Imagining the World: Mythical Belief versus Reality in Global Encounters

Imagining the World: Mythical Belief versus Reality in Global Encounters

Imagining the World: Mythical Belief versus Reality in Global Encounters

Imagining the World: Mythical Belief versus Reality in Global Encounters


This is a study of the manner in which certain mythical notions of the world become accepted as fact. Dathorne shows how particular European concepts such as El Dorado, the Fountain of Youth, a race of Amazons, and monster (including cannibal) images were first associated with the Orient. After the New World encounter they were repositioned to North and South America. The book examines the way in which Arabs and Africans are conscripted into the view of the world and takes an unusual, non-Eurocentric viewpoint of how Africans journeyed to the New World and Europe, participating in, what may be considered, an early stage of world exploration and "discovery." The study concludes by looking at European travel literature from the early journeys of St. Brendan, through the Viking voyages and up to Marco Polo and Sir John Mandeville. In all these instances, the encounters seem to justify mythical belief. Dathorne's interest in the subject is both intellectual and passionate since, coming from Guyana, he was very much part of this malformed Weltschmerz.


Europeans did not merely "discover" the so-called New World -- they invented it. An examination of the European past can help identify the persistent archetypes that arose there and later reemerged in New World encounters. in addition to Arab and Greek scientific reasoning, the Bible offered an obvious backdrop against which fifteenth-century exploration occurred. Beyond that, two elemental themes are worth considering -- first, the journey as archetypal quest, a concept rooted in the European past, and, second, mystical beliefs lingering on in postmedieval Europe. When Europe encountered another world, it simply passed on its own beliefs.

Christopher Columbus' four New World encounters were symbolic of the European encounter generally, for he actively demonstrated that his journey was redemptive. Had he not suffered and been brought back to Spain in chains? Was he not the living embodiment of the hero figure?

This motif -- the journey and its transforming values -- was part of what most people understood in the postmedieval world. After all, they had inherited the archetypal journey not only as theory but also as immediate fact. For instance, pilgrimages to the Holy Cities were fairly commonplace. As devotees embarked on these personal journeys of faith, they sought to make contact with the physical artifacts of Christ's presence on earth. Similarly, the Crusades, which had been organized with active church support since 1095, lasted until well into the thirteenth century; these also introduced the opportunity for redemption, as Christians pitted themselves against the heathen Muslims.

One major difference exists between the pilgrimage and the Crusade. the former was personal and individual, whereas the latter was grouporiented. Thus, the pilgrimage achieved its ends if there were small acquisitions from the biblical past; the Crusade sought to create its effect through the domination of another people.

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