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[The appropriate section numbers, and links to the online citations have kindly been provided by Bill Thayer, the modern icon for Classical Rome, and pioneer of the Online Texts Movement. — Elf.Ed.]

From an untitled pamphlet bound with the article preceding it, taken from the Memoirs of the Literary and Philosophical Society of Manchester, Second Series, Volume VII, London: John Weale, Agricultural Library, High Holborn, 1846; pp. 287-324.



The Ictis


Diodorus Siculus.



(Read January 23rd, 1844.)

In the “Bibliotheca Historica” of Diodorus Siculus,1 who flourished towards the middle of the first century, occurs the following passage, relating to the locality in which the tin trade was carried on, between the natives of Cornwall and those who visited the British coast, for the purposes of traffic.

“Concerning their institutions, and other peculiarities, we will treat separately, when we come 288 to Cæsar’s expedition into Britain. But we will now speak of the tin produced there. Those who dwell near the promontory of Britain, called Belerium, are remarkably hospitable; and, from their intercourse with foreign merchants, civilized in their mode of life. These prepare the tin, skilfully working the ground which produces it, and which, though rocky, has fissures containing earth; and having worked out what these fissures supply, they wash and purify it, and when they have cast it into regular blocks, they carry it to a certain island, situated opposite to Britain, and called Ictis. For at the ebbings of the tide, the intervening space being left dry, they convey to it in wagons large quantities of tin. Now a remarkable circumstance happens with regard to the neighbouring islands, which lie between Europe and Britain: for at high water, the intermediate space being filled up, they appear islands; but at low water, the sea retiring, and leaving a large extent of dry ground, they are seen to be peninsulas. Hence the merchants buy the tin from the natives, and carry it over into Gaul; and at length, travelling through Gaul on foot about a thirty days’ journey, they bring their burdens on horses to the mouth of the river Rhone.”


Some have contended, that the island, to which Diodorus here gives the name of “Ictis,” is the Isle of Wight, on account of the partial resemblance, which the Greek Ικτὶς bears to the Latin Vectis. But as Diodorus spent a considerable time at Rome, for the purpose of collecting materials for his work, it seems in the highest degree improbable, that he should have remained unacquainted with the true mode of spelling the Latin name Vectis.

In proper names beginning with V, Greek writers are accustomed to express this letter either by the consonant B, or by the diphthong Ου. Thus, for the Latin Varro, the Greeks wrote indifferently Βάῤῥων, or Ουάῤῥων; for Valerius, Βαλέριος, or Οὐαλέριος; for Virgilius, Βιργίλιος, or Οὐιργίλιος; and for Nervii, Νέρβιοι, or Νερουίοι.2 Numerous instances of the substitution of Ου for the Latin V, in the proper names of places, might be adduced from Ptolemy and Strabo. Thus, to go no further than the name Vectis, Ptolemy writes it with an Ου, clearly showing that he did not disregard the initial letter V.3 In Strabo 290 there is no mention of this island. But that writer has plainly indicated, by his mode of spelling other proper names beginning with a V, that he was not insensible to the force of this letter; and that, if he had been led to make mention of the Isle of Wight, he would as soon have thought of calling it Ictis, as we should of leaving out the initial W, and calling it the Isle of Ight. The same remark will apply to Diodorus, who calls the Volsci, a people of Latium, Ουόλσκοι ;4 and Vesuvius, the celebrated volcanic mountain in Campania, Οὐεσούβιος.5 It is contrary to all analogy, indeed, to suppose that a proper name, commencing with an I in Greek, should be the representative of one commencing with a V in Latin;6 and for 291 this simple reason, if there were no other, we should be justified in concluding, that the Ictis of Diodorus is not the Vectis of Cæsar, Pliny, and Suetonius.

But the orthographical difficulty is not the only one, which lies in the way of the supposition, that the Ictis of Diodorus is the Isle of Wight. There are geographical difficulties, which render this supposition altogether improbable; and incontestably prove, either that Diodorus was grossly ignorant of the isle of Wight, or that his commentators have been mistaken in supposing, that it was his intention to describe that island, under the name Ictis. But as the description is remarkably circumstantial, and as this ancient writer could scarcely have erred in so plain a matter, the probability is, that the error rests with his commentators; and when the nature and extent of that error are considered, it is strange that it should ever have been committed by persons, possessing the slightest knowledge of the Isle of Wight, and its position relatively to the tin mines of Cornwall.

Ictis is described as “a certain island opposite to Britain.” But Diodorus speaks also of “the 292 neighbouring islands, which lie between Europe and Britain,” and says that “at high water, the intermediate space being filled up, they appear islands, but at low water, the sea retiring, and leaving a large extent of dry ground, they are seen to be peninsulas;” — a description which can be applied, in no sense whatever, to the Isle of Wight.

Again, Diodorus not only says that the space between the main land and the island of Ictis was dry at low water, but that the natives “conveyed to it wagons large quantities of tin.” This, on the supposition that Ictis is the Isle of Wight, is a statement obviously at variance with probability. Cornwall, in which the tin was raised, is a long and narrow district; and there is scarcely a spot in the whole county, which is more than fifteen miles distant from some convenient point on the coast, from which the tin might have been shipped. Is it credible, then, that this metal, cast into ingots, should have been carried in wagons through the whole length of Cornwall, Devonshire, Dorsetshire, and a considerable part of Hampshire, much of which must then have been thickly wooded, and the whole destitute of those facilities for transit which exist in our own times; when it might have been conveyed to the 293 trading vessels, on almost any part of the coast of Cornwall, at a twentieth part of the trouble and expense? Even so recently as the former half of the last century, the roads in this country were almost impassable for wagons, and nearly the whole of the traffic was carried on by means of pack-horses. Can we suppose, then, that the ingots of tin, in the times of the ancient Britons, were carted through so long a tract of country, before they were conveyed to a port of embarkation?

But suppose the difficulty of this long and tedious overland journey to be surmounted, and the tin to be conveyed to some convenient place on the present Hampshire coast: how shall we contrive a passage for it, by land, to any part of the Isle of Wight? We are told, that the passage may have been along the shingle bank, which probably once connected Hurst Castle with the Isle of Wight; and of which traces, even in the present day, are far from being obliterated. But though, as Mr. Lyell states, the entrance of the channel, called the Solent, is crossed for more than half its width by such a shingle-bank,7 294 that eminent geologist has nowhere hazarded the conjecture, that the Isle of Wight, at low water, was ever connected with the main land, during the historical period; nor has the slightest portion of direct proof ever been adduced, in support of such a supposition. On the contrary, there is a long and unbroken chain of evidence to show, that the Isle of Wight has been separated from the main land, as far back as any written record of it extends.

For these reasons, then, we seem warranted in rejecting, as wholly untenable, the supposition that the Ictis of Diodorus was the Isle of Wight.

Impressed with the difficulty attending this supposition, several literary and scientific men of eminence, among whom are Sir C. Hawkins, Dr. Maton, Dr. Barham, and Mr. Hawkins, have thought that St. Michael’s Mount was the island, which forms the subject of the present investigation. This hypothesis is represented as “extremely probable” by Sir Henry T. De la Beche, in his “Report on the Geology of Cornwall, Devon, and West Somerset;” and he remarks, that, “as far as the geographical description 295 extends, there is no other place on the Cornish coast which will answer to it.”8 In defence of this opinion, it has been asserted, and with perfect truth, that St. Michael’s Mount, at high water, is an island; and that, at low water, it is connected, by a narrow isthmus, with the main land. Still there are difficulties of no trifling magnitude to be overcome, before we can give our assent to this hypothesis.

Diodorus speaks of “the neighbouring islands:” but St. Michael’s Mount is only a single mass of rock, rising abruptly, in solitary grandeur, from the bosom of the waves; and attracting the eye of the observer, in a peculiar manner, by its very abruptness.

Diodorus also says of these “islands,” (still using the plural,) that “they appear islands” only at “high water;” and that, when the tide is out, the intervening space is left dry, and “they are seen to be peninsulas.” This he mentions as something peculiarly deserving of his reader’s attention: but his commentators have overlooked the important fact, that there were other islands, in the vicinity of the one which he 296 called Ictis; and seem not to have been aware, that it was the circumstance of there being several tracts of land in the same locality, appearing to be islands at high water, and peninsulas at low water, which constituted the peculiarity mentioned by him, and dwelt upon as singularly worthy of notice.

Diodorus further says, that “at low water,” the sea retires, and leaves dry “a large portion of ground,” (πολὺν  τόπον). But if the island of Ictis and St. Michael’s Mount be one and the same, this “large extent of ground” does not exceed, at furthest, 300 or 400 yards long, by 30 or 40 broad. This isthmus probably served as passage for the votaries to the shrine of St. Michael, which was much frequented by pilgrims; as the one at Landisfarn, described by Sir Walter Scott, in his “Marmion,” did to that of St. Cuthbert.

“The tide did now the flood-mark gain,
  And girdles in the Saint’s domain:
  For, with the flow and ebb, its style
  Varies from continent to isle;
  Dryshod, o’er sands, twice every day,
  The pilgrims to the shrine find way;
  Twice every day the waves efface
  Of staves and sandall’d feet the trace.”



Nor is it denied, that tin might have been conveyed in wagons along such an isthmus as this, in the time of Diodorus. But how that writer could describe a neck of land of such narrow dimensions, uniting a single peninsula to the main land, as a large extent of ground, forming a number of isthmuses to several distinct peninsulas, we must leave it to the ingenuity of those who advocate this hypothesis to explain.

But the hypothesis has a still more formidable difficulty to contend with, in the fact, that St. Michael’s Mount was formerly neither island, nor peninsula; but a portion of the main land, situated at some distance from the sea. It appears from tradition, confirmed by observation, that this mount once stood in a forest, and was called “The hoar rock in the wood.” In the charter of the Confessor, it is described as “St. Michael near the sea.”9 Its exact distance from the coast is not mentioned in that document: but Florence of Worcester says, that it was originally enclosed within a very thick wood, distant from the sea six miles, affording the finest shelter for wild beasts. The sea, however, has made great encroachments on this part of the coast, within the 298 historical period. It is stated in Dr. Paris’s “Guide to Mount’s Bay and the Land’s End,” that the grandfather of the incumbent of Madron was known to have received tithes from land under the cliff of Penzance; and that, in the memory of many persons living when that book was written, the cricket-payers were unable to throw a ball across the Western Green, between Penzance and Newlyn, which is now not many feet in breadth.10 Dr. Borlase likewise informs us, that “on the strand of Mount’s Bay, midway between the piers of St. Michael’s Mount and Penzance, in the 19th of January, 1757, the remains of a wood, which, according to tradition, covered a large tract of ground in Mount’s Bay, appeared.”11 These remains consisted of hazel and alder, with some forest trees, including the elm and the oak. The hazel-nuts were abundant; and even fragments of insects, particularly the elytra and mandibles of the beetle tribe, still displaying the most beautiful, shining colours, but crumbling into dust on exposure to the air, were found amid the vegetable mass.12 The exact time 299 of the catastrophe, to which the submersion of this wood is to be referred, cannot now be determined with certainty. But, from the fact of ripe nuts being found, and the trees not being destitute of leaves, it may be inferred that the irruption took place in the autumn; and it is a circumstance deserving of notice, that in the reign of William Rufus, on the 11th of November, 1099, such an invasion of the ocean did occur, and is thus noticed in the Saxon Chronicle. “In this year (MXCIX) also, on the festival of St. Martin, the waves of the sea made great inroads, and occasioned more loss than any one had ever known them to do before.”13 Simeon of Durham alludes to the same inroad of the sea, as having taken place “on the third of the nones of November,” (which corresponds with the 11th of that month;) and entombing “towns and men in great numbers, and oxen and sheep innumerable.”14


There seems, then, as little ground for supposing, that the Ictis of Diodorus is the small rocky island, from which St. Michael’s Mount rises, as that it is the Isle of Wight; and if the accuracy of the Greek historian’s description is to be tested, solely by the present outline of the Cornish coast, the attempt to reconcile that description with existing appearances must be abandoned as hopeless. But no one, who has visited Cornwall with the eye of a geologist, can be a stranger to the fact, that the sea, which washes its coast, presents, in various directions, evidences of recent changes, which have produced an amazing influence on his hydrographical character: and who will venture dogmatically to assert, that, among these changes, none can be found, which shall tend to establish the credibility of Diodorus’s narrative? It has appeared to me, while engaged in considering this subject, that the difficulties, presented by the language of Diodorus, are not to be surmounted, by taking into consideration merely the present outlines of the Cornish coast; but by tracing back those changes, which history has recorded, or which present appearances render probable, or of which tradition at east has preserved some notice, among a population remarkably tenacious of the memory 301 of the past. Any one of these modes of solution is preferable to that reckless charge of ignorance, or want of historical accuracy, of which many are so ready to avail themselves, when their efforts to throw light upon the records of antiquity are baffled, and they find themselves unable to interpret the written memorials of former times, or to admit the credibility of facts, to which nothing similar, or analogous, has occurred, within the range of their own limited experience. It is well know that such was once the fate of certain narratives in the history of Herodotus, the accuracy of which has been abundantly confirmed by subsequent investigation; and if this result has been attained in regard to a writer, who is known occasionally to have mingled fable with history, candour requires that we should pause, before we reject as incredible a statement of Diodorus, which not only involves nothing of the nature of a physical impossibility, but bears impressed upon it the strongest internal marks of having been committed to writing, on the testimony of eye witnesses.

Assuming the correctness, therefore, of the geographical description now under consideration, and discarding, as improbable, the supposition, 302 that the Ictis of Diodorus is either the Isle of Wight, or St. Michael’s Mount, let us proceed to inquire, to what causes of change the coast of Cornwall has been exposed, and what has been the actual, or the probable effect of these causes, operating through a long series of ages.

The effects of oceanic agency, in bringing about geological changes, are of two kinds. Sometimes the ocean forms accumulations of detritus, which act as barriers against its own encroachments. At other times, it obliterates all traces of what once was solid land; either gradually and slowly undermining it, or battering it down by a succession of attacks, or sweeping it away by a single mighty and resistless effort. As Diodorus, therefore, mentions a certain island, which he calls Ictis, situated near a certain promontory, which he calls Belerium; and as Ictis, and the neighbouring islands, were such only at high water, and presented the appearance of peninsulas at the ebbing of the tide; it may be worth our while to inquire, whether they have lost their insular character, by an accumulation of detritus, or whether they are wholly, or in part, submerged, and their communication with the main land, or with each other, broken off by the inroads of the sea.


The most striking evidences of the accumulation of detritus have been observed on some parts of the Cornish coast. In the Carnon stream-works, to the north of Falmouth, a few years ago, two human skulls were found, embedded, with other animal remains, in a mass of vegetable matter, at the extraordinary depth of more than fifty feet below the level of the river, and covered by several successive deposits of silt, shells and sand;15 and the district around Hayle, extending nearly without interruption from St. Ives to Padstow, is little more than one continued desert of sand, which, in many places, has accumulated to the height of sixty feet, and beneath which, human bones and the remains of ancient buildings have been found. There is no local tradition, relating either to the time or manner, in which these monuments of human existence were entombed: but it has been inferred, from certain ancient records of the Arundel family, that the catastrophe took place about the twelfth century;16 and in examining the old Chronicles, for notices of 304 the more remarkable inundations, with which the shores of England have been visited, I have found, in Radulfus’s “Ymagines Historiarum,” a description of one, which was particularly destructive at St. Ives, towards the end of the reign of king John. “A sudden and unexpected inundation of waters,” says that writer, “took place in many parts of England, whence many men were drowned, and houses overturned, especially at Exeter and St. Ives.17

The author of the “Guide to Mount’s Bay and the Land’s End”18 thus describes the district around Hayle. “The river Hayle takes its rise near Crowan, and falls into St. Ives’ Bay, although it arrives at the level of the seas three miles before it reaches the northern coast, and winds its way through an area of sand, nearly half a mile wide, and more than two miles long; this sand, at high water, is generally submerged, so that the traveller who wishes to cross is obliged to take a 305 circuitous route over the bridge at Saint Erth; but upon the ebbing of the tide, it soon becomes fordable, and may be passed over even by foot passengers. It is a curious circumstance that at twelve o’clock at noon, and at midnight, it is always fordable this apparent paradox is solved by knowing, that at Spring tides it is always low water at these hours, and that the Neap tides never rise sufficiently high to impede the passage.”

This description, as far as regards the extent of land, alternately flooded and left dry, approaches more nearly to that of Diodorus, than any which has yet come under our observation; for here we have an area of sand half a mile wide, and more than two miles long, which, at high water, is generally submerged, but at the ebbing of the tide becomes fordable, and may be crossed even by foot passengers: whereas, the extent of the isthmus of loose stones and pebbles, which, at low water, connects St. Michael’s Mount with the main land, is trifling in comparison, and ill corresponds with the “large space” of which Diodorus speaks. Was the peninsula west of St. Erth, then, the Ictis of that writer? There is one remarkable circumstance, connected with the trading visits of the Phœnicians to the Cornish 306 coast, which may at first view appear to confer upon this supposition some degree of probability: — I mean, the fact of their taking great pains to conceal from the captains of the Roman vessels the part of the coast on which they landed, and to which the tin was brought by the natives, for the purposes of sale and exportation. Strabo tells us, that the master of a Phœnician trading vessel, on its voyage to the Cassiterides for tin, being followed by the captain of a Roman vessel, whose vigilance he was unable to elude, purposely steered into the shallows, and thus caused the destruction of the two vessels; but that, his own life being preserved, he was rewarded by his countrymen for this act of self-devotedness, and patriotism.19 It might, therefore, be inferred, if all other circumstances were favourable, that the Phœnicians, for the purpose of keeping in their own hands a monopoly of the trade in tin, instead of sailing directly to some point on the southern part of the Cornish coast, passed the Land’s End, and Cape Cornwall, entered the mouth of the Bristol Channel, and landed somewhere on the western coast of the Bay of St. Ives; that either intentionally, or through ignorance, they 307 represented the granitic district in the western part of Cornwall as an island; and that this supposed, or pretended island is the Ictis of Diodorus Siculus.

Ortelius, under the article Cassiterides, alludes to the opinion of Camden, that these were the Scilly Islands; but adds, “I am almost inclined to believe, that the British Islands themselves are described by the most ancient writers under the name Cassiterides: if I am deceived, I would say, with Herodotus, that I am not acquainted with the Cassiterides.20 Mr. Carne too has conjectured, that the metalliferous district of St. Just constituted the principal portion of what was formerly known under the name of Cassiterides:21 and it is a fact worthy of notice, that Pliny, who says, in one place,22 “opposite to Celtiberia there are many islands, called by the Greeks Cassiterides, from the quantity of lead which they yield,” in another place seems to distinguish 308 one of these from the rest, under the name of Cassiteris; for he says, in the latter place, “Midacritus was the first, who carried away lead from the island Cassiteris.”23 Now it seems not improbable, that this supposed island, to which Pliny applies the name Cassiteris, was the western part of Cornwall. At a cursory glance, therefore, it might be thought, that the island Cassiteris is no other than the Ictis of Diodorus; but Pliny represents Timæus, the historian, as speaking of the island Mictis, (an evident mistake of some copyist for Ictis;) so that Pliny probably made a distinction between Cassiteris and Ictis. His words are “INSULAM MICTIM,”24 which might easily have arisen, by an error of transcription, from “INSULAM ICTIM.” Wesseling accordingly regards the “Mictis” of Pliny as the “Ictis” of Diodorus under another form;25 and Borlase, in his observations on the Scilly Islands, says “this ICTIS of Diodorus 309 Siculus is probably the same island, which Pliny, from Timæus, calls MICTIS.”26

The produce of this island, according to Pliny, was “candidum plumbum,” corresponding with the “plumbum album” of Cæsar,27 whose editors explain these words by the Latin “stannum,” and the Greek κασσίτερος, both signifying tin.28 But Timæus, as quoted by Pliny, also says, that this Mictis or Ictis, “was six days’ sail inwards from Britain;” which led Hardouin, the editor of Pliny, to remark, that its situation could not be certainly determined.29 Wesseling was also of opinion, that Timæus might have been led into an error as to the distance, by following an uncertain tradition of the common people.”30 On this subject, Borlase says, “the distance here 310 laid down is no objection to Mictis being one of the Scilly isles, for when the ancients reckoned this place six days’ sail, they did not mean from the nearest part of Britain, but from the place most known, and frequented by them, (that is, by the Romans and Gauls,) which was that part of Britain nearest to, and in sight of Gaul, from which to the Scilly Islands the distance was indeed six days’ usual sail, in the early times of navigation; therefore I am apt to think, that, by Mictis here, Pliny meant the largest of the Scilly isles, as I do not at all doubt but Diodorus Siculus did, in the passage mentioned above.”31

But wherever we may finally determine Ictis to have been, it is probable, from what has now been said, and from the additional fact, that Dionysius Periegetes, a writer, who flourished in the Augustan age, and wrote a geographical treatise in Greek hexameters, expressly distinguishes the Cassiterides from the British Isles, that it formed no part of the present main land; and that Diodorus was correct, in representing it as an island, at high water. Nor is it possible to reconcile what he says about its vicinity to the promontory called Belerium, with the supposition, 311 that it was the district between the Land’s End and the Hayle Sands.

Among the elements essential to a determination of the point in question, must be reckoned the fact of Ictis, and the neighbouring islands, being situated near this promontory. If we could determine, with absolute certainty, to what promontory Diodorus alluded, under the name Βελέριον, the chief preliminary difficulty in the present inquiry would be overcome. But this still remains a matter of doubt, some thinking that it is the Land’s End, others Cape Cornwall, and others Tol Pedn Penwith. Nor will this difference of opinion be deemed surprising, when it is considered, that Cornwall was originally called Kernaw, probably from the Phœnician, קרן (Keren,) or the ancient British Kern, signifying a horn, on account if its numerous promontories. Ptolemy writes the name of this headland, Βολέριον. But he also calls it ντιουέσταιον.32 Now the proper names of places, compounded with the preposition ἀντὶ, are generally derived from the names of other places, to which they stand opposite: thus Antilibanus is the mountain opposite to Libanus; 312 and Antiparos an island opposite to Paros. It is reasonable to presume, therefore, that ντιουέσταιον was the name of some promontory, or headland, on the British coast, looking towards some other promontory, or headland, on the opposite coast of Gaul, bearing the same, or a similar name, but without the preposition. If then we take away the ἀντὶ, we have Ουέσταιον, (Ouessant, or Ushant,) the furthest headland of France to the west, distant about twelve miles from the continent, and on the south side of the English Channel, immediately opposite to the Land’s End, which was probably the Βελέριον of Diodorus. Volaterranus says, that this promontory was once called Helenum,33 but this is evidently nothing more than a various reading of Belerium; B having been converted into H, and RI into N, thus:


Near, this promontory, then, was the island of Ictis, to which, at low water, the natives conveyed the tin in wagons, for the purpose of selling it to the foreign merchants. But all which now remains, to mark the locality, is a small archipelago 313 of barren rocks, called The Longships. These are situated about two miles west of the Land’s End; and in the time of Diodorus were probably connected together, so as to form one island, which, at low water, was joined by an isthmus to the main land. Nor is this mere conjecture. “The inhabitants,” says Camden,34 “are of opinion that this promontory did once reach further to he west; which the seamen positively conclude from the rubbish they draw up.”

It is well known, that there has been a considerable subsidence of the land on this coast. Of this, the animal and vegetable remains found at the Carnon stream-works, the submarine forest near St. Michael’s Mount, and the disappearance of tithable land from beneath the cliffs of Penzance, afford ample proof; and if, as Sir Henry T. De la Beche has well remarked,35 the present bed of the sea were raised thirty feet, in the direction of the ten-fathom line, numerous small portions of dry level country would be produced in some situations, while in others large 314 tracts of land would appear. The same writer says,36 “if true proportional sections be constructed, and many miles from the land be included in them, the plain-like character of the floor of the sea adjoining such coasts as those of this district becomes very striking.” The line of forty fathoms includes the whole of the Scilly Islands, and the line of thirty fathoms approaches within about six or seven miles of the Land’s End; but between the latter and the main land the depth diminishes more rapidly, so as to render navigation exceedingly dangerous. The passage to the Longships’ lighthouse is attended with so much hazard, that the men who have the charge of it are frequently unable to communicate with the land for two or three months together. Here then, in all probability, lay the island of Ictis.

Tradition says, moreover, that a considerable tract of country formerly existed, between the Cornish coast and the Scilly Islands, containing not fewer than a hundred and forty parish churches. Gibson, alluding to this tradition says,37 “about the middle way between the Land’s-end and Scilly, there are rocks called, 315 in Cornish, Lethas; by the English Seven-stones; and the Cornish call that place within the stones Tregva, i. e. a dwelling; where it has been reported that windows, and other stuff, have been taken up with hooks, (for that is the best place of fishing.)”

It would seem, that most of the islands on this coast received their names from some fancied resemblance, which they bore to different animals. Thus Lethas (or Lethowstow) mentioned by Gibson in the passage just quoted, denotes The Lioness. A few miles south-west of the Land’s-End there is still a rocky island, called The Wolf, which doubtless owes its preservation to the circumstance of its being composed of limestone, a species of rock better adapted to resist atmospherical changes than many kinds of granite; and near the Lizard, which probably derives its name from the elongated form which it exhibits, resembling that of a lizard, there is a cluster, known by the name of The Stags. Ictis itself, which may have been a translation from some old British word, is the Greek for An Otter;38 and 316 it requires no great stretch of imagination, to trace an analogy, between the amphibious habits of this animal, and the mutable character of the Ictis of Diodorus.

The names of The Lioness and The Wolf may have been given, either from the roaring of the waves, and the howling of the storms, which have been known to produce such terrific effects in this sea; or from the danger incurred by the daring, or inexperienced mariner, on too near an approach to them.

“Hinc exaudiri gemitus, iræque leonum,
  Vincla recusantum, et sera sub nocte rudentum,
  Sætigerique sues, atque in præsepibus ursi
  Sævire, ac formæ magnorum ululare Iuporum.”

VIRG. ÆN. VII. 15-19.

Allusion has already been made to inroads of the sea on the English coast, in the reigns of William Rufus, and John; and there are records of similar inundations in the times immediately 317 preceding the conquest. Simeon of Durham, in his account of the reign of Ethelred II., says, that, in the year 1014, such an encroachment of the sea took place on the 3rd of the calends of October, when a great many towns, and an innumerable multitude of human beings were submerged;39 and John Bromton, in his history of the reign of Canute, (A. D. 1017-1039), says, “at that time the Lord also added to the ordinary calamities an extraordinary one, for the sea, rising above its usual level, overwhelmed several towns, with people innumerable.”40 It is probably this latter encroachment of the sea, a traditional account of which has reached us in the well known historical myth, respecting this monarch and his courtiers. They would fain have persuaded him, we are told, that the sea was obedient to his will; and he is represented as having rebuked 318 their flattery, by commanding the sea to retire, and waiting the result, as though he expected that it would obey his mandate. But the tide advancing, and compelling him to withdraw, he is said to have taken occasion, from this circumstance, to let his base flatterers know that the titles of LORD and MASTER, belong only to Him, whom the land and the sea obey. It is also reported that, from this time, Canute never wore his crown again; but ordered it to be put upon the head of the crucifix in Winchester Cathedral. It is far more probable, however, that this act of humility was occasioned by the loss, which his kingdom had sustained, from the unprecedented encroachments of the sea, than by the mere circumstance of the tide, in its usual course, having presumed to wet his royal person. Bromton mentions another instance, in which the sea burst its boundaries; and did not return within its customary limits, till after a lapse of about two days.41 This occurred in the reign of Henry II., A. D. 1176; so that, including the two cases mentioned in a 319 former part of this paper, we have no fewer than five recorded inroads of the sea upon the English coast, within the space of two centuries.

Of the causes, which led to the disappearance of the Ictis of Diodorus, history has preserved no trace. Whether it was the effect of a gradual subsidence of the land, or of the continued action of the waves and tides on a coast unusually exposed, we have no positive means of determining. Each of these may have contributed its share towards the final result. A depression of the land may have taken place in the first instance, and the inroads of the sea may have done the rest. It is well known, that the winds, which blow from the Atlantic on the Cornish coast, frequently bring with them storms of most destructive violence. The effects of these storms, combined with the disintegration of the softer beds of granite, from the ordinarily atmospherical influences, are strongly exemplified in the caverns and hollows along this coast. There is something particularly striking in the Funnel Hole, at Tol Pedn Penwith. This hole resembles the hopper of a mill, being in shape like an inverted cone, from ten to fifteen fathoms deep, with an opening into a cavern below, 320 communicating with a small creek, or bay, called Chair-ladder Cove; and is supposed to have been formed by the decomposition of a portion of the rock. On various parts of the cliffs, too, patches of disintegrated granite are found, which have a sandy, or gravelly appearance, from which it may be inferred, that the ocean has made great inroads, in the lapse of ages, upon the rocks lying along this coast. Nor must it be forgotten, that the granite of the Scilly Islands is peculiarly liable to decomposition; that portions of these islands are rapidly disappearing from this cause alone; and that the surface of water which they displace is constantly diminishing, although their number is increasing, in consequence of their being broken up into smaller islets, by the abrading power of the ocean.

If, as is generally supposed, the Cassiterides of the Greeks were the Scilly islands, their number in the time of Strabo was only ten.42 It is now, probably, as many as a hundred and fifty; and it is a singular fact, that they take their name of the Scilly Islands from one of their number, which, in its present attenuated state, is nearly 321 the smallest in the cluster, its whole surface being not more than an acre. On this subject, the following extract, from Borlase’s “Observation on the ancient and present state of the islands of Scilly,”43 will be found deserving of particular attention. The writer has just been describing a certain eminence which he visited. He then goes on to say, “From this hill I observed the Guêl Hill of Brehar, and the isle of Guêl, stretch away towards the little isle of Scilly, and with it making a curve, of which Scilly is the headland; and from the furthermost hill of Brehar a promontory shoots, at the extreme point of which a vast rocky turret, called the castle of Brehar, on every side many rocks show themselves above water, and intimate their former connexion with Brehar, and their being reduced to their present nakedness by the fury of the ocean. From this disposition, therefore, of the rocks and islets on this side, we may answer a question which would otherwise be extremely difficult to solve, viz: — How came all these islands to have their general name from so small and inconsiderable a spot as the Isle of Scilly, whose cliffs barely anything but birds can mount, and whose barrenness would 322 never suffer anything but sea birds to inhabit there? A due consideration of the shores will answer this question very satisfactorily, and convince us that what is now a bare rock about a furlong over, and separated from the islands of Guêl and Brehar about half a mile, was formerly joined to them by low necks of land, and that Trescaw, St. Martin’s, Brehar, Samson, and the rocks and islets adjoining, made formerly but one island; nay to these, I believe, I may safely add the eastern islands, and St. Mary’s too, there being great flats reaching from St. Martin’s almost to both, all uncovered at low water, and having but four feet water in the deepest part. This (at that time) great island had several creeks, such as New and Old Grynsey, and others, by the sea’s encroachments, or by the dipping of the islands, since extended into harbours. It had several headlands, of which that now called Scilly was the highest, outermost, and consequently most conspicuous.” Portions of the island of St. Mary’s, too, which is now the largest in the whole group, covering a space of nearly two thousand acres, and which is one of the nearest to the main land, exhibit signs of rapid and certain decay; and it is calculated, that at no distant 323 period, unless measures are taken to form an artificial barrier against the incursions of the ocean, a channel will be formed, which will divide it into two smaller islands.

Facts like this go far to prove that the Cassiterides of the ancients were no other than the Scilly Islands of our own time; and that the difference between these islands, in their past, and in their present state, is attributable to subsidence, and to atmospherical and oceanic agency. The process by which so extraordinary a change has been effected, is precisely similar to that which has been in operation along the Cornish coast, and to which the disappearance of the Ictis of Diodorus may not unreasonably be attributed.

We arrive, then, at the conclusion, that such an island once actually existed; that it was neither the Isle of Wight, nor St. Michael’s Mount, nor a portion of the present main land; but that the small group of rocky islands, called the Longships, are probably the summits of its more elevated parts, the rest being either submerged, or swept away; and that “the neighbouring islands,” to which the same peculiarity attached as to 324 “Ictis,” of being islands at high water, and peninsulas at low water, were no other than the Cassiterides, which have undergone a corresponding increase in number, an diminution in superficial contents, and now form two distinct archipelagos, the near and smaller one bearing the name of the Seven Stones, and the larger and more remote that of the Scilly Islands.


 1  Lib. V. Cap. xxii. (Ed. Wesseling, 1746. Vol. I. p. 347.)

 2  Jos. Scaligeri. Animadv. in Euseb. Chronicon; p. 112, a. — Dawesii Misc. Crit. Sect. iv.

 3  In the present text we have Οὐΐκτησις, but Wesseling supposes this to be an error of transcription of Οὐήκτις, because the ancient Latin interpreter has rendered it by Vectis. Vide Antonini Augusti Itinerarium; p. 509.

 4  Vol. I. p. 652; Ed. Wesseling.

 5  Vol. I. p. 267. In the printed text it is Οὐεσούσιος, which is a manifest error for Οὐεσούβιος; and so it is regarded by Diodorus’s learned editor.

 6  There are instances, in which digammated words, whose initial letter is I, on passing into the Latin, have retained the digamma, which is commonly expressed by the letter V, (as vis, from ἰς, but Greek authors of the age of Diodorus, when writing a Latin word in Greek characters, pay as much regard to V as any other letter, and usually express it in the way pointed out above.

 7  Lyell’s Principles of Geology Book 2. Chap. vi. Vol. I. pp. 425, 426. Ed. 5th.

 8  Chap. xv. p. 524.

 9  Sanctum Michaëlem qui est juxta mare.

10  Guide to Mount’s Bay; pp. 15, 16. (2nd Ed.)

11  Athenæum, No. 761, (May 28th, 1842,) p. 484.

12  De la Beche’s Report on the Geology of Cornwall, Devon, and West Somerset; Chap. xiii. pp. 417, 418.

13  Hoc item anno, in Sancti Martini festo, tantum aucti sunt maris fluctus, tantumque damni maritimis dederunt, quantum nullus meminerit eos unquam antea dedisse. (Gibsoni Chronicum Saxonicum, A.D. MXCIX. P. 207.)

14  Tertio Non. Novembris mare littus egreditur, et villas et homines quamplures, boves et oves innumeras demersit. (Simeonis Monachi Dunelmensis Historia de Gestis Regum Anglorum, apud Historiæ Anglicanæ Scriptores X. edente Rogero Twysden; 1652, Fol. Anno Domini 1099. p. 224.)

15  Transactions of the Geological Society of Cornwall, Vol. IV. p. 58; quoted by Sir Henry T. De la Beche, in his Report on the Geology of Cornwall, &c. Chap. xiii. p. 404. Bakewell’s Introd. to Geologey, Chap. i. p. 22. (5th Ed.)

16  Guide to Mount’s Bay, &c. pp. 161, 162.

17  Subita et improvisa aquarum inundatio pluribus in locis per Angliam facta est, unde plures homines submersi sunt, et domus eversæ, maxime apud Excestre, et sanctum Ivonem. — Historiæ Anglicanæ Scriptores X, edente Rogero Twysden; 1652, Fol. p. 710.)

18  Pp. 158, 159.

19  Strabonis Res Geographicæ Lib. iii. Tom. I. pp. 239, 240. (Oxon. 1807. Fol.)

20  Abr. Ortelii Antverpiani Thesaurus Geographicus Recognitus et Autus; Art. Cassiterides. — Herodoti Hist. Lib. iii. c. 115.

21  Guide to Mount’s Bay; p. 141.

22  Nat. Hist.; Lib. iv. c. 22. Ex adverso Celtiberiæ complures sunt insulæ, Cassiterides dictæ Græcis, a fertilitate plumbi.

23  Plumbum ex Cassiteride insula primus apportavit Midacritus. Lib. vii. cap. 57.

24  Timæus historicus a Britannia introrsus sex dierum navigatione abesse dicit insulam Mictim, in qua candidum plumbum proveniat. Lib. iv. cap. 16. vol. I. p. 233. Ed. Hardouin. Paris, 1723.

Bill Thayer adds in an e-mail to me on January 1, 2009: “... and notice the different reading in Mayhoff's version: Mayhoff has emended it along the lines of the argument of your author (and doubtless many other writers).”

25  Refingens Ictim. Diod. Sic. . Lib. v. cap. 22. vol. I. p. 347. Not. in l. 60.

26  Observations on the Ancient and Present State of the Islands of Scilly. p. 77.

27  Nascitur ibi plumbum album in mediterraneis regionibus. Cæs. De Bello Gall.. Lib. v. c. 12.

28  Ibid. Ed. Oudendorp. p. 225.

29  Quæ sit hæc Timæi Mictis in Gemanico Mari sex dierum navigatione a Britannia dissita, stanti certo non potest. Plinii Op. vol. I. p. 223.

30  Fieri tamen potest, ut Timæus, incertum vulgi rumorem secutus, in eo spatio aberraverit. Diod. Sic. Bibl. Hist.. vol. I. p. 347.

31  Observations on the Islands of Scilly, &c. pp. 77, 78.

32  Ptolem. Geogr., Opera P. Bertii; Lib. ii. cap. 3. p. 35. Qu. ντιουέσσαιον. ?

33  Gibson’s Ed. of Camden’s Britannia; vol. I. p. 148. Lond. 1772.

34  Gibson’s Ed. of Camden’s Britannia; vol. I. p. 148. Lond. 1772.

35  Report on the Geology of Cornwall, &c.; chap. xiii. p 421.

36  Chap. i. p. 24.

37  Camden’s Britannia; Ubi supra.

38  The meaning assigned by Scapula to the word Ικτὶς, is “mustela sylvestris.” He adds, “Sunt qui viverram interpr.” But Aristophanes, according to Brunck, uses it neither for a weasel, nor a ferret but an otter. “κτίδας,  ἐνύδριας,  ἐγχέλεις  Κωπαΐδας. (Acharn. 880.) Certo certius est de animali quodam aquatico Bœotum hic loqui. Bene igitur vertit Brunckius ‘lutras.’ Anglice, otters.” — Lexicon Græco-Prosodiacum. Auctore T. Morell, S. T. P. Edit. Alter. Londin. 1824. Art. Ικτὶς ;  p. 412.

39  Mare littus egreditur III. Kal. Octobris, et in Anglia villas quamplurimas, innumerabilemque populi multitudinem summersit. — Simeon. Dunelm. Hist. de Gestis Regum Anglorum, apud “Rogeri Twysden Historiæ Anglicanæ Scriptores X;” p. 171.

40  Eo tempore eciam addidit Dominus malis solitis malum insolitum, mare namque insolito superius ascendens, villas in Anglia nonnullas cum populo innumero submersit. — Johannis Bromton Chronicon, ubi supra; p. 892.

41  Eodem anno mare extra fines in Anglia erumpens multos in Holandia homines et pecora absorbuit, et quasi post biduum furore sedato in semet ipsum rediit. — Chronicon, ut sup. A. D. 1176; p. 1117.

42  Strabonis Res. Geogr. Lib. iii. p. 239.

43  Pp. 57-59.

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