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OGY´GIA

OGY´GIA (Ὠγυγίη) is the name given by Homer in the Odyssey to the island inhabited by the nymph Calypso. He describes it as the central point or navel of the sea (ὄμφαλος θαλάσσης), far from all other lands ; and the only clue to its position that he gives us is that Ulysses reached it after being borne at sea for eight days and nights after he had escaped from Charybdis; and that when he quitted it again he sailed for seventeen days and nights with a fair wind, having the Great Bear on his left hand (i.e. in an easterly direction), until he came in sight of the land of the Phaeacians. (Hom. Odyss. 1.50, 85, 5.55,268--280, 12.448.) It is hardly necessary to observe that the Homeric geography in regard to all these distant lands must be considered as altogether fabulous, and that it is impossible to attach any value to the distances above given. We are wholly at a loss to account for the localities assigned by the Greeks in later days to the scenes of the Odyssey: it is certain that nothing can less accord with the data (such as they are) supplied by Homer than the identifications they adopted. Thus the island of Calypso was by many fixed on the coast of Bruttium, near the Lacinian promontory, where there is nothing but a mere rock of very small size, and close to the shore. (Plin. Nat. 3.10. s. 15; Swinburne's Travels, vol. i. p. 225.) Others, again, placed the abode of the goddess in the island of Gaulos (or Gozo), an opinion apparently first advanced by Callimachus (Strab. i. p.44, vii. p. 299), and which has at least some semblance of probability. But the identification of Phaeacia with Corcyra, though more generally adopted in antiquity, has really no more foundation than that of Ogygia with Gaulos: so that the only thing approaching to a geographical statement fails on examination. It is indeed only the natural desire to give to the creations of poetic fancy a local habitation and tangible reality, that could ever have led to the associating the scenes in the Odyssey with particular spots in Sicily and Italy; and the view of Eratosthenes, that the geography of the voyage of Ulysses was wholly the creation of the poet's fancy, is certainly the only one tenable. At the same time it cannot be denied that some of the fables there related were founded on vague rumours brought by voyagers, probably Phoenicians, from these distant lands. Thus the account of Scylla and Charybdis, however exaggerated, was doubtless based on truth. But the very character of these marvels of the far west, and the tales concerning them, in itself excludes the idea that there was any accurate geographical knowledge of them. The ancients themselves were at variance as to whether the wanderings of Ulysses took place within the limits of the Mediterranean, or were extended to the ocean beyond. (Strab. i. pp. 22--26.) The fact, in all probability, is that Homer had no conception of the distinction between the two. It is at least very doubtful whether he was acquainted even with the existence of Italy; and the whole expanse of the sea beyond it was undoubtedly to him a region of mystery and fable.

The various opinions put forth by ancient and modern writers concerning the Homeric geography are well reviewed by Ukert (Geographie der Griechen u. Römer, vol. i. part ii. pp. 310--319); and the inferences that may really be drawn from the language of the poet himself are clearly stated by him. (Ib. part i. pp. 19--31.)

[E.H.B]

hide References (2 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (2):
    • Homer, Odyssey, 1.50
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 3.10
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