The Periplus of Hanno in the History and Historiography of Black Africa.pdf

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P.E.H. Hair
University of Liverpool
of Hanno
describes a purported Carthaginian
voyage down the coast of western Africa—a voyage to as far as
Guinea in the opinion of some scholars. The brief text is of
doubtful and at best partial historical authenticity; and in any
case its account of the later part of the voyage concentrates on
a few episodes of high drama and exotic observation, at the
expense of those other detailed particulars which might have
made the
if historical, an informative as well as uni-
que documentary source on black Africa in the first millennium
B.C.. At least as far as black Africa is concerned," it must be
questioned whether the
is worth a fraction of the
intensive scholarly effort that has been spent on it during the
past four hundred years.
Current debate among ancient historians and classical phi-
lologists turns on the nature of the
is it wholly
fiction? or, if fact, is it fact fictitiously extended and
embellished? or, a third possibility, is it fact dramatically
and perhaps intentionally summarized and slanted?
But from
the point of view of the historian seeking to obtain information
about early sub-Saharan Africa in general and west Africa in
particular, this debate can be by-passed (hence the present
paper does not need or attempt to comprehend, pursue, or augment
the detailed scholarly arguments and evidence available in the
literature). For whether based on fact or not, the
patently a piece of literature of a kind which does not afford
precise historical information. The argument of the present
paper therefore, is that the
however interpreted, does
add to our knowledge of early west Africa.
Yet history includes the history of history-writing. Four
centuries of scholarly study of the
have produced a
corpus of bibliographical items which represents a substantial
contribution to the historiography of black Africa, and for this
reason alone the
deserves the attention of the African
historian. The corpus of over one hundred books and articles on
though it has thrown only very limited light on
Carthaginian expansion,and none at all on early west Africa,
serves to explode the current notion that, until the present
generation of
no reasoned interest was taken by
14 (1987), 43-66
European scholars in the history of black Africa.
History of the Text and Commentaries
is known in a Greek text of about 100 lines
and 630 words. The text is continuous: the paragraphs of
modern editions and translations have been introduced by later
scholars and may mislead. The earliest copy of the text is
found in a Heidelberg University Library manuscript (Codex
Palatinus graecus 398).
The modern history of this manuscript might be taken as an
exemplar for a potted history of Europe. The manuscript was
brought to the West by a fifteenth-century cardinal, most pro-
bably from Constantinople, perhaps in the decade after the
city's fall to the Turks. At the Reformation it passed from a
Basel convent to a Protestant scholar, and then to the newly-
founded library of the scholar's princely patron. During the
Thirty Years' War it was among the loot of the Catholic side
and went to the Vatican. During the Napoleonic Wars it became
in turn French loot, and so spent the early years of the nine-
teenth century in Paris before being returned to Heidelberg.
Ironically, these forced travels did no damage to the manuscript
but instead drew it to the attention of a series of European
The earlier history of the manuscript, that is, in the
East before 1450, is unfortunately not known in any detail. The
manuscript contains a corpus of minor geographical writings in
Greek, notably the peripluses of Arrian and Pseudo-Scylax as
well as that of Hanno, and there is evidence that the corpus
began to be assembled in the sixth century A.D.. However, the
manuscript itself is now thought to date only from the earlier
ninth century. As a physical object, the Heidelberg copy of the
text of the
is thus of that century and not earlier.
About eighty years after the manuscript reached the West,
it fell into the hands of the scholar-printer Froben of Basel,
who published from it two editions of the minor geographers.
One of these, printed in 1533 and with a preface by Froben
assistant, Sigismund Gelen, included the
of Hanno. It
was a stroke of luck that the manuscript text of the
which is still today the earliest extant text should have been
the first copy to surface in modern times and thus become the
basis of the
A Latin translation, prepared by
Conrad Gesner, was published in 1559 and, significantly, issued
together with a Latin version of the early sixteenth-century
source on north Africa and the interior parts of west Africa
immediately south of the Sahara desert, Leo Africanus.
That Hanno was quickly associated in the European mind
with the contemporary revelation of the other continents is
demonstrated even more strikingly by the inclusion of the
in Italian translation in Ramusio's widely-read collec-
tion of voyages, published first in 1550. Ramusio, presenting
himself as an anonymous editor, claimed to have shown the transla-
tion to an equally anonymous Portuguese pilot and the latter,
"astonished to see that the Guinea coast had been sailed two
thousand years earlier," was persuaded to produce his own account
of a voyage to Guinea. When he published the Portuguese pilot's
account, Ramusio added to it a brief scholarly commentary,
notionally by the Portuguese pilot but apparently by himself, on
Hanno as an explorer of Guinea. Ramusio's view of Hanno was
borrowed by many later writers, for instance, by Samuel Purchas in
his 1625 English collection of voyages. Meanwhile, two sixteenth-
century Spanish historians had discussed Hanno's voyage: Florian
de Ocampo in 1543—solely from classical references, without seeing
the 1533 edition—and Father Juan de Mariana in 1591. And in a
Portuguese manuscript account of Guinea prepared between the 1580s
and 1620s, Andre
Donelha, a native of the Cape Verde Islands who
had learned about Hanno from the Spanish writers, endeavored to
interpret the voyage in terms of his personal experience of the
islands and coast.
Seventeenth-century scholars applied themselves enthusiasti-
cally to the manuscript and the Hanno text. Lucas Holsten, working
in Rome, unearthed other manuscripts of part of the corpus, though
not of our
Isaac Vossius discussed the
in publications of 1658 and 1685. Semitic as well as Graeco-Roman
scholarship was involved. In 1646 the Protestant pastor of Caen,
Samuel Bochart, published a work of great erudition on the
Phoenicians and the Punic language, and in this work suggested
Semitic etymologies for the place names in the
gies some of which still enter into scholarly discussions.
As a result of these and other researches, John Hudson
published at Oxford in 1698 a new edition of the minor geographers;
and just as the Froben-Gelen text of the
had served scho-
lars for one hundred and fifty years, so the Hudson text now served
for another period of the same length. Together with his texts
Hudson published critical essays by his friend, Henry Dodwell the
Nonjuring theologian and scholar. Dodwell's essays became "an abo-
mination of later scholars" (Diller), allegedly because his argu-
ments, though learned, lacked critical depth; but one suspects that
the real reason was their sceptical and dismissive tone. Dodwell
controverted the sympathetic and constructive analysis of the
by Vossius, declaring that many issues were incapable of
decisive resolution, and his doubts about the authenticity of the
were underlined in the summary of his essay: "Suspectus
erat, etiam apud veteres, Hannonis ille periplus." This did not go
down well. A later English commentator accused Dodwell of rank
ingratitude in that, when asked to contribute to Hudson's edition,
he had done so by arguing that the first two pieces of his friend's
collection were spurious.
Commentaries on the text multiplied. From the sixteenth
century on, the appearance in print of a growing flood of trave-
lers' accounts of black Africa led to persistent attempts to relate
the descriptions in the later part of the account of Hanno's voyage
to descriptions of places and phenomena in contemporary Guinea. In
his collection of voyages Ramusio placed the translation of the
between the Portuguese pilot's account of Guinea and the
earliest account of Senegambia, written by Cadamosto in 1463 and
first printed in 1507. Hence, a century later Bochart cited
Cadamosto. A further century later, in 1748, Montesquieu in his
De I'Esprit
des Lois
waxed enthusiastic about the
and the
authenticity of its descriptions: "c'est un beau morceau de l'an-
tiquitg. . . il semble que c'est le journal de nos navigateurs."
Ten years later one of those navigators, Bougainville, himself pre-
sented a paper to the French Academy in which he identified to his
own satisfaction the course of Hanno's voyage, doing so in terms of
a rather inaccurate outline of the Guinea coast based on a contem-
porary map by Danville.
An Englishman, Thomas Falconer, who published in 1797 a
sensible commentary on the
drew information from the 1732
account of Guinea by Barbot and the 1757 account of Senegal by
Adanson; and he quoted James Bruce, the traveler in Ethiopia, who
in his 1790 work referred to the
arguing that it
described phenomena he himself had encountered on the other side of
Africa. Early nineteenth-century commentators drew on Mungo Park's
of 1799, describing not the coast but the interior; and
the German scholar, F. W. Kluge, in his 1829 edition and commen-
tary, made use of Winterbottom's 1803 account of Sierra Leone.
Later in the century, Richard Burton's travels in the Cameroons
provided more grist for the scholarly mill, the scholars concerned
including Burton himself.
The present standard text of the
appeared in 1855,
at this date naturally from a German scholar and edited in Latin.
Mliller's commentary and notes on the text leaned heavily on Kluge's
edition, and therefore included many references to earlier scholars
such as Bochart, Vossius and Bougainville. But Mu'ller also cited
more recent commentators, for instance, the geographers Rennell and
Malte-Brun and the historian Movers, and also more recent travel
accounts—for instance, Heinrich Barth's
Wanderings along
(Barth's monumental and perhaps more relevant
in North and Central Africa
not appearing until 1857).
In the early 1860s, leaves stolen from a manuscript volume in
a Mount Athos monastery began to reach Paris and London, and proved
to include parts of the corpus of minor geographers and all of the
of Hanno. But the new copy of the
turned out to
be not significantly different from Mu'ller's text, and was even-
tually proved to be only a fourteenth-century transcription of the
ninth-century copy. No other manuscript containing an earlier ver-
sion of the
has since come to light, and it is now un-
likely that one ever will. Four centuries of scholarly interest
and search have in fact done little for the received text of the
which remains very much the same as that printed in 1533,
most of the ingenious verbal emendations suggested by each genera-
tion of scholars, including the penultimate, having been denied and
discarded by the next generation. Certainly the stream of comment
on the
has widened and to some extent deepened over the
centuries, but this has been as much the product of expanding
knowledge of contemporary Africa as of close textual study.
Codex Palatinus graecus 398 presents the
of Hanno
in a clearly written text, showing signs of corruption in no more
than three places, and then only of a minor kind. Thus the modern
edition follows a good copy from the ninth century.
though this is, the transmission so far noted takes us only halfway
back to the date of the preparation of the supposed original text—
a date falling somewhere between the extremes that have been
suggested, the fifth century B.C. and the first century A.D.
Between the date of preparation and the earliest extant copy there
is thus a gap of, say, one thousand years—perhaps a little less,
perhaps a lot more.
This state of affairs is not unusual in the history of the
transmission of Graeco-Roman literature. Though classical scho-
larship appears to contemplate a gap of this number of centuries
with more equanimity than a historian of the modern world would
contemplate a gap in the transmission of his sources, through
untraced channels, over the same number of decades, we must accept
the assurance of the classicists that there are proven instances of
virtually correct transmission of texts over a period of forty
generations, even in circumstances in which it is reasonable to
suppose that the texts had been recopied at various dates. And we
must hope that the transmission of the text in question involved
optimum circumstances which enabled it to remain as accurate as the
proven instances.
That there was, in fact, a text of the
in the ancient world is to some extent a matter of faith. The
knockdown proof accepted by earlier scholars was that references to
a Wonderful Voyage of Hanno occurred in a number of classical
works, and there is no gainsaying this. But Desanges has recently
argued that these references do not specifically indicate the
at least in the exact form that we presently have it.
However, Desanges seems to be suggesting that several varying texts
of the Wonderful Voyage may have circulated, and perhaps only
slightly varying texts, rather than that no text circulated. For
our purposes we may leave it at that, and accept that the ninth-
century 'copy' is not an 'original'—a forgery falsely pretending
to be a copy of an ancient text—but is truly a copy of some
ancient version of the
But when we have agreed that there is a fair chance that the
text as we have it closely represents an ancient text, we still
face a weighty problem of source-transmission. For the Greek text
of the
is, on its own declaration, not an original source.
Source and Date of the Greek Text
The text of the
begins with a title-sentence which
can be translated: "A report of the voyage of Hanno, king of the
Carthaginians, to the parts of Africa beyond the Straits of
Gibraltar, which he dedicated in the temple of Baal, given in what
follows." It has first to be noted that the title does not specify
whether what follows is a full report or a precis of a full report.
Next, as Mliller observed, titles of ancient texts were often added
by later copyists: the title as we have it is a reasonable one for
the text as we have it, except that the text inevitably does not
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