A couplet from
"This must be the most quoted couplet from any of the poems to have won the coveted Newdigate Prize for poetry at Oxford University. Burgon wrote it in 1845, before becoming a clergyman and disappearing into obscurity. None the less, this is a fine piece of verse to be remembered by." -- Kenneth Baker, 'Unauthorized Versions', Faber 1990. Regular readers of the Minstrels will know the word I'm dying to use to describe this snatch of verse (Hint: adjective, 9 letters, starts with an e, falls between 'evince' and 'evolve' in the dictionary)... thomas. [On the Newdigate Prize] Other winners include Matthew Arnold, for 'Cromwell', in 1843; Oscar Wilde, for 'Ravenna' in 1878, and Laurence Binyon, for 'Perse. [On Petra] Here's what the Encyclopaedia Britannica has to say: "Petra: ancient city, centre of an Arab kingdom in Hellenistic and Roman times; its ruins are in southwest Jordan. The city was built on a terrace, pierced from east to west by the Wadi Musa (the Valley of Moses)--one of the places where, according to tradition, the Israelite leader Moses struck a rock and water gushed forth. The valley is enclosed by sandstone cliffs veined with shades of red and purple varying to pale yellow, and for this reason Petra was called by the 19th-century English biblical scholar John William Burgon a 'rose-red city half as old as Time'. The Greek name Petra ('Rock') probably replaced the biblical name Sela. Remains from the Paleolithic and the Neolithic periods have been discovered at Petra, and Edomites are known to have occupied the area about 1200 BC. Centuries later the Nabataeans, an Arab tribe, occupied it and made it the capital of their kingdom. In 312 BC the region was attacked by Seleucid forces, who failed to seize the city. Under Nabataean rule, Petra prospered as a centre of the spice trade that involved such disparate realms as China, Egypt, Greece, and India, and the city's population swelled to between 10,000 and 30,000. When the Nabataeans were defeated by the Romans in AD 106, Petra became part of the Roman province of Arabia but continued to flourish until changing trade routes caused its gradual commercial decline. After an earthquake (not the first) damaged the city in 551, significant habitation seems to have ceased. The Islamic invasion occurred in the 7th century, and a Crusader outpost is evidence of activity there in the 12th century. After the Crusades, the city was unknown to the Western world until it was rediscovered by the Swiss traveler Johann Ludwig Burckhardt in 1812." -- EB A more romantic account of Burckhardt's expedition is this: "The Swiss explorer who rediscovered Petra in 1812, Burckhardt was a classic nineteenth-century adventurer, the kind of man who would spend years polishing his disguise as an Arab so he could pass unnoticed through the Middle East, a land not always hospitable to curious Europeans. Under contract to the African Association, a private group of wealthy men in Britain who sponsored exploration, Burckhardt planned to cross the Sahara and seek the source of the River Niger. He first perfected his traveling persona as an Arab trader named Sheikh Ibrahim Ibn Abd Allah, then set off from Damascus toward Cairo. On the way he decided to take a look inside the Wadi Mousa (the Valley of Moses) in hilly region north of the Red Sea, rumored to contain the ancient ruins of a lost city. Burckhardt told his reluctant guide that he had promised to sacrifice a goat at the tomb of the prophet Aaron, which lay on a mountaintop inside the valley. Although his guide grew increasingly suspicious of his charge's interest in the archeological wonders, Burckhardt's ruse allowed him to become the first European to see Petra in a millennium." -- Tom Huntington, thehistorynet.com [Moreover] A couplet as famous as today's is, naturally, not without its fair share of parodies. For instance: 'Match me such marvel' Match me such marvel save in college port, The rose-red liquor, half as old as Short. -- William Tickell Jones William Short was an Oxford don and 'character'. He had taught at Rugby around 1800, became a tutor at Oxford around 1820, and still lectured at Trinity College in the 1860s. Tickell Jones later became Bishop of St Davids.