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The Atlas and Beyond

A description of the Canarii, by Pliny the Elder

Suetonius Paulinus*, whom we have seen Consul in our own time, was the first Roman general who advanced a distance of some miles beyond Mount Atlas. [...] He informs us that the summit of this mountain is covered with snow even in summer, and says that having arrived there after a march of ten days, he proceeded some distance beyond it as far as a river which bears the name of Ger; the road being through deserts covered with black sand, from which rocks that bore the appearance of having been exposed to the action of fire, projected every here and there; localities rendered quite uninhabitable by the intensity of the heat, as he himself experienced, although it was in the winter season that he visited them. We also learn from the same source that the people who inhabit the adjoining forests, which are full of all kinds of elephants, wild beasts, and serpents, have the name of Canarii; from the circumstance that they partake of their food in common with the canine race, and share with it the entrails of wild beasts. 

* Suetonius Paulinus:
Roman general. In AD 41 he became the first Roman to cross the Atlas mountains. Nineteen years later he was appointed Roman commander in Britain and was responsible for suppressing Boadicea’s revolt. 

So the Canarii "live" with their dogs in the African mainland beyond the Atlas Mountains. And the Canaries lived in (Gran) Canaria island with their dogs...

Which makes me think...

In Spain the Canary Islands are traditionally associated with the Islands of Fortune, in which the garden of the Hesperides, with its golden apples and benign breezes, could be found. The Ancients, as far as I know, gave their location as being west, past the pillars of Hercules. The latter are the Rock of Gibraltar and the Atlas Mountains. Hence the “lucky” islands could be in fact the Canaries; or Madeira, the Azores or the Cape Verde islands; or just a figment of classical Greek imagination. 

I therefore wonder: 

Any comments, sources or ideas? E-mail me

- Update -
I have since come across another, interesting, reference:
Torriani, an italian engineer sent to the Canaries around 1590 by the catholic king Fernando to study and improve the fortifications in the islands, claimed that the Canaries were indeed the islands of Bliss and that Madeira would also be amongst these if the portuguese did not hold them... Cheeky, indeed!

The text in Latin

For those who would rather see the original I have included the corresponding extract. The complete e-text in Latin of Pliny's Natural History can be found through the Lacus Curtius page.

From the 5th book - Geography of Africa, the Middle East and Turkey:

Suetonius Paulinus, quem consulem vidimus, primus Romanorum ducum transgressus quoque Atlantem aliquot milium spatio, prodidit de excelsitate quidem eius quae ceteri, imas radices densis altisque repletas silvis incognito genere arborum, proceritatem spectabilem esse enodi nitore, frondes cupressi similes praeterquem gravitate odoris, tenui eas obduci lanugine, quibus addita arte posse quales e bombyce vestes confici. verticem altis etiam aestate operiri nivibus. 

decumis se eo pervenisse castris et ultra ad fluvium, qui Ger vocatur, per solitudines nigri pulveris, eminentibus interdum velut exustis cautibus, loca inhabitabilia fervore, quamquam hiberno tempore, experto. qui proximos inhabitent saltus, refertos elephantorum ferarumque et serpentium omni genere, Canarios appellari, quippe victum eius animalis promiscuum iis esse et dividua ferarum viscera. 

Other, related, pages

The Canaries in Antiquity, from the web about La Palma made by the Isaac Newton Group. Look in particular at the page with the Pliny extract which you can find in Latin at the Natural History, book VI, at the Lacus Curtius page. (My opinion: they got there and perhaps somewhere else, too, and boy did they get confused at some point...!)
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