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Ed. Dragon’s World, 1979. Size 30 x 23 cm. LATIN-ENGLISH Edition. Includes 123 reproductions in colour. State: Used very good. 126 pages

By John Mitchell

The following text has been transcribed from the restored fragments of a manuscript, preserved in the muniments room of an unrenowned though ancient Somerset family, whose manor, remotely situated on a dry hillock in the marshes near the town of Glastonbury, was long the goal of many a fruitless pilgrimage by antiquerian scholars. The attraction that persuaded generations of eager pedants to leave comfortable rooms and follow will-o’-the-wisps through the Somerset swamps was the rumour that concealed in the old manor house, was a hoard of amazing documentary treasures, including the works of certain ancient authors, lost since classical times, and unique Celtic manuscripts of Druidic records, setting out the history of the world, the secrets of the prehistoric alchenical science and the true origins of Christianity.

Rumour went to say that at the time of the supression of Glastonbury Abbey and the hanging of its Abbott dor concealing treasures in 1539, the secret, «locked library» of the Abbey, containing manuscripts kept hidden even from William of Malmesbury during his inspection in the year 1125, was entrusted by the last of the Glastonbury monks, Austin Ringwode, to the safe-keeping of this family. Certain conditions were imposed, together with a blessing and a precautionary curse, and it was said that every subsequent heir, on achieving his majority, was solemnly instructed as to the content and meaning of the documents in the family charge and sworn to deny possession or any knowledge of them until such time as certaqin portents should announce the moment for revealing them to the public. Up to the present time, no suppliant scholar, however charming or persuasive, has ever stepped over the threshold of the old manor (the family are given wholly to bucolic pursuits and company), still less glimpsed its legendary treasures. In consequence of repeated disappointments, scholars by the end of the nineteenth century were agreed in abandoning the quest and in adopting a sceptical attitude to the alleged existence of any such hoard. The rumour lost its force and fell into oblivion, and the family has since been left to enjoy undisturbed its rustic seclusion.

The reason for giving thee brief, vague indications of the source of our manuscript is to inform those few scholar who will recognize the house in question, still protecting the family from the persecutions of curiosity. Undisclosed circumstances -it may be that the time for revelations is at hand, or it may be that the family now much impoverished, finds difficulty in maintaining the manor house and its contents in proper order -have persuaded the present heir to reveal privately certain facts of his hereditary trusteeship and to authorise the publication of one item from the secret library. His condition was that it should be restored by the most expert hands from the mouldy state to which the centuries passed in the damp vaults of the old manor had reduced it, and, after being copied, returned secretly to him.

At the beginning of a Carbon-dating test to determine age, two fragments of the precious manuscript were inadvertently destroyed, their contents lost forever. The owner, understandably, now refuses to allow the manuscript into any hands other than his own or those of the most dedicated scholar. He is more than suspicious of technology and swears «never to have modern flim-flam» near him again. Even the camera is banned. Thus it is not possible to reproduce here the actual text pages or the faded anatomical drawings, once finely coloured, with which the work is ornamented. These, together with the details given in the text, have provided the antiquarian artist, Una Woodruff, with the material for her scientific reconstructions, included in this edition, of the biological specimens as seen and recorded by the writer of the manuscript. This same artist was also responsible for discovering the authorship of the work. On the basis of the unrestored text, scholars has at first been inclined to identify the manuscript as a Roman translation of the legendary, long-lost Arimaspea, a poem composed by the 7th-century B.C. Greek shaman, Aristeas, whose feats, recorded by Herodotus and many other classical writers, included his making simultaneous appearences at places many miles apart, turning up in Italy two hundred and forty years after his recorded disappearence in Greece, and flying by the force of teleportation to a paradise land somewhere deep in Rusia, where he encountered a race of one-eyed men and a species of griffin, unknown to Europeans of his time and now apparently extinct. Both these types are described in the manuscript, thus explaining the scholars’ original false attribution.

In the Spring of 1978, Una Woodruff’s paper in the Proceedings of the Institute of Fringe Biology established beyond all doubt the authorship of the manuscript and identified it as a previously unknown work by Pliny the Elder (23-79 A.D.), being the journal of his three-year expedition to distant lands, begun in about 53 A.D., with the object of making first-hand observations ot the cratures he was later to describe in his monumental Natural History (77 A.D.). This was subsequently confirmed by the deciphering, with the aid of new computerized image-augmentation techniques, of a badly stained fragment of the original manuscript containing the dedication.

Pliny was one of the most fanatical scholars who ever lived, working for days and nights on end in the library of his palace, grudging the few hours he had to spend in sleep and engaging a lector to read aloud from a book while he ate, bathed nd rested. At the same time he led an active life of high public duties as lawyer and administrator, occupying the post of Procurator in Spain and becoming the intimate counsellor of his fellow scholar, the Emperor Vespasian. His scientific curiosity led to his death at the age of 56, when he was overcome by poisonous fumes while making an excessively close investigation of an eruption of Vesuvius.

Scholars have long disputed as to whether Pliny had ever journeyed, like Darwin in the Beagle, in search of material for his Natural History. This new discovery, that he not only made such a voyage but also compiled detailed on-the-spot notes of the animals and plants which he and his colleagues personally witnessed, settles once and for all that particular controversy. It raises, however, another question of far greater interest. Since the biological specimens illustrated here were evidently in existence at the time of Pliny’s voyage, how is it that they have all since disappeared? The latest theory of fringe biology suggests that the phenomena of natural history are subject to fluctuation in different ages and cultures. In our own time there are many creatures that seem to be hovering on the borderline between a real and a phenomenal existence. These include the archaic reptiles seen in Loch Ness and in lakes and rivers elsewhere, the hairy, man-like giants in the mountains of Asia and North America, and the giant birds, resembling the thunderbirds of traditional Indian lore, that have been sighted in recent years over many of the United States. Several of the creatures have been photographed but none of them has yet been caught. They cannot yet, therefore, be classified among the «real» animals of current natural history, but their persistent occurence over many centuries, recorded in folklore traditions all over the world, proves their occasional or intermittent existence and hints at their ability to make spontaneous reappearences, like the supposedly long extinct Coelacanths, at different periods of history.

Several of the human rces, animals and plants, described here in Pliny’s Journal and figured in Una Woodruff’s reconstructions, have never since been recorded and must be considered, temporarily at least, to be extinct. Others have been sighted at various times up to the present day and may be due for the future revival. This question is most properly left for the consideration of experts in fringe biology. It is hoped that their studies will be considerably advanced by the publication of this newly revealed manuscript, and that scholars, naturalists and all lovers of antique curiosities, will find pleasure and instruction in the unique glimpse of natural history in the ancient world here provided.

Map Of The World
The Ship Sets Sail
The Pyrallis
The Golden Fruit
Map Of Africa
Butterfly fish
The Mantichora
The Mermecolion
Water Birds
The Blemmyae
Sea Dragons
Curiosities Of The Sea
Map Of India
Snake Plant
The Pegasi
The Amphisbaena
Snake Creepers
Flesh Eating Plants
Map Of China
The Barometz
The Eastern Dragons
The Hua Fish
Map Of Hyperborea
Insects Generated By Plants
Hyperborean Frog
The Forests Of Hyperborea
Bird Plant
The Hippogriffs
Women With The Evil Eye
Flying Men
The Kraken
All Ears
Magical Plants
Map Of Britain
The Hydra
Figured Stones
The Western Dragons
The Snake’s Egg
Insects Generated
Insects Generated By Dew
Men Of The Sea
In Conclusion