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Palinurus in the Whirlpool: Water’s power throughout history.

by Dan Agudelo March 08, 2017

From monsters to the perfect storm, we see the sea as alive.   

In the story of Aeneas, the refugees of Troy were sailing towards Italy. They were destined to sail through the Straits of Messina, home to the whirlpool Charybdis. Charybdis is the personification of the frequent whirlpools that plague Massina; the danger today still warrants many lighthouses off of Sicily’s coast. In order to ensure their safe passage, the gods decided that the navigator, Palinurus, would be sacrificed to Charybdis. Palinurus also was promised that he would survive to see his homeland, so he survived the whirlpool, only to die on Salerno’s shore many days later.

Whirlpools are formed when opposite currents meet, which happens on a small scale every day. There are locations, like the aforementioned Straits of Messina, but also the Narouto Strait in Japan. Straits produce whirlpools, because they separate two bodies of water with different depths. Whirlpools can also occur in freshwater, like the famous Niagara Whirlpool after Niagara Falls. If a Whirlpool is the result of two large currents meeting out at sea, then they are a maelstrom, which may or may not have a downdraft. The downdraft is the dramatic and deadly pull downward that presents the greatest threat to people inside whirlpools. Whirlpools seem to come to life in many stories, or appear due to divine intervention. This is due to the danger they present to sailors and swimmers.

Our reverence and fear of water still exists today in the traditions of sailing. While sailors are no longer offered up on a plate to ensure safe passage, it is generally agreed that Friday is an unlucky day to begin sailing. Whistling on a boat is a lasting remnant of personifying the weather, as whistling supposedly challenges the wind to be more fierce. The famous Albatross of “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” is still taboo to kill today, as its death will invite bad weather.

We learn from these enduring legends and superstitions, that irrational traditions can persist in a business and propagate through employees. Palinurus was loyal to his captain, Aeneas, and to his fellow sailors primarily. His legend exists in spite of the hero Aeneas is made out to be, because the sailors remembered the fate of their fellow. Legends persist in sailing despite many changes in technology and uses of boats because the character of the employees has not changed. A sailor, whether civilian or military, must maintain the same buoyancy, a constant command of direction, and discipline with supplies.

If you would like to know more about water, and what you can do to tame any bad spirits that may remain in water, you can go to:



Dan Agudelo
Dan Agudelo


Dan Agudelo, VP Creative Content Marketing - Dan spends his time creating well-crafted water content that aligns with the values of customers, clients and the water loving public. Dan is a graduate of the University at Buffalo with a BS in Business Administration and a concentration in marketing. For him, marketing the value of water is a passion. Dan spends his free time with friends and family in the Hudson Valley and NYC. His hobbies include soccer, drawing, music and the Marvel Comic Universe.

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