George Forster Travels Overland From Bengal To England

Little is known of the early life of British explorer George Forster.  His travel memoirs, published in 1808 after his death, were edited by persons who apparently never considered that such information would be of interest to readers.  We can thus only rely on what we find in scattered letters and journals.  He was probably born around 1750 and at some point joined the East India Company as a young man; he would eventually be posted to Madras to work as a writer.  Around 1782 he was granted leave to return to England; and for some reason–perhaps it was just a taste for adventure–he decided to make the return trip by land through Afghanistan, Central Asia, and Russia.

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Captain George Francis Lyon’s Explorations In Africa

There is a certain type of Englishman who is not content with confinement in any one locale.  He seeks new vistas, new challenges, and the chance to test his mettle against geography, climate, and the decrees of Fortune.  We have chronicled a number of such men in these pages.  To this list we must add the name of British naval officer George Francis Lyon (1795–1832), who enjoys perhaps the unique distinction of being known for exploratory achievement in two very different climatic conditions:  the polar regions of the Arctic and the desert expanses of northern Africa.

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The Olympieion

A short distance south-east of the Acropolis are the remains of a colossal temple called the Olympieion, or the Temple of Olympian Zeus.  It was begun around 520 B.C. with the expressed purpose of being the largest and most impressive such structure in the Greek-speaking world, but it fell victim to political fortunes.  Work on the temple was abandoned around 510 B.C. when one of its advocates, Hippias, was removed from power and expelled from Athens.

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Kerameikos: The Spirits Of The Dead

Today I visted a site called Kerameikos in Athens.  It was a cemetery for many centuries, and contains numerous examples of funerary art.  The site was only rediscovered in 1861 during road construction in the neighborhood.  On the site is also located the famous Dipylon Gate, which was the main entrance into Athens during ancient times when the city was surrounded by walls.  The gate itself is said to have been the largest gateway in the ancient world, covering around 1800 square meters.  Constructed around 478 B.C., it had four large covered towers and a courtyard that also served as an official meeting place and a location for commercial activity.  I was excited to see the remains of the Gate, as I had read references to it in classical texts.

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The Lyceum Of Aristotle, And The National Archaeological Museum

Today I visited the National Archaeological Museum in Athens, as well as the historical site of Aristotle’s Lyceum.  The Lyceum was the place of origin of Aristotle’s Peripatetic school of philosophy, which took shape around 335 B.C.  Like the Platonic Academy, there is not much in the way of physical remains; but this did not matter to me at all.  Just to be able to stand on this ground was to me worth the effort in coming to Greece.  It was only discovered in 1996. How often do we read of Aristotle, and yet no one bothers to link a physical location to his memory?  This is why it was important for me to take these pictures, and show them to readers here.

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Seeing The Platonic Academy

I walked to the ruins of the Platonic Academy in Athens this morning.  Founded by Plato himself around 387 B.C., it persisted through many generations under a variety of scholarchs (i.e., heads).  It finally came to an official end during the reign of the emperor Justinian in 529 A.D., who ordered the closure of all the pagan institutions of higher learning.

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Starvation On The High Seas: The Ordeal Of The “Saint Le Jacques”

Perhaps it is well that the modern traveler remains serenely unaware of the extraordinary hardships endured by his itinerant ancestors.  For if he knew what travel in the pre-modern era truly entailed, he would be rightfully consumed by a sense of shame and inadequacy.  His concerns are whether he will have the chicken or the pasta aboard Delta Flight XYZ bound for one city or another; his ancestors, however, were grateful just to get a few moldy biscuits and rum during some miserable transoceanic ordeal.  Perspective is everything, or nearly everything.

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