The Mythical Land of the Ancients

Let’s have a look at how the ancient Greeks saw the world around them. They had a rather romantic view of their domain, and displayed little desire to explore beyond their immediate surroundings, despite what they believed existed just over the next mountain. I suppose living where they did, with a fairly pleasant climate and so many islands to call home they had no need to discover what lay farther afield.

The ancients believed the earth was flat and circular. Greece was in the middle, of course, and the most central point of all was the home of the gods – Mount Olympus.

The circular disk of the earth was split into two parts by the sea, there was one main sea back then so it was just called the sea. Today it’s called the Mediterranean.

There was also a second, smaller sea called the Euxine, known today as the Black Sea, but as it joined to the Med anyway it was seen as a continuation of the sea.

All around the disk of the land flowed the River Ocean, travelling a perpetual clockwise course, unperturbed by storm or tempest. This River Ocean is the source for the sea and all the world’s rivers.

Thought to inhabit the northern portion of the earth was a cheerful bunch known as the Hyperboreans. They lived in perpetual bliss and springtime and enjoyed bar-be-ques and pool parties pretty much every day. They all got on splendidly, suffered no illness and enjoyed everlasting youth and good looks.

Their lands were snugly nestled beyond unscalable mountains, so it was somewhat difficult to drop in for tea and biscuits, and from the mountain caves came fierce winds which made the poor Greeks a little chilly in winter.

Down south were another group of happy folk living in splendorous comfiness, called the Aethiopians. When they couldn’t be bothered to cook dinner the gods would leave Olympus to hang out with them and join in the banqueting.

Over on the west side, near the River Ocean, was another super happy place, called the Elysian Plain, aka the Fortunate Fields and the Isles of the Blessed. Sounds like a sweet place.

The mortals who the gods took a shine to were transported here to live in unending bliss, never growing old, never dying, and never needing to pay for another round of drinks.

Charming though this description is, it shows the early Greeks knew almost nothing about the world beyond the outskirts of the Mediterranean. They populated the sea with monsters and enchantresses, and giants roamed the outlying lands, which probably put people off when deciding where to book their summer holidays.

The places they most likely would like to visit, populated by shiny happy people, were wholly inaccessible.

The sun, the moon, the dawn and the stars (except those of the Bear and its close neighbours) all rose from the sea in the east, traversed the sky and sank into the ocean to the west, although the sun had a little winged boat that would ferry him round the northern part of the River Ocean and back to the east.

This delightfully quaint picture of the world seems to have been enough for successive generations of Greeks, who saw no need to venture off and discover the truth of it.

More to come.

Love and Pasta x