. . . an account of travel in the middle East during the Renaissance
"In the dead of the night a lamentable Outcry was caused by some of our Men on the
Forecastle, who looking out thought they had seen a Rock, with which these Seas abound,
whereupon they cried out, A Breach, A Breach ; which made the Mates leap out of their
Cabins with the same grisly Look as if going to give up their last Accounts : Here was
Doomsday in its right Colours, Distraction, Horror, and Amazement had seized on all, one
commanding this, another acting quite contrary; the Breach surrounding us, every one
expected the fatal stroke, when the Ship should be dashed in pieces. In this Panick Fear,
had any had so much heart as to have ventured a Composition for his empty Noddle by
looking over-board, he might have discovered the Jig : For at length it was evident that
only a Chorus of Porpoises had taken the Sea in their Dance; which Morris once over, the
Seas were quiet, and our Men left to repose themselves with a shorter Nap than they
thought themselves like to have."
In west India, near Bombay (?): "Their Women are manacled with Chains of Silver (or
Fetters rather) and hung with Earrings of God and Jewels, their Noses stretched with
weighty Jewels, on their Toes Ring of Gold, about their Waste a painted Clout, over their
Shoulders they cast a Mantle ; their Hair tied behind their Head (which both in Men and
Women is naturally very long) ; a-top a Coronet of God beset with Stones ; compleatly
bodied, and so flexible that they are excellent Dancers, and good at Feats of Activity : I
having seen them hold Nine Gilded Balls in play with their Hands and Feet, and the
Muscles of their Arms and Legs, a long time together without letting them fall : they are
clearer complexion'd than the Men."
Description of Indian juggler (Tennent, Ceylon): "Keeping a series of brass balls in motion
by striking them with his elbows, as well as his hands. Balancing on his nose a small stick
with an inverted cup at top, from which twelve perforated balls were suspended by silken
cords, he placed twelve ivory rods in his mouth, and so guided them by his tips and tongue,
as to insert each in a corresponding aperture in the ball, till the whole twelve were
sustained by the rods, and the central support taken away."
Amphisbaena: a name given to certain Indian snakes. Irutala Kuszali, a snake with two
heads, called in Portuguese Cobra de duas cabecas and in Latin amphisbaena - according
to Fra Paolino, writing of south India; he saw specimens both alive and dead, and describes
them as a palm or a palm-and-a-half in length, the color of withered leaves, and in motion
like an inch-worm not a snake; their bite leaves a tumor full of venom, but the poison is
very slow-acting and there is plenty of time to apply remedies. Tavernier writes that there
are in Siam some snakes 22 feet long and having two heads, but the head at the tail-end
does not open its mouth and has no movement. In north India, such snakes are called
domunha, 'two-mouthed'; there is a snake, Eryx johnii. Russ., which is called dutonde or
mandul and which snake-charmers mutilate to render its short thick tail in appearance like
a second head.
Bison in south India: "The like Terror is conceived by the crashing noise among the Woods
made by the wild Bulls ; for all which, 'tis the practice of the Woodmen to dig deep Pits,
and cover them with Sads, laid over with Boughs, to entrap them in their headstrong and
"A Buffola is of a Dun Colour, and are all as big as their largest Oxen ; they love to wallow
in the Mire like an Hog ; there are of them Wild, which are very Fierce and Mischievous,
Trampling a Man to Death, or Moiling him to Pieces with their Foreheads ; their Horns are
carelessly turned with Knobs around, being usually so ordered, or rather disordered (for
they retain no certain form) that they lie too much over their Heads to do any harm with
Seeing fireflies swarming in a burnt-out wood; they gave the appearance of flashes of fire
upon the trees, as if these were kindled with flame but then, the flash dying, returned to
their normal lush and green appearance. The travelers approached cautiously, wondering,
but discovered only swarms of flies ... which gave Fryer thought of the burning bush seen
by Moses, which was afire but was not consumed by flames.
There is a debate among philosophers as to whether the Garden of Eden still exists, and if so, if it is in Mesopotamia or else in India; some say it is still in being, and the passage to it lies easy and open; many go thither, but overcome with the delights thereof they never care to return. Those who seek to find the true site of Eden cannot reconcile modern geography with the requirement for Four Rivers (!) And must resort to subterfuge, claiming that the rivers were swept away in the great Flood and obliterated from the map of the world. (?) Fryer continues, speaking of summer on the Persian Gulf:
"But I leave this, and proceed to acquaint you, that nothing is left here but a sensible Map
of Purgatory, if that may please some to be a Road to Paradise ; to see how the Fiery
Element makes the Mountains gape, the Rocks cleft in sunder, the Waters stagnate, to
which the Birds with hanging Wings repair to quench their Thirst ; for want of which the
Herds do low, the Camels cry, the Sheep do bleat, the barren Earth opens wide for Drink,
and all things appear calamitous for want of kindly Moisture ; in lieu of which, hot Blasts
and Showers of Sand infest the purer Air, and drive not only us, but Birds and Beasts to
seek remoter dwellings, or else to perish here ; for which purpose 'tis familiar to behold the
Crows and Sparrows take their flight to Upland Countries, as also Dogs and other Vermin
to remove, to avoid the Tyranny of the Season."
"The following Day we continued going between two Chains of Dry and Burnt Hills, through a stony Valley, not without fear of suffocating, although it was near Evening e're we set out, and Yesterday's Showers had benignly distilled on the Fiery Drought, to cool the parched Earth : But this is the dreadful Vale, where the Hot North Winds blow at this time, it sweeps both Men and Beasts away, either by Night or Day, the Heat being as intense and as intolerable as that from the Mouth of an Oven. We were conducted through this Furnace by the Divine Protection (without being put to make use of the common Remedy in this Exigency, which is, upon perceiving of the hot Blasts, to cast our selves flat on the Ground till they are over, thereby to prevent the Fate attending those who refuse to stoop to this known Prescription, which is, to fall down dead, never to rise more alive), till we were mounted to where these two Chains are linked to each other, and by their mutual Ascent we were lift up on high, and then gently descending we were led down to Boorbazergum, fifteen miles from Caurestan."
<This is the simoon (Arabic samun) whose ill effects are noted by Marco Polo and Burton.
Tavernier writes of it: "March being pass'd the wind changes, and blowing at west south
west, in a short time it grows so hot and so stifling, that it almost takes a man's breath
away. This wind is by the Arabians called El-Samiel, or the poysonous wind, and by the
Persians Bade Sambour, because it suffocates and kills presently. The flesh of those that
are thus stifl'd feels like a glewie fat, and as if they had been dead a month before.">
"Hence up Hill and down Hill, through broken Rocks and unsteady Stones, through kindled Fires from sulphurious Caverns, and the more raging effects of the burning Orb, enlightening and enlivening all the World beside, here it kills and consumes the un-nurtur'd Plants, leaving them dry and sapless ; as if these great Heaps of Rocks were made for no other end but the counterpoize the more Fruitful Part of this Terrestrial Globe ; insomuch that it had been utterly impossible to have drawn Breath in this Place, had not the late unusual Rain something allayed the Fury of the Heats, which yet were troublesome enough by reason of the steaming Mists arising boiling hot with the Sun ; which so late in the Year are by the most Ancient of this Country esteemed so far out of course, that their Memory fails them to relate the like.
"Nor do the Publick Roads deny the Calamity of these Munsels, which are frequently
strewed with Bones of labouring Beasts, expiring under their Burthens, many of which
were fresh Examples of this Truth, lying reeking Carkases in our way . . ."
". . . Nor does less Benefit accrue by the Mellifluous Dew a-Nights turn'd into Manna, from
the Leafs and Shrubs, as well as Plants, upon the sides of these Mountains, which are not
altogether so Barren as those we have hitherto passes ; this Manna is White and
Granulated, and, what I have found my self, I think not inferior to the Calabrian."
<Persian manna is called gez, gaz, and found mostly on the leaves of the gez or tamarisk; it
is said to be deposited by a small pale-green insect. It is found mostly in the district of
Isfahan, and is gathered in the form of a white paste, to which is added almonds and
pistachios, making a sweetmeat called gezangebin. It is also boiled along with the leaves
and allowed to harden into a greenish cake which tastes like nougat.
Painting the face red for war, also use of henna: Fryer writes the Turks import small twigs
of hen or alkenna from Africa, with which they dye not only their hair but their hands and
feet and the nails upon them; and also other parts of the body, staining them a dark red, to
restrain sweating and the filthy smells proceeding therefrom. In Arabic, henna is al-hinna.
Herbert writes: "They paint their hands with a red or tawnie colour, which both cools the
liver, and in war makes them (as they say) victorious : their nailes are particoloured, white
and vermillion ; and why so I cannot say, unless in imitation of King Cyrus : who in
augmentation of honour, commanded his Heroes to tincture their nailes and faces with
vermillion, serving both to distinguish them from the vulgar sort (as did our warlike
Brittains) in fright to show more terrible."
Speaking of Persian customs: "When they go to Bed, they Clamber not up to them, as we
do, but throw themselves on the Ground after Carpets are laid, and a Bed made in a
Summer-House in some Garden, left open in Summer-time, or else on the Tablets upon the
Tops of their Houses ; where, if they observe any peeping upon them, or their Wives, an
Arrow drawn up to the head is let fly ; nor does any blame the Marks-man when he hits.
In Winter-time they keep all close." Herbert writes concerning this: "Every house top was
spread with Carpets, whereon each night slept the master of the house and his Seralio;
some (I easily perceived) had there, some six women about them, wrapt up in linnen ; the
curiosity (or rashness rather) might have cost me deerely, the penalty being no lesse than to
shoot an Arrow into his braines that dares to doe it." Burton remarks that there are cases
on record in Afghanistan and other Muslim countries, of bullets flying about the ears of
Europeans who dare peek into a zananah; it was a terrible crime to look upon a woman
"with her Face op'n" - hence the mullahs who go up the mosques to sing the morning
prayers should preferably be blind men, or else if no blind men were available, morning
prayer should not be held at all. For the same reason, palm-climbing by day was illegal.
Art For This Website Courtesy of Moyra:
Return to Page of the Old World
Last Updated August 20, 1999 by Sylvia
Return to Page of the Old World
Last Updated August 20, 1999 by Sylvia