Re-Reading Homer on Ikaria

When visiting Ikaria, bring your old copies of Homer’s Odyssey and Iliad and re-read the passages below. Homer used natural elements of the islands and seas as metaphors to drive forward plot points and portray the minds of men. Ikaria shows up in mythical scenes filled with follies, desires and cunning delights.

 I. The Icarian Sea is mentioned in Book II of the Iliad:  

 Nas Beach on northwestern Ikaria. Meltemi winds can bring strong waves, especially in fall season.

Nas Beach on northwestern Ikaria. Meltemi winds can bring strong waves, especially in fall season.

“With these words he moved the hearts of the multitude, so many of them as knew not the cunning counsel of Agamemnon. They surged to and fro like the waves of the Icarian Sea, when the east and south winds break from heaven's clouds to lash them…” (Homer, the Iliad, Book II)

In this passage above, Agamemnon tested his weary Achaean troops on whether they would continue their fight at Troy (after nine hard years), or retreat home. Homer used the tumultuous waves of the Icarian Sea to describe the troops, who were tired, confused, unable to think straight and crying out toward their ships. Agamemnon’s trick failed, however, and Athena got Odysseus, the most eloquent of the Achaeans, to rally the troops back to Troy.

II. In Book X of the Odyssey, the witch living in the woods – Circe – stirred up a potion made partly of Pramnian wine, to have Odysseus’ men forget their homes and turn them into swine. 

“When she had got them into her house, she set them upon benches and seats and mixed them a mess with cheese, honey, meal, and Pramnian wine, but she drugged it with wicked poisons to make them forget their homes, and when they had drunk she turned them into pigs by a stroke of her wand, and shut them up in her pig-styes.” (Homer, The Odyssey, Book X)

Ikaria is known for its Pramnian wine, which is thought to be the origin of this passage in Homer. Ikaria also embraces Dionysus – the god of wine, ecstasy, dancing and sensual pleasures. Ikaria's highest mountain was known as Mt. Pramnos (1037 meters) and it is considered to be the mythical birth place of Dionysus.  

 Old house structure on Ikaria

Old house structure on Ikaria

In this scene with Circe, Odysseus was wiser than his gullible men and came to Circe’s house bearing an herb called ‘moly’ (μῶλυ), which is described as having a flower as white as milk, and negated the powers of Circe’s potion. The ancient magical herb has not been identified, but many wild herbs and plants of Ikaria could certainly remind one of this myth.

Many of Ikaria’s herb, plants and its honey are thought to have healing powers.

Odysseus himself may not have stopped on Ikaria. But, much of what is timeless about Homer's epics seems to still play out on Ikaria today. 

Ikaria Island feels like a return to Homer’s world. It embodies much of what Homer celebrated about nature and the human condition thousands of years ago.


 Ikaria wild flowers. 

Ikaria wild flowers. 

Passages from Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey used in this blog post are from the online Project Gutenburg texts. Ikaria is also spelled ‘Icaria’.

the Odyssey:

The Iliad 





Written by Charlene Caprio