Marseille, Pytheas the Navigator

Extraordinary Marseille Vagobond – Pytheas of the Midnight Sun – Namer of Britain

Extraordinary Marseille Vagobond – Pytheas of the Midnight Sun – Namer of Britain

Marseille, Pytheas the NavigatorWhile I was in Marseille, France last week, I passed upon what looked like a Greek statue – I was surprised to see it was a Greek man name Pytheas – now, this goes to show you that we all have our ingnorant spots – my first thought was to mistakenly wonder why the inventor of the Pythagorean Theorem was famous  in Marseille – and then my mental stabilizer kicked in and I realized it wasn’t a statue of Pythagoras, but Pytheas and that I knew nothing about him.

How fitting that I should discover his statue just prior to going to Britain. Many people don’t realize that Marseille was the ancient Greek colony of Massalia – and Pytheas was a native of that town. So, that statue of a Greek – was actually a voyage of a Frenchman before there was ever a France. And here’s the real interesting part – Pytheas was the first sailor to record a trip to Britain, where I am now. We could say that he ‘discovered’ Britain, though like saying Columbus discovered America, that is pretty much ignoring the fact that the people living there, discovered the respective countries long before Pytheas or Columbus ever lived and breathed.

Pytheas was one of the great geographers and explorers of the ancient Earth. He left Marseille  in 325 B.C. and set off to explore the great unknown seas and lands of Northern Europe. Along the way, he became the first documented source to describe the phenomenon of the Midnight Sun – that is where the day does not get dark in the Northern lands.  As if that wasn’t enough – Pytheas was the first person to discern that the moon was responsible for the tides of the Ocean and the first to encounter and write about the Germanic tribes.

Sadly, the complete work of Pytheas is lost to history and his writings only survive as excerpts in the writings of later explorers. I find it astounding that work of such importance can be lost to history, but there it is. History does not discriminate in the fading of memory.

Even the title is gone though some different authors later said it was similar to “My Trip Around the Earth” or “Of the Ocean” – but really, we just don’t know.  With no reason to it, I like the title “Of the Ocean and My Trip Around the Earth” 

Scholars suggest that another mariner from Marseille reached Britain first, but his name is completely lost to history.

In fact, it was Pytheas who named Britain and the British. Britanniae meaning all the islands easily became Britain and BritishMany scholars however, are quite certain that the word began with a P until the time of Julius Ceasar when it changed to the present ” form.

Pytheas described his Britains as a people who baked bread, stored grain, and lived in thatched huts. Like hobbits.  He reported “they are of simple manners and happy with plain fare..” – like hobbits.  After leaving Middle Earth, Pytheas went North seeking Elves and Thunder Gods – okay, wait, let me get back to history.

From Britain, Pytheas sailed North to the land of Thule where he encountered ice sheets and the midnight sun.  The explorer, Richard Francis Burton wrote a detailed study of Thule much later. We can reasonably know that Pytheas went through Scotland and the Orkneys and straight on until Morning when the sun stopped setting.

All of this was done with hat modern sailors and navigators would consider very primitive equipment.  An astounding accomplishment which ceratinly has more than earned him a simple statue in his hometown of Marseille – which I’m certainly happy to have come across.

 

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