8th Pillar

Ithaca’s Megaron

 “μέγαρον Λαερτιάδεω Ὀδυσῆος”
(the halls of Odysseus, son of Laertes) (Od. π 104, σ 24, φ 262)

click to zoom in
click to zoom in

The discovery by archaeologists from the University of Ioannina, on the “Homer’s School” site in north Ithaca, of a prehistoric megaron–public building, constitutes the anticipated confirmation-verification of a centuries old series of clear indicative facts, interwoven with the island’s prehistoric and mainly Odyssean–Homeric past, as it is shown in this exhibition. The discovery is compatible with the prehistoric and mythical origins of the island, its ancient name, evidence from Homeric narration, centuries of tradition, but also the coins, the telling inscriptions and the objects. The irrefutable, due to its nature, conspicuous public site, according to researchers, operated with various alterations and uses, for more than 1800 years, from the pre-Mycenaean era to post roman times, while the “Odyssean facility” – the Μέγαρον Ὀδυσῆος – on which our interest is focused, is from about 1200 BC.

Elements from Homeric narration relating to the site’s actual evidence.

(a) The site and its importance, access to the Megaron.

The halls of Odysseus – Μέγαρον Ὀδυσῆος (Od. φ 262) dominates from its fortified and eminent position, over a fertile (Od. ω 244-6), with sufficient water (Od. ω 247) and springs [Melanydros (Od. υ 158) or Kalamos, the existing constructed Mycenaean spring (Od. ρ 205-211), but also natural wells] spacious area (Od. ω 468), where each movable or immovable stone reveals and recalls its deep historical past. The site has the relative direct and indirect (via the adjacent hill of Pelicata) view, access and control of three harbours, overlooking three of the four points of the horizon, and specifically: the deep harbour of Afales (“λιμένος πολυβενθέος”, Od. π 324, 352), their own (royal) harbour of Polis (“λιμέν᾿ ἡμέτερον”, Od. π 473) and the harbour of Frikes, “beside the fields away from the city, in the harbour of Rheithron” (“νόσφι πόληος, ἐν λιμένι Ῥείθρῳ”, Od. α 185-6). The most significant, because of its influence and importance to commerce, is of course the harbour of Polis with its sacred, of at least a thousand years, cave. The safe harbour of Polis is situated on a crucial point in a frequented by ships of the times channel (Od. δ 671) between Ithaca and Same, a channel characterized by precipitous coasts either side with the unique islet of Asteris (Od. δ 844-6) sitting in the middle of the channel. The Megaron and its eminent position are closely connected to the surrounding harbours that serve and control the channels – sea routes either side, but mainly with the commercial harbour of Polis. Polis, with the channel, determines not only the strategic but also the geographic position of Ithaca within the web of islands in the central Ionian Sea.

(b) The Megaron’s structure.

The Megaron, unique-distinct from all the other structures on the site (Od. ρ 264-268), is described as stable (“ἐϋσταθέος “, Od. υ 258), lofty (“δόμου ὑψηλοῖο”, Od. α 126), high-roofed (“ὑψόροφον”, Od. ε 42, κ 474), well-built (“οἶκον ἐϋκτίμενον“, Od. ψ 259), with well-built walls (“ἐϋδμήτους“, Od. χ 24) extended to two levels (“εἰς ὑπερῷ᾿ ἀνεβήσετο”, Od. ψ 1; “κατέβαιν᾿ ὑπερώϊα”, Od. ψ 85) connected by a tall, carved and obviously once lined, stone staircase (“κλίμακα δ᾿ ὑψηλὴν προσεβήσετο “, Od. α 330, Od. φ 5). It consisted of many well-built (“δόμους εὖ ναιετάοντας”, Od. ρ 178, 275, Od. φ 242), or stable (“ἐϋσταθέος θαλάμου”, Od. ψ 178) or high-roofed halls (“δώματά θ᾿ ὑψερεφέα”, Od. δ 757). The megaron’s doors are mentioned (“μεγάροιο θύρας”, Od. φ 236, 382, 385), and the back, elevated door of the megaron’s lower level, the so called “postern door” (“ὀρσοθύρη”, Od. χ 126-7). It was surrounded by walls and communicated with well-made double doors (“ἐπήσκηται δέ οἱ αὐλὴ τοίχῳ καὶ θριγκοῖσι, θύραι δ᾿ εὐερκέες εἰσὶ δικλίδες”, = “and the court is built with wall and coping, and the double gates are well-fenced”, Od. ρ 266-8), lofty doors (“θυράων ὑψηλάων“, Od. σ 32), or fair doors (“αὐλῆς καλὰ θύρετρα“, Od. χ 137) which were securely closed (“θύρας ἐπιτέλλομαι αὐλῆς κληῖ̈σαι κληῖ̈δι” = “fasten with a bar the gate of the court”, Od. φ 240). The door was jointed and polished (“ἐϋξέστῃς σανίδεσσιν”, Od. φ 164).

The defining elements and the stability of the megaron, which visibly relates to the physical, sitting on two flat, terraced, rock-beds, but also the carved staircase connecting them, comprise two strong architectural and archaeological elements. These, together with the well described crucial location of the megaron, constitute determining factors that identify the Odyssean megaron with the present facility. Unless this is a case of a coinciding structure rarely encountered and described.

(c) Archaeological facts.

The presentation does not extend to further Homeric description which spreads over 140 lines-accounts, but will confine itself in expectation of the official announcement by researchers from the University of Ioannina, on the following facts, as they have at various times been recorded: (a) Located in the surrounding area (more than 22 stremmata – 2.2 hectares) were, cyclopean walls, four portals, a graveyard, a constructed spring, a coppersmiths workshop, a tripartite sanctuary and a circular monument. (b) On the ground level of the megaron proper and its common areas, impressive are its prehistoric building structure, supporting walls, steps leading to the upper level but also to the lower levels, and mainly the column bases which define and determine the dimensions of the spaces, the ancient altar, the hearth, the area of the subterranean storeroom and the terracotta urns. (c) In the essentially unexplored upper level, where the Hellenistic tower, church, etc. are situated, a Mycenaean bath has been revealed. The elements (a), (b) and (c) are, according to researchers, compatible with the prehistoric and Odyssean structure of the Megaron area. Finally the terracotta and other objects from the area confirm the depth of its timeless passage and its various uses. (The relative (archaeological) information derives from public announcements by the researchers from the University of Ioannina. All other research is the author’s.)