show that ships like Odysseus' doing 4 knots on average on a long distance
in a north-east wind are able to cover more than hundreds miles a day. From
a point located near Cythera such ships therefore can reach land on the
long strip of coast extending between present-day Lybia and Tunisia, more
or less west depending on whether the winds are more in the north or in
the east. The Nautical Instructions indicate that this coast stretches over
nearly one thousand miles. Nowhere else in the world, according to hydrographic
engineers, one can find such a stretch of coast without any remarkable points
or unevenness of the ground that could serve as landmarks to navigators.
Apart from the surroundings of Tripoli that are fertile and cultivated,
the major part of this territory is nothing but a vast unproductive desert
: the west coast is low everywhere, except for some hilly parts. From the
Odyssey itself, no information can be drawn that would enabble us to locate
the place where the epic hero landed.
cultural heirs of the Lotus-Eaters on the Tunisian shores : today
Homer's text, in reality, sets in action a geographic imagination that mobilizes
for these New World's seas a fragmentary empirical knowledge, piloting instructions,
travel stories, mythological fictions that indicate the ports of call of
a real southern sea route going from Cythera to Creta up to Lybia, Tunisia
and Sicily. Seamen who listen to rhapsodes singing the poem learn through
fiction what may happen to them if they sail off on these remote seas toward
the Setting Sun far beyond the Nile's mouth. Either princes or pirates these
seafarers learn from the poem that Odysseus and his companions no longer
behave like warriors, like with the Kikones, as soon as they have come ashore
in an unnamed western country. These heroes know nothing about the places
where they are and the beings who haunt them. And now these warriors so
greedy for booty, models of feats, behave quite differently : like discoverers.
And the Rhapsode's audience learns that on this Syrtian shore, as it will
be called so later, peace-loving populations live without political organization
and resources on a plant with dangerously emollient and even narcotic properties.
There is nothing to plunder there, nothing to exchange, no gold no ivory,
no ore, no precious wood. Under these conditions there is no reason for
ships on expedition to stop there, except for stocking up with fresh water.
It is better to follow Odysseus' example who get his scouts and herald to
re-embark without delay.