Friday, August 26, 2011

Figureheads

It's always bemused me when people think of figureheads as something or someone that is 'only for show'. A hundred years before the word first came to mean 'leader without real authority', it meant the ornament at the prow of the ship which symbolised the mission of its crew, their deity or source of moral guidance. It was the pre-literate version of a mission statement.

Even before this, sailors have always had superstitions about their figureheads. It was always unlucky to change one if the old one had not been lost to natural causes. It always had to be something the crew felt comfortable with, and a captain who chose an unlucky or ill-omened figurehead was not one that a seasoned crew would want to sail with.

If I had had to choose a figurehead in those pre-literate days, I'd choose one which gave my ship a sense of dignity, of beneficial omen, and of calm guidance. The reason that these ship ornaments were called figureheads is because, at the very least, such ornaments bore heads with clearly marked eyes to find the way through the dread and danger of the wine-dark sea.

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2 Comments:

OpenID becktan said...

You need a figurehead that hasn't slept in a while then.

Saturday, August 27, 2011 1:18:00 pm  
Blogger Trebuchet said...

Or one with a penchant for eye shadow. Cap'n Jack Sparrow, Ma'am! :D

Saturday, August 27, 2011 9:42:00 pm  

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