1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Ithaca
ITHACA (Ἰθάκη), vulgarly Thiaki (Θιάκη), next to Paxo the smallest of the seven Ionian Islands, with an area of about 44 sq. m. It forms an eparchy of the nomos of Cephalonia in the kingdom of Greece, and its population, which was 9873 in 1870, is now about 13,000. The island consists of two mountain masses, connected by a narrow isthmus of hills, and separated by a wide inlet of the sea known as the Gulf of Molo. The northern and greater mass culminates in the heights of Anoi (2650 ft.), and the southern in Hagios Stephanos, or Mount Merovigli (2100 ft.). Vathy (Βαθύ = “deep”), the chief town and port of the island, lies at the northern foot of Mount Stephanos, its whitewashed houses stretching for about a mile round the deep bay in the Gulf of Molo, to which it owes its name. As there are only one or two small stretches of arable land in Ithaca, the inhabitants are dependent on commerce for their grain supply; and olive oil, wine and currants are the principal products obtained by the cultivation of the thin stratum of soil that covers the calcareous rocks. Goats are fed in considerable number on the brushwood pasture of the hills; and hares (in spite of Aristotle’s supposed assertion of their absence) are exceptionally abundant. The island is divided into four districts: Vathy, Aeto (or Eagle’s Cliff), Anoge (Anoi) or Upland, and Exoge (Exoi) or Outland.
The name has remained attached to the island from the earliest historical times with but little interruption of the tradition; though in Brompton’s travels (12th century) and in the old Venetian maps we find it called Fale or Val de Compar, and at a later date it not unfrequently appears as Little Cephalonia. This last name indicates the general character of Ithacan history (if history it can be called) in modern and indeed in ancient times; for the fame of the island is almost solely due to its position in the Homeric story of Odysseus. Ithaca, according to the Homeric epos, was the royal seat and residence of King Odysseus. The island is incidentally described with no small variety of detail, picturesque and topographical; the Homeric localities for which counterparts have been sought are Mount Neritos, Mount Neion, the harbour of Phorcys, the town and palace of Odysseus, the fountain of Arethusa, the cave of the Naiads, the stalls of the swineherd Eumaeus, the orchard of Laertes, the Korax or Raven Cliff and the island Asteris, where the suitors lay in ambush for Telemachus. Among the “identificationists” there are two schools, one placing the town at Polis on the west coast in the northern half of the island (Leake, Gladstone, &c.), and the other at Aeto on the isthmus. The latter site, which was advocated by Sir William Gell (Topography and Antiquities of Ithaca, London, 1807), was supported by Dr H. Schliemann, who carried on excavations in 1873 and 1878 (see H. Schliemann, Ithaque, le Péloponnèse, Troie, Paris, 1869, also published in German; his letter to The Times, 26th of September, 1878; and the author’s life prefixed to Ilios, London, 1880). But his results were mainly negative. The fact is that no amount of ingenuity can reconcile the descriptions given in the Odyssey with the actual topography of this island. Above all, the passage in which the position of Ithaca is described offers great difficulties. “Now Ithaca lies low, farthest up the sea line towards the darkness, but those others face the dawning and the sun” (Butcher and Lang). Such a passage fits very ill an island lying, as Ithaca does, just to the east of Cephalonia. Accordingly Professor W. Dörpfeld has suggested that the Homeric Ithaca is not the island which was called Ithaca by the later Greeks, but must be identified with Leucas (Santa Maura, q.v.). He succeeds in fitting the Homeric topography to this latter island, and suggests that the name may have been transferred in consequence of a migration of the inhabitants. There is no doubt that Leucas fits the Homeric descriptions much better than Ithaca; but, on the other hand, many scholars maintain that it is a mistake to treat the imaginary descriptions of a poet as if they were portions of a guide-book, or to look, in the author of the Odyssey, for a close familiarity with the geography of the Ionian islands.
See, besides the works already referred to, the separate works on Ithaca by Schreiber (Leipzig, 1829); Rühle von Lilienstern (Berlin, 1832); N. Karavias Grivas (Ἱστορία τῆς νήσου Ἰθάκης) (Athens, 1849); Bowen (London, 1851); and Gandar, (Paris, 1854); Hercher, in Hermes (1866); Leake’s Northern Greece; Mure’s Tour in Greece; Bursian’s Geogr. von Griechenland; Gladstone, “The Dominions of Ulysses,” in Macmillan’s Magazine (1877). A history of the discussions will be found in Buchholz, Die Homerischen Realien (Leipzig, 1871); Partsch, Kephallenia und Ithaka (1890); W. Dörpfeld in Mélanges Perrot, pp. 79-93 (1903); P. Goessler, Leukas-Ithaka (Stuttgart, 1904). (E. Gr.)