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Tales of the Enchanted Islands of the Atlantic

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Author Topic: Tales of the Enchanted Islands of the Atlantic  (Read 3242 times)
Lisa Wolfe
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« on: January 27, 2009, 10:38:32 pm »

looks as if broken asunder, divided into two or three. Indeed the buccaneer, Cowley, writing of one such island which he had visited, says: "My fancy led me to call it Cowley's Enchanted Isle, for we having had a sight of it upon several points of the compass, it appeared always in so many different forms; sometimes like a ruined fortification; upon another point like a great city."

If much of this is true even now, it was far truer before the days of Columbus, when men were constantly looking westward across the Atlantic, and wondering what was beyond. In those days, when no one knew with certainty whether the ocean they observed was a sea or a vast lake, it was often called "The Sea of Darkness." A friend of the Latin poet, Ovid, describing the first approach to this sea, says that as you sail out upon it the day itself vanishes, and the world soon ends in perpetual darkness:--


"Quo ferimur? Ruit ipsa Dies, orbemque relictum
Ultima perpetuis claudit natura tenebris."

Nevertheless, it was the vague belief of many nations that the abodes of the blest lay somewhere beyond it--in the "other world," a region half earthly, half heavenly, whence the spirits of the departed could not cross the water to

p. xi

return;--and so they were constantly imagining excursions made by favored mortals to enchanted islands. To add to the confusion, actual islands in the Atlantic were sometimes discovered and actually lost again, as, for instance, the Canaries, which were reached and called the Fortunate Isles a little before the Christian era, and were then lost to sight for thirteen centuries ere being visited again.

The glamour of enchantment was naturally first attached by Europeans to islands within sight of their own shores--Irish, Welsh, Breton, or Spanish,--and then, as these islands became better known, men's imaginations carried the mystery further out over the unknown western sea. The line of legend gradually extended itself till it formed an imaginary chart for Columbus; the aged astronomer, Toscanelli, for instance, suggesting to him the advantage of making the supposed island of Antillia a half-way station; just as it was proposed, long centuries after, to find a station for the ocean telegraph in the equally imaginary island of Jacquet, which has only lately disappeared from the charts. With every step in knowledge the line of fancied stopping-places rearranged itself, the fictitious names flitting from place to place on the maps, and sometimes duplicating themselves. Where the tradition itself has

p. xii

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