Monday, 11 November 2013

Odysseus Kingdom and the location of Homer's Ithaca

  By  Hettie Putnan Cramer & Makis Metaxas
Homer's Ithaca
Myceanaean  Greece 1250 B.C
The search for Homer’s 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 exist 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.

Now let us remain silent and listen to Homer.

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):

Homer's Ithaca
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)

Odysseus commanded the proud-hearted Kephallenians, who inhabited Ithaca 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.

There can be no doubt that Homer places Ithaca far out in the Ionian Sea, at the furthermost limit of the Mycenaean world. On the evidence to be gleaned from his verses, Homer’s Ithaca was a well and truly sea-girt island: the fact that ships were needed to transport men and animals to and from Epeiros[i] (mainland Greece), the Peloponnese and, especially, Elis,[ii] is confirmation of its position and its insular character.

The second passage comes from the Odyssey (9.21-28), 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:
When Odysseus introduces himself to Alkinoos, he feels it incumbent upon himself to describe the position and extent of his realm and the surrounding lands. He lays particular emphasis on Ithaca, painting a glowing picture both of its natural beauty and of its brave-hearted young men:

Homer's Ithaca
εἴμ᾽ Ὀδυσεὺς Λαερτιάδης, ὃς πᾶσι δόλοισιν                                          
ἀνθρώποισι μέλω, καί μευ κλέος οὐρανὸν ἵκει.     20
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      25
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.

I am Odysseus, son of Laertes, known throughout the world for my wiles: indeed, my fame reaches unto the heavens. I live in clearly-seen Ithaca, where there is an imposing mountain, the forested peak of windswept Neriton. Round it lie many islands very close to one another: Doulichion and Same and wooded Zakynthos. Ithaka itself is low and lies furthest out to sea towards the western gloom, whereas the others face the dawn and the rising sun. It is a rugged place, but a fine nursery of young men.And I,for one, can imagine no sweeter sight for a man than his own homeland.
Od. 9.19-28
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. The subject has been debated in thousands of books and papers and at innumerable conferences, and the general consensus of opinion among specialists is now that Homer was not very well informed about the Ionian Sea – which, to one who was probably born and bred in Ionia, must have seemed unutterably remote – and therefore got his facts wrong.

It is clear from Odysseus’ words that Ithaca lay near the islands of Zakynthos, Same (or Samos) and Doulichion, while the ‘Catalogue of Ships’[iii] informs us that it was not far away from the places named as Epeiros and Antiperaia; Krokyleia and Aigilips were probably conspicuous landmarks in the Mycenaean kingdom of Homer’s Ithaca.

It is worth noting that no other place is described in the Iliad or the Odyssey in the same way, at such length and with such a wealth of detail, as the homeland of the ruler of the ‘proud-hearted Kephallenians’. 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 has not heard of Odysseus’ Ithaca is ‘an ignoramus’:

Homer's Ithaca
"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)

You really must be an 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 rising sun and those on the other side, towards the western gloom.
Od. 13. 237-241

Confirmation of this is to be found in the fact that at least eight defining epithets and three ornamental epithets are used of Ithaca! They are:

1.  Αμφίαλος, ‘having sheltered bays on both sides’ (Od. 1.386, 1.394, 1.401, 2.292, 21.251);

2.  Ευδείελος, ‘clearly-seen, conspicuous’ (Od. 2.167, 14.344, 9.21);

3.  Ευκτιμένη,  ‘well-built’ (Od. 22.52);

4.  Κραναή,  ‘rocky’ (Il. 3.201, Od. 1.247, 21.346);

5.  Παιπαλοέσσα, ‘craggy, rugged’ (Od. 11.480);

6.  Τρηχεία, ‘rugged, mountainous’ (Od. 9.27, 13.242);

7.  Αιγίβοτος,, ‘having good pasture-land for goats’ (Od. 4.606, 13.246);

8.  Βούβοτος,  ‘having good pasture-land for cows’  (Od. 13.246);

9.  ’Agaqή, ‘fine, excellent’ (Od. 9.27);

10. Κουροτρόφος,  ‘a nursery of young men’ (Od. 9.27);

11.  Επήρατος, ‘attractive’ (Od. 4.606);

12.  Υπονήιος , of uncertain meaning, perhaps ‘lying in the area near the harbour, in other words the ἐπίνειον or port serving the hinterland of Ithaca. (Od. 3.81).

But why are so many scholars unable to accept that the Ithaca of the time of the Trojan War, described in such minute topographical and visual detail, is the island that has been called Ithaki throughout the historical era?
In what period, and in what way, were the names of certain places changed – if they were changed – and expunged from the collective memory of later generations?
Is it possible that in the ‘Dark Ages’ of ancient Greece there were geological upheavals of such magnitude as to alter the topography of Greece to the shape that has become familiar in historical times?
To what extent and in what respects did Mycenaean Greece differ from the Greece of the historical era, if at all? And if it was different, was Western Greece really the only region in which the place-names known to us from Homer were transferred to other places, altered or allowed to lapse into oblivion? Or did similar changes occur all over Greece, in which case we have to look at the problem as a whole rather than in isolation, as is usually done?

Finding the right answers to these questions actually gives a partial solution to the so-called Homeric question. High on the list of Homeric questions, if not at the very top, is the matter of pinpointing the location of Homer’s Ithaca and defining the boundaries of Odysseus’ kingdom.
Given that modern geologists can find no evidence of any large- or medium-scale upheaval in the crucial period between 1100 and 800 b.c. (the ‘Dark Ages’) in the islands of Western Greece, we have to look for Homeric Ithaca in the familiar geographical context of the historical era, ruling out any suggestion that it is to be sought in some part of that region that is now submerged or silted over or has been cut off by geological action.
Armed, then, with the wealth of information about Homer’s Ithaca supplied by Homer’s verses and the reliable data gathered by modern scholars and scientists, in this study we shall be approaching the problem one step at a time in an attempt to define the boundaries of Odysseus’ realm.

In the next post with Homer’s texts as our guide, we will travel together over the Ionian Sea. We will follow strictly the record of the Mycenaean kingdoms.  We will put them together with you on the map, in the right order. Each kingdom exactly as recorded in the famous ‘Homeric catalog of ships’ heading from south to north. At the end we will ask you what you did not understand. To help you, in this post you will find the map on which the Mycenaean kingdoms of western Greece with their leaders are marked, exactly as recorded in Homer’s texts. In previous posts we deliberately omitted this and started first with the disclosure of some aspects of the topography of Homer’s Ithaca. There was a major reason for this, which I will not reveal yet. Let's keep the answer for the next’s posts....
Mycenaean kingdoms of western Greece
 Map on which the Mycenaean kingdoms of western Greece
 with their leaders are marked, 
exactly as recorded in Homer’s texts.
Il.Book 2. 591-644 [iv]

[i]      Od. 18.82-87, 18.112-116, 21.305-310.
[ii]     Od. 4.630-637, 24.426-432.
[iii]    Il. Book 2.

[iv] Homer Il.   [591] And they that dwelt in Pylos and lovely Arene and Thryum, the ford of Alpheius, and fair-founded Aepy, and that had their abodes in Cyparisseïs and Amphigeneia and Pteleos and Helus and Dorium, where the Muses met Thamyris the Thracian and made an end of his singing, even as he was journeying from Oechalia, from the house of Eurytus the Oechalian: for he vaunted with boasting that he would conquer, were the Muses themselves to sing against him, the daughters of Zeus that beareth the aegis; but they in their wrath maimed him, and took from him his wondrous song, and made him forget his minstrelsy;--all these folk again had as leader the horseman, Nestor of Gerenia. And with him were ranged ninety hollow ships.

[603] And they that held Arcadia beneath the steep mountain of Cyllene, beside the tomb of Aepytus, where are warriors that fight in close combat; and they that dwelt in Pheneos and Orchomenus, rich in flocks, and Rhipe and Stratia and wind-swept Enispe; and that held Tegea and lovely Mantineia; and that held Stymphalus and dwelt in Parrhasia,—all these were led by the son of Ancaeus, Lord Agapenor, with sixty ships; and on each ship embarked full many Arcadian warriors well-skilled in fight. For of himself had the king of men, Agamemnon, given them benched ships wherewith to cross over the wine-dark sea, even the son of Atreus, for with matters of seafaring had they naught to do.

[615] And they that dwelt in Buprasium and goodly Elis, all that part thereof that Hyrmine and Myrsinus on the seaboard and the rock of Olen and Alesium enclose between them—these again had four leaders, and ten swift ships followed each one, and many Epeians embarked thereon. Of these some were led by Amphimachus and Thalpius, of the blood of Actor, sons, the one of Cteatus and the other of Eurytus; and of some was the son of Amarynceus captain, even mighty Diores; and of the fourth company godlike Polyxeinus was captain, son of king Agasthenes, Augeias' son.

[625] And those from Dulichium and the Echinae, the holy isles, that lie across the sea, over against Elis, these again had as leader Meges, the peer of Ares, even the son of Phyleus, whom the horseman Phyleus, dear to Zeus, begat—he that of old had gone to dwell in Dulichium in wrath against his father. And with Meges there followed forty black ships.

[631] And Odysseus led the great-souled Cephallenians that held Ithaca and Neritum, covered with waving forests, and that dwelt in Crocyleia and rugged Aegilips; and them that held Zacynthus, and that dwelt about Samos, and held the mainland and dwelt on the shores over against the isles. Of these was Odysseus captain, the peer of Zeus in counsel. And with him there followed twelve ships with vermilion prows.

[638] And the Aetolians were led by Thoas, Andraemon's son, even they that dwelt in Pleuron and Olenus and Pylene and Chalcis, hard by the sea, and rocky Calydon. For the sons of great-hearted Oeneus were no more, neither did he himself still live, and fair-haired Meleager was dead, to whom had commands been given that he should bear full sway among the Aetolians. And with Thoas there followed forty black ships.


  1. Σχολιάζω μετά το Δουλίχιο
    Πρέπει να ομολογήσω ότι θέτετε σωστά ερωτήματα αλλά οι απαντήσεις που δίνεται είναι περισσότερο συναισθηματικές παρά ρεαλιστικές. Επίσης τα ερωτήματά σας σταματούν κάπου ενώ θα έπρεπε να συνεχιστούν για να φτάσετε στο σωστό σημείο αρχής. Ας είναι όμως. Θα προσπαθήσω να τοποθετηθώ σύντομα.
    Κάνετε αναφορά σε Ιόνιο ενώ ο Όμηρος δεν κάνει αναφορά σε αυτό. Αυτό είναι μια δική σας προσθήκη που σας αποπροσανατολίζει. Το Δουλίχι και Η Σάμη με την Ζάκυνθο πρέπει να βρίσκονται πολύ κοντά στην Ιθάκη αλλά μάλλον, σύμφωνα με τον Όμηρο, περίπου διαμετρικά αντίθετοι. Κανένα νησί δεν βρίσκεται δίπλα του γιατί από την μια προσδιορίζει ότι η Ιθάκη είναι το δυτικότερο νησία αλλά από την άλλη τα υπόλοιπα είναι λίγο πιο ανατολικά από αυτήν"αἱ δέ τ᾽ ἄνευθε πρὸς ἠῶ τ᾽ ἠέλιόν τε,"(ΑΝΕΥΘΕ= οχι πολύ ή και χωρίς πολύ-Ιλιάδα 22 39 Οδύσσεια 16 239 και 7 192). Αμέσως αντιλαμβάνεται κανείς ότι η Γεωγραφία δεν ταιριάζει. Δεν κάνει λάθος ο Όμηρος απλά κοιτάτε λάθος τόπο.
    Η Ιθάκη είναι "ΕΥΔΕΙΛΙΕΛΟΝ". Αυτό σημαίνει ότι βλέπει θάλασσα από τα δυτικά χωρίς εμπόδιο κάποιο νησί. Άρα ο ορίζοντάς της είναι μόνο θάλασσα. Αυτό δεν ισχύει στην περίπτωση της Ιθάκης.
    Συμπέρασμα: Η γεωγραφία είναι τόσο εξοργιστικά διαφορετική που μόνο το πείσμα των διαφόρων scholars την κρατά ακόμη ως ομηρικό τόπο.
    Υ.Γ Αφού αναφέρετε ότι δεν υπήρχαν γεωλογικές μεταβολές γιατί ακόμη επιμένετε σε αυτήν την κατεύθυνση; Η νήσος Αστερίς που πήγε;
    Παρά το δεικτικό κάποιες φορές ύφος μου ελπίζω να μπείτε στην διαδικασία να μου απαντήσετε. Ελπίζω βαθιά μέσα μου ότι θα καταφέρω να σας πείσω να βάλετε τα σωστά ερωτήματα. Μετά η αλήθεια είναι κοντά.

  2. Είναι μόνο για την ειδοποίηση