Sunday, October 30, 2011

Finding Ithaca

Springs once used to water pigs
All through reading Homer's The Odyssey, a reccuring theme is Odysseus's longing to return home. Odysseus had went to fight in the Trojan War, a war that lasted ten years. Odysseus spent an additional ten years trying to return to his island kingdom of Ithaca. Homer wrote:


Around her [Ithaca] a ring of islands circle side-by-side,
Doulichion, Same, wooded Zachynthos too, but mine
lies low and away, the farthest out to sea,
rearing into the western dusk
while the others face the east and breaking day


But was Ithaca a real island, or just the creation of a master storyteller at work?



The narrow isthmus connecting the
 mainland and peninsula
This question not only haunted me but also, thankfully, amateur archaeologist Robert Bittlestone. Bittlestone believes that a peninsula on the island of Cephalonia was once a separate island, Ithaca.He believes that the low-lying isthmus that connects the main island and the peninsula was once not land, but the sea. When a team of geologists dug as far as possible without hitting bedrock they decided, the peninsula, called Paliki, had once been its own island. "I am convinced," said Bittlestone, "that in Ithaca, Homer describes a real place, and I think he talked about locales that people knew and could recognize. His audience say, 'Oh, yeah, I know that cave, that mountain, that bay.'" You can trace the steps Odysseus could have made upon his return home and match all of Homer's descriptions. The mouth of a harbor clearly matches the description of Phorcys Bay, where Odysseus was returned home, "with two jutting headlands sheared off at the seaward side. You can also still see a pig farm matching the location and time period Homer gives as Eumaeus', the swineherd. Up on a 830-foot-high cliff called Kastelli, lie the remains of a once grand palace. Could this be the place where Penelope waited twenty years for Odysseus? More than likely, yes.

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