I found it intriguing to learn that Prospero's speech renouncing his magic was almost directly copied from a similar monologue by Medea in Ovid's Metamorphoses. Although Medea would at first appear closer to Sycorax than Prospero in origin and intention, her drive for revenge informs her witchery much in the way that Prospero's thirst for vengeance leads him to create the tempest. It's also interesting to go back to the Odyssey and think of Circe, who actually happens to be Medea's aunt. Sycorax, Medea and Circe all seem to be part of an ancient travel archetype of the island sorceress. While a direct correlation to such an archetype doesn't exist today, in thinking of the evolution of Circe and Medea to Prospero and Sycorax, I found parallels between these castaway practitioners of magic and certain modern-day Bond villains. It is now essentially a stereotype for the evil villain of a given movie to have a gigantic island filled with all sorts of wondrous creations, although in our own era these are usually of a technological rather than magical nature. The Incredibles spoofed these archetypes to great effect. Unlike their antecedents, however, these modern-day island wizards do not engage themselves with visiting travelers with such keen interest, preferring instead to take them directly to the shark tank/volcano/other means of horrible death. This perhaps speaks to the death of xenia over time; while Circe cannot be called truly hospitable, she did feed and clothe her visitors before turning them into pigs. Prospero recalls a Bond villain in his masterful manipulation of everyone on his island, but in the end he reveals himself to be a basically good man. I wonder where all the witches went?
1. Odyssey, 2. Herodotus (a), 3. Herodotus (b), 4. Marco Polo (a), 5. Marco Polo (b), 6. Ibn Battuta (a), 7. Ibn Battuta (b), 8. Columbus (a), 9. Columbus (b), 10. Cabeza de Vaca (a), 11. Cabeza de Vaca (b), 12. The Tempest, 13. Final thoughts
Although much of the world has today been mapped, photographed, and explored, this does not preclude the possibility for contemporary adventure, although it has made it more nuanced. For the stories aforementioned are not only about physical travel, about spatially moving out into the unknown, they are also about the travelers evolving values and emotions. That is the heart of the story.
All life is a journey, and all great literature in essence describes a journey, either internal or external. These Journeys can take place anywhere, in the wilderness, in the city, in a middle-class suburb. The important thing is not where they occur, but the journey they reveal. In a strict sense, much of what we have read this semester is not ‘literature’, but rather historical first hand accounts. They are not fanciful works of creative imagination - with the exception of The Odyssey and The Tempest, of course. However, they are better than most literature in so far as they do better at accomplishing the real goal of literature, capturing the journey. Cadeza de Vaca, in my mind is probably the best example of this, and serves as a rare case of a work demonstrative of both literary and historical merit.
I think it is often easy to pigeonhole historical works into the category of simply history, ignoring their literary merit. Many of the books we have read are so extraordinary in their historical accounts, Marco Polo and Cabeza de Vaca being key examples, that their literary merit is often brushed aside. Consigning these works simply to the history shelves, however, ignores the incredible stories of personal transformation they contain. In many of the works we have read it is not hard to see how the traveler’s views change. Marco Polo’s growing admiration for the Great Kublai Khan, Cabeza de Vaca’s growing love of the indigenous people of the Americas, and so forth. For this reason, it is my view that these works should be read more often as we have read them – as works of both incredible historical and literary merit.
There are many reasons why hospitality between traveler and host was significantly more prevalent in early travel narratives than it is today. Logistically, travelers were more dependent on the accommodations of hosts because the hotels and restaurants relied on by travelers today were not an option, and because travel was significantly more difficult and dangerous in these earlier times. Cabeza de Vaca, for example, would not have been able to survive the cold winters without the food and shelter he was provided by natives. The hospitable relationship between guest and host evolved out of an understanding of these circumstances regarding ancient travel.
Another reason why hospitality was especially prevalent in early travel narratives was because of its cultural significance. As demonstrated within “The Odyssey”, hospitality was a meaningful aspect of Greek culture; a generous ‘guest-friend’ relationship between traveler and host was a Greek convention. In “The Odyssey”, hospitality was believed to be both pleasing to the gods and beneficial to the spreading of one’s reputation in addition to being pleasing to guests.
This notion of hospitality as a cultural standard was similarly evident in the narrative of Ibn Battuta, in which hospitality was described as an expected measure of good character. The ‘hospitality gifts’ Ibn Battuta received throughout his travels seemed to capture a naturally understood obligation between traveler and host.
Despite an understanding of why hospitality was so prevalent in ancient times, at times, the tremendous hospitality extended from traveler to host seemed unusual and excessive. For example, I found the degree of honor and respect with which Marco Polo was received by Kublai Khan and other local hosts to be bizarre: "The host bids his wife do everything that the guest wishes. Then he leaves the house and goes about his own business and stays away two or three days. Meanwhile the guest stays with his wife in the house and does what he will with her, lying with her in one bed as if she were his own wife; and they lead a gay life together."
The relationship between host and traveler is not black and white, however. While there are examples of hospitality provided by the natives for Christopher Columbus, Columbus’s cruel exploitation of the natives does not suggest a friendly relationship between stranger and guest. Likewise, Prospero’s hospitality to his guests in the Tempest was often laced with deception and cruelty.
In the account of Herodotus in Egypt, we observe one of the West’s first historians doing his best to represent a culture that is foreign to him. Herodotus is admirable in that he attempts to record things exactly as they appear to him rather than in relation to Greek culture. Of course sometimes he makes a value judgment, but he remains admirable for oftentimes admitting the Egyptian’s superiority in a certain field, such as the construction of their labyrinth. It is difficult not to assume that your culture is somehow the best and should be used as a benchmark for all other cultures. Herodotus does surprisingly well at breaking away from this mindset and attempting to see the environment for what it is.
In the travels of Ibn Battuta, we see a man whose journeys are motivated by a yearning for knowledge. As an attorney, he wished to trek across Northern Africa and the Middle East, learning from the nobles in each locale. It is clear that Ibn measures different cultures based on his reverence for Islamic law. He is scandalized by naked bathers in one city, in another he swears at a Jewish physician who is standing above Koran readers.
Columbus shows us the dangers of assuming that one’s own culture is superior to another’s. One of the main goals of his quest is to convert the Native Americans (or as he thought them to be, the Indians) to Christianity. Even though he knows nothing of their language, Columbus is convinced that the Native Americans are perfectly ripe for conversion. He assumes that they are without religion because he doesn’t observe anything in the Americas associated with Western religion. It isn’t sensible to blame Columbus for all of this nation’s wrongdoings against its native inhabitants, but at the same time the mindset of cultural superiority that we see in Columbus seems to be represent the colonialist outlook.
So our first step. It seems that before embarking on our journeys we must do some thorough dusting. We should try to sweep the cobwebs of our native culture that have been developing in our minds since birth. Of course, it seems that total clearness is impossible with anything short of a lobotomy, but we still must acknowledge the relativity of our own culture before we can get anywhere. If we fail to at least try, then we can travel the world but never manage to leave our cages.
The first day of “Travel Classics” we addressed the question, “Why does one travel?” and the concept of seeking “authenticity” through tourism. I find myself now coming back to the same question from a different point of view—through the lens of “deconstruction and reconstruction” as an inherent trait (and cycle), present in all of mankind, and as a necessary tool in the process of self-actualization and the construction of purpose.
It is relatively easy to cite examples of characters manifesting their own problems throughout their journeys in fictional texts such as The Tempest and The Odyssey as the structure of narrative, generally speaking, necessitates conflict. Prospero consciously injects his daughter’s romantic relationship with anxiety/conflict to ensure the construction of a future healthy marriage. Odysseus and his men disregard prior warnings and sacrifice the oxen of Helios to their own disadvantage, pro-longing the journey home.
The presence of “deconstructive and reconstructive” tendencies in the personal documentation of one’s travels, however, do appear to reflect similar instances of struggle in a narrative-like fashion—Columbus’ hardships and encounters with the Indians as imperative to his own transformation is evidence of such. Even in Herodotus’ Account of Egypt, in which he rarely writes of or reflects upon his own experience traveling, we witness the pattern. Through the deconstruction of another, unfamiliar culture, Herodotus is able to reconstruct and interpret the beliefs of his own culture by comparison.
Each travel writer had his own motive for traveling—religion, wealth, conquest, navigation, war, discovery. However, each documented journey was also marked by a thematic consistency of struggle and conflict (internal and external) juxtaposed with the re-configuration of the author and reader’s perception, which is perhaps why these ancient texts have survived and maintained relevancy. It is human nature—the intrinsic yearning for struggle and “salutary anxiety”—that weaves all of these texts together so seamlessly and perhaps, gets at the heart of why we desire to travel today.
Of course, governments still colonize foreign lands, and modern merchants still travel for business purposes. But I think for the every-day traveler seeking adventure, travel is necessary if only for first-hand experience. It’s incredibly easy to watch videos or read books about a place and think you know it. But as we’ve seen in the course’s readings, these accounts are usually biased. People idealize or demonize, whether they intend to or not. The only way to know for sure what a place and its people are like is to go there yourself; this also lets a person react to a different culture based on his own disposition and preferences.
This raises two considerations. Firstly, while its clearly convenient and sometimes arguably necessary to research a place before traveling there, I think embarking with no preconceived notions can also have its advantages, as long as the traveler is careful. To me, the most compelling part of the classic travelogues was the excitement with which the men viewed foreign lands. My parents are the type that meticulously plan every vacation and weekend trip, so I felt like I had already taken the trip before we even left. But my favorite trip was an unplanned road trip I took with a friend, because even the most mundane towns we passed through were made exciting by the prospect of the unknown. Even though it’s easy to learn everything about a foreign place before booking an airline ticket, I think there’s something to be said for spontaneity, in that it allows the traveler to capture some of the explorer’s spirit of true travel pioneers. Secondly, I’ve realized how to – and how not to – approach foreign cultures in order to best enjoy them for what they are. Of course, people from a different culture will always be “others” to a traveler, and vice versa. But travelers like Cabeza de Vaca, Marco Polo, and Herodotus appreciated differences and tried to keep judgment to a minimum. I certainly won’t ever travel with the intent of colonizing the people I encounter, but the Western “conqueror” attitude could cause me or other Americans to patronize so-called underdeveloped cultures if we let it. As trite as it may sound, remembering that all people are equal seems to be the only way to truly understand and value a foreign culture for what it is.
These thoughts on how to approach travel are not new to me, but the classic readings from this course gave me new perspective on what it means to travel today. Though we now have the luxury of easily accessible resources to educate ourselves about foreign places, second-hand travel seems even less appealing to me. For one thing, the writer’s account, while possibly interesting and enlightening, could be biased to the point of fictionalization. But most importantly, reading about a place gives only a shadow of its culture – and the only real way to understand it and form an opinion on it is to travel there yourself.
The first major knowledge-seeker provides the basis for Greek history, as it is seen today. Herodotus gives an in-depth examination of the cultures he encounters, particularly perplexed and bewildered by the Egyptians. He was of the first thinkers to travel and collect his findings in one place, granting knowledge to himself and those who read his The Histories. As the “Father of History,” Herodotus takes the lead in searching for knowledge, recording it, and sharing his experiences with the world.
Following the intentions of Herodotus, the legendary Marco Polo set out on a journey of exploration and adventure. Recording what he saw and those he met on the way, Polo tells a much more dramatic and exciting tale than his predecessor. Though the trip became one of slightly economic purposes, the motives and interests for acquiring knowledge remained constant, leaving us with one of the only accounts of China before they closed themselves off to the rest of the world. Marco Polo’s The Travels gives readers a glimpse into the ancient court of Kubilai Khan, enriching the minds of those who do not have the means to travel (especially in that time period).
Knowledge does not always come in great adventures with intentions of recording and documenting; it can also be acquired through spiritual journey. Ibn Battutah, regarded as the “Muslim Marco Polo,” began his travels on a spiritual journey. He embarked on the hajj, an Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca, to acquire more spiritual knowledge. In his account, he ends up continuing his travels and taking similar actions to those of Marco Polo. He writes down what he sees, learning and sharing through travel.
Years later, with Marco Polo’s The Travels in hand, a young Christopher Columbus sets off, hoping to learn, chart, and establish a new trade route to the East Indies. Instead, he strikes a gold mine of unknown lands, language, customs, and culture—a wealth of knowledge yet to be decoded. He documents all that he sees and shares his knowledge with fellow conquistadors. These fellows return to the New World, one of which being Cabeza de Vaca. De Vaca encounters a learning experience unlike any others; the unintentional travels throughout La Florida develop his understanding of the natives, even spurring him to defend them later in his life.
Throughout the years, men have determined that knowledge is power, seeking to acquire it in every corner of the earth. There is no doubt that traveling is, in essence and inevitably, a learning experience. No matter the motivations or intentions, knowledge is an undeniable part of travel proving evident in the majority of the travel narratives.
The Tempest was a really great jumping off point for my final thoughts about the course in general, because I've been contemplating the nature of truth in travel writing a lot. In the texts we have read, written as they were before the advent of tourism, the truth undergoes almost inevitable distortion because of the secondhand nature of many of the accounts, such as in the case of Marco Polo, Herodotus, and Odysseus. Even when the adventurers are direct authors of the text in question, as with Cabeza de Vaca and Columbus, the presence of the royal audience for which the written work was intended is inescapable and must be taken into account. Despite this, Cabeza de Vaca struck me as by far the most honest travel writer within the canon that we read, perhaps because his personal story ties into a development of the land explored in and of itself. Cabeza de Vaca's appreciation of the New World as a place, rather than just a chance for glory, is evidenced by his desire to go back there immediately after being lost in its wildernesses for years. In contrast, Columbus' desire for royal patronage color his accounts far towards the positive. The same desire to impress an audience, though perhaps more innocuously, emerges within the texts of Herodotus and Marco Polo. Both of these texts assert some measure of superiority or at least normalcy to their own cultures and contrast their observations of otherness with their own societal values. Yet despite the condescension towards the inhabitants of foreign lands, as well as the ridiculous exaggerations, both accounts belie an innate curiosity as to the diversity of human culture, to say nothing of the world itself. In reading Herodotus' and Polo's descriptions of what they find strange or noteworthy, some aspects of the authors' own respective societies begins to emerge. Thus these travel classics serve as documents of both the culture being visited and the culture doing the visiting. While Ibn Battuta was similarly prone to stretching the truth, his intentions were to reinforce the teachings of Islam; indeed, Battuta's exposure to cultures outside of the Islamic region of the world was very limited. Nevertheless, his account is also chock full of details unique to one region or the other, as variable in their believability as the various accounts of Herodotus and Polo. This perhaps reveals an innate human desire to, when sharing stories of travel, infuse their own imagination within the narrative in an attempt to make the story as magical for the audience as the journey was for them.
The reason I am focusing on Travel for my colloquium topic is because I believe that even in modern times travel can be a lifetime commitment. Even with better transportation, maps, and other benefits of modern technology traveling can still be an exciting adventure. I loved reading these texts this semester because they gave me new ideas of places to travel to and things to see. In the end, the drive each author had to explore and to keep traveling, even if they had barely survived the last trip, was inspirational. I think these authors kept traveling simply because they loved it.
In his essay “The Tempest and the New World,” Charles Frey balances the history and romanticism of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. He argues that the play was most likely based upon common knowledge of the new American world, but that Shakespeare took liberties with the facts to shape his story into a more captivating tale. Frey also writes about the optimism the new world colonists had at the start of their journey, and how that positive outlook turned to misery when faced with reality – but later, the same travelers claimed to have found everything they were searching for.
This led me to question how honest travelers are with themselves about their trips. Instead of admitting defeat, many of the travelers we have read about in this course have altered their accounts of reality in order to convince others of their success, and perhaps to convince themselves. They might change their objectives to match what they actually achieved, or find hidden benefits in the disappointing situations they find themselves in. There’s rarely a way to tell for sure if a returning traveler is truthful about his sojourn. Even if he tries to be honest, he may have smeared the line in his mind between fact and romanticism, perhaps subconsciously, to protect his travels from being deemed worthless. I think the best way to accurately remember one’s travels is to go with limited expectations and an open mind; and if a trip is entirely unpleasant, it can at least be a contrast by which life at home seems that much better.
From Herodotus, to Marco Polo, and Columbus, each of the travelers that we have read enjoyed being the first to see new things, to go where no one had gone before, and to find things unique to these new lands. Herodotus explored the world trying to discover the history of different cultures, most importantly he was one of the first to write what he saw. His great explanations of the various lands were one of the first accounts of any lands outside of their homes. Marco Polo left home at age 17 and advertised himself as “the world’s most traveled man” he not only saw great things but held important positions in the Khan’s empire. Columbus left Spain, believed that he had found a new passage to the indies, and continued to explore these islands. Each man went on his journey for different reasons: to find history, gain wealth, and to have fame. Significant to each story is the desire to explore. In the end they all return home and tell their tales. This return shows that they want not only to explore but also to gain recognition for having explored, to brag about what they’ve seen.
Even though their journeys were incredible, each traveler was known for expanding the truth to include a realm of fantasy and lies. This approach can be expected because many who had not traveled at all were expecting enormous tales of scary creatures and communities with strange practices. If Herodotus would have written his History about how similar all the cultures he visited were people would be disappointed. Or, if, Marco Polo would have come back with great wealth but not the stories of Khan’s court- or if the romance writer did not aid the tale, his story would not have been as inspiring. Lastly, Columbus had a big choice as to whether or not to admit that the people and city-less islands he explored were probably not the East Indies. In each tale the explorer had a choice of what to tell, he knew that nothing could be really proven right or wrong. Nowadays however, any good story comes equipped with proof in the form of pictures, videos, or a website of specific activities. We’ve lost the ability to imagine things as grander as they are because if we do, someone who has also been there will prove us wrong.
All of the travelers that we’ve studied have been more of explorers and this kind of adventure has been lost to us.
Tracing back through the readings, women occupy very minimal positions and don’t get a chance to partake in the glories of travel. In The Odyssey, there is Circe who does represent a powerful woman figure, but she is stuck on the island and has no influence on the world of the explorers except for her sexual exploitations. She is a very sexualized figure, which is an important way in which women can be empowered, but she is confined to this flirtatious ability and sorcerer magical powers and cannot assert herself in other meaningful ways.
Also, Ulysses had many relationships with women besides his wife who sat at home the whole time, faithfully waiting for him to return. His wife, Penelope, demonstrated her commitment to Ulysses while he had relationships with Circe and Calypso. In the first place, Penelope didn’t have the opportunity to go out and explore, and in the second place she gets cheated on several times. Ulysses knew that his wife and child remain at home waiting for his return. Penelope represents a very suppressed and submissive figure to a licentious Ulysses.
Marco Polo’s encounters with the Kublai Khan reiterated the discrimination women experienced in the domination of the male hierarchy. Polo seems to idolize Kublai Khan for his many achievements but also particularly for his abundance of women. The Kublai Khan has his pick to any woman he wants from the within the empire and can pluck them from wherever they are to gain them as property of his own. They become trophies or statues that can accompany him and fulfill his every desire as a man. He even builds a summerhouse in Xanadu where it is said he took women to spend significant time with.
Herodotus’ account of Egypt may the one of the only enlightening report giving recognition to women as independent and power beings. Herodotus even identifies the Egyptian customs as strange because he is not used to seeing women have the abilities that the Egyptian women do have. The women are the ones to go to the market while the men stay at home and weave. Also, the Egyptian rulers are female, granting rights to women that other ancient societies wouldn’t have dreamed to give to women.
There are no examples of women who traveled. This is probably the most discouraging part for me. They may have been able to obtain power in a few instances, but they were still stuck in their places of residence and never had the chance to venture out into the unknown world. Who knows what the encounters with the New World would have looked like if women had been allowed to join in on the journies?
Thinking back to the possible motivations for travel that we had discussed early in the course, each of the travelers that we read about had different driving forces that impelled them to travel: Odysseus wanted to get home to his family in Ithaca, Ibn Battuta began with a pilgrimage to Mecca, and Christopher Columbus was in search of riches and a Westward path to the Far East (amongst many motivations) for his Spanish patrons. Whatever the reasons were, all of our travelers encountered different, often unfamiliar, cultures and religions… with mixed results.
Herodotus’ travels are distinct in my mind because of the fact that he actually wanted to document different cultures. He deliberately sought out different peoples, and that was the impetus for his travels. This attests to a sense of curiosity on Herodotus’ part, and I really enjoy the simplicity of that fact. Many other travelers had more materialistic goals in mind, but out of all of them Herodotus displays a straightforward, genuine curiosity that frequently imparts a traveler. And this curiosity plays a big role when the unknown is involved; it can push you to seek out experiences and many times, you learn from them.
Herodotus’ anthro-historical approach to documenting Egyptian culture sometimes wore on me. By employing an objective documentation style over a retelling of personalized encounters, the interaction of cultures was more subtly displayed. I personally think that you lose much of the pizazz in this format because it is precisely the clash of you versus a different culture that makes it interesting.
Our fascination with Otherness is not a new phenomenon. It is precisely the reason why Marco Polo’s book was so popular; people read it for entertainment, and as the first person to travel as extensively as he did in exotic lands, he was the one to paint a detailed glimpse into an empire that was very different from their own. Here, the role of the Other moves between Khublai Khan/various Asian cultures and Polo himself; while we read it from Polo’s perspective and viewed the Khan as the strange Other, the Khan himself also points out Polo’s otherness as he travels his empire and wants to learn more about Western practices and Christianity. This highlights the paradox of otherness – its relativity, which depends on perspective.
And perspective is something that is lost on Christopher Columbus, of which is apparent in his encounter with the native peoples in the Americas. Blinded by his desire for conquest, he perpetuated his own unfaltering conception of who the natives were, a view that stressed their Otherness over a more fundamental concept, their humanness. Nowhere than in Columbus’ account do we see a more flamboyant display of ethnocentrism, such as his claiming of their land via verbal proclamation, a very Western act. All of the previous travelers clearly (and instinctively) utilized their own culture as a reference point for apprehending new lifestyles, and that is a natural way of trying to understand something new. But with Columbus, we see a violent clash of cultures, where otherness invokes fear and withdrawal rather than openness and toleration.
The various ways in which people have dealt with otherness during travels is a theme in which I find fascinating. Each author highlights different points about how otherness interacts with our travel experience, evoking feelings from fear to intrigue to a dependence on what is familiar to us. I definitely think difference and exoticism play key roles in present-day travel. Travelers today are intrigued by cultures that differ from their own, and this is a large part of why people throw out their guide books and go local. In today’s more tolerant world, otherness is largely an asset, appealing to our innate penchant for curiosity. And ultimately, I don’t think that is a bad thing for travel.
We began the semester with the Odyssey, which nicely set the precedent for the discussion of real vs imagined places. Because of the mythical creatures Odysseus encounters, I, as a reader, assume the places he visits to be fabricated and not real. For example, the island of Ogygia, which is speculated to be part of the lost Atlantis (another tricky real v imagined debate in and of itself) is described in an exotic way that seems completely mythical with the introduction of Calypso and her promise to Odysseus of immortality.
We ended the semester with the Tempest, another interesting encounter with real vs imagined space. Both narratives take the characters away from the homeland and explore imagined lands. This separation of homeland and foreign place mimics the separation of real and imagined. While Odysseus's homeland Ithaca is known to me only through Homer's description, like are all the other places he visits, it comes across as more real because of the real actions and experiences we associate with being home vs the unknown and peculiar actions we associate with exploration.
In the Tempest we immediately separate Milan and the island to which Prospero and Miranda were exiled as we are all familiar with Milan as a real place (in fact, I've physically traveled there, as Im sure many of you have). The island, which is only vaguely described in terms of its location, etc. is lifted to the realm of the imaginary. Like the mythology and acts of gods and goddesses that flood the Odysessy the magic which happens on the island further separates its from reality.
The more distinct travel narratives we read - Columbus's Four Voyages, Herodotus's Account of Egypt, Marco Polo's The Travels, and The adventures of Cabeza de Vaca - underlie a different discussion on real vs. imagined space. While we know about the physical realities of the Americas or of Kublai Khan's court, these stories still represent imagined versions of such places. The issue of truth comes into play here- how can we trust the tellers of these tales? And in that vein, are the places we read about real? Or are they imagined accounts colored by the explorer/conquerers motivations and customs?
I was interested the “One Minute Tempest” to see which plot points it chose. I found it really funny but was confused by the ending where “Prospero” banishes everyone. My two favorite points were when he says, “here dinner” and then the large bird comes and disrupts it, it was an interesting was to quickly show the long scene of magic. I also liked how they pointed out how stupid it was that he said, “If I kill the butler I can be the butler!” It made me wonder how much he really would have gained. Lastly, I was shocked how they totally ignored Ariel! I think that the Prospero-Ariel relationship is one of the most important to the play and it being left out was my main concern.
Overall it was really funny!