Odysseus Unbound - The Search for Homer’s Ithaca

Press Coverage 2008

Sep 6 2008

Finding Ithaca

Channel 4 News Saturday 6 September 18:55 broadcast

"One of the greatest mysteries of classical literature, the location of Ithaca, the homeland of Odysseus, the hero of Homer’s Odyssey, may be a step closer to being solved. A controversial theory supported by a British businessman that it was part of the Greek island of Kefalonia has now been given a major boost."

Watch the Channel 4 TV news broadcast (6min YouTube)

Research Update and Geoscientist article

Sep 1 2008

Evidence backs Homer’s isle theory

Channel 4 News

"The theory that the Greek island of Kefalonia is the site of the ancient city of Ithaca, birthplace of Homer’s Odysseus, has been strengthened by research.

British scientists have found new geological evidence to suggest Paliki, the western peninsula of Kefalonia, was once separated from the mainland by a narrow channel.

Scientists believe that if Paliki was once a separate island it could be the site of Ithaca, which Homer describes in the Odyssey as the most westerly and low-lying Ionian island.

Researchers found no solid bedrock in the valley that divides Paliki from the rest of the island, until 90 metres below the surface. They said this suggests the strait was once a marine channel that was filled in with falling earthquake debris over the past 3,000 years.

They also said this tallied with Strabo, the ancient Greek geographer's description of a valley or "channel" in Kefalonia "so low-lying that it was often submerged from sea to sea".

Professor James Diggle, of Cambridge University, who is leading the research said: "If we can demonstrate the historical existence of 'Strabo's Channel' it will be impossible to resist the conclusion that Paliki was Homer’s Ithaca - for Paliki, as a separate island, is the only candidate that satisfies every one of Homer’s geographical criteria. "

So we are on the way to demonstrating that Homer’s geography was no less reliable than Strabo's, and that the landscape of Paliki was the true location of Homer’s Odyssey."

Ithaca was said to be the home of Odysseus, whose 10-year journey back from the Trojan War is chronicled in Homer’s epic poem the Odyssey.

It was assumed modern-day Ithaki on the eastern side of the Ionian islands was the geographical setting for Ithaca; but researchers say this is inconsistent with Homer’s descriptions of a westerly low-lying island. "

June 27 2008

The Identity of Ancient Ithaca: A Response

Robert Bittlestone

Reproduced with the kind permission of the Editor

"Professor Luce refers to a ‘massive and shattering disproof’ of our hypothesis concerning the identity of ancient Ithaca (CA News 37) but unfortunately he has based his conclusion on a document that has no bearing on the central geological issue. In CA News 35 I explained that Professor John Underhill is currently investigating three alternative explanations for the derivation of the Thinia isthmus that separates the Paliki western peninsula from the rest of Kefalonia:

  1. Around 1200 BC the terrain at the isthmus was well above sea level, as it is today;
  2. There was a thin strand of connecting terrain, such as between Lefkas and the mainland;
  3. There was no terrain at that time above sea level and so Paliki was a ‘sea-girt’ island.

Professor Luce states that a geological study conducted by a research team from Athens University at the prompting of the Association of Ithakans Worldwide has already identified (a) as the correct answer. He has kindly provided us with a copy of this unpublished document which purports to disprove the possibility currently being tested by John Underhill and his team that either (b) or (c) may instead apply. However this document describes only a surface study, and as John Underhill has explained in his published work, the hypothesis that Paliki was a free-standing island as recently as 2000-3000 years ago cannot be established or disproved by a surface survey alone. It requires instead the use of geophysical and geological techniques (gravity surveying, seismic acquisition, resistivity analysis and electromagnetic methods) which in combination can diagnose the buried terrain down to sea level and below. "

Full text of article.

June 8 2008
from
18:00-1900

The Real Ithaca and the Secrets of the Odyssey

Live interview with Robert Bittlestone, James Diggle and John Underhill

BBC Radio Cambridgeshire.

The award winning BBC weekly radio programme, The Naked Scientists, reaches a potential audience of 6 million listeners across the east of England, and also has an international following on the web. Each week, listeners of all ages and backgrounds tune in on a Sunday evening to hear creator Dr. Chris Smith, together with his entertaining sidekicks, interview renowned scientists and researchers from all over the world and take science questions on any subject live from the listening public.

"This week on the Naked Scientists we’re putting on our togas on and venturing back in time to find out how modern science can help us to answer ancient questions. We’re on the lookout for Homer’s mythical (or is it?) island of Ithaca, with Robert Bittlestone, John Underhill and James Diggle – co-authors of the book Odysseus Unbound

When ancient Greek author Homer wrote the Odyssey, his epic poem of hero Odysseus’ return from the Trojan war to his palace on the island of Ithaca, he described a place that bears little resemblance to Ithaki, the island widely believed to be the actual location of the story. Today’s Ithaca is mountainous, not the low-lying place described in the poem. And where are the other islands mentioned in the Odyssey? This puzzle has baffled scholars and historians for two thousand years, but thanks to modern science, Robert Bittlestone and his colleagues believes they may have solved the mystery.

What if Homer was right all along – but geological forces have been at work in the meantime, changing the landscape from the Ithaca of ancient times to the island we see today? The area is one of the most geologically active places in the world, where the African continental plate hits the Eurasian plate. The earth shakes nearly every month, and earthquakes are well known. Could this activity have changed Ithaki so dramatically over just a few thousand years?

We’ll be joined by Professor John Underhill from the University of Edinburgh, who has led an international team of geologists on a modern day quest to investigate the Ithaca puzzle. His latest results are promising, but do they prove anything? And also in the studio will be James Diggle, Professor of Greek and Latin at Cambridge University, to help us make sense of Homer’s words."

Listen to the recorded programme
Read the transcript
Link to the BBC podcast (includes other material).

May 27 2008

Where was Homer’s Ithaca?

TV documentary on the award-winning ‘New Files’ (Neoi Fakeloi) programme of Greece's SKAI TV.

The programme on SKAI TV included interviews with Robert Bittlestone, James Diggle and John Underhill, as well as with the Mayor of Lixouri, Nopi Alexandropoulou, and the proponents of alternative theories.

Watch the SKAI TV news broadcast (6min 23Mb MP4)

Mar 23 2008

Was Ithaca originally Kefalonia? The British Homeric scholar James Diggle describes a contemporary adventure in search of the homeland of Odysseus.

An interview with Elias Maglinis

“My involvement in the story began when Robert Bittlestone asked me my opinion on some texts of ancient Greek writers, especially Strabo, who refers to the geography of Homeric Ithaca. Robert had difficulty in accepting that Homeric Ithaca is the modern Ithaca. He had found a passage in Strabo in which there was a reference that suggested that the solution to the mystery might be found on the island of Kefalonia. The indications were that Homeric Ithaca could have been located where today we find Paliki, the western part of Kefalonia. Robert believes that in the age of Homer and Odysseus this island was divided into two: Sami to the east and to the west, Paliki, which he believes is Homeric Ithaca. He felt that his theory was bolstered by what Strabo wrote about a channel that was from time to time covered from north to south with water. Naturally, Strabo wrote many centuries after Homer. However, this account is based on Strabo’s sources, geographers who lived 2 to 3 centuries earlier.“

Full text of interview (English).

Mar 19 2008

Many happy returns

By Elizabeth Speller

"One lavish account of such an inquiry, the businessman and Homerist Robert Bittlestone's Odysseus Unbound, was published in 2005 and claims Cephalonia as the true location of Ithaca and, therefore, Odysseus. Bittlestone's is an extraordinary quest; in 3,000 years, the topography of the volcanic Ionian islands has changed significantly; one of the most violent of its several earthquakes occurred in 1953 and devastated much of Cephalonia. The project's supporting website announces: "An unprecedented array of gravity, seismic, marine and helicopter-based electromagnetic techniques is being used to test the theory." This project could only be possible with the current armoury of scientific machinery and computer modelling, but it is hard not to see Odysseus's challenges reflected in the geophysical adventures of Bittlestone and his crew. "

Full text of review.

Mar 14 2008

In search of the homeland of Odysseus

By Giannis Triantaphyllou, Eleutherotypia Athens

"The book Odysseus Unbound (published in Greek by Polytropon) will be presented tonight in the Benaki Museum by its authors. A British businessman and two professors at British universities, after a five-year investigation, propose with confidence that the location of Homeric Ithaca is not on the modern island of that name. This suggestion has already aroused controversy in the world press: it has many like-minded supporters but also a number of critics. It remains to be seen if it will eventually lead to an intra-Ionian civil war between Ithaki and Cephalonia, as to which of the two islands was honoured to host the kingdom of Homer’s wily hero …."

Full text of review (Greek).

Mar 14 2008

Odysseus and Ithaca are chained to the rock of Same

Radical proposal voiced by British academics in today's publication. By Maria Thermou

"The prehistoric Ithaca of Homer and the resourceful Odysseus were none other than a part of today's Cephalonia, the peninsula of Paliki. A marine channel in antiquity separated the two regions which merged after a geological catastrophe. This theory involves a British researcher, professors at the University of Cambridge and Edinburgh and also contributions from the University of Athens. This scientific team is investigating the Homeric texts and has submitted a book whose innovative proposals are causing turmoil in the current geography and society of the Ionian islands. Odysseus Unbound is the title of the book, after the play of Aeschylus. It is published by Polytropon and presented today at the Benaki Museum."

Full text of review (Greek).

Mar 8 2008

New stopping point in the journey of Odysseus

A meeting of three concerned people is the reason for contesting the relationship between real and Homeric Ithaca. By linguist Ioanna Sitaridou in Eleutheros Typos Sunday

"What can result from the partnership of a maverick businessman, an eminent university professor of ancient Greek literature (and member of the Academy of Athens) and a distinguished university professor of stratigraphy? This unusual combination - at least for the academic world - is a British-led initiative aimed at no less than a revision of history and a restatement of its course. The Odysseus Unbound: In search of Homer’s Ithaca of Robert Bittlestone, James Diggle and John Underhill contends that that the current island of Ithaki is not the Homeric Ithaca."

Full text of review (Greek).

Feb 3 2008

Review of Odysseas Lyomenos, the Greek edition of Odysseus Unbound, by the historian Vassias Tsokopoulos in Kathimerini

ATHENS - "Odysseas Lyomenos offer new and solid documentation to resolve a long-standing and stubborn problem. Where is the Ithaca described in the Odyssey, this “low-lying island, the most “westerly” of all the Ionian Islands? The book is fascinating and multi-faceted. First there is a great story: the book was written while the hypothesis was being developed, and the case is developed with observation, evidence and proof. The author also presents the reader with a personal odyssey in search of Ithaca - which he finds in Kefalonia - and that is done by mixing the dry tone of a journal with the passion of obsession, lighthearted humor and meticulous discussion…The book is inspired by passion and courage. "

Full text of review (Greek).
Kathimerini page image (Greek).