The Authoress of the Odyssey, by Samuel Butler

Chapter xiii

Further Evidence in Support of an Early Ionian Settlement at or Close to Trapani.

I am often asked how I explain the fact that we find no trace in ancient authors of any tradition to the effect that the “Odyssey” was written at Drepanum or that the writer was a woman. This difficulty is laid before me as one that is almost fatal. I confess, however, that I find it small in comparison with that of explaining how both these facts should have failed of being long since rediscovered. Neptune indeed did not overwhelm Scheria under Mt. Eryx, but he, or some not less spiteful god, seems to have buried both it and its great poetess under another mountain which I fear may be found even more irremovable — I mean a huge quasi-geological formation of academic erudition.

The objection is without sufficient foundation in its implied facts; for that the Phæacians were a real people who lived at a place bearing the name of Drepane (which is near enough to Drepanum for all practical purposes), * has never been lost sight of at all — except by those who find it convenient to lose sight of it. Thucydides (i. 25) tells us that the inhabitants of Corfu were the descendants of the Phæacians, and the rock into which their ship was turned as it was entering the harbour after having escorted Ulysses to Ithaca is still shown at Corfu — as an island 58 feet high with a monastery on the top of it. But the older name of Corfu was Drepane,  and when the Carthaginians had established themselves at the Sicilian Drepanum, it would be an easy matter for the inhabitants of the Corfu Drepane to claim Phæacian descent, and — as they proceeded to do — to call their island Scheria, in spite of its offering no single point of correspondence with the description given in the “Odyssey.”

I grant that no explicit tradition exists to the effect that the “Odyssey” as a whole was written at or in Corfu, but the Phæacian episode is the eye of the poem. I submit, then, that tradition both long has, and still does, by implication connect it with a place of which the earliest known name was to all intents and purposes the same as that of the town where I contend that it was written.

The Athenian writers, Thucydides included, would be biassed in favour of any site which brought Homer, as they ignorantly called the writer of the “Odyssey,” nearer their own doors. The people, moreover, of Eryx and Segesta, and hence also of Drepanum, were held to be barbarians, and are so called by Thucydides himself (vi. 2); in his eyes it would be little less than sacrilege to hesitate between the Corfu Drepane and the Sicilian Drepanum, did any tradition, however vague, support Corfu. But it is not likely that Thucydides was unaware of the Sicilian claim not only to the Phæacian episode, but to the entire poem, for as late as 430 B.C., only a little before the date of his own work, there were still people on or near Mt. Eryx who present every appearance of having claimed it, as I will almost immediately show.

As for losing sight of its having been written by a woman, the people who could lose sight of the impossibility of its having been written by Homer could lose sight of anything. A people who could not only do this, but who could effectually snuff out those who pointed out their error, were not likely to know more about the difference underlying the two poems than the average English layman does about those between the synoptic gospels and that of St. John.

I will now return to my assertion that in the time of Thucydides there seem to have been not a few who knew of, and shared in, the claim of Drepanum to the authorship of the “Odyssey.”

The British Museum possesses a unique example of a small bronze coin which is classed with full confidence among those of Eryx and Segesta. It is of the very finest period of the numismatic art, and is dated by the museum authorities as about 430 B.C.

The reader will see that the obverse bears the legend ΙΑΚΙΝ, and the reverse a representation of the brooch described by Ulysses (“Od.” xix. 225-231). A translation of this passage is given on page 80.

The cross line of the A is not visible in the original, but no doubt is felt at the Museum about its having existed.

There seems, however, to be more doubt whether the legend should be ΙΑΚΙΝ, or PIAKIN—P being the older form of Π. Possibly from a desire to be right in either case, the Museum catalogue gives it as ΙΑΚΙΝ in the illustration, and PΙΑΚΙΝ in the descriptive letterpress. The one reading will do nearly as well as the other for my argument, which only requires that the coin should belong to the Eryx and Segesta group and be dated about 430 B.C. — neither of which points are doubted. I will, however, give the reasons that convince me that ΙΑΚΙΝ is the true reading.

Firstly, neither I nor some artist friends of mine whose opinion is infinitely better worth having than my own, can find any trace of a P between the lowermost boss and the neck. I am aware that some experts of the highest competence profess to be able to detect such traces, but the artist who figured the coin in the Museum Catalogue evidently could not do so, and the experts do not seem to have had such confidence in their own opinion as to make him alter his drawing.

Secondly, the composition is obviously and intentionally symmetrical. It would be abhorrent to the instincts of the man who could design so exquisite a coin to destroy its balance by crowding a P into the place which must be assigned to it if it exists at all.

Thirdly, Piacus, to which town the coin had been ascribed by the dealer from whom the Museum bought it, is mentioned very briefly by Stephanus Byzantinus, but by no other writer, as a Sicilian city, and he expressly states that its citizens were called ΠΙΑΚΗΝΟΙ; so that the coin, if it was one of theirs, should bear the legend PΙΑΚΗΝ instead of the alleged PΙΑΚΙΝ. Stephanus Byzantinus did not write till about 500 A.D., and in the absence of any statement from him to the effect that Piacus was an old city, it argues some recklessness to conclude that it had existed for at least a thousand years when he mentioned it; there is no evidence from any quarter to support such a conclusion, and a safer one will be that the dealer above referred to, not knowing where the coin came from, and looking for a city in Stephanus Byzantinus, found he could get nothing nearer than Piacus — whereon he saw a P as the smallest thing he could do in H’s, into his coin, and sold it to the British Museum probably for a song as compared with the value which it now proves to have. Thus the Museum authorities having got it into part of their notes (for they seem to have got ΙΑΚΙΝ into another part) that the legend was PΙΑΚΙΝ, have very naturally been led to see more on the coin than those who have no notes will quite bear them out in seeing. But I will add no more. The legend is obviously ΙΑΚΙΝ.

This is an abbreviation for ΙΑΚΙΝΩΝ, as ΕΡΥΚΙΝ and ΚΕΝΤΟΡΙΠΙΝ are for ΕΡΥΚΙΝΩΝ and ΚΕΝΤΟΡΙΠΙΝΩΝ, not to quote further examples. It means that the people who struck it were called ΙΑΚΙΝΕΣ, and though we cannot determine the precise name of their city we may infer with confidence that it was some derivative of ΙΑΚΟΣ, which is given in Liddell & Scott as meaning Ionian. The name may very likely have been ΙΑΞ though I cannot find any authority for the existence of such a town.

I hold, therefore, that as late as B.C. 430 there was near Trapani a town still more or less autonomous, which claimed Ionian descent and which also claimed to be in some special way connected with the “Odyssey”; for I am assured that nothing would be allowed on a coin except what had an important bearing on the anterior history of those who struck it. Admitting that the reverse of the coin in question must be taken as a reproduction of Ulysses’ brooch — and I found no difference of opinion among the numismatists at the Museum on this head — it is hard to see what more apposite means of saying “Odyssey” upon a coin can be suggested than to stamp it with the subject which invites numismatic treatment more than any other in the whole poem. It seems to me, then, that though the theory that there was an Ionian city in the neighbourhood of Eryx which could claim connection with the “Odyssey” will stand perfectly well without the coin, the coin cannot stand without involving the existence of an Ionian city near Eryx which claimed connection with the “Odyssey.” Happily, though the coin is unique, there is no question as to its genuineness.

To those, therefore, who ask me for monuments, ruins of buildings, historical documents to support a Sicano-Ionian civilisation near Eryx in times heretofore prehistoric, I reply that as late as 430 B.C. all these things appear to have existed. Letting alone the testimony of Thucydides, surely an Ionian coin is no small historical document in support of an Ionian city. A coin will say more in fewer words and more authoritatively than anything else will. The coin in question cannot belong to an Ionian colony on Mt. Eryx or thereabouts recently established in 430 B.C. We should have heard of such a colony; how inconceivable again is the bringing in of the “Odyssey” on this supposition. If the city existed at all it can only have done so as a survival of the Phocæan settlement of which Thucydides tells us.

I want no evidence for the survival of such a settlement in later times; it is not incumbent upon me to show whether it survived or no; the abundant, I might almost say superabundant, coincidences between all both Scherian and Ithacan scenes in the “Odyssey,” and Trapani with its immediate neighbourhood, is enough to demonstrate the Trapanese origin of the poem. Its pre-Syracusan and pre-Sicelian indications fix it as not later than about 1050 B.C., its dialect, Ionic-Æolian, connects it with the Phocæans above referred to. It does not concern me to show what became of these Phocæans after the “Odyssey” had been written; what I have said about the coin ΙΑΚΙΝ is said more in the interests of the coin than of the “Odyssey,” which is a more potent and irrefragable proof of its own provenance and date than any coin struck some 600 years later can conceivably be. Still, the coin being there, I use it to answer those who demand some evidence external to the “Odyssey” itself. When they ask me where are my monuments, I answer that they are within the coin, circumscribed by the small cincture of an inch and a half at most. For a coin is a city in little; he who looks on one beholds a people, an evidence of title, a whole civilisation with its buildings of every kind. Destroy these, but so long as a single one of its coins remains, the city though dead is yet alive, and the fact of its having had buildings that could become ruinous is as palpable as though the ruins themselves had come down to us.

The exact situation of this city Iax, Iacus, or Iace, cannot be determined, but I incline to place it about a mile or a mile and a half East of Trapani at or near a place called Argenteria. This place is said to have yielded silver, but no one believes that it ever did so. It is a quarry and by no means a large one, just at the beginning of the rise to Mt. Eryx. Some say that Argenteria is a corruption of Cetaria and refers to a monster fish that was killed here, though how it got so far from the sea is not apparent; I think it much more likely, however, that it is a corruption of Iacinteria and that Iax, or Iace, was a quasi-autonomous suburb of Drepanum to which the Greek inhabitants were permitted to retire when the Carthaginians took possession of the parts of the town bordering on the harbour.

My friend Signor Sugameli of Trapani, whose zeal in this matter so far outstrips even my own, that I would gladly moderate it if I knew how to do so, assures me that in his younger days he used to employ a stone in building that the mason told him came from a quarry at the foot of Mt. Eryx called Dacinoi or D’Acinoi. This was years before any one thought of bringing Ionians to Trapani. Signor Sugameli suggested that possibly the name might be a corruption of D’Alcinoo — but we may be sure that whatever else Alcinous’s name may have been it was not Alcinous. I asked Signor Sugameli to produce the mason, but he could neither find him nor hear of the quarry Dacinoi. Nevertheless I feel sure that he was told what he said he was, and as the quarry cannot have been far from the Argenteria, I think it probable that its name was a corruption of degli Iacinoi.

Whether this is sound or not, I do not doubt that the Iacenses who figure so largely in Sicilian history during the Eleventh Century of our own era are to be connected with the Ionian settlement that produced the “Odyssey.” The Iacenses were then settled chiefly about forty miles East of Trapani, but the interval of some 1400 years and more between the date of the coin Iakin and the conquest of Sicily by the Normans will leave plenty of time for them to have spread or migrated.

225:* Drepanum means a curved sword or scimitar. Drepane is a sickle.

225:† See Smith’s Dictionary of Classical Geography, under Corcyra, where full references will be found.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:31