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Arabia Felix: why everyone should read the story of a failure

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“On a calm winter morning, on 4th January, 1761, a company of five men, clad for a journey, were rowed out from the Tollbooth into the shipping roads of Copenhagen. […] They were bound for “Happy Arabia”, but none of them seemed particularly happy at the thought”.

This is how Thorkild Hansen starts his book , Arabia Felix. The Danish expedition of 1761-1767. Hansen’s work was published in 1962, roughly two centuries after the Danish expedition took place, and by then, the adventures of the five men, the first European scholars to embark on a scientific expedition to Yemen, was well forgotten. Hansen compiled the book starting from the original documents concerning the expedition – articles, journals, letters, drawings – and combining them with a touch of gentle imagination. The result is an exquisite account. Of a failure.

Niebuhr_-_Map_of_taiz,_Yemen.jpg Map of Taiz, drawn by Niebhur.

The Danish expedition that left…

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