Voyages from I to Thou.

Location: Skellig Michel, Ireland

Monday, November 22, 2004

The Far Shores

A Greek named Pytheas, a resident of Massila (now Marseille) voyaged north in the 4th century BC through the Pillars of Hercules, scouting the sources of tin associated with the British Isles and amber known to come from the Baltic region. Following well-defined atlantic coasting routes used for thousands of years by the Neolithic peoples who settled along the shores and on the islands of the Atlantic littoral, Pytheus provided a remarkably accurate account of the coasts of France of Britain, including the Orkney and Shetland Isles. He may have sailed as far as Iceland, to which he gave the name Ultima Thule, the “furthest island,” but his books of travels, On The Ocean,, was subsequently lost and no one was able to confirm its existence.

The image of Ultima Thule never faded and became even more powerful in the absence of further exploration ((by the Romans)). “Like all good romantic images, it hovered on the boundaries of the unreal, creating a frisson of excitement of unresolved adventure,” writes historian Barry Cunliffe. It established a connection between islands and the unknown that would remain at the core of Western islomania for centuries to come. The association of islands with the mysterious became so strong that any unexplored place, whether or not it was surrounded by water, was assumed to be an island.

-- John Gillis, Islands of the Mind: How the Human Imagination Created The Atlantic World, 22


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