Thursday, November 08, 2012

Reeling Back .... to the Beginning with Captain John Smith

After watching the movie The New World on HBO, Sunday evening, I got to wondering about Captain John Smith.

The movie outlines, and inevitably romanticises, the founding of the Jamestown, Virginia settlement in the early 1600s, and is inspired by the historical figures Captain John Smith and Pocahontas. I realised that the movie's version of Smith, portrayed by Colin Farrell had to be far from the truth. First, his Irish accent was way off mark. John Smith was born in Willoughby, Lincolnshire - not that far from where I was born myself, across the River Humber in East Yorkshire, where I can reliably report that natives do not speak in Irish brogue, and likely didn't in the 1600s. Still, Farrell's agreeable countenance was pleasing, if his accent was inaccurate.

From descriptions more contemporary with Smith he was described as "a stub of a man" - I take that to mean he was not very tall. The portrait of him bears some slight resemblance to Colin Farrell, I guess. That portrait is probably from his middle years though, rather than at age 28, when the adventure in The New World took place.

For any passing reader whose memory of school-day history has blurred, there's a very 21st-century-readable piece on Captain John Smith by Bob Deans from Time Magazine, 2007.

Sources around the internet indicate that Smith wasn't the mild-mannered guy portrayed in the movie at all, but a "vainglorious braggart", never well-liked by the men over whom he presided. We have to factor into the descriptions of Captain Smith, written decades and centuries later, very different time-weighted sensibilities of the authors. It's impossible for 19th or 20th century authors to have put themselves into the minds of 16th century adventurers and New World settlers. This, from the summary of a book by children's history writer Genevieve Foster gave me pause to reflect:

Spanning the years from 1580-1631 the life of the adventurous John Smith gives a picture of the world just before and during the colonization of America. When Smith was a boy, Shakespeare was on his way to London to become an actor, the Spanish Armada had failed to conquer England, Mary Queen of Scots had lost her head, and Akbar the young prince of India sought to rule his people wisely. Galileo was perfecting his telescope and seeing things never before seen by the human eye, while Pocahontas romped the forests of Virginia and saved a young Englishman's life. A little band of Pilgrims seeking to escape religious persecution in England fled to Holland and a little Dutch boy named Rembrandt began to paint. These are just a few of the intriguing personalities, events, discoveries, and advances that made up the world of Captain John Smith....
From: The World of Captain John Smith

Hollywood might embroider and outright lie, biographers might misunderstand, but astrology could least I thought it was worth an attempt. It's not possible to be accurate in the case of Captain John Smith's natal chart though. Sources vary, change of calendar from Julian to Gregorian muddies waters. Astrodatabank
has a speculative date and time of birth for Smith but with a very unreliable "XX" rating.

It's fairly reliably recorded that Smith was baptised in early/mid January 1579, 6th or 9th in old style calendar, 16th or 19th, 1580 new style. He would have been born reasonably close to that date, maybe a week or so before. The sixteenth-century Anglican Church's instruction to parents was to have their offspring baptised soon after birth, no longer than the Sunday or other Holy day next after the child was born, in absence of a cause to prevent this. So...this is as near as anyone could confidently approach Smith's birth date.

Even such a loose indication proves to be enlightening enough in some respects though. Here's is the relevant ephemeris from Khaldea. Click on it for a clearer view.

The astrological atmosphere at the time Smith was born was ripe for adventurous traits to develop, along with futuristic thinking, travel and the eager embrace of all that was new. Saturn and Uranus were both in forward-looking, inventive Aquarius, as was Mercury. Mars and Jupiter lay in expansive travel-loving Sagittarius, and Pluto was in Aries, sign of initiation.

More reliable individual detail for Captain John Smith's natal chart isn't possible beyond establishing that he would certainly have been born with Sun in Capricorn. Capricorn's ruler Saturn was then in Aquarius. The hard-edge of his personality described by contemporaries would partly be a reflection of a basic Saturnian nature, but unknown Moon and rising signs would have fed into that also. His tendency towards "vainglory and bragging" don't sound much like Capricorn to me, but if these descriptions were true they must have been reflections of his natal Moon or ascendant. We can't be sure, though, that these were actually true traits of his, or whether his own writings, which have exposed him to such accusations, were slanted in that manner mainly to inspire and encourage others, readers from The Old World, to go forth on adventures of their own. Was he trying to be something of a salesman for his New World, in fact (a wee bit more of a business-oriented Capricornian)? We can never know the truth.


♥ Sonny ♥ said...

I missed that movie on Sunday night. I'll need to check my hbo guide for when it will be played again..

Looks like this is one of those time when Time Travel would come in handy so someone could go back and see what " the REAL DEAL" was..

thanks for another great post..

Twilight said...

Sonny ~~ Thanks. :-)
It's a good movie, with classy music soundtrack and some pretty arty shots. I found early indistinct dialogue a bit difficult to follow - but that improved about half way through.
Definitely worth looking out for.

James Higham said...

Not many wonder about John Smith. I'm glad you do, Twilight and we can read this here.

Twilight said...

James Higham ~ Thanks, James. Yes, I wonder a lot. ;-)

How these guys even made it across the Atlantic and beyond in those ships is astounding. This movie made it all seem fairly easy and quick - still to have done otherwise would have required a 6 hour film.