At 11:34 25.10.97 +0100, you wrote:
>My memory may be rusty, but I seem to recall that the `Letter of Prester
>John', a curious document purporting to originate from a Christian
>empire in India, that circulated in Europe in the twelfth century
>(1160s-70s?) mentions spices and gems lying on the bed of one of the
>rivers of Paradise, which passes through the Prester's lands.

It was common view throughout the middle ages that the fourth river of
paradise, Euphrates (Gn 2,14), was "copiosissimus gemmis" (Isidore, Etym.
XIII, xxi, 10), but I have never heard of spices in this context. Moreover
the first of the four river, Phison-Ganges, was associated by biblical
tradition with the land Evilat rich of gold, "bdellium" (a tree famous for
its aromatic resin)  and gems ("ubi nascitur aurum / et aurum terrae illius
optimum est / ibique invenitur bdellium et lapis onychinus" Gn 2,11s.).
What regards the Letter of Prester John, there circulated many different
redactions, but the e-text which I once downloaded somewhere from the web
(scanned in from Gustav Oppert, _Der Presbyter Johannes in Sage und
Geschichte_, 2nd ed. Berlin 1870), in a description which does not refer
explicitly to the rivers of paradise, describes only 'precious stones and
gems', not spices, as forming the sand on the ground and banks of two
confluent rivers in India, one of them being the one behind which the ten
lost tribes of Israels have settled and are living as 'serfs and
tributaries' of the Prester and King:

     Juxta desertum inter montes inhabitabiles sub terra fluit 
     quidam rivulus ad quem non patet aditus nisi fortuitu casu. 
     Aperitur autem terra aliquando, et si quis intrare voluerit 
     tunc potest intrare et eum velocitate exire oportet ne forte 
     terra claudatur, et quicquid de terra rapitur lapides preciosi 
     sunt et gemme; quia harene et zabulum nihil aliud sunt quam 
     preciosi lapides et gemme. Rivulus ille fluit in aliud flumen 
     quod homines terre illius [173] intrant et magnam abundantiam 
     preciosorum lapidum inde trahunt, nec audent eos vendere nisi 
     prius ad nos deferant, et si eos ad usum nostrum volumus
     retinere data medietate precii illos accipimus. Sinautem 
     libere possunt vendere. Nutriuntur autem illorum populorum 
     pueri taliter in illa terra ad lapides inveniendos, ut quandoque 
     per tres aut quattuor dies sunt sub aqua. Ultra illud autem 
     flumen lapidum sunt decem tribus Judeorum qui quamvis fingant 
     se legem habere tamen servi nostri sunt et tributarii.

Otfried Lieberknecht, Schoeneberger Str. 11, D-12163 Berlin
Tel.: ++49 30 8516675 (fax on request), E-mail: [log in to unmask]
  Homepage for Dante Studies:
  ORB Dante Alighieri - A Guide to Online Resources: