The Voice of Skogula in ‘Beasts Royal’ and a Story of the Tagus Estuary (Lisbon, Portugal): as Seen through a Whale’s-Eye Vie

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Abstract

Patrick O’Brian inspired this work, with his 1934 book of chronicles “Beasts Royal,” where he gives a voice to animals. Therein, among other animals, we find Skogula, a young sperm whale journeying with his family group across the South Seas and his views on the surrounding world, both underwater and on land. This paper tells a story of historical natural events, from the viewpoint of a fin whale that travelled, rested and stranded in the Tagus estuary mouth (Lisbon, Portugal) during the early 16th century. It allows us to move across time and explore the past of this estuarine ecosystem. What kind of changes took place and how can literature and heritage contribute to understand peoples’ constructions of past environments, local maritime histories and memories? In the second part of this essay we present a fictional short story, supported on historical documental sources and imagery research where Lily, the whale, is the main character. Thus, we see the Tagus estuary as perceived through this whale’s-eye view. Finally, we discuss past earthquakes, whale strandings, the occurrence of seals and dolphins and peoples’ perceptions of the Tagus coastal environment across time. We expect to make a contribution to the field of the marine environmental humanities. We will do so both by addressing, by means of this literary approach, the writing of “new thalassographies,” oceanic historiographies and “historicities” and by including all intervening actors—people, animals and the physical space—in the understanding of the past of more-than-human aquatic worlds.
Original languageEnglish
Article number47
Pages (from-to)1-16
Number of pages16
JournalHumanities
Volume8
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 5 Mar 2019

Keywords

  • Marine Environmental History
  • Marine Historicities
  • Marine Literature
  • Whales

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