Where is Odysseus’ homeland?

For centuries scholars have been baffled by Homer’s description of Ithaca in the Odyssey.  It simply doesn’t fit the geography of the modern day Ionian island of Ithaki.

Ionian islands today (EN)
The Ionian islands today

Today’s islands of Ithaki and Kefalonia lie to the west of mainland Greece, with Lefkas to the north and Zacynthos to the south.

Ithaca is described as an island in the Odyssey, but in the Iliad Homer says the people who live there are the Cephallenians:

Odysseus led the gallant Cephallenians,
From Ithaca and leaf-quivering Neriton,
IIiad 2.631-2

When Odysseus makes himself known to King Alcinoos on the island of Scheria (thought to be Corfu) he introduces his homeland with a description that scholars have pondered over for many centuries:

Ulysses at the court of Alcinoos - Francesco Hayez
Ulysses at the court of Alcinoos – Francesco Hayez (1815) – National Museum of Capodimonte, Naples, Italy

I am Odysseus, Laertes’ son, world-famed
For stratagems: my name has reached the heavens.
Bright Ithaca is my home: it has a mountain,
Leaf-quivering Neriton, far visible.
Around are many islands, close to each other,
Doulichion and Same and wooded Zacynthos.
Ithaca itself lies low, furthest to sea
Towards dusk; the rest, apart, face dawn and sun.

Odyssey 9.19-26

Interested in why we think this is the most accurate translation of the original Greek?
 Prof. James Diggle explains

Ithaki is not Ithaca

Kefalonia and Ithaki elevation map
Kefalonia and Ithaki, showing elevation.

However, the island called Ithaki today is not low-lying, it is mountainous. It is clearly not the furthest out to sea and it does not face towards dusk (i.e. west), nor do the adjacent islands face towards the dawn and sun (i.e. east).

The geographical layout is almost opposite to that described by Homer, so how can his description of ancient Ithaca make any sense? And where are Same and the lost island of Doulichion?


Geology provides the vital clue.

1953 earthquake
The aftermath of the catastrophic 1953 earthquake

The Ionian Islands are located in one of the most tectonically active places in the world.  It’s where the African continental plate collides with the Eurasian plate.

African/Eurasian Continental Plate collision
African/Eurasian Continental Plate collision

Ten kilometres to the west of Kefalonia the seabed drops from a depth of 300 metres to an incredible 3 kilometres. Every month or so the ground shakes and every few decades there is a major earthquake.

The quake of August 1953 destroyed almost every building on the island and many people died and were injured.  Thousands had to be evacuated.

The most recent significant earthquake, in January 2014, caused widespread damage.  It pushed up the land at the top of the Gulf of Livadi by 20cm (8 inches).

2014 Earthquake effects
Rock formation at the top of the Gulf of Livadi  (Left) October 2007   (Right) June 2016

These photographs, taken from the same spot, show how the stunning reflection in the shallow water, taken in October 2007, could not be repeated in June 2016 as the beach was nearly 100m wider.

But can earthquakes change the layout of entire islands?

A decade of research and the advice of experts from all over the world has confirmed this is indeed possible.

Next: The Theory