Scylla and Charybdis
The Strait of Messina is, at its narrowest point, just 2 miles wide. A number of classical writers refer to a time when Sicily was still connected to Italy. In fact legend has it that Heracles was responsible for their separation. However, Cyprian Broodbank has pointed out in his monumental work, The Making of the Middle Sea, that “Today, the Messina strait dividing it (Sicily) from peninsular Italy is a minimum of 3 km (2 miles) wide and 72 metres (235 ft) in depth at its shallowest point. On the face of it, therefore, Sicily and mainland Italy should have fused under full glacial conditions. Yet this spot lies on a plate boundary and has already risen several metres over the last 150 years for which accurate measurements exist. Add a 127,000-71,000-year-old beach now elevated 90m (300ft) above the sea near the strait and we might start to wonder whether Sicily was ever solidly attached to the other land.”[1127.91] Nevertheless, he does suggest that early man possibly had stepping-stones in the form of islets and shallows between the two landmasses.
The Strait of Messina had a reputation in antiquity for having dangerous currents, which are thought to be the inspiration for Homer‘s sea monsters, Scylla and Charybdis. Heinrich Schliemann supported this identification. The currents there are still very dangerous, but nevertheless the strait is a busy waterway with both commercial and pleasure craft, indicating that the conditions there can be mastered. The hazards were situated at the northern end of the Strait, where today there is a town appropriately called Scilla on the Calabrian side.
The strait is sometimes offered as an earlier site for the Pillars of Heracles prior to the Western Mediterranean becoming more frequently navigated by the ancient Greeks, at which time the term was transferred to the Strait of Gibraltar. Winfried Huf is a keen supporter of ‘Pillars’ having been located at Messina.*A constituent part of the Western Mediterranean was the Tyrrhenian Sea, which, for the Greeks, would have been most easily accessed through the Strait of Messina.*
The earliest westward expansion of the Greeks was understandably to what became known as Magna Graecia in Sicily and southern Italy. The Phoenician expansion was along the north African coast eventually establishing Carthage at the Strait of Sicily. The ships available at that time were not designed for the open sea, but were usually kept within sight of land. I am inclined to think that the early Greeks would have had the Strait of Messina as the location of their Pillars of Heracles leading to the little known Western Mediterranean (or Tyrrhenian Sea), apparently referred to by some as the ‘Atlantic Sea’, whereas the Strait of Sicily might have led to conflict with the Phoenicians!
Support for the idea of the Western Mediterranean being the ‘Sea of Atlantis’ with the ‘Pillars’ at the Strait of Messina is presented on a French forum(a), which offers the map below.
Scheria is the name of a Phaeacian island mentioned by Homer in his Odyssey and identified by some, including Ignatius Donnelly, as Atlantis. Scheria has been noted as only second to Atlantis for the array locations ascribed to it. For example, Heinrich Schliemann, as well as many ancient and modern commentators, considered Scheria to have been Corfu. Others, such as Felice Vinci suggest Norway, while Iman Wilkens offers the Canaries.
Armin Wolf (1935- ), the German historian, suggests(b) Calabria in Southern Italy was Scheria and even more controversially that the Phaeacians were in fact Phoenicians!
Wolf also claims[669.326] that although the country of the Phaeacians is in some translations called an island, the original Greek text never calls it ‘island’ just Scheria, which, Wolf informs us, etymologically means ‘continent’ – perfectly fitting Calabria. Even today, when people from Sicily go to Calabria they say they are going to the ‘continente’. Wolf puts Scheria in the vicinity of Catanzaro, the capital of Calabria. It has been suggested to me in private correspondence(d) that the etymology of Catanzaro is strongly indicative of a Phoenician influence! Catanzaro is also known as ‘the city of the two seas’, having the Tyrrhenian Sea to the west and the Ionian Sea to the east. It is Wolf’s contention that it was across this isthmus that Odysseus travelled[p.327].
A further mystery is that, according to Dr. Ernst Assmann quoted by Edwin Bjorkman, “both the vessel of Odysseus, as pictured in Greek art, and the term applied to it, are of Phoenician origin.”
Daniel Fleck(a) lists ten similarities between Scheria and Atlantis. Jürgen Spanuth quoted and added to an even more extensive list of comparisons between the two compiled by R. Hennig. Rainer W. Kühne has also written a paper(c) on the similarities.Walter Leaf perceived a connection between the two and wrote accordingly. Edwin Björkman went further and wrote a book that linked Tartessos, Scheria and Atlantis. More recently, Roger Coghill stressed the similarity of Homer’s Scheria to Plato’s Atlantis in The Message of Atlantis . Ernle Bradford notes that the name Scheria itself is thought by some to be derived from the Phoenician word ‘schera’, which means marketplace, which is not incompatible with Plato’s description of Atlantis as a hive of commercial activity [1011.204] .
Michael MacRae in his Sun Boat: The Odyssey Deciphered also thinks that Scheria could be identified with Atlantis and as such was probably situated at the western end of the Gulf of Cadiz near Portugal’s Cape Vincent. A number of 20th century researchers such as Sykes and Mertz have places the travels of Odysseus in the Atlantic. More recently, Gerard Janssen has followed this school of thought and as part of his theories identifies Scheria as the island of Lanzarote in the Canaries (e).
However, Ernle Bradford, who retraced the voyage of Odysseus, voiced his view that Corfu was the land of the Phaeacians and noted that “the voice of antiquity is almost as unanimous about Scheria being Corfu as it is about the Messina Strait being the home of Scylla and Charybdis.”
(a) See: Archive 2087
(d) Private correspondence Jan. 2016