The Extraordinary Voyage of Pytheas the Greek, by Barry...

Editor's Choice

April 14, 2002|By Michael Pakenham

The Extraordinary Voyage of Pytheas the Greek, by Barry Cunliffe (Walker and Co., 192 pages, $24).

Setting out from the Greek city now known as Marseille, in the year 330 B.C., the explorer Pytheas traveled to the coasts of France and Denmark and then to the British isles, perhaps getting as far as Ireland and even Iceland -- making him, by most judgments, the first literate person to get to those areas that were unknown and feared by the civilizations on or near the Mediterrean. He ultimately wrote a book, On the Ocean, which has been lost to history, but was quoted by many other works from ancient history that were preserved. Cunliffe is a professor of archaeology at Oxford and has written a number of distinguished books on early European civilization. This one moves swiftly, despite its density of detail. For anyone interested in ancient history or the origins of Western civilization, this is a compelling, interesting, blessedly brisk, thoroughly responsible piece of work.

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