Chronicle 5. IBERIA’S ODYSSEY
“IN REMOTE TIMES, EVEN PRIOR to the 6th century BC, the Greeks colonised what is now Portuguese territory, exploiting mines, founding and fortifying towns, especially along the coast and in the basins of the larger rivers.”
This historical flashback is Augusto Mascarenhas Barreto’s starting point in his bilingual (in Portuguese and English) book on Fado / Origens Líricas e Motivação Poética (Lyrical Origins and Poetic Motivation). It is the first chapter (Identity and Origins), following the preliminaries about fado: Portugal’s urban folk song was born in two of its oldest cities, Lisbon and Coimbra (with a distinct form in each); it is Provençal in origin, with Arabic melodic and poetic influence; it is a way of life (like rebetiko, flamenco, blues, tango, or any other authentic folk mode of expression, however “humble”, or even “marginal”, it is considered in origin); it’s dominated by nostalgia, by saudade, a keyword in fado coming from the Arabs, as well, and found corrupt elsewhere: it is Cape Verde’s sodade characterizing its nostalgic song, morna.
The Hellenes, says the Portuguese author, “mingled with the aboriginal inhabitants and the Iberians, who inherited from them certain ethnic and cultural characteristics. It is presumed that the Iberians were a people originating in the East of Europe. Iberus was the ancient name of the River Ebro, in Spain.”
Such homonymous toponyms are quite strange. It’s not only the Ἕβρος (Hebrus or… Maritsa) in Thrace, the river dividing Greece and Turkey; it is also Caucasian Iberia, west of Caucasian… Albania (a part of Azerbaijan), that is, Georgia, in the hinterland of Medea’s homeland, the ancient Colchis, where Jason sailed with the Argonauts for the Golden Fleece. Logic says the Iberians’ cradle should have been there – but most scholars, on the contrary, show to the direction of North Africa or the eastern Mediterranean.
“The Hellenic Moira is to be found in the spirit of Fado… The word fado, derived from the Latin fatum, means fate, destiny – what has been foretold by the Oracle and which nothing can alter… Later, Moira became allied to Arab Fatalism.”
The foreigners, you see, attribute to the Hellenes cultural characteristics that the latter claim they are due to the 400-year-long Ottoman yoke…
“Legend attributes the building of the ancient walls of Lisbon to
the great Greek hero of antiquity, Ulysses”, i.e. Odysseus (Barretο)
MUCH MORE IMPRESSIVE is what Portuguese mythology says about the Iberian adventures of that “man of many ways”, “man for wisdom”, “of many wiles”, “of many turns”, “of twists and turns”, “of much resource”, the “skilled”, “ingenious” and “very resourceful” man,(a) Odysseus. He was the one who founded and walled Lisbon (see Chronicle 21: Iberian “El Dorado”):
“Legend”, says Barreto, “attributes the building of the ancient walls of the city [Lisbon] to the great Greek hero of antiquity, Ulysses, king of Ithaca and conqueror of Troy, who is supposed to have given the place the name of Ulissea – whence the word Ulissipo.(b) Anyway, what is certain is that Lisbon was inhabited by the Phoenicians about 600 BC, and they named it Alis Ubbo, meaning ‘Calm Bay’. It was certainly visited by Greeks and Carthaginians, who established trade relations with the primitive peoples inhabiting the country. These tribes, who had mingled with the Celts and the Iberians, formed an ethnic sub-group: the Celtiberians.”
● Ulysses’ Ulissipo is a “legend”, according to Barreto, but the Phoenicians’ Alis Ubbo is a “certainty”: it is the “classic” historical… science fiction. How can he really combine this conclusion with his starting point that “in remote times, even prior to the 6th century BC, the Greeks colonised what is now Portuguese territory”? Well, “what is certain is that”… if we are based on facts, neither the Hellenes, nor the Phoenicians or also the Punics ever settled in Portugal. This land could not compare with Andalusia that magnetized all the above due to its mineral wealth and strategic importance. The only area of Portuguese interest that drew their attention was the also mineral-rich Galicia. (By the way, I mean Galicia of Iberia and not that of Eastern Europe). Generally, Alis (Allis) Ubbo (Ubo) is also interpreted as “Safe” (or “Pleasant”, “Enchanting”, “Serene”, “Delightful”) “Harbour” (or “Port”, “Haven”, “Gulf”, “Cove”, “Shore”, “Inlet”): all versions describe a good anchorage and, therefore, all have something to do with the sea. In an article about the presence of Mycenaeans in Sardinia, Demetris Michalópoulos wrote inter alia:
“In ancient times, Cagliari, the current capital of Sardinia, was called Caralis. In all likelihood, the toponym derives from the Semitic word car, which means ‘white rock’”.
We assume that Caralis meant Bay (or Harbour, etc.) with a white rock, a toponym that was probably given by the omnipresent Phoenicians. Can we associate the Semitic alis with the Indo-European root sal– (e.g. the English salt, and Grecian ἅλς (hals), meaning both salt and sea)? If so, Indo-European and Semitic languages should have had some common ground (at least on matters shared in common, such as navigation), with loan words probably derived from Mediterranean tongues, e.g. the Minoan Cretan.
“During the Punic Wars – between Rome and Carthage – the Iberian Peninsula was invaded by the Romans and, in 205 BC the town – then called Olissipo – was raised to the category of a Roman municipium. In 100 AD it was named Felicitas Julia, in honour of Julius Caesar, and the name was a promise of good fortune. In the year 376, the Visigoths invaded the peninsula. In 404 the territory was still occupied by Romans and barbarians, but in 522, after the departure of the Romans, a single Visigoth kingdom was formed, and the town came to be known as Olissipona. In 711 the Arabs invaded the peninsula from North Africa and occupied the town, to which they gave the name Lissibona… In 1147 Lisbon was re-conquered by Dom Afonso Henriques.”
That’s how we ended up to Lisboa, the current capital of Portugal, adds Barreto. But this is not the end of his story. There’s more to it:
“Santarém is believed to have been founded in the 10th century BC
by Abidis, of Greek origin,” son of Ulysses and Calypso. (Barretο)
“Santarém, [which] stands looking over the River Tagus… is believed to have been founded in the 10th century BC by Abidis [or Habis],(c) of Greek origin, who gave it the name of Esca-Abidis. This prince, grandson of Gregoris [Gárgoris], king of the Iberian Peninsula, is said to have founded towns… in Spain. According to legend, he was also the son of Ulysses. Betraying the trust of Gregoris after having been given Alis-Ubbo (Lisbon), Ulysses secretly espoused Calypso, daughter of the peninsular king, who rushed with his army on Lisbon. Ulysses fled by sea, abandoning his spouse”…
Consequently, Calypso was not a nymph on the Isle of Ogygia, as Homer says. Deviating from the greatest of the rhapsodes, the Lusitanians adopted Calypso as a princess of Iberia and daughter of Gregoris-Gárgoris, not of Atlas. Note that we remain in the same places that Heracles had earlier toured for the golden apples of the Hesperides and Geryon’s cattle. It is assumed that Ogygia must have been nearby the Pillars of Heracles, since Odysseus had to travel for 18 days in an easterly direction to reach Scheria, the Phaeacian Island, which many identify with Corfu. There’s a chance that Ogygia was one of the Pillars, today’s Spanish Ceuta on Moroccan soil, opposite the other Pillar, the Rock of Gibraltar. Although it is not an island now, it may have been one in the days of Homer.
According to Hesiod, the conqueror of Troy – and also of numerous… women (for he was so “skilled”, “ingenious” and “resourceful”) – had in total 16 sons and a daughter from six women. But in his long list, he includes no Abidis, Habis, or what. Odysseus had three sons from Penelope, one from the daughter of Thoas the Aetolian, eight sons and a daughter from Circe, two sons from Calypso, one from Callidice, the queen of Thesprotia, whom he later married, and another from Euippe, daughter of Tyrimmas, king of Dodona in Epirus. Note that, if we accept Hesiod’s genealogy of Odysseus, with nine children from Circe and two from Calypso, we must reverse the time he lived beside these two nymphs, according to Homer: one year with Circe and seven with Calypso.
With such a “proliferation”, of course, Odysseus was in danger of falling by the hand of some… close relative – something that did happen in the sequel of the Odyssey, in the Telegony, or Thesprotis, the Epic Cycle’s final episode, attributed to Eugammon of Cyrene or Cinaethon of Sparta. Circe’s son, Telegonus, so the story goes, while searching for his father, landed on Ithaca where – according to the custom of the era – started plundering and slaughtering, among others, also his genitor. Overwhelmed with remorse, as he realized he became a patricide, he collected Odysseus’ body and, accompanied by his half-brother, Telemachus, and Penelope, returned to the island of his mother, who turned them immortal. This “saga” ends happily there with a happy end worthy of… a Greek film of the ’60s: with the marriages of Circe with Telemachus and Penelope with Telegonus! Finally, only poor Odysseus was enveloped by murky darkness!
A similar end awaits our hero in Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy. The father of Italian poetry presents a traditional variation of the Homeric version, in which Odysseus himself says that he never returned to Ithaca. From Circe’s island, Aea, Aeaea, or Aeaeë,(d) he passed through the Pillars of Heracles into the Atlantic, crossed the Equator, sailing in the southern hemisphere for five months, until he reached a big mountain. Then a tornado had the ship spin three times and sink. They all drowned there. But where? In the “underworld”, or in the “new world”, in America? Logic, based on today’s geographical knowledge, makes us draw wrong conclusions. Moreover, the narrative takes place in Dante’s Inferno (see also Chronicle 15. Sailing to Rio de Janeiro!).
The Lusitanians, however, didn’t bother to… “set out for Ithaca” with Cavafy, nor cared about Odysseus, after he escaped, leaving Calypso behind. Naturally, they were more concerned about what happened “at home”; hence they paid much more attention to Abidis/Habis:
“When Abidis was born,” says Barreto, “Gregoris ordered him to be thrown in a cave to be devoured by wild beasts. In answer, however, to the entreaties of his daughter, he consented that the child should be delivered to Fate, according to primitive custom, and the boy was put in a basket and taken away by the current of the river.(e) A hind adopted him and when the child was later found in a wild state by some huntsmen, his mother recognised him by a mark. Gregoris forgot his former anger and gave him schooling, so that he could succeed him in the government of the peninsula. The name Esca-Abidis (Escalabis) in Greek means ‘food of Abidis’,(f) in memory of the place where he was reared by the hind.
“As regards history, the Romans rebuilt the town in 153 AD and called it Scalabis-castrum. Julius Caesar raised it to the status of a capital – one of the four in Lusitania… In the year 500 when the Visigoths came to Lusitania, the barbarians and Lusitanians formed in that region a single people. In 632 the town of Tomar was the scene of the martyrdom of Irene… a nun. Her body, thrown into the river, was carried down as far as Scalabis… Nineteen years later, King Recceswinth, who was Catholic,(g) changed the name of Scalabis to Santa Irene. When… the Arabs occupied the town (715), they called it Chantireyn” – and that’s how we ended up to Santarém.
Creto-Iberian ties due to Minoan thalassocracy in the Mediterranean. A common cultural characteristic was bull worship and bullfight.
GRAECO-IBERIAN TIES, clearly suggested by Portuguese mythology, date back to much earlier times than the Trojan War, to the pre-Hellenic era of Minoan Thalassocracy in the Mediterranean: they were Creto-Iberian. A common cultural characteristic of the Cretans and the peoples of Iberia was bull worship and bullfight, or rather bull-leaping (taurocathapsia; see Chronicle 17. Minoan Cretan Thalassocracy).
In his Memoriae Historicae, Strabo, a geographer-historian of Roman times, who was born in Amaseia of Pontus (64-63 BCE) and died probably in Rome (24 CE), referred to the Lusitanian equestrian bullfight (“… the peoples of the coastline, who are fond of meeting, on horseback, the fierce Hispanian bulls”, he wrote).(h)
Apart from bullfighting on horseback, there was also the pega – from the verb pegar, which means catch, seize… the bull by the horns! In one kind of pegas, the so-called forcado was not only completely unarmed, but had nothing to fool the bull (e.g. cape). He should withstand the initial impact (the tremendous weight of the attacking animal plus speed), and the subsequent shaking of his head so as to get rid of an unwelcome rider on his neck…
There were more forcados, usually eight, as assistants in the pega to master the bull. It is the picture we have from the Minoan bull-leaping in an extant fresco of Taurocathapsia dating back to the 15th century BCE. Isn’t it impressive? Even more so if we take into account that these Cretan “forcados” included women!
Arriving at the other side of the Mediterranean, we can find the earliest known description of such a bullfight in the Epic of Gilgamesh, the legendary hero of Mesopotamia, whose name became associated with his futile struggle to obtain immortality. The epic, dating back to c. 2100 BCE, describes how the hero and his companion, Enkidu, kill the Celestial Bull that the goddess Ishtar has sent to punish Gilgamesh for spurning her advances:
“Enkidu seizes the celestial bull by the horns”, while Gilgamesh “approaches it slowly and jumps on its back; then grabs it by the tail”…
“The pegas”, Barreto concludes, “probably originated in the Neolithic ritual hunts. We may wonder whether the peoples of the Iberian Peninsula learnt this from the Cretans of the 3rd millennium BC, or if they themselves may have been the teachers, since the bulls were taken from their natural habitat in the peninsula to the island of Crete.”
But still, if you talk about so extensive exchange going on five millennia ago – whether it is bull-leaping, or even bull shipments from Iberia to Crete – how is it possible to be concerned about trivial “problems”, as to who were the initiators of this practice?
● Bull-leaping was a Minoan ritual connected with bull worship, where the bull was not killed, contrary to bullfight. When it passed to the Mycenaeans, it was called in Greek ταυροκαθάψια; from ταῦρος (“bull”) and κάθαψις, a rare noun composed of the words κατά- (“across”) and ἅπτομαι (“touch, reach”); thus, literally, “touching of the bull”. Representations (frescoes, statuettes, seals, etc.) of the ritual, outside Crete or Hellas, have been found in Asia Minor (Smyrna, Hattusa), Canaan, Egypt, Bactria, and the Indus Valley.
● Non-violent taurocathapsia (bull-leaping), practiced in Spain, were called recortes. The recortadores competed at dodging and leaping over bulls without a cape or sword. Some used a long pole to literally pole-vault over the charging animal, which was not restrained by any guiding rope or similar safety device. The recortes were common in the 19th century. Etchings by painter Francisco Goya depict these events.
● In neighbouring Portugal, the bullfight’s second stage, called pega (“holding”), was the one referred to by Barreto. The so-called forcados challenged the animal directly without protection or weapon of defense. The front man provoked the bull into a charge to perform a pega de cara (face grab), secured its head and was aided by his fellows who surrounded and subdued the animal. The bull was not killed in the ring, in the audience’s sight, but by a butcher. After an exceptional performance, some bulls were healed, released to pasture until their end days and used for breeding.
● A “safer” style of this ritual, practiced in French Gascony, used young cows instead of bulls, which were furthermore guided by long ropes attached to their horns, so that they ran directly towards the sauteurs (“leapers”) and écarteurs (“dodgers”), and were restrained from trampling or goring them should they miss a trick.
● In faraway South India, in Tamil Nadu, there was a related ritual, the jallikattu, as part of the harvest celebration. The participants tried to leap onto a bull, reaching for the money packets tied to its horns as a prize. The event has been depicted in rock art dated at least to the 3rd century BCE.