The Extraordinary Voyage of Pytheas the Greek

by Barry Cunliffe

Paperback, 2002



Call number




Penguin Books Ltd (2002), Paperback


In 320BC an expedition set out from what is now southern France on an unprecedented journey: to find out what lay beyond the pillars of Hercules (the mouth of the Mediterranean) in the mythological northern lands. Pythias' great journey was both the first and last Greek attempt to explore northern Europe. Cunliffe has used this journey to recreate the world through which the Greek ship sailed with its bustling trade, ferocious wars and complex, pre-literate societies. As Pythias sails up the English Channel and becomes the first literate man to visit Britain we learn about the world view of classical Greece and about our own ancestors at the furthest limit of written experience.

Media reviews

"What Cunliffe neglects to do, however, is make Pytheas the convincing, three-dimensional hero of his own tale."
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"Still, the shrewd guesswork and engaging story are a pleasure to follow."

User reviews

LibraryThing member SeriousGrace
I have to admit that this little 178 page book took me by surprise. If the photographs and maps were removed it would be shortened to 166 pages. Take out the "further reading" section and all the quoted text and you would be left with only 156 pages (approximately) which meander just as much as
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Pytheas's exploration. A good chunk of those remaining pages have large segments on periphery details like tin smelting and the electrostatic qualities of amber. Unfortunately for ancient history enthusiasts there is not anything to refer to for first hand accounts of the travels of Pytheas. Unlike Cook or Columbus, the writings of Pytheas did not survive to present day. All that is left are the numerous documents either quoting Pytheas or written about Pytheas. Such as this book.
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LibraryThing member gmenchen
Pytheas' s writings have been lost; this is a kind of reconstruction using fragments quoted by other classical writers over the centuries, combined with Cunliffe's informed analysis of where he probably went and what he would have observed.
LibraryThing member la2bkk
A rare English language book on the fascinating Voyager Pytheas.

Unfortunately, the author devoted too much detail on tangential matters such as the geologic history of areas visited, the formation of tin and amber, etc.

Far more interesting was the analysis of later writers' recapitulation of
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Pytheas' lost writing, and his most likely journey to and from Britain. The chapter on Ultima Thule was especially interesting.

Although far from a great work, the book is still recommended for anyone interested in this explorer.
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Original publication date


Physical description

183 p.; 7.56 inches


0140297847 / 9780140297843
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