July 27, 2006
I am dedicating this article to a man I never met. Henry Osmaston died on June 27 of this year in Finsthwaite in the Lake District of England. He was 84. For the past several months we had been carrying out a lively e-mail correspondence – it became a three-party correspondence that I will share with you – on matters concerning the Mountains of the Moon.No one knew more about these mountains than Osmaston. In 1972 he and David Pasteur published what was then the definitive guide to the range. Osmaston was curious about everything so the guide is full of both the history, the flora and fauna of the range. All of us who visited it always had this guide with us.Osmaston was born in 1922 in the Himalayan Hill Station of Dehra Dun where his father Arthur was an officer in the Indian Forest Service. He wrote a definitive book on the birds of Garwhal. Young Henry was sent back to England to Eton and then Oxford. He served in the war and came back to Oxford as a major. He took a degree in forestry and after his marriage, went to Uganda in the forestry service where he served for 14 years. It was during this time that he came to know and love the Mountains of the Moon, having first participated in an expedition in 1952. While preparing for the expedition Osmaston did the first recorded skiing on the Stanley Plateau and in 1958 created the Mountains of the Moon ski championships. Whether this still goes on in view of the receding glaciers I do not know. After Uganda became independent, Osmaston returned to England in 1963 and took a doctorate in geography from Oxford. He then taught at Bristol University until his retirement in 1988.When I was writing the version of the following article that I am now publishing, I managed to find Osmaston’s e-mail address and we began corresponding. He made some very helpful suggestions and I, in turn, was able to help him. He was finishing a new edition of his guide. (This time, alone, as Pasteur had died.) As it turned out I had taken the most recent photos of the Congo side of the range, now too dangerous to travel in. He asked to use some of my pictures which I was very glad to agree to. I also put him in touch with the classicist Glen Bowersock at the Institute for Advanced Study. I think you will enjoy their exchange.Professor Glen W. Bowerstock, Princeton.Dear Professor,
Please excuse my bothering you, but I have been corresponding with Jeremy Bernstein, who mentioned your name. I am revising a mountaineering guidebook which I published in 1972 to the Ruwenzori Mts. (now Rwenzori and commonly called the Mountains of the Moon) on the Uganda/Congo border. This includes a historical summary, including Claudius Ptolemy’s contribution.There is a voluminous literature of varying reliability about the supposed source of the Nile, which I have tried to filter and condense so that my pre-Victorian entries now read as follows; if you would kindly spare the time to read this and tell me of any egregious errors I should be most grateful:• 500 B.C. Aeschylus wrote of ‘Egypt nurtured by the snows’ (3). • 450 B.C. Herodotus said that the Nile rose from a spring fed by the waters of a bottomless lake, situated between two sharp-pointed peaks, Crophi and Mophi; Humphreys likens this to the Lac de la Lune between Emin and Gessi (123, 132).• 350 B.C. Aristotle wrote of ‘the Silver Mountain’ as the source of the Nile (6). • 150 A.D. Claudius Ptolemy, an Alexandrine of Greek origin (c. AD 87 -150), who made extensive use of the work of Marinus of Tyre (A.D. 120), wrote of ‘the Mountain of the Moon, whose snows feed the lakes, sources of the Nile.’ Marinus referred to information coming from the voyage of a certain man named Diogenes. This man apparently claimed to have been blown south by a storm from Aromata (cape Guardafui) for 25 days. He then supposedly came “to the promontory of Rhapta (Pangani), which is a bit south of a lake from which the Nile flows.” Since Diogenes (who is otherwise unknown) also claimed to have sailed back to Egypt by the Nile, then impassably blocked by the sudd as well as cataracts and waterfalls, no reliance can be put on this story. (208, 47, 67, 301, 314). • 1154 The Arab geographer Edrisi (Abu’ Abdulla Mohamed) described the positions of the great lakes and the Jebel el Qamar (the Mountains of the Moon), though this word can just meant ‘white’ (60). There has been much dispute among geographers as to whether these early references applied to the Rwenzori, the Virunga Mts., the country of the Banyamwezi (people of the moon), Mt. Kenya and Kilimanjaro, or Ethiopia; there is evidence for the last, but the problem is probably insoluble. Now the Rwenzori have, by superior publicity, firmly established their claim to be at least the modern Mountains of the Moon, though a popular book (W. Harrison, 1982) and film Mountains of the Moon covers the Burton & Speke expedition, not the Rwenzori. (47, 67, 244, 314)
Almost all the literature quotes the words “Lunae montes.” I had already picked up a note that this should be in the singular (see above) so I am particularly interested in JB’s comment that you confirmed that the original Greek text is in the singular. I live far from academic libraries, my daughter has my Liddell & Scott and my memories of Homer and Greek Testament are now 70 years rusty.What exactly did Ptolemy write? And how reliably do we know? Something including the words oros and selene?Yours sincerely,Henry OsmastonDear Mr. Osmaston,Here are some observations on the material you have forwarded to me. (By the way, my surname, unlike yours, has no letter T in it.)Since the dates you provide are, presumably, meant to be approximate, I will omit ca. before what I give you. For Aeschylus, 500 is too early: put 470. The life dates you give for Ptolemy are not defensible, although your approximate date for his work (150) is generally accepted. You should omit a date for Marinus, since all we know is that he preceded Ptolemy, probably by a not very great interval. Edrisi should be spelled, more correctly, Idrisi. Jebel would be a singular, and if he gave a plural (I don’t have a text to hand) you should write Jibal. As for what Ptolemy wrote, we have the original Greek text. Your supposition about oros and selene are absolutely correct. The Greek is to tHs selHnHs oros. (I use H for the letter eta.)
With kind regards,Glen Bowersock. Dear Professor,Very many thanks for your prompt and clear replies which I have embodied in my text. I now feel much more confident of it and have even persuaded my machine (which had its own ideas about diacritics) to try to write Ptolemy’s phrase in Greek to be included (fortunately I am providing CRC so no problem with the printer). It would be interesting to know what small fraction of 1 percent of the eventual readers will understand it; not many Greek or classicist mountaineers visit the range.Yours sincerely,Henry OsmastonOsmaston finished the new guidebook two weeks before he died.