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CYTHE´RA (τὰ Κύθηρα, also Κυθήρα at a later time: Eth. Κυθήριος: Cerigo), an island lying off the south-eastern extremity of Laconia. Its northern promontory, Platanistus, was distant 40 stadia from Onugnathos, from whence persons usually crossed over to the island. (Paus. 3.23.1; Strab. viii. p.363.) Pliny says that it was 5 miles from Malea; but he ought to have said Onugnathos, since the island is much further from Malea than this distance. (Plin. Nat. 4.12. s. 19.) Cythera is of an irregular oval shape, about 20 miles in length from N. to S., and about 10 miles in breadth in its widest part. Its area is about 112 square miles. It is very rocky and contains only a few valleys; and being the most southerly continuation of the mountains of the Peloponnesus, it forms, together with Crete, the southern boundary of the Mediterranean sea. After passing this island, the ancient Phoenician and Grecian mariners entered upon an unknown sea, not so rich in islands and harbours, with different currents and winds. If we could obtain an account of the early Phoenician voyagers, there is no doubt, as Curtius remarks, that we should find that the stormy Cape Malea and the island of Cythera long formed the extreme point of their voyages, beyond which they did not venture into the unknown western seas. The Phoenicians had an ancient settlement in the island, which was the head-quarters of their purple fishery off the Laconian coast. Hence the island is said to have derived its name from Cytherus, the son of Phoenix, and also to have been called Porphyrūsa or Porphyris. (Aristot. ap. Steph. B. sub voce Κύθηρα; Eustath. ad Dionys. Per. 498, ad Il. p. 304, 36; Plin. Nat. 4.12. s. 19.) It was from Cythera that the worship of the Syrian goddess Aphrodite was introduced into Greece; and consequently in the Grecian legends this island is said to have been the spot which received the goddess after her birth from the foam of the sea. Hence, in the Greek and Latin poets Cythera is constantly represented as one of the favourite residences of Aphrodite, and Cytheraea is one of the most frequent epithets applied to her. (Hesiod. Theogn. 195; Hdt. 1.105; Verg. A. 1.680, et alibi.)

On the conquest of Peloponnesus by the Dorians, Cythera, together with the whole eastern coast of Laconia, was dependent upon Argos (Hdt. 1.82). It afterwards became subject to the Spartans, who attached great importance to the island, since it afforded a landing-place for their merchant-vessels from Egypt and Africa, and the possession of it protected the coasts of Laconia from the attacks of privateers. Accordingly, they sent over annually to Cythera a magistrate called Cytherodices, with a garrison of Spartans. (Thuc. 4.53.) The Lacedaemonian Chilon, who is reckoned among the Seven Sages, considered the proximity of Cythera so dangerous to Sparta, that he wished it sunk in the sea; and Demaratus, king of Sparta, advised Xerxes to seize this island, and from it to prosecute the war against Laconia. (Hdt. 8.235.) The fears of Chilon were realized in the Peloponnesian war, when Nicias conquered the island, B.C. 424, and from thence made frequent descents upon the Laconian coast. (Thuc. 4.54.)

Thucydides, in his account of the conquest of Cythera by Nicias, mentions three places; Scandeia, and two towns called Cythera, one on the coast and the other inland. Nicias sailed against the island with 60 triremes. Ten of them took Scandeia upon the coast ( ἐπὶ θαλάσσῃ πόλις, Σκάνδεια καλουμένη); the remainder proceeded to the side opposite Cape Malea, where, after landing, the troops first captured the maritime city of the Cytherians ( ἐπὶ θαλάσσῃ πόλις τῶν Κυθηρ́ων), and afterwards the upper city ( ἄνω πόλις). According to this account, we should be led to place Scandeia upon the coast of the Sicilian sea, where Kapsáli, the modern town of Cerigo, now stands; and the maritime city, at Avlémona, on the eastern coast opposite Cape Malea. This is, however, directly opposed to the statement of Pausanias (l.c.), who connects Scandeia and Cythera as the maritime and inland cities respectively, separated from one another by a distance of only 10 stadia. Of this contradiction there is no satisfactory explanation. It seems, however, pretty certain that the sheltered creek of Avlémona was the principal harbour of the island, and is probably the same as the one called Phoenicus (Φοινικοῦς) by Xenophon (Xenoph. Hell. 4.8.7), a name obviously derived from the Phoenician colony. About three miles above the port of Avlémona are the ruins of an ancient town, called Paleópoli, which is evidently the site of the upper city mentioned by Thucydides. Here stood the ancient temple of Aphrodite, which was seen by Pausanias.

In B.C. 393, Cythera came again into the possession of the Athenians, being taken by Conon in the year after the battle of Cnidus. (Xen. l.c.) It was given by Augustus to Eurycles to hold as his private property. (Strab. viii. p.363.) Its chief productions in antiquity were wine and honey. (Heraclid. Pont. s. v. Κυθηρίων.) The island appears to have been always subject to foreign powers, and consequently there are no coins of it extant. It is now one of the seven Ionian islands under the protection of Great Britain. Its modern name Tzerígo, in Italian Cerigo, is remarked by Leake as almost the only instance of a Slavonic name in the Greek islands. (Leake, Northern Greece, vol. iii. p. 69, seq.; Curtius, Peloponnesos, vol. ii. p. 298, seq.)

hide References (8 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (8):
    • Herodotus, Histories, 1.105
    • Herodotus, Histories, 1.82
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 3.23.1
    • Thucydides, Histories, 4.53
    • Xenophon, Hellenica, 4.8.7
    • Thucydides, Histories, 4.54
    • Vergil, Aeneid, 1.680
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 4.12
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