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NIHIL NOVUM SUB SOLE

1001 deeds, sayings, curiosities and anecdotes of the ancient world

Mare clausum (the sea is closed)

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We are witnessing these days of autumn inhumane spectacle of dozens, hundreds of shipwrecked, Subsharian generally, on European shores of the Mediterranean. Attracted by the European welfare, these people are thrown into a sea always dangerous to reach the coast of an alleged near paradise.

But the sea is always more dangerous if it is approached by small boats or  old and ruined ships. The Mediterranean,  the sea between the lands, the Mare Nostrum (Our Sea) of the Romans always was the scene of shipwrecks (from Latin navis, ship, and fragium  and this from frango, fractum, rupture, fracture), especially in the winter months. Between 12 November and March it is not sailed in antiquity to prevent winter storms; that explains in part why it is in the previous weeks in which are produced the greatest humanitarian disasters, later the crossing is more difficult.

It was said  “the sea is closed", "mare clausum." Now the term is used in legal language to indicate that a country closes  its jurisdictional waters to general traffic, in a similar way as the airspace is closed for keep others flying it.

Petronius reflects in his Satyricon in a few verses the tragedy of a shipwreck . It is true that he does it in another  less embarrassing context than the current lack of human solidarity and in the midst of some jokes and comic situations typical of his "satirical" work, but locates it in the same geographical setting of Sicily or southern Italy. Excusing  the license to abstract the text from its context and maintaining the expression of the feeling of pain at a human misfortune ,  I present these text to help readers to understand the absolute helplessness of those who suffer a shipwreck away from loved ones.

Naturally  the text does not reflect the superimposed pain of trying to reach a foreign country as a lifeline future for him and his family and meet the cold and inhuman rejection, if he reaches the coast, or with the mere death in the attempt if he does not reach it. 

"mare clausum", "the closed sea" by storms in antiquity, is now closed for many unfortunate by the iniquity of inhumane laws. But these are the laws, then as now, of the powerful countries and of a global economic system that underlies the welfare of ones in the exploitation and neglect of others. A similar difference separated the Roman citizen (civis Romanus), who enjoyed all the rights, from the rest of the people  of the Empire. But I will talk about it another time.

Petronius, Satyricon, 114, 1-4 / 6-7 / 12-13 /

We were still discussing this and other matters when the sea grew rough,and clouds, gathering from every quarter, obscured with darkness the light of day.  The panic-stricken sailors ran to their stations and took in sail before the squall was upon them, but the gale did not drive the waves in any one direction and the helmsman lost his bearings and did not know what course to steer. At one moment the wind would set towards Sicily, but the next, the North Wind, prevailing on the Italian coast, would drive the unlucky vessel hither and yon; and, what was more dangerous than all the rain-squalls, a pall of such black density blotted out the light that the helmsman could not even see as far forward as the bow.
…….
He was still shouting when a windsquall swept him into the sea; the raging elements whirled him around and around in a terrible maelstrom and sucked him down.  Tryphaena, on the other hand, was seized by her faithful servants, placed in a skiff, along with the greater part of her belongings, and saved from certain death.
……..
I submit to this last bond and, as though I were laid out upon my death-bed, await an end no longer dreaded. Meanwhile, accomplishing the decrees of the Fates, the storm stripped the ship of all that was left; no mast, no helm, not a rope nor an oar remained on board her; she was only a derelict, heavy and water-logged, drifting before the waves.

Petronius, Satyricon  115,  6-10
When this job had at last been completed, we came, wet and wretched, to a fisherman's hut and refreshed ourselves somewhat with stores from the wreck, spoiled though they were by salt water, and passed a night that was almost interminable.  As we were holding a council, next day, to determine to what part of the country we had best proceed, I suddenly caught sight of a human body, turning around in a gentle eddy and floating towards the shore.  Stricken with melancholy, I stood still and began to brood, with wet eyes, upon the treachery of the sea.  "And perhaps," said I, "a wife, safe in some far-away country of the earth, awaits this man, or a son who little dreams of storms or wrecks; or perhaps he left behind a father, whom he kissed good-by at parting!  (
Translation by W. C. Firebaugh)

Petronius, Satyricon, 114, 1-4 / 6-7 / 12-13 /

Dum haec taliaque iactamus, inhorruit mare nubesque undique adductae obruere tenebris diem. Discurrunt nautae  ad officia trepidantes uelaque tempestati subducunt.  Sed nec certus fluctus uentus impulerat, nec quo destinaret cursum gubernator sciebat. Siciliam modo uentus dabat, saepissime Italici litoris aquilo possessor conuertebat huc illuc obnoxiam ratem, et quod omnibus procellis periculosius erat, tam spissae repente tenebrae lucem suppresserant, ut ne proram quidem  totam gubernator uideret.

Et illum quidem uociferantem in mare uentus excussit, repetitumque infesta gurgite procella circumegit atque hausit. Tryphaenam autem prope iam... fidelissimi rapuerunt serui, scaphaeque impositam cum maxima sarcinarum parte abduxere certissimae morti


……
Patior ego uinculum extremum, et ueluti lecto funebri  aptatus expecto mortem iam non molestam. Peragit interim tempestas mandata fatorum, omnesque reliquias nauis expugnat. Non arbor erat relicta, non gubernacula, non funis aut remus, sed quasi rudis atque infecta materies ibat cum fluctibus.
……………..
Petronius, Satyricon  115,  6-10
Hoc opere tandem elaborato casam piscatoriam subimus maerentes, cibisque naufragio curruptis utcumque curati tristissimam exegimus noctem. Postero die, cum poneremus consilium cui nos regioni crederemus, repente uideo corpus  humanum circumactum leui uortice ad litus deferri. Substiti ergo tristis coepique umentibus oculis maris fidem inspicere et: «Hunc forsitan», proclamo, «in aliqua parte terrarum secura expectat uxor, forsitan ignarus tempestatis filius, aut pater; utique reliquit aliquem, cui proficiscens osculum dedit.

   
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