From youthful fantasies of flight to naked humiliation, your dreams reflect the arc of your life.
June 05, 2012
A message comes from an advanced society in outer space that needs our help.
Of course, in the Information Age we would probably quickly find it was a hoax.
That’s perhaps as close to what happened early in the 12th century in Europe, when a mysterious 12-page letter began to circulate that described a fabulous kingdom.
With one basic difference: it was believed.
There were over 100 different variations of the letter published over the following few centuries, but the gist of it was this:
"I Prester John, who reign supreme, surpass in virtue, riches and power all creatures under heaven. Seventy kings are our tributaries. I am a zealous Christian and universally protect the Christians of our empire, supporting them by our alms."
Then he would get to the good stuff.
"...we have gold, silver, precious stones, animals of every kind and we believe no people is our equal under heaven."
And then the really good stuff.
"We live in a kingdom, a land of milk and honey, where there are rivers of gold and a magical cistern with mystical aqua vitae where anyone that drinks is guaranteed longevity (the first recorded mention of the Fountain of Youth)."
He would usually close with a variation of this.
"...With all these riches, all this goodness, (reiteration was effective) I am in danger of being overrun by infidels and barbarians."
He gave his location sort of nebulously: a “modest” kingdom in the East, comprising the "three Indias," and enclosed a map.
Most often, the letters were addressed to Emanuel I, the Byzantine Emperor of Rome, though other editions also went to Pope Alexander 111 or the King of France.
Expeditions were sent to find this mythical kingdom. Men went to find the secret of perpetual middle age. Hearts beat wildly in young Lochinvars going to rescue their princesses in distress. Scholars sharpened their quills to re-write history.
The search revealed no Kingdom. But what was the hurry? It had only been a century or two.
Heavies like Gregory of Nazianzus, John Damaschene, Isidore of Seville, Rabanus Mourus and Christopher Columbus continued to mull where it was.
By the 14th century, subsequent letters (published as a 10-page manuscript in several languages) said that the besieged kingdom was really in Abyssinia.
“Pearls there as plentiful as peppercorns,” was the way one letter described it.
Portugal sent expeditions to find Prester John throughout the century. Cartographers included the kingdom of Prester John on maps in the 17th century.
Some scholars think that the basis for Prester John came from the great empire of Genghis Khan and others concluded the fuel propelling the myth was to offer hope to Christian armies fighting the crusades.
Maybe they never found "paradise" but looking for it sparked the Age of Discovery, and helped catapult the west into the Renaissance.
The man who never was became one of the most influential people in history.
The power to imagine may be the greatest power we have.