Where in the world is "The East"

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Where in the world is "The East"

An avid reader in my teens, place names from Greek mythology, the dramas of Sophocles and Euripides,  poetry and literature were familiar to me, but I did not have a real sense of where these places were located in the world  beyond my home country. Now as an adult, visiting sites of ancient cultures, I feel the need to situate these ancient cultures in their contemporary locations.

Intrigued by the idea that the city of Istanbul is located on both sides of the Bosphorus, partly in Europe and partly in Asia, I tried to sort out what I thought was probably elementary geography knowledge that I just had never acquired.

For example where are the boundaries of Near, Middle and Far East to be found?  I found an interesting post  at hotword.dictionary.com which suggests that these terms are somewhat arbitrary and have changed through common usage from the original definitions. The Far East was apparently first used to describe all British colonies east of India. Today, it refers to China, Japan and other countries on the eastern rim of Asia like North and South Korea, Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines. The Middle East which we hear about all the time has come to describe the region including Israel and the Arab countries stretching from Egypt and Sudan in Africa to Turkey in the north to Iran.

The term Near East was defined as opposite to the Far East and referred to the region in Asia that’s west of India. Not much used these days, it overlaps with the Middle East countries and also encompasses Turkey, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf nations. This is almost as confusing as the currency names.

Some place names are unchanged from early times - modern towns and cities exist on or near the sites of these ancient places. On my Mediterranean  trip I visited Istanbul - once called Byzantium and then Constantinople - and sailed up the Bosphorus. I also visited Izmir - once Smyrna  from where I visited the excavations at Ephesus. On this visit to Turkey as well as a return visit to explore more of Istanbul,  and a call at the Northern city of Trabzon, I hope to visit the inland site of Cappadocia. 

When I mentioned to my daughter that the Black Sea cruise would visit Batumi in Georgia, she said "Georgia - that's Colchis, where Medea was born and Jason stole the Golden Fleece from king Aeete."   The Phasis River is now known as the Rioni. The ancient town of Colchis was located south of Phasis on the Bathys. While Corinth (where Euripides' Medea takes place) and Athens (where Medea seeks refuge at the end), both retain their ancient names, the name of Colchis seems not to be used anymore as a state or a town.

Can't wait to actually visit all these places and get them sorted out in my head.