IT WAS the home of the hero of Troy. Odysseus, the Greek warrior who tricked the Trojans with a wooden horse, hailed from "bright Ithaca", according to the poet Homer.
The identity of the fabled island emerged from the mists of time yesterday, when a geologist at Edinburgh University produced evidence to support the theory that Ithaca is part of the Greek island of Cephalonia and not, as was always believed, the neighbouring island of Ithaki.
Click to learn more...
The theory, put forward by a British group including a classical scholar and a geologist, is that an area called Paliki, linked to Cephalonia by a strip of land, was an island at the time of the Trojan war, believed to have taken place in around 1200BC.
The results of a geological survey, carried out by Professor John Underhill, a geologist at the University of Edinburgh, reveal that the connecting strip of land has no solid limestone bedrock and is instead composed of loose rockfall and landslide material, supporting the idea that it was once a waterway that was filled in as the result of rockfalls triggered by an earthquake.
A second marine survey of the bays at each end, carried out by Prof Underhill in partnership with the Greek Geological Institute, found an offshore marine valley which lines up with where the ancient waterway would have run, while micromarine fossils point to the incident taking place in the last 5,000 years.
The results have been seized upon as clear evidence that supports the theory put forward by Robert Bittlestone, a British businessman, James Diggle, a professor of classics at Cambridge University, and Prof Underhill, in their book, Odysseus Unbound.
Last night, Prof Underhill said: "I have always been the sceptic of the group, and I would have expected the geological studies to have disproved our theory by now, but they have not; they have supported it."
The oral histories of the Iliad, which recounted the Trojan war, and the Odyssey, which chronicled Odysseus's long journey home, have always been treated as works of fiction. However, today academics believe the stories, while embellished with gods, refer to an actual war.
Homer wrote of Odysseus's home: "Ithaca itself lies low, furthest to the sea / Towards dusk: the rest, apart, face dawn and sun."
Over the past 200 years, a number of digs have taken place on the island of Ithaki in search of the city of Ithaca and the palace of Odysseus. Last night, Mr Bittlestone said: "I believe they have been looking in the wrong place and that if our later research concludes that Paliki was once an island, then we now know where to look."
Paul Cartledge, a historian and writer , said: "The evidence is very strong that Palki is Ithaca. I'm delighted that geological methods are being used, but I don't think we should go looking to prove every aspect of Homer as if it was a work of fact."
Bettany Hughes, the historian and TV presenter, who has written a book on Helen of Troy, said: "This is very exciting news."
More links in Explorator this weekend, of course, but folks definitely should check out the article in this month's Geotimes along with its 'web extra' bit ...