Odysseus took ten years to get back to Ithaca from Troy, but he navigated only a few months
Odysseus discovers sea passes, landscapes and men of a new world. He pushes back the limits encircling the Greeks in a world they think to be finite. Historians present him as the advanced representative of a Greek new age, that of colonial expeditions : a “proto-colonial” hero. But he is always guided by his aim : the return. His adventures have not only a meaning, but a direction, the orient to which he sails : Ithaca, his starting point.
Odysseus is indeed a hero of the discovery. He does not hesitate to order to go farther, always farther. But one discovers only as far as one is able to come back to relate what one has learnt, experienced : the explorer who dies at the far end of the world has not discovered anything. When one comes back, one finds that all has changed : one’s country, one’s family and oneself other too.
Odyseus is in that our contemporary. The limits of our 21th-century world have been pushed back as far as it is conceivable today. Which new world shall we have to explore”? We do not know, no more than Odysseus anticipated what he would meet. Homer offers the Greeks of his time a new model of hero to think of the future times. The poet offers us, who have other navigations to make in another new world, other Ithacas to discover, better than a sumptuous fiction : an “instruction”, as the sailors say.”
During those ten years, the hero spent only a few months actually navigating. Homer often indicates how many days he travelled : 9 days from Cape Malea to the Syrtian shore, 17 days from Calypso island to the Phoeacians’, for instance. From a nautical point of view one must therefore understand the Odyssey as the narration of travels with multiple episodes, stopovers of various length, following more or less known routes. The expedition is concerned with three distinct sea zones :
1- The archipelago and coastlines of the Ionian sea that were regularly traveled by merchant ships and warships in Odysseus’ and Nestor’s times (13th century B.C.).
2- The islands and coasts of the Aegean, well known by Homeric Greeks who traveled across it and knew by experience how Troya commanded the crossing of the Bosphorus.
3- The coasts of the Syrtan Gulf, of the Sicilian Sea, of the Tyrrhenian Sea and the Aeolian Islands (today Lipari Islands). The latter zone was not well known by Greeks at the time of the Trojan War. It was crossed by rare merchant ships, by pirates and adventurers. It was situated at the western border their world and gave access to places inhabited by giants and monsters, nymphs and magicians, creatures, such as the Lotophages, (or Lotus-eaters), Lestrygons, Cyclops and Sirens.
The Odyssey • Locations & Activities