Eustathius, late 12th c., from commentaries on Homer (as gathered at Wolf and Wolf 1983:152).

First modern map of locations in the wanderings, by Ortellius near the end of the 16th c.

Map by Ortellius. Note Cyclopes are at east Sicily.

Philippus Cluverius (Philipp Cluver). Sicilia Antiqua. 1619.

William Gladstone. Studies on Homer and the Homeric Age. vol. 3. 1858.

Gladstone’s hybrid real/schematic map of the wanderings

Samuel Butler. The Authoress of the Odyssey. 1897.

Butler localizes the journey of Odysseus about Sicily, employing topography as his primary evidence. But this is just one aspect of a variously ingenious and exasperating argument, which is at turns humorous and polemical in tone. Butler’s provocative thesis is that a young woman of western Sicily composed the Odyssey around 1,000 BCE. Starting from Richard Bentley’s offhand claim that the Odyssey was composed with a female audience in mind, Butler subjectively asserts that many aspects of the epic reflect a feminine sensibility. The argument is then pursued vigorously in an often implausible manner—Homerists have generally reacted with no more than wry smiles (see the illuminating chapter by Mary Beard in Samuel Butler, Victorian Against the Grain). One problem is that the argument is over-complicated; the area about Scheria serves as the model for both Scheria and Ithaca (which is also modelled on the Aegadian island Marettimo), and Butler is unnessarily exercised with explaining why the character Odysseus would not recognize the doubling. Another problem is that it all depends on a prehistoric Elymian princess being, against all literary and archaeological evidence, Greek (Thucydides 6.2-4 reports that the native Elymians were Trojans and related Phocaeans from Asia Minor; Butler considers the latter Greek Phocians—–represented in the epic as Phaeacians). However, there is much to appreciate in the book. Butler challenges the Analyst arguments that were dominant in his day, and he understands the importance of the Epic Cycle better than most Homerists. Autopsy and ethnography inform his argument, if at times arbitrarily. His essentialist conception of female psychology is badly out-dated, but nevertheless has been seen as prototypical of against-the-grain feminist readings of the Odyssey (which however usually praise the Penelope that Butler mocks). If the argument can be slippery, it is unusually forthright in addressing anticipated objections. Aspects of his argument remain relevant today, notably his linking of the Cyclopes and Laestrygonians with native populations, as well as Sicily with the wanderings of Odysseus. Certainly Butler’s keen sense of a reality of place and people within the adventures of Odysseus is preferable to their dismissive placement in “never-never land” by complacent armchair Homerists (to strike a Butlerian tone). But unfortunately Butler refused to appreciate how a Homeric epic about the Heroic Age would modify the contemporary world radically. Such is his determination to link Cyclopes with peoples of Sicily that he claims Polyphemus has two eyes. That Homer finds the fact of his single eye unworthy of direct mention is interesting, but the argument that blinding one eye ruins the other is a good example of the labored and implausible argument to which Butler too frequently stoops.

with research by Laura Mawhinney

Extension of these ideas, with no real advance, was pursued in multiple pubications by L. G. Pocock. As noted in the section ‘Modern Localizations’, Robert Graves’ novel Homer’s Daughter is based on Butler’s theory.

Butler’s map of the wanderings

Victor Berard. Les Pheniciens et L’Odyssee. 1902-03.

Victor Berard. Les navigations d’Uiysse 4 vols. 1927-29.

Berard’s map of the wanderings

G. Germain. Genese de l’Odyssee. 1954.0

Discussion of the Odyssey‘s geography occurs in a section entitled Les deux mondes odysséens (The Two Worlds of the Odyssey), which refers to a “world of the imaginary” and the “geographic world.” According to Germain, all of the wanderings between the Lotus-eaters and the Phaeacians exists in the “imaginary;” the contours of a modern map of the Mediterranean must be put out of mind. Duration of time and topographical details in the Odyssey are conventional, but indications of the direction of travel by winds and astronomical observation are of value. Germain argues that it is possible to construct up a schematic diagram of the relative placement of locations in the wanderings. These lie outside the real world of the Aegean: the Lotus-eaters and Cyclopes south of Greece; the Phaeacians, Aeolus, and Calypso to the west (Calypso furthest, the Phaeacians nearest); the Laestrygonians to the northwest; Circe, the Sirens, the Clashing Rocks, Scylla and Charybdis, Thrinacia, the Cimmerians, and the underworld to the east (with Circe, the Sirens, Scylla and Charybdis, and Thrinacia running in a line north to south; the Cimmerians and the underworld further east). But Germain is diffident in his placement of many of these episodes. And the journey is thought sometimes to occur in a supernatural cosmography, as when it switches from the west of of the Laestrygonians to the east of Circe (comparable to the Gilgamesh’s journey underneath the world along the path of the Sun). As for Ithaca, Germain concludes that there is no compelling reason to deny that modern Ithaki is the Homeric Ithaca, despite problems with the Homeric evidence (attributed to hearsay information).

research by Tim Perry

Germain’s schematic map of the wanderings

Louis Moulinier. Quelques hypotheses relatives a la geographie d’Homere dans l’Odyssee. 1958.

Lewis G. Pocock. Reality and Allegory in the Odyssey. 1959.

Building on previous publications, and heavily influenced by Samuel Butler (though rejecting feminine authorship), Pocock places the author of the Odyssey in western Sicily. A late 7th-century Greek-speaking Elymian, he transposes the story of Odysseus to local topography. Homeric information on direction and time is deemed unreliable; Odyssean description of topography is the main evidence. “The whole of the Odyssey is a tale of Sicilian waters (except for Hades, Ogygia and the Lotus Eaters). Ten of the fourteen landfalls lie on, or off, the above-mentioned north and north-western sector of the Sicilian coast.'” Among these, the localization of Ortygia off Syracuse as Circe’s abode is the most original. The resulting Odyssey serves as allegory for the misadventures of a local hero of the early 7th c. among Sicilian peoples (Phaeacians are ‘Sicanophoenicans’; the Cyclopes Sicans) and the Phoenicians. The “allegory” is implausibly complex, in the manner of Butler, and often absurdly trivial (Odysseus is pressed into service in the Phoenician navy, an allegory for Phoenican naval power). It is conceded that the “allegory” would have escaped the notice of the ancient Greeks, but it is claimed, with characteristic bluster, that its modern discovery is “not less important than Schliemann’s digging at Troy, or the finding of Tutankhamen’s tomb , or these Dead Sea Scrolls.”

with research by Sam Allemang

J. Luce and W. B. Stanford. The Ulysses Quest. 1974.

Stanford and Luce trace the life of the hero Odysseus (referred to throughout in his Romanized form Ulysses) from his adventures in the mythical past to his continuing imprint on the modern world. As more extensively in Stanford’s book The Ulysses Theme, both positive and negative portrayal of the Homeric hero are surveyed. Luce also surveys both ancient and modern theories of location. The only original suggestion is locating the Cyclopes in the Apennine mountain range of the Italian peninsula. Luce compares the lifestyle of the Cyclopes to Bronze Age culture described in David Trump’s 1966 book Central and Southern Italy before Rome. He reckons the terrain is ideal, with cave dwelling a possibility, and he takes note of ancient cheese-making vessels of this culture. Grotta Manacorra in particular opens onto a sandy beach at the eastern tip of the rugged Gargano peninsula (SW Italian peninsula). A hoard of bronze objects (21 swords) induces Luce to postulate that it is loot from an Achaean ship that was overwhelmed by natives.

Enzo Gatti. II viaggio coloniale di Ulisse.. 1975.

M. Senior. Greece and its Myths: A Traveller’s Guide. 1978.

This book discusses places that are associated with Greek myths, with attention given to historical and archaeological evidence. One chapter is called “Odysseus at Sea.” Senior believes that Odysseus may be historical, though the story of his journey is full of typical folktale motifs. He holds that parts of Odysseus’ adventures are placed in a realistic setting, on the basis of Greek lore about sea travel, or even ancient Mycenaean trade routes.

Wolf, Armin, and Hans-Helmut Wolf. Die Wirkliche Reise des Odysseus. 1983.

The medieval historian Armin Wolf, with the help of his brother, has researched most extensively the history of localization theories. Die Wirkliche Reise des Odysseus is described as the second edition of Der Weg des Odysseus (1968); a 3rd edition appeared in 1990. [Cf. also the online article by Armin Wolf that surveys maps of the journey, with summary of his main arguments, as well as Hatte Homer eine Karte? (1997)]. Wolf helpfully explains different theories and traces the trends through the ages. He provides (and charts) the most important ancient sources and categorizes four ancient approaches that remain influential today: localization in the Mediterranean (our focus), in the Black Sea, in the Atlantic (exoceanism), as well as skepticism of the journey’s reality. He notes the earliest map of the wanderings is by Ortelius (1597), though the first to “connect the dots” between sites in an unified manner is Duval (1677). In the 19th c. it was common to provide an imaginary map reflecting Greek conception of the western Mediterranean, with some making a distinction between the Bronze Age (i.e., the time of a historical Odysseus) and the Archaic Age (i.e., the time of Homer). Wolf aims to recreate an 8th c. perspective, specifically Homer’s localization of Odyssean saga. The most intriguing aspect of Wolf’s method is the creation of a purely schematic map based on Homeric indications of duration and direction of travel (adding extensive argumentation about variable wind speed). This schematic, geometric-appearing map is then applied to a modern, realistic map (the trend of 20th c. localization). Resulting is a mix of previous localizations and strikingly original identifications (see above).

Sometimes Wolf adopts unusual localizations (Ustica as Circe’s island [Pocock]; Cyclopes in Tunisia [Wilamowitz and others]), while his focus on Sicily is reminiscent of Butler and his followers. Other localizations are strikingly original, predicated upon Wolf’s methodology (and a reluctance to acknowledge mythological and poetical exaggeration). For example, Wolf has coastal Himera of Sicily serve as a stopgap for the underworld episode, on the basis of the ancient placement of Hades’ rape of Persephone at inland Enna. Realizing that Odysseus can’t try to sail directly back to Ithaca if Aeolus is north of Sicily, he concludes Malta is Aeolia. And after arguing that shipwrecked Odyssseus passes back north through Scylla and Charybdis, Wolf insists that the hero walks inland at Calabria and finds Phaeacians—who take him home from the Ionian shore of the Italian peninsula! In the end Wolf’s method creates as many problems as it solves, and few will find Wolf’s theory any more convincing than previous ones. Nonetheless, scholars interested in localization will find the ample research of this book very useful.

with research by Tim Wright

Wolf’s schematic map of the wanderings

Alain Ballabriga. Les fictions d’Homere. 1998.

Ballabriga dates the final formation of the Homeric epics in the 6th c. (not unlike many other recent Homerists). So it necessarily is to be interpreted in the context of Greek history of the 7th and 6th centuries. Perceptions of Mediterranean space would often mix reality and myth well into the Classical Age; whether the real world or mythological invention inspired any given episode is hard to discern. The Homeric episodes represent one stage in an ongoing process of mythologial localization that moved back and forth between reality and abstraction. In Ballabriga’s view, the Odyssean “South” that corresponds to the real places of Egypt and Libya is conceptualized as both primitive and utopian. A lower band where eastern and western Aethiopians, mirroring Hyperboreans to the far north, is paradisiacal. Sicily and southern Italy, poised somewhere between myth and a contemporary maritime economy, are relevant to many episodes in the wanderings. As well, there is a conflation of the northwest and northeast: Circe’s island, for example, reflects both the eastern Black Sea and the western world of the Italian peninsula. Doubling of real-world and mythological place also occurs, as with Phaeacian Scheria, conceived as both Corcyra (Corfu) and the utopian zone of the northern Adriatic.

with research by Tim Perry

Ballabriga’s conceptual map of the Mediterranean in the Archaic Age

Irad Malkin. The Returns of Odysseus. 1998.

Malkin discusses the returns of Greek heroes from Troy, notably Odysseus, as culturally significant for Greek activity in Magna Graecia in southern Italy. The journey of Odysseus is seen as inspirationally “proto-colonial” for Greek expansion in the Western world (as part of this argument, the Homeric poem is said to have been composed and to have become influential by an implausibly early date). The Archaic Age is the time of focus, so localization is not of primary interest. Two dense chapters explore the important role of Ithaca (Thiaki, surely the ancient Ithaca) between the Italian peninsula and NorthWest Greece. Here the significance of the “Cave of the Nymphs” cult on Ithaca is explored, and the Odyssey is interestingly compared to alternative legends of Odysseus’ post-return adventures.

Renato Lo Schiavo La teoria dell’origine siciliana dell’Odissea: Il cieco, la giovinetta, il Malconsiglio. 2003.

Renato Lo Schiavo provides a detailed account of the interest generated in Trapani by Butler’s theories on the Sicilian origin of the Odyssey. Lo Schiavo explains the controversies that followed in the wake of Butler’s localization articles and The Authoress of the Odyssey. He offers much historical and biographical information about the protagonists – Butler himself, Fortunato Mondello (author of polemical articles on the topic in the Trapanese monthly journal Il Lambruschini), Pietro Sugameli (author of Origine Trapanese dell’Odissea, 1892), Lewis Grenville Pocock (see above), Vincenzo Barrabini (author L’Odissea rivelata, , 1968), and Luigi Ferrari (Realtà e fantasia nella geografia dell’ Odissea , Palermo 1968). The first two chapters of the book contain a historical survey of the development of Butler’s theories, with summary of their main features. Lo Schiavo also gives an account of the paleontological interest in the caves on the slopes of Mount Erice since 1342, including the discovery of the large bones that sometimes inspired localization of the Cyclopes in the area.

research by Mariapia Pietropaolo

Andrea Debiasi. L’epica perduta. Eumelo, il Ciclo, l’occidente. 2004.

Debiasi’s fine study of the Epic Cycle and other lost early Greek epics sometimes touches upon issues of localization. Euboean activity in the north Aegean is seen as relevant to the Nostoi‘s meeting of Neoptolemus and Odysseus at Maronea, as well as the Ciconian episode in the Odyssey. Citing Braccesi, Debiasi sees Euboean origins for localization of Odyssean episodes in N. Africa. Stories of Telemachus and Telelgonus in the Italian peninsula may reflect Euboean trade with Etruscans.

with research by Mariapia Pietropaolo

Andrea Debiasi. Esiodo e l’occidente. 2008.

Lorenzo Braccesi. Sulle rotte di Ulisse. L’invenzione della geografia omerica. 2010.

Braccesi’s focus is on Greek expansion in the western Mediterranean. The argument: the Homeric poem reflects Greek colonization in the late 8th c. BCE, especially by Euboeans; as a mythological character Odysseus represents the experience of Greek sailors and colonists. Episodes in the wanderings of Odysseus can be contextualized by reference to settlements and commercial activities of Greeks. The route of Odysseus coincides with their paths; Greek colonies match up well with the locales implied in the episodes. As well, alternative localizations in the Adriatic, reflecting Euboean trade routes, are discussed. More general analysis of ancient localization of the journey of Odysseus, from vestiges reflecting limited Greek experience to Roman reconfiguration of Odysseus as an explorer in the Atlantic, is also provided.

research by Mariapia Pietropaolo