Sailing to Rio de Janeiro!
TÃO LONGE, TÃO PERTO
Music and Poetry in the Portuguese Language
(Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, May 2013)*
Testimony for discussion by Michales Loukovikas
“Oh, they are loucos”, they thought – some even said. “Portugal and Greece are so far apart. Impossible to find common ground”…
Imagine what people like them, with raised brows, will say now that we are talking about a triangle (not that of the… Bermuda): Portugal, Brazil and Greece. Well, Portugal and Brazil, OK, the relation is obvious: former metropolis and colony; but… Greece?!!
I can tell you that the results of our collaboration astonished even us! Even me, I should add, that I have been researching this field for years, arriving to the conclusion that civilization, culture, is the result of give and take, of exchange. I have also shown in my radio programs that lands so far apart, like – say – India and Iberia, have been interconnected for thousands of years, since ancient times… Well, when the Hellenes say “ancient”, they mean BCE (before the common era), or BC (before Christ), if you like.
All these ideas were further reinforced when Amélia and I started working on Periplus. Of course, there are some “dark spots” still now; questions that remain unanswered. A big question for me e.g. is: how can Amélia, a Portuguese born in Mozambique, compose in an ancient style? You see, all three ancient Greek themes we have in Periplus (Seikilos’ Epitaph, the First Delphic Hymn to Apollo, and Mesomedes’ Hymn to Nemesis) were included because of her own compositions that reminded me of the ancient Hellenic songs mentioned above. It’s very strange, indeed.
However, apart from these “dark spots”, which will always challenge us to come up with some satisfactory answers, we were able to assemble the rest of the puzzle rather easily. And when our Periplus was released, I could say:
“You know, the links are there, waiting for us to uncover them. One only needs to search, methodically, of course, with a proper compass”, a bússula, as we say in Greek or bússola as you say in Portuguese.(a)
The Greek peninsula and archipelago was not a beginning in world history. The Hellenes received the wisdom from the Orient (Asia Minor, Mesopotamia and Egypt) and turned it into science;(b) it was a great feat! And what they left behind was a marvelous literature – uma literatura maravilhosa, indeed! Thus the Hellenic civilization became the foundation of the Occidental cultures.
The extant periploi (plural of periplus) took place in the Mediterranean, the Indian and the Atlantic oceans. Herodotus also wrote about a periplus of Africa by Phoenicians on behalf of an Egyptian Pharaoh. A Greek from Alexandria, Egypt, described the Indian Ocean coasts of eastern Africa and India. Pytheas, from the Hellenic colony of Massalia (modern Marseille, France), voyaged north to the British Isles and Scandinavia and concluded a periplus of Europe sailing via European rivers from the Baltic to the Black Seas and back to the Mediterranean. There are also people that believe the Minoan Cretans, the Greeks, the Egyptians, the Punics, and other ancient peoples sailed to the Americas long before the Vikings or Columbus – or, of course, Magellan, who attempted a periplus of the world but was not fortunate enough to conclude it.
Therefore, these voyages started long before recorded history, in the Bronze Age. There are some historical clues that the Minoans in the time of their thalassocracy travelled as far as Cornwall, Britain, in search of tin – or else they obtained this important metal at ports of southern Gaul. Tin is a necessary component of bronze (± 90% copper plus ± 10% tin). There were vast quantities of copper in the Mediterranean. Cyprus e.g. was full of copper and the name Cyprus comes from copper (and vice versa). But tin? There were very few places in the Mediterranean with tin and in limited quantities.
The Minoans, and later the Greeks and the Phoenicians, sailed initially to Iberia that was rich in these minerals. The Andalusians probably led the Cretans to Galicia, Brittany and Cornwall: they knew the way… All of these places, especially Cornwall, had massive tin deposits. There, close to Galicia or even Cornwall, were the so-called Cassiterides Nesoi, the Tin Isles (cassíteros is tin in Greek). Herodotus and other historians write also about the links of the Hellenes and Phoenicians with Tartessos, at the mouth of the Guadalquivir, and many people nowadays correlate the legendary Tartessos with the elusive Atlantis…
This research started out of some very simple questions:
• Where did the Bronze Age Mediterranean find tin to produce bronze?
• Who were the maritime traders of the time to bring this most crucial metal to the Mediterranean and where did they find it?
Our conclusion is that certain needs motivated the humans to live together, to communicate, to exchange. That’s how society was born, the cities were created, the classes and division of labour emerged and writing was invented. The interaction concerned material needs but at the same time transformed the people that worked together exchanging also ideas and ideals, a process that led to the birth of civilization, of culture.
It is not so obvious but we have something like a “periplus” in other human endeavours, too. Music was born together with speech. In an advanced stage, in ancient Hellas, music was either instrumental or song. Poetry in classical Greece was inconceivable without music. The two arts got… divorce later, in the 4th century BCE. However, either before or after, a “periplus” was (and still is) needed to combine sounds with words, and to express the meaning of the words through sounds. Something similar also happens in a translation: then the “periplus” concerns two languages. It is the voyage of a text, its meaning and style, content and form, while it is adapted in order to start breathing in another language environment…
The Odyssey is a kind of a poetic “periplus”. According to the Lusitanians, the wanderings of Odysseus (Ulysses) were Luso-Hellenic, as well: he founded Lisbon and had a child with the Iberian princess Calypso. Homer described Odysseus’ descent into Hades, the underworld, which was outside the Pillars of Heracles, that is, the Strait of Gibraltar. The Hellenes located in the same area the Garden of the Hesperides and the Makaron Nesoi, that is, the Fortunate Isles, the Islands of the Blessed, or Elysium, what today is thought to be Macaronesia (Azores, Madeira, the Canaries, and Cape Verde).
Dante, in his Inferno, cites another version of Odysseus’ descent into the underworld with no return. The king of Ithaca, he writes, went out of the Pillars of Hercules and sailed south, crossed the Equator, continued voyaging for months, until he reached a bay with a big mountain. Then a tornado sank his boat.
I don’t know why, but I think this bay with the big mountain is… the River of January: Rio de Janeiro! I would really love to confirm that…
• The modern Greek Homerist Ioannis Kakridis argues that the Odyssey is a work of poetry and not a travel log (or a navigator’s periplus). According to W. B. Stanford, Cape Maleas and the nearby island of Cythera, where Odysseus met storms (Odyssey, book 9), are “the last clearly identifiable places in his wanderings. After this he leaves the sphere of Geography and enters Wonderland.” (Wandering in Wonderland)…
Nevertheless, due to the great impact of the Homeric epics, the attempt to create a “Geography of the Odyssey” started as early as Hesiod, who must have been Homer’s contemporary, and by the Hellenistic period, the literature on the subject had really thrived. There were even disagreements among the scholars whether Odysseus’ wanderings were confined within the Mediterranean or if they expanded into the Atlantic – indicating that for them the ocean was not a “terra” (mare) incogita.
Other scholars, however, turned against this euhemerism –(d) some of them even against the great rhapsode. The mythographer-grammarian Apollodorus of Athens (2nd century BCE) wrote that Homer imagined the wanderings as having taken place in a kind of fairyland in the Atlantic. Strabo (1st centuries BCE-CE) considered that at least Ogygia and Scheria-Phaeacia, the islands of Calypso and Nausicaa respectively, were “imagined in fantasy” as being in the Atlantic.
Plutarch (1st-2nd centuries CE) agreed with Strabo on the location of Ogygia in the Atlantic, and specifically west of Britain. He also repeated what Plato had described as a continent on the other side of the Atlantic, adding that from this continent Ogygia was about 900 kilometres distant. Kepler (1571 – 1630) estimated that “the great continent” was America and attempted to locate Calypso’s island.
In her work entitled The Wine Dark Sea, Henriette Mertz (20th century) argued that Circe’s island is Madeira, Calypso’s island one of the Azores, and the intervening travels record a discovery of North America: Scylla and Charybdis are in the Bay of Fundy, in Nova Scotia, Canada, while Scheria is in the Caribbean.
Enrico Mattievich, a retired Professor of Physics from the UFRJ (the University where our festival took place), “brought” Odysseus to South America, proposing that his journey to the Underworld actually took place there. The river Acheron is the Amazon, he argued. After a long voyage upstream Odysseus met the spirits of the dead at the confluence of the rivers Marañon and Ucayali – the starting point of the Amazon.
Perhaps Odysseus was not the first Hellene to go there: according to Mertz, a century before the Trojan War and the Odyssey, in the 13th century BCE, the Argonauts travelled across the Atlantic Ocean, down the east coast of South America, past the mouth of the Amazon and Rio de Janeiro to the Río de la Plata of Argentina, and, following it upstream, reached the altiplano of Bolivia arriving at Colchis or Tiwanaku, where the Golden Fleece was kept. Centuries later Tiwanaku became the religious, cosmological, cultural and commercial centre of a pre-Columbian empire that extended around Lake Titicaca in present-day western Bolivia, southern Peru and northern Chile from 300 to 1150 CE. But this area must have been inhabited as early as 1500 BCE.
More extreme views have occasionally surfaced that the whole geography of the Iliad and the Odyssey can be mapped on the coasts of the northern Atlantic. According to this, Troy was in southern England, Telemachus’ journey took him to Andalusia, while Odysseus wandered around the Atlantic coast. Some others turned recently their eyes to the sky arguing that Homeric geography is to be found there, and that the Iliad and the Odyssey can be decoded as a star map. What we will hear next, I suppose, would be that the Trojan War was actually a Star War…