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First Unicorns? April 6, 2011

Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient
First Unicorns?

Beachcombing is returning with some relief to familiar territory after the Shakespeare wars of the last couple of days. The subject: unicorns and the earliest human accounts of these mysterious creatures. In the Indus Valley about 3000 BC a series of seals were created that portray an animal with one horn: they predate the mention […]

Mermaids Sighted from Early Submarine March 21, 2011

Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
Mermaids Sighted from Early Submarine

Beachcombing promised a month ago a mermaid text from the Isle of Man that would amaze one and all. And what Beachcombing particularly likes about the following eighteenth-century description is the way that the we have not only mermaids but also a ‘submarine’, using the word very loosely, that makes an appearance a century before such vehicles had […]

Catching Mermaids on Man February 24, 2011

Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
Catching Mermaids on Man

Different peoples build their identity around different facts: the Italians around their food, the French around La France, the Poles (at least in times gone by) around their Catholicism. The Isle of Man, between Britain and Ireland, meanwhile, built its identity, at least in early-modern times, around a belief in the wonderful (phantom dogs, water […]

Back to the Arabian unicorn December 6, 2010

Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary, Medieval
Back to the Arabian unicorn

Beachcombing – three long moons ago – ran an article on a European sighting of two unicorns at Mecca (of all places) in the sixteenth century. Given his bewilderment at the time he feels obliged to add this fascinating fragment that he recently stumbled upon. Strangest of all [the mythical beasties of south-west Arabia] is the Tahish. It is a fearsome […]

Dog-headed Indians November 26, 2010

Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient
Dog-headed Indians

What do Marco Polo, Augustine, Paul the Deacon, Vincent of Beauvais and the Buddhist missionary, Hui-Sheng all have in common? Well, to keep things short – Beachcombing is on bedtime duty tonight for his insomniac daughter – they all described and (with the exception of Augustine) believed in tribes of dog-headed human beings in lands distant […]

The Napalm Snake Mystery November 18, 2010

Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient
The Napalm Snake Mystery

In ancient and medieval and, indeed, modern times geographers frequently got things embarrassingly wrong for those there-be-dragons areas outside the circuit of their little worlds. So the early Greeks believed that the Gobi desert was full of flightless griffins. The Byzantines were convinced that the air in Scotland was poisonous. And the British in the […]

The Moas of Cannibal Gorge November 4, 2010

Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
The Moas of Cannibal Gorge

Beachcombing is in an ornithological mood this month. It all started off with the druidic ravens at the Tower of London, then came the hibernating swallows, the parrots of Orinoco, swan-necked Mary Beard and today, to round off the series, he turns to one of his favourite bird stories of all time: the moa of the Cannibal […]

Christopher Columbus and Mermaids October 16, 2010

Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval, Modern
Christopher Columbus and Mermaids

Beachcombing cannot find it in himself to envy Christopher Columbus. All that salt water and all those incipient rebellions must have wreaked havoc on the good navigator’s blood pressure. But in one thing alone Beachcombing confesses to green-eyed rabid jealousy: the great Genovese explorer saw Mermaids, not once, but twice in his life, while the closest poor […]

Centaur of Volos September 5, 2010

Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient, Contemporary
Centaur of Volos

All centaur-lovers with a honeymoon or a sabbatical coming up should buy a ticket to Knoxville, Tennessee and visit the second floor of the Hodges Library at the University there. Still encased in the Greek mud, in which it sank almost two thousand five hundred years ago, is a centaur, the only one you will […]

Centaurs in Deepest Arabia August 21, 2010

Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient
Centaurs in Deepest Arabia

                  Phlegon of Tralles is not a Greek author of the first rank. Indeed, he rarely comes up in conversation among students of the ancient except for a reported remark concerning the death of Christ. But this small-time second-century writer, who was born in south-west Turkey and who lived […]

Unicorns in Sixteenth-Century Arabia? August 11, 2010

Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval, Modern
Unicorns in Sixteenth-Century Arabia?

And so we role the dice of history again and this time three words, interesting alone, delectable in combination, appear on the table: ‘Mecca’, ‘unicorn’ and ‘Varthema’. Beachcombing will begin with the least known of these words. Varthema, first name Ludovico (c. 1465-1517) was an explorer from Bologna who in the sixteenth century made his way into […]

A Mystery Animal in Ancient Africa July 3, 2010

Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient
A Mystery Animal in Ancient Africa

Beachcombing has been fascinated by the Voyage of Hanno since he was in short classicist pants. For this text, written in Hellenistic Greek, purports to describe a Carthaginian expedition down the western coast of Africa in the early centuries B.C., at a time when good Mediterranean folk had as little to do with the sub-Saharan side of the continent […]

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