Odysseus Unbound - The Search for Homer’s Ithaca

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The following background note may be helpful to those who have not yet read the book.

Odysseus Unbound: The Search for Homer’s Ithaca presents two novel propositions:

Proposition 1: Homer’s descriptions of the "external geography" of ancient Ithaca (i.e. its relationship to the Greek mainland and to the adjacent islands) which have long since been thought to be inaccurate, are in fact entirely accurate if the marine seaway referred to as "Strabo's Channel" existed during the late Bronze Age around 1200 BC, separating Cephalonia's western peninsula (Paliki) from the rest of the island.

Proposition 2: Homer’s descriptions of the "internal geography" of ancient Ithaca (i.e. mountains such as Neriton and Neïon, locations such as Phorcys Bay and their proximity to Ithaca harbour, the city and the palace) that have long since been thought to be imaginary, can be mapped with remarkable accuracy onto the landscape of Paliki today.

Reviewers' attitude to Proposition 1: So far this has been very supportive. All reviewers to date have accepted this as a working hypothesis and acknowledged that it will take further scientific tests to establish or to refute the hypothesis beyond doubt (see the Research page). Most reviewers so far also welcome the implications that if proven, Strabo's Channel makes sense of Homer’s observation "Ithaca itself lies low, furthest to sea / Towards dusk; the rest, apart, face dawn and sun" (see The Discovery).

Reviewers' attitude to Proposition 2: As predicted by the authors ("there is likely to be a wide spectrum of response"), the reaction from classicists is divided. Because the conventional classical wisdom is that the Odyssey was composed much later than 1200 BC and far away from the Ionian Islands, some scholars are unwilling to consider the possibility that detailed knowledge of Ithaca's internal geography could have been transmitted over the intervening centuries. Other reviewers, perhaps having considered James Diggle's warning in Appendix 1 ("We do not know when and in what circumstances the Odyssey was composed") are prepared to be open-minded on this point. Perhaps they have also taken note of the quote from John Maynard Keynes at the start of Part IV ("When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?").

In this connection James Diggle points out that "To accept Strabo's Channel and the hypothesis that Paliki is Ithaca is to accept (i) that the passage describing Ithaca as "furthest west and low lying" reflects first-hand knowledge of the 'external geography', and (ii) that this knowledge has been accurately transmitted. If one accepts that there can be accurate transmission of external geography, one is not entitled to claim that there can be no accurate transmission of internal geography."

It should additionally be borne in mind that those who deny Proposition 2 are effectively saying that no attempt to map the internal geography of Homer’s Ithaca onto any known location in the real world is admissible. That is to say, their same criticisms apply, mutatis mutandis, to all those prior attempts to identify aspects of the Odyssean landscape that are listed here. This is curious since there is a well established scholarly tradition of such attempts. An example is Yale University Press's publication of J V Luce's Celebrating Homeric Landscapes in 1998, in which specific features of Ithaki such as the actual site of Eumaios' pigfarm and Raven's Rock are proposed.

Furthermore in the book the authors are at pains to stress that "Before any Phase B activity can be considered the Greek authorities must be informed of these researches so that they can evaluate the credibility of the proposals and orchestrate what follows. The typescript of this book is intended as both a prelude and a stimulus to that discussion." The authors do not claim that either Proposition 1 or 2 is yet proven, only that there is now a strong a priori case that justifies serious evaluation.

Highlights, supportive extracts and links to the full reviews follow.

Highlights

Tjeerd van Andel (Honorary Professor in Earth History, Quaternary Science and Geo-archaeology, Cambridge University): Advance review

"This curious, spellbinding book is a masterpiece of writing for the general public. The geological argument in particular is first-class and leaves me in no doubt about the possibility of the theory being proposed."

Gregory Nagy (Francis Jones Professor of Classical Greek Literature, Harvard University and Director of the Center for Hellenic Studies, Washington DC): Advance review

"This book is a gem. Its reconstruction of prehistoric Ithaca has a convincingly Homeric ‘look and feel’ to it. Reading the Odyssey is unlikely ever to be the same again".

Robert BittlestoneManolis Pantos ( Translator of CH Goekoop's In Search of Ithaca): Website review, September 29 2005

"Odysseus Unbound has made the final link between real location and Homeric description. If Ithaca existed where Homer said, its harbour must have existed with a town for its people and a palace for its leader. If the harbour and the city have been corrected located there has to be archaeological evidence in the ground. Other locations named and described in the Odyssey related to Ithaca can then start to be fitted together in a consistent and realistic way. The present day Ithaca does not provide this self-consistency between Homeric description and proposed locations. Robert Bittlestone's Ithaca does."

James DigglePeter Jones (Friends of Classics), The Sunday Telegraph, October 2 2005

The end of the odyssey

"It [Proposition 1] is a fascinating suggestion, fully supported by two experts, the geologist John Underhill and the classical scholar James Diggle, and though nothing is finally proven, the signs look promising. Bittlestone plausibly argues that Paliki is no longer an island because earthquakes closed up the channel separating it from Cephalonia - it is a very earthquake-prone region - which caused the inhabitants of Paliki to flee to (modern) Ithaki, taking their name with them. By (say) 900 BC, all memory of Paliki as Ithaca had vanished. Paliki-as-island is a sensational hypothesis." Click here for full review.

Andrew Sawers (Editor, Financial Director), October 3 2005

Fantastic Voyage

"The intellectual and investigative process by which Bittlestone undertook this endeavour offers unique insights into board level issues such as risk assessment, leadership and even performance management. This makes Bittlestone’s journey into the past – a journey that brought together ancient Greek scholars, modern geologists, satellite technology and the zeal of a relentlessly inquisitive amateur – a truly fantastic voyage of discovery.

So Bittlestone, an amateur in Greek classics, geology, astronomy and satellite imaging technology, appears to have succeeded in finding ancient Ithaca where generations of academics have singularly failed. The problem, quite simply, is that Greek scholars know little about geology, while geologists tend to care little for the Homeric poems. Bringing them together resulted in not only new ideas and theories, but new scientific evidence about the geology of the area.

Herein lies the first lesson from this tale – that the outsider, who adopts a broad-based, multidisciplinary approach, can achieve things that experts cannot. " Click here for full review.

James DiggleMary Beard (Professor of Classics, Cambridge University), Times Literary Supplement, October 5 2005

Where did Odysseus live?

"Bittlestone is not the first to have suggested something along these lines [Proposition 1], but he is the first to argue it systematically and with a full account of how this might be geologically possible and archaeologically proven. Though neither a classicist nor a geologist by training, he makes an impressive and enthralling case…the account of how he reached his conclusions is clear, engaging, funny, wonderfully illustrated – and informed by the work of leading specialists whose contributions are generously acknowledged. 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." Click here for full review.

Dr Frederico Lourenço (Author, and translator of the Iliad and the Odyssey), Lisbon: Amazon UK Customer Review, October 7, 2005

5 out of 5 starsUtterly enthralling

"I've just finished reading Odysseus Unbound and I have to say that the experience was utterly enthralling from start to finish. Robert Bittlestone is simply spell-binding…even if the place identified as Homer’s Ithaca should turn out not to be Ithaca after all, the book will live on as the thrilling account of an intellectual adventure of enduring appeal in itself.

Bittlestone has had the benefit of expert advice from James Diggle, probably the greatest living Hellenist, and John Underhill, professor at the University of Edinburgh (well known to football fans: he referees for FIFA). The fact that Bittlestone is not a professional classicist is a bonus in many ways: not least because, had he been one, he would never have embarked on any of this, as classicists are wary of taking Homer "literally". Bittlestone seems to have proved them wrong.

Scholars will now have to think again about received wisdom on the Odyssey (i.e. the poet of the Odyssey paradoxically knows lots about Crete but is a clueless ignoramus when it comes to Ithaca…). The main result of this book for Homeric studies is that, if this new Ithaca is indeed ancient Ithaca, the Odyssey might have to be read as having begun life as an Ithacan poem. Professional Homerists will easily grasp how earth-shattering this conclusion is.

"Epoch-making" aptly describes what this book has unleashed. Impossible to put down, more impossible still to forget once you have read it". Click here for full review.

Michael Bywater (Faculty of English, Cambridge University), The Telegraph, October 8 2005

Even a chap who lived there had trouble finding it again

"There are obstacles, disappointments, enlightenments, mentors and enemies. More to the point, there is also close textual and geophysical analysis, amply (and splendidly) displayed in a book of almost unprecedented lavishness from that dryest of academic publishers, Cambridge University Press. Ithaca - the real Ithaca, if Ithaca ever was "real" - emerges, recedes, relocates, proves impossible, proves magically possible, proves, finally, almost uncannily plausible, thanks to the Earth's own almost magical fluidity, its ability to rise, fall, shift and change shape.

The Homeric text is there throughout, examined through the scholarly eye of James Diggle, while John Underhill keeps watch on the geology; with these two erudite offsiders the mystery is slowly unveiled, and - lo! it fits. Here is where our hero foiled the Suitors; here are the pigsties; here is the westward prospect, and here the low hills.

This is a glorious adventure in the great tradition of the amateur blessed (or cursed) with determination and the terrible virus of scholarship, bringing to mind the 19th-century banker Schliemann, who confounded the lot of them and actually found (and looted) Troy. Bittlestone's argument romps home, despite the meticulous securing of his sources; his nostos - the overarching theme of return that pervades the Odyssey - is triumphant, though many will take issue with his conclusions, which is as it should be." Click here for full review.

Theodoros Papangelis (Professor of Literature at Aristotle University, Thessaloniki), To Vima, October 9 2005

A businessman, a classicist and a geologist come out fighting for Ithaca

"The author might have represented simply one more graphic case of British eccentricity…but the surprising reality however is that in this volume he collaborates with serious, empirically grounded experts. Those who know James Diggle personally will be well aware of his capabilities in the erudite discernment of multiple sources. Also in the author's team is another very well-respected personality from the science of geology, John Underhill. An inner circle who read his book beforehand (as, for example, a leading British archaeologist and the professor of Ancient Greek Literature at Harvard University) have declared themselves already supportive of the case for New Ithaca… No one in any case had imagined that this all-seeing eye [of NASA's World Wind technology] would become part of Homer’s bibliography - apart from Bittlestone, who focussed it from above onto the territory of Odysseus".

Bruce Trinque (Amston, CT, USA): Amazon US Customer Review, October 12, 2005

A detailed presentation of a plausible theory

"Robert Bittlestone's Odysseus Unbound is a massive book, nearly 600 pages filled with excellent illustrations (maps, photographs, aerial photographs, satellite images) and a highly detailed narrative explaining the development of and evidence for the author's theory: that Homeric Age Ithaca, the kingdom of Odysseus, was not located on the modern island of Ithaki, but instead on the western peninsula of the nearby island of Cephalonia… Although Bittlestone is "only" an enthusiastic amateur, his research has been reviewed and backed by his professional co-authors, one a professor of Greek and Latin and the other a geologist specializing in the Ionian island area… I find Bittlestone's analysis to be persuasive, but as yet -- and he recognizes this -- the evidence is not wholly conclusive. This may come in the next several years with additional geological work to confirm the existence of the sea channel and with archaeological surveys to study various associated sites". Click here for full review.

T.L. Cooksey (Armstrong Atlantic State Univ., Savannah, GA): Library Journal, October 15, 2005

"While the Homeric texts are a prominent feature of Western culture, the actuality of the world described in the Iliad and Odyssey is more problematic. Professional economist and amateur archaeologist Bittlestone takes up the challenge by drawing on the resources of satellite imagery, seismic research, geological evidence, and textual materials to propose an alternate location for Odysseus's Ithaca, one that more accurately fits the archaeological and textual evidence. Richly illustrated with photographs and maps, the book chronicles the explorations and investigations undertaken by Bittlestone and others to discover the lost "Strabo's Channel"… Appended to this book is an essay by James Diggle (Greek & Latin, Cambridge) that assesses the textual sources and one by James Underhill (Stratigraphy, Univ. of Edinburgh) that assesses the geological evidence. A fascinating and compelling book; recommended for both public and academic libraries". Subscribers click here for full review.

Jacob Fishbein (9th grader, Sante Fe, NM): Amazon US Customer Review, October 28, 2005

5 out of 5 starsA really great read, it really made me think about and formulate my own ideas

"Odysseus Unbound was a wonderful book to read… The way it was written was great, the way it was explained with pictures and diagrams was also wonderful. The excerpts and clues were amazing to read and I really felt as if I was traveling in Ancient Ithaca. Just a few days before I bought the book I was reading the Odyssey and it said that Ithaca lies low and away, the farthest out to sea, and I thought how could modern Ithaca be that? Then this book comes out and answers me. I truly loved it and I don't know how else to explain how much it means to me now. I can feel that Odysseus was a real person, and that some sort of journey took place. It was just so amazing and I highly recommend it for anyone who loves Greece, Homer, or the Odyssey". Click here for full review.

A reader from Windsor, Berks: Amazon UK Customer Review, October 31, 2005

5 out of 5 starsMind Blowing!

"Intrigued by recent press comment following the launch of this book, I ordered a copy. I'm grateful that I did, because it is one of the most compelling books I have read for ages – a gripping detective story, gradually unfolding layer by layer. If Robert Bittlestone is correct, this will be one of the most important archaeological discoveries since Schliemann’s uncovering of Troy in the late 19th century…

The author is not a specialist in any of the subjects (such as geology, seismology, classical studies, and archaeology) that are necessary when tackling this puzzle, although he is obviously a layman of considerable knowledge, comfortably straddling these disciplines. This has two major benefits: first, his clear analysis is available to a wide audience; second, his thinking is not biased or weighted towards any particular theory or prejudice (i.e. he has no axe to grind).

He calls on professional help where he needs it, and in this respect James Diggle and John Underhill provide support (and appendices) as philologist and geologist. The one skill he does use to advantage is his knowledge of visual representation of data, particularly with the use of 3D mapping of satellite data. In fact, as he points out in the Postscript, much of the mapping is now available to all of us for free using the World Wind software recently released by NASA. (This is an incredible piece of software, allowing you to explore the topography of anywhere in the world – and you can clearly see the landslip in Strabo’s Channel.)

No doubt this book will ruffle a few feathers! But it does look like Bittlestone could be on to a major discovery. There is much detailed testing to do now and an army of specialists will be needed. If they corroborate his findings, the next stage is excavation. The results could be mind blowing – putting us in touch with the late Bronze Age and answering so many questions about Homer". Click here for full review.

Odysseus's Lost Island by Peter Jones, November 2005

"In a masterly Appendix to the book, Diggle confirms and expands on Bittlestone's observations about what came to be called 'Strabo's Channel'. Diggle tells me 'I have never had the slightest doubt that Paliki was Homer’s Ithaca. Everything that has happened since has simply confirmed my belief.'…The most sceptical of all will, naturally, be the inhabitants of Ithaki. As a renowned Greek Homeric scholar recently said on hearing the news of Bittlestone's work, 'This will lead to war!' ." .

Bookviews by Alan Caruba, November 2005

"For lovers of ancient history, Robert Bittlestone, with James Diggle and John Underhill have solved the mystery of Homer’s Odyssey, a classic tale that has fascinated scholars for over 2,000 years. Just where was the Ithaca described in the story? … Using modern technology to visualize and analyze a mass of data, combining it with advanced satellite imagery and other techniques, the result is a massive book of nearly 600 pages that pinpoints the location of Homeric Ithaca among islands of western Greece. The book is handsomely illustrated with full color photos and art…It is an interesting detective story that shines a light on the past and its scholarly achievement must be acknowledged.".

Mother of all wanderings by Norbert Mayer, November 12 2005

"There is at least a strong argument for the theory that Paliki was Ithaca, that the epic poets relied on this geographical data and that the hero's legends had a material background. Bittlestone points out that in the James Bond adventure films, the settings are real even if the action and the characters are fictitious. If one presupposes this geographical precision - and that the Greeks retained exact local knowledge of the Odyssean tradition over the centuries - one can in Homer’s description recognise Paliki." Click here for full review (in German).

Finding a new route by Margaret Grayson (Classics teacher, Roanoke VA), November 27 2005

"Bittlestone had a monumental task before him in pursuing his project and bringing it to final form for publication… There is nothing slipshod about his research as he depended on evidence from Space Shuttle photos, from dendrochonologists, geologists, meteorologists, classical philologists, seismologists, sedimentologists and archaeologists. Charts, maps and photographs help make the scientific evidence understandable and palatable…

Do I believe that the Paliki Promontory of Cephalonia is Odysseus' home toward which he sailed for 10 long years? I don't know, but I do know that Robert Bittlestone believes it based on his indefatigable research. I do know that the classical world is going to be as shaken up by his book as it was by the discovery of Linear B (which has its own chapter in Odysseus Unbound) and the Biblical world was by the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. I do know that the Greek Island of Cephalonia will never be the same again. I do know that I would like to be there when the excavations begin. ".

Book reviews by Richard Dyer, December 4 2005

"The exact location of Ithaca, described in such detail by Homer, has eluded researchers for two millennia. Satellite imagery, NASA technology, and computer analysis of complex data have provided a new and compelling hypothesis of where it was, one that matches the Homeric descriptions in the way that the city Heinrich Schliemann discovered in the 1870s matches the poet's descriptions of Troy. ".

Current World Archaeology No. 14, Dec 2005/Jan 2006

"Since dusk falls to the west and dawn rises to the east, ancient Ithaca cannot be modern Ithaki, for Ithaki lies to the east of the other islands, not to the west. Furthermore Ithaki is not low-lying but is mountainous…Very readable…One wishes Mr. Bittlestone good luck in his endeavours…one hopes that this weighty tome will at least persuade the Greek authorities to allow him to do some field-walking and continue his enthusiastic researches.".

Booklist by Gilbert Taylor, American Libraries Association, December 2005

"The discovery of historical Troy in the 1870s instigated the hunt for historical Ithaca, but the island today named Ithaca is not likely where Penelope loyally awaited the return of Odysseus. Seizing the mystery with gusto, Bittlestone concentrates on the neighboring island of Cephalonia. With Homer in one hand and a digital camera in the other, Bittlestone walked about the island, convincing himself that Cephalonia is the real Ithaca. Convincing the learned world of his theory becomes Bittlestone's story and the source of its charm. Returning to his native Britain, he approached a classics don and a geology expert. They not only did not dismiss Bittlestone, they participated in his quest. Bolstered by their advice about philology and the active tectonics of Cephalonia, Bittlestone provisionally identified places in the action of the Odyssey. Resplendent with hundreds of landscape and satellite images, Bittlestone's freelance investigation is enthralling, accessibly presented, and possibly true--and, like its subject, finds its soul more in the journey than the destination." Click here for website.

Silas Sparkhammer (San Diego): Amazon US Customer Review, December 22, 2005

5 out of 5 starsBeautiful and Convincing!

"Who wouldn't be fascinated by the presumption, if nothing else, of the premise: Odysseus' Ithaka found after two and a half millennia! But Bittlestone's book, instead of a grueling epic, is a quiet, beautiful story of information-age discovery. It shows how incredibly far an intelligent amateur can go when backed up by the power of our technology. Bittlestone attacks the mystery with the might of GPS location finding, LandSat photos, internet advice from true experts…and a little true Sherlock Holmesian deduction… The photos are beautiful, the logic is elegant, the science is very educational, and the conclusion is convincing!". Click here for full review.

Graham Woods (Kent, UK): Amazon UK Customer Review, December 31, 2005

5 out of 5 starsPoseidon's last revenge on Odysseus is to wreck his island.

"I can't use the words fantastic or fabulous to describe this book, for Odysseus Unbound is not a fantasy nor a fable. Once upon a time scholars may have thought Odysseus' homeward journey was just that, but no more - Robert Bittlestone explains it all. I believe it all. The author and language expert James Diggle closely examine the texts of Strabo and Homer’s works literally line by line. He has found the real Ithaca and all the locations mentioned in the Odyssey. What a superb book, what a body of work! For all those with an interest in Classics, Archaeology or Late Bronze Age History, this book must be read." Click here for full review.

Peter Hargeaves: Seapaddler Book of the Year, December 31, 2005

"This is my recommendation for the 2005 book of the year…Bittlestone has consulted a number of experts and the book was written in particular in co-operation with James Diggle, a Cambridge University professor of Greek, and John Underhill, an Edinburgh University professor of Stratigraphy. With indices and appendices it runs to nearly 600 pages and as a hard back at just over £20 represents remarkably good value. It is lavishly illustrated with colour photographs, diagrams and satellite images.

It employs evidence from archaeology, history, language, literature, oceanography, seismology and biology. It applies some of the most modern learning, that of plate tectonics and remote imaging, to questions posed by some of the world’s oldest surviving writing and indeed pre-writing, as the Odyssey was almost certainly originally recited and only later written down. Homer’s Ithaca is identified not with the island we now know as Ithaca, which is mountainous and in the east of the Ionian archipelago, but with Paliki, the westernmost peninsula of the largest Ionian island, Cephalonia, which better fits Homer’s description that “Ithaca itself lies low furthest to the sea, towards dusk”.

There is a moment of high excitement when masonry apparently of Mycenean age, possibly forming a harbour wall at the southern end of the hypothesised sea channel between Ithaca and Cephalonia, is found overlain by later land slip material…Bittlestone suggests that Ithaca’s importance in the Mycenean period as described in the Odyssey could similarly have been brought to a catastrophic seismic end with the traumatised survivors moving from Western Greece to the area of Asia Minor which became known as Ionia, the explanation for which remains one of the great open questions of Greek history and pre-history.

Bittlestone comments favourably on Tim Severin’s insight in his “Ulysses’ Voyage” that the Odyssey describes real voyages and places and the emphasis should be on small scale topography rather than on long sea crossings. For us as sea paddlers this has real resonance… Poseidon, Odysseus’s divine foe with his powers to create earthquakes and storms is given the epithets “earth mover” and “earth shaker”. Bittlestone comments: what could be a more obvious opposing force for a king living in such a seismically active place as ancient Ithaca?… I recommend you buy a copy of Odysseus Unbound and take it, Robert Fagles’s translation of the Odyssey and Tim Severin’s “Ulysses’ Voyage” and visit the Ionian Islands and explore their detailed coastline and interior. See links from this website to www.monte-nero-activities.com based in Cephalonia, but don’t stay too long as it might be time for the next earthquake!"

High-tech search for Homer’s Ithaca by Jeff Johnson, Charleston Post and Courier, January 8 2006

"While Troy was accurately depicted in "The Iliad," modern Ithaca bears no resemblance to Odysseus' kingdom as described in the Odyssey, leading to elaborately cunning critical excuses. Robert Bittlestone's Odysseus Unbound uses modern geology and space-age technology to locate the real Ithaca and then pinpoint all of the other locations in Homer’s epic, including Odysseus' palace… James Diggle, a professor of Greek, provides Bittlestone with exact translated place references. And with the help of geologist John Underhill, he peels back the layers of time, until finally reconstructing a model of Ithaca matching that of Homer’s. Bittlestone confirms his findings with advanced satellite imagery and up-to-date 3-D global visualization techniques developed by NASA. Lavishly illustrated, Odysseus Unbound uses 21st-century technology to affirm the genius of the past."

James Neville (Open University): Journal of Classics Teaching, Spring 2006

"The book is beautifully produced, with a plethora of splendid photographs and numerous images illustrating the possibility of the separation of Paliki from the main body of Same, both of which constitute modern Cephallonia…That the peninsula could have been an island (as Strabo suggested) is promising and fits with Homer’s low-lying island to the West" Click here for JACT website.

Peter Skinner (ForeWord magazine): Ten Exceptional Books from University Presses in 2005

"Odysseus Unbound brings new analyses to an old problem: the seeming impossibility of pinpointing on Ithaca Homer’s many references to the much-changed island. Using the most advanced investigative techniques available to geologists and archaeologists, together with aerial photography and comprehensive literary research, the expert authorial trio posits, disproves, or proves hypotheses in order to “reconstruct” ancient Ithaca, allowing for convincing identification of Homer’s locations and sites, including that of Odysseus’s palace. The appositely quoted Odyssey forms the spine of the book, scientific findings its ribs, and vivid prose its sinews. The reader’s reward is truly thrilling detection supported by breathtaking illustration, yielding a revitalized epic whose prime location of Ithaca is made newly recognizable and powerfully evocative" Click here for full review.

Diane Carlyle and Nick Walker (The Australian): Search goes on for Ithaca

"Scholars agree that textual clues rule out a simple correlation between ancient Ithaca and the island that bears the same name today, yet remain puzzled that no alternative site fits with the indicators either. Could it be that Homer invented the location? Refusing to believe this, British sleuth Robert Bittlestone assembles all available information and embarks on an odyssey of his own to resolve the conundrum. This handsome, hefty tome - in full colour, to better display its copious satellite maps, digital reconstructions and glorious photographs - chronicles his efforts. Its engaging narrative has the lay reader in mind, though the expert is fully catered for and can mine at leisure the specialist appendices, one by a classicist, the other by a geophysicist."

Stephen Fry's QI Review: our latest recommendations

"A revolutionary theory that Homer’s Ithaca might be western Cephalonia is the peg on which this wonderfully enjoyable archaeological detective story hangs. Teaches us more about Homer than a whole shelf of Classics commentaries."

Tom Palaima: The Times Higher Education Supplement, March 10 2006

Enigma spat out from the jaws of the sea

"Odysseus Unbound contains more sections of first-rate scholarly analysis than Wood's book [In Search of the Trojan War]. Bittlestone himself, an enthusiastic scholarly amateur without any developed competence in Homeric studies, Aegean archaeology or geological sciences, wisely chose sound collaborators. Besides John Underhill [Professor of Stratigraphy at Edinburgh], James Diggle [Professor of Greek and Latin at Cambridge] ingeniously and without too much special pleading interprets relevant ancient Greek texts…

Bittlestone locates Homer’s Ithaca on the island of Cephalonia. He pinpoints the place names and topographical features associated with Ithaca and its surroundings in Homer’s Odyssey and the Catalogue of Ships in the Iliad. And his writing really is what van Andel calls it: 'a masterpiece'. He knows how to build drama and to grab his readers.

For example, Odysseus Unbound begins with, and in chapter 29 returns to, first-hand descriptions of what it was like to live through the devastating earthquake that hit the island of Cephalonia in August 1953: the thunderous roar, 114 episodes of seismic shocks, the earth rolling from side to side, sudden jolts, rocks splitting as if hit by a giant saw blade whirring at high speed, roofs flying off, suffocating dust, the uninterrupted cacophony of animals in distress, human clamours of despair, the crash of falling 10-ton rocks, promontories slipping down vertically into the sea, a whole city cut down like a house of cards by a force equivalent to 60 million tons of TNT (or 4 H-bombs) being detonated under a smallish island.

Survivor Andreas Delaportas reminisces 50 years later: 'Look - we had the Second World War. Then we had the Civil War. Then we had the earthquake. Put those three things together: how are you going to survive?' Bittlestone aptly quotes George Seferis's poem Helen (1953): 'Great suffering had desolated Greece/ So many bodies thrown/ into the jaws of the sea, the jaws of the earth…'

I have never read anything anywhere that made me so well understand the awful power of Poseidon." Click here for full review. Click here for reader's letter.

Richard Hunter, Cambridge University: The Anglo-Hellenic Review, Spring 2006

"Just when it seemed that the Odyssey had lost its nostos, drowned in the flood of recent interest in the historicity of the Iliad… it has reclaimed centre-stage… This is a remarkable book by any standards, and its preparation has already led to the finding of significant Bronze Age activity (pottery and very sturdy wall-construction) on Paliki. Bittlestone and his collaborators (who, to declare an interest, include more than one of my colleagues) make a case for identifying Homer’s Ithaca with Paliki which is difficult to ignore… It is also a remarkably produced book, and CUP is to be congratulated on its appearance (in both senses) and its price…Bittlestone has opened up a fascinating path for others to follow further, and we should be both grateful and full of admiration for what he has managed to teach himself and us. " Click here for full review.

Denis Searby, Stockholm University: Svenska Dagbladet, April 2006

"Like a modern-day Schliemann, the English economist and amateur researcher Robert Bittlestone has taken on the challenge of these enigmatic riddles. He proposes to identify Odysseus’ island with Paliki, the northwestern peninsula that is now a part of Cephalonia, the rest of Cephalonia with the ‘mainland’ and Ithaca as Doulichion. He is not the first to have chosen Paliki as Ithaca – although his deductions were made independently of others - but he is the first to have tried to prove in a systematic way that Paliki during historical times formed its own island as identified in Homer’s description of Ithaca.

The book's most important contribution to date is a captivating hypothesis about a problem posed by the antique geographer Strabo…The book “Odysseus Unbound” offers an interesting read that is also at times very amusing. It is an original theory that needs to be investigated further. It will be exciting to follow this development as it unfolds – assuming that the newly focussed investigation team receives sufficient financing in order to pursue the proposed geological and archaeological studies." Click here for full review - in Swedish; in English.

Andrew Glass, Cambridge University: Queens' College Record, 2006

"In his book, Bittlestone provides an exciting series of 'what-ifs' including several blind alleys (most realised and acknowledged as such) that eventually led to his theory. He gives a very clear account for the layman of the science used and provides copious computer-generated images of the various areas of Cephalonia. This makes for an exciting read, though I would have preferred a more streamlined account (a small complaint). There are very informative appendices by James Diggle and John Underhill which are of independent interest. Although 'proof' for me (a pure mathematician) has a totally different meaning, I find the argument quite persuasive if the geological dating of the landslip is as expected. I will certainly follow the developments on www.odysseus-unbound.org and remain cautiously optimistic that the geological and archaeological research will provide increasing support for the theory that Odysseus' Ithaca is the Paliki peninsula of Cephalonia. I enjoyed the book and thank the authors for their fascinating insights and discoveries." Click here for full review.

Hellenic Military Geographical Service, Athens: April 2006

"This is an excellent piece of work which, following an inter-disciplinary joint research methodology, casts light on important issues of history and geography. We wish to congratulate the academics and researchers who contributed to Odysseus Unbound."

The History Channel, Josh Bernstein's web journal: April 2006

Mycenae:"'Mycenae, rich in gold' was all Schliemann needed to hear to pursue the other famed city of the Iliad. However, unlike Troy, the location of the ancient city of Mycenae was never lost to time. In fact, just 35 years prior, in 1841, the Lion Gate of Mycenae had been cleared by Greek archaeologist Kyriakos Pittakis. The door had been opened, Schliemann just had to walk through and dig. In 1876, he got permission to do just that, and he was the first to excavate the ruins inside this former kingdom. Digging a huge hole in what was once a burial site, Schliemann discovered bones, 31 pounds of gold, and beautifully wrought death masks. Putting this together with the Iliad, he announces he’s found the Mycenaean king of the Iliad--namely, Agamemnon himself. In this instance, time would prove him wrong, but his legacy of using Homer’s works as a guide would influence archaeologists and scholars from then on."

Ithaca: "One such scholar is Robert Bittlestone, a multinational business consultant based in England. Robert may be the man who has finally found the island kingdom of Ithaca, home of Odysseus. His theories are explained in his book 'Odysseus Unbound: The Search for Homer’s Ithaca' and Robert and I are exploring his ideas together. His basic theory is that what once was an island separate from Same, now called Kefallonia, is now actually ATTACHED to Kefallonia as a result of centuries of seismic activity that filled in the narrow seaway between them. The Ionian Islands, after all, sit on top of one of the most active fault lines in the world, and earthquakes can change the landscape very quickly here. Going forward with his premise, Robert explains how placing Ithaca here solves several inconsistencies in Homer’s work, and it also seems to pinpoint several other landmarks on the island which the 'real' island of Ithaca to the east doesn’t have. I have to say, it’s a fascinating possibility and I’m hopeful that the tests and surveys which Robert does in the coming years prove him right--it would be as big a discovery as anything Schliemann did." Click here for full journal.

EVPHROSYNE 34, May 4 2006: Frederico Lourenço, Centro de Estudos Clássicos, Lisbon

Lecturer in Ancient Greek and translator of the Iliad and the Odyssey

"When we speak of Ithaca in the Odyssey of Homer, to what geographical reality are we actually referring?…The core of this book’s argument is the identification of Homeric Ithaca with Paliki, the western peninsula of the modern island of Cefalonia, a peninsula that is believed to have been formerly a free-standing island of Cefalonia separated by a marine channel, for the existence of which there is definite evidence in the Geography of Strabo (10.2.8-15-16). With this new (and brilliant) geographic identification of Homeric Ithaca, the descriptions of the island in the poem make marvellous sense.

According to the theory presented by Robert Bittlestone, modern Ithaca would be the Dulichium described by Homer, which is also referred to by Roman poets such as Virgil (Buc. 6,76) and Propertius (2.14.2), whose texts confirm the ambivalence of the toponyms “Ithaca” and “Dulichium” in antiquity…The reason why Dulichium came to be known as Ithaca is as a result of the mass emigration of the Ithacans from their own island to Dulichium after a sequence of major earthquakes, which also had the effect of transferring Homeric Ithaca from its previous status as an autonomous island to a peninsula of neighbouring Cefalonia. Readers of Homer will notice that in some lines of the Odyssey (especially in Book XXIV) there appears to be some confusion between the terms "Ithacans” and “Cephallenians”. The major scientific contribution of Odysseus Unbound is, therefore, to have brought together the elements that prove the existence, in antiquity, of the channel mentioned by Strabo; hence, today’s Paliki was, in fact, an island when the Odyssey was composed…

Robert Bittlestone is not a classicist by profession. Like Heinrich Schliemann, he is someone who has been able to… embark on a journey that, from the outset, no professional Homeric scholar would undertake. It would be fair to say that the proposals presented by Bittlestone are extremely attractive, illustrated with a panoply of photographs and maps that even by themselves make this book a must and a delight for any classicist. But those who are professionally linked to the study of Homeric epic know that the interpretation of many of the elements in the poems cannot be taken literally, because poetic formulae and language conventions preclude a wholly factual interpretation. Reality (whatever it may be…) appears filtered in Homeric poetry through the conventions of the words used in formulae.

Here it could be said that the main defect of Odysseus Unbound is a somewhat reckless disregard for the contribution of both the oral transmission theories of Milman Parry and the analytical theories of the German philologists of the 19th century. But it would be a great pity if the scholarly shortcomings of this magnificently illustrated and grippingly readable book were to put off a scholarly readership, because there is no doubt whatever that, in its essence, Odysseus Unbound proposes something that is absolutely new and of permanent value. " Click here for full review - in Portuguese; in English.

Fortean Times, May 20 2006: Barry Baldwin, Professor Emeritus, University of Calgary
EPIC BEGETS EPIC: STUPENDOUS AND THOUGHT-PROVOKING

"Amateur in the traditions of Schliemann and Ventris, Bittlestone, guided by premier league Hellenists and scientists, principally James Diggle and John Underhill, revives the parochial notion that Odysseus's Ithaca was not modern Thiaki but Paliki in western Cephalonia, its ancient prop the geographer Strabo's statement that the two were cut off by a low-lying, frequently submerged isthmus…

A sumptuous production, this, with thousands of illuminating illustrations, likewise opulent in valuably synthesising charts of historical and scientific data. The special Homeric index is particularly handy… Bittlestone is outstandingly fair-minded towards rival theorists. Eschewing academic Newspeak, he writes with clarity, verve and humour - my favourite jokes are his defining of ferried-in food as "meals on keels" and Circe's porcine transmogrifications as ancient genetic engineering. Some reviewers deride B for his sitings of Eumaeus's piggeries and so forth - "gossamer fantasy", sneers Peter Jones (Sunday Telegraph), but the amateur's romantic imagination beats academic dustiness any day.

Bittlestone reacts to Greece in the manner of Lawrence Durrell and Henry Miller - doubleplusgood in my book. It hardly matters whether you agree with this stupendous work. A non-scientific neutral, I find the geological arguments impressive to overwhelming." Click here for full review.

CHOICE magazine, June 2006: Peter Green, Adjunct Professor, University of Iowa

"Theories about the topography -- and identity – of Homeric Ithaca abound. The main problem has always been that Homer describes Ithaca as low-lying, and westernmost of a group or islands also including Same, Doulichion, and Zakynthos. But modern Ithaca (Thiaki) lies east of Kefalonia, and by no stretch of the imagination can it be made to fit the Ithaca of the Odyssey. Hence the theories, none of which has adequately met Homer’s clear criteria. Bittlestone picked up a comment by the Augustan geographer Strabo about Kefalonia, that "where the island is narrowest it forms an isthmus so low-lying that it is often submerged from sea to sea.” This gave him the brilliant idea -- at once meeting all Homer’s requirements -- that the western peninsula of Kefalonia was originally the island of Ithaca. The rest of this beautifully produced book, illustrated throughout in color, chronicles Bittlestone's full-scale, ultimately convincing attempt to prove this thesis, with the aid of everything from outer space photography to linguistic, geological, and seismological analysis. But another mystery remains: how was all this expensive research paid for, and the resulting monograph produced at such a remarkably modest price?" Summing Up: Highly recommended. All levels/libraries.

La Aventura de la Historia, September 2006: Adolfo J. Domínguez Monedero, Professor of Ancient History, University Autónoma of Madrid.

"The book provides not so much a closed hypothesis but, on the contrary, more of a departure point in an investigative project of impressive potency. This augurs well for its future acceptance: it is an approach that is well suited towards solving the different hypotheses that are raised within the work and to verifying their viability or, on the contrary, seeing whether they lead to an eventual impasse…

It is a study that reveals an overwhelming passion for the Homeric world, for its personages and their landscapes…The hypothesis that the author develops is without a doubt achieved with great brilliance and with the benefit of all of the capabilities of modern technology…In this book Bittlestone has succeeded in captivating the reader throughout in his search for the Ithaca of Ulysses." Click here for the full article: in Spanish (magazine pages, 5 Mb); in English (illustrated typescript, 500kb).

Geoscientist, September 2006: Dr Ted Nield, Editor, and Chairman of the Association of British Science Writers

"Odysseus Unbound presents a highly readable personal account of what can happen when an enthusiast with a compelling synthetic vision glimpses a solution no specialist has seen and uses his considerable resources of energy and curiosity to bring renowned experts like Professors Underhill (Geology, Edinburgh University) and Diggle (Classics, Cambridge University) to focus on solving a puzzle that has mystified scholars for centuries. Robert Bittlestone may one day emerge as Homeric studies' Alfred Wegener of the Internet age." Click here for the full article: Medium resolution (12 Mb); Low resolution (2.5 Mb)

Sir Roger Tomkys, Runciman Award Ceremony: The Anglo-Hellenic Review, Autumn 2006

"Before I come to our shortlist I must mention one outstanding entry. This is Odysseus Unbound by Robert Bittlestone. This is in many respects an ideal entry for the Runciman Prize. It is a very handsome volume beautifully produced by CUP. Its subject is of fascination for anyone who is interested in Homer and the historical background to his poems. The author sets out to establish where exactly was the home of Odysseus. The account of his attempt to prove his thesis by use of geological evidence, by walking the ground and by consulting the philological background for which he had scholarly help, is riveting…"

Click here for speech. Click here for book review.

James Holoka, Professor of Classics and Ancient History, Eastern Michigan University: The New England Classical Journal, November 2006

"I confess that when I agreed to review Odysseus Unbound… I expected it to be another coffee-table adornment, brimming with dramatic full-color photographs of locales Mediterranean and farther a-sea, but not likely to convince where so many others have failed…This superficial impression does not survive even the “Acknowledgements” pages…Bittlestone has used his organizational and analytical talents to great effect in producing a wonderful book based on a copious array of literary, historical, linguistic, geographical, geological, and archaeological evidence.

He then takes his readers on a thoroughly engrossing tour of the Paliki peninsula in search of these venues — the palace of Odysseus, the deep harbor, Phorcys Bay, Eumaeus’s pig farm, Raven’s Rock, etc. It is not possible in a short review to convey how methodically both textual and topographic evidence are harmonized in Bittlestone’s riveting argument. His case for equating Paliki with Ithaca is breathtakingly cogent. Site after site is shown to jibe with the details of Homer’s narrative. A luxuriant assortment of maps, on-site photographs, stratigraphic charts, and satellite imagery reinforces the lines of reasoning throughout.

Finally, I must stress how enjoyable this book is to read. Bittlestone infects the reader with the same excitement he and those he enlisted in his search felt in delightful vistas of Odyssean lands and seas." Click here for full review.

Peter Green, Dougherty Centennial Professor Emeritus of Classics at the University of Texas at Austin and Adjunct Professor at the University of Iowa: The New York Review of Books, November 2006

"In the matter of Troy, then, serious scholars are moving cautiously toward acceptance of a basic core of historical facts. With the Iliad being thus dragged, step by step, into ascertainable history, conservatives are likely to remain more convinced than ever that the Odyssey, at least, is pure imaginative romance. This is terrain where the odds against a heterodox outsider getting a sympathetic hearing are very long indeed…Thus when the amateur Robert Bittlestone felt an urge to tackle - and then became convinced he had solved - one of the most vexed Homeric problems in the entire canon, he must have had a good idea of what he was up against.

He knew very well, when he began, just what kind of a hornets' nest he proposed to upset, and took a number of unprecedentedly sophisticated steps to insure himself against the inevitable fallout…His title page lists two coauthors: John Underhill, a distinguished professor of stratigraphy, and James Diggle, the formidable Cambridge classical philologist, editor of Euripides and, most recently, Theophrastus. Consultants who throng his pages (many also accompanying him during his explorations on Ithaca) include, in addition to various scientific pundits, no-nonsense archaeologists such as John Bennet, James Whitley, and the redoubtable Anthony Snodgrass.

But one last thing, and that the most important, he learned from Schliemann: that nothing will get you further than being triumphantly right. None of his careful cultivation of experts would have got anywhere had he not offered them a persuasive, and dramatic, solution to the "Ithaca Question."… Bittlestone's theory is fundamentally simple, and starts, as did those of Schliemann, from the firm assumption that Homer was telling the truth. Thus when he says that of the island group comprising Ithaca, Samê, Doulichion, and Zakynthos, Ithaca was low-lying and furthest to the west, furthest to the west is where we must look for it, and not (for example) go off northward to Leukas, as Schliemann's assistant Wilhelm Dörpfeld did, or torture Homer’s Greek into saying something other than its plain meaning.

The Augustan elegist Propertius identified Odysseus' home as Doulichion. A persistent tradition arose that Doulichion and Ithaca were identical, confirmed by several post-Renaissance travelers such as Tommaso Porcacchi and Jacob Spon, who claims that the modern port of Vathy was once known as Dolicha. If we accept this identification (and there is ample reason to do so) then Homer’s islands all fall neatly into place: pre-seismic Ithaca (the modern Paliki peninsula) immediately west of Samê, with Doulichion (modern Ithake/Thiaki) to the east, and Zakynthos away in the south. This, in a nutshell, is Bittlestone's solution to the "Ithaca Question," and it is almost certainly correct.

Bittlestone's real achievement - and by far the most interesting aspect of his book - is the methodical way in which he marshals scientific and philological expertise to examine and, with luck, confirm his central thesis…This confirmation of literary inference by the heavy weapons of modern science and technology is a major triumph, and Bittlestone deserves full credit for it. World experts in both science and literature are cited as concurring. "Reading the Odyssey," says that eminent Homerist Gregory Nagy of Harvard, "is unlikely ever to be the same again."

And in the last resort, of course, the nay-sayers cannot prove that the topography of Ithaca was not drawn from life, or even that there was not a real Trojan War veteran named Odysseus whose return home - bow-stringing, vengeance, marital reunion, and all - is evoked in the later books of the Odyssey. For Bittlestone to leave us even considering the possibility of this is a minor triumph in its own right. " Click here for full review.

Powells Books, Oregon - July 2006

"This book pulls you in like Tolkien or LeGuin but it's actually an historical mystery, not a fantasy. By the time you're done you know more about ancient geography, Linear B, seismology, today's Greek islands and Odysseus' pigfarm than you ever dreamed. You also really understand those tricky final scenes of the Odyssey. Amazing use and reproduction of all kinds of great graphics, too. The only question left unanswered is, "Was Homer really blind?' "