sábado, julho 02, 2011

Carsten Niehbur, his participation in the Arabia Felix expedition and his legacy.

It was this week, at a lecture given by a professor residing in Lisboa, that I learned more about the man who named the Copenhagen Oriental Studies Institute. A collection of papyri, some not yet published and studied in detail exists here, for the delight of orientalists, egyptologists and assyriologists.

About the expedition and from the 250 years commemoration website:

"Carsten Niebuhr (1733-1815) was born in Ditmarschen in North Germany. First and foremost, he was educated as a surveyor and in physics and mathematics, but when The Danish Arabia Expedition entered the picture he chose to supplement this with Arabic and astronomy. The 28-year-old Niebuhr participated in the expedition as a cartographer and was in charge of the finances on the long journey from Europe to Egypt, across the Red Sea to Yemen and on to Bombay in India, back to the Persian Gulf, up through Iran and Iraq and back to Copenhagen.(...)"

"As the expedition progressed, Niebuhr’s fellow passengers started to succumb to malaria and they died, one after the other. Niebuhr then had to continue alone and undertake the deceased’s areas of responsibility. Niebuhr returned to Denmark in 1767 where the interest in his results had decreased considerably. He even had to pay out of his own pocket to get his travel accounts published."

The Arabian Journey

Of course my personal interest goes to the Botanical Results which brought to Europe many unknown species;
"Until the middle of the 19th century, Forsskål’s discoveries were the most important source of knowledge about the flora and fauna in Yemen. But most of his discoveries were not recognised until the 1920s."

Forsskål’s collection of pressed and dried plants is today at the Botanical Museum in Copenhagen, a must for me next time in Copenhagen!

The Royal Library 

Some editions (old and new) are available. I am posting pics of out-of-print ones and available ones too.

Gale ECCO, Print Editions, 2010, 2 Vols.

 The Iluminism of the XVIIIth century contributed to an opening of the minds of all travelers and rulers, as the knowledge of different cultures and people was regarded as an interesting experience, and an enrichment of the mind.
After the French Revolution, all things changed and the western world did not develop, but turned inwards instead; the 'other' was seen as inferior to the white man...

These travels opened the East to Western eyes, and brought many specimens later used in pharmacology, medicine and agriculture. These men were pioneers of knowledge. And if you think of the difficulties posed in such trips regarding diseases, and personal hygiene, road blocks, no road at all, vegetation, wild animals at large, long months at sea, insect attack, food conservation, water available, no confort at all in transport, no communications with loved ones for months...

I believe the only two good things about travelling in those times were: discovery of sites and artifacts, and carriers to load and carry your luggage, something I would need today...

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