The history of Corfu (Kerkyra in Greek), like that of many islands in the Ionian and Aegean Sea, is shrouded with myths, tales, and legends and of course battles and conquests. Corfu is an island tales strongly linked to two powerfully mythical water entities: Poseidon, the God of Sea and the God Asopos, the famous river located in Viotia. Below are only few of the memorable myths that revolve around the beautiful island of Corfu.
Corfu played a protagonist role in Homer’s Odyssey as the island where Odysseus washed up on shore after his escape from Calypso. Led by Athena, the Goddess of Wisdom and War, princess Navsika the daughter of the royal couple Alkinou and Arites, rescued Odysseus and supplied Odysseus with a ship for his journey back to Ithaka.
Poseidon was furious when he found out and petrified the boat just off the location of Palaiokastritsa, where Alkinoos’ Palace was built. There are other arguments that state the ship collided into Pontikonisi, a small islet near Corfu after a serious thunderstorm caused by Poseidon.
Corfu is also mentioned in the 3rd century BC Greek epic poem, The Argonautika, written by Apollonius the Rhodes. Written before Odysseus sea adventure, the myth is about Jason and his journey to retrieve the Golden Fleece from the mythical land of Colchis. The third book tells the story of Jason and Medea, the daughter of King Colchis who elope and take refuge at Alkinoos Palace in Kerkyra.
The existence of the Phaecian civilization and Alkinoos Palace remain a mystery till today. Archaeologists suggest that Scheria (Palaiokastritsa, Ermones) could be the area mentioned in both epics. Nothing has been confirmed, since findings from the Mycenaean Era (which Homer refers to) are extremely limited.
A Mythical Origin
There are many legends regarding the origins of the islands’ name. In Ancient times the island was referred to as, Makris (long), Drepani (sickle) and Harpi (harp) due to its long curved shape and Scheria (endless coast) the Homeric island settled by the Phaecians.
Some centuries later, the island adopted the Greek name ‘Kerkyra’ from a love story between the nymph Korkyra, the daughter of the river god Asopos and the God Poseidon. According to myth, Poseidon fell in love with Korkyra and brought her to the island where she gave birth to Phaekas, the island’s first mythical king. In Homer’s epic, Corfu is referred to as Phaekia, after the the Phaekian kingdom.
Corfu’s origin is of Byzantine decent from the word Koryfo (top) after the two peaks found in the island’s capital. From Koryfo came the Latin Corfu, a name that nowadays is recognized worldwide.