Wednesday, November 24, 2010
November 24, 2010 : Maelstrom
The original Maelstrom (described by Poe and others) is the Moskstraumen, a powerful tidal current in the Lofoten Islands off the Norwegian coast. The Maelstrom is formed by the conjunction of the strong currents that cross the Straits (Moskenstraumen) between the islands and the great amplitude of the tides. The Maelstrom’s name comes from the Dutch words malen, to crush and stroom, meaning current.
In Norwegian the most frequently used name is Moskstraumen or Moskenstraumen (current of [island] Mosken).
The fictional depictions of the Maelstrom by Edgar Allan Poe and Jules Verne describe it as a gigantic circular vortex that reaches the bottom of the ocean, when in fact it is a set of currents and crosscurrents with a rate of 18 km.
Two of the most notable literary references to the Lofoten Maelstrom date from the nineteenth century. The first is the Edgar Allan Poe story "A Descent into the Maelström" (1841). The second is 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1869), the famous novel by Jules Verne. At the end of this novel, Captain Nemo seems to commit suicide, sending his Nautilus submarine into the Maelstrom (although in Verne's sequel Nemo and Nautilus survived).
In Spanish and other languages, Maelstrom is used as a synonym for whirlpool. Hence, the word "Maelstrom" appears in diverse contexts metaphorically to make reference to different subjects or objects that suggest great chaotic or sinister forces. The word maelstrom is used to denote powerful, inescapable destructive forces.
Greek Poet Homer describes a maelstrom in his "Odyssey" as Odysseus must choose to sail near the six-headed monster Scylla, or near the whirlpool Charybdis in order to reach Ithaca.