5th Pillar

The tradition

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(Summary) Almost 3000 years of Odyssean tradition has followed and still follows life on Ithaca. It maintains the collective awareness among its inhabitants, the fervent interest of scholars and undeniable archeological finds of Odyssean physiognomy. The number of place-names, of mythical and historical origin, existing on the two islands (Cephalonia, Ithaca), come from this historical tradition. The symbolic game of “Petteia” from the Hellenistic period is a product of this tradition. The last official and well documented thesis on the subject of Homeric tradition is that of the late Cephalonian Dimitris Loukatos, professor of the University of Athens, under the title Odyssean Tradition of Folk Culture in Modern Ithaca, 1986 (Athens Academy).

The historic stigma of place-names in Cephalonia and Ithaca.

A revealing and extremely important element of tradition and, why not, of history, which has left its mark on the two islands, Cephalonia and Ithaca, are their many ancient place-names.

Cephalonia as we have seen from the narrative in the 1st Pillar, still bears pre-Homeric and Homeric place-names deriving from mythology that have no relation to Homeric Ithaca: (a) Eleios-Kateleios from the pre-Homeric hero, Eleios, (b) Mount Taphion of Paliki and the Monastery of Taphiou, named after the pre-Homeric Taphians, (c) Same, the town and region of Same, a name and place which Homer identified with the present island of Cephalonia, and (d) Dolicha, the ex municipality of Dolichieon, and the bay of Dolicha in east Cephalonia, originating from the Homeric Dulichium and finally, (e) the name of the island (Cephalonia) which some consider derives from Cephalus, the supposed father [or begetter] of Odysseus.

Ithaca has kept its name unchanged for the last 3000 years, as well as those of its Homeric place-names. Of great historical and traditional importance is the place-name of Alalkomenai (the ancient town in Aetos), named after the alleged place of birth of both Athena and Odysseus.

Cephalonia has no serious traditional, historical, archaeological or literary reason to tamper with Homeric Ithaca. It has its own great history as is clearly defined from its coins originating from 400 BC and its self evident ancient place-names.

For reasons that are directly connected with the radiance of Odyssean lore, it is a common belief but also surmised by certain archaeologists, that the Dorians revered the Odyssean city in Aetos and its mythical past.

Moreover, tradition in Ithaca remained alive and dedicated to its Homeric – Odyssean past through self-evident, narrative references, which are beyond dispute. The elements of tradition become stronger and take place during two main periods: (1) from 1000 BC to 1100 AD and (2) 1700 AD onwards.

(1) 10th century BC to the 11th century AD. The continuous reference to the Homeric Odyssean identity of Ithaca shows reverence and dedication to tradition, from Hellanicus, Appian of Alexandria, Stephanus Byzantinus to Byzantine emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogennetos (1000AD), and the Byzantine historians Anna Komnene, Michael Psellos, Niketas Choniates, and others.

What else but vivid and deeply conscientious tradition could have led to: (a) The existence of Odyssean inscriptions (κραναή and αμφίαλος), (b) the votive offering in 900 BC (almost two hundred years prior to the writing of the Epics) of the first tripod-lebes in the sacred cave in Polis, either in memory of the return of Odysseus or as a dedication to the sanctuary of a trophy from “Odyssean” games, (c) the renaming, in 600 BC, of the City of Aetos to Alalkomenai, after the birth place of Athena and Odysseus, (d) the reference, in 550 BC, to the goddesses Athena and Hera, protectors of the island’s heroes, (e) the reference to Odysseus himself (potsherd), (f) the veneration of Odysseus by naming the parliament of Ithaca the ‘‘Odysseion’’, and primarily (g) the important fact of depicting the heroes and their symbols on coins from 350-300 BC, and (h) the preservation of its Homeric place-names.

The Hellenistic period. Perhaps a figment of vivid tradition (or historical memory) is the – let us call it – ‘‘game of the bridegrooms’’, the game of draughts for the conquest of Penelope, the so-called ‘‘Petteia’’, where the winner was proclaimed as bridegroom. The game and the way it was played became known from the Ithacan Kteson to Appian of Alexandria, and preserved by the late Ithacan doctor and philosopher Athanassios Lekatsas.

(2) 17th century AD onwards. The appearance on early maps of 1675 AD onwards of Ithacan Homeric place-names is a product of deeply engraved tradition. It is also a fact that tradition relating to the existence of mythical riches and wealth in gold and precious gems in Ithaca’s soil, led, in the 19th century AD to the great archeological pillage of Ithaca. (In the 9th Pillar of Odyssean “Historical and traditional facts” certain indicative facts connected to epic lore and history of the island are recorded).