Monday, October 15, 2007

Travel Companions

This month, I read A Walk in the Woods, by Bill Bryson. The key friendship here is that between Mr. Bryson and his travel companion, Stephen Katz. Katz is an old high school friend, and ends up being the only one willing to voluntarily hike the Appalachian Trail with Bryson, a huge and serious undertaking. Therefore it is more a friendship of convenience and simple companionship than of depth. Bryson realizes from the start that Katz isn't the companion of choice, but all he's got unless he wants to hike alone with no experience in a wild and potentially dangerous journey. They're a mismatched pair, Bryson a family man with a grand idea, Katz a recovering alcoholic trying to keep his life on track.
Catullus doesn't tell quite the same story, but he has certainly had his share of traveling companions. Carmen 11, suspected of being a combination of two separate poems, has a first half that concentrates on Catullus' friends, Furius and Aurelius, and descriptions of distant locations, presumably to which they have traveled together.
"Furi et Aureli comites Catulli,
sive in extremos penetrabit Indos..."
"Furius and Aurelius, companions of Catullus,
whether he will reach into the furthest Indies..."

Although Catullus apparently uses this as a setup to insult Lesbia (tell her a few nasty words), one can assume that Catullus forged a bond with his friends that enables him to tell them this. Traveling can bring people together unintentionally, and as Catullus probably traveled with the same companions several different places, he would have had the opportunity to know his companions well. Especially as Roman travel conditions were vastly inferior compared to modern circumstances, having a travel partner then was also likely a matter of safety. Even Bryson and Katz, not exactly material for best friends, find that their shared experiences on the trail and survival of hardships lead to a bond of friendship and understanding that little else could have created.
On a more personal note, I know very well from experience how traveling can bring people together. Dealing with unfortunate circumstances is a matter of life, but becomes easier when one has someone else to depend on for support and empathy. While I imagine the Roman dangers of the road still outrank being without a change of clothes, the common street pickpockets in modern day Italy are probably about the same.
Thankfully, French airports did not exist in Catullus' time.


Bob Patrick said...

Very nice, Kelsey. Love the connections, thought, and good writing.
Mr. P

Yayu2 said...

Your idea about the importance of traveling companions is true and correct. It's just not quite the same to be traveling to famous places all by oneself. To be able to share the experience with friends will make the journey much more enjoyable and memorable, especially if Catullus is trying to make Lesbia jealous. I know that everyone will find that friends will also keep each other safe.
Very nice connections about the importance of friendship. Your blog shows that a friend is an important aspect of human life that persists in both ancient and modern times.