Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Mount Neriton of Homer’s Ithaca

Points of identification between Mount Neriton of Homer’s Ithaca and Mount Ainos on Kephallenia, which lies within the purlieus of the Pronnoi distric.


         (excerpt from the book: Homeric Ithaca, H. Putman Cramer / G. Metaxas)
        Dedicated to  Dr. John T. Pierce,  Dean of  the Faculty of Environment at Simon Fraser University 
                                                                 Mount Ainos.                          Photo by Rose Mande

Taking Homer’s descriptions as cardinal points for study and analysis, we find that Mount Neriton is mentioned in every description of Homeric Ithaca, of which it is an integral part worthy of being mentioned and described whenever the opportunity arises. As we shall see, it is abundantly clear that Mount Neriton
was the most recognizable and emblematic landmark in Homeric Ithaca and a source of pride to Odysseus.

In the ‘Catalogue of Ships’ in the Iliad, where Homer describes Odysseus’ kingdom, Neriton takes pride of place as the first and most noteworthy part of Ithaca to be mentioned, even though it is only a mountain:

Αὐτὰρ Ὀδυσσεὺς ἦγε Κεφαλλῆνας μεγαθύμους,
οἵ ῥ᾽ Ἰθάκην εἶχον καὶ Νήριτον εἰνοσίφυλλον

Odysseus commanded the proud-hearted Kephallenians, 
who inhabited Ithaca and Neriton with its trembling foliage.Il. 2.631-632                                                                                                        
In the Odyssey, too, Mount Neriton is again spoken of as one of the chief landmarks of Homeric Ithaca when Odysseus says to Alkinoos, king of the Phaiakes,

ναιετάω δ᾽ Ἰθάκην ἐυδείελον· ἐν δ᾽ ὄρος αὐτῇ
Νήριτον εἰνοσίφυλλον, ἀριπρεπές

I live in clearly-seen Ithaca, where there is an imposing mountain, 
Neriton with its trembling foliage.   ( Od. 9.21-22).

as if he expects Alkinoos to recognize the exact spot he is talking about as soon as he hears the name of the ‘imposing’ mountain, whose fame has evidently spread beyond the limits of the then known world. 

Similarly, Athena, the goddess of wisdom and knowledge, was well aware of the importance of this mountain: that is why, when she wished to give Odysseus a sure sign whereby he would recognize his homeland, she said:

ἀλλ᾽ ἄγε τοι δείξω Ἰθάκης ἕδος, ὄφρα πεποίθῃς
τοῦτο δὲ Νήριτόν ἐστιν ὄρος καταειμένον ὕλῃ.

But come now, to convince you I will show you the land of Ithaca
.And over there is Mount Neriton, clothed with its forests.   Od. 13.344, 351

In the light of the significant and revealing facts recorded by Homer about this mountain, one crucial question remains to be answered:

Which place in western Greece, which island in western Greece (or elsewhere, for that matter) might allow its inhabitants to boast that the distinctive mark of their homeland is a mountain?

To anyone who has studied the physical geography of the Mediterranean or has been to western Greece and remembers what the Ionian Islands look like, there is one obvious answer: it has to be Kephallenia, whose inhabitants pride themselves on the fact that the emblem of their island is the divine, fir-clad Mount Ainos

Ainos is mentioned very early in the historical era by Hesiod, in a passage preserved by Leo of Byzantium in his commentary on Apollonios Rhodios (ii.297):

Finally, Neriton is the mountain referred to in the Homeric Hymn to Pythian Apollo as being clearly visible from south of Cape Pheai or Pherai (the modern Cape Katakolo) in Elis:


βῆ δὲ παρὰ Κρουνοὺς καὶ Χαλκίδα καὶ παρὰ Δύμην
ἠδὲ παρ' Ἤλιδα δῖαν, ὅθι κρατέουσιν Ἐπειοί.
εὖτε Φερὰς ἐπέβαλλεν, ἀγαλλομένη Διὸς οὔρῳ,
καί σφιν ὑπὲκ νεφέων Ἰθάκης τ' ὄρος αἰπὺ πέφαντο
Δουλίχιόν τε Σάμη τε καὶ ὑλήεσσα Ζάκυνθος.

[So the ship sailed on] past Krounoi and Chalkis, past Dyme 
and noble Elis, where the Epeians rule.
And as she was nearing Pherai, exulting in the fair wind sent by Zeus,
there appeared to them below the clouds the steep mountain of Ithaca,
and Doulichion, Samê and wooded Zakynthos.

Homeric Hymn to Pythian Apollo, 425-429


A photograph of the ‘imposing’ (ἀριπρεπές) Mount Ainos taken from near the Peloponnese 
coast at Pheai (Katakolo). Ithaki is faintly visible in the distance on the right. 
(Panoramio google Photo by Kadoulas)


The question is, which ‘steep mountain’ on Ithaka would have been visible from south of Pheai? The mountains on the island now called Ithaki are low, only half the height of those on Kephallenia, and would have been only a smudge on the horizon. Could the ‘high and steep’ (αἰπὺ) mountain on Ithaka have been Kephallenia’s towering, fir-clad Mount Ainos (1,628 m.), which dominates the seascape for miles around? (See map, satellite images and photographs.)


Satellite image from off the coast of the Peloponnese. Seen from these coastal waters between 
Kyllini and Katakolo (Pheai), Mount Ainos looks even higher in comparison with the mountains
 of Ithaki because it is closer, quite apart from the fact that it actually is twice as high.

To the Kephallenians, Mount Ainos is – as Mount Neriton was to Odysseus – the emblem of their homeland and the best-loved and most precious place on the island. So proud are they of their mountain that they have given its name to any number of societies, clubs, associations and companies all over the world. It is no mere coincidence that this great mountain’s name, Ainos, is derived from a word meaning ‘famous, celebrated, honoured’, so that the name itself confirms the great renown it has enjoyed since the ancient era. Nor is it a coincidence that one of the epithets applied to Zeus, the father of all the gods, was Ainesios,[i] in honour of the mountain on whose summit there was an altar dedicated to him.

    The eastern slopes of fir-clad Mount Ainos from the village Riza Tzannata  
Photo by Dimitris Vandoros


Another fact that we learn from Homer is that the hulls and fittings of Kephallenian ships in the Mycenaean period were made of fir, presumably from the forests of Ainos. It is no coincidence that Homer’s term for the mast of the ship in which Telemachos sailed from Ithaka to Pylos is ελάτινος στς (‘fir mast’: Od. 2.424), while an oar in one of Odysseus’ ships is simply called λάτη (‘fir’: Od. 12.170-172). This tells us where the timber came from that was used in the ships of Homeric Ithaca, and gives us a strong hint as to the place of origin of those who sailed in them.


The remains of a huge altar (of Zeus Ainesios?) in the prehistoric walled enclosure
 at Kastro Soldato near the village of Pyrgi, at the foot of Mount Ainos.

The fir tree appears with an effigy of Zeus Ainesios on the coins of Pronnoi, one of the cities of the Kephallenian tetrapolis, as the city’s emblem. It is worth stressing that Pronnoi was the only place in Greece that had a fir tree or a fir cone as the device on its coins in antiquity.

The rare Kephallenian fir (Abies cephalonica Loud.), of which there are huge forests on Mount Ainos, made the island well-known throughout Greece in antiquity and gave it considerable importance because, as Theophrastos confirms,[i] fir was the best wood for building ships.

Spyridon Marinatos,[ii] the great archaeologist specializing in the prehistoric era, had this to say on the subject: ‘The importance of Kephallenia lay in the timber from its mountain. This laid the foundations of its primacy from back in the prehistoric era.… As already stated, the pride of the island was its forested Mount Ainos…. After the Mycenaean and Homeric periods,when the fir forests gave the island its high standing, inasmuch as the columns of the palace of Knossos itself were made of Kephallenian fir, as proved by microscopic examination of the wood….’

                                                                                           Photo    Kefalonian wild nature F/B
The wild horses of Ainos

                           Mount Ainos.        Photo by Dimitris Vandoros
The rare Kephallenian fir (Abies cephalonica Loud.)
The pine cone


      This particular fir tree is located on the highest peak of Ainos. The tree is located 
on the highest peak of all  the Ionian islands !   Photo Kefalonian wild nature F/B

Walking with the students of SFU on the slopes of Mount Ainos.
Dedicated to  Dr. John T. Pierce,  Dean of  the Faculty of Environment at Simon Fraser University 
.and to the students of Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, Canada.


Today Ainos is one of the ten national parks in Greece, and the only one on an island. It is a protected area subject to special regulations.


On collating all the facts stated above, we are drawn to the well-grounded conclusion that the mountain on Homeric Ithaca called Neriton (from the adjective νήριτος meaning ‘innumerable’, the implication here being that the mountain is covered with countless trees), which is described as απ (‘high and steep’), ενοσίφυλλον (‘with trembling foliage’, i.e. forested), ριπρεπές (‘imposing’) and καταειμένον λ (‘clothed with forests’), is none other than the mountain on Kephallenia that was called Ainos by Hesiod,[i] Megiston Oros (Huge Mountain) in Strabo’s time,[ii] Monte Nero in the Venetian period[iii] and Black Mountain under the British Protectorate[iv] and is known to all Kephallenians as Megalo Vouno (Great Mountain)[v] – the mountain that has been known since the Archaic period as Ainos (‘famous, celebrated, honoured’) in honour of Zeus Ainesios, the mountain that shares its name with a beloved comrade of Odysseus who was killed in Thrace and in whose honour the nearby city of Ainos was named.[vi]

This is the mountain which, throughout the ages, has been the distinctive mark of Homeric Ithaca and later of Kephallenia and a source of pride both to Odysseus and to the Kephallenians, who, like Odysseus, regard it as the main symbol of their presence in every part of the globe.

This is the mountain to which Euripides was alluding (Iphigeneia at Aulis, 203-204) when he described Odysseus as τν π νησαίων τρέων Λαέρτα τόκον (‘the son of Laertes, who came from his island mountains’).



The western slopes of fir-clad Mount Ainos from the village Travliata, Photo by Panagis Kavallieratos

This is the mountain which, with its λη παντοίη (Od. 13.247-248) and vast forests, and above all with its fir wood for shipbuilding, laid the foundations for the primacy of Homeric Ithaca in the Mycenaean period and then of the Pronnoi district of Kephallenia, its successor in historical times (cf. Pronnaian coins).

Finally, this is the θς (guiding), sharp-pointed, εδείελος (conspicuous, visible from afar) mountain which, because of its catalytic presence and its usefulness to navigators, it probably (one of the few explanations) gave the name Ithaca ( θάκη) to the whole area.

Ἰθεία + ακ = θάκη (the mountainous place with a sharp-pointed peak visible from afar and serving as a guide)

θὺς - ἰθεία - θ = guiding from afar or from opposite; straight; clearly visible; (of a mountain) steep

κ (κς) = point; sharp-pointed object; (of mountains) having high, sharp-pointed peaks.


View of Mt. Ainos from West Peloponnesus [Ilida (Elis) 
(Photo.Panoramio google Sunset on Grecotel”, by Senseo



[i]    Apollonios Rhodios, ii.297.
[ii]    Strabo, C 456.15.
[iii]   K.M. Samios, Τα Δάση της Κεφαλληνίας, Athens 1908, 7.
[iv]   Charles Napier, Memoir on the Roads of Cephallonia  London 1825, 39-41.
[v]    Antonios Miliarakis, Γεωγραφία Νέα και Αρχαία του Νομού Κεφαλληνίας, Athens 1890, 15.
[vi]   S. Marinatos, Κεφαλληνία, Ιστορικός και Αρχαιολογικός Περίπατος, 1962, 29.





[i]    Theophrastos, Enquiry into Plants, v.7.1.
[ii]    S. Marinatos, Κεφαλληνία, Ιστορικός και Αρχαιολογικός Περίπατος, 1962, 48-49.






[i]    Strabo C 456.15.





[i]    Visible to mariners from afar because of its ‘conspicuous’ (ἐυδείελος), ‘imposing’ (ἀριπρεπές) mountain.

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