The island of Kefalonia first appears in Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, under the name Defkalion and as part of Ulysses’ kingdom. Like with everything in the Greek Mythology, no one really knows how the island got its current name, since there are various theories. Some say that the name derives from the word “Kefali”, which in Greek means “Head”, implying the fact that it’s the biggest of the Ionian Islands. According to another version, the name derives from Kefalonia’s first king, who, according to some Myths, was Kefalos.
Kefalonia has a history that goes way back through the Ages and its past is interwoven with many myths. More specifically, the existence of Paleolithic findings implies that the island’s history started 50.000 years ago, when it was united with Ithaca, as well as with the mainland.
Kefalonia and the rest of the nearby islands were linked to a powerful Mycenaean naval kingdom, whose name still remains unknown. Some archeologists support that a specific location that belonged to that kingdom was “Taphos”, nowadays there is a village named Taphios. This theory is based on Apollodorus’ narrations. He said that the island’s first king was Taphius, who was the son of Poseidon and Hypothoe. The first settlers of Taphios were the Taphians or Teleboans.
When the city of Kefalonia became powerful and demanded part of that Mycenaean kingdom, their king Electryon refused, so the Taphians reciprocated by stealing his flocks. Electryon never forgave them for that and when the king of Thebes, Amphitryon, asked his daughter in marriage, Elecrtryon agreed on one condition. That Amphitryon would take revenge on his behalf. Amphitryon together with Cephalus and Eleius were sent to conquer the Taphian territories. During the battle, Amphitryon lost his immortality and returned to Thebes, handing over the loots to Cephalus –who supposedly gave his name to the island.
According to Aristotle, Cephalus was barren and he sought for advice from the Oracle of Delphi. She suggested that he should have intercourse with the first female he’d see. Hence! This female was a bear. This is how Arceisius, future king of the Ionian Islands, was born. His son, Laertis, and then his grandson, Ulysses, were heirs to the kingdom.
The island also got the name Tetrapolis, from the names of Cephalus’ 4 sons. Palae covers the entire western peninsula of the island (today’s Paliki), Cranae was built in Koutsavos, where there are remnants of Cyclopean Walls, Pronnoi in the southeastern part of the island and Sami, which was built on two hills, right above today’s town. These 4 cities were autonomous and had their own coins.
Nevertheless, according to another version, the name of the island came from another source. Many clay inscriptions mention a population named “Kefalines” or “Kefalanes”, who resided in the western part of Greece. In Homer’s era, Sami was first inhabited by Aggaios, a descendent of Zeus. Aggaios, during the Pre-Homeric era moved to Kefalonia from the Peloponnese. The abundance of evidence from that era led many to believe that the Homeric Ithaca is actually Kefalonia. They also say that Ulysses and his companion Penelope were old deities of Arcadia. This is why they believe that Achaioi from Arcadia moved to Kefalonia, bringing their own heroes and gods there. Besides, as it’s known, Ulysses’ populace was Kefalines and they owned Ithaca, Zakynthos, Akarnania and Sami. The name Kefalinia is mentioned by ancient writers, such as Herodotus on 450 BC. So, according to this version, Kefalines gave Kefalonia its current name.
It’s also worth mentioning that the inhabitants of Kefalonia worshiped the Olympian gods and this proves that they were connected to the mainland. Coins found on the island depict Zeus, Poseidon, Athena, who also protected Ulysses, and Demetra.