The Confessions of Saint Christopher: Werewolf Part 20
This seemed a good place to interrupt the narrative for a little necessary editorial commentary. Necessary, that is, for the sake of historical veracity. As it has been my position for some time, as I’ve stated earlier, that the Confessions scrolls represent a genuine, that is to say, a non-fictionalized account of the exploits in the life of an actual living person, it is incumbent upon me to seek to verify, wherever possible, the events and locations described by the author of the documents as juxtaposed against documented and accepted history. Unfortunately for me, St. Christopher does not always make this an easy task. His words, preserved in the Confessions, are at once tantalizingly supportive of an historical genuineness and frustratingly vague.
A clear example of the former is found in his descriptions of the raid conducted on the Marmorcan village by the Romans. Knowledge of Rome’s lengthy problems with piracy throughout the southern Mediterranean was so commonplace that inclusion of such detail in the Confessions offers little to nothing in the way of evidence for their authenticity. Anyone in the ancient world sufficiently literate, even if removed from the purported location by thousands of miles and even if said individual had never experienced such things as a naval raid firsthand (Most people hadn’t; in fact, most had never even been to sea.), could have written on the topic and made it sound convincing. However, and fortunately so, Christopher (or Reprobus, as he preferred at that time) manages to throw in some specific references that, while not as direct or elaborate as the historian would desire, nevertheless carry a certain weight; little details that ring true, if you will.
He describes, for example, smaller sailing vessels used by the Romans, carrying only two or three dozen men, capable of navigating narrow river passages. As it turns out, the Roman navy did in fact have, and use, just such vessels. The ships described in the Confessions must be the Roman Navis Lusoria (literally, “ships that flit about like dancers,” a clear reference to their mobility), of which a few specimens are extant today and which fit rather nicely the descriptions offered by the author of the Confessions. That Christopher does not specifically refer to them by name proves nothing; in fact it even goes a little ways towards supporting authentication. Why would he bother to state specifically the type of vessel in use when it would have seemed to him that anyone reading his narrative would be familiar with such? A forger might well include such embellishment. (We must always be careful of anyone “laying it on too thick,” after all, a surefire sign of deception.)
Of course a fictionist from the ancient world would probably have also been aware of this variety of Roman sailing vessel, so the inclusion of such does not provide definitive proof of anything. Still, the inclusion of such details, without overloading the narrative with quantifiable facts, is at least suggestive that the author was describing sights and events witnessed firsthand.
A bit more difficult for my arguments are the matters of the geographical locations and the identification of the people and places involved. The two must needs be addressed together. To the point, who were the Marmorca and where did they live? Where did this battle with the Romans actually take place? Christopher does not give us any specifics here, nor is it probable that he, himself, would have known his exact whereabouts. A careful reading of the text suggests that he did not. Before tackling the problem of geography, however, let us first try to identify, among the flotsam of history, Christopher’s adopted people, the Marmorca.
Christopher’s identification of them as “Berbers” is too vague to offer any real value. The word “Berber” has the same root as the word “barbarian,” the latter representing to the Greeks (who coined the term) a crude, backward or uncivilized people or person. In other words, anyone not Greek. The term “Berber,” as used here, is something of a catchall term for the non-Greek (and in this case, non-Roman and non-Egyptian) warlike peoples living along the northern African coast. Ah, but there is a great deal of territory along that coast, isn’t there? Calling them Berbers tells us nothing of any ethnographical value. We must search for clues elsewhere.
One credible clue lies in the name of the tribe itself, “Marmorca.” Surviving records available to us of the life of Saint Christopher, albeit apocryphal, line up well with the Confessions narrative at this juncture. Some sources tell us that Christopher, nee Reprobus, belonged to a tribe of cannibals known as the “Marmara.” The similarity of the terms “Marmara” and “Marmorca” is too great to be dismissed as coincidence. Without doubt these refer to the same race of people. The difference may be explained as a simple confusion, over time, in spelling and pronunciation. It is true that the Marmorca of the Confessions are not cannibals, but this can also be chalked up to the confabulation between Christopher’s adopted people and his own cannibalistic malady of Lycanthropy. We can say with some certainty, then, that Christopher was not himself a Marmorcan (he was Greek) but that he came to live among them. These people were not cannibals, nor were they of any particular, relative to the conditions of the time, savagery. They were pirates, among other things, and this would have without question put them into conflict with the far-removed Roman authorities. However, any acts of cannibalism were the unfortunate characteristic of Christopher/Reprobus alone.
But where, then, did these Marmorca live? Where, along that seemingly endless North African coastline, did the battle with the Romans take place? These questions are much harder to answer.
Christopher tells us in his narrative that he sailed from Greece (he neglects to name the port from which he disembarks) heading to Alexandria and that, in an effort to destroy himself, cast himself overboard “somewhere in the middle of the Mediterranean.” This last we can accept as an approximation at best. How do we know? That’s easy. Go find yourself a map, an atlas or globe. Locate Greece, and then Alexandria. It is only sensible that the ship would have traveled, with no explicit reason to do otherwise, in a more or less straight line. Thus the journey would have placed them very near to the island of Crete; Crete lies almost directly in the ship’s path. Again, it is only sensible to assume the ship would have put into port there, yet Christopher makes no mention of it having done so. There are only two possibilities here: either Christopher jumped overboard before the ship had reached Crete (nowhere near the exact “middle” of the Mediterranean) or else the ship did put into port but Christopher simply didn’t mention it. Either is as probable as the other, I’m afraid.
Where did Christopher wash ashore, then, to be captured by the Marmorca? He tells us he found himself in a land somewhere “to the west of Egypt.” This isn’t much help at all. More problematic still, Christopher seems not to know, or at least fails to mention, how long he had been in the water before washing ashore in the Marmorcan territory. If we allow that he, while in the form of the werewolf, did not swim in a straight line to shore (And might not Crete have been closer? Would the werewolf, if it possessed that uncanny ability to detect direction common to all animals, have known where the nearest dry land waited?), but might have drifted, unconscious, carried by the currents, it is not inconceivable that those currents might have taken him far to the west. We must then accept that he could have indeed come ashore anywhere along the length of the coast.
If, however, he did swim in a more or less straight line, where would he have reached shore? There seem to be only two possibilities worthy of consideration: Egypt and Libya. Neither are ideal candidates.
Christopher tells us the Marmorca lived along the banks of a river. Egypt has only the Nile, with its occasional seasonal tributaries, none of these latter capable of supporting a sedentary village. Likewise, Christopher tells us for a fact that he is not, while living amongst the Marmorca, in Egypt, but somewhere westwards of it. Unless, lacking GPS or recognizable landmarks to inform him, Christopher made it to Egypt after all and simply did not realize it (this is unlikely), we must discount Egypt altogether.
What of Libya? It has no rivers whatsoever, save for the Great Man-Made River, which would not be brought forth from the barren desert until many centuries after the time of Christopher, who describes a river flowing from the coast southwards into “the black kingdoms,” a river supporting a narrow yet healthy ribbon of forests along its length. Libya today, like Egypt, is problematically arid; problematical, certainly, for one such as I, who, believing the Marmorca to have been a real, historical people, seeks to fix the exact spot where they would have lived.
Again, there are two possible solutions. Either Christopher did drift for some length of time in the waters of the Mediterranean and washed up on some shore much farther to the west than he imagined, or else he describes in the Confessions a topography that simply no longer exists. Did Libya (and by extension Egypt, or maybe even Tunisia) once have a river flowing southward, surrounded by verdant forests, a river long since dried up and forests long since swallowed by the desert sands? Of the two, I favor the latter theory.
I would then place the homeland of the Marmorca somewhere in what is present-day Libya, along the banks of an extinct river. Could we today locate that river? There is hope. Satellite imagery has been used successfully to locate extinct riverbeds in other locations. I have only recently begun that search. I believe I will find that unnamed river.
In the meantime, there is other, more convincing evidence for the historical veracity of Christopher’s Confessions. I will deal with that evidence later. First let us delve once again into the narrative itself, wherein our hero is to lead us on the strangest journey yet.
WAYNE MILLER is the owner and creative director of EVIL CHEEZ PRODUCTIONS (www.evilcheezproductions.blogspot.com, www.facebook.com/evilcheezproductions), specializing in theatrical performances and haunted attractions. He has written, produced and directed (and occasionally acted in) over a dozen plays, most of them in the Horror and Crime genres. His first novel, THE CONFESSIONS OF SAINT CHRISTOPHER: WEREWOLF, is available for purchase at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/734763
MORTUI VELOCES SUNT!