It's famous for being the homeland of Homer's hero
Odysseus (Ulysses) in The Odyssey (and some believe
Homer may himself have lived here). On Ithaca, Odysseus's
faithful wife Penelope waited 20 years for his return from
his long, adventurous, and sometimes treacherous voyage
of exploration. He did manage to return to his beloved
island, and because of this mythical tale, Ithaca has come
to symbolize the joys and difficulties of the voyage of
life. The Greek poet Constantin Kavafis expressed this
sentiment masterfully in a famous and popular Greek
poem, excerpted above.
Although Odysseus is the most famous personality
associated with the island, its name was derived from Ithacis
who, as mythology has it, was the son of a Cephalonian
king who — with his brother — built a fountain that
supplied water for the entire island.
Ithaca's nonfictional history is every bit as colorful as
its mythological lore. It's believed the island has been
inhabited at least since the 2nd Millennium B.C. Evidence
uncovered indicates it was the capital of Cephalonia around
1500 B.C. This is about the same time as the Trojan War
— if Odysseus really existed he would have been king.
The mighty Roman Empire occupied Ithaca in the
2nd Century B.C. Later, the island was incorporated into
the Byzantine Empire. Constantly attacked by pirates,
resulting in many lost lives, Ithaca made an alliance with
Cephalonia in 800 A.D. In the 12th and 13th Centuries,
the island came under rule of the Normans and the Franks
and then, after 30 years in the late 1400s of governance
by the Turks, it went into Venetian hands. During this latter
period, the island's agricultural and shipping industries were
developed, leading to the improvement of Ithacan society.