Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAP. IV.: THE HEMISPHERE. - The Ruins: or a Survery of the Revolutions of Empires
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CHAP. IV.: THE HEMISPHERE. - Constantin-François Chasseboeuf, marquis de Volney, The Ruins: or a Survery of the Revolutions of Empires 
The Ruins: or a Survery of the Revolutions of Empires, 3rd ed. (London: J. Johnson, 1796).
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Thus spoke the Apparition. Astonished at his discourse, and my heart agitated by a diversity of reflections, I was for some time silent. At length, assuming the courage to speak, I thus addressed him: O Genius of tombs and ruins! your sudden appearance and your severity have thrown my senses into disorder, but the justness of your reasoning restores confidence to my soul. Pardon my ignorance. Alas! if man is blind, can that which constitutes his torment be also his crime? I was unable to distinguish the voice of reason; but the moment it was known to me, I gave it welcome. Oh! if you can read my heart, you know how desirous it is of truth, and with what ardour it seeks it; you know that it is in this pursuit I am now found in these remote places. Alas! I have wandered over the earth, I have visited cities and countries; and perceiving every where misery and desolation, the sentiment of the evils by which my fellow creatures are tormented has deeply afflicted my mind! I have said to myself with a sigh: Is man, then, created to be the victim of pain and anguish? And I have meditated upon human evils, that I might find out their remedy. I have said, I will separate myself from corrupt societies; I will remove far from palaces where the soul is depraved by satiety, and from cottages where it is humbled by misery. I will dwell in solitude amidst the ruins of cities: I will enquire of the monuments of antiquity what was the wisdom of former ages: in the very bosom of sepulchres I will invoke the spirit that formerly in Asia gave splendour to states and glory to their people: I will enquire of the ashes of legislators what causes have erected and overthrown empires; what are the principles of national prosperity and misfortune; what the maxims upon which the peace of society and the happiness of man ought to be founded.
I stopped; and casting down my eyes, I waited the reply of the Genius. Peace and happiness, said he, descend upon him who practises justice! Young man, since your heart searches after truth with sincerity; since you can distinguish her form through the mist of prejudices which blind the eyes, your enquiry shall not be vain: I will display to your view this truth of which you are in pursuit; I will show to your reason the knowledge which you desire; I will reveal to you the wisdom of the tombs, and the science of ages—Then approaching me, and placing his hand upon my head, Rise, mortal, said he, and disengage yourself from that corporeal frame with which you are incumbered—Instantly, penetrated as with a celestial flame, the ties that fix us to the earth seemed to be loosened; and lifted by the wing of the Genius, I felt myself like a light vapour conveyed in the uppermost region. There, from above the atmosphere, looking down towards the earth I had quitted, I beheld a scene entirely new. Under my feet, floating in empty space, a globe similar to that of the moon, but smaller, and less luminous, presented to me one of its faces* ; and this face had the appearance of a disk variegated with spots, some of them white and nebulous, others brown, green and grey; and while I exerted my powers in discerning and discriminating these spots—Disciple of truth, said the Genius to me, have you any recollection of this spectacle? O Genius, I replied, if I did not perceive the moon in a different part of the heavens, I should suppose the orb below me to be that planet; for its appearance resembles perfectly the moon viewed through a telescope at the time of an eclipse: one might be apt to think the variegated spots to be seas and continents.
Yes, said he to me, they are the seas and continents of the very hemisphere you inhabit.
What, exclaimed I, is that the Earth that is inhabited by human beings?
It is, replied he. That brown space which occupies irregularly a considerable portion of the disk, and nearly surrounds it on all sides, is what you call the main ocean, which, from the south pole advancing towards the equator, first forms the great gulf of Africa and India, then stretches to the east across the Malay Islands, as far as the confines of Tartary, while at the west it incloses the continents of Africa and of Europe, reaching to the north of Asia.
Under our feet, that peninsula of a square figure is the desert country of Arabia, and on the left you perceive that great continent, scarcely less barren in its interior parts, and only verdant as it approaches the sea, the inhabitants of which are distinguished by a fable complexion* . To the north, and on the other side of an irregular and narrow sea† , are the tracts of Europe, rich in fertile meadows and in all the luxuriance of cultivation. To the right from the Caspian, extend the rugged surface and snow-topt hills of Tartary. In bringing back the eye again to the spot over which we are elevated, you see a large white space, the melancholy and uniform desert of Cobi, cutting off the empire of China from the rest of the world. China itself is that furrowed surface which seems by a sudden obliquity to escape from the view. Farther on, those vast tongues of land and scattered points, are the peninsula, and islands of the Malayans, the unfortunate proprietors of aromatics and perfumes. Still nearer you observe a triangle which projects strongly into the sea, and is the too famous peninsula of India(d) . You see the crooked windings of the Ganges, the ambitious mountains of Thibet, the fortunate valley of Cassimere (12), the discouraging deserts of Persia, the banks of the Euphrates, and the Tigris, the rough bed of the Jordan (4), and the mouths of the solitary Nile. (See the Plate.)
O Genius, said I, interrupting him, the organ of a mortal would in vain attempt to distinguish objects at so great distance. Immediately he touched my eyes, and they became more piercing than those of the eagle; notwithstanding which rivers appeared to me no more than meandering ribbons, ridges of mountains irregular furrows, and great cities a nest of boxes varied among themselves like the squares in a chess-board.
The Genius proceeded to point out the different objects to me with his finger, and to develope them as he proceeded. These heaps of ruins, said he, that you observe in this narrow valley, laved by the Nile, are all that remain of the opulent cities that gave lustre to the ancient kingdom of Ethiopia(e) . Here is the monument of its splendid metropolis, Thebes with its hundred palaces(f) , the progenitor of cities, the memento of human frailty. It was there that a people, since forgotten, discovered the elements of science and art, at a time when all other men were barbarous, and that a race, now regarded as the refuse of society, because their hair is woolly, and their skin is dark, explored among the phenomena of nature, those civil and religious systems which have since held mankind in awe. A little lower the dark spots that you observe are the pyramids (1) whose masses have overwhelmed your imagination. Farther on, the coast (3) that you behold limited by the sea on one side, and by a ridge of mountains on the other, was the abode of the Phenician nations; there stood the powerful cities of Tyre, Sidon, Ascalon, Gaza, and Berytus. This stream of water, which seems to disembogue itself into no sea (4), is the Jordan; and these barren rocks were formerly the scene of events, whose tale may not be forgotten. Here you find the desert of Horeb, and the hill of Sinai (5), where, by artifice which the vulgar were unable to penetrate, a subtle and daring leader gave birth to institutions of memorable influence upon the history of mankind. Upon the barren strip of land which borders upon this desert, you see no longer any trace of splendour; and yet here was formerly the magazine of the world. Here were the ports of the Idumeans(g) , from whence the fleets of the Phenicians and the Jews, coasting the peninsula of Arabia, bent their voyages to the Persian gulf, and imported from thence the pearls of Havila, the gold of Saba and Ophir. It was here, on the side of Oman and Bahrain, that existed that site of magnificent and luxurious commerce, which, as it was transplanted from country to country, decided upon the fate of ancient nations. Hither were brought the vegetable aromatics, and the precious stones of Ceylon, the shawls of Cassimere, the diamonds of Golconda, the amber of the Maldives, the musk of Thibet, the aloes of Cochin, the apes and the peacocks of the continent of India, the incense of Hadramut, the myrrh, the silver, the gold dust, and the ivory of Africa. From hence were exported, sometimes by the Black Sea, in ships of Egypt and Syria, these commodities, which constituted the opulence of Thebes, Sidon, Memphis, and Jerusalem; sometimes ascending the course of the Tygris and the Euphrates, they awakened the activity of the Assyrians, the Medes, the Chaldeans, and the Persians, and according as they were used or abused, cherished or overturned their wealth and prosperity. Hence grew up the magnificence of Persepolis, of which you may observe the mouldering columns (8); of Ecbatana (9), whose seven-fold walls are levelled with the earth; of Babylon (10), the ruins of which are trodden under foot of men(h) ; of Nineveh (11), whose name seems to be threatened with the same oblivion, that has overtaken its greatness; of Thapsacus, of Anatho, of Gerra, and of the melancholy and memorable Palmyra. O names, for ever glorious! celebrated fields! famous countries! how replete is your aspect with sublime instruction! How many profound truths are written on the surface of this earth! Ye places that here witnessed the life of man, in so many different ages, aid my recollection while I endeavour to trace the revolutions of his fortune! Say, what were the motives of his conduct, and what his powers! Unveil the causes of his misfortunes, teach him true wisdom, and let the experience of past ages become a mirror of instruction, and a germ of happiness to present and future generations!
[* ]See Plate I. representing half the terrestrial globe.
[† ]The Mediterranean.
[Page 28. (d).]The too famous peninsula of India. Of what real good has been the commerce of India to the mass of the people? On the contrary, how great the evil occasioned by the superstition of this country having been added to the general superstition?
[Page 29. (e).]Ancient kingdom of Ethiopia. In the next volume of the Encyclopedia will appear a memoir respecting the chronology of the twelve ages anterior to the passing of Xerxes into Greece, in which I conceive myself to have proved, that Upper Egypt formerly composed a distinct kingdom, known to the Hebrews by the name of Kous, and to which the appellation of Ethiopia was specially given. This kingdom preserved its independence to the time of Psammeticus, at which period, being united to the Lower Egypt, it lost its name of Ethiopia, which thenceforth was bestowed upon the nations of Nubia, and upon the different hordes of Blacks, including Thebes, their metropolis.
[Page id. (f).]Thebes with its hundred palaces. The idea of a city with a hundred gates, in the common acceptation of the word, is so absurd, that I am astonished the equivoque has not before been felt.
[Page 30. (g).]Here were the ports of the Idumeans, Allah (Eloth), and Atsiom-Gaber (Hesion-Geber). The name of the first of these towns still subsists in its ruins, at the point of the gulph of the Red Sea, and in the route which the pilgrims take to Mecca. Hesion has at present no trace, any more than Qolzoum and Faran: it was, however, the harbour for the fleets of Solomon. The vessels of this prince, conducted by the Tyrians, sailed along the coast of Arabia to Ophir in the Persian Gulph, thus opening a communication with the merchants of India and Ceylon. That this navigation was entirely of Tyrian invention, appears both from the pilots and shipbuilders employed by the Jews, and the names that were given to the trading islands, viz. Tyrus and Aradus, now Barhain. The voyage was performed in two diffent modes, either in canoes of osier and rushes, covered on the outside with skins done over with pitch: these vessels were unable to quit the Red Sea, or so much as to leave the shore. The second mode of carrying on the trade was by means of vessels with decks of the size of our long boats, which were able to pass the strait and to weather the dangers of the ocean: but for this purpose it was necessary to bring the wood from Mount Lebanus and Cilicia, where it is very fine and in great abundance. This wood was first conveyed in floats from Tarsus to Phenicia, for which reason the vessels were called ships of Tarsus: from whence it has been ridiculously inferred, that they went round the promontary of Africa as far as Tortosa in Spain. From Phenicia it was transported on the backs of camels to the Red Sea, which practice still continues, because the shores of this sea are absolutely unprovided with wood even for fuel. These vessels spent a complete year in their voyage, that is, sailed one year, sojourned another, and did not return till the third. This tediousness was owing, first to their cruizing from port to port, as they do at present; secondly, to their being detained by the Monsoon currents; and thirdly, because, according to the calculations of Pliny and Strabo, it was the ordinary practice among the ancients to spend three years in a voyage of twelve hundred leagues. Such a commerce must have been very expensive, particularly as they were obliged to carry with them their provisions and even fresh water. For this reason Solomon made himself master of Palmyra, which was at that time inhabited, and was already the magazine and high road of merchants by the way of the Euphrates. This conquest brought Solomon much nearer to the country of gold and pearls. This alternative of a route either by the Red Sea or by the river Euphrates was to the ancients, what in later times has been the alternative in a voyage to the Indies, either by crossing the Isthmus of Suez or doubling the Cape of Good Hope. It appears that till the time of Moses this trade was carried on across the desert of Syria and Theais; that afterwards it fell into the hunds of the Phenicians, who fixed its site upon the Red sea, and that it was mutual jealousy that induced the kings of Nineveh and Babylon to undertake the destruction of Tyre and Jerusalem. I insist the more upon these facts, because I have never seen any thing reasonable upon the subject.
[Page 31. (h).]Babylon, the ruins of which are trodden under foot of men. It appears that Babylon occupied on the Eastern Bank of the Euphrates a space of ground six leagues in length. Throughout this space bricks are found, by means of which daily additions are made to the town of Hellé. Upon many of these are characters written with a nail similar to those of Persepolis. I am indebted for these facts to M. de Beauchamp, grand vicar of Babylon, a traveller equally distinguished for his knowledge of astronomy and his veracity.