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Greek & Roman Geography (ed. William Smith)

Ithaca

  Ithaca (Ithake: Eth. Ithakesios and Ithakos: Ithacensis and Ithacus: Thiaki, Thiake, vulgarly; but this is merely an alteration, by a simple metathesis of the two first letters, from Ithakn, which is known to be the correct orthography by the Ithacans themselves, and is the name used by all educated Greeks. Leake, Northern Greece, chap. xxii.) This island, so celebrated as the scene of a large portion of the Homeric poems, lies off the coast of Acarnania, and is separated from Cephallenia by a channel about 3 or 4 miles wide. Its name is said by Eustathius (ad Il. ii. 632) to have been derived from the eponymous hero Ithacus, mentioned in Od. xviii. 207. Strabo (x. 2) reckons the circumference of Ithaca at only 80 stadia: but this measurement is very short of the truth; its extreme length from north to south being about 17 miles, its greatest breadth about 4 miles, and its area nearly 45 sq. miles. The island may be described as a ridge of limestone rock, divided by the deep and wide Gulf of Molo into two nearly equal parts, connected by a narrow isthmus not more than half-a-mile across, and on which stands the Paleocastro of Aetos (Aetos), traditionally known as the Castle of Ulysses. Ithaca everywhere rises into rugged hills, of which the chief is the mountain of Anoge (Anoge: Ital. Anoi), in the northern division, which is identified with the Neritos of Virgil (Aen. iii. 271) and the Neriton eiosiphullon of Homer (Od. ix. 21). Its forests have now disappeared; and this is, doubtless, the reason why rain and dew are not so common here in the present as in Homer's age, and why the island no longer abounds in hogs fattened on acorns like those guarded by Eumaeus. In all other points, the poet's descriptions (Od. iv. 603, seq., xiii. 242, seq., ix. 27, seq.) exhibit a perfect picture of the island as it now appears, the general aspect being one of ruggedness and sterility, rendered striking by the bold and broken outline of the mountains and cliffs, indented by numerous harbours and creeks (limhenes panormoi, Od. xiii. 193). The climate is healthy (alathe kourotrophos, Od. ix. 27). It may here be observed, that the expressions applied to Ithaca, in Od. ix. 25, 26, have puzzled all the commentators ancient and modern:
aute de chthamale panupertate ein hali keitai
pros zophon, hai de aneuthe pros eo t‘ eelion te.

(Cf. Nitzsch, ad loc.; also Od. x. 196.) Strabo (x. 2) gives perhaps the most satisfactory explanation: he supposes that by the epithet chthamale the poet intended to express how Ithaca lies under, as it were, the neighbouring mountains of Acarnania; while by that of panupertate he meant to denote its position at the extremity of the group of islands formed by Zacynthus, Cephallenia, and the Echinades. For another explanation, see Wordsworth, Greece, Pictorial, &c., pp. 355, seq.
  Ithaca is now divided into four districts (Bathu, Aetos, Anoge Ezoge, i. e. Deep Bay, Eagle's Cliff, Highland, Outland); and, as natural causes are likely to produce in all ages similar effects, Leake thinks it probable, from the peculiar conformation of the island, that the four divisions of the present day nearly correspond with those noticed by Heracleon, an author cited by Stephanus B. (s. v. Krokuleion). The name of one of these districts is lost by a defect in the text; the others were named Neium, Crocyleium, and Aegireus. The Aegilips of Homer (Il. ii. 633) is probably the same with Aegireus, and is placed by Leake at the modern village of Anoge; while he believes the modern capital town of Bathy to occupy the site of Crocyleia. (Il. I. c.) It is true that Strabo (pp. 376, 453) places Aegilips and Crocyleia in Leucas; but this appears inconsistent with Homer and other ancient authorities. (See Leake, l. c.)
  Plutarch (Quaest. Graec. 43) and Stephanus B. (s. v.) state that the proper name of the ancient capital of Ithaca was Alcomenae or Alalcomenae, and that Ulysses bestowed this appellation upon it from his having been himself born near Alalcomenae in Boeotia. But this name is not found in Homer; and a passage in Strabo tends to identify it with the ruins on the isthmus of Aetos, where the fortress and royal residence of the Ithacan chieftains probably stood, on account of the advantages of a position so easily accessible to the sea both on the eastern and western sides. It is argued by Leake that the Homeric capital city was at Polis, a little harbour on the NW. coast of the island, where some Hellenic remains may still be traced. For the poet (Od. iv. 844, seq.) represents the suitors as lying in wait for Telemachus on his return from Peloponnesus at Asteris, a small island in the channel between Ithaca and Samos (Cephalonia), where the only island is that now called Daskhalion, situated exactly opposite the entrance to Port Polis. The traditional name of Polis is alone a strong argument that the town, of which the remains are still visible there, was that which Scylax (in Acarnania), and still more especially Ptolemy (iii. 14), mentions as having borne the same name as the island. It seems highly probable that he polis, or the city, was among the Ithacans the most common designation of their chief town. And if the Homeric capital was at Polis, it will follow that Mt. Neium, under which it stood (Ithakes Uponeiou, Od. iii. 81), was the mountain of Exoge (Ital. Exoi), at the northern extremity of the island, and that one of its summits was the Hermaean hill (Ermaios lophos, Od. xvi. 471) from which Eumaeus saw the ship of Telemachus entering the harbour. It becomes probable, also, that the harbour Rheithrum (Peithron), which was under Neium but apart from the city (nosphi poleos, Od. i. 185), may be identified with either of the neighbouring bays of Afales or Frickes. Near the village of Exoge may be observed the substructions of an ancient building, probably a temple, with several steps and niches cut in the rock. These remains are now called by the neighboring peasants the School of Homer.
  The Homeric Fountain of Arethusa is identifled with a copious spring which rises at the foot of a cliff fronting the sea, near the SE. extremity of Ithaca. This cliff is still called Korax (Korax), and is, doubtless, that alluded to at Od. xiii. 407, seq., xiv. 5, seq., xiv. 398. (See, especially on this point, Leake, l. c., and Mure, Tour in Greece, vol. i. p. 67, seq.)
  The most remarkable natural feature of Ithaca is the Gulf of Mole, that inlet of the sea which nearly divides the island into two portions; and the most remarkable relic of antiquity is the socalled Castle of Ulysses, placed, as has been already intimated, on the sides and summit of the steep hill of Aetos, on the connecting isthmus. Here may be traced several lines of inclosure, testifying the highest antiquity in the rude structure of massive stones which compose them. The position of several gates is distinctly marked; there are also traces of a tower and of two large subterranean cisterns. There can be little doubt that this is the spot to which Cicero (de Orat. i. 44) alludes in praising the patriotism of Ulysses - ut Ithacam illam in asperrimis saxis tanquam nidulam affixam sapientissimus vir immortalitati anteponeret. The name of Aetos, moreover, recalls the striking scene in Od. ii. 146, seq. At the base of this hill there have been discovered several ancient tombs. sepulchral inscriptions, vases, rings, medals, &c. The coins of Ithaca usually bear the head of Ulysses, with the pileus, or conical cap, and the legend Ithakon; the reverse exhibiting a cock, an emblem of the hero's vigilance, Athena, his tutelar deity, or other devices of like import. (See Eckhel.)
  The Homeric port of Phorcys (Od. xiii. 345) is supposed to be represented by a small creek now called Dexia (probably because it is on the right of the entrance to the harbour of Bathy), or by another creek now called Skhinos, both on the southern side of the Gulf of Molo. (Leake, l. c.) At a cave on the side of Mount Stephanos or Merovgli, above this gulf, and at some short distance from the sea, is placed the Grotto of the Nymphs, in which the sleeping Ulysses was deposited by the Phoenicians who brought him from Scheria. (Od. xiii. 116, seq.) Leake (l. c.) considers this to be the only point in the island exactly corresponding to the poet's data.
  The modern capital of Ithaca extends in a narrow strip of white houses round the southern extremity of the horse-shoe port, or deep (Bathu), from which it derives its name, and which is itself but an inlet of the Gulf of Molo, often mentioned already. After passing through similar vicissitudes to those of its neighbours, Ithaca is now one of the seven Ionian Islands under the protectorate of Great Britain, and contains a population exceeding 10,000 souls, - an industrious and prosperous community. It has been truly observed that there is, perhaps, no spot in the world where the influence of classical associations is more lively or more pure; for Ithaca is indebted for no part of its interest to the rival distinctions of modern annals, - so much as its name scarcely occurring in the page of any writer of historical ages, unless with reference to its poetical celebrity. Indeed, in A.D. 1504, it was nearly, if not quite, uninhabited, having been depopulated by the incursions of Corsairs; and record is still extant of the privileges accorded by the Venetian government to the settlers (probably from the neighbouring islands and from the mainland of Greece) by whom it was repeopled. (Leake, l. c.; Bowen, Ithaca in 1850, p. 1.)
  It has been assumed throughout this article that the island still called Ithaca is identical with the Homeric Ithaca. Of that fact there is ample testimony in its geographical position, as well as in its internal features, when compared with the Odyssey. To every sceptic we may say, in the words of Athena to Ulysses (Od. xiii. 344), - all' age toi deixo Ithakes hedos hophra pepoithes. (The arguments on the sceptical side of the question have been collected by Volcker, Homer. Geogr. 46-74, but they have been successfully confuted by Ruhle von Lilienstern, Ueber das Homerische Ithaca. The fullest authorities on the subject of this article are Gell, Geography and Antiquities of Ithaca, London, 1807; Leake, Northern Greece, vol. iii. pp. 24-55; Mure, Tour in Greece, vol. i. pp. 38-81; Bowen, Ithaca in 1850, London, 1852.)

This text is from: Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854) (ed. William Smith, LLD). Cited September 2004 from The Perseus Project URL below, which contains interesting hyperlinks


The Princeton Encyclopedia of Classical Sites

Ithaca

  An island in the Ionian Sea NE of Kephalonia. Homer speaks of a maritime power formed by four islands: Ithaca, Dulichio, Same, and Zacinto (Od. 9.31). Ithaca, the mythical homeland of Odysseus and capital of his kingdom, was identified by Classical authors with the island of the same name which today is called Ithaki or Thiaki. Test trenches had been dug at various points on the island in 1868 and 1878, and excavations since 1930 have given ample credence to this identification.
  Near the village of Stavros in the N of the island, on a hillside dominating the Bay of Polis in the locality called Pelikate, a settlement surrounded by a Cyclopean wall and an ancient Helladic necropolis have been discovered. The necropolis also contains pottery from the middle Helladic and Mycenaean phases. Traces of a rather large building and some Mycenaean pottery were found in 1937 at Tris Langadas, also in the vicinity of the Polis valley. A cavern excavated in the Bay of Polis contained finds from the Bronze Age to the 1st c. A.D., the most interesting are from the Geometric period, including bronze votive tripods. This was a grotto sanctuary in which a fragment from the 3d c. B.C. indicates that the Nymphs were venerated, while a fictile mask from the 1st c. A.D. significantly bears the name of Odysseus. The islet Daskalio offshore from Polis could be the Homeric Asteris, where the Proci awaited the return of Odysseus. Near Stavros there are also the remains of a necropolis with tombs from the 5th and 4th c. B.C. above a Bronze Age settlement.
  Farther N, near Exoghi, the chapel of Haghios Athanasios is built on the ruins of a tower with archaic polygonal masonry. It is popularly called the School of Homer and the original plan, two rooms, is still recognizable. There are remains of a polygonal wall, within which votive objects have been found NE of the church. The wall probably enclosed a temple or an archaic sanctuary. Near the village of Exoghi one might locate the domain of Laertes; and a fountain brings to mind Melanthydros in the Odyssey. On the summit of Mt. Aetos, on the narrow strip of land that joins the N and S parts of the island, an archaic polygonal enclosing wall and other remains may be identified with Alakomenai, mentioned by Strabo.
  On the slopes of Mt. Aetos, near a tower of the 5th c. B.C., a large sanctuary with a massive terracing wall has been found, and a deposit of local Geometric and imported Corinthian vases. Moreover, there are confused remains of tumuli of the LH III period, with ceramics from the 12th c. B.C. After the middle of the 8th c. W Greek and Cretan influence is evident in the ceramics from Mt. Aetos. The ceramic votive offerings seem to cease in the 4th c. B.C., but there are numerous terracottas from later epochs. Vathy, the modern capital of the island, is identified with the ancient port of Phorkys where Odysseus embarked. The grotto of Marmarospilia would be the grotto of the Nymphs, while the plain of Marathia would be the location of the stalls of Eumelus (Od. 14.6), and the fountain of Perapighadi may be the Arethusa. There is a small museum at Vathy.

M. G. Picozzi, ed.
This text is from: The Princeton encyclopedia of classical sites, Princeton University Press 1976. Cited Nov 2002 from Perseus Project URL below, which contains bibliography & interesting hyperlinks.


Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities

Ithaca

   (Ithake). Now Thiaki; an island in the Ionian Sea, off the coast of Epirus, celebrated as the birthplace of Odysseus. It is about twelve miles long, and four in its greatest breadth, and is divided into two parts, which are connected by a narrow isthmus not more than half a mile across. In each of these parts there is a mountain ridge of considerable height--the one in the north called Neritum, and the one in the south Neium. The city of Ithaca, the residence of Odysseus, was situated on a precipitous, conical hill, now called Aeto, or "eagle's cliff," occupying the whole breadth of the isthmus mentioned above. Its summit is still surrounded by Cyclopean walls and shows traces of fortifications. The chief town of the island is now called Vathy.

This text is cited Oct 2002 from The Perseus Project URL below, which contains interesting hyperlinks


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