You know those great musicians who die when they are 27 and live in forever as the greatest even though the musicians who live into their 80’s probably are a whole lot better?
Eudoxus of Cyzicus wasn’t one of those guys. He was really one of the best, one of the greatest and though the facts are quite obvious and obviously speak for themselves, he has largely been forgotten by history. In fact, if you start a conversation about either Eudoxus or Cyzicus – you are likely to immediately asked Who? What? or Huh?
Who was he? He was a 2nd century (B.C.) Greek navigator who tried to circumnavigate Africa about 1700 years before anyone else tried again. By the way, he probably failed since he disappeared along with all of his ships and crew on his 2nd attempt. Of course, maybe he found paradise and decided not to return home.
Cyzicus, by the way is located near the present day Bandirma in Turkey and while there isn’t any evidence to say that it is where the scissors were invented – I like to think it might be true. The ampitheatre there was considered as one of the seven wonders of the world and was the largest ever built – at least until a larger one was made. The monuments of this great city were carted off to build the Hagia Sophia and later Ottoman monuments. The site is now an uninhabited wet land.
His career included much more than just his disappearance, however. He made successful voyages to India from the Red Sea for the Egyptian Pharoah-King Ptolemy Euergetes II and loved to party down with the locals (okay, I just added that part in though it could be true.)
He sailed the monsoon system of the Indian Ocean 120 years before the baby Jesus let out his first wail and he was written about by Poseidenius as a hero of yore back when yore was considered to be pre-yore. The story goes that a shipwrecked Indian sailor found his way to Ptolemy’s court and offered to guide a ship to his homeland in turn for passage. Ptolemy thought about it for a second before saying “Get Eudoxus – that guy can sail anything. I think he’s in Cyzicus.”
Much to the surprise of everyone Eudoxus not only accepted the challenge but also came home with a load of herbs, teas, spices, and precious stones. Needless to say, he was sent back. One story has it that he was in love with Ptolemy’s queen and she returned the feelings – of course, that is a story I just made up because it sounds rather nice. There is no historical record of it – but if it were true, you can imagine why he kept getting sent away on dangerous missions.
While some early historians thought it was all a pack of lies (the whole voyage to India, not just the part I made up), modern scholars are pretty sure he really did make the trips. One reason is that during the 2nd century BC, Greek and Indian ships plied their trade with one another in ports like the modern Turkish city of Aden. By the year 50 BC there were plenty of Greek and Roman ships sailing the Red Sea to the Indian Ocean.
Of course, if he kept returning to have the King’s queen swooning over him, it was necessary to have more dangerous missions placed before him. Ptolemy next said something like “Why don’t you go West and just keep going…” So, Eudoxus, not one to really understand a hint, got in his ships and went to Spain where he built more ships and set out to go around Africa – something else that no one else had done and something that he probably had no reason to suspect was even possible – so we have to think that maybe some of the herbs from India were smokable and of the sativa variety. Or maybe not. Here’s a bit from Wikipedia – not the most reliable source but for this story, it probably is worth the weight in gold.
When Eudoxus was returning from his second voyage to India the wind forced him south of the Gulf of Aden and down the coast of Africa for some distance. Somewhere along the coast of East Africa, he found the remains of a ship. Due to its appearance and the story told by the natives, Eudoxus concluded that the ship was from Gades (today’s Cádiz in Spain) and had sailed south around Africa. This inspired him to attempt a circumnavigation of Africa.
Personally, I like the story with Ptolemy’s queen a bit better, but what we know for certain is that he shipwrecked somewhere South of Morocco, probably in modern Mauritania and then spent some time making repairs before once again heading back to Greece where he was told once again to get lost.
So, once again, he set out to circumnavigate Africa and this time it is presumed that he was lost forever though some, such as Pliny, claim that Eudoxus went all the way around and came home. The truth is probably that he finally got the hint and went and found a queen of his own somewhere.