Ogygia | Mythical Place

Ogygia Greek Mythology

Ogygia (Ancient Greek Ὠγυγίη / Ōgugíē or Ὠγυγία / Ōgugía) is the name of a mythical island where, according to Homer, Calypso lived, "in a great cave", and where Odysseus landed.

The island of Calypso

Located far out to sea, "at the end of the world", according to Homer, the island has lush vegetation and a wide variety of birds, while at the same time fragrances float in the perfumed air:

"One smelled from the farthest the sparkling cedar and the thuja, whose fumes embalmed the island. Around the cave, a wood had grown its vigorous forest: alders and poplars and fragrant cypresses where the birds with a wide wingspan, owls, sparrowhawks and shrill crows, which live in the sea and work in the open sea, were nesting.

At the edge of the vault, a vine in its strength spread its branches, all blooming with grapes, and close to each other, in line, four springs poured their clear wave, then their waters diverged through soft meadows where mallow and parsley were greening."

- (Odyssey, V, 59-73.)

The perfection of this island of delights is such that "from the first moment in these places, even a god would have had his eyes charmed and his soul ravished." On his arrival on this island, Hermes moreover does not escape this enchantment, he is seized with admiration and "remained to contemplate."

As the mistress of such an enchanting domain is a welcoming Nymph, it is obvious that, under the description of Ogygie, Homer proposes an ideal place. For some, the description of this island is far too conventional to be identified.

However, the location of Ogygia has been sought since antiquity: Plutarch located it in the Atlantic Ocean west of Great Britain; Pliny the Elder cites, in his description of Magna Graecia, an unidentified island called Ogygia, located off Cape Colonna ; sometimes this island is compared to the coast of Lisbon.

It is known that the Odyssey is a repertoire of concrete indications, landmarks and mementos that pilots of the sixth century used to identify real places: Odysseus himself says that his navigation is "a search for the gates (or passes) of the sea," πόρους ἁλὸς ἐξερείνων: it is therefore legitimate to look for possible locations of this island, as Victor Bérard and Jean Cuisenier, among others, have done.

In search of Ogygie

In the Maltese archipelago

It is after having drifted nine days on the wreck of his ship, since the strait of Messina, that Ulysses lands on the island of Calypso; and he will take seventeen days to go from this island to the one of the Phaeacians, called Schérie.

This means that the island of Ogygia is very far from the Hellenic shores, especially since Calypso is presented as the daughter of Ocean according to Hesiod, or of Atlas, according to Homer.

Her oceanic island is thus to be sought on the western borders of a sea that the Greeks of the sixth century imagined to be open to the infinite. The director of the Library of Alexandria, the poet Callimachus of Cyrene, located Ogygia, the island of Calypso, in Gozo near the island of Malta.

This location, coming from one of the greatest scholars of his time, and master of the geographer Eratosthenes, deserves interest. Gozo was, between 3550 and 2500 BC the center of a powerful civilization, and a cult to a female deity was celebrated in the temple of Ġgantija.

For Maltese authorities, this theory is much less obvious since before World War II, Calypso's cave was located in the cliffs of the town of Mellieħa on the island of Malta.

It was to spread the tourist sites between the two islands that Calypso's cave was transferred to the island of Gozo near Ramla Bay in Xaghra; one of the ferries that connected the island of Malta to the island of Gozo was named Calypso.

Near the Moroccan coast

The Hellenist Victor Bérard, analyzing Homer's text closely, notes several crucial pieces of information. In Canto I of the Odyssey, Calypso is given as "daughter of Atlas, who knows the abysses of the whole sea and watches over the high columns separating the sky and the earth from each other.

This indication invites us to look for the island of Calypso somewhere on the side of the columns of Hercules. Now, the duration of the return journey, seventeen days, is consistent with the 1300 miles distance between Gibraltar and Ithaca.

Last but not least, this location on the side of the Strait of Gibraltar corresponds to the return journey followed by Odysseus. Indeed, Homer indicates with great precision the course followed by Odysseus on his raft, starting from the island of Ogygia: "His eye was fixed on the Pleiades and the Bear, which sets so late, and the Bear, which is also called the Chariot.

Goddess among the gods, Calypso had advised him to navigate the high seas, always keeping the Bear on his left hand. " Keeping the north on his left means that Odysseus has the east in front of him, the west behind, and that he keeps the south on his right, thus the African coast.

The Phoenicians of Utica and Carthage sailed far to the West, and a certain Colaios of Samos, quoted by Herodotus, reached Tartessos, at the mouth of the Guadalquivir.

Victor Bérard also notes that the cedar and the alder, species present on the island of Ogygia, are widespread in the forests of the Moroccan Atlas. After several years of meticulous research, the Hellenist identified the mythical island of Ogygia with the island of Perejil, in the vicinity of present-day Ceuta: this island does indeed have a large cave, and the series of four waterfalls mentioned by Homer is located on the coast, in the bay of Benzus.

By a further coincidence, the name perejil means parsley in Spanish, and refers to the Greek σέλινον mentioned by Homer, the sea parsley, Crithmum maritimum, the plant with which this island is covered.

One will appreciate again this description of the island of Perejil given by our modern Nautical Instructions : "The whole island is truly a hiding place in the Strait: one must know it to discover it." The island of Calypso, whose Greek name comes from καλύπτω, to cover, to hide, bears its name well, it is the island of the Hideout.

West of Brittany

The Irish historian and bard Ruaidhrí Ó Flaithbheartaigh relies on the writings of Plutarch. He believes that Ogygia can only be Ireland, the only island located to the west of Brittany. The time needed to reach the island being 5 days, other authors assimilate it to Newfoundland, Greenland or Iceland.