Abstract: Crete in the Age of Odysseus: The Evidence from Kavousi
Lecturer: Leslie Preston Day
Although the epic is not set on the island, Crete figures prominently in the Odyssey, primarily in the stories that Odysseus tells when he pretends to be someone else. What was the island like in the periods in which the Odyssey was set and composed? Excavations on two sites (Vronda and Kastro) at Kavousi in eastern Crete, put together with excavations of other 12th century sites, such as Karphi, Halasmenos, Vasiliki, Knossos, Thronos/Sybrita, and Chania, provide us with a great deal of evidence for the period in which the Odyssey is set. In contrast to the picture of Crete as the home of pirates in the Odyssey, at least in the eastern part of the island people fled up into almost inaccessible mountain sites and maintained little contact with the rest of the Aegean. Ordinary people lived agricultural lives, farming on mountain terraces around the sites and devoting much time to food preparation and eating. The archaeological evidence suggests, however, that at least at some of the sites elite groups like the Homeric heroes still controlled the towns and villages of the period, constructing complex buildings and using drinking and eating rituals to cement their positions. Religion flourished in the form of large free-standing shrines of Goddesses with Upraised Arms. By the time the Odyssey was composed in the 8th century BCE, however, the situation had changed. Many of the earlier sites had been abandoned or passed out of use, and society had coalesced into city-states far removed from the Crete described in the epic.
O. Dickinson, The Aegean from Bronze Age to Iron Age (Routledge 2006); L.P. Day, M.S. Mook, and J. Muhly, Crete Beyond the Palaces (INSTAP Academic Press, 2004), L.P. Day, N.L. Klein, and L.A. Turner, Kavousi IIA. The Settlement at Vronda (INSTAP Academic Press 2009).