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Planet Earth

The Monty Python Guide to Colonial Encounters

The IntersectionBy Chris MooneyApril 15, 2009 12:25 AM

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I'm blogging from the Princeton Firestone Library's rare books room, with ancient texts open in front of me. How weird is that? And so, live from 1822 (the date of my particular edition), I bring you the following unforgettable passage from Alexander von Humboldt's Personal Narrative of a Journey to the Equinoctial Regions of the New Continent:

I beheld a missionary violently agitated in proving, that Infierno, Hell, and invierno, winter, were not the same thing; but that they were as different as heat and cold. The Chaymas are acquainted with no other winter, than the season of rains; and the Hell of the whites appeared to them a place, where the wicked are exposed to frequent showers. The missionary harangued to no purpose: it was impossible to efface the first impressions, produced by the analogy between the two consonants: and he could not separate in the minds of the neophytes the ideas of rain and Hell, invierno, and Inferno.

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