In his Travelogue ‘A Journey through Albania’ author John Cam Hobhouse (1786-1869) wrote about his travels through Albania, Greece and Turkey, a journey on which poet Lord Byron accompanied him. During their travels, Hobhouse’s anthology ‘Imitations and Translations from the Ancient and Modern Classics’ was published, which also contained several poems by Byron about the descriptions of the people and places they had visited.

It is the names of the places that the two visited that are the subject of this blog. We pick up the trail in  a village by the name ‘Pravesa‘ in Albania. Other names on the trail include places such as Uttraike, Catoona, Makala, Gouria, Carnia, Tapaissus and Patras. 

Of these names, Edward Moor makes the following observations in his book ‘Oriental Fragments’. He says,”I find so much material for the article, ‘Sanskrit Names of Places‘ in Greece, Africa, Ireland, etc., and indeed almost all the world over
 — including what I, for want of better, term Kalicitms, Lingaiacs, Ionics, Sivaics, etc., that I scarcely know how to arrange them….. but the poetical nature of the extracts from the classical travellers before us will, in some measure, I trust, relieve apprehended deficiency on my part….“.

‘Pravesh’ is Sanskrit for ‘entrance’ and ‘Uttaraike‘ denotes ‘to the north’ from  where they reached the village of Catoona and the River Achelois, and then Makala. Of Makala, Edward Moor says, “This, strictly Mahakala, is one of the names of Siva — maha meaning the Great.” 

The suffix ‘Kala‘ is ‘time’ or ‘death’ or ‘black’. One can identify many a ‘kala’ on the map of Greece, including Kalamata and Kalabaka, Kalamaki and Kalarni, Moor classifies these names under the head ‘Kalicitms‘.

Hobhouse and Byron then pass the mountains of Tricala and Agrapba. Tricala of course indicates ‘Tri-peaks’ in the Vedic tradition, ‘Agrapbha’ is probably a distortion of ‘Agrabhu’ (अग्रभू) meaning ‘on top of’. The two then pass the village of Carnia which may have been so named after ‘Karna’ (कर्ण), one of the protagonists of the Mahabharata. In any case ‘karni’ (कर्णी) is Sanskrit for ‘breaking through’. They then pass the two hills named ‘Aeto’ and ‘Aspro’ – ‘eta’ (एत) Sanskrit for ‘shining’; ‘apsar’ (अपसर) ‘distant’ or ‘apsara’ (अपसरा) ‘celestial fairy’.

Of Gouria, a village in the region which was once called Paracheloitis, Moor says, ‘Gouria and Para are the names of the mountain-loving Goddess of the Ioni (Yoni)” – a reference to Parvati.

He further adds, “At the mouth of the Aspro is port Petala. Port Candeli is in a deep bay to the South of the Gulf of Arta…. a deep bay would, in the form, be deemed a vast Argha, a mystical union of the Linga and Ioni. The other names I shall not comment on. They are Indianic.” 

Hobhouse describes the many towns they pass through including Calchis, Calydon and Tappissus. Moor identifies Calchis and Calydon with the name of Kali. About the town of Tappisus he says it should be called Tapaswi. He says, “Reading such passages, one is almost deposed to fancy that Mr. Hobhouse was traversing the mountains of Nepal, rather than among those of Albania.”

Then there were the mountain of Parnassus, of which Moor observed that the name was a distortion of Paranasi, itself derived from Varanasi. He says, “The vast range of hills named Parnassu – is dedicated to Bacchus – the Siva of Greece: one of Siva’s name is Bagisa.’ Hence Bacchus.

Parnassus was deeply venerated and was thronged by pilgrims in antiquity. Here is Lord Byron’s poetic description of this sacred mountain:

“Oh thou Parnassus…

Oft have I dream‘d of thee! whose glorious name 

Who knows not, knows not man’s divinest lore;

And now I view thee; tis, alas! with shame

That I in feeblest accents must adore;

When I recount thy worshippers of yore

I tremble and can only bend the knee;

Nor raise my voice, nor vainly dare to soar

But gaze beneath thy cloudy canopy

In silent joy, to think at last I look on thee”

Edward Moor was of the view that Ionnina, Patra, Arta, Trikala etc. are names of Sanskrit origins

Suggested Links:

1.A Journey through Albania, Greece and Turkey by John Cam Hobhouse

2. The Complete works of George Gordon Byron by John Gant


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