Saturday, 25 June 2016

Τhe world famous lake-cave "Melissani" on Kefalonia: Τhe mysterious "Cave of the Nymphs", one of the unmistakable landmarks in Homeric Ithaca's landscape.

Athena: "But come now, to convince you I will show you the land of Ithaca... This is the spacious, vaulted grotto … where bees have their hive."  (Od. 13.344 - 351) 

ἀλλ᾽ ἄγε τοι δείξω Ἰθάκης ἕδος, ὄφρα πεποίθῃς...τοῦτο δέ τοι σπέος ἐστὶ κατηρεφές, … ἔνθα … τιθαιβώσσουσι μέλισσαι....  (Od. 13.344 - 351) 


The lake - cave of "Melissani" at Kefalonia (Karavomylos, Sami).One of the most beautiful lakes in the world !!!  Homer’s famed "Cave of the Nymphs", one of the distinctive landmarks that Athena conjures up to convince Odysseus that he is back in his homeland after twenty years away from Ithaca.(Od. 13.344-351)
Dedicated to our good friend, the historian Dr. Petros Petratos.
(Text: Hettie Putman Cramer & Makis Metaxas)


Necessary reminder.
Before reading the following text, for better understanding, it is imperative to read as an introduction to the previous post: 

      When Odysseus arrives back in his homeland and Athena appears to him, he does not recognize her. So what does she do to persuade him that he really is back in Ithaca? She "scattering the mist to reveal the land’" and Athena shows him two of the most unmistakable landmarks of his homeland, which anyone who was familiar with them could not fail to recognize.



ἀλλ᾽ ἄγε τοι δείξω Ἰθάκης ἕδος, ὄφρα πεποίθῃς.
Φόρκυνος μὲν ὅδ᾽ ἐστὶ λιμήν, ἁλίοιο γέροντος,
ἥδε δ᾽ ἐπὶ κρατὸς λιμένος τανύφυλλος ἐλαίη·
ἀγχόθι δ᾽ αὐτῆς ἄντρον ἐπήρατον ἠεροειδές,
ἱρὸν νυμφάων, αἳ νηϊάδες καλέονται·
τοῦτο δέ τοι σπέος ἐστὶ κατηρεφές, ἔνθα σὺ πολλὰς
ἔρδεσκες νύμφῃσι τεληέσσας ἑκατόμβας·
τοῦτο δὲ Νήριτόν ἐστιν ὄρος καταειμένον ὕλῃ."
                                                                        (Od. 13.344-351)

But come now, to convince you I will show you the landmarks of Ithaca.
This is the harbour of Phorkys, the old man of the sea;
here at the head of the harbour is the long-leaved olive tree;
and near it is the lovely, shady cave
sacred to the nymphs that are called Naiads.
This is the spacious, vaulted grotto in which
you have offered many solemn hecatombs to the nymphs;
and over there is Mount Neriton, clothed with its forests.’

        What, then, were those two well-known, distinctive and unmistakable landmarks in the landscape of Homeric Ithaca which would be enough to convince Odysseus finally that he was in his homeland?


        According to Athena, the goddess of wisdom and knowledge, one was the famed Cave of the Nymphs. the Naiads (ἱρὸν νυμφάων, αἳ νηϊάδες καλέονται)·, close by the harbour of Phorkys; the other was the equally famous Mount Neriton, which Odysseus mentioned to Alkinoos, king of the Phaiakes, as the most recognizable feature of his homeland: ναιετάω δ᾽ Ἰθάκην εὐδείελον· ἐν δ᾽ ὄρος αὐτῇ Νήριτον εἰνοσίφυλλον, ἀριπρεπές (‘I live in clearly-seen[*] Ithaka, where there is a majestic mountain, Neriton [huge], covered with waving forests’).


        Let us then visit those two landmarks. Here the saying ‘One picture is worth a thousand words’ is very much to the point.

The first distinctive landmark of Odysseus’ Ithaca was the famous Cave of the Nymphs (Od. 13.96-112), ‘a wonder to behold’, situated near the harbour of Phorkys and dedicated to the Naiads, which was full of running water and stalactites, dark in its inner recesses and shot with splashes of purple, and said to be the haunt of ‘bees’ (i.e. departed souls).

Φόρκυνος δέ τίς ἐστι λιμήν, ἁλίοιο γέροντος,
ἐν δήμῳ Ἰθάκης· δύο δὲ προβλῆτες ἐν αὐτῷ
ἀκταὶ ἀπορρῶγες, λιμένος ποτιπεπτηυῖαι,
αἵ τ᾽ ἀνέμων σκεπόωσι δυσαήων μέγα κῦμα
ἔκτοθεν· ἔντοσθεν δέ τ᾽ ἄνευ δεσμοῖο μένουσι
νῆες ἐΰσσελμοι, ὅτ᾽ ἂν ὅρμου μέτρον ἵκωνται.
αὐτὰρ ἐπὶ κρατὸς λιμένος τανύφυλλος ἐλαίη,
ἀγχόθι δ᾽ αὐτῆς ἄντρον ἐπήρατον ἠεροειδές,
ἱρὸν νυμφάων αἱ νηϊάδες καλέονται.
ἐν δὲ κρητῆρές τε καὶ ἀμφιφορῆες ἔασιν
λάϊνοι· ἔνθα δ᾽ ἔπειτα τιθαιβώσσουσι μέλισσαι.
ἐν δ᾽ ἱστοὶ λίθεοι περιμήκεες, ἔνθα τε νύμφαι
φάρε᾽ ὑφαίνουσιν ἁλιπόρφυρα, θαῦμα ἰδέσθαι·
ἐν δ᾽ ὕδατ᾽ ἀενάοντα. δύω δέ τέ οἱ θύραι εἰσίν,
αἱ μὲν πρὸς Βορέαο καταιβαταὶ ἀνθρώποισιν,
αἱ δ᾽ αὖ πρὸς Νότου εἰσὶ θεώτεραι· οὐδέ τι κείνῃ
ἄνδρες ἐσέρχονται, ἀλλ᾽ ἀθανάτων ὁδός ἐστιν.

(Od. 13.96-112)

In the deme of Ithaca is a harbour named after Phorkys, the old man of the sea, guarded by two precipitous headlands sloping down on the side toward the harbour. which protect it from the great waves raised by heavy winds in the open sea and allow well-benched ships to ride inside without so much as tying up, once they have reached the point of anchorage. At the head of the harbour grows a long-leaved olive-tree and near by is a lovely, shady cave sacred to the nymphs whom we call Naiads This cave contains a number of stone mixing-bowls and two-handled jars, which are used by bees as their hives. It also contains long looms of stone [stalactites] where the nymphs weave fabrics of sea-purple, a wonder to behold; and there are springs whose water never fails. The cave has two mouths. The one that faces north is the way down for human beings. The other, facing south, is for the gods and is not used by human beings at all: it is the way of the immortals.

This is the cave that Athena conjures up as one of the two incontrovertible proofs – the other being Mount Neriton – which between them will be enough to make Odysseus recognize his homeland and believe that he really is back in Ithaca (Od. 13.344-351). When the goddess scatters the mist and Odysseus, seeing the cave he knows so well, is finally convinced that he is back in his homeland, he is so overcome by emotion that he falls on his knees and vows to bring votive offerings and offer hecatombs, as in the past, in honour of his beloved Naiads.

ὣς εἰποῦσα θεὰ σκέδασ᾽ ἠέρα, εἴσατο δὲ χθών·
γήθησέν τ᾽ ἄρ᾽ ἔπειτα πολύτλας δῖος Ὀδυσσεύς,
χαίρων ᾗ γαίῃ, κύσε δὲ ζείδωρον ἄρουραν.
αὐτίκα δὲ νύμφῃς ἠρήσατο, χεῖρας ἀνασχών
"νύμφαι νηϊάδες, κοῦραι Διός, οὔ ποτ᾽ ἐγώ γε
ὄψεσθ᾽ ὔμμ᾽ ἐφάμην· νῦν δ᾽ εὐχωλῇς ἀγανῇσι
χαίρετ᾽· ἀτὰρ καὶ δῶρα διδώσομεν, ὡς τὸ πάρος περ,
αἴ κεν ἐᾷ πρόφρων με Διὸς θυγάτηρ ἀγελείη
αὐτόν τε ζώειν καί μοι φίλον υἱὸν ἀέξῃ."

(Od. 13.352-360)

So saying, the goddess scattered the mist and the land appeared.
Long-suffering godly Odysseus was glad then,
rejoicing in his land, and kissed the grain-giving earth.
Lifting up his arms, he prayed immediately to the nymphs:
‘Naiad nymphs [you who dwell in the waters], daughters of Zeus,
I never thought I would see you again.
I greet you now with gentle prayers
And we shall give you gifts, too, just as before,
if Zeus’s daughter, who drives the spoil, graciously
allows me to go on living and brings my dear son to manhood.’



Ritual sacrifice in a cave. Athens, National Archaeological Museum, 540-530 b.c.


          So which could that wondrous cave possibly have been, and where might it be?


Homer’s text informs us that the cave was in the coastal area near the so-called harbour of Phorkys, in the deme of Ithaca: Φόρκυνος δέ τίς ἐστι λιμήν, ἁλίοιο γέροντος, ἐν δήμῳ Ἰθάκης.
A scholion on the Odyssey attributed to Herodotos or Herodoros contains the following significant passage:

Φόρκυς δαίμων θαλάσσιος, τὸ πρότερον διατρίβων
πρός τῷ Ἀρυμνίῳ λεγομένῳ ὄρει τῆς Ἀχαΐας, οἰκῶν
τε τὴν Φόρκυνος ἀπ’ αὐτοῦ καλουμένην βῆσσαν.
Κᾆτα φανέν αὐτῷ καταλιπεῖν τὰς τρίβους ταύτας,
ἀφίκετο εἰς τὴν Κεφαλληνίαν, καὶ τόπον ἐκλεξάμενος
ἐπιτήδειον αὐτῷ ἐνταῦθα ᾤκησεν. Λέγεται δέ Ἄμμος
ὁ τόπος. Προσορμίσας δέ εἰς τὸν τῆς Ἰθάκης λιμένα,
ἠξίωσεν αὐτὸν ἀφ’ ἑαυτοῦ προσαγορεύεσθαι Φόρκυνος.


Phorkys was a marine daemon who lived formerly near Mount Arymnion in Achaia. dwelling in the ‘glen of Phorkys’ named after him. Later he decided to leave the place where he was living and went to Kephallenia, where he chose a place to live that suited him. That place is called Ammos [‘Sand’]. When he arrived in the harbour of Ithaca, he demanded that it be renamed after him ‘the harbour of Phorkys’.

A mosaic of the god Phorkys. Bardo Museum (Tunis) http://www.bardomuseum.tn/

























So, according to this story, the god Phorkys chose to live on the island of Kephallenia (not the island of Ithaca) at a place called Ammos, but he considered it to be a harbour in Ithaca! The confusion over the names of Kephallenia and Ithaca and their identification plainly attest to a latent shared identity and the dual nature of the two islands, which mythology preserved in the minds of the Greeks of later periods.

In the light of this story of Phorkys’ migration to Kephallenia to live in a cave that would of course be worthy of a god, it would certainly be of interest to see where in Kephallenia there are caves of such loveliness that a god would wish to reside in them.

It is a fact that the only island noted for its many caves is not the one now called Ithaki but modern Kephallenia, which has innumerable caves, especially in the general area of Sami and Karavomylos. In that region alone there are more than forty-five caves of outstanding beauty, many of them of great archaeological importance.

       Next we must ask ourselves if any of those caves situated near the seashore is outstandingly beautiful, spacious, vaulted, dark in its inner recesses, having purple colours, full of stalactites, with constant running water, dedicated to the Naiads, and said to have been the abode of ‘bees’ (departed souls)

Without any doubt, the passage in question in the Odyssey gives a detailed, almost photographic description of the impressive lake cave of Melissani. Homer tells us that the cave he has in mind is the abode of bees (melissai), which is the obvious derivation of the cave’s modern name: it was haunted by the souls of the dead. The Melissani Cave lies near the shore of Sami Bay, then  known as the harbour of Phorkys (= Forchi), and on the earliest maps of Kephallenia Sami Bay is marked as the Bay of Fochi or Focchi!

Map of Kephallenia, hand-coloured print of 1616. Here the bay now known as Sami Bay is marked as Focchi. Collection of Fotis Kremmydas.
Τhe impressive lake cave of Melissani

Sami Bay with its harbour, well know since ancient times, which was protected from the worst of the rough seas by the two facing shores of Kephallenia and Ithaki.      Photo: P. Kavalieratos.
The Melissani Cave at Karavomylos, some 200 metres from the shore of Sami Bay. Its position matches Homer’s description of the cave as being very close to the beach where the Phaiakes carried the sleeping Odysseus ashore (Od. 13.96-120).
Clay tablet and disc with representations of nymphs and Pan at the centre of their ritual dance. From the excavations of the Melissani Cave (Argostoli Archaeological Museum). Right: Spyridon Marinatos.
When the late Spyridon Marinatos was excavating the Melissani Cave in 1963, he found ancient votive offerings in honour of the Naiads, who are depicted on tablets and plaquettes and in paintings showing the performing ritual dances with Pan and a figurine of Pan. Thus we have incontrovertible archaeological proof that the cave was in fact sacred to the Naiads, exactly as Homer says.


Figurine of Pan (Argostoli Archaeological Museum)

This figurine of Pan found on the islet in the Melissani lake cave during the excavations carried out by Spyridon Marinatos and Georgios Dontas, together with other votive offerings placed there in honour of the Nymphs by visitors to the cave in antiquity.


[According to one of the ancient Greeks’ principal mythological traditions, that of the Arcadians, Pan was the son of Hermes and the nymph Penelope, who was subsequently carried up into the firmament as the weaver of the heavenly peplos and was identified by later mythographers with Odysseus’ Spartan wife. Tradition also related that Odysseus himself came from an Arcadian family. The cult of Pan on Kephallenia may have been connected with these myths.]


Naiads that are souls performing a ritual dance.

[In earliest antiquity, the souls of the departed were called ‘bees’. As Porphyry records in Περὶ τοῦ ἐν Ὀδυσσείᾳ τῶν Νυμφῶν ἄντρου [On the Cave of the Nymphs in the Odyssey]: ‘Springs and streams are habitats of water nymphs, and still more so of the nymphs that are souls, whom the ancients peculiarly called bees.’ Athanasios Stagiritis, in his book Ogygia, writes: ‘Melissai [Bees]: patrons of sacrifices and of all mysteries. Apparently they were named after Melissa, a priestess of Demeter. According to others, they were the souls of the dead and the cause of all pleasures to the living, that is when their bodies are still alive.’]
The Melissa as a soul is depicted in numerous ritual and votive representations, which confirm Homer’s references to the connection of the Melissai with Mycenaean religion and the symbolism they bear as ‘nymphs that are souls’. (See photos of the relevant tablets.)


Gold necklace plaquettes embossed with images of bees, i.e. spirits of the dead (Berlin Archaeological Museum ) The worship of bees as the souls of the departed is evidenced from earliest antiquity.
Gold necklace pendants with images of a Siren and daemonic bees. 2nd half of the 7th c. b.c. Copenhagen, Nationalmuseet. 

Amulet representing a bee from Chrysolakos, near Malia, Crete. Iraklio, Archaeological Museum.

Gold lily from the excavations at ancient Eleutherna, Crete. It is an ornament 3 cm. long depicting a bee with a face and a wig-like hairstyle  typical of the period. The excavator, Nikos Stampolidis, notes: ‘It is a unique representation of the bee as a goddess who fertilises the rosettes at the sides.’

“ ἐν δὲ κρητῆρές τε καὶ ἀμφιφορῆες ἔασιν’


Hermes liberating departed souls in the form of bees from an amphora (ἀμφιφορῆες ἔασιν) representing the underworld, i.e. calling them back to earth.

springs whose water never fails

A wonder to behold! (Od. 13.108)

the spacious, vaulted grotto in which you have offered many solemn hecatombs to the nymphs

It also contains long looms of stone where the nymphs weave fabrics of sea-purple, a wonder to behold

the lovely, shady cave sacred to the nymphs that are called Naiads [nymphs of running water] (Od. 13.349-351).

A general view of the southern part of the Cave of the Nymphs, looking towards the southern mouth of the cave (‘the way down for the gods’). It is now called the Melissani Cave, a name derived from Homer’s description of it, for he tells us that the Cave of the Nymphs was the abode of melissai (bees, i.e. spirits of the dead): ἔνθα δ᾽ ἔπειτα τιθαιβώσσουσι μέλισσαι. When Spyridon Marinatos and Georgios Dontas were excavating the cave, they found tablets with images of the Nymphs and a figurine of Pan, proving that the cave was used as a shrine of the Naiads (nymphs of running water). See photos. Photo: N. Desyllas.

It also contains long looms of stone where the nymphs weave fabrics of sea-purple, a wonder to behold

the spacious, vaulted grotto in which you have offered many solemn hecatombs to the nymphs
"The nymphs in Melissani" , oil painting by Maria Randuleskou (Takis Tokkas, House Museum in Sami)
That cave, one glimpse of which would be enough for anybody to know where he was – was it really so impressive, beautiful and widely famed in Homer’s time? Reason suggests that if it was then so exceptional and so well-known, surely one would expect it to be so today.

We give links below to a few typical write-ups of the Melissani Cave from among the thousands to be found on the Internet. It is worth visiting them to find out what each one has to say and how this lake is regarded in the global community.
Melissani is listed as one of the fifteen most beautiful lakes in the world:
http://www.inkefalonia.gr/toyrismos/12336-stis-15-kalyteres-limnes-tou-kosmou-i-meliss
The Huffington Post’s title says it all: ‘If Greece's Melissani Cave Doesn't Inspire Wanderlust, We Don't Know What Will’
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/04/02/melissani-cave-greece_n_5063072
The Melissani Cave is numbered among the top twelve Amazing World Destinations:
http://amazingworlddestinations.com/melissani-cave-greece/
Melissani is one of the most exotic getaways in the world, according to Alex Flux:
http://news.nster.com/450-the-most-inspiring-places-on-earth-by-alex-flux.html?b=3#
Melissani is one of the world’s most beautiful caves:
http://klyker.com/worlds-most-beautiful-caves-13-photos/
Canoeing through the Melissani Cave is one of the ten ‘things I want to do before I die’:
http://greaseandglamour.com/2014/09/10-things-i-want-to-do-before-i-die/

If this cave is considered so exceptionally impressive by the global community, imagine what a prodigious marvel it must have seemed to the peoples of the known parts of the Mediterranean basin at that time. The appearance of the cave and the photographic description of it in the Odyssey, combined with the archaeological finds from there and the name it bears, leave absolutely no room for doubt about which cave Athena was referring to and which cave caused Odysseus to recognize his homeland.


So many devilish (or divine) coincidences ...............

This cave, however, is not on the island now called Ithaki, as most would probably expect, but on modern Kephallenia. Can that be merely a devilish coincidence?


  • Can it be a devilish coincidence that Homer’s descriptions match the cave’s appearance and unrivalled beauty perfectly?
  • Can it be a devilish coincidence that the name Melissani fits perfectly with Homer’s statement that the cave was occupied by bees?
  • Can it be a devilish coincidence that archaeological excavations have confirmed that this cave was sacred to the Naiads, the same nymphs that Homer tells us his cave was dedicated to?
  • Can it be a devilish coincidence that this cave is vaulted, dark in its inner recesses and full of stalactites (ἱστοὶ λίθεοι περιμήκεες), that it is shot with splashes of purple and has unfailing running water (the result of a rare geological upheaval) confirming Homer’s description?
  • Can it be a devilish coincidence that this cave is close to the seashore, exactly as in Homer’s description?
  • Can it be a devilish coincidence that the only way into this cave is from the north (near the islet), as any ordinary mortal trying to enter from the south will fall straight into the lake?
  • Can it be a devilish coincidence that Mount Neriton (now Mount Ainos) is visible from the cave?                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Can it be a devilish coincidence that the name Fochi or Focchi, found on old maps, is still applied to stretches of the coast in the Sami district?
  • Can it be a devilish coincidence that it takes the same length of time to walk from this cave to the south end of Kephallenia as it took Odysseus to cover that distance?





















So many devilish (or divine) coincidences cannot exist together. The law of probabilities allows little scope for a rational person to think otherwise. This cave exactly matches the one described in the Odyssey, and its identification is borne out by archaeological as well as morphological evidence. Reason suggests that, faced with such an accumulation of definitive resemblances, one is logically bound to accept that the famous Cave of the Nymphs, that abode of bees, has to be the lake cave of Melissani in eastern Kephallenia. Why that cave is not in modern Ithaki but in Kephallenia – an island known by a name not found in Homeric topography – is another question, which is examined in detail in the Appendix, ‘On the Track of “Hercules Furens” in the islands of the Teleboans’.

If this cave was one of the two most immediately recognizable features of Odysseus’ Ithaca, it will be of great interest to see if we can confirm the identity of the other distinctive landmark: the famed Mount Neriton, the pride of Odysseus.

So let us go on to look at the greatest, the most devilish, the most spectacular coincidence in Homeric topography.

The Melissani Cave is numbered among the top twelve Amazing World Destinations. Photo:Dimitris Vandoros

https://youtu.be/zAvEZzOBDzg































No comments:

Post a Comment