The Brendan Voyage Review.

The Brendan voyage by Tim Severin E-book Review.
Published by Endeavour Press $4:79
http://www.amazon.com/The-Brendan-Voyage-ebook/dp/B00B4XLT4I/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1375089193&sr=8-1&keywords=the+brendan+voyage+endeavour+press

The Brendan Voyage by Tim Severin

Few books can claim to tell the story of a true Adventure in Historyland like the Brendan Voyage. Tim Severin’s record of his epic 1976-1977 crossing of the Atlantic in a small leather boat, to recreate the fabled voyage of St Brendan the Navigator, who was supposed to have landed in America before the Vikings.

The subject is a great mix of adventure and history that will appeal to Traveler’s , historians, adventurers, archeologists and people who enjoy a story well told. It’s a modest size single volume of 234 pages with some helpful appendixes at the back, illustrated by seven interesting pictures. The cover is nice and grabbing, with a great picture of the leather boat Brendan, crossing a troubled sea.

Severin’s quest to research and build the Brendan will be familiar to those of us who are obsessed with trying to tease out the mysteries of History from their long established hiding places. It starts with a quick dive into the adventure, then slams on the brakes and builds back up, but there is no vile tedium, just the loving detail of someone who is telling the story of something he has gone through. The part about the building of the Brendan is fascinating, and the whole book is pervaded with Severin’s deep knowledge of his subject.

His prose is crisp and clear with a lively imagery and turn of phrase that is not at all pretentious, rather the whole takes on the spirit of a modern saga , rattling along with the enthusiasm and attention to detail of a natural story teller, mixed with a quasi romantic flair and sense of timing which betrays Severin’s talents as a novelist. It is an uncomplicated and largely uncluttered formula, which first and foremost tells the story by showing you what happened instead to trying to explain it, giving the whole an immediacy, and fast flowing narrative that is most attractive.

One of the best parts of the tale is the description of the Brendan’s crew. Each individual is set apart from the other to be as instantly identifiable as a character from Robin Hood or King Arthur. They take on a wonderful reality that is at the same time almost too good to be true, making you wonder from time to time whether you are reading about real life people or something from an ancient legend. If this book had been a work of fiction then it would have been a testament to the imagination and skill of the writer, but any writer would have been hard pressed to imagine the tale, of luck, courage, comradeship, skill, bravery, considerable privation and at times just down right insanity that plays out across the book.

Severin is an experienced seaman, but don’t be afraid that you’re going to get lost in allot of technical jargon, it’s very likely you won’t get everything, but even the most confirmed land lubbers will be able to gather what is going on.

Their encounters with birds and Wales are breathtaking and unreal. The welcoming nature of the islanders they encountered is warm and comforting and the terror of the Greenland ice flows brings home just how dangerous the expedition was, it’s all here. Honestly I expected to find monotony, but though when becalmed Brendan’s crew suffered as much as any sailor does from boredom, the nature of the boat in question inclined to craft a story, more of constant activity and watchfulness than drudgery. Were in instances that to any other modern ship would have been crushingly boring to read about, when transposed to the leather hull of the boat that, by the end of the book even I had come to love, makes you feel that there weren’t many dull moments on the Brendan Voyage.

This book will be an eye opener for those people not acquainted with the tales of the Irish monks that Christianised Britain. For it shows what type of men they were. Men of great faith, learning and piety, but also men of great skill, determination and bravery, whose scholarly and spiritual legacy often overshadows their tales of physical endurance and strength. I was struck by the great amount of luck “Brendan Luck” as Severin calls it, that accompanied the mission. Tough scrapes were turned into triumphs by sudden twists of fate, mistakes salvaged by the miraculous appearance of fishing boats and navy patrols, which needless to say the Irish monks could not have benefitted from, making the original premise of the voyage, just that much more amazing.

This book is a testament to the bravery and skill of the crew of the modern Brendan who went into the unknown of long lost endeavours, and also to the mysterious monks who braved the forbidden seas and treacherous shores who distantly call back to us to believe their story, through their manuscripts and illuminated chronicles. In a way this book is a modern echo of their voices, carried far across time and sea, in a small leather boat called Brendan.

Josh.

 

The Greatest General.

I don’t care whether it’s reliable or not. One of the greatest stories of the ancient world is that of Hannibal and Scipio Africanus meeting before the Battle of Zama in 202 BC, and their subsequent meeting in Ephesus years later when Hannibal was in exile under the protection of Antiochus III King of Syria. As part of a diplomatic embassy to Syria, sometime around 194 or 7 BC Scipio talked with Hannibal, the Roman asked the Carthaginian who he thought the greatest general in the world was, the answer is priceless, and at the same time extremely gracious. If it is true, then it shows the respect these two great Generals had for one another, if not, then it’s still a great story.  

“Africanus asked who, in Hannibal’s opinion, was the greatest general of all time. Hannibal replied: ‘Alexander, King of the Macedonians, because with a small force he routed armies of countless numbers, and because he traversed the remotest lands. Merely to visit such lands transcended human expectation.’ Asked whom he would place second, Hannibal said: ‘Pyrrhus. He was the first to teach the art of laying out a camp. Besides that, no one has ever shown nicer judgement in choosing his ground, or in disposing his forces. He also had the art of winning men to his side; so that the Italian peoples preferred the overlordship of a foreign king to that of the Roman people, who for so long had been the chief power in that country.’ When Africanus followed up by asking whom he ranked third, Hannibal unhesitatingly chose himself. Scipio burst out laughing at this, and said: ‘What would you have said if you had defeated me?’ ‘In that case’, replied Hannibal, ‘I should certainly put myself before Alexander and before Pyrrhus – in fact, before all other generals!’ This reply, with its elaborate Punic subtlety, and this unexpected kind of flattery…affected Scipio deeply, because Hannibal had set him (Scipio) apart from the general run of commanders, as one whose worth was beyond calculation.
Livy, The History of Rome from its Foundation XXXV.14″

The Historian Appian also tells this story in his History of the Rome.

” It is said that at one of their meetings in the gymnasium Scipio and Hannibal had a conversation on the subject of generalship, in the presence of a number of bystanders, and that Scipio asked Hannibal whom he considered the greatest general, to which the latter replied, “Alexander of Macedonia.”
To this Scipio assented since he also yielded the first place to Alexander. Then he asked Hannibal whom he placed next, and he replied, “Pyrrhus of Epirus,” because he considered boldness the first qualification of a general; “for it would not be possible,” he said, “to find two kings more enterprising than these.”

Scipio was rather nettled by this, but nevertheless he asked Hannibal to whom he would give the third place, expecting that at least the third would be assigned to him; but Hannibal replied, “To myself; for when I was a young man I conquered Spain and crossed the Alps with an army, the first after Hercules. I invaded Italy and struck terror into all of you, laid waste 400 of your towns, and often put your city in extreme peril, all this time receiving neither money nor reinforcements from Carthage.”

As Scipio saw that he was likely to prolong his self-laudation he said, laughing, “Where would you place yourself, Hannibal, if you had not been defeated by me?” Hannibal, now perceiving his jealousy, replied, “In that case I should have put myself before Alexander.” Thus Hannibal continued his self-laudation, but flattered Scipio in a delicate manner by suggesting that he had conquered one who was the superior of Alexander.”

Hannibal was a man of dry wit and great intelligence. And it fits his charachter to reply in such a subtle way. For he names Scipio as a greater general than Alexander by not mentioning him. Had I defeated you I would have been greater than Alexander says it all. Yet Livy may have wanted it to read that way, Hannibal would never have put a Roman above himself which gives the story credibility, yet between the lines he admits to Scipio’s greatness, which would doubtless please a Roman audience. Why be so subtle? Well if it’s just a story, then it’s because the Romans had a grudging respect for Hannibal, they saw in him a worthy opponent who had brought out the best in them, by bringing them so low, and outright slander would have been seen as unworthy.

So there is a case for both reality and fiction, given that ancient writers almost never quoted actual words, rather they took the basis and embellished from it, we will probably never know. But for me, it happened and it’s one of my favourite stories of the ancient world.

Josh