Odysseus Unbound: The Search for Homer's Ithaca Hardcover – Sep 30 2005
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The discovery of historical Troy in the 1870s instigated the hunt for historical Ithaca, but the island today named Ithaca is not likely where Penelope loyally awaited the return of Odysseus. Seizing the mystery with gusto, Bittlestone concentrates on the neighboring island of Cephalonia. With Homer in one hand and a digital camera in the other, Bittlestone walked about the island, convincing himself that Cephalonia is the real Ithaca. Convincing the learned world of his theory becomes Bittlestone's story and the source of its charm. Returning to his native Britain, he approached a classics don and a geology expert. They not only did not dismiss Bittlestone, they participated in his quest. Bolstered by their advice about philology and the active tectonics of Cephalonia, Bittlestone provisionally identified places in the action of the Odyssey. Resplendent with hundreds of landscape and satellite images, Bittlestone's freelance investigation is enthralling, accessibly presented, and possibly true--and, like its subject, finds its soul more in the journey than the destination. Gilbert Taylor
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"A fascinating and compelling book; recommended for both public and academic libraries."
-- Library Journal
"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."
-- Professor Tjeerd van Andel, Honorary Professor in Earth History, Quaternary Science and Geo-archaeology, University of Cambridge
"This book is a gem. Its reconstruction of prehistoric Ithaca has a convincingly Homeric "look and feel" to it. Reading the Odyssey is unlikely ever to be the same again."
-- Professor Gregory Nagy, Francis Jones Professor of Classical Greek Literature and Professor of Comparative Literature, Harvard University, and Director of the Harvard Center for Hellenic Studies, Washington DC
"Resplendent with hundreds of landscape and satellite images, Bittlestone's freelance investigation is enthralling, accessibly presented, and possibly true--and, like its subject, finds its soul more in the journey than the destination."
The rest of this beautifully produced book, illustrated throughout in color, chronicles Bittlestone's full-scale, ultimately convincing attempt to prove this thesis, with the aid of everything from outer-space photography to linguistic, geological, and seismological analysis.
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Top Customer Reviews
I have had a great interest in history for most of my life, starting as a child and have read a great number of books dealing with the classics and history in general over the years, and I must say that I consider this to be the best book on historical exploration that I have ever read. It is the type of book that is very difficult to put down before you are finished. I couldn't wait to get back to it when my reading was interrupted. I hope that there will be another book to update information as it becomes available.
Well documented, and researched. Well illustrated with photographs, charts, graphs, and all explained in a manner that makes the information easily understood by the layman, but also enough scientific information to hold the interest of a professional, Robert Bittlestone and his collegues have produced a book that should find a place front and centre in the collections of people who have a love of history and archeology.
I recommend this book highly to those that have any interest in historical, and archeological discovery. You will not be dissapointed.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Although Bittlestone is "only" an enthusiastic amateur, his research has been reviewed and backed by his professional co-authors, one a professor of Greek and Latin and the other a geologist specializing in the Ionian island area.
I find Bittlesone's analysis to be persuasive, but as yet -- and he recognizes this -- the evidence is not wholly conclusive. This may come in the next several years with additional geological work to confirm the existence of the sea channel and with archaeological surveys to study various associated sites.
Just a few days before i bought the book I was reading the Odyssey and it said the Ithaca lies low and away, the farthest out to sea, and I thought how could modern Ithaca be that? Then this book comes out and answers me. I truly loved it and i don't know how else to explain how much it means to me now. I can feel that Odysseus was a real person, and that some sort of journey took place. It was just soooooo amazing and i highly reccomend it for anyone who loved Greece, "Homer", or the Odyssey.
First, let me say that although I live in Cephalonia, I was born and raised in Thessaloniki, so I don't have a vested interest in this affair any more than the author does. I 'd like to believe that I am just as impartial as he is.
The book makes a good case for the existence of an ancient channel between Paliki and Cephalonia, although it does not prove that the channel was navigable. However, even if the channel were navigable, it does not prove that Paliki was Ithaca. As far as I am concerned, Paliki was close enough to Cephalonia to be regarded as one kingdom, just as the United Kingdom is composed of several isles. Also, the author has not considered all the alternatives. What if Strabo's channel was further to the North-East, across Pylaros? There is a narrow valley running across Pylaros, and one of the maps in the book clearly shows a fault line running through it.
According to Homer, Mount Neriton is pre-eminent. However, what Mr. Bittlestone calls Mount Neriton is rather unremarkable! Because I live there, I can testify that it is not visible from afar. On the other hand, Mount Ainos on mainland Cephalonia has been a navigation landmark for centuries. It is hard for me to believe that an insignificant hill on Paliki caught Homer's attention, as opposed to majestic Mt. Ainos just across from the strait.
What does "panypertati" mean with respect to Ithaca? The author interprets the word as "furthest out to sea." However, "panypertati" in Greek means tallest or topmost. In what way is Paliki tallest or topmost? I could not find a satisfactory answer in the text.
There are ambiguities in Homer himself. He claims that Ithaca has a mountain visible from afar, yet the island itself lies low in the sea. How is this possible? He claims that Ithaca is the westernmost of four islands, yet it is surrounded by three islands. Although the co-author, Mr. Diggle, interprets the word "amphi" as "near" rather than "on either side," how can we be sure of the intended meaning? To me, all this means that you cannot rely on a literal interpetation of Homer. For all I know, it may have been a metaphor. By the time the epics were first recorded, Homer was long dead. In the intervening centuries there may have been any number of changes to the original verses. During much of their life the epics were oral tradition, and therefore continually evolving. In the appendix, Mr. Diggle explains that there have been different versions of the epic, a fact that Mr. Bittlestone does not once mention in his text. I think I would rather stick to the spirit of the poem rather than try to decipher it word-by-word with strict logic. Trying to interpret art using science is a potentially controversial proposition.
Some of the author's initial speculation regarding the location of Odysseus' palace (e.g., figs. 19.17-19.18) remind me of the interpretations of a Rorsach inkblot: One can see what one wants to see. All the signs on the landscape could be manmade, albeit much more recent. As far as dry stonewalls in the Greek countryside, like the author says, they may delineate livestock corrals, or property boundaries more than anything else. The soil in Paliki naturally is stony, so to improve the land farmers removed the stones by hand and made walls out of them to mark their property. I understand that the author is eager to discern signs to support his hypothesis; On the other hand, people have been seeing artificial channels on the face of Mars. Finally, we should do not underestimate the power of pranksters. Mr. Bittlestone is not the first visitor looking for homeric Ithaca, and the locals know that.
The author suggests that the final act of the Odyssey unfolds in winter or early spring, yet Telemachos sailed to Pylos with a following wind from the west. First of all, a favorable wind from Paliki to Pylos should be northwest, not west. This is not a minor point. Island people have a very acute sense of wind direction, so if the wind is northwest (maistros in modern Greek), Homer would say so. Second, northwest is the predominant wind direction only during the summer.
As far as convincing the Greek authorities to share his vision, I think that Mr. Bittlestone overestimates the English proficiency of Greek bureaucrats. Unless he translates the book into Greek, nobody (of importance) will read it, and even that will be an uphill battle.
Mr. Bittlestone does not prove that the Paliki peninsula of Cephalonia was Homeric Ithaca. He just shows that it is possible that Paliki was ancient Ithaca. Whatever the case, it makes for an enchanting reading. I am looking forward to the continuation of his searches.
*** UPDATE (17 JAN. 2008) ***
Tonight I had the rare privilege of chatting briefly with the author, Mr. Bittlestone, during his visit to Cephalonia. He kindly clarified a few points for me, such that Ithaca could be lying low AND have a tall mountain at the same time. He ruled out the possibility of Strabo's channel running through the Pylaros valley based on the angle of the rock strata.
I did not get a satisfactory explanation as to what "panypertati" means with respect to Ithaca. Mr. Diggle, his co-author, translates panypertati as "furthest out to sea." Two authoritative modern Greek translations of the Odyssey (by Maronitis and Kazantzakis-Kakridis) translate "panypertati" as taller, not furthest out to sea. This is very puzzling...
Mr. Bittlestone's logic is that if assumption A is correct, then B is correct, and if B is correct, then C is correct, you get the idea. If all the assumptions in his train of thought are correct, then there is a good chance that he has found the real Ithaca. The problem is that some assumptions rely on a specific interpetation of key terms, such as panypertati, amphi, and island. Here is an example:
Assumption A: Strabo's channel existed
Assumption B: "amphi" means "near" as opposed to "on either side"
If Assumptions A and B are correct, then Conclusion C is unavoidable:
Conclusion C: Paliki was the westernmost of a cluster of four islands. Now, continue with the assumptions:
Assumption D: Asteris island really was a peninsula
Assumption E: Strabo's channel was navigable
Because we accepted C as correct, and if Assumptions D and E hold, then Conclusion F is unavoidable:
Conclusion F: Telemachus avoided the suitor's ambush at Asteris peninsula by circumnavigating Paliki through Strabo's Channel.
However, as we have seen, some of these assumptions rely on specific interpetation of key terms.
A great concern is that Mr. Bittlestone takes a specific version of Odyssey literally. He claims that Homer had no reason to commit a so called "motiveless crime" by changing the facts of the myth. On the other hand, 200 years may have elapsed between Homer's time and when the epics were first recorded. In the intervening years, the epics were memorized and passed on to the next generation as oral tradition. There is no way telling what changes have happened in the intervening years. As an amateur stage actor, I have to memorize lines, too. When I fumble a line, I will make up something and go on. The Odyssey contains 12000 verses, who knows how many have been improvised after Homer. Language is a living, organic thing that constantly mutates, not fixed in perpetuity. Although Homer may not be guilty of a "motiveless crime" as Mr. Bittlestone puts it, there may have been accidental crimes along the way. This problem may reflect fundamental differences in the backgrounds of the two personalities: Homer is a product of an oral culture, Mr. Bittlestone is the product of a decisevely written culture.
One of Mr. Bittlestone's arguments is "Occam's razor." That is, among all possible explanations for the location of ancient Ithaca, the simplest one must be correct. Unfortunately, "Occam's razor" is an axiom, not a fact. Makes intuitive sense, yet it does not prove anything. Occam was a theologist.
To me, Mr. Bittlestone appeared like a man that has passed the point of no return. That is, he has invested so much intellectually and emotionally in his theory, that there is no going back. All the same, I wish him luck because I believe he is onto something. To me, the only conclusive evidence for the existence of ancient Ithaca on Palliki would be the discovery of Odysseus palace. This is very unlikely, as a long history of destructive earthquakes would have anihilated any potential evidence. Sad to say, it is very unlikely that conclusive evidence will ever be found.
The book has been translated to Greek. Let us hope that it will be more accessible to Greek intellectuals who can exercise a more expert judgement than me. I sincerely wish to thank the author for taking the time to chat with me.
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