Odysseus's tomb found?
September 26, 2005 2:33 PM   Subscribe

The tomb of Odysseus may have been found on the island of Kefalonia, near the island now known as Ithaca, which means that Poros may have been the Ithaca described in The Odyssey.
posted by cerebus19 (31 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
(Poros being a city on the island of Kefalonia, that is.)
posted by cerebus19 at 2:34 PM on September 26, 2005

Big day for finding things.
posted by jonson at 2:39 PM on September 26, 2005

Dude, light on evidence. A broach that matched a description from Homer? That could have come at any point post-Homer.
(Which reminds me of my favorite Classical Studies joke: Did you know that scholars have now proven that the Iliad wasn't written by Homer, but rather by another Greek with the same name.)
posted by klangklangston at 2:41 PM on September 26, 2005

This is fascinating to me, as I'm currently reading through Dan Simmons' Illium and Olympos.
posted by thanotopsis at 2:46 PM on September 26, 2005

klangklangston: and couldn't it be a brooch that existed before Homer's description ? You're working on quicksand dude.
posted by elpapacito at 2:46 PM on September 26, 2005

Would be bad ass if true -- but what an oddball page to use as a link. Those realtor heads are creeping me out.
posted by undule at 2:57 PM on September 26, 2005

Agreed on the realtorsbeing unusually creepy
posted by elpapacito at 3:03 PM on September 26, 2005

The difficulty with all of this is whether Homer even existed as one single composer of both the Iliad and the Odyssey - or whether the epics were even meant to be read as history, or rather as a compilation of instructional, heroic events compiled for didactic and entertaining purposes. Both the epics give you an excellent idea of what war, death or sex meant to a Greek of the time - but reading them as a straightforward historical narrative gets you into dodgy territory. The Schliemann comparison in the first article is interesting in this respect, considering that Schliemann dug through several layers of what is now generally considered to be the Troy of the period described by Homer, destroying much of them in the process. Schliemann's dig is a good example of the pitfalls of approaching archaeology with preconceived ideas about what you are likely to find.

But it's still nice to picture Odysseus's journeys round the Mediterranean- stopping off with Nausicaa in Phaecia, or battling Scylla and Charybdis who knows where. And surely that's part of the appeal - that the events described happen outside geography or what was then known of the world? It's interesting - but hard - to imagine the impact a bard telling the story would have had when sitting down to tell his stories - I can't really think of a 21st century equivalent. But it certainly wouldn't be sitting down to listen to a history lecture...
posted by greycap at 3:04 PM on September 26, 2005

...he wore a broochmade of pure gold with twin tubes for the prongs,and on the face a work of art: a hunting dogpinning a spotted fawn in agonybetween his forepaws—wonderful to seehow being gold, and nothing more, he bitthe golden dear convulsed, with wild hooves flying....
XIX.268-274, p. 360; Robert Fitzgerald's translation
posted by bitpart at 3:18 PM on September 26, 2005

On a tangent, one of the moments that touched me the most in the Odyssey was Odysseus's dog, waiting for him at the gates to come home.

Until I saw the Futurama episode about Fry's dog, I wanted to write a alt-legend short story in which Odysseus dies in the Trojan War, and the dog lives on for eons, always waiting for his master to come home. Finally, in a modern era subtly skewed from our own, Greeks uncover Odysseus' tomb and bring him home to Ithaca. And that anonymous, decrepit old mutt finally gets some rest.

But that Futurama episode riffed on the general idea better than I ever could.
posted by JeremyT at 3:22 PM on September 26, 2005

Both the epics give you an excellent idea of what war, death or sex meant to a Greek of the time - but reading them as a straightforward historical narrative gets you into dodgy territory.

The Oddyssey is absolute and unwavering in its accuracy. Personally, I am offended at your attempt to dilute it with your "literary interpretation," and appalled by the conspiracy to teach it to our children. Academic fundamentalists have been oppressed by the English departments of this country for too long.
posted by iron chef morimoto at 3:25 PM on September 26, 2005

What's that an attempt at a bible derail ? Only cause I'm a a lil tired but for a bible derail...
posted by elpapacito at 3:38 PM on September 26, 2005

I'm waiting for my "Ithaca is Poros" t-shirt.
posted by aparrish at 3:49 PM on September 26, 2005

posted by iamck at 3:51 PM on September 26, 2005

Can they date the gold brooch they found?
posted by Eyebeams at 4:33 PM on September 26, 2005

Sorry for the double post: the article implies that the brooch is from the Bronze Age, but states nothing more specific.
posted by Eyebeams at 4:42 PM on September 26, 2005

I realize it may not be true. I was careful to write "may have been discovered." I thought it was interesting, and I thought other MeFites would agree.
posted by cerebus19 at 4:57 PM on September 26, 2005

cerebus19: oh don't worry it's always better then yet another cutnpaste from the sites we all know about and read about all the time.
posted by elpapacito at 5:27 PM on September 26, 2005

cerebus19: I thought it was a neat post, whether it turns out to be true or not. Don't listen to the newsfilter junkies.
posted by unreason at 5:34 PM on September 26, 2005

Neat post. It would be great if it were true, and all you haters, you need to believe, man.
posted by OmieWise at 6:08 PM on September 26, 2005

Once again, there's nothing about archeology that we couldn't have learned from Indiana Jones:

"This site also demonstrates one of the great dangers of archeology, not to life and limb, although that does sometimes take place, I'm talking about folklore."
Archeologists have long and often times looked for evidence of Odysseus on modern Ithaca, but never found anything significant from the Bronze Age. This led many scholars to dismiss Homer’s version of Ionian island geography as strictly a literary creation.

Indiana: Belloq's medallion only had writing on one side? You sure about that?
Sallah: Positive!
Indiana: Balleq's staff is too long.
Indiana, Sallah: They're digging in the wrong place!

Odysseus... describes in detail a gold brooch the king wore on that occasion. A gold brooch meeting that precise description lies now in the archeological museum at Argostoli, the main city on Kefalonia, 30 miles across the island from Poros.
posted by .kobayashi. at 6:21 PM on September 26, 2005

"In Book XIX of the “Odyssey,” the just-returned and still disguised Odysseus tells his wife (who may or may not realize who she’s talking to; Homer is deliberately ambivalent) that he encountered Odysseus many years earlier on the island of Crete. He describes in detail a gold brooch the king wore on that occasion.

A gold brooch meeting that precise description lies now in the archeological museum at Argostoli, the main city on Kefalonia, 30 miles across the island from Poros. Other gold jewelry and seals carved in precious stones excavated from the tomb offer further proof the grave outside Poros was used to bury kings."

Pictures! We want pictures!

Also, since this particular section of the poen has been as well known as any of it since the composer fell, and the black of night swirled down before his eyes, on what gounds can it be asserted that this was not made in tribute to the character in the work, much as some would wear the leaves of Lothlorien today?

(Omie - I'm with ya, all the same. A well known contemporary author of my childhood acquaintance kept a repousse reproduction of the Schliemann-found man's funeral mask on the door to his teenage bedroom. My recollection is that he told me the mask was of Odysseus. I could, of course, be in error.)
posted by mwhybark at 6:55 PM on September 26, 2005

Schliemann claimed that the funeral mask was Agamemnon's. It's a controversial claim.
posted by horsewithnoname at 7:29 PM on September 26, 2005

When I die I am going to have a large clock on a gold chain put around my neck so when I am discovered by alien archeologists thousands of years from now they will believe they have finally found the long lost grave of Flavor Flav.
posted by aburd at 7:29 PM on September 26, 2005

It's probably just Odysseus playing a crafty trick on us!

Next thing you know he'll be telling us his name is "Noman".
posted by clevershark at 7:51 PM on September 26, 2005

When considering the historicity of Homer, I find it helpful to keep in mind that he (if there was, in fact, a single person who composed the poems) was describing events that took place hundreds of years before he lived, and his efforts wouldn't even be written down for another 400 or so years, give or take. Schliemann has proved beyond a shadow of a doubt (as far as I'm concerned) that there were great cities that corresponded with the times Homer was describing. For my money, that's about as specific as we'll ever get.
posted by fingers_of_fire at 9:10 PM on September 26, 2005

It is indeed a neat post, cerebus - it was simply the Schliemann reference that made me smile. But I can see why Schliemann was so captivated. Likewise, when I first read the books I remember spending a long time trying to plot out Odysseus's likely journey on a map of the Mediterranean. There are two similar attempts here which are worth a look. Others have been a bit more ambitious in where they've placed the various islands described - the Indian Ocean or even Atlantis.
posted by greycap at 10:13 PM on September 26, 2005

I thought that it was well-established that the "mask of agamemnon" was recovered from a tomb whose era placed it outside of agamemnon's rule, and thus couldn't have been him, but rather another Mycenaean ruler. On the other hand, looking at the mask again, it does seem to be a 19th-century German's conception of what a Greek ruler would look like.

As far as the historicity of Homer, it seems pretty clear that one of the goals of the Iliad was to preserve for posterity the names of those who fought in the Trojan war, so it was essentially a historical work. I'm sure genuine classicists would have more to say about where The Odyssey fits into that.

The idea that Homer in the Odyssey also preserved the memory of Odysseus's necklace and that more than 3000 years later the necklace was found is simply mind-blowing. Since the tomb in which is was found appears to predate Homer, it would appear that the necklace was either Odysseus's or a copy made by/for an heir of his rather than a replica based on Homer's description.
posted by deanc at 11:33 PM on September 26, 2005

There's something a little odd about the descriptions in that first article. Poros is not a village, let alone a tiny one; it's quite a decent sized town, with a significant tourist trade of its own, and a harbour at one end where ferries dock and disgorge streams of cars and large trucks. Ithaca, moreover, isn't barren; it's a green, beautiful place with spectacular scenery.

If Odysseus's palace and/or tomb is on Kefalonia, there probably won't be much left: repeated earthquakes over the centuries (remember Captain Corelli?) mean there are relatively few buildings of any age on the island.
posted by Phanx at 6:18 AM on September 27, 2005

Having travelled to both Ithaca and Kefallonia (and being Greek and immersed in the Odyssey since childhood), this story rings true: Ithaca is too small and un-interesting to have been the kingdom of a powerful king that was a major player in the Trojan war --which we know had some basis in fact. Kefallonia on the other hand is a big, prosperous island. And it's a great place to visit as well, recommended.
posted by costas at 10:06 AM on September 27, 2005

One of my old teachers used to point out that Vathi is situated on a remarkable large natural harbour, completely encircled by hills. He thought it was an ideal place to keep a fleet; protected from storms, easily defended - in fact, invisible to outsiders until they're virtually inside. Ithaka might therefore have been just the place to base a maritime kingdom. It's a theory, anyway.
posted by Phanx at 2:38 PM on September 27, 2005

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