Corfu is one of the most beautiful and popular islands in Greece, attracting millions of visitors every year. But have you ever wondered how this island got its name and what it means in Greek mythology? In this blog post, we will explore the origin and significance of Corfu’s name, as well as some of the myths and legends associated with it.
The origin of Corfu’s name
Corfu is the anglicized version of the Italian name Corfù, which was derived from the Byzantine Greek Κορυφώ (Koryphō), meaning “peak”. This name refers to the two peaks of the old citadel that overlook the city of Corfu. The Byzantine empire built a castle on this site in the 7th century AD, when they ruled over the island.
However, the original and official name of the island in Greek is Κέρκυρα (Kérkyra), which has a different and more ancient origin. According to Greek mythology, Kérkyra was the name of a beautiful nymph, the daughter of the river-god Asopos. She caught the eye of Poseidon, the god of the sea, who fell in love with her and abducted her. He brought her to an unnamed island in the Ionian Sea, where he made love to her and fathered a son named Phaiax. The island was then named after Kérkyra, and the inhabitants were called Phaeacians, after their ancestor.
The meaning of Corfu’s name in Greek mythology
The name Kérkyra has a symbolic meaning in Greek mythology, as it represents the love and union between Poseidon and his consort. The word Kérkyra is derived from the Greek verb κερκύω (kerkyō), which means “to mix” or “to mingle”. This verb is also used to describe the process of making wine by mixing water and grape juice. Therefore, Kérkyra can be interpreted as “the mingled one” or “the mixed one”, referring to her mixed origin as a river nymph and a sea goddess.
The name Kérkyra also reflects the geographical and cultural diversity of Corfu, which has been influenced by various civilizations throughout its history. Corfu has been inhabited since the Paleolithic era, and has been a trading hub for the Phoenicians, the Greeks, the Romans, the Byzantines, the Venetians, the French, the British, and finally the modern Greeks. Corfu has a unique blend of architectural styles, musical traditions, culinary flavors, and linguistic expressions that reflect its rich and varied heritage.
The myths and legends of Corfu
Corfu is not only famous for its name, but also for its role in some of the most famous myths and legends of Greek mythology. Here are some of them:
Corfu is believed to be the island of Scheria, where Odysseus was shipwrecked after escaping from Calypso’s island. He was rescued by Nausicaa, the daughter of King Alcinous and Queen Arete, who were the rulers of the Phaeacians. They welcomed Odysseus hospitably and listened to his adventures. They also helped him return to his home in Ithaca by giving him a ship and a crew.
Corfu is also said to be one of the stops of Jason and his crew of heroes on their quest for the Golden Fleece. They arrived at Corfu after passing through the Symplegades, or Clashing Rocks, with the help of Athena. They were greeted by King Alcinous and Queen Arete, who were related to Jason through his grandfather Aeolus. They offered them hospitality and gifts, and also mediated a dispute between Jason and Medea, who had killed her brother Apsyrtus to help Jason escape from Colchis.
The Rape of Persephone:
According to one version of this myth, Hades, the god of the underworld, abducted Persephone, the daughter of Demeter, the goddess of agriculture, while she was picking flowers in a meadow near the river Asopos. He took her to his realm, where he made her his wife and queen. Demeter searched for her daughter all over the world, neglecting her duties and causing famine and drought. She finally found out that Persephone was in the underworld, and asked Zeus, the king of the gods, to intervene. Zeus ordered Hades to release Persephone, but Hades tricked her into eating a pomegranate seed, which bound her to him for a part of the year. Demeter was so angry that she cursed the river Asopos and its nymphs, including Kérkyra, who became barren and infertile. This explains why Corfu has no rivers or lakes, and why its vegetation is dependent on the rainfall.
Corfu is an island with a fascinating name and a rich mythology. Its name comes from the nymph Kérkyra, who was the lover of Poseidon and the mother of the Phaeacians. Its name means “the mixed one”, reflecting its diverse geography and culture. Its myths and legends involve some of the most famous characters and stories of Greek mythology, such as Odysseus, Jason, Persephone, and Hades. Corfu is an island that invites you to discover its beauty and history, and to immerse yourself in its magical atmosphere.
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