I was studying English literature when the Professor asked me to write an essay related to the topic we were talking about. As I am fond of travels and web, I chose to talk about the evolution of the Travel literature from the Gilgamesh Epic to the travel blog.
Travel has always been a necessity for human beings as literature has always been part of men’s lives. Over the centuries they have crossed in lots of ways giving us a wide variety of stories and literary forms.
So, covering this path along the centuries, we would like to find a continuity between the old forms of travel literature and the travel blogs.
Our itinerary starts with the most ancient text related to travel: The Epic of Gilgamesh, written around 2100 b.c., in which the protagonist is called hero, “the man who knew world’s country”; his travels are epically told in third person but, was the hero in person to engrave the story on a rock when he went back home.
Nevertheless, the most known travel story is the Homer’s Odyssey, a travel log fiction about the king of Ithaca who went back home after ten years travelling around the Mediterranean Sea. From this we got the differentiation between the mythological and fantastic travel story and the writer no-traveler and the ones giving descriptions of real places and the writer – traveler.
Anyway, travel is considered as stimulus and impulse for novel.
With Christianism, the voyage took another meaning: the path leading to God. From this perspective, a new kind of travel was born, the pilgrimage. It contributed to the huge production of Latin Itinerari which described in form of diary/guide the paths to sacred places like Jerusalem, Santiago de Compostela, Rome. This description involved the mystic path and not the description of the places.
From the XII century, along the allegoric and fantastic topic went the recovery of telling real experiences of travel, linked to merchants, religion and diplomacy: The Million of Marco Polo is the best example even if we have a writer – notraveler as it has been written by Rustichello da Pisa.
In the XIV and XV century, with Columbus’ travel log we have a new experience of travel: is not anymore a description of faraway lands but, it is the discover and conquer of new lands, never seen before. And more, the invention of the press guaranteed to a large public the truth about the beauty of these amazing descriptions of new lands, deprived of any legendary reference.
On the contrary, these travels and their exoticism brought again European writers to the imaginary travel, a way to fantastic lands like Rebelais’ Gargantuan, Swift’s Gulliver.
Between the late XV and the XVIII century, the field of travels split into two kind of experiences: travels to well-known places, to increase the traveler’s knowledge, and discovery travels around the world seeking for new itineraries and unknown lands. The first ones are noted as Grand Tour, European fashionable paths undertaken especially by English scions but also, German and French ones. The second ones are famous especially for James Cook’s travel log in which readers could see the ethic, cultural, philosophic and political differences with European lifestyle.
We had a change in modern sense starting from the French Revolution and it lasted for all the Romanticism era. This change implied a separation from the genuine experience of the travel and writings specifically literary. The educational/health and discover travels are replaced by the sentimental travel as discover of one’s self like Sterne’s Sentimental Journey.
The World War II was characterized by a rapid evolution of technology that influenced the movements among countries and changed the notion of time and distances. The invention of photography and cinema made available images of faraway places and important aspects of the travel as the unknown and different lost their centrality. Travel turned into a mass phenomenon and became a world-wide industry creating structures and professionals in the field of tourism.
As we can see, in 4000 years, we have had an evolution of the travel and the literature connected to it, which has gone at the same speed of evolution of materials, technology and thoughts.
The last progress that we have had is the World Wide Web invention dated 1989. After 4 years, in 1993, The Global Network Navigator published the first travel website and the first online travel magazine, Mungo Park of Richard Bangs. One year later, Jeff Greenwald was designated to write about his travels and publish his articles on a “blog” called Big World. His first post was published from Oaxaca, Mexico the 6th January 1994 after lots of difficulties related to the slow data connection. Although we call it “blog”, the word was created only in 1997 after the creation of the first CMS, content management system.
Nowadays, we have an uncountable number of travel blogs or travelogues as they are called by specialists. As in the past, they are focused on different topics and have different forms; the most common are those of places descriptions -what to do, what to see, etc.…-, scientific –focused on flora, fauna, culture, etc.-, travelling paths –which include feelings. For what concern the form we have: classic written blog -on CMS platforms-, Vlogs –mainly on YouTube-, photoblog –Instagram, Snapchat, Pinterest-, guide blogs – web site of famous guide books like Lonely Planet and National Geographic, and combinations of them. For what concern the type of writer, we can say that every person with connection to the Internet can start a travel blog and travelers are now much more numerous respect to the past. The reasons for travelling are the same of the past but now we travel also for leisure, hobby, adventure given to the more economic and fast ways of voyage.
Between my favorites there is a blog which is a mixed one, gate309 in which we find two types of narration: classic written blog with pictures in which every article point out a specific argument and the Vlog. It is very full packaged blog with lot of sections.
The arrival of the Internet and blogs has not cancelled the classic travel literature printed on books but it is unquestionable that it has helped to spread it and increase writers’ number because today everybody with data connection can write and publish from every corner of the world, even from places that seem unreachable. Location descriptions in travel writing are no longer perceived as mythical places but as real destinations and serves as the most important vehicles for the promotion of a territory.
So, can we say that the travel blogger is Homer’s contemporary version and travel blog are the travel literature form of this century? My answer, after having walked this travel literature path, is yes. Yes, because the phenomenon of travel blogs for its size and variety in topics and forms of voyage communication, has nothing less than classical travel writers.
I don’t agree, for example, with Paul Theroux, one of the most known contemporary travel writer of this century who said in an interview: “I loathe blogs when I look at them. Blogs look to me illiterate, they look hasty, like someone babbling […] A blog doesn’t seem to have any literary merit at all. It’s a chatty account of things that have happened to that particular person”.
I think Theroux’s position is too conservative and too much generalist because it is evident that there are some blogs and travel bloggers better in writing and more professionals than others as there are in classic travel literature too.
What do you think? We’ll wait for your opinion!