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)

 

Lengua e imperio (Language and empire)

La cita de la semana / Quote of the Week:

Antonio de Nebrija (1444-1522)

…siempre la lengua fue compañera del imperio i de tal manera lo siguió que junta mente començaron, crecieron i florecieron i, después, junta fue la caída de entrambos.

(Antonio de Nebrija: Gramática sobre la lengua castellana)


…language was always the empire’s companion and followed it in such a manner that together they began, grew and flowered and, afterwards, they fell both together.

(Antonio de Nebrija: Grammar of the Castilian language)

 

Tacitus vs the Newspapers

Quote of the Week:

Cees Nooteboom (1933-)

…during the Second World War he [Jorge Luis Borges] had considered giving up his habit of not reading the papers (because it made more sense to read the classics), but had decided instead to spend some time every day reading Tacitus on a different, early war. In a world like his, in which events repeat themselves ad infinitum, his decision was not without logic and Tacitus had the advantage of a superior style while, in his view, the content remained essentially the same.

(Cees Nooteboom: Roads to Santiago)

Las tierras del Cid (The Lands of El Cid)

La primera vez que oí hablar de Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar, mejor conocido como El Cid, tenía unos diez u once años. De hecho, no había oído hablar de él en absoluto: lo vi en una película que dieron en la tele en Hungría. Fue una película de Hollywood de 1961, titulado El Cid, con Charlton Heston en el papel del Cid y Sophia Loren en el papel de Doña Jimena. Os recomiendo si os gustan las películas románticas. 🙂

La cita muy romántica – en el sentido literario – de esta semana es, entonces, de Miguel de Unamuno y Jugo, escritor y rector de la Universidad de Salamanca en su tiempo.

I first heard of the Spanish hero Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar, better known as El Cid (The Lord), when I was about ten or eleven. Actually, I didn’t exactly hear of him: I saw him in a film, shown on Hungarian television. It was the 1961 Hollywood epic, El Cid, with Charlton Heston as the Cid and Sophia Loren as Doña Ximena. I recommend it to anybody with a romantic turn of mind. 🙂 The Cid was a Castilian knight in the eleventh century, who fought the Moors during the period of the Reconquista, that is, the reconquering of Spain from the Moors.

This week’s very romantic – in the literary sense – quote is from Miguel de Unamuno y Jugo, a Spanish essayist and rector at the University of Salamanca in his time.

La cita de la semana / Quote of the Week:

Miguel de Unamuno (1864-1936)

La Reconquista! ¡Cosas tuvieron nuestros Cides que han hecho hablar a las piedras¡ ¡Y cómo nos hablan las piedras sagradas des estos páramos! Reconquistado su suelo, Castilla, que había estado de pie, se acostó a soñar en éxtasis, en arrobo sosegado, cara al Señor eterno.

(Miguel de Unamuno: Por las tierras del Cid)


The reconquista! The things done by our Cids which have made the rocks talk. And how the holy rocks of these plateaus talk! Having reconquered her land, Castile, who had been standing, laid herself down to dream in ecstasy, in peaceful bliss, with her face to the eternal Lord.

(Miguel de Unamuno: Through the Lands of El Cid)

The Fifth of November

It being not only Monday but the 5th of November, for today’s quote of the week we’re going to remember the Gunpowder Plot of 1605.

The First Suicide Bomber in Britain

To cut a long story short, in 1605, the much persecuted Catholics hatched a plot to blow up Westminster while Parliament was in session and the king, James I, in attendance. A cellar below the building was filled with barrels of gunpowder and Guy Fawkes was left to ignite to fuse. If he succeeded, he would have gone to heaven (or hell) with his victims, but as history would have it, he had been apprehended in the act.

The day when the plot failed, known as Bonfire Night or Guy Fawkes’ Night, is still celebrated in England with fireworks and bonfires.

Effigy of Guy Fawkes on the bonfire, Billericay, 2010. Photo by William Warby [CC-BY 2.0]
When I first lived through it, in the near aftermath of the Second Iraq War, I had the worrying sensation of having been transported to Baghdad, because the explosions around the house went on all night. You get used to it eventually, and one year long ago, when Sophisticated Young Lady was not yet sophisticated, nor yet a lady, and Young Friend of the Elephants was even younger than she is now, I’ve even gone to the trouble of making a ragdoll ‘guy’ to burn at the stake of our garden bonfire.

Guess if it rained that year.

Quote of the Week:

Remember, remember
The fifth of November
Gunpowder, treason and plot
I see no reason
Why Gunpowder Treason
Should ever be forgot.

Covadonga (All That Has Moved Is History)

Quote of the Week:

It is not time that stood still here, although one would like to think so, it is the mountains. All that has moved is history, and all that has breathed are the seasons. Hot summers, harsh winters and the activity of man in between. Always the same: hunters, shepherds, farmers, descendants of Cantabrians and Goths. Never subjugated by Moors…

It is from here that the reconquest of Spain began. Reconquest is the proper word, but the prefix “re” encapsulates a long work of nearly eight centuries culminating in the victory of the Catholic Kings at Granada, and which began when the first Asturian king, Pelayo, defeated the Moorish troops at Covadonga in 718.

(Cees Nooteboom: Roads to Santiago)

More Final than Pompeii

Quote of the Week:

Selinus (Seliunte), Sicily. View of the Marinella di Selinunte and Temple E as seen from the acropolis of Seliunte. Photo by Matthias Süßen [CC BY-SA 3.0] via Wikimedia Commons

Fear in a handful of dust. Stillness and sun-petrified ruins. Here lay the ancient city, running north and south, overlooking the sea and the memory of its ships.

Here, then, was all that was left of great Selinus, called rich and powerful by Thucydides, with silver and gold in its temples and a treasury of its own at the shrine in Olympia. One of those sad disputes, with which the Greeks destroyed their promised land of Sicily, destroyed this city.

In 409 B.C. Hannibal and the Carthaginian army razed the walls of Selinus to the ground. Selinus, ‘City of the Wild Celery’ (and we had passed wild celery as we climbed the headland), was extinct by Strabo’s time. It had been a monument to the vanity of human wishes even when the Roman galleys swept past that bright bay…

“More final than Pompeii.”

(Ernle Bradford: The Wind Off the Island)

Seville Harbour (Puerto de Sevilla)

Quote of the Week / La cita de la semana

View of Seville in the 16th century with the Fleet of the Indies / Vista de Sevilla en el siglo XVI con la Flota de Indias [public domain via Wikimedia Commons]

Seville harbour – only a few hundred yards of dock set on the banks of a slow river, fifty miles from the sea, yet once the greatest harbour in the world, and still, in the legends of man, the most important. Columbus, Pizarro and Fernando Magellan, the Santa María and the little Victoria – from here they sailed to find a new world, or to be the first in all history to encircle the globe.

(Laurie Lee: A Rose for the Winter)


El puerto de Sevilla – sólo unos pocos cientos de yardas de muelle en las orillas de un río lento, cincuenta millas del mar, sin embargo, en otro tiempo el mayor puerto del mundo, y todavía en las leyendas de la humanidad, el más importante. Colón, Pizarro y Fernando de Magallanes, el Santa María y el pequeño Victoria – zarparon de aquí para encontrar un mundo nuevo, o para ser primero en toda la historia en la circunnavegación del globo.

(Laurie Lee: Una rosa para el invierno)

Three Thousand Year Old Bowls

Quote of the Week:

We can travel to the moon nowadays, but the basic shape of a bowl remains unchanged. I remember similar specimens in Africa, but they were not three thousand years old. I make a supreme effort to sense how ancient these are and I succeed because I know it’s true: three thousand years of violence, of profound upheaval have left this pottery intact, ready for use. I would gladly steal a piece from the cabinet and take it home, not to sell it on for some exorbitant price but to drink from it behind locked doors just in order to prove the continuity of my species, and to reflect a little on the unknown potter who fashioned it.

(Cees Nooteboom: Roads to Santiago)

Mundane

Livy on History (Tito Livio sobre la historia)

Titus Livius (59 BC – 17 AD)

Quote of the Week:

Hoc illud est praecipue in cognitione rerum salubre ac frugiferum, omnis te exempli documenta in inlustri posita monumento intueri; inde tibi tuaeque rei publicae quod imitere capias, inde foedum inceptu foedum exitu quod vites.

(Titus Livius: Ab Urbe Condita, Praefatio)

Continue reading “Livy on History (Tito Livio sobre la historia)”