The Atlantic Stage Hypothesis

Introduction and problem statement

Around 1880 Mr Theophile Cailleux wrote a  number of books about his idea that the Iliad and Odyssey as written/composed by Homeros, had actually been enacted in the Atlantic zone of Europe, instead of the classic idea that these epic stories took place in the Mediterranean. Not all of his books were available at the time this report was written, but enough information was obtained to become more interested. Mr Cailleux published his ideas some decade after Mr Schliemann told the world that he had found Troy at the west coast of Turkey, while  substantiating his find with the gold treasures he had dug up there. Most archaeologists now believe that Schliemann’s claim is true, and this fits the  traditional setting since the Roman Empire, but the case is not yet fully cleared. A more recent author, Mr. Gideon, took up this idea of Cailleux in a book, Homerus, zanger der Kelten (1973), going into more detail. This book aroused in me the desire to visit the locations described, to see for myself. Finally, a publication from Mr Wilkins became available to me, the 2005 version of Where Troy once stood. Information from above indicated books is used in this report, but not taken for granted.

One of the problems with the classic idea is, and always has been, that the scenery quite often does not fit the locations in the Aegean Sea or at its coast, or even the Mediterranean Sea.  Already in antiquity several authors doubted the general assumptions about locations of the events in the epics of Homeros. Others however did call Homeros simply a liar or a person with little knowledge of geography. Yet the great geographer Strabo considered Scheria to lie in the Atlantic Ocean. Today many, or even most, people assume Homeros was a fanciful poet.

The more you study the classic traditional sites, the more they in many cases become absurd, lacking much credibility when details are studied. A famous study is that of Mr. Bérard (1928) who reconstructed the travels of Odysseus to fit them in the Mediterranean Sea. He finds many inconsistencies, but still accepts the tradition, and seems to cling to it, using the few aspects that indeed seem correct. Butler (1900) discusses the many odd cases he finds about the locations, and seems to make the best of it by stressing the few aspects that indeed are fitting.  A possible explanation for this lack of consistency with what Homeros describes may be that the classic traditional sites may have been made up in Antiquity after the data given by Homeros. The Greeks saw Homeros’ epics as basic for their culture, as some sort of Bible.

On the other hand, the ideas of Cailleux become more interesting the more one goes into detail. Most convincing arguments are found in the descriptions of the sea and of rivers, because generally what Homeros says about rivers as well as of the sea, fits better in the Atlantic conditions than it does in the Mediterranean. I would call that “the Atlantic Stage”, my name for a hypothesis of Cailleux indeed.

One way to see if Cailleux was right is to analyze the verses of Homeros not only philologically, but also to inspect the topographical features we find in the texts. These do often not change so much as to become unrecognizable, as in the case of e.g. springs, characteristics of capes, rocks, mountains, islands, landing beaches and harbours, caves and strong and durable human constructions such as earthworks and megalithic vaults. Distances walked and travelled by ship or by horse cart can be characteristic in combination with other topographical and geographical data given. Google Earth and easy travel by plane make fruitful visits to the supposed sites well possible nowadays, to find ground truth, more so than at the time of Cailleux. Traditional translations sometimes have to be corrected, always staying within the limits of the meaning of the word. Mehler (1908) often gives various interpretations and makes clear that the most used translation is possibly not the best. And also it is known that many “corrections” have been applied to Homeros’ verses already in Antiquity.

This is not the first time that such a study is entered. Many people have already sought for Troy and Ithaka, and mostly they found considerable gaps between the descriptions of Homeros and the reality as found in the field. A  detailed study of Ithaka is in the book of Goekoop (1990), but he only considers the possible locations in Greece.  About Troy in Turkey a recent study is in Latacz (2010).

A few arguments in favour of the Atlantic Stage: the sea

Examples of  descriptions pointing to the “Atlantic stage”may be found in verses where the sea is the subject. The usual epitheton (adjective) of the sea is “polios”, the gray one, which seems more fitting to the Atlantic than to the Mediterranean, which is usually more felt to be blue. The epitheton “oinops”, winecoloured, has astonished many people, but they then forget that there exists also “white” wine, which with its greenish colour does fit very well to the colour of the ocean water near Cadiz, as I remarked while dining there at the sea side. And wine, also red wine was watered in a special mixing bowl (preferably a silver one) before serving it out. Try and look.

Homeros’ polios clearly is a sea with tidal action, e.g. where Amfitrite, a sea goddess, is said to sigh (στενω)  heavily (usually translated as moaning, XII 97). Amfitrite is very large, feeding myriads of creatures, and as such sighs (or snores) very slowly, thus once in six hours would be fitting to her. I give some more examples below, and the reader might find himself other ones. Also Gideon and Wilkins give various, of which some are recalled below.

In the Iliad (XVII 263) a tidal wave is used as a metaphor for two armies clashing. Such tidal waves, resulting from the meeting of the river stream with the upcoming tide, are not found in the Mediterranean Sea.   These tidal waves are active in creating estuaries. Not to be confused with a tsunami.

During the visit of Odysseus at the Phaeacians the king Alkinoos orders to draw a good (and even new) ship into the sea, to prepare for the departure of Odysseus (Odyssey VIII 34). I interprete this (as my own find) being easier when tide is high (to pass the narrow and shallow entrance of the harbour) in anticipation of the right time to depart, when tide might be low. Without any tides there is no need to do this, as sliding the ship down to the sea from a sandy beach can be done anytime. But see also below.

One example mentioned by Gideon for tidal action is dubious, viz. the need for digging out of channels to launch the ships (Iliad, II 153) which channels had been filled up by the sea. Just waves can do this filling. And the light ships could be hauled to the water simply with manpower.

Another case is Charybdis, the monster that sucks in so much seawater, and then brings it up again, three times a day. This is not the regular rhythm of the Atlantic tide, but at the Southern coast of England where Cailleux places Scylla and Charybdis, the rhythm is disturbed by the currents, and three times a day is at quite some places observed. Levels of tide are high here,  about 4 metres or more. This cliff coast is indeed quite exposed to the ocean, with treacherous rocks, and thus dangerous for unexperienced skippers, and may have changed by erosion locally, as it is calcareous. The Loo bar near Helstone (Hellys in Cornish) might be inspected to find evidence. A considerable volume of sea water should have to be accomodated in the reservoir behind the opening of Charybdis.

A find made by myself is the interpretation of the scene with the nymph Leucothea giving her veil to Odysseus (V 333 etc). She pops up from the raging sea as a diver (Gavia sp.) and jumps on his wrecked raft. Why was this bird around? I think there was a floating field of seaweed, maybe kelp, loosened from its “roots’, or the free-floating Sargassum spp. and the bird was hunting in it, quite unhindered by the raging waves, as it is perfectly adapted. Maybe the bird made some noises, and Odysseus suddenly saw the bladders (pneumatocysts) of the seaweed and realised that a string of it could be used as life jacket.  That is what I would call inspiration.

Leucothea's veil

Fig. 1. The seaweed Sargassum forms long streamers in the Atlantic ocean.

Highly important in supporting the idea of Cailleux is the name Homeros gives to the greatest of seas, the ocean. In the interpretation of the Greeks, who in their heyday seldom did venture out of the Mediterranean,  Okeanos was a mythic stream around the world, linked to the realm of the dead. Actually still the Atlantic is called Ocean after Okeanos. And its currents, widely mentioned by Homeros already, are famous, the more so actually because of the heat transport by the Gulf Stream influencing the climate in Western Europe. See the map of currents in Fig. 1 of the Scheria page.  The far West is by Homeros often regarded as the place of the dead,  of sunset, the dark region (zophos,  ζοφος  IX 26).

Transposal of names as an explanation

Part of the Atlantic Stage hypothesis is that the Greek names now known to us to indicate locations in the Mediterranean have been transposed by the invaders, from their hometowns in the Atlantic zone to the Greek locations where they settled. They brought the stories with them, as bardic poetry, not necessarily in Greek language already, which hundreds of years later were recorded in the ancient Greek language by Homeros and thus saved for us.  It has to be noted that Homeros does not mention Greeks as a tribe or people in his epics, he speaks of Achaioi, or Danaoi to indicate the assembled troops around Troy. The invaders gave their own names to places in their new country. This idea of Cailleux was greatly elaborated by Wilkins, an interesting study. These authors however are not easily followed in all their assertions, while they often do not underpin suggestions with topographical research. As for the case of Ithaka, hometown of Odysseus, several Ithakas exist. All citizens of the USA know there is such a town named Ithaca  in the state of New York.  And more so: New York city which was in the beginning called (New) Amsterdam, while York still is in the UK, but is a town established by Vikings, bringing the name Jorvik with them. Such are the ways of mankind.

This study is not meant to detract from the splendor of the classic Greek civilization which through the Roman Empire and through  Muslim concern came to Europe and did form a large part of the base of our actual European culture. It only wants to clear up a bit the darkness of  the chaotic times at the end of  the  Bronze Age that invaders came to what is now Greece and laid the base for later developments.

To make a start with the testing of the hypothesis I have decided to take the Scheria case as first subject. Homeros gives many descriptions of the island which make it possible to recognize it. The Canaries, where Scheria is located by Gideon and Wilkins, lie somewhat below Casablanca on this map,  washed by the Canarian current. The Azores are located near the  C of  “Canarische stroom” on the map.

December 2015, revised February 2016