Arabia Felix is the spellbinding true story of a scientific expedition gone disastrously awry. On a winter morning in 1761 six men leave Copenhagen by sea—a botanist, a philologist, an astronomer, a doctor, an artist, and their manservant—an ill-assorted band of men who dislike and distrust one another from the start. These are the members of the Danish expedition to Arabia Felix, as Yemen was then known, the first organized foray into a corner of the world unknown to Europeans. The expedition made its way to Turkey and Egypt, by which time its members were already actively seeking to undercut and even kill one another, before disappearing into the harsh desert that was their destination. Nearly seven years later a single survivor returned to Denmark to find himself forgotten and all the specimens that had been sent back ruined by neglect.
Based on diaries, notebooks, and sketches that lay unread in Danish archives until the twentieth century, Arabia Felix is a tale of intellectual rivalry and a comedy of very bad manners, as well as an utterly absorbing adventure.
Arabia Felix includes 33 line drawings and maps.
About the Author
James McFarlane (1920–1999) studied modern languages at Oxford and was the first dean of the school of European studies at the University of East Anglia. Britain’s preeminent Ibsen scholar, he edited the eight-volume The Oxford Ibsen, translating a number of the books himself. He and Kathleen Crouch were married in 1944.
Kathleen McFarlane (1922–2008) was a translator and a celebrated weaver and artist from Sunderland. One of her fabric sculptures hung in Norwich Castle for thirty years.
Colin Thubron is the president of the Royal Society of Literature. Among his books are The Lost Heart of Asia, Shadow of the Silk Road, and most recently, Night of Fire. He is also, with Artemis Cooper, the co-editor of The Broken Road, the final volume of Patrick Leigh Fermor’s Walking Trilogy.
Table of Contents
Part 1 The Storm Before the Calm
1 Despite these evil times 13
2 The storm 58
3 A year in Egypt 92
4 No news from Mount Sinai 152
Part 2 A Thousand and One Days
5 Spring in Tehama 193
6 Why "Arabia Felix"? 241
7 Carsten Niebuhr's return 302