All of Northwest Greece to north of Aetolia is portrayed in the Homeric poems as remote, inhabited by a tribe, the Thesprotians, under their benevolent king Pheidon (Od. 14. 314-333, cf. Od. 19. 287-299). From this Thesprotia Odysseus goes to Dodona, the famed oracular shrine of Zeus, with its sacred oak tree (Od. 19. 296-299, cf. Od. 14. 327-330 and Il. 16. 233-235). The only other place in this Thesprotia featured in the Odyssey is the Hall of Hades, later known as the Thesprotian Ephyra (cf. Pausanias 1.17.5). In order to ensure his safe return home to Ithaca, Odysseus must enter Hades to consult the prophet Teiresias, who alone among the dead inhabitants of Hades, retains his mental ability and his power of prophecy. In her instructions to Odysseus, Circe describes this Hades, the Thesprotian Ephyre: “There the stream Puriplegethon (‘Flame of Consuming Fire’) and the stream Kokytos (‘Wailing’) unite around a rock, and pour thunderously into the river Acheron” (Od. 10. 513-515).

In the Iliad, however, the name Ephyre occurs in various contexts and is only vaguely located. In one passage (Il. 6. 158 and 210) it is “in the corner of horse-feeding Argos”. (see above under THE KINGDOM OF AGAMEMNON for the ancient claim that Ephyre was the old name of Corinth). In two other passages Ephyre is on the river Sclleeis. In Il. 2. 659 it is home of the mother of Tlepolemos, leader of the Rhodian contingent. In Il. 15. 531 Ephyre is the place from which Meges received his breast plate. This has suggested to modern scholars that this Ephyre was in Elis. But the association with the river Sclleeis naturally suggests a connection with the Selloi of Dodona (Il. 16.234-235, and see above under Dodone). In two episodes in the Odyssey (Od. 1. 259 and Od. 2. 328) Ephyre is a place where poison may be obtained. In the first passage the poison is for the tips of Odysseus’ arrows. In the second passage Antinoos is hoping that Telemachos will not go to Ephyre to acquire poison with which to kill the suitors of Penelope. The connection of this Ephyre with (their) death is surely not accidental; it is probably right to conclude that these passages refer to the Thesprotian Ephyre.

Mesopotamos: Xylokastro (Ancient Thesprotian Ephyra): MB LB LH IIIA-C PG? C H

Preliminary excavation reports:

Ergon for 1975, 88-90, for 1976, 85-88, for 1977, 70, for 1978, 35-36, for 1979, 16, for 1980, 18, for 1981, 33-34, for 1983, 43-45, for 1984, 45-46, for 1986, 83-84, for 1987, 70-81, cf. the corresponding summaries in AR vols. 22, 24 to 33 and 35; PAE (1958) 111-113; PAE (1984) 122-124, (1986) 101-102, (1987) 125; Dakaris 1973, esp. 22-25 and plans 1 and 3.

Commentaries: GAC, 299-300 (K1); MG, 175-176 (K1) and pl. 27 b-c; MFHDC, 104-105 and pl. 24a.

The hill of Xylokastro, the site of the Thesprotian Ephyra, is at the north end of the isolated ridge which occupies the angle between the river Acheron on the south and the river Kokytos on the east. At the south end of the ridge, c. 600 m to south of Xylokastro, is the Classical and Hellenistic Nekyomanteion, on a lower spur around the chapel of Ayios Ioannis

Prodromos. The excavation of the Nekyomanteion was completed by S. Dakaris in 1977 (Ergon for 1975, 82-88 and fig. 77 Ergon for 1976, 80-85 with plan fig. 22, Ergon for 1977, 68-69; cf. further bibliography in MFHDC, 104).

The Xylokastro hill (Plate 7A and MG, pl. 27b) is oriented roughly north to south, with a steep eastern side, opposite the Acherousian Lake and marsh (now cultivated). The hill was originally ringed by three circult walls. The outer circuit enclosed an area c. 450 m north-northeast to south-southwest by 100 m (average). Its line can be traced for all of its extent (calculated as c. 1200 m by Dakaris 1973, 22-23), except the steep eastern flank (where it may not have been needed), and enclosed an area calculated by Dakaris (ibid.) as 4.24 hectares. The best preserved parts are on the south and southwest (Plate 7B = MFHDC, pl. 24a = MG, pl. 27c = Ergon for 1958 p. 97 fig. 101 = BCH 83 (1959) 667 fig. 10). Here, for a length of c. 100 m to northwest from the south gate, up to five ragged courses remain to a height of c. 2.50 m. The unworked stones are mainly of medium to large size, with small stones in the interstices. Their style is ‘Cyclopean’, but the masonry is crude. The gateway at the south end is fairly well preserved, although only two to three courses remain. It was c. 2 m wide and protected on its southeast side by a tower-like projection of the wall. The middle circuit wall is preserved only at the south end, where only a length of c. 140 m survives, mainly on the west side. It is of the same rough masonry as the outer circuit. At one point, however, near the northwest end of the preserved section, there are two courses with roughly squared blocks with smoother faces, and some of these blocks appear to form a corner, possibly the side of an entrance. Only a small part of the innermost circuit wall still exists. This forms a small semicircle, c. 60 in length, curving from east to west around only the south tip of the conical summit, originally enclosing only small area of jagged rocks, c. 150 m north to south by c. 60 m.

Excavations by A. Papadopoulos from 1975 to 1987 revealed evidence of Middle and Late Bronze Age occupation, beneath Classical and Hellenistic. The MB and LB pottery was mainly of local manufacture, often imitating MH and LH. The date of the LB habitation was confirmed by a few LH IIIA-C pots and many local imitations, including several complete pots. Long-stemmed kylikes were found, and in cist graves some LH IIIA-B vases, including an alabastron and an amphoriskos. Three tumuli in the interior could not be securely dated, but contained several burials. Tumulus A abutted against the west wall of the middle circuit; so it was concluded that it must have been constructed after the abandonment of the settlement which the wall had defended (Ergon for 1976, 85-88 with fig. 76), and therefore was probably of the 12th century B.C. or later, after the LH IIIA-C occupation. From excavations in the area of the south gate of the outer circuit it was determined that the gate may be provisionally dated within the LH IIIA-C period [Ergon for 1986, 83-84 with fig. 47, cf. AR 33 (1986-87) 57]. Apart from the burial tumuli and cist graves, the only other significant structure found in the interior was a large Hellenistic building, 16.10 x 10.50, with three equal-sized rooms, above an intact prehistoric level (Ergon for 1982, 30).

Ephyre in the Late Bronze Age, like Dodona, was beyond the mainstream of the Mycenaean world, but nevertheless obviously in contact with it and influenced by Mycenaean material culture (see Chapter 1).


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Mycenaean Greece and Homeric Tradition Copyright © by Richard Hope Simpson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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