Book of the month

16 Nov 2023

In the Levant, Charles Dudley Warner, James R. Osgood and Company, 1877.

In the Levant, Charles Dudley Warner, James R. Osgood and Company, 1877.

Charles Dudley Warner (1829 –1900) was a 19th century American novelist and explorer. He was a good friend of Mark Twain, with whom he co-authored the novel The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today. A well-travelled man, he vividly recounted his impressions of various places in his books.

Charles Dudley Warner's "In the Levant" is a captivating journey through the Near and Middle East, vividly chronicling his experiences during the winter and spring of 1875. This literary exploration takes readers on a fascinating odyssey through Egypt, the Holy Land, Syria, Constantinople, Greece, and Cyprus. His experiences during this journey resulted in two books: "My Winter on the Nile among Mummies and Moslems," published in 1876, and "In the Levant," published in 1877.

Arriving in Cyprus from Beirut, Warner, a seasoned traveller, offers a unique perspective on this Mediterranean island during his brief yet impactful visit, capturing its essence in the twilight years of Ottoman rule. At the heart of Warner's narrative lies an examination of Cyprus's archaeological treasures. His keen observations highlight the activities of Luigi Palma di Cesnola, the controversial Italian-American consul engaged in archaeological pursuits. Warner's account delves into the intricacies of Cesnola's methods, offering a critical lens on the darker side of antiquarian exploration.

Larnaca, the entry point to Warner's Cypriot adventure, unfolds before readers with landmarks such as the Hala Sultan Tekke mosque and encounters with Franciscan monks “[…] a Franciscan convent, a neat establishment with a garden; and the hospitable monks, once they knew we were Americans, insisted upon entertaining us; the contributors for their church had largely come from America […].” Warner's exploration of ancient sites continued to Kourion till Paphos. Whilst in Paphos he recorded ancient custom of the birth of Aphrodite: “It was off the southern coast of this island, near Paphos, that Venus Aphrodite, born of the foam, is fabled to have risen from the sea. The anniversary of her birth is still perpetuated by an annual fete on the 11th of August, - a rite having its foundation in nature, that has proved to be stronger than religious instruction or prejudice. Originally, these fetes were the scenes of a too literal worship of Venus, and even now the Cyprian maiden thinks that her chance of matrimony is increased by her attendance at this annual fair. Upon that day all the young people go upon the sea in small boats, and, until recently, it used to be the custom to dip a virgin into the water in remembrance of the mystic birth of Venus. That ceremony is still partially maintained; instead of sousing the maiden in the sea, her companions spatter the representative of the goddess with salt water,- immersion has given way here to sprinkling.” Navigating the archaeological landscape, Warner's storytelling weaves together the threads of historical significance and cultural transformation.

In conclusion, Warner's prose is not merely a travelogue; it's a historical narrative on the dichotomy of a timeless island grappling with the inexorable passage of time. Warner's keen observations and vivid storytelling invite readers to join him on a journey through the ancient ruins and tumultuous transformations of Cyprus, making "Into the Levant" an essential read for those captivated by the allure of history and the mystique of the Eastern Mediterranean.

“I confess that the glitter of these treasures, and the glamour of these associations with the ingenious people of antiquity, transformed the naked island of Cyprus, as we lay off it in the golden sunset, into a region of all possibilities, and I longed to take my Strabo and my spade and wander off prospecting for its sacred placers.”

You can find this book, and many more, in the Research Centre of the CVAR.

The 'Book Of The Month' series is made possible with the support of OPAP (Cyprus).

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