2nd Pillar

Ithaca’s name

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(Summary) The name Ithaca is one of the many Homeric place-names still in use today and one of the most important and incontestable references to the island’s identification.

Furthermore, Ithacan Homeric place-names, Polis (Od. κ 416 etc.), Forkys (Od. ν 96), Arethousa (Od. ν 408), Alalkomenai (Il. Δ8, Ε 908, etc.), have remained within the conscience and in the works of scholars and simple people, from the 2nd century BC at least. The existing number of place-names and Homeric words in use on the island (Domos, Tropos, Lidi, Ymnia, Afales, Melanydros, especially in the area of Stavros, which is also Homeric – Od. υ 158), characterize the island’s historical continuity. Ithaca has never lost its historical name, except for a dark parentheses, when its port became the ‘‘Val di Compare’’ or “Lagoon of the Compare” (a type of ship of that time) overriding the name of the pillaged and devastated island.

Ithaca presumably bears its name from the period of the Taphian – Mycenaean wars (1400-1300 BC) from its first settler, Ithacus, who, according to myth was the son of Pterelaus (leader of the Taphians and claimant to the Mycenaean throne) or, according to another myth, the son of Poseidon and Amphimele. The three sons of Pterelaus, Neritus, Polyctor and Ithacus built a well-wrought fountain (Od. ρ 205-207), an artificial spring that supplied water to the townfolk of Ithaca. Neritus gave his name to the highest mountain on the island, Ithacus to the island itself, while, in the 19th century AD, the three names were used for the three municipalities on Ithaca at the time (the municipalities of Ithacisians, Polyctorians and Neritians.)

Etymologically, there are a plethora of less assertive versions referring to the origin of the name Ithaca, such as from Phoenician and Hebrew words or place-names, like Utica=Phoenician town, Atak= rocky or tok= the middle island, etc.

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Ancient place-names

Significant for the identification, besides continuous reference, to the island’s name is the maintaining of Homeric place-names in Ithaca, an endowment for which there have been many written testimonies through the centuries (2nd – 6th century BC, 17th century AD to the present), culminating to their reappearance in European maps of the17th century AD. In these particular maps or ancient texts, characteristic place-names appear such as: Home of Odysseus, Country of Odysseus, Kingdom of faithful Penelope, Odysseus’ Castle, Castle of St. Penelope, House of Odysseus, Homer’s School, Hellenica, and also: Aetos (Homeric Aietos), Alalkomeneae, Polis, Neriton, Neion, Forkys Harbor, Cave of the Nymphs, Korakos Stone, Arethousa Fountain, Melanydros Fountain, Port of Reithron, Polyctorion, Asteris.

There are also place-names of Homeric words of unconfirmed date of origin that appear in legal testaments written as far back as at least five centuries ago. No one could claim with certainty that a priority for the new settlers of 1500 AD on the island was the preservation of Homeric physiognomy. Place-names already existed. Thus, around Stavros, which is a Homeric word (Od. ξ 11), there is an astonishing constellation of place-names such as from Homer: Polis-polis, Domos-domos, Tropos-tropos, Lidi=a woman’s name, Samikon-Same-Samekon, Ymnia-hymnos=a hymn, Filitous-Filittis, Melanydros (Od. υ 158) -Melanydros, Tartara-Tartaros, Platreithias-platy reithron, Lachos-lachaino, Afales-without falos = open gulf, Agri-agri, Drymonas-drymos, Ampelos- ampelos, Antri-antron, Melissa-melissa, Mnimata-mnimata. And another category of foreign or of unclarified roots such as: Marathias, Andronas etc., and also those given by scholars or friends of Ithaca (Le Chevalier, Schliemann) in 1800 AD such as: The field of Laertes, in Lefki, etc.

Ithaca as ‘‘Val di Compare’’= Lagoon of the Compare or Dulichium.

Allegations pertaining to the ‘‘loss of name” or “the nameless island’’, used as serious arguments in various theories denying present-day Ithaca as the Homeric, can be easily answered and summarized in one sentence: Ithaca, did indeed, during certain dark times of conjuncture and expedience occasionally loose the use of its name (even Athens became Setin), but never its Homeric identity. What has essentially happened is that the ravaged island in these times took the name of its most prominent port, which had never ceased to exist. The maps presented here show Ithaca with alternate minor place-names, but also with Homeric place-names decorating the island and its coasts, the coasts of the eternal ‘‘Odysseus patria’’.