Fortunate Isles

Fortunate Isles

In the Fortunate Isles, also called the Isles (or Islands) of the Blessed (μακάρων νη̂σοι "makárôn nêsoi"), heroes and other favored mortals in Greek mythology and Celtic mythology were received by the gods into a blissful paradise. These islands were thought to lie in the Western Ocean near the encircling River Oceanus; the Madeira, the Canary Islands, and Cape Verde have sometimes been cited as possible matches.

Flavius Philostratus "Life of Apollonius of Tyana" (book v.2) says "And they also say that the Islands of the Blessed are to be fixed by the limits of Libya where they rise towards the uninhabited promontory." In this geography Libya was considered to extend westwards through Mauretania "as far as the mouth of the river Salex, some nine hundred stadia, and beyond that point a further distance which no one can compute, because when you have passed this river Libya is a desert which no longer supports a population."

Plutarch, who refers to the "fortunate isles" several times in his writings, locates them firmly in Atlantic geography in his "vita" of Sertorius, who, when struggling against chaotic civil war in the closing years of the Roman Republic, had tidings from mariners of certain islands a few days' sail from Hispania

where the air was never extreme, which for rain had a little silver dew, which of itself and without labour, bore all pleasant fruits to their happy dwellers, till it seemed to him that these could be no other than the Fortunate Islands, the Elysian Fields. [Plutarch, "Life of Sertorius", ch. viii.]

Pliny's Natural History adds to the obligate description— that they "abound in fruit and birds of every kind"— the unexpected detail "These islands, however, are greatly annoyed by the putrefying bodies of monsters, which are constantly thrown up by the sea".

Ptolemy used these islands as the reference for the measurement of geographical longitude, and they continued to play the role of defining the prime meridian through the Middle Ages. [John Kirtland Wright, "Notes on the Knowledge of Latitudes and Longitudes in the Middle Ages", "Isis", 5 (1923): 75-98.] Modern geography names these islands as Macaronesia.

"The Fortunate Isles and Their Union" is a Jacobean era masque, written by Ben Jonson and designed by Inigo Jones, and performed on January 9, 1625.

The Islands of the Blessed are mentioned frequently in "The Sea of Trolls" series, and even in the title of the last book, "The Islands of the Blessed".

ee related

*Snake Island (Black Sea), "Isle of the Blessed" in Greek legend.
*Elysian Fields
*Mag Mell
*Tír na nÓg
*Avalon, The Isle of the Blessed
*Aman, the "blessed realm" of Tolkien's works.


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