Palinurus, in Roman mythology, is the helmsman of a ship of the Trojan hero Aeneas, whose descendants would one day found the city of Rome. As the price for the safe passage of Aeneas and his people from Sicily to Italy, Palinurus loses his life, one on behalf of many ('unum pro multis dabitur caput' according to Vergil's "Neptune" (Aeneid 5.815). Somnus causes Palinurus to fall asleep and fall overboard. (Palinurus' own version at Aeneid 6.349 does not blame the god.) He is then stranded on the coast of Lucania, in southern Italy, where he is killed by a native tribe, the Lucani. When Aeneas and the Sibyl meet Palinurus in the Underworld, the Sibyl promises that the local people will be moved by signs to provide the helmsman's body with a proper burial, at what is now Cape Palinuro.
Palinurus is mentioned in Utopia by Sir Thomas More as a type of careless traveller. "'Then you're not quite right,' he replied, 'for his sailing has not been like that of Palinurus, but more that of Ulysses, or rather of Plato. This man, who is named Raphael.'" This is unfair, as Palinurus conscientiously refused to let the disguised Somnus take the tiller, claiming that although the sea was calm, he could not risk going off duty. Somnus was forced to use magic to make Palinurus sleep.
Palinurus was the pseudonym chosen by Cyril Connolly for his book The Unquiet Grave: A Word Cycle, and used to refer disparagingly to him by Alaric Jacob in Scenes from a Bourgeois Life.
The singer-songwriter Peter Hammill recorded a song called "Palinurus (Castaway)" on his 1978 album The Future Now, with lyrics vaguely invoking Palinurus's sea voyage, including the pun "it's all Greek to me", though Palinurus was Trojan.
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