In 1963, with twenty years’ cruising the Mediterranean in destroyers and small yachts under his belt, an ex-naval officer and historian named Ernle Bradford sat down to trace the geography of the greatest adventure story ever told: the Odyssey.
My quest for Ulysses began long ago in Alexandria . . . I met Andreas – his shirt open, the sweat trickling off his matted black chest – who said: ‘My mother came from Ithaca, you know.’
Bradford was 19 at the time, and this meeting reshaped his image of Ulysses. Rejecting the notion of a Romantic hero, he recast him as a tempestuous red-headed, bow-legged Artful Dodger: ‘the shopkeeper with his thumb on the scales and an eye to the girls, handy with a knife in a dark alley, and at the same time in some strange fashion, capable of honesty – or was it great consistency? – over most of the major issues.’
With Andreas in mind and the Odyssey in his kitbag, Bradford sailed far and wide, testing himself against winds and currents, and squinting into the sun at the shapes of headlands so he could place himself where Ulysses once stood. What he found and where precisely he found it is – unless the recondite field of Homeric geographical scholarship excites you – not the most thrilling component of the resulting book. As Bradford’s former tutor points out in the foreword, Homer never claimed cartographical accuracy, because his stories are what Ulysses told the princess Nausicaa to enchant her over dinner. The joy of Ulysses Found is that it reawakens the reader’s love of Homer’s classic tale.
With Bradford at the helm, we sail from Troy (where Ulysses built the Wooden Horse) to the Land of the Lotus-Eaters, reputedly Djerba in Tunisia. The author pauses to slice open a metaphorical prickly pear, discussing the literal origin of this botanical mystery – to this day, the Lotus plant remains unidentified, known only for its fruit which induced a d
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