Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2005.12.22

Brckovic on Culumovic on Brckovic.   Response to 2005.09.15

Response by Berislav Brckovic (

I would like to comment on remarks made by Ms Masa Culumovic on my book Odysseus' Ithaca. First, let me note that this is the second expanded edition with 7 maps and 49 photographs in colour, written in Croatian with a parallel text in English.

Ms Culumovic remarks:

"While the above explanations may be philologically acceptable, B. runs into trouble by trying to explain Od. 4.606-7 (οὐ γάρ τις νήσων ἱππήλατος οὐδ' ἐυλείμων, αἵ θ' ἁλὶ κεκλίαται, ἰΘάκη δὲ τε καὶ περὶ πασέων), which of all the references in the epics that mention Ithaca in connection to an island, comes closest to stating that Ithaca itself is an island. B. insists that the comparison in question is between a region of an island and other islands (p. 28) despite what the Greek and the common logic of the comparison imply."

Starting from the statement that Homer never directly names Ithaca as an island, I give the only reference in the epic according to which the premises in lines Od 4.606-7, which in the faithful Croatian translation read "Jerbo nikakav otok, _sto na moru lezi, za voznju Nije nit livada ima, a Itaka najmanje od svih" (or in English: "Because no island, lying on the sea, is suitable to ride on / or pastures has, and Ithaca least of all") would lead to the conclusion that Ithaca is (also) an island. The conclusion that Ithaca is an island may be sustained only in formal and logical terms in the context of these lines, because, contrary to this, from lines Od 21.346-7, as well as from my overall research (based on all of the rest of Homer's relevant data on Ithaca), it can be derived that Ithaca (in spite of lines Od. 4.606-7) is not an island! This is the only way to interpret my claim (in footnote 1, p.28).

Ms Culumovic remarks:

"Berislav Brckovic (B.) collects all the references to Ithaca in the Iliad and the Odyssey, discusses in detail the more ambiguous and controversial passages referring to its features and location, and, on the basis of this information, finds that Ithaca as described in Homeric verses is not an island, but a "commune" or a demos located on the tip of Eresos, the northern peninsula of the modern-day island of Cephallonia."

I find it necessary to add here the following: Ithaca has always been, if all the facts pertaining to it from the Odyssey are correctly interpreted, understood, connected and verified, a commune (en demo 'Ithakes Od. 1, 103. 4, 603. 13, 97. 15, 534. 16,419 (24,284).- acc. 14,26.- Il. III, 201, demos, o 1. a municipality, state, country, region, people's settlement; 2. people) on an island, not an island itself. The city bearing the same name, and the surroundings which included several hamlets, belonged to the commune. It was populated by fortunate people, and clear designations of its territory exist: a port on the first or eastern shore of Ithaca, Raven's Rock near the Spring of Arethusa on Mount Neriton, and the Harbour of Phorcys on its rear or western shore. Ithaca was located at the end of the exceptionally rugged present-day Eresos on the northern peninsula of the island of Cephallonia (Ch. 1, P. 13). (According to Herodotes, the Hellenic people had lived in communes since ancient times.)

Ms Culumovic remarks:

"Each chapter features one or more insets describing the present-day locations that B. identifies in Homer, accompanied by a wealth of photographs taken by the author on his numerous visits to the sites."

It is correct that, in addition to Homer's description of the individual area, site and artefact that belonged to ancient Ithaca, in each chapter I also present for the sake of comparison a photographic presentation of its real appearance, which, in my opinion, corresponds to the poet's description (starting from the basic assumption that Homer's description of Ithaca in the Odyssey is truthful). By comparing the poet's description (the information that the poet gives) with the present-day appearance of the region, site and artefact (which I have previously geographically defined through corresponding data provided by Homer in the Odyssey), I precisely identify in them locations on Ithaca (of course, taking into account that some have to a greater or lesser extent changed with time). In other words, based on the information that Homer provides in the Odyssey, I define Ithaca as a term and a geographical fact (which I make known to the reader even in the title of my book) and determine that Homer's credible description of Ithaca corresponds to the present-day appearance of the real sites shown in the photographs taken on Eresos. I do not identify them on the basis of descriptions of (randomly selected) locations on Eresos (as C. seems to suggest). Ms Culumovic remarks:

"The discussion of Homeric orientation during the day is important for B.'s consequent interpretation of the expression πρώτην ἀκτὴν ἰθάκης (Od. 15.36). Daytime orientation by the location of the Sun may seem simple enough, but based on Od. 13.240, which refers to the east as "towards the dawn and the Sun" (πρὸς ἠῶ τ' ἠέλιόν τε) and to the west as "behind towards the murk darkness"(μετόπισθε ποτὶ ζόφον ἠερόεντα), B. extrapolates 1) that if the west is behind, then the east must be in front ("This is necessarily Homer's basic standpoint about orientation, where the other cardinal directions are automatically determined by the fact that the east is in front and the west is behind, therefore the north is to the left and the south to the right," p. 48), and therefore 2) that the "first shore of Ithaca" (where Telemachus lands on his return from Peloponnese), is the eastern shore or promontory of Ithaca (taking "first" as a variation of "in front")."

The first shore of Ithaca is the front or eastern shore because it faces the east due to the natural position of Ithaca's territory, which lies on the meridian, and because Telemachus lands on this shore (that is, in one of the ports of this shore) on his return from Elis. Therefore, C's claim that my designation of "first" as a variation of "in front" and that the "first shore of Ithaca" where Telemachus lands on his return from the Peloponnese is the eastern shore or promontory of Ithaca is unfounded. I do not attribute any specific (philological) meaning to the expression πρώτην ἀκτὴν ἰΘάκης (Od. 15.36) but say for this first shore of Ithaca (because there is another shore of Ithaca facing the west, or the rear shore), taking into account its geographical position (facing the east), that it is the first, or front, shore, to point out the shore on which, unlike Odysseus, Telemachus lands. In this sense, the discussion about Homer's orientation is important because it provides an answer to C's question about why the first shore of Ithaca is specially designated as the front shore. But in addition to the importance of these data for defining the position of one of the shores of Ithaca, they are also particularly important in explaining the manner in which Homer determined the position of Ithaca itself and the islands around it, as well as of the individual locations of Ithaca mentioned in the Odyssey. Therefore, as much as C suggests that these data are unnecessary for proving the author's argument, they are, on the contrary, extremely important and make up the core of my theory, because, without them, when they are interpreted from an astrophysical point of view, it would not be possible to confidently establish how Homer determined the position of Ithaca.

Ms Culumovic remarks:

"1 A further equation is made (based on Od. 9.25-6, which describes Ithaca as "lying uppermost towards the darkness"): west = up and, consequently, east = down. That, however, seems unnecessary, since it does not advance B.'s position on the location of Ithaca in any way, and, from other usages of the word, especially regarding trees, it seems that the meaning "highest" gets equated with "furthest from land" and so does not tell us anything about the orientation of Ithaca, just that it is far from land."

C's claim in footnote 1 seems rather confused. This is so because, based on the faithful translation of Homer's lines (9.25 and further), I clearly stated, deliberately using the superlative form and determining Ithaca in relation to the islands around it, as it lies the uppermost towards the west in the sea, that Homer tried to tell Alcinous through Odysseus that Ithaca and the island it is located on lies uppermost towards the west, i.e. it is closest to the west, or it is (the) far(thest) from the east in relation to the islands of Dulichium, Same and Zacynthus, which are located next to it, on both sides, and are at a distance (or are removed) to the east of Ithaca. This is why Ithaca, i.e. the island it is located on, is the first to the west in this group of islands (Ch. 5, p. 57).

Ms Culumovic remarks:

"Chapter Five ("How Homer Determined the Position of Ithaca in the Odyssey") situates Ithaca in a larger area some distance from Elis (i.e. in the Ionian Sea) and in relation to the neighbouring islands of Dulichium, Same, and Zacynthus. The chapter is subdivided into three parts, the first of which focuses on several passages indicating the location of Ithaca relative to other islands in the archipelago. Based on Odysseus' own description of Ithaca (9.21-8) B. presents a sound proposal (p. 54-58, 65) according to which Odysseus' home is located on the westernmost island in the group (αὐτὴ δὲ χθαμαλή πανυπερτάτη εἰν ἁλὶ κεῖται πρὸς ζόφον, αἱ δὲ ἄνευθε πρὸς ἠῶ τ' ἠέλιόν τε), so that when facing eastwards other islands seem to be around it on the horizon (ἀμφὶ δὲ νῆσοι πολλαὶ ναιετάουσι)."

Unfortunately, this statement is also incorrect. I situate Ithaca, i.e. the island it is located on, next to or near Elis. Elis, on the Greek Peloponnesian peninsula, is the place close to where Homer situates a defined group of islands, lines 9.25 and further (Ch. 5.2., p. 67, see footnote 15). I interpret lines 9.25-6 in the following way: Ithaca itself (as a territory -- its shape) lies close to the ground, and thus is low; Ithaca (as a part of an island) lies the uppermost, i.e. nearest towards the spot of dark -- the spot where the sun sets (the west) in the sea; the islands (Dulichium, Same and Zacynthus) are distant (or removed) from Ithaca (as part of an island ) and are towards the spot where dawn and the sun appear -- the spot where the sun rises (the east) (Ch. 5.1, p. 56).

Ms Culumovic remarks:

"Even if the viability of one-on-one correspondences between Homeric geography and specific landscapes is accepted, attempts at drawing such correspondences without the involvement of archaeology are bound to come down to guesswork (however educated and thorough the guesswork may be), and B. is aware of the need for archaeology to test his claims (Conclusion, p. 139-41). Until that happens, this book may serve as an innovative way of thinking about the landscape of ancient Ithaca."

Regretfully, I have to remark that the final conclusion in C's review of my theory is superficial. C. is inclined to forget that more than 80% of coincidence actually does represent scientific proof. Otherwise, what would the "practical fact" that C is ready to accept B.'s "one-on-one correspondences between Homeric geography and specific landscapes" represent? (It is true that I am aware of the need for archaeological exploration, in order to help corroborate our assumptions, but if we do not know where to explore, archaeological excavation by itself makes no sense). It is interesting that C. does not mention anywhere in her conclusion the existence of two material artefacts that I speak of in my book. These are the remains of the Cyclopian wall and the artefact known as the "loutra" (Ch. 11, pp. 117-121). Since the mentioned artefacts already represent correspondences related to archaeological explorations, it is not necessary to reduce my theory (rather than other Cephallonian theories) to educated guesswork. (The archaeological excavations which have been initiated in the meantime on Eresos are already providing the first confirmations of my theory.)

In conclusion, as for the "mystery" of the real location of Ithaca raised by different researchers, this can be explained by paraphrasing the thesis on Feuerbach ("Philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it"), which could be applied to the Ithaca question in the following way: researchers have hitherto located Ithaca in various geographical locations; the point is to determine and locate it on the geographical location that completely corresponds to Homer's description. This is the only measure. This is where all previous and future theses about Ithaca either stand or fall (assuming, of course, that Homer's description of Ithaca in the Odyssey is truthful).

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