Monday, 16 May 2011

St. Brendan's Day: Lessons in Mythmaking from the Mists of Time

Today, May 16, is the day when St. Brendan is supposed to have died in 578. He's the guy who is said to have set off from Ireland in a little boat and explored the wild seas of the Atlantic, perhaps getting as far as Canada.

Who knows? There are chronicles of his travels which go back a long way, but The Dictionary of Canadian Biography says that, while the Irish did establish a religious community in Iceland before 800 AD, there's nothing linking Brendan with the venture. He may have explored the North Atlantic, but there's no real evidence that he did anything more than become rallying point for bits of information gleaned by fishermen and Viking sailors. Yet his fame lives on.

Moral: Sometimes a good story does more than a passle of facts. Are there political lessons here? You better believe it.

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