Daily Archives: November 14, 2017

The Chisper Effect 3 : The Ithica Frage

chisper_effectContinuing the weekly serialization of

Damian Beeson Bullen’s

THE CHISPER EFFECT

In which a number of the world’s greatest mysteries are finally solved

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Chapter III

There has just passed a grand cycle of human time that begins & ends with two very different fellows named Homer. The first was an elegant & majestic wordsmith, the world’s most famous poet, the herald-in-chief of Western civilization. The more recent avatar was a beer-swilling, doh-carping, tv-watching cartoon character representing all that went wrong in said Western civilization. Despite such a vast difference in effectivity, more people have giggled through a single episode of The Simpsons than have ever read the Iliad in the entire history of mankind. Yet, it is the first Homer, one hopes, who will be remembered a long, long time after that yellow-skinned cartoon character is cast into the dusty tombs of our television graveyards. Homer the poet was the musical mastermind & maestro composer of two of the finest poems ever to grace humanity; the Iliad & the Odyssey. Reading through these poems, one is presented with two differing shades of Homer’s genius. Where the Iliad is a supreme & serious portrayal of human personality under duress, the Odyssey is primarily a superexotic tale of adventure. The two poems also differ in gender; whereas the Iliad is a militaristic theater full of men, the Odyssey is dominated by women: from the enchanting nymph Calypso, through Odysseus’ strong & faithful wife, Penelope, to the goddess Athene, who directs the action like some majestic conductress before a classical symphony orchestra.

Set in a long gone age of heroes, the two epics in tandem sing of the epoch in which was fought the Trojan War, a ten-year siege which began with the famous kidnapping of Helen of Troy. The story goes like this; after indulging in a little extra-marital bliss with Paris, Prince of Troy, that famously good-looking lady fled to Asia Minor with her new lover. Her husband in Sparta, Menaleus, was outraged;  with family honour at stake he & his brother Agamamenon embarked upon a famous pan-Grecian expedition to Troy. Cue a ten-year siege, the Wooden Horse, the toppling of the towers of Ilium – Troy’s local name – & the creation of the back story behind Homer’s wonderful poetry. Then, after the fall of Troy, the Greek heroes had to make their way back home, the adventures of one of whom, Odysseus, forms the chief matter of the Odyssey.

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This brings us to the ‘Ithaca Frage,’ a phrase coined in the 19th century by German scholars battling furiously over the whereabouts of the home island of Odysseus. In these our modern days, Ithica is a member of the Ionian archipelago, off the western coast of the Greek mainland, of which island Martin Young says, ‘virtually all of the archaeology that has taken place on the Ionian Islands up to the Second World War was aimed at solving this ‘Ithaca Question.’ In the 19th century, for example, William Dorpfeld invested a great deal of time, money & effort in a fruitless search for Odyssean remains on the island of Leucas. If he would have read his Homer properly he would have known that Leucas was too far east, for when Homer says Ithica was ‘furthest to sea’ this can only mean one island – Cephalonia.

I am Odysseus, Laertes’ son, world-famed for stratagems: my name has reached the heavens. Bright Ithaca is my home: it has a mountain, Leaf-quivering Neriton, far visible. Around are many islands, close to each other, Doulichion and Same and wooded Zacynthos. Ithaca itself lies low, furthest to sea towards dusk; the rest, apart, face dawn and sun.

The tourist to the lovely, yet ultimately erroneously named island of modern Ithica, may embark on a plethora of tours through all the sights of Odyssean scripture. This ‘Ithaca’ was completely depopulated & unnamed only 500 years ago.  In 1504, the island’s Ottoman rulers began to hand out free land for settlers who, at a later date, possibly recognizing the income their future descendants could make from Donkey rides to the palace of Odysseus, gave their new home the name of Ithica. As late as 1572, the island was known as Val de Compere, as found on a map made by Thomas Porcacchi. Looking at the evidence in the 21st century, one can clearly see that a factochisp had taken place, & I determined upon establishing the truth. Thus, in 2011, I visited Cephalonia with a well-thumb’d copy of the Odyssey in my pack. A blog I worked on recorded my journey to the island;

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How lovely look the Ionian Islands this morning, shadowy shapes crowning a deep sea-purple, under an endless canopy of cerulean blue sky! I am writing this amidst the fortress of Glarantza, a ruined city built & then abandoned in the medieval period. It lies a kilometer or so outside the townlet of Killini, from where, in a few hours, a red ferry shall speed me across the pure azurity of the Mediterranean Sea toward the mountain island that is Cephallonia. It is all a far cry from the reading rooms of the National Library of Scotland where I picked up my first hints that Cephalonia was the actual Ithica of the Odyssey. My initial suspicions had been confirmed as I sailed by the island from the north, whose mountain is indeed ‘far visible,‘ as Homer says. Disembarking many miles away at the port of Patras, it can still be made out along the western horizon. To the Cephalonians the mountain is called Ainos, but it is the Italian names, Monte Nero & Montagna Nera, which retain the Homeric Neritum. Cephalonia is definitely not ‘low-lying,’ as Homer describes Ithica, but the Roman geographer Strabo clarifies the situation;

Now although Homer’s phraseology presents incongruities of this kind, yet they are not poorly explained; for, in the first place, writers do not interpret chthamale as meaning “low-lying” here, but “lying near the mainland.”

I am now sat on the forward deck of my ferry to Cephalonia. Drawing closer to the mountain-island, a wonderful romantic vision set against a pinkening sky, I have taken out my copy of the Odyssey. It is the same one I had sent to me five years ago as I wintered on the Sicilian island of Marettimo. It was there that I learnt how Samuel Butler had visited Marettimo a century ago, & became positively obsessed with the island being the Odyssean Ithica. My interest piqued, I sent for the Odyssey from my library in Cumbria & joined in the game. Later that winter I even spent Valentine’s night with my girlfriend picnicking in the so-called Calypso’s Cave on the island of Gozo, by Malta. At this point I had wanted to press on to Ithica, but time & expense prevented it. It would take several more years before the inclination to visit the island had returned like a force 10 wind – only this time I have done my research.

I am feeling as if I was Odysseus in the hold of the Phaecian ship, making his final journey home. By my side on deck, & companion for my trip, is Paul Underwood, a talented musician 12 years my younger from Edinburgh. Skimming through my copy of the Odyssey, by now full of personal underlinings & scholia, I have been regaling him with readings of the passages that parallel our own journey to the island {Book 13}. This involves the landing of Odysseus at Phorcys Bay, a place I am determined & excited to find. My friend is equally as excited by the possibility of discovering the Phaecian treasures Odysseus hid in the cave. The idea of finding long-lost gold & jewels brought to our animated minds thoughts of Indiana Jonesian escapades along the Cephalonian coast. There is a scene in the first film of that series, The Raiders of the Lost Ark, where Indiana Jones shows his Egyptian friend an amulet which is the key to the discovery of the Ark of the Covenant. The Nazis are meanwhile searching vainly for it among the ruins of Tanis. ‘They are digging in the wrong place,’ yelps Sallah gleefully, before dancing around like a maniac. Similarily, in 2004, a vast, glossy tome of a book was released to rather too much fanfare, Odysseus Unbound, declaring the Paliki peninsular of Cephalonia was the Ithica of Odysseus. My personal studies in Edinburgh have instead located a different part of the island as the likeliest candidate for the palace.

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The credibility of the Paliki peninsular theory has been slowly crumbling into the sea in the seven years between its publication & my visit to Cephalonia. Geologically speaking the long, narrow channel that the book said once made Paliki an island occurs nowhere else on the planet below the glacial line. Even one of the writers of the book, professor John Underhill, admitted on the 2nd October 2008, during an illustrated lecture at the Geological Society, that the channel lacks any non-artificial present-day analogue; but argued that in the Homeric period the channel might have been partly excavated by human action. He later opined that “the tectonic dislocation in this area is far more extreme than originally imaginedconsequently, the long yet extremely narrow channel path may not be relevant.” All this rather sounds like cats on a hot tin roof, & gently tapping my back pocket, where the notes I had made in Edinburgh nestled snugly, I await landfall with earnest. As we sail, there is not a cloud ahead to tarnish those ‘clear skies of Ithica.’

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Ah, heady times indeed! Returning to my desk in 2017, let us continue our investigations into the Ithica Frage. In the Iliad, we read of how Odysseus led a contingent of 40 ships to Troy.

Odysseus led on the Cephallenians,
Soldiers from Ithaca; well wooded Neritum, Crocylea,
rugged Aegilips, from Zacynthus, Samos,
both those inhabiting the mainland
and those from cities on the facing shore.
Odysseus, as wise as Zeus, led these troops,
who came with him in twelve black ships.

In this passage we see that Ithica & Neritum are considered separate entities within the Cephalonian realm. Neritum, of course, would be the region about Mount Ainos in the south of Cephalonia, where in recent years a large Mycenaean megaron building & tholos tomb have been found at Tzannata, near the port of Polos. It was just further up the coast from Polos that I believe Odysseus made his return landfall at a place Homer called ‘Phorcys Cove,’ which I believe I discovered in 2011. The following account of the discovery is again taken from my blog.

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The date is November 18th, 2011. I am currently writing this sat on a small cliff overlooking what I believe to be the Cove of Phorcys, as described in Book 13 of the Odyssey. Last night myself & Mr Paul Underwood landed on Cephalonia at the lovely harbor of Poros, camping a little north of the town by the beach. Ere the dawn I was up making preparations for my attempt at Phorcys Cove, reading & rereading the appropriate sections in my steadily fraying copy of the Odyssey.  Come the more-than-fine morning, after a hearty fire-cooked breakfast of eggs, pre-cooked sausages & genuine Heinz baked beans, we set off eagerly along the coast toward Sami. I have very strong reasons to believe that this is the site of the palace & town of the Odyssean Ithica. Its name, I presume, has thrown many off its scent, for Homer mentions a certain Same as being a separate island altogether. But names of such antiquity were prone to move about all over the place like electrons performing their spontaneous quantum leaps.

It was a brilliant morning, the warm sun a far cry from the chilly Scottish Autumn, & we thoroughly enjoyed our walk along the rocky rudiments of a coastal road, passing flocks of bell-ringing goats, bringing to mind Eumaeus who said, in the Odyssey; ‘here in Ithica eleven herds of goats graze up & down the coast’ Were these goats, eyeballing me with intense curiosity, the ancestors of those eleven herds, dwelling as they did on ancient Cephalonia like the twelve tribes did Israel? Continuing our stroll, we were accompanied by gorgeous mountains rising to our left, while luscious waters glimmered to our right. The sky was endless, & out of the sea rose the scattered isles of the Ionian archipelago; the nearest being modern Ithica, whose colours & features grew sharper as we headed north. A couple of hours hiking later we came to an open expanse of sloping ground, at the bottom of which was a gently curving bay. I had identified it by using Google Earth back in Edinburgh, & getting out my Homer, I quickly found the relevant passage;

As soon as that most brilliant star arose, which is sole herald of the light of dawn, then the seafaring ship approached the island. On Ithaca there is a bay of Phorcys, The old man of the sea: in it, two headlands, Projecting, sheared off, crouching from the harbor, Shield it from waves whipped up by blustering winds… They rowed inside: they knew the bay of old. The ship ran up the beach for half its length at speed: such strength was in the rowers’ arms.

As Odysseus approaches the Cove for the first time, we are given three topographical clues;

(i) The bay is named after the sea-god Phorcys
(ii) It is contained by two low, headlands which
jut out into the sea
(iii) There is a beach with enough sand-width to take half a ship

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Phorcys

Looking at these clues, I was alerted to a curious pink-white rock formation-headland on the southern side of the bay.  It was an interesting moment, the sea breeze rustling through my notes as I stood at the sea’s edge, for to my wonder the mythology of Phorcys had turned into stone before me, as if petrified by the Medusa herself. I could see some kind of wingless stone dragon, & it was monsters such as these that Phorcys & his wife, Keto, were said to have presided over. As ancient mosaics depict Phorcys as a grey-haired, fish-tailed god, with spiky crab-like skin and crab-claw forelegs, so the rock formation before me possessed the same spiky crab-like skin. Phorcys & Keto had several horrific-looking children, including the monstrous Skylla (the crab) who devoured passing sailors, encountered by Odysseus in Book XII of the Odyssey. Of the others, two in particular seemed to converge on this rock image. The first was Ekhidna, a dragon, & the second were the gorgons, including the famous Medusa. They were said to have created the dangerous rocks & reefs all along the Greek coasts, & perhaps it was their petrifying gaze that turned Ekhidna to stone beside this very sea-bay.

To the north of the cove sat the remnants of what may have been another monstrous rock formation which today is just a line of eroded rocks peeping over the water’s surface. In between lay a small, sandy beach, large enough for half a boat, which would have been even larger with the lower water levels of three millennia ago, as attested by the fish farms of Ponza. Other features include the overhanging rocks mentioned by Homer, which line the cove, dramatic blocks of red earth that have been slowly sea-ravaged through time.

Here is the harbor of Phorcys, the Old Man of the Sea; & there at the head of the haven is the long-leaved olive-tree with the cave near by, the pleasant shady spot that is sacred to the Nymphs whom men call Naiads. Over there you can see its vaulted roof – it will put you in mind of many a solemn sacrifice you have made there to the Nymphs – while the forest-clad slopes behind are those of Mount Neriton.

To my astonishment, this small, beautiful portion of Cephalonian coast ticked every Homeric box; all three of the clues contained in the above passage can be applied to this lovely bay, over which I shall be making camp tonight.

(i) There is an olive tree at the head of the bay
(ii) There is an overarching cave sacred to the nymphs
(iii) Above it are the wooded slopes of Mount Neritum (Ainos)

Today, the whole area is full of olive trees, some of which are so gnarled & twisted they reek of great antiquity. The trees have literally swarmed up the hillsides all around, & it is easy to imagine that they are a great herboreal tribe descended from the single olive tree which once commanded the head of the cove. On venturing down to explore, I came across the very cavern Homer sang about. It truly was an astonishing moment: my research in Edinburgh had led me to this very stretch of Cephalonian coastline, & here was the cave before me!  After three thousand years of erosion, it has have lost some of its frontage, but there is still enough room to imagine religious ceremonies taking place – there is even standing room at the sea-ward side of the cave. The entrance to the sea is open, & affords a wonderful view, but there are also two other entrances: one north & one south, just as Homer says. The stone basins & jars are long gone, but there is a great supporting column of rock that perfectly fits Homer’s description of the Naiads spinning their cloth.

So saying, the goddess entered the shadowy cave and searched out its hiding-places. And Odysseus brought all the treasure thither, the gold and the stubborn bronze and the finely-wrought raiment, which the Phaeacians gave him. These things he carefully laid away

PB180016-1024x768 The cave I am currently exploring contains several places where one could hide treasure – but 3,500 years had removed both the treasure & the stone that guarded them. My friend was disappointed to find this, but it wasn’t surprising really, & our spirits remained undiminished. Tomorrow we hit the road once more, but heading back to Poros rather than in the footsteps of Odysseus, who left this bay in a more rugged fashion. The poem tells us;

Meanwhile Odysseus turned his back on the harbor & followed a rough track leading up into the woods & through the hills

The path taken by Odysseus would have been an ancient trackway which penetrates the rising valley behind me, separated by the two heights pretty much beginning at the cove.  Odysseus took to the long hill paths & set off out for his home city, calling on at Eumaeus’ hut for a wee while, near a certain ‘Raven’s Crag.’ I would love to have searched for the crag on this trip, but will have to return one day in the future to do it instead. What I can do this time is try & find the location of Odysseus’ palace, whose harbor-side location has baffled scholars for millennia. There is a clue in the text that tells us this was at least on the eastern side of the island, for in Book 2, Telemachus leaves Ithica on a breeze blowing from the west, which would have been impossible on the western side of the island.

And now, out of the West, Athene of the flashing eyes called up for them a steady following wind & sent it singing over the wine-dark sea.

I have suspicions that the harbor of Ithica is actually the modern day village of Sami – but this investigation I shall leave unto the morrow. Until then I shall remain at the Cove, & ruminate upon the time Homer saw it for himself, three thousand years ago.

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sami

Back in 2017, narrowing our search to the eastern parts of Cephalonia, let us focus on the two ports which serve sea-farers in our modern times. Poros, to the south, serves Zacynthus in the summer & Killini all year round. The other is Sami, Ithica’s deepest & best harbor, serving Patras on the mainland. Above the Sami harbor still stand the ruins of a classical settlement, one of the four city states of the Cephalonian Tetrapolis which flourished between the fifth & second centuries BC. Its two citadels cap the verdant hills of Palaiokastro & Agioi Fanentes, while the rest of the ruined city sprawls down into the foothills. Classical Sami was conquered by the Romans in 188 BC, & would maintain its prosperity until the 3rd century AD. Following a short period of decline, a monastery grew up at the site in the Byzantine period, the building of which utilized stones from the Hellenic city. This pattern of cannibalizing masonry suggests that the remnants of the palace of Odysseus may lie somewhere underneath Classical Sami.

An Odyssean palace at Sami fits into the general Mycenaean scheme of elevated & defensible positions, but as at the Akropolis in Athens, all traces of the settlement would have been destroyed by later building. It may not have been so durable in the first place: we are told in the Odyssey that Telemachus was astonished to see how grandly situated was the palace of Menaleus in Sparta. Back at Ithica, Telemachus describes a level ground on which Penelope’s suitors spent the daytime in playing sports; an arena mirrored by the wide, flat space one comes to when following the road down from the lofty citadel at Sami. Continuing the descent, about a kilometer further to the south, the charming modern-day village has a sea-front location which is a perfect fit for the harbor-town in the Odyssey. Behind its shoreline, the houses fan out into a large, triangular plain, the cultivable area called the agron Odysseus would have ploughed his fields as the war party of Agamemnon arrives to summon him to Troy.

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Sami

Apart from the main road from the citadel, which winds down from the hills past the wonderful monastery & its wildening olives, there is also an ancient trackway which spills out of the hill about a kilometer to the west of the harbor. It is there, at a junction of highways, that we come to the site of a watering place as described in the Odyssey;

But when, as they went along the rugged path, they were near the city, and had come to a well-wrought, fair-flowing fountain, wherefrom the townsfolk drew water–this Ithacus had made, and Neritus, and Polyctor, and around was a grove of poplars, that grow by the waters, circling it on all sides, and down the cold water flowed from the rock above, and on the top was built an altar to the nymphs where all passers-by made offerings 

Christina Souyoudzoglou-Haywood seems to describe the same watering place, here called Roupaki Spring: ‘approximately 1 kilometre south of Sami town, on the eastern side of the road & at a short distance from the junction between the Sami-Argostoli & Sami-Poros roads, is a spring called Roupaki. East of the spring Kavvadias excavated some foundations which he thought could have been prehistoric, on account of some large pithos sherds close by. More recently, about 300m west of the spring, on the other side of the road, Marinatos excavated a curved wall which cut across the torrent bed & which he thought may have been a tumulus.’

Significantly, the Homeric fountain is said to have been created by the three legendary founders of Cephalonia: Ithacus, Neritus & Polyctor. To this day, three main highways intersect at the point; one leading to the Mycenaean ruins near Polos; the other into Sami; the last over to the Paliki peninsular, where a Mycenaean settlement once stood. From this we may conclude that there were three main principalities on the island of Cephalonia; the Neritum of Neritus, the Ithica of Odysseus & the Paliki of Polyctor. The latter’s Mycenaean settlement would be the never-been-found ‘Plyktorion’ given in the Homeric Scholia as being situated on Ithica, which further supports a Cephalonian origin of the home island of Odysseus.

With a little more archeology we may finally put the Ithica Frage to bed. Christina Souyoudzoglou-Haywood (I love that name) points out a Mycenaean house not far from the Rousaki Spring, situated on a small hill.

Vounias is a low spreading hill on the western side of the bay of Sami about 1k south of the village of Nea Vlachata (Karavomylos). The eastern side of the hill is a classic example of Karstic topography, as it is riddled with caves & treacherous chasms. But its summit & in particular its southern & western slopes bear rich soil & are planted with age old olive trees. On the summit of the hill, near its southern edge, Marinatos excavated the remains of a Mycenaean house which came to light during the construction of a lime kiln.

This seems an apt description of the farm of Odysseus’ father, Laertes, as given by Homer;

Meanwhile Ulysses and the others passed out of the town and soon reached the fair and well-tilled farm of Laertes, which he had reclaimed with infinite labour. Here was his house, with a lean-to running all round it, where the slaves who worked for him slept and sat and ate

The Odyssey gives us several clues as to the location & make-up of the farm of Laertes;

(i) After his reunion night with Penelope, Odysseus rises at dawn and goes to Laertes’ farm in the wooded part of Ithica.  To this day, the area around Vounias Hill remains wooded.

(ii) To get to Laertes’ farm, Odysseus has to cross the city from the palace. Looking at the plain from the citadel shows that the town of Sami lies slap-bang in the line of sight between the citadel & Vounias hill.

(iii) The rows of vines that grow to this day on Vounias hill are a perfect topographical match for the description in the Odyssey of its sloping vineyards, such as when we read, ‘he found his father alone on the vineyard terrace.’

When looking at the evidence, a Sami location for the Odyssean homeland makes sound sense. A simple, topographical factochisp is in play, & all we need to do is imagine the 16th century movement of the name ‘Ithica’ from Sami to an island just across the waters to its east, & everything fits together without flaw.

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Next Wednesday, 22/11/17

Chapter 4

ASVAGHOSA (part 1)