Category Archives: Mythology

The First Canoe

Excerpt from Man Upon the Sea by Frank B Goodrich – 1858

Man upon the Sea – Obtaining Motion upon the Water

The first object for obtaining motion upon the water must evidently have been to enable the navigator to cross a river, not to ascend or descend it; as it is apparent he would not seek the means of following or stemming its current while the same purpose could be more easily served by walking along the shore.  It is not difficult to suppose that the oar was suggested by the legs of a frog or the fins of a fish.  The early navigator, seated in his hollow tree, might at first seek to propel himself with his hands, and might then artificially lengthen them by a piece of wood fashioned in imitation of the hand and arm, a long pole terminating in a thin fiat blade.  Here was the origin of the modern row-boat, one of the most graceful inventions of man.

From the oar to the rudder the transition was easy, for the oar is in itself a rudder, and was for a long time used as one.  It must have been observed at an early day that a canoe in motion was diverted from its direct course by plunging an oar into the water and suffering it to remain there.  It must have been observed, too, that an oar in or towards the stern was more effective in giving a new direction to the canoe than an oar in any other place.  It was a natural suggestion of prudence, then, to assign this duty to one particular oarsman, and to place him altogether at the stern.

The sail is not so easily accounted for. An ancient tradition relates that a fisherman and his sweetheart, allured from the shore in the hope of discovering an island, and surprised by a tempest, were in imminent danger of destruction. Their only oar was wrenched from the grasp of the fisherman, and the frail bark was thus left to the mercy of the waves. The maiden raised her white veil to protect herself and her lover from the storm; the wind, inflating this fragile garment, impelled them slowly but surely towards the coast. Their aged sire, the tradition continues, suddenly seized with prophetic inspiration, exclaimed,

“The future is unfolded to my view! Art is advancing to perfection!  My children, you have discovered a powerful agent in navigation.  All nations will cover the ocean with their fleets and wander to distant regions.  Men, differing in their manners and separated by seas, will disembark upon peaceful shores, and import their foreign science, superfluities, and art.  Then shall the mariner fearlessly cruise over the immense abyss and discover new lands and unknown seas!”

Though we may admire the foresight of this patriarch, we cannot applaud him for choosing a moment so inopportune for exercising his peculiar gift: it would certainly have been more natural to afford some comfort to his weather-beaten children.  The legend even goes on to state that he at once fixed a pole in the middle of the canoe, and, attaching to it a piece of cloth, invented the first sail-boat.

Mythology assigns a different, though similar, origin to the invention:  Iris, seeking her son in a bark which she impelled by oars, perceived that the wind inflated her garments and gently forced her in the direction in which she was going.  No research would bring the investigator to conclusions more satisfactory than these.

Excerpt from Man Upon the Sea by Frank B Goodrich – 1858

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Further Reading and External Links

Navigation on Wikipedia

Greek & Roman Mythology – Hades or Pluto

 

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Here we cover the Greek God Hades (Pluto) one of the deities of the highest order, other postings examine the religious belief of the Greeks and Romans, with descriptions of the gods individually.  Below is an excerpt from The Manual of Mythology by Alexander Stuart Murray published 1897.  The entire book is in our library in individual chapters – and you can begin reading it here.

Hades or Pluto

Hades or PlutoWe have seen how Zeus, Hera, and Poseidon came to be conceived as the three great deities who between them controlled the elements of heaven, sky, and sea, and how a character came to lie ascribed to each of them such as was most naturally suggested by the phenomena of the provinces of the world in which they respectively ruled. But there still remained a region which could not escape the observation of people like the Greeks, gifted with so keen a sense of the various operations of nature.

That region was, however, itself invisible, being under the surface of the earth. The growth of vegetation was seen to be steadily upward, as if impelled by some divine force below. The metals which experience showed to be most precious to mankind could only be obtained by digging into that dark region under the earth. Thither returned, after its day on earth was spent, every form of life. In conceiving a god who should be supreme in the management of this region, it was necessary to attribute a double character to him: first, as the source of all the treasures and wealth of the earth, as expressed in his name Pluton (Pluto); and secondly, as monarch of the dark realm inhabited by the invisible shades of the dead, as expressed in his name of Aides (Hades).

While by virtue of his power of giving fertility to vegetation, of swelling the seed cast into the furrows of the earth, and of yielding treasures of precious metal, he was justly viewed as a benevolent deity and a true friend of man, there was another and very grim side to his character, in which he appears as the implacable, relentless god, whom no cost of sacrifice could persuade to permit any one who had once passed his gates ever to return. For this reason, to die, to go to Hades’s house, to pass out of sight, to be lost in the darkness of the lower world, was looked forward to as the dismal inevitable fate awaiting all men. Yet there must have been some consolation in the belief that the life thus claimed by him had been originally his gift, as were the means of comfort and pleasure in life thus cut off. In later times, when the benevolent side of his character came more into view, assuring hopes arose concerning a future happy life that robbed death of its terrors. To impart such hopes was the purpose of the Eleusinian Mysteries.

Excerpt from The Manual of Mythology by Alexander Stuart Murray – 1897

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Further Reading and External Links

More on Hades or Pluto from Pagan News

More on Pluto

Greek & Roman Mythology – The Eleusinian Mysteries

 

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Oracles and Mysteries: Mankind has been the victims of oracles and mysteries, and preteneded conjurors, and what they have chosen to call ‘wise men’ from the beginning of time.

Excerpt from from The Covenant Volume 2 by James  Ridgely published in 1843

The Eleusinian Mysteries

The mysteries of Isis, and the Eleusinian mysteries, were kept up by subterranean caverns, so constructed as to throw strange images before the eyes of the initiated, by means of moveable lights, and by tubes conveying strange sounds, when they were in darkness, to frighten them. Every one can tell how busy the imagination is when we are a little alarmed for our safety. These strange sounds, persons accompanying those about to be initiated, were allowed to hear, and sometimes they saw flashes of strange lights. There can be no doubt but that some of these ceremonies were awfully imposing. The higher orders unquestionably understood the whole thing, but the lower did not.

From the whole concurrent testimony of ancient history, we must believe that the Eleusinian mysteries were used for good purposes, for there is not an instance on record that the honour of an initiation was ever obtained by a very bad man. The hierophants; the higher priests of the order; were always exemplary in their morals, and became sanctified in the eyes of the people. The high-priesthood of this order in Greece was continued in one family, the Eumolpidae, for ages. In this they resembled both the egyptians and the Jews.

The Eleusinian mysteries in Rome took another form, and were called the rites of Bona Dea; but she was the same Ceres that was worshipped in Greece. All the distinguished Roman authors speak of these rites, and in terms of profound respect. Horace denounces the wretch who should attempt to reveal the secrets of these rites; Virgil mentions these mysteries with great respect; and Cicero alludes to them with a greater reverence than either of the poets we have named. Both the Greeks and Romans punished any insult offered to these mysteries with the most persevering vindictiveness. Alcibiades was charged with insulting these religious rites; and although the proof of his offence was quite doubtful, yet he suffered for it for years in exile and misery; and it must be allowed that he was the most popular man of his age.

These mysteries were continued until some time after the days of Constantine, in the sixth century, when they were prohibited. Sad stories have been conjured up to give importance to the Egyptian mysteries, but no one has attempted to throw any dark shade over those of Greece or Rome. The philosopher will readily believe that there was nothing supernatural in any of their mysteries; and all may set it down as a fact, that the initiated never pretended to any thing like a commerce with the inhabitants of the invisible world. They unquestionably often assumed to possess wondrous powers and great secrets; but this was only a means of keeping knowledge from becoming too common; and this was an error which lasted for ages, even down to our times.

Excerpt from from The Covenant Volume 2 by James  Ridgely published in 1843

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Further Reading and External Links

www.eleusinianmysteries.org/

 

Greek & Roman Mythology – Zeus or Jupiter

Here we cover the Greek God Zeus one of the deities of the highest order, other postings examine the religious belief of the Greeks and Romans, with descriptions of the gods individually.  Below is an excerpt from The Manual of Mythology by Alexander Stuart Murray published 1897.  The entire book is in our library in individual chapters – and you can begin reading it here.

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Zeus, or Jupiter

Zeus or JupiterThird and last on the throne of the highest god sat Zeus. The fertile imagination of early times had, as we have seen, placed his abode on Mount Olympus in Thessaly. But a later and more practical age usually conceived him as inhabiting a region above the sky, where the source of all light was supposed to be. He was god of the broad light of day, as his name implies, had control of all the phenomena of the heavens, and accordingly sudden changes of weather, the gathering of clouds, and, more than all, the burst of a thunder-storm made his presence felt as a supernatural being interested in the affairs of mankind. Hence such titles as “cloud-gatherer,” “god of the murky cloud,” “thunderer,” and “mighty thunderer,” were those by which he was most frequently invoked. On the other hand, the serenity and boundless extent of the sky, over which he ruled, combined with the never-failing recurrence of day, led him to be regarded as an everlasting god: “Zeus who was and is and shall be.” To indicate this feature of his character he was styled Cronides or Cronion, a title which, though apparently derived from his father Cronus, must have assumed even at a very early time a special significance; otherwise we should expect to find it applied also to his two brothers, Poseidon (Neptune) and Hades (Pluto).

The eagle soaring beyond vision seemed to benefit by its approach to Zeus, and came to be looked on as sacred to him. Similarly high mountain peaks derived a sanctity from their nearness to the region of light, and were everywhere in Greece associated with his worship, many of them furnishing titles by which he was locally known as, for instance, Aetnaeus, a title derived from Mount Aetna in Sicily, or Atabyrius, from a mountain in Rhodes.  Altars to him and even temples were erected on hill tops, to reach which by long toiling, and then to see the earth spread out small beneath, was perhaps the best preparation for approaching him in a proper spirit.

Excerpt from The Manual of Mythology by Alexander Stuart Murray – 1897

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Further Reading and External Links

Greek God Zeus 

Zeus family tree

Greek Mythology – Rhea

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Here we cover the Greek God Rhea, other postings examine the religious belief of the Greeks and Romans, with descriptions of the gods individually.  Below is an excerpt from The Manual of Mythology by Alexander Stuart Murray published 1897.  The entire book is in our library in individual chapters – and you can begin reading it here.

Mountain Goddess – RHEA

Greek God RheaAs Uranus, the representative of the fertilizing force in nature, was superseded by Cronus, the representative of a ripening force, so Gaea, the primitive goddess of the earth with its productive plains, gave way to Rhea, a goddess of the earth with its mountains and forests. Gaea had been the mother of the powerful Titans. Rhea was the mother of gods less given to feats of strength, but more highly gifted: Pluto, Poseidon (Neptune), and Zeus (Jupiter), Hera (Juno), Demeter (Ceres), and Hestia (Vesta). Her titles as, for example, Dindymene and Berecynthia were derived for the most part from the names of mountains in Asia Minor, particularly those of Phrygia and Lydia, her worship having been intimately associated with the early civilization of these countries. There her name was Cybele or Cybebe, which also, from its being employed to designate her sanctuaries (Cybela) in caves or mountain sides, points to her character as a mountain goddess.

The lofty hills of Asia Minor, while sheltering on their cavernous sides wild animals, such as the panther and lion, which it was her delight to tame, also looked down on many flourishing cities which it was her duty to protect. In this latter capacity she wore a mural crown, and was styled Mater turrita. But though herself identified with peaceful civilization, her worship was always distinguished by wild and fantastic excitement, her priests and devotees rushing through the woods at night with torches burning, maiming and wounding each other, and producing all the din that was possible from the clashing of cymbals, the shrill notes of pipes, and the frantic voice of song.

To account for this peculiarity of her worship, which must have been intended to commemorate some great sorrow, the story was told of how she had loved the young Phrygian shepherd, Attis, whose extraordinary beauty had also won the heart of the king’s daughter of Pessinus; how he was destined to marry the princess, and how the goddess, suddenly appearing, spread terror and consternation among the marriage guests. Attis escaped to the mountains, maimed himself, and died beside a pine tree, into which his soul trans migrated, while from his blood sprang violets like a wreath round the tree.

The goddess implored Zeus to restore her lover. This could not be. But so much was granted that his body should never decay, that his hair should always grow, and that his little finger should always move. The pine was a symbol of winter and sadness, the violet of spring and its hopeful beauty.

There is a charm in the name of ancient Greece; there is glory in every page of her history; there is a fascination in the remains of her literature, and a sense of unapproachable beauty in her works of art; there is a spell in her climate still, and a strange attraction in her ruins.

Excerpt from The Manual of Mythology by Alexander Stuart Murray – 1897

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Further Reading and External Links

Rhea – Titan Queen

Greek & Roman Mythology – Poseidon or Neptune

 

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Here we cover the Greek God Poseidon, other postings examine
the religious belief of the Greeks and Romans, with descriptions of the gods individually.  Below is an excerpt from The Manual of Mythology by Alexander Stuart Murray published 1897.  The entire book is in our library in individual chapters – and you can begin reading it here.

Poseidon or Neptune

It has already been told how, when all resources had failed which the Titans could bring to bear for the restoration of Cronus to the throne, the government of the world was divided by lot among his three sons, Zeus, Poseidon, Hades.

To Zeus fell, besides a general supremacy, the control of the heavens; and we have seen how he and his consort Hera, representing the phenomena of that region, were conceived as divine persons possessed of a character and performing actions such as were suggested by those phenomena. To Poseidon (Neptune) fell the control of the element of water, and he in like manner was conceived as a god, in whose character and actions were reflected the phenomena of that clement, whether as the broad navigable sea, or as the cloud which gives fertility to the earth, growth to the grain and vine, or as the fountain which refreshes man, cattle, and horses.

A suitable symbol of his power, therefore, was the horse, admirably adapted as it is both for labor and battle, whilst its swift springing movement compares finely with the advance of a foaming wave of the sea. “He yokes to the chariot,” sings Homer in the Iliad, “his swift steeds, with feet of brass and manes of gold, and himself clad in gold, drives over the waves. The beasts of the sea sport around him, leaving their lurking places, for they know him to be their lord. The sea rejoices and makes way for him. His horses speed lightly, and never a drop touches the brazen axle.”

It may have been to illustrate a tendency of the sea to encroach in many places on the coast, as well as to show the importance attached to a good supply of water, that the myth originated which tells us of the dispute between Poseidon and Athene for the sovereignty of the soil of Attica. To settle the dispute, it was agreed by the gods that whichever of the two should perform the greatest wonder, and at the same time confer the most useful gift on the land, should be entitled to rule over it. With a stroke of his trident Poseidon caused a brackish spring to well up on the Acropolis of Athens, a rock 400 feet high, and previously altogether without water. But Athene in her turn caused the first olive tree to grow from the same bare rock, and since that was deemed the greatest benefit that could be bestowed, obtained for all time sovereignty of the land, which Poseidon thereupon spitefully inundated.

There is a charm in the name of ancient Greece; there is glory in every page of her history; there is a fascination in the remains of her literature, and a sense of unapproachable beauty in her works of art; there is a spell in her climate still, and a strange attraction in her ruins.

Excerpt from The Manual of Mythology by Alexander Stuart Murray – 1897

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Further Reading and External Links

Neptune – God of the Sea 

Myths and the God Neptune

Navigation of the Phoenicians – 1700 BC

 

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Changing the pace a bit today, we’re covering an article all about early maritime navigation and its history.  The article below is an extract from one of the earlier books in our library called Man Upon the Sea by Frank B Goodrich published in 1858.

Navigation of the Phoenicians

It is now generally conceded that the date of the maritime enterprises which rendered the Phoenicians famous in antiquity must he fixed between the years 1700 and 1100 before Christ. The renowned city of Sidon was the centre from which their expeditions were sent forth. What was the specific object of these excursions, or in what order of time they took place, is but imperfectly known: it would appear, however, that their adventurers traded at first with Cyprus and Rhodes, then with Greece, Sardinia, Sicily, Gaul, and the coast of Spain upon the Mediterranean.

About 1250 B.C., their ships ventured cautiously beyond the Straits of Gibraltar, and founded Cadiz upon a coast washed by the Atlantic. A little later they founded establishments upon the western coast of Africa. Homer asserts that at the Trojan War, 1194 B.C., the Phoenicians furnished the belligerents with many articles of luxury and convenience; and we are told by Scripture that their ships brought gold to Solomon from Ophir, in 1000 B.C. Tyre seems now to have superseded Sidon, though at what period is not known. It had become a flourishing mart before 600 B.C.; for Ezekiel, who lived at that time, has left a glowing and picturesque description of its wealth, which must have proceeded from a long established commerce.

He enumerates, among the articles used in building the Tyrian ships, the fir-trees of Senir, the cedars of Lebanon, the oaks of Bashan, the ivory of the Indies, the linen of Egypt, and the purple of the Isles of Elishah. He mentions, as brought to the great emporium from Syria, Damascus, Greece, and Arabia, siiver, tin, lead, and vessels of brass; slaves, horses, mules; carpets, ebony, ivory, pearls, and silk; wheat, balm, honey, oil, and gum; wine, wool, and iron. It is about this periods – 600 B.C – that the Phoenicians, though under Egyptian commanders, appear to have performed a voyage which, if authentic, may justly be regarded as the most important in their annals, a circumnavigation of Africa.

Excerpt from Man Upon the Sea by Frank B Goodrich – 1858

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Further Reading and External Links

Phoenician Ships, Navigation and Commerce

The Phoenicians

Christmas Eve and The Yule Clog

 

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It’s Christmas Eve and in the spirit of the season we are highlighting topical and festive books from our library – today we feature an excerpt from a book published in 1849 called Observations on the Popular Antiquities of Great Britain by John Brand – here we learn about the tradition of the Yule Clog or Log during the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries.

Christmas Eve and The Yule Clog

Christmas Day, in the primitive church, was always observed as the Sabbath-day, and like that preceded by an eve, or vigil.  Hence our present Christmas Eve.

On the night of this eve our ancestors were wont to light up candles of an uncommon size, called Christmas Candles, and lay a log of wood upon the fire, called a Yule-Clog or Christmas-block, to illuminate the house, and, as it were, to turn night into day.  This custom is, in some measure, still kept up in the North of England.

In the buttery of St. John’s College, Oxford, an ancient candle-socket of stone still remains ornamented with the figure of the Holy Lamb. It was formerly used to burn the Christmas Candle in, on the high table at supper, during the twelve nights of that festival.  This candle is thus alluded to in a very rare tract, called the Country Farmer’s Catechism, [1703]:

“She ne’er has no fits, nor uses no cold tea, as the Ladies Catechism saves, but keeps her body in health with working all the week, and goes to church on Sundays: my daughter don’t look with sickly pale looks, like an unlit Christmas Candle; they don’t eat oatmeal, lime, or ashes, for pain at their stomachs.

There is an old Scotch proverb:

“He’ s as bare as the birk at Yule E’en,”

which, perhaps, alludes to the Yule-log; the birk meaning a block of the birch-tree, stripped of its bark and dried against Yule Even. It is spoken of one who is exceedingly poor. A clergyman of Devonshire informed me that the custom of burning the Christmas-block, i.e. the Yule-Clog, still continues in that county. In Poor Robin’s Almanack for [1677], in the beginning of December, he observes:

“Now blocks to cleave this time requires,
‘Gainst Christmas for to make good fires.”

Excerpt from Observations on the Popular Antiquities of Great Britain Volume 1 by John Brand – 1849

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Further Reading and External Links

History of the Yule Log


Saturnus – The Roman God of Christmas

 

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In the spirit of the season we are highlighting some of the books in our library that have a Christmas theme, whether it be Mythology, ancient customs or traditions, or actual events that took place – with excerpts from personal diaries and logs.  We begin with the Roman god Saturnus and the festival Saturnalia often associated with the Christian feast of Christmas.

Saturnus – The Roman God of Christmas – Saturnalia

SaturnusSATURNUS – According to the popular belief of the Romans, made his first appearance in Italy at a time when Janus was reigning king of the fertile region that stretches along the banks of the Tiber on either side. Presenting himself to Janus, and being kindly received, he proceeded to instruct the subjects of the latter in agriculture, gardening, and many other arts then quite unknown to them: as, for example, how to train and nurse the vine, and how to tend and cultivate fruit-trees.  By such means he at length raised the people from a rude and comparatively barbarous condition to one of order and peaceful occupations, in consequence of which he was everywhere held in high esteem, and in course of time was selected by Janus to share with him the government of the kingdom, which thereupon assumed the name of Saturnia, “a land of seed and fruit.”

The period of Saturn’s government was in later times sung of by poets as a happy time when sorrows and cares of life were unknown, when innocence, freedom, and gladness reigned throughout the land, in such a degree as to deserve the title of the golden age.  Greek mythology also has its golden age, said to have occurred during the reign of Cronus, and this, perhaps, more than any other circumstance, led to the identification of Saturnus and Cronus, in spite of the real difference between the two deities.

The name of Saturn’s wife was Ops.  Once a year, in the month of December, the Romans held a festival called Saturnalia in his honor.  It lasted from five to seven days, and was accompanied by amusements of all kinds.  During those days the ordinary distinctions were done away with between master and servant or slave.  No assemblies were held to discuss public affairs, and no punishments for crimes were judged.  Servants or slaves went about dressed like their masters and neighbors and received from them costly presents.  Children gave their parents or relatives presents of pictures, notably of a gaudy type, purchased in the street where the  picture dealers lived.

Mommsen has shown that even during the Empire the Saturnalia proper was a single day, December 19th.  It was the great holiday of the Roman year, not unlike our Christmas, and people greeted each other with the words ‘bona Saturnalia.’  Lucian tells us that the receiver of a book at that time was in honor bound to read it, no matter how long or uninteresting it might be.

There was a temple of Saturn in Rome, at the foot of the Capitoline Hill, containing a figure of him with his feet wrapped round with pieces of woollen cloth, which could only be removed during the festival of the Saturnalia.  In one hand he held a curved garden-knife, as a sign of his having been the first to teach the people how to trim the vine and olive.   In this temple were preserved the state chest and the standards of the army.

Excerpt from The Manual of Mythology by Alexander Stuart Murray – 1897

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Further Reading and External Links

The Temple of Saturn in Rome

Saturnalia

The First Navigator

 

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The First Navigator

Beaver floating on a logTHE origin of navigation is unknown. It has baffled the research of antiquaries, for the simple reason that men sailed upon the sea before they committed the records of their history to paper, or that such records, if any existed, were swept away and lost in the periods of anarchy which succeeded. Imagination has suggested that the nautilus, or Portuguese man-of-war, raising its tiny sail and floating off before the breeze, first pointed out to man the use which might be made of the wind as a propelling force; that a split reed, following the current of some tranquil stream and transporting a beetle over its glassy surface, was the first canoe, while the beetle was the first sailor.

Mythology represents Hercules as sailing in a boat formed of the hide of a lion, and translates ships to the skies, where they still figure among the constellations. Fable makes Atlas claim the invention of the oar, and gives to Tiphys, the pilot of the Argo, the invention of the rudder. The attributing of these discoveries and improvements to particular individuals doubtless afforded pastime to poets in ages when poetry was more popular than history.

Instead of trusting to these fanciful authorities, we may form a very rational theory upon the matter in the following manner: Whether it was an insect that floated on a leaf across a rivulet and was stranded on the bank, or a beaver carried down a river upon a log, or a bear borne away upon an iceberg, that first awakened man to the conception of trusting himself fearlessly upon the water, it is highly probable that he learned from animals, whose natural element it is, the manner of supporting his body upon it and of forcing his way through it. A frog darting away from the rim of a pond and striking out with his fore-legs may have suggested swimming, and the beaver floating on a log may have suggested following his example. The log may not have been sufficiently buoyant, and the adventurer may have added to its buoyancy by using his arms and legs.

Excerpt from Man Upon the Sea by Frank B Goodrich – 1858

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Further Reading and External Links

Navigation on Wikipedia