faraway places

Anton Sherwood (dasher@netcom.com)
Fri, 7 Feb 1997 23:32:42 -0800

Perhaps the most important name on Mars is THARSIS, a "continent"
on which sit most (Olympus, Ascraeus, Pavonis, Arsia) of the
great volcani. It's also one of the few classical names whose
origin is not obvious to me.

I looked for THARSIS in all my dictionaries. Nothing.
I looked in the index to Bullfinch's Mythology. Nothing,
to my utter lack of amazement.

My big picture-book _The surface of Mars_ cites an article in _Icarus_:
"The origins of martian nomenclature". I went to the library.
No _Icarus_.

At a bookstore, I spent some moments slobbering over NASA's new
atlas of the planets. In the back is a list of names, with brief
notes on their sources. THARSIS, it says, means Tartessos in Spain.

Home to the Oxford Classical Dictionary:
TARTESSUS, a region of south Spain, round the middle and lower
Baetis (Guadalquivir). The name was also given to the river
and to a town at its mouth. Probably visited by the Minoans,
it was temporarily occupied by the Phoenicians. C. 650 BC
the Samian Colaeus was driven there; c. 600 Phocaeans came,
making friends with the Tartessian ruler. The trade of
Tartessus with Phoenicians and Carthaginians and (in tin)
with Brittany and south-west Britain made it proverbially
wealthy. C. 500 the town was probably destroyed by the
Carthaginians. Geographic writers confused it with Gades.
Later poets used Tartessus of all Spain or all west Europe.
Tartessus was probably the Biblical Tarshish.

Aha! And THARSIS must be the Greek rendering of TARSHISH.
Imagine my relief.

--The funniest names on Mars are
"Hellespontus Montes" and "Nereidum Montes".

Anton Sherwood *\\* +1 415 267 0685 *\\* DASher@netcom.com