the Fifth Week of Lent
Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature
(ἡ Σύρτις, Vulg. Syrtis), more properly, The Syrtis (Acts 27:17), the broad and deep bight on the North African coast between Carthage and Cyrene. In the above passage it is stated that when the ship in which Paul was embarked was driven past the isle of Clauda on the south, the mariners, as would now be said, struck the sails, and scudded under bare poles, lest they "should fall into the quicksands." The original word syrtis denotes a sand-bank, or shoal, dangerous to navigation, drawn, or supposed to be drawn (from σύρω, "to draw"), together by the currents of the sea. According to others, the name is derived from sert, an Arabic word for "desert." For two reasons this region was an object of peculiar dread to the ancient navigators of the Mediterranean — partly because of the drifting sands and the heat along the shore itself, but chiefly because of the shallows and the uncertain currents of water in the bay. Josephus, who was himself once wrecked in this part of the Mediterranean, makes Agrippa say (War, ii, 16,4), φοβεραὶ καὶ τοῖς ἀκούουσι Σύρτεις. So notorious were these dangers that they became a commonplace with the poets (see Horace, Odes, i, 22, 5; Ovid, Fast. 4:499; Virgil, AEn. 1, 111; Tibul. 3, 4,91; Lucan, Phars. 9:431). It is most to our purpose here, however, to refer to Apollonius Rhodius, who was familiar with all the notions of the Alexandrian sailors. In the fourth book of his Aronaut. 1232-1237, he supplies illustrations of the passage before us in more respects than one — in the sudden violence (ἀναρπάγδην ) of the terrible north wind (ὀλοὴ Βορέαο θύελλα ), in its long duration (ἐννέα πάσας Νύκτας ὁμῶς καὶ τόσσα φέῤ ἤματα ), and in the terror which the sailors felt of being driven into the Svrtis (Προπρὸ μάλ᾿ ἔνδοθι Σύρτιν, ὅθ᾿, οὐκέτι νόστος ὀπίσσω Νη • σι πέλει ). (See CLAUDA); (See EUROCLYDON).
There were properly two Syrtes — the eastern, or larger, now called the Gulf of Sidra. and the western, or smaller, now the Gulf of Cabes. It is the former to which our attention is directed in this passage of the Acts. The ship was caught by a north-easterly gale onl the south coast of Crete, near Mount Ida, and was driven to the island of Clauda. This line of drift, continued, would strike the greater Syrtis, whence the natural apprehension of the sailors. (See SHIP).
The danger was not so imaginary in this case, we apprehend, as Dr. Falconer (Dissert. on St. Paul's Voyage, p. 13) conceives; for the apprehension does not appear to have been entertained till the ship had been driven past the isle of Clauda, which, as we take it, is mentioned merely as the last point of land which had been seen till the ship was wrecked on the isle of Melita. The position of that island must be regarded as indicating the course in which they were driven; ani if that were Malta, it is clear that, had that course not been arrested by the intermediate shipwreck, they would, in all probability, have been driven upon the Syrtis Minor, which we may therefore conclude to have been the subject of their apprehension. That apprehension only becomes "imaginary" when Meleda in the Adriatic is taken, as Dr. Falconer himself takes it, for the Melita of Scripture. It may, therefore, be added to the arguments in favor of Malta that its identification with Melita gives reality to the fear entertained by the mariners, which, uinder the other alternative, must be supposed to have been imaginary. (See MALTA). The best modern account of this part of the African coast is that which is given by Admiral Smyth (in his Memoir on the Mediterraneean, p. 87-91, 186-190), who was himself the first to survey this bay thoroughly, and to divest it of many of its terrors. (See SHIPWRECK).
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McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Quicksands, the'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​tce/​q/quicksands-the.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.