The first piece of travel writing?

Simon Armitage, in his book Walking Home (Faber & Faber 2012), put modern day walking projects into perspective when he looked back into history to find the earliest record of something similar.

He settled on an account written around 700-800 B.C., titled The Odyssey about Odysseus (Ulysses) the King of the island of Ithaca off the west coast of Greece, who took a decade to travel a comparatively short distance back home after fighting the Trojan war in Troy.  This was a sea voyage; not a walking trip. Nevertheless I can understand Armitage’s choice because Homer has been described as ‘the best story teller in the world’ (E.V.Rieu, 1980, Homer The Odyssey, Penguin Books.

Sculpture of Homer

(Above: a marble bust of Homer displayed in the collection of the British Museum. Apparently, this sculpture was carved in the first or second century A.D in Italy.)

Simon Armitage says ‘The Odyssey is one of the greatest works of western literature, and also one of the earliest, a sort of bedrock or foundation on which many subsequent stories are built. In what could also be described as one of the first pieces of travel writing, The Odyssey is presented as a poem, written by Homer, who may or may not have existed, and tells the tale of Odysseus’s exhausting and beleaguered return from battle.’

Through subsequent centuries, Homer’s work inspired others to write both fictional and documentary style travel stories. You can read a translation of his epic at http://classics.mit.edu/Homer/odyssey.html. If you want an entertaining crash course in the story, try viewing:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MS4jk5kavy4

For a bit of fun for those who learn visually, you can interact with a map of Odysseus’s possible travels at: http://www.classics.upenn.edu/myth/php/homer/index.php?page=odymap

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