September 29, 2005

UK Team Says it May Have Found Island of Odysseus

LONDON -- A British author and a team of scholars said on Thursday they may have solved one of the riddles of ancient Greece -- locating the ancient city of Ithaca, home of the legendary hero Odysseus.

Finding Ithaca could rival the discovery of ancient Troy, uncovered on the Turkish coast more than 100 years ago, said author Robert Bittlestone.

Local legend places the kingdom of Ithaca on an island in the Ionian Sea that bears the name Ithaki today. But Ithaki is to the east of a group of other islands, and Homer said it was to the west.

Bittlestone said previous efforts to locate Ithaca all operated under the assumption that it is still an island today, though no island quite matches Homer's description.

"They all assumed the landscapes today are the same as they were in the bronze age. And if the landscapes in Homer don't match the landscapes today then perhaps Homer got it wrong."

But Bittlestone said he thought he could find a match -- if Ithaca is no longer an island on its own but a peninsula now attached to a neighbouring island.

Backed up by a Classics professor from Cambridge and a geologist from the University of Edinburgh, he has published a 600-page book arguing Odysseus lived on a bit of what is now the island of Kefallania, west of Ithaki.

The Paliki peninsula, on the western corner of Kefallania, may have once been a separate island, separated from the rest of Kefallania by a narrow straight -- since filled by rubble from landslides, Bittlestone told a news conference in London.

Geologist John Underhill of the University of Edinburgh said the valley linking Paliki to the rest of Kefallania appears to be filled with rock that slid off neighbouring mountains.

Further tests would need to be done to see when those rock slides took place and whether the bedrock beneath them was below sea level centuries ago, he said.

But Bittlestone said dozens of features of Paliki match the description of Ithaca.

"If you walk around armed with a copy of the Odyssey, you can see 60 or 70 clues about topographical relationships. Every single one of them corresponds with this island. And you have to ask yourself, can that be coincidental?"

He said that if they could prove their argument that Paliki was once an island, it could then be excavated in search of the missing city and palace of Odysseus.

No one can be certain whether Odysseus or his city really existed. But the discovery in the 1870s of the ruins of Troy, where Odysseus and other legendary Greek heroes did battle, has led scholars to believe there is more to Homer's tales than just legend.