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Author Topic: PILLARS OF HERCULES, SEA OF DARKNESS  (Read 3115 times)
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« on: August 19, 2007, 05:45:10 pm »

Some of the names of these islands make sense in Arabic, others do not. Sawa has no meaning. Al-Su'ali is a word that refers to a kind of female demon or vam­pire; judging by al-Idrisi's description of the female inhabitants of the island, it is apt. Hasran means "regretful" - Island of Regret? - but if the variant Khusran is chosen, it means "loss" - perhaps Island of Loss, or Lost Island. But if the word is Arabic, one would expect it to be preceded by the definite article al.

Al-Ghawr makes sense; it means a depression sur­rounded by higher land, and occurs elsewhere in the Arab world as a place name. Al-Mustashkin is prob­ably a corruption of al-mushtakin, meaning "the complainers" - appropriate enough for a population in thrall to a dragon. This story of Alexander and the dragon echoes the Eleventh Labor of Her­cules, the Golden Apples of the Hesperides, guarded by the dragon Ladon. In the Arabic - speaking world, popular legend transfer­red a number of the heroic deeds of Hercules to Alex­ander - including the building of a land-bridge across the Pillars of Hercules. Some Greek mythographers thought the Islands of the Hesperides lay off the coast of North Africa, and we have already seen how al-Idrisi associates Alexander with two of the Atlantic islands.

Qalhan's "animal-headed people" might well be seals. The Two Brothers could be the two small islands off Lanzarote in the Canaries, Alegranza and Graciosa, or indeed, any two prominent rocks off their coasts.

A last island in the western Atlantic is Laqa. Al-Idrisi says aloe trees grow there, but their wood has no scent. As soon as they are taken away, however, the scent becomes perceptible. The wood is deep black, and merchants come to the island to harvest it and then sell it to the kings of the farthest West. The island is said to have been inhabited in the past, but it fell to ruin and serpents infested the land. For this reason, no one can land there. Could Laqa be Madeira? Madeira was heavily wooded when first settled in the 15th cen­tury - hence its name. The settlers quickly burned down all the forests, so it is now hard to know for cer­tain, but some sort of scented wood may have once grown there.
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