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Homeric Ithaca

Written by on 26.10.2013
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Homeric Ithaca

The small rocky island of Ithaca has become known worldwide through Homer’s epic poems “The Iliad” and “The Odyssey”. Many people may not know its exact location, but they know Ithaca as the island of Odysseus since Ithaca and Odysseus are conceptualized together.

There is no indication from the very little ancient written information which has survived, that Ithaca is not the Homeric one. The ancient philosophers and writers Porphyry, Thucidides, Plutarch, Apollodoros, Cicero and Acousilaos, all refer to the island as Ithaca centuries after Homer’s time. The philo­sopher Aristotle writes about “The State of the Ithacans”, indicating that the island was autonomous, this was confirmed when coins of “The State of Ithaca” and “Odysseus” were found from recent exca­vations on the island. During the Roman era, the Greek geographer Strabo was the first to discover that several ancient writers disputed as to the geographi­cal position of Ithaca, unfortunately none of these documents are known to exist today.

In recent centuries many archaeologists and re­searchers came to Ithaca to investigate if it was the Homeric island.

Others had the opinion that Homer’s Ithaca was any of either islands of Cephalonia, Corfu, Paxi, or Lefkada, while a few believed that the ancient island sunk into the sea, or that it existed only in Homer’s imagination. But after discoveries made from excavations on the island and methodical stu­dies of the Odyssey, the majority of scientists are convinced that today’s Ithaca and Homer’s are one and the same.

The first to begin a series of investigations on the island was J. Paulmier de Grentesmenil in the 17th century, but the first who worked on scientific bases was William Gell in 1806 who had the opinion that the ruins of Aetos correlate to the ancient city. Some of the archaeologists and researchers of the 19th cen­tury who shared his opinion were Dodwell, Holland, Mviller, Kendrick, Goodisson, Kruse, Schreiber, Triesch, Riihle von Likiestern, Crifford, Mure, Gri­vas, Liehetrut, Ansted, and Wordsworth. Others like Leake (1806), Bowen (1850), Partsch (1888), Thomo poulos (1908), Gandar, Bursian, Lolling and Reisth claim that the ancient city was located in the northern peninsula at the area of Stavros. All the above mentioned archaeologists and re­searchers found areas on the island that coincide to Homer’s analytical descriptions.

The main oppositional opinion comes from the Ger­man Dorpfeld (1927) who claims that Homeric Ithaca is the island of Lefkada, and he considers that Ithaca was the Homeric “Same” and Cephalonia was “Doulichium”. But in this theory there is a geographical contradiction since the Homeric orientation changes and the narrow channel between Ithaca and Cephalonia becomes an open sea almost 20 miles wide. Homer also clearly determines that the position of Ithaca is closer to the north than the island nearby (Cephalonia), and the descriptions of other areas such as the islet Asteris and the southern part of Ithaca as well as the route taken by Odysseus and Telemachus, come to an absolute contrast to the Dorpfeld theory. Another main point against his the­ory is that Homeric Ithaca was definitely an island, but at that time Lefkada was a peninsula of the Greek mainland; several centuries later in 627 B.C. the Co­rinthians eliminated the isthmus changing Lefkada to an island.

It is of great interest the words with which Homer describes Ithaca such as having “distinctive limits”, “sea from both sides”, and that the island is “narrow”, “small”, “rocky” and “unsuitable for horse riding”. Only the island of Ithaca coincides with the combina­tion of all the above characteristics.

The name Ithaca did not change during the last three thousand years even when several of the con­querors gave other names to the island. Also, there are many places in Ithaca which still retain their an­cient names although in certain periods the popula­tion decreased to a small number of families. Some of these places have a special interest since episodes from the Odyssey took place there. Homer gives an analytical description of these places and the sur­rounding area. *

All of the above is a very condensed outline of the arguments used to prove that the Ithaca that exists today is the same as Homer’s. The section on Ar­chaeology in this book refers to the objects unco­vered by excavations which help to strengthen these arguments.

  • Reference:

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    -Ιθάκη  Τότε και Τώρα- Εκδσεις Σπύρος Δενδρινός, Σπύρος Χ. Δενδρινός - Αλέκος Φ. Καλλίνικος

     

     

    -ΟΜΗΡΟΣ ΚΑΙ ΟΔΥΣΣΕΑΣ, Εκδόσεις Σπύρος Δενδρινός

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