Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Discoverers

Too exciting, so I'm sharing.

A small passage on the Portuguese:
"Among the most encouraged were the seamen of Portugal, who had an assignment from geography for their role in history.  On the westernmost edge of the Iberian peninsula, the nation attained its modern borders very early, in the mid-thirteenth century.  Portugal had no window on the Mediterranean - the "Sea-in-the-Midst-of-the-Land" - but was blessed by long navigable rivers and deep harbors opening oceanward.  Cities grew up on the shores of water that flowed into the Atlantic.  The Portuguese people, then, naturally faced outward, away from the classic centers of European civilization, westward toward the unfathomed ocean, and southward toward a continent that for Europeans was also unfathomed" (157).

[...] "The ability to come home again was essential if a people were to enrich, embellish, and enlighten themselves from far-off places.  In a later age this would be called feedback.  It was crucial to the discoverer, and helps explain why going to sea, why the opening of the oceans, would mark a grand epoch for humankind.  In one after another human enterprise, the act without the feedback was of little consequence.  The capacity to enjoy and profit from feedback was a prime human power.  Seafaring ventures, and even their one-way success, were themselves of small consequence and left little record in history.  Getting there was not enough. The internourishment of the peoples of the earth required the ability to get back, to return ot the voyaging source and transform the stay-at-homes by the commodities and the knowledge that the voyagers had found over there.  Fourth-century coins made in Carthage have been found in the Azores, and ancient Roman coins seem to have been left in Venezuela by vagrant wind-driven vessels.  Vikings from Norway and Iceland appear to have touched North America from time to time in the Middle Ages.  In 1291 the Vivaldi brothers from Genoa set out to round Africa by sea, but they disappeared.  It is possible, too, that in pre-Columian times a Chinese or Japanese junk may have been driven off course all the way to the shores of America.  But these acts and accidents that produced no feedback spoke only to the wind" (158).  

This book is filled with all kinds of fascinating discoveries, and only a small portion of the book is devoted to discoveries of land.  However, the sea-faring section is the one I just finished reading, so as illustrative passages you get the paragraphs above.  Interesting, though, huh?

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