Κοσμάς Ινδικοπλεύστης – Cosmas Monachus Indikopleustis
The book is not without value, however. 'Indicopleustes' means 'Indian voyager'.We learn from stray scraps in classical literature that there was some tradebetween the Roman empire and India. But Cosmas was one of the rare souls whohad actually made the journey. Indeed we learn from his book that he hadtravelled over much of the Red Sea coast, and as far as Ceylon (modern SriLanka), and he describes some of what he saw, and even drew pictures of thestrange animals in his autograph manuscript. Some of these have been copiedinto the existing manuscripts. Away from his daft theory, Cosmas proves to be aninteresting and reliable guide. He happened to be in Ethiopia at the time whenthe King of Axum was preparing a military expedition to attack Jewish Arabs in the Yemen. He records now vanished inscriptions. In short, he gives us a window intoa fascinating world of which we would otherwise know nothing. This is the mainvalue of his work.
The work was originally in 5 books. Objections led to him adding first book 6 andthen further books up to book 10. Books 11 and 12 seem to have no connectionwith the main portion of the work, and may have been added by a later editorfrom other works by Cosmas, such as his work on Geography addressed to acertain Constantinus. This includes his description of the island of Taprobane,Ceylon or Sri Lanka. The Vatican manuscript was copied from a text of only 10books.
Cosmas' own name is not absolutely certain. Two of the three Mss. give no namefor the author -- only the Laurentian Ms. names him. However a portion of book 5appears in the marginal commentaries ('catenae') on the Psalms, giving the name
as the author.Cosmas tells us that he was a native of Egypt, probably of Alexandria. He neverreceived a complete education (II, 1). He was a merchant (II, 54 and 56) in earlylife, perhaps importing spices. He made many voyages. He knew Palestine andthe area around Mt. Sinai (V, 8, 14, 51-52), had been to Socotra (III, 65), and hadnavigated in the Mediterranean, Red Sea and Persian Gulf (II, 29). He hadrounded cape Gardafui and sailed off Somalia (II, 30). Later in life he settled inAlexandria, developed indigestion, ophthalmia and other ills (II, 1). That he was amonk is supposed, as the Laurentian manuscript calls him Kosmaj monaxoj, andindeed it is likely enough. Cosmas even mentions in book 2 another merchant,Menas, a friend of his, who also became a monk.Cosmas is often referred to in the literature as a Nestorian. He tells us that hewas a pupil of Patricius, Theodore of Mopsuestia and Diodorus of Tarsus, and afriend of Thomas of Edessa. All of these were Nestorians. He highlights thechurches planted in the East, all again Nestorian. One passage only gives theopposite impression, that where he uses the Chalcedonian term
,Mother of God, for Mary; but this passage is not found in the Vatican manuscript,suggesting it is a later addition.Interestingly he refers to Marcionites and Montanists in book 5, which suggeststhat these groups were still active in his part of the world at this time.