Marci to Kircher 1641 and speculation

Hunting through the old research blog for something else, I happened on a comment I made in 2011 about a paper written by Beckingham and Serjeant.

On re-reading it, that post stirred a memory of something I’d seen in a letter written by Marci to Kircher – and as always I then turned to Neal’s web-pages where the letter in question was given in the original Latin, in English translation and with Neal’s own notes. The letter was written in 1641, more than two decades before Kircher received a (or the) manuscript about which Barsch had written to Kircher just two years earlier (1639).

After mentioning Barsch briefly

Our other mutual friends cordially salute your Reverence, particularly Father Santinus and Dominus Barschius. The magnetism book has doubtless already been dispatched and we eagerly await it.

Marci refers to a book about ‘the journey of the Ethiopian’ which apparently he had requested of Kircher before:

On another topic, could you be so kind as to bring with you the description of the journey of the Ethiopian whose country contains the source of the Nile, as I have asked in previous letters, since I love stories of that kind.

Now, there is no guarantee that this description was sent to or by a Jesuit, and we have a number of accounts of travels in Ethiopia beginning from the early fourteenth century.

I think it worth noting, though, that a History of Ethiopia had been presented to the General of the Jesuit Order in 1622.  This is from the text and postscript to a post entitled ‘ ‘Notes relating to the script and language of the Vms’ originally published in ‘Findings’ (Friday, October 21st., 2011).

I have just read Serjeant’s article recounting the history of two Portuguese Jesuits captured in about 1590 on their way to Ethiopia. They were taken as prisoners through the region where lay the dam of Ma’rib, and while there they met among others a woman from Burma [Peguan] who had, in the same way, arrived there by misadventure, having intended to land at Hormuz.  It was fully five years before one of the Jesuits managed to reach Ethiopia, the other having died, but together they were very likely the first western Europeans to enter that region of Arabia in many centuries, and what evidence we have suggest no others did for centuries thereafter. Serjeant says of the survivor, who wrote the narrative, that:

“Paez himself wrote of their journey in chapters 15 to 21 of Book 3 of his ‘Historia de Ethiopia’ which he dedicated to the General of the Jesuits in May 1622, only a short time before his death. In all probability therefore he was writing some thirty years after the events. Though a Spaniard from Olmedo in Castile he wrote this work in Portuguese. He was in his last years one of the most powerful, and doubtless also the busiest, men in Ethiopia, for the Emperor, whom he had persuaded to abandon the Coptic Church and be reconciled with Rome, relied upon his advice in a great variety of spiritual and temporal matters”.

C. F. Beckingham and R. B. Serjeant, “A Journey by Two Jesuits from Dhufār to San’ā in 1590”, The Geographical Journal, Vol. 115, No. 4/6 (Apr. – Jun., 1950), pp. 194-207. (JSTOR)



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