Greece, from antiquity, has always been a seafaring country. The sea was an important route for merchants and travelers of ancient times, facilitating trade and cultural exchange between the peoples of the region as it still is today
In Greek mythology, the world was divided between the three brothers, Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades after the 10-year Titanomachy (Greek: Τιτανομαχία), the battle between the old and new gods, which overthrew their father Cronus. These new gods reigned on Mount Olympus. Zeus (Greek: Δίας) became the ruler of the sky and air and of all the gods on Mount Olympus, Poseidon (Greek: Ποσειδών) ruled over the seas and waters, and Hades (Greek: Άδης) over the Underworld. Poseidon was responsible for the safety of sailors and how smooth their journey would be. Sacrifices would be made to Poseidon before setting out on a journey by sea.
Zeus, king of the Olympian Gods
Ιt is not only the Mediterranean Sea that gives Greece access to all the countries that border it, but also the Ionian and Aegean Seas that surround the mainland and the over 2,500 islands out of which over 240 small and large islands are inhabited. The many colonies that were founded by the ancient Greeks from today’s Marseilles in France to the colonies of Asia Minor and the Black Sea area show that the ancient Greeks were daring seafarers, who ventured out to discover new lands, taking with them their language, their culture, and their gods. This is why we find their remains and their art throughout this area.
The Mediterranean Sea is called Mesogeios by the Greeks, meaning middle earth (Greek: μέσο – ‘meso’ ‘middle’ and ‘γείος’ – ‘geio’ ‘land, earth). The coastal areas of Southern Italy, in today’s region of Calabria, Apulia, Basilicata, Campania and Sicily were colonized by the ancient Greeks. They brought with them their Hellenic civilization, which went on to influence the culture of ancient Rome and its language later known as Latin. Very important philosophers such as Embedocles (5th c. BC) came from Sicily. He formulated the theory that the cosmos consists of four elements, which he calls ‘roots’. These four elements are earth, water, air, and fire. These elements come together through Love and separate through Hate. Another philosopher from here is Parmenides, who concerned himself with the views of reality. His work also influenced the other well-known Greek philosopher, Plato, who visited Sicily on several occasions.
Off the west coast of Greece is the Ionian Sea (Greek: Ἰόνιον Πέλαγος), which connects with the Adriatic Sea to the north. In this area are the Ionian Islands, which have been occupied by the Greeks since 12,000 BC. There are several small and large islands, the main ones being Corfu, Kefalonia, Zakynthos, Lefkada and Ithaca. The Diapontian Islands are also found here (Greek: Διαπόντια Νησιά). They are a group of small islands located to the northwest of Corfu. The main inhabited ones are Othoni, Ereikoussa and Mathraki. Aeschylus, the ancient Greek tragedian, linked the naming of the Ionian Sea to the myth of Io because it was from here that she swam across it to Egypt to escape the wrath of Hera when Zeus made advances towards her. Zeus had turned Io into a heifer to hide her from his wife Hera and restored her to human form when she arrived in Egypt.
One of the well-known islands of the Ionian Sea is Ithaca, the home of Odysseus, Homer’s legendary hero. He had to fight the wrath of Poseidon after blinding his son, the Cyclop Polyphemus in his cave when he and his sailors took refuge there. Poseidon punished him with storms, the loss of his ship and companions, and thus delayed his return to his kingdom and his wife Penelope, who had been waiting patiently for him for ten years.
The poem ‘Ithaka’ by Constantine Cavafy is based on the adventure of Odysseus and symbolizes our life’s journey. Below is a part of the poem.