This slight compendium charts the most significant nautical journeys of ancient world, providing some modern insights into their navigational techniques and offering up a hodgepodge of mythological explication to keep the text afloat.
The author marshals many interesting facts about how the earliest explorers made their way across the treacherous oceans. Early on in his account, Obregón latches onto what should have remained his central theme: the particular way in which each ancient culture understood navigation. His insights here are original and seem the product of thorough scholarship: he talks, for example, about how the Polynesians had “identified directions with winds whose personality, smell, and taste they easily recognized,” and how the Greeks assigned intimate mythological counterparts to the winds and the stars. He then goes on to describe how the Polynesian star compass worked only in the tropics, and speculates that the Polynesians might well have reached South America despite the opposition of the prevailing winds. He falters badly, however, in his attempts to marry the actual tales of Jason, Ulysses, the Muslim sailors, and Leif Eriksson’s discovery of Vinland. Here, Obregón’s central theme (i.e., the cunning and skill of the early navigators) gives way to an uninspired rehashing of these disparate odysseys. His scholarship treads on thin ice here as well, as when he refers to Thor (and not Odin) as “the king of the . . . gods” and goes on to declare incorrectly that “Odin, the magician, was like Orpheus.”
Although not without some novel conceits, this seems to lose its main focus early on and sinks like an ill-made vessel in the ocean of its own verbiage.