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

With the ships on the shoulders

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Apollonius of Rhodes gave us the only Greek epic poem that is conserved from Homer to the Hellenistic period, "The journey of the Argonauts". Five centuries have passed and many things have changed. If Homer's gods mingle with the heroes in their struggle, now the work is of men, although the gods, powerful, influence, help but do not mix with them. Actually the poem seems more like a novel and as such should be read.

The poem tells the epic and fantastic journey of any Greek heroes in search of the "golden fleece". A journey of these features allows the author to describe scenarios, actions and mythical tales circulating among the Greeks as popular cultural wealth, so perhaps similar to our stories.

The poem deserves to be read for many reasons, some literary, historical or  folk other. I transcribe a fragment, that this is too large, on an episode of the trip, almost at the  end, in which the heroes, burly undoubtedly be forced to carry his ship on dry land to  find again the sea and go  back home. I use the translation that Carlos García Gual made of the poem a few years ago for the  spanish  “Editora Nacional”:

And at once Peleus rejoiced and spake among the throng of his comrades:
“I deem that Poseidon’s car has even now been loosed by the hands of his dear wife, and I divine that our mother is none else than our ship herself;  fornsurely she bare us in her womb and groans unceasingly with grievous travailing. But with unshaken strength and untiring shoulders will we lift her up and bear her within this country of sandy wastes, where yon swift-footed steed has sped before. For he wil not plunge beneath the earth; and his hoof-prints, I ween, will point us to some bay above the sea.”
Thus he spake, and the fit  counsel pleased all. This is the tale the Muses told; and I sing obedient to the Pierides, and this report have I heard most truly; that ye, O mightiest far of the desert sands of Lybra raised high aloft on hour shoulders the ship and all that ye brought therein, and bare her twelve days and nights alike. Yet who could tell the pain and grief which they endured in that toil? Surely they were of the blood of the immortals, such a task did they take on them, constrained by necessity. How forward and how far they  bore her gladly to the waters of the Tritonian lake! How they strode in and set her down from their stalwart shoulders!
   (Trnasl. by  R.C.Seaton M.A.)

Well this episode, apparently mythical, has at least two real confirmations, yes similar if not identical.
In 1453 the Turkish sultan Metmet II finally conquered Constantinople, which had long resisted heroically Turkish thrust. Among other defenses such as several belts of defensive walls, the spectacular "Golden Horn" (one of the most beautiful places on Earth) was closed by an iron chain that prevented the passage of ships. The Sultan Metmet II, obsessed with the target and willing to do anything, he built a dirt road behind Pera by which transported their boats to the "Golden Horn".

Again the ships sailed for the mainland. It happened on April 22 and at this day Constantine XI, the last emperor, understood  the determination of the Turkish sultan and knew that soon the Roman capital of the Eastern Empire would be Turkish. At the day  May 29  ended the Eastern Roman Empire.

The Turks, now inhabitants of Colchis, Medea's homeland, somehow repeated the feat of heroes in mythical times walked these lands. Most likely Metmet knew the legend, the story, the story of some Greeks, the Argonauts, who in antiquity loaded with boats in tow.

The city came into history  calling Byzas  (whence Byzantium), then the "Nova Roma" (New Rome), soon Constantinople, from  Constantinus (name of Roman Emperor) and Greek word polis, "city",  until 1930, when  was given the Turkish name  Istanbul, derived from the phrase eis tên Polin (εις τήν Πόλιν) meaning "in or into the city" (although in colloquial language was called "islambol" meaning "city of Islam "or" Islam immense ").

In 1492 Christopher Columbus had discovered a new continent unknowingly, then, tricks of fate would not be called "Colombia or Columbia" but America. Then Spanish expeditions happen especially for the new territories. Vasco Nunez de Balboa, interesting character in several respects, attracted, like everyone, for the gold reaches the isthmus connecting North to South America;  the natives tell him that if the only thing that matters is the gold, he must go to west to a huge sea abounding metal. After many penalties wetlands and forested mountains, on September 25, 1513 sights from the top of a mountain the vast sea, which he calls "South Sea" and takes possession in the name of his king of Spain. Later  Ferdinand Magellan called it the Pacific Ocean by the apparent calm waters and it has left so to posterity.

Years later, in 1516, decided from the Atlantic coast to prepare a naval expedition for the "South Sea" because it was authorized to do so before 1518. Thinking that in coast the Pacific he could not find the materials to build their boats, prepared then in Acla, city on the Atlantic coast. Cuts and carves  wood, prepares the anchors and all instruments thatnrequire two brigs. All this is carried on the shoulders and backs of Indians, of course, (with a small share of a few blacks and some Spanish) by swamps, jungles and mountains to the Balsas River, currently the river Sabanas, which disembogue into the Pacific. In the harsh and painful transport operation many Indians died;  Bartolome de las Casas, who is who tells us these things, says that over 2,000 Indians died. Maybe the gods of the Isthmus, outraged by so much ambition and cruelty, sent tropical storms of such magnitude that destroyed built ships. The end of Balboa was unfortunate result of betrayal and false accusation: arrested by  Pizarro, whom he found in the way back, was convicted and executed in January 1519.

Certainly, his discovery of the "South Sea, then" Pacific Ocean "was a great feat, despite the shadows that always hover over any human endeavor.

I do not know if Nunez de Balboa  knew the poem of Apollonius, but we can assume that probably knew some details of the capture of Constantinople by the Turks; in all it  happened sixty-three years before expedition to the "South Sea" .

The propaganda of the time of the dictatorship of General Franco presents the episode as a feat of mythic heroes own, regardless of what it really cost. A  scholar book of 1967 (The Book of Spain, edit. Edelvives, Zaragoza 1967) says, for example,  on page 47:

"Only Spanish hearts could  conceive the project. The feat leaves the bounds of the human ".

In any case and for the matter  that interests us, not the mainland or the dense jungle and the steep mountain was an obstacle for to the wind push two sailboats brig.

I also transcribe a fragment of the work of Bartolome de las Casas, History of the Indies, which tells us these things:

Chap. LXXIV: "... As long as Compañon came and went, Vasco Núñez began to cut, by him first, wood  to begin the brigs, and so did those who were with him, where he labored all or most of the wood four brigs, to take so carved later to  this river “Balsa”  and form there he brigs and take them out to sea by the river, and finally it was did so…
Vasco Nunez came back and  sent Compañon with some  Spanish and 30 black men to the summit of the mountains, from  where the water discharged into the, to do a house where rest  those who were carrying your carved wood and anchors and rigging of the brigs and they had the supplies and food and weapons and everything else for his defense.
to bring it into the house; this was 12 leagues of mountains and rivers away, already down and climbed up to reach the high mountains where this hideout settled. This timber was loaded onto the Indians which they had as slaves and those who were to robe  each day and  blacks took their part;  blacks were 30, and each Spanish carried that he could. The work here carrying and taking up this wood, and nailing and tools, and then anchors and rigging and all other gear needed for the launches, and then falling to the river, which is suffered by all, can not be believed, but there was no black or Spanish who died of them, but of the unhappy Indians were  countless  who perished and concluded their sad days; I saw signed by bishop with your name, in a relationship that he did for the Emperor in Barcelona the year 519, when he came from the mainland, as longer forward,  God willing, will be referred, that Vasco Nuñez killed 500 Indians for make the brigantines,  and the Bishop’s secretary told me that he  would not put more number because not seem amazing thing, but the truth was that they came or passed  2,000; and as the work was, indeed, anyone it should have been possible and be truly so, because carry naked naked men 24 and 25 leagues from towering mountains, hills and descended, piggyback carved wood to make four ships and anchors iron three, four, five six quintals and cables that are the ropes for the anchors, weighing as much and little less, and a thousand other such heavy quasi gear that ships require all without eating but a bit of corn grain bread made yet, but as they eat the birds or beasts, what men, even having bodies  formed part of the iron material, could suffer without dying?

Cap. LXXV:

God began to show what they  served him with those works, because the work of cutting wood sawing it  in Acla and North Sea, and then sad Indias carrying it on the shoulders through very rough  and intolerable roads, all that became empty because the timber was  there on land that was very close by the sea salt, and it was after eaten by meal worms, and therefore it was necessary to cut it again at the river; when they had  cut a lot of wood, and perhaps sawed it, because they wanted to put it into the shipyard, which is to start the brigs, came suddenly so big avenues that the river took part of the wood and the silt buried another part,  rising the water above  two states  (fourteen feet) ....

Finally, the Argonauts were motivated by the desire to return home, as many traders and ancient Greek sailors. The Spanish in America were pushed to incredible target by the gold quest, conquest, glory;  Turks by the desire to conquer the capital, supposedly rich, of what had been a huge empire and remained as symbol of the Christian West.

Some people believe that faith can move mountains, but what is proven from the ancient Greeks is that human will makes  boats sail on dry dirt roads.


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