Isles of the Blessed

In the Fortunate Isles, also called the Isles (or Islands) of the Blessed (occasionally rendered as Isles of the Blest) (μακάρων νῆσοι makárôn nêsoi), heroes and other favored mortals in Greek mythology and Celtic mythology were received by the gods into a winterless blissful paradise. According to Greek mythology, the islands were reserved for those who had chosen to be reincarnated thrice, and managed to be judged as especially pure enough to gain entrance to the Elysian Fields all three times. These islands were thought to lie in the Western Ocean near the encircling River Oceanus; Madeira, Canary Islands, Azores, Cape Verde and Bermuda have sometimes been cited as possible matches.

Flavius Philostratus' Life of Apollonius of Tyana (v.2) says, "And they also say that the Islands of the Blessed are to be fixed by the limits of Libya where they rise towards the uninhabited promontory." In this geography Libya was considered to extend westwards through Mauretania "as far as the mouth of the river Salex, some nine hundred stadia, and beyond that point a further distance which no one can compute, because when you have passed this river Libya is a desert which no longer supports a population."

Plutarch, who refers to the "fortunate isles" several times in his writings, locates them firmly in the Atlantic in his vita of Sertorius. Sertorius, when struggling against a chaotic civil war in the closing years of the Roman Republic, had tidings from mariners of certain islands a few days' sail from Hispania:


It was from these men that Sertorius learned facts so beguiling that he made it his life's ambition to find the islands and retire there.


Pliny the Elder's Natural History adds to the obligate description— that they "abound in fruit and birds of every kind"— the unexpected detail "These islands, however, are greatly annoyed by the putrefying bodies of monsters, which are constantly thrown up by the sea".

Ptolemy used these islands as the reference for the measurement of geographical longitude, and they continued to play the role of defining the prime meridian through the Middle Ages.[1] Modern geography names these islands as Macaronesia.

See also