Attested:  Ptolemy 2,3,32 Θουλη;  Tacitus (Agricola 10) Thule

Where:  Ptolemy's coordinates match the island of Smøla, off the Norwegian coast near Trondheim, according to Kleineberg et al. (2010).  Tacitus' Thule “seen in the distance” was probably the Shetland Isles.

Name origin:  From PIE *dhel- ‘curve, hollow’ whose descendants also include θολος ‘dome’, θαλαμος ‘inner room’ and German Thal ‘valley’.   Ancient Greek navigators were well aware that the Earth is spherical, and that there must be a North Pole effectively at the top of a dome.

Notes:  Many ancient writer picked up the notion of Thule as ‘the furthest north anyone can go’, apparently tracing the idea back to the voyage to Britain of Pytheas the Greek.  Robert Beekes' Greek etymological dictionary says of tholos “A technical word without explanation. The comparison with a European word for 'valley, etc.' should be discarded.”.

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Last edited 23 June 2022     to main Menu