Monday, August 16, 2010

Austen Layard and the lure of the Nights' East

Austen Layard

Many thanks to JC for passing on this great article about Austen Layard (from the same website: "Austen Henry Layard (1817-1894) is famous for discovering and excavating the palaces of the Assyrian kings. Undertaken between 1845 and 1851, this achievement made him celebrated as one of archaeology’s great pioneers, a man who brought to public notice a civilization few knew very much about before. The autobiographical materials presented here describe his earlier life in England and on the continent — and especially the years of his original journey eastward and his dramatic adventures among the Bakhtiari of the Zagros Mountains (1849-1842).").

The article is about how Layard was drawn to travel to the Middle East (and perhaps develop political sympathies for it as well) due to his love of the Arabian Nights.


From the article: “The work in which I took the greatest delight,” he wrote, “was ‘The Arabian Nights’.” In their apartment within the Rucellai Palace, the Layard family home in Florence, “I was accustomed to spend hours stretched upon the floor, under a great gilded Florentine table, poring over this enchanting volume. My imagination became so much excited by it that I thought and dreamt of little else but ‘djinns’ and ‘ghouls’ and fairies and lovely princesses, until I believed in their existence…” Moreover, he adds, “My admiration for ‘The Arabian Nights’ has never left me. I can read them now (he was writing this late in life) with almost as much delight as I read them when a boy. They have had no little influence upon my life and career; for to them I attribute that love of travel and adventure which took me to the East, and led me to the discovery of the ruins of Nineveh.”

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