BLTC Press Titles


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The Pictorial Key to the Tarot

Arthur Edward Waite


Paradoxes of the Highest Science

Eliphas Levi


Darby O'Gill and the Little People

Hermenie Templeton Kavanagh


Letters on the Aesthetical Education of Man

Friedrich Schiller


Narrative of discovery and adventure in Africa

by Robert Jameson

Excerpt:

While, however, the region along the Nile and the Mediterranean was thus not only well known, but formed a regular part of the ancient civilized world, the progress of science did not extend beyond the tract bordering on the coast and the river. After proceeding a few journeys into the interior, the traveller found himself among wild and wandering tribes, who exhibited human nature under its rudest and most repulsive forms. On his advancing some hat farther still, there appeared a barrier vast and awful ^^ndless plains of moving sand, without a shrub, a blade of grass, or a single object by which human life could be cheered or supported. This appalling boundary, which stopped the victorious career of Cambyses and of Alexax*"h more easily every attempt at c:~'

of the Desert the undisturbed possession of those insulated spots of verdure, which were scattered at intervals amid the desolation of the interior waste.

Meantime, although these causes prevented the civilization, and even the knowledge of the ancients, from ever penetrating deeply beyond the Mediterranean border, yet between it and the measureless Desert there intervened a wide tract of alternate rock, valley, and plain, presenting a varied, and often a picturesque landscape. This region, intermediate between the known and the unknown, between civilized and savage existence, excited in a somewhat peculiar degree the curiosity of the ancients; to whom, however, it always appeared dimly as through a cloud, and tinged with a certain fabulous and poetical colouring.

Herodotus, the earliest and most interesting of Greek historians, when endeavouring to collect information respecting the whole of the known world, was obliged, in the absence of written records, to have recourse to travelling; and his narrative is almost entirely the record of what he saw and heard during his various peregrinations. By means of a long stay in Egypt, and an intimate communication with the native priests, he learned much that was accurate, as well as somewhat that was incorrect and exaggerated, respecting the wide region which extends from the Nile to the Atlantic. He justly describes it as much inferior in fertility to the cultivated partsof Europe and Asia, and suffering severely from drought; yet there were a few spots, as Cinyps and the high tracts of Cyrene, which being finely irrigated, might stand a comparison with the richest portions of the globe. Generally, however, in quitting the northern coast, which he terms the forehead of Africa, the country became more and more arid. Hills of salt arose, out of which the natives constructed their houses, without any fear of their melting beneath a shower, in a region where rain was unknown. The land became almost a desert, and was filled with such multitudes of wild beasts, as to be considered their proper inheritance, and scarcely disputed with them by the human race. Farther to the south, the soil no longer afforded food even to these wild tenants; there was not the trunk of a tree nor a drop of water; total silence and desolation reigned. Such is the general picture which Herodotus draws of this northern boundary of the great African desert, which must be acknowledged to be at once accurate and just.

In the tract westward from Egypt, behind the great "African forehead," the first object was the celebrated and sacred shrine of Ammon, dedicated to the Theban Jove, and to which the Greeks ascribed a higher prophetic power than even to their own Delphic Oracle. This temple, situated in the midst of almost inaccessible deserts, was distinguished for a fountain, which, warm at midnight, became always colder and colder till noon. Ten days' journey beyond Ammon lay ^Egila, occupied by the Nasamones, a numerous people, who in winter fed their flocks on the seacoast, and in summer repaired to collect and store up the dates here growing on extensive forests of palm-trees. To this people are ascribed various singular customs, among which was their mode of foreseeing the future by laying themselves to sleep on the tombs of their ancestors, watching the dreams which arose in this position, and treasuring them up as oracles. Bordering upon them had formerly been the Psylli, famous for the charming of serpents, an art not yet wholly lost in this region; but that tribe, suffering once under a severe drought, had been so ill informed as to proceed southward in hope of finding water, where, being involved in those vast and burning deserts, they entirely perished, and their place was taken by the Nasamones. Beyond them, the Macae inhabited a beautiful region watered by the river Cinyps, on whose bank rose "the hill of the Graces," covered with a profusion of the finest foliage. Such is still the gay and brilliant aspect which the neighbourhood of Bengazi presents. To the south of the Nasamones, in a region almost resigned to wild beasts, the Garamantes inhabited an extensive valley, now called Fezzan. They are represented under characters of which the present natives retain no trace,—as a solitary and timid people, shunning the intercourse and society of men, destitute of arms, and not even attempting to defend themselves against foreign aggression.

After the Gindanes and the Lotophagi, who ate the lotus and made wine from its fruit, came the Machlyes and the Auses, dwelling round the lake of Tritonis; the scene of the reported birth and oracle of Minerva, with which were connected many celebrated fables of ancient mythology. It is with reluctance that reference is here made to what the venerable father of history has related respecting the conduct of the young ladies in this region; and we should hope that scandal on this subject may have been as busy in the coteries of Sais and of On, as in some moder n circles. Can it be believed, that among the Gindanes they should form threads of skin, and tie a knot on it for every lover who had sought and won their favour, measuring their importance by the number of these knots; or is it probable that, at the marriage of the Nasamones, the favour of the bride should have been shared by all the guests equally with the husband? Nor is there much to admire in the annual festival celebrated by the virgins of the Auses, when their fair hands were employed in throwing stones against each other with such fury, that several were commonly left dead on the spot. The fate of these sufferers was peculiarly hard, since it was supposed to justify the most unfavourable suspicions respecting their previous life. After all, this rough sport of the Libyan belles is not much ruder than one which we shall find still practised among the most distinguished dames of Bornou.

Proceeding farther westward, Herodotus finds a tribe of the Auses, called Maxyes, who cultivated the ground; and he is now on the border of the Carthaginian territory, of which, for reasons that Major Renncl cannot fully comprehend, he forbears to treat. He follows the direction of the interior, from the Garamantes, beyond whom were Ethiopians dwelling in caves, and running so swiftly that the former people were obliged to hunt them in chariots,—a proceeding very unsuitable to the meek character elsewhere ascribed to them, and which, we fear, may have been practised with the evil intent of carrying off these poor victims as slaves. Our author comes next to the Atlantes, and relates several things which with better knowledge he would probably have omitted. He pretends, for example, that none of them bear proper names; that they neither eat animal food nor dream dreams; and, what is not quite so improbable, that on seeing the sun rise, they pour repioaches and execrations on him for the manner in which he burns and destroys their land. Behind them rises the long and lofty range of Atlas, whose head is said to remain for ever invisible and wrapped in clouds, and which the natives bel ieve to be the pillar of heaven,—a creed adopted, or perhaps invented, by the Greeks and Romans. Herodotus here stops, frankly owning that his information did not enable him to go farther. The only other accounts which had reached him respected a nation beyond the Pillars of Hercules, with whom the Carthaginians carried on trade in a very peculiar manner. This wild and timid race would not approach or hold parley with the strangers, who, on drawing near to the shore, kindled a fire, uttered loud cries, and laid on the sand a certain quantity of goods. The natives, hearing them, and seeing the smoke, came down, surveyed the deposite, placed beside it a certain portion of gold, the precious article of their traffic, and withdrew. The Carthaginians approached to examine the tender thus made, and, according to their estimate of its value, either carried away the gold or left the whole untouched; in which last case, the natives understood that more of the precious metal was expected. Thus the parties went backwards and forwards till the exchange was adjusted.


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