Sunday, March 27, 2011

Cosmas the Indicopleustes(Indian Ocean voyager)

Cosmas was born in the early 6th century in Alexandria of the Byzantine province of Egypt. He was lucky to live at the period where Byzantium was a world power under the reign of the notorious emperor Justinian. He was a merchant and later a monk, he became famous because of his Topografia Christiania(Christian Topography) a series of 12 books in which he recorded a variety of information which derived from different fields of science or religion.His books were all written in Koine Greek. 

Many scholars doubt about the existence of a person called Cosmas. They even question the fact that Christian topography was written by only one author. There is also a theory that the author's name(Cosmas) derives from the contents of the books (World=Cosmos)

        The commercial pursuits of Cosmas carried him into seas and countries far remote from his home. Thus he tells us that he had sailed upon three of the great gulfs which run up into the earth from the ocean, namely, the Mediterranean Sea, the Red Sea, and Persian Gulf. He sailed also upon that part of the Erythraean Sea which beyond Cape Guardafui stretches southward toward the outlying ocean, which in those days was regarded with terror and held to be unnavigable on account of the violent currents and dense and dismal fogs in which it was thought to be enveloped. When the ship which carried Cosmas was approaching this dread region of currents and fogs, a storm gathered overhead, and flocks of albatrosses, like birds of ill omen, hovered on the wing high above the mast. Dismay seized alike the passengers and the crew, and amidst outcries of "port the helm," the course of the vessel was reversed and she headed northwards.Cosmas does not say whether in the course of this voyage he reached India, which was his destination when he embarked. |

 If he did not, he must have made a second and more successful attempt; for no one, we think, who reads his eleventh book, in which he describes the island of Ceylon and the ports, commerce, and animals of India, can doubt that he writes about these places from personal knowledge of them

One of the most interesting and instructive parts of the Topography is that in which Cosmas relates what he had heard and seen in the course of his travels in Ethiopia. By the name of Ethiopia he designates in a general way the vast region which stretches southward from Egypt down towards the   equator; and from an incidental remark which he drops when treating of the Adulitic inscription on the throne, we learn that he had traversed it almost throughout its length and its breadth. Like Herodotus of old, he was ever athirst after knowledge, and when he was unable to visit places which lay in the vicinity of his route, he made inquiries about them from such persons as knew them and could be trusted to report things truly.

 The capital of Ethiopia at that time was Axum, an important centre of commerce, and also of religion and learning. It was one of the places which Cosmas, in pursuit of his calling, visited, and from one or two of his statements we may infer that he was well received at Court, and was permitted by the King, who professed the Christian faith and could speak Greek, to travel freely through his dominions.

The seaport of Axum was Adule or Adulis, the modern Zulá or Thulla, situated near Annesley Bay and distant from the capital about one hundred and twenty miles or an eight days' journey. Cosmas found himself here in the year 525 A.D., at which time Elesboas, the King of Axum, was preparing an expedition against the Homerites in Arabia. Here, at the request of the Governor, Cosmas, along with his friend Menas, a monk of the monastery at Raithu, copied the famous Greek inscriptions on the marble tablet and the basanite throne, which lay together outside the town on the road which led to Axum.

Among other parts of Ethiopia which our traveller visited we may include the Aromatic country that great projection on the east of the African Continent which terminates in Cape Guardafui. His description of this district (which supplied the Egyptians of old with their spices for embalming the dead), and of its products and its foreign trade, shows that it must have come from the pen of an eye-witness. He may also have proceeded to the north-west, and visited the kingdom of Meroe (now Khartum), for in that direction lay the seats of several tribes mentioned in the inscription on the throne. Montfaucon, in his Preface, credits him with the discovery, in the Abyssinian province called Agau, of the true source of the Nile. It was not, however, the source of the main stream  which he discovered, but that of the Blue Nile, which, a millennium afterwards, was rediscovered by the Portuguese, and more recently by the Scottish traveller Bruce. There was still another interesting locality which the traveller tells us he visited, and this lay on the other side of the Red Sea----the Desert, namely, of Sinai, where he found, strewn among the sands, fragments of rock covered with inscriptions which he took to have been carved by the Israelites when they were wandering in that wilderness.

Cosmas, when all his travels were over, returned to Alexandria, perhaps after paying a visit to Jerusalem; and, abandoning the secular life, retired to the seclusion of the cloister, where he devoted his leisure to the composition of works on descriptive geography, cosmography, and Scriptural exegesis. Of these, the Christian Topography alone is extant. The loss of the geographical treatise, as Montfaucon well says, is to be deplored with tears. It has been conjectured that the geographical passages in the Topography, as, for instance, the description of Ceylon in the eleventh book, are extracts from that treatise.

BOOK I:The Places and Figures of the Universe; the heresy of affirming that the Heavens are spherical, and that there are Antipodes; Pagan errors as to the causes of rain and of earthquakes
BOOK II:The position, figure, length and breadth of the earth; the site of Paradise; the Greek inscriptions at Adulê; extract from Ephorus; the ancient empires; the Fall of Man and its effect on the Angels; the circumscription of angels, demons and souls
BOOK III:The Tower of Babel; the Mission of Moses to the Israelites; comments on his history of the Creation of the World; the conversion of the nations to Christianity
BOOK IV:A recapitulation of the views advanced; theory of eclipses; doctrine of the sphere denounced
BOOK V:Description of the Tabernacle: Patriarchs and Prophets who predicted the coming of Christ and the future state; the agreement of these with the Apostles
BOOK VI:The size of the Sun; a dissertation on the two states 
BOOK VII:The Duration of the Heavens
BOOK VIII:Interpretation of the Song of Hezekiah; the retrogression of the Sun; ancient dials; predictions referring to Cyrus
BOOK IX:Courses of the Sun and Moon and other heavenly bodies; their movements effected by the angels 
BOOK X:Passages from the Christian Fathers confirming the Author's views
BOOK XI:Description of certain Indian animals and plants, and of the island of Taprobane (Ceylon)
BOOK XII:Old Testament narratives confirmed by Chaldaean, Babylonian, Persian and Egyptian records; the island Atlantis 

In the days of Cosmas ecclesiastical controversies were rife, and professing Christians were divided  into numerous sects. That to which Cosmas most probably belonged was the Nestorian. To this point Photius makes no reference, and it has been equally overlooked by Montfaucon. The first who called in question the orthodoxy of Cosmas was De La Croze, who, in his Histoire du Christianisme des Indes, adduced the following arguments to prove his Nestorian beliefs: that Cosmas calls Patricius, who was the Archbishop of Persia when that country had been infected with Nestorianism, a divine man and an illustrious teacher, that Cosmas, in his list of heretical sects, names the Manichaeans, the Marcionists, the Eutychians, the Arians and the Apollinarians, but not the Nestorians; that in his exposition of Scripture, and in his system of the world, he always follows Theodosius of Mopsuestia and Diodorus of Tarsus, who were the principal teachers of the Nestorians; 4°, that concerning Christ and the Incarnation of the Word, he uses the same modes of expression as the Nestorians. We may add as a fifth argument the glowing terms in which Cosmas speaks of the wide diffusion of Christianity among the heathen nations of the east, which was mainly the work of missionaries from Persia, where Nestorianism reigned supreme.Only one passage occurs to throw some doubt on the certainty of this conclusion that in which Cosmas addresses Mary as  the Mother of God, an expression abhorrent to the Nestorians. 

His views about the world  have been biased because of his christian ideas and influences. In his books he tried to prove that the earth is flat and that the theory of a spheric earth was  pagan .He wrote his work in 550 A.D after a voyage in India and Sri Lanka through the Red sea.A very interesting fact is that he reported the existence of Christian communities in India and Ceylon. According to Cosmas there were two bishops and some churches in the regions he visited.His work may have been a failure from a cosmological perspective and considered as heretic by contemporary religious figures because of the author's beliefs but today it is an important geographic and historical artifact  that introduces us in a world that not many author's wrote about  during that era.
He had a decent skill in drawing and he enriched his books with many drawings. Some of them have survived till nowadays.These are mainly maps of how he perceived the world

In the middle there's a depiction of the Earth with its surrounding ocean, which is itself surrounded by the other earth which was the seat of Paradise and the abode of man before the Flood. The four gulfs which penetrate into our earth from the ocean, and the rivers which flow into it from Paradise, are also depicted. 

The number 11 depicts two Athenian Pagans with their characteristic outfit.
From 12 to 19 .We see  depictions of the tabernacle which contained the ark of covenant(the Jewish graal) from indoors and outdoors.
21: Aaron

At the top there is an annual circle on which there are twelve months and four seasons written. Moreover there are also fruits drawn under each month they are produced.
The rest of the drawings depict images of the exotic flora and fauna that his eyes saw during his voyage.

sources: , 

No comments:

put your country on top

free counters