Odysseus Unbound - The Search for Homer’s Ithaca


Nov 29 2007 15:45

Mary Erskine & Stewart's Melville Schools, Edinburgh

In search of Ithaca: The Geological and Geophysical basis for relocating Odysseus' homeland in Paliki, Western Kefalonia

John Underhill, Professor of Geology at Edinburgh University, will speak at the Mary Erskine & Stewart's Melville Schools about the latest developments in the project to identify Homer’s Ithaca. Further details to follow. School contact: Ann Cowperthwaite.

John Underhill addressed a group of enthusiastic students in Edinburgh.

Nov 28 2007 16:00

The Perse Upper School, Hills Road, Cambridge CB2 8QF

Where was Homer’s Ithaca?

Ever since classical antiquity there has been considerable speculation about who Homer was, when and where the Odyssey and the Iliad were written, whether there was a single author and whether the people, events and places that are described are real or imaginary. Although some of the place names that are mentioned in the Odyssey continue to exist today, including an island called Ithaca in the Ionian Sea to the west of Greece, attempts to relate this location to Homer’s descriptions have proved unsuccessful. Despite continuing claims, excavations on modern Ithaca have failed to reveal the ancient city or Odysseus' palace and its geography cannot be reconciled with descriptions in the Odyssey itself. This represents a marked contrast with the Iliad’s description of Troy, which was located by Heinrich Schliemann on the north-western coast of Turkey and extensively excavated since the 1870s.

So where was Homer’s Ithaca? It has remained an enigma for centuries, but in September 2005 a radical new identification for its location was proposed by three British researchers: Robert Bittlestone, a management consultant; James Diggle, Professor of Greek at Cambridge; and John Underhill, Professor of Geology at Edinburgh. The solution set out in their Cambridge University Press book Odysseus Unbound: The Search for Homer’s Ithaca is gaining ground as an increasing number of classicists begin to contemplate the extraordinary possibility that the landscape of Ithaca in the Odyssey that has long been thought fictitious may in fact be real; and if so, that it exists in an unexpected location that happens to correspond precisely with a description that has been faithfully handed down to us over several thousand years.

Professor James Diggle and Robert Bittlestone have agreed to bring their acclaimed lecture Where was Homer’s Ithaca? to the Perse School. The event will take place at 4pm on Wednesday 28 November 2007 at the Upper School, as organised by the Perse Parents Association. All Perse pupils and parents, members of the wider classical community and of other schools are warmly invited to attend. This will be a free event. Refreshments and a book signing will be available following the lecture. Information on the content of the lecture can be viewed at www.odysseus-unbound.org. To book a ticket, please contact Mrs Rebecca Randall: RCRandall@perse.co.uk

Click here for further details. School announcement. A4 leaflet. A1 display poster.

Louise Playfair writes "Thank you so much for the wonderful presentation which you and James gave to pupils and parents of The Perse, alongside members of the local community. It was a huge privilege for us to welcome you and you most certainly lived up to your terrific reputation! I hope that we shall be able to tempt you back at some stage and, in the meantime, we shall watch the progress of your work with interest."

Nov 19 2007 12:40

American Association of Petroleum Geologists, Athens, Greece - Featured Speaker Luncheon: Professor John Underhill

Where was Odysseus’ homeland? The geological, geomorphological and geophysical evidence for relocating Homer’s Ithaca.

The geographical description of Ithaca in Homer’s Odyssey has long provoked controversy and remains very puzzling.

“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.” Odyssey 9.19-26

While Zacynthos continues to exist today, and almost all experts regard ‘Same’ as present-day Kefalonia, the island of ‘Doulichion’ has never been traced: it has remained a mystery for 3,000 years. The application of modern geoscience entered the analysis in 2003 in an attempt to address the all-important question: could a marine channel, subsequently described by Strabo as a low-lying isthmus, have separated Paliki, the westernmost peninsula of Kefalonia, from the rest of the island during the late Bronze Age? If it did, Paliki would then have been a free-standing island that precisely met Homer’s description: ‘lies low, furthest to the sea towards dusk’.

John Underhill has been leading the geological, geophysical and geomorphological tests of the theory that the Paliki Peninsula in Western Kefalonia might have been a freestanding island as recently as 3,000 years ago. Confirmation of that hypothesis would have dramatic ramifications for our understanding of Classical Greece. Underhill has been an AAPG member since 1983, a Matson Award recipient and an AAPG Distinguished Lecturer and Award winner. He holds a BSc in Geology from Bristol University and a PhD from the University of Wales. He worked for Shell International for five years before joining the University of Edinburgh, where he holds the Chair of Stratigraphy. He has done significant research into the geology and geomorphology of Greece, and in his spare time referees football matches in the Scottish Premier League.

The story of how this geological and classical research project came about has been published in the award-winning Cambridge University Press book Odysseus Unbound: The Search for Homer’s Ithaca (Robert Bittlestone, with James Diggle and John Underhill, ISBN 0521853575). An up-to-date account of the research is available via Geoscientist and other articles provided at www.odysseus-unbound.org/results.html

The venue will be the Hilton Athens and the event is open only to members of the AAPG at their "Challenge our Myths" conference. Click here for further details. Click here for A4 leaflet.

John Underhill addressed a capacity audience of 150 AAPG delegates in Athens. Photograph courtesy of Jeroen Peters, Shell.

Nov 19 2007 18:30

Henry Box School, Church Green, Witney OX28 4AX

Was Homer’s Ithaca a real place?

Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey are two of the oldest works in Western literature, describing a Bronze Age world over 3,000 years ago. For centuries both of these poems were believed to have been set in an imaginary landscape, but then Schliemann discovered Troy in the 1870s and triggered a major re-evaluation of the Iliad. However, Homer’s Ithaca has remained elusive, with the Ionian island that is today called Ithaki bearing little resemblance to that which is described in the Odyssey.

But in September 2005 a radical new identification for the location of Homer’s Ithaca was proposed by three British researchers: Robert Bittlestone, a management consultant; James Diggle, Professor of Greek at Cambridge; and John Underhill, Professor of Geology at Edinburgh. Their book describing this discovery, Odysseus Unbound: The Search for Homer’s Ithaca has been published by Cambridge University Press and it has already sold out its first printing. Their theory is gaining ground as more evidence emerges from the Ionian islands, and an increasing number of classicists worldwide are beginning to contemplate the possibility that the poet of the Odyssey might have had direct knowledge of Ithaca's landscape.

On Monday November 19 Robert Bittlestone will present this proposal and the latest discoveries from the island of Cephalonia. The topic will be illustrated throughout with slides, satellite photography and computer animations. The content is intended for students, parents and teachers and neighbouring schools are also welcome to attend. The venue will be the The Henry Box School, Church Green, Witney, Oxforshire OX28 4AX. To book your free ticket (subject to lecture room capacity), contact Penny Goodwin on 01993 848125 or email cc4046@henrybox.oxon.sch.uk

Click here for further details. A1 display poster. A4 brochure. Iris magazine listing.

Anne Holland writes "Thank you so much for coming to speak at Henry Box yesterday evening. We all found it very entertaining and interesting, and I've had some extremely enthusiastic feedback from some of the students and parents who were there. We're looking forward to hearing how the research goes! We very much appreciate the contribution you have made to generating enthusiasm for the classical world at the school."

Oct 29 2007 17:30

Geological Society of London, Burlington House, W1J 0BG

Where was Homer’s Ithaca?

For thousands of years people thought that Troy was imaginary. Then the archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann excavated it in the 1870s. It is south-west of Istanbul and its location matches Homer’s description in the Iliad precisely. Other cities that Homer described have also been discovered: Knossos in Crete, Mycenae south of Corinth; and in 2005 Ajax’s palace was identified on Salamis, near Athens. So could Homer’s Ithaca also be a real location? And can modern geology combined with classical research and satellite technology help us to locate it?

The Geological Society of London is the world's oldest national scientific and professional society for Earth scientists and is this year celebrating its 200th birthday, marked by a series of public events. The Burlington House Cultural Campus Lectures represent a new joint interdisciplinary initiative organised in conjunction with the Royal Academy and the five learned societies that occupy this historic building. These are the Geological Society, the Linnean Society, the Royal Astronomical Society, the Society of Antiquaries and the Royal Society of Chemistry.

On Monday October 29 the authors of Odysseus Unbound will present their proposal and the latest discoveries from the island of Cephalonia. The speakers will also explain how the latest helicopter, marine and land-based geophysical assessment techniques are to be introduced onsite from autumn 2007 onwards, with the sponsorship of FUGRO. The topic will be illustrated throughout with slides, satellite photography and computer animations. The content is aimed at a non-specialist audience as well as those who are studying or lecturing in geology, ancient history, classics or archaeology.

The venue will be the Geological Society of London (Piccadilly Entrance). Tea will be served from 17.30 and the talk will begin at 18.00 in the Lecture Theatre. Drinks sponsored by FUGRO will be served afterwards in the Lower Library, where the speakers will be available to sign copies of their book Odysseus Unbound: The Search for Homer’s Ithaca, available at the special price of £20. For further details of the event, click here. To book your free ticket (subject to lecture room capacity), email Jayne Phenton at jphenton@SAL.org.uk. Press and other event inquiries should be directed to Dr Ted Nield at ted.nield@geolsoc.org.uk

Click here for further details. A4 leaflet. A1 display poster.

A full house of nearly 200 visitors attended the talk, which was introduced by Dr Ted Nield, Editor of Geoscientist. James Diggle opened the presentation under the heading Enigma with a resounding declamation of the opening lines of the Odyssey in ancient Greek. He then explained why the history of all previous proposals for the location of Homer’s Ithaca are contradicted by the geography of today. Robert Bittlestone followed with Hypothesis, an explanation of the solution to this ancient problem that he first proposed in 2003.

John Underhill then explained the Geology of the island and the work that is now being sponsored by Fugro to understand it in more detail. This includes surveys on land, sea and air using techniques such as resistivity, gravimetry and seismic surveys in order to penetrate deep below the surface soil and construct a 3D 'bodyscan' of the Thinia isthmus that separates Paliki from eastern Kefalonia. James and Robert then concluded with a discussion of the very striking Coincidence that many aspects of the landscape of Paliki appear to be identical to Homer’s descriptions in the Odyssey.

At the end of the presentation a vote of thanks was proposed by Ray Wood, Managing Director of Fugro Engineering Services. The guests then enjoyed refreshments sponsored by Fugro in the Lower Library, where the authors signed copies of Odysseus Unbound to praise such as 'You made a complex topic sound simple and straightforward' and 'One of the best presentations I have ever attended'.

Oct 18 2007 19:00

Lixouri Theatre, Paliki, Kefalonia

Geological Research in Thinia and Northern Paliki

On Thursday October 18 at 19:00 a public briefing about the geological research programme will be delivered by Professor John Underhill and Robert Bittlestone in the Lixouri Theatre in Kefalonia, at the invitation of the Mayor of Paliki.

For further details refer to News.

Right-click to download Research Description (English and Greek). Right-click to download Briefing Poster.

About 150 visitors from Lixouri, Argostoli, Thinia and Paliki attended the presentation. This was opened by a welcoming address by Mayor Nopi Alexandropoulou and followed by the screening of a film about the project. John Underhill then presented highlights of the current geological work and his talk was simultaneously translated into Greek by Titika Faraklou. Robert Bittlestone concluded by thanking the large number of Greek authorities who have given their consent to the work taking place, as well as the Fugro land, sea and air based teams who are now applying their expertise and technology to the problem. Also present was Elias Toumasatos, who has now finished translating 'Odysseus Unbound' into Greek and who explained that the book is expected to be published shortly before Christmas.

June 28 2007 18:30

British School at Athens - Inaugural fundraising lecture at the British Museum

Where was Homer’s Ithaca?

Was Ithaca, the homeland of Odysseus in Homer’s Odyssey, a real place? If so, should we rely on the description that Homer provides of an island that is low-lying and furthest out to sea on the western coast of Greece? For centuries scholars have disagreed with these lines, but recent geological discoveries on the Greek island of Cephalonia now provide strong support for the idea that Homer’s description was absolutely correct all along.

The British School at Athens was founded in 1886 with the support of the Prince of Wales and William Gladstone. Its primary mission is to promote the study of Hellenic Studies in all their aspects, covering all periods from the Palaeolithic to the present. As a research institute, its principal emphasis is on empirical studies that shed light on the prehistoric, classical and medieval past and present condition of Greek lands.

On Thursday June 28 the authors of Odysseus Unbound will present their proposal and the latest discoveries from the island of Cephalonia. This is the inaugural lecture in a series of public events organised by the British School at Athens to broaden its outreach in London and raise funds for its activities in Greece. The presentation will take place at 6.30 p.m. at the BP Lecture Theatre in the Clore Education Centre at the British Museum, Great Russell Street, London WC1B 3DG. Entry £15; Friends of the British Museum £12. For tickets, email Carol Bell: treasurer@bsa.ac.uk

Click here for further details. A4 double sided leaflet. A3 display poster. BSA website announcement and registration form.

A capacity audience of over 300 attended the presentation in the BP Lecture Theatre. BSA's Carol Bell writes "Thank you very much for getting our fundraising lecture series off to such a magnificent start. The high level of attendance is a tribute to the way your multidisciplinary approach has captured the imagination of the general public. I have opened my e-mail this morning to find notes of thanks pouring in from attendees".

Apr 30 2007 17:30

Harrow and Merchant Taylors' Schools, West London

It’s the oldest marine adventure in the world. It was already ancient history when Aristotle and Socrates were in the cradle. It has spawned a hundred spin-offs and inspired writers and artists, philosophers and poets, statesmen and soldiers for the last three thousand years. It’s the original Odyssey: a Bronze Age blockbuster and a cornerstone of Western civilisation. And not surprisingly, most people have presumed that Odysseus’ homeland of Ithaca is as imaginary as Ithilien in Lord of the Rings.

Robert Bittlestone, James Diggle and John Underhill think they’re wrong. On Monday April 30 the authors of Odysseus Unbound will present their proposal and the latest discoveries on the island of Cephalonia that can help us decide on whether it really is Homer’s Ithaca. This is a joint event between Harrow School and Merchant Taylors' School, to be held at Harrow. Parents and also students and staff from other schools with an interest in classics, ancient history, geology and computer science are warmly invited to attend, subject to capacity. There is no charge for admission and the seminar will take place at 5.30 p.m.

After the seminar the speakers will be available to sign copies of their book "Odysseus Unbound: The Search for Homer’s Ithaca" which will be offered to attendees at the special price of £20. For a location map, click here. For further information and to register, contact Judith Affleck: jpa@harrowschool.org.uk

Click here for further details. A4 single sided leaflet. A3 display poster.

James Diggle Ben Shaw, James Diggle, Lucy Nicholas, Robert Bittlestone, Judith Affleck

A large group of students, staff and other visitors attended the talk delivered by James Diggle and Robert Bittlestone, and Judith Affleck commented afterwards "Your visit here was a tremendous hit, both with our boys and staff. It was a great delight to meet you and to hear your presentation, which was exemplary in its professionalism. Much more than that, though, it was a genuinely inspiring evening - for me, for the department and for the boys, who have been bubbling with it ever since! I wasn't expecting to be so 'converted', or so inspired by the importance of the project, but I'll be following developments with bated breath. Many thanks for giving up your time."

Mar 19 2007 17:00

Lapworth Lecture - Birmingham University, Edgbaston

Did the Greek island of Cephalonia consist of two separate land masses in the late Bronze Age (Holocene) about 3,000 years ago? And if so, was its western peninsula the island that Homer describes when he says that Odysseus' homeland of Ithaca lies out to sea and furthest to the west? On Monday March 19 John Underhill will present the geological facts and the latest discoveries surrounding this intriguing proposal.

The Lapworth Museum of Geology has the finest and most extensive collections of fossils, minerals and rocks in the Midland Region. It is named after Charles Lapworth, the first Professor of Geology at Mason College, the forerunner of the University of Birmingham. Lapworth was one of the most important and influential geologists in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. The Lapworth Lectures on popular geological subjects are aimed at students, the general public and amateur enthusiasts. There is no charge for admission and the seminar will take place at 5 p.m. in the Palaeontology Laboratory, G21, Earth Sciences, Aston Webb Building. For a location map, click here. For further details, contact Jon Clatworthy: j.c.clatworthy@bham.ac.uk

Click here for further details. A4 leaflet. A3 poster.

The audience was drawn from a wide range of backgrounds and a stimulating evening was had by all. The organisers said to John Underhill afterwards "Thank you for presenting an excellent Lapworth Lecture which received numerous positive comments from those who attended."

Mar 15 2007 19:00

Merchiston Castle School, Edinburgh

Imagine you are Homer. You have reached the lines in your poem where you need to describe Ithaca, and tomorrow you will be reciting it at the marketplace down by the harbour. All sorts of people will be there – local townsfolk, strangers, soldiers, sailors. And like every poet, you are penniless, so after the recital you will be passing round the hat to collect money for your lunch. Now here comes the crunch. Do you actually know where Ithaca is?

If you don't, surely you will decide to be a bit vague about it? With all those sailors in the audience, you are hardly going to risk saying “Ithaca itself lies low, furthest to sea / Towards dusk” when you actually have no idea where it is. You are much more likely to play it safe and say something simple like “Ithaca is a lovely place / the nicest in the land”. After all, it is just one line out of 12,000 in your poem: why set yourself up for unnecessary criticism?

But supposing instead you do know exactly where Ithaca is, and you describe its location precisely? And then something totally extraordinary and completely unprecedented changes the landscape so that nobody can recognise it afterwards?

On Thursday March 15th John Underhill will deliver an interdisciplinary presentation about the Search for Homer’s Ithaca to the Classics, History and Geography departments of Merchiston Castle School in Edinburgh. To reserve your seat contact Tim Lawson: tjl@merchiston.co.uk

Click here for further details. A4 double sided leaflet. A3 display poster. School annnouncement.

A lively audience of enthusiastic students attended the talk and the organisers relayed to John Underhill afterwards: "Your talk was very well received: my colleagues commented on how well and clearly you put across quite a conceptually difficult topic, and they look forward to any forthcoming film!"

Mar 5 2007 17:00

RocSoc Lecture - Leeds University

Homer describes Ithaca in the Odyssey as a low-lying island, the furthest out to sea on the west of Greece, but today's island called Ithaki doesn't remotely fit this description. So did Homer make a mistake? Scholars over many centuries have assumed that he did, but John Underhill, Professor of Stratigraphy at Edinburgh University, is investigating the possibility that Homer may have been right all along. He thinks that the catastrophic landslides and rockfalls that took place some time between 1200 and today may have infilled a narrow marine channel and caused the western peninula of Cephalonia (Paliki) to be joined to the rest of the island. If this hypothesis can be proved then it will provide an elegant and compelling answer to where Homer’s island of Ithaca was actually located during the Bronze Age.

On Monday March 5th John Underhill will present the latest news of the geological discoveries on Cephalonia to RocSoc, the Society for the School of Earth and Environment at Leeds University. This student-run society is the centre for social and educational activities in the Department and organises many events throughout the year. All members of the Department and RocSoc are welcome. The talk will begin at 5pm in the Earth Sciences Seminar Room in the Department of Earth Sciences (click for map). All are invited to The Eldon pub afterwards for a chance to discuss and exchange ideas about the talk and to catch up socially. For further information, contact the Talks Secretary, Luke Jackson: ear5lpj@leeds.ac.uk

Click here for further details. A4 leaflet. A3 poster.

There was an excellent turnout for John Underhill's presentation and one delegate commented: "This was a very good talk, his work is absolutely crucial in bringing round the doubters about the location of Ithaca. It sounds as if the tipping point has been reached, I hope the archaeological community responds positively and the issue of the credibility of Homer’s geographical and other descriptions is brought out for a good airing again".

Mar 1 2007 16:15

The Third Classical Symposium at King's College School, Wimbledon, London SW19

King's College School Classical Society organises an annual Symposium, comprising presentations in the College Court Reading Room followed by a Greek banquet with speeches. On Thursday March 1st 2007 Robert Bittlestone will deliver an update on the events that have transpired in Cephalonia and elsewhere since the previous year's presentation on Odysseus Unbound. Attendance is restricted to members of the King's College School Classical Society, but ex-pupils are warmly invited to attend. For further details, contact the Senior School Head of Classics, Chris Jackson: cmj@kcs.org.uk.

Photograph by Abbie Stephenson

A substantial group of classics students attended the Symposium, which was launched with great verve and wit with a talk on ‘Aeneid II: The un-making of a hero’ by Dr. Matthew Robinson, the Classics admissions tutor of University College London. Upper Sixth Classics scholar Farzin Mirshahi writes ‘The second speaker was Mr Robert Bittlestone who, one year after shocking the Classical world with his hypothesis on the true geographical location of Homer’s Ithaca, as related in his Odysseus Unbound, returned to update us on his progress. Any lingering doubts on Mr Bittlestone’s masterful theory were soon dispelled as he revealed how the marine, aerial, and geological surveys carried out since his previous visit had provided further supportive evidence. Mr Bittlestone’s wonderful description of his enormous efforts to prove his theory was both impressive and inspirational, and we look forward with avid interest to future developments… The evening ended with a splendid Greek feast in a dining room transformed into the beachfront of Troy.’