During World War II, a young British sailor who served in the Mediterranean carried a copy of The Odyssey in his kit bag. He returned after the war to sail the Mediterranean on his own. He no longer saw the sea and the islands from the deck of a naval cruiser, but from a small, open boat like the one in which Odysseus journeyed.
Was it real, that Odyssey? Ernle Bradford believes that it was: not a trip to fantasyland but a description of the sea as the early Greeks came to know it. Adventure by adventure, he traces Odysseus’ voyage. He knows the positions of the stars in ancient times. He knows currents and wind directions and how fast you can travel with 12 men at the oars. More, he knows that Homer was chanting his poem to an audience who also knew these things.
Bradford has his feet on the ground with regard to men and affairs. In an early chapter he considers Odysseus’ family. Odysseus was a liar, with an eye for the main chance, and he came by these qualities honestly.
Laertes [father of Odysseus] had taken part in the greatest voyage of adventure and discovery then known, and could claim to be one of the pioneer sailors of the ancient world. It seems right that the should have had Ulysses for a son. It is for this reason that I ignore the slander of ancient commentators who have found Laertes’ wife Anticlea guilty of having palmed off on Laertes, as his own, her bastard son by Sisyphus. Ulysses traditionally had seafaring and royal blood on his father’s side, and a violent and somewhat crooked strain (even if reputedly of divine origin) on his mother’s.
But the real joy of the book is seeing the maritime world as Odysseus must have seen it. Can we make the harbor? Do we have water? Do we even know where we are going? Bradford takes us where Odysseus went; for example, when he left Calyso by raft and the raft was destroyed, he swam ashore:
Naturally he swam with the current, and after an unspecified length of time he found himself near the mouth of a small river. The river is one of the easiest things to find in the whole Odyssey. It is easy because small rivers or even streams are so rare in this part of the world…. The steam has ‘never-failing pools’, and it enters the sea at a point where there is an attractive beach…. …At the head of this bay the Ermones flows out into the Ionian Sea…. It is one of the most enchanting and idyllic places in the Mediterranean and it is the only place in Corfu which could correspond with the Homeric description…. Olive trees abound…. The basins into which the river Ermones plunger were used in comparatively recent times for wtermills, but they must always have been used by women for the family washing….
Odysseus has traveled almost 3,000 years to reach us, and he does reach us in Ulysses Found. Bradford shows us Odysseus’ sea, his islands, and creates for us a journey home that was a very real trip.