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on 7 October 2005
I've just finished reading "Odysseus Unbound" and I have to say that the experience was utterly enthralling from start to finish. Robert Bittlestone is simply spell-binding, a sort of visionary genius in the Schliemann mould, who comes across very sympathetically and will soon be mobbed in the street by crazed fans. Even if the place identified as Homer's Ithaca should turn out not to be Ithaca after all, the book will live on as the thrilling account of an intellectual adventure of enduring appeal in itself.
Bittlestone has had the benefit of expert advice from James Diggle, probably the greatest living Hellenist, and John Underhill, professor at the University of Edinburgh (well known to football fans: he referees for FIFA). The fact that Bittlestone is not a professional classicist is a bonus in many ways: not least because, had he been one, he would never have embarked on any of this, as classicists are wary of taking Homer "literally". Bittlestone seems to have proved them wrong.
Scholars will now have to think again about received wisdom on the Odyssey (i.e. the poet of the Odyssey paradoxically knows lots about Crete but is a clueless ignoramus when it comes to Ithaca...). The main result of this book for Homeric studies is that, if this new Ithaca is indeed ancient Ithaca, the Odyssey might have to be read as having begun life as an Ithacan poem. Professional Homerists will easily grasp how earth-shattering this conclusion is.
This will also raise a lot of fascinating questions about the overlap between the Iliad and the Odyssey: when did they start overlapping? If the Odyssey was originally created for an Ithacan audience by someone who knew the Iliad, isn't this difficult to reconcile with the fact that the Odyssey as we know it dates mostly from the 6th century (Laertes being the most recent addition), by which time Bittlestone's Ithaca was no longer inhabited by Ithacans proud of their odyssean descent?
The site now thought to be Odysseus' palace on "Ithaca" was almost certainly inhabited in Mycenaean times. The next phase of the project, when the archaeologists start digging, will be the most exciting adventure since Schliemann set out from Germany to find Troy.
"Epoch-making" aptly describes what this book has unleashed. Impossible to put down, more impossible still to forget once you have read it.
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on 6 January 2011
There are two books here, one evidential, one personal.

One book gives evidence for believing that Paliki, the western section of the island of Cephalonia, is Ithaca of the Odyssey. The argument rests on a thesis that Paliki was once separated from Cephalonia by a sea channel. The channel has been infilled, it is argued, by earthquake-triggered rockfall. Bittlestone calls this sea channel 'Strabo's Channel', from a note in the 1st century writer's remarks on Cephalonia.

In support of Strabo's Channel, Bittlestone presents the work of John Underhill, a geophysicist from Edinburgh University. Underhill himself provides an appendix summarising his work. It's quite a thesis to establish, since the infill, if such it is, extends over 4km, and raises the ground more than 100m above present sea level. The argument is impressive, however, and perhaps the most persuasive part of the whole book.

Additional evidence for Paliki as Ithaca comes from a close reading of the Odyssey, together with detailed examination of the topography. Bittlestone is supported by James Diggle, professor of Classics at Cambridge. Diggle provides translations of passages in the Odyssey together with philological discussion, and has been on field trips around Paliki. Diggle is clearly convinced by Bittlestone's thesis. He, like Underhill, supplies an appendix reviewing the evidence from his own specialism.

This evidential book is accompanied by Bittlestone's own personal voyage of discovery. Here imagination is given free rein. We get travel plans and frustrations. There are poetic passages about the beauty of the landscape. Hopes rise and fall as experts question his ideas or give them credence. We're invited to come on board.

The two books are intertwined. Maps based on satellite imaging are presented with place names derived from Bittlestone's theories, as if the labels were a given. Strabo's Channel is marked as a present-day sea channel. Within the text the refrain is 'could it not be'. The book constantly attempts to vault the gap between the possible and the actual. It's like being nagged to drop your critical faculties - it raises scepticism rather than diminishing it.

Bittlestone does make a case for Paliki as Ithaca. He offers, however, not just that identification but a detailed map of Odyssean Ithaca - pig farm, palace, harbour, the location of the suitors' attempted ambush of Telemachos. He over-determines the topography and seems to recognise this when he addresses the question of how such a precise and detailed first-hand knowledge of Ithaca c. 1200BC could have reached a Homer (editor or whatever) c. 700BC - given that Cephalonia is on the extreme west of the Hellenic world, and the final redaction of the Odyssey probably happened somewhere in Anatolia. It's a huge leap.

At the close of the book Bittlestone outlines future research. He's clearly aware that the fatal flaw in the academic argument is the lack of archaeology - there are brief mentions of bronze age potsherds, and he discusses a supposed bronze age wall. So he notes the many different disciplines which will 'need' to be focused on Paliki. In the process he seems ambitious virtually to own Odyssean Paliki. Comparisons with Schliemann and Troy are inescapable.

It's a pity, because identifying the Ithaca of Odysseus would be wonderful. There's a core of solid argument here - the evidential book. But radically editing Bittlestone's own story would have made Odysseus Unbound much shorter and more persuasive.
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on 31 October 2005
Mind Blowing!
Intrigued by recent press comment following the launch of this book, I ordered a copy. I'm grateful that I did, because it is one of the most compelling books I have read for ages – a gripping detective story, gradually unfolding layer by layer. If Robert Bittlestone is correct, this will be one of the most important archaeological discoveries since Schliemann’s uncovering of Troy in the late 19th century.
Bittlestone convincingly argues that Cephalonia was once two islands, and that the strip of land that now joins these two islands was submerged beneath the sea at the time of Odysseus (over 3,000 years ago). He calls this strip “Strabo’s Channel”, after the Greek geographer who lived around the time of Christ and who noted that the sea could traverse this strip. He shows that the land has been raised by successive earthquakes (since the island is situated close to the collision of the tectonic plates of Africa and Europe), accompanied by extensive landslips. The western area of Cephalonia that is now called Paliki matches the detailed descriptions of Ithaca in Homer’s tale of the adventures of Odysseus returning to his kingdom of Ithaca after the battle of Troy.
The author is not a specialist in any of the subjects (such as geology, seismology, classical studies, and archaeology) that are necessary when tackling this puzzle, although he is obviously a layman of considerable knowledge, comfortably straddling these disciplines. This has two major benefits: first, his clear analysis is available to a wide audience; second, his thinking is not biased or weighted towards any particular theory or prejudice (i.e. he has no axe to grind).
He calls on professional help where he needs it, and in this respect James Diggle and John Underhill provide support (and appendices) as philologist and geologist. The one skill he does use to advantage is his knowledge of visual representation of data, particularly with the use of 3D mapping of satellite data. In fact, as he points out in the Postscript, much of the mapping is now available to all of us for free using the World Wind software recently released by NASA. (This is an incredible piece of software, allowing you to explore the topography of anywhere in the world – and you can clearly see the landslip in Strabo’s Channel.)
No doubt this book will ruffle a few feathers! But it does look like Bittlestone could be on to a major discovery. There is much detailed testing to do now and an army of specialists will be needed. If they corroborate his findings, the next stage is excavation. The results could be mind blowing – putting us in touch with the late Bronze Age and answering so many questions about Homer.
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on 31 December 2005
I can't use the words fantastic or fabulous to describe this book for Odysseus Unbound is not a fantasy nor a fable. Once upon a time scholars may have thought Odysseus' homeward journey was just that, but no more - Robert Bittlestone explains it all. I believe it all. The author and language expert James Diggle closely examine the texts of Strabo and Homer's works literally line by line. He has found the real Ithaca and all the locations mentioned in The Odyssey. What a suberb book, what a body of work! For all those with an interest in Classics, Archaeology or Late Bronze Age History this book must be read. Just shy of 600 pages it is a heavy tome but its not all text - there are a myriad of photographs, drawings and satellite images which explain everything. Could the writer of The Odyssey actually have been Telemachus' son? Wouldn't that be something? I fear for Peliki now, it looks an idyllic place, an Arcadia, no wonder Odysseus couldn't wait to get home and to Penelope.
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Bittlestone's theory is, and will always be unproven. It will always be one of many competing theories for the location of Ithaca, but his stands up to scrutiny better than others and sometimes during the reading of this book I found myself close to being convinced. Much work needs to be done though, before Homer's Ithaca is identified as securley as Troy has been.

But setting that aside I give this book 5 stars for it's style, readability and the romance of the tale it tells. The author is very engaging and he constructs his argument layer by layer in a narrative that takes us from his first intuitions on holiday in the Greek islands through meetings with eminent professors and taxi drivers, trips back and forth to Greece and even a trip to a bookshop in Oxford. There is a real sense of his excitement at his discoveries throughout the book, and this makes it a very enjoyable read.

The book is also very well illustrated and laid out. Packed with photos and maps that really add to the experience of following Bittlestone's quest.

Good luck with your theory, Robert!
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on 29 November 2014
As amazing as I expected it to be. Written from the point of view of a pilgrim adventurer I feel as thought I'm discovering as well.
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