Word Origin & History
c.1300, Prestre Johan, legendary medieval Christian king and priest, said to have ruled either in the Far East or Ethiopia. From V.L. *prester, a transition between L. presbyter and Eng. priest. First mentioned in the West by mid-12c. chronicler Otto of Freising, who told how Johannes Presbyter won a
great victory over the Persians and the Medes. Between 1165 and 1177 a forged letter purporting to be from him circulated in Europe. Reflects the time when the Christian West was culturally backwards and militarily threatened, dreaming of a mythical deliverer. Cf. O.Fr. prestre Jehan (13c.), It. prete Gianni.