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This is my translation from the French of Abū ʿAbd Allāh Muḥammad al-Idrīsī's notices about islands in the Baḥr al-Muẓlim (the "Sea of Darkness").

Warning!As this is my translation, caution is required.


This climate begins at the west, at the western ocean, which is also called the Sea of Darkness. Nobody knows what exists beyond this. There are two islands, called the Fortunate Isles, from which Ptolemy began his computation of longitudes. It is said that there is in each of these islands a mound built of stones, each a hundred cubits high. Upon each of them is a bronze statue which points towards the expanse of sea which extends beyond it. The idols of this type are, it is said, six in number. One of them is that located at Cadiz, in western al-Andalus; no one knows of any habitable land beyond.


With regards to Masfahan, the author of the Book of Marvels reports that, at the centre of this island, there stands a circular mountain, beneath which there stands a statue, red in colour, which was raised by Esaad abu-Kerb el-Haïri (Alexander Ḏu'l-Qarnayn), of which more will be said, during his expedition, and to which the name (of abu-Kerb el-Haïri) to all travellers who have reached the ends of the earth. Abu-Kerb el-Haïri had this statue raised, in order to make known to travellers that, beyond this point, there is no way out or place to make landfall.


On the island of Lamghoch (or Laghus), one also sees a statue of very solid construction, to which access is impossible. It is said that the one who raised it died there, and that his heirs built for him a tomb in a temple built of marble adorned with stones of many colours. The same author relates that this island is home to numbers of ferocious beasts, and that there are things that transpire there which it would take too long to describe, and the admission of which is inimical to reason.

On the shores of this island, and many others besides, is found amber of superior quality, as well as the el-behet stone, so-called in West Africa, where it is sold at a very high price in the country of Lamtuna, whose inhabitants claim that the bearer is successful in all his enterprises. It is also said that this stone is able to bind the tongue.

There are also a large number of other stones of various shapes and colours, which are much sought after and traded, it is said, in the production of a number of excellent remedies, for example, to combat harmful humours and to quickly assuage the pains which come from them. Others are used to facilitate childbirth, by making a sign over women and children. The inhabitants of these islands possess many similar stones which are named for the magical operations in which they are used.


Among the islands of this oceans is Sara, situated near to the Sea of Darkness. We recall that Ḏu'l-Qarnayn made landfall there prior to when the darkness covered the surface of the sea, and spent one night there, and that the inhabitants of this island attacked his companions with rocks and injured many of them.


There is another island whose name is Saa'li, whose inhabitants bear more of a resemblance to women than men; their teeth jut out of their mouths, their eyes sparkle like flashes of lightning and their legs have the appearance of burning wood; they speak an unintelligible language and wage war against sea monsters. Other than their gentitals, there is no apparent difference between the sexes, becaus the men have no beards; their clothing consists of the leaves of trees.


Next, we note the island of Hasran, which is of considerable extent and dominated by a mountain, at the foot of which live brown-skinned men of small size, who wear beards extending to their knees; they have large faces and long ears; they live on vegetables which the earth produces spontaneously and do not differ from those which feed the animals. There is on this island a small river of sweet water which drains the mountain.


The island of Ghour, likewise considerable in extent, abounds in herbs and plants of all species. There are rivers, lakes and forests which serve as a retreat for wild donkeys and oxen with horns of extraordinary length.


Not far off is the island of Al-Mustashkin. It is said that this island is populated, that there are mountains, rivers, an abundance of trees, fruit and cultivated fields. The town is dominated by a citadel. It is told that, during the time before Alexander, there was a dragon on the island which devoured everything it came across, people, animals, donkeys and other animals. When Alexander landed there, the denizens opined of their pitiable existance on account of this dragon and implored the hero for his assistance; the monster having already devoured the most part of their herds; every day, two bulls were sacrificed next to its lair; it came out to feast upon them, whereupon it retreated until the next day, in anticipation of the next tribute. Alexander asked the the inhabitants if the monster was in the habit of going out in one place or many; they answered that it always left by the same route. Then Alexander demanded they indicate the place, they he went there followed by a number of the inhabitants in the company of the two bulls; immediately the beast advanced, similar to a black cloud, eyes like lightning and mouth pouring forth flames; it ate the bulls and vanished. Alexander, on the following two days, placed two calves near to the cave; but this prey was insufficient to sate the appetite of the monster. Alexander ordered the islander to take two bulls, flay them and fill the skins with a mixture of oil, sulphur, lime and arsenic and to expose them at the usual position. The dragon emerged from its lair and devoured this new prey; moments later, feeling itself poisoned by this concoction, which was held in place by iron bands, made every effort to vomit up this grim meal, but the bands became stuck fast in its throat, turned its gaping maw. Then, in accordance with Alexander's orders, an iron bar was heated to red hot and, having been placed upon a plate of the same metal, was thrown between the monster's jaws: the composition set aflame its entrails and it died. This is the manner in which God put an end to the scourge which afflicted the inhabitants of this island; they thanked Alexander, gave testimonies as to their great affection and offered him presents consisting of numerous curiosities of their island; they gave to him, among other things, a small animal resembling a horse, but with skin which shone like gold; this animal, called a'radj, had a black horn and caused by its presence alone lions, snakes, wild beasts and birds to flee.


In the same sea is found the island of Calhan, whose inhabitants are of human shape, but with the heads of animals: they dive into the sea, recovering from its depths the animals which are they are able to grasp and, afterwards, eat.


Another island in the same sea bears the name the island of the two brother magicians, Cherham and Cheram. We note that these two brothers carried out pirate raids on all vessels which came into the vicinity of the island; they reduced their crews to captivity and made off with their goods; but God, to punish them, caused them to be transformed into two rocks which now stand above the sea. After this event, they became populated as before.

It is located opposite the port of Asafi, and at such a distance that the atmosphere around the sea is without fog, one can, they say, glimpse from the continent the smoke rising from the island. This peculiarity has been recounted by Ahmed ibn Omar surnamed Rakkam el-Aziz, who, commissioned by the emir of the faithful Ali ibn Yusuf ibn Tashfin with command of his fleet, wished to make landfall there; but death overtook him before he was able to accomplish this project.

Curious details have been recounted with regards to this island, by the mugharrirūn, voyagers from the city of Achbouna (Lisbon) in al-Andalus, when the port of Asafi received this name on their account. The account (of this adventure) is quite long, and we will have a chance to revisit it in our treatment of Lisbon.


In this sea there also exists an island of vast extent, which is covered by thick darkness. This place is called the island of sheep, because they are indeed abundant; but the meat from these animals is bitter, to such an extent that it is not possible to eat it, according to the account of the mugharrirūn.


Close to the aforementioned island is found Raqa, which is the island of birds, due to there being found on the island a species of bird resembling eagles, red and with claws; they subsist on shellfish and fish, and never venture far from this place. It is also said that the island of Raqa produces a species of fruit resembling figs of a large sort, and which serves as an antidote to poisons. The author of the Book of Wonders reported that a king of France, informed of this fact, sent a ship to the island with a view to obtaining the fruit and the birds in question, but the vessel was lost, and nothing more was mentioned of the matter.


The island of Ash-Shasland (Latin: Sahalia) also belongs in the present section. The length of this island is equivalent to 15 days' sailing, its width ten. Formerly it had three large cities and was well populated, with ships landing and remaining there in order to purchase amber and stones of diverse colours; but, following revolutions and wars which occurred in those days, the majority of its inhabitants perished. Many of them crossed the sea to the continent of Europe where their race remains very numerous, at the time of writing; more will be said in the section on the island of Aralanda (Ireland).


The island of Laqa produces a lot of aloe trees; it is said that it is without aroma on the island, but acquires its perfume as soon as it is exported and crosses the sea. This tree is black and very heavy. The merchants journey to this island in order to acquire aloe wood, which is transported afar. The kings of the westernmost part of Africa formerly purchased it in this country. It is also said that the island of Laqa was habited long ago, but is no longer, due to the snakes which have greatly multiplied on the island.

27,000 ISLANDS

According to Ptolemy of Pelusium, the Sea of Darkness contains some 27,000 inhabited and uninhabited islands. We aver that we should only discuss herein those situated in the vicinity of the mainland and whose denizens have achieved a certain degree of culture and civilisation.

Sir Graham