From ancient Greece to the present, stories of crossing the water depict the travels and travails of mariners exploring new regions and finding their way home. Since Homer, such narratives have captivated readers with gripping and often sensationalized accounts of little-known parts of the world and of that mysterious fluid element, the sea itself. The line between fact and fiction can be difficult to discern in these literary works, yet that ambiguity often heightens their appeal to readers. In this class we will carefully and critically examine that boundary as we read classic and lesser-known nautical travel narratives, fictional and nonfictional, from a variety of cultural traditions relevant to our voyage. As we do so we will explore the line between fact and fiction in travel narratives, as well as considering multiple contexts for interpretation, paying particular attention to varying depictions of the marine environment.
Field WorkCountry: Greece
Day: 2 - Wednesday, 7 October
In this field seminar we will explore the historical Greek relationship to sea travel, ships, and the marine environment. In the morning we will explore the port of Piraeus, with its three harbors, on foot, paying particular attention to the various functions of the port (commercial, governmental, recreational). Our first stop is the Church of Saint Nicolas, patron saint of sailors and children. Then we will walk to the National Hellenic Maritime Museum, exploring the collections there and paying particular attention to the ways in which institutions tell “stories” about the movements and lives of people of long ago. As we do so, we will consider (and try to answer) such questions as the following. What activities drew the ancient Greeks to sea travel? How has the Greek national relationship to the sea changed over time? What are the similarities and differences between the pagan and Christian perspectives on the marine environment? Does the spiritual status of “Pontus” (the Mediterranean Sea) as a spiritual cleansing agent echo in the iconography of the Virgin Mary? What does the sea mean in traditional and modern Greek culture?