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With his fast black ship, all Odysseus had to do was to go from Troy City, which he and the other Greeks had finally sacked, to the island of Ithaca, where he was king. That's roughly 600 miles. He should have been home in about a week. But he took ten years.

So what went wrong? And why has there been such a mystery over it for the last 2,800 years?

Until about 100 years ago it was generally said to be all myth. But then Heinrich Schliemann, a German businessman turned archaeologist, found Troy City from clues in Homer's Odyssey, the epic that tells the story. People now say Schliemann dug right through the Troy of Odysseus' time, and that he should have stopped at level 7A, when the city was obviously torched. But as a result, it's generally accepted that there was a Trojan War and Odysseus probably lived about 1200 BCE (before common [or Christian] era).

Shortly after the time of Odysseus the Mycenaean civilization in which he lived came to an end. Then there is said to have been a "dark age of Greece" for over 400 years, about which we know little or nothing. Homer began writing at the beginning of the next Greek civilization about 750 BCE. His two masterpieces were The Iliad on the Trojan War, and the Odyssey on the 10-year homecoming of Odysseus.

Odysseus was called cunning, devious, resourceful, wise, wily and grasping for profit. He was the one who caused the downfall of Troy. Disguised as a beggar he slipped into the city. Then after leaving he designed the Wooden Horse and had it filled with Greek fighting men. The Greeks sailed away. The Trojans rejoiced and dragged the horse into their city. In the night the Greek soldiers crept out of the wooden horse, slaughtered the Trojan guards, opened the gates and the Greeks (who had sailed back) poured into the city and destroyed it, all thanks to Odysseus.

It was supposed to be the beautiful Helen of Troy, "the face that launched a thousand ships" that started the Trojan war in the first place. She was the wife of Menelaos, a Mycenaean Greek king, but she eloped with young Paris of Troy City. The Greeks went to get her back. But when you look at a map you can see Troy City controlled the entrance to the Black Sea where the Mycenaean Greeks wanted to do business.

There were no slaves on Odysseus' ship. They were all free men, joint venturers. Odysseus calls them his companions. The Mycenaean Greeks were the Vikings of their time in the Mediterranean, plundering one day and trading the next. There's good evidence that the ship Odysseus had was black with an underwater projection at the bow where there was a huge sinister white eye painted on each side . The ship had a large rectangular sail. There was a high carved stern where the helmsman stood to steer the craft with a long oar that reached down into the water. If you were an innocent coastal villager, or a small-towns person, over 3,000 years ago, what chance of survival would you have had if a group of warships that looked like that came from the sea on to the beach without warning.

There was some confusion among modern scholars about which end was which until quite recently. Some thought the high curved end must be the bow. That's why this article by Paul Johnstone had the title it did as late as 1973:


It was published in the International Journal of Nautical Archaeology and Underwater Exploration.

What kind of people are we dealing with here? Look at what happens next in the story. Odysseus and his companions are supposed to be on their way home after a ten-year war. But this is what Homer has Odysseus say (we are using Richmond Lattimore's modern translation):

"From Ilium (Troy) the wind took me and drove

me ashore at Ismaros by the Kikonians. I

sacked their city and killed their people, and

out of their city taking their wives and many

possessions we shared them out, so none might go

cheated of his proper portion...."

Odysseus was all for leaving at once, but the others were slaughtering sheep on the beach and drinking wine. They wouldn't listen. The Kikonians got reinforcements and attacked. Odysseus says he lost six men from each of his ships before they escaped out to sea. We need to remember this loss of six men from his ship. It's an important clue later on.

And this city of Ismaros that Odysseus sacked on the way home: many people say it was on the north shore of the Aegean Sea, somewhere in Thrace, because they think the Mycenaeans liked to hug the coastline when they sailed. But if you look at a map of ancient times you can see there's not much there in Thrace. On the way back to Greece, further south from Troy, is a very ancient city, the city of Smyrna, or Izmir, which looks suspiciously like the Ismaros of Odysseus.

Who was Odysseus? He was a great grandson of Zeus, the ancient Greek God, chief of the Greek Immortals. Odysseus wasn't an Immortal himself. Zeus and Maia were Immortals but there were mortal-Immortal matings along the way, down to Odysseus. Whenever these mixed marriages took place, the offspring were always mortals. (See my The Immortals). The adventures and voyaging of Odysseus were criss-crossed with encounters with Immortals, some good and some bad.

There are very few human beings involved in the Odyssey -- just a few kings and one or two of his companions are mentioned. The rest is a struggle against the elements and interaction with Immortals. The other ships under his command are soon lost and never really enter into the story.

Now that we know something about who we're dealing with, let's pick up the story again. Odysseus with his twelve ships is swept along down the Aegean, then delayed by bad weather. He sets sail again:

"And now I would have come home unscathed to

the land of my fathers,

"but as I turned the Hook of Maleia the sea

and current

and the north wind beat me off course, and

drove me on past Kythera,---"

We can find the "Hook of Maleia" and Kythera on a map of Greece today.

"Nine days then I was swept along by the force

of the hostile winds on the fishy sea, but

on the tenth day we landed in the country

of the Lotus-Eaters..."

We're really getting into the thick of the mystery now and it would be easy to become lost in it very quickly.




To know where Odysseus was capable of going, "swept along for nine days by the force of the hostile winds", we have to know something about what kind of ship he had. There are clues we can piece together. We've already seen that he lost six men to the Kikones. Although we haven't discussed it yet, I can tell you in advance that he lost six men to the Cyclops. Then on Circes' Island the remainder were divided into two groups -- his best friend Eurylochus headed up one group of 22 men; presumably Odysseus had another 22. So now we have 6 + 6 + 22 + 22 + 2= 58.

This is a very significant number, and explains why Homer says Odysseus had a fast black ship. What this tells us is that Odysseus had a Penteconter, the top of the line and fastest capital warship of his day.

Here's how we know it was fast:

The penteconter had 50 rowers, and at least one square sail. Each rower needs about 40 inches. That's 25 X 40 inches or about 84 feet. Add a bow of about ten to twelve feet, with probably some decking to keep things dry under it, and a poop deck, say 10 - 15 feet, at the stern where the helmsman stood to steer. That's about 105 - 110 feet in length.

A trireme, a later version of a penteconter, with three banks of oars, and thirty on one bank of rowers to the penteconter's twenty-five, gives some idea of the rowing power of the ancient ships.

The speed of a boat is affected by the bow wave. At slow speeds the small bow wave will have little effect. As speed increases the bow wave will lengthen: This raises the bow of a ship. Then the stern drops. Now the ship is trying to climb uphill and more power is needed to drive it. The greater the length of the ship the faster it will go before trying to climb uphill. This may seem very theoretical, but what it means in practice is very startling: the fastest penteconters had an estimated speed under oars of 9.5 knots, or 17.6 kilometers per hour, close to that of a modern racing shell.

So a penteconter under oars could travel at 9.5 knots, or almost 11 miles an hour. But the penteconter also had at least one sail. We're told that Odysseus' ship was struck by lightning. This happened to a modern sailing ship also, so it's not just fanciful.

"The 'Fieldwood' struck by Lightning

On a passage north in 1926 the Fieldwood was in the Gulf Stream during a storm. The night following the storm the sea fell flat and nature put on a fireworks display with vivid bolts of lightning and echoing volleys of thunder. Suddenly a great streak of lightning struck the foretopmast at the lower truck, cut it off completely and ran down the backstay to the serving, which it sliced off as with a very sharp knife, then jumped into the water, leaving a sorry mess of gear aloft. Captain Hants Cole was master at this time."

But when Odysseus' ship was struck, the mast snapped and brained the helmsman. This means that even if the mast was stepped amidships and not forward, on a ship already calculated as almost 110 feet long it would have been a mast about 55 feet high. From this I estimate a square-rigged sail would have had about 2,000 square feet of 'canvas'.

A penteconter had a beam (=side to side amidships) of about 12 - 14 feet and a draft (= depth in the water) of only 2 - 3 feet. It had an elastic hull -- it could give with the action of wind and waves. This is a very important speed factor.

The penteconter could overtake and destroy any merchant ship of the time. We're told by Herodotus, an ancient Greek historian, that merchant ships could sail at about 6 - 7 knots, so we know the penteconter was faster than that.

Now that we know which way this ship is going we can see something else that's important. It seems to have an underwater bumper in front. What that did was break up the bow wave so that the ship would meet less resistance and go faster. That technique is quite advanced and has only recently been developed in present day super-tankers, which have bulbous bows under water.

Penteconters were not clinker built with overlapping planks like the later Viking ships. Apparently each piece of timber was cut on the curve with an adze (or axe), and mortise-and-tenoned into place. This carvel built system gives a smoother, faster hull. The crew could easily pull these lightweight craft up on shore overnight when they wanted to.

As further proof of speed of (presumably) a penteconter, here is a passage from Homer's Odyssey itself, as told by Nestor, describing how the Myceneans left Troy after its destruction at the end of the war:

"...and, late, fair haired Menelaos came to join us,

and caught us at Lesbos..."

Nestor was deciding whether to sail

"...over the top of rocky Chios

by the island Psyros, keeping it on our left hand, or else

to pass under Chios, by the windy Mimas. We asked the god

to give us some portent for a sign and the god gave us

one, and told us to cut across the middle main sea

for Euboia..."

If you look at a map of the eastern Mediterranean you will see the islands of Lesbos, Chios, and Euboia. Homer continues:

"A whistling wind rose up and began to blow

and the ships ran very fast across those ways

full of fish, and at nighttime brought us in

at Geraistos."

Some say Geraistos is a promontory on Euboia but I don't agree. You don't bring a ship in at a promontory, you bring it in at a harbour. So I suggest Geraistos is Karystos, a sheltered port on the south coast of Euboia.( Or Carystus on a modern map.)

As Menelaos caught them "late", I think we can assume they set sail the next morning. From what Nestor tells us it seems that his ship had been beached for the night either by Mytilene on the lee side of Lesbos, or perhaps in the bay by Peramo.

The route they took is directly across the Aegean (which you'll notice is in opposition to those who say they hugged the shoreline).

The distance from the bay on Lesbos to Geraistos in Euboia is about 145 statute miles. 145 statute miles = 127.6 nautical miles (a knot is a nautical mile per hour).

I checked with the Canadian Coastguard who consulted their nautical almanac and told me that the longest day in the year (that's the summer solstice, June 21) where Nestor was, at 37 latitude degrees N. is:

Sunrise 4:40 a.m.

Sunset 19.23 p.m.

14.43 hours/minutes

say 14.72 hrs.

If we take this longest day in the year, which gives the slowest possible speed, if we don't allow any time for doing what Nestor says earlier they did:

"at dawn some of

us hauled our ships

down into

the divine sea."

don't allow any time for consulting the god as he says they did, and have no allowance for rowing at slower speed out of one harbour and into the other, we still get an average speed of:

127.6 nautical miles in 14.72 hours = 8.67 knots.

It seems reasonable from this evidence to assume a speed on that leg of the voyage of Nestor and Menelaos of at least 9 knots.

How close to the wind could they sail -- by that I mean if the wind was not behind them, how far forward could it be so that they could continue on a direct course? A modern calculation shows the direct track to be slightly forward of the beam (or at right angles to the wind). This tells us that a penteconter could sail straight ahead with the wind on the beam (or at right angles).

As you can see, I'm laying out my case very carefully but just before we see why, I want to tell you something else about these ancient ships with "elastic hulls." Some 2,000 years later than the penteconters came Viking ships. We know these ships sailed to Iceland, Greenland, Labrador and Newfoundland, across an ocean thousands of miles from home, and through the straits of Gibraltar into the Mediterranean sea.

The Gokstad faering ship excavated in southern Norway in 1890 AD was recently duplicated by construction of a replica. There is a phrase used by Norwegians and Shetland Islanders "sea loose" or "let go of the sea", or "snoring". This is when a ship running before the wind gets on a wave and semi-planes. The sound under the ship is as though it's being drawn through a beach of pebbles -- it's half air and half water. This is a tendency of Viking vessels and their descendants. In a reconstructed faering with a following wind, speeds of over 15 knots were clocked.

The penteconter had similar attributes and probably semi-planed, as its descendant, the trireme, is thought to have done. Experimental archaeology with sea trials of replica Viking ships that sailed to Iceland in 1974 showed a "planing tendency" and here again speeds of above 15 knots were reached (that's 17 mph or over 27kph).

Now if that should seem remarkable, I want to mention in passing the China tea clippers in the 19th C. AD. They sailed vast distances over many thousands of miles between east and west. American clipper ships could have masts over 180 feet high, draw 25 feet in the water and have a beam of 45 feet, weighing well over a thousand tons. They were essentially cargo carriers. Here's an excerpt from the Captain's record of Blue Jacket, a clipper ship, in 1865:

"Early one morning we hove up anchor; a heavy southwest gale followed us for several days, and running our easting down, we averaged 20 knots at times, with all sail set; at times the patent log even showed 23 knots. These gales carried us until we had passed Cape Horn and hauled up to 'norrard, and up to this time we had averaged 384 nautical miles per day, beating all records ever made by a sailing ship to that time."

23 knots is over 26 miles an hour -- which is over 42 km per hour.

I rest my case that sailing ships can be very fast if properly constructed for speed; that the penteconter was a warship with advanced features, built for speed, and could be rowed at about 9 knots or more, sailed easily at 10 knots or more, and could sail headed for its destination even with the wind on the beam.




Now we're better prepared to examine where Odysseus went. I want to take an example of a Mediterraneanist, as I call them; people who say he never left the Mediterranean.

We left Odysseus being blown past Kythera with a North wind. Ernle Bradford, a Mediterraneanist, says he was blown to Djerba Island, off the coast of Tunisia, Africa, south of Sicily.

This is about 700 statute miles. Remember he was running nine days and nights before the wind, and on the tenth day he reached the Land of the Lotus Eaters:

say, 216 hours (9 days only)

700 statute miles = 616 nautical miles

So his average speed running before the wind on this basis was 2.85 knots.

I propose something quite different. We know that a penteconter could sail on course with the wind at about right angles. We know Odysseus was trying to head north to Ithaca instead of going in a southwesterly direction. I suggest he could and did sail almost due west. He would steer clear of all landfalls in a gale. Running on to rocks in a storm has been the proverbial ending of many a good sailing ship throughout history. I suggest Odysseus passed south of Sicily and then continued sailing in a westward direction, eventually emerging from the Mediterranean into the Atlantic, following the shoreline down to say, Rabat, or Casablanca, by the famous ancient Atlas mountains. Total distance in statute miles, about 1800.

The surface tidal currents at 'spring' tides, off Gibraltar, show Odysseus could easily have passed through the straits at that time.

I suggest that Odysseus could have reached Rabat in 9 days and nights with an average speed of no more than 7.5 knots.

There is another confirming point. He arrived in the country of the Lotus Eaters, not an island. Odysseus describes it this way:

"We set foot on the mainland ---- I sent some

of my companions ---- to find out ---- what men --

-- might live here in this country. --

My men ---- presently met the Lotus-Eaters

---- They only gave them lotus to taste of

---- but any of them who ate the honey sweet

fruit of Lotus was unwilling to take any message

back, ---- but they wanted to stay there ----

feeding on lotus, and forget the way home."

---- "I myself took these men back weeping,

---- and put them aboard under the rowing

benches and tied them fast"----

This seems to me to imply use of a habit forming drug. There appears to be no record of such in Tunisia, where Djerba Island is. But for Morocco, the country of Rabat and Casablanca, we have this entry in the Universal Almanac for 1991:

Chief crops: ... cereal farming and livestock raising predominant... Illegal producer of cannabis for international drug trade.

Ernle Bradford sailed around the Mediterranean for about 10 years with a small sailing boat, trying to reconstruct the voyaging of Odysseus. So his suggestions about where Odysseus went deserve respect, but I think I can soon show you he runs into serious problems.

Let's go briefly through the rest of the voyaging of Odysseus, using Ernle Bradford's identifications as typical of the Mediterraneanists. We start where Odysseus leaves the Lotus Eaters, then

The land of the Cyclops said to be on the west Coast of Sicily. This is about 500 miles from his home on the Island of Ithaca.

The Aiolian Island is the island of Ustica off the west coast of Italy. This is where Odysseus gets the courses of all the blowing winds tied up in a bag. He's about 450 miles from Ithaca now.

The harbour of the Laestrygonians is Bonifacio, between Corsica and Sardinia, south of the French Coast. Now he's about 825 miles from home but he took 6 days and nights to get there, meaning a speed of about 1.6 knots, barely fast enough to make steerage way.

Next he goes eastwards to the shores of Italy to Circe's Island. This is said to be Mount Circeo. It's about 550 miles from Ithaca, and it's a peninsula, not an island.

Now we have the strange journey to consult the prophet Teiresias. Although he's only about the same distance from home as he was at Troy City, Bradford takes him about 1000 miles in the wrong direction, to Gibraltar, to ask the way home.

From there he goes back to about 75 miles south of Mount Circeo to the Galli Islands off the Italian coast, identified with the two Sirens mentioned by Homer.

The wandering rocks are Stromboli -- an active volcanic mountain island and its small associated island off the toe of Italy.

Skylla, the man eating monster, and Charybdis, the giant whirlpool, are the Straits of Messina. That's about 2 miles wide at the narrows. There is one of the few Mediterranean tidal actions here. It runs up to 4 knots at "springs". There is a town on the Italian coast nearby called Scilla. Odysseus is now about 300 miles from home.

The east coast of Sicily is said to be the Island of Thrinakia, where the sun god Helios pastured his 350 sheep and 350 cattle. These were sacred, and Odysseus was warned by Circe not to touch them, but his companions were hungry and desperate after having put up with contrary winds on the island for a month, so they slaughtered and roasted some of them. For this, Zeus, king of the gods, destroys Odysseus' ship as he sails for Ithaca. Odysseus is the sole survivor.

Odysseus drifts for 9 days and reaches the Island of Ogygia, said to be one of the Islands of the Maltese archipelago. He is now about 400 miles from Ithaca.

After 7 years here he leaves by a craft he has constructed himself and sails for 18 days before reaching the coastline of Scheria, the land of the Phaiakians. This is said to be the Island of Corfu, 70 miles north of Ithaca.

The islanders have never heard of him, and heap more treasure on him than he won at Troy. The islanders select a special new ship for the voyage by which they take him home.


There are many difficulties with this type of interpretation of the story. To me one of the most serious is that the Mycenaeans knew the Mediterranean. They had trading posts, if not actual colonies, in Sicily, in Italy, and it seems as far away as Spain. On the Mediterranean hypothesis, most of the distances we have given for the various episodes are about as close, or closer, than Odysseus' kingdom of Ithaca was to Troy. And as told by Homer, Odysseus at one point in a "lying story" to deceive people at Ithaca into thinking he's not Odysseus, says he comes from Crete, and that about a month after his homecoming from the Trojan war he sailed to Egypt, which he reached in 5 days and that they travelled up the Nile river. Then he says he was captured and taken on a seafaring trip to Libya.

As you can see from a map the distance to the nearest point on the Nile from Ithaca is over 800 miles, considerably further than most of the voyaging he is supposed to have been involved in around the central Mediterranean. And he knew enough about Crete to pass himself off as a Cretan as well as expecting his listeners to know Libya, further west in north Africa..

Now let's pick up the story according to my hypothesis, where we left him on the coast of Morocco. Odysseus says:

................."From there we sailed on

further along, and reached the country of

the lawless, outrageous Cyclopes. ... These

people have no institutions, no meetings for

counsels; rather they make their habitations

in caverns hollowed among the peaks of their

high mountains, and each one is the law for

his own wives and children, and cares nothing

about the others."

"There is a wooded island that spreads away from

the harbour ... forested; wild goats beyond

number breed there."

I suggest Odysseus sailed south along the coast from Morocco picking up the favourable Canary Current on the way, and landed at one of the major Canary Islands. These have small outlying islands teeming with wild goats as recently as our own century.

Odysseus describes the territory in some detail. They sailed to the shore and beached. Next morning they feasted on the goats. Odysseus with his ship alone wanted to meet the inhabitants. He tells us he had 7 talents of gold and 12 jars of wine. The Attic talent weighed about 57.76 lbs. With gold worth, say, $300 US per troy ounce today, Odysseus was carrying over $1.45 million US in gold with him. He and some of his men found a cave filled with baskets of cheeses, pens holding lambs and kids, sorted by size, milk pails and pans, and so on. Then the huge Cyclops whose name was Polyphemus arrived and asked,

"Strangers, who are you - - From where do you come - - Is it on some business - -or are you recklessly roving as pirates do - -"

The Cyclopes were not men, they were Immortals. Nowhere does Homer say they have one eye, the text mentions the eyebrows of Polyphemus and mortals only have one eyebrow per eye. Odysseus in fact puts out -- very vividly described -- one eye, and it seems that afterwards Polyphemus cannot see Odysseus and his men.

Polyphemus kills and eats 6 of his companions before they escape from there, but once on board his ship Odysseus cannot help calling out,

"I am Odysseus, sacker of cities, who makes his home in Ithaca".

The Cyclops in prayer raises his hands upwards

"Hear me, Poseidon -- if truly I am your son -- grant that Odysseus who makes his home in Ithaca may never reach that home." --

Poseidon was the god of the seas and oceans.


From there Odysseus says:

"We sailed on further along ---

"We came next to the Aiolian Island, where Aiolos lived,

...beloved by the Immortal Gods...

"He gave me a bag made of the skin taken

off a nine-year ox, stuffed full inside

with the courses of all the blowing winds;

"He stowed it away in the hollow ship, tied

fast with a silver string,

"We sailed on, night and day, for nine days,

and on the tenth at last appeared the land

of our fathers...

"But then sweet sleep came upon me, for I

was worn out...

"My companions...said that I was bringing

silver and gold home with me, ...

"...Let us look quickly inside and see what

is in there,...

...They opened the bag and the winds all

burst out...

"...All were carried on the evil blast of the

stormwind back to the Aiolian Island."

There is some common sense behind all this. What Odysseus was given was the courses of the blowing winds, not the winds themselves. What Aiolos gave him was a series of ancient equivalents of navigational charts showing prevailing winds and probably surface currents. That means Odysseus didn't sail nine days back or get blown nine days out again. All that was added in by some person or persons who didn't understand the purpose of the king's gift to Odysseus. So the text we have from Homer is very garbled, but this incident of the winds shows us it was a practical piece of history to begin with.

The text may have been cobbled together from various tales, or more gratuitous additions made; for example, what happened to the wives captured when they sacked Ismaros? These are never again mentioned but if they existed would have had an effect on the subsequent voyaging, even if only by causing lack of space on board a ship without decks when the crew was rowing or ship handling in heavy weather.




I suggest that when Odysseus and his companions "sailed on further along" from the Canary Islands, they reached the Island of Madeira, off the coast of what is now Morocco. After receiving the "courses of all the blowing winds" from the king, Odysseus tells us

"we sailed on further,

but the men's spirit was worn away with the pain of rowing ---

Nevertheless, we sailed on, night and day for six days

and on the seventh came to the sheer citadel of Lamos

Telepylos of the Laistrygones, where one herdsman, driving

his flocks in hails another, who answers as he drives

his flocks out; and there a man who could do without sleep could earn him

double wages ---."

This implies a long summer day. Because of this reference in the Odyssey to a long day, it would appear that the Laistrygones must have lived in a northern country, much further north than anywhere around the Mediterranean.

I suggest he used the navigational charts from Madeira to row northwest for an unspecified time to pick up the westerlies (or S.W. winds) and sailed on for 6 days and nights.

On a historical map of Denmark and South Scandinavia you can see Ostergotland and Vastergotland. Homer's Laistrygones look suspiciously like the Vastergotlanders. The first problem here is that we are looking at a map of the Viking Sea, about 2000 years after the time of Odysseus. The Goths did not reach the pages of history until long after the end of the Trojan war. Next, the itinerary of Odysseus as we have it, doesn't logically place him in Scandinavia at this point. I would estimate that the farthest north he could be now would be the latitude of Ireland.


Odysseus tells us that at the sheer citadel of Lamos Telepylos of the Laistrygones...

"... we entered the glorious harbour which a sky towering

cliff encloses on either side, with no break anywhere,

and two projecting promontories facing each other

run out toward the mouth, and there is a narrow entrance,

there all the rest of them had their oar-swept ships in the inward

part, they were tied up close together inside the hollow

harbour....I myself, however, kept my black ship on the outside,

at the very end...."

There are some spectacular cliffs on the west coast of Ireland, for example, the Cliffs of Moher, in County Clare, which rise to 700 feet. But such cliffs do not seem to occur in the area around a small harbour of the type Odysseus describes, although it is possible that he reached the area of Killary Harbour on the west coast of Ireland.

Odysseus sent three men ashore but one was snatched up to be killed and eaten, the others "darted away" back to the ships. Odysseus continues:

"the powerful

Laistrygones come swarming up from every direction,

tens of thousands of them, and not like men, like giants.

These, standing along the cliffs, pelted my men with man-sized

boulders, and a horrid racket went up by the ships, of men

being killed and ships being smashed to pieces..."

"I...chopped away the cable that tied the ship with the dark prow,

...my ship, and only mine, fled out from the overhanging

cliffs to the open water, but the others were all destroyed there."

The Iliad, also attributed to Homer, Book II, has a "catalogue of ships." Line 637 says of Odysseus:

"Following with him were twelve ships

with bows painted red."

From this it appears that the fleet of Odysseus probably comprised 13 ships when it left Troy.

According to Homer's Odyssey, there has been no mention of losing any ships until now. It may be that we won't find this harbour with high cliffs in Brittany, Western England or Ireland, because it's a poetic device to dispose of the unwanted extra ships.

Alternatively, there are two traditions, both of which could account for loss of ships in other ways. One says that some companions of Odysseus were shipwrecked on the coast of the Balearic Islands (off the east coast of Spain in the Mediterranean) and the survivors swam ashore naked:

"What is the reason that the islanders near the Pillars of Herakles are called Gymnetes? Because of some shipwrecked companions of Odysseus who were saved on those islands naked, by swimming towards them, and they decided to settle there. Timeafter, when they begot children from their local wives, they named their sons Gymnetes (=offspring of the naked), remembering how they themselves were saved (i.e. naked)".

This would not have been known in modern times before 1968 when a fragment of an ancient popular Greek book was discovered which included the above quote. The Pillars of Heracles (Hercules) we call the straits of Gibraltar.

Another tradition says that Odysseus, or Ulysses, as the Romans called him, founded Lisbon. Lisbon first emerged from history as Olisipo, a name derived from Ulysses. He is credited by tradition as the first Mediterranean mariner to navigate the outer ocean, the Atlantic.

This could account for loss of some of the twelve ships if he had them with him. Alternatively if he set out on a separate voyage after returning home from Troy, as we were told in the "lying story" in the Odyssey, he would probably have taken only two or three other ships with him for this particular voyage.

I suggest that Odysseus, grasping for profit as we are told, knew precisely where he wanted to go, but probably was not sure how to get there. Odysseus lived in the bronze age. I think he set out on a voyage to get tin from the Scilly Isles. This tin was traded across Europe by land caravans to the near east nations who were short of the tin needed to smelt with their copper to make bronze. I think he knew there was gold being mined in Ireland, and that there was precious amber in the Baltic. By scientific tests we now know that almost all Mycenaean amber came from the Baltic. Any one of these items was valuable and I believe this was the real purpose of his voyaging. There was good reason for it. Overland commercial travel was tediously slow and subject to exorbitant tariffs by each petty kingdom the merchant traders passed through. Sea travel was faster and safer if you could avoid bad weather, shipwreck, and sea raiders like Odysseus. But a commercial voyage does not make good drama. It is much better to have Odysseus seeking his way home when all the time he is being drawn further and further away. But whether he had 12 other ships with him or not, I calculate that he would at this point have reached a harbour on the west coast of Ireland.


Odysseus tells us:

"From there we sailed on further along ---

we came to Aiaia, which is an island. "There lived Circe,

of the lovely hair, the dread goddess, who talks with mortals."

She is a daughter of Helios, the sun god. For a number of reasons, I suggest Odysseus has reached one of the Islands of the Hebrides, north of Ireland. From where they had beached their ship Odysseus climbed to a lookout place and saw that they were indeed on an island:

"The endless sea lies all in a circle around it."

On his way back to the ship he killed a huge stag, and dragged it back to the ship. Next he:

"counted off --- my companions into two divisions --- I myself taking one while Eurylochos had the other.

--- He then went on his way, and with him two-and-twenty companions ---."

You remember we referred to this description earlier as part of our calculation to show that Odysseus' ship was a penteconter.

It seems that the first island he would reach that is an island of any substance going north from Ireland, would be Barra.

I think it would have to be an island of some size to support such a goddess, a nymph goddess, as Circe was -- quite a famous one.

Odysseus meets Hermes, an Immortal, who tells him how to deal with the goddess Circe, pronounced Kirke -- which reminds us that the local word for church over a thousand years later was kirk, and the principal town of the Orkneys, a little further north, is Kirkwall.

Odysseus and his men stayed a year. Although he was married to Penelope he had a son by Circe.

A year's stay meant they could 'careen' the ship on shore, that is, lay it on its side for repairs, and stow the gear and supplies away in a cave. Both a beach used locally for this purpose and a nearby cave were available and formerly so used on Barra, which has prehistoric remains dated to well before the time of Odysseus.


When Odysseus tells Circe he should leave to return home, Circe says:

"Let the blast of the north wind carry you....

when you have crossed with your ship the

stream of ocean, --- there is a rock there,

and the junction of two thunderous rivers.

--- Teiresias, the prophet, will soon

come to you and he will tell you ---

the stages of your journey...

and how to make your way home."

We don't have any problem with the "stream of ocean" because there is the Atlantic, right there. To go from Barra to Northern Ireland you are really crossing the edge of the Atlantic.

But to those who think Odysseus is in the Mediterranean, that particular phrase doesn't make any sense.

"Circe --- sent us a following wind, all day,---

filling the sails, to carry from astern

the ship with the dark prow ---.

The ship made the limit, which is of the

deep running ocean. There lie the

community and city of Kimmerian people,

hidden in fog and cloud. --- Making

this point, we ran the ship ashore ---"

I would think, from my navy experience in and around the Irish Coast, that's a pretty good description of Ireland. It's beautifully green, it rains a lot, and it's foggy and cloudy quite frequently. I don't think it's a particularly good description for anywhere that I've been in the Mediterranean.

You may also have noticed the text says 'sails' in the plural. This may suggest the penteconter raised a jib, or spinnaker, or foresail forward of the mainsail when running before the wind.

I suggest the 'point' Odysseus discovers is Malin Head. If that's the case, he would be entering Lough Swilly which fits Homer's description, as it has two rivers and Inch Island.

Odysseus has his discussion with the prophet, Teiresias and meets some 'phantoms' and 'souls' of the dead. The Lough Swilly area appears to have been an important Neolithic site. We know that the Irish at this time constructed elaborate building centres for exposing their dead to the elements to be picked clean by wild creatures before interring the bones in roofed barrow tombs. The whole coastline from Spain to Norway, in Neolithic times, has been called the Megalithic route. These megalithic people were evidently great seafarers. We know they were deep sea fishermen, because we have found remains of fish such as cod. They built sophisticated structures such as New Grange (Ireland).Callanish (Hebrides) and Maeshowe (Orkneys). Radio carbon dating has shown us that these sites were populated and in use up to 3,000 years before the time of Odysseus and even about 1,500 years before the pyramids were built. But back to Odysseus.


"Going back on board --

the swell of the current carried (the ship) down the ocean river

with rowing at first, but after that, on a fair wind following.

{Then) --- our ship left the stream of the ocean river,

and came back to the wide crossing of the sea's waves and to the Island

of Aiaia."

You'll have noticed the phrase "the stream of the ocean river".

This implies to me the lower tidal reaches of a river, which would not apply to a river in the Mediterranean where there are no real tides.

"That's fine" you may say, "but that doesn't prove Odysseus, or even any other Mycenaean, was there."

Not necessarily so. A carving of two daggers was found in 1953 on an upright monolith at Stonehenge, only about 300 miles from where we say Odysseus is, at Lough Swilly.

The closest match is said to be to those in the Mycenaean shaft graves in southern Greece, the legendary home of Agamemnon. Agamemnon was another hero with Odysseus at the siege of Troy.




Now Odysseus has his directions. He and his companions leave Circe for the last time. Circe has warned Odysseus that first they will come:

"---To the Sirens, who are enchanters

of all mankind ---

by the melody of their singing ----

they sit in their meadow, but the beach before it is piled with boneheaps

of men ---

You must drive straight on past." ---

Following Circe's instructions, what Odysseus does is to have the ears of his men plugged with wax. He himself is bound to the mast, and in this way they avoid being tempted by the Sirens.

Edo Nyland, who has investigated in the area of the Hebrides, says that a local historian showed him a creek where the water comes from an acidic bog and is ideal for shrinking the locally made tweed cloth, especially when mixed with urine. The women who used to do this work sang rhythmic songs called "waulking songs" as they passed the long woven cloth from person to person. Many of the waulking songs are said to be still remembered by older Scottish people. Perhaps Odysseus and his companions, having just left the Immortal Circe and her maidens, did not want to get involved with these Siren girls who might be enticing them to go ashore.

Next Odysseus encounters the Roving Rocks, which could be the Torran Rocks. These are small and treacherous enough for a ship under sail or oars, but worse is to come. Odysseus reaches the famous cavern of Skylla and the whirlpool of Charybdis. He's told in advance by Circe

"the other cliff is lower, you will see it, Odysseus,

for they lie close together, you could even cast with an arrow


You may remember that in the Mediterranean the Straits of Messina were about two miles wide at the narrows. But here we have something quite different. Between the Islands of Scorba and Jura lies the whirlpool of Corryvrechan. It's supposed to be the most powerful and most to be avoided whirlpool in the whole of Western Europe. One commentator who has sailed in the area, writes in his guide that its roar can be heard four miles away, and the tide race can run as fast as nine knots. Local legend says an old witch lives in a cavern that exists, facing west, opposite Scorba, on Jura. Here's a more technical report on the power of Corryvrechan:

"The Admiralty chart shows that the flood tide drives north up the Sound of Jura, then west through the Corryvreckan strait at 9 knots (over 10 mph or over 16 km. per hour ...The great overfall and whirlpool form at the west end, near the Scarba shore...At spring tides which come each fortnight at the change of moon the current gains tremendous power, ...causing breaking seas and the vast sucking whirlpool in which no small boat can hope to live. When a strong westerly blows against a spring flood ...the breakers at the overfall can be twenty feet high and spout higher still. In a storm the roar can be heard along a twenty-mile stretch of the mainland coast..."

You can see why a penteconter would have trouble trying to pass through a location like that.

They finally survive this dreadful ordeal, with the loss of six men to the monstrous Scylla. After that, there is plain sailing to :

"---the excellent island

of the god, where ranged the handsome, wide-browed oxen, and many

fat flocks of sheep, belonging to the Sun God, Hyperion."

Remembering the warning of the prophet that they were under no circumstances to touch the property of the Sun God, generally known as Helios, Odysseus told his companions to sail on by, but they were tired and hungry and persuaded him to stop there.

The prophet had already told them the island was called Thrinakia. That means "Three Pronged". It so happens that Jura has the "Three Paps" which are a conspicuous landmark. There is no such formation that I am aware of in the Mediterranean area.

To this day Jura is a cattle exporting island. The Imperial Gazeteer of Scotland says that the two Lairds who own the island are in the habit of exporting about a thousand head of cattle annually. That seems to tie in well with the story of Helios' cattle.


Once Odysseus and his companions landed they were held there for a month with adverse winds. Eventually Odysseus leaves the others to ponder the situation, but falls asleep. When he returns, they have already slaughtered some of the cattle.

They do set sail, but only just get out of sight of land when the Immortal Zeus, responding to a complaint from Helios, strikes the ship with a thunderbolt and lightning and blasts it apart:


a screaming West Wind came upon us, stormily blowing,

and the blast of the stormwind snapped both the forestays that were holding

the mast, and the mast went over backwards, and all the running gear

collapsed in the wash; and at the stern of the ship the mast pole

crashed down on the steersman's head and pounded to pieces

all the bones of his head, so that he like a diver

dropped from the high deck and the proud life left his bones there.

Zeus with thunder and lightning together crashed on our vessel,

and, struck by the thunderbolt of Zeus, she spun in a circle,

and all was full of brimstone. My men were thrown in the water,

and bobbing like sea crows they were washed away on the running

waves all around the black ship, and the god took away their


Odysseus ties the keel and mast together and floats on them for nine days. What happened during those nine days? The south wind came swiftly on, and first Odysseus passes back again between Scylla and Charybdis:

"From there I was carried along nine days and on the tenth


the gods brought me to the island Ogygia, home of Kalypso

with the lovely hair, a dread goddess who talks with mortals.

She befriended me and took care of me."

This south wind is important, because it fits very well with the geography of the place where we have Odysseus. I used the 13 tidal current maps of the area giving mean current speeds (in knots) at springs, or spring tides, i.e. the higher amplitude tides. Starting with our geography for where Odysseus says he was, with a south wind blowing and Odysseus approaching Corryvrechan from the south, I plotted the various tidal changes. For example, while the tide is flowing northwards there, further north and west it is flowing south at the same time, but four hours later it is flowing north through "the Little Minch" between the Inner and Outer Hebrides (the islands off the west coast of Scotland) and then north of that through the Minch itself. There are three factors to take into account:

- the wind itself, which would be pushing Odysseus and his mast and keel in one direction or another;

- the surface current or drift (it would result from the prevailing wind, in this case the south westerlies);

- the tidal stream.

The distance would be about 300 miles. Nine days and nights is 216 hours, requiring an average speed of about 1.22 knots. This does not seem unreasonable.

I plotted nine days and nights and found that according to my calculations he would have drifted through the Minch, around Cape Wrath and east to the Pentland Firth. It would appear that landing could have occurred on the Island of Stroma, south of the main Orkney Islands, east of Dunnet Head and west of Duncansby Head on the north coast of Scotland.


He stayed on the island for seven years alone with Kalypso and her serving maids. While living on Kalypso's island, Odysseus required timber for a "raft". We're told in the text that Hermes, the messenger of the gods, visited Kalypso with word from Zeus that she must permit Odysseus to return to his homeland. No one can, of course, wisely go against the word of Zeus, so she cooperates and provides Odysseus with a great axe and an augur to build the craft. He bores and primes with dowels the 20 trees he cuts down, and lashes them together with cords. He makes deck boards, closes the ends with gunwales, steps the mast and upper deck, provides a steering oar, fences the whole length with wattles of osier (interwoven willow cuttings), and sets rigging for a sail, provided by Kalypso.

Aha, you may say, there are no trees on the Orkneys. But in 1200 B.C.E., yes, there were. By pollen counts and by peat bog finds, we know there were birch, oak, elm and pine trees there then.

Almost all the translations of Homer's text from the Greek call it a raft, but actually it's now thought that what is being described is how boats and ships were built in those days. We build the framework and ribs first, then plank it afterwards. Ancient ships had the hull planking, which was cut on a curve, built first with mortise and tenon joints to hold it together, then they fitted the ribs afterwards. The word that is translated as raft,"skhedios", doesn't mean raft. It comes from an adverb which means "that which is near at hand", something improvised. So this is some kind of improvised boat that Odysseus built. And the verb "torneno" means rounded. So it was some kind of improvised boat with a rounded hull.

Homer tells us that although Odysseus was on the island with Kalypso for seven years, he built the boat very quickly:

"It was the fourth day and all his work

was finished."

I suspect it took him much more of the seven years than that to build a boat from trees, without power tools, single handed. If we consult the genealogy of Odysseus, we'll see that he was not just involved in boat building. Kalypso, the shining goddess, did more than provide him with working tools and sails. She apparently gave birth to two or some say three sons, all fathered by Odysseus who was still married to Penelope, waiting for his return to the island of Ithaca, where he was king.

Then Zeus sent Hermes, the Immortal messenger, to tell Kalypso to let him go. She lived in a great cave, according to Homer:

"nor did the shining goddess Kalypso

fail to recognize Hermes when she saw him come into her presence;

for the Immortal gods are not such as go unrecognized

by one another, not even if one lives in a far home."


So now Odysseus has himself a craft and sets sail:

"Glorious Odysseus, happy with the wind, spread sails

and taking his seat artfully with the steering oar he held her

on her course, nor did sleep ever descend on his eyelids

as he kept his eye on the Pleiades and late-setting Bootes,

and the Bear, to whom men give also the name of the Wagon,

who turns about in a fixed place and looks at Orion,

and she alone is never plunged in the wash of the Ocean.

For so Kalypso, bright among goddesses, had told him

to make his way over the sea, keeping the Bear on his left hand.

Seventeen days he sailed, making his way over the water,

and on the eighteenth day there showed the shadowy mountains

of the Phaiakian Land where it stood out nearest to him,

and looked like a shield lying on the misty face of the water."

It's clear from this description that he's sailing east, if he has the Bear on his left, because that constellation circles around the (North) pole star.

In order to find out what the night sky looked like in about 1200 BCE I went to the McLaughlin Planetarium in Toronto, and talked with Dr. Tom Clark, (TC) the director of the planetarium, and with astronomer Richard Gray (RG). What I was after was to compare the night sky as it would have been in the Mediterranean and the sky as it would have been seen further north on the coast of Norway at the time we're talking about, that is, about 1200 BCE. My idea was this. If the instructions in the Odyssey were to fit the Mediterranean sky, then my theory would be in trouble. But if the instructions given to Odysseus fitted the sky further north better, then my theory would have considerable support. The planetarium has a domed ceiling which represents the night sky. A projector throws images of the constellations on to the dome. The projector is connected to a programmable console, so you can get essentially any sky you want. And the planetarium sky can be set back in time to any date.

TC - "By Precessing the planetarium backwards, we place the point directly over the earth's north pole in its correct position among the stars, and so the constellations appear as they would be seen in 1200 BC. The polar altitude is changed and we bring it into position for latitude 37 1/2 degrees."

EF - "The passage in the Odyssey that we're investigating reads like this (Book V line 269):

"Glorious Odysseus, happy with the wind, spread sails

---as he kept his eye on the Pleiades and late setting Bootes,

and the Bear---

For so Kalypso, bright among goddesses, had told him

to make his way over the sea, keeping the Bear on his left hand."

EF - "Perhaps I could comment on what I'm looking at here. I can just see Cassiopeia , about north-east, I guess. And we have over on the west side now the image of the sun just on the horizon, and we have, not far from there Arcturus. And above Arcturus are two stars, and then three stars like a low sloped roof, which is the constellation of Bootes. And if we follow that along further, we come up to Dubhe and Mirak, the two stars at one end of the ploughshare, if we call it the Plough rather than the Bear. And then the others, Phecda, Megrez, Alioth, Mizar and Benatnasch, sweep down towards Arcturus. So that is fairly high up in the sky, about 60 degrees would it be, or more?"

TC - "Well, of course, right now we're at the point of sunset when the stars wouldn't be visible. So if we take the traditional view that you don't get full darkness until about an hour and a half, at least that's the astronomical view, we should get rid of most of the twilight, and this will bring Arcturus and the Bear a little closer to the northwestern horizon."

EF - "I should explain what we're doing here now. We have the problem of latitude. Those who believe the voyages were entirely within the Mediterranean have Odysseus sailing towards Corfu from somewhere near Sicily. A good example is Bradford, who has him sailing from Malta to Corfu. Now that's using latitudes from 36 degrees to about 39 degrees of latitude, and he's sailing at an angle of about 40 degrees north of east on this course. With this setting that we now have on the planetarium we can test that. If we look and hold our hands out and point with one hand -- the right hand I'm pointing to the east -- I'm trying to find Arcturus with my left hand, but then I am taking an east-west course. To move 40 degrees north of east, you see my hands have turned around and I now have the Bear immediately facing me. So we're okay for a start. At this point of time, at nightfall, we have the Bear about 90 degrees off the course, so we're okay. Now, can we go through the night, please? You can, I believe, speed the machinery up and we can go through the night."

TC - "We can essentially simulate the rotation of the earth, and so the stars now appear to move from east to west. We're now four hours into the night."

EF - "I'm still keeping my arms at this angle, and now I'm sailing SOUTH of east."

TC- "Right, and we're now at midnight."

EF - "I'm now sailing south of east because the Great Bear has moved around. It's moving east. And now I'm going about 20 degrees south of east and more. I'm now going about 30 degrees south of east."

TC - "We're now about an hour before dawn, so at this point, they'd be losing the stars. And just about this point, in fact, Orion makes his appearance.

EF - "Yes, there's Orion. And Orion is mentioned in the text."

TC - "And there's the sunrise."

EF - "All right. So now at this point, to keep the Bear on the left, that is, the centre of the left, I am now sailing substantially south of east, I'd say 40 degrees south of east. We're not going to get anywhere near Corfu, we're going to end very, very much further south. So although we started off in the right direction, as we go through the night, he is going to gradually steer a more southerly course. Would you agree with that, Richard Gray?"

RG - "Yes, that certainly seems reasonable. I would suppose that since at the beginning of the night we're going to be heading slightly north of east, and since at the end of the night we're going to be heading a bit south of east, the average course would be roughly east."

EF - "Yes, it would seem. And that is very much further south than we need to go to get to Corfu. (Probably a landfall in Crete, or possibly Beirut, Haifa or Tel Aviv.) Well, that's interesting. I won't say it disproves the theory of those in the Mediterranean, but it certainly doesn't get him on the right course. And you can see from a map of the Mediterranean how far out that would be. The map shows us he would have to sail north east from Malta across the Ionian sea to reach Corfu (Kerkira) next to what is now the coast of Albania."

"But can we now set the planetarium at 58 degrees north. And this puts us in an entirely different configuration. I would now like to try my proposition that Odysseus is sailing due east from the Orkneys to the southwest coast of Norway. So can we now see what we're going to get here?"

TC - "Moving the pole much higher, up to an altitude of 58 degrees above the northern horizon, all of the constellations appear to shift, and in fact we can see that the sun, which was on the horizon, is now well above the horizon. This is a fairly common experience in the summertime when days are longer the farther north you get. So we'll place that sun back on the horizon. And its setting point now, this far north, is actually well north of even the north-east point."

EF - "That is very good, because now we have Bootes just about exactly above the west. There is Arcturus -- almost due west."

TC - "In actual fact, if we put it an hour and a half below the horizon. " .

EF - "Now Arcturus has moved a little further north of west. Dubhe, the first star of the Great Bear, is very close to true north, and the Seven Sisters, the Pleiades have not come up yet. So if we keep going then ..."

TC - "Go through the night now?"

EF - "Yes, please. because now we're fine, we're right on course. Right on the centre of our left is the Plough or the Great Bear."

TC - "We're now three hours past sunset, but of course we're almost at midnight because we're so far north."

EF - "The light will be coming up pretty soon."

TC - "We're actually at midnight now."

EF - "The Bear is just crossing the pole now. It's halfway through true north. Bootes is not really set yet. There's the Pleiades coming up, so now we have an easterly line to the Pleiades. The sun is up."

TC - "The sun is up -- very short night."

EF - "It's about five hours, I think, at this latitude in the summer."

TC - "It would only be really dark for a very short period."

EF - "The Great Bear is still exactly right for giving us our setting of steering across due east, which is keeping the Bear on the left. So that part of it is just fine. Well, I'm quite happy with that. It doesn't seem to disprove anything that I have been arguing.

Maybe now I could ask you an entirely different question, Dr. Clark. In book ten, line 82, this is what the text says:

"---Where one herdsman driving

his flocks in hails another, who answers as he drives

his flocks out; there a man who could do without sleep could earn him

double wages, one for herding the cattle, one for the silvery

sheep. There the courses of night and day lie close together."

What do you think of that? What does that mean to an astronomer?"

TC - "That suggests a very short night."

EF - "Ah, thank you! That's just what I hoped you'd say."

TC - "At latitude 58 the nights are very, very short. In fact, I myself spent a week in July in Churchill, and it was interesting that the sky never really got totally dark because the sun is never very far beneath the northern horizon. One always has a bit of twilight glow around."

EF - "That's very interesting because earlier we were talking with a classics professor who is a Mediterraneanist, so to speak, in these matters, and he said "I must admit total bafflement with this phrase. I don't know how to explain it." That's because he has Odysseus in the Mediterranean. But to me that is not a matter for total bafflement, it suggests to me that he is in a northern latitude, and I'm glad you see it that way. "

(End of part 5)




Now that we seem to have astronomy on our side, let's see what wind, tide and drift would do to the craft of Odysseus:

the North Atlantic Drift will carry him north and east, and there is a northerly flow off the coast of Norway.

Now the tides. These will push him about six hours north and then about six hours south at about half a knot, and about three hours more or less east or west at the same speed. The overall effect would be minimal as he has sails.

Next, the winds. These should be in the summer season. The Anti-Trades or Westerlies for July, August and September blow north east over the Orkneys and on towards Norway.

There doesn't seem much doubt then that Odysseus was headed in an easterly direction.

Because of the north of east prevailing wind and drift direction, it is hard to say how much further north than due east he might be. But wherever he landed it would on this hypothesis have to be somewhere on the coast of Norway.

The troubles of Odysseus are far from over, though. The Immortal, Poseidon, the sea god who is father of the injured Cyclops Polyphemus, sees Odysseus and decides to give him "a good full portion of trouble". A storm wrecks the craft of Odysseus, and he hangs on to part of the wreck. Another Immortal, the goddess Ino, sees the trouble Odysseus is in.

"She took pity on Odysseus as he drifted and suffered hardship,

and likening herself to a winged gannet she came up

out of the water and perched on the raft and spoke a word to him:

'Take off these clothes,---

and then strike out and swim with your hands and make for a landfall

on the Phaiakian country, where your escape is destined.

And here, take this veil, it is Immortal, and fasten it under

your chest; ---'

So spoke the goddess and handed him the veil, then herself

in the likeness of a gannet slipped back into the heaving

sea and the dark and tossing water closed above her.---"

Gannets are remarkable birds. When I was a navigating officer at sea I watched gannets many times. Sometimes over one hundred feet in the air, one would fold its wings and drop like a stone at high speed into the water, to come up holding a fish.

Gannets are ocean birds. In Europe they winter further south, but off the coast of Spain or Africa. They are rarely if ever seen in the Mediterranean.

This one word, gannet, is what actually started me on the whole adventure of re-plotting the voyages of Odysseus. I'd seen plenty of gannets, but you find them only in the north. I knew at once that if the bird was a gannet, Odysseus had to be somewhere off, say, the coast of Scotland, the Orkneys, or the Faeroes, or Norway. The puzzle is the word Homer uses. Other translators refer to other birds, but I talked to a professor who is a philologist at the University of Toronto, and from what he said I conclude, as did Lattimore, that the best translation is gannet. So to me, this points directly to a northern climate.

After swimming up and down the coastline for two days looking for a place where the storm breakers are not crashing upon rocks, Odysseus finds a river mouth and finally gets ashore. He sleeps in a forest under some bushes, because, he says:

"---'If I wait out the uncomfortable night by the river,

I fear that the female dew and the evil frost together

will be too much for my damaged strength'---

Odysseus ---

with his own hands heaped him a bed to sleep on,

---since there was a great store of fallen leaves there,

and lay down in the middle, and made a pile of leaves over him."

So here we have frost, and we know that he is travelling in mid-summer. Again, this implies to me a northern climate. We know what the climate is like today in the Mediterranean and in Norway, but what was it in Odysseus' time? I went to the department of biology at the University of Toronto and talked to Professor Jim Ritchie (JR).

JR: "I'm interested in reconstructing past environments, and particularly the past vegetation cover of the circum-Mediterranean area including North Africa. We use a variety of techniques in doing this, particularly the analysis of pollen grains that are preserved in sediments."

EF: "At one point Odysseus is reported to have sheltered between two bushes, he says, because of the evil frost. Now wherever he was at the time it was mid-summer, because the Mycenaeans were famous for not voyaging during the winter months. So my question then is how far north would he have been to have needed this precaution against evil frost in mid-summer?"

JR: "He would certainly have had to have been at elevations greater than 3,000 or 4,000 metres above sea level. That is to say, he would have had to have been on the higher mountains to have stood the remotest chance of frosts. But even that would narrow the area down to very small spots in the Mediterranean area."

EF: "Well, according to the text, actually all he did was to swim up and down the rocky coastline, looking for somewhere to get ashore safely. He found a small river flowing into the sea, got ashore at the river, and just struggled, one gathers, a few hundred yards at the most on to the shoreline and there found the bushes, and sheltered himself beneath them. So I think any possibility of high altitude from the coast would be out of the question. It does seem from what you say then that this piece of evidence would indicate a more northerly climate than the Mediterranean."

JR: "Yes, I'd say that's a clear assumption."


So Odysseus arrives at the land of the Phaiakians, which I've said is Norway.

Was there any bronze age settlement in Norway in the time of Odysseus? Indeed there was: in modern times the coastline and inland areas have been found to contain remains of many bronze age settlements.

Next day the maiden Nausikaa "of the white arms" comes down to the river with her attendant 'lovely haired girls" to do laundry by the river and so meets naked Odysseus. She tells him something about the Phaiakian people:

"---'I will point the way to you.

--- when we come to the city, and around this is a towering

wall, and a handsome harbour either side of the city,

and a narrow causeway, and along the road there are oarswept

ships drawn up, for they all have slips, one for each vessel;

--- they tend to all the gear that goes with the black ships,

the hawsers and the sails, and there they fine down their oarblades;

for the Phaiakians have no concern with the bow or the quiver,

it is all masts and the oars of ships, and the balanced vessels

themselves, in which they delight in crossing over the grey sea."

I suggest he landed near Stavanger on the west coast, which is less than 200 km. north of the south coast of Norway. There is a small river entrance nearby, with some low lying land and the city of Stavenger is only about four miles from the coast. It's one of the oldest cities in Norway and close to a major focal point of Viking emigration.

Homer tells us that Alkinoos their king says:

"---'here are twelve who are marked out as kings in our country

with power, and they act as leaders, and I myself am the thirteenth.'---"

He calls on all these kings to make gifts to Odysseus as a token of friendship.

Norway is divided into four groups of counties: eastern Norway (Ostfold, Vestfold, Hedmark, Opland, Buserud, Telemark, East Agder and West Agder); western Norway (Rogaland, Hardaland, Sogn and Fjordane, More and Romsdal); Trendlag (South Trendelag and North Trendelag); northern Norway (Nordland, Troms and Finnmark).

My understanding is that in earlier times East and West Agder were one, as was the Trondelag, and northern Norway was one. It so happens that this gives thirteen "counties" or kinglets, as described by Homer.


The Phaiakian ship which is to take Odysseus home, with its 52 oarsmen, sounds very like either a penteconter or a prototype of a Viking ship. Here's what Homer says:

"They bent to their rowing, and with their oars tossed up the sea spray,

and upon the eyes of Odysseus there fell a sleep, gentle,

the sweetest kind of sleep with no awakening, most like

death; while the ship, as in a field four stallions drawing

a chariot all break together at the stroke of the whiplash,

and lifting high their feet lightly beat out their path, so

the stern of this ship would lift and the creaming wave behind her

boiled amain in the thunderous crash of the sea. She ran on

very steady and never wavering; even the falcon,

that hawk that flies lightest of winged creatures, could not have paced her,

so lightly did she run on her way and cut through the sea's waves."

We have to admit that we are now a long way off from Corfu, the generally accepted island from which he set out for his homeward journey. But when we look at some of the wording in the text, it seems very strange that Corfu, which is only 70 miles from his own home island (Ithaca) in the Mediterranean, would be described in the way that the land of the Phaiakians is. First, because it is not called an island, but a mainland, and then because Odysseus admires their balanced ships and their harbours, the meeting places of the heroes themselves, and the long lofty walls that were joined with palisades. That sounds to me very much like the northern saga background with Valhalla and so on:

"---Phaiakian men are expert beyond all others

for driving a fast ship on the open sea."

That's what the Odyssey says -- how true that is of the Scandinavians.

Then the ruler calls a council, and Odysseus says:

"---'I have come a long way from a distant land.'---"

He could not then be speaking to the islanders of Corfu, less than 70 miles from his home island. And the ruler assures him that they are going to bring Odysseus back to his country and his house...

"---'Even if this may be much further away than Euboia,

which these of our people who have seen it say is the farthest

away of all.'---"

I don't really think that another part of Greece, which can be seen on a map of Greece today, an island 30 miles east of Athens and 150 miles in a straight line from Corfu, would be described as the furthest away of all and that they have no idea where his island is, and that they will take him back to it, even if it is much further away than Euboia. How can that make sense, when the island we're speaking of is nowhere near as far away as Euboia, and is actually only 70 miles farther down the coast? And how could the ruler of Corfu not know the famous Odysseus, king of another island so close by?

Commentators seem generally to assume that Odysseus slept overnight on board this homecoming ship, and that it was a short journey. But if that's the case, why do we have escorts carrying "all the food" and the wine on board for him at the start of the voyage, and setting up linen for his bed, with a coverlet? Did hardy Odysseus need a coverlet over the linen on his bed in midsummer in the Mediterranean? But further north he would. And why all that food just for an overnight trip?

Eventually they reach a bay on the island of Ithaca, with Odysseus asleep in the stern of the vessel, and they put him gently ashore with his treasure.

Well, at last we have Odysseus back home, asleep on a beach on his own island, ten years after he set out from Troy city. I've given a brief outline as to where he might have gone if he'd stayed in the Mediterranean -- that's the standard view. And I've suggested what I think happened. I believe you may have enough information now to decide for yourself "where did Odysseus go?"