An enigma in the Odyssee

Disguised as a beggar, Odysseus finally arrived at his homeland of Ithaca. The swineherd Eumaeus takes Odysseus in as a guest, not recognizing his long lost master. Odysseus gives Eumaios a false biography, before launching into a story about a raid he participated in during the Trojan War. Odysseus does this to test the bounds of Eumaeus’ hospitality, to see if the swineherd will offer him a cloak, whether one of his own or a companion’s. The request for a cloak is the secret message of this ainos, and Eumaeus’ ability to understand it will decide Odysseus’ willingness to trust him.
Odysseus takes on the role of an unnamed Greek soldier at Troy. He refers to this self in the first person, while speaking of 'Odysseus' in the third person, projecting his true identity into a separate character. In the story, the 'beggar' is out on a scouting mission led by 'Odysseus' and Menelaus, who have named him their third in command. When night falls, the 'beggar' realises he has forgotten a cloak and will freeze, so he asks 'Odysseus' for help. Pretending to wake up from a divinely sent (θεῖός) bad dream, 'Odysseus' tells a warrior named Thoas to fetch backup from King Agamemnon, lest his foreboding dream come true and the group be ambushed by Trojans. The dream itself is not explained, leaving us to imagine that it featured a warning about a Trojan ambush. Thoas runs off to get unneeded backup, leaving his cloak behind for the 'beggar'.

Eumaeus, the swineherd, responds to the story with approval. He calls it a good 'ainos', revealing that he understands that this story has a hidden meaning. He then provides Odysseus with one of his own spare cloaks for the night, thus understanding its hidden meaning and proving his hospitality.

The question of exactly what an αἶνος (ainos) was has puzzled historians for ages. The word itself is related to the verb αἰνέω (aineō) ‘to praise’, the word means, 'praising speech', or more basically, 'speech act'. But not all ainoi appear as praise. They can also appear instructions, warnings, or fables.

The word αἶνος (ainos) appears as a sort of doublet in Latin as aenigma ('enigma'), borrowed from Greek αἴνιγμα, itself derived from αἶνος.

So, αἶνος (ainos) is akin to enigma. Perhaps, the telling of an ainos was simply an important part of the ritual of hospitality of the Ancient Greeks. Even today you could tell a 'good yarn' if you repose after a perfect dinner.

Additional reporting by Miriam Kamil.

Was Paliki (ever) an island?

After the Dark Age of Greece, which lasted from 1100 BC to around 750 BC, had finally ended, the entire region was largely depopulated and even the names of some of the lesser islands in the Ionian Sea had been forgotten. When the population grew again, they tried to rename the islands based on their 'best guesses'. For most islands that wasn't a problem, but the smaller islands got the 'left-over-names'.

Ithaca (Ithaki) is now the island to the right of Cephalonia and is separated from it by a small channel.
The problem is that it doesn't fit with Homer's description of Ithaca. He claims that 'Ithaca itself lies close in to the mainland the furthest toward the gloom, but the others lie apart toward the Dawn and the sun—a rugged isle,...'

Most scholars agree that the phrase 'towards the gloom' must mean 'towards the direction of the setting sun' or 'west'. Thus, it would be the most western of the Ionian islands. Which 'modern' Ithaca is obviously not.

Nowadays, the most western island is Cephalonia, but that island can surely not be Ithaca, because it is identified as Same which actually makes sense because there is still a town on the island called Sami (Σάμη).

As Homer says: ..dwell in clear-seen Ithaca, wherein is a mountain, Neriton, covered with waving forests, conspicuous from afar; and round it lie many isles hard by one another, Dulichium, and Same, and wooded Zacynthus.

If Ithaca was an island, we can ask, could that island have been what is now Paliki, a peninsula attached to Cephalonia in the northwest. A 'stratigraphic analysis' seemed to reveal that Cephalonia was once two islands separated by a narrow marine channel. Rockfalls over the intervening years (must have) filled the channel and linked the two islands[1]. The problem is that this research was published in a rather obscure journal, which makes that statement rather dubious.

Much, much later, in the first century AD, the Greek geographer Strabo (64 or 63 BC–circa AD 24), who wrote of the channel separating Paliki from Cefalonia[2]: Cephallenia lies opposite Acarnania (modern mainland Greece), at a distance of about fifty stadia from Leucatas (modern Lefkada) .., and about one hundred and eighty from Chelonatas (modern mainland Greece). It has a perimeter of about three hundred stadia, is long, extending towards Eurus (towards the direction of winter sunrise, thus southeast) and is mountainous. The largest mountain upon it is Aenus, ..; and where the island is narrowest it forms an isthmus so low-lying that it is often submerged from sea to sea. Both Paleis and Crannii are on the gulf near the narrows[3].

The problem is, of course, that Strabo lived almost a millennium after the events described in the Odyssee.

I'm not convinced that Paliki was ever an island, as is evidenced by proper research: “Paliki peninsula was almost an island during the Pliocene period. From the beginning of the Pleistocene a gradual uplift of the area started raising the older limestone formations...'[4]

Another obvious question is: if an entire channel was filled in by rubble from landslides, as Underhill and his team from Odysseus Unbound try to prove, where did all that rubble come from? The time period of 3200 years is too short to have such major changes occurring in the natural environment[5].

[1] Underhill: Relocating Odysseus' homeland in Nature Geoscience – 2009
[2] Newton: Strabo's Greece in Nature Geoscience – 2011
[3] Strabo: Geography, book 10, chapter 2, section 15
[4] Gaki-Papanastassiou et al: Geomorphic Evolution of Western (Paliki) Kephalonia Island (Greece) During the Quaternary in Bulletin of the Geological Society of Greece – 2010. See here.
[5] Gaki-Papanastassiou et al: Geomorphological study and paleogeographic evolution of NW Kefalonia Island, Greece, concerning the hypothesis of a possible location of the Homeric Ithaca in Bulletin of the Geological Society of Greece – 2011

Where was Mary Magdalene born?

To some, Mary Magdalene, also known as Mary of Magdala, was the wife of Jesus Christ.

The Gospel of Philip, referred to Mary Magdalene as Jesus’s companion and claimed that Jesus loved her more than the other disciples. Most controversially, the text stated that Jesus used to kiss Mary “often on her ____.” Damage to the text left the last word unreadable, though some scholars have filled in the missing word as “mouth.”
Whether or not this is true, not disputed is that she was very close to Jesus.

The question might arise where Mary was actually born. The accepted theory is that she likely came from Magdala, a village on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee that was primarily known in antiquity as a little fishing town. Its Greek name was Taricheae, meaning 'place where fish are salted'.

It was a large Jewish settlement in the Early Roman period. At the time of the destruction of the Second Temple it served as Josephus’ main military base in his war against the Romans in the Galilee.

However, the enigmatic name, Magdalene, causes bible critics considerable concern. Magdalene is thought to derive from Hebrew migdál ('tower'). Well, one can hardly imagine that a once tiny fishing village would be adorned with a considerable tower worthy of naming Maria. It is therefore quite possible that the village was named ex post facto to accommodate Mary into the Biblical landscape.

So, why would Mary be given the epithet Magdalene?

In the Gospel of Mark (Mark 8:10) Dalmanutha or Dalmanoutha is the unknown destination of Jesus on the shores of the Sea of Gallilee after he fed the four thousand, as recorded in Mark's Gospel (Mark 8:10). It is sometimes believed to be in the vicinity of Magdala, since the parallel passage in the Gospel of Matthew (15:39) refers instead to 'Magadan', which has been taken to be a variant form of 'Magdala'.

Some scholars have remarked that Dalmanutha is akin to Dalmatia, located on the shores of the Adriatic Sea. The etymology of the word Dalmatia is shrouded in mystery. Some translate Dalmatia as 'deceitful lamp' from dalos (δαλος) 'a lamp' and mataia (ματαια) 'deceitful'[1]. The reason is evident: Populations who inhabited the seashore, made fires, simulating false lighthouses to deceit sailors in order that they shipwrecked there, so that they could plunder the wreckage. And Dalmatia, with its rugged coastline, was a good place for that form of piracy.

So daloi mataioi could have been in Greek vernacular a folk etymology of Dalmatia, meaning 'deceitful lighthouses'. Which would explain why the Evangelist, or a later amanuensis, used Dalmatia, a name concerning the Ionian See crossing of Antonius to Dalmatia, for the Mediterranean Sea crossing of Caesar to Egypt.

Its supposed etymology will take us a step further to solve the mystery. Yes, dalos (δαλος) is 'a lamp', but this leads us to pharos (Φάρος), the famous lighthouse of Alexandria, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World and for many centuries one of the tallest man-made structures in the world.

The word pharos is of uncertain etymology, but is possibly related to dalos.

So, have we found here the solution of the name of Mary Magdalene? Dalmoutha may mean 'of (the city of) the lighthouse'. Magdalene can be read as megálos (μεγάλος) and dalos (δαλος), the '(from the city of) great lamp'. This leads us to Alexandria.

Can we find any corroborating evidence of that discovery? Curiously, all of Mary's epithets (migdal, Dalmanutha, Magdalene) relate to towers or lighthouses.

In the Gospel of Luke (2:39) we read 'When they had performed everything according to the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own city of Nazareth'.

However, in the Gospel of Matthew (2:14) we find 'So Joseph got up and took the Child and His mother while it was still night, and left for Egypt'.

Strange. But not if we accept that the chronology in the gospel of Matthew is garbled. Suppose that Matthew was not writing about Jesus' youth, but of an event after his death.

Then we understand what is actually written here: Joseph escapes with Mary Magdalene with her child to safety. Her child? Well, that would be Barabbas which is simply an Aramaic phrase (Bar Abba) meaning 'son of the father'. Can Barabbas be the son of Jesus and Mary Magdalene?

[1] Charnock: Local Etymology: A Derivative Dictionary of Geographical Names – 1859 (pp. 81)

The origins of rice in Italy

When asked about rice (Oryza sativa) in Italy, your answer will probably be: risotto. Yes, it is a dish made with riso ('rice'), but where exactly did that rice originally came from?
Rice was first introduced in Greece following Alexander the Great’s expedition to Asia, who went as far as the banks of the Indus, in about 320 BC. The Arabs introduced rice in the south of the Iberian Peninsula in the eighth century.

Later, rice may have been introduced to Italy by early Venetian commerce, often personified by Marco Polo (1254-1324), although no written document about these possible introductions survives.

There is evidence of rice growing in Portugal in the thirteenth century and it was re-introduced by the Portuguese navigators after the opening of the route to the Indies in the late fifteenth century. Rice probably spread to from Portugal to Italy, first in the Kingdom of Naples, followed by the wetlands of Tuscany, near Pisa, in 1468, and then in the plain of the river Po, where the crop became definitively established.

Rice cultivation expanded to ca. 20,000 ha in the area around Milan until the 1700s. At that time, the only rice cultivated in Italy was Nostrale, a variety susceptible to rice blast (Magnaporthe oryzae).

To guarantee the continued rice cultivation that was seriously threatened by this fungal disease, new varieties were introduced from China and Japan at the beginning of 19th century. These varieties were characterized by their high yield and resistance to rice blast.

As a consequence, five novel Italian rice varieties were cultivated in Italy in 1872: Ostiglia, Bertone, Novarese, Francone, and Giapponese.

So, where did these rice varieties originate. Did they come from China, from India, From Japan (as can be deduced from the name of the Giapponese variety), or even from another source?

Recent scientific evidence point to a genetic affinity to China's northern provinces, such as Hebei, Liaoning, Jilin, and Heilongjiang Provinces[1]. This makes sense because the climatic conditions there are relatively similar to those of Italian rice cultivation regions.

Although the tales such as Marco Polo’s contribution to the introduction of rice from China to Italy may never be fully confirmed, results from this study provide solid genetic evidence to confirm the close linkage between Italian and Chinese rice varieties.

[1] Cai et al: The Puzzle of Italian Rice Origin and Evolution: Determining Genetic Divergence and Affinity of Rice Germplasm from Italy and Asia in PLoS One - 2013. See here.

The Short History of Altinum

Altinum was an ancient town of the Veneti, the namesakes of Venice. It was situated some 15 kilometers southeast of modern Treviso and on the mainland shore of the Laguna di Venezia. Being also close the the mouths of the rivers Dese, Zero, and Sile, it was perfectly situated for trade. The city developed into a major port and trading centre for timber, oil, wine and wool.

Altinum became part of the Roman Empire and was a flourishing port and trading centre during that period. Yet its fortune turned when it was ransacked by the Huns in the year AD 452. The city recovered but the shoreline continued to silt up, eventually blocking off access to sea trade and leading to the abandonment by its inhabitants for the island of Torcello at the northern end of the Venetian Lagoon.
The remains of Altinum were plundered for its stone for use as building materials in Torcello and the emerging Venice, leaving very little archaeological remains above ground level. The remains have also been affected by agricultural activities since the late nineteenth century. But it also meant that Altinum was the only Roman city in northern Italy that has not been buried by medieval and modern cities.
During a severe drought in 2007, a team led by Paolo Mozzi, a geomorphologist, took aerial photos of the site in several wavelengths of visible light and in near-infrared. Because the crops planted on the land were in different stages of ripening, thanks to differences in the amount of water in the soil. When the images were processed to tease out subtle variations in plant water stress, a buried city emerged.

The study has also revealed numerous previously unknown associated buildings around the port area, allowing archaeologists to determine the wider extent of the Altinum port system and how other previously known structures, such as a Roman tower was positioned along the navigation route that led from the port to the sea. They discovered a complex network of rivers and canals, revealing how the people mastered the marshy environment in what is now the lagoon of Venice.

Lamborghini: From wine, via tractors and cars, to wine

Born to grape farmers in Renazzo, a city in the Italian province of Ferrara, Emilia-Romagna, Ferruccio Lamborghini (1916-1993), was an ingenious and successful entrepreneur. He began by making efficient tractors from abandoned trucks after World War II and founded Lamborghini Trattori in 1948, which quickly became an important manufacturer of agricultural equipment in the midst of Italy's post-WWII economic boom. In 1959, he opened an oil burner factory, Lamborghini Bruciatori, which later entered the business of producing air conditioning equipment.
[Ferruccio Lamborghini]

His fascination for machines led him to collect luxury automobiles. Dissatisfied with his Ferrari, he complained to his friend Enzo Ferrari (1898 -1988) about the car’s clutch. Ferrari famously responded, “The car works fine, the problem is that you are only capable of driving tractors, not a Ferrari!”

It was the sudden end of a friendship and, challenged, Lamborghini hired away Ferrari engineers and created the Automobili Lamborghini in 1963 to produce powerful, fast and sleek cars until 1974 when he sold his company.

Though his factory was based in Bologna, Lamborghini was attracted to the beauty of the Umbrian countryside. He bought an old farm, La Fiorita near Lake Trasimeno, where after his retirement in 1974 he invested in more land and began to make wine, built a nine-hole golf course, and started agriturismo. 1975 marked his first vinification and the year of his daughter Patrizia’s birth.

[Patrizia Lamborghini]

After his death in 1993 Patrizia Lamborghini took over the reins of the winery. Under the guidance of noted enologist Riccardo Cotarella, she eliminated the white grapes, initiated modern practices, and today produces four red wines on 32 hectares: Trescone (Sangiovese, Ciliegiolo, Merlot); Era (Sangiovese); Torami (Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo), and Campoleone (Sangiovese, Merlot).

Though the farm is in the Colli del Trasimeno wine region, Patrizia feels that the local DOC designation is less visible internationally, and prefers to market her wines Indicazione Geografica Tipica, IGT Umbria.

Lamborghini wines are mostly exported, but can also be found in local restaurants and wine shops.


An 1,100-year-old olive tree on the island of Mallorca

If we are really lucky, we humans might hope to reach the ripe old age of 100 years. Olive trees live on another timescale: they can reach a hoary age of 1,000 years.
An estimated 1,100-year-old olive tree lives on the Spanish island of Mallorca. This specimen was probably planted by Moorish settlers in the ninth century. It has recently been named the 'best monumental olive tree in Spain' for 2020 by the Spanish Association of Olive Municipalities (AEMO).

The olive tree, named Can Det by the locals, is situated in the municipality of Fornalutx, on the terraced slopes of the northerly Sierra de Tramuntana mountains. Its trunk has a perimeter 6.5 meters.
Can Det is also unique for another reason: the tree still produces olives of the Empeltre Mallorquina variety, which is native to Mallorca. Thanks to the dedication of a local farmer, the olives continue to be transformed into oil.