Sailing to Ithaka

A typhoon passed across Greece last night with tragic consequences in Thrace. The stormy weather brought new light to the Straits of Ithaka. And white caps galore. The little ferry from Kefalonia struggled in the mottled sunshine and was late arriving at Aetos, the spare Ithaka harbour on the straits.

Vathy and its seascape

It is sixteen years since I was last in Vathy, but the little port seems unchanged. Tourist shops now alongside the tavernas but otherwise few tourists. Banks of yachts await families later in the summer.

The discrete little archaeological museum lies in a back street. It is free though a notice scrawled in hand says only official guides can lead tours of the cases. In fact, the two rooms are largely of painted pots of the Archaic Greek period found at Aetos long ago. There is a Hellenistic tombstone and a marble bust of a Roman youth, and that’s about it. Recent excavations have produced much more evidence of the Roman port and especially its cemeteries but those finds have not made it here.

We climb to Perachori and take the trail passing churches to the cave of the nymphs, attempting to commune with Odysseus’s age. The walk from this high terrace overlooking the island and the seascapes reaching to the far Greek mountains is simply glorious. But the archaeology is elusive and the cave is shut and barred.

Odysseus

Below the conical acropolis of Alalkomenai commanding the crossing to Sami lies a rude scatter of remains. A half-filled excavation shows that archaic Greek or earlier remains once graced the saddle from where Vathy bay and the seaways to western Greece can be seen at the same time as the deep blue passage to Kefalonia. An unobtrusive path winds through the terraces to obscure steps belonging to some monumental building. Quite what it once was is not obvious. Was this where Odysseus had his palace? Where Penelope weaved while awaiting her husband? It’s nice to think so.

Where Odysseus and Penelope lived.....

This is a heavenly island, green and mountainous with mesmeric seascapes blending into the far horizons. Yet aside from busts of Homer and Odysseus the archaeology is pretty thin. This isn’t for lack of trying. There’s simply not been the will to tell the stories of those who have excavated here and what they have found over the past century or so. You can’t help but feel that the islanders might make more of one of the great stories in human history and its enduring metaphorical resonance throughout the world today.

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