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George Poulos

Homers Odyssey and Kythera

Odysseus derives from Kythera's island neighbour in the eptanissia - Ithica.

Odysseus journey kept him from his wife and family.

He is considered "cursed" - destined to constantly wander the earth.

In Book Nine of Homer's Odyssey, entitled New Coasts and Poseidon's Son in Robert Fitzgerald's translation, Panther (paperback), 1971 - between an adventure with the Kikones, who kill many of Odysseus's men, and arriving at the land of the Lotus Eaters, Odysseus passes the island of Kythera.

Lines 66-85, Book Nine, read...

"Now Zeus the lord of cloud roused in the north
a storm against the ships, and driving veils
of squall moved down like night on land and sea.
The bows went plunging at the gust; sails
cracked and lashed out strips in the big wind.
We saw death in that fury, dropped the yards,
unshipped the oars, and pulled for the nearest lee:
then two long days and nights we lay offshore
worn out and sick at heart, tasting our grief,
until a third Dawn came with ringlets shining.
Then we put up our masts, hauled sail, and rested,
letting the steersman and the breeze take over.

I might have made it safely home, that time,
but as I came round Malea the current
took me out to sea, and from the North
a fresh gale drove me on, past Kythera.
Nine days I drifted on the teeming sea
before dangerous high winds. Upon the tenth
we came to the coastline of the Lotos Eaters,
who live upon that flower......."

In their Mapping of the Earth Section - sub-section The Navigations of Odysseus, the devisor's of Metrum Organisation, (http://www.metrum.org/mapping/navigations.htm, have positioned the island of Kythera and its northern lighthouse geophysically, in relationship to the events at the beginning of Book Nine of Homer's Odyssey.

"The journey of Odysseus begins at Malea (the present Cape Malea) at the extreme southeast of the Peloponnese. This point was used as a basic reference point for the geography of Greece in classical times.

The Odyssey contains an interpolated passage, the episode of the Kokones, which has the purpose of linking the navigation from Malea with Troy, because according to the general problem of geography it is proper to start from Malea, but according to the total economy of the poem Odysseus’ navigation has to start from Troy.

Bérard proved by numerical data that the episode of the Kokones is a later addition, but was not able to explain why it was added. This episode gives the difference of longitude between Troy and Malea. It makes the peregrination of Odysseus begin with the longitude of Troy. Troy was on the physical trade route that corresponds to meridian 29°50’N, being its most western point.

Meridian 29°50’E goes from Egypt to the mouth of the Danube, but the physical route that goes from Egypt to the mouth of the Danube has to pass through Troy, with a displacement to the west. Eratosthenes and Hipparchos understood that Troy was on the meridian of Alexandria.

We are told that Odysseus navigated two days and two nights from Troy and at the dawn of the third day (IX 74-76) was turning Malea (36°27’N, 23°12’E) to approach the channel between the coast of the Peloponnese and the island of Kythera. The lighthouse that at present leads ships through the channel is at the north end of the island, at 36°22’N, 22°57’E.

There are exactly 3° of longitude from Troy (39°57’N, 26°12’E) to Malea.1 This means that the poet uses a calculation of a day of navigation equal to 1_°. of latitude. After putting up their sails and turning past Malea for what proves to be half a day, a tempest breaks out that carries Odysseus for nine days and nine nights and on the tenth day leaves him in the land of the Lotophagoi (IX 82-84). There is substantial agreement on the identification of the Lotophagoi, those who instead of eating bread eat “a flower” called lotos (IX 84): it is that part of Tunisia called by the Arabs Djerid, “Land of Dates.” But, being more specific, we must search for a point which is about 14°45’ west of Malea: Odysseus had reached meridian 8°24’E at Lake Tritonis or Chott el Djerid. The poet relates that three of the companions of Odysseus on eating the dates, “those honeylike fruits,” lost their memory. Bérard points out that here there is an association between the fruit lotos and the name of the infernal river, Lethe, the river of forgetfulness. But what Bérard did not know is that the river Lethe is referred to because meridian 8°24’E is at the western edge of the world."

Metrum Organisation is endevouring to map the world - and to find the parameters of the world as it was known at the time of Homer. They comment, elsewhere on their website, that although Malea is often taken as the centre of this known world - the true geographic centre is Kythera - and more exactly northern Kythera.

The Kytherian lighthouse referred to is most probably the lighthouse at Ayios Nikolias - above Plattia Ammos.

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