Eastward the country is bounded by Arabia
; to the south lies Egypt
on the west are Phœnicia
and the Mediterranean
. Northward it commands an extensive
prospect over Syria
. The inhabitants are healthy and
able to bear fatigue. Rain is uncommon, but the soil is fertile. Its
products resemble our own. They have, besides, the balsam-tree and the palm.
The palm-groves are tall and graceful. The balsam is a shrub; each branch,
as it fills with sap, may be pierced with a fragment of stone or pottery. If
steel is employed, the veins shrink up. The sap is used by physicians.
Libanus is the principal mountain, and has, strange to say,
these burning heats, a summit shaded with trees and never deserted by its
snows. The same range supplies and sends forth the stream of the Jordan
. This river does not discharge itself into the
sea, but flows entire through two lakes, and is lost in the third. This is a
lake of vast circumference; it resembles the sea, but is more nauseous in
taste; it breeds pestilence among those who live near by its noisome odour;
it cannot be moved by the wind, and it affords no home either to fish or
water-birds. These strange waters support what is thrown upon them, as on a
solid surface, and all persons, whether they can swim or no, are equally
buoyed up by the waves. At a certain season of the year the lake throws up
bitumen, and the method of collecting it has been taught by that experience
which teaches all other arts. It is naturally a fluid of dark colour; when
vinegar is sprinkled upon it, it coagulates and floats upon the surface.
Those whose business it is take it with the hand, and draw it on to the deck
of the boat; it then continues of itself to flow in and lade the vessel till
the stream is cut off. Nor can this be done by any instrument of brass or
iron. It shrinks from blood or any cloth stained by the menstrua of women.
Such is the account of old authors; but those who know the country say that
the bitumen moves in heaving masses on the water, that it is drawn by hand
to the shore, and that there, when dried by the evaporation of the earth and
the power of the sun, it is cut into pieces with axes and wedges just as
timber or stone would be.