Chap. IX.

Of the Red Sea.

CONTRARY apprehensions are made of the Erythræan or Red Sea; most apprehending a material redness therein, from whence they derive its common denomination; and some so lightly conceiving hereof, as if it had no redness at all, are fain to recur unto other originals of its appellation. Wherein to deliver a distinct account, we first observe that without consideration of colour it is named the Arabian Gulph: The Hebrews who had best reason to remember it; do call it Zuph, or the weedy Sea, because it was full of sedge, or they found it so in their passage; the Mahometans who are now Lords thereof do know it by no other name then the Gulph of Mecha a City of Arabia.[1]

The stream of Antiquity deriveth its name from King Erythrus; so slightly conceiving of the nominal deduction from Redness, that they plainly deny there is any such accident in it. The words of Curtius are plain beyond Evasion, Ab Erythro rege inditum est nomen, propter quod ignari rubere aquas credunt:[2] Of no more obscurity are the words of Philostratus, and of later times, Sabellicus; Stulte persuasum est vulgo rubras alicubi esse maris aquas, quin ab Erythro rege nomen pelago inditum. Of this opinion was Andræas Corsalius, Pliny, Solinus, Dio Cassius, who although they denied not all redness, yet did they rely upon the original from King Erythrus.[3]

Others have fallen upon the like, or perhaps the same conceit under another appellation; deducing its name not from King Erythrus, but Esau or Edom, whose habitation was upon the coasts thereof. Now Edom is as much as Erythrus,[4] and the red Sea no more then the Idumean; from whence the posterity of Edom removing towards the Mediterranean coast: according to their former nomination by the Greeks were called Phænicians or red men:[5] and from a plantation and colony of theirs, an Island near Spain, was by the Greek describers termed Erithra, as is declared by Strabo and Solinus.6

Very many omitting the nominal derivation, do rest in the gross and literal conception thereof, apprehending a real redness and constant colour of parts. Of which opinion are also they which hold the Sea receiveth a red and minious tincture from springs, wells, and currents that fall into it;[7] and of the same belief are probably many Christians, who conceiving the passage of the Israelites through this Sea to have been the type of Baptism, according to that of the Apostle,8 All were baptised unto Moses in the cloud, and in the Sea: for the better resemblance of the blood of Christ, they willingly received it in the apprehension of redness, and a colour agreeable unto its mystery: according unto that of Austin,9 Significat mare illud rubrum Baptismum Christi; unde nobis Baptismus Christi nisi sanguine Christi consecratus?

But divers Moderns not considering these conceptions: and appealing unto the Testimony of sense, have at last determined the point: concluding a redness herein, but not in the sense received. Sir Walter Raleigh from his own[10] and Portugal observations, doth place the redness of the Sea, in the reflexion from red Islands, and the redness of the earth at the bottom: wherein Coral grows very plentifully, and from whence in great abundance it is transported into Europe. The observations of Albuquerque, and Stephanus de Gama (as from Johannes de Barros, Fernandius de Cordova relateth) derive this redness from the colour of the sand and argillous earth at the bottom; for being a shallow Sea, while it rowleth too and fro, there appeareth a redness upon the water; which is most discernable in sunny and windy weather. But that this is no more then a seeming redness,[11] he confirmeth by an experiment; for in the reddest part taking up a vessel of water, it differed not from the complexion of other Seas. Nor is this colour discoverable in every place of that Sea, for as he also observeth, in some places it is very green, in others white and yellow, according to the colour of the earth or sand at the bottom. And so may Philostratus be made out, when he saith, this Sea is blew; or Bellonius denying this redness, because he beheld not that colour about Sues; or when Corsalius at the mouth thereof could not discover the same.

Now although we have enquired the ground of redness in this Sea, yet are we not fully satisfied: for what is forgot by many, and known by few, there is another Red Sea whose name we pretend not to make out from these principles; that is, the Persian Gulph or Bay, which divideth the Arabian and Persian shore, as Pliny hath described it, Mare rubrum in duos dividitur sinus, is qui ab Oriente est Persicus appellatur; or as Solinus expresseth it, Qui ab Oriente est Persicus appellatur, ex adverso unde Arabia est, Arabicus; whereto assenteth Suidas, Ortelius, and many more. And therefore there is no absurdity in Strabo when he delivereth that Tigris and Euphrates do fall into the Red Sea,[12] and Fernandius de Cordova, justly defendeth his Countryman Seneca in that expression;

Et qui renatum prorsus excipiens diem
Tepidum Rubenti Tigrin immiscet freto.

Nor hath only the Persian Sea received the same name with the Arabian, but what is strange, and much confounds the distinction, the name thereof is also derived from King Erythrus; who was conceived to be buried in an Island of this Sea, as Dionysius Afer, Curtius and Suidas do deliver. Which were of no less probability than the other, if (as with the same authors Strabo affirmeth) he was buried neer Caramania bordering upon the Persian Gulph. And if his Tomb was seen by Nearchus, it was not so likely to be in the Arabian Gulph; for we read that from the River Indus he came unto Alexander at Babylon, some few days before his death. Now Babylon was seated upon the River Euphrates, which runs into the Persian Gulph. And therefore however the Latin expresseth it in Strabo, that Nearchus suffered much in the Arabian Sinus, yet is the original κόλπος πέρσικος, that is the Gulf of Persia.[14]

That therefore the Red Sea or Arabian Gulph received its name from personal derivation, though probable, is but uncertain; that both the Seas of one name should have one common denominator, less probable; that there is a gross and material redness in either, not to be affirmed: that there is an emphatical or appearing redness in one, not well to be denied. And this is sufficient to make good the Allegory of the Christians: and in this distinction may we justifie the name of the Black Sea, given unto Pontus Euxinus: the name of Xanthus, or the yellow River of Phrygia: and the name of Mar Vermeio, or the Red Sea in America.[15]


* [My or others' notes are in square brackets]; Browne's marginalia is unmarked; {passages or notes from unpublished material by Browne is in curly braces}.

1 [Wilkin notes: "Bruce however says that he never saw a weed in it: and attributed this name to the plants of coral with which it abounds.

" 'Heb. xi. 29, commonly called the Red Sea. But this is a vulgar error, and the appellation rather arose from its proper name Mare Erythræum, which (the commentators say) was derived from king Erythrus, undoubtedly the same with Esau and Edom, who was a red man — so Grotius and others. It is called by Moses, at Exod. xv, 22, ים סוף, the weedy sea, and such the accounts of modern tourists, as Niebuhr and others (see Huruen), testify it to be. But whether these weeds give a colour to it, so as to originate the name Red Sea, is, I think, very doubtful.' — Bloomfield Recensio Synoptica, in loc."

The Red Sea is usually a deep blue-green, but is red on occasion. The cause commonly cited today is the bloom of the algae Trichodesmium erythraeum.]

2 [Q. Curti Historiarum Alexandri Magni Macedonis VIII.ix.14.]

3 [Pliny HN VI.xxviii.107, as is not uncommon with Pliny, reports several different causes without particularly favoring any; in Holland's translation (his Chapter XXIII): "Upon the marches of this realme the sea breaks into the land in two armes, which our countrymen call the red sea, and the Greekes Erythræum, of a king named Erythras: or as some thinke, because the sea by reason of the reflection and beating of the Sun beams, seemes of a reddish colour. There be that suppose this rednesse is occasioned of the sand and ground which is red: and others againe, that the very water is of the own nature so coloured."]

4 [In Genesis 25:30, Esau is called "Edom" (that is, red) because he eats red pottage, although as he was born red, this explanation falls a bit flat.]

5 [Although φοινιξ seems to have meant a more purple red or crimson, hardly a color one would normally associate with even the reddest human, this is in fact the likeliest explanation of the name. It is said by some to derive from the Phoenician (or Tyrian) purple, in which the Phoenicians dealt largely, which would dispose nicely of at least one objection.]

6 More exactly hereof Bochartus and Mr. Dickinson. [In Geographia Sacra (1646) and Delphi Phoenicizantes (1655), respectively. Strabo III.5.]

7 [The Red Sea has no fresh-water tributaries. The water is supplied from the Indian Ocean.]

8 1 Cor. 10.2. [With which cf. Exodus 13:21 ff.]

9 Aug. in Iohannem. [In Johannis Evangelium Tractatus (388).]

10 [Sir Walter almost certainly never saw the Red Sea.]

11 [What's the difference between something that seems red and something that is red? Would it matter in the naming of the Red Sea?]

12 [The Persian Gulf is extremely shallow and muddy, and is mostly a dull greyish color. The nomenclature for these bodies of water is now, and was in antiquity, both confused and confusing.]

13 [In his tragedy Troades. ]

14 [A correspondent writes of this passage: "Ptolemy lists Organa at 92°00 19N00. I'd have to draw the map to see clearly, but the rather reliable medieval map shows it where the modern Masira is, off the S coast of Oman: in the high seas in the sense it's not in a Gulf; but no more than 15 miles offshore from Arabia; 250 miles in a straight line from the nearest landfall on the Iranian coast (in Gedrosia not Carmania); 350 miles from the closest point in Carmania.

"Since both of those straight lines in fact cross land in Arabia, by sea it would be farther still; to say nothing of the peculiar idea of measuring the distance of this island from distant Carmania when it is right offshore from Arabia.

"Also, if Nearchos did what he said he did, he couldn't possibly have been there. He most likely hugged the coast, as ancient seafarers did; and was traveling from Pakistan: no way he would have crossed a large tract of open sea to Arabia and then double back."]

15 [The Gulf of California. We might add any number of Red Rivers and Colorado's, Yellow Rivers, White Rivers, Black Rivers, and so on to the list.]

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