When you’re swimming around the beautiful islands of Greece, you’ll find hidden caves, untouched beaches and areas where only a small amount of 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 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 Greek hero, Odysseus, the King of Ithaca and his adventure home after the Trojan War.
In our last blog post, we took you on the journey of Odysseus as he tried desperately to get home to Ithaca. Unfortunately, due to a series of events, he found himself on his way to the Underworld after spending a year on the island of Aeaea with the powerful enchantress, Circe.
and in this post, we will bring you to the end of this enchanting story…
The Journey to the Underworld & The Sirens
Nobody living had entered the Underworld. But Odysseus felt it best to take Circe’s advice and journey there so he can finally reach his homeland of Ithaca. He had already lost many of his men but ultimately they were all prepared to continue to do what it takes to get home.
Odysseus and his men made sacrifices to the god Hades by the shores of the River Acheron, but it was Odysseus alone who took the path into the Underworld. He was greeted by Tiresius, a blind prophet who informed him that to be able to get home he had to pass between two great monsters - Scylla and Charyvdis.
With that information, Odysseus left the underworld and continued to sail with his men for days without any sight of land. But after a while, the men began to hear soft sounds in the distance making them cry with joy. This concerned Odysseus and he soon realised they were approaching the Sirens that Circe had warned him about.
Back in Aeaea, Circe had told Odysseus to block every man’s ear with wax as soon as they began to hear any strange, enchanting noises. If the men were to hear the song of the Sirens, they would jump ship to get as close to the beautiful sounds as possible, which would ultimately lead to their demise.
Odysseus did as Circe said but he wanted to hear their song for himself. So he ordered his men to tie him to the mast of the ship so he could not jump overboard to his death. The men, with wax in their ears, did just that and watched as Odysseus tried to get free from the mast. He wriggled and writhed but fortunately, his men had ensured he could not escape, as the ship continued to sail onward, the Siren song began to fade.
Scylla & Charyvdis
After escaping the clutches of the Sirens, Odysseus ensured he chose the route which would take him on one side close to Scylla, as Tiresius had advised. Scylla was a six-headed monster who had once been a woman, on the other side there was Charyvdis, a violent whirlpool.
Tiresius had told Odysseus to sacrifice six men to Scylla to pass through the two giants without losing any more men.
As they approached the mouth of the strait between Scylla and Charyvdis the men were terrified of what would happen next as they knew if they veered either side they would be met with violent deaths.
Odysseus remained quiet and reflective on the fact he would have to lose six of his crew, but he knew the sacrifice had to be made to save himself and the others. He had not told any of his men that they would need to be sacrificed and he never forgot having to betray them. As they passed Scylla, she picked up six men and allowed the rest of the crew to pass through safely. As they continued to sail from Charyvdis, managing to survive, they could hear the screams of the men that had been sacrificed to Scylla in the distance.
The Cattle of Helios
After a hectic few days, Odysseus weighed anchor at the island of Thrinacia. The island itself was sacred to the sun god, Helios, who had cattle that freely grazed on the land. Odysseus had been warned by both Circe and Tiresius to not harm the cattle, but his men ignored his instructions and slaughtered the cattle to eat them.
Enraged, Helios sought council with Zeus, telling him he would send the sun down to Hades never to rise again if something wasn’t done about the men’s behaviour. Zeus appeased Helios by sinking Odysseus’ ship with a thunderbolt as it was leaving Thrinacia, killing every man on board except for Odysseus himself. Odysseus was swept past Scylla and Charyvdis and washed up ashore on an unknown island.
Odysseus had found himself on the island of Ogygia. A nymph named Calypso found him unconscious on the beach and immediately felt affection for him. She promised Odysseus immortality in exchange for his love, he agreed and spent seven years on the island with the nymph.
However, Odysseus once again craved to go home to Ithaca and his family, he missed his wife and his son dearly and even the beautiful Calypso couldn’t fill the void he was feeling in his heart.
Calypso was not so eager to let him go, she had fallen in love with him and tried to make him stay. But Hermes, on behalf of Zeus, appeared to Calypso and told her she must let Odysseus go.
Odysseus built a raft and set off to Ithaca on a wooden float, but found himself caught in the middle of a storm, which once again took him ashore to another strange island.
Back on Ithaca
Ten years since the end of the Trojan War, Telemachus, Odysseus’ son had just turned the age of twenty and decided to search for his father. His mother, Penelope, was being pestered consistently by many men asking for her hand in marriage.
It had been ten years since the end of the Trojan War and day after day she refused the advances of these men and told them that she was weaving a burial shroud for Odysseus’ father and only when this was complete would she even think about marrying any of them.
Penelope would weave the cloth in the daytime and undo it at night, so the potential suitors were kept waiting indefinitely, as she knew deep down her husband would return. However, much to Penelope’s dismay a chambermaid betrayed her and told the suitors what she had been doing, so they were soon back asking for her hand and the kingdom of Ithaca.
Meanwhile, Telemachus set out on his quest aided by the goddess Athena and alongside his crew, he went to Sparta to meet Menelaus and ask him if he had news from his father. Unfortunately, Menelaus had no information to give to Telemachus, so disappointed he returned to Ithaca.
The land of the Phaeacians is believed to be modern-day Corfu and is the area where Odysseus had found himself after enduring a terrible storm. The local princess, Nafsica found Odysseus on the shore and led him to the palace of her father.
Whilst in the court of King Alcinous and Queen Arete, Odysseus heard the bard sing of the Trojan War. He became overcome with grief and broke down in tears as people gathered around him asking him who he really was and why the stories affected him so much. Odysseus revealed his true identity and after listening to his ordeals, the Phaeacians gave him their fastest ship in order to get back home to Ithaca.
And with that he finally managed to return to his homeland, eager to see his family who he had been separate from for two whole decades.
A Hero’s Return
One would think Odysseus’ triumphant return would be met with songs and dance. But his arrival went unnoticed as he had wanted.
He disguised himself as a beggar and approached the palace, first meeting his old servants and then his son, Telemachus. He learned of the men bothering Penelope and decided to go straight to her, still in his disguise.
He told her about her husband’s bravery and how he had helped in winning the Trojan War. He watched as Penelope had tears in her eyes and then approached the suitors who had been constantly hanging around the palace. She gave them a simple task, she would marry any one of them who could string Odysseus’ bow and shoot an arrow through twelve axe-handles joined together.
They all pushed each other out of the way to be the first to succeed but they did not know that the task they faced was very much impossible. One by one, they tried their luck but to no avail. Finally, Odysseus picked up the bow, stringing it with ease and in a fluid motion let it fly piercing all twelve axe handles.
Everyone was shocked by what they had seen, and with that Odysseus revealed his true identity and began massacring the suitors aided by his son Telemachus and the swineherd Eumaeus. It did not take long to clear the court of all 108 of them. The suitors were now dead and the maid-servants who had made themselves the pleasure slaves of the suitors were hung.
When Penelope heard of the massacre she ran to the court. She refused to believe the strange beggar was her long lost husband so she set up another test for him. Penelope ordered the palace servants to remove the bed from her bed-chamber to the hall outside. Odysseus showcased visible anger, opposing the idea stating the bed had been fashioned out of living oak by himself and nobody in the whole world could move it. Penelope was so joyful at hearing this she rushed to hug Odysseus as he was the only one who knew the secret about their bed and those words were proof she needed to believe him.
Leaving His Loves Behind
Although this would be a wholesome end to the story, this is not how it finished. The Prophet Tiresius had forewarned Odysseus that once he had reasserted himself as King of Ithaca he needed to travel inland holding the oar of a ship. After a few years, Odysseus crowned his son King of Ithaca and left him and his wife Penelope to travel on the opposite inland.
After many days of wandering with the oar in his hand, Odysseus came across people who had never seen the sea and who did not know what an oar was. Odysseus finished his travels here and married a local princess.
For many years he lived amongst the people who had never seen the ocean, breathing his last breath far from the sea, his family and his dearest Ithaca.
What a tale! - We certainly would not like to be forced away from the ocean for too long and we can absolutely see why Odysseus adored Ithaca so much.
Thankfully we do not need to battle monsters, get stranded on islands or please the gods to enjoy the stunning waters of this beautiful island. So, without a six-headed monster insight, why don’t you book a trip with us for next year?
You can find all the information on our website: www.thebigblueswim.com
We’ll see you there.
12 October 2021