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Unformatted text preview: 379 chapter 27 And Then The Argonauts Far Within the Syrtis I n the ancient story of the Argonauts, a northerly gale blew the Argo away from the southern Peloponnese and toward the Libyan Sea. In a tale reminiscent of Odysseus’s misfortune, the Argo was storm-carried for nine days and nine nights. Eventually the vessel was driven far within the Syrtis, a region which I describe in the previous chapter. Relaying the legend as it was told to him, Herodotus says that the Argo was driven into shallow, shoal-abundant waters of the Syrtis. The shoals were situated so far seaward of the main coastline that the Argo was hopelessly among them before Jason caught sight of land. Herodotus identifies the place of stranding as Lake Tritonis. According to the Greek poet Pindar (fifth century Bc) and Hellenistic Egyptian mythographer Apollonius Rhodius (third century Bc), the Argo was storm-driven into shallow coastal waters, but not into Lake Tritonis. In a futile attempt to find a navigable path back to the open sea, the Argo- nauts portaged for twelve days . Ultimately the exhausted sailors stopped at the lagoon of Lake Tritonis. Regardless of whether a portage was involved, the Argo initially was grounded by a local combination of sea conditions and landforms. Apol- lonius Rhodius says that on frequent occasions, the Syrtic flood tide at the Libyan shore retreated from the land and then burst back again over the beach, coming on with a rush and a roar. Apollonius explains that such a surge carried the Argo over the vast sea of shoals that extended far out from shore. Under normal sea-surface conditions, a vessel would have been stranded or destroyed on the shoals long before it reached the mainland. But the flood 380 ArgoNAUtS IN coAStAl lIByA ~ part vIII tide bore the Argo high onto the land from the deep sea, suddenly thrust- ing the vessel onto what Apollonius calls the “innermost shore.” Then the tide rushed back to the sea, leaving a skim of foam over the tidal flats. Whereas tempest-winds carried the Argo from southern Greece to Libya, the lack of wind threatened to doom the sailors once they were stranded on the arid Libyan coast. Apollonius Rhodius says that the entire scene was possessed by a dead calm. The barren coastal location contained no freshwater, no path, no signs of human presence, and no animals that creep or fly. WHEN NORTH WINDS BLOW For reasons given in this chapter and the next chapter, I consider it unlikely that a gale would have driven the Argo from the southern Peloponnese all the way westward to Tunisia’s Gulf of Gabes. Instead, I see a combination of shifting stormwinds and associated currents carrying the Argo across the Libyan Sea to the southeastern Gulf of Sirt in ancient Cyrenaica. I do not restrictively interpret nine days as nine days of straight-line travel....
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This note was uploaded on 06/17/2011 for the course HISTORY 11 taught by Professor Abualyouser during the Spring '11 term at Ain Shams University.
- Spring '11
- The Bible