A magical mystery tour of the ancient world by the Roman author Solinus, – the Michael Palin of antiquity.
The first modern English language translation, with introduction and notes.
Solinus takes the reader on a tour of the known world of his time (early third century AD) and on the way we meet unicorns, men ‘transformed into wolves’, deer which swallow snakes after ‘dragging them out of their lairs’ by the force of their breath, serpents with four horns, hyaenas which ‘imitate the sound of people vomiting’, men without noses and faces which are entirely flat, and with no mouths so that they eat through ‘small holes by way of oaten stalks’.
There are also cannibals and ‘the Pamphagi, who eat everything which is chewable, and anything which happens to be born’. In Phrygia there is an animal called the bonacus: ‘When it turns to flee, it discharges dung with a quick evacuation of its stomach, for a length of three acres. The heat of the dung burns whatever it touches. Thus it wards off pursuers with its noxious secretion.’
In the midst of all this menagerie of strange people and stranger creatures, we are treated to careful descriptions of all the foreign lands and learn titbits such as this: ‘India gives pearls; so do the shores of Britannia. The divine Julius [Caesar] wished it to be understood by an adjacent description that the breastplate he dedicated in the temple of his ancestress Venus was made from British pearls.’
Solinus also gives travel tips: ‘Those seeking India set sail in midsummer; either before the beginning of the Dog Days [end of July] or immediately after, and those returning sail back in the month of December. And he describes foreign peoples: ‘The Seres [the Chinese] are gentle and very peaceful among themselves. They otherwise shun the society of the rest of mankind, to such a degree that they reject the trade of other nations.’
Solinus is bound to thrill, amuse, horrify and educate you. Just close your eyes when he talks about the snakes everywhere. And try to be multi-cultural when he says: ‘The Garamantic Aethiopians [from present-day Libya] do not have private marriage, but permit everyone to have sexual relations in common. Thence it is that only mothers recognise their sons.’
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|Dimensions||250 × 175 × 40 cm|