Ancient Geography & Travels of Ulysses Part 3

About the ancient travels of Greek figure and hero Ulysses who wandered around the Mediterranean for 10 years, history and account of his travels then and now.



The path of Ulysses' ships next leads to the port of Trapani in southern Sicily--Ulysses' land of the Cyclopes. Although founded in antiquity, Trapani, which has hardly changed through the centuries, was built after Ulysses' visit, as was the Norman cathedral standing on a hill above the town. The exact location of Polyphemus' cave is disputed. One student of Ulysses, Samuel Butler, insists that it is a large cave presently used as a sheep pen, located 4 mi. north of Trapani near Pizzolungo point.

Six hundred miles northeast across the Tyrrhenian Sea is the French island of Corsica, or the land of the Lestrygonians. In southern Corsica, the town of Bonifacio sits on the high cliffs which surround its small harbor. From these cliffs, which now shelter fishing boats, yachts, and ferries, the Lestrygonians threw the rocks that destroyed most of Ulysses' fleet.

From Bonifacio, Ulysses' route goes west to the Italian peninsula and the goddess Circe's home--present-day Ischia Island in the Bay of Naples. Recent archaeological digs have uncovered an ancient Greek colony on the island, and among the discoveries were vases and inscriptions depicting the events of the Trojan War and honoring Ulysses. Now the island is crowded with huge old houses with windows looking out across the bay to the city of Naples. In the harbor are large yachts of rich pleasure seekers and ships of the U.S. 6th Fleet, which use Naples as a base.

To retrace Ulysses' journey to Hades, it is necessary to travel 1,400 mi. westward to the Strait of Gibraltar, which was known as the Pillars of Hercules to the Greeks. As you pass through the strait in modern times, the port of Ceuta, a favorite spot for Spanish tourists, lies to the left on the Moroccan coast. To the right is the massive Rock of Gibraltar--one of the Pillars of Hercules--and below it is the British naval base of Gibraltar. Ulysses' Hades is most often associated with the Caverns of Tangier--a complex of volcanic caves not far inland from the bustling and exotic Moroccan port of Tangier.

From Tangier Ulysses' route doubles back to Naples and from there goes southward to the eastern shore of Sicily. There, Ulysses and his men anchored in the present-day Rada di Taormina, a small cove still used by Sicilian fishermen. This sunny area of Sicily, 25 mi. south of the city of Messina, was where Ulysses' men killed the Sun God's sheep.

Somewhere a short distance west of Sicily is where Ulysses was shipwrecked. After drifting in the sea, he was washed onto a beach on Malta--Calypso's paradise island, where Ulysses spent seven years. South of Sicily, modern Malta is a strange architectural mixture of different cultures and ages. Modern steel buildings stand beside the W.W. II wreckage caused by German bombers, while crusaders' castles have wood and cardboard shacks at their bases. Malta's socialist government permits Soviet warships to use the island's harbor as a base. Besides the Russians, numerous other countries are represented by merchant ships anchored in the busy port.

From Malta, the last leg of Ulysses' journey is westward to Greece, where his island of Ithaca retains its ancient name. Modern Ithaca is a small island 12 mi. long and 3 mi. wide. In the 20th century, Ulysses' home is a backward place, with its tiny villages, poor soil, flocks of goats, and painted fishing boats. Probably if he returned today, Ulysses would still be able to recognize Ithaca as his ancient homeland.

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