Snake/Leucos island (Greek: Λευκός, "White Island") - translation

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Snake/Leucos island (Greek: Λευκός, "White Island") - translation

Post by delos13 »

Below is my translation of information about Leucos/Snake/White Island from a few Russian sources. Please remember, though I put my comments throughout the translation, I translated the texts as is, without checking the sources.

It came to me as a surprise that Aristotle mentioned Snake Island too. At least, according to the numerous websites in Russian that quote his following epitaph:

“Over the Achilles, venerated on the White island,
Son of the goddess Thetis, offspring of Peleus;
This island in Pontus keeps Achilles safe in its sacred grounds.”

Unfortunately, what none of the websites mentions is reference to Aristotle’s work from where this epitaph was taken. Luckily, many other mentions by the ancient authors come with a full reference of the source.

So, if this information is true and Aristotle indeed wrote this epitaph, there is a high chance that Alexander was familiar with it. Besides, many other Greeks who wrote about the island, lived before Alexander, thus validating the assumption that Alexander was familiar with legends surrounding this island. I wonder if he knew more than we know now. :D

The first mention of the island belongs to Arctinus of Miletus (Ancient Greek: Ἀρκτῖνος Μιλήσιος), himself a legendary figure ( whose works didn’t survive (so I have no idea how anybody can quote him): “Thetis came <to the Achilles’ funeral> with Muses and sisters, lamenting her son and then, snatching him out of the funeral fire, carried him away to the White Island that she raised from the depth of the Ocean for this purpose.”

Another author to write about the island was Arrian. The piece is rather long to quote here; it comes from his Periplos. One of the sources to read online is Google books, just search for the name of Achilles ... es&f=false

Other noteworthy author is Pausanias who tells about the island in the “Description of Greece”, quote from the online publication (Book III, 19,11):

“I know that the people of Crotona tell another story
about Helen, and that the people of Himera agree with them.
I will record it also.

In the Euxine Sea there is an island over
against the mouths of the Danube : it is sacred to Achilles, and
is called the White Isle. Its circumference is twenty furlongs,
and all the isle is wooded, and full of beasts, both wild and
tame ; and there is in it a temple of Achilles, with an image of

The first who sailed to this island is said to have been a
Crotonian named Leonymus. War had broken out between the
Crotonians and the Italian Locrians, who, being akin to the Opuntian
Locrians, call upon Ajax, son of Oileus, to help them in battle.
Leonymus, as general of the Crotonian army, attacked the enemy at
the point where he had heard that Ajax was posted in the van. He
received, we are told, a wound in the breast, and being enfeebled by
it he repaired to Delphi. When he was come, the Pythian priestess
bade him sail to the White Isle, telling him that Ajax would there
appear to him and would heal him of his wound.

In time he came back from the White Isle sound and well, and used to tell that
he had seen Achilles, and Ajax the son of Oileus, and Ajax the son
of Telamon. And Patroclus and Antilochus, he said, were with
them ; and Helen was wedded to Achilles, and she had bidden
him sail to Himera, and tell Stesichorus that the loss of his eyesight
was a consequence of her displeasure. Therefore Stesichorus com-
posed his palinode.”

Another mention of Achilles’ dwelling on this island comes courtesy of Maxim of Tyre (Greek: Μάξιμος Τύριος; fl. late 2nd century AD); in this online Google book, if you search for Achilles, you’ll find the info (page 81-82) ... es&f=false

The geographical information about the island comes from Pseudo-Scymnus (, I wasn’t able to find it online but the piece is short and comes after the author’s description of another island, Peuka: “the island of Achilles lies opposite the island of Peuka. On the island (of Achilles) there are a lot of water fowl; the island looks magnificent to all the visitors and you can’t see any other land from this island though it lies only 400 stadia from the mainland, as per Demetrius.” (791-796)

Philostratos the Younger mentions the island as well including the legend about Amazons trying to conquer the island and Achilles defending it (it’s too long to translate here and I couldn’t fine online reference).

Most probably the first temple of Achilles was built on the island in the third quarter of VI century BC though the offerings started to pour before the actual temple was erected. The temple was constructed in the Ionic style and was similar to the temple of Apollo Delphinios in Olbia and temple of Athene in Miletos. End of VI – beginning of V centuries was the prime period in the history of the temple. A lot of black and red figures ceramics were found on the island that belong to the famous artists such as Nicosthenes (black), Amasis painter (black), Mastos painter (black), Epiktetos (red), Oltos (?) and some others.

Based on the ancient sources, there also was an Oracle. The sacred ground and the temple were ascribed the healing powers. The visits to the temple were restricted to spring-summer period since the navigation stopped during the fall-winter.
The island of Leuca was also mentioned in Pindar (Nemesis, Ode IV, Strophe VII):

“Glittering in the Euxine main,
Leuce’s isle Achilles sways…”

And also Euripides, “Andromache” (1250-1260)

“The waves of the sea will not wet your feet as you step out to watch our beloved son, Achilles, on the shores of the island of Leuke in the Euxine sea.”

In the IV-III centuries BC the temple was widely known in the Greek oicoumene, and offerings from Pontic states and from most of the Mediterranean were brought to the island. There are a lot of coins found on the island and vicinity with Olbian representing more than 20% of all the findings. This is understandable since Olbia established special celebrations in honor of Achilles. There is a possibility of some sort of military competitions were held on the island as mentioned in the writings of Philostratos the Younger (XIX, 16) “…those who landed on the island claimed they’ve heard horses’ tramp, sounds of weapons and cries and shouts as at the time of war.”

The treasures of the temple naturally attracted not only the worshipers but pirates too. The legend existed about the shield of Achilles hidden somewhere in the deep caves of the island. Around 330 – 320 BC the temple was sacked by pirates but luckily some unknown citizen of Olbia managed to expel the pirates from the island and temple continued its existence.

The later history of island can be glimpsed from a brief mention by Ovid in his poem “Ibis” (lines 329-330).

“Or like Lenaeus once from Amastris’s shores,
may you be left naked on Achillean soil.”

In the opinion of Alexander Podosinov (Russian historian and philologist, b.1950) Lenaeus, the ruler of Amastris (part of Pontic kingdom) and son-in-law of Mithridates VI was exiled by his powerful father-in-law to the island of Leuke where his died from cold and starvation. It is possible that at the time the island was used as a place of exile.

Dion Chrysostom (Greek: Δίων Χρυσόστομος), Dion of Prusa or Dio Cocceianus (c. 40 CE – c. 115 CE) who visited the Olbia around 95 AD wrote: “Olbia, though rebuild after being sacked by Goths lost its splendor. However, the inhabitants still venerate Achilles and attend to his temples, one on the so-called island of Achilles and another in the city itself.” Thus, we can assume that during that time the temple still existed or at least was very much alive in the memory of the people.

The worship of Achilles continued till the advent of Christianity and even afterward the island played a certain role in the history and politics of the area. In the Middle Ages the island was also known under the names Phidinisi, Phidonis, Phoudnis, Phidoniksi.

In 1823, after the island became part of the Russian Empire, the detailed map of the island was created by rear-admiral Nicolai Kritsky. He was Russian Greek and his last name translates as “of the island of Crete”. At the time, the white limestone ruins of the temple of Achilles still existed in the south-west part of the island. According to remaining notes it was 30 m x 30 m square structure with some remaining capitals, columns and eaves. Unfortunately, most of the antiquities were looted and ended up on the black market – marble slabs with dedication writings, black and red figured vases, terracottas, rings, coins. Only a small part of the original findings was bought back from those who were supposed to guard the island in the first place.

In modern times the main attraction of the island is a lighthouse, built on the very spot where the Achilles temple once stood. The octagonal construction was built in 1843 following the blueprint of the English architect Charles Ackroyd (not sure about correct spelling of his last name). Many stones used in the constraction of the lighthouse are those of the temple of Achilles.

During the WWII and in the following years the island served as a naval base of the Russian fleet and the rumors were afloat that it was here that the Russian military trained dolphins-kamikaze to blow up enemy ships. Whether true or not, the access to the island and any photos and maps were not possible/available to the general public until only recently.

Though many valuables are lost, some archaeologists and historians are of opinion that there are still a lot of treasures hidden in the numerous caves of the island.

The group of underwater archaeologists “Novareks” (headed by Alexander Tereshchenko) are involved in the research around the island for more than 15 years. In 2011 they discovered ancient ship that was transporting a huge stock of amphorae. The ship was found at the depth of 35 m and dated back 2500 years. The length of the ship is around 27 m. The divers christened the ship “Patroclos”.  The location of this find is kept secret due to the obvious reasons but some of the finds were gifted to the Odessa Archaeological museum. One of the articles that I read mentions the base of the statue of Achilles from the temple on the island that is also currently in the museum but I couldn’t find any photos of it. According to the rumor the statue was the creation of Phidias himself.

Now, a few pictures:
The link below will take you to the article in Russian but you can see the map of the island and also amphorae discovered around the island by the Novareks expedition. ... ra-amfory/

Another website includes more photos, including one of the lighthouse and there is also a video showing dives for amphorae around the island. ... meinyy.htm

I also found this map of the island, attached/below.

The objects marked with capital letters translate into:
A – lighthouse
B – old foundation
C – ancient crypt
D – modern buildings
Dots in the sea mark places where ancient anchors were found and the dotted circle is where a lot of ceramics were found.

I hope you found the information interesting. Unfortunately, I never visited the island and I am not sure if it even was possible at the time but I was in Olbia when I was around 14 years old and the city left an unforgettable impression in my mind.
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