The Suez Canal

If you thought the Suez Canal was the brainchild of Ferdinand de Lesseps in the 19th century, today’s quote will make you think again. Enjoy this 15th century explanation of the attempted construction of the Suez Canal and its significance from the pen of the German monk, the curious and open-minded Felix Fabri, who made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and Egypt in 1483.

I particularly like his somewhat dismissive reference to a ‘certain Spanish king in our time’ whose ships failed to get to India but instead discovered… well, America!

Note about the author picture
Unfortunately, I was unable to find a picture of Felix Fabri so instead you get a statue of Anonymus - ie. the Nameless - the unknown chronicler of early Hungarian history from the 1200s. It seemed appropriate, since they were both monks, and their faces unknown. The statue is in Budapest, in front of Vajdahunyad Castle.
⇒ Anonymus on Wikipedia

Quote of the Week:

Anonymus [Photo by Alex Proimos via Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0]

In this place, and in the hill-country at the end of the Red Sea, we saw the stupendous works of the ancient Kings of Egypt, who essayed to bring the Red Sea  into the Nile ; wherefore they began to dig through the mountains of the isthmus at the head of the sea, to divide hills, cut through the midst of stones and rocks, and made a canal and a waterway to the city of Arsinoe, which is also called Cleopatridis.

This trench was first begun by Sesostris, King of Egypt, before the Trojan War, at a great cost, and afterwards Darius, King of Persia, attempted to make it, but left it unfinished. Afterwards it was completed with consummate art by Ptolemy II, yet in such a manner that the ditch was closed up and would open to himself alone.

By this work the men of old meant to join together the East and the West, for the Nile runs into the Mediterranean, so that if it entered the Red Sea and the Western Ocean into the Red Sea, the Arabian Gulf, the Persian and Barbarian Sea, even to the Indian Sea in the East. Thus ships from India, Persia, Arabia, Media, and all the kingdoms of the East might freely come to Greece, Italy, France, Ireland, England, and Germany, whereas otherwise ships from the countries of the East cannot come beyond the end of the Red Sea, where Arabia Deserta joins Egypt, neither can ships from Western countries come further than Alexandria, which is the boundary of Asia and Africa; albeit in our own time a certain King of Spain has essayed to find out a way from the Western Ocean – that is to say, from the outer sea, which lies without the pillars of Hercules – into the Eastern Ocean and Indian Sea. But his attempt has been in vain, although he is said to have discovered some valuable isles which hitherto were unknown.

Now, in their attempt to join together the East and West in this manner, the Ptolemies, Kings of Egypt, had two objects in view – first, that they might bear rule over both, being, as they were, in the middle between them; secondly, that there might be a road to all parts of the world for merchants and merchandise, and that the Egyptians might take toll and custom-dues from the merchandise of all the world, seeing that the road must needs pass through their land.

And of a truth it would have been a glorius work if they had completed it ; for then men could have sailed into Egypt from Venice – nay, from Flanders and Ireland – and could have gone up the Nile into the Arabian Gulf, come to the cinnamon country, and reached the exceeding wealthy land of India, whereof we are told among other marvels that it has two summers and two winters in one year, an mountains of gold – real ones, not mere figures of speech – and that there are forty-four different countries in it. Then also through the Indian Sea would have been a way for us Westerns to Persia, Parthia, Media, Araby the Blest, Sabaea, and Chaldaea, and the peoples of the East would have had a way whereby to come to us; and so by this work the three principal parts of the world – to wit, Asia, Africa, and Europe – would have been brought together.

(The Book of the Wanderings of Brother Felix Fabri by Felix Fabri)

 

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