Cephalonia suggested as Odysseus’ home

LONDON – Homer’s legendary hero Odysseus wandered for 10 years in search of his island kingdom, Ithaca. Now, a British amateur archaeologist claims to have ended the ancient quest to locate the land described in «The Odyssey.» Although the western Greek island of Ithaca, or Ithaki, is generally accepted as the Homeric site, scholars have long been troubled by a mismatch between its location and geography and those of the Ithaca described by Ancient Greece’s greatest poet. Robert Bittlestone, a management consultant, said yesterday that the peninsula of Paliki on the Ionian island of Cephalonia, near Ithaki, was the most likely location for Odysseus’ homeland. He said geological and historic evidence suggested Paliki used to form a separate island before earthquakes and landslides filled in a narrow sea channel dividing it from Cephalonia. «Other theories have assumed that the landscape today is the same as in the Bronze Age, and that Homer perhaps didn’t know the landscape very well,» Bittlestone told a news conference. «But what if the mismatch was because the geography has in fact changed?» Two eminent British academics said they backed Bittlestone’s theory. They have co-written his book, «Odysseus Unbound – The Search for Homer’s Ithaca.» James Diggle, a professor of Greek and Latin at Cambridge University, said the hypothesis worked because it explained why in one passage Homer describes Ithaca as «low-lying» and «towards dusk,» i.e. lying to the west of a group of islands including Cephalonia and Zakynthos. The Paliki peninsula is largely flat and connects to Cephalonia’s west coast, whereas Ithaki is mountainous and lies to the east. Bittlestone’s theory suggests that Ithaki corresponds to the island Homer calls Doulichion. John Underhill, an Edinburgh University professor of stratigraphy, or the science of studying the layers of rocks in the Earth’s crust, provided geological evidence supporting Bittlestone’s theory – up to a point. Underhill said it was certain earthquake activity had caused Paliki to rise some 6 meters (19 feet) out of the sea. However, further research was needed, Underhill said. He wanted to test sediments in a dried-up lake on the landfill area. If they were older than 3,000 years, that would suggest the area was not underwater in the Homeric period – thus disproving Bittlestone’s hypothesis. «Further work is needed, but from the geological fieldwork to date, nothing refutes this theory so far,» Underhill told the news conference. Traces of small Mycenaean settlements have been located on Ithaki, but nothing big that could be associated with the palatial structure one would expect as the seat of a Mycenaean king such as Odysseus. However, a cave on Ithaki yielded a votive offering with the inscription «My vow to Odysseus.» This indicates the Homeric king was the object of a local hero cult. Bittlestone said he was cooperating on the project with Greece’s Ministry of Culture and the Athens-based Institute of Geology and Mineral Exploration, and said further geological work on Paliki was planned for 2006-07. AP writer Nicholas Paphitis contributed to this story from Athens.