Demystifying: A Greek Journey in the Footsteps of the Cunning Odysseus

It took ten years for Odysseus to return from Troy to his native Ithaca… His journey generated more legends than there were dots on the map of his route. There is a suspicion that Homer's hero spent most of his travels very close to home…

I don't know a country more beautiful than dear Ithaca.

Homer. Odyssey.
IX, 28*

Deceived: a Greek journey in the footsteps of the cunning Odysseus

– In the morning we went towards Lefkada, – a guy from a pleasure yacht that anchored in the city of Ithaca (Vathy) , the capital of the island of Ithaca, adds ouzo to himself and continues, & nbsp; – suddenly the sails lose the wind. The boat slows down. The sky is covered with clouds. The helmsman calls for the captain, who barely has time to intercept the helm when a squall strikes … We were shaken for an hour before we managed to return to Ithaca.

The listeners of a fresh marine tale in a waterfront tavern nod in understanding. “Poseidon went wild, but Odysseus helped you,” says Zotikos Ioannidis, the owner of the establishment, a broad-shouldered, gray-bearded Greek in a blue plaid shirt with rolled up sleeves, wide trousers and a snow-white apron. He pats the boy on the shoulder and places a double portion of fried fish marinated with savoro in front of him. Opposite the tavern, on a short pier, there is a monument to Odysseus, the hero of Homer's poem, depicted in two forms.

Demystifying: A Greek Journey in the Footsteps of the Cunning Odysseus

The first figure, in front of which tourists take a selfie, represents a stern sailor. He confidently leans his foot on the rock and looks towards the sea. You do not immediately notice behind, on the same pedestal, the second Odysseus, struggling with the sea. Standing on one knee on a wreck of a ship or raft, he stubbornly rows with the rest of the oar.

— I often hear similar stories, —says Zotikos, nodding towards the guy from the yacht. — Sailors consider Vati the most sheltered bay in the Ionian Sea, come here in bad weather.

– How does Odysseus help them? – I ask.

“That’s the saying here,” Zotikos explains. His kingdom was also called Ithaca, although, besides our island, it could occupy several more: Kefalonia, Lefkada, Meganisi.

* Hereinafter, translation from ancient Greek by V. V. Veresaev< /p>See also

Cyclops on the roadside

A man of giant stature lived in that cave. Lonely Pas far from the other he lambs and goats.

Homer. Odyssey.
IX, 187–188

Demystifying: A Greek Journey in the Footsteps of the Cunning Odysseus

Desperately clutching the wheel of a scooter, I rush along the white stones of the pavement in Spartochori, one of the three villages on the island of Meganisi. I hurry, risking not to fit into the frequent turns of narrow streets, so as not to lose sight of the scooter of Barnabas, the guide boy, who undertook to show me the Cyclops cave.

Fortunately, wise Meganisian cats do not tend to cross the road, they sit roadsides or peeking out from behind homespun curtains on the windows of light cream and white houses. Except for cats, having passed the whole village, I do not meet a single soul (and this is in the middle of the day), then the path goes down the serpentine towards the harbor of Spilia.

There is a possibility that the island of Meganisi during the Trojan War and immediately after it, approximately in the XIII-XII centuries BC. e., was part of the state of Kefalonia together with the modern islands of Ithaca, Kefalonia, Lefkada, Zakynthos and others. , Asia Minor and the countries of the Baltic Sea.

In the poems of Homer, a state with the same set of lands as Cephallia is called the kingdom of Ithaca, ruled by Odysseus. And Meganisi, most likely, acts as the semi-mythical island of Taphos. Its inhabitants prosper in trade and piracy, and the ruler is a good friend of the king of Ithaca.

Returning home from the Trojan War, Odysseus and his army plundered the Thracian city of Ismara. Then a storm carried his flotilla to the land of lotophages, lotus eaters. Probably to North Africa – to the territory of Libya or Tunisia. Then the king of Ithaca came to the island of the Cyclopes, the geographical prototype of which is most often claimed by Sicily and Crete. But the inhabitants of Meganisi have other data.

Demystifying: A Greek Journey in the Footsteps of the Cunning Odysseus

Miraculously unscathed (why didn't I sit on Ithaca?), Cursing the serpentines and scooters, I finally catch up with Barnabas. He's waiting in a miniature parking lot, next to the almost invisible sign to the cave. Three large gray rabbits nibbling like sheep next to Barnabas' scooter.

When we walk along the path to the alleged dwelling of the one-eyed Polyphemus, a pheasant appears from the tall grass and, paying no attention to us, steps ahead, pecking at something on the ground. Birds sing around, butterflies fly, bells ring in the forest, which are hung around the necks of goats and sheep. People are still not visible -no tourists, no natives. I’m already ready to believe that three thousand years ago, in a similar corner of the island, a cyclops, or even more than one, could well have been lost.

The cave, in the foreseeable part, turns out to be a shallow grotto filled with fused stalactites and stalagmites. My guide swears that in fact the cave is very large, but the passage deep into it has not yet been found.

 – Archaeologists explored the cave, – says Barnabas, -found fragments of an ancient jug in which the one who lived here could store milk. We believe that the Cyclops Polyphemus, who captured Odysseus and his team, kept sheep in this place.

The one-eyed giant ate several companions of the king of Ithaca. But Odysseus gouged out the ogre's eye and by cunning rescued everyone from the cave: he tied three sheep together, and each survivor hid under the belly of the middle sheep in three. Leaving the sheep out of the cave, the blind Polyphemus felt their backs, thus allowing the fugitives to escape.

1/3The taverns of the city of Gaios are a good place to look at others and show yourself

 — Does Meganisi fit into the route of Odysseus? — the skeptic awakens in me again.

 — Why not? The king of Ithaca is close to home much sooner than he expected.

Demystify: A Greek Journey in the Footsteps of the Cunning Odysseus

Living “in the country of Odysseus”, it's hard not to acquire your own myth. After being saved from the Cyclops, the navigator stayed with the god of the winds, Eol, then the giants of the lestrigons destroyed all of his ships, except for one. Traces of these adventures are found outside the Ionian archipelago. But the further route of Odysseus leads to the flowering island of Paxos.

Read also

In a magical embrace

We stopped at the door of the beautiful-haired goddess And heard Circe singing beautifully in the house.

Homer. Odyssey.
X, 220–221

Paxos is buzzing. The local bees, large and fluffy, slowly fly around the bushes of bougainvillea and hibiscus, over meadow irises and fireweed. They hover in front of the flowers, as if they want to buzz them something important and secret: about a forest path that leads to an abandoned house made of stones, or about a sailing boat that has recently entered the emerald-turquoise bay of Lakka.

< p>Demystifying: A Greek Journey in the Footsteps of the Cunning Odysseus

Cypresses, olives, almonds and grapes grow on the hills of Paxos. The aromas of local spicy herbs act like a magical potion: they evoke dreams of eternal summer and happiness. In the valley near the Ipapandi church, I want to gather flowers, weave wreaths – such that blades of grass stick out of them in all directions – and arrange dances with nymphs by the stream.

“Tsok-tsok, tsok-tsok” – not a faun or a centaur comes out from behind the church fence, but a red goat. It is amazing how beautiful her face, that is, I beg your pardon, muzzle. Precise proportions, clear intelligent eyes, as if summed up with a brown pencil, long eyelashes and twisted horns, like a crown crowning a royal head. Straight coat descends almost to the ground. The goat comes up and reaches for the flowers that I plucked, but didn't know what to do with them. After receiving the bouquet, the wonderful animal disappears into the bushes in one jump.

 —Kirka! Kirka, where are you? An elderly woman in yellow linen trousers and a white tunic runs down the path. Did you see the goat? Always walks in the woods! I'm Joanna, I live near here, in a villa. Would you like yogurt with honey infused with herbs?

In the dining room of Joanna, with colorful wooden chairs around a round table, garden and wild flowers are interspersed in several vases. On the wall, in a wicker frame, hangs a photograph of the hostess with a horned Kirka (the Latinized form of the name is Circe). Joanna puts thick homemade yogurt into bowls and mixes it with light greenish-yellow honey. Coffee is served with yogurt. She says that because of the high prices in Gaios, the main city of Paxos, she moved to a villa a few years ago, and her friends gave her a pickaxe.

 – Why did you name the goat after the goddess?

 – Because it's beautiful, – Joanna laughs. – Loves the forest like a witch. We all know about Circe. She is said to have lived in Paxos.

Deceive: A Greek Journey in the Footsteps of the Cunning Odysseus

The goddess and sorceress Circe drugged the people of Odysseus with a potion and turned them into pigs. The king of Ithaca himself escaped the same fate with the help of a magic flower and forced Circe to cast a spell on everyone. Odysseus spent a year with the goddess on the fertile island of Eea – Paxos could well have been his prototype.

In addition to the lush nature and the bay of Lakka, suitable for the parking of an ancient Greek ship, the English scientist Tim Severin discovered another landmark from the Homeric poem nearby: the Acheron River, along which Odysseus arrived in the realm of the dead to receive a fortune telling. The river of the same name flows in the mainland of Greece, located opposite Paxos, a few hours by sea from the island. Leaving the beautiful goddess, Odysseus again rushed to his “native Ithaca”. If you follow south from Paxos, to modern Ithaca, on the way lies the island of Lefkada (Lefkada).

Read also

Siren Coast

Who, unknowingly approaching them, hears their voice, He will never return home.

Homer. Odyssey.
XII, 41-42

I don't have time to take five steps along the gray rocky beach of Mili in the northwest of Lefkada, when a sharp gust of wind first blows my hat, and when I try to catch her – tears off the scarf from his shoulders.

Running down a narrow long spit in the afternoon, when the west wind only delights surfers, costs me a broken knee. I fish the scarf out of the water a meter from the shore. I do not have time to dodge the wave, and it cheerfully douses me from head to toe. The hat is nowhere to be seen. To dry off and calm down, I go away from the surf, to one of the windmills. There are more than ten of them here, many without blades and roofs. Next to mine, someone put a deck chair and took it, throwing fins on the seat. Judging by the layer of accumulated sand and the number of run-in snails, a week has passed since then.

Demystifying: A Greek Journey in the Footsteps of the Cunning Odysseus

Mili Beach is not crowded. On the east side of its cape there is a shoal, which at low tide turns into a swamp. Old mills on a nearly five-kilometer-long spit make the landscape romantic and dreary at the same time. The sad mood is exacerbated by the wind that whistles in the stone mill frame, and there is not a single sweet-voiced note in this whistle.

According to one version of the Odysseus route, the insidious sirens of the king-navigator and his team were lured to this shore. The sorceress Circe warned that the songs of the sirens make sailors forget their homes and relatives. Therefore, Odysseus covered the ears of his people with wax, and ordered himself to be tied to the mast in order to enjoy the song and stay alive.

Cold. I would like to be in Ithaca, in Vathi closed from all winds. When it's cool, kind Zotikos gives out soft terry towels to the guests of the tavern, I wish I could wrap myself up in this! ..

– Your panama? – a gloomy man in a surfer costume gives me my hat and suddenly smiles contagiously. – I saw you running after her. Does your leg hurt? Where to take you?

— To Scylla and Charybdis.

Read also

Double trap

Scylla was from this side, from the other Charybdis…

Homer. Odyssey.
XII, 235

Usually, the Strait of Messina between Sicily and the Apennine Peninsula is recognized as the point of deployment of a pair of monsters that destroyed ships and sailors in the Odyssey. But there is also a place near Lefkada that fits the description of Homer.

“In the narrow gap between the island and the mainland, eddies could occur during strong tides, which happened here in antiquity,” says Maya Xenaki, an employee of the Archaeological Museum of Lefkada. “This explains the legend of the whirlpools of Charybdis.

Demystifying: A Greek Journey in the Footsteps of the Cunning Odysseus

Now the strait is calm and shallow. But you can imagine how the water used to rise here, rustle and seethe, resembling the roar of an animal. The rowers threw their oars out of fear, the captains could not cope with the panic on the ship, the current dragged it and threw it onto the rocks. Or the bulky ship itself could not stand it and broke.

On the slope of Lamia Hill, rising above the strait on the mainland, along a steep staircase carved into the rock, and in some places along a path among stones and thorny bushes, May leads me to the lair of the second monster. The entrance to the rocky cave is covered with yellowed wooden doors. According to the legend, which is at most 30 years old, the gluttonous Scylla lived here. According to Homer, she dragged off six of Odysseus's best rowers while he was saving the ship from the maelstrom of Charybdis.

The doors are unlocked, pulling them along with a couple of Danish tourists armed with selfie sticks. Candles are burning inside the dark stone hemisphere, icons are placed and the altar of the chapel of St. Anthony is built.

Having passed Scylla and Charybdis, Odysseus with the remnants of the team ended up on the island of Trinacria (from the Greek “three-pointed”, “three capes”), where the bulls of the sun god Helios grazed. The “Ionian” trace of the route may have been found on Meganisi (again Meganisi!) – three cunningly indented capes of the island protrude into the sea.

On Trinacria, the sailors of Odysseus caught and ate several sacred bulls, for which they paid with their lives . Odysseus himself reached the island of Ogygia, where the nymph Calypso lived. Homer could have had in mind the Maltese island of Gozo or come up with this waypoint. Odysseus spent seven years with Calypso, until longing for his native land and his wife Penelope pushed him back on the road. The king of Ithaca built a raft and sailed to the island of the feacians.

Read also

A miracle transfer

Whoever comes to them, they take everyone home by sea.

Homer. Odyssey.
XVI, 228

When the god of the seas, Poseidon, fell in love with the nymph Kerkyra, he fled with her to an unnamed island, where their son Theak was born. The Greeks named the island after the nymph, it is known to foreigners as Corfu, and Homer used the semi-mythical name Scheria.

The son of Poseidon became the progenitor of a whole people -the sailors of the feacs. They owned magical ships that followed the course, reading the thoughts of the helmsmen, and moved at great speed. The hospitable feacs fed Odysseus, gave him beautiful clothes, gave him gold, silver and other precious gifts, and returned him home to Ithaca.

Demystify: A Greek Journey in the Footsteps of the Cunning Odysseus

Deceived: a Greek journey in the footsteps of the cunning Odysseus

“Studying a myth, you balance between a fairy tale and the truth,” says Kintia, a student at the Ionian University and my guide on Corfu. “It doesn’t work differently here: many mythical events are woven into the history of our island. You need to be able to “translate” them into the language of reality.

We walk with Kintia through the streets of Ermones, an idyllic village on the west coast of the island. Figs and olives grow in the gardens, and ripe pomegranates hang from the branches on either side of the road. Some of the skins have already burst and dark red grains are visible.

– The same plants grew in the garden of the king of the Feacs as here, – notes Kintia.

Not far from the village nearby a stream flows with the sea. How frightened the feacian princess Nausicaa must have been when the exhausted and ragged Odysseus emerged from the bushes on the shore …

From Ermones it is now half an hour by car to Paleokastritsa, with its pine-covered shores, around several safe bays where feacian ships could dock. On a boat from the harbor of Paleokastritsa, going around sharp rocks sticking out of clear azure water, we come to the Gulf of St. Spyridon – a semicircular bowl between two large rocks. The western rock is more suitable for the location of the royal palace – it has a better view, as Kintia explains.

– When the ship of the feacs returned from Ithaca, Poseidon got angry with them for helping Odysseus, – says the guide , – and on the approach to the port turned the ship into a rock.

Demystifying: A Greek Journey in the Footsteps of the Cunning Odysseus

Guidebooks call the island of Pontikonisi – opposite the capital of the island, the city of Kerkyra, the ship of the feacs. But Kintia is sure: if the king's palace was located in the Paleokastritsa area, it is logical to look for a petrified ship among the small rocks at the foot of the western cliff of the Agios Spiridon Bay. One of the rocks near the shore is similar in shape to a ship, but small. There is a larger one, reminiscent of the outlines of the island of Pontikonisi, & nbsp; – probably she. But on the other side of the cliff there are a few more suitable stones. Kintia reassures:

– It doesn't matter what kind of stone, the main thing  is to believe that it is there. Otherwise, how would Odysseus return to Ithaca?

Odysseus would have returned, no doubt about it. Don't even have a magic ship with the feacs. The question remains where exactly he returned.

See also

I at home?

Today, I myself have reached the limits of Ithaca …

Homer. Odyssey.
XIII, 257

Even early in the morning, while the tide is low, the beach of Myrtos on the island of Kefalonia needs strength and dexterity to swim. High waves prevent you from entering the water, and the current does not allow you to get out.

Demystifying: A Greek Journey in the Footsteps of the Cunning Odysseus

There are two or three bathers on the beach. But in the evening, several groups of tourists take pictures against the backdrop of sunset. The orange sun sets behind a dark brown, almost black line of mountains, creating a picture in the colors of Mycenaean pottery, with which Odysseus, if only he was not a fiction of a poet, was well acquainted. There, in the sunset side, is the Paliki Peninsula, one of the first candidates for the right to be called Ithaca of Homer, the capital island of the kingdom of Odysseus.

Robert Beetlestone, a British amateur archaeologist and researcher of Homer's work, shocked the world in the mid-2000s with the theory that during the era of the Trojan War, Paliki could be separated from the rest of Kefalonia by a strait. If this is so, then, unlike Ithaca, the geography of this island coincides with the description of the kingdom of Odysseus.

Probably Homer (or the authors who spoke under his name) was more a poet than a geographer. Kintia is right: everyone who goes deep into the Odyssey balances on the verge of fiction and truth. Over time, the answers will come. In the meantime…


At dusk, the Zotikos tavern on the Vathi promenade is crowded. One by one, the yachts pass through the narrow throat of the bay into the harbor and moor for the night near the pier with the monument to Odysseus. Behind the hills, somewhere in the sea, several lightning flashes at once, and it starts to rain in the city. The host brings a large dish of something tasty and hot from the kitchen and places it in front of the sailor, excited about the day's adventure. He speaks excitedly, and Zotikos, leaning on the counter, listens so attentively, nods and encourages, as if he had never heard such stories before.

Demystifying: A Greek Journey in the Footsteps of the Cunning Odysseus

 — What did he say? — I ask Zotikos as he passes by, adjusting a warm terry towel over my shoulders .

 —Another odyssey, — answers. —That’s why they come here.

 —I thought it was because of the delicious food.

 – Not to the tavern, – he grins, – to Ithaca. Our island is like a home. Comfortable, beautiful, protected. It gives hope for a return. When you are at sea, it is important to know that you have somewhere to hide from the weather. Any wanderer, mythical or real, will want to return to Ithaca.

Ionian Islands, Greece

Demystifying: A Greek Journey in the Footsteps of the Cunning Odysseus

Total area of ​​the Ionian Islands 2,300 km²
Population~ 208,000 people
Population density 90 people/km²

Area of ​​Greece 131,957 km² (95th in the world)
Population~ 10,482,000 people (88th place)
Population density 79 people/km²

ATTRACTIONSarchaeological complex “School of Homer” (Ithaca), Nydri waterfalls (Lefkada), Drogarati cave (Kefalonia), Papanikolis sea cave (Meganisi).
TRADITIONAL DISHES shrimp and anchovy pies; chicken baked in clay; rovani is a dessert of rice, honey and olive oil.
TRADITIONAL DRINKS kumquat liqueur (Corfu), ouzo is anise brandy.
SOUVENIRSolive oil and cosmetics with it, embroidered tablecloths, sets of herbs, honey.

DISTANCEfrom Moscow to Kefalonia ~ 2300 km (from 4 hours 15 minutes in flight excluding transfers)
TIMEcoincides with Moscow summer, one hour behind in winter


Material published in the journal Vokrug Sveta No. 6, June 2019, partially updated in June 2023

Marina Matvienko


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