FOR a nation like ours that is seeking its way home from 10 years of war, maybe there’s a dash of inspiration in the oldest tale of homecoming ever — “The Odyssey” — and in new findings that shed stunning light on it.
Homer recounts Odysseus’s troubled journey back from a military entanglement abroad, the decade-long Trojan War. “The Odyssey” is a singular tale of longing for homeland, but it comes with a mystery: Where exactly is Odysseus’s beloved land of Ithaca?
Homer describes Odysseus’s Ithaca as low-lying and the westernmost island of four. That doesn’t fit modern Ithaca, which is mountainous and the easternmost of the cluster of islands in the Ionian Sea.
A British businessman, Robert Bittlestone, working in his spare time, thinks he has solved this mystery — and his solution is so ingenious, and fits the geography so well, that it has been embraced by many of the world’s top experts. Gregory Nagy of Harvard University and Anthony Snodgrass of Cambridge University both told me that they largely buy into Bittlestone’s theory. Peter Green, an eminent British scholar, wrote in The New York Review of Books that Bittlestone is “almost certainly correct.”
Bittlestone, who loves the classics but has no special qualifications, noted that the westernmost area in this cluster of islands is Paliki, a peninsula that sticks out from the major island of Cephalonia. He wondered: What if in ancient times the isthmus connecting Paliki to the rest of Cephalonia were submerged? In that case, Paliki would be an island fitting Homer’s description.
With that insight, Bittlestone found a 2,000-year-old account by a geographer, Strabo, who described the isthmus as so low that it periodically was under water. Moreover, the collision of two tectonic plates is forcing the land mass up. A single earthquake in 1953 raised Paliki another 2 feet above sea level.