Imágenes de página
PDF
ePub

capitals, and that the spot where they met should be considered as the boundary of the two countries. The Philäni, two brothers of Carthage, reached the head of the Syrtis which was considered to be far within the territory of Cyrene. The Cyreneans insisted, that they had left Carthage before the appointed time, (which must indeed have been true,) or else that they had started from some nearer place, and therefore desired they would retire or consent to be interred alive on the spot; a fate to which they submitted rather than suffer the Cyreneans to carry the boundary one inch farther, to the detriment of their country. For this heroic act, we are told by Sallust, the Carthaginians caused two monuments to be erected there to the two brothers, which were called the Philænean altars, and which, Pliny says, were mounds of sand. What better monuments,' observes our traveller, 'could they have erected in this situation, to preserve the memory of their fellow-citizens, than the sane hills of sand under which they consented to be buried !'

The caravans of Mecca, which sometimes pass from Egypt by this route, have occasionally suffered dreadfully in this part of their journey; and numbers of men, women, children, and camels, have been lost in these moving sands. In this, as in most other matters, the information of Herodotus is wonderfully correct. The country of the Psylli,' he says, ' lying within the Syrtis, is destitute of springs; and when the south wind had dried up all their reservoirs of water, they consulted together and came to a resolution to march and wage war against that wind: (I only repeat, observes this cautious historian, what the Libyans say:) and after they were arrived at the sands, the south wind blowing with great fury buried them alive, and the Nasamones took possession of their dwellings.

Our traveller thinks, and we entirely agree with him, that the depression of the country at the head of the Syrtis, continues to the great desert. It evidently joins the desert of Barca, (the ridge of ħills which proceeds across the northern part of Africa from West to East being here discontinued,) and Barca is connected with the Zaara: it is, therefore, by no means improbable that the interior of Africa may at one time have been under water. This supposition gathers strength, from the flakes of sea salt found

every

where the deserts, the multitude of sea-shells and petrified fishes, the vast ridge of cliffs, full of shells and marine insects, which extends along the valley of Gejabib, at the foot of which is a beach of pebbles, and from other appearances, all of which indicate that these sandy wilds have once been a great Mediterranean sea, whose hills, and oases, and inhabited tracts, were so many islands. In this case the Great Syrtis must have been the strait, or passage,

on

which connected it with the present Mediterranean, in the same way as that is connected by the strait of Gibraltar with the Atlantic; and it is in this point of view that we conceive an examination of the country at the head of the Syrtis must be highly interesting to the geologist. Della-Cella has done little to satisfy curiosity here; he is ignorant of the latitude of the head of the gulph, nor does he mention any thing specific, with regard either to its waters or its shores. It is still, therefore, a new field of inquiry for Captain Smyth and bis associates.

In the course of two hours travelling beyond the termination of the sand hills, and chiefly over swamps and pools of salt water, the travellers reached a spot called Haenagan, where both sands and swamps, through wbich they had toiled for so many days, entirely ceased, and the ground became hard. Six hours more, in a northerly direction, brought them to Murate, situated on a rising ground, covered with shrubberies and enamelled with flowers. They were now, in fact, in the Cyrenaica, or Libyan Pentapolis; and as they advanced, the whole country put on an appearance of beauty and fertility, correspondent with its ancient character. A little beyond Murate, the surface, for two miles iu extent, was covered with the ruins of ancient buildings, among which were those of a circular castle, surrounded by a ditch wholly excavated out of the living rock. Here also were still visible the remains of a magnificent paved causeway, which from the opposite bill descended to the castle, and crossed the ditch orer an arch. At tbe entrance of the castle were rocks sculptured with characters which, our author says, were unknown to him, and which he had not time to copy. This is provoking enough; but we console ourselves with the hope that we shall yet be favoured with them.

Two more of these castles were seen on the road to Berchicamera, and for seven hours nothing but ruins met the eye. After this, they encamped upon the site of an ancient city, which must have been of considerable note, if we may judge from the description which our author gives of the remains of streets and houses, and the enormous masses of hewn stone every where heaped consusedly over the ground. Numerous wells of excellent water, escavated in the rock, attested a correspondent population that had long since passed away. The following day, having crossed the ridge of hills, a champaign country of great extent and beauty opened upon them, covered with verdure, and enlivened with numerous berds of eattle. Here too our traveller met with rocks, on the sides of which were sculptured letters wholly unknown to bim, as usual, and not one of which he attempted to copy. He did not observe, he tells us, in these letters, ihe hieroglyphic alphabet,' (we suspect

the

the doctor does not understand clearly what he is saying,) of which are composed the inscriptions of the Egyptian monuments ;' and he, therefore, very shrewdly conjectures, that the people who, in the remotest periods of antiquity, inhabited these shores of the Mediterranean, had an alphabet and a language of their own.' A ' language of their own'! Not exactly so, if we may trust to one, who seldom deceives us: the language spoken by the people of Libya was composed of that of the Egyptians and Ethiopians ; it was, therefore, perhaps some intermediate language, between the Hieroglyphics and the Coptic, and if so, one of the most desirable reliques of antiquity.

The expedition was now approaching the heart of Cyrenaica, and the farther it advanced the more beautiful, we are told, was the aspect of the country, and the more abundant, magnificent, and interesting were the remains of ancient fabrics. Beyond Labiar, our author observed, among the ruins of an old castle, certain characters cut into the stone, which, he tells us, were . certainly. neither Greek nor Latin, but too much broken and defaced to induce him to transcribe them. This is the third time within a few pages, that he has thus unaccountably trifled with the opportunity of gratifying public curiosity, and, what is of more importance, furnishing a posible clue to the mysterious hierogly phics of Egypt. Every hill as they proceeded was observed to be crowned with the ruins of ancient castles, and in several of them the whole rocky substance was excavated into cells for depositing the dead, or apartments for sheltering the living. In one place our traveller counted not fewer than two hundred sarcophagi hewn out of the side of a mountain within a very short distance. How he knew them to be so, or what their dimensions or shapes were, he does not inform his readers : indeed, as we said before, he deals only in generals; on the whole route we have not a single latitude of a place for our guidance, or the shape and measurement of a single object—the soil, in one place, is sandy, and mixed with pools of salt-water—the meadows in another are green (as meadows usually are) and enamelled with flowers—the sides of the mountains are sculptured into tombs, and sometimes into dwellings—and the surface is strewed over with fragments of buildings of times past:--with these general appearances, which enable us to decide nothing, we are tantalized from page page.

On approaching Cyrene our author becomes a little more explicit as to the products of the soil. · Miste agli olivi crescono giganteschi alberi di fichi, e carrubi, e pistacchi, e peri selvatici, e tutte in

to

* Herodotus, Euterpe.

sieme l'aspetto del paese, abbandonato interamente alle sue forze, presenta maggior idea di fertilità, che non ne presentano da noi i suoli più industriosamente coltivati! He is so struck with this fertility as to express some surprize that one or other of the European powers had not already equipped a competent force to take

possession of so fine a country, in imitation of the policy of the Phenicians, and Cartbaginians, and Greeks, and Romans; and suggests that it would be a conquest worthy of Genoa! We are somewhat surprized that it did not occur to him that nearly one-half of his Sardinian Majesty's present dominions are covered with unprofitable forests, and that it might not be altogether suitable to the state of bis finances to wage a war with the Grand Signior for a precarious settlement on the coast of Africa.

In the mountains of Cyrenaica grows a plant with a compound flower, of which the Bedouins eat the leaves of the calis, which is not unlike that of the artichoke, both in taste and appearance : the soldiers, too, grew so fond of it, that with difficulty our traveller was able to save a single specimen. Another plant of the umbelliferous kind caused so great a mortality among the camels as to occasion a serious alarm; and it is conjectured, we know not precisely on what grounds, that it might be the once celebrated silphium, the inspissated juice of which, manufactured by the Cyreneans, was in such esteem among the Greeks for its medicinal qualities, that the price paid for it, like the ginsing of the Chinese, was its weight in silver; and the figure of which was engraven on their coin. This fact, the Doctor seems to have verified by the acquisition of one of these ancient pieces in a high state of preservation, having on one side the impression of a part or section of an umbelliferous plant, with the word KOINON, and on the other, the head of Jupiter Ammon, who was held in much veneration by the Cyreneans. We subjoin a fac-simile.

[graphic][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed]

Signor Della-Cella is the more inclined (he says) to consider the plant that killed their cattle to be the silphium, because Pliny informs us that the eating of it set the sheep asleep and made the goats sneeze. Pliny, however, does not say that it is fatal to cattle; but,

on

on the contrary, that they became so fat by feeding on it that the Cyreneans lost this valuable article of commerce by the flocks of the Nomades having so completely destroyed it, that, in the time of Nero, a single plant being discovered was sent to that prince as a great curiosity. It is more probable that the drug (whatever it was) went out of fashion, just as, in our days, one nostrum drives out another. In fact, if the conjecture of botanists be right, the Laserpitium of Pliny is the Ferula tingitana, very common on the coast of Barbary and in Spain ; and as he says its leaves resembled the ferula (or fennel), and a particular species of this plant is known to produce the assafoetida ; the laser of Pliny, or the silphium of Cyrene, particularly efficacious in female complaints, was in all probability a drug analogous to that agreeable antidote against megrims and hysterics.

The site of the ancient city of Cyrene could not be mistaken; it immediately discovered itself by the magnificent ruins, and the surrounding calcareous bills eviscerated by the chissel, and their sides sculptured within and without. But we must here give, in the author's own words, an account of an object, the examination of which would be worth a voyage to the Pole.

. Fra desse, merita di essere ricordato uno smisurato serbatojo, o acquedotto che dalla parte orientale si prolonga verso Cirene, e di cui le vestigia veggonsi tratto tratto a sorgere dal suolo nel progredire verso

Metà di questo è scavato nella viva roccia, l'altra metà si eleva dal suolo ad arco, è tutto congegnato di belle pietre riquadrate, disposte in modo che forman pi serie fra loro paralelle. Ho trovato che internamente ciascuna di queste pietre era scolpita di una lettera d'un alfabeto a me ignoto; cosi la serie di queste lettere veniva a formare una linea, e queste linee si ripetevano per ogni serie di pietre. Tentai di copiarle, ed entrai con questo progetto nell'acquedotto; ma tra la poca luce che vi trapelava da’soli luoghi ov'era rotto, e l'acqua che spesso a lunghi tratti vi ristagnava, e l'incomoda positura che doveva prendere per ben riconoscerle, dovette ristarmi dall'intrapresa. Benche questi caratteri, del pari che altre iscrizioni segnate sopra queste rovine, appartengano a lingue perdute affatto; tuttavolta io non ho mai avvisato essere inutil cosa il registrarli, quando mi è occorso di trovarne. Oltrechè questi caratteri possono per avventura fornire qualche nuovo elemento agli alfabeti tuttora oscuri di coteste lingue, conservano ancora solenni documenti de' popoli a diversa lingua, che in queste contrade mano a mano vennero a stabilirsi. Sono questi i soli documenti che ci ritengono dall'abbandonarci interamente all'autorità de' greci scrittori, i quali si sa che mossi da soverchia tenerezza per le cose loro, non sapevan temperarsi dal vedere greche origini ovunque vedean traccie d'incivilimento, e non videro difatti che Greci, e discendenti dalla colonia di Tera, nella Cirenaica.'-p. 135. The coin of which the following is a copy is curious, the horse and

the

questa città.

« AnteriorContinuar »