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PHNOMS OF KHMER* ELWOOD V. JENSEN] The time is here, in this new year, To speak ofancient things, OfKhmer and Cham and Angkor Thorn And devaraja kings, Of Vishnu borne in Krishna's form Upon Garuda's wings. Now you may ask, wherefore this task Ofprobing Vedic lore? How Siva bold, in phallic mold, Controlled those days ofyore From Bakheng Phnom to Kompong Thom Along the Mekong's shore. Allay your fears, my learned peers, A guru I am not. My only quest: to try my best To delve in Angkor's plot To learn with you, both who is who And also what is wat. Sojoin with me, I beg kind sirs, In studying our friends, the Khmers. Angkor Rediscovered Five score and a dozen years ago, when Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas were engaging in meaningful dialogue throughout the state of Illinois and the nation was preparing for its first and most intensive civil rights movement, a French naturalist named Henri Mouhot, with the financial backing of a British learned society, set offto explore what he * Presented before the Chicago Literary Club, January 1970 and printed here with their permission . t Ben May Laboratory, University ofChicago, Chicago, Illinois 60637. 25O Elwood V.Jensen · Phnoms ofKhmer Perspectives in Biology and Medicine · Winter 1971 termed the remote lands of Siam, Laos, and Cambodia. In i860, while in the vicinity of Siem Reap, a village lying just north of Tonlé Sap, the GreatLake ofthe central Cambodianplain, hechanced upon a sight which filled him with amazement. Sequestered in thejungle was a magnificent ruined temple, so vast and extensive that it was almost beyond comprehension . When he interrogated the Cambodian natives as to the origin ofthis temple, which they called Ongcor-Vat, he received four different answers : "It is the work ofPra-Eun, the king ofthe angels"; "It is the work of the giants"; "It was built by the leprous king"; or "It made itself." Mouhot climbed to the top ofa nearby hill, orphnom, and found that the summit itselfwas a kind oftemple; he gazed over thejungle which held many more occluded treasures and realized that he had discovered the relics ofan ancient and unknown civilization. Shortly thereafter, Mouhot continued on to Laos and died there of a fever. Actually, Mouhot was not the first foreigner to gaze upon the ruins now known as Angkor, or even to describe them to the Western world. During the sixteenth century, missionaries and adventurers, principally from Spain and Portugal, visited Cambodia and brought back tales ofa lost city in the jungle. In 1609, Bartolomé L. de Argensolawrote that what was described as "Angor" was really Plato's Atlantis; others at the time attributed this city to Alexander the Great, to the Roman Emperor Trajan, or to Jews who came down from China. During the early seventeenth century, Dutch explorers spoke of "Honcker" or "Anckoor," and, in the latter seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, French travelers and missionaries brought similar reports, in particular ofa temple at "Onco" used by Buddhist monks as a shrine and sanctuary. In spite ofthe foregoing references to Angor, Honcker, Anckoor, and Onco, at the beginning ofthe nineteenth century, Angkor was still essentially unknown to the Western world. In 1819, a French scholar, Abel Remusat, translated into French the writings of a Chinese gentleman named Chou Ta-Kouan who described his experiences during the year 1296-97 while assigned to the Chinese embassy in a country known to the Chinese as Ch'en-la and to its inhabitants as Kan-po-chih or Kam-boja. This document, translated more extensively into French in 1902 by Paul Pelliot and subsequently into English under the title "Notes on the Customs of Cambodia," provides the only actual eyewitness account of life during that ancient civilization. Yet in 1819, no one connected Ch'en-la or 251 the writings of Chou Ta-Kouan with the legendary Angkor. Even in 1858, when the French missionary Bouillevaux published a description of his visit to the Angkor ruins eight years earlier, little attention was paid in Europe. It was the diaries ofHenri Mouhot entitled Letour du monde, publishedposthumously in 1864 and including ahand-drawn sketch ofAngkor Wat, which first...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1529-8795
Print ISSN
0031-5982
Pages
pp. 250-264
Launched on MUSE
2015-01-07
Open Access
No
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