Friday, July 31, 2009

On the Trail of Odysseus (6/28/09)

Ride: Mavarata – Poros – Skala – Mavrata, Kefalonia, Greece
Distance: 27 miles
Difficulty: Medium (three large hills)
Sights: Tholos Tombs in Tzanata, Hercules Statue in Agia Irini, Memorial to the HMS Prometheus in Poros, Ancient Temple and Roman Villa in Skala

From On the Trail of Odysseus

Homer describes Ithaca as “mountainous” and “rugged.”

In the Odyssey, Telemachus tells Menelaus, “Horses I will not take to Ithaca. . . [I]n Ithaca there is no room for horses to run, nor any meadows at all. It is a pasture land for goats and more attractive to my eyes than the sort of land where horses thrive.” The modern island Ithaki, which is a stones throw from Kefalonia, indeed fits this description.

When Odysseus is returned to Ithaca by the Phaeacians, Homer describes the harbor onto which they landed on the island. “Now in that island there is a cove named after Forcys, the Old Man of the Sea, with two projecting headlands sheer to seaward but sloping down towards the side on the harbor.” Up from the cove there is a cave that the Nymphs enjoyed.

On Ithaki, you can find a Bay of Forcys that closely resembles Homer’s description. Additionally, there is a cave known as the Cave of Nymphs that overlooks the bay. As my friend Manu said, it would seem to make sense that modern Ithaki is Homer’s Ithaca.

Yet, there is a problem with this assumption - there is no archeological evidence of a centralized Mycenaean era state on Ithaki. Schliemann thought it to be on Ithaki at the hill of Alalkomenes. However, he found nothing in the way of Mycenaean era settlement.

Some have argued that the Lixouri peninsula is Homer’s Ithaca. And, that the peninsula was once an island and now joined with the rest of Kefalonia. (This argument comes mostly from Lixourians.) People from Lefkada argue that their island is Homer’s Ithaca.

Yet, there is archaeological evidence that gives some credence to the idea that “Ithaca” is actually Kefalonia. In Mazarakata, there is a cemetery from the Mycenaean era. It easily fits a place where rich commoners or some noblemen may have been buried. However, it does not match the “Treasury of Atreus” at Mycenae. So it does not appear that it would be a place where the wanax, or king, would be buried. In Krani there are Cyclopedean walls that are said to echo the huge stones of Mycenae and Tyrins. (I have yet to see these walls for myself.)

Recently, there has been another find. They have found a tholos tomb – like that of the Treasury of Atreus (not a treasury, at all – stupid Pausinas). The tholos is in Tzanata, about 4 km up the hill from the port town of Poros. On my off day from turtle tracking, I decided to ride to Poros and see it for myself.

At 1:30 I left Mavrata along the Argostoli Road. Then I made the right to ride along the Argostoli – Poros Road. The Carpenter Man (the one who helped us with the “Honey Man”) told Damien that this was the prettiest road on Kefalonia. And for 12 miles I wound my way along the ridge to through picturesque villages that were perched on the edge that they may tumble down toward Katelios and the sea. At Markopoulo I saw the bell tower where the snakes come (like the swallows of Capistrano) around the feast day of St. Gerasimos – the patron saint of Kefalonia. And, at Agia Irini, I stopped for a minute to look at the new statue of Heracles fighting the lion.

My next stop was Tzanata and the main point of my trip my trip. As, you walk up the small hill upon which the tholos is located, a visitor to Mycenae would quickly see the resemblance. There is a cylindrical building of large stones built into the hillside. About 20 feet above the grave line the walls begin to curve up into its lintel. The majority of the lintel and its possible supporting triangle are lost. However, it is without a doubt tholoi tombs of wanaxes.

After leaving the tomb, I got back onto the road to Poros as it led through the gorge into the town. To the right was the road to the currently closed off Cave of Drakena. A quick look at the harbor shows a calm area surrounded by two large hills that are nearly shear seaward but more gently sloping into the town.

Perhaps the Cave of Drakena is the Nymphs’ cave where Odysseus hid the gifts of the Phaeacians? Perhaps Poros is Forcys? A man from Pastra from whom I received a hitch earlier in the week told me that archeologists from the University of Vancouver are returning this summer to do more digging in the hills above Poros. Maybe they will find the Mycenaean palace of Odysseus there . . . hmmm.

After Poros, I rode into Skala and saw the remains of the Ancient temple – to whom nobody seems to know. It is little more than the foundation of the temple – next to a modern Orthodox Church. I tried to make the Roman Villa, but it had already closed. I saw a bit climbing on top of the fence; alas, another time.

From On the Trail of Odysseus

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