A Staff Report from the Straight Dope Science Advisory Board

What are the "seven seas"?

Dear Straight Dope:

There's a line in the Eurythmics' song "Sweet Dreams" that goes, "... travel the world and the seven seas." Do you know which Seven Seas this is referring to?

Everybody's looking for something.

As Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart probably well know, the Seven Seas is a figurative term referring to all the seas and oceans of the world. Some folks will tell you the seven seas are the Arctic, the Antarctic, the North and South Pacific, the North and the South Atlantic and the Indian Ocean. But the term was never meant to be taken literally.

The phrase was popularized by Rudyard Kipling who used it as the title of a volume of poems first published in 1896. Kipling himself said the term might be regarded as referring to the seven oceans (named above) even though it was a very old figurative name for all the waters of the world.

The Seven Seas was part of the vernacular of several nations long before some of the oceans named were known to the inhabitants of Europe and Asia. The Seven Seas are referred to in the literature of the ancient Hindus, Chinese, Persians, Romans and other nations. In each case, the term simply referred to different bodies of water. Sometimes it even referred to mythical seas. To the Persians, the Seven Seas were the streams forming the Oxus River; the Hindus used the term for the bodies of water in the Punjab. There is a group of salt-water lagoons near Venice, Italy, that the Romans called septem maria, the Latin phrase for Seven Seas.

And don't forget, seven is a pretty special number. The world was formed in seven days. There are seven wonders of the world, seven deadly sins, seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, seven hills of Rome, seventh heaven and don't forget Mark McGwire hit 70 home runs this year. Some even consider seven a perfect number.

Who am I to disagree?

Related Posts with Thumbnails
Staff Reports are written by the Straight Dope Science Advisory Board, Cecil's online auxiliary. Though the SDSAB does its best, these columns are edited by Ed Zotti, not Cecil, so accuracywise you'd better keep your fingers crossed.

Recent Additions:

A Straight Dope Classic by Cecil Adams
A Straight Dope Classic by Cecil Adams
A Straight Dope Classic by Cecil Adams
A Straight Dope Classic by Cecil Adams
A Straight Dope Classic by Cecil Adams
A Straight Dope Classic by Cecil Adams
A Straight Dope Classic by Cecil Adams
A Straight Dope Classic by Cecil Adams
By Cecil Adams
A Straight Dope Classic by Cecil Adams
A Straight Dope Classic by Cecil Adams
A Straight Dope Classic by Cecil Adams
A Straight Dope Classic by Cecil Adams
A Straight Dope Classic by Cecil Adams
A Straight Dope Classic by Cecil Adams
A Straight Dope Classic by Cecil Adams

Send questions for Cecil Adams to: cecil@chicagoreader.com

Send comments about this website to: webmaster@straightdope.com

Terms of Use / Privacy Policy

Advertise on the Straight Dope! Your direct line to thou- sands of the smartest, hippest people on the planet, plus a few total dipsticks.

Publishers - interested in subscribing to the Straight Dope? Write to: sdsubscriptions@chicagoreader.com.

Copyright © 2014 Sun-Times Media, LLC.