Homer's Ithaca

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A reconstruction of Homeric Greece. Modern Ithaca can be seen to the west
Ulysses meets his father Laertes on Ithaca (Theodoor van Thulden, 1600)

Ithaca (/ˈɪθəkə/; Greek: Ιθάκη, Ithakē) was, in Greek mythology, the island home of the hero Odysseus. The specific location of the island, as it was described in Homer's Odyssey, is a matter for debate. There have been various theories about its location. Modern Ithaca has traditionally been accepted to be Homer's island. One recent alternative candidate is Paliki, which may have been an island separated from the rest of Kefalonia, as argued by Bittlestone, Diggle and Underhill in Odysseus Unbound.[1][2][3] This theory, however, has not been generally accepted on grounds of geology,[4] archaeology,[5] philology,[6] or historical and Homeric analysis.[7] “What is clearly missing,” wrote Dr Christine Haywood reviewing Odysseus Unbound, “is a good knowledge of the complexities of Homeric language, and the support of archaeology.”[8]

The central characters of the epic such as Odysseus, Achilles, Agamemnon and Hector are sometimes believed to be fictional characters.[by whom?] Yet there are many claims that some Homeric hero long ago had inhabited a particular contemporary region or village. This, and the extremely detailed geographic descriptions in the epic itself, have invited investigation of the possibility that Homer's heroes might have existed and that the location of the sites described therein might be found.

Heinrich Schliemann believed he tracked down several of the more famous traditions surrounding these heroes. Many locations around the Mediterranean were claimed to have been the heroes' "homes", such as the ruins at Mycenae and the little hill near the western Turkish town of Hissarlik. Schliemann's work and excavations proposed, to a very sceptical world, that Homer's Agamemnon had lived at Mycenae, and that "Troy" itself indeed had existed at Hisarlik. Much work has been done to identify other Homeric sites such as the palace of Nestor at Pylos. These attempts have been the subject of much scholarly research, archaeological work, and controversy.

Theories on the location of "Homer's 'Ithaca'" were formulated as early as the 2nd century BC to as recently as AD 2005. Each approach to identifying a location has been different, varying in degrees of scientific procedure, empirical investigation, informed hypothesis, wishful thinking, fervent belief, and sheer fantasy. Each investigator and each investigation merits interest, as an indicator both of the temper of the times in which a particular theory was developed, and of the perennial interest in Odysseus and the possible facts of his life. Some of the latest "Homer's 'Ithaca'" approaches resemble some of the earliest.

Leading precursors[edit]

Theorists, and excavations elsewhere, on the location of "Homer's 'Ithaca'"

  • Eratosthenes (276 BC – 194 BC).
  • Demetrius of Scepsis (near Troy) -- writing mid-2nd century BC (near Troy) -- source used by Strabo (below).
    • Pfeiffer, R. (1968). History of Classical Scholarship: From the Beginnings to the End of the Hellenistic Age. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 249–51.. See Bittlestone/Diggle/Underhill (below): James Diggle at p. 508.
  • Apollodorus of Athens (born c. 180 BC) -- writing mid-2nd century BC—source used by Strabo (below), and Apollodorus also relied upon Demetrius of Scepsis (above).
    • Jacoby, Felix (1929). Die Fragmente der griechischen Historiker II B. Berlin: Weidmann. 244, F 154-207.
    • Pfeiffer, R. (1968). History of Classical Scholarship: From the Beginnings to the End of the Hellenistic Age. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 249–51.. See Bittlestone/Diggle/Underhill (below): James Diggle at p. 508.
  • Strabo (63/4 BC – c. 24 AD).
    • Jones, P.V. (1917–1932). Strabo: Geography (Loeb Classical Library ed.). Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.
  • William Gell—writing in 1807—he believed Homer's "Ithaca" was on the Aetos isthmus of Ithaki island, facing east, in or near the bay of Vathy.
  • William M. Leake—writing in 1835—he thought "Ithaca" was on the northwestern coast of Ithaki island, near Polis Bay.
  • Théophile Cailleux—writing in 1878—located "Ithaca" in south-west Spain, in the delta of the Guadalete, near Cádiz.
    • Pays atlantiques décrits par Homère, Ibérie, Gaule, Bretagne, Archipels, Amériques, Théorie nouvelle [Atlantic lands described by Homer: the Iberian peninsula, Gaul, Britain, the Atlantic islands, the Americas. A new theory] (in French). Paris: Maisonneuve et cie. 1878. OCLC 23413881.
  • Samuel Butler developed a controversial theory that the Odyssey came from the pen of a young Sicilian woman, who presents herself in the poem as Nausicaa, and that the scenes of the poem reflected the coast of Sicily, especially the territory of Trapani and its nearby islands. He described the "evidence" for this theory in his The Authoress of the Odyssey (1897) and in the introduction and footnotes to his prose translation of the Odyssey (1900). Robert Graves elaborated on this hypothesis in his novel Homer's Daughter.
  • Wilhelm Dörpfeld (December 26, 1853 – April 25, 1940) -- having performed extensive excavations at various locations of Ithaca and Lefkada, he proposed that the palace of Odysseus was located west of Nidri at the south coast of Lefkada.
    • Dörpfeld, Wilhelm (1965). Alt-Ithaka, ein Beitrag zur Homer-Frage. Studien und Ausgrabungen aus der insel Leukas-Ithaka. Unter Mitarbeit von Peter Goessler [u.a.] [Ancient Ithaca, a contribution to the Homer question. Studies and excavations from the island of Leucas-Ithaka. With the collaboration of Peter Goessler [among others]] (in German) (Neudruck der Ausg. 1927. ed.). Osnabrück: Zeller.
  • G. Volterras—writing in 1903—he believed Paliki once may have had "Strabo's channel" at the isthmus which now separates Paliki and Kefalonia (see Bittlestone/Diggle/Underhill, below).
    • Kritiki Meleti peri Omerikis Ithakis [A Critical Study of Homeric Ithaca] (in Greek). Athens: [self?]. 1903.
  • A.E.H. Goekoop—writing in 1908—he believed "Ithaca" was in southwestern Kefalonia island, on the St. George hilltop near Mazarakata village, southeast of the city of Argostoli, with its harbor at Minies near the modern airport.
  • Lord Rennell of Rodd—writing in 1927—believed "Ithaca" was on Ithaki island.
    • Rennell, J.R. (1927). Homer's Ithaca: A Vindication of Tradition. London: Arnold.
  • W.A. Heurtley and Sylvia Benton—believed "Ithaca" was on Ithaki island, and their excavations at the Polis Bay harbor turned up 8th- to 9th-century BC artifacts.
  • C.H. Goekoop—writing in 1990, grandson of A.E.H. Goekoop—he thought "Ithaca" was on Kefalonia, but in the northern Erissos region, near the town of Fiscardo.
    • Op zoek naar Ithaka [In search of Ithaka] (in Dutch). Weesp: Heureka. 1990.
    • Where on Earth is Ithaca? A Quest for the Homeland of Odysseus. Delft: Eburon. 2010. ISBN 978-90-5972-344-3.
  • E.S. Tsimaratos—published posthumously in 1998—he thought "Ithaca" was in central Kefalonia, but he agreed with Strabo about Paliki once having been cut off from Kefalonia.
    • Poia I Omeriki Ithaki? [Which is Homeric Ithaca?] (in Greek). Athens: Etaireias Meletes Ellenikes Historias. 1998.
  • J.V. Luce (1920-2011), writing in 1998, believed "Ithaca" was on Ithaki island.
  • Nicolas G. Livadas (Author), Constantine Bisticas (Editor, Translator)
    • Odysseus' Ithaca: The Riddle Solved. Athens: Nicholas G. Livadas. 2000. ISBN 960-90803-1-6.
  • Henriette Putman Cramer, Gerasimos Metaxas - the authors believe that the centre of Homeric Ithaca was in south-east Kefalonia where now the village of Poros in the Eleios-Pronnoi municipality is situated.
    • Omiriki Ithaki – ena atavtisto kentro sta nesia ton Kefallenon. Athens: Kaktos editions. 2000. ISBN 960-382-408-9.
  • Gilles Le Noan — writing in 1989-2005 — suggested Paliki as the location of "Ithaca", but discounted the geology supporting "Strabo's channel".
    • A la recherche d'Ithaque, la ferme d'Eumée, le palais d'Ulysse [In search of Ithaca, the farm of Eumeus, the palace of Odysseus] (in French). Quincy-sous-Senart, France: Editions Tremen. 2005.
    • The Ithaca of the sunset. Quincy-sous-Senart, France: Editions Tremen. 2005. ISBN 2-913559-44-1.
    • I kalódysi Itháki Η καλόδυση Ιθάκη [The beautiful Ithaca] (in Greek). Quincy-sous-Senart, France: Editions Tremen. 2005.
  • Christos Tzakos — writing 1999-2005 — believed "Ithaca" was on Ithaki island.
    • "Concerning Homeric Ithaki: Asteris". Odusseia (95). 1999.
    • "kefa-ll-ines Kefa-ll-inia Kefa-ll-onia". Odusseia (70–2). 2000.
    • Ekthesi Synoptiki peri Omerikis Ithakis (A Brief Essay on Homeric Ithaca) (Angelos Eleutheros ed.). Athens. 2002.
    • Tzakos, Christos I. (2005). Ithaca and Homer (The Truth), translated by Geoffrey Cox. Athens. ISBN 960-7103-38-6.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  • Robert Bittlestone, James Diggle & John Underhill — first working in 2003 — believe Paliki is the location of "Ithaca", and also believe in "Strabo's Channel" separated it from Cephalonia, see Odysseus Unbound.
  • Athenagoras Eleutheriuo argued that Paxos was Homeric Ithaca
    • I nisos ton paxon einai i omiriki Ithaki Η νησος των παξων ειναι η ομηρικη Ιθακη [The Island of Paxos is Homeric Ithaca)] (in Greek). Athenai: Eleusis. 2005. ISBN 978-9603-9103-0-5.
  • Dimitris I. Paizis-Danias published ten maps of Cephallenian theories and argued that Homer's Ithaca was on Ithaki
    • Homer's Ithaca on Cephallenia? Facts and fancies in the history of an idea. Athens[?]: Ithacan Friends of Homer Association. 2006. ISBN 9-789608-823129.
  • Felice Vinci suggests that many Homeric places can be identified in the geographic landscape of the Baltic.
    • The Baltic Origins of Homer's Epic Tales. Rochester, Vermont: Inner Traditions. 2006. ISBN 1-59477-052-2.
  • Manolis Koutlis - placed Ithaca on Faial in the Azores.
    • In the Shadow - The Greek Colonies of North America and the Atlantic 1500 BC - 1500 AD. Limassol: Solva-tech LTD. 2018. ISBN 978-9925-7439-5-7.
  • Jonathan Brown - located Ithaca on Ithaki after travelling to Cephalonia, Lefkada, Corfu, Sicily, Spain, Denmark, and the Azores to examine other theories.

See also[edit]


  • Bittlestone, Diggle & Underhill (2005), cited above, Chapter 9 generally.
  • Several of the floruit dates above are taken from Wikipedia articles about the writers.
  1. ^ Green, Peter (2006-11-30). "Finding Ithaca". New York Review of Books. ISSN 0028-7504. Retrieved 2020-03-26.
  2. ^ Underhill, John; Styles, Peter; Pavlopoulos, Kosmas; Apostolopoulos, George (2018-05-01). "The Geological Society of London - Ithaca the story continues". www.geolsoc.org.uk. Retrieved 2020-03-27.
  3. ^ Bordewich, Fergus M. (April 2006). "Odyssey's End?: The Search for Ancient Ithaca". Smithsonian Magazine. Retrieved 2020-03-27.
  4. ^ Gaki-Papanastassiou, Kalliopi (2011). and others. "Geomorphological study and paleogeographic evolution of NW Kefalonia Island, Greece, concerning the hypothesis of a possible location of the Homeric Ithaca". Geoarchaeology, Climate Change, and Sustainability. Geological Society of America. Special Paper 476: 78–79.
  5. ^ Christina Souyoudzoglou-Haywood, “Archaeology and the search for Homeric Ithaca: the case of Mycenaean Kephalonia,” Acta Archaeologica, vol. 89, no. 1 (December, 2018), pp. 145-158.
  6. ^ George Huxley, Review of Odysseus Unbound in Hermathena, no. 182 (Summer 2007), pp. 165-169; Barbara Graziosi, Review of Odysseus Unbound in Journal of Hellenic Studies, vol. 128 (November, 2008), pp. 178-180.
  7. ^ Jonathan Brown, In search of Homeric Ithaca (Canberra: Parrot Press, 2020), pp. 321-333.
  8. ^ Classics Ireland. 14: 90. 2007. {{cite journal}}: Missing or empty |title= (help)

External links[edit]