Tales of the Real Ulysses

Where Did Homer Get His Material?

Homer may be regarded as the greatest poet of the ancient world. The stories, however, are not his own. He took the imported tales of a great war that happened long before and far from Greece, took some of the gods and heroes that existed among peoples from Ireland, Iberia, and Scandinavia and added his own creativity. The result was The Iliad and The Odyssey.

One of his greatest heroes was Ulysses. But Ulysses was known from far more ancient times. Part god, part hero, in Scandinavia he was Ullr, son of a goddess Sif, who lost her husband soon after he was born. He may be the first “Son of a Widow” more commonly known as a motif for Templar Knights and modern Freemasons. Ullr was known for his ship, his sword, and, like Ulysses, for his ability with the bow. His name survives in many place names of the Danish, Norwegian, and Swedes who carried on as sea raiders from earliest times to the Viking age.

He is mentioned in some of the works that survive from most ancient times. The tale of the war between the Aesar and the Vanna may actually describe events somewhere after 2000 BC when the climate grew sharply colder and people of the Steppes (Asians) moved into the territory of the Vanna (northern Europe). Ullr was chosen to lead after Odin was pushed out of his role for crimes. In Lilia Ullevi in Sweden, a shrine to Ullr has recently been unearthed. When the shrine was discovered there were also unearthed 65 rings on which it is believed oaths were sworn. These Rings of Ullr are mentioned in an Eddic poem.

Vanna people already lived in the isles, and places that might have given memorial to Ullr include Ullapool in Scotland, Ullswater in England, and Ulster in Ireland. Ullr is remembered in numerous Norse locations as well: Uleraker is Ullr’s Field, Ullevi is Ull’s Sanctuary, Ullarhvall is Ullr’s Hill.

The Ulster Cycle is another collection of ancient tales. The name Ulster is a combined word from Old Irish Ulah and Norse stadr meaning place. It is literally Ull’s Place.

The so-called Ulster Cycle takes place during the reign of King Conchobar mac Nessa and is mostly centered on Ireland’s ancient hero Cu Chulainn who has super human martial ability, thanks to being semi-divine. His father was Lugh, a sun god, his mother was the sister of the king. His birth name was Setanta. The heroes of the Ulaid went to war against Queen Medb and her husband Ailill.

 

The Trojan War Transplanted

Neither The Odyssey nor The Iliad took place in western Turkey, and the heroes of the tales had already been regarded as hero/gods by the Atlantic-based Sea Peoples. Homer’s hometown was the island of Chios, closer to the place he called Ilium than to Athens. His heroes were Mycenaean warriors that began to enter the Mediterranean Sea somewhere after 1600 BC.

They started their migration from the north. A great war was fought along the Atlantic coastline followed by a catastrophe. Homer, writing four hundred and twenty five years later, was given the tales and for artistic sake placed them in his own world. His audience did not know there was no such thing as a united Greece that long ago, and the town Homer called Ilium in his Iliad was never called Troy. Ilium wasn’t even on the coastline or the map. It was “found” in the town of Hissarlik. It had no broad avenues and no large buildings that could hold 50 princes. It was in 1200 BC–775 BC a backwater town.

The real wars fought in the Atlantic are better known and remembered in the epics of Celtic bards, and in the Norse and Finnish myths. These tales of great wars were transmitted orally for centuries. The Finnish Kalevala is the body of poems that starts with creation. The highlight is the hero Kullervo who has been compared to Greek characters.

Homer, perhaps because the story was transmitted through the centuries and part because, as the “blind poet,” he might have actually been blind, took dramatic license. The war could not have been fought in the Aegean Sea. He describes tides and crashing waves unknown to Greeks or Romans, weapons not used in the time frame, and food and climate that could only describe a different setting. Poetic license placed Troy in a location the size of a modern shopping mall. Where Homer described walls of bronze, the Troy that is believed to be the site had mud walls. It disappointed Alexander the Great to such a degree he had a new city built to reflect Homer. Even Greek historians claimed it could not have happened and claimed the wanderings of the Odyssey could only have happened in the Atlantic. Today “Troy” in Turkey is part memorial and part theme park complete with a large wooden horse.

Turkey, more properly at this time was Anatolia. It was controlled by the Hittites who were known as warriors, traders, and record keepers. They recorded no such great battle. This is evident as all of Homer’s Trojan leaders apparently had Greek names. The Greek historian Herodotus asked the Egyptians if the war ever happened; they told him they had never heard of such a war.

 

The Real War

Homer describes a Greek victory that is the opposite of what actually happened when the Sea Peoples raided the Mediterranean Sea. What is collectively known today as Greece was brought to its knees and forced into a Dark Age period that lasted four hundred years.

Greek cities lost most of their population after the invasion of the Sea Peoples (aka the Trojan War). Over 50 percent of their smaller towns were gone within one hundred years. When they emerged after 800 BC, their history was given to them along with their alphabet and even their gods by those who were the new sea kings. A great war was fought inside and outside the famous Pillars of Hercules. A climactic battle took place at another Troy circa 1200 BC, this Troia in Portugal, a center of Celt-Iberian power. Shortly after Troia and nearby Lisbon fell, the coast was hit with subsequent destructive weather that brought the once mighty headlands of the Portuguese Troia to sea level. It shifted the power of the seaboard civilizations that built monuments to Saturn and Neptune. It also broke the power that goddess worship held until that time.

Raiders, perhaps invigorated by the vacuum of power that was once all that kept the peace, moved into the Mediterranean.

The Sikels landed on Sicily and claimed it for their own. The Tyrsenoi, or as they were called by Strabo, the Etrusci, captured and settled Italy hundreds of years before Rome was built. Known to us as the Etruscans they were a great force on the sea. They were skilled in military arts, in employing irrigation and drainage techniques and in an early accurate calendar of 365 days, 5 hours, and 40 minutes. Giving evidence to their role in the great wars Usil (Ulysses) was their Apollo—part Sun God—part hero.

The Peleset, called Philistines in the Bible, landed in Palestine and joined the Phoenicians, the greatest sea power of the Mediterranean Sea. The Shardan with their horned helmets saved Egypt, which was nearly defeated. The two made an alliance and the Shardan settled the island of Sardinia.

Strabo said one had to balance Homer the entertainer with Homer the historical source. The Roman historian rejected Homer’s setting. He placed events from Homer on the Iberian Peninsula. His Book III even describes Odysseia as a place with a great temple to Athena, the goddess. Plutarch agreed with him and believed part of the story takes place west of Britain in the Atlantic isle of Ogygia. Tacitus also claimed Ulysses sailed not in the Mediterranean, but in the Northern Seas. Thucydides, a Greek historian also questioned the mistakes of Homer. These include describing Mycenae as the great capital of Agamemnon. The unimportant town may have never had more than six hundred people.

Iman Wilkens’ Where Troy Stood published in 1990 showed many of the place names to exist in the Netherlands, England, and France as more fitting to the description. Felice Vinci published The Baltic Origins of Homer’s Epic Tales in 2006 also laying claim to the tale having originated much further north. Ido Nyland author of Odysseus and the Sea Peoples, A Bronze Age History of Scotland claimed it was a North Atlantic Saga. My own Triumph of the Sea Gods in 2007 traced the wanderings of Ulysses and made the case for an Iberian site for the great war of 1200 BC.

 

The War Located at Troia

It was in a place named Troy, but not in Turkey where no “Troy” ever existed. Instead Troia (a Celtic word for “turning point”) was only miles outside the modern city of Lisbon, which was called Alis Ubbo, the Port of Ulysses, by the Phoenicians. It had hot springs that were described in The Iliad; Turkey’s Troy does not.

Troia is separated from Lisbon only by another city by the name of Setubal (The City of the Lord). It had been an important fishing port known to the Romans, but its history begins long before Rome’s. No one can date the founding of Setubal, but it may have existed from at least the Bronze Age, as Bronze age relics have been excavated. Its legend claims it was founded by Tubal, the son of the biblical Cain.

Today one need only brave the traffic between Lisbon and Setubal to reach ancient Troia. The victim of a massive earthquake that ended the war, Troia fell into the sea. Today it is a narrow spit of land in the estuary of the Sado River. Beach lovers go there to enjoy the water and sand, which is all that remains. Here and there the ruins of ancient walls poke their way through the sand recalling events of three thousand years before. At the mouth of the Sado is Torre de Outao, a temple to the sea god Neptune. It is fitting as the sea almost swallowed the area several times. The Romans called it Cetobriga, the city of the sea monster. In the fifth century AD, a tidal wave reduced whatever survived to sand again.

In the eighteenth century, another massive earthquake struck Lisbon. The Richter scale had not yet been invented. It destroyed cities in Spain and Morocco and shook the distant country of Finland and the Caribbean islands far to the west. It is estimated that it was a 9+. It struck at 9:30 in the morning of November 1, 1755. In Lisbon the quake was followed by three massive waves. Then fire broke out. The fires raged for a week, causing Lisbon to be nearly wiped out. In Morocco alone, it is estimated that 60,000 died.

If the 1200-BC quake was anything like the more modern one, it would be no wonder for an empire based in the Atlantic to have fallen due to this singular incident.

 

The City of Heroes and Saints

Across the border in modern-day Spain is the most ancient city of Cadiz. Once known as Gades by the Phoenicians, it held temples of Baal (reminiscent of Setubal), Astarte, and Hercules. Today only the Hercules shrine survives; the other two are submerged. Strabo says the statue was Chronos. At the entrance to the Bay of Cadiz once stood a majestic 9-foot statue in bronze on a pedestal of worked stones, on a foundation of 44 square feet. This foundation now supports the lighthouse of San Sebastian. This saint had been persecuted by the Emperor Diocletian. He was tied to a post and pierced by so many arrows that he looked like a porcupine (according to his biography in The Golden Legend). Still he survived, at least temporarily. His legend may have been based on Ulysses who was at the other end of the bow, slaying the 108 suitors of his wife Penelope in a less-Christian age.

The Roman historian and geographer Avienus says, “here is the city Gadir, formally called Tartessus. At Gadir there is nothing remarkable beyond the yearly rites of Hercules.” Columns of Hercules are Abila (on the African side) and Calpe (on the Spanish side). The island is called by the inhabitants Achale, possibly derived from Hercules or more intriguing, a source of Achilles.

The Hero in Modern Times

While the Norse Ullr had been the son of Sif, now, in the Greek telling, Ulysses’ first father was Sisyphis the King of Corinth—important to the real story, as Corinth was not a Greek city but a trading post of the Phoenicians until Homer’s time. This is evidence to the transmission of the story from an Atlantic-based people to the Mediterranean. Sisyphis was known to promote navigation and commerce, a trait not known to the Greeks circa 1200 BC, but common to the Phoenicians.

While the modern age has little room for hero-gods outside of the pages of comic books, Ullr survives. While saints have overtaken the gods as “patrons” of various occupations, in Scandinavia, Ullr is the pagan patron Hero-God of skiers. He is depicted on medallions on skis carrying a bow and arrow. Skiers in Scandinavia and Germany carry such medallions like many automobiles carry a Saint Christopher medals. They serve as talismans, giving the wearer protection.

His fame lives on even further away, as “Ullr Fest” is celebrated at the famous ski resort area of Breckenridge, Colorado every January, complete with Viking horns.

By Steven Sora