On The Trail of Ulysses: Between History and Myth

Gaeta: view of Castello angioino

Suppose we could walk in the footsteps of Ulysses, hero of the Homer’s Greek poem ‘The Odyssey’ and protagonist of the ultimate journey.

Italian beauty is something that doesn’t need an explanation, an interpretation. It’s like a Greek statue, it brings you back to the idea of ‘classic’. You contemplate it and it gets straight to your heart. The more you learn other languages, explore new countries and experience different cultures, the more you appreciate your origins and your background, and that’s what is happening to me. Italy is like an attractive woman unaware of how seductive she could be, that’s why Italian people should do their best in order to promote and enhance its heritage.

The set of an ancient tale

It happens sometimes that people who are planning a trip choose their destination among those mentioned in a novel or showed in a movie: places and landscapes where the adventures involving their favourite characters took place. The irresistible temptation for everyone to relive the emotions felt while reading or watching the movie, to see with one’s own eyes the scenarios that stimulated their imagination. So, suppose we could walk in the footsteps of Ulysses, the protagonist of the ultimate journey. Ulysses was the hero of the Homer’s Greek epic poem ‘The Odyssey’, one of the greatest works of classical literature that tells of the return journey of Ulysses to the island of Ithaca from the War of Troy. But what’s the link between a Greek poem and this country? Because in Italy there is a part of the Tyrrenian coast which is also called ‘Riviera di Ulisse‘ and where most of his adventures and misadventures occurred.

Gruppo di Polifemo, Archaeological museum of Sperlonga

An enchanting journey of self-discovery

This area, about 110 km long in the region of Lazio, is full of mythology: in the Gulf of Gaeta he met the hostile Lestrigons, a barbarous race who were cannibals and who devoured fix of Ulysses’ companions, in Terracina he lost and buried his friend Elpènore and on the Circeo island he spent a long period with Circe, a sorceress who had the power to turn men into swines.

But what you can’t absolutely miss is Sperlonga, where, during the ‘50s, a large quantity of marble fragments dating from 180 A.C. were discovered. They were part of the Villa di Tiberio, residence of the Roman emperor and they made up an extraordinary sculpture group showing scenes from Odyssey.

I could also talk about the stunning landscape where these findings are placed, the breathtaking view of the sea and the mountains framing the cities I have mentioned, but it would be reductive. I think it’s more important to focus on the distinctive features, on the identity of this part of Italy, on the magic hidden in the various regions. The Odyssey, therefore, is a maritime epic which has to do with human curiosity, courage, the desire to go beyond the limits and to find ourselves.

Sperlonga, Villa di Tiberio

A journey that never ends

The evocative power of this poem is mentioned by the amazing French writer Marguerite Yourcenar in her novel ‘Mémoires d’Hadrien‘, in which the protagonist says: ‘That traveler was at the same time the master, free at the same time to see and reform, free to create.

It was my fate… And I realized how advantageous it is to be a new, lonely man, almost free from marriage bonds, without children, almost without ancestors, a Ulysses without a Ithaca that the inner one… I’ve never had the feeling of belonging completely to one place, not even to my beloved Athens, not even in Rome. Stranger everywhere, I did not feel particularly isolated anywhere’.