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Ulysses' Sail

Ulysses' Sail: An Ethnographic Odyssey of Power, Knowledge, and Geographical Distance

Mary W. Helms
Copyright Date: 1988
Pages: 310
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  • Book Info
    Ulysses' Sail
    Book Description:

    What do long-distance travelers gain from their voyages, especially when faraway lands are regarded as the source of esoteric knowledge? Mary Helms explains how various cultures interpret space and distance in cosmological terms, and why they associate political power with information about strange places, peoples, and things. She assesses the diverse goals of travelers, be they Hindu pilgrims in India, Islamic scholars of West Africa, Navajo traders, or Tlingit chiefs, and discusses the most extensive experience of longy2Ddistance contact on record--that between Europeans and native peoples--and the clash of cultures that arose from conflicting expectations about the "faraway.".

    The author describes her work as "especially concerned with the political and ideological contexts or auras within which long-distance interests and activities may be conducted .. Not only exotic materials but also intangible knowledge of distant realms and regions can be politically valuable `goods,' both for those who have endured the perils of travel and for those sedentary homebodies who are able to acquire such knowledge by indirect means and use it for political advantage."

    Originally published in 1988.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-5954-2
    Subjects: Population Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-2)
  5. 1 Positions and Problems
    (pp. 3-19)

    In European literature the noble wanderer Ulysses pursues conflicting goals. In Homer’s epic, after adventuring into unexplored regions of mystery and magic he simply wants to go home, to return to Penelope and the domestic bliss of a quiet life in Ithaca. In Dante Alighieri’sCommedia, however, the hero forever abjures such creature comforts and turns away to sail west, in company with a valiant crew, beyond the portals of the known world, out through the pillars of Hercules into the starry darkness of the unknown Western Sea, driven by restless curiosity to a fatal search for wisdom and experience.¹...

  6. 2 The Cultural Creation of Space and Distance
    (pp. 20-65)

    Left to itself, the physical landscape “has no form.” Replete though it may seem to be with mountains and valleys, rivers and forests, islands, oceans, and continental expanses, a landscape has no meaningful shape and significance until it is accorded place and identity in the social and cognitive worlds of human experience. Human experience, in turn, invests territory and landscape with a most remarkable diversity of properties and interpretations which have in common the faculty of ordering and organizing what otherwise appears to be a very chaotic world.

    Given the peculiarities of the human perspective, order and organization are required...

  7. 3 The Investigation of Cultural Distance
    (pp. 66-130)

    It seems either irony or ill-fated prescient wisdom that, even as the European Age of Discovery initiated an unprecedented era in European thought and experience, the “ideal state” was conceived by European philosophers as one where foreign contact was regarded with considerable skepticism. Sir Thomas More’sUtopia(written in 1515–16), for example, evidences a very cautious view toward travel and contact with strangers, seeing them as conducive to social and political discontent. Those who wish to travel can do so only under strict passport controls that describe the limits of the trip. To ramble about without such a document...

  8. 4 The Authority of Distant Knowledge
    (pp. 131-171)

    Wishing to satisfy his ambition, the Chinese Emperor Mu (1001–945 b.c.), fifth ruler of the Chou dynasty, decided to tour the world and to “mark the countries under the sky with the wheels of his chariot and the hoofs of his horses” (Hsün Hsü, quoted in Mirsky 1964:4). After being entertained by a barbarous tribe who lived to the north, the emperor marched west to the kingdom of Pëng-jen, whose people were descendants of the god of the Yellow River, and offered sacrifice at the mountains where, in ancient days, the god had established his family. The emperor then...

  9. 5 Gods or Devils or Only Men
    (pp. 172-210)

    The “mysterious white-winged object passing along the surface of the ocean like a gigantic pelican” appeared abruptly on a day in late autumn before certain people of the Dulingbara who were foraging on the beach front. Observing it more closely, as they followed its course along the beach, they saw people moving on it. Finally, they watched theEndeavourdisappear from view in the direction of a dangerous shoal (calledThoorvour).

    These strangers, where are they going?

    Where are they trying to steer?

    They must be in that place,Thoorvour, it is true,

    See the smoke coming in from the...

  10. 6 The Outer Realms of Christendom
    (pp. 211-260)

    Although Europeans approaching over the horizon initially appeared as spirits of the dead or as returned ancestors to native societies, Europeans in turn did not accord as highly valued status on the indigenes they encountered. The medieval cosmography influencing Europeans of the Age of Exploration did not people the cosmographical frontiers with feared or revered ancestral spirits, but with strange and fantastic legendary creatures whose points of contrast with “normal” society ultimately lay more in the realm of the physically and/or morally deformed than in the realm of the deified. But this was not always so. Depending on the direction...

  11. 7 Conclusion
    (pp. 261-268)

    In traditional societies esoteric knowledge has long been the select purview of political-religious elites. As anthropologists we have generally understood esoteric knowledge to include matters of cosmic significance, including understanding of the origins of the universe and of human society, comprehension of the dynamics of the sacred powers that fuel the operation of the universe and all things and beings therein, and recognition of the diverse expressions of these powers in the sounds and odors, colors and consistencies, shapes and sizes of phenomena of the natural world. Such knowledge has also included the means to contact and control such powers...

  12. References
    (pp. 269-292)
  13. Index
    (pp. 293-297)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 298-298)