Tuesday, January 8, 2013


Felice Vinci argues that Homer's epic tales originated not in the Mediterranean but in northern Europe's Baltic Sea during the Holocene climatic optimum when it was warmer in the Arctic than today.  With the help of Wikipedia and the works of other scholars, mainly Martin Nilsson, I will demonstrate that this idea is wrong.

(All page references to Vinci's work are to the english paperback edition.)

Origin of Indo-Europeans:

On page 295 Vinci claims that the homeland of the Indo-Europeans lay in the "northernmost part of Scandinavia, the sort of "hat" atop the European continent that faces the Arctic Ocean and stretches from Lapland to the Versteralen  Islands and the Kola peninsula".  This deviates from conventional wisdom which places the homeland in the Pontic steppes.  The following recent study effectively disproves Vinci's claim:

There are two competing hypotheses for the origin of the Indo-European language family. The conventional view places the homeland in the Pontic steppes about 6000 years ago. An alternative hypothesis claims that the languages spread from Anatolia with the expansion of farming 8000 to 9500 years ago. We used Bayesian phylogeographic approaches, together with basic vocabulary data from 103 ancient and contemporary Indo-European languages, to explicitly model the expansion of the family and test these hypotheses. We found decisive support for an Anatolian origin over a steppe origin. Both the inferred timing and root location of the Indo-European language trees fit with an agricultural expansion from Anatolia beginning 8000 to 9500 years ago. These results highlight the critical role that phylogeographic inference can play in resolving debates about human prehistory.1

Without an Indo-European homeland in the arctic, support for the idea that Indo-European myth, including Greek myth, migrated from there southward is greatly weakened.  The following study shows that the first farmers migrated from Anatolia into Europe, taking their genes as well as the Indo-European family of languages northward: 

The transition from a hunter–gatherer existence to a sedentary farming-based lifestyle has had key consequences for human groups around the world and has profoundly shaped human societies. Originating in the Near East around 11,000 y ago, an agricultural lifestyle subsequently spread across Europe during the New Stone Age (Neolithic). Whether it was mediated by incoming farmers or driven by the transmission of innovative ideas and techniques remains a subject of continuing debate in archaeology, anthropology, and human population genetics. Ancient DNA from the earliest farmers can provide a direct view of the genetic diversity of these populations in the earliest Neolithic. Here, we compare Neolithic haplogroups and their diversity to a large database of extant European and Eurasian populations. We identified Neolithic haplotypes that left clear traces in modern populations, and the data suggest a route for the migrating farmers that extends from the Near East and Anatolia into Central Europe. When compared to indigenous hunter–gatherer populations, the unique and characteristic genetic signature of the early farmers suggests a significant demographic input from the Near East during the onset of farming in Europe.2

Notice that the modern populations in the northernmost part of Scandinavia (orange) are the most genetically distant from the first neolithic farmers that migrated out of Anatolia.  This flatly contradicts the notion that first Indo-European farmers migrated southward, carrying their myths with them.  Both the Indo-European language and farming originated in Anatolia, not in the Arctic.

Nordic Bronze Age:

 The Nordic bronze age did not begin until ca 1700 B.C.E.  Vinci fails to mention this in his book.  This fact alone deals a deathblow to his theory that Homer's epic poems were composed in the Baltic.  There is simply no time for them to be created before the Mycenaean civilization comes into being in Greece.  Additionally, Finland didn't even start its bronze age till after 1500 B.C.  The coastal regions of Finland were a part of the Nordic Bronze Culture, whereas in the inland regions the influences came from the bronze-using cultures of Northern and Eastern Russia.  See wikipedia for more details: Nordic Bronze Age.

On page 123 Vinci compares the ships described by Homer to Viking ships.  However, he fails to mention that no Viking sailing ships have been discovered from before Roman times.  One of the earliest ships discovered is the Hjortsprings boat as described in wikipedia:  The Hjortspring boat is a vessel designed as a large canoe, from the Scandinavian Pre-Roman Iron Age, that was (outer length), 13 m long inside and 2 m wide with space for a crew of 22–23 men who propelled the boat with paddles: it was built around 400-300 BC.  The boat is the oldest find of a wooden plank ship in Scandinavia and its closest parallels are the thousands of petroglyph images of Nordic Bronze Age ships. When found, it contained a great quantity of weapons and armour, including 131 shields of the Celtic type, 33 beautifully crafted shieldbosses, 138 spearheads of iron, 10 iron swords, and the remains of a mailcoat. Thus, its sinking has been interpreted as a deliberate war sacrifice.  The strange design of the stern and bow has not yet been explained. The parts sticking out connected with a vertical stick do not seem to have had any function for the canoe's basic stability. The rugged end pieces in the stern and bow were enough to attach the planks to form the shape of a canoe. 

There were no sails even on a boat of this late date.  It's highly unlikely that the use of sails would be totally abandoned after being used.  Additionally, no rock carvings from the Scandinavian bronze age show any sails.

Origin of the Greeks:

From wikipedia: Greeks

The Proto-Greeks probably arrived at the area now called Greece, in the southern tip of the Balkan peninsula, at the end of the 3rd millennium BC,[49][50][a], though a later migration by sea from eastern Anatolia, modern Armenia, has also been suggested.[51] The sequence of migrations into the Greek mainland during the 2nd millennium BC has to be reconstructed on the basis of the ancient Greek dialects, as they presented themselves centuries later and is subject to some uncertainties. There were at least two migrations, the first of the Ionians and Aeolians which resulted in Mycenaean Greece by the 16th century BC,[39][52] and the second, the Dorian invasion, around the 11th century BC, displacing the Arcadocypriot dialects which descended from the Mycenaean period. Both migrations occur at incisive periods, the Mycenaean at the transition to the Late Bronze Age and the Doric at the Bronze Age collapse.

There were some suggestions of three waves of migration indicating a Proto-Ionian one, either contemporary or even earlier than the Mycenaean. This possibility appears to have been first suggested by Ernst Curtius in the 1880s. In current scholarship, the standard assumption is to group the Ionic together with the Arcadocypriot group as the successors of a single Middle Bronze Age migration in dual opposition to the "western" group of Doric.

This time line leaves no time for Greek mythology, with all its cycles, to develop before its supposed move to the Mediterranean, since the Mycenaean civilization emerged (1600 - 1550 B.C.E. or so) not long after the Nordic bronze age (1700 B.C.E.) began.  However, there is evidence for a northern origin for the Mycenaeans:

In a chamber tomb at Dendra, a few miles east of modern day Argos, a hearth, a sacrificial table, and two stone slabs were found.  These slabs were rectangular with a projection of the same form on one side and covered with small, shallow cavities.  Their similarity with the menhirs, known from the bronze age a central Europe, is striking, and their identity with these sacred stones seems hardly possible to deny.  If this is so it is a striking corroboration of the northern origin of the Mycenaeans and part of their funeral customs.3

Amber is found frequently and in great quantities in many Mycenaean tombs of the mainland, e.g. in the earliest shaft-graves at Mycenae, in the bee-hive tombs at Kakovatos-Pylos, which belong to a transitional stage between Early and Middle Mycenaean periods, and in many other tombs; it is found in almost every new excavation of Mycenaean cemeteries.  The curious fact is, that it is especially found in earlier Mycenaean tombs, while it is scarce or altogether absent in later tombs.  The extreme scarceness of amber in Crete is in striking contrast to the abundant finds on the mainland. ....If the amber had been carried by the usual oversea trade and the peoples of the mainland and of Crete had been of the same stock, it is impossible to see why amber is limited to the mainland with few exceptions.  There is only one explanation of the difference, viz. that a people immigrating from the north brought the taste for and use of amber with it.  When the connections northwards gradually grew weaker amber grew scarce.  Thus it is explained that finds are more numerous in the early than in the late part of the Mycenaean Age.4

So while there is evidence that the ancestors of the Greeks came from the north this does not mean that they brought the Homeric poems with them.  They had not yet been created.

Pre-Greek Place Names:

One of the primary arguments Vinci uses to support his Baltic origin theory is finding place names in the Baltic region similar to place names in the Mediterranean region.  Vinci says on page 168 that "this widespread phenomenon of corresponding place-names supports the idea that a common cultural and ethnic substratum dating back to the Early Bronze Age links the whole of Europe from north to south."  He provides many examples that I won't repeat here. He also extends this technique to "geographic" pairings where places occupy similar geographic positions in the Baltic relative to their Mediterranean counterparts, such as Zealand in the Baltic and Peloponnese in the Mediterranean.    
Throughout Greece, the Aegean, and Turkey there are place names that have a non-Greek origin.  This fact deals a severe blow to Vinci's main technique of finding place-name counterparts in the Baltic.  Since they are of non-Greek origin they couldn't have been transferred from the Baltic region to the Mediterranean.  One might argue that the Greeks transferred non-Greek place names to the Mediterranean.  This idea is disproved by the following:

A number of Greek words show the same elements as those of the pre-Greek place names.  Among these are especially names of plants belonging to a southern climate, e.g. terebinthos, tamarisk, olynthos, unripe fig, hyakinthos, etc., and a few culture words, e.g. merinthos, thread, asaminthos, bathing tub.  It is evident that these words were borrowed by the Greeks from the indigenous population, for they come from places where these plants and things were unknown.5

Since many of the place-names have a similar form to names for Mediterranean plants and technology (like bath tubs), they could not have been transferred from the Baltic.  These place names also occur in parts of Turkey that were never settled by Greeks, proving that the names were not transferred by Greeks from the Baltic, but probably from Turkey to Greece.  See the following blog for more details:

Minoan Language Blog
Pre-Greek Map 1 with -nos/-na endings
Pre-Greek Map 2 with -nthos/-nda or -ndos/-nda endings
Pre-Greek Map 3 with -ssos/-ssa or -sos/-sa endings


Another tool of Vinci's is speculative etymology.  He attempts to derive the origin of names of peoples and places so that they are connected to the Baltic region.  One example is for Egypt.  On page 253 he cites chapter 17 of the Storia die Goti (History of the Goths) by Jordanes, a 6th century Roman bureaucrat, who turned his hand to history later in life:

The Gepids "lived on an island called Gepidos in the language of their fathers, surrounded by the Vistula's fords."

Vinci thus connects the name Egypt to the river Vistula on the southern shore of the Baltic by deriving it from the name of the Gepids.  Then he uses a combination of the place name and the geographic counterpart of the Nile, the Vistula River, to place Egypt in the Baltic.      

A more probable etymology is found on wikipedia:  Egypt

The English name Egypt is derived from the ancient Greek Aígyptos (Αἴγυπτος), via Middle French Egypte and Latin Aegyptus. It is reflected in early Greek Linear B tablets asa-ku-pi-ti-yo. The adjective aigýpti-, aigýptios was borrowed into Coptic as gyptios, , and from there into Arabic as qubṭī, back formed into قبة qubṭ, whence English Copt. The Greek forms were borrowed from Late Egyptian (Amarna) Hikuptah "Memphis", a corruption of the earlier Egyptian name Hwt-ka-Ptah (ḥwt-k-ptḥ), meaning "home of the ka (soul) of Ptah", the name of a temple to the god Ptah at Memphis.

Vinci's other speculative etymologies are probably equally suspect.  Though these place name similarities might appear convincing at first glance, further research shows them wanting.

Greek Myth and Mycenaean Archaeology:

The fact that mythological centers always coincide with centers of Mycenaean civilization proves that the cycles of heroic myths in their outlines go back to Mycenaean times.  The two exceptions were Midea and Gla, which were abandoned early and not inhabited in succeeding ages, so that they were forgotten.6  Pylos (Kakavatos and Pylos in western and southwestern Peloponnese), Mycenae, Thebes, Orchomenos, Iolcus, Tiryns, etc. all have substantial Mycenaean remains and feature strongly in Greek mythology.  Following are just two examples of many:


Archaeology corroborates the fact, the memory of which was kept by Homer, that the king of Mycenae was the suzerain. The prince of Tiryns was his vassal. So it is explained why Heracles is the servant of Eurystheus, the king of Mycenae; and the manner in which the demeanor of Eurystheus is described may be understood, his cowardice and his harsh commands and the almost impossible tasks which he imposes upon his vassal. For it is an ever recurring feature in all epics that the suzerain is described as an incapable and imperious coward in sharp contrast to the heroic strength of some vassal.  The seventh Labor, the capturing of the Cretan bull, is essentially similar to the first five, which are simple deeds of prowess against wild animals; the difference is only that this adventure is localized in a country farther off. I have already said that I cannot see the reason why the myth of the capture of a wild bull should have been transferred from Theseus to Heracles. The Cretan localization is very well understood as a reminiscence of the Cretan bull-ring, and consequently this Labor probably goes back to the Mycenaean and even to the Minoan age.  Mycenaean art corresponds so well to the exploits of Heracles that this coincidence strongly corroborates their Mycenaean origin.7

Bellerophon and the Lycians:

....the myth of Bellerophon, of which the Mycenaean date is attested by a Mycenaean work of art, is localized in Lycia. Here the observation comes into play that the middle part of the western coast of Asia Minor, Ionia, is almost devoid of Mycenaean remains.  This fact agrees with certain outstanding omissions in Homeric geography.  The islands situated in the neighborhood of Troy, Lesbos, Tenedos, Lemnos, and Samothrace, are mentioned, but not the rich Ionian islands, Chios and Samos. On the contrary the Dorian islands Cos and Rhodes are mentioned...

.... Rhodes, which, on the contrary, is full of Mycenaean tombs and finds.

If we consider things closely, it is not to be wondered at that a Mycenaean myth has its setting in Lycia. It is contended that the Bellerophon myth was introduced into Homer by the Ionians. It is, however, to be observed that there is a wide tract of land between Ionia and Lycia inhabited by Dorians and Carians, and the question is relevant, why have not the Ionians introduced their own myths? The answer is that they had none. Ionia is singularly devoid of myths except for foundation legends of the Ionian cities. Here is a remarkable fact which ought to be well observed and which requires an explanation.....it must be presumed that the Greeks during their voyages along the southern coast of Asia Minor had numerous opportunities of coming into conflict with the peoples who lived there, and these were the Lycians and the Cilicians.

The memory of these fights was preserved in the myths and in the epics. Hence the Lycians came to play a prominent part, and the adventures of Bellerophon were localized in Lycia. The woeful signs of the message which he carried from the king of Tiryns to the king of Lycia refer of course to the Minoan script which the Greeks took with them to Cyprus. The battles with the Lycians were celebrated in early epics and were from these introduced into the Trojan epos with that disregard for geography and chronology which is peculiar to epics, when events are incorporated into them. While the Lycians loomed largely in earlier recitals, they became the chief adversaries of the Greeks next to the Trojans themselves in the Trojan cycle.8

Thus there is a direct link between Mycenaean remains and Homeric Myth. See wikipedia for a host of other examples.

Hittite Records:

Ahhiyava is invoked in a ritual text from 1336 B.C.  This is almost certainly the empire of the Achaeans.  The information in the documents is in agreement with archaeological evidence in Asia Minor.  The king of Cyprus claims that the Lukki, i.e. the Lycians, had founded colonies on Cyprus.  Archaeology proves early connections between Cyprus and southern Asia Minor.  Alakshandush (i.e. Alexandros), King of Vilusha (Illion, Ialysos of Rhodes, or Elaioussa in Cilicia) in Arzawa? is mentioned.  Mythology must have moved the city to the northwestern part of Asia Minor if the identification is correct.  The Trojan expedition may have been featured in Homer because it was of a later date and better remembered than the earlier expeditions in southeast Asia Minor (myths staged in Lycia).  A country with the name Assuva (Asia) with a city called Taroisa and near it a district called Lazpa (Lesbos?  But no Mycenaean artifacts there.) seems to have been situated in northwestern Asia Minor.  However, the Achaeans had little interest in the northern region since it was poorer with fewer cities to plunder.9

From wikipedia: Trojan War

In the twentieth century scholars have attempted to draw conclusions based on Hittite and Egyptian texts that date to the time of the Trojan War. While they give a general description of the political situation in the region at the time, their information on whether this particular conflict took place is limited. Andrew Dalby notes that while the Trojan War most likely did take place in some form and is therefore grounded in history, its true nature is and will be unknown.[217] Hittite archives, like the Tawagalawa letter mention of a kingdom of Ahhiyawa (Achaea, or Greece) that lies beyond the sea (that would be the Aegean) and controls Milliwanda, which is identified with Miletus. Also mentioned in this and other letters is the Assuwa confederation made of 22 cities and countries which included the city of Wilusa (Ilios or Ilium). The Milawata letter implies this city lies on the north of the Assuwa confederation, beyond the Seha river. While the identification of Wilusa with Ilium (that is, Troy) is always controversial, in the 1990s it gained majority acceptance. In the Alaksandu treaty (ca. 1280 BC) the king of the city is named Alakasandu, and Paris's name in the Iliad (among other works) is Alexander. The Tawagalawa letter (dated ca. 1250 BC) which is addressed to the king of Ahhiyawa actually says:
Now as we have come to an agreement on Wilusa over which we went to war...
Formerly under the Hittites, the Assuwa confederation defected after the battle of Kadesh between Egypt and the Hittites (ca. 1274 BC). In 1230 BC Hittite king Tudhaliya IV (ca. 1240–1210 BC) campaigned against this federation. Under Arnuwanda III (ca. 1210–1205 BC) the Hittites were forced to abandon the lands they controlled in the coast of the Aegean. It is possible that the Trojan War was a conflict between the king of Ahhiyawa and the Assuwa confederation. This view has been supported in that the entire war includes the landing in Mysia (and Telephus' wounding), Achilles's campaigns in the North Aegean and Telamonian Ajax's campaigns in Thrace and Phrygia. Most of these regions were part of Assuwa.[70][218] It has also been noted that there is great similarity between the names of the Sea Peoples, which at that time were raiding Egypt, as they are listed by Ramesses III and Merneptah, and of the allies of the Trojans.[219]

From wikipedia: Iliad

The first person to point to the Hittite texts as a possible primary source was the Swiss scholar Emil Forrer in the 1920s and 1930s. In discussing an ethnic group called the Ahhiyawa in these texts, Forrer drew attention to the place names "Wilusa" and "Taruisa", which he argued were the Hittite way of writing "(W)ilios" (Ilios) and "Troia" (Troy). He also noted the mention of a Wilusan king Alaksandu, who had concluded a treaty with the Hittite king Muwatalli; the name of this king closely resembled Alexandros/Alexander, the alternative name of Paris, the son of king Priam. Other identifications Forrer offered included Priam with Piyama-Radu, and Eteocles, king ofOrchomenos[disambiguation needed], with one Tawagalawa. However despite his arguments, many scholars dismissed Forrer's identification of Wilusa-(W)ilios/Troia-Taruisa as either improbable or at least unprovable, since until recently the known Hittite texts provided no clear indication where the kingdom of Wilusa was located beyond somewhere in Western Anatolia.[18]

General scholarly opinion about this identification changed with the discovery of a text join to the Manapa-Tarhunda letter, which located Wilusa beyond the Seha River near the Lazpa land. Modern scholars identify the Seha with the Classical Caicus River, which is the modern Bakırçay, and the Lazpa land is the more familiar isle of Lesbos. As Trevor Bryce observes, "This must considerably strengthen the possibility that the two were directly related, if not identical."[19]

Despite this evidence, the surviving Hittite texts do not provide an independent account of the Trojan War. The Manapa-Tarhunda letter is about a member of the Hittite ruling family, Piyama-Radu, who gained control of the kingdom of Wilusa, and whose only serious opposition came from the author of this letter, Manapa-Tarhunda. King Muwatalli of the Hittites was the opponent of this king of Troy, and the result of Muwatalli's campaign is not recorded in the surviving texts.[20] The Ahhiyawa, generally identified with the Achaean Greeks,[21] are mentioned in the Tawagalawa letter as the neighbors of the kingdom of Wilusa, and who provided a refuge for the troublesome renegade Piyama-Radu.[22]

This evidence proves beyond a reasonable doubt that the war(s?) that inspired the Illiad occurred on the shores of the Aegean, not the shores of the Baltic.

Homeric Geography:

Mixing of Old and New Myths:

Greek epic poetry can be compared to a dough which was constantly rekneaded and rehandled and of which new forms were continually being fashioned.  In kneading the dough new and contemporary elements were added to the old ones.  This explain why very early elements were embedded in very late chants.  A passage reflecting Mycenaean conditions or describing Mycenaean objects does not prove that its surroundings are old, nor is an admitted late date of a certain part of the Homeric poems any argument against the assumption that a passage found in it may refer to earlier and even to Mycenaean conditions if for other reasons that is likely.10

This explains how geographical references can get all mixed together.  When old elements are added to new elements, geographical accuracy is often ignored.  Take the example of Chios and Samos cited above.  In the Illiad 14 v. 250-25611 Sleep describes how Hera raised a storm that blew Herakles from Troy to Kos after Herakles sacked it in an earlier assault on the city.  On page 223 Vinci says that the islands of Samos, Chios, etc. would have been in the way, thus supporting the Batlic location of the Trojan War.  But as Nilsson said, these Ionian islands were never settled by the Mycenaeans and thus were never part of the old myths.  When the old myths about the Lycians were incorporated into the Trojan cycle, the Ionian islands simply didn't exist in the mythological geography.

Thematic Geography:

In addition to geographic omissions is the importance of thematic geography.  Take Ithaca for example:

Ithaca is not in fact farthest west nor do the other three islands, as he says, lie apart toward the dawn and the sun.  As here described, it lies farthest toward Odysseus' journeys; the poet not perceive Ithaca geographically but thematically.12

 A mixing of real and thematic geography accounts for many of the inconsistencies in direction and distance.   

The ancient Greeks envisioned the world as a flat disk surrounded by the river ocean.  On page 69 Vinci identifies the deep-streamed ocean specifically with the Gulf Stream which moves from southwest to northeast in the Norwegian Sea.  The northernmost branch turns eastward after following the Norwegian coast and ends up in the Arctic Ocean.  That would explain why the ocean is thought of as a river, but Homer doesn't refer to the ocean in this limited sense:    

Il. book 3, v.1:
Now when they were marshalled, the several companies with their captains, the Trojans came on with clamour and with a cry like birds, even as the clamour of cranes ariseth before the face of heaven, when they flee from wintry storms and measureless rain, [5] and with clamour fly toward the streams of Ocean, bearing slaughter and death to Pigmy men, and in the early dawn they offer evil battle.

The streams of ocean are described as being in the south here.  There were evidently reports of pygmies in central Africa.  This verse shows how sketchy their grasp of real geography and reality was, with the invading birds attacking small men in the south, if this was actually believed.      

Translation: Samuel Henry Butcher (1850-1910) and Andrew Lang (1844-1912) Book 23:
The night she held long in the utmost West, and on the other side she stayed the golden-throned Dawn by the stream Oceanus, and suffered her not to harness the swift-footed steeds that bear light to men, Lampus and Phaethon, the steeds ever young, that bring the morning.

And here the ocean is in the east.  It seems clear that ocean was all around the world and not just limited to the Gulf Stream.

Two peoples are mentioned by Homer, the Ethiopians and Cimmerians, as being at the ends of the earth or near ocean's end or limit:      


Od 1.24 A.T. Murray
The Ethiopians who dwell sundered in twain, the farthermost of men, some where Hyperion sets and some where he rises.

Od. 5.284-289 A.T. Murray
But the glorious Earth-shaker, as he came back from the Ethiopians, beheld him from afar, from the mountains of the Solymi: for Odysseus was seen of him sailing over the sea; and he waxed the more wroth in spirit, [285] and shook his head, and thus he spoke to his own heart: “Out on it! Surely the gods have changed their purpose regarding Odysseus, while I was among the Ethiopians. And lo, he is near to the land of the Phaeacians, where it is his fate to escape from the great bonds of the woe which has come upon him.

ll 23.200-205 A.T. Murray
They in the house of the fierce-blowing West Wind were feasting all together at the banquet and Iris halted from her running on the threshold of stone. Soon as their eyes beheld her, they all sprang up and called her each one to himself. But she refused to sit, and spake saying: I may not sit, for I must go back unto the streams of Oceanus, unto the land of the Ethiopians, where they are sacrificing hecatombs to the immortals, that I too may share in the sacred feast.

On page 279-281 he places the Ethiopians on a polygon-shaped Nordkyn peninsula at the extreme north of Norway.  Vinci imagines that the two peoples were divided in two by the narrow isthmus, so that those living to the east of the isthmus would be of the rising sun, and those west of the isthmus of the setting sun.  Vinci's speculations are once again incorrect.

The Ethiopians were conceived to be all the people in the far south, not the north.  This supposition is supported by the meaning of their name:

late 14c., from L. Æthiops "Ethiopian, negro," from Gk. Aithiops, perhaps from aithein "to burn" + ops "face" (cf. aithops "fiery-looking," later "sunburned").

Who the Homeric Æthiopians were is a matter of doubt. The poet elsewhere speaks of two divisions of them, one dwelling near the rising, the other near the setting of the sun, both having imbrowned visages from their proximity to that luminary, and both leading a blissful existence, because living amid a flood of light; and, as a natural concomitant of a blissful existence, blameless, and pure, and free from every kind of moral defilement. [Charles Anthon, note to "The First Six Books of Homer's Iliad," 1878]

Also the fact that Poseidon returns from Ethiopia over the Solymi Mountains, which were actually in southwestern Anatolia as suggested by Strabo, supports the southern position of the Ethiopians:       

On his way from the Ethiopians he espied Odysseus from afar, from the mountains of the Solymi" — which is equivalent to saying "from the regions of the south"; for he does not mean the Solymi in Pisidia, but, as I said before, he invents a people of the same name whom he depicts as occupying the same position relatively to the sailor on his raft and the people to the south of him (who would be the Ethiopians) as the Pisidians occupy relatively to the Pontus and to the Ethiopians that lie beyond Egypt.13

If I understand Strabo here the fact that the Solymi Mountains were to the south of the Pontus, a sea that Homer was familiar with, was good enough to stand for the southward direction but not as far south as the Ethiopians.  The geographic knowledge of the time was so poor that they called all people from a certain direction just one name.  So those to the middle-south would be Solymi.    

Strabo's explanation of the Ethiopians sundered in two is more convincing than Vinci's narrow isthmus in the Arctic:

Now what I contend in the case of the Ethiopians that are "sundered in twain" is similar to this, namely, that we must interpret "Ethiopians" as meaning that the Ethiopians extend along the whole sea-board of Oceanus from the rising to the setting sun. For the Ethiopians that are spoken of in this sense are "sundered in twain" naturally by the Arabian Gulf (and this would constitute a considerable part of a meridian circle) as by a river, being in length almost fifteen thousand stadia, and in width not much more than one thousand stadia, I mean at its greatest width; and to the length we must add the distance by which the head of this gulf is separated from the sea at Pelusium, a journey of three or four days — the space occupied by the isthmus. Now, just as the abler of the geographers who separate Asia from Libya regard this gulf as a more natural boundary-line between the two continents than the Nile (for he says the gulf lacks but very little of stretching from sea to sea, whereas the Nile is separated from Oceanus by many times that distance, so that it does not separate Asia as a whole from Libya), in the same way I also assume that the poet considered that the southern regions as a whole throughout the inhabited world were "sundered in twain" by this gulf. How, then, can the poet have been ignorant of the isthmus which the gulf forms with the Egyptian Sea?14

What Strabo calls the Egyptian Sea is actually the the Mediterranean Sea  and the Arabian Gulf is the Red Sea, which was believed to continue to the end of the world in the south, all the way to the circling ocean stream.  Homer's geographical understanding was probably even more rudimentary than Strabo's.  The important point is that the Red Sea was seen as what divided the Ethiopians, those of the rising hyperion in the Arabian peninsula and eastward and those of the setting hyperion being in Africa though they didn't fully understand the extent of either Asia or Africa.


Od 11: Samuel Henry Butcher (1850-1910) and Andrew Lang (1844-1912)
She came to the limits of the world, to the deep-flowing Oceanus. There is the land and the city of the Cimmerians, shrouded in mist and cloud, and never does the shining sun look down on them with his rays, neither when he climbs up the starry heavens, nor when again he turns earthward from the firmament, but deadly night is outspread over miserable mortals. Thither we came and ran the ship ashore and took out the sheep; but for our part we held on our way along the stream of Oceanus, till we came to the place which Circe had declared to us.

As a balance to the Ethiopians, the Cimmerians stood for those to the far north.  Just as the Ethiopians were blessed by the sun, the Cimmerians were wretched, suffering under a permanent deadly night.  On page 68-70 Vinci places the Cimmerians along the shores of the White Sea, an inlet of the Arctic Ocean.  Thus he places both the Ethiopians and Cimmerians in the far north, most improbable from the time's limited geographical understanding.  The poet would not have two peoples in the north.
G. L. Huxley sees the name Cimmerians as having displaced Cheimerions, inhabitants of the the town Cheimerion on the Thresportian river Acheron beside which Periander invoked the shade of his wife Melissa (Herod 5.9):

Pausanias (1.17.5) thinks the scene and rivers of Odyssey 11 were inspired by this dark valley.  Dodona, which the beggar says Odysseus visited to inquire about his return is not far beyond.  Tradition about these mysterious places might have included the folka and town of the Cheimerions on which the sun never looks.  The Cimmerian migration from the South Russia into Asia Minor in the early 7th century (Herod 1.15) would have prompted the substitution, and their native north would have been thought equally mist-covered.15

Arctic Summers?

Od.10.80-94 A.T. Murray:

So for six days we sailed, night and day alike, and on the seventh we came to the lofty citadel of Lamus, even to Telepylus of the Laestrygonians, where herdsman calls to herdsman as he drives in his flock, and the other answers as he drives his forth. There a man who never slept could have earned a double wage, [85] one by herding cattle, and one by pasturing white sheep; for the out goings of the night and of the day are close together. When we had come thither into the goodly harbor, about which on both sides a sheer cliff runs continuously, and projecting headlands opposite to one another [90] stretch out at the mouth, and the entrance is narrow, then all the rest steered their curved ships in, and the ships were moored within the hollow harbor close together; for therein no wave ever swelled, great or small, but all about was a bright calm. 

Od.10.190 A.T. Murray:

My friends, we know not where the darkness is or where the dawn, neither where the sun, who give light to mortals, goes beneath the earth, nor where he rises; but let us straightway take thought if any device be still left us. 

Od.12.1-9 A.T. Murray:

Now after our ship had left the stream of the river Oceanus and had come to the wave of the broad sea, and the Aeaean isle, where is the dwelling of early Dawn and her dancing-lawns, and the risings of the sun, [5] there on our coming we beached our ship on the sands, and ourselves went forth upon the shore of the sea, and there we fell asleep, and waited for the bright Dawn. “As soon as early Dawn appeared, the rosy-fingered, then I sent forth my comrades to the house of Circe...

Vinci's best argument for the northern origin of the Homeric tales is on page 59-60, namely that the outgoings of night and day being close together (in the first passage above) is a description of the short nights at the beginning and end of summer in the high latitudes.  The bay also resembles a fjord carved out by glaciers.  The next two passages refer to the island Aeae, Circe's island, which Vinci claims is in the high Arctic off the coast of Norway.  The dancing grounds thus refer to the revolving dawn where the sun, in late spring and early fall, peaks above the horizon for short periods before setting again.  East and west would thus not be connected with dawn or dusk and would cause the disorientation.

Robert Graves also places the land of the dead in the far north and explains the wandering and clashing rocks, recycled from the Argonauts, as ice burgs:

Telepylus, which means ‘the far-off gate [of Hell]’, lies in the extreme north of Europe, the Land of the Midnight Sun, where the incoming shepherd hails the outgoing shepherd. To this cold region, ‘at the back of the North Wind’, belong the Wandering, or Clashing, Rocks, namely ice-floes, and also the Cimmerians, whose darkness at noon complemented their midnight sun in June. It was perhaps at Telepylus that Heracles fought Hades; if so, the battle will have taken place during his visit to the Hyperboreans. The Laestrygones (‘of a very harsh race’) were perhaps Norwegian fjord—dwellers, whose barbarous behaviour the amber merchants were warned on their visits to Bornholm and the Southern Baltic coast.16
This reference has also been explained in purely mythical terms. It should be noted that Homer doesn't say the days were actually long but that only night and day were close together. In the Theogony (748 - 757), Day and Night meet where Atlas stands at the springs and limits of earth, Tartarus, sea, and sky.  "Drawing near, Night and Day address each other as they cross the great bronze threshold..."  Thus it is possible that the passages refer only to the region near the land of the dead where night and day converge. The explorer extaordinaire, Tim Severin, who retraced the voyages of Odysseus and Jason in a galley of bronze age design, has made the most enlightening observations:

What if the very early Greek concept of their habitable world ended at the western edge of Greece itself. How would that have affected the geography in the Odyssey? ...The Odyssey says next to nothing about the west...Even the provinces on the west coast of Greece seem poorly understood...If the western margin of Greece was the limit of common geographical knowledge when the earliest folklore was formed, we would expect to find there the bank of "River Ocean" and the Sun climbing into his golden cup...This would be entirely consistent with the view of someone standing at Taenarum on the extreme tip of mainland Greece and watching the sun dip into the sea in the unknown and mysterious west. In this context, Taenarum's cave entrance to hell made sense. It was positioned on the ground between the habitable land, the River of Ocean, and the gloomy Underworld. This would explain why here, in the Odyssey, "nightfall and morning tread so closely on each other's heels", because as the sun vanished so night emerged from the gloom underground.23

Thus the epics of Homer preserved the perspective of the very early Greeks, going back to times before the dawn of Mycenaean civilization itself, and overlaid it with later myths and perspectives. This illustrates how not only different myths were combined by Homer but also how the geographical understanding of different time periods were mixed together. Isn't it ironic that everyone's been looking in far distant and exotic lands for the ends of the earth and it was at the southern edge of Greece the whole time!

Dawn's dancing grounds might be a reference to the far eastern location of Circe's island.  Circe is a character recycled from the Argonauts after all, and that myth took place in the farthest east of the day, the east of the Black Sea. Wikipedia: The modern Greek scholar Ioannis Kakridis insists that any attempt at realistic identification is vain, arguing that Homer vaguely located Aeaea somewhere in the eastern part of his world, perhaps near Colchis, since Circe was the sister of Aeëtes, king of Colchis, and because the goddess Dawn had her palace there. Thus there is once again a mixing of geography from different epics with the usual disregard for consistency of distance and direction.

Finley thinks that it could be a combination of sailors' tales and mythic landscape:  “Reports of places might, like faded historical report, combine with story.  Herodotus describes ritual gifts that reached Delos from the far north (4.33-4.35)  Such contacts might help explain why at the Laestrygonian bay night and day do not alternate as with Hesiod and Parmenides, but day is long enough for a sleepless man to earn two wages.  Though Frame sees only echo of sacral journey to the end of the earth and to the dead, it might be overlaid with the report of Nordic summer..".17

So this is the best evidence of northern origin for parts of the Odyssey.  Vinci has taken these few passages and used them to support the notion that the nuclei of both epics were created entirely in the north, though he doesn't specify exactly what the respective nucleus of each epic is.  I believe that he's taken these possible references to the Nordic summer too far.  At most, these passages may be from exotic tales told by amber merchants who may have only heard them second hand from other traders in the chain of traders going up to the west of Jutland (the main source of amber in Homer's time) and beyond.  Even if these passages do describe Nordic summers it doesn't mean that Homer had to live in the Baltic. But most likely these passages were references to the land near the junction of Earth and the Underworld, at the edge of Greece itself, as Tim Severin suggests.      

Weather and Tides:

On page 9 Vinci claims that the climate described by Homer is actually that of the Baltic, not of the Mediterranean.  Wind, rain, cold temperatures, and even snow that falls at sea and on land are described.  This seems plausible.  Though Vinci claims that the Holocene climatic optimum enabled the Mycenaeans to originate in the north, it was still too cold to be mistaken for the Mediterranean.  However, it appears that the temperature in the northern hemisphere dropped by about 2 degrees Celsius at the end of the bronze age, including the Mediterranean.  The colder conditions continued until about 400 B.C.E., during Greek Dark Age and the time of Homer.18  This might account for the chillier weather and possible mention of ice burgs. The picture above of frozen Constanta, Bulgaria from the cold snap of 2012 gives you an idea of how cold it could have gotten. The clashing or wandering rocks taken from the Argonaut epic might not have referred to Arctic ice floes but rather to ice from rivers draining into the Pontus and then collecting at the Bosphorus:

We have said, instead of the received word, the Symplegades, or clashing rocks, "the icebergs of the Pontus." This is a matter of much literary and geological interest. It may be a record, or rather a dim tradition, of a remote pre-historic period, reaching back nearly to that "glacial" era, the existence of which appears to be now generally accepted as a scientific certainty.

Such a tradition, and one quite independent of this, is that the plains of Elis were once covered with deep snow. Another name for the Symplegades was Cyanece, " the dark blue" rocks; and the word is used as an epithet by Euripides.J There must have been some special reason for the use of this word, as well as for the tradition of moving and clashing rocks, which the mere effect of perspective will not sufficiently account for. Pindar says§ they rolled and plunged like living things, which is exactly what icebergs do; the reflection of the sun upon them also gives them a tint well described by Cyanece, "bluish ;" the tradition that they ceased to roll, and stood still after the Argo had passed them, is precisely what icebergs would do when stranded at the mouth of the Bosphorus, to which they had been carried by the current from the icebound coasts and rivers on the north of the Pontus.
19 The colder weather as described below could well have created the ice floes.  

From sciencedaily.com:
An abrupt cooling in Europe together with an increase in humidity and particularly in windiness coincided with a sustained reduction in solar activity 2800 years ago. Scientists from the German Research Centre for Geosciences GFZ in collaboration with Swedish and Dutch colleagues provide evidence for a direct solar-climate linkage on centennial timescales. Using the most modern methodological approach, they analysed sediments from Lake Meerfelder Maar, a maar lake in the Eifel/Germany, to determine annual variations in climate proxies and solar activity. The study published online this week in Nature Geoscience reports the climatic change that occurred at the beginning of the pre-Roman Iron Age and demonstrates that especially the so-called Grand Minima of solar activity can affect climate conditions in western Europe through changes in regional atmospheric circulation pattern. Around 2800 years ago, one of these Grand Solar Minima, the Homeric Minimum, caused a distinct climatic change in less than a decade in Western Europe. The exceptional seasonally laminated sediments from the studied maar lake allow a precise dating even of short-term climate changes. The results show for a 200 year long period strongly increased springtime winds during a period of cool and wet climate in Europe. In combination with model studies they suggest a mechanism that can explain the relation between a weak sun and climate change. "The change and strengthening of the tropospheric wind systems likely is related to stratospheric processes which in turn are affected by the ultraviolet radiation" explains Achim Brauer (GFZ), the initiator of the study. "This complex chain of processes thus acts as a positive feedback mechanism that could explain why assumingly too small variations in solar activity have caused regional climate changes."20 Thus another of Vinci's arguments for the Baltic location is undermined. The scientists even refer to this cold period as the Homeric minimum.

On page 8 Vinci also claims that the action in the epics took place during the warm sailing season.  Astronomical references in the Odyssey show this to be incorrect.  Odysseus' return from Ogygia happened in late winter and early spring, not the summer:

 Ti= the day of the New Moon when Odysseus kills the suitors

Because the passage is quite unambiguous (Odysseus watched the Pleiades, and Bootes that sets late, and the Bear that never sets) we shall take it to mean literally what it says. March sailing was supported in a lucid short paper by T. L. MacDonald21, who argued that for the passage to make sense, ‘‘the Pleiades might have helped [Odysseus] retain the direction of sunset as twilight faded and late- or slowly-setting Arcturus helped him to judge the opposite direction of sunrise while he kept the Bear on his left.’’ At nautical twilight, when the sun has sunk 12° below the horizon and stars useful for navigation become visible, the earliest in the year that Bootes would be visible (its apparent achronical rising) was 17 February, while the latest night that the Pleiades would be visible was 3 April. Hence, Ti -29 (29 days before the new moon) should be between 17 February and 4 April. In fact, as Odysseus navigates by these stars every night until sunk, the entire period of 17 days he sailed before being sunk should be contained in the interval 17 February to 4 April. One or at most two moons Ti each year satisfy this criterion, so we discard all others. Other indications in the Odyssey are consistent with the late winter–early spring timeline:  There are numerous references to the nights being long, fires, and coats throughout the poem, yet when Odysseus first meets Eumeus he claims to have hidden in a wood under ‘‘much-blossoming’’ forest-trees (xiv.353). At the opening of the poem, it is said that the year was drawing to a close, and Hesiod thought the year to end in the vernal equinox.22

On page 19 Vinci claims that when the river god stops his flow and draws Odysseus in to safety (Od.5.441-43) it is the turning of the tide that is being described. Vinci claims that tides are imperceptible in the Mediterranean, thus it must have happened in the North Atlantic. Though the tides are smaller than the Atlantic, along the coast of Italy and the Levant it can be up to about a foot, and in the Gulf of Gabes on the shores of Tunisia it can be up to 2 feet. Just outside the strait of Gibraltar it can be 3 feet or more, and of course the effect of the tides was extremely apparent in the straits of Messina and Euripus, with currents up to 7 mph and vortex formation when nearing flow reversal. These straits may have been the inspiration for Charybdis. Sailors' tales of these tides could easily have been used by Homer if in fact this passage does refer to the changing tide.


We have learned that the linguistic, genetic, archaeological, and mythological evidence supports a Mediterranean origin for Homer's epic tales. Vinci's argument is a tautology, in that his conclusions are merely a restatement of his premises. He finds correspondence between Mediterranean and Baltic geography and then overlays that with correspondence between Mediterranean and Baltic names, when in fact neither are supported by evidence, only coincidence. His theory is circular, referencing only itself.

Though Vinci presents his theory with imaginative flare it is undoubtedly wrong. I recommend the book only for its entertainment value, and that it might inspire others to think and dig deeper, to look beyond the power of appearance and coincidence. The human mind finds meaningful patterns where there are none and this book is a prime example. For a more convincing identification of locations in Homer's Odyssey, I can't recommend Tim Severin's Ulysees Voyage: Sea Search for the Odyssey enough.


1. R. Bouckaert, P. Lemey, M. Dunn, S. J. Greenhill, A. V. Alekseyenko, A. J. Drummond, R. D. Gray, M. A. Suchard, Q. D. Atkinson. Mapping the Origins and Expansion of the Indo-European Language Family. Science, 2012; 337 (6097): 957 DOI: 10.1126/science.1219669

2. Wolfgang Haak, Oleg Balanovsky, Juan J Sanchez, Sergey Koshel, Valery Zaporozhchenko, Christina J Adler, Clio S I Der Sarkissian, Guido Brandt, Carolin Schwarz, Nicole Nicklisch, Veit Dresely, Barbara Fritsch, Elena Balanovska, Richard Villems, Harald Meller, Kurt W Alt, Alan Cooper, the Genographic Consortium. Ancient DNA from European Early Neolithic Farmers Reveals Their Near Eastern Affinities. PLoS Biology, 2010; DOI: 10.1371/journal.pbio.1000536

3. M.P. Nilsson Homer and Mycenae pp.80-82, Methuen and Co., Ltd. 1933, First Pennslyvania Paperback edition 1972, ISBN: 0-8122-1033-6

4. Ibid p.76

5. Ibid p.65

6. Ibid p.248

7. M.P. Nilsson, The Mycenaean Origin of Greek Mythology, pp. 216-220, University of California Press: Berkeley, CA, Sather Classical Lectures Volume 8, 1932 copyright not renewed

8. Ibid pp. 57-62

9. M.P. Nilsson Homer and Mycenae p.105, Methuen and Co., Ltd. 1933, First Pennslyvania Paperback edition 1972, ISBN: 0-8122-1033-6

10. Ibid pp.212-213

11. The Illiad by Homer translated by Richmond Lattimore The Univesity of Chicago Press, Ltd., London, 1951 ISBN: 0-226-46940-9 (paperback)

12. J.H. Finley, Jr. Homer's Odyssey Harvard University Press, 1978 ISBN-10: 0674406141, ISBN-13: 978-0674406148

13. The Geography of Strabo translator Horace Leonard Jones Vol. I Book 1, Chapter 2, p. 127 The Loeb Classical Library edition, 1917

14. Ibid p.129

15. G. L. Huxley, Greek Epic Poetry, from Eumelus to Panyassis, London 1969; "Odysseus and the Thesprotian Oracle of the Dead,” La Paroloa del Passato 61 (1958) 245-248

16. Robert-Graves-The-Greek-Myths24grammata.com_.pdf p.417 1955, revised 1960

17. J.H. Finley, Jr. Homer's Odyssey p.73 Harvard University Press, 1978 ISBN-10: 0674406141, ISBN-13: 978-0674406148

18. Drake, B.L., The influence of climatic change on the LateBronze Age Collapse and the Greek Dark Ages, Journal of Archaeological Science (2012), doi:10.1016/j.jas.2012.01.029

19. Pre-Homeric Legends of the Voyage of the Argonauts F. A. Paley 1879

20. Celia Martin-Puertas, Katja Matthes, Achim Brauer, Raimund Muscheler, Felicitas Hansen, Christof Petrick, Ala Aldahan, Göran Possnert, Bas van Geel. Regional atmospheric circulation shifts induced by a grand solar minimum. Nature Geoscience, 2012; DOI: 10.1038/NGEO1460

21. TL MacDonald (1967) The season of the Odyssey, J Br Astron Assoc 77:324 –328.

22. Constantino Baikouzis and Marcelo O. Magnasco Is an eclipse described in the Odyssey? PNAS vol.105 No.26, 2008, pnas.0803317105

23. Tim Severin The Ulysses Voyage: Sea Search for the Odyssey pp. 127-128 Dutton Adult; 1st edition (September 9, 1987) ISBN-10: 0525246142 ISBN-13: 978-0525246145