are desirous of learning her secrets.

(1) Dares Phrygius, now universally acknowledged to be a forgery, was nevertheless one of the most popular writers of the middle ages. Historical and literary criticism being then at a very low ebb, few, if any, suspected the truth of a writer who boasted that he had been present at the war of Troy.

Book I.

Chapter I. - In the year of the Incarnate Word 1187, when Urban III. held the government of the Apostolic See, and Frederic was emperor of Germany; when Isaac was reigning at Constantinople, Philip in France, Henry in England, and William in Sicily, the Lord’s hand fell heavy upon his people, if indeed it is right to call those his people, whom uncleanness of life and habits, and the foulness of their vices, had alienated from his favour. Their licentiousness had indeed become so flagrant that they all of them, casting aside the veil of shame, rushed headlong, in the face of day, into crime. It would be a long task and incompatible with our present

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