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In this post we will journey with the Swedish natural historian Frederic Hasselquist. He set his heart on exploring the Levant (which Wikipedia tells me is a historical geographical term referring to a large area in the Eastern Mediterranean region of Western Asia) after his mentor Carl Linnaeus told him that the person who explored the natural history of the Holy Land would “earn great and eternal fame”. (p.6, Bodenheimner). So despite having serious issues with his lungs he set off in August 1749 from Stockholm and travelled to Smyrna (Izmir in Turkey). From here Hasselquist toured the region, visiting Alexandria, the pyramids of Egypt, Palestine, Rosetta, Damiata, Jerusalem, Jericho, Nazareth, Cyprus and Rhodes before arriving back where he started in Smyrna. One of the main purposes of his trip was to see whether the natural history mentioned in the scriptures are actually in that part of the world.

The main section of Hasselquists book is like a journal, giving dates of when he travelled where and what he saw. As his journey was to the Holy Land, there is much information about the Easter celebrations of the various religious groups and Holy sites and churches.  One of the stand out parts of this sectionfor me is his trip to Alexandria where he:

 “..procured an equipage which I had never used before. It was an ass with an Arabian saddle, which consisted only of a cushion on which I could fit, and a handsome bridle….. The beast was one of the handsomest to be seen of the kind, lively and well kept.” pg52

Hasselquist’s Voyages and Travels contains numerous sections after the first journal part. There is a section titled “Descriptions of the principal natural curiosities found by Frederick Hasselquist on his travels to the east”. It mentions the animals etc he saw, some are given descriptions, and when he saw them. I do enjoy a book which describes animals, here is his description of a Simia Cynamolgos: the dog-headed monkey:

“It is the size of a young bear…..it makes an horrid appearance, and is very ugly towards the back parts: in outward appearance, it resembles a bear. It is a cruel, …. and almost untamable animal….” Pg 184

I also like the description of the Egyptian Vulture:

 “The appearance of the bird is as horrid as can well be imagined viz. The face is naked and wrinkled, the eyes are large and black, the beak black and hooked, the talons large, and extended ready for prey, and the whole body polluted with filth : these are qualities enough to make the beholder shudder with horror.” P.194

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After discussing animals, birds, insect and reptiles he moves on to plants. Here we get a cautionary tale about eating water melon “this fruit should be eaten with great circumspection; for if this cooling fruit be taken in the heat of the day, when the body is very warm, bad consequences often ensue…..”

Basically it gives you a bad tummy and he states that he was told a European died suddenly after eating a whole watermelon when he was very hot.

Next is the section comparing the natural history to that of the Scriptures and then a section on medicine used in the region and the illnesses suffered. There is also a segment on commerce and trade and then finally the letters he sent to Linnaeus are printed.

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Sadly Hasselquist would come to an untimely end in Smyrna in February 1752 due to his lung complaint. Bodenheime states that he “was the first botanist to collect important materials for a flora Paleaestinae, apart from Rauwolf who presented a few Palestinian plants in his herbarium two hundred years before.” p9 and it took another hundred years for someone else to follow in his footsteps.

References:

Hasselquist, F. Voyages and travels in the Levant in the years 1749, 50, 51, 52 : containing observations in natural history, physick, agriculture, and commerce : particularly on the holy land, and the natural history of the Scriptures  (London : Printed for L. Davis and C. Reymers .., 1766.)

Bodenheimer, F.S. Frederic Hasselquist in Palestine, 1751 in Israel Exploration Journal vol.2, no.1 pp.6-14 (1952) accessed via jstor 20.07.20

Dawn

Library Assistant