Country in Education, and more particularly in Humanities (2) [Archives:2004/764/Opinion]

August 16 2004

By Prof. Dr. Muhammad Shamsaddin Megalommatis
For the Yemen Times

3. The market of Kane
Paragraph 28 gives us insightful information on the trade and the merchandises that frequent the port of call Kane. The text reads as follows:
“Here is imported from Egypt limited quantity of wheat and wine, as precisely is the case at Mouza, and in addition one can find types of Yemenite clothing, either with the common decoration, or without decoration, or with stamped decoration that is the largest part of the trade. Equally imported are copper, tin, corals and styrax officinalis, as well as all sorts of merchandises imported at Mouza. For the king are made available silverware with curved decoration, currency in cash, and in addition horses, statues, and several types of clothing without decoration. The correct time to sail from Egypt until here is the same we mentioned for Mouza, and even earlier”.
These references to the Kane trade center help us to understand its real significance, and make appropriate comparisons. Kane was not as rich as Mouza (Al Mokha) as a port of call, but it definitely held the undisputedly central position in the frankincense trade. The kingdom of Eleazos seems simpler and less exquisite, if compared to that of Kharibael, i.e. the united Sheba and Himyar. This is stressed by the fact that Eleazos' court did not have high level sculptors and artists, and the kingdom was purchasing (in form of taxes) statues. The taxes extracted by Eleazos would certainly not be envied by Kharibael! But here, we have good reason to feel that the author fell victim of the smart and sophisticated Eleazos intelligence service. The continuation of text brings forth such information that makes any philologist eager to interpret the traditional frankincense trade state strategy of Eleazos.

4. The mystical land of frankincense cultivation
Paragraph 29 describes the easternmost confines of the Hadhramawti coast, where the main cultivation and production of frankincense was taking place. The text reads as follows:
“Beyond Kane, the coast looks more coiled, and there another gulf is formed; it is very open, and it is called Sahalites. This is the precise location of the Frankincense-bearing land that is mountainous and difficult to traverse. The atmosphere is very heavy and the weather is constantly cloudy; the wind blows to the direction of the trees that bear the frankincense. The trees are not big or tall. On their trunks, flows progressively the opaque frankincense, as flows the gum from the trees that produce it in our country, in Egypt. All the work of the collection and the transportation of the frankincense is the work of the servants of the king, as well as of all those who have been condemned to forced works. These parts of the world are very detrimental to health, perilous for contagions to the navigators, and fatal for those working there, since – in addition to all the rest – they face extreme difficulties ensuring food provisions”.
We reach therefore the area of present day Al Mukallah, and its truly 'very open' gulf. The author calls the gulf and the coastal area Sahalites, but there is no mention to village, town or city.
This paragraph ends an international aperture in regards to the literature of the world of frankincense and spices. This is the starting point in a long series of similar literatures related to the incense trade and to the cultivation of aromatic trees'. Since these commodities became more and more demanded by kings and emperors, courts, temples, as well as simple citizens of a 'global' incense civilization, took special measures in order to prevent to foreign powers from any immediate access to the cultivation and production area, so that the privilege and the ensuing wealth be permanently ensured for the kings of the Frankincense bearing country. In this regard myths have been created about the inaccessibility, the unfriendly, unhealthy, and awesome character of the frankincense cultivation and production area. This literature was not limited to the frankincense cultivation and production, but spread to all highly appreciated aromatic products and items, spices, and silk, as far as textiles are concerned. Useless to say it, the motif was not a 'topos' or a pattern within Ancient Greek literature, but among all literatures of the world. It seems that the more the demand was pressing, the more elaborate and perplexing were the myths compiled, and of course the subject of the awe became omnipresent, absolutely inevitable, and more convincingly mythologized, involving dragons, winged snakes, griffons, flying cats, and all sorts of human imaginative and narrative skills. The conviction left with the ancient readers should be such that they would be totally disoriented from paying a visit to those lands
What is quite striking with the description of the author of Periplus is that, although he seems to have fallen a victim to the Hadhramout Frankincense bearing state's propaganda, he gives accurate and pertinent physical details, namely that the trees are not big, and that the opaque frankincense flows progressively on their trunks, etc.

5. At the confines of Yemen
Paragraph 30 completes in its first part, the narration about the eastern coast of Dhofar, allowing the author to focus on Omana throughout paragraphs 32 and 33. We finish our itinerary through sailing around these precincts; the text reads as follows:
“Beyond this gulf, in the east, a great promontory is formed, ending in the cape that is called Syagros. There is erected a great castle that is necessary for the defense of the land. In front of the castle are located the harbour and the storehouses where the congregated frankincense is collected”.
The rest of paragraph 30 serves the author to narrate details concerning the 'Dioskouridou nesos', i.e. the Suqutra island. And then the text continues with paragraph 31 that concerns Omana, i.e. the eastern part of the present day Oman.
Syagros means in Ancient Greek 'wild boar', and in this regard it contributes to the concept of frankincense land's inaccessibility, although the reference to a great castle may truly correspond to real facts. We can assume that the Hadhramawti state had some basic points of defense, since the vicinity of Iran could cause a problem, especially if we take into consideration that the eastern confines of present day Oman belonged always to Iran. Syagros is to be located at the present day Ras Fartak.