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Todays and Homeric Ithaca

Written by on 24.10.2013
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Todays and Homeric Ithaca

The Ithaca of today is  the Ithaca of Homer!


The Ithaca of Homer was part of a group of many islands which stretched out to the north-west of the Peloponnese. Ithaca lav in an enclosed sea because it was surrounded by many small and three large islands called: Dulichium, Same and Zakynthos. Cephalonia and lefkada, throughout thier western part (from north to south) look out only on endless sea and no other island (Odyssey ix, 22 - 24; ii, 65 - 66; xxi, 346 - 7).

Homeric Ithaca and the large island of Same formed a porthmos (= long narrow sea passage) between them, in which Homer’s rocky islet of “Asteris” has to be situated. This sea channel was to the west of the homeland of Odysseus, because Telemachus, heading from the present-day Oxeies (the Thoai island of Homer) on its east side, avoids it completely, in accordance with the instructions of the goddess Athena. The stretch of sea between Lefkada, Cephalonia, and Ithaca is not a “porthmos”. Cephalonia has a “porthmos” on its eastern side (iv, 671; xv, 29; iv, 884 - 6; xv, 299; xv, 28- 38).

The Ithaca of Homer was a narrow island. But since it formed a long, narrow sea channel (porthmos) with another large island (Homeric same), it must have stretched out lengthwise. It must, therefore be long and narrow. Cephalonia and Lefkada are very broad, that is, very “bulky” (see line xiii, 243, oud’ evreia tetyktai).

The Ithaca of Homer is described as “ evdeielos”, which means “easily seen to be an island”. It is surrounded, that is, very obviously by areas of water, without its outlines being confused with any adjacent mainland. This fact quite clealy stresses its distance from any other coast (of an island or otherwise). Lefkada is not an “evdeielos” island, because is north-eastern limits have always been visually involved with those of Acamania (xiii, 234 - 5; ii, 167; ix, 21; xiii, 212; xiv, 344; xix, 132).

If (presant-day) Cephalonia was the Homeric Ithaca, how is Telemachus’ return there via (presant-day) Oxeia to be explained? (xv, 299).

If (presant-day) Lefkada was the Homeric Ithaca, what “porthmos” with an ambush did Telemachus avoid as he was returning there from Pylos via today’s Oxeia? (iv, 671; xv, 29; xv, 299).

The chamions of Lefkada maintain that you could go to Homeric Ithaca on foot. If this is true, the Suitors, in lying in ambush for Telemachus, would have taken the necessary precautions against his return via Acamania. But this did not happen. Also, the father of Antonous, the first Suitor to be slaughtered (Eupeithes of Ithaca) is shown as being concerned that Odysseus, the culprit, should escape only to Pylos or Elis (north-western Peloponnese) and not to Acamania. To Homer’s “evdeielos” Ithaca it was impossible to go on foot. As explained above, this description contains a requirement of some distance from any other shore (i, 173; xxiv, 429 - 31).

The “Asty” of the Ithacans lies (lay) in a spacious basin with three harbours around it (amphialos Ithaki). Each of these is discribed as having some special individual characteristic. The first (today’s Frikes) was at the end of a torrent bed, and so was called the “Harbour of Rheithron”. The second, Afales today, forms a vast inlet into the land and so was rightly termed “polyventhis” (= of great horizontal depth). The third (Polis Stavrou) is so formed that there the Pounentes with the Maistro (Zephyros akrais) is considerded a favourable wind for deperture. The Megaron (“hall”) of Penelope (on the spot called AtThanasis) was located very close to the “polyventhis” harbour, because it could easily been seen from her courtyard. A short distance from the megaron was the polyhydros royal spring (Kalamos Kollieris). The whole of this topographical picture describes to the perfection of a pnotogragh the basin of today’s northern Ithaca. Nowhere on Cephalonia or lefkada is there a similar area which can be identified so completly with Homer’s description (xxiv, 468; ii, 293; xxi, 252; i, 186; xvi, 473; ii, 413 - 29; xvi, 343; xvi, 351-3; xx, 158).

Mount Neriton in Homer’s Ithaca (today the Anoghi mountain) has to dominate in front of the enclosed and well-hidden harbour, of great horizontal depth, of phorcyn (presant-day Vathy), whose existance, it is supposed, anyone going there knows of in advance, otherwise he could sail past it without seeing it. There is no such sea inlet near Ainos, Cephalonia’s candidate for Mount Neriton (xiii, 345; xiii, 351; xiii, 96 - 100; xiii, 113).

The        poet frequently mixes up the words in his lines, moving them from the position required by the sense, because he is in search of a particular pattern of piecing together their syllables (either - long + short + short, the so-called “dactyl”, or - long + long, the so-called spondee). This produces the famous “dactylic hexameter”. If, therefore, we do not restore the words to where they should have been before they were moved by the form of the dactylic hexameter which is being pursued, there is a danger that we shall be led astray as to the meaning. Thus, if we do not re-order, for example, the words of line ix 25 in their natural (syntactically logical) order, it emerges that Homer’s Ithaca is the last island to the west (and therefore presant-day Cephalonia), whereas the true meaning describes the sea (ein ali) in which the homeland of Odysseus lies as last towards the west (panypertati pros zophoii). Typical examples of this technique of Homer are to be found in hundreds of lines of the epic of the Odyssey. Full proof of this is to be found in the repeated formula-line ix, 245; ix, 309; ix, 342. There, in order to produce the required dactylic hexameter, the poet puts the words in an irregular order. Thus we read that a large ewe is placed by the Cyclops Polyphemus underneath its new-born lamb, whereas common sense requires us to read that the lamb was placed underneath the sheep in order to suckle it.

11.Of all the islands in the broader island complex, the Ithaca of Homer was the most rugged, without extensive meadows, without flat roads - and entirely unsuitable for horseriding (iv, 605 - 8; xxi, 346).

12. And last: ONLY in present-day Ithaca have coins with the figure of Odysseus on them, a shard with his name written on it (the famous EFCHIN ODYSSEI) and a small clay plaque withdrawing from an episode in the Odyssey (Sirens) been found. In northern Ithaca (at the “school of Homer”), a prehistoric acropolis has been discovered, with a building complex on two platforms which are linked with carved stone steps, and, at a short distance, a circular tholos.



  • Reference:

    Christos Tzakos

    Friends of Hommer

Read 3752 times Last modified on 13.03.2015
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