Ulysses’ Sea – The Adriatic

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I’ve proven it: The Adriatic is Ulysses’ sea!

I’ve travelled the Mediterranean, following Ulysses’ trail for almost three months – from Troy to the Peloponnese, Crete, Sicily and Malta, across the Adriatic all the way to the great traveller’s final destinations – Corfu and Ithaca. I’ve travelled around the Mediterranean because I wanted to discover what was real and what was fictitious in Homer’s Odyssey and whether it was possible to locate destinations where Ulysses wandered on his ten year long return from Troy.
I’ve been searching for the Mediterranean we once knew, I wanted to know whether the globalised world we live in, the one that obliterates all specificities and differences, still hides the mystery of that well known Mediterranean spirit. A two year project with lots of preparations, travel and, finally, writing, resulted in a book by the name of The Trial of Ulysses. The final conclusion is: I’ve found answers to my questions.
Yes, the Mediterranean we once knew still exists, even though it’s well hidden nowadays, but everyone willing to move off the beaten trail can still find fishermen and villages where old men play cards and talk about the bora wind, calling it the “pure girl”, comment on the present catch and are sincerely surprised when they see a tourist.
Such places can be found everywhere, from Crete to Peloponnese, across Sicily, and all the way to the Adriatic – they are only slightly more difficult to reach nowadays. Malta is the only place where I was unable to find any of the Mediterranean as it once was; the globalisation has done its work there. I also believe I’ve found the answer to my second question: In which archipelago did Ulysses wander while chased by Poseidon’s rage and storms?
I have no doubts that Homer depicted real life events, adding a reasonable dose of imagination in the form of puzzling effects that would make his subject as exciting as possible to the audience. And these real life events, as every line of the Odyssey reveals, took place on the Adriatic and not on Sicily or around it, as Homer’s interpreters have been claiming for thousands of years. Reasons for that are manifold and I covered them in much more detail in the book and here I will just offer you a summary.
First of all, Ulysses was obviously sailing an unknown Mediterranean archipelago, a part yet untouched by civilisation. In the times of Ulysses and Homer, the Adriatic was the only unknown part of the Mediterranean for the Greeks. It is a mystical “northern” sea, inhabited by primitive and not so friendly people, as depicted by Greek legends and described by Ulysses. Secondly, throughout the Odyssey, the favourable wind guiding lost sailors towards Ithaca is the mistral wind which blows from the north-western direction and jugo (south wind) is an unfriendly wind that pushes sailors away from their destination.
The Adriatic is the only part of the Mediterranean from which the mistral wind can lead to Ithaca, which is something that is mentioned in many parts of the Odyssey.
When Calypso, after seven years of sharing her bed with him, needed to send Ulysses home upon the order of the gods, she advised him to keep the Northern Star to his left and offered him a friendly mistral wind, telling him that that was how he would reach Scheria, or today’s Corfu, where Nausicaa awaited him.
If Calypso’s Ogygia was in fact today’s island of Gozo located in the archipelago of Malta, as the Odyssey’s interpreters claim, he would have ended up in Egypt and not on Corfu.
Also, Corfu is on the way to Ithaca only if you travel from the Adriatic. The same can be said when the Aeolus, the wind god, sent him home from an offshore island. He also gave him the mistral wind, sewing up all unfavourable winds in a mythical sack. If Aeolus had in fact lived on today’s Lipari Islands, according to his instructions Ulysses would again have been lead to the south-eastern Mediterranean, that is, Africa, and not home to Ithaca.
There are numerous details in the Odyssey that clearly suggest that the Adriatic is really where the events took place; there are descriptions of islands matching Homer’s descriptions so the only place in the Mediterranean that can be considered as the true Ogygia is the island of Mljet, and Circe’s island cannot be at the foot of Mount Circeo on the Tyrrhenian part of the Apennine peninsula, not only because it is not even on an island. The island of Korčula is a logical choice for Circe’s Aeaea while no other place on the Mediterranean matches Homer’s description of the unfriendly Lestrygonians, whose harbour is located at the mouth of a river, among steep cliffs, like Omiš.
Furthermore, the “lowland” island of goats from which Ulysses’ sailors spot the habitat of Cyclopes living in caves on the neighbouring large island can only be the island of Šćedro and the nearby Hvar, while the Lotophags, the first stop after Troy, usually located on the coast of Africa, is described by the first well known Mediterranean sailor. In the fourth century BC, Pseudo Scylax, the man who sailed across the entire Mediterranean and wrote a book about it, placed Lotophagi in the Adriatic, somewhere near today’s Rogoznica.
It is possible to further list Homer’s description of distances among islands and their appearance, winds and all that clearly designates Central and South Dalmatia as locations of Ulysses’ wanderings. We can also recall Argonauts who had, according to the Greeks, travelled the Adriatic just before Ulysses. The interpreters failed to answer the question how could it have been that Ulysses encountered the same monsters and nymphs, the same unpleasant obstacles in the Tyrrhenian Sea that Jason, according to them, had found in the Adriatic.
The basic question is that if Ulysses sailed the Adriatic, how the Achaean traveller could have then ended up in a sea not exactly on his way while travelling from Troy to Ithaca. The key moment that interrupted his plans happened a few days after he had left Troy, when the ships were at the Peloponnese’s southern cape, the infamous Malea.
This is where Ulysses was caught in the strong bora wind which threw him out in the open sea, only to be carried towards the Lotophagi land by “stormy winds” for days. If we assume that the wind that carries ships that are not too advanced (after all, we are talking about events that happened 3000 years ago), then it seems logical that Ulysses ended up in Tunisia. But what if the “stormy winds” that replaced the bora were winds from the south-east, such as the jugo wind.
The strong jugo wind can really blow for days, even weeks, unlike the bora, and it would have taken the ship to the Adriatic. Because every attempt to define Ulysses’ subsequent ten-year wandering as starting from the island of Djerba, that many claim is the land of the Lotophagi (even though Homer does not mention an island, but a “land”), is illogical.
When the whole scene is moved to the Adriatic, the story is suddenly fully logical and geographically plausible. Because after having arrived to Rogoznica, Ulysses’ navy of 12 ships returned back to the south-east, to Ithaca, meeting those unfriendly inhabitants, all those inhospitable “cannibals” from the Illyrian regions, ancestors of today’s Dalmatians.
Of course, it should not be believed that today’s Dalmatians were in fact cannibals, but such a scenario, coupled with luscious nymphs, wizards turning people into pigs, sirens intoxicating sailors with their song, underwater vortices and snake-like monsters, turned the place of Ulysses’ wanderings into a dramatic and exciting site. This is because Homer did not write down the Odyssey; it is a part of the oral tradition and used to be sung over dinner with fiddle music background so the story had to be very exciting to keep the listeners interested for hours.
So, I am sure that Ulysses wandered the Adriatic, but the rest of the Mediterranean fulfilled tourist needs for attractions and made up a number of Calypso’s and Cyclops’ caves to show to excited tourists, even though these do not match Odyssey’s descriptions at all.
Will someone from the local Tourist Board read The Trial of Ulysses and start advertising the Adriatic as Ulysses’ sea? Will Omiš, Korčula, Mljet, Vis, Pelješac and all those places linked to the legend of the lost Achean commander be used as a good story for selling tourism that offers a bit more than beaches and sun?
I don’t know, but I am sure that the eastern coast of the Adriatic can give us a story no one else has. We just have to use it. JASEN BOKO
Article published in the Adriatic Times

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