Voyage 3. 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.”
The passage is from Augusto Mascarenhas Barreto’s book Fado / Origens Líricas e Motivação Poética (Lyrical Origins and Poetic Motivation). It is one of his initial remarks in the first chapter (Identity and Origins), just after 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’s Provençal in origin with Arabic melodic and poetic influence; it’s a way of life (like rebetiko, flamenco, blues, tango, and any other authentic folk mode of expression however “humble” or “marginal” it is considered in origin); it’s dominated by nostalgia, by saudade, a keyword in fado also coming from the Arabs, and found corrupted elsewhere, as well: it is Cape Verde’s sodade characterizing its nostalgic song, morna.
The Hellenes, says Mascarenhas Barreto, “mingled with the aboriginal inhabitants and with 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.”
These homonymous toponyms are quite strange, indeed. It’s not only the river Ἕβρος (Hebrus or… Maritsa) in Thrace. It is also Caucasian Iberia, mainly Georgia, in the hinterland of Medea‘s homeland, the ancient Colchis of the Golden Fleece and Jason’s Argonauts. Logically this place should have been the Iberians’ cradle – but most scholars show, on the contrary, to the direction of the Eastern Mediterranean or North Africa.
“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 Hellenic Moira is to be found in the spirit of Fado”.
You see then that foreigners attribute to the Greeks cultural characteristics that the latter claim they are due to 400 years of (Ottoman) bondage…
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 (see also Chronicle 6: Iberian “El Dorado”):
“Legend”, Barreto says, “attributes the building of the ancient walls of the city [of 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’.(c) It was certainly visited by Greeks and Carthaginians, who established trade relations with the primitive peoples inhabiting the country.(d) These tribes, who had mingled with the Celts and the Iberians, formed an ethnic sub-group: the Celtiberians.
“Legend attributes the building of the ancient walls of Lisbon to the great Greek hero of antiquity, Ulysses [Odysseus]” (Barretο)
“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 “arrived” to Lisboa, the current capital of Portugal. But this is not the end of Barreto’s story. There’s more to it:
“Santarém, [which] stands looking over the River Tagus… is believed to have been founded in the 10th century BC by Abidis [Habis], of Greek origin, who gave it the name of Esca-Abidis. This prince, grandson of Gregoris [Gárgoris], king of the Iberian Peninsula, is also said to have founded the town of Astorga (Astigi) 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”…
“Santarém is believed to have been founded in the 10th century BC by Abidis [Habis], son of Ulysses and Calypso”. (Barretο)
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 Atlas. Note that we remain in the same places that Heracles had toured earlier 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 Phaeacians’ 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’s not an island now, it may have been still an island 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. In this long list, however, no child called Abidis, Habis, or something similar, is included. 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 that, according to Homer, he lived with the two nymphs (one year with Circe and seven with Calypso).
With such a “proliferation”, of course, Odysseus was in danger to fall by the hand of… some offspring of his – 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 favourite custom of the era – started plundering and slaughtering, among others, also his genitor. Realizing he had become a patricide, he was overwhelmed with remorse, collected Odysseus’ body and, accompanied by his half-brother, Telemachus, and Penelope, voyaged back to the island of his mother, who turned them immortal. The “saga” ends 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, as well. 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,(e) he went through the Pillars of Heracles into the Atlantic, crossed the Equator, sailing in the southern hemisphere for five months, until he reached a very high mountain. Then a tornado had the ship spin three times and sink. They all drowned there. But where? Was it in the “underworld”, or the in “new world”, America? Logic, based on today’s knowledge about the world, makes us draw wrong conclusions. Moreover, the narrative takes place in Dante’s Inferno (see also 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 concerned about what was going on “at home” and thus they paid much more attention to Abidis/Habis:
“When Abidis was born, 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 [Tagus].(f) 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’,(g) 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,(h) changed the name of Scalabis to Santa Irene. When… the Arabs occupied the town (715), they called it Chantireyn” – and that’s how we “arrived” to Santarém.
The Greco-Iberian ties, however, clearly suggested by Portuguese mythology, date back to much earlier times than the Trojan War, to the pre-Hellenic era of the 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 bullfights: the Minoan bull-leaping (ταυροκαθάψια, taurocathapsia; see Chronicle 2: Minoan Cretan Thalassocracy, as well).
The Greco-Iberian ties date back to much earlier times than the Trojan War, to the Minoan thalassocracy in the Mediterranean. A common cultural characteristic of Cretans and Iberians was bull worship: bull-leaping.
In his Memoriae Historicae, Strabo, geographer and historian of the Roman era, 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).
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 attacking bull (e.g. cape). He should withstand the initial impact (the tremendous weight of the animal plus speed), and also the subsequent shaking of the bull’s head so as to get rid of an unwelcome rider on his neck.
The ancestor of the Iberian bull, aurochs, was described by Julius Caesar as “somewhat smaller than an elephant, swift and powerful; attacks both men and animals.” Charlemagne hunted a similar animal, known as bubalo. It is likely that the savage creature killed by St George was an aurochs and not a dragon as the plastic artists present him. The aurochs (aur = wild + ochs = ox), or urus, is the bos primogenius which is now extinct. It survived until 1627 in a forest of Poland.
Of course, there were more forcados, usually eight, as assistants in the pega to master the bull. It is exactly the picture we have from the Minoan bull-leaping in an extant fresco of Taurocathapsia dating from the 15th century BCE. Isn’t it impressive? Even more if we take into account that these Cretan “forcados” included women!
Arriving at the other side of the Mediterranean, we 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 the 18th century 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 when you talk about so extensive exchange going on five millennia ago – whether it is bull-leaping or 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?