The Basic Guide to the Odyssey (Part 2)

The Basic Guide to the Odyssey (Part 2)
 08/10/2017 03:09 AM

The cliffs of Vlotis are the sheer rocks that Odysseus sees at Od.13.196. They are also the site of Raven’s Rock where Eumaios lets his pigs forage. Here the holly oak thrives along the even ground high above the sea.The quercus ilex provides acorns that mature within a year. A source notes that ‘the quercus ilex has become one of the top three trees used for truffle orchards. The acorns are a major food source for the free range pigs which are reared to produce Iberico ham' (

Odysseus’ palace is either on the site of the modern Polykentro Pylarou, or in the vicinity of the Divarata Orthodox Church just to the west. We lean to the former since the flat area in front of it corresponds to the stadium where the suitors try their hand at field sports (Od.4.625-627). The Ithacan spring is about 100 metres up the green gorge that leads from the Divarata-Antipata road towards Kalon Oros (the mountain named Neriton or Neion). The spring trickled down what is now a decayed rock face some way up the gorge from Strifti’s Well. It is accessed by crossing the road and entering the undergrowth near the red water hydrant. Another old well lies further up the gorge. Water was and still is abundant here. 

Modern Paliki is the ancient Sami. We base this on the fact that the north-west tip of Assos (Asteris) is half way between Dafnoudi and Zona just as Homer effectively says (4. 845: ‘[Asteris] μεσσηγὺς Ἰθάκης τε Σάμοιό τε παιπαλοέσσης’). The island of Assos once had two twin harbours but, like many a starfish, it has lost some of its limbs (to erosion). This erosion is very ancient, for Strabo quotes the Hellenistic source Demetrius of Scepsis as observing the changed appearance of Asteris (1.8.17-18; 10.2.15-16). On Assos, to the south-west of Phrourio, there is a straight edge of rocky coast running north-west to south-east. This, stretch, like Dafnoudi, has lost its headlands that once protruded to the south-west at both ends. These headlands enclosed a fourth bay that accompanied the three others that can still be seen (two on top, two below). The island once had four bays and this corresponds to the correct meaning of the adjective appended to it (‘ἀμφιδυμος’ means ‘twinned [bays] on both sides’). The descendant of the town of Alalcomenai occupies the isthmus of Assos. Alalcomenai has been confused with a different settlement on a different isthmus on a different Ithaca. The cars that trundle off the 08.15 Sami-Ithaca ferry will be familiar with it. It is an impostor. Assos is, like Asteris, an island in the sense that all Greek peninsulas could be termed islands. The etymology of the word Peloponnese (‘the island of Pelops’) allows this argument to be settled out of court. In Apollonius Rhodius the peninsula of Abydos is similarly termed an ‘island’ (1.936-400). Readers are referred to the appendices of Odysseus Unbound by Robert Brittlestone where James Diggle does an exemplary job of arguing this very point (pp.510-511). Ithaca too becomes a peninsula during stormy weather and can be defined as 'an island' as we have seen.


It is worth exploring the identification of Assos and Ateris further. The strait between Ithaca and rugged Samos is the place chosen by Antinoos for a hastily-arranged ambush on the returning Telemachus (‘ἐν πορθμῷ Ἰθάκης τεΣάμοιό τε παιπαλοέσσης’: 4.671). The word for ‘strait’ (πορθμος’) is important here. It refers to a stretch of sea that can be crossed. Generally this will be bounded by land on two sides and will constitute a narrows such as the strait of Messina. However such a strait may be bounded on three sides (such as the Saronic gulf).  The sea off Myrtos Bay is a form of truncated ‘πορθμος’. That is the North coast of Paliki curves around east to west and then bends north enclosing the seas to the left of Erissos in what may be described as a parallelogram-shaped ‘πορθμος’.  Our suggestion then is that ‘rocky Samos’ is today’s Paliki.

At first we learn that the ambush will take place in this strait. Later the exact site is defined as a rocky island in the middle of the sea between Samos and Ithaca. It is called Asteris, a small islet with twin harbours on both sides (‘ἔστι δέ τις νῆσοςμέσσῃἁλὶ πετρήεσσα, / μεσσηγὺς Ἰθάκης τεΣάμοιότεπαιπαλοέσσης, / Ἀστερίς, οὐμεγάλη: λιμένες δ᾽ἔνιναύλοχοι αὐτῇ / ἀμφίδυμοι: τῇ τόνγε μένον λοχόωντεςἈχαιοί’: 4.844-847). Homer’s understanding of the concept ‘in the middle of’ can be expressed as ‘in the middle of, over to one side’. This is position of the islet of Asteris viz-a-viz Paliki and Erissos. This island is linked to the mainland by an isthmus but otherwise it meets the geographical criteria. Its name Assos seems to be an abbreviation of Asteris. It is not large but it is rocky.

The adjective ‘ἀμφίδυμοι’ has been understood as ‘with one [harbour] on each side’ and is elsewhere applied to isthmuses which are conducive to twin harbours. Indeed Assos itself has the potential to provide such harbours at its isthmus. But the shape of Assos suggests Homer may have used ‘ἀμφίδυμοι’ in a particularly literal sense. First of all we should note that Asteris is mentioned by Strabo on two occasions. His first mention is in some ways the more intriguing. He compares Asteris’ fate to that of the Echinades islands the appearance of which had been altered by silting. Not only has Asteris changed, says Strabo, ‘it does not even afford a decent place to drop anchor’ (1.3.18) The impression Strabo leaves is that Asteris is vastly altered and that previously it had offered exceptional mooring facilities. Later Strabo cites Demetrius of Scepsis as an authority for the post-Homeric disfigurement of Asteris. Again the disfigurement seems to relate to its status as ‘ἀμφίδυμοι’. Another author quoted by Strabo, Apollodorus, rejects these findings and asserts Asteris to be unchanged.

The present shape of Asteris as seen from above is that of a frog which is missing its left leg. Now given that sea levels around Asteris were much lower in ancient times, one is tempted to see the two inlets at the top of the island as having been sandy coves, offering anchorage. Meanwhile, if a small promontory of the shape of a frog’s leg is restored to the bottom left of the island, and if the central protrusion is extended south to form its own promontory, then the southern profile of the island could also constitute a double bay. In other words the island has the potential to have provided ‘twin harbours on both sides’. This latter phrase is a possible, etymological interpretation of the word ‘ἀμφίδυμοι’, which, on this reading would derive from ‘ἀμφί’ (‘on both sides)’ and ‘δυμοι’ (that is, ‘διδυμοι’) meaning ‘twin’. Indeed there is another instance in which the prefix ‘ἀμφί’ doubles the value of the suffix rather than simply confirming it. The name 'Amphitrite' is that of Poseidon’s wife. In Pythagoreanism however, her name means ‘6’ on the basis that ‘ἀμφί’ means ‘both’ and ‘τριτη’ derives from ‘τριας’ (‘triad’) or ‘τριτη’ (‘thrice’). Amphitrite is twice three, that is six.

In any case our reconstruction of the island’s shape now takes account of the concerns of Strabo and Demetrius. For two separate mentions of the island changing shape cannot be passed over lightly. Indeed it is hard not to allow the possibility that some catastrophic event lies behind these observations. This is particularly the case when one considers the background of the word Asteris. The word means ‘star’. But it also means ‘starfish’ the shape of which will have been very familiar to all coast-loving Greeks. A starfish has five limbs however. Asteris has, at best, four. If the island’s left leg and central protrusion were extended into one very large promontory - such that only one bay were formed to the south - that would restore the exact shape of a starfish to Starfish Island (three limbs at the top, two to the south). However to uphold the etymological meaning of ‘ἀμφίδυμοι’ seems of greater moment. A starfish with six limbs is after all not unknown and there is even a species called ‘brittle fish’ that regularly has six legs. We suggest that Asteris used to have six promontories, three on each side. Within these nestled four bays, two on each side. The word ‘ἀμφίδυμοι’ (‘twin [bays] on both sides’) was coined by Homer to relay this information as precisely as possible. We further suggest that Apollodorus thought the island had not changed because he thought the adjective ‘ἀμφίδυμοι’ meant ‘with twin harbours’, that is ‘with two harbours’. He saw the island after it had lost up to two promontories in an earthquake. However he did not realise it had changed because he misinterpreted his text. He was looking for two harbours and he found both of them, we suggest, probably on the north coast. He might have found three had he noticed the little cove on the south coast that can still be seen today

One imagines that an earthquake struck Erissos some time after Homer was writing. Unless that is, the cataclysm happened after the events of the Trojan Cycle and Homer is being strictly faithful to the shape of the world that obtained when Odysseus was alive. Given the testimonies of Strabo and Demetrius, the first possibility seems more likely. We therefore think Apollodorus is wrong to contradict these authors. On the other hand we are very happy to accept Apollodorus’ other contribution, namely that a city called Alalcomenae stood on the isthmus itself. Remarkably, even today houses mark the isthmus, a testament to the longevity of human settlement - and of traditions of settlement - in the Ionian Islands.

Another one of Strabo’s salient comments is that Asteris is said to lie between Ithaca and Cephallenia. We are happy to suppose that by Strabo’s day Samos had become a part of wider Cephallenia. It is clear from Homer however that Samos had had an independent identity in his day (such that it was known as a separate ‘island’). Bittlestone has gone so far as to locate Ithaca on our Samos (modern Paliki). Unfortunately, Bittlestone’s enthusiasm has blinded him to one very salient fact that has been highlightedby James Diggle having been proposed and defended much earlier by A.E.H Goekoop (and more recently by C.H. Goekoop). The word ‘island’ in Greek can refer to a peninsula, particularly a peninsula attached to the mainland by an isthmus. The passage of Apollonius Rhodius discussed by Diggle makes this very clear. Apollonius’ ‘island’ (Cyzicus) is a peninsula connected only by an isthmus to the mainland. Meanwhile Apollonius’ diction directly alludes to Asteris through the striking word ‘ἀμφίδυμοι’. Apollonius is alerting us to his interpretation of Asteris as a Cyzicus-type island. He was right. But it also follows that Erissos in May must also be accounted an ‘island’ attached as it is to the mainland by an isthmus (on which there is a town, just as on Asteris). The extreme precipitation that falls in Pylaros from time to time  fills the Xeropotamos from Divarata to Agia Efimia whilst also cascading into Myrtos Bay. Effectively this leaves an isthmus to the south of the Polycentro Pylarou. 

The antiquity of the word ‘nesos’ as meaning ‘peninsula with an isthmus’ is clear from the very word ‘Peloponnesos’. Leaving aside as a special case the etymological word division of ‘Pelopos Nesos’ practised by the Cypria and by Sophocles, the word ‘Peloponnesos’ itself cannot have caused Greeks sleepless nights worrying that ‘nesos’ is not a proper way to describe the Peloponnese. The ancients were obsessed with etymologies and their aptness. Yet they never agonise over ‘Peloponnesos’.

Thus if the Greeks had realised Homer uses the word ‘nesos’ to describe Erissos in the grip of a May storm (13.95), we may be sure that they would have applauded the description. Yet neither will they have worried unduly about Samos (Paliki) being termed an island (1.246; 9.24). It too has an isthmus, albeit a very large one. Bittlestone found the leap from an Asteris-size isthmus to a Paliki-sized one too wide to attempt. Yet the isthmus at Corinth is itself not small at 4 kilometres.

 The majority of the textual evidence for Asteris comes from Antinoos’ tetchy  speech at 16.364f. The ‘windy heights’ where the look-outs sat (or lay) are a notorious feature of Asteris. Meanwhile the seas around Assos are prone to strong winds. Sailors in Myrtos Bay report winds veering 180 degrees.

The twin site of what is today termed ‘ancient Sami’ occupies the hills outside modern Sami. This is the ancient Nericum, towards which Laertes gazes wistfully when remembering a youthful exploit of his. Laertes lives high on the hills overlooking Agia Efimia on the north side of Pylaros. Cephallenia is modern Kefalonia excluding Paliki and Erissos. Hermes’ Hill is the hill of Libas above Divarata. From there it is just possible to see a ship turning ninety degrees past the northern headland of Myrtos Bay in order to enter the harbour. This is the claim made by Eumaios in approaching Odysseus' palace from the hills north of Kalon Oros. In general the Pylaros valley is the scene of the Ithacan books of the Odyssey. Meanwhile on the mainland, Nestor’s Palace is on the southern part of the ridge of Mt Skollis.

Odysseus Books 9-12

As for Odysseus’ travels, Ismaros in the land of the Cicones lies on the south-eastern edge of the peninsula of Chrysophora in sub-Rhodopean Greece. The land where the fleet spends two nights after its sails are shredded is Lemnos. From Lemnos Odysseus is blown around Malea, past the southern Peloponnese, beyond Kefalonia, and on inland along the Istrian Danube to the Romanian Danube. This route lies behind our claim that the Land of the Lotus Eaters lies along the Sfantu Gheorghe arm of the Danube Delta, at Tulcea. The Lotus Flower is today known as the ‘ciulin de balta’ in Romanian. Its taste has been compared to that of a honeyed peach but with more juice ('ὅςτιςλωτοῖοφάγοιμελι ηδέακαρπόν': Od.9.94). the involuntary landing by Odysseus’ fleet  on the island opposite the Cyclopes’ island is the result of the ship exiting the fog-bound Danube Delta at high speed along the turbulent, fast-flowing Sfantu Gheorghe before beaching unceremoniously on this island. The speed of these waters is attested by Dionysios Perigetes (298-300: e.g. ‘πασαν ὓδατος ἀχνην’ ‘all the foam of its water’), along with Arrian, Lucan (Bellum Civile 3.202) and Valerius Flaccus. The island where the ships come to rest is a floating island of poplar and willow such as form and reform in the Delta. The word 'λαχεια' (Od. 9.116) means 'floating'. Anchoring is unserviceable on such an island since the island’s movement will result in anchored ships being dragged into open waters (at Od. 9.116f 'οὐ ‘χρεος’ does not mean ‘there is no need of’ but rather 'unserviceable'). By contrast, stern cables will be very serviceable since they are attached to features of the island.

The seas have retreated here since ancient times by contrast with the Ionian Sea around Kefalonia. The long-lost settlement of Ad Stoma is to be found at kilometre 38 of Bratul Sfantu Gheorghe where today there are three small river islands. Opposite is the site of the deserted village of Galinova. To the south of this point one would have been on the ancient island of Peuce which stretched from here to Lacul Cernet then across to Lacul Cosnei before heading north to Murighiol and back to Cernet. The 'windy heights' of Murighiol and Carabair are where the other Cyclopes lived. Polyphemus’ cave meanwhile was very near Cernet. In front of his cave was an area of sand flats where Odysseus brought his ship to land.

The island of Aeolus is Berezan. This island is surrounded by forbidding cliffs just as Odysseus points out  (Od.10.3-4: ‘πλωτῇ ἐνὶ νήσῳ: πᾶσαν δέ τέ μιν πέρι τεῖχος / χάλκεον ἄρρηκτον, λισσὴ δ᾽ ἀναδέδρομε πέτρη’). Moreover these cliffs are almost uniformly the colour of bronze as Odysseus also suggests. From there it takes Odysseus 9 days to get to within sight of Kefalonia. It had also taken him 9 days to be blown from Cythera via Kefalonia to the Land of the Lotus Eaters. The distances therefore between (a) Berezan and the Land of the Lotus Eaters and (b) Kefalonia and Cythera should be approximately the same. From Cythera to the southern cape of Leukas (where we suggest Odysseus must have seen the watch fires on Erissos) is 345 kilometres. This will also be the distance from Aeolus’ Island to the Land of the Lotus Eaters, at modern Tulcea. There ‘ciulini de balta’ are freely available even today. The cliffs to which Odysseus tied his ship in the Land of the Laestrygonians should be those in the area of Zhemchuzina and Lebedevka in the Ukraine. Circe’s island Aeaea is Insula Serpilor (Romanian) or Zmeínyj (Ukraine). The plant Moly is the Romanian plant Iarba Fiarelor. The Underworld is entered at Murighiol in the Danube. Acheron is the Sfantu Gheorghe channel of the Danube from Murighiol to Kilometre 38 of the river. Periphlegethon occupies the upper Sfantu Gheorghe channel between Patlageanca and Murighiol. Cocytus is the modern Beibugeac Channel (now dry land between Sarinasuf and Murighiol). Lake Razelm is the Stygian Lake. When, in Odyssey 11, Homer says Odysseus crossed Ocean and beached his ship he means Odysseus traversed the strong residual current of the Sfantu Gheorghe branch (beyond kilometre 38) and beached on the sand flats mentioned above. He then walked along the edge of the island of Peuce to Murighiol passing the Cyclops’ cave whilst, as before, driving sheep. The fog-bound Cimmerians are the dwellers of the Lower Danube which is still regularly affectedby mists. The Romanian author Sadoveanu described the Delta as 'the land beyond the mist'.

Towards the end of Book 12 the ship leaves the Island of the Cattle of the Sun. This we consider to be Lemnos, for a variety of reasons. Firstly Odysseus reaches this island on the evening of the day on which he left Circe on Aeaea. In the meantime he had encountered the Sirens and the Planctae, not to mention Scylla and Charybdis. Scylla, we suggest, allegorises the pirates that infested the Thracian Chersonnese whose modus operandi must have been to pluck a handful of sailors from the targeted ship to sell as slaves. The pirate ship was a hemiola fitted for speed, not cargo. In any case there must have been a ‘modus vivendi’ in operation such that the cargo ships would budget to lose a certain number of men at the same time as the pirates would not bite too hard the hands that fed them. For the Athens of the Pelopnnesian War, paying the pirates in manpower was part of the price for supplying Athens with Getic grain crops. Secondly, Charybdis represents the towering waves and dangerous eddies along the Asiatic bank of the Dardanelles created by the by the underlying counter-current along the SE coast from Kumkale Burnu to Sarisglar, and fed (or 'wind forced') by the south-westerly winds (Pliny 5.40; Apollonius Rhodius: ‘Ἀθαμαντίδος αἰπὰ ῥέεθρα εἰσέβαλον’: 1.927-928; Ovid Metamorphoses 8.121).The Sirens’ island meanwhile may be an area of sea near Insula Serpilor often  known today as the White Whirlpool. This is an area where planes and  ships go missing without a trace. The Planctae may represent the smoke  and green flashes that are seen to engulf vessels that disappear in this  area.

We mentioned Insula Serpilor. This is the hinge of Odysseus' entire voyage. It lies 40 kilometres out to sea from Sulina and constitutes the site of Circe's island. For more on Aeaea see the entry under The Island of the Snakes on this site. In general we consider the Black Sea to be the location of Odysseus’ encounters with the monsters and divinities of books 9-12.

Lemnos is the first, natural port of call for a ship exiting the Dardanelles. Even today it has a reputation for cattle-raising, alongside agriculture and fishing. The Holy Day of Saint Modestos, the patron saint of cattle-breeders, is observed on December 18 at the village of Katalako by the ‘kechagiades’ (‘breeders’) who gather there from their ‘mandra’ (‘farms’) to sing and dance in traditional costume. Even more interesting is the DNA relationship between the ancient Etruscans and Lemniotes, and the possibility that the latter as Proto-Etruscans migrated to Tuscany taking their ‘sacred’ cattle with them[1]. 

[1] ‘Roman tradition had it that the Trojans fled the destruction of their city and rove the Mediterranean (or migrated overland?), resettling on the Italian peninsula. They took their cattle with them. This is credible, inasmuch as an extinct language akin to Etruscan is attested on the island of Lemnos in the northeastern corner of the Aegean, and ancient cattle bones in Tuscany have a closest genetic match in penecontemporaneous cattle bones of northwestern Anatolia. Evidently the Trojans/Etruscans were loathe to part company with their accustomed, perhaps sacrosanct, cattle’

In Book 12, on leaving Lemnos for the second time Odysseus is no longer in charge. His men have eaten the Cattle of the Sun without obvious ill-effect. When the cyclonic wind  abates the crew, no doubt under orders from Eurylochos, head out  under oars but with the sail hoisted. The ship is in the eye of a storm however. The helmsman should have expected to see a return of the 'black bar of cloud that signals the imminence of a cyclone. But these men have the reckless presumptuousness of the very well fed.Thship heads north-east to round the cape north of Plaka. It then heads south-east towards Lesbos. Ironically the crew will lose their lives half-way between Lemnos and Lesbos thanks to a Zephyr but not one that wrecks them against the coast. Eurylochos deliberately takes the direction north-east then south-east out of Lemnos in order to not be embarrassed by his words. He had earlier warned of being wrecked by a sudden Zephyr when sailing by night past land. Indeed this had been the argument that had originally forced Odysseus to put in at Lemnos much against his will. That night a violent storm had arisen which on the face of it had vindicated Eurylochus' words.  However the time of that storm puts it 12 hours into the night by which time Odysseus, by tracking past the northern and western coasts of Lemnos would have been well south-west of the island. 

We know that 12 hours elasped for several reasons, principally (but not just)  because the Great Bear had turned in its axis, as we now explain. If one extrapolates the line of Merak and Dubhe in the Great Bear towards the pole star (the 'axis'), one is creating the hour hand of a watch. For this hand if it begins by being vertical will pass through 180 degrees in 12 hours before it next becomes vertical again. Thus when Ovid says in Tristia 1.3 that the Great Bear had turned on its axis he means that the Bear had passed through 12 hours of night. Self-evidently there is no Great Bear until it is dark. Thus nightfall will always be the starting-point from which an inversion of the Great Bear will signal the passage of 12 hours. 

The same situation is encountered in Odyssey 12. Indeed Homer’s comment that ‘it was the third watch’ and the ‘stars had [already] turned round’ (12.312) is central to an assessment of the time and date.  Firstly, only circumpolar stars can be seen to invert ('turn upside down'). Secondly, the inversion of Ursa Major takes 12 hours obliging, us to assume that the night in question on the island is itself longer than 12 hours. This locates the date in the period between the Autumn and Spring Equinoxes. Nor does Homer say that the third watch was just beginning or about to finish. In fact what he says (‘ἦμοςδὲτρίχανυκτὸςἔην’: Od 12.312) has two meanings and these two meanings, if synthesised, will give us the exact date and time.

Our initial view of ‘ἦμος δὲ τρίχα νυκτὸςἔην’ is that it means 'when there was a third of the night still to run'. However nothing prevents the same words meaning ‘when there was a third of the watch still to run’. Normally when ‘νυξ, νυκτὸς' means ‘a watch’ it is in the plural, but no rule exists in this regard. To find the last third of a third watch is straightforward. The likeliest scenario is that the night watches were by now 4.5 hours long and that we are two thirds of the way through (12 hours through) the final watch (3 hours out of 4.5). The period of darkness remaining will be 1.5 hours and the actual time is is 05.48. The date we suggest is November 1st.  Meanwhile, although we have not based this estimation on the weather, nevertheless the fact that storms are prevalent in the humidity of a Greek November does nothing to gainsay our theory. Furthermore. the date of November 1st empowers Homer’s phrase ‘μῆνα δὲ πάντ[α]᾽ at 12.325 to refer to the calendar month of November. Secondly, the location of the Island of the Sun is, we suggest, Lemnos, an island where the night of October 31st/November 1st is exactly 13.5 hours long. We are used to talking loosely of a month as any period of four weeks or so. Yet nothing prevents Homer speaking more precisely in this context. If this night is the one that introduces November, then it can be used to calculate the day when Odysseus returns to Ithaca. The storm strikes two-thirds of the way through the third of three watches. It is already November 1st.

We do not know how long the crew had been on Lemnos when supplies began to run short and the crew were forced like a Philoctetes to fish and to prey on birds and wildlife. But the same, forced sojourn on an island is the lot of Menalaus and his crew on Pharos.There  Menelaus is detained 20 days. This is the full period between arriving and departing. It does not mean that the men only became hungry after 20 days. The sentence 'all their supplies and strength would have been exhausted' is similar to the way one might say 'you could have been arrested and not bailed' (i.e 'you were arrested but then bailed'). In Book 4, the sentence 'καί νύκενἤι απάντα κατέφθιτοκαὶμένε᾽ἀνδρῶν' could be interpreted as 'both the supplies and their strength would have been exhausted, had not ... ' but this could mean that the supplies were all gone but  not the strength'. Clearly the men's strength was still sufficient to allow them to wander the island perpetually (i.e this had also been going on for some long time - for 6-7 days we suggest). Whereas in Book 12 it is the very moment when the supplies run out and the men 'begin to seek after prey' that Odysseus acts. The men there will not seek prey until the supplies run out. All this suggests that Odysseus leaves Lemnos (like Menelaus) after 20 days which includes the 6-7 days eating the cattle. If we apply this dating to the Lemnos episode we will conclude that the ship sets out from Lemnos on November 20th (the 7th day after the start of the consumption of the cattle). By the next day Odysseus, the sole survivor, has reached Charybdis. He does not risk a passage of Scylla, as Scylla always takes a victim or two and Odysseus is the only available crew member. By the evening of the next day, the 21st, Odysseus' cobbled-together raft is spat back at him by Charybdis' whirlpool. From there we count 10 nights until Odysseus reaches the island of Calypso. It is the night of the 30th November-1st December 1198 BCE.

Now there was a solar eclipse that night which was visible in New Zealand. There had also been one on the night of November 1st. We suggest that these dates serve to articulate the transition from Circe (abandoned on October 31st) to the 'hidden one' Calypso, 'hidden' in the sense of being eclipsed, and in the sense of being a cryptic Circe, a Circe well able to cast an irresistible spell on humans. Circe was the daughter of Helios. She inhabited the island of the dawn, Aeaea (today 'Insula Serpilor' in Romanian), which another tradition considers to have been the home of Calyspo who received Aeaea as a patronymic (Pomponius Mela, ii. 7; Propertius iii. 10. 31). In any case, in 10 nights, Odysseus only has time to get to Aeaea from Charybdis. It is as remote as Hermes considers Ogygia to be (Book 5) and yet equally it lies in Odysseus' path. That Ogygia is Aeaea is quite likely therefore. All four things that Athene says of Ogygia at Od.1.50-51 ('νήσῳ ἐν ἀμφιρύτῃ,  ὅθιτ᾽ὀμφαλός ἐστι θαλάσσης. νῆσος δενδρήεσσα, θεὰ δ᾽ἐνδώματαναίει'), could be applied to Aeaea. It is the navel of the sea, it is wooded, it is sea-girt, and a goddess has her home there. 

Meanwhile Odysseus claims to have stayed 7 years on Ogygia, which we consider to hve been the period December 1st 1198 - 1191 [the years being counted as if the year 0 had existed]. He also says that the revolving eighth year 'departed'. Hesychius twice claims that the verb 'ἦλθεν' means 'to depart, go away'. Only after that, says Odysseus, did the goddess relent. Thus one could claim that Odysseus does not leave Ogygia till after December 2nd 1190 (already into the ninth year) on the day, as it happens, of another solar eclipse. Odysseus hints that Calypso had had her own private inkling that it was time she relinquished a hold on Odysseus ('ἢκαὶ νόοςἐτράπετ᾽αὐτῆς'; 'or even her own heart was changed'). Just as the eclipsed Sun turns in December so Calypso's heart is turned. At some later time, Hermes arrives, clearly in Spring (of 1189) judging by the effloresence of nature around Calypso's cave. By May 25th of 1189 BCE Odysseus has been shipwrecked off Naxos.

Lastly the Trojan War. 19 years to the day before Odysseus leaves Naxos after an eclipse of the Sun there had been another eclipse. This one, on 27th May 1208, signalled we suggest, the start of the Trojan War proper. Nine years after that, the Iliad begins on May 27th 1199 at the start of year 10. The heat in the Iliad is tangible. One day Nestor and the wounded Machaon arrive back at a gallop from the front. Despite this aerating ride, on arrival at Nestor's tent, they have to stand in the path of the sea breeze to dry the sweat from their tunics. 

In Iliad 1 there is a plague sent by Apollo lasting 9 days (May 27 th to June 5th counting inclusively). After that the gods spend 12 days on excursion in Ethiopia (June 5th to June 16th again counting inclusively). The unseemly Greek assembly takes place on the 10th day after the plague starts (June 6th) but the gods are said to have departed on the day before (June 5th). The gods have gone to soak up the atmosphere before the big event, a total eclipse of the sun which is only visible in Africa. Aethiopia etymologises as the 'blazing eye' and indeed the dark disk of the eclipsed Sun appears as a dark brown eye. The totality of the eclipse does not appear further north than Nairobi [ = ancient Aithiopia in our view] according to Stellarium, the online planetarium to the designers of which, along with Espanak and Meeus' with their data from their cataloguing of historical eclipses, we owe more than can be said in words. The latter's data needs to be rewound about 6 hours or so to square with Stellarium's figures. Thus the June 16th eclipse appears as the early hours of June 17th in Espanak and Meeus. Similarly the eclipse of May 27 1189 BCE appears there as the early hours of May 28. On June 16 1199, the gods return to Olympus and the Iliad proper can begin. 

© Barney McCullagh 2017. All rights reserved

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