Τετάρτη, 26 Σεπτεμβρίου 2018

Searching for the exact location of "clearly-seen" Ithaca, the capital of Odysseus’ Mycenaean island kingdom in Western Greece.

Dedicated to our friends, Eric & Susanne Metaxas. 
Text & Copyright: Hettie Putman Cramer & Makis Metaxas


The search for Homeric Ithaca and the controversy over whether it could be definitely identified with the Ithaki of historical times appears to date back to very early in the historical era. Of the ancient writers, Strabo (C 454) is the one who tells us most about the doubt in the minds of the geographers and historians of antiquity when he says:

«Ού γάρ ευκρινώς αποδίδωσιν ο ποιητής ούτε περί της Κεφαλληνίας ούτε περί της Ιθάκης και των άλλων πλησίον τόπων, ώστε και οι εξηγούμενοι διαφέρονται και οι ιστορούντες.»

" For the poet [sc. Homer] does not express himself clearly concerning either Kephallenia or Ithaca or the other places nearby, with the result that both commentators and historians disagree with one another ". 
The fact is that we are now in the third millennium after Christ, with the twentieth century behind us and yet archaeology, backed by several other branches of learning with all the instruments and scientific methods of modern technology at their disposal, has still not definitively answered the question whether Homer’s Ithaca actually existed as the bard described it. Consequently most scholars regard Homer’s version of the geography of the Ionian Islands as a figment of the poetic imagination or simple misapprehension of a rhapsodist who was born in Ionia (the mainland and islands of the eastern Aegean) and spent his life far away from Western Greece.

The result is that, to a modern Homeric scholar, looking for the places in Western Greece where Homer’s heroes trod has little more chance of success than trying to identify the stamping grounds of "Puss in Boots"!

But is that really the case? And if not, did those places mentioned by Homer really exist? Were they in the same locations as the places that bear their names today? Or could it be that they still exist today but are now disguised by different names, lurking in the mists left behind by the dark ages which succeeded the ‘Heroic Age’ of the Greeks?

After about 150 years of archaeological and literary research, during which nothing of any significance from the Late Bronze Age (1550-1050 b.c.) has been found on the island called Ithaki in historical times, most scholars now believe that Homer’s description of Ithaca was based on memories of a bygone era seen darkly through the glass of Western Greek myths and seafarers’ stories of their journeys to the far west.

It is the opposing line of thought, the minority view, that is the object of this study: namely that the Ithaca of Odysseus described by Homer, that is the Ithaca of the time of the Trojan War, does indeed exists and is to be sought by following the directions given by ancient Greek literature – mainly Homer – and the incontrovertible archaeological evidence of the Mycenaean period.

The geography of Homeric Ithaca 

In Homer there are two passages in particular that give us specific information about the position of the capital of Odysseus’ Mycenaean island-kingdom in Western Greece.

The first is the description of Odysseus’ realm in the ‘Catalogue of Ships’ in the Iliad (2.631-637):

Odysseus commanded the proud-hearted Kephallenians,
who inhabited Ithaka and the forested peak of windswept Neriton,
and Krokyleia and rugged Aigilips, 
and Zakynthos and Samos too,
and the mainland opposite the islands. 
These were the forces of Odysseus, whose wisdom was equal to that of Zeus; 
and with him came twelve ships with red-painted bows.  Iliad (2.631-637):

Αὐτὰρ Ὀδυσσεὺς ἦγε Κεφαλλῆνας μεγαθύμους,
οἵ ῥ᾽ Ἰθάκην εἶχον καὶ Νήριτον εἰνοσίφυλλον
καὶ Κροκύλει᾽ ἐνέμοντο καὶ Αἰγίλιπα τρηχεῖαν,
οἵ τε Ζάκυνθον ἔχον ἠδ᾽ οἳ Σάμον ἀμφενέμοντο,
οἵ τ᾽ ἤπειρον ἔχον ἠδ᾽ ἀντιπέραι᾽ ἐνέμοντο· 635
τῶν μὲν Ὀδυσσεὺς ἦρχε Διὶ μῆτιν ἀτάλαντος·
τῷ δ᾽ ἅμα νῆες ἕποντο δυώδεκα μιλτοπάρῃοι.    (Ιλιάδα Β, 631-637)

The second passage comes from the Odyssey (9.19-28), where Odysseus is giving an account of himself to Alkinoos, king of the Phaiakes. From this it is perfectly clear that in Homer’s mind Ithaca lay far out in the Ionian Sea, at the furthermost limit of the Mycenaean world:

These are the lines that have long puzzled Homeric scholars and provoked so much argument, because of the contradiction between the poet’s description of Ithaca’s position and the actual location of the Ithaki of historical times.

Here, the author of the text, prophetically thinking, as though he had a premonition something was going to happen in the future, personally instructs Odysseus to be responsible for describing his birthplace when he introduced himself to King Alkinoos of the Phaeacians. Odysseus recites the following text that was to become one of the most famous and controversial texts describing a place of prehistoric topography!

I am Odysseus, son of Laertes, known for my wiles
to all men, and my fame reaches the heavens.
I dwell in clearly-visible Ithaca, where there is a mountain,
Neriton, covered with waving forests, majestic; and on either side of it
lie many islands very close to each other:
Doulichion, Same, and forested Zakynthos.
Ithaca itself lies offshore [the farthest out] in the boundless sea
towards the dusk, but the others lie apart toward the dawn and the sun;
a rugged isle, but a fine nursery of young men. And I myself
can see no other place sweeter in all the earth.      (Odyssey (9.19-28)                                                                                                                 
εἴμ᾽ Ὀδυσεὺς Λαερτιάδης, ὃς πᾶσι δόλοισιν
ἀνθρώποισι μέλω, καί μευ κλέος οὐρανὸν ἵκει.
ναιετάω δ᾽ Ἰθάκην ἐυδείελον· ἐν δ᾽ ὄρος αὐτῇ
Νήριτον εἰνοσίφυλλον, ἀριπρεπές· ἀμφὶ δὲ νῆσοι
πολλαὶ ναιετάουσι μάλα σχεδὸν ἀλλήλῃσι,
Δουλίχιόν τε Σάμη τε καὶ ὑλήεσσα Ζάκυνθος.
αὐτὴ δὲ χθαμαλὴ πανυπερτάτη εἰν ἁλὶ κεῖται  
πρὸς ζόφον, αἱ δέ τ᾽ ἄνευθε πρὸς ἠῶ τ᾽ ἠέλιόν τε,
τρηχεῖ᾽, ἀλλ᾽ ἀγαθὴ κουροτρόφος·οὔ τοι ἐγώ γε
ἧς γαίης δύναμαι γλυκερώτερον ἄλλο ἰδέσθαι.       (Οδύσσεια ι 19-28)

The reality is that in world’s literature no other equivalent text is known to have been translated in so many different and conflicting ways.And there may never be one.

Can you imagine how many different translations of this text have been made all over the world  in order to find a translation that could coincide the Homeric topography with the island of Ithaki as we know it today? 

There are indeed hundreds. There are so many ...  and so different between each other, that these translations determined into great extent the nature and the course of the so-called Homeric problem.

Before turning our attention to the text of the Odyssey to analyse the controversial passage (9.19-28) when Odysseus reveals the exact geographical position of his kingdom to king Alkinoos, we should make it clear that we have taken note of the geological findings relating to the central Ionian Sea. 

It is a fact that geologists have dismissed any suggestion that large-scale changes have taken place since Odysseus’ time. The only small-scale changes – resulting from the seismic activity in the region  recorded in the Middle Holocene (the epoch corresponding to the Mesolithic, Neolithic and Bronze Age cultures) have been upthrusts or subsidences of no more than three metres in the geological plates, accumulations of alluvium in the Acheloös delta, probably changes in the river’s outlets and erosion of crumbling soil in some coastal areas (such as Kakava and Vardiani) and a fair number of landslides on steep slopes (e.g. on the western shores of the Ionian Islands). In general, the absolute and relative positions of the islands, their shapes and the distances between them have remained as they were in the Homeric period. 

the world's sea level from twenty-five thousand years ago until today

Our credibility would be at risk if we were to suggest that Homer’s Ithaca or any other island, or indeed any other place, might at that time have been attached to some other island or located in what is now deep water. To put it more simply and more graphically, we could say that if we had flown over the area at a height of 50,000 feet in that period. the islands would have looked very much the same as they do now, with only some minor differences in the shape of the coastline.

The image of the eastern Mediterranean in the late Holocene era

With this information in mind, we suggest that we proceed with the next step, which is to carry out together a rational exercise. Thus we will try to translate word-for-word this passage (9.19-28) where Odysseus reveals in every detail to the King of the Phaeacians Alkinoos, the exact geographical position of his homeland, the Mycenaean Ithaca.  Afterwards we will draw our conclusions.

‘The beginning of wisdom is the investigation of names’ 

«Ἀρχὴ παιδεύσεως ἡ τῶν ὀνομάτων ἐπίσκεψις» : these words were written 2,100 years ago by Epictetus, the most consistent exponent of Stoicism.

The Academician Dr. Thanasis Fokas, Professor of Nonlinear Mathematical Science at Cambridge University, a multiple award-winner and himself a Kefalonian, has since long taken a close interest in the success of our project and given us much assistance. Over these many years he has constantly urged us to seek the truth relying on both reason and aesthetics as our basic guide lines. A characteristic dictum of his is: ‘If you have two equations and one is aesthetically pleasing, that one is the more likely to be right.’

And so, abandoning flights of fancy and keeping our imagination in check, we propose to conduct an experiment, or rather an exercise in logical thinking, before trying to find the answer to this equation, starting from scratch.

First we must have a physical map of the area and a good Homeric lexicon to hand, to enable us to go to the text and make a strictly literal translation of that much-quoted passage (Od. 9.19-28), adhering faithfully to the syntax and flow of Homer’s text.

Following those rules, we arrive at this result:

Homer, Odyssey, Book 9, lines 19-28

19 εἴμ᾽ Ὀδυσεὺς Λαερτιάδης, ὃς πᾶσι δόλοισιν
19 I am Odysseus, son of Laertes, known for my wiles

20 ἀνθρώποισι μέλω, καί μευ κλέος οὐρανὸν ἵκει.
20 to all men, and my fame reaches the heavens.

21 ναιετάω δ᾽ Ἰθάκην ἐυδείελον· ἐν δ᾽ ὄρος αὐτῇ
21 I dwell in clearly-visible Ithaca, where there is a mountain,

22 Νήριτον εἰνοσίφυλλον, ἀριπρεπές· ἀμφὶ δὲ νῆσοι
22 Neriton [1], covered with waving forests, majestic; and on either side of it

23 πολλαὶ ναιετάουσι μάλα σχεδὸν ἀλλήλῃσι,
23 lie many islands very close to each other:

24 Δουλίχιόν τε Σάμη τε καὶ ὑλήεσσα Ζάκυνθος.
24 Doulichion, Same, and forested Zakynthos.

25 αὐτὴ δὲ χθαμαλὴ πανυπερτάτη εἰν ἁλὶ κεῖται
25 Ithaca itself lies offshore [the farthest out] in the boundless sea

26 πρὸς ζόφον, αἱ δέ τ᾽ ἄνευθε πρὸς ἠῶ τ᾽ ἠέλιόν τε,
26 towards the dusk, but the others lie apart toward the dawn and the sun;

27 τρηχεῖ᾽, ἀλλ᾽ ἀγαθὴ κουροτρόφος· οὔ τοι ἐγώ γε
27 a rugged isle, but a fine nursery of young men. And I myself

28 ἧς γαίης δύναμαι γλυκερώτερον ἄλλο ἰδέσθαι.
28 can see no other place sweeter in all the earth.

Our next step is to look at a map of the Ionian Sea showing the area in question and to lay the translation of the text next to it, so that we have optical contact with the text and the map simultaneously (see the illustrations below).

Before starting this exercise, we have to delete the names of four of the islands, replacing each name with a big question mark until such time as we have allotted to every island the name Homer uses for it.

First of all, we shall give each island a number:

Next, let us analyse the first four lines (19-22) of Book 9 of the Odyssey, looking for the keywords that will help us to translate them, or rather decipher their meaning, as best we can.

  • We start with Odysseus’ first words to the king of the Phaiakes (Phaeacians).
(Od. 9.19-22)

19 εἴμ᾽ Ὀδυσεὺς Λαερτιάδης, ὃς πᾶσι δόλοισιν
19 I am Odysseus, son of Laertes, known for my wiles

20 ἀνθρώποισι μέλω, καί μευ κλέος οὐρανὸν ἵκει.
20 to all men, and my fame reaches the heavens.

21 ναιετάω δ᾽ Ἰθάκην ἐυδείελον· ἐν δ᾽ ὄρος αὐτῇ
21 I dwell in clearly-visible Ithaca, where there is a mountain,

22 Νήριτον εἰνοσίφυλλον, ἀριπρεπές· ἀμφὶ δὲ νῆσοι
22 Neriton, covered with waving forests, majestic

It is clear from the first lines of this controversial passage that Odysseus is proud of living in ἐυδείελον Ἰθάκην, a feature of which is the forested, high, majestic mountain called Νήριτον (Neriton).

The keywords are the adjective ἐυδείελος and the name (adjective) Νήριτον [1]. 

When we first started translating the passage and came to the word ἐυδείελον, we realised that there are conflicting views on its meaning: most scholars believe it is used to describe a place that is clearly visible, some others that it is used of a place having a view of the beautiful evenings, i.e. sunsets.

However, taking it together with the reference in the same line to the majestic Mount Neriton, which would certainly make Ithaca clearly visible, we concluded that the correct interpretation has more to do with its conspicuousness than its fine views towards the setting sun, though one does not preclude the other. 

To confirm our conclusion, we made a chart showing the maximum altitude of each of the four islands, which makes it startlingly clear that Island 4 (Kephallenia) has easily the highest mountain of all the islands in the Ionian Sea, twice the height of the mountain on Island 2 (Ithaki).

But this made us wondering: even if the adjective ἐυδείελος refers to a place that faces west and has beautiful evenings, which island lies furthest in the direction of the setting sun? So we took a parallel ruler and aligned it on a north-south axis to see which island lies furthest to the west. The answer was the same: Island 4, Kephallenia (see map above).

So far it appears that Island 4 (Kephallenia) best fits the description given in the first four lines of the disputed passage; but let us now play the "devil’s advocate" and argue the case for the proponents of modern Lefkada as Homeric Ithaca.

Very well, Island 4 is indeed the most ἐυδείελος (in either sense) of all these islands, but an inhabitant of Island 3 (Lefkada) might well see his local mountain as a towering peak, even if it is much lower. Island 3 also occupies a westerly position – not as far west as Island 4, but in the words of the Greek proverb, ‘If you don’t boast about your home, it will fall down and crush you.’

  • Let us not jump to conclusions, therefore, before we move on to the next lines (Od. 9.22-24).

(Od. 9.22-24)

22 ...................................................... ἀμφὶ δὲ νῆσοι
22 ......................................... and on either side of it

23 πολλαὶ ναιετάουσι μάλα σχεδὸν ἀλλήλῃσι,
23 lie many islands very close to each other:

24 Δουλίχιόν τε Σάμη τε καὶ ὑλήεσσα Ζάκυνθος.
24 Doulichion, Same, and forested Zakynthos.

Moving on now to lines 22-24, which are not open to any misinterpretation, Homeric Ithaca had the islands of Doulichion, Same, and Zakynthos ἀμφὶ (on either side). Here the keyword is the prefix ἀμφὶ (on both sides, on either side). 

If we look closely at the map, we find that Island 1 (Zakynthos) does not have islands on both sides but only to the north of it (Ithaki, Lefkada and Kephallenia).
The same is true, mutatis mutandis, of Island 3 (Lefkada), which, being the northernmost of the four, does not have islands on both sides – at least not on two diametrically opposite sides. The other three islands are all to the south or south-south-east of it.
The only two that have other islands on both sides – that is on two diametrically opposite sides – are Islands 2 and 4 ( Ithaki and Kephallenia).

So, given that Islands 1 and 3 do not meet the specifications of lines 22-24 and were also found wanting with respect to the preceding lines, they can both be definitely ruled out of any claim to be Homeric Ithaca. We have accordingly marked them with an X on the map.

  • But which of the two remaining islands was Homeric Ithaca: No. 2 or No. 4?

The next lines  (Od. 9.25-26) leave no doubt as to which island they refer to.

(Od. 9.25-26)

25 αὐτὴ δὲ χθαμαλὴ πανυπερτάτη εἰν ἁλὶ κεῖται
25 Ithaca itself lies offshore [the farthest out] in the boundless sea

26 πρὸς ζόφον, αἱ δέ τ᾽ ἄνευθε πρὸς ἠῶ τ᾽ ἠέλιόν τε,
26 towards the dusk, but the others lie apart toward the dawn and the sun;

The keywords here are κεῖται πρὸς ζόφον = the furthest to the west (‘towards the dusk’). According to the text, αὐτή (i.e. Ithaca itself) was χθαμαλὴ πανυπερτάτη εἰν ἁλὶ, = that is the farthest out to sea to the west. 

Of the two islands remaining in contention, Nos. 2 and 4, no ruler is needed to show which lies further west: Island 4 (Kephallenia) quite clearly extends further to the west than Island 2 (Ithaki), and also further west than Nos. 1 and 3.

So with absolute certainty, we can strike out with an Island 2 on the map.

Thus Island 4 (Kephallenia) is the furthest to the west (‘towards the dusk’): all the other islands, as well as the smaller Echinades, lie further east, towards the dawn and the sun (αἱ δέ τ᾽ ἄνευθε πρὸς ἠῶ τ᾽ ἠέλιόν τε). It therefore fits to perfection the description given in line 26.

Ithaca itself lies offshore [the farthest out] in the boundless sea, towards the dusk, but the others lie apart toward the dawn and the sun;  (Od. 9.25-26) 

  • and we finish with Odysseus' last words when describing his homeland to Alkinoos, the king of the Phaiakes (Phaeacians).

(Od. 9.27-28)

27 τρηχεῖ᾽, ἀλλ᾽ ἀγαθὴ κουροτρόφος· οὔ τοι ἐγώ γε
27 [Ithaca is] a rugged isle, but a fine nursery of young men. And I myself

28 ἧς γαίης δύναμαι γλυκερώτερον ἄλλο ἰδέσθαι.
28 can see no other place sweeter in all the earth.

The keyword here are the adjective τρηχεῖα =  mountainus - rugged.

Which one of the four  islands is the most mountainous?

It is well known that the island of Kephallenia (Kefalonia) is the most mountainous island in the Ionian sea  and one of the most mountainous islands of Greece !

The following graph gives us the clear answer

Ιt is startlingly clear that Island 4 (Kephallenia) is the most mountainous island and has easily the highest mountain of all the islands in the Ionian Sea, twice the height of the mountain on Island 2 (Ithaki).

This is the mountainous - rugged (τρηχεῖα) island to which Euripides was alluding (Iphigeneia at Aulis, 203-204) when he described Odysseus as

‘the son of Laertes, who came from his island-mountains’.
τὸν ἀπὸ νησαίων τ’ ὀρέων Λαέρτα τόκον

The firm conclusion to be drawn from this strictly rational analysis is that ‘Ithaca’ the island Odysseus described as his homeland was No. 4 (Kephallenia), not No. 1 (Ithaki) nor any other island in the area.

Finally, this mountainous-rugged island with the majestic mountain Neriton is the ἰθύ (‘guiding’), sharp-pointed, εὐδείελον (‘conspicuous, visible from afar) which, because of its catalytic presence and its usefulness to navigators, gave the symbolic name of Ithaca (Ἰθάκη) to the whole island.

Ἰθάκην ἐυδείελον (‘clearly-visible Ithaca’) 

It is most likely that this majestic mountain with its commanding presence in the Ionian Sea, serving as a kind of beacon or compass bearing for navigators, gave the name of Ithaca (Ἰθάκη) to the massif visible from all around as a bold silhouette on the distant horizon. (This is one of the many conjectures put forward to explain the etymology of the name.)

* Ἰθεία + ακὴ = Ἰθάκη (the mountainous place with a sharp-pointed peak visible from afar and serving as a guide)
* Ἰθύς - ἰθεία - ἰθύ = guiding from afar or from opposite; straight; clearly visible; (of a mountain) steep 
* Ἀκὴ (ἀκὶς) = point; sharp-pointed object; (of mountains) having high, sharp-pointed peaks. 

One picture is worth a thousand words !

Mount Ainos (Neriton), ‘covered with waving forests’ (εἰνοσίφυλλον), seen from the west coast of Elis (Ilia) near the headland of Pheai, the modern Katakolo. From here, according to the Homeric Hymn to Pythian Apollo, seafarers could see the steep mountain of Ithaca ,«σφιν ὑπὲκ νεφέων Ἰθάκης τ᾽ ὄρος αἰπὺ πέφαντο»  It is quite obvious that the only steep mountain visible from this point is Mt. Ainos on Kephallenia. The mountains of modern Ithaki are only faintly visible at the far right. There is therefore no doubt that «σφιν ὑπὲκ νεφέων Ἰθάκης τ᾽ ὄρος αἰπὺ πέφαντο» can only refer to the mountain now called Ainos on Kephallenia.
Photo: Panoramio Google ‘Sunset on Grecotel’, by Senseo

When Odysseus, ruler of the Kephallenians, says ‘I live on a mountainous - rugged island whose most distinctive feature is that majestic, forested mountain,’ you, lotus-eater, [sc. you Greek, specifically you Kephallenian] what more do you want him to say to make it clear to you? 

and now a simple rational exercise

Let us now repeat the exercise bearing Professor Fokas’s advice in mind: we must ask ourselves whether the solution we have arrived at by logical reasoning is also aesthetically pleasing.

We should start again from scratch, forgetting for the time being that these islands once bore their Homeric names (Ithaca, Doulichion, Same (or Samos) and Zakynthos) and forgetting also which islands are now called Ithaki, Kephallenia, Zakynthos and Lefkada.

Let us hypothesize that in the region where the four islands now lie there were once four islands (taken from Homer'a mythical world) called :  

Ogygia[2], Aiaia[3], Aiolia[4] and Thrinakia[5].

Now let us substitute these for the names of Homer’s four islands for the purposes of this equation and see if we can find on the map the position of the mythical island of Ogygia, which has some of the same characteristics as Homeric Ithaca:

  • it has the other three islands ἀμφί, that is on either side of it;
  • its outstanding feature is a majestic mountain – which was clearly visible from the headland of Pheai, the modern Katakolo in the north-west Peloponnese (Homeric Hymn to Pythian Apollo);
  • it lay ‘offshore [the farthest out] in the boundless sea towards the dusk’ (πανυπερτάτη εἰν ἁλὶ κεῖται πρὸς ζόφον); in other words it extended further westward into the open sea than any of the other islands.

Is there anybody with the power of rational, analytical thought (and, of course, with a knowledge of Homer’s text) who could say that Ogygia – which lies ‘further west of all the other islands’ and has the other islands ‘on either side’ of it – would not occupy the position of modern Kephallenia?

We think not, because, apart from anything else, such an opinion would fly in the face of reality and the aesthetics of a correct reading of the actual geographical facts – facts generated by the image itself, qua image, but also by the use of common sense.

(The same exercise could be carried out to show the ideal position where logic tells us the island of Doulichion must have been, in accordance with the information and descriptions given by Homer.      (see:http://homericithaca.blogspot.com/2013/11/the-lost-kingdom-of-homers-doulichion.html) end       (http://homericithaca.blogspot.com/2017/12/blog-post.html)

Why, though, when we talk about showing the position of Homeric Ithaca, do we let our imagination take over, so that sometimes we move the west too far to the north (as the proponents of modern Lefkada do) while sometimes we contemplate our navels and put forward any hypothesis that comes into our heads, rather than accepting what we can learn from Homer’s very specific words.

The answer is very simple: it is because the names ‘Ithaca’ (or, rather, Ithaki) and ‘Zakynthos’ have survived to his day and throughout the historical era have been applied to the islands that now bear those names. This means that their geographical positions are firmly fixed in our collective subconscious and so, through no choice of our own, we have lost our objectivity and follow our own divergent ways of thinking, where fantasy kills the imagination.


The firm conclusion to be drawn from this strictly rational analysis is that ‘Ithaca’ the island Odysseus described as his homeland was No. 4 (Kephallenia), not No. 1 (Ithaki) nor any other island in the area.

It is worth noting that  in the Iliad or the Odyssey no other place is described in the same way at such length and with such an abundance of detail as the homeland of the ruler of the ‘proud-hearted Kephallenians’.

Confirmation of this is to be found in the fact that at least twelve! defining epithets and three ornamental epithets are used for Ithaca! [6]    (see foot notes and the next upcoming post)

Indeed, Ithaca seems to have been one of the best-known places at that time!: it is as significant as it is remarkable that Homer declares (through the mouth of Athena, the goddess of Wisdom) that anyone who doesn't know of Odysseus’ Ithaca is ‘an ignoramus’! : Od. 13. 237-241

You really must be a ignoramus, stranger, or else a foreigner from a distant land,
to have to ask me about this country. Far from being unknown,
its name is known to a great many people:
those who live towards the dawn and the sun
and those on the other side, towards the dusk.    Od. 13. 237-241

νήπιός εἰς, ὦ ξεῖν᾽, ἢ τηλόθεν εἰλήλουθας,
εἰ δὴ τήνδε τε γαῖαν ἀνείρεαι. οὐδέ τι λίην
οὕτω νώνυμός ἐστιν· ἴσασι δέ μιν μάλα πολλοί,
ἠμὲν ὅσοι ναίουσι πρὸς ἠῶ τ᾽ ἠέλιόν τε,
ἠδ᾽ ὅσσοι μετόπισθε ποτὶ ζόφον ἠερόεντα.         (Οδ. ν 237-241)

  • So what happens? 

  • Are we, too, νήπιοι ? that is, "ingoramus", as the goddess Athena, the goddess of Wisdom and Knowledge, would characterize us?

  • Or is something else going on?

Τhe first general conclusion to be noted, is that something strange seems to have happened to the island now called Kephallenia, which was not known to Homer (in the prehistoric era) as a place-name; while at the same time, no less puzzlingly, the exact site of the capital of the island-kingdom of Homeric Ithaca in the historical era is also unknown!

Is the fact that at least three islands Doulihio, Samos and Asteris have lost their Homeric identity in the historical years and these names have magically "disappeared" from the map of the Ionian area, in itself suspicious enough to suspect that something else is happening here?

In that case, what has happened to the name ‘Ithaca’. Is it now borne by a different island? And which of all these islands are Doulichion, Same, Zakynthos and Asteris? Was Homer a romancer who did not know what he was talking about, as many believe?

If you are interested in answers to all the logical questions like "where?, how?, when?, why?", that turn up when people learn of the theory that Homeric (Mycenaean) Ithaca is the island of Kephallenia (Kefalonia)  and not the current island of Ithaki,  please read our following posts and with more analasys our upcoming book.  


[1] Neriton (from the adjective νήριτος = ‘innumerable’, ‘vast’, ‘immense’, ‘huge’. Meaning:  the ‘huge mountain’ covered with countless trees). 
In historical times the adjective νήριτον prevailed as the name of the mountain of Homeric Ithaca.  From now on we will use the adjective neriton as a name ‘Neriton’ without translating its meaning. Although the translation of the meaning would be the right thing to do, it will be confusing and we try to keep the text as simple as possible.]

[2] Mythical island of Calypso (Od. 1.85, 6.172, 7.244, etc.)
[3] Mythical island of Circe (Od. 9.32, 12.268, 275 home of Aietes)
[4] Mythical island of Aiolos (Od. 1.155)
[5] Mythical island of the daughters of Helios (Od. 12.132-133)

[6] The defining epithets and the ornamental epithets of  Homeric Ithaka
  1. Ἀμφίαλος = surrounded by the sea, with a coastline having deep indentations on both sides. (Od. 1.386, 1.394, 1.401, 2.292, 21.251)
  2. Εὐδείελος = visible from afar, conspicuous [obviously owing to the presence of the ‘majestic’ Mount Neriton, which made Homeric Ithaca – like modern Kephallenia – clearly visible from afar] (Od. 2.167, 14.344, 9.21)
  3. Κραναή = rocky (Il. 3.201, Od. 1.247, 21.346)
  4. Τρηχεῖα = rugged [Kephallenia is one of the most mountainous islands in Greece] (Od. 9.27, 13.242)
  5. Εὐκτιμένη = well-built [this is presumably an allusion to the built environment of the Asty] Od. 22.52)
  6. Παιπαλόεσσα = craggy, having one rocky peak after another (Od. 11.480)
  7. Αἰγίβοτος = having good pasturage for goats (Od. 4.606, 13.246)
  8. Βούβοτος = having good pasturage for cattle (Od. 13.246)
  9. Ἀγαθή = beautiful (Od. 9.27, 15.507)
  10. Κουροτρόφος = a breeding-ground of strong young men (Od. 9.27)
  11. Ἐπήρατος = very beautiful (Od. 4.606)
  12. Οὐχ’ ιππήλατος = not suitable for horse-drawn vehicles because of the mountainous terrain (Od. 4.607)
  13. Οὐδ’ ἐυλείμων = lacking flat plains (Od. 4.607)
  14. Εὐρεῖα * (N.B. not οὐκ εὐρεῖα) = broad, large (see Vangelis Pantazis, «Το μέγεθος της Ομηρικής Ιθάκης» [‘The Size of Homeric Ithaca’]. Kefalliniaka Chronika 8 (1999) 271
  15. Υπονήιος , of uncertain meaning, perhaps the part of Homeric Ithaca which‘lying in the area near the harbour, in other words the ἐπίνειον or port serving the hinterland of Ithaca. (Od. 3.81).
  16. χθαμαλὴ, πανυπερτάτη εἰν ἁλὶ, = lies offshore, that is the farthest out to sea to the west. (Od. 9.25)
* Until recently, the dubious line (Od. 13.243) describing Ithaca as ‘not broad’ (οὐδ᾽ εὐρεῖα) gave rise to serious differences of opinion. It was relied on as the main argument in support of the case for accepting the island now called Ithaki as Homer’s Ithaca, as Ithaki is certainly ‘not broad’, while Kephallenia is much too big to have been the island that Homer was referring to. On this subject the historian Dr. Vangelis Pantazis, in a paper (in Greek) entitled «Το μέγεθος της Ομηρικής Ιθάκης» [‘The Size of Homeric Ithaca’], Kefalliniaka Chronika 8 (1999) 267-274, cited conclusive evidence proving that the authentic Homeric line refers to Ithaca as ευρεῖα (broad, large), not as οὐδ᾽ εὐρεῖα or οὐκ εὐρεῖα: the alteration was made later in various versions to make it match the reality of historical Ithaki. According to Dr. Pantazis, the original line «οὐδὲ λίην λυπρή, αὐτὰρ δ᾽ εὐρεῖα τέτυκται» was discovered in a work by Tryphon Grammatikos (1st c. b.c. – 1st c. a.d.) published in the third volume of Anecdota Graeca by J.F. Boissonade.  J. La Roche’s firstly published this text in his annotated edition of the Odyssey (Homeri Odyssea) in 1868. This discovery restores not only the actual structure of the line in question (Od. 13.243) but also the extremely problematic line 118 in Book 24 of the Odyssey, where again, as shown by Dr. Pantazis in his exhaustive analysis, the word εὐρεῖα applies to Ithaca and not, of course, to the πόντος (sea), which appears to have been substituted for the original νῆσος (island). Support for the description of Ithaca as ‘broad’ or ‘large’ is to be found in an elegy on Homer’s love of Penelope by the Colophonian poet Hermesianax, who uses the adjective εὐρείης when referring to Penelope’s home island. The relevant passage is preserved by the sophist Athenaeus (Deipnosophistai, XIII.597).

Αὐτὸς δ᾽ οὗτος ἀοιδός, ὃν ἐκ Διὸς αἶσα φυλάσσει 
ἥδιστον πάντων δαίμονα μουσοπόλων 
λεπτὴν ᾗς Ἰθάκην ἐνετείνατο θεῖος Ὅμηρος 
ᾠδῇσιν πινυτῆς εἵνεκα Πηνελόπης, 
ἣν διὰ πολλὰ παθὼν ὀλίγην ἐσενάσσατο νῆσον, 
πολλὸν ἀπ᾽ εὐρείης λειπόμενος πατρίδος· 
ἔκλεε δ᾽ Ἰκαρίου τε γένος καὶ δῆμον Ἀμύκλου 
καὶ Σπάρτην, ἰδίων ἁπτόμενος παθέων.

Text &Copyright: Hettie Putman Cramer & Makis Metaxas

Society for the Study of Prehistoric Kephallenia: 
Information:  email: reithron@hotmail.com

13 σχόλια:

  1. Very good presentation and a real challenge to critical thinking. Let who dares use it, to replace such a conditioned belief, with the new reality revealed by the very text of Homer. The irony is that the truth had always been there, right in front of our eyes. Why the hell we could not see it?

  2. Αυτό το σχόλιο αφαιρέθηκε από τον συντάκτη.

  3. http://www.kefalonitikavivlia.gr/content/κεφαλληνία-η-αποκάλυψη-της-ομηρικής-ιθάκης

  4. Looking forward to reading the book - any idea of the publication date?

  5. I'm quite excited about your theories, but I'm slightly bothered by your translation above of 'χθαμαλὴ' (Od.9.25) as 'off-shore'. Doesn't the word carry a sense of being 'low down' or 'low lying', which may not be appropriate to Kefalonia with its Neriton? I'd be interested to read your views on this.

  6. Ithaca is posted on Adriatic sea.It is the Island Unije.

  7. One picture is worh than thousand words,please take a look on picture of Unije Island in Croatia.

  8. Searching for a clearly-seen ? Mount Neriton on the island Unije Like a remain on linguistic form: the cape Nart.Also the Ithaca's field is today Unije's field/in original Unijsko polje/.

  9. If Homer'Ithaca was in theJonian sea/I know it was not/,why Homer never talked about sea on his background.Why the modern historians never say a Word about Adriatic sea ?Bronze age was not on Adriatic ? Please,I am waiting for an answer.

  10. Homer does not lies.Book 16,352.....saw the sheep in the deep harbour ...This od the gulf called Maračol on the Island Unije,on the right side of this Island.On the left side is harbour Unije,but it is no deep.On the south there is the Ithaca's field,today called Unije's field.

  11. Homer really exist,and logically he was....Odysseus.