There seems to be no doubt at all that Paliki was once a separate island from the rest of Cephalonia. There is a very fair chance indeed that when Homeric Greeks spoke of “Ithaca”, this island (which would, after all, have been the westernmost in the group) is what they would have had in mind.
So far, so good. But sadly Bittlestone does not know where to stop. It is not just a question of trying to fit all the major locational clues in Homer into his theory (which means turning the “island” of the ambush into a peninsula – on the grounds that the Greek for “peninsula”, chersonesos, cannot fit into Homeric verse metre, and that this particular peninsula looks like an island from one direction anyway!). Worse is his keenness to squeeze every single literary episode that Homer sets on Ithaca into the topography of modern Paliki. This involves tracking down not just Odysseus’ palace itself (on the basis, to be fair, of a considerable scatter of Bronze Age pottery), but also such sites as the pig-farm of the loyal retainer Eumaios – where Bittlestone only just resists the temptation of identifying some decidedly modern agricultural walling as the remnants of the Homeric building (and does not manage to resist seeing in the local pigs, as one photo caption puts it, “descendants of Eumaios’ herd”).
Elsewhere Bittlestone wonders whether the Turkish mule path leading up from the harbour might be the very track, or at least lie over the very track, that Agamemnon and Menelaos trod when they came to visit Odysseus; and, near one of the author’s tentative locations for the palace itself, he comes across a suspiciously worn rock, with an indentation which he pronounces “just about the right size for a Bronze Age bottom”.
The end of the book descends into fantasy. Coming across some natural terracing in rock, on the road to what he identifies as the city of Ithaca, Bittlestone concludes that it could once have formed a meeting or performance space. After some initial cautious hesitation (there was, after all, nothing to “prove that it has ever been used for meetings or performances”), he follows the path of intuition. Perhaps this was not just any theatre – maybe it was the very theatre in which the original composer of the Odyssey first recited the poem. The original composer? Maybe – as the Delphic priestess herself once suggested to the Emperor Hadrian – none other than Telemachos’ son, Odysseus’ grandson, resident of Ithaca and hence (by the circular logic that underlies much of Odysseus Unbound) well informed about the details of Ithacan geography. This is Samuel Butler territory, but the words are not written – unless I have missed something – with the same twinkle in the eye.