Cor Hendriks – The Macaws | Myth and Folktale (6): Alexander and the Valley of Diamonds

A story from the Arabian writer Meisami (12th c.) connects Alexander with the story of the jewel-mountain. The story has a short introduction about the diamond, a stone that nothing in the world can break, but can only be conquered by lead. Because God has made everything of value in such way, that it can be conquered by something without value, and all the strong things thus, that it is the prisoner of the weak. The first, who withdrew diamonds from the earth, was Alexander. He traveled to the east and stopped in the valley of Ain as-Shams, where there are many snakes. There was one snake, that made the troops of Alexander, just by thinking about [= looking at] it, die of fear. He ordered to make a mirror of a great number of shields, attached it to spear-tips and held it up high before the snake. When the snake saw itself, it died. Alexander burned it. Then he went to the entrance of the pit and had ropes lowered down, but they couldn’t reach the bottom. Then he captured eight vultures and gave them three days nothing to eat. He roasted a couple of sheep and threw them in the pit. The vultures flew into the pit and came up again with the sheep. But something was sticking to the meat, that looked like sal-ammonia. Alexander stayed there a month and brought this way an ass-load of diamonds above ground. It is a fact that this moment the total quantity of diamonds on earth amounts to no more than one ass-load. [Leeuwen 1999, 104f after Meisami, p. 204.] The same story can be found in the works of Al Kazwini: ‘Aristotle [meaning a book on stones attributed to Aristotle] says that no one except Alexander ever reached the place where the diamond is produced. This is a valley, connected with the land Hind. The glance cannot penetrate to its greatest depths and serpents are found there, the like of which no man hath seen, and upon which no man can gaze without dying. However, this power endures only as long as the serpents live, for when they die the power leaves them. […] Now, Alexander ordered that an iron mirror should be brought and placed at the spot where the serpents dwelt. When the serpents approached, their glance fell upon their own image in the mirror, and this caused their death. Hereupon, Alexander wished to bring out the diamonds from the valley, but no one was willing to undertake the descent. Alexander therefore sought counsel of the wise men, and they told him to throw down a piece of flesh into the valley. This he did, the diamonds became attached to the flesh, and the birds of the air seized the flesh and bore it up out of the valley. Then Alexander ordered his people to pursue the birds and to pick up what fell from the flesh. Another writer states that the mines are in the mountains of Serendib (Ceylon) in a very deep gorge, in which are deadly serpents. When people wish to take out the diamonds they throw down pieces of flesh, which are seized by the vultures and brought up to the brink of the gorge. There such of the diamonds as cling to the flesh are secured; these are of the size of a lentil or a pea. The largest pieces found attain the size of a half-bean.’ [Kunz 1971, 75 after Julius Ruska, ‘Das Steinbuch aus der Kosmographie des al-Kazwini’, in: Beilage zum Jahresbericht 1894-5 der Oberrealschule Heidelberg, 35. See ‘Aristoteles De Lapidibus und Arnoldus Saxo’, ed. Rose, Z.f.D.A. New Series VI, pp. 364f, 389f.]

According to Kunz the ‘other writer’ is probably Ahmed Teifashi. In his version of the tale, one form of which appears in the seventh voyage of Sindbad the Sailor, Teifashi states that the finest corundum gems were washed down the streams that flowed from Adam’s Peak, on the island of Ceylon; in time of drought, however, this source of supply ceased. Now it happened that many eagles built their nests on the top of this mountain, and the gem-seekers used to place large pieces of flesh at the foot of the mountain. The eagles pounced upon these and bore them away to their nests, but were obliged to alight from time to time in order to rest, and while the pieces of flesh lay on the rock, some of the corundums became lightly attached to this, so that when the eagles resumed their flight the stones dropped off and rolled down the mountain side. [Kunz 1971, 75f after Teifashi, Fior di pensieri sulle pietre preziose, Firenzi 1818, 13. Kunz remarks: ‘These oft-repeated tales are explained by Dr. Valentine Ball as originating in the Hindu custom of sacrificing cattle when new mines were opened, and leaving on the spot a certain part of the meat as an offering to the guardian deities. As these pieces of meat were soon carried away by birds of prey, the legend arose that the diamonds were obtained this way. This custom still prevailed in some parts of India when Dr. Ball wrote [1879].’]

In the works of Al-Bīrūnī (973-1048), called the most brilliant scholar of the Arabian Middle Ages, a whole chapter (77) is devoted to ‘fantastical things about diamonds’. One of those ‘fairy-tales’ (idle talk) is the assertion, that all the presently available diamonds are the ones that Alexander the Great had taken from the Diamond-Valley. Therein snakes live that one cannot look at without dying. But he had a mirror brought, behind which the carriers hid themselves, and when the snakes saw themselves in that mirror, they died instantly. Our scientist comments that the snakes had looked at each other beforehand, obviously without dying, etc. Also there are people who assert that the diamonds are lying in a ravine, of which no one has found the entrance or a way to descent. They are retrieved as follows: an animal is divided in pieces and these bloody pieces are thrown down. They fall on the diamonds that stick to them. In the surrounding are vultures and eagles that know that spot and have gotten used to the quirks of the men, and have gotten friendly and intimate with them. They dive down on the flesh and bring it on the edge of the ravine, where they start to eat it. Thereby they shake off what is sticking to it, as it is the habit of all animals to shake their food and that way to clear it from dust and dirt. Then those people come and collect the diamonds, that might have fallen off and that is why it is called ‘Eagle-stone’. (The appetite for the fabulous knows no limits.) Of this Eagle-stone it is said that it helps against a lot of things, and that the eagle keeps them in its nest, and when people threaten it, it will throw them down out of fear that its young or its nest might get damaged. [Al-Bīrūnī 1991, 211-213. He has another reason why diamonds are called Eagle-stones: diamond collectors put a glass bowl over the eagle’s nest and it flies away to get diamonds and puts them on the glass; when there are enough diamonds the collectors take the glass away to make the bird believe that it was the result of its actions. (ID., 211; this is the story of the Shamir of Jewish tradition around king Solomon).]

The story of the Diamond Valley is also told by Marco Polo:

Now among these mountains (in the kingdom of Mutfili) there are certain great and deep valleys, to the bottom of which there is no access. Wherefore the men who go in search of the diamonds take with them pieces of flesh, as lean as they can get, and these they cast into the bottom of a valley. Now there are numbers of white eagles that haunt those mountains and feed upon the serpents. When the eagles see the meat thrown down they pounce upon it and carry it up to some rocky hill-top where they begin to rend it. But there are men on the watch, and as soon as they see that the eagles have settled they raise a loud shouting to drive them away. And when the eagles are thus frightened away the men recover the pieces of meat, and find them full of diamonds which have stuck to the meat down in the bottom. For the abundance of diamonds down there in the depths of the valleys is astonishing, but nobody can get down; and if one could, it would be only to be incontinently devoured by the serpents which are so rife there.

There is also another way of getting the diamonds. The people go to the nests of those white eagles, of which there are many, and in their droppings they find plenty of diamonds which the birds have swallowed in devouring the meat that was cast into the valleys. And, when the eagles themselves are taken, diamonds are found in their stomachs. [Yule-translation, c. XIX; MUTFILI is, with the usual Arab modification (e.g. Perlec, Ferlec—Pattan, Faitan), a port called MOTUPALLÉ, in the Gantúr district of the Madras Presidency, about 170 miles north of Fort St. George. Cf. Leeuwen 1999, 105 (after Marco Polo, p. 273): ‘You must know that there is a deep chasm with such steep walls that nobody can go in there (in Golconda and elsewhere in Haidarabad). I will tell you though what they do there. They take a great quantity of meat-lumps, drenched in blood, and throw these in the depth of the valley. The lumps of flesh pick up great quantities of diamonds, that pierce into the flesh. It so happens that these mountains are inhabited by numerous white eagles, who hunt for snakes. When these eagles perceive the meat on the bottom of the valley, they dive down, grab the meat-lumps and take them with them. The men pay care where the eagles go and as soon as a bird has landed to gobble up the meat, they run to it as fast as they can. Startled the eagles fly away and leave the meat behind. When they pick up the meat, lots of diamonds stick to it. Another method is as follows: When the birds eat the meat, they also swallow the diamonds. In the evening, when the eagle returns, he shits out the diamonds with his feces. The men come to collect the feces and find large numbers of diamonds.’]

Yule comments: ‘The strange legend related here is very ancient and widely diffused. Its earliest known occurrence is in the Treatise of St. Epiphanius, Bishop of Salamis in Cyprus, concerning the twelve Jewels in the Rationale or Breastplate of the Hebrew High Priest, a work written before the end of the 4th century, wherein the tale is told of the Jacinth. It is distinctly referred to by Edrisi, who assigns its locality to the land of the Kirkhîr (probably Khirghiz) in Upper Asia. It appears in Kazwini’s Wonders of Creation, and is assigned by him to the Valley of the Moon among the mountains of Serendib. Sindbad the Sailor relates the story, as is well known, and his version is the closest of all to our author’s. [So Les Merveilles de l’Inde, pp. 128-129.—H.C.] It is found in the Chinese Narrative of the Campaigns of Hulaku, translated by both Rémusat and Pauthier. [We read in the Si Shi Ki, of Ch’ang Te, Chinese Envoy to Hulaku (1259), translated by Dr. Bretschneider (Med. Res. I. p. 151): “The kinkang tsuan (diamonds) come from Yin-du (Hindustan). The people take flesh and throw it into the great valleys (of the mountains). Then birds come and eat this flesh, after which diamonds are found in their excrements.”—H.C.] It is told in two different versions, once of the Diamond, and again of the Jacinth of Serendib, in the work on precious stones by Ahmed Taifáshi. It is one of the many stories in the scrap-book of Tzetzes. Nicolo Conti relates it of a mountain called Albenigaras, fifteen days’ journey in a northerly Direction from Vijayanagar; and it is told again, apparently after Conti, by Julius Caesar Scaliger. It is related of diamonds and Balasses in the old Genoese MS., called that of Usodimare. A feeble form of the tale is quoted contemptuously by Garcias from one Francisco de Tamarra. And Haxthausen found it as a popular legend in Armenia.’ [Yule, l.c. n. 2: S. Epiph. de XIII. Gemmis, etc., Romae, 1743; Jaubert, Edrisi, I. 500; J.A.S.B. XIII. 657; Lane’s Ar. Nights, ed. 1859, III. 88; Rém. Nouv. Mél. Asiat. I. 183; Raineri, Fior di Pensieri di Ahmed Teifascite, pp. 13 and 30; Tzetzes, Chil. XI. 376; India in XVth Cent. pp. 29-30; J. C. Scal. de Subtilitate, CXIII. No. 3; An. des Voyages, VIII. 195; Garcias, p. 71; Transcaucasia, p. 360; J.A.S.B. I. 354. St. Epiphany tells in his treatise about the 12 stones in the breastshield of the Jewish high priest how the diamonds were collected in Scythia. Also Benjamin of Tudela, travelling between 1160 and 1173, relates this way of gathering diamonds (Keller III, 441).]

The tale of the Jacinth is told by Burton in his comment on the rubies on the Mount of Jewels in the story of Janshah. In Arabic the ruby is called La’al and Yákút (the latter also applied to the garnet and to a variety of inferior stones). The ruby is supposed by Moslems to be a common mineral thoroughly “cooked” by the sun, and produced only on the summits of mountains inaccessible even to Alpinists. Epiphanius, archbishop of Salamis in Cyprus, who died AD 403, gives, in a little treatise (‘De duodecim gemmis rationalis summi sacerdotis Hebræorum Liber’, opera Fogginii, Romæ 1743, 30), a precisely similar description of the mode of finding jacinths in Scythia. ‘In a wilderness in the interior of Great Scythia,’ he writes, ‘there is a valley begirt with stony mountains as with walls. It is inaccessible to man, and so excessively deep that the bottom of the valley is invisible from the top of the surrounding mountains. So great is the darkness that it has the effect of a kind of chaos. To this place certain criminals are condemned, whose task is to throw down into the valley slaughtered lambs, from which the skin has been first taken off. The little stones adhere to these pieces of flesh. Thereupon the eagles, which live on the summits of the mountains, fly down following the scent of the flesh, and carry away the lambs with the stones adhering to them. They, then, who are condemned to this place, watch until the eagles have finished their meal, and run and take away the stones.’ [Burton V, 342 n. 1. He also refers to the accounts of Marco Polo and Nicolò de Conti, as of a usage which they had heard was practiced in India, and the position ascribed to the mountain by Conti, namely, fifteen days’ journey north of Vijanagar, renders it highly probable that Golconda was alluded to. He calls the mountain Albenigaras, and says that it was infested with serpents. Marco Polo also speaks of these serpents, and while his account agrees with that of Sindbad, inasmuch as the serpents, which are the prey of Sindbad’s Rukh, are devoured by the Venetian’s eagles, that of Conti makes the vultures and eagles fly away with the meat to places where they may be safe from the serpents.]

On his second voyage Sindbad is by accident left behind on an island, where he has fallen asleep. He perceives finally an enormous white and smooth dome, of fifty steps circumference. It is the egg of a rokh. When the bird comes to brood it, Sindbad attaches himself to a leg of the bird and is transported into a deep valley which one cannot leave and which is strewn with diamonds. At night he seeks refuge in a cave to escape the serpents, strong enough to swallow an elephant and who come out of their hide-out at night. He sees pieces of meat thrown down by merchants; to these pieces attach the diamonds and eagles carry them into their nests. Sindbad collects the biggest diamonds, ties himself to the biggest piece of meat, is carried into a nest and freed by a merchant, who chases away the eagle; he compensates the merchant for the loss he has made him endure. [Chauvin, BOA VII, 10f (Lit. ref. p. 12f of the Rukh, Garuda, ‘Anqâ, Simurg, and Griffin).]

Yule points out that Herodotus tells a story about the collecting of cinnamon by the Arabians that has much resemblance. Herodotus starts with the remark, that the Arabians don’t know where it comes from or what country produces it, and he guesses ‘somewhere in the region where Dionysus was brought up’. What they say is that the dry sticks, which we have learnt from the Phoenicians to call cinnamon, are brought by large birds, which carry them to their nests, made of mud, on mountain precipices, which no man can climb, and that the method the Arabians have invented for getting hold of them is to cut up the bodies of dead oxen, or donkeys, or other animals into very large joints, which they carry to the spot in question and leave on the ground near the nests. They then retire to a safe distance and the birds fly down and carry off the joints of meat to their nests, which, not being strong enough to bear the weight, break and fall to the ground. Then the men come along and pick up the cinnamon, which is subsequently exported to other countries. [Herodotus III, 111 (1983, 249). Yule remarks: ‘No doubt the two [tales] are ramifications of the same legend.’]

The region where Dionysus was brought up is Mount Nysa. Lecouteux quotes F. Pfister, an expert in the area of the Alexander-novel, who states: ‘The often mentioned high, steep mountain at the end of the world, called Qâf, with the magic castle, the world-mountain, on which a steep stairway leads to the top, is the mountain with sapphire steps in Nysa.’ The Arabian writer Omâra, basing himself on Qatâdas (†899), claims that at the end of the inhabited world on a mountain there is a magic castle, connected with the Alexander legend. The Macedonian came to the End of the World, saw an enormously high mountain, called Qâf, that turned out to be completely inaccessible and at the foot of it the sea streams inside and disappears there. According to another source Omâra also told about Alexander’s journey with Chadhir to the Source of Life: At the entrance of the darkness (meaning the Land of Darkness) the two heroes say goodbye to each other. Chadhir travels through the darkness and arrives after several days at a high, smooth mountain and sees on the top a sun-like shine. He finds the stairs and reaches the top, where he sees that the shine is coming from a fist-big jewel. Another story of Omâra has Alexander travel to the land of the Brahmans, whom he asks for the mountain where Adam was thrown down after his banishment from Paradise. They describe to him the way to it that goes through all kinds of strange valleys. The mountain itself is high as heaven, smooth and steep; at the foot of the mountain the sea goes in, but nobody knows where it goes to. So the mountain Qâf is the same as the Adam’s peak, where the stairs are that Chadhir climbs. The archpresbyter Leo of Naples informs us: ‘Deinde venimus ad montem, et erat sub eo ripa [which agrees with the sea that streams into Adam’s mountain and Mount Qâf], in qua pendebat catena aurea, et habebat ipse mons grados duo milia quingenti ex saffiro (and that mountain had stairs with two thousand sapphire steps).’ Omâra further relates: Behind this mountain is the sand-valley, behind which the darkness stretches out. Alexander came following the leads of the Brahmans in a valley, where darkness reigned, and arrived at last at a smooth, steep mountain, with in its inside hyacinth mines. According to a Moorish tradition, Alexander gives to Chadhir a jewel, that shines light in the dark. Firdusi, who’s source is amongst others the Pseudo-Callisthenes, says that the darkness is behind the Source of Life; Alexander wanders through the darkness and arrives at a high, shining mountain. According to the Abriß der Wunder (Sketch of the Wonders), when Alexander, called Du’l Qarnein (Two horned), went to the Darknesses, meaning the End of the World, he sailed along an island, where he saw people with heads of dogs and awful teeth. He was attacked, gained victory, sailed on and saw a light (so he is sailing through darkness). He steered in that direction and reached the island of the Shining Castle, a remark that seems to point to the wonder town on Ceylon. The ‘Dark Sea’ starts at the edge of the Chinese Sea and is very dangerous. Benjamin of Tuleda speaks about that in his Masahoth (Travels) (ca. 1170): ‘To escape from drowning the indigenous sailors let themselves be sewn in into animal skins, that eagles, in that area called Grip, carry away.’ [Lecouteux, ‘Ernst’, 315: Benjamin speaks explicitly about the Chinese Sea (in Sinam … Mare concretum), above which Orion is standing.]

Hertog Ernst en zijn mannen in gevecht met de kraanvogelhalzen van Grippia., druk Anton Sorg, Augsburg 1476 (uit Strijbosch, p. 101)

Hertog Ernst en zijn mannen in gevecht met de kraanvogelhalzen van Grippia. Druk Anton Sorg, Augsburg 1476 (Strijbosch, p. 101)

To indicate the Liver-sea Latin writers use the terms oceanus caligans ‘Dark Sea’, mare concretum ‘Stiffened Sea’ or Liver-sea. In the Erfurter prose version of Herzog Ernst can be read: ‘… sepe audistis ab hiis […] qui scilicet navigant mare et enarrant pericula eius, esse sinum maris, qui coagulatum (congealed) mare vulgo vocatur.’ Such names and others as Sea of Darkness, Slime-sea are applied to all oceans, never to the Mediterranean. So Herzog Ernst is not sailing on the Mediterranean. He leaves Byzantine to sail to Syria. They travel three months and are then driven far away by winds to the wilden sê, meaning the ocean, till they come to the island Grippia, where the crane-beaked people live. In the thirteenth-century perception of the world it is possible to sail to the Indian Ocean from the Mediterranean. On the so-called T-O-maps the right arm of the T makes possible what in reality is only possible since the Suez-canal has been dug out. (The same is by the way true for the left arm of the T: this is the route the Argonauts take to get in the Northern Ice-sea.) That Ernst is somewhere in the Indian Ocean tells the text: When Ernst arrives in the city, there is no one there. Suddenly the inhabitants return from India:

der was gevarn mit sîne her
mit vil galîen ûf das mer
in daz lant ze Indîâ
(the [king] had been sailing with his army
with many galleys on the sea
to the land of India).

The city is wonderful to behold:

dô gesâhen si an den stunden
ein hêrlîche burc stân
diu was al umbevân
mit einer guoten miure.
diu was harte tiure
van edelem marmelsteine.

The sculpture ornaments on the wall shines clearer than glass, the pinnacles are covered with gold and artfully decorated with big and small precious stones. It reminds Lecouteux of the city of Helios in the Pseudo-Callisthenes: ‘They have twelve towers, made of gold and emerald; the walls of that city was made from Indian stone’, or of Lyssos, Nysa: ‘There was a very high mountain: I climbed up high and saw beautiful houses full of gold and silver. Further I saw a wide ring-wall made of sapphire,’ reports Alexander. It also reminds of the wonder-city Gâbalqâ; Omâra reports over Alexander’s journey to the Adam’s Mountain: ‘Whoever climbs the stairs that are located in this valley, arrives in a wonder-city filled with gold, jewels and musk.’ [Lecouteux, ‘Herzog Ernst’]

The mountain wherein the sea disappears is to be seen in the Arabian Nights. The ship of Sindbad the Sailor, on his sixth journey, is driven at sea by the stream to a mountain, where the ship wrecks. The mountain is an island, with its grounds all covered with bones and pieces of wrecked ships. The mountain consists of crystals, rubies and other gems. The shipwrecked sailors die from hunger. Sindbad (the only one surviving) finds a river, that under a vault dives into a hole, builds a raft, takes gems and other stuff with him and lets himself drift on the current. His journey goes through the mountain and he arrives in land, where Negroes live who bring him to Sirendib (Ceylon), with the capital next to a high mountain, rising up high in the middle of the island, where one finds rubies. Such a journey also make Ernst and Wetzel after their adventure with the giant birds. They come to a place where a mountain rises up to the clouds. They build a raft and let it go with the flow through a dark, deep mountain, more than half a day, but lit by carbuncles, of which Ernst breaks off a piece:

Ernst der edele wîgant
einen stein dar under sach
den er ûz dem velse brach.
der stein gab vil liehten glast (bright shine).

Shortly thereafter they arrive in the unknown country of the king of Aramaspî, in whose service they fight against several wonder-people. These are of course the Arimaspians of Herodotus. According to him the northern parts of Europe are richest in gold, but how it is procured is a mystery. The story goes that the one-eyed Arimaspians steal it from the griffins who guard it. [Herodotus III.114 (ed. Burn 1983, 250).]

Bruneczwigk, the hero in Michel Wyssenherre’s poem Eyn buoch von dem edelen herrn von Bruneczwigk als er uber mer fuore (ca. 1172), gets stuck with his ship in a windless area and all the crew die of hunger and soon no one but the hero and a servant are alive. The hero slaughters his horse and lets himself be sown into the skin and is taken by a bird Grip to its nest, where he cuts open the skin, kills the bird and uses the claws to climb down the steep rock-cliff. Wandering through the wilderness he comes to a water, streaming along a mountain, builds a raft and lets himself drift with the flow

tzu eynem grószen berge fúnder wan
da mist daz selbe grosze wasser
tzu eynem fin[s]tern loch yn gan.

Going down in the hole he soon sees a light in the darkness:

bisz er sach eý carfúnckel stein
der lúcht und brand sich also helle
als wern hündert licht gewest by eyn …
da qwam er an den karfúnckel rot
usz zóchte er syn swert scharpffe und lang
und stach frolichen in den berg
daz eý stúcke uff die hort sprangk.

Then Brueczwigk arrives at the castle of the crane-beaked people, where he is friendly received. Bruncwyg, the hero of the Bohemian chapbook Stillfried und Bruncwyg (see above), releases himself from the skin, kills the young birds, climbs down from the nest, wanders round, sees one day in the distance the sea, goes that way, builds there a raft and lets himself drift. Ten days and nights he is amongst rocks in the deepest darkness. Then he comes to a mountain, called Karbunkulus, that gleams as fire. In passing he cuts off a piece and has a light while he drifts further till he reaches the end of the darkness and arrives at a castle, where he is well received. [Lecouteux, Ernst]

According to the Kitâb Sûrat al-ard (The Book of the World Map) of the ninth-century Arabian geographer al-Huwârizmi, the Dark Sea (Bahr al-muzlim) is a gigantic gulf east of the Green Sea and starts there, where the Sea of China ends. According to ad-Dimischki the Greeks called the southeastern part of Okeanos ‘Sea of Darkness’, also ‘Pitch-sea’ and ‘Coagulated Sea’. This sea, called also Sea of Styfun (or Stykun), wears this name because of its extraordinary blackness and darkness. Near this ‘Dark Sea’ is a peninsula, called ‘The Shining Castle’, the ‘Ruby(pen)insula’, also ‘Jewel(pen)insula, even ‘Silver(pen)insula’. In the 10th-century Abriß der Wunder of Muthasar al-Agaib about Alexander the hero comes in the Land of Darkness and sees a light, goes that way and comes to the ‘Island of the Castle’. On the beach of this island arises a castle from pure crystal. The ‘Ruby(pen)insula’ (Gazirat al-Yâkût) is according to al-Huwârizmi closed off all around by a mountain range and is run through by a river. Ibn Sa’îd points to the resemblance with Mount Rahûm on Sirendib. This last name is from Ratna-dwîpa ‘Jewel-island’, as Ceylon is called in Sanskrit literature. Mount Rahûm is the Adam’s Peak. [Lecouteux, ‘Herzog Ernst’]

Adam's Peak - Sri Lanka (foto BM Air Reizen)

Adam’s Peak – Sri Lanka (foto BM Air Reizen)

The Adam’s Peak is the highest mountain on Ceylon, with on high a plateau with some indentures that look like big footsteps. The Portuguese are credited of changing the name from Hamalel or Ramalel into Adam’s Peak, and the footsteps into those of Adam, who is fabled to be buried there with Eve. To Vollmer the fact that the mountain is sacred in the Buddhist tradition proves the incorrectness of the legend. The same is true for the Adam’s Bridge, actually Rama-bridge, a cliff of about ten miles between the promontory of India and the island Ceylon. It is a sunken connection between the two countries. The Portuguese made the Rama-bridge into the Adam’s Bridge and told the fable that Adam was so big, that he could easily stride from rock to rock. Rama, the incarnated Vishnu, went with an enormous army of wood-people [satyrs] through India to Ceylon and according to the fable his army built the bridge. [Vollmer, 40. Dowson 1973, 262f: Rāma-setu: ‘Rāma’s bridge’, constructed for him by his general, Nala, son of Viswa-karma, at the time of his invasion of Ceylon. This name is given to the line of rocks in the channel between the continent and Ceylon, called in maps ‘Adam’s bridge’. ID., 292: Setu-Bandha ‘Rama’s bridge’. The line of rocks between the continent and Ceylon called in the maps ‘Adam’s bridge’. It is also known as Samudraru.]

According to Albertus Magnus the light-colored emeralds were esteemed the best and legend told that they were brought from the ‘nests of griffins’. [Kunz 1971, 79 after Albertus Magnus, Le Grand Albert des secrets des vertus des Herbes, Pierres et Bestes. Et aultre livre des Merveilles du Monde, d’aulcuns effetz causez daulcunes bestes, Turin (c. 1515), II, fº11.]

Willi Fehse, Erich Holle & François Pétis de La Croix - The Thousand and One Days (1971, Hardcover)

Willi Fehse, Erich Holle & François Pétis de La Croix – The Thousand and One Days (1971, Hardcover)

The trick played on the hero by the merchant and the Jewel-Mountain was told in another way by Pétis de la Croix in his collection of Persian stories called The Thousand and One Days (Hezâř-jek Rûz) published in 1675. It concerns the first voyage of the Sindbad-like traveler Abulfawâris. He was after many an adventure on his way back to Basra and came in Surat, a beautiful town with many gardens open to the public. Here he met a very sincere appearing man, who confessed to be of the sect of the fire-worshippers. Abulfawâris did not hide that he was a Muslim and told him his adventures. The man felt sorry for him and wanted to know him better, invited him to his house, to stay there a while, and, as he had no children, to become his heir. Abulfawâris went with him and came into a very beautiful mansion, where he had occasion to take a bath. After the copious meal the man tells him about a trip he wants to make in a fortnight from the harbor of Suali to an island, uninhabited because of many tigers, who are scared off by fire. There are about 200 pits there where pearls can be found of rare greatness. This is something only he knows, and has learned from an old sea-captain. He wants Abulfawâris to accompany him, assures him that he will inherit his riches and shows his treasure-room. Abulfawâris writes a letter to his father and the man, Hizum, takes care of its sending. They go aboard and after three weeks they arrive at the island, where in the night Hizum goes on land with only Abulfawâris, each carrying torches and bags for the pearls. Soon they come to a deep pit and Hizum lowers Abulfawâris on a rope, but the pearls are too small, so they go to another, even deeper pit (at the foot of a high mountain in the middle of the island.) Here the pearls are of rare beauty and Abulfawâris fills several bags till the old man has enough and thanks Abulfawâris for his help, telling him to pray to his Prophet for help. Abulfawâris bewails himself but then starts to walk around the quite big bottom of the pit, sometimes stepping on bones of people who have died there. He doesn’t give up, hears a rushing sound, comes to an opening, throws himself in it, falls in the water, is dragged along by the wild current and washes up on the beach, where he is soon saved by a passing ship. [Croix 1958-9, (V) 578-584]

The same treacherous behavior is displayed in the Spanish tale of ‘Juan and the Gold Ring’. Here a poor man with three sons gets one day a visit from a gentleman, dressed completely in black, in a coach, who says that he has work for his sons. The oldest, Pedro, goes with him to the town and the day after they leave early for a far journey of three days and nights through an desolate area, till they arrive the fourth day at an old dried-out well, wherein the boy is lowered to collect ‘well-earth’. This well-earth turns out to be gold-sand and three times the boy fills the basket with gold, but then a mass of stones falls down and the boy is killed. The man in black goes back to the father [after delivering the gold in the city], says that Pedro has run away and this time Pablo goes with him (also here the play with the names: Pedro and Pablo are the failing ones, Juan succeeds), only to have the same fate as his brother. The man comes a third time to the father and this time he gets Juan, who becomes suspicious at the word ‘well-earth’ and first takes a good look around on the bottom of the ‘well’, discovers the corpses of his brothers under the stones and makes a hole in the wall. When the man notices that Juan is doing something else than filling the basket, he starts to throw a whole load of stones in the pit, but Juan takes cover in the hole and hears at last the stranger drive away. After a while he comes out of the hole, but then sees that there is no way out of the pit, and he becomes depressed [Dutch expression: sitting in the pit (well), from the game of goose]. Then he finds a golden ring and when he rubs it accidentally against a stone a little voice asks: ‘What do you wish to command?’ He wishes his brothers alive and well with him in front of their house and in a flash he is home with his brothers in front of the little hovel of his father, who can’t believe his eyes. They have still nothing to eat, but that is quickly solved by Juan, who has the spirit of the ring bring food and drinks and build a house (on the place of the old hovel) opposite the palace of the king. [Eggink 1975, 49-52] The story continues then along the lines of AT560: The Golden Ring and AT 561: Aladdin. In fact, Aladdin, we might say, is tricked in the same manner. The magician, pretending to be the uncle of Aladdin, takes the boy faraway into the desert, opens there the ground and has the boy go down to fetch the magic lamp, but when he doesn’t want to give him the lamp, the magician closes up the ground and leaves Aladdin locked up in the underground prison, with no hope of rescue.

A combination of the story of the Mountain of Diamonds and that of Juan and his ring has been woven into ‘The story of the green fish’, which is basically comparable with the Grateful Dead stories we will look at further on, especially the story of Tobit. A blind king can only be cured by a green fish. His son catches such a fish, but sets it free for the promised reward. The sultan hears about it and wants to drink his son’s blood [as proof that he is killed]. His wife has a gazelle slaughtered and tells her son to flee. He meets a man [the grateful fish] and they become blood-brothers. They both work in a general kitchen. A Jew takes the sultan’s son with him. [He puts him in an animal skin or carcass]. A bird carries him up to the summit of the Diamond Mountain [from which he throws diamonds down to the Jew who then leaves him behind.] His blood-brother discovers it and brings him back [not said how: as a bird?]. The Jew comes again and enchants him [= flies with him, abducts him] on a mountain, where he has to get a magic ring and gold out of a treasure hole. His blood-brother has followed them [also flying?] and commands the Jew to liberate the sultan’s son [who was closed up, just like Aladdin for not giving the lamp (= ring)]. The sultan’s son brings the spirit-princess [cf. AT 301], the ring [AT 561], and the gold out of the treasure-hole and encloses the Jew in it. The blood-brothers want to divide the treasure. When the sultan’s son also wants to share the princess [by cutting her in halves], there comes out of her mouth a little box with the medicine for the blind king. The blood-brother makes himself known as the grateful fish and the story closes with the cure of the blind sultan, the marriage of the prince and the abdication of the sultan in favor of his son. [Nowak 1969, Type 53, from Libya, in: Panetta, L’arabo parlato, 11-14. See AT 506.V: The Dividing in Halves. The ‘dead man’ demands his half and exacts the dividing of the princess, but relents and reveals his identity (Thompson 1961, 172). In AT 507B.III. The Dividing in Half, the dead man cleanses the princess of enchantment by cutting her in two so that her serpent brood is driven from her body (ID., 174). Our story is half-way between these two: Sometimes the threat of cutting her in half is enough for the snake to come out of her body. Here instead it is a box with the eye-cure, that Tobias got from a part of the fish.]

The method of escaping from a deep pit à la Sindbad can be observed in a Russian version of AT 561 from the collection of Afanassiev, called ‘The Magic Box’. The peasant’s son has been robbed of his magix box and is thrown on command of the new owner in a deep ditch, where only cattle carcasses were thrown. He sits there one, two, three days, then he sees a huge bird dragging a carcass. Just then a dead animal is thrown down into the ditch, so he ties himself to it. The bird swoops down, snatches the carcass, carries it out, and perched on a pine tree. ‘Prince Ivan’ (the new name of the hero) dangles there, for he cannot untie himself. A huntsman appears, takes aim, and shoots. The bird takes wing and flies away, dropping the dead cow from its claws. The cow falls and Prince Ivan falls with it and unties himself. [Guterman 1975, 164-168 = Bozoki 1978, 225-228 nº60 (Afan. 189/111)]

Meer informatie:
http://robscholtemuseum.nl/cor-hendriks-the-macaws-myth-and-folktale-1-introduction/
http://robscholtemuseum.nl/cor-hendriks-the-macaws-myth-and-folktale-2-b-the-dangerous-assignments/
http://robscholtemuseum.nl/cor-hendriks-the-macaws-myth-and-folktale-3-excursus-the-retrieval-of-the-disappeared-musical-instruments-by-gilgamesh/
http://robscholtemuseum.nl/cor-hendriks-the-macaws-myth-and-folktale-4-the-jewel-mountain/
http://robscholtemuseum.nl/cor-hendriks-the-macaws-myth-and-folktale-5-hiding-in-an-animal-skin/

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  1. Cor Hendriks – The Macaws (12): The Eagle and the Snake in ATU 301 | Rob Scholte Museum
  2. Cor Hendriks – The Macaws (13): The Eagle and the Snake in ATU 301 (the wonderful cure of the hero) | Rob Scholte Museum

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