13. Sea and Forest

Such traditions as belong to the time before the city was founded, or rather was presently to be founded, and are rather adorned with poetic legends than based upon trustworthy historical proofs, I purpose neither to affirm nor to refute. Livy, The History of Rome

Foundation establishes place and historical time.*  Before foundation there is no history, only the uncertain wildness of myth. 

This wildness exists in the space beyond foundation as well as in time. 

The founders of Rome come from the sea, Aeneas fleeing Troy.  So too, the beginning of Herodotus’s History, the Phoenicians migrating from the Erythraean to establish their maritime empire, and kick start the quarrel between East and West.  For Vico, foundation emerges from the forest.  Terrified by the storm, early men join together in families, then societies, and clear a place for the burial of the dead in the woods.  These clearings, sanctified by the remembered dead, are the sites of the first villages. 

Forest and sea out of which civilization arises and against which it is fortified.  We build walls against the sea and the wood.   When cities fall, they are reclaimed by one or the other; Lyonesse slipping below the waves, Machu Pichu vanishing the jungle,  Dunwich gnawed at by the sea, shepherds driving their sheep through the ruins of the forum. 

Outside the order of the city, we’re confronted with the raw power of sea and forest and terrified, and so we turn to myth, legend, folk tale.  Fear of the woods and the water is the same primal fear that drove the giants down from the mountains, of an encounter with the great power of the void outside our historical existence and the surety of death. 

But what if we could confront the void and live?  What if we enter the forest, throw ourselves into the sea, step into the darkness and find, not emptiness, but a supreme and unapproachable light?


*Time itself flows out from the original foundation, “In principio…”

One response to “13. Sea and Forest”

  1. […] these connections in greater detail, particularly Ernst Jünger who I only started to get to in the yesterday’s post, but Vico himself was difficult enough, and I’ve barely scratched the […]

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