‘The genius of Eastern nations,’ says an established and respectable authority, ‘was, from the earliest times, much turned towards invention and the love of fiction. The Indians, the Persians, and the Arabians, were all famous for their fables. Amongst the ancient Greeks we hear of the Ionian and Milesian tales, but they have now perished, and, from every account that we hear of them, appear to have been loose and indelicate.’ Similarly, the classical dictionaries define ‘Milesiæ fabulæ’ to be ‘licentious themes,’ ‘stories of an amatory or mirthful nature,’ or ‘ludicrous and indecent plays.’ M. Deriége seems indeed to confound them with the ‘Mœurs du Temps’ illustrated with artistic gouaches, when he says, ‘une de ces fables milésiennes, rehaussées de peintures, que la corruption romaine recherchait alors avec une folle ardeur.’
In the 19th century, Sir Richard Francis Burton-Oxford-educated spy and adventurer-became the first Englishman to enter the Muslim city of Mecca. Disguised as a dervish, Burton braved the harsh desert climate, Bedouin bandits, and the scrutiny of Muslim travelers to reach the forbidden city. He recorded his experiences in this book, a fascinating adventure of unique anthropological significance.