Τετάρτη, 9 Οκτωβρίου 2013

The unique ‘harbour of Rheithron’ in Homeric Ithaca

    Text & Copyright: Hettie Putman Cramer & Makis Metaxas

  The mouth of the Vohynas where it emerges from the Poros gorge. In the background is Mount Ainos   
                                                                        Aerial photograph of  Poros by George Avgoustiniatos

Homer locates the "harbour of Rheithron" in Homeric Ithaca in the area ‘below [or near] to the wooded Neïon’ (the ὑπονήιος area),  just outside the city (Άστυ).
Today most translators agree that the Neion was a mountain on Homeric Ithaca. It is our belief  that  ὑπονήιος  [hypo-neion] area (the area ἐπ, ὑπ (περ, παρτ νήιον), that is the area near the
harbour, in other words the ἐπίνειον or port serving the hinterland of Ithaca.
The word ἐπίνειον is still used today to mean a port serving an inland area: for example, Piraeus is the ἐπίνειον of Athens:
ὑπονήιον > ἐπινήιον > ἐπίνειον [etym. < anc. Gk. ἐπίνειον < επί- + -νειον/-νηιον < ναύς, ship]

It is important to mention here that, according to Eustathius (1613, 29-30), Neïon is listed by the ancient geographers Krates and Philoxenos in their catalogues of ports and harbours, not in the catalogues of mountains or anything else. A similar piece of information is preserved by Apollonios Sophistes (first century a.d.) in his only surviving work, the Homeric Lexicon (Λεξικν κατ στοιχείον λιάδος κα δυσσείας), where he quotes Apion the grammarian as stating that ὑπονήιον is the name given to the port of Ithaca.  For this issue Strabo (C. 454), unable to correctly interpret what Homer identified with the word Neïon, concludes that this is a vague question .

Homer describes the “Rheithron port” as situated not far from the city and quite close to the palace.  The sea was visible from the palace and it was possible to see the ships entering the harbor. The description of the suitors arriving at the “ Rheithron port”-  after the  ambush that had been set up by them on the island of Asteris to kill Telemachus  had failed-  is very descriptive and leaves no doubt (Od. π.342-362). Homer describes this port as «πολυβενθές» (Od.π 351-353) ( to penetrate deep into the land) and the harbor area where the ships moor  is not visible from   the palace. This derives from the questions submitted by Telemachus to Mendes, king of the Tafhians. When Mendes arrives by ship at the palace of Odysseus, Telemachus is not able to see Mendes’ ship moored at the harbor’s depth and he asks Mendes how he arrived in Ithaca.

Mendes’ famous response to this question is until today one of the top riddles of the Homeric topography.

τὸν δ᾽ αὖτε προσέειπε θεά, γλαυκῶπις Ἀθήνη·
"τοιγὰρ ἐγώ τοι ταῦτα μάλ᾽ ἀτρεκέως ἀγορεύσω.
Μέντης Ἀγχιάλοιο δαΐφρονος εὔχομαι εἶναι
υἱός, ἀτὰρ Ταφίοισι φιληρέτμοισιν ἀνάσσω.
νῦν δ᾽ ὧδε ξὺν νηὶ κατήλυθον ἠδ᾽ ἑτάροισιν
πλέων ἐπὶ οἴνοπα πόντον ἐπ᾽ ἀλλοθρόους ἀνθρώπους,
ἐς Τεμέσην μετὰ χαλκόν, ἄγω δ᾽ αἴθωνα σίδηρον.
νηῦς δέ μοι ἥδ᾽ ἕστηκεν ἐπ᾽ ἀγροῦ νόσφι πόληος,
ἐν λιμένι ῾Ρείθρῳ ὑπὸ Νηίῳ ὑλήεντι.

‘I will answer all your questions truthfully,’ answered the bright-eyed goddess Athena. ‘I declare that I am Mentes, the son of warlike Anchialos, and I rule over the seafaring Taphians. And now I have arrived here with my ship and crew, sailing across the wine-dark sea to Temese where the people speak a strange language, carrying gleaming iron to exchange for copper. My ship lies over there beside the fields away from the city, in the harbour of Rheithron, below wooded(?) Neïon.(Od. 1.178-186)

The word εθρον[i] rheithron (ῥέεθρον), used to describe the physical setting of the port of Homeric Ithaca, is derived from the verb έω (to flow) and its other derivatives: εθρα, εῦμα, ποτάμια εθρα (river bed), ύαξ, etc. So Homer indicates very clearly that the port of Homeric Ithaka was situated in a river bed.

How important is it for researchers to verify this information – an item of information unique in Homer’s epics? To put it another way, in trying to locate the city and palace of Homeric Ithaca, how helpful would it be to establish whether or not a harbour in a river bed, as described by Homer, actually existed?

Have any ancient harbours in river beds been found on Kephallenia, and more specifically in the part of Kephallenia under discussion: the south-east?

Archaeological finds have proved that in antiquity there were at least two harbours in river beds on Kephallenia, both of which can be located with a fair degree of certainty. One is at Vatsa at the south end of the Paliki peninsula, where a sanctuary of Poseidon has been discovered, and the other is on the east coast of the island, in the bed of the River Vohynas at Poros. In the Mycenaean period the sea here reached almost as far as the modern flood barrier. In historical times the silt and rubble brought down by the river pushed the shoreline out to where the stone bridge now stands: there the ancient harbour works and archaeological finds dating from the Hellenistic period were found when the bridge was being built. Since then, and especially since the 1953 earthquakes, the ground level has risen by about one and a half metres, with the result that the water in the river bed has receded considerably. In 1936 the government of Ioannis Metaxas had the ancient harbour filled in because the mosquitoes breeding in the stagnant water were a permanent health hazard to the local people.

                                                                                  Photo by Brigadier Charalambos Panagiotareas                            
harbour Vatsa at the south end of the Paliki peninsula,

        harbour of the River Vohynas at Poros          Photo by Brigadier Charalambos Panagiotareas (1954)                      
Rare images when you begin the reconstruction of the village of Poros in 1954 on the river Vochinas. The seawater despite the embankments that were made from 1936 to the riverbed continues to be joined with the waters of the river deep enough. The river was navigable up to that time, then was filled completely coated with cement. Since converted into a space parkiig for the summer season
                                                                                Photo by Brigadier Charalambos Panagiotareas

Here, then, we have a striking and rare peculiarity: the ancient port of the Pronnaians was on the banks and in the bed of a river – the seasonal River Vohynas, which flows through the scenic Poros gorge and out into the eastern Ionian Sea (see photograph) – just like Ithaka’s ‘harbour of Rheithron’ as described by Homer.

                                                                                   Aerial photograph of  Poros by Kostas Koklanos,
The remarkable coincidence of two harbours having the same distinctive characteristics becomes even more interesting when one reads some of the passages by historians and geographers describing the unique or unusual features of the landscape hereabouts.

The historian Antonios Miliarakis[ii] describes the landscape as follows:
A walk through the Poros gorge along the well-beaten path on the right bank provides one of the grand natural spectacles of Kephallenia, whether one is going up from the sea to Iraklion or in the other direction, thanks to the wildness of the landscape, the varied scenery and the great plane trees on both sides of the stream. These trees, which lend the scene a touch of beauty, extend into the Iraklion valley along the banks of the stream draining the water from Lake Avythos, the biggest lake on Kephallenia.…
On the heights of Mount Pachni, south of Poros, are the remains of a very ancient acropolis.

Charles Napier,[iii] the Resident in Kephallenia under the British Protectorate, described this magnificent landscape as follows:
"Description of the district of Aracli, or Heraclea"
Before the river reaches the sea, it passes through a narrow chasm in the eastern ridge, whose rocky sides rise perpendicularly to a vast height above the bed of the river, which is strewed with large masses that have fallen from above, where many still overhang, and threaten to crush the passing traveller. These great rocks form the base of two mountains, covered with wood, which stand on each side, like sentinels, to guard the entrance of this beautiful valley. On the southern height are extensive Cyclopian ruins. On passing this rocky defile, there is a small plain between it and the sea, and enclosed by the rocks, which run down on each side to the water’s edge. On crossing the rocks, to the south, you find the beautiful little port of Poros, formed by a jut of land, called ‘the Saracen’s landing place’.
Such is the valley of Heraclea, bounded by huge mountains, on whose precipitous sides, woods, rocks, and ruins, are profusely heaped in magnificent confusion.

The archaeologist Spyridon Marinatos,[iv] describing the Poros gorge in which the ancient port of the Pronnaians was situated, declares that the whole scene is like a miniature version of the Vale of Tempe.
The gorge of Poros.<1900 

Joseph Partsch,[v] in his description of the truly impressive Poros gorge, has this to say:
Descending southwards from the rocky heights of Pyrgi, one comes to the valley of Iraklion, whence the water it receives from the surrounding mountains finds a single outlet to the sea through a narrow gorge. Many travellers have fulsomely praised the abundance of water, the fertile soil, the flourishing orchards and the meadows in this valley and have rated it the finest part of the island.
                                                                  The gorge of Poros.
                                          (Engraving of H.L.Allen,. 1823) Collection of Fotis Kremmydas.
Eastern outlet of the valley of Racli – Cefalonia 16th May 1832.

The fitting portal has this beautiful vale- and as singularly formed as most that was seen.  The stream for ages winding its course to the sea, has worn away a duly narrow channel, when in the dry season, it settles in clean emerald pools of a great dept, but after it rains is converted again into a furious roaring current, boiling along in its dark bed and carrying earth and stones and opposes its course – The graceful (….) here attaining a height of 20 to 30 feet does not forsake the stream when it quits that ‘happy valley’, but accompanies it to the edge of the sea.
This pass in some places is not much above a dozen yards broad within side xx steps and lofty rock – those on the left, in this view bear on their summits a tale of ancient days in the cyclopean remains of The Hellenic city of Pronos – the remains of whose gigantic walls (….)to be well tread amid the thick tangled underwood – Pronos was one of the four large cities of Cefalonia, and share no remains to compare to Samos & Krani. Signora Cambici told me that the late resident of the island, Col. Napier had interested himself much in the explorations of these ruins, and discovered, or rediscovered what had been nearly might forgotten – They are situated in and out of the way, inaccessible place, and few persons visit them.

(This was written by H.L. Allen on the back side of the gravure)

We have deliberately devoted space to some of the many passages written at various times to describe the unique beauty of the Poros gorge and its river, in which was the ancient harbour of the Pronnaians. It is our belief that the distinctive character of a harbour situated in a river bed full of leafy planes and other trees (νηίῳ λήεντι) at the mouth of such an impressive gorge was not its only memorable feature: most of all, its commercial uses and the port facilities it offered to seafarers in the Ionian Sea were what made it, then as now, one of the best-known places in Homeric Ithaka. A harbour known as ‘the Harbour of the River-Bed’, thanks to which that part of Ithaca was known as ὑπονήιος θάκη, would not have been for Homer a matter of indifference. This has now been corroborated by the recent interdisciplinary research project in the Poros gorge. According to the archaeologist in charge of the project, Dr. Georgia Stratouli,[vi] the Poros gorge with its Drakaina Cave[vii] was regarded as a locus of the utmost monumental value in the region of the Ionian Sea.

Panoramic image of the center of the Mycenaean settlements in Riza Tzannata location that captures the image of viewing to the sea side were the buildings of the ruling class of that time. This picture confirms impressively the Homeric text describing the unseen side of the interior of the " harbour of Rheithron  " from the position of the palace( Od A. 178-186 ) , and confirms the Homeric text that from there it was possible to visual monitoring of the arrival of the ship from Asterida ( Todays' Οxia ) to the harbour of Rheithron until the moment they saw the suitors to download the sails of their ship to enter the unseen interior of the riverine port ( Od.p , 342-362 ). The distance between the palace area and the port area which was outside of the city according to the Homeric text was relatively close (today located 1,3 Km).

Another point worth noting is that the area at the mouth of the Poros gorge is now called Rayia. The name Rayia (Ράγια) is connected with the verb ήγνυμι (break) and other derivatives thereof, such as γμα (cleft, fissure), ηγμν or ῥηγμς (line of breakers, or the point at which waves break as they approach the shore), ώξ/ωγς (crevice, opening: at Od. 22.143 ν ῥώγας μεγάροιο means ‘through the narrow passages leading into the palace’), ωγμ or ωχμς (fissure, crack), confirming once again that the local place-names (‘names that speak for themselves’, as they are called locally) accord perfectly with the physical features of the terrain and the uses to which they have been put by humans.

To conclude this section about the ‘harbour of Rheithron’, it is interesting to note a passage in the Odyssey (1.185-186) where Homer tells us that Mentes, whose ship was berthed in the harbour at the river mouth, had come to Ithaka to load a cargo of ‘gleaming iron’ (αἴθωνα σίδηρον),[i] which he was going to carry to Temese to exchange for copper. This item of information is extremely significant in view of the fact that, until the Second World War, iron ore mined in the area between Andriolata and Xenopoulo on the eastern slopes of Mount Ainos was exported from the port of Poros, being carried in caiques to the mines at Lavrio in Attica. It is not often remembered that workable deposits of iron ore, a commodity rare in western Greece and very highly valued in antiquity, existed in eastern Kephallenia; and behind this forgotten fact there may lie concealed something of more importance to archaeologists than the fact itself.

                                                      iron ore from southeastern Kefalonia
  Panoramic view of the port area of Poros located on the river Vochinas as it was in ancient times, a    photorealistic approach by Artists Abraham Panagatos . This image remained intact until the mid 20th
        century. Since the middle of last century was built along the coastline the new settlement of Poros.                               Aerial photograph of  Poros by Kostas Koklanos, photorealism by Abraam Panagatos 

                                             Poros area today     Aerial photograph of  Poros by Kostas Koklanos,                                                                                                                                                                       

 Text & Copyright: Hettie Putman Cramer & Makis Metaxas  

[i]    Μέγα Ετυμολογικόν Λεξικόν.
[ii]    Antonios Miliarakis, Γεωγραφία Νέα και Αρχαία του Νομού Κεφαλληνίας, Athens 1890, 42.
[iii]   Charles Napier, Memoir on the Roads of Cephallonia, London 1825, 39-41.
[iv]   S. Marinatos, Κεφαλληνία, Ιστορικός και Αρχαιολογικός Περίπατος, 1962, 12.
[v]    Joseph Partsch, Kephallenia und Ithaka – eine geographische Monographie (in Greek translation), Athens 1892, 185-186.
[vi]   Georgia Stratouli, “Symbolic behaviour at places of social activity beyond the domestic area in the Ionian Neolithic”, Documenta Praehistorica XXXII (2005) 123-132.
[vii]  E.-M. Chatziotou, G. Stratouli and E. Kotzambopoulou, “The Drakaina Cave: Recent investigations at Poros on Kefalonia”, Αρχαιολογικά Ανάλεκτα Εξ Αθηνών 22 (1989) 31-60 (in Greek with abstract in English); Evangelia-Miranda Chatziotou and Georgia Stratouli, “Drakaina Cave at Poros, Kephalonia. Evidence for the prehistoric use of the cave and its use as a cult place during historical times”, Proceedings of the VI Panionian Congress, I, 61-76 (in Greek).
[i]    EustathiusΠαρεκβολαί εις την Ομήρου Οδύσσειαν, 183-186, 1409-39.

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