Ithaca (Ithaki) Map

There is little convincing archaeology to enjoy on Ithaki, and many will prefer to imagine what Homeric parallels they can at the evocatively renamed sites.

From Vathy a road leads south to the Marathia Plateau, perhaps the site of Eumaeus’ hut. Another leads north, past Dexia Bay (perhaps where Odysseus was set down by the Phaeacians) to the spectacularly sited Alalkomenai (which Schliemann identified as Odysseus’ palace) before reaching the pretty village of Stavros, with fine views across the sea to Cephalonia/Kephallonia. Further north is Mycenaean Platrithias, currently promoted as the genuine location of Odysseus’ palace. Southeast of Stavros is Polis Bay with its (collapsed) Cave of the Tripods.

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Hades: Ephyra & the Gateway to the Underworld

Install your mast, hoist the white sail and take your seat! The breath of the North Wind will guide your ship. Across the boundaries of Ocean, you will find a fertile headland and groves sacred to Persephone with tall black poplars and willows which yield fruit. Here you must beach your ship by the shores of deep-eddying Ocean, and go on foot to the dank house of Haides. Here the Periphlegethon and the Cocytus flow into the River Acheron, which is itself an offshoot of the waters of the Styx; and here, where the two raging rivers meet, there is a craggy rock

Homer, Odyssey, 10.508f.

Across fertile plough-land the early sunlight pours obliquely through the lush green mountains of Thesprotia. Crows caw lazily from distant clumps of trees, their conversations interspersed by the atonic clack of sheep’s bells in the pastureland below and the bark of dogs nearby in sleepy gardens. To the north, the mound whose tumbled masonry was Cichyrus, the region’s ancient capital, is thrown into sharp focus by the slanting light, while to the west, beyond the cliffs, the limpid sea melts to the far horizon. Just inland are lagoons, the home of languid turtles and iridescent dragonflies, which skim coquettishly above the glassy water. It is all so peaceful.

But hunters’ gunshots startle suddenly. All is not always as it seems. Even the rivers gliding through the reeds have a darkly haunting past. The Acheron is still the Acheron, but the Mavros was once called Periphlegethon and the Vbuvos was Cocytus. In antiquity they were the rivers of Hades. And here, on the crag beneath the Church of St John the Baptist, a slippery iron ladder leads deep into the gloom to a vaulted chamber, its atmosphere fetid with the hot breath of decay. It is an earthy place, a stifling place. To climb back to the sunlight feels like a rebirth. In antiquity this may have been the Necromanteion, ‘Oracle of the Dead’; some say Odysseus communed with spirits here. For at Ephyra, in northwest Greece, may be a gateway to Hades.

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