When you’re swimming around the beautiful islands of Greece, you’ll find hidden caves, untouched beaches and areas where only a few people have visited. Greece is a wonderful country, rich in culture, history and timeless mythological tales. In this series of blog posts, we’ll take you through the interesting stories that have been told throughout generations, and our final island is Ithaca, which is actually the second-smallest of the seven main Ionian Islands.
Ithaca’s mythology is synonymous with the Odyssey, one of two major ancient Greek poems by Homer. It is one of the oldest works of literature that is still read by audiences today. The poem is divided into 24 books and follows the Grecian hero, Odysseus, the King of Ithaca and his adventure home after the Trojan War.
Due to the enormity of this mythological tale, we will share ‘highlights’ of Odysseus’ journey back to Ithaca in two separate blog posts and will ensure it is laid out into different sections throughout the posts.
The myth is an incredible drama that spans decades and has been the inspiration for many films and books over the years. There have been various claims that ‘Ithaca’ in Homer’s writings could be the island of Lefkada, but this is highly disputed by many.
The first English translation of the Odyssey was in the 16th century and has been regarded as one of the most significant works of the Western canon. In 2018 BBC Culture conducted a poll asking experts around the world what literature had the most enduring narrative, and the Odyssey topped the list.
Odysseus - The Man
According to Homer, Odysseus’ parents were named Laertes and Anticleia. He was married to a woman called Penelope and together they had a son who they named Telemachus. Odysseus was known to have a very quick and clever mind and was often nicknamed “Odysseus the Cunning” by his peers. In Roman mythology, Odysseus’ name was changed to Ulysses and that is how some cultures refer to him across the globe.
Odysseus was an incredible military commander and was a very proud and arrogant man. He played a key role in ensuring the Greeks had victory over Troy, ending the long and arduous Trojan War.
An End To The War
The catalyst to the Trojan war was when Paris of Troy abducted Helen, wife of the King of Sparta. The King reached out to all of his fellow Kings of Greece to aid him in his battle to get his wife back, including Odysseus who had all previously vowed to defend the honour of Helen.
Odysseus actually tried to escape the promise he had made by claiming insanity. However, he was proven to be lying and was therefore sent to Troy alongside Agamemnon (the Lord of men), Achilles (the invincible), Nestor (the wise) and Teucer (the master archer).
After ten long years, the Greeks were still in Troy. At this point, Odysseus devised a plan to deceive the Trojans, he wanted them to believe they had given up and returned to Greece. So, in the dead of night, the Greeks left Troy leaving behind a huge wooden horse with wheels on it outside the gates of the city. When morning broke the Trojans were astonished to see they were no longer surrounded by the Greek army, instead they were left with a wooden horse. They wheeled the horse into the city and began to celebrate the end of the war.
However, unknown to the people of Troy, Odysseus had built the wooden horse hollow to hide Greek warriors inside. Odysseus and his men exited the horse and slaughtered the unsuspecting Trojan guards. They then opened the city gates allowing the entire Greek army to storm inside and enter the city. Due to Odysseus’ quick and cunning thinking, the Greeks won the Trojan War ending the ten-year battle. He and his men set sail for Ithaca, but only one of them would return.
The Ciconians and The Lotus-Eaters
Twelve ships set sail from Troy to make the journey home to Ithaca. After a few days they saw land and Odysseus’ second-in-command, Eurylochus convinced him to head to the land and attack the city, with the assurance that none of them would be harmed.
The residents of the land, the Ciconians saw what was about to happen and escaped to the mountains nearby. Odysseus and his men looted the empty city, ate a large meal, drank wine and fell asleep on the shore.
Before day broke the Ciconians returned with their neighbours and attacked the sleeping warriors, killing as many as they could. Odysseus and his men retreated to their ships but suffered greatly and lost many men.
Odysseus and his men soon found themselves blown off course, towards the land of the ‘Lotus-Eaters’. Whilst Odysseus searched the land, some of his men talked with the natives and ate the local lotus which was grown on the land. The men that had eaten the flowers soon found their vision to become blurred and their world to become hazy making it impossible to stay awake. The lotus flowers they had eaten were narcotic and had made them forget all about their families and their homeland of Ithaca. They awoke deciding to stay on the land, eating lotus flowers for the rest of their lives. Odysseus and some of his men carried them back to the ship and bound them to masts to prevent them from jumping into the sea and swimming back to the land of the lotus flowers.
The Journey Ahead
After sailing for many weeks without any further hiccups, Odysseus and his men fell upon a strange land, once ashore Odysseus found himself in the cave of Polyphemus, one of many Cyclops.
After his adventures on this island and the battle to escape Polyphemus, Odysseus mocked the Cyclops, who cried out to his father, the god Poseidon to avenge him, from this moment Odysseus became a sworn enemy of Poseidon.
Not long after fleeing the land of the cyclopes, Odysseus found his ships nearing Aeolia, home of Aeolus, the god of the winds. Here Aelous gave Odysseus a bag full of winds that would guide him home safely. Odysseus guarded this bag and spent many sleepless nights ensuring nobody would touch it until he became so overcome with exhaustion he did indeed fall asleep.
As the crew were approaching the beautiful shores of Ithaca, two men grabbed the bag of winds whilst Odysseus was asleep and opened it. The winds escaped creating a furious storm that sent the ships backwards. Odysseus woke up, only to find himself and his men back in Aeolia, and much to his dismay Aeolus declined to give the gift again…
One night the men saw an island in the distance, Telepylos which had natural defenses in the form of cliffs that only had one narrow passage in. One by one each ship passed into the harbour into calm waters, except for Odysseus, who had anchored his ship into turbulent waters outside of the passageway.
After two men went ashore they discovered giants, who began to snatch up the men and eat them alive. As they fled the giants smashed their ships with massive rocks and speared them. Only Odysseus and a handful of his men managed to escape.
Not long after the crew soon found themselves on the island of Aeaea, home to Circe the Enchantress and powerful Sorceress. With the help of the god Hermes, Odysseus drank a herb that would protect him against Circe and her magic. Circe turned all of Odysseus’ men into pigs but her magic, as expected, would not work on Odysseus. She promised to turn his warriors back into men as long as Odysseus agreed to share her bed. He consented and afterwards he and his men spent an entire year on the island. Once Odysseus had decided to move on, Circe, with the ability to predict the future, gave him instructions on how to proceed. She suggested he travel to the Underworld to meet with the blind prophet Tiresius…
We still have a long way to go before Odysseus makes it home to his beloved Ithaca, so be sure to keep an eye on our socials for the final instalment of our Greek mythology series!
Odysseus’ journey home is certainly a turbulent one, thankfully with modern technology, you do not need to travel to the depths of the underworld to enjoy the glorious island of Ithaca!
We have now opened up next year’s (2022) bookings, so you can plan in advance and get yourself geared up to have a journey of a lifetime in the beautiful waters of Ithaca.
We can’t wait to see you!.
27 September 2021