Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Tomb it may concern

Are you ready for this?

The tomb of Odysseus has been found! And, as a fringe benefit, the real location of his home, ancient Ithaka!

You read it here second. The story has been laid before a gasping world by the Madera (California) Tribune. [Hat tip: Across the Atlantic.]

According to the columnist, Thomas Elias, for the Tribune:
POROS, Island of Kefalonia, Greece - The tomb of Odysseus has been found, and the location of his legendary capital city of Ithaca discovered here on this large island across a one-mile channel from the bone-dry islet that modern maps call Ithaca.

This could be the most important archeological discovery of the last 40 years, a find that may eventually equal the German archeologist Heinrich Schliemann’s 19th Century dig at Troy.
Yes, well.
The discovery of what is almost certainly his tomb reveals that crafty Odysseus, known as Ulysses in many English renditions of Homer’s “Iliad” and “Odyssey,” was no mere myth, but a real person. Plus, passages in the “Odyssey” itself suggest that modern Ithaca and its main town of Vathi probably were not the city and island of which Homer wrote.

Rather, this small village of Poros on the southeast coast of Kefalonia now occupies part of a site that most likely was the much larger city which served as capital of the multi-island kingdom ruled by Odysseus and his father Laertes.
The evidence?
In 1991, a tomb of the type used to bury ancient Greek royalty was found near the hamlet of Tzannata in the hills outside Poros. It is the largest such tomb in northeastern Greece, with remains of at least 72 persons found in its stone niches.

One find there is particularly telling. 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.
Has any scholar or archaeologist done a tap dance over this extraordinary site? No, the writer's source was -- are you ready for this?
The most active promoter of the Poros area as Homeric Ithaca is the current mayor, who at one time was governor of the prefecture (county or small state) including both Ithaca and Kefalonia.
Now, look. I'd be as happy as you like if it could be determined with any seriousness that Odysseus was a real person and not an artistic creation, that his tomb was found, and that artifacts from the tomb saw the daylight again after 2,300 years in Hades.

But anybody who knows of the ever-controversial Heinrich Schliemann will realize that we've been down this road before.

If Elias had consulted any archeologist, pro- or anti-Schliemann, he would surely have been told the famous story of how Schliemann proclaimed at the site of Mycenae, "I have gazed on the face of Agamemnon!" after finding a gold mask in the tombs there. He telegraphed the King of Greece, "With great joy I announce to Your Majesty that I have discovered the tombs which the tradition proclaimed by Pausanias indicates to be the graves of Agamemnon, Cassandra, Eurymedon and their companions, all slain at a banquet by Clytemnestra and her lover Aegisthos."

Only thing, the so-called Mask of Agamemnon turned out to be from about 300 years earlier than the presumed date of the Trojan War. Some modern archeologists think the mask is a fake. (I must admit, that handlebar mustache -- so typical of the late 19th century, the period of Schliemann's discovery -- always struck me as slightly dodgy.)

I've read Elias's article several times, looking for a tipoff that it was written tongue-in-cheek, for a wink between the lines. If it's there, it's too subtle for me. He adds, without apparent irony:
If Poros is Ithaca, who would ever go to the barren island now using the name? And if tiny Poros ever gets a huge tourist and cruise ship influx, what happens to Argostoli, now the center for those trades on Kefalonia?

As a result, the entire find has never been reported in the non-Greek press. And so far, major world media show little or no interest in the tale. But for lovers of Homer’s sagas, there’s now no place more appealing than Kefalonia.
Wouldn't the mayor of Poros like to catch some of that tourist trade? Think of it, Nikos -- right there on the main drag, the Odysscotheque! The Penelope Weaving Outlet! Telemachos Wireless!

As several bloggers have noticed, the standards of the mainstream print media have been in freefall in recent years. And, it would seem, not only when their political funnybone is struck.

Twenty or 30 years ago, a howler like Elias's piece would have been spiked by an editor even on an off-brand small-town paper.

This is indeed a Poros story. Full of holes.

1 comment:

Cuz said...

You've done a brilliant job with the site, Rick. It looks outstanding.