Voyages

“Shortly before leaving, he was introduced to the famous Georg Forster, a thin man with a cough and an unhealthy pallor. He had circumnavigated the globe with Cook and seen more than any German had ever seen; now he was a legend, his book was world famous, and he worked as the librarian in Mainz. He told tales of dragons and the living dead, of supremely well-mannered cannibals, of days when the sea was so clear that one seemed to be rocking over an abyss, of storms so fierce that one didn’t even dare pray. Melancholy enveloped him like a fine mist. He had seen too much, he said. That was the meaning of the simile about Odysseus and the Sirens. It was no good tying oneself to the mast; even when one escaped, one couldn’t recover from the brush with the unknown. He could hardly sleep any more, he said, his memories were too strong. Recently he had had the news that his captain, the great saturnine Cook, had been boiled and eaten on Hawaii. He rubbed his forehead and looked at the buckles on his shoes. Boiled and eaten, he said again.

“He too wanted to go on voyages, said Humboldt.

“Forster nodded. Quite a few had that wish. And everyone of them regretted it later.

“Why?

“Because one could never come back.”

– Daniel Kehlmann, “Measuring the World”

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