Friday, September 30, 2005

Ithaka found in Odysseus Unbound?

Roger Cox at writes about the new book by businessman Robert Bittlestone, (written with the aid of geologist John Underhill and Euripides scholar James Diggle, who doesn't appear to have a decent on-line bio).

Essentially they argue that the western peninsula of Kefalonia was once an island, now joined to its neighbor by rockfalls and deposits, and that it better accords with Homer's description in book 9 than does the island now called Ithaka:

In book nine of The Odyssey, Ithaca is described as "low-lying" and "furthest towards dusk [i.e. west]" of all the nearby islands. However, the island now known as Ithaca is mountainous, and lies to the east of its neighbours.

Here's the Greek for some context:

αὐτὴ δὲ χθαμαλὴ πανυπερτάτη εἰν ἁλὶ κεῖται (25)
πρὸς ζόφον, αἱ δέ τ’ ἄνευθε πρὸς ἠῶ τ’ ἠέλιόν τε,
τρηχεῖ’, ἀλλ’ ἀγαθὴ κουροτρόφος·

History writer and 'television presenter' (sorry, but U.K. English always makes me smirk) Michael Wood isn't buying it, citing the fact that Mycenean finds have surfaced on what we now call Ithaka, so by golly it must be Ithaka!

But there's more to it than that. He cites the work of archaeologist Sylvia Benton who reportedly found tripods and cauldrons as well as a mask inscribed 'my prayer to Odysseus'

In Book 8 of the Odyssey, Homer tells how Odysseus receives gifts from King Alkinoos of Phaeacia before he sails back to Ithaca. The gifts were from "12 noble lords ... and I myself the 13th", says the king. What were the gifts? Later in Book 13 we read: "Come let each of us man by man give him a large tripod and cauldron..."

So 13 men gave Odysseus gifts, and the finds in the 1870s and 1930s add up to 13 cauldrons. When dated, they are proved to be from before Homer.

I should mention that he cites Benton without giving a citation, so I'll do it for him:

Benton, Sylvia. BSA (The Annual of the British school at Athens) 35 (1934-1935).

You're on your own for page numbers, unless I get around to finding more info once I'm on campus.

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