Monday, October 13, 2014

The Extraordinary Voyage of Pytheas the Greek by Barry Cunliffe review

The Extraordinary Voyage of Pytheas the Greek is a good read for anyone into exploration and ancient history. Sometime around 330 BC a man from the Greek colony of Massalia (now Marseille in France) began a years-long journey through Gaul, Britannia, probably Iceland, and possibly Demark. He explored lands which were completely a mystery to those living in the Mediterranean.

Upon his return Pytheas wrote a book detailing his voyage. Unfortunately, On the Ocean has not survived, so author Barry Cunliffe has pieced together the tale using references in ancient texts, archaeology, anthropology, and geography. The evidence he provides to explain his theories is always fascinating.

Cunliffe is an archaeologist who has written many articles and books on Iron Age Britain. He is an expert in this period, but his writing can be a bit dry: more informational and not so dramatic. Sailing the rough Atlantic and meeting unknown Celtic tribes must have been exciting and dangerous, but any thrilling tales Pytheas might have shared are lost.

I bought the hardcover edition (Walker & Company, now owned by Bloomsbury) because I love the dustjacket design. Penguin released a less expensive paperback version.

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