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M. B. Synge

Conquerors of the Sea

"My purpose holds

To sail beyond the sunset and the baths

Of all the western seas until I die."

—Tennyson, "Ulysses."

N OW when the six hundred thousand children of Israel came trooping into the land of Canaan, there were a great many tribes already living there. Amongst others there was a large tribe, known as the Phœnicians, living in the extreme north. They occupied a narrow strip of coast land between the high snow-capped mountains of Lebanon and the Great Sea.

It was simpler for them to trade by sea than to reach the inland country over the mountains of Lebanon—a journey which had to be accomplished on mules. The smiling sea which lay in front of them, invited them to trust themselves to its calm surface. The island of Cyprus was plainly visible across the waters, offering them safe harbours in case of sudden storms.

So the Phœnicians learnt the value of the sea, and by reason of this, they rose to fame and played a large part in the history of the world. It must have required some courage to sail even on the tideless waters of the Great Sea, in those early days, for, as we have already seen, the ships were very untrustworthy. They were not like the magnificent steamships, that put to sea in all weathers from every navigable port in these days.

Here is the story of a shipwreck, that took place before Joseph was sold into Egypt, and which shows how terrified the Eastern people were of venturing on the sea.

"I set sail," says the shipwrecked sailor, "in a vessel one hundred and fifty cubits long and forty wide, with one hundred and fifty of the best sailors of Egypt, whose hearts were more resolute than lions. They had foretold, that the wind would not be contrary, or that there would be none at all; but a squall came on unexpectedly, while we were in the open, and as we approached land the wind freshened and raised waves to the height of eight cubits. As for me, I clung to a beam, but those who were on the vessel perished, without one escaping. A wave cast me on an island, after having spent three days alone with no other companion than my own heart. I slept there in the shade of a thicket, then I set my legs in motion in quest of something for my mouth."

Now, when the new Israelite tribes began to sweep over the country, the tribes already in the land were pushed towards the coast, and the little strip known as Phœnicia became very much overcrowded. This gave a new life to their enterprise.

Up to this time they had sailed from headland to headland along their coast, under the friendly shelter of their tall mountains—sailed in their home-made boats, handling with skill their "sea-horses," as they called them, when they rode from shore to shore.

Their one idea had been to trade—to exchange the products of their own country for the products of those beyond the seas.

Now their own country was too full, they must go in search of settlement where some of their people could go and live; they must find ports and harbours, points good for trade, where their kinsmen might barter and sell the products of the old country.

The island of Cyprus had long ago attracted the Phœnicians. They could see its clear outline on fine summer evenings in the glow of the western sky; they could sail with ease and safety, keeping land in sight all the way. Thither it was natural that their eyes should turn when in search of a colony.

Beyond Cyprus, too, to the smaller island of Rhodes they ventured, and steering through unknown seas, they discovered Sicily.

Farther and yet farther they ventured.

Cutting down cedars, for which the mountains of Lebanon were famous, they built more and more ships, they added a greater number of oars, they made better sails.

Westward, and ever westward, they fought their way—battling with the wind and waves of the Great Sea—right along the coast of North Africa.

They would pass not a single town, they would meet not a single ship, unless it was one of their own. They did not know the currents of the sea, they had no means of knowing the force of the wind, they had no compass to guide them. The sun overhead was their only guide, the stars and the moon by night their only light.

They were indeed a brave people, and their success was richly deserved.