While the topic of the Otherworld is abundantly attested in medieval Celtic legends, we have only a very modest number of ancient literary testimonies that provide insights into the notions Celtic peoples of antiquity had of Otherworlds and journeys to these places. Moreover, the texts of Greek and Roman authors used for this purpose by modern scholarship are of quite different value and can only be used with great reservations as sources for genuinely Celtic otherworld views. The present paper discusses this evidence and the difficulties associated with its interpretation; in addition to quite problematic texts, there are three testimonies preserved in Plutarch (Sertorius 8,5; De facie in orbe lunae 26) and Procopius (Bellum Gothicum 4, 20,42-58), which are treated in detail and examined for their significance in terms of religious history.
The island of Calypso, as depicted in Homer’s Odyssey, has often been seen as a sinister idyll that has some features in common with the underworld, and Calypso herself has been described in modern scholarship as a veiled representative of death. Proponents of this interpretation, which was formulated more than one hundred years ago and remains popular today, have often made use of comparative arguments that are based on similarities to underworldepisodes in early Greek epic, or IndoEuropean etymologies of the name Calypso, or the supposed influence of ancient Near Eastern mythology (Ištar/Gilgameš). The present contribution argues that none of these comparative approaches have been successful, and that the underworldtheory should be abandoned. Some key passages of the Calypsoepisode can be rescued from past misinterpretation.