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CHAP. 24. (22.)—TAPROBANE.

Taprobane,1 under the name of the "land of the Antich- thones,"2 was long looked upon as another world: the age and the arms of Alexander the Great were the first to give satisfactory proof that it is an island. Onesicritus, the commander of his fleet, has informed us that the elephants of this island are larger, and better adapted for warfare than those of India; and from Megasthenes we learn that it is divided by a river, that the inhabitants have the name of Paleogoni,3 and that their country is more productive of gold and pearls of great size than even India. Eratosthenes has also given the dimensions of this island, as being seven thousand stadia in length, and five thousand in breadth: he states also that there are no cities, but villages to the number of seven hundred.4 It begins at the Eastern sea, and lies extended opposite to India, east and west. This island was in former times supposed to be twenty days' sail from the country of the Prasii,5 but in later times, whereas the navigation was formerly confined to vessels constructed of papyrus with the tackle peculiar to the Nile, the distance has been estimated at no more than seven days'6 sail, in reference to the speed which can be attained by vessels of our construction. The sea that lies between the island and the mainland is full of shallows, not more than six paces in depth; but in certain channels it is of such extraordinary depth, that no anchor has ever found a bottom. For this reason it is that the vessels are constructed with prows at either end; so that there may be no necessity for tacking while navigating these channels, which are extremely narrow. The tonnage of these vessels is three thousand amphoræ.7 In traversing their seas, the people of Taprobane take no observations of the stars, and indeed the Greater Bear8 is not visible to them; but they carry birds out to sea, which they let go from time to time, and so follow their course as they make for the land. They devote only four months in the year to the pursuits of navigation, and are particularly careful not to trust themselves on the sea during the next hundred days after our summer solstice, for in those seas it is at that time the middle of winter.

Thus much we learn from the ancient writers; it has fallen to our lot, however, to obtain a still more accurate knowledge of these people; for during the reign of the Emperor Claudius, an embassy came from even this distant island to Rome. The circumstances under which this took place were as follow: Annius Plocamus had farmed from the treasury the revenues arising from the Red Sea. A certain freedman of his, while sailing around Arabia, was carried away by a gale from the north beyond the coast of Carmania. In the course of fifteen days he had drifted to Hippuros, a port of Taprobane, where he was most kindly and hospitably received by the king; and having, after a study of six months, become well acquainted with the language, was enabled to answer all his enquiries relative to the Romans and their emperor. But of all that he heard, the king was more particularly struck with surprise at our rigid notions of justice, on ascertaining that among the money found on the captive, the denarii were all of equal weight, although the different figures on them plainly showed that they had been struck in the reigns of several emperors. By this circumstance in especial, the king was prompted to form an alliance with the Romans, and accordingly sent to Rome an embassy, consisting of four persons, the chief of whom was Itachias.9

From these persons we learned that in Taprobane there are five hundred towns, and that there is a harbour that lies facing the south, and adjoining the city of Palæsimundus,10 the most famous city in the isle, the king's place of residence, and containing a population of two hundred thousand. They also informed us that in the interior there is a lake called Megisba, three hundred and seventy-five miles in circumference, and containing islands which are fertile, though for pasturage only. In this lake they informed us two rivers take their rise, one of which, called Palesimundus, flows into the harbournear the city of that name, by three channels, the narrowest of which is five stadia in width, the largest fifteen; while the other, Cydara by name, takes a direction northward, towards the Indian coast. We learned also that the nearest point of the Indian coast is a promontory known as Coliacum,11 distant from the island four days' sail, and that midway between them lies the island of the Sun. They stated also that those seas are of a deep green tint; besides which, there are numerous trees growing at the bottom, so much so, that the rudders of the vessels frequently break off portions of their foliage.12 They were much astonished at the constellations which are visible to us, the Greater Bear and the Pleiades,13 as though they had now beheld a new expanse of the heavens; and they declared that in their country the moon can only be seen above the horizon14 from the eighth to its sixteenth day. They also stated that Canopus, a large bright star, gives light to them by night. But what surprised them more than anything, was that the shadow of their bodies was thrown towards our hemisphere15 and not theirs, and that the sun arose on the left hand and set on the right, and not in the opposite direction.16 They also informed us that the side of their island which lies opposite to India is ten thousand stadia in length, and runs in a south-easterly direction—that beyond the Emodian Mountains they look towards17 the Serve, whose acquaintance they had also made in the pursuits of commerce; that the father of Rachias had frequently visited their country, and that the Seræ always came to meet them on their arrival. These people, they said, exceeded the ordinary human height, had flaxen hair, and blue eyes, and made an uncouth sort of noise by way of talking, having no language of their own for the pur- pose of communicating their thoughts. The rest of their information18 was of a similar nature to that communicated by our merchants. It was to the effect that the merchandize on sale was left by them upon the opposite bank of a river on their coast, and it was then removed by the natives, if they thought proper to deal on terms of exchange. On no grounds ought luxury with greater reason to be detested by us, than if we only transport our thoughts to these scenes, and then reflect, what are its demands, to what distant spots it sends in order to satisfy them, and for how mean and how unworthy an end!

But yet Taprobane even, isolated as it is by nature from the rest of the world, is not exempt from our vices. Gold and silver are held in esteem even there. They have a marble which resembles tortoise-shell in appearance; this, as well as their pearls and precious stones, is highly valued; all our luxuries in fact, those even of the most exquisite nature, are there carried to the very highest pitch. They asserted that their wealth is much greater than ours, but admitted that we know better than they how to obtain real enjoyment from opulence.

In this island no slavery exists; they do not prolong their sleep to day-break, nor indeed during any part of the day; their buildings are only of a moderate height from the ground; the price of corn is always the same; they have no courts of law and no litigation. Hercules is the deity whom they worship; SABTUL and their king is chosen by the people, an aged man always, distinguished for his mild and clement disposition, and without children. If after he has been elected king, he happens to become the father of children, his abdication is the consequence; this is done that there may be no danger of the sovereign power becoming hereditary. Thirty advisers are provided for him by the people, and it is only by the advice of the majority of them that any man is condemned to capital punishment. Even then, the person so condemned has a right of appealing to the people, in which case a jury consisting of seventy persons is appointed. Should these acquit the accused, the thirty counsellors are no longer held in any estimation, but are visited with the greatest disgrace. The king wears the costume of Father Liber,19 while the rest of the people dress like the natives of Arabia. The king, if he is found guilty of any offence, is condemned to death; but no one slays him; all turn their backs upon him, and refuse to hold any communication or even discourse with him. Their festivals are celebrated20 with the chase, the most valued sports being the pursuit of the tiger and the elephant. The lands are carefully tilled; the vine is not cultivated there, but of other fruits there is great abundance. They take great delight in fishing, and especially in catching turtles; beneath the shells21 of which whole families find an abode, of such vast size are they to be found. These people look upon a hundred years as a comparatively short life. Thus much have we learned respecting Taprobane.

1 Although Poinsinet will not admit its identity, it is now universally agreed among the learned that the island of Taprobana is the modern Ceylon. As Gosselin observes, in the accounts said to have been given of Ceylon by the ambassadors to Claudius, great allowance must be made for the wrong interpretation which, owing to their ignorance of the language, the Romans must have given to much of their narrative.

2 From ἀντι, "opposite," and χθών, "the earth." Its people being supposed to be the antipodes of those of Europe.

3 "The ancient race." As Ansart observes, the island contains a mountain, the name of which is "Adam's" Peak.

4 Ælian makes the villages to be 750 in number.

5 A general term probably, as already stated, for the great peninsula of India, below the Ganges.

6 This expression has been relied upon by those who do not admit that Ceylon is identical with the ancient Taprobana. But it is not improbable that the passage here referred to is from Cape Comorin to Ceylon, and not from Cape Ramanan Cor, the nearest part of the continent. In such case, the distance would be sixty-five or sixty-six leagues, and we can easily conceive that Greek vessels, sailing from nine to ten leagues per day, might occupy seven days in making the passage from Cape Comorin, past Ramanan Cor, to the coasts of Ceylon.

7 The amphora, as a measure, contained eight congii, or forty-eight sextarii.

8 Or "Septentrio;" "the Seven Trions," which was more especially employed by the nations of Europe for the purposes of navigation.

9 Parisot suggests that the word "Radijah," or "Rajah," denoting the rank which he held, may have been here taken by Pliny for his name.

10 Ptolemy says that the ancient name of the island was Simundi, or Palæsimundi, but speaks of no such city as the one here mentioned, nor indeed of any other of the localities described by Pliny.

11 It is difficult to say whether by this name is meant the modern Cape Comorin, or that known as Ramanan Cor, which is in reality the nearest point to the coast of Ceylon. Perhaps the latter is meant; in which case it is not improbable that the Island of the Sun will be represented by the islet called Rameserum in the maps, or else the one adjoining called Manaar. It must not be confounded with the Island of the Sun, mentioned in c. 26. See p. 60.

12 It is not improbable that he alludes to coral reefs.

13 This assertion Gosselin would either reject as a fabulous falsehood, or as having originated in some misconception on the part of the Romans; for, as he remarks, it is quite impossible that the Pleiades should be a constellation unknown at that time to the people of Ceylon; but, on the other hand, it would be equally true that the Greater Bear was concealed from them.

14 This was also a fable, or else originated in misapprehension of their language on the part of the Romans.

15 Gosselin remarks that their story may have been that for about seven months in the year the shadows fell to the north, and during the remaining five to the south, which would not have been inconsistent with the truth.

16 This also is classed by Gosselin under the head either of fabulous stories or misapprehensions.

17 "Scras—ab ipsis aspici." It is difficult to say whether this does not mean that they were in sight of the coast of the Seræ.-Under any circumstances, the Seræ here spoken of must not be taken for the Seres or supposed Chinese. Gosselin remarks that under this name the people of a district called Sera are probably referred to, and that in fact such is the name of a city and a whole province at the present day, situate on the opposite coast, beyond the mountains which terminate the plains of the Carnatic. It is equally impossible that under the name of "Emodi" Pliny can allude to the Himalaya chain, distant more than 2000 miles. The mountains, on the verge of the plains of the Carnatic, are not improbably those here referred to, and it is not impossible that they may be discerned from the shores of Ceylon. Gosselin is of opinion that the name of the ancient Seræ may still be traced in that of Seringapatam, and of the city of Seringham, situate on the river Godavery.

18 Relative to the Seræ, or inhabitants of the opposite shores.

19 Or "Bacchus." This means that he wears a long robe with a train; much like the dress, in fact, which was worn on the stage by tragic actors.

20 "Festa venatione absumi, gratissimam earn tigribus elephantisque constare." Holland gives this sentence quite a different meaning, fancying that it bears reference to the mode in which the guilty king comes to his end, which, indeed, otherwise does not appear to be stated. "But to doe him to death in the end, they appoint a solemne day of hunting, right pleasant and agreable unto tigres and elephants, before which beasts they expose their king, and so he is presently by them devoured." It is difficult to say, however, where he finds all this.

21 It is much more probable that they used the shells for the purpose of making roofs for their habitations.

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