Pietro Della Valle was an accomplished traveler as well as a literary figure in his own right. Other great names of Middle Eastern exploration came after him, but he was one of the very first pre-modern Westerners to gain first-hand experience in the region. As the reader will discover, he was also undoubtedly the most eccentric. He was born in Rome on April 11, 1586, to a distinguished family that was able to provide him with a good education. Developing a flair for literature at an early age, he thirsted for the glories of the sword as well as the glories of the pen; and to this end, he signed up for adventure with a Spanish fleet in 1611 on an expedition to the North African coast.