Ahoy, laddies! You all surely heard variations of the phrase “Sailing the Seven Seas”, which today generally means that one has been or is sailing all the seas of the world (the IHO 1953 listed a total of 23 seas in their S-23 standard), indicating superior experience due to having seen things; or – used less with a nautical subtext and even more metaphorically – it can tell us that one is not restricted to just one area (of expertise, action, work, …) alone, but is more versatile or more mobile (in modern marketing speak, you could say: “more agile”) than others.
Interestingly enough, the term “Seven Seas” seems to be an cultural example of convergent evolution, appearing in different times and areas of the world with different seas (or other bodies of water) in mind. The Wikipedia page on the term lists several ancient & early modern origins or variations, which seems to indicate that not the seas, but the number part is the real thing we’d need to take a closer look at, but I don’t want to drift into esoterical numerology here – although I’d be interested in reading a cultural history about the significance of number “7“.
Let us focus on the seas here for a bit. I am not going to collect any of the historical or recent catalogues with their different names and waters here. Instead, I want to point out something that all of thoses lists seem to have in common: the people who made them saw a need for distinction between those areas of water. Something set them apart from each other, made them recognizable, gave them their own character – and such their own name. It’s not just “the Sea”, it’s “the Atlantic”, “the Mediterranean”, or “the Adriatic” even. Why is that?Continue reading