Inventors, explorers and idiots like Francis Drake
Francis Drake and Ferdinand Magellan - Sailing around the world
A voyage of Discovery always creates grand stories of the people behind the journey and the suffering and joy they experienced along their way to fame, fortune and (sometimes) death. Who these great inventors, explorers and idiots were and what set them apart from the millions of us who are content to sit on the couch and watch the National Geographic channel remains the core of a great adventure yarn. Stories of explorers like Sir Francis Drake.
Francis Drake became famous for two things, circumnavigating the world and bowling. More on these later, and the video game he's never going to see a dime from. But first, before you can truly appreciate Drake's good fortune, you have to understand the fate of Ferdinand Magellan.
In 1519, Ferdinand Magellan set out from Portugal to sail around the world. By this time, of course, everyone knew the world was round so the only tricky part was the sailing. What Ferdinand really discovered was that it takes three years to sail around the world and that it is really dangerous to do so, what with all those people you meet who want to eat you along the way. Ferdinand never made it home, having died along the way, so his great discovery about the dangers of travelling around the world really came too late to help him. He never knew Sir Francis Drake was sailing right behind him and would survive to bowl another day. But, thanks to Magellan, only Great Idiots try to sail around the world these days, usually adding a novelty to it, like sailing alone or with a paper bag on their head; desperate novelty attempts to get their names in record books.
Of course, Francis Drake sailed around the world and lived. That was his misfortune, as he is not remembered for that at all - rather for lawn bowling while the Spanish Armada sailed into view. His great discovery was that people remember you not for what you do but for how you do it. Sir Francis Drake discovered style, according to his place in history.
Francis Drake sailed past lots of tropical islands!
Drake's discovery of style while bowling in Plymouth while the Spanish Armada sailed off the coast
Great Inventors like Einstein, Bell and Pasteur
From fire to the integrated circuit, our entire civilized life rests on the discoveries of brilliant men and women who could see beyond the problem to that elusive, elegant solution and thus advanced mankind from the caves to the Colosseum to cyberspace. It is one thing to know the laws of physics but quite another to make something useful like a train or a car that moves when and where we want to go. People who make really useful, practical things are the backbone of our world, the engine of all commerce and the richest people on the planet.
Albert Einstein is commonly known as the biggest egghead who ever lived. Einstein discovered that space and time are curved. No one could see it, or prove that he was wrong. Thus, it was a brilliant discovery. Einstein provided the scientific foundation of all science fiction, notably the "Star Trek" series. As for the atomic bomb, Einstein was "relatively" innocent on that. Einstein spent the remainder of his life trying to discover the "Unifying Theory of Everything" but died never realizing that the answer was...television.
Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone, and the ringing bell on the phone was named after him. But his great idea was to connect two phones together so that you could ring up another person. This, of course, made the phone twice as useful. But Alexander's great discovery was a wireless telephone which he called a "cellular phone" and which he gave to his wife. She used it for two years before she realized it wasn't connected to anything. Contrary to popular belief, Bell did not invent the television, just the telephone. I'm tele-ing you. Trust me. Bell also suffered from the Inventor Inferiority Syndrome (IIS) which compelled him to use three names to make him sound more intelligent and hide his lack of formal education, like great inventors of his day like Thomas Alva Edison.
Medicine is a great place to invent new stuff, because without these people, we'd all be dead already.
Louis Pasteur was a French doctor who proved that boiling milk killed bacteria and made it safer to drink. Of course, other people had trouble sleeping and heated up milk before bed, but they didn't figure out the whole pasteurization process because they were really tired and just wanted to get to sleep. His great discovery was that by calling this simple process "pasteurization", he could become famous even though he was French and had a name that was hard to remember.
Paris is full of milk bottles!
Typical Greek village where people get "philosophical" over "drinks"
Great Philosophers like Plato and Marx
Philosophers know a simple truth, that life is a great puzzle of unknowns, of questions beyond the physical, of riddles beyond time and space. No one knows the answers to these questions, but a few arrogant people have given it a shot because they knew the one great certainty of life: nobody really knows anything.
Plato was an ancient Greek philosopher, so ancient that they only needed first names, Plato spent a lot of his time talking to his teacher, Socrates. When he wasn't doing that, he was refining his own vision of "platonic love" which meant that two people could be in love without touching or having sex or even sharing a bank account. Needless to say, this idea never really caught on except as a plot device in plays and television sit-coms. Plato's great discovery was that by taking notes in class, you could become as famous as your teacher.
Karl Marx had this philosophy that all property belongs to the community and everyone would be compensated according to their needs and their abilities. He called it communism and boy, what a great idea that turned out to be. Marx's great discovery was how easily people confused you with others who have your same last name. Until he died, he had a devil of a time evading the question, "hey, where are all the other Marx brothers?"
Plato and the Parthenon
Great Idiots like Newton, Carter and Shakespeare
Great Idiots are people who discovered things while being incredibly stupid. Only through sheer luck, they stumble onto greatness. No doubt everyone has meet at least one great idiot, maybe a lot more.
Issac Newton was great idiot. One autumn in 1666, Issac decided to sit under an apple tree, during harvest time. Next, an apple smacks him on the head. Anyone strolling by at that moment would no doubt remark, "Brilliant move, Issac!" However, the apple knocks Issac so loopy he dreams up the universal law of gravity and then, on a dazed roll, lucks into the laws of motion and refraction. Before he can even take an aspirin for his headache, he's knighted by the Queen and ends up one of the greatest scientists of his day. One wonders what would have become of old Sir Issac Newton if he was sitting under a watermelon tree instead. If, like Sir Francis Drake, he was bowling with apples, he wouldn't have faced the ridicule and suffered being the butt of endless "sitting under a apple tree...duh" jokes.
Great Archaeologists are usually idiots because they make history by digging up old stuff and claiming it was once the possession of somebody famous. Thus, they become famous too. History is full of lost civilizations and treasures just waiting for some fool with a shovel to dig them up and carry them back to their own country where they can be put in a glass case so we all can pay money to gawk at them.
Howard Carter discovered the great tomb of King Tut of Egypt. He actually found the tomb in Egypt, something you would think would be rather obvious but people thought it was a a great bit of detective work on his part. By just opening a door, he stumbled onto the greatest treasure the world had ever seen. Old King Tut was still there, dead by this time, wrapped in cloth and lying in a sarcophagus. Carter polish up the King's family silver and gold and carried it off for the world to see. However, Carter also discovered the "Curse of the Mummy's tomb" which sounds horrible but really meant that for the rest of your life, you find sand in your shoes.
Great writers become great after they die. Thus, you never really meet any great writers during your lifetime, although you can read their books in the library or as a free ebook.
William Shakespeare is widely considered to be the greatest writer of all time. Not much is known about Shakespeare except that he wrote plays in England until about 1616 and then stopped. He is a controversial writer because his plays are too good to be written by someone we know so little about. We have no idea how he wrote, (pen and paper or typewriter) or whether he wrote in the morning or the evening or even how much he drank (as all writers seem to drink a lot). Thus, it is difficult to understand how he could be so damn brilliant. Did he drink a lot of coffee? Did he smoke something? Regardless, Shakespeare's great discovery was that if he wrote plays, they were shorter than writing books so he could really crank them out. He could write ten plays in the time it took to write one book. Thus, he thought all novelists were idiots. The only other thing Shakespeare wrote were sonnets. Once he found out how short these were, he kicked himself for writing all those long plays. Man, you could write fifty sonnets in the time it took to write one play! By the time he realized this, it was too late. He died a bitter, lonely, forgotten man who's real name was Francis Bacon.
So there you have it, a brief, completely personal tour of inventors, explorers and idiots who I've admired all my life for all the wrong reasons, probably.