Odysseus Unbound - The Search for Homer’s Ithaca

Where was Odysseus’ homeland?

The geological, geomorphological and geophysical evidence for relocating Homer’s Ithaca.

JOHN UNDERHILL, Professor of Stratigraphy, University of Edinburgh.

December 5th 2006 18:30, Copthorne Hotel, 122 Huntly Street, Aberdeen AB10 1SU

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 the descriptions in the Odyssey.

But in September 2005 a radical new identification for the location of Homer’s Ithaca was proposed by three British researchers: John Underhill, Professor of Geology at Edinburgh University; James Diggle, Professor of Greek and Latin at Cambridge University; and Robert Bittlestone, Chairman of the management consultancy Metapraxis Ltd.

Their book describing this discovery, Odysseus Unbound: The Search for Homer’s Ithaca was published by Cambridge University Press the following month and by Christmas it had already sold out its first printing, with sales approaching 10,000 copies. Their proposals are 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 December 5th as an event within the Aberdeen Christmas Party of the Petroleum Exploration Society of Great Britain, John Underhill will deliver a presentation on the geological, classical and archaeological discoveries that are described in the book. His recent paper in Geoscientist has sparked the interest of geologists world-wide and he will refer to this and to the progress of the latest tests that are being conducted on the island of Cephalonia.

The talk will be illustrated throughout with slides, satellite photography and computer animations, and the content is aimed at a non-specialist audience. The speaker will answer questions at the end and he will be available for further informal discussions and to sign copies of the book, which will be available for purchase at the event at a special PESGB discount of £5 off the normal list price of £25. The book is also available from Amazon and other major bookshops (ISBN 0521853575).

Reviews: “This curious, spellbinding book is a masterpiece of writing for the general public. The geological argument in particular is first-class and leaves me in no doubt about the possibility of the theory being proposed.” Tjeerd van Andel, Honorary Professor in Earth History, Quaternary Science and Geo-archaeology, Cambridge University. “Odysseus Unbound presents a highly readable personal account of what can happen when an enthusiast with a compelling synthetic vision glimpses a solution no specialist has seen and uses his considerable resources of energy and curiosity to bring renowned experts like Professors Underhill and Diggle to focus on solving a puzzle that has mystified scholars for centuries.” Dr Ted Nield, Editor, Geoscientist, and Chairman of the Association of British Science Writers.

The Website: At www.odysseus-unbound.org you can read about the project so far and the plans for future work. At the Reviews page you can follow the emerging classical controversy: can Odysseus' island be identified this closely? If so, how could Homer have known the geography so well? The online Forum enables you to participate in this debate, while TV, radio and newspaper reports from all over the world can be accessed on the Press page, together with a diary of recent and forthcoming Events. And if you are sufficiently intrigued to decide to go there, the Visit page will help you plan your journey.

The event is open only to members of the Petroleum Exploration Society of Great Britain. New applicants can apply for membership at http://www.pesgb.org.uk/pesgbe/ApplyOnline1.aspx and applications are considered every four weeks. For further information about the PESGB and to reserve a place, contact the PESGB Office, 5th floor, 9 Berkeley Street, London, W1J 8DW (Tel: 020 7408 2000 Fax: 020 7408 2050, pesgb@pesgb.org.uk) or go to http://www.pesgb.org.uk/