The archaeological findings
(Summary) The findings (objects and inscriptions) to which this exhibition refers are exclusively those of Odyssean or Homeric reference. The objects are: The copper tripod-lebetes, the terracotta votive offerings to the nymphs, the Alektryon – cock, the bird symbol of both Athena and Odysseus, the idol and lyre of Apollo. The inscriptions are: An inscribed offering to the goddesses Athena and Hera, the inscription of εὐχὴν Ὀδυσσεῖ on a fragment of a mask, those of αμφίαλος and κραναή Ithaca, the famous ‘‘stele of Magnesia’’, the inscription on a potsherd of the name of Apollo and the engraving on a rock on Ithaca of the two initial letters ‘‘OΔ’’: A valuable historical treasure house existing in Ithaca for Ithaca.
Objects and inscriptions
The sacred cave at Polis has proved to be the Treasury of Ithacan pre-history and history in general, and more specifically the site of most of the finds of Odyssean physiognomy that concern this exhibition, after the systematic archaeological excavation of Sylvia Benton (British School at Athens) in 1932-33. Other excavation sites, where such objects were found are: Aetos, Pelicata, Stavros and Aghios Athanasios.
(b) The cave-sanctuary at Polis.
The cave has been in use for unknown purposes as far back as the Early Helladic period (3000-2900 BC), a fact attested by the almost 3000 pieces of potsherds found on the site and now kept in the Stavros Museum. It was used as a worshiping sanctuary for almost 1000 years (from 900 BC to 100 AD) devoted to goddesses and gods related to the Epics, Odyssean values and to the hero himself. Its time of discovery remains unknown, while in 1862 Dr. Loizos evaluated the cave as an “interesting plunder» when he deceitfully appropriated it, to be excavated by him personally. He took the only whole surviving tripod-lebes from the site, allegedly later destroyed, together with other objects of unknown value, which presumably brought him large profits, as he lived the rest of his life in France. Heinrich Schliemann, in 1868, on his visit to Ithaca saw and bought various objects from a grave, dated from the 6th century BC, found in the cave. The cave hence was abandoned to its fate, for a number of decades, after its eventual looting from gold and other valuables. The half-submerged in water cave was properly excavated by the British School at Athens in 1932-33, a great achievement, thanks to the faith and strong will of archaeologist Mrs Sylvia Benton, under W.A. Heurtley.
The cave in Polis, which the well-disposed observer would identify as the Homeric cave “sacred to the nymphs that are called Naiads” (Od. ν 348), is situated in a natural safe harbour in the Homeric “strait between Ithaca and rugged Samos” (Od. δ 671), which, utmost symbolically but also essentially, led to the west and to places of later colonization (Magna Graecia) in the north-west Mediterranean basin. This place for worshiping goddesses and the hero of Ithaca was an ideal place of pilgrimage for sea farers for almost a millennium.
The votive offerings remaining from successive pillages document the sanctity of the place and the continuation of the historic course of the island from the Mycenaean years, but mainly, the smooth transition from Pre-historical to Historical times. The uniqueness of the particular hero-worshipness of Odysseus in the cave is exceptional for the Ionian area (E. Vikela).
The votive offerings relevant to the sanctity of the place, and to the worship of Odysseus, are:
13 bronze tripod-lebetes (fragments) of the 9th – 7th centuries BC.
An inscription written in boustrophedon (from left to right continuing from right to left, etc) dedicated to the goddesses Athena and Hera of the 6th century BC.
Votive offerings to the Nymphs, terracotta reliefs of the 4th and 3rd centuries BC.
Inscriptions on pottery connected with the worship of the Nymphs of the 3rd – 2nd centuries BC.
A fragment of a mask bearing the inscription ‘‘εὐχὴν Ὀδυσσεῖ ’’.
And concerning gods and goddesses are:
A terracotta votive offering representing Paris, Hermes and two goddesses of the 5th century BC.
Busts of Artemis with a crescent moon on her head of the 2nd – 1st century BC.
A tombstone dedicated to Athena.
A statuette of Athena.
The cave’s thesaurus besides terracotta objects contains examples of metal workmanship of weaponry, knives, tools and jewelry. Let us see those of Odyssean physiognomy in detail:
(1) Objects of Odyssean physiognomy (votive offerings or symbols)
(a) The bronze tripod-lebetes.
The 13 tripod-lebetes (fragments), masterpieces of Corinthian art, are the most important findings from the cave in Polis. Left behind after various instances of pillaging in the past, they are valuable and important votive offerings of the Geometric era (900-700 BC), similar to ones found in the great sanctuaries of Delphi, Olympia and Argos.
It is of shattering importance that they were dedicated and deposited in a natural sanctuary, a place of worship of Odysseus and of the goddesses connected to the Homeric Epics, in the 9th century BC, 100 – 150 years prior to the writing of the Epics. Sea-farers or athletes of ‘‘Odyssean games’’ honoured the Hero long before his appraisal by the poet. It is clear that tradition preceded Homer and not the opposite.
In fact there are two versions as to why the offerings were dedicated to the cave.
The first prevailing version is the one connected with the 13 tripod-lebetes-presents offered to Odysseus by King Alcinous of the Phaeacians (Od. ν 14, ν 135-6, ν 217-8 and θ 110-117), the nature and number of which coincide with those found in the cave. There was a total of 13 from which fragments from the 12 were found in the cave at Polis, while the wholly recovered 13th lebes was taken, and allegedly destroyed, by Loizos.
The second version concerns lebetes that were victory offerings dedicated by athletes who won attending “Odyssean Games” (or games in general such as those in Elis mentioned in the Iliad (Il. Λ 699). This was attested later, in the 2nd cent BC from the “Odyssean” inscription on the ‘‘stele of Magnesia’’.
It is worth noting that one of the tripods had wheels, a type referred to in the Iliad (Il Σ 373), while some were probably created in local workshops.
(b) The Alektryon-cock. The symbol.
The sacred bird of both Athena and Odysseus.
(c) The statuette and the lyre of Apollo. Found in the temple of Apollo in Aetos (building A) and kept/exhibited in the National Archaeological Museum (Kalligas).
(2) The Odyssean inscriptions
The inscriptions reflect and illustrate vividly the Odyssean spirit and the deeper convictions related to the epic, of the times to which they relate and span a whole millennium (1000 – 100 BC).
The Ithacan inscriptions:
Honour Apollo and Artemis, children of Zeus, whose sanctuaries or temples existed in Ithaca from 1000 BC. There are Homeric references to both Apollo and Artemis.
Honour Athena and Hera, protectors of the island’s epic heroes, Odysseus and Penelope.
Bear witness to the worshiping of Odysseus on the island with the inscription “εὐχὴν Ὀδυσσεῖ ”.
Make known the dedication to the Odyssey through phrases such as rocky, rugged (κραναή) and surrounded by sea (αμφίαλος).
Honour the Odyssean tradition on the island (“Odysseion”, ‘‘ΟΔ’’).
Honour with offerings the “Νυμφαίο άντρο = cave of the Nymphs” the cave at Polis.
All the inscriptions are archaeologically verified and registered in the official catalogue of ancient Greek inscriptions ‘‘Inscriptiones Graecae’’
1. Apollo and Ithaca. Inscription of Apollo (potsherd).
Apollo, god of light, son of Zeus and brother of Artemis, was worshipped in a sanctuary and later a temple in Aetos, in Ithaca, from 1000 BC. This was the only and the most ancient sanctuary in the area of pan-Hellenic fame and it is supported by many that it is the sanctuary to which Homer refers to in 750 BC with the phrase “ἄλσος ὕπο σκιερὸν ἑκατηβόλου Ἀπόλλωνος” = “a shady grove of Apollo, the archer-god” (Od. υ 277-278). Also found in Aetos were the statuette and lyre of Apollo (Kalligas) and the potsherd with the name of Apollo (Building A – Symeonoglou). The statuette and the lyre, because of their rarity, are kept at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens and the potsherd with the inscription of the name is kept in the storeroom of the Archaeological Museum in Vathi.
2. Artemis and Ithaca. Inscription of Artemis.
«Ἱερὸς ὁ χῶρος τῆς // Ἀρτέμιδος τὸν ἔ//χοντα καὶ καρπούμενον τὴν μὲν δε//κάτην καταθύειν ἑ//κάστου ἔτους, ἐκ δὲ τοῦ // περιττοῦ τὸν ναὸν ἐ// πισκευάζειν ἐάν δέ τις // μὴ ποιῇ ταῦτα, τῇ θεῷ μελήσει».
Artemis (Od. ζ 102, 151), daughter of Zeus and sister of Apollo was the goddess of the moon and of hunting, and she appears exclusively on Ithacan terracotta statuettes-votive offerings in her sanctuary-temple, in Aetos (S. Benton). She is, moreover, the symbol of immaculate virginity and is compared twice in the Odyssey with Penelope (Od. ρ 36 and τ 54). The inscription embedded in a wall in an Ithacan church was taken at about 1758 AD by the provveditor of Venice Giacomo Nani and is now kept in the Musée du Cinquantenaire in Brussels. The worship of Artemis in Ithaca relates specifically with the illustrious temple of Artemis Leukophryene in Asia Minor, as indicated in the “Magnesia inscription” seen below.
3. The inscription written in boustrophedon -offering to the goddesses Athena and Hera of 550 BC
‘‘[τᾶς Ἀ]θανᾶς [τᾶ[ς] // τᾶς Πολ[ιάδ] // [ος] κα[ὶ τ]ᾶς hέρ- // ας τᾶς Τελε[ί]- // [α]ς τοί περίπολ- // οἳ με ἔ[πο]ες[αν] —..—Π-’’.
The above inscription in boustrophedon form (writing from left to right then right to left and back again) devoted to Athena and Hera, is part of a tomb of an obviously eminent Ithacan which was also found in the sacred cave in Polis. The goddesses Athena and Hera were in many ways connected with the island and Odysseus. Athena was the protector of Odysseus, and Hera was the protector of Achaean-Ithacans, and enemy of the Trojans. The inscription is on display in the Archaeological Museum in Vathi.
4. The inscription Εὐχὴν Ὀδυσσεῖ on a fragment of a masque of 300 BC.
The inscription εὐχὴν Ὀδυσσεῖ engraved on a fragment of a terracotta masque was offered in the 3rd century BC by an unknown worshiper to the sacred cave in Polis in honor of Odysseus. The inscription came to light in 1930 during the excavations at the cave by the British School at Athens under W. Heurtley and Sylvia Benton and attested the continuous use of the cave for worship. The fragment is on display at the Museum of Stavros.
5. The inscription ‘‘ΟΔ’’.
The inscription ‘‘ΟΔ’’ engraved from time immemorial on a rock on an old path to North Ithaca, formed, most probably, the first two letters of the name of Ithaca’s king ‘‘ΟΔυσσεύς’’. The inscription was evaluated and officially registered for the first time in 1897. For many years it was one of the archaeological sights of Homeric Ithaca. The inscription is still on the original site, on a rock on the path to the north.
6. The stele of Magnesia of 200 BC
To the city of Magnesia, Asia Minor, a city situated in the valley of the river Maeander, ambassadors were sent from all over Greece including Ithaca, a great and famous name even then especially for Ionia, to attend the celebrations of the Artemesians for the opening of their exceedingly beautiful temple of Artemis Leukophryene. The Ithacan delegation took with them a decree engraved on a stele, from the Ithacan parliament, the “Odysseion” an honorary name important to Ithaca after its king Odysseus. From when the “Odysseion” functioned is unknown and was probably an institution in Hellenistic times with reference to the Odyssean era and the Homeric parliament of Ithaca (Od. γ 125). The stele was discovered by German archaeologists in Magnesia in 1890-93 and is exhibited today in the Pergamon Museum in Berlin.
7. The inscription of ‘‘κραναής Ιθάκης- rugged Ithaca’’ of ca 195 BC
———————– // ——-τ[.] μεγάλη——– // [—-κ]ραναὴ Ἰθάκη τηλ/ού—– // [—-κτ]εάτεσσι λιπὼν ὄνομα ——’’
The inscription (ode) containing the Homeric phrase ‘‘κραναή Ιθάκη” was discovered by the Ithacan Homerist Nicolaos Pavlatos in 1901. The find was announced in a letter to the Athens newspaper ‘‘Asty’’ on 24-8-1901, removed and exhibited in the Museum of Ithaca in Vathi and was obviously lost during the earthquakes of 1953.
8. The inscription of ‘‘αμφιάλου Ιθάκης- surrounded by sea Ithaca’’ of 100 BC
The inscription with the Homeric adjectival definition of Ithaca was found in Ithaca, and taken in 1758 by the provveditor of Venice G. Nani, together with that of Artemis. It was part of his archaeological collection in Venice for many years and is now in the Musée du Cinquantenaire in Brussels.
The inscription reads as follows: ‘‘Τήνω τι τόδε σάμα το λάϊνον, ώ ξέν, Ευθυδάμ[ω] // ός πόκ…έν αμφιάλω πράτος έ[γ]ε[ν]ετ’ Ιθάκαι // καί βουλά καί χερσίν ές Άρεα. Τιμία δε παιδί // έλλιπε και κτήσιν και κλέος αθάνατον’’.
9. Inscriptions / ceramic relief of the Nymphs.
The cave in Polis was obviously identified in the collective conscioussness of generations with the Homeric “shadowy cave sacred to the nymphs that are called Naiads” (Od. ν 103-104), the so called “cave of the Nymphs”. The (4) votive potsherds “ταις νύμφαις” were found by Sylvia Benton in the cave at Polis and are kept at the Museum in Stavros with the relevant relief of the nymphs which was donated by the Loizos family.