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painting of a shipwreck on a rocky coast

Islands in the Stream

Florentine priest Cristoforo Buondelmonti died in 1430. Evelyn Edson ’62 edited and translated his manuscript, Description of the Aegean and Other Islands (Italica Press), where he wrote of shipwrecks, sea monsters, and superstitions. 

“It’s very entertaining to read a 15th-century travel book,” says Edson, a professor emerita of history at Piedmont Virginia Community College. “He talks about weird folk customs and loved to retell stories from mythology.”


illustration of donkey“If you were to sleep on the hide of a wild ass, you would not fear demons,” Buondelmonti wrote of the donkeys of Antikythera. “One can cure an epilepsy, if one will hold the skin of an ass’s brow over oneself, or drink a potion of the ashes of the hooves.”



On Kos, Buondelmonti reported that the ghost of the daughter of the Greek physician Hippocrates appears every six to eight years.


illustration of kraken



On a ship near Santorini, Buondelmonti spotted a giant octopus with a more than 90-foot-wide arm span.


Shipwrecked on a deserted island of Fournio, Buondelmonti wrote: “When the seventh day had come and I could find no nourishing plant to eat, I went down into a cave and carved my name on a rock with my sword: ‘Here Cristoforo, the priest, died of mortal hunger.’ When I had done this, my companions, reviving, hailed a passing ship, and this was the cause of our salvation.”

“Apparently there’s some big resort there now,” Edson says. “Today, he could just check in to the posh Archipelagos Hotel and be fine.”