The Lure of Long Distances: Ancient Explorers
Posted by Richard Conniff on January 7, 2013
In about 325 B.C. the Greek explorer Pytheas dared to sail past Gibraltar out into the great world beyond, and may have gotten as far as Iceland. What important discovery did he make in his travels?
a. That the earth is round.
b. That the Celts were ferocious warriors who nailed their enemies’ heads over their doors.
c. That northern regions were inhabited by “a monstrous white bear.”
d. That the tides are associated with the phases of the moon.
And the answer is:
(d) Pytheas connected the tides with the phases of the moon. The extreme tidal changes in northern waters probably made the moon’s influence more apparent, especially after the minimal tides of the Mediterranean. In his book On the Ocean, Pytheas also introduced the idea of Thule, a distant northern land. It soon entered the human imagination, with the help of the Roman poet Virgil, as Ultima Thule, a mysterious place beyond the borders of the known world.