Seafaring Odysseus: the Nautical Context of the Odyssey

(65 minute videotape by Robert Foulke)

Segment I: Historical Realism in the geography of Odvssev sites

(12 minutes)

This segment sets up premises about the relationship between the epic and history by visiting specific sites in the known world of the Aegean, specifically Tiryns, Mycenae, Troy, Pylos, Phaestos, Kithera, and Ithaca. It prepares the way for Odysseus’s wanderings beyond the bounds of that world into territories once known by Mycenaean seafarers but forgotten during the Greek Dark Ages; Greek colonists contemporary with Homer began rediscovering them in the 8th century BC.
Segment II: Mediterranean vessel forms, ancient and modern

(10 minutes)

This segment tries to solve the enigmas surrounding the nature of Homeric galleys by correlating the best available evidence from representations of ancient vessels and nautical archaeology. It focuses on the Kyrenia ship, the Thira frescoes, and the Athenian trireme, establishing the relevance of such indirect evidence through the slow evolution of Mediterranean vessel forms, which can be seen by comparing the shapes of ancient ships with modern fishing boats.
Segment III: Mediterranean wind and sea conditions (16 minutes)

Using images of the gods, the steep short seas, and the rugged coasts of the northern Mediterranean, this segment documents those conditions that made ancient seafarers fear the sea. It focuses on three threatening wind phenomena—meltemi, downdrafts, and katabatic gales—that would have made putting to sea in galleys difficult and dangerous.
Segment IV: Passage making in the ancient world (27 minutes)

This segment tracks the meticulously accurate descriptions of the voyage to Troy and the return to Cape Malea, where the Greek fleets are scattered and Agamemnon, Nestor, Menelaus, and Odysseus are set on the course of their individual fates. It then examines the relationship between landscape and myth and the use of sea marks for navigation as a context for retracing one traditional route of the wanderings that start at Cape Malea— Djerba, Favignana, Trapani, Ustica, Bonifacio, Monte Circeo, Ischia, Capri, the Galli Islands, Cape Palinurus, Stromboli, the Straits of Messina, Mount Aetna, Gozo, Corfu, and Ithaca. This segment explains why topography is more important than exact geography in understanding the force of the epic.

Seafaring Odysseus The Nautical Context of the Odyssey

Scene 1: Title and subtitle. This videotape records some of observations of the Odyssey Project, a research voyage studying the conditions of ancient seafaring as one of the important contexts that contribute to our understanding of the epic. The project grew out of my awareness that literary and historical voyages resemble each other very closely and followed Samuel Eliot Morison’s dictum that one cannot fully understand the nature of voyages through “armchair navigation” alone, “merely by studying them in a library with the aid of maps.*’

Scene 2: Ida _Z. The vessel chosen for the voyage to explore this maritime world was the research vessel Ida 1, a 56′ Alaskan crabber/seiner designed for the rough conditions of the Bering Sea. She has a beam of 18*, a draft ranging from 6 1/2 to o 1/2 feet depending upon load, displaces 50 tons, and has a cruising range of G000 miles at 8 knots.

SEGMENT I: Historical realism in the geography of Odvssey sites Scene 1: Mycenean gold obi ects. The world of the Trojan War described in the Iliad and the Odyssey has always provided archetypes of heroic combat and difficult voyaging for the literary imagination. In the last quarter of the nineteenth century men like Heinrich Scnliemann, merchant and amateur archaeologist, sought the historical reality behind the Homeric epics. As he uncovered three major cities named in the text

Tiryns, Mycenae, and Troy—he began to discover the power and wealth of Mycenaean civilization in the twelfth century BC under the rule of Atreus and his son Agamemnon, leader of the expedition to Troy. Here represented we see the death mask of a king, originally thought to be Agamemnon, and an elaborately wrought cup from the Royal Graves at Mycenae.

Scene 2: Tiryns. Schliemann began ecavating at “Tiryns of the huge walls,” as it is described in the Iliad, in 1884. In legend it was founded by Proetus, built with the help of Cyclopes from Lycia in Asia Minor, ruled by Perseus, and served as home for Heracles. Its huge walls, as much as 56 feet thick in places, are the source of the term “Cyclopean,” often applied to Kycenean fortress walls, because they are made of rough-hewn stones weighing as much as 14 tons. The ramp entering Tiryns from the land side is massive for defense since the site is only 59 feet above the surrounding plain; on the sea side there is a curved staircase leading to a narrow entrance near a source of water outside the wail. Tiryns is now separated from the shore by a mile and is situated in a flat plain bounded by the high acropolis of Argos five miles to the west (ruled by Diomedes during the era of the Trojan War) and even higher Mycenae nine miles to the north.

Scene 3: Mycenae. Located on a hill 912 feet above sea level and backed by mountain, Mycenae is described as a “stong-foundeu citadel” in the Iliad: it was ideally placed for controlling its territory and the overland trade route to the Gulf of Corinth. Schliemann began excavating the city of Agamemnon in 1876, finding a rich yield of artifacts like the

mask and cup the saw a moment ago in the tombs. The tholos tomb of Clytemnestra, so called because it was built about 1220 BC, is

approached through a passageway 121 feet long; originally halfcolumns of marble stood on either side of the doorway, and the triangle above the lintel was filled with carved aarbl^. Inside the single chamber is almost perfectly globular, 44 feet in diameter and 43 feet high. The palace is located on the summit of the acropolis at its southern edge, within sight of the sea and overlooking the plain of the Argives below.

Scene 4: Transition. From the Gulf of Argolis Agamemnon

and his warriors would have sailed to the cove of Aulis in

eastern Greece, near Chalcis, where he assembled the Greek fleet for the voyage across the northern Aegean to Troy.

Scene 5: Troy. Schliemann began his excavation of Troy

in 1870, and his early work was continued by Dorpfield and.

There are nine distinguishable levels of building and rebuilding at Troy, representing settlements dating from the early Bronze age. Homeric Troy (Ilion) is generally identified with level VII A, (1275-1240 B.C.) but many of the walls of level VI (1800-1275) shown here were probably in use then. The site on the hill of Hisarlik rises 150 to 200 feet above the plain below; it stretches 5 miles NW to the estuary of the Scamander River emptying into the Dardanelles, part of which was a bay in the Homeric period, and 6 miles SW to Bepika Bay, the most probable beachhead for the Greek fleet across from the island of Tenedos. Although the site is quite small, other major Mycenean cities of comparable importance were also compact (Mycenae, Tiryns, and Pylos). From the sea side the location of the Scamander estuary.