The Swiss orientalist and explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt crossed the cataracts of the Nile in 1813 and was intending to penetrate into the heart of unknown Nubia. Near a place called Jebel Lamoule, his Arab guide dismounted from his camel and approached the intrepid European; his intention was to practice on him a time-honored extortion ritual much observed in that region when escorting foreigners. The ritual was called “preparing the grave for the traveler.”Continue reading
The ancient Greek statesman and general Alcibiades once likened his career to the lives of the mythical half-brothers Castor and Pollux. These two figures are together called the Dioscuri, and they are attended by many stories and fables, some of which are contradictory or ambiguous. According to myth, the Dioscuri are alive and dead on alternate days. Homer says:Continue reading
The Roman writer Aelian, in his Varia Historia (X.5) credits the following parable to Aesop the Phrygian, although I have never heard it mentioned in collections of his stories. He said that a pig squeals when it is touched by man for a good reason: it does not produce fur or milk for human use, as a goat or sheep, and has nothing to offer except its own meat.Continue reading
The Roman writer Aelian, in his Varia Historia (III.44), conveys the following anecdote. Three young friends, he says, were traveling to Delphi in order to consult the oracle. Along the way, they lucklessly encountered some bandits. In the melee that followed, some of the robbers were killed.Continue reading
By what means can the imagination be activated? By what artifice may its secrets be coaxed to the surface of our consciousness, and made capable of articulation, as an enterprising fisherman might lure a rare specimen from deep waters to the surface? Are there tried techniques, or is it simply a matter of random inspiration? These are questions worthy of consideration.