Mapping the Odyssey Isn’t Easy

from kottke

We’ve looked before at maps of Odysseus’s travels in The Odyssey (as Jason wrote in 2018, “that dude was LOST”). But it turns out — and maybe this shouldn’t be surprising — that it’s not easy to figure out exactly where Odysseus was in the Mediterranean Sea for all that time.

Scholars have pored over the text for clues for centuries, argued about their findings, and tried to interpret ambiguous language. We don’t even know for certain where Odysseus’s home island of Ithaca was.

Ithaca is one of a group of four islands, with smaller islands nearby, but it faces west while the others face east. (What does it mean for an island to face a direction?) It has forests and at least one mountain, and it is a good place for raising children. That isn’t much to go on.

Then there’s the whole question of what we gain from mapping The Odyssey in detail anyways. Some of it is plugging a gap in our imagination; we’ve gotten used to fantasy worlds supplying us with maps, and The Odyssey is a fantasy world that coexists with our own. But the level of detail is obsessive.

More here.

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6 Responses to Mapping the Odyssey Isn’t Easy

  1. Josh Shupper March 4, 2019 at 3:57 pm #

    When I think of a well-known story based on Greek Mythology, the first one that comes to mind for me is The Odyssey. All of my intermediate and middle school teachers would have some sort of unit that deals with Greek Mythology and one of the stories that was common among all of the teachers that talked about them was The Odyssey. With this kind of a text and how it was written thousands of years ago, it can be a difficult challenge to figure out the plot of the story. It seemed as if writers like Homer, the author of The Odyssey, were not clear about what was happening. When I went through the article, I never thought that this would be such a big deal about trying to figure out what happened in the story and trying to figure out where each of the events occur. Geography back then to where Odysseus lived is way different than it is today because of natural processes, the continental drift, etc. So I could see why experts are having a huge problem with trying to solve the mystery of The Odyssey. As the article said, many of the epics are based on one single location, like Atlantis or Troy. The Odyssey was always moving from place to place. As a reader, it could be very difficult to keep track of where the main characters are in relation to the location of where the story is at. As a kid, it was sometimes tough for me to understand what was happening because there were so many moving parts to the story. On the other hand, it is also one of the most interesting books that I have encountered because it made me think and that it was open to interpretation. Personally, I am also a pretty big fan of Greek Mythology. I thought that it was intriguing that people are still trying to uncover the story of Odysseus and what actually happened to him on his journey in The Odyssey. There are so many different opinions about the mystery behind the text. Overall, I thought the article was definitely interesting to read and it made me think about something that I grew up with reading from years ago. When I think of Greek Mythology, I assume that most of the stories are based in Greece, including The Odyssey. After reading the article, I guess I will have to reconsider my opinion and see if this is true or not.

  2. Andrew Kenny March 7, 2019 at 8:17 pm #

    My late elementary school and early middle school days were dominated by my interest in Greek mythology. I was huge into the “Percy Jackson” series and was very interested in Greek epics in my seventh grade English class. I remember touching on “The Odyssey” and learning about the famous epic poet, Homer. At that time, a lot of his works were a little too advanced for many of us, so we were taught a lot of the simpler versions of the stories. Never did I once put much thought into Odysseus’ actual trail upon his many travels. I just knew there were many different locations and that he was originally from Ithaca. Looking at this article now, being more in tune with geography and a lot wiser than my 14 year old self, I do have some questions on the actual route and the means and length of travel.
    The really interesting thing about this story is that it is a fantasy-like story that is intertwined with real world places. Many historians try to map it out and realized that there really is not much information geography-wise. The lack of facts kind of opens the door to interpretation, and allows readers to kind of imagine their own possibilities of where Odysseus actually was. Looking at the route in the article it clearly seems like he truly was lost. However, I think it is more fun for readers to just use their imagination and enjoy the story rather than to focus on the geographical aspects.
    Clearly now one can assume that maybe many Greek stories settings are different than we initially imagined. Instead of the assumed settings like Crete, Troy, Greece, etc. many of our favorite characters could be beyond just the Ionian and Mediterranean Seas. I don’t think that anyone will truly figure out the exact route of Odysseus. Maybe that is what Homer wanted. I think all lovers of mythology would love to find the exact location of the story, but maybe the beauty of it is the fact that there really was no one place. Part of great literature in my opinion is the ability to create settings in the reader’s head and imagining the characters the way you want them. Having everything explicitly explained takes the fun out of reading stories sometimes.

  3. Kyle Stephens March 8, 2019 at 5:24 pm #

    The Odyssey by Homer is a classic in the Greek Mythology genre. My school, along with many others, had multiple units pertaining to the book. The mapping of his location is something that never really occurred to me. I have read the story and even enjoyed it but somehow never thought to see where he was when. Now, many may be asking, “What do we gain from knowing this?” The answer is that we don’t know what we could get by knowing this information. It could lead to so many different things that many people probably wouldn’t think about. It’s a possibility that Odysseus went to these cities and fathered children, or went and influenced rulers. The possibilities are endless and when you look at the possibilities that could follow it gets even crazier. For example, lets look at the possibility that Odysseus fathered children in different cities. Odysseus is a well known warrior, hero, and king. He more than likely would be sleeping with someone of noble blood rather than impregnating a commoner. This leads to the possibility that Odysseus could have fathered Kings in these cities and started a succession line that went on for years. It is a real possibility that Odysseus started a dynasty without even meaning to. Another thing that would come from mapping Odysseus’ travels is we would have a much better understanding of when he was at sea and where he was during certain events. With this information as well we could also test the historical accuracy of the story.
    The only problem I see with mapping his travels is I don’t think that its possible to do. Scholars have been reading the story over and over for centuries, slowly running out of new leads and answers. I also don’t believe we will be finding any other new information outside of the book. This leads me to believe that the version of the map right now might be the most accurate we can get with the information at hand from the book. There is always a possibility that we could find more in the future with a new technology, but for now we may know as much as we can know.

  4. Dylan Flego March 8, 2019 at 8:11 pm #

    As much of the grand epic that it is known for, it makes sense that The Odyssey can find itself being hard to physically map. From each mysterious and event-filled location that Odysseus travels to, there consistently exists a lot of missing links to accurately pinpoint where his journey progressed. As a result, a general sense of vagueness clouds over his adventure, only describing the actual places that he visited without much detail about his surroundings. Another point that also needs to be taken into consideration is how the lands that Odysseus visited have gone through various changes over the course of countless years, some undergoing more drastic changes than others. This directly adds onto the difficulty of precisely marking each specific region where The Odyssey took place.

    Combining all of these aspects together, it is no surprise to see that many estimates would need to be developed in order to be as close as possible to accurately depicting the locations of Odysseus’s long journey. For me, back in my freshman year of high school, The Odyssey took up a large section of my English class’s curriculum. We analyzed the epic in great detail and dove into all of its elements in depth. Since each major region that Odysseus travelled to was split up in our class, one discussion that always arose was where exactly the regions would be located in modern times. As expected, however, both the vagueness of the given details of the epic and the mystery of what the lands’ environments really were left us in the dark for where exactly the journey took place. I imagine those who attempt to properly map out the specifics of The Odyssey would have a similarly rough time figuring out the exact areas, as many of the lands portrayed in Homer’s epic could be exaggerated beyond recognition.

  5. Cameron Kharazmi March 8, 2019 at 8:26 pm #

    I enjoyed this article as it was very different from much of the content of the blog. Rather than focus on some pressing societal issue involving politics or technology, it follows the natural human pursuit of knowledge. The story of Odysseus was an epic of mythical proportions but had great insight into various themes of the human experience and the value of heroism during the time it was written. As such, it was also an important element of Greek culture, and the “obsessive” search to map out the route of Odysseus is indicative of the idea that humans are always seeking knowledge about themselves and their existence. None of the events that happened in the Odyssey may have occurred. But what it offers historians in terms of its cultural and geographical implications is huge. They can try to figure out how civilizations of the time period traveled in the Mediterranean Seas, the multitude of reasoning for why and where they traveled, and why the Odyssey had such a critical cultural impact. The reason for our continued existence in my opinion is that we are always searching for information we may not think is possible to find. Space travel worked in largely the same manner. Those of civilizations thousands of years in the past saw something compelling about the night sky and made observations about it that was compelling enough to enable humans in the present day to experience interplanetary travel and interspace photographic mapping. Of course, the Mediterranean Sea and its accompanying land masses have been explored and populated in their entirety. But I personally enjoy the fact that scholars and historians are still looking for more information and are making observations that enable us in the present day to learn more about how we were in the past. Observing our past is important in determining what we make of our future, and how we are going about advancing as humans. At some point, I believe future scholars and thinkers will look at how we used the internet to create a global forum that enabled all individuals to have a voice, and will use it as a foundation for further technological and societal innovation.

  6. Ethan Bazan March 14, 2019 at 11:37 am #

    All throughout my middle school and high school career, my teachers would have units that focuses on Greek Mythology. A common story every teacher touched on, focusing on Greek Mythology, was The Odyssey written by Homer. This epic poem was the central works of ancient Greek literature. At the time, many found the story a little challenging to understand; hence, my teachers would teach the poem in lot simpler terms and versions. I remember that The Odyssey was one of my favorite text, but I never thought of the question that this article brings up. After reading this article it became aware to me that Homer was not really clear about what is happening. The article brings up the point that people try to figure out what exactly happened and where each event occurred. The obsession to search out a map, of the route of Odysseus, has always been a challenge for people. Nowadays it could be even more difficult for experts to figure out the mystery of The Odyssey. As the time keeps going, Earth keeps evolving and changing since the time of Odysseus. As article says, epic poems would usually be set in one location. However, The Odyssey was set from place to place. Personally, I do not think experts would ever find out the exact route of Odysseus. Experts have been reading this story numerous of times, for centuries, but still no exact answer. Even if experts believe they will find answers outside the book, I’d still see it impossible to find new answers. Which is why I believe that the version of the map that exist right now is the most accurate and closest of Odysseus route. Reading The Odyssey and this article, it gave me an idea that what if Homer’s goal was to keep the reader wondering where the events took place. Homer probably purposely put a lack of location information to make the reader have their own interpretation. Again this is only a theory that probably isn’t true, Homer wrote this story with numerous of theories people could have of Odysseus route. Therefore, I like it how scholars are still trying to figure out new information in making observations. Which is why The Odyssey has a beauty that the reader could make their own conclusions of mapping out the Odyssey.

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