"Nireus from Symi brings three ships

Nireus the son of Aglaea by Charopus

Nireus, in beauty, if Peleus's son was not there

would be the handsomest of all the Danaans,

but he was not battle-hardened and had only a few men."

(II, 671-675)


The Years of Myth

Only a few references to Symi can be found in the ancient texts, but it is wor-thy of note that Homer mentions the name in the 'Iliad'. As far as the origin of the name of the island Symi is concerned, the later writers cite different versions.

Diodorus the Sicilian, for example, refers to the mythical character called Symi who coupled with Poseidon, the god of the sea, and gave birth to Chthonius, which means 'the man from the soil', who in turn was leader of the first inhabitants of the island which arrived there from Thessaly.

Eustathius of Thessalonica alludes to the name Syme as being that of the wife of Glaucus whom, he believes, was the first inhabitant of the island. Eustathius also mentions other, more ancient, names for Symi: Kariki, Metapontis and Aigli, names which are also cited by Stephanus of Byzantium and Strabo. In addition to these names, Strabo quotes the name Elkoussa which can also be found in works by other writers and geographers including Ptolemaeus and Aelianus. The myth which deals with Glaucus is a very beautiful one which involves him kidnapping Syme (the daughter of lalysus and Dotis) and bringing her back to the island where he practises all manner of maritime activities such as fishing, swimming and shipbuilding. Glaucus also has special abilities which allow him to remain at the bottom of the sea for a long time, Later, Glaucus was involved in a variety of love affairs and it has been said that he built the 'Argo'; the ship used by Jason and the Argonauts during their adventures.

The version describing the origin of the name Symi mentioned by Pliny, however, is completely different. According to him, the name arose because the island looks like Delos (an island of the Cyclades) with its surrounding islets and it took the name Scimmia (which in ancient Greek is mimo, monkey) from which the name Symi was derived. This version is also referred to by the 15th century Italian traveller Christophorus Buondel-monti, who records that it comes from the word for monkey (simeia or mimo) into which Zeus transformed Prometheus, the son of lapetus, after he created man from clay on the way to Symi and taught the inhabitants the secret of longevity which had, until then, been the privilege of the gods. Buondelmonti writes elsewhere that the island took the name Simie from its first inhabitant in the years of Cronus whom he believes was called Simen; and also mentions a third version: that the name Simia, during the time of Saturn, came from the king Simetos; along with a forth version that it came from the word 'mud' (Sima = close to) because it is close to the coast of Asia Minor This last version is also mentioned by the 16th century Turkish traveller Piri Reis who writes that Symia in Turkish is interpreted as 'qonbsu' which means 'close to Anatolia' (the island is, as mentioned above, only 5 nautical miles away). In Turkish the island was called Sumbeki from the fast boats, or simbequirs, which were built by its inhabitants.

  The Trojan War - Nireus

Of great interest is the reference to Symi in Homer's 'Iliad', in which the 'record of boats'which took part in the Trojan war includes the name of the king of the island, king Nireus. and mentions that he contributed three well-built ships. The passage tells us that Nireus was the son of king Charopus and Aglaea, that he was, after Achilles (the son of Peleus), the most handsome man of the Danaans who went to Troy, but that he had only limited skill as a warrior. Nireus, who is mentioned by Iginos among the suitors of Helen, was killed fighting in Troy by Eurypylus. On the acropolis of Symi, remains of Mycenaean ceramics have been found.




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