Odysseus, the legendary king of Ithaca and hero of Homer’s epic poem the Odyssey is most famous for his ten year adventure, trying to return to his homeland after the Trojan War and reassert his place as the rightful king of Ithaca. The location of this ‘homeland’ has not been actually proved beyond doubt up to these days. However, as evidence shows there is more evidence that the Homeric Ithaca is the island of Ithaca, than there is that it is not.
In the few ancient writers’ testimonies that remain intact up to date, no clear identity problem for the Homeric Ithaca arises. Porphyrios, in 260 BC, mentions it, as well as Thucydides. Plutarch testifies the existence of the ancient city "Alalkomenes", which Apollodorus informs us that was located where the area "Aetos," is today, built by the Corinthians. Something also worth mentioning is the work of Aristotle, "The State of Ithaca." The selection of Ithaca as a model demonstrates that there was an organized political autonomy and economical life.
In later years there has been a dispute on whether Ithaca is the home of Odysseus and several versions of the Homeric Ithaca have been presented. A careful study of the Odyssey, however, demonstrates the similarity of the current locations of Ithaca with those described by Homer in detail. In addition, there is also a testimony from the ancient tradition (Psefdokrotos), indicating that Homer lived for a long time on the island, thus explaining the precise description of the island. Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey made the story of this place known to the world. Besides Homer, there are references to other writers like Akousilaos, who state that the Ithacos, Niritos and Polyktor were the three sons of the king Pterelaos, who were descendants of Zeus. According to him, Odysseus's wife Penelope was the daughter of king Icarus and Polykastis.
Excavations and Discoveries
In Ithaca, the excavations have always been small in scale. According to a 1927 study, conducted by Professor Apostolos Arvanitopoulos, Palmier De Grentesmenil was the first to explore Ithaca in 1678. Much later, around 1804-1806, some scientific explorations and excavations were conducted by Gell, Dadwell and Raikes, although the latter had miscalculated the Homeric geography, on the island of Ithaca. According to Arvanitopoulos, only Martino Deake considered the correct location of the city of Ulysses in the north of the island. He also stated that there were temples of Athena, Hera and Artemis in Ithaca, without, however, being able to describe their exact location. The Temple of Artemis was brought to light by excavations conducted by Bendon, in Aetos, There was evidence that the temple of goddess Athena was located in the area of Kathara, thus taking the name from her, the “Clean” Virgin Athena. The only traces of worship of Hera were found in the cave of Loizos, which was a place of worship and not a temple. Arvanitopoulos also described a beautiful necklace, which had been found in "a gold grave, brightly surrounded by semi-valuable stones, engraved by performances and inscriptions, currently in the hold of the English man Fiott Lee”. During 1811-1814, excavations were conducted by the Governor of the island Guitera, who, after having looted 200 tombs in the area of Aetos, misappropriated the golden utensils and apparatus and sold many objects in Livorno for 6.500 pounds. Schlimann, conducted excavations in 1868 and in 1878, where he discovered the flourish of Ithaca following the era of the Dorians and Corinthians; however, he did not return as planned, to continue the excavations, due to his sudden death.
In 1896, Dorpfeld arrived in Ithaca and did a short term archaeological survey, left and came back in 1900, but left again after a short period. In 1905, excavations were conducted by Wollgraff and Koecoop. The excavations took place in many areas and the most important findings were those of Melanythros and Aetos. Excavations were conducted in 1930 by the British School of Archaeology, led by Heurtley, where searches were made in the hill of Pilikata, the cave of Loizos, the School of Homer and the area of Stavros. Heurtley described that "in the vicinity of Stavros there were found a piece of a wall from the 4th century and a cemetery in St. Elias, where the dead were laid on convex bricks and covered with each other". Furthermore, he added, there was continuous habitation in Pilikata, since the ancient times and until the end of the Mycenaean period.
In the period 1931-1933 excavations were conducted by Constantine Petalas, under the supervision of Nicholas Kiparissis. In those excavations part of the cave was revealed, from which it was inferred that the Phaeacians pulled out Odysseus, asleep. The entrance of the cave was found destroyed by Roman quarrying operations, but the cove, 12 meters deep, was undamaged. This cave, next to the sand, which is now covered by paved road, had been described by Artemidorus, in the second century BC, and in 233 AD by Porfyrios, the Neoplatonist philosopher, who had written a comprehensive script for "The Odyssean Cave of the Nymphs." Bendon continued to investigate the island of Ithaca, before and after the 1940 war. Heurtley states in his article, in 1938, that "the position of the palace of Odysseus was on the hill of Pilikata, the only position in Ithaca for a citadel of the Mycenaean King". Furthermore, he describes that "the piles of stones, discovered on the hill of Pilikata, south of the house Vlisma, are remains of buildings during the war of Troy and during the lifetime of Odysseus." The archaeologist Bendon has extensively described the findings in the cave Loizos, the fragment bearing the inscription “Efhin Odyssei”, the Mycenaean vessels, and also the famous tripods, the one first Dimitrios Loizos found, as well as other twelve tripods found by herself. In the place called Trilagkada (Three Dales), which was also excavated by Bendon, many important objects from the Mycenaean period were brought to light, and in addition remains of a big house with wonderful mosaics. Some of the findings of the cave of Loizos are mentioned in a description of Wollgraff. Among them "a Corinthian plate with colorful decorations, depicting animals and birds in the 7th century BC, a statuette made of ivory, depicting a standing man, surrounded by a bronze rope", said to be Ulysses himself, and many more. The shell marked in Linear A, which was found in 1931 by Heurtley in a sink at the hill of Pilikata is certainly worth mentioning. It was interpreted at the University of Indiana in 1989, by Professor Paul Faure, as follows: 'The nymph saved me. For this I, Aredatis, give to the goddess Rhea 100 goats, 10 sheep, 3 pigs". In the latest years, Professor Sarantis Symeonoglou excavates the south part of Ithaca, at the saddle of Aetos, as well as from above the desalination, at the cave called 'the Nymphs’ ". In his research notes he reports inhabitation from the1400 BC and major damages from an earthquake in 373 BC.
Excavations in North Ithaca
The Department of Archaeology at the University of Ioannina, under the direction of Asst. Professor Litsa Kontorli-Papadopoulou and Professor Athanasios Papadopoulos, has been conducting excavations in northern Ithaca since 1994.
In three Lagades, south of the settlement Kalyvia, near the place of the excavation of S. Benton, test trenches have revealed remains of Mycenaean homes. In Stavros, two locations were surveyed: at the site of Patrikios, a large Hellenistic built tomb with four engraved plates bearing the letters A, B, C, D., was excavated, containing cremations and precious gems (silver bottle, bronze flask, plates, rings and a silver triovolo from the Achaean Confedaration (165-150 BC). At the site of Erasmia Raftopoulou, two gates and a part of a Cyclopean fortification wall were identified and investigated in detail. In Pilikata, trenches were made in order to study the Early Helladic wall, part of which was discovered by Heurtley. The outer side was composed of huge stones, whereas the interior was filled with small sharp stones. Furthermore, Early Helladic arched foundations of homes were found there, a wall 31,5 meters long and also built drainage pipes.
In the areas of Agios Athanassios and the Homeric School, on the east side of the mountain and the village Exogi, sections of a citadel were found, dated from the prehistoric to the Roman times. These sections contained ancient buildings with artificial terraces, interconnected with stone stairways. On the east side, there was a prehistoric underground fountain, built in a corbelling way similar to the underground fountains of Mycenae and Tiryns. These findings are at the Museums of Stavros and Vathi.
In August 2010, the archaeologists Professor Litsa Kontorli - Papadopoulos and Professor Thanassis Papadopoulos, from the University of Ioannina, published a statement, in which they cited detailed scientific documentation of the discovery of the palace of Odysseus in Ithaca.
International Conferences on the Odyssey
The institution of the 'International Conferences on the Odyssey', with a permanent seat in Ithaca, was founded in 1977. In these conferences professors from different nations participate, while students, Homeric researchers and audience interested or related to the Homeric studies may also attend. Despite the difficulties that may arise, given the limited organizational and financial capabilities in the island, the institution has managed to be successful. This success is attributed to the active participation of distinguished Homerists and the publication of the minutes of these conferences.
In1981 the organization of the conferences came under the supervision of the 'Centre for Odyssean Studies', founded in Ithaca. The minutes of these international conferences are published by Mrs. Machi Paizi - Apostolopoulou, a historian and Secretary General of the Centre, and constitute a rich editorial series with international recognition. They also Include recent researches, relevant to the Homeric epics, and are addressed not only to Greeks but also to non Greek-speaking readers, since there are translated abstracts in the texts.
Up to date the following volumes have been released:
Iliad and Odyssey. Myth and History, Ithaca 1986 (p 207)
Homeric Home, Ithaca, 1990 (p. 257)
Tour in Ithaca, Ithaca 1990 (p. 53)
Libations to Homer (I. Kakridis Memory), Ithaca 1993 (p. 301)
Efhin Odysseus (Odysseus Bless), Ithaca 1995 (p 375)
Homerics, Ithaca 1998 (p 427)
Available at the Secretariat of the 'Centre for Odyssean Studies' (tel: 210 3611078, fax: 210 3640391), in bookstores in Ithaca and in main bookstores in Athens (Hestia, Kardamitsa, etc.).
Homeric and Odyssean Seminars and Literature
Another activity of the Centre for Odyssean Studies is the seminars related to the Odyssean and Homeric literature. Every year, postgraduate courses for teachers of the secondary education take place in Ithaca. The event is organized with the collaboration of the Municipality of Ithaca, the Centre for Odyssean Studies and, recently, the National Philologist Union, and is under the supervision of the Ministry of Education. In this manner, an opportunity is given each year to fifty scholars from different educational regions to attend seminars and courses taught by expert Homerists in the island of Homer, and to help them enrich their teaching experience. The institution has been operating since 1984.