Alois Musil

This week we reveal the name of our May mystery Czech and announce the names of the four lucky winners as well as a brand new competition question. Listeners quoted: Li Ming, Colin Law, Dean Bonnano, John Pastier, Paul R. Peacock, Suvro Chatterjee, Teodor Shepertycki, David Eldridge, Mary Lou Krenek.

Welcome to Mailbox. This past Thursday was the deadline for your answers to our May competition question in which we asked you to tell us the name of a Czech-born Arabist, parson, botanist and explorer who lived at the time of Lawrence of Arabia. Your suggestions included such names as Jan Evangelista Purkyne, Abu Zakariyah al-Awwam Ishbil, Bedrich Hrozny, Karel Bernard Hein and H. Neville Chittick. But none of those is correct, I'm afraid. As usual we received many answers, some of them really long and detailed accounts of the life and accomplishments of our mystery man. This quote is from an e-mail from our Chinese listener Li Ming:

"The name of the first Westerner who discovered Qusayr 'Amra lodge in Jordan is the Czech scholar Alois Musil. Qusayr 'Amra is the best-known of the desert castles located in present-day eastern Jordan. It was built early in the 8th century by the Umayyad caliph Walid I. It was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985."

Colin Law from New Zealand sent us an extensive essay on Alois Musil:

"Alois Musil's interest in faith in one God in Jewish, Christian and Islamic religions led to exploration of the Biblical regions where the faith originated. Alois Musil moved back and forth between Vienna and the Middle East. Known as Sheikh Musa ar-Rweili, he lived with the Bedouins of the Rwala tribe for prolonged periods and became their co-chief. During World War I he was sent to the Middle East as a secret agent who sought to 'raise the tribes' against Britain as T.E. Lawrence was supposed to have raised the tribes against the Turks."

Dean Bonanno is writing from the United States:

"The answer to your May competition is Alois Musil, a very interesting individual who also teamed up with American industrialist Charles. R. Crane. Crane financed the opening of oil exploration in Yemen and Saudi Arabia. Musil wrote 'In the Arabian Desert' in 1930. A fascinating tale in that book is his experiences with falcon hunting."

John Pastier also from the United States:

"The mystery Arabist and royal confessor is Alois Musil. A highly fascinating character! Is there an on-line archive of previous mystery people?"

No, there isn't, I'm afraid, but it is an interesting idea. I'll put the list together and publish it in a future Mailbox. Charles Konecny from the United States has written the following:

"One cannot help but be impressed with his accomplishments despite having health problems during his adult life. His discoveries, his teaching at university, and his learning many different languages including the many dialects of Arabic, amaze me. Truly a Czech of high esteem."

Paul R Peacock is writing from Australia:

"It was on the 8th of June 1898 only three weeks before his 30th birthday, that he became the first westerner to discover the Jordanian desert castle of Qusayr Amra, which contains a bath complex and is lined with frescos. He only spent some 40 minutes at the site of his discovery due to an ensuing battle between Arab warrior tribes."

Suvro Chatterjee listens to Radio Prague in India:

"Between his trips Musil kept working on his publications and lecturing. In 1902 he became professor at the theology university in Olomouc, in 1909 professor of theology in Vienna University. He helped to establish the Oriental Institute at the Academy of Sciences in Prague in 1927."

Teodor Shepertycki follows Radio Prague in Canada:

"I was amazed to discover that not only had Alois Musil mastered the modern and classical languages of his day but 35 dialects of Arabic as well. His rivalry with Lawrence occurred during World War I when he was sent to the Middle East to oppose the British attempts there. I understand that he is almost unknown in the Czech Republic. How sad. Let me end by thanking you for bringing this remarkable individual to my attention."

David Eldridge from England wrote this in his answer:

"Because of his knowledge, prior to WWI the Austro-Hungarian monarchy made use of Musil by employing him as a spy, a fact which after the War caused Charles University in Prague to be hesitant at offering him a position as a professor. However, he was accepted and worked at the University until 1938."

And finally Mary Lou Krenek from Texas:

"Here is another distinguished religious person, who was an accomplished explorer, orientalist, and writer. [...] Also, one of Musil's masterpieces was an exhaustive account of every single aspect of life of the Bedouins of North Arabia to include marriage customs and ways for milking camels."

Many thanks for those answers and interesting details about our mystery man. I should also mention that Alois Musil was the second cousin of the renowned Austrian writer Rober Musil. If you'd like to find out more about Alois Musil, tune in to next week's edition of Czechs in History.

This time the lucky four who will receive Radio Prague goodie bags are: Paul R Peacock from Australia, Dean Bonanno from the USA, Suvro Chatterjee from India and John Pastier from the USA. Congratulations, and your prizes are in the post!

Time now for a brand new question: This month we would like to know the name of a composer who was born in 1860 in what is now the Czech Republic and lived here until the age of fifteen. Later he studied music in Vienna and worked as a conductor in several Central European cities, including Ljubljana, Budapest, Vienna but also Prague and Olomouc. He also lived and worked in New York for some time. He died in Vienna at age of 50, leaving behind nine symphonies and a number of vocal works.

Your answers should reach us by the end of June at the usual address [email protected], or if you prefer Radio Prague, 12099 Prague, Czech Republic. Till next week, bye-bye.