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The Greeks are said to have arrived in Iceland ten centuries before the Vikings, according to a University study.

Professor Andrew Charles Breeze, an expert in historical linguistics, bases his theory on a hypothesis of a linguistic nature.

PhotoManuelCastells/Professor Andrew Charles Breeze

08 | 02 | 2021

"Not only did the Greeks reach India with Alexander the Great, but they also discovered Iceland with Pytheas." So says Andrew Charles Breeze, department professor of Philology at the University of Navarra. School from Philosophy and Letters of the University of Navarra. Based on a linguistic hypothesis, which he echoes in his latest The Housman Society Journal echoes in his latest issue, the expert in historical linguistics tries to clarify the mystery surrounding the exact location of the mythical island of Thule, discovered by the ancient Greek geographer, astronomer and explorer Pytheas, around 300 B.C. If Professor Breeze's thesis is correct, the Greeks would have discovered Iceland a thousand years before the Vikings.

As the expert explains, the original account that Pytheas wrote about his voyage across the North Atlantic, from Massalia (Marseilles), to an island surrounded by ice floes, six days north of Great Britain, was completely lost. Since then, and from the mentions that later authors such as Strabo, Pliny or Diodorus of Sicily made about his adventure, there are many researchers who have tried to locate exactly the northernmost destination that the Greek reached on his journey. "For centuries there have been discussions about where Thule would be. Most argue Iceland; some, the Faroe Islands; others, Norway or the Shetland Islands," he explains.

According to his research, which he has already discussed with other academics from British universities who believe the theory may be plausible, the core topic to solve the mystery lies in a linguistic approach . "The name Pytheas gave to the island became deformed over time, until it became unintelligible. Thule (or Thyle) means nothing, but if we insert two letters between the two syllables of the word, we have as result Thymele, and that in Greek does make sense: it means altar and is very common in ancient Greek," he explains.

In his article, Professor Breeze argues that "the term Thymele may have arisen from the orographic features of the south of the island, with high cliffs of volcanic rock, similar to that of Greek temple altars. Probably, when Pytheas and his men sighted Iceland, with abundant fog, and perhaps with columns of smoke and ashes from volcanoes like Hekla, he thought of the altar of a temple". And, as he explains, "in antiquity, altars could be immense. The one at Pergamon was twelve meters high and it is said that others at Parium, near the Hellespont, or at Syracuse, measured up to two hundred meters." "The Greeks can take pride in the fact that it was they, and not the Vikings, who were the first to set foot on Icelandic soil," he concludes.

Andrew Charles Breeze is professor of department of Philology of the School of Philosophy and Letters of the University of Navarra. A Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London since 1996 and of the Royal Historical Society since 1997, he is a specialist in the origin of English and its relationship with Latin and other pre-Romanic languages.