Epano Kambos & ‘Homer’s Tomb’
The road north from Chora affords good views over the bay of Ormos, with the terraced hill of Skarkos and the excavations on its north slope clearly visible in the foreground. After 5km it descends into Epano Kambos
(‘Upper meadow’) which is exactly what its name denotes: a fertile, cultivated area at a height of about 80 100m above sea-level. Watered by the run-off from the hills which surround and protect it from the winds, the area has always constituted the greatest source of agricultural wealth for the island. It is no surprise therefore to find the remains of a Hellenistic farmstead
in its midst. (Not easy to locate: coming from Chora, take the first track to the left at the last right-hand bend before the road levels into the floor of the valley. Fork right after 100m. Where the track ends, a walled path leads on towards a small church to the left-hand side, which marks the camouflaged ruins of the ancient building.
) The precisely laid masonry of long blocks of schist, ‘ballooned’ on their outer face and drafted at their corners, with occasional vertical scoring on some faces, indicates a late Hellenistic date for what must have been a substantial farm building, combining safe-storage and dwelling in one. The doorway on the southwest side tapers to the top, suggesting that it was originally corbelled. A number of the monolithic ceiling blocks still survive, though not in the original configuration.
From the northern end of the Epano Kambos valley, a new road winds through rough and uninhabited terrain towards the tip of the island where, at its northernmost promontory, are the remains of the watchtower of Psaropyrgos, and the so-called ‘Tomb of Homer’. The ruined, rectangular tower was well-sited for watching the busy straits between Ios and Herakleia. The site has been considerably altered and reorganised. The masonry of the walls here is not that of a Hellenistic watchtower, but is of a much later construction: it incorporates, however, several articulated and dressed blocks of pure Naxos marble which are clearly ancient and formed the doorframe for an earlier building of some substance. Three of these have been re-assembled in recent times so as create a make shift shrine for Homer’s supposed resting-place: others flank the present entrance.
HOMER AND IOS
The written evidence for Homer’s connection with Ios comes principally from Pausanias (i. X, 24.2), apart from three words in Pliny (Hist. Nat. IV, 69) and a passing reference in Strabo (‘according to some writers‘¦’, Geog. X, 5.1). The phrases from ‘Herodotus’s Life of Homer, chapter 34’, engraved on the marble plaques erected by the municipality at the site, are misleading: no such work of Herodotus exists. A piece of 3rd or 4th century ad literary fiction, written by an anonymous individual referred to today as ‘the pseudo-Herodotus’ does exist. Since it opens with a lie—stating that it is ‘the work of Herodotus’ and is ‘completely reliable’—it is difficult to accord any of its content credibility. Pausanias, how ever, writing in the 2nd century ad about the monuments of Delphi, recalls an oracle relating to Homer:
[At Delphi] ‘¦ you can see a bronze statue of Homer on a slab, and read the oracle that they say Homer received. ‘Blessed and unhappy—you were born to be both./You seek your fatherland; but you have no fatherland, only a motherland. / The island of Ios is the fatherland of your mother, and it will receive you /When you are dead; but be on your guard against the riddle of the young children.’ The inhabitants of Ios point to Homer’s tomb on the island, and in another area to that of Clymene, who was, they say, the mother of Homer.
We do not know—any more than Pausanias who never set foot on Ios —exactly where those tombs he mentions were located on the island.
Already by Hellenistic times, when the island minted coins with the head of Homer on the obverse and the legend ‘ΟΜΗΡΟΣ’ on the reverse, a strong tradition clearly existed that Homer, on a journey to Athens, was shipwrecked or taken ill on Ios and died there. By the time of Hadrian there was widespread interest in the details of Homer’s life, prompting the Emperor himself even to consult the Delphic Oracle on the matter. There are no fewer than ten fictional ‘Lives’ of the poet known from late Antiquity—not just by the pseudo-Herodotus, but by a pseudo-Plutarch, Proclus and several other anonymous authors.
Homer’s greatness was such that any place which could stake some claim to his life or relics could gain prestige and profit thereby. Even in Antiquity, no fewer than seven cities claimed to be his birth place. And until very recently on Chios, visitors were shown a house in the village of Pitios which was said to be ‘Homer’s’. In recent times, even though the site to which Pausanias referred was long forgotten, the tradition on Ios clearly needed some physical ‘incarnation’, and the combined ruins of a tower and a pre historic grave-yard on this remote promontory nicely fulfilled that need. The present site was first ‘identified’ by the Dutch envoy, Count Pasch van Krienen in 1771, who claimed with romantic flair—100 years before Schliemann said something similar in respect of Agamemnon at Mycenae—that as he opened the grave he had looked for an instant upon the uncorrupted body of Homer, until it decomposed before his eyes.
Ios Island is part of the Cyclades Island group
The North of the Island: Epano Kambos & Homer’s Tomb.