One hundred years from the sinking of the Titanic

One hundred years from the sinking of the Titanic

This year marks one hundred years of the sinking of the Titanic, which descended in the early hours of April 15 1912, after colliding with an iceberg. What was considered to be an unparalleled achievement of contemporary shipbuilding sank in the Arctic Ocean, taking with her 1500 of the 2200 passengers, where less than a third, only 700, survived.

Despite the temporal distance that exists between today and the wreck, and despite other fatal and at times, deadlier shipwrecks, the Titanic continues to incite strong sentiments, the strength of which are comparable to the ones brought about when the world first got word of the tragedy. Dozens of books (both novels and historical accounts), journalistic research, interviews of survivors, countless radio and television shows, and four profitable cinematic adaptations have aided the perseverance of the sentiment behind the tale. Thus, it`s important that this fact is addressed, and the reasons that incite such interest toward the nautical tragedy are outlined.

Firstly, consider the name: Titanic, an adjective that has its roots in the Titans of Greek mythology, which were the personification of great powers. According to the Liddell – Scott dictionary, for the Ancient Greeks, the adjective titanic signified someone who belonged or is pertinent to the Titans, and until today, the adjective carries the notion of the superhuman, the gigantic and the magnificent. This theme was relevant to the general spirit of the age, which emphasized the value of machinery, welcomed new inventions with raw enthusiasm, extolled and heroicized manufacturing engineers, believed that the new achievements of machinery secured dominion over nature, and at the same time, had a frantic rhythm of promoting the strongest, fastest and biggest mechanical construction. The advertising and promotion of this ship was in accordance with the spirit of the age — it was described as a miracle of nautical art, luxurious and resplendent, with powerful machines and construction that made it “unsinkable.”Consequently, this can come to explain the arrogance of the shipping company, which kept them from sufficiently equipping the ship with enough lifeboats, since they were deemed redundant in an unsinkable ship.

The themes of hubris and punishment seem intrinsic in discourse on the subject. The ship was built with pride, it was majestic and imposing — a ship worthy of the Titans. When it came into contact with the natural elements, the “Titanic” sunk, bringing forth a range of emotions that would not prompt such a response were this ship called “Glasgow” or “Eleanor Livingston.”

The magnificent construction of the “unsinkable” Titanic floundered when it collided with an iceberg during her maiden voyage — another element that loads this particular accident with such profound emotional responses. The fact is reminiscent of feeble, futile and unfortunate adolescent attempts; it reduces a powerful and easily recognizable symbol, since if it were for similar wreckage to occur four years after its construction on its twenty-fifth journey, and it would not incite the strong emotional responses that the failure of its first journey provoked.

There are other elements that contribute to the emotional load accompanying this wreckage. The passengers of the ship mostly consisted of members of the higher social strata, the gentry of the Belle Époque, many of whom were traveling for pleasure, anxious to experience the glorious ship in her maiden journey. The days preceding the collision, the dazzling areas of the ship, were brimming with shows and beautiful images, good taste, elegant dresses, appetizing meals and expensive drinks, that were accompanied by orchestral music, dance and exuberance.

The sinking of the Titanic inspired Greek poet Giannis Skarimpas, who intensely captured the majestic atmosphere of the ship in his poem “The Ship (Titanic)” that was published in his 1950 poetry collection “Little Selves.”In the “proud ship,” with the “golden lights of the dream” exists a “divine hour” where people dance waltz in the parlour, with appealing ladies and couples swirling to the sounds of the band, while an exquisite lady holding a book approaches the captain so that she can hear: “But of course we’re sinking madam.”

The Titanic was classically structured, where the first class separated from the lower classes with the expected discriminations, but it’s not by chance that this idealized version of the spectacular upper class is the image that comes to mind when the public ponders this ship, as this is the one the popular cinematic adaptations choose to focus on.

Thus, this luxurious ship, that was considered to be unsinkable and that is set to connect the strongest, most advanced countries of Europe and America — England and the United States —is thought to have been boarded by upper-class whites, who sailed to a voyage of prosperity and happiness whose journey had the worst possible end. Ships with greater numbers of migrants, soldiers, refugees or slaves that, for example, had sunk in the India-Java line do not bring to mind this rapid change from happiness and despair that the case of the Titanic uniquely brings to our emotional education.

Some discern a class competition in the continuous preoccupation and re-examination of the wreckage of the Titanic, as class malevolence is seen in their fascination by the metaphorical and literal sinking of “good society.” This might be an inherent quality, but the key to this phenomenon lies in the opposite site, the identification of a broad mass of people with this world — it’s not a coincidence that even though cinematic adaptations focus on the lives of the higher-classes, their revenue primarily comes from an audience from the lower-classes.

The broad masses of the world, that face daily stress and tediousness and go about their lives’ dealing with small losses and gains, see the world through the eyes of those who they would like to be identified with in crucial moments that supersede the ordinary. The passengers of the Titanic were at a breaking point; where the range between pettiness and magnanimity was highlighted by the spectrum of unique reactions to the situation. There are reports in existence of incredible demonstrations of courage and heroism, while at the same time there is evidence of some atrocious instances of pettiness. Reports of men who tried to bribe crew officials or who dressed as women so as to have access to the lifeboats with the women and children, but at the same time others were true to their duty even thought they knew they would soon be dead. Some were consumed by panic while others faced their imminent death with serenity and dignity. In all the witness testimonies, the admirable stance of the orchestra is mentioned, as it members carried on playing while the ship was sinking, in an attempt to quell the panic caused by the collision.

As a final point, the themes of coincidence and possibility are essential in the issues brought to our attention by the interest in this case. The ship’s construction ensured that even if four of its watertight compartments were pierced, it would remain unsinkable, the iceberg however pierced five of them, making the ship’s fall unavoidable. How the collision with the iceberg came to be and, mainly, the rupture of the five watertight compartments make up an incredible accumulation of coincidences that had to take place(including things such as the ship’s speed, the distance from the iceberg, the degrees the ship’s course was diverted to avoid the iceberg etc.). If one of the factors responsible were to be altered by a minimal value, were it to be a few centimetres or a few milliseconds, the ship would have been saved. As it was emphasized even if a collision with the same iceberg was inflicted on a ship same as the Titanic, it would be impossible for all these unfortunate circumstances to exist simultaneously and for a wreckage to come to pass as such.

The fall of the Titanic brings to the surface certain fundamental symbolisms and certain basic patterns of the human tragic experience.


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