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News: Plato's Atlantis: Fact, Fiction or Prophecy?
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Author Topic: Odysseus/Ulysses  (Read 4366 times)
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« Reply #15 on: March 17, 2009, 05:21:37 pm »

Even more provocatively, Bittlestone, who was able to draw upon sophisticated technological tools unavailable to scholars before him, believes that events like those described in the Odyssey may well have taken place, and that telltale landmarks from the hero’s adventures on Ithaca can be found on Cephalonia’s Paliki peninsula. “I find most events that are described on the island perfectly credible,” he says, adding that the chapters recounting Odysseus’ fantastical adventures among magical figures—the sea monster Scylla and man-eating whirlpool Charybdis, or the enchantress Circe—obviously owe a great deal to the poetic imagination.

“By far the most important part of this is the argument that modern Paliki was ancient Ithaca,” says James Diggle, a professor of Greek and Latin at Cambridge University. “Of this, I haven’t the slightest doubt. It’s irresistible, and supported by geology. The other part is more speculative. But once you go over the terrain, there is an extraordinary match.”

Since ancient times, the location of Homer’s Ithaca has been one of literature’s great conundrums. The third-century B.C. geographer Eratosthenes sighed, “You will find the scene of the wanderings of Odysseus when you find the cobbler who sewed up the bag of the winds.” Some dismissed Homer’s geography as a poet’s clueless guesswork. As the renowned classicist Bernard Knox once put it, “When Homer’s characters move to mainland Greece and its western offshore islands, confusion reigns.”

Modern scholars have proposed numerous locations, some as far afield as Scotland or the Baltic. The most obvious candidate was the present-day island of Ithaca, which lies east of Cephalonia. But it doesn’t fit Homer’s description:

Around her 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.

Scholars have long agreed that ancient and modern Zachynthos are one and the same. Similarly, ancient Same was certainly the main body of modern Cephalonia, where a large town named Sami still exists. But modern Ithaca—a few miles east of Cephalonia—was hardly “the farthest out to sea,” and its mountainous topography doesn’t fit Homer’s “lying low” description. (Bittlestone believes ancient Doulichion became modern Ithaca after refugees came there following an earthquake or other disaster and changed its name.) “The old explanations just felt unsatisfactory,” says Bittlestone. “I kept wondering, was there possibly a radical new solution to this?” Back home near London, he pored over maps and satellite images. If Paliki had once been a separate island, he mused, it would indeed have been the one “farthest out to sea.”

Then Bittlestone struck gold. Perusing the section on Cephalonia in the ancient author Strabo’s Geography, the most important source of its kind for ancient geographical knowledge, Bittlestone came across the following passage: “Where the island is narrowest it forms a low isthmus, so that it is often submerged from sea to sea.” According to Strabo’s second-century B.C. sources, Cephalonia had been, at times, two islands. Strabo’s description suggested that the channel that separated Cephalonia from its present-day peninsula had gradually become filled in. Much remains to be proved, of course. “Bittlestone is claiming too much on the geological side, I think,” says George L. Huxley, professor emeritus of Greek at Queen’s University, in Belfast. “If the ‘channel’ really was a fissure, I don’t believe that it could have been created in the way he suggests.”

Bittlestone, however, has been convinced from the start that he was on the right track. In 2003, he traveled to Cephalonia, rented a jeep and began crisscrossing the isthmus, a narrow, rugged neck of land connecting the larger landmass to the Paliki peninsula. He was looking, he says, “for traces of a former channel” when he noted zigzagging ravines running the length of the five-mile-long isthmus. The chasms, up to 300 feet deep in some places, suggested the possible route of an ancient watercourse.
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