Join author-filmmaker-mythologist Phil Cousineau on a journey to ancient Greece to visit many of the legendary sites associated with two of Homer's greatest heroes, Odysseus and Penelope, and explore why this mesmerizing story has influenced our history, psychology, philosophy, art, drama, poetry, and even our movies, for the last three thousand years. A special focus of our mythic tour will be on how the Odyssey has shown people all over the world how to get home again.
We will travel across the wine-dark sea to the world immortalized by Homer in the Odyssey, with a special emphasis on recent scholarship, archaeology, and a spate of extraordinary new translations, which gives long overdue attention to Penelope, Circe, and Calypso, Athena, and Aphrodite. We will visit sites such as the Parthenon and Theater of Dionysus, the birthplace of Western drama, the awe-inspiring National Archaeological Museum, Ancient Corinth, home of King Sisyphus, reputed father of Odysseus, the famed Corinth Canal, the citadel of Mycenae, the Menelaion near Sparta, Nestor’s Palace in Pylos, the Acheron River and the Nekromanteion, the entrance for Odysseus’ Underworld Journey, Ancient Olympia, the mythic island of Ithaka, as well as engage in daily discussions and soulful conversations. READ MORE
Phil Cousineau is a writer, teacher, independent scholar, documentary filmmaker, travel leader, storyteller and author of over 40 books including the national best-seller The Art of Pilgrimage, The Book of Roads, and Stoking the Creative Fires, winner of the Book of the Year Award from “Spirituality & Health Magazine.”
Those looking to take a deep and personal dive into Homer's epic poem of the Odyssey will not be disappointed. This trip includes time to stand on the actual ground representing key points in the story of Odysseus' 10-year journey back home Cielle Backstrom, Fairfield, IA
The daily long conversations with Phil Cousineau to relate to our personal mythos and journeys were eagerly anticipated and did not disappoint! Phil was a wonderful leader and managed to keep us all moving and excitedFrances Carbonnel, Elizabeth, CO
“As you set out for Ithaka hope your road is a long one, full of adventure, full of discovery.”
-Constantine Cavafy, “Ithaka"
Keep Ithaka always in your mind. Arriving there is what you are destined for.
-C. P. Cavafy
Take a journey 3,000 years back in time to the roots of classical Greece and forward to the modern Mediterranean of magnificent landscapes and seascapes, splendid museums, and sublime cuisine.
This carefully and lovingly designed tour is the result of Phil Cousineau’s lifelong fascination with The Odyssey and aims to combine visits to sites associated with Homer’s epic with daily readings and discussions that explore the too-long-neglected roles in the epic played by Penelope, Circe, Calypso, Nausicaa, Athena, and Aphrodite. We will explore how the word itself—odyssey—has come to mean “the journey that changes everything,” as well as serving as a colorful metaphor for transformation that has been explored in art, literature, music, theater, and depth psychology.
Our pilgrimage to Homeric Greece will be augmented by Phil’s innovative style of “The Long Conversation.” Each morning will begin with colorful talks that evoke the spell of one of the most influential stories in Western civilization, discussions that will help put the day’s explorations into context. Each evening will conclude with a dinner that allows participants to weigh in with their responses to their encounters at Homeric sites on our journey.
Our journey will begin in Athens with a welcome drink at our hotel and dinner at a traditional Greek tavern in the vibrant Plaka neighbourhood, replete with bouzouki music, vibrant storytelling, and local food and wine. We will explore the area around the Akropolis, including the ruins of the Theater Dionysus, where drama itself began in the mid-sixth century with the plays of Aeschylus, then the partially restored Sanctuary of Asklepion, the fifth-century center of healing, the Odeon of Herod Atticus, which still hosts music and theater events after two thousand years, and of course, The Parthenon, one of the architectural masterpieces of the world, and the very symbol of The Glory that was Greece.
We then visit the engineering marvel of the Corinth Canal, which connects the Greek mainland with the Peloponnesus, and the citadel of Corinth, long associated with King Sisyphus, where Phil will read from his recent mythopoetic novel, “The Lost Notebooks of Sisyphus.” Nearby are the ruins of Ancient Mycenae, where we will visit La Belle Hellene, named after “The Beautiful Helen of Sparta,” and enjoy a home cooked meal with Phil’s old friend, Agamemnon Dasis. As the great-grandson of the local farmer who helped the archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann excavate the palace of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra, our Agamemnon will provide a powerful perspective for our visit.
At Ancient Sparta, we will visit the archaeological site of Menelaion, the sanctuary where King Menelaus and Helen of Sparta (soon to be of Troy) were honored into late antiquity. There we will have a reading from the Odyssey that describes the visit of Odysseus’ son Telemachus at court with his advisor, Mentor, to learn about the fate of his father.
At Olympia we will learn about the relationship between athletics and spirituality, and the parallels between training for war and sports, which was the theme of Phil’s much-lauded book, The Olympic Odyssey. Our visit to the melancholic beauty of this ancient site is designed to help us understand the significance of Homer’s vivid description in the Odyssey of the Funeral Games for Patroclus, often regarded as the first instance of sports writing in history.
From the seaport town of Patras, we take the ferry to “rocky, low-lying, mountainous” Ithaka, as Homer described the home of King Odysseus and Queen Penelope. During our three marvel-filled days on this mythic island we will visit what locals call “Homer’s School,” the ruins of a mighty Mycenean palace long associated with Odysseus and Penelope and their son Telemachus. We will also visit the Loizas Cave, where fascinating artefacts have been uncovered; the Cave of the Nymphs, where Odysseus is believed to have hidden the gifts given to him by the Phaeacians; and the Archaeological Museum of Stavros. Every morning on the island we will read passages from several different translations, ranging from Alexander Pope and Robert Fitzgerald to Mary Zimmerman and Emily Watson, as well as poems and music associated with the island that has become a byword for “home” the world over. We can count ourselves blessed by the gods and goddesses that we will enjoy an evening at the famous Kanenas Taverna in Stavros of traditional bouzouki music and dancing.
After our stay on Ithaka, we continue to Ammoudia, the mouth of the River Acheron, where, according to legend, Odysseus took Circe’s advice and descended into the Underworld to meet with the soothsayer Tiresias. Nearby is one of the least visited, most mysterious, and most numinous sites in Greece, the Nekromanteion, the Temple of the Dead. It was here that Persephone and Hades were worshipped because of their associated with death and rebirth. Pilgrims were led by a priestess through subterranean chambers to experience their own symbolic death and rebirth through dramatic reenactments.
On our journey back to Athens, we will enjoy wine tasting at Achaia Clauss, the oldest winery in Greece, followed by a delicious farewell lunch at a traditional taverna. Opa!
Tue May 2
Arrive Athens (D) Read more
You will be met at Athens International Airport and transferred to our hotel in the heart of Athens. If possible, we always suggest arriving a day early to rest up and perhaps have time to explore this ancient city on your own.
Athens, the capital and largest city in Greece, dominates the Attica periphery. One of the world’s oldest cities, it is full of myths, mysteries, and legends. Steeped with a rich history that spans around 3,400 years, the city is home to many sacred ancient sites, monuments, and landmarks. A fusion of old and new, Athens is also a cosmopolitan metropolis buzzing with lively activity and vibrancy. If you arrive early enough, we recommend a visit to one of the more recent glories in Athens, the Akropolis Museum, which is within walking distance of our hotel. Founded in 2009, the museum is devoted to the 3,000 archaeological artefacts, which have been discovered in the shadows of The Parthenon, such as the beautiful Peplos Kore, the Athena Nike, and the Erechtheion Karyatids.
In the evening we will gather at the hotel for a welcome drink before walking as a group to the Plaka district for our Welcome Dinner at a traditional taverna, with a splendid view of the Acropolis and Lycabettus. We will get to know our tour leader and fellow travellers as we savour traditional Greek cuisine, admire the stunning views of ancient Athens, and thrill to the sound of bouzouki music.
This morning we begin with the first of our “Long Conversations,” a Phil Cousineau tradition for the last thirty years of his leading tours around the world, an exercise that helps put each of our travel days into context. We begin with a discussion of the 3000-year-old history of Homer’s masterpiece and how it has been rendered in poetry, theater, dance, opera, and movies, as a time-defying example of how to “get home again,” which is still a powerful metaphor for learning how to rediscover our true selves.
After a brief break, we leave for a dazzling walking tour of the Plaka, the ancient city below the Akropolis. Then we take a meandering walk up the south slope of the Akropolis to the ruins of the sixth-century Theater of Dionysus, for many the birthplace of drama, and past the recently restored ruins of the Sanctuary of Asklepius, god of healing, and the symbolic father of modern medicine. Then we continue up the path to the Odeon of Herod Atticus, completed in 161 CE, renovated in 1950, and still in use today for vibrant theater and musical performances. Then we make our way to the Parthenon, a Doric-Ionic temple built between 447 and 438 BCE on a design by Ictinus and Callicrates, and highlighted by Phidias’ awe-inspiring statue of the goddess Athena. Long considered one of the architectural masterpieces in the world, it was the center for religious life in the powerful city-state of Athens, and the very symbol of “The Glory that Was Greece.”
After a leisurely visit, we take a short break and then walk down the north slope of the Akropolis to the Agora, the marketplace, heartbeat of ancient times. Nearby we will have a traditional Greek lunch (own expense). In late afternoon we will take our van to the National Archeological Museum, where we will see many of the marvels uncovered by Heinrich Schliemann in Mycenae, the Antikythera Mechanism, considered to be the first computer, the bronze Zeus or Poseidon, the bronze Ephebe or Paris of Troy, the Aphrodite with Pan and Eros, the golden Mask of Agamemnon, the bust of the Minotaur, and the Aphrodite of Cnidus. These treasures will provide us with visual markers for the rest of our journey.
Corinth Canal; Mycenae; Beehive hut; Nauplion (B, L)Read more
Enjoy a traditional Greek breakfast followed by our Long Conversations: “Epic Storytelling in Classical Athens.” Afterward, we take our coach to the Peloponnesus, crossing the astonishing architectural marvel of the Corinth Canal, begun by the Roman emperor Nero, who abandoned the project, and which was finally resumed in 1881 and completed in 1893. After a short stop at the canal, we make a brief visit to Ancient Corinth to learn about its immortal mythical King Sisyphus, who was regarded by the classical Greek playwrights as the true father of Odysseus, and is the basis for Phil’s mythopoetic novel, “The Lost Notebooks of Sisyphus.”
Afterward, we drive on to the ancient citadel of Mycenae and its neighbouring museum, with its cyclopean walls and history of Agmemnon and Clytemnestra. Here, we will spend the morning exploring the archaeological site with a very special guest, Agamemnon Dasis, the great-great-grandson of the man who lodged the archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann (discoverer of Troy) when he excavated Mycenae in 1876, as well as a knowledgeable local guide.
After our tour of the citadel, we will visit the nearby colossal Tholos Tomb, an awe-inspiring beehive-shaped stone hut, one of the architectural wonders of Greece. Then we have lunch at Agamemnon’s restaurant and hotel, La Belle Helene, named after Helen of Troy (included in tour price). Over the years many luminaries have stayed here, including André Malraux, Stephen Spender, Jack Kerouac, Rebecca West, Lawrence Durrell, Henry Miller, Virginia Woolf, Carl Jung, Freya Stark, and J. K. Rowling.
After our conversation-rich lunch with Agamemnon, we drive by van south for a brief stop at Tiryns, a mighty fortress that flourished between 1600-1100 BCE, and built by none other than Hercules. Afterwards, we drive south to beautiful Nauplion, situated on the coast, and featuring a magnificent town square.
After breakfast at the hotel, we gather for a morning discussion based on Phil’s new book, Who Stole the Arms of the Venus de Milo? The famous statue was inspired by the story of the torrid love affair between Paris, the prince of Troy, and Helen of Sparta, the tale that has inspired more art than any other one from classical times, and which will prepare us for our visit today to the ruins of the palace she shared with King Menelaus.
We then travel by bus to Ancient Sparta, where the Trojan prince Paris, enchanted by the goddess of love, Aphrodite, came to seek Helen, regarded as the most beautiful woman in the world, who was likewise under Aphrodite’s love spell. To catch a glimpse of the importance of these mythic figures, we will visit the strange pyramid-shaped archaeological site called the Menelaion, Sanctuary of Menelaus and Helen, who were honored for their roles in the Trojan War for centuries. We will explore the phenomenon of the fertility cult in honor of Helen, which thrived for millennia. According to no less an authority than Pausanius, the first-century travel writer, the royal couple were buried there.
We will enjoy a traditional lunch (included in tour price) in Sparta. After our visit to Sparta, we continue to the Palace of Nestor, often considered the best preserved palace in Greece, in Ancient Pylos, whose history dates back to Neolithic times. Our visit will be in honor of King Nestor, who fought alongside Odysseus at Troy. In the Odyssey, Homer writes that the goddess Athena suggested that Telemachus visit King Nestor to gain knowledge of his father’s whereabouts. The site is noteworthy for the discovery of thousands of clay tablets in Linear B script, which was used for writing Mycenean Greek.
After breakfast at the hotel, we gather for a morning discussion about the curious relationship in the ancient world between athletics and warfare, as embodied at Ancient Olympia. Considered a national shrine for the ancient Greeks, the site housed many treasures and works of art ranging from temples, monuments, sacred altars, theatres, and statues. Recent findings have pushed the origins of the competitions there from the traditional 776 B.C.E. to around 1250 B.C.E.
Our visit will enrich our understanding of the role of athletics in Homer, who is often regarded as the first sportswriter in the world because of his intricate description of the so-called Funeral Games for the fallen hero Patroclus. Together we shall make our way to the ancient gymnasium and the palaestra (wrestling forum), the Temple of Zeus, one of the original Seven Wonders of the World, the Temple of Hera, where the Olympic Torch is ignited for every modern Olympics, and the wondrous Archaeological Museum, which features the astounding statue of Hermes by Praxiteles. We will then walk through an old olive grove for a visit of the Olympics Museum, which features a collection of Olympic torches, medals, and memorabilia of the Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the visionary who revived the Modern Olympic Games in the belief it would revive the spirit of the well-lived life. Enjoy lunch near the museum (own expense).
This evening, back at our hillside hotel, Phil will lead a late evening discussion based on his book, The Olympic Odyssey, which was gifted to all 1700 American athletes at the 2004 Athens Olympics. This evening we will enjoy a visit to a local taverna for some traditional music (at own expense).
Following our hotel breakfast we will gather on our hotel’s beautiful outdoor patio for an invigorating discussion about the symbolic power of Ithaka in mythology, psychology, poetry, and the arts. After our talk we will take our coach to the port of Patras, where we will catch a four-hour ferry to Pisaetos harbour, Ithaka, then on to the nearby beautiful harbour town of Vathi. Tonight we will enjoy dinner at a lovely local restaurant (own expense).
After breakfast we will craft a group reading of passages in the Odyssey that are set in Ithaka and discuss the way the translations have shape-shifted over the centuries. We will also explore the centuries-long debate, which dates back to the 3rd century BCE, about the specific location of Homer’s Ithaka.
After lunch (included in tour price) we will be guided by Spyros Couvaras, a member of the Odyssean Studies Center to the town square of the beautiful village of Stavros to see a scale model of ancient Ithaka, and the small but important Archaeological Museum of Stavros, where we will see fragments of twelve bronze ceremonial tripods in honour of Odysseus found in the nearby Polis caves. One is famously inscribed: EYXHN ODYCCEI, a reference to the gift of Alcinoos, King of Phaecia, to Odysseus.
Then we take a short drive by coach to the reputed ruins of Odysseus and Penelope’s palace that is referred to locally as Homer’s School, which archaeologists date back to the 8th century. The most recent excavations, culminating in 2010, have fuelled the controversy about the existence of a real Odysseus, reminiscent of Heinrich Schliemann’s digs at Troy, in Turkey, which many believe provides an historical basis for the Trojan War. After our visit to these haunting ruins, we will visit the actual Polis Cave, where the “Odysseus cult” was ritually celebrated for eight centuries. Time permitting, we will end our visits with a drive to the peak of Pilata Hill to enjoy one of the finest panoramic views in all of Greece. The site overlooks the Three Seas that Homer describes are visible from Odysseus’ Ithaka, and finally to the Homeric “Melanydros Fountain.”
Ithaka; Archaeological Museum of Vathi (B, L) Read more
Today we enjoy a morning of storytelling and discussion about the Iliad and the Odyssey, including recent mythopoetic renderings of Homer’s myths, including Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad, and Madeline Miller’s Circe, and today’s theme of “Ithaka After Odysseus.”
After our “Long Conversation”, we will attempt to visit the Archaeological Museum of Vathi to see its beautiful collection of rare vases from the so-called “Dark Ages,” as well as vases from the Geometric Period, striking Ithacan bronze coins from Classical times, some with the very face of King Odysseus, and a magnificent wooden model of Odysseus’ Palace. Lunch is included today.
Today we enjoy a languorous breakfast and Long Conversation on the patio of our wonderful Mentor hotel overlooking Vathy Bay, which will be based on how Homer’s story has taken on a life of its own, the very word “odyssey” coming to mean not just any journey, but the one that changes everything. This morning we discuss the wide range of influence it has on world culture, from ancient theater to the movies, including Ovid’s Metamorphosis, Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, and Mary Zimmerman’s brilliant adaptation, The Odyssey: A Play.
Weather permitting, we will drive to a nearby beach for time to swim, hike, or journal. Lunch and dinner at own expense today.
This evening we can dine at a traditional tavern. Opa!
After breakfast, we have a brief discussion about the role of Greek Stoic philosophy, spread by such soulful philosophers as Epictetus, Cicero, and Marcus Aurelius, on the patio of the Mentor Hotel before we leave Odysseus' home island for the mainland. We board an early morning ferry bound for the port of Astakos on the west coast of the mainland, arriving at noon.
We then take our coach to Nicopolis, "the Victory City," after the goddess Nike, where the great Epictetus founded his own school of Stoic philosophy. Nicopolis was founded in 29 BCE to commemorate the nearby Battle of Actium, where Octavian's army overwhelmed Cleopatra and Marc Antony, and is considered the largest ancient city, size-wise, in all of Greece. Lunch on your own.
Dinner (on own) and overnight in Preveza with its glorious beaches.
After breakfast we will have a discussion about the recent mythopoetics of many female scholars and authors, from Emily Wilson to Madeline Miller, which bring the women and goddesses to the forefront of Homer’s storytelling. Much of the new writing focusses on how Odysseus’ fortunes were changed not only by hint of his own “myriad-mindedness,” but upon the advice of the women and goddesses in his life.
From here we drive to Necromanteio of Acheron, a candidate for both the strangest ancient site in Greece and the least visited of the Homeric sites. For millennia, this temple marked the entrance to Hades, where a religious cult developed to celebrate the mysteries of Hades and Persephone. Pilgrims gathered here from all over the ancient world to honor the recently dead, and also to be led by the resident Oracle of the Dead down into subterranean chambers, where it's believed they experienced a ritual death and rebirth. In Book Eleven of The Odyssey, Homer portrays the sorceress Circe as the inspiration for Odysseus to descend from here down to the Halls of Hades. On his nekyia, or underworld journey, our hero asked the soothsayer Tiresias for advice on how he could reach home again and be reunited with Penelope after twenty years.
Afterwards our visit to the Underworld, we venture to the Acheron itself, a startlingly beautiful river that is fifty shades of turquoise, where we will have some quiet time to contemplate our adventures and soak our feet and perhaps make some entries in our travel journals. Later, we will enjoy lunch (at own expense), at either the cafe at the Acheron Springs or at a taverna in Ammoudia, depending on the flow of the day. A note to have proper shoes and extra clothes along today so you can walk in the river. You will love it!
After our Long Conversation, which will recap the life-changing adventures of Penelope and Odysseus, and how our own journey has influenced us, we make the return journey to Athens.
Enroute, you will enjoy an included wine tasting at Achaia Clauss, the oldest winery in Greece. You’ll have a chance to see the Vineyards, which produce their famous Mavrodafni and visit the winery to learn how their wines are produced. Learn about the art of the barrel maker and the history of the barrels. Finally, return to the Cava, where you will have the opportunity to enjoy their selected fine wines.
Afterwards, celebrate during your delicious farewell lunch at a traditional tavern nearby. Opa!
Upon arrival in Athens, we enjoy a free afternoon and evening.
After breakfast we say a fond farewell to our newfound friends and tour leader as our time together in Greece comes to an end. We will travel home with incredible memories and a deeper understanding of the importance of the sites visited and their role in Homer’s Odyssey.
After check-out, you will be transferred to Athens International Airport for onwards flights home.
(B = Breakfast; L = Lunch; D = Dinner)
Note: This itinerary is subject to change due to conditions beyond our control
In the Footsteps of Homer's Odyssey with Mythologist Phil Cousineau
May 2 - 14, 2023
12 nights’ accommodation in 3* and 4* star hotels based on double/shared occupancy