Ithaca, the small island in the Ionian Sea, is well known around the world from Homer’s epic poems “The Iliad” and “The Odyssey” and his central hero, Odysseus.
In the Odyssey, describing the island and the adventures of Odysseus Homer conveyed valuable political, social and geographical information about Ithaca which has been an important source for researchers to study and analyze the ancient History of the island. Homer lived around the 8th century B.C., at least three centuries after Odysseus’ time. The possible places of his origin are: Smyrna, Chios, Colophon, Pylos,
Argos, Athens and Ithaca. According to tradition Homer lived on Ithaca when he was very young learning the island so well that he was later able to describe it in the Odyssey with such great detail.
Ithaca was the capital of the Cephallinon’s Kingdom, which consisted of the islands Cephallonia, Zante, Lefkada, Dulichium (probably a part of Cephallonia), Echinades and the mainland just opposite. The ancient people of Televoes controlled the islands until they were conquered by Arcicious who married Chalcomedousa and had a son named Laertes who became Odysseus’ father.
The name Odysseus means angry and his coat of arms was the dolphin. From his youth he was distinguished for his prudency and courage which was cultivated over the years. Winning the favor over other suitors he married Penelope and had a son named Telemachus.
Odysseus becoming King of the Cephallonians while Laertes was still alive, tried to avoid participating in the war against Troy but unable to refuse finally followed the armies of the other Hellenic Kingdoms, with twelve ships under his flag. The Trojan War lasted for ten years (1193-1184 B.C.) and its ending was attributed to Odysseus’ idea, the famous Trojan horse.
On leaving Troy Odysseus took Hecuba, Troy’s King Priam’s wife, with him to the Thracian coast where seventy-two of his men were killed by the people of Cicones and he lost Hecuba as well. Then he sailed to the land of the Lotus-Eaters (Lybia) and from there to the island of the Cyclopes, where he blinded the Cyclope Polyphemus. Next he landed at the island of Aeoulus who promised to aid him in a quick return to Ithaca but instead, through a mistake made by his men, Odysseus ended up in the country of Laistrygonian where his fleet was destroyed, left with only one ship he sailed to Circe’s island and stayed with her for one year.
When he managed to leave Circe, he visited the underworld to be told the day of his return. Sailing to the Ionian Sea, he escaped from the Sybligades stones and the attractive sirens, he avoided the dangerous narrow pass between Scyila and Charibdi (Italy and Cicily) and reached the island of the Sun. There, he lost his ship with his men and he was found alone on a beach of the Ogygie island where he stayed with the nymph Calypso for seven years. With a raft he sailed to the island of the Phaeacians (Corfu), where the royal family offered him hospitality. They gave him a ship, crew and gifts, with these Odysseus finally reached Ithaca in 1174 B.C. after an absence of 20 years. During this long period, especially the last years, from different areas of Odysseus Kingdom suitors came to the island and lived in the palace passing their time in idle amusements while pressing his wife Penelope to choose one of them for husband. Penelope promised she would announce her decision as soon as she finished weaving the shroud for old Laertes. To gain time she would unweave at night what she wove during the day.
Odysseus, after being informed about the situation, decided to take revenge killing the suitors in a short fight helped by his son Telemachus and a few faithful servants.
Telemachus became king after his father, but since the Kingdom of Cephallinon decreased in power he reigned only over the island of Ithaca. King Persepolis was the last to rule until Ithaca came under the Dorian control at about 1100 B.C.
There are several stories about Odysseus death. Some believe that he was killed by his son Telegonos who carried his father’s corpse to Circe, his mother, or that he left Ithaca and went to Sicily where he stayed until he died. Others say that he abdicated under the people’s pressure, left the island and stayed on Ilis for a while, he returned to Ithaca only to leave again, he went to Thesproty where he married Queen Callideki and returned to Ithaca after her death.
Some of the words Homer used to describe Odysseus are: brave, courageous, bold, artful, crafty, witty, tender, mild, eloquent, exquisite, magnanimous, able, prudent and a devoted husband. He characterizes Penelope as an example of female virtue, prudence, morality and conjugal faith and devotion.
Some libeled writers, mainly Roman, depict Penelope as a prostitute claiming that she wets mistress of the god Hermes and all the suitors in the palace, that she gave birth to a son who was named Pan (everybody, from all) and on his return Odysseus immediately expelled Penelope from the island. It was also said that after Odysseus’ assassination by his son Telegonos, Penelope married Telegonos, and his mother married Telemachus, Penelope’s son.
Interesting is the interpretation that Penelope’s suitors were redly representatives of the people who rose against the monarchy forming a kind of bolshevism which was unusual during the Hellenic period.
-Ιθάκη Τότε και Τώρα- Εκδσεις Σπύρος Δενδρινός, Σπύρος Χ. Δενδρινός - Αλέκος Φ. Καλλίνικος
-ΟΜΗΡΟΣ ΚΑΙ ΟΔΥΣΣΕΑΣ, Εκδόσεις Σπύρος Δενδρινός