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Having reviewed over 1200 books on this blog, I have now written two myself. Motherdarling is a story about a search for a missing Will which reveals long-hidden family secrets. The Kids of God is a thriller set in a dystopia ruled by fascist paramilitaries. Both are available as paperbacks and on Kindle through Amazon. I live in Canterbury, England. I lived for more than thirty years in Bedford. Having retired from teaching; I became a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Liminality. I achieved my PhD in 2019. I am now properly retired. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. Follow me on twitter: @daja57

Monday, 26 November 2018

"Ulysses Found" by Ernle Bradford

Based on a lifetime of sailing the Mediterranean in a small boat, this book locates the places in Homer's Odyssey. Homer often gives precise sailing instructions and detailed descriptions of harbours (the exception is the clearly mythical voyage to the land of the dead) and Bradford uses these to trace the voyage. Sometimes Bradford agrees with classical sources (almost everyone locates Scylla and Charybdis in the Messina strait between Sicily and Italy) and sometimes he disagrees but in every case he has excellent reasons for his identification. Of course, this all assumes that Homer was working with a sailor or sailors or at least with their log books, even when, as Bradford admits, citing the lack of any encounters with other voyagers in the Odyssey, the Greeks of Homer's time never adventured into the Western Mediterranean.

This is a brilliant, fascinating, well argued and convincing book and the meat of the argument is perfectly spiced with anecdotes about the author's own adventures.

The route that Bradford suggests makes sense both in terms of directions, times and likely speeds, and the descriptions of land. In short, Bradford suggests Ulysses travelled north from Troy to raid the Thracian coast near Mount Ismaro. He was then driven by a storm to the Island of Djerba off the Libyan coast, the Land of the Lotus Eaters. He then travelled north to the land of the Cyclopes in SE Sicily, north to Ustica (the Island of Aeoleus) and again north to Bonifacio on southern Corsica, the Land of the Laestrygonians. He then travelled east to Circe's island (actually a headland) on the Italian coast north of Naples. After Circe he travelled west through the r (to the Land of the Dead) and then back to Circe. Leaving her again he went via the Isles of the Sirens (just south of the Sorrento peninsula) through the Messian straits (Scylla and Charybdis) to Taormina in Sicily where grazed the Cattle of the Sun. He spent years on Calypsos island (Malta) before finally travelling home via Corfu (the Land of the Phaeacians).

I've created a series of maps for this which can be found here

Fascinating bits:

  • Odysseus means ‘son of wrath’. But Ulysses derives from Olysseus which comes from O Lukos, ‘the wolf’
  • When young U is wounded in the thigh by a boar in a hunting accident. “This wounding in the thigh seems to equate him with a number of eastern gods, Tammuz, Adonis, and Cretan Zeus, all of whom were wounded and killed by a boar. These stories all stem from a Phoenician source.” 
  • The rudder, as we know it today, was a north European invention, and probably originated in the Baltic. This axled, hinged rudder was still considered something of a modern invention when used in the caravels of Henry the Navigator in the early 15th century. It was unknown in the classical world.
  • Odyssey ca C12 BC: “ the Cretan, or Minoan, seapower had collapsed before invaders from the north ... the Phoenicians had not yet founded their colonies on the North African coast.
  • Polyphemus has ‘eyebrows’ in the Odyssey: “It is not till later times that he becomes monophthalmic.
  • Garlic itself has long been associated with magical properties ... s late as the 14th century ... we find that garlic was reputed to neutralize the lodestone, thus putting the magnetic compass out of action.
  • Comparatively few rivers of any size flow into the Mediterranean, and it loses by evaporation two-thirds more than it receives from its rivers. This steady loss is made good by an inflow of water from the Atlantic.” This will allow U to drift back to the Med after visiting the ‘land of the dead’.
  • The two mountains which face each other across the Strait were called ‘The Pillars of Melkarth’ by the Phoenicians. They took their name from the twin pillars of the great temple of Melkarth in the city of Tyre. ... Melkarth was not only a sea god in Phoenician mythology, he was also Lord of the Underworld, and it was between the pillars of the Strait of Gibraltar that he was believed to dwell.” which is why C sent U to Gibraltar to go into the Underworld.
  • Baltic Amber was being imported overland into prehistoric Greece centuries before the Homeric period.
  • It was the Phoenicians who first gave the island its name, Maleth or Malet - the Shelter, Haven, or Hiding Place ... the word ‘Calypso’ in Greek means ‘hidden’ or ‘hider’, and the Homeric words for Calypso’s isle, Neesos Kalupsous, can best be translated in English as ‘The Island of the Hiding Place’.
  • The Maltese archipelago was inhabited many centuries before the basin of the Mediterranean was flooded.

Great quotes
  • I do not think that anything is lost by attempting to find a skeleton - however magnificent the cupboard that hides it.
  • Ulysses was the shopkeeper with his thumb on the scales, and an eye for the girls, handy with a knife in a dark alley, and at the same time in some strange fashion or other, capable of honesty - or was it of great consistency? - over most of the major issues.” 
  • When men return from war it is their record as fighting men which usually determines their immediate position in society. Inevitably within a short time the standards of judgement change, so that often the war hero turns out to be a peace-time failure.”
  • In Trapani I have felt history as heavy as a plush curtain. ... One's own life is seen as no more than a minute drop of resin oozing from the trunk of some giant tree.
  • Places are little in themselves, you must earn them by your voyage.

A wonderful voyage.

November 2018; 221 pages

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