Thule - Encyclopedia




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THULE, the Greek and Roman name for the most northerly known land in the north Atlantic. The first to use the name was the Greek navigator Pytheas (about 300 B.C. probably). He calls it the most northerly of the British Isles and says that he reached it after six days' sail from Britain: it was inhabited, but produced little; corn grew there sparingly and ripened ill; in summer the nights were long and bright. This account of his travels is lost save for fragments, and the few surviving fragments do not determine where his Thule was, but Miillenhoff is probably right in thinking it was the Shetlands. The Faeroes, Iceland and Norway have also been suggested, but are for various reasons much less likely. After Pytheas, the name is used loosely for the farthest north. Thus Agricola's fleet in A.D. 84 sailing up the east coast of Scotland is said to have espied but not to have reached Thule ("dispecta est Thule") but the phrase is merely literary. The actual point meant may be the Orkneys or the Shetlands, or even some fragment of Scotland seen across the water. In some later writers (Procopius, &c.) Thule seems sometimes used to denote Scandinavia. The phrase "ultimaThule" is commonly used to describe the farthest limit possible.

(F. J. H.)

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