Feb 2: The Voyage of St. Brendan, Cohen

As we’ve previously seen, Brendan is a very Moses like figure, and some comparisons could be made to Odysseus as well. Michael has shown us how Nature and the Exodus of these pilgrims intersect – now, the encounter with the naked man and the references to torments and Hell seem to suggest a mentality related to Nature that is hostile. Is this reading a viable one, and does it contradict previous lines in the poem, or is there another interpretation? What do you think of the medieval worldview towards money and “usurers” compared to our own capitalist reality? Is the naked man ultimately deserving of the horrors inflicted on him?

4 thoughts on “Feb 2: The Voyage of St. Brendan, Cohen

  1. I don’t necessarily think that nature here is being represented as harsh. I think this section is supposed to be more about religion, specifically the Christian ideas of punishment and redemption. However, that is not to say that nature here is not violent. The landscape is hellish, obviously, but I think it is more of a reflection of their location rather than a generalization about nature. The naked man is said to be Judas, who is the betrayer, and so “naturally” he’d need to be punished. I think the idea of usury is only important in that it is an example of sin. In the context of Christianity, it really isn’t Brendan’s call as to whether or not Judas is suffering. Ultimately it would be God’s in this situation.

  2. I believe the author is using Nature as a way to describe Hell. Nature is meant to be harsh towards Judas for his betrayal of Jesus. Nature is the main tool employed by God to inflict justice against Judas.

    The waves of the sea crashing against Judas are meant to represent that he is not safe from anybody’s wrath, especially God’s. “Danger” was all around him, because all knew of Judas’ betrayal- he could never escape his mistake, and the author did not believe he ever should (1237-1242). What he did to Jesus led to his eventual death. Judas’ punishment is constant torture. It’s worse than death and is inescapable.

    The sea is a metaphor for God’s wrath more than a representation for Nature as a whole.

  3. Nature in St. Brendan seems to be used by God as a way of testing the monks’ faith. There are times where their situation seems hopeless only to be saved by miraculous events orchestrated by God. Such as when the ship is being chased by a fire-breathing sea serpent that they have no hope of outrunning,God sends another sea serpent to combat the first one and once again protect the monks. They are also rewarded for their hardships by finally landing in paradise, a place they most certainly would not have reached had it not been for their (or at least Brendan’s) unwavering faith.

  4. What I find interesting about this reading is that it assumes a benevolent God, which was not exactly the setup we find in medieval religion. God is a figure to fear, while sin and Satan are obstacles set up to prevent man from achieving salvation. I think that in this reading, we can assume that nature is less a metaphor for hell and more a representation of God. God, being something man appreciates, but does not understand, and is capable of inflicting a lifetime of damnation upon those who dissatisfy him, seems to be more closely linked with nature in this instance. Sin and hell result from man failing himself; wrath of God results from man failing God.

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