Odysseus Unbound - The Search for Homer’s Ithaca

Press Coverage 2006

Dec 13 2006

Riddle of Odysseus solved? By Kaianders Sempler

"Where exactly was Odysseus' fairytale island of Ithaka? Many people have searched in vain, but the English amateur archaeologist Robert Bittlestone now believes that he has at last found the place where Odysseus' palace may be located…and he did it with the help of geology. " Click here for the full article (in Swedish) and an imaginative cartoon .

Nov 10 2006

Odysseus interrupted

by Andrew Jefford

"It’s hard to imagine a better spot to lance the boils of stress than on one of [Greece's] 1,900 islands. But which one? Having stayed on six and stepped on to eight more, I am a mere beginner; but I love Homer’s Odyssey, so Ithaca beckoned… In addition to all the normal pleasures of Greek island life, such as listening to donkeys bray, lapping milky ouzo as you watch tiny boats bob on glittering water, and chatting with some of the gentlest people on earth, I could also trip about in the footsteps of an emboldened Telemachus, hunt down the pig farm of faithful Eumaeus, and locate the vineyard where tired Laertes hauled himself along the steep slopes during his ill-rewarded retirement.

Or so I thought. Then a Greek friend asked me if I’d read Robert Bittlestone’s Odysseus Unbound (Cambridge University Press). This recently published book – which, at just over 2kg, constitutes excess baggage on its own – makes an entertainingly energetic and often convincing case for Homer’s Ithaca in fact being the relatively low-lying, western peninsula of Cephalonia, known today as Paliki… It is Bittlestone’s contention that a channel once separated Paliki from the rest of Cephalonia, which would explain Odysseus telling Alcinous and his court that his Ithaca “lies low and away, the farthest out to sea, / rearing into the western dusk / while the others face the east and breaking day”.

Modern Ithaca, according to Bittlestone, was Homer’s Doulichion…There are named Homeric sites on modern-day Ithaca, but apart from the enjoyable walks they provide, all are scarcely worth bothering with; to call them hopefully vague in attribution is charitable. The museum exhibits, too, are disappointing… But, once installed, why go anywhere? The deepest joys of two weeks on an unspoiled Greek island are those that come as you take possession, imaginatively, of a small landscape…Nowhere combines simplicity with beauty quite like Greece, and Ithaca – or Doulichion – sets it against the deepest cultural backdrop of all. " Click here for the full article.

Nov 6 2006

Ithaca: the geological challenge

John Underhill is interviewed on the Nights programme of Radio New Zealand.

"All along this project I have been setting out a working hypothesis for testing the proposal, without anticipating the results either way…The drilling took place last month: we drilled a borehole on a hillside on the west of Cephalonia. We're now investigating the cutting samples from the borehole and those tests are ongoing and should give us some results by January".

Listen to interview (8.5Mb MP3).

Oct 25 2006

Legend has it: why scientists are turning to myths for inspiration

Myths may seem unlikely sources of scientific revelation, but geologists are turning to ancient tales to discover new earthquake hotspots…The reality behind the folklore.

"Homer’s description of Ithaca, the home of Odysseus in the Odyssey, baffles scholars. It bears little resemblance to the modern Greek island of Ithaki. Some geologists now believe that Ithaca is in fact Paliki, the western peninsula of Kefalonia, which may have been separated by a sea channel that was filled in more than 2,000 years ago. Geologists are testing to see whether Paliki could have been a proper island in the recent past, and so meet all the descriptions laid down in the Odyssey. "

Click here for the full article.

Oct 13 2006

Was Cephalonia Odysseus’ Ithaca?

"Mr Bittlestone and his associates are convinced that today’s Ithaca bears no relation to Odysseus’ island in Homer’s verses, which describe “rocky” Ithaca as lying “low, furthest to sea towards dusk”. Again according to Homer, the other islands in the archipelago face towards dawn and the sun, implying that the poet placed them east of Ithaca. The description is hard to square with today’s Ithaca, which is mountainous and lies to the east of the archipelago. Instead of the far sea, it looks towards the Greek coast. If the real Ithaca were what today is the Paliki peninsula, Homer’s description would be much closer to the facts… "

Click here for the full article: English; Italian.

Oct 12 2006

A new home for Odysseus

Cephalonia may be the native land of the hero, not the current Ithaki

" LONDON. A group of British researchers is challenging cherished ideas on Greek mythology by proposing an alternative site for Ithaca. Most people think the land of Odysseus - whose 10-year journey back from the Trojan War is chronicled in Homer’s epic poem the Odyssey - is the modern-day island of Ithaki. But, this week, geologists have initiated drilling in Cephalonia in an attempt to discover if the peninsula of Paliki is the true home of the Greek hero."

Click here for the full article (in English and Portuguese).

Oct 11 2006

Drill hole begins Homeric quest

"A UK-led team is challenging cherished ideas on Greek mythology by proposing an alternative site for Ithaca…Geologists are this week sinking a borehole on nearby Kefalonia in an attempt to test whether its western peninsula of Paliki is the real site. The scientists hope to find evidence that the peninsula once stood proud, separated from Kefalonia by a narrow, navigable marine channel. It is only within the last 2,500- 3,000 years - and long after Homer’s time - that the channel has been filled in, the team contends. 'We can't prove the story of the Odyssey is true, but we can test whether Homer got his geography right', said Edinburgh University geologist Professor John Underhill, who is supervising the drilling operation."

Click here for the BBC article (English); Hungarian.

Sep 1 2006

ULYSSES: In search of legendary Ithaca

La Aventura de la Historia, the Madrid-based historical magazine, has today published an illustrated article about ‘Odysseus Unbound’ by Adolfo J. Domínguez Monedero, Professor of Ancient History at the University Autónoma of Madrid. With the kind agreement of Arturo Arnalte, editor of the magazine, a copy of the published article is now available on this website. “It is a study that reveals an overwhelming passion for the Homeric world, for its personages and their landscapes…The hypothesis that the author develops is without a doubt achieved with great brilliance and with the benefit of all of the capabilities of modern technology…In this book Bittlestone has succeeded in captivating the reader throughout in his search for the Ithaca of Ulysses.” Professor Adolfo Monedero.

Click here for the full article: in Spanish (magazine pages, 5 Mb); in English (illustrated typescript, 500kb).

Aug 5 2006

My Greek island reverie

"On Cephalonia, Angus Clarke mixes snoozing, reading and sunbathing with gentle snorkelling…The sweetness of watching the moon rising over Ithaca was somewhat tempered by my poolside reading: the latest archaeological theory relocates the legendary island kingdom of Odysseus to the other side of the island altogether, where indeed Homer put it. The theory is a complicated business of changing sea levels and seismic convulsions. As if to confirm it, there were two small earthquakes, tremors really, during our week on the island — in truth we were by then so relaxed that we didn’t notice them, but in the south of Cephalonia crockery was jolted off restaurant tables and the sand was shaken off 40m of beach to reveal the limestone bedrock."

July 16 2006

Feature article in Greece's 'Eleutherotypia' colour supplement 'Epsilon'

Following a 2-day visit to Kefallinia in June, journalist Aphroditi Politi writes today about her impressions of the Odysseus Unbound project and the geological team that is testing its hypotheses. "The epic poem comes to life with the help of technology, of scientific research and three British writers - a businessman, a classicist and a geologist – who are trying to release Odysseus from the bonds of fable and lead him back once again to his real homeland."

Click here for the full article and photographs (in Greek). Click here for the English translation.

June 4 2006

Interview with Bill Buschel of Hellenic Public Radio

NEW YORK - This interview was recorded on May 16 in the Astoria studios of Hellenic Public Radio and broadcast to the New York metropolitan area shortly afterwards. By kind permission of its parent organisation, the Greek American Educational Public Information System (GAEPIS), the interview soundtrack has now been provided to this website. As well as the interview itself it features a rousing Greek song aptly entitled "Ithaki". Our thanks are due to interviewer Bill Buschel, station administrator Ioanna Giannopoulos and sound engineer Gregory Polymenakos for conducting the interview and providing this recording (35 minutes).

Listen to interview (32.5Mb MP3)

May 27 2006

What Was The Real Location Of Ithaca? Author of “Odysseus Unbound” Says Homer’s Ithaca was in Cephalonia

By Liana Sideri. Special to the National Herald.

NEW YORK - In his book, “Odysseus Unbound: The Search for Homer’s Ithaca” (Cambridge University Press, October 2005), author Robert Bittlestone and co-authors Professors James Diggle (Classics, Cambridge University) and John Underhill (Geology, University of Edinburgh), have set out to provide an explanation for the real location of Homer’s Ithaca, the Greek island to which Odysseus finally returns after ten years of wandering after the end of the Trojan War…

…To continue proving their theory, the team plans to perform a “body scan” of the entire area in order to accurately date the bottom layer of rock in Cephalonia. By using the oil industry's sophisticated technology, the team is hoping to obtain imaging of what lies beneath the rock surface underneath the island's mountains. If the mountains intersect below sea level, the theory concerning the canal gets close to being proven. There is also recent evidence from saltwater extracted from underneath the surface of this rocky area, which also indicates the existence of an ancient canal…

…The publication of “Odysseus Unbound” has captured the imagination of readers globally, resulting in sales of over 10,000 copies of the book and a series of seminars, interviews and film documentaries. The book will also be translated into Greek. In March, the History Channel broadcasted a documentary called “Digging for the Truth,” a non-academic archaeological project involving the viewer, which included a five minute segment on Mr. Bittlestone's work. The April issue of the Smithsonian Magazine also included a feature article and location photos about the project, which continues to receive considerable publicity.

Click here for full article.

May 22 2006

Interview on Athens International Radio 'Talk of the Town' with Alexia Amvrazi

How is the academic world reacting to the publication of Odysseus Unbound? What are the next steps involved in testing the book's proposals? What work is taking place in Cephalonia this summer? This interview was recorded and broadcast by Athens International Radio on May 22 and we are grateful to Alexia Amvrazi and her team for making it available on this website (12 minutes).

Listen to interview (11.5Mb MP3)

May 16 2006

New York: John Metaxas explores Odysseus Unbound for Greek Americans

John Metaxas is an anchor and reporter with the award-winning news team at WCBS Newsradio 880 in New York, the flagship station of the CBS radio network. He anchors hour-long newscasts and reports on such diverse subjects as the presidential debates, the New York City Transit strike, the mayoral election, court hearings and a Metro North train crash in Westchester. He lives in upstate New York and his father was born in Cephalonia (7 minutes).

Listen to interview (8.5Mb MP3)

Mar 23 2006

Has the real homeland of Ulysses been discovered?

A team of investigators has discovered that the modern island of Ithaca does not correspond to the location described by Homer where Ulysses, at the end of his extraordinary journey of challenges, finally lands. Homer’s Ithaca is instead a peninsula of today's island of Cefalonia. Why has this misunderstanding arisen? What are the tests of this revolutionary theory? Did Homer narrate just a fable in his epic poem, or was it the history of a real king?

Click here for full article (in Italian).

Mar 16 2006

Joint Association of Classical Teachers reports on the controversy

"The controversy about the hypothesis set out in Odysseus Unbound: The Search for Homer’s Ithaca continues (Cambridge University Press, October 2005). The book’s author is Robert Bittlestone, with co-authors Professor James Diggle (Classics, Cambridge) and Professor John Underhill (Geology, Edinburgh), and together they have set out to explain why Homer describes Ithaca at Odyssey 9.19-26 as the most westerly of the Ionian Islands, since the island now called Ithaki is clearly furthest to the east.

A major plank of their evidence is Strabo’s description of Cephalonia at Geography 10.2.15: "Where the island is narrowest it forms an isthmus so low-lying that it is often submerged from sea to sea." Such an isthmus has never been identified on Cephalonia, but Bittlestone, Diggle and Underhill think that Paliki, the westernmost peninsula of Cephalonia, was cut off from the rest of the island during the late Bronze Age by a submerged isthmus, which has now been filled in by catastrophic landslides such as those that occurred in Pakistan last year. In the book they identify the geological factors that may have led to these massive rockfalls and they also cite historical evidence which suggests that today’s Ithaki was formerly called Doulichion, the ‘lost island’ of the Odyssey. If they are correct then Paliki was Homer’s Ithaca and his geographical descriptions were precise all along.

This identification of a new ‘external geography’ for Homeric Ithaca has so far met with cautious approval from classicists and geologists. The authors accept that their theory is not yet proven and they are planning to conduct more extensive tests on the island which should determine the question of this Bronze Age isthmus one way or the other. However, the controversial material in the book concerns the ‘internal geography’: the question of whether it is also possible to identify on Paliki specific Homeric landmarks from the Odyssey such as Mount Neriton, Mount Neïon, Hermes Hill and Phorcys Bay.

One of the book’s appendixes summarises the attempts by other researchers over many centuries to do just that. For example, William Gladstone committed much of his time to the Ithaca enigma and more recently Professor J. V. Luce has proposed specific locations on Ithaki for seemingly poetical places such as Eumaios’ Pigfarm and Raven’s Rock (Celebrating Homer’s Landscapes Ch. 7). Although the educated public seems willing to consider this possibility, the classical world is divided, with reviewers in journals such as the TLS, THES and JCT itself expressing their concerns while others indicating their enthusiasm for a radical Homeric reappraisal. A more detailed discussion and links to the reviews is available at http://www.odysseus-unbound.org/reviews.html

Meanwhile the publication of Odysseus Unbound has captured the imagination of teachers and students world-wide, resulting in sales of over 10,000 copies of the book and a series of international seminars, interviews and film documentaries. A recent audience of several hundred students and guests at King’s College School, Wimbledon responded with great enthusiasm: Head of Classics Chris Jackson writes ‘The reaction from my students the following day was quite overwhelming - it was not possible to do any work in class, as all they wanted to talk about was your presentation’. Details of this and other developments are provided at the News, Events and Press sections of the above website.

Mar 10 2006

Help closing in on Ithaca mystery

"Wanted: a sympathetic oil baron, company or chief executive to help solve one of mankind's greatest mysteries.

It may sound like a tall order but a Kingston businessman is hoping the allure of his ground-breaking project to prove Homer’s island of Ithaca existed, will attract enough funding to allow his team to complete the second and crucial phase of their research. And Robert Bittlestone has the oil industry in his sights as much of the technology used to scout for fresh oil reserves is required by his team to literally get to the bottom of their problem.

Mr Bittlestone, 52, of Coombe Hill claims to have found the true location of Ithaca, described by Homer in his epic poem, the Odyssey, in 800 BC. In his book Odysseus Unbound, published last October together with Cambridge classicist Professor James Diggle and geologist John Underhill, Mr Bittlestone set out his theory that Homer’s Ithaca was not the modern island of Ithaki but was in fact a western peninsula of Cephalonia which is today called Paliki. He posits that in 800 BC, a wide channel separated the two land masses and that earthquakes and rock falls have since filled this in, turning two islands into one. Mr Bittlestone said:

"We have put together our geographical case but it hasn't yet been proven. We need to see through all this rock with x-ray eyes and date the bottom layer of rock. The oil industry uses sophisticated technology which would be perfect for this so I hope we can find a sympathetic donor. I'll be very surprised if I'm wrong. The description Homer gives of Ithaca is very specific. If you pick up your copy of the Odyssey and use it as a Michelin Guide it fits perfectly. There are some coincidences which are just too unlikely."

The Odyssey describes the 10-year journey of Odysseus as he returns from the Trojan War in the 13th century BC. About 40 experts have been involved in order to get the project this far and Mr Bittlestone hopes to be on the Ionian island in the summer conducting the definitive geological survey. If his theory is proved correct it would become one of the greatest classical discoveries of all time, not only raising the possibility of the actual existence of Homer but also the idea that the character of Odysseus was based on a real person. And this is a concept capable of causing major upheavals in the world of classical scholarship."

Mar 02 2006

News broadcast, Radio Jackie

How did Homer earn his living? Build-up to tonight's seminars at King's College.

Listen to interview (575Kb MP3)

Feb 2006

Kaleidoscopio interviews James Diggle in Athens

“For roughly two thousand years, the plays of Euripides were copied by a succession of scribes, and this process naturally caused deterioration in the authentic text. What we read in the medieval manuscripts is frequently very removed from what Euripides actually wrote. I decided that it ought to be possible to improve the text that we now read… I spent about twenty years working on the text of Euripides. My edition replaced that of Gilbert Murray that had been published between 1900 and 1910.”

“I believe that Odysseus Unbound will make students look at the Odyssey with very different eyes. It has become the conventional classical wisdom to look on the Odyssey as a product of pure imagination, and to suppose that the places that are described in it never actually existed. There has also been an enormous amount of disagreement over the actual location of Ithaca itself. Because it has not been possible to locate it with certainty, many people believe that the poet of the Odyssey did not know anything about a real Ithaca and that his descriptions of its geography come entirely from his imagination. What we believe we have discovered is that the Ithaca of the Odyssey was an absolutely real and concrete place, and we are confident that it was the area of Cephalonia that is now called Paliki.”

“Once we had realised that Paliki is ancient Ithaca, our next step was to ask ourselves whether there are any aspects of the landscape of Paliki that correspond to the places that are described in the Odyssey. And what we discovered, to our surprise, is that it is possible to map every locality that is reported in the Odyssey onto the landscape of the northern part of Paliki. You can reject this as a coincidence if you wish, and a lot of people will undoubtedly do so, but the fact is that there are twenty-six separate locations described in the Odyssey as being near to the palace of Odysseus, and every one of them corresponds to some feature of the landscape that can be located on Paliki.”

Click here for full article (in Greek, with English translation).

Jan 30 2006

Ithaca 'discovery' hailed as event of 2005

“The latest theory that the ancient island of Ithaca is located on western Kefallonia has been hailed by Discover magazine as one of the top history of science events of 2005…The first 10,000 copies of the book were snapped up in three months and reviewers have described it as "epoch-making" and "triumphant". The book's impact has led to Discover magazine placing it in its top 100 science stories of 2005 and top three in its history of science category.”

Jan 27 2006

Ithaca findings a major discovery

“The storm of scientific and popular interest surrounding the alleged discovery of Homer’s Ithaca looks set to continue after Discover magazine declared it one of the most important scientific events of 2005…Such is the importance of Mr Bittlestone's book that Discover magazine, a leading American science publication, has placed it in its top 100 science stories of last year and one of the top three in the category of the history of science…Cambridge University Press has also ordered a second print run of the book, which reviewers have described as "epoch-making" and "triumphant", after the first 10,000 copies were snapped up in three months.”