One of the Earliest English Language Travel Accounts of Ethiopia
By the Founder of European Ethiopian Studies
First edition in English, from the Latin edition Historia Aethiopica (Frankfurt, 1681), of the German orientalist Hiob Ludolf's (1624-1704) Ethiopian travels. Ludolf learned the Ethiopian language of Amhara from his friend, the monk Abba Gorgoryos.
Ludolf, known as the father of modern Ethiopian studies, played a significant role in the study of Abyssinian history. His contributions established Ethiopian studies in Europe. Ludolf was born in Erfurt and pursued studies in medicine, law, Oriental languages, and literature. He completed his law degree in 1645 and furthered his philological studies at the University of Leiden.
During his European travels Ludolf encountered four monks in Rome. One of them, Abba Gorgoryos, became his teacher and main source of information about Ethiopia. After returning to Erfurt in 1651, Ludolf entered the service of Ernst I, Duke of Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg. Combining his scholarly pursuits with diplomatic and political roles, Ludolf expanded his knowledge of Ethiopian and European languages and cultures.
Ethiopia had long fascinated Europeans as an exotic land with unique wildlife. It also held historical significance as an ancient Christian empire, isolated from Western Europe due to the spread of Islam across northern Africa and the Middle East.
During the Middle Ages, the concept of Prester John, a powerful Christian prince who could potentially aid Europe against the Muslim world, captivated Europeans. When contact was reestablished with Ethiopia in the 15th century, it seemed to align with their expectations. The Portuguese, seeking to protect their trading interests from Islamic threats, sent military aid in the 16th century, followed by Jesuit missionaries. Their influence at court led to the conversion of the Emperor and posed a threat to the native Monophysite church, resulting in their expulsion in 1632.
The table of contents of the work reflects the extensive nature of the text:
I. An account of the nature, quality and condition of the country, and inhabitants, their mountains, metals and minerals, their rivers (particularly of the source of the Nile and Niger;) their birds, beasts, amphibious Animals, (as the River Horse and Crocodile), Serpents, &c.
II. Their political government, the genealogy and succession of their Kings, a description of their court, and camp ...
III. Their ecclesiastical affairs, their conversion to the Christian religion ...
IV. Their private oeconomy, their books and learning, their common names, their dyet, marriages, and polygamies.
Illustrated with 9 engraved plates (7 folding) and with a double-page unpaginated (letterpress) genealogical table.
- Engraved Ethiopic alphabet
- The Herb and Fruite Called in Hebrew Dudaim.
- An Eastern Sheep drawing his fatt tayle in a cart weighing 40 pound weight or more / Another sort of Sheep
- A Description of the Apes. [trimmed very close, a bit beyond plate mark, on right and left margins]
- Flocks of Elephants that lay waste whole Forrests / A cornfeild defended by a She Elephant [trimmed very close, a bit beyond plate mark, on right and left margins]
- The Ethiopian Fonkes, in the Amharic dialect calld' Guereza / A sort of little Animal of the kind of those which the Hollanders call Danguinen.
- Hippopotamos. The Sea Cow / The Sea Horse putting up his head a bove the water...
- A Marble Coffin, diggd up in a Church Yard nere the high-way called Priscilla's Salter's Way Representing the Communion of ye Ancients in a Cave.
- Three Capuchins beheaded in the yeare 1648 by the Command of Basilides King of the Habessines.
Hiob or Job Ludolf, also known as Job Leutholf, was a German orientalist, born at Erfurt. Edward Ullendorff rates Ludolf as having "the most illustrious name in Ethiopic scholarship".
After studying philology at the Erfurt academy and at Leiden, Ludolf travelled in order to increase his linguistic knowledge. While searching in Rome for some documents at the request of the Swedish Court (1649), he became friends with Abba Gorgoryos, a monk from the Ethiopian province of Amhara, and acquired from him an intimate knowledge of the Ethiopian language.
In 1652, he entered the service of the duke of Saxe-Gotha, in which he continued until 1678, when he retired to Frankfurt am Main. In 1683 he visited England to promote a cherished scheme for establishing trade with Ethiopia, but his efforts were unsuccessful, chiefly due to the resistance of the authorities of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. Returning to Frankfurt in 1684, he devoted himself wholly to literary work, which he continued almost to his death. In 1690 he was appointed president of the Collegium Imperiale Historicum.
His correspondence with Leibniz on linguistics was published in 1755 by August Benedict Michaelis