Aeaea, Ææa or Eëä (// ee-EE-ə or // ə-EE-ə; Ancient Greek: Αἰαία, Aiaíā [aɪ.aí.aː]) was a mythological island said to be the home of the goddess-sorceress Circe. In Homer's Odyssey, Odysseus tells Alcinous that he stayed here for one year on his way home to Ithaca. He says that he could not resist the need to be on this island, not so much for Circe but so that he does not resist the pull. The modern Greek scholar Ioannis Kakridis insists that any attempt at realistic identification is vain, arguing that Homer vaguely located Aeaea somewhere in the eastern part of his world, perhaps near Colchis, since Circe was the sister of Aeëtes, king of Colchis, and because their paternal aunt the goddess Eos had her palace there.
The somewhat inconsistent geography of Homer's Odyssey is often considered more mythic than literal, but the geography of the Alexandrian scholar and poet Apollonius of Rhodes is more specific. In his epic Argonautica, he locates the island somewhere south of Aethalia (Elba), within view of the Tyrrhenian shore (western coast of Italy). In the same poem, Aeëtes remarks on the great distance between Colchis and Aeaea in these terms:
I noted it once after taking a ride in my father Helius' chariot, when he was taking my sister Circe to the western land and we came to the coast of the Tyrrhenian mainland, where she dwells to this day, very far from the Colchian land – Argonautica 3.309–313
Aeaea was later identified by classical Roman writers with Mount Circeo on Cape Circeo (Cape Circaeum) on the western coast of Italy—about 100 kilometers south of Rome—which may have looked like an island due to the marshes and sea surrounding its base but which is a small peninsula. It was already a peninsula according to Dionysius of Halicarnassus. However, it may have been still an island in the days of Homer, with a long "lido" or sandy peninsula that gradually became attached to the mainland, in a common geological process. Archeologists have identified one cave or grotto on the cape as "Grotta della Maga Circe", the cave of Circe. A second was found on the nearby Island of Ponza. It is believed that Circe had her summer home on Mount Circe and her winter home on Ponza, which may possibly be the island of Aeaea.
When your ship has traversed the stream of Oceanus, you will reach the fertile shore of Persephone's country with its groves of tall poplars and willows that shed their fruit untimely; here beach your ship upon the shore of Oceanus, and go straight on to the dark abode of Hades. (Odyssey 10.505, tr. Samuel Butler)
Other hypothetical locations
Tim Severin (The Ulysses Voyage) identifies, as Aeaea, the island of Paxos in the Ionian Sea near the Greek coast. The island is on the furthest west on a boundary between the sea and the river of Okeanos, which is said to encircle the earth.
Aeaea in literature
John Banville's 1993 novel Ghosts has a boating party shipwrecked on an unnamed island; one character, Sophie, speculates that it is Aeaea; another says, "Yes...yes, Aeaea: you will feel at home, no doubt", a reference to Sophie's Circean nature.
"Aeaean" was an epithet of Circe and her paternal niece Medea (Αἰαίη), who were the sister and daughter of Aeëtes, the ruler of Aea (Αἶα) in Colchis Circe's son Telegonus is likewise given this epithet. It was also a name of Calypso, who was believed to have inhabited a small island of the name of Aeaea in the straits between Italy and Sicily.
- William H. Race, Apollonius Rhodius: Argonautica, Loeb Classical Library (2008), 4.654–661
- translation by W. H. Race, Apollonius Rhodius: Argonautica, Loeb Classical Library (2008), p.241
- Homer's Odyssey 10.503
- "Books: Softer Answers". Time. 1933-07-31. Retrieved 2010-04-23.
- Banville, John. Ghosts, page 7.
- Apollonius of Rhodes, iii. 1136, iv. 559
- Homer, Odyssey ix. 32
- Virgil, Aeneid iii. 386
- quid petis Aeaei moenia Telegoni?, Propertius 2.32.4
- Pomp. Mela, ii. 7
- Propert. iii. 10." 81
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Smith, William, ed. (1870). "Aeaea". Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology.