Illustration by Denis Mizzi
Alexandroupoli nightlife: “Chaos,” two black doors, “Closed.” “I am Odysseus, son of Laertes” (Homer). Their handles not responsive to being pulled. “Known above all men for crafty designs.” “Artakie,” a cavernous one-room club, its sign reading “Privé,” its décor in black and white, two silver-clad pillars rising from a central well. “And my fame goes up to the heavens.” Three candles are burning atop the bar, it not clear why the electricity is off. “I am at home in sunny Ithaka.” At any rate, the music has been extinguished along with the lights. “There stands a tall mountain, leaf-trembling Neritos, about it other islands lie close to one another.” Around a circular table sit three women. “Doulichion, Same and wooded Zakynthos.” Now three men draw up chairs to take seats in amongst them. “But the island that I call mine lies low and away, last of all upon the dark water.” The relationship of the three men to the three women is obscure. “The other islands face the east and the sunshine.”
“Chaos,” the club visited earlier, now has lit its neon sign. “Ithaka is rugged but a good nurse of men.” Preceding author, a man enters with a black bottle of wine, then quickly reversing his course exits. “For my part I cannot think of any place sweeter on earth to look at.” Within the darkness of “Chaos” the electronic sound system pulsates. “For in truth Kalypso, shining among divinities, held me in her hollow caverns, desiring that I be her husband.” Having also passed several coffee shops with no lights burning, author finally understands why these interiors are darkened: “And so likewise Aiaian Circe the guileful detained me, but never could she persuade my heart.” In a town of but 37,000 residents, it may not be desirable that others know one’s nighttime identity or whereabouts. “So nothing is more sweet in the end than country and parents, even though one live far away from them in a fertile place.”
Along an up-market avenue, the Café Del Mar is also darkened. “In an alien country, far from ones parents.” The Café Daily, however, which is advertising “Honey-Sweet Fruit,” is brightly, even seductively lit up. “Come, I will tell you of my voyage home with its many troubles.” The Barracuda Club, half-lit, has a whole wall filled with video games. “Which Zeus inflicted on me as I came ashore.” A patron is engaged with “RockSkyll,” a brutal Japanese game. Author perambulates Alexandroupoli’s central streets, past bars patronized by middle-aged men, their circular tables covered with green baize for gambling; past a darkened park, its playground equipment painted in outrageously bright red, yellow and blue; past a street fronting the sea, whose waves lash up over the embankment toward a pub called “Aeolus.”
“From Ilion the wind took me and drove me ashore at Ismaros
in the land of the Kikonians. I sacked their city and killed
their people, taking with me their wives and many possessions;
we shared them out, so none might go cheated of his proper
portion. I favored a light-footed escape, and strongly
urged it, but my foolish companions would not listen to me . . .”
“Simplicius, doubtless quoting from a version of Theophrastus’ history of early philosophy, identifies in Anaximander some other apeiron nature, from which come into being all the heavens and the worlds in them. And this source of coming-to-be is that into which destruction too happens, he says, according to necessity, since, he adds in his most poetical description of the matter, they pay penalty and retribution to each other for their injustice according to the assessment of time.
“Meanwhile the Kikonians went and summoned other
Kikonians, their compatriots from the inland country, more
numerous than themselves and better men, well skilled in fighting,
men with horses, but knowing too at need the battle
on foot. These arrived at early morning, like flowers in season
or leaves, and the luck that came our way from Zeus was evil,
to make us unfortunate, and give us hard pains to suffer.”
The wind picks up. Surrealistically the surf gleams under large white streetlights. We pass the “Amis Café.” In the grid of the sidewalk holes have been dug, deep rectangular trenches large enough for men.
“Both sides stood and fought their battle there by the running
ships, and with bronze-headed spears they cast at each other;
as long as it was early and the sacred daylight increased, so long
we stood fast and fought them off, however outnumbered.”
But some, as Diogenes Laertius asseverates (citing Eudemus in his history of astronomy), consider that Thales of Miletus was the first to study the heavenly bodies and foretell eclipses of the sun and solstices. “And when the sun had gone to the time for unyoking of cattle, / then at last the Kikonians turned the Achaians back and beat them, / and out of each ship six of my strong-greaved companions / were killed, but the rest of us fled from Death and Destruction.” For which reason, he adds, both Xenophanes and Herodotus express admiration, and both Heraclitus and Democritus bear witness for him.
“From there we sailed farther, glad to have escaped from Death, but grieving still at heart over the loss of our dear companions.” For when they reproached the great philosopher of Miletus concerning his poverty, says Aristotle, as though philosophy were no use, it is said that he, having seen through study of the heavenly bodies that there would be a large olive-crop, raised a little capital, while it was still winter, and paid deposits on all the olive presses in Miletus and Chios, hiring them cheaply because no one bid against him.
In the rectangular plots, dug in the sidewalk, trees have been planted. We pass the “Alexandrian Coffee Shop,” as ahead of us looms the famous lighthouse of Alexandroupoli, circulating its light high above the city. We pass the “Akropon,” the central square in front of the harbor; we pass the “Step In.” And the voice of Odysseus resumes: “Even then I would not suffer the flight of my oar-swept vessels / until a cry had been made three times for each of my wretched companions, who died there in the plain, killed by the Kikonians. When the appropriate time came there was a sudden rush of requests for the presses; he hired them out on his own terms and so made a large profit. The clock tower reads 5 minutes to 10, an hour slow.
Sunrise panorama, Alexandroupoli. It is principally the sea, sea birds, and other birds that appear in motion. A solitary fishing boat makes its way out the harbor’s mouth onto the milky, pink-blue surface of the early Aegean. In a striped parking lot a hundred birds, all white, are taking their morning stroll. Yellow-helmeted, a green-jacketed motorcyclist enters through the gate and continues down the jetty a quarter of a mile, half a mile, three-quarters of a mile, a mile, to the end of the pier. In the process he scares off a flock of birds, which drift gorgeously across the inner harbor. Now he returns. At the dock a cruise ship waits for what one supposes will be an evening departure for Lindos, in the direction of Samothrake, on to Mytilini, Samos, Kos and perhaps Rhodes. The motorcyclist skirts a trailer truck set to unload its cargo, smaller vans, a red sedan. His passage creates the only noise the length of the causeway. At last he exits through the gates that he had entered. His ride apparently has been for pleasure.
Now, as he proceeds on westward, past cranes unloading ships, other traffic moves eastward. A fishing boat, having left behind the last stones of the jetty, also turns toward the east. A train’s horn sounds, as it arrives from the west to proceed through Alexandroupoli, its white headlight still shining in the late dawn. Eastward down the seaboard avenue heads a red Mercedes truck. Within ten minutes the sun has evolved from a red ball into a golden disk. It was in Ionia that the first completely rational attempt to describe the nature of the world took place (Kirk and Raven, The Presocratic Philosophers). Through the mist it begins to illuminate the outline of Samothrake, imposing but nonetheless vague and mysterious. There, material prosperity and special opportunities for contact with other cultures — with Sardis, for example, by land, with Egypt by sea — derived from the principal tradition of culture and literature that dates from the age of Homer.
We are easing out of the harbor to leave Thrace behind. A string of yellow-orange lights beads the horizon. The surface of the sea is nearly pitch black. All day long Samothrake has been hidden. Then within the space of a century Miletus produced Thales, Anaximander and Anaximenes, each dominated by the assumption of a single primary material, the isolation of which was considered the most important step in any systematic account of reality. Within two hours we will skirt her, according to the map, along her western, least inhabited, flank. This approach was clearly a development out of the genetic or genealogical view of nature as exemplified by the Hesiodic Theogony. In all likelihood we will then sail between Samothrake and Gökçeada, a large Turkish island not far from the Dardanelles. Before long, on our right, Lindos should be visible, visible, that is, if it be not still pitch black.
After the great Milesians, however, the attitude was moderated or abandoned. At about the same time we will sail beyond the island of Tenedos, the modern Turkish Vozcada. Xenophanes is here treated among the Ionians, but in fact he does not fit into any general category. Before sunrise we will dip beneath a jutting peninsula of Turkey. Born and brought up in Colophon, and strongly aware of Ionian ideas (more so, apparently, than was Pythagoras), he moved to western Greece and only incidentally took up the details of cosmogony and cosmology. Here we will turn ever farther eastwards, past Mithymna, the second largest city of Lesvos, continuing on to Mytilini, her principal port, where we will finally make landfall. Meanwhile, in Ephesus. On March 10 our large ship has very few passengers, though author’s cabin is occupied by four of them. The individualistic Heraclitus out-stepped the limits of material monism. Seated in the lounge, he contemplates whether or not to stay up for two more hours simply to say that he has peered out into the blackness at Samothrake. While retaining the idea of a basic (though not a cosmogonic) substance, he discovered the most significant unity of things.
Will we be able to discern the mighty peak of Mt. Fengari, where, according to Homer, Poseidon stood and watched the Trojan War? It was a unity which he assumed without question lay in their structure or arrangement. Not far from this peak, at Paleopolis, lies the sanctuary of the Great Gods. Here exists a parallel with Pythagorean theories in the west of the Greek world. “Samothrake,” says the guidebook, “was first settled in about 1000 B.C. by Thracians, who worshipped the Great Gods, a cult of Anatolian origin.” Pythagoreanism in turn produced the reaction of Parmenides, and for a time western schools were all-important. The lounge’s television set is occupied with a Greek soap opera, ignored by most of the passengers. But the materialistic monism of Ionia re-asserted itself, at least to a certain extent. By all, that is, but a single, 30-year-old man, balding, who has taken a seat in front of the TV. In the compromises of some of the post-Parmenidean systems.
“In 700 B.C. the island was colonized by people from Lesvos,” says the guidebook, “who absorbed the Thracian cult into the worship of the Olympian gods.” Even all-powerful Cronus himself was seized by a great fear: he was no longer certain that his rule would endure forever, for he now remembered his father’s curse with horror and worried lest his own children rise against him as he had done against Uranus (Menelaos Stephanides, The Gods of Olympus). On the wall, behind the reception desk stands a four-foot by three-foot photograph of a Byzantine angel, its wings in silver, likewise its crown and tresses. And so he took a horrible decision: he ordered his wife, Rhea, to bring him every child she bore, and each time she did so he swallowed it alive. For the past two minutes the television soap opera has been exchanging reverse shots. In this way he consumed five infants that Rhea bore him: Hera, Demeter and Hestia, Hades and Poseidon. Of a woman in shoulder-length tresses and her boyfriend in black leather jacket.
Rhea was now with child again and at her wits’ end. Alternately the man and woman have been arguing and necking. She could not think what she might do to save the infants. They run into one another’s arms. “The principal deity among the Great Gods,” says the guidebook, “was the Great Mother, Alceros Cybele, long worshipped as a fertility goddess.” Accordingly she sought out her parents, Uranus and Mother Earth, who advised her to give birth to her baby on Crete, in a cave on Mount Dicte, well hidden among the forests. Two girls in their early twenties from Lesvos, met by author on the dock in Alexandroupoli, are ordering snacks. In this sacred cave, Rhea gave birth to her child, entrusting it to the nymphs of the forest who had helped bring the baby into the world. Having been served at the counter, they are now deciding where they should sit. “When the original religion became assimilated into the state religion.” She returned secretly to the palace of Cronus. “The Great Mother merged with the Olympian female deities, Demeter, Aphrodite and Hecate. And began to cry out that she had been seized by birth pangs.
The television screen shows a little girl, a mother figure exhorting her from behind a red veil. “Hecate, the last of these, was a mysterious goddess, associated with darkness.” The two girls from Lesvos, having first seated themselves at some distance, have now settled in directly before the TV set. The fearsome Cronus believed that his wife really was in labor, and he did not fail to remind her once again of his cruel orders: A number of young men, soldiers on furlough, or so it would seem, have also taken seats at two separate tables, between which they converse, their brush cuts bobbing with earnest animation. “Get it over with, woman, I can’t bear your screaming.” These four guys are now joined by four girls. “And bring me the child as soon as it is born.” And with these heartless words he left Rhea’s room.
“One famous visitor to Samothrake, who did not come to be initiated, was St. Paul, who dropped in on route to Philippi.” Three single guys in their late twenties, all looking a little depressed, lounge in desultory fashion, one over a cup of coffee, one over a cigarette, one over a bottle of beer. “Other deities worshipped on Samothrake were the Great Mother’s consort, the virile young Kadmilos, god of the phallus, who was later integrated with the Olympian Hermes.” Two guys, one in white sweater, one in black tee shirt, sit at a table together. “Among the gods at Samothrake were the demonic Kaberoi twins, Dardanos and Aeton, who were later integrated with Castor and Pollux, the sons of Zeus and Leda.” A little boy and a little girl have joined them. “These twins were evoked by mariners to protect them against the perils of the sea.” The little girl is dressed in red, the little boy in green.
As soon as he had gone, Rhea took a stone, wrapped it in cloth so that it could not be seen and a little later presented it to her husband in place of the child. “‘Cloud-gathering Zeus drove the North Wind against our vessels,’” says Homer (Odysseus), as he concludes this stage of his narrative, “‘in a supernatural storm; there huddled under the cloud scuds land and the great water alike.’” Cronos, suspecting nothing, swallowed the stone with satisfaction. “‘Night sprang from heaven.
“Our ships were swept along yawing with the current; the violence
of the wind ripped their sails into three and four pieces. These then,
in fear of Destruction, we took down and stowed in the ships’ hulls,
and rowed them on ourselves until we had made the mainland.
There for two nights and two days together we lay up,
for Pain and Weariness together were eating our hearts out.”
The baby that escaped was none other than Zeus.
We arise before the sun to the pearly waters of the Aegean, silver on green on blue. In those difficult years, when the reign of Cronus had loosed Evil upon the world, the birth of Zeus seems like the birth of Hope. Over the horizon of shaded grey appears rosy-fingered Dawn. And his survival like the beginning of the struggle for a better world. The pink sun suffuses a grey cloudbank, impregnating it with light. All the deities of Crete hastened to the support of this baby that had first seen the light of day in the cave on Mt. Dicte. Eos gives shape to the indeterminate. It was as if something told them that his were the hands that would free the world from bonds. Or, as Homer has it,
“When the fair-haired Dawn in her rounds brought on the third day,
we, setting the masts upright, and hoisting the white sails on them,
sat still, and let the wind and the steersmen hold them steady.”
But the story has only begun, for in Homer’s words spoken by Odysseus:
“I would have come home unscathed to the land of my fathers,
but as I turned the hook of Maleia, the current and the North Wind
beat me off course, and drove me on past Kythera.”
Our story too is but just under way: A bird soars up and out from the coast, as a tiny fisherman’s boat crosses between us and the mountain. The sky continues to warm, like embers, till suddenly in the notch between two little peaks a bright pink begins to glow roseate, then red, the grey cloudbank seeming to catch fire. Illuminated wavelets dance atop the grey-green base of a sea half hidden in cloud, as the lower semicircle of the sun makes its appearance on the horizon. A near ground skein of white pufflets drifts across a beige cloud. A gull flaps to keep up with us, its entire body reddened by the rays of the sun. Next, a staged opening: within a break at the center of the cloud mass the ball of the sun appears, its flame obscured but its rays emitted, yellowing, through the newly penetrated aperture. A bird crosses this field and is instantly turned to gold. Now, as in a second sunrise, the upper aureate semicircle emerges through the opening, as higher yet an even larger hole appears, encircling it a golden fleece of many-textured clouds.
Odysseus leaves home for the Trojan War
Ostensibly to avenge the rape of Helen
But in fact to escape Anticlea and Penelope.
His mother poses the greater problem,
For only with her death can he return.
She dies of longing for Odysseus,
Having spent a lonely life with Laertes,
Who, in the end, withdraws altogether.
Penelope has lost her husband by seeking
To bind him in a marriage he rebels against.
For he prefers the magical binding of Circe
To hers, Calypso’s libertine sway to
Circe’s, and so indicates by
Spending seven years with the nymph.
At last he returns, but in disguise.
This time Penelope chooses a stranger,
Making a truly exogamous match.
To regain his wife and insure himself
Against Menelaus’ fate, Odysseus
Brutally slaughters all competition.
Nevertheless, he will leave again.
With Lesvos now in sight, author makes his way onto the deck for further observation. To the west rises her castle, to the east the white buildings of her harbor, mounding on up the mountainside. Forest-encrusted, the mountain itself ascends higher. As Homer continues to double himself in Odysseus, so the god Hermes enters to double them both: “Where are you heading, poor fellow, all alone,” he asks, “and in strange country?” From the vantage of the deck her valleys and small villages are also visible. “Off to see Circe and her herds of swine, no doubt,” he continues. “I warn you, it’s pigs she’s turned your comrades into, and a pig she’ll turn you into, too, when you try to set them free.”
On the shore as we approach gleam individual houses. “But I will save you from the terrible fate she has in store for you.” The sun is now behind us. “Do you see the plant that’s growing from the rock? It will protect a man from any evil. First you must listen, though, while I tell you of all her cunning tricks and how you must respond to them.” As our ship turns, we plow an aquamarine course through the grey seas. “To start with, she will give you porridge in which she has sprinkled some of her magic herbs.” Seagulls are following in our wake. “But they will not take hold on you, thanks to the powers that this plant wields.” As we complete our 180-degree turn, great clefts struck out of the mountain come into prominence. “Next she will strike you with her wand.” The shore looms even closer. “You must draw your sword and threaten to fall on her and kill her.” Individual houses bay out like architectural models. “In her terror, she will first try to soothe you with sweet words, then offer to let you sleep with her.” The ship like a goddess progresses toward the port. “Do not refuse, if you wish to rescue your companions.” Having at last made contact with the dock, we enter into the process of disembarkation. “But before you do so, make her swear a solemn oath by all the gods that she will do you no harm.” Gulls float alongside the descending passengers. “And will not rob you of your manhood when you lie down by her side.” Behind us, beside us, they skim the surface of the sea.
Son of Zeus and Maia (the daughter
Of Atlas), brother to Apollo, whose cattle
He steals the day he’s born. Returning
Home he strings the tortoise shell.
Charmed by the lyre, Apollo forgives him.
Conductor of souls, messenger, he replaces
Iris, displaces Apollo,
Misplaces property; is, like
Odysseus, prudent, cunning, mendacious.
Unlike O., he is also magical.
Gives to Civilized Man his most
Needed instruments: the alphabet,
The numbers, astronomy, music.
To Commercial Man: weights and measures,
Cultivation of the olive tree.
To Poetic Man, who in Arcady
Worshipped him, his sacred things:
Palm tree, minnow, the number 4.
In broad-brimmed hat, wand
Serpent-entwined, sandals wingèd,
He is secret, hidden, invisible.
Among the most important representatives of artistic and intellectual life who worked in Lesvos are (Eleni Palaska-Papasthati): Terpandrus, who transformed the four-string into the seven-string lyre. Having said this, the wing-footed god pulled the plant from out a crevice in the rock. Alcaeus, one of whose great admirers was the Roman poet Horace. Its pure white flowers. Sappho. Had a black root. Legend says that she fell into the sea from the precipitous cliffs of Lefkata Cape, in Leucadia. So tough that no human hand could ever dislodge it. Theophrastus, the father of botany, Plato’s and Aristotle’s disciple. The gods, however, can do all things. Who taught in the Peripatetic School.
In Mytilini we begin with the port. Others say that the earth rests on water (Aristotle, De Caelo). Where a tall yellow crane is unloading gravel from the grey hold of the Alhajjehhend. For this is the most ancient account that we have received, which they say was given by Thales the Milesian, that it stays in place through floating like a log or some other thing (for none of these rests by nature on air, but rather on water). The crane has written on its side, in Greek letters, “Limeniko Tameio Lesboy.” The near-eastern origin of Thales’s cosmology is indicated by his conception (Kirk and Raven) that the earth floats or rests on water. The crane is depositing the gravel, huge scoopful by scoopful, into the bed of a grey truck on whose front is a nude pin-up in black silhouette. The story of Eridu (in its earliest, seventh century B.C. version) says that in the beginning “all land was sea.”
Kalypso gave Odysseus a great ax that was shaped for his palms and headed
with bronze, with a double edge each way, and she fitted inside it
a very beautiful handle of olive wood, well hafted;
then she gave him a well-finished adze, and led the way onward
to the far end of the island where there were trees, tall grown,
alder and black poplar and fir that towered to the heaven
but all gone dry long ago and dead, so they would float lightly.
“Then Marduk built a raft on the surface of the water, and on the raft a reed-hut which became the earth.” The nude is large-breasted, thin-armed, narrow-waisted, amply-buttocked.
But when she had shown Odysseus where the tall trees grew, Kalypso,
shining among divinities, went back to her own house
while he turned to cutting his timbers and quickly finishing his work.
Next to the Alhajjehhend is tied up the Elena.X, her black hull deep in the water. An analogous view is implied in the Psalms of David, where Jahweh “stretched out the earth above the waters,” “founded it upon the seas, and established it upon the floods” (Leviathan is also an analogue of Tiamat).
He threw down twenty in all, and trimmed them well with his bronze ax,
and planed them expertly, and trued them straight to a chalk line.
At that time the shining goddess Kalypso returned, bringing him
an auger, and he bored through them all and pinned them together
with dowels, and then with cords he lashed his raft together.
Against this profusion of parallel material (from the east and south-east) for the waters under the earth there is no comparable Greek material apart from Thales. Across from the grey truck with the nude pin-up is a truck painted half a dozen colors, its hood maroon, its front fenders green and yellow, its doors orange with turquoise panels, its bed deep blue. Above either window, atop a purple sunscreen, stand two white figures of Mickey Michelin. “Sophia” reads the windscreen. Generally, life in Lesbos, despite economic development and tourism, is still keeping many traditional elements and together with them the kind-heartedness and calmness of the good old days (Palaska-Papasthati). Past a dangling heart with eyes and mouth, with two white hands and pink legs, sits, behind the driver’s seat, a mother tiger surrounded by half a dozen cubs. Across from this scene, but still within the commercial harbor, a shop advertises “Texnologos Geoponos.” Along with a display of Dutch flower bulbs and begonias are Stihl Rotomatic chain saws, Yanmar roto-tillers, seeds for dahlia, gladiolus and canna. Next door two woven-seated chairs have been set back to back at an interval of four feet, a stick laid between them, from which squid have been slung to dry.
As we turn the corner, the inner harbor opens up to view. The ship that we had arrived on is still loading for its next departure. A Navy ship, marked “P-99,” is moored behind it, beyond it, in turn, the commercial establishments, restaurants and hotels of Mytilini. A sign on the street reads “Port,” two arrows extending out of it; on one has been lettered “Kalloni,” on the other, “Airport.” We traverse the shade into the sunshine to regard an undistinguished classicized building, in square pilasters and Corinthian capitals, such as one would see in any other part of the western world. “Nomarchia Lesboy” reads a marble inscription at its corner.
If Thales (Kirk and Raven) earned the title of the first Greek philosopher mainly because he abandoned mythological formulations, Anaximander is the first who made a comprehensive and detailed attempt to explain all aspects of the world of man’s experience. A pollarded tree, each of whose stumps has put out a new branch, has had these branches tied together at its summit, making of the tree’s branches a sphere. Eratosthenes says (Strabo, the Casaubon) that the first to follow Homer was Anaximander, and that he was the first to publish a geographical map. We continue on down a sunlit esplanade. After him (says Agathemerus) Hecataeus the Milesian, a much-traveled man, made the map more accurate, so that it became a source of wonder. As we approach the clustered buildings at the harbor’s far end, we come upon a kiosk selling international papers: French, American, British, German, Dutch. The buds of a huge tree behind it are turning to leaves. Anaximander (Kirk and Raven) produced a circular plan in which the known regions of the world formed roughly equal segments. In a small park behind the kiosk has been placed a globe circled by three boys, naked, standing with their backs to the world and holding one another’s hands. His empirical knowledge of geography was based in part on seafarers’ reports, which in Miletus, the commercial center and founder of colonies, would have been both accessible and varied. Atop the sphere rest three pigeons in bronze. The philosopher himself was said to have led a colonizing expedition to Apollonia (the city on the Black Sea). Closer inspection reveals that the three “boys” are actually men, one African, one Caucasian, one Oriental. Otherwise his only known foreign contact was with Sparta.
We pass another classicized facade from which a flagpole projects. On it flutters the blue European flag with its circle of stars. “Dimotiki Vivliothiki,” the building’s inscription reads. For Anaximander the main opposites in cosmogony were the hot substance and the cold substance, flame or fire and mist or air. We turn to promenade the commercial street. Thus he distinguished himself from Thales. Set back one block behind the harbor street and parallel to it. For whom water had been the sole primary substance.
Anaximander (Augustine) thought that things were born not from one substance, as Thales thought from water, but each from its own particular principles. A tourist shop is displaying postcards, one of which identifies as the Archangel Michael the silver figure whom author had observed behind the ship’s reception desk. These principles of individual things he believed to be infinite. This unpaved street is all business: And to give birth to innumerable worlds and whatsoever arises within them. Fish shops offer this morning’s catch, each variety labeled in Greek. (He believed, says Censorinus, that originally men were conceived inside fish-like creatures.) Huge cheeses fill the window of a grocery store, beans in reinforced plastic bags on the street outside it; beside them, a red plastic bucket of olives, a blue scoop for lifting them out; beside them, potatoes, onions and greens. And those worlds, he thought, are now dissolved, now born again. A bookstore displays school supplies: texts, notebooks and pens; encyclopedic books about Egypt, fish and primitive man. According to the age to which each is able to survive. In a refrigerated case a bakery is offering special Greek sweets.
Next door a home appliance store has set out on a table modern electric irons, all in white, but trimmed in sea green, leaf green, sea blue, cloud grey. It is clear (Kirk and Raven) that if Anaximander thought that the sea would dry up once and for all this would be a serious betrayal of the principle that things are punished because of their injustice: for land would have encroached upon sea without suffering retribution. Across the street a white-jacketed butcher is cutting meat for an obstreperous matron. Our interpretation of Fragment 112 as an assertion of cosmic stability may, however, be wrong. Sausages hang from hooks before him, as he labors to satisfy her requirements. Could the drying up of the earth be the prelude to re-absorption into the Indefinite? A plucked chicken hangs by its yellow feet. This it could not be, since if the earth were destroyed by drought such an event would implicitly qualify the Indefinite itself as dry and fiery, thus contradicting its very nature. Two doors down a bridal store is showing a dark-skinned manikin with long, curly black tresses dressed in a white gown.
The principle of the fragment could, nonetheless, be preserved if the diminution of the sea were only one part of a cyclical process: At a jeweler’s shop one window has been devoted to enormous fabric butterflies, painted in extravagant colors. When the sea is dry a “great winter” (to use Aristotle’s term, which he may have derived from earlier theories) begins, but eventually the other extreme is reached wherein all the earth is overrun by sea and turns into slime. Black, silver and turquoise; yellow-green, with purple antennae, orange spiraled eyes, and magenta legs. That this is what Anaximander thought is made more probable by the work of Xenophanes, another Ionian of the next generation, who postulated cycles of the earth drying out and turning into slime. Sunlit side alleys flow into the narrow, darkened shopping street. Xenophanes was impressed by fossils of plant and animal life embedded in rocks far from the present sea and deduced that the earth was once mud. Coffee beans are being roasted on the street and circulated by an electric swivel. But he argued not that the sea will dry up even more but that everything will turn back into mud. A photographic studio is showing romantic scenes: Men will be destroyed. Lovers embracing on a sandy beach. Then, he says, the cycle will continue: Santorini by night. The land will dry out. Venice by day. And men will be produced anew.
Many important scholars, writers and artists (Palaska-Papasthati) were born in Lesvos: A girl stands in a shoe shop doorway, smiling. Such as Stratis Myrivilis. Here alleyways communicate as well with the harbor. Argyris Eftaliotis. They are lined with more shops and small cafés. Yiorgos Iakovidis. Repairs are being undertaken, a new neon sign installed. Stratis Eleftheriadis. As well as new construction. And Theophilos. At the point that we have reached the whole street has been torn up, so that men may work beneath its surface.
A huge black crane is picking up the cylindrical concrete sections of a new drainage system from a green-bedded truck. Anaximander says (Pseudo-Plutarch) that the earth is cylindrical in shape, and that its depth is a third of its width. A yellow backhoe with blue hydraulic arms breaks the trench open. Its shape is curved, round, similar to the drum of a column. We continue on down the shopping street, which has metamorphosed into a new district. Of its flat surfaces we walk on one, while the other is on the opposite side of the earth. We have reached the town’s clock tower and turn into a passageway that leads back into the harbor.
It is curiously demure, even secretive, for we have entered into a residential area, its houses interspersed with shops selling computers, stationery, ladies underwear. Still others are cluttered with centuries of accumulation. Suddenly we arrive at an entertainment district of pool halls and video game parlors. A second turning brings us back to a view of the harbor. Another right takes us by the major cafés that line its western end: “Hot Spot,” “Marush,” “Papa Gallino.” On the sidewalk a little girl in a blue skirt embroidered with silver stars, a yellow long-sleeved blouse with creamy gauze supersleeves is stripping multi-colored confetti from her body. The heavenly bodies come into being as a circle of fire separated from the fire of this world and enclosed by air (Hippolytus interpreting Anaximander). As author passes her, the little girl smiles broadly, revealing two missing front teeth. The heavenly bodies show themselves through breathing-holes, certain pipe-like passages. Now she swirls her skirts and begins to dance. Accordingly eclipses occur when these passages are blocked up. Along the waterfront a clown, his yellow shirt covered with blue and red stars, gazes out. The moon is seen now waxing, now waning. He has been sculpted in plaster of Paris. According to the blocking or opening of the channels. About his chest a sign advertises “Karnivali.” Fully three-dimensional. The circle of the sun is 27 times the size of the earth, that of the moon 18 times. His back side nonetheless duplicates his front side. The sun is highest, the circles of the fixed stars lowest. Except that his front face smiles and his back face frowns. On both sides dancing figures advertise the Carnival.
“‘Let’s give her a shout, whoever she is,’ one of them suggested,” says Homer’s famed narrator, Odysseus. In a rather desultory public space stands a statue of Sappho. “They called out and she ceased her singing and came to open the door.” On its marble base someone has penciled in black, “Stop Fasism [sic].” “It was Circe herself, the lovely but imposing goddess.” The figure of Sappho faces out toward another figure, this one a goofily cartoon-like papier-mâché sculpture, his head a quarter the height of his body. “She invited them in.” He represents a middle-aged Greek workman. “All entered except Eurylochus, who feared some evil.” In his left hand he holds a bottle, in his right a cup. “Politely she begged them to be seated.” Dressed in a blue smock, he kneels barefooted on the plaza, a sign about his neck. “And offered them a porridge of cheese and honey mixed with flour and wine.” “Karnivali Demoi Mytilinis,” it reads. “But into it she slipped some magic herbs.”
Author takes seat outdoors at the “Kirke,” the figure in question represented in a whited face, with black eye shadow, black eye liner underlined in red. “Eurylochus waited in vain for his companions.” Her hair, wild and full, is depicted in strokes of fiery red and black. “When he realized some great harm must have come to them, he took to his heels, hoping that at least he himself could be saved.” Her portrait has been painted on a piece of driftwood and tacked above the café’s three-paned door. “By the time he reached the ship he was half dead from terror, trembling so violently that not a single word would pass from his lips.” On the building’s pink side hangs a black slate, on which have been chalked in white Greek letters the words “Kiriaki,” “Kolasi,” “Parte Maski.” A double of the witch has been outlined in blue. “Anxiously we pressed him, till at last he found his voice again.”
A nearly naked, full-figured female, dressed in triangular panties and a slim bra, has been sketched in pink beside the door, two ghosts on either side of her indicated in yellow. “He told us that while out scouting they had come to a tall palace where a terrible witch dwelled, and that his comrades had simply vanished the moment they entered.” Within the café we glimpse decorations for Carnival. Back outside, seated at a table set with a full carafe of wine, a red-haired, middle-aged woman in black leather jacket pauses to slap a passing boy teasingly. Out of her bag she withdraws more party ornaments, arises and enters the club. From the central point in the ceiling, visible once more as the door opens, descend net-like skeins of crepe paper, orange interwoven with blue, to which have been attached hearts in the shape of arrows or phalluses. To another net of black and yellow paper pink phallic hearts have been attached.
“As soon as I heard this I buckled on my sword, picked up my bow and ordered Eurylochus to come along and point me out the way.” At the end of the chamber hangs a ceramic mask, doubled in the mirror to whose frame it has been nailed. “But instead of obeying he threw himself at my feet and started begging not to go:
“Illustrious, do not take me against my will there. Leave me
here, for I know you will never yourself return, nor bring back
any companions of yours. Let us rather make haste, and with those
who are left, escape, for still we may avoid the day of evil.”
In the past, Lesvos universally considered the wedding an important and festive event (Palaska-Papastathi).
So he spoke, and I answered again in turn and said to him:
In many villages they covered the bride’s head with a red cloth.
“Eurylochos, you may stay here eating and drinking, even
where you are and beside the hollow black ship.” Whereon they cut
the cake and offered it to the guests. “Only I shall go.” To the groom’s
house the bride was required to convey a large circular
baking pan of baklava that she had made herself.
“A strong compulsion is upon me.” Here she was required to cut
from its center a round piece and present it to her mother-in-law.
And so I spoke and started up from the ship and the seashore.
From the Dutch edition of Lesbos: History, Folklore, Archaeology, Excursions (the only version available at the news stand) author learns that several important events in the Homeric epos occurred here. In the early years of the Trojan War, says its author, Odysseus slew the king Philomelidis of Lesbos, an island that Achilles had also visited a number of times, once to carry off his prized Briseis. The seven brides that Odysseus, in Iliad IX’s embassy to Achilles, tells the sulking hero that Agamemnon will give him as reward for returning to battle, are also identified as coming from Lesbos, where the Greek commander himself had presumably established a foothold. When Achilles contemptuously dismisses the offer that Odysseus has conveyed (he says that he can find a bride for himself), he may be arguing that his status on Lesbos is superior to Agamemnon’s. The island, then, is thoroughly Homeric, and one which the Chian poet doubtless knew like the back of his hand. Moreover, the Dutch guide tells us, recent archaeological finds at Thermi, not far from Lesvos’ capital, are remarkably similar to finds in the vicinity of Troy.
In a miniature imitation of Homer’s Telemakhiad (the first four books of his Odyssey) and of the greater circuit of Odysseus himself (from Ithaka to Troy and back), author conceives two outings from Mytilini, the first a short trip today on foot to Loutra and back, the second a much longer trip by bus, day after tomorrow, to Kasteli near the top of the Oros Olympos. Without a map in hand he will venture forth from the limitations, dangers and pleasures of the urban scene onto the coast and, later, into the island’s interior.
Early philosophers up to the time of Socrates, who attended the lectures of Archelaus, a pupil of Anaxagoras, treated numbers and motions, and the origin from which everything arises and to which everything returns; they eagerly inquired into the size of the stars, the distances between them, and the heavens. But Socrates was the first who called philosophy down from the sky, placed it in cities, even brought it into people’s homes, thereby forcing them to examine life and conduct, good and bad things (Cicero, The Tusculan Disputations).
“After the death of Alexander the Great, at the end of the third century B.C.,” says another guide, “Lesbos fell under the sway of the Ptolemies. In 88 B.C. the Egyptian hegemony gave way to the Roman. As for cultural history, in the fourth century B.C. the Peripatetic School, given its impetus by Theophrastus, forwarded scientific study, in particular plant biology, but also philosophy, especially in the fields of metaphysics, logic, ethics and rhetoric. Alcaeus was born in Mytilene, Sappho in Erissos. The latter set up a school in Mytilene, where young women were instructed in music, poetry and good manners. Plato called her the tenth muse. Much later Aristotle and Epicurus here continued Theophrastus’ initiative and offered formal philosophical instruction.”
Taking the coastal road out of Mytilini, author arrives within minutes at a hillside park, quite wild and charming, and continues along this route, which offers occasional views of a sea today breathtakingly blue. In a small cove a swimmer challenges its icy waters. As the road degrades into gravelly sand what appears to be a restaurant arises on the cliff to our left. Mounting many high steps, we arrive instead at an Orthodox Greek chapel, decorated with charmingly primitive murals. Foregoing a climb into the adjacent fortress, author returns to the road in the knowledge that eventually he will arrive at the north harbor, for he has studied Lesvos’ geography, even if he has not brought along a map. Before long, after passing a number of handsome but inexplicably deserted houses, he winds down a narrow path into the drabber, commercial harbor at Panagiouda.
Along smaller roads he tends inward, hoping that his sense of direction will eventually return him to Mytilini. So remarkable, then, were the life and death of Socrates that he left behind many followers of his philosophy, who competed in their eagerness to discuss moral questions, wherein the topic is the highest good by which a human being can become blessed. Suddenly he comes upon a great surprise: a taverna in honor of Hermes. So various were the views that the Socratics held about this end that — though it seems hard to believe about followers of one teacher — some, such as Aristippus, said that the highest good is pleasure, and others, such as Antisthenes, that it is virtue (Augustine, The City of God). All is liveliness and hospitality, the clientele entirely native. As he grew older, one of the nymphs of Sicily bore to Hermes a son. At 2:30 in the afternoon the tables are full, the walls too filled with native art: Daphnis, as he was called, fell in love with Lyce, another nymph, who feared that she might lose this lover-god of hers. Sepia photos are gradually blackening and whitening into modern photographs. “Dearest love,” said Daphnis, “I swear before the gods that I would let you blind me with your own hands, if ever I should leave you for the sake of another woman.” Colorful paintings are also in evidence; one shows a man on a hospital bed resuscitated by a transfusion of ouzo, which drains from an upside-down bottle. Henceforth Daphnis fell in love with a princess who offered him the magic herb of forgetfulness. The taverna’s owner seats author at a table alone and serves him a glass of ouzo. When he partook of it, he of course forgot Lyce. He causes him to be served magnanimous portions of native dishes.
Returning to her, his eyes opened wide in terror, and as they did so, pains began to shoot through them. Soon the agony was unbearable, and so instinctively he closed his eyes. When he opened them again, he found that he could no longer see. Like Homer himself, he had been blinded.
On the second day, in search of greater perspective on Mytilini we mount a hill and follow a narrow route in the direction of Kalloni. Aristotle is important in the history of Greek philosophy not only for his own philosophy but also for his view of the history of philosophy. It is Sunday and also the day of Karnivali. A young man conversing with a group of women has painted his face half red, half white. His study and criticism of his predecessors provides important support for his own views. Children are decked out in appropriated versions of Mickey Mouse and other Disney characters. He argues both (i) that his predecessors have gone wrong by neglecting some distinction that he has made clear, and (ii) that his own views are often simply clearer formulations of points that his predecessors had already grasped incompletely and inarticulately (Terrence Irwin, Classical Philosophy).
As we continue to mount higher a squadron of yellow jackets, teenagers dressed in black pants and black shirts with yellow horizontal stripes across their shoulders, midriffs and thighs, swarms by. The Stoics (says Diogenes Laertius) compare philosophy to an animal, likening the logical part to the bones and sinews, the ethical part to the flesh, and the natural part to the soul. Atop their heads waggle antennae in red or gold. Or again they compare it to an egg. If not a festive, there is certainly an expectant, air to the scene. For them the shell is the logical, the albumen the ethical, and the yoke the natural part. Author falls in behind the yellow jackets, as their wings, made of mesh, encircled in black plastic, flutter slightly in the wind. Or, they compare it to a productive field, of which the surrounding wall is the logical, the fruit the ethical, and the land or trees the natural part.
Within a hundred yards he has arrived at a congestion of people in various costumes: clowns with white hair and stovepipe hats, their white silk pants ornamented with black musical notes; another group of entertaining figures, their right pant legs in red, their left in yellow, their hats in yellow and red, their shirts in blue and orange. Or they compare it to a city that is excellently fortified and governed in accord with reason. Kids it seems are assembling in anticipation of a parade and have congregated before descending the hill. Some of them say that no part is separate from another, but rather the parts are all equally mixed together. Another passel of youth is dressed as butchers, red and blue painted stripes running vertically down their faces. Yet another group has donned anachronistic outfits of ruffles in yellow, blue and pink. Several thirteen-year-old girls have adorned themselves as hippies, their cheeks painted with green peace signs and red hearts, their long hair drawn back and colorfully tied in ponytails.
Others put the logical part first, the natural part second, and the ethical part third. At the tables of coffee houses set along the sidewalk sit middle-aged men playing with their worry beads. Zeno (in his treatise On Rational Discourse) along with Chrysippus, Archedemus and Eudromus are of this party. We have now risen high enough to attain to a village ambiance, the outsider ever more strictly excluded from these ritual clans. Diogenes of Ptolemais, though, starts with the ethical part. A group of kids have been costumed as brightly wrapped presents, their bodies metamorphosed into cubes, from which dangle their spindly arms and legs. Apollodorus puts the ethical parts second. It is 4:30. The sun is shining brightly. It is pleasantly warm. Whereas both Panaetius and Posidonius start with the natural part. The parade, it would seem, is about to begin, about to head for the town’s central plaza.
By contrast with such a profusion of color, we arrive before long at a muted grey-and-white building, closed for the day, its sign reading “Gypsum Technique of Phidias.” The prank that the infant Hermes played on Apollo was hardly his last, for this young god simply could not stay out of trouble. In its window are pristine statues of the Nike of Samothrace, of Hermes with the Infant Dionysus. Once he took Poseidon’s trident and hid it; another time he stole Ares’ sword; once he even dared to abscond with his father’s scepter. Imitations of classical Greek models are interspersed with imitations of eighteenth-century concoctions: If Zeus hadn’t found it almost immediately, who knows on whom he would have vented his anger. Of Aphrodite bathing, or sculptural representations of details from Renaissance paintings, such as Botticelli’s “Venus on the Half-Shell.” Whatever good will Aphrodite may have shown toward those that honored her, she was relentlessly severe with those who did not respect her and dared to scorn her powers. Interspersed amongst these are representations of Christ at The Last Supper, a bas-relief of Leonardo’s famous mural. The handsome Narcissus suffered harsh punishment for treating her in this way. Mary, bland, with an even blander infant Jesus. Among gods and men alike, he was the only one in whose heart the arrows of Aphrodite’s son could not find their mark and make it throb with love. Except for a gold wand entwined by serpents and with wings atop it, held by Hermes, there is not a trace of color anywhere to be seen.
We continue to mount higher but now at a reduced rate of ascent. We seem to have reached the suburban outskirts of the hillside city of Mytilini. “Interamerican,” reads a sign lettered in red on white. A young Greek man in Levi jacket and black pants heads downhill toward town, Walkman receivers in both ears. We pass a farmer’s lonely cottage. Suddenly we have exited from the civilized world.
Socrates: A hill rises on our right. Suppose that someone knows the way to Larissa. Its craggy outer layer cut away to reveal rouge and red substrata. Or anywhere else that you like. On its slopes a flock of scraggly sheep graze on scrubby vegetation hardily surviving among its beige, brown and volcanic black outcrop. When he goes there, and guides others, will he not guide well and correctly?
Meno: Of course. A road sign indicates that we are heading in the direction of the Petrified Forest.
Socrates: Now what if someone has a correct belief about which is the road, without having been there and without knowing it from experience? Some consider the forest to be 1000 years old. Will he not also guide others correctly?
Meno: Yes, he will. But others, who have studied the matter empirically, believe it to 20,000,000 years old.
Socrates: And presumably as long as he has a correct belief on the points that the other knows, he will be just as good a guide, will he not, thinking true things, but without wisdom.
Meno: Just as good.
Socrates: Then true belief is as good a guide to correctness in action as wisdom.
(Plato, the Meno)
Socrates: The scene, as it has become more and more rural. What again are we to say about acquiring wisdom? Has taken on the characteristic odor of the Greek landscape, one that mingles sage and sheep dung. If the body is admitted as a partner in the inquiry, is it a hindrance or not? At a turning of the road we come upon the lengthy text of an anti-American graffito, followed by the red sickle-and-hammer, applied to a white base. For instance, have sight and hearing any truth for human beings? The timeless cliff looming to the right of us belies the sign’s factitious intensity. Or is what the poets are always telling us right, that we neither hear nor see anything accurately? As we have left the town behind and entered these more provincial precincts, the olive tree has evolved from individual saplings into groupings of mature trees into full-fledged ancient groves. But if these bodily senses are neither accurate nor clear, the other senses hardly will be, since they are inferior to them. Or don’t you think so? Amongst them almonds are bursting into bloom.
Simmias: I do think so. Author crosses the road to gain a closer view of the next political graffito, as it unfolds around the bend.
Socrates: Then when does the soul reach truth? It seems to assert that President Clinton, in his Greek foreign policy, is “a liar.” For if it undertakes to examine anything in company with the body, clearly it is deceived by the body. Around yet another bend the mountainside has been slashed away dramatically.
Simmias: True. Three goats consider which direction they should head in.
Socrates: And I suppose that the soul reasons best when none of these things, namely sight, hearing, pain or pleasure, distresses it. The ascent has become considerably steeper. But in as far as possible when by itself it lets the body go and as far as possible has no dealings or contact with it, but aims merely at being. We look down from the inadequate modern road into a much earlier road, smaller again by two-thirds.
(Plato, the Phaedo)
Heracleitus says that for those who are awake the world is one and common (Plutarch, On Superstition). We have reached a grouping of modern buildings, one labeled “Alou Systems.” But that when anyone goes to sleep, he enters a private world. The company seems to fabricate aluminum houses and other structures. For the superstitious person, however, there is no common world. Another building is labeled “Kasouras.” For he neither uses his intelligence when he is awake. A third, part of the second, “Strip Club Zephiros.” Nor frees himself from his agitation when he goes to sleep. Behind it rise huge cliffs, cut away by nature: But rather his reason is dreaming. Rust, beige, darker brown and white. And his fear is awake. In a huge declivity filled with wrecked cars and abandoned trucks. He finds neither escape nor relief. Three men are at work repairing a backhoe.
Author braves the parking lot to arrive at another imposing cliff, hacked away by nature. To one side of it, on a milder rise, black and white goats stand at various intervals in amongst sage bushes. Higher up, beneath an olive tree, two of them gaze down on author, who now crosses the road to examine the local options more carefully. The Strip Club, however, proves to be impenetrable: locked doors, mirrored surfaces, a blank exterior.
Beside the thoroughfare a shrine has been erected in memory, it seems, of two children. The nature of the crocodile is this (Herodotus). Within its glassed space sits an icon of Mary and Christ. During the four winter months it eats nothing. A ceramic rose. It has four feet and lives both on land and in the water. A jar one-third filled with honey. For it lays eggs and hatches them out on the riverbank and spends most of the day on dry land. And a cigarette lighter. But it spends the whole night in the river, since the water is warmer than the air and the dew. Outside the enclosed space. Of all the mortal creatures we know, this one grows from the smallest beginnings to the greatest length. On a little ledge. For its eggs are not much bigger than those of the goose. Sit two clumps of cloth flowers. And the young crocodile is in proportion to its egg. Arranged with real sprigs of greenery. But when it grows, it reaches twenty-eight feet and more.
From this point author decides to take a different road, one that heads on up the mountainside. Slowly he pursues his way, clambering over marble outcrop within the roadbed itself. The treacherous footing has been made somewhat safer by a downpour of cement that looks as though a river of milk had solidified. In a culvert below road machinery has been abandoned, along with a tour bus. Likewise, a concrete industrial structure, still in place but ravaged, presumably part of a former stone quarry.
At the summit of the hill ahead stands a man accompanied by his dog. We continue on up this unpaved way past shelves of shale, olive green and beige, which project out toward us from the cliff face. As we emerge at the crest of a ridge the baby blue Aegean opens out to offer a view of the Turkish coastline, where its waters have turned an increasingly whitish, lighter blue.
We have arrived at what appears to be a prison, the house standing before it perhaps that of the jail keeper. By now we have traveled at least a couple of kilometers from town, most of it in steep ascent. Below us the rooftops of Mytilini are at last visible. The wind, as it blows in our direction, wafts with it the intermittent sounds of carnivalesque activity.
This hillside has certainly been cut away by man. Blocks of rock as yet unfinished have been piled alongside the roadway, rust-red dirt still clinging to them. We pass a large sentry’s stand, once occupied perhaps by the quarry’s foreman. Scattered amidst the landscape: a tank for gasoline, an abandoned truck tire, a rusty piece of machinery, a conveyor belt.
Improbably, as we have traversed this desolate route, a fair number of cars have been passing us, all driven by single men in their late twenties, or early thirties. The road has swerved to the left and now rises to another crest of the mountain, which offers a view to the north of the waters of the Aegean as they extend toward Thrace.
We approach the city dump. Bordering our route are loads of construction detritus, randomly deposited. At a fork in the road author waits to see which way the next car will turn. A military personnel carrier appears and turns to the left. Prudently author turns to the right. Within a few hundred yards we are offered a view down into the city’s power plant, its smoke stacks striped alternately red and white. Below in the valley, scattered across a sun-raked slope, several dozen sheep are grazing, all either black or white.
Our general view of the sea has become more comprehensive, interrupted only by a knoll topped with pine, chestnut and plane trees. Across this vast panoply, against the Aegean’s mild blue, but a single freighter, its hull black, its superstructure white, can be discerned. After an interval of five minutes the military vehicle that had passed us reemerges on a brand new black asphalt ribbon far below. Ahead, on our narrow path, appears a cemetery, beyond which the tip of the fortress seen on yesterday’s outing.
It would seem that we have reached, if not strictly speaking the city limits, at least its confines, for we begin a descent along “Odos Ag. Kiriakos” (St. Kiriakos Road), arriving finally at the grounds of the cemetery, within which is set a large Greek Orthodox church. The plot is crammed with unornamented, modern sarcophagi, for the most part raised above the ground. On many tombs flowers have been arranged, or merely left behind. Having averted the gaze of two mourners, author decorously exits by the cemetery’s side gate, so as to begin a more direct descent into the city’s streets.
The most precipitous downward motion begins at the very edge of town. Cautiously we negotiate another road, turn right past a flowering apple tree, and begin an even steeper descent into a narrow alleyway. Here the houses, some stuccoed, are modern, none more than thirty or forty years old, all impeccably neat and clean. In red-and-black ruffled costume, wearing red lipstick, her pigtails wrapped in black gauze, a little girl steps out into the street to regard the passing phenomenon. On the marble porch of her well-appointed house sit two motorcycles. Across the street stands a pork butcher’s shop, the heads of several swine hung outside by their snouts. We have entered Odos Diafanos and arrive at a lemon tree, its fruit nearly ripe. Beyond it, before an olive, beige and white-pilastered house front, a cherry tree is blossoming.
Socrates: The lovers of sounds and sights, I said, delight in beautiful tones, colors and shapes, and in everything manufactured out of these, but their thought is incapable of taking delight in the nature of the beautiful itself.
Glaucon: Yes, that is so. Having descended another two or three blocks, we pause at a café to imbibe a cup of the sweetened, semi-liquid Greek coffee.
Socrates: And on the other hand, few there are who are able to approach the beautiful itself and see it in itself. The proprietress seats us before a tinted photo of three men in a gondola serenading two blond girls in full evening dress, who in turn are seated on a Venetian terrace.
Glaucon: Few indeed.
Socrates: And so if someone recognizes beautiful things, but neither recognizes beauty itself nor is able to follow when someone tries to guide him to the knowledge of it, his life is but a dream. For is not dreaming, whether asleep or awake just this: thinking that what is similar to something else is not merely similar, but is the very thing it is similar to?
(Plato, The Republic)
Having finished his coffee, author decides to reverse his course and head upward again in search of the ancient theater. As we remount Odos Ag. Kiriakia, we pass a great prickly patch of cactus. Behind staggered ramparts we glimpse another Greek Orthodox church, this one newly building. Through roadside cypresses it rises above us. To the other side of the road, again through cypresses, we look out over the water. Leaving this rather large and handsome church behind, we continue our steep ascent, re-encountering the smaller, older church whose grounds had housed the cemetery. This time we turn down another road to reach the theater’s precinct. Once again the road mounts higher, once again the Aegean opens out before us, now muted and greyed by corduroy cloud cover recently formed.
The gravelly path continues to rise, higher and higher. For the ancient Greeks, at least for Lesbos’ inhabitants, the theatrical experience was preceded by a bout of considerable athleticism. Doubtless this contributed to the eventual catharsis. When we arrive at the gate to the theater, however, we find it barred. The third man is proved in the following way:
For his final descent author chooses a path down a needle-strewn slope. We cut behind the new church onto a graveled way, in the hope that it will lead back into town. For suppose that what is predicated truly of some plurality of things is also something other than and apart from the things of which it is predicated, being separate from them. Beside the road an orange Volkswagen bus has been overturned, pushed farther off the road, then riddled with bullets. This is why, according to them, there is such a thing as man-itself. Ground cover along this peripatetic way is uniformly green. Because the man is predicated truly of the particular men. Here, sounds of the city’s Carnival activity easily reach the ear. These consisting of an evident plurality. We sway back and forth along a path that devolves into double tire ruts. And therefore other than the particular men. Fleetingly, from time to time, we glimpse the buildings of the city below, the outline of its harbor. Now, if this is so, there will be a third man, for if the man being predicated is other than the things of which it is predicated and subsists on its own, then the man is predicated both of the Idea and of the particular. At last we exit from this philosophically calm precinct into an avenue, where we come upon the town’s aquarium. In the same way, there will also be a fourth man predicated on this third man, of the particulars and of the Idea, and similarly also a fifth, and so on to infinity (Alexander, Commentary on The Metaphysics).
We are still quite high above the city proper. Beneath us, in the courtyard of a public school, kids are playing soccer on a green asphalt apron. As we continue, a broad sidewalk materializes, its steps, in lieu of a street, leading us in a more regular way down the hillside. The established houses bordering it are a century old, attractive, if somewhat conservatively painted in grey, beige and blue. No sign of life is visible behind their carefully curtained and shuttered windows. As author speaks these words three boisterous sixteen-year-old girls, gaudily attired in knee-slit jeans and bandanas, confront him, wielding baseball bats. Mockingly they shout at him, then, with a laughing compliment, head on up the street.
We have reached a new level of antiquity, follow an only slightly sloping course and enter into Odos Theocritou. Through a grate on her window an older woman in a blue dress looks down quizzically at author. By twists and turns we arrive at the town’s cathedral, atop whose spire is affixed a three-dimensional cross, a cross, that is, with four arms. In its courtyard bronze busts of patriarchs sit atop marble pedestals. Within the church the sound of a cantor is audible. A service in progress, author declines to enter the sanctuary. We conclude in the market street, where on this holiday only a fishwife, a florist and a baker are open for business.
As we turn and head back toward the Hotel Sappho, in the alleyway we encounter a red-faced, red-tailed girl in a black overcoat. Above her head she raises a red trident.
We are departing from Mytilini on a “long distance” bus destined for Kasteli. “Since you are a friend,” said Telemachos to Mentes (Athene in disguise), “I will tell you all our woes.” We are leaving behind the music club called “Kirke,” the grey destroyer P-99 moored in the harbor, its sailors lounging on deck. “This would be a happy house, if only my father could be here.” We are winding our way out of town on a route that leads to the airport. “Yet he is lost because the gods were envious of his exploits.” At a fork in the road we diverge to take a more inland course. “Even if I knew that he had fallen at Troy, among his comrades, it would be some consolation.” We pass a liquor store called “New Wave.” “For then at least a monument could be raised to him and I could revere his memory.” Another right turn sends us yet farther inland, past a large institutional building whose name goes by too quickly for recognition.
Our route is taking us along a road behind the road that had earlier taken author past the strip tease club. “But he has disappeared ingloriously and left me with a host of bitter troubles.” We head directly for a cleft in the mountain. “For it is not only the loss of my father that I lament but all these fortune hunters whom you see flocking to our house.” The way begins to narrow and wind through an olive grove. “They are the sons of the noblemen of Zakynthos, Kephallenia, Doulichion and Ithaka, all competing for my mother’s hand in marriage.” Momentarily we descend to a view of the sea. “They abuse our hospitality and eat us out of house and home.” But within a few minutes we have reached the crest of this mountain, from which we peer out over a large bay, the Kolpos Geras. “They will not budge from here until my mother chooses one of them.” By hairpin turns we begin our descent, but as we descend the turnings become ever more gentle. “Our fortune is draining away before our eyes.” The day is blond and serene. “And on top of that they threatened my life.” As we approach each curve the driver honks to warn off on-coming but as yet invisible vehicles.
It has been an hour’s journey, through Kerameia, Ippeio, Asomatos, but finally we arrive at our destination, a friendly little town situated near the intersection of three roads. Author is the last to get off the bus. In the small triangular town plaza stand a vegetable and fruit market; a trophy store; and two outlets, side by side, for cigarettes and candy. Across the way, in the post office courtyard, an orange tree displays its ripening fruit. At the next house down a eucalyptus spreads its branches out over the street.
Traffic through the square is rather brisk on this holiday, the second day of Karnivali. A boy in a purple work shirt trots upward on a grey nag. An old woman, in brown sweater and blue babushka, strolls back down the hill toward us. Most people, though, are driving through the plaza in their own cars: Opel Astra, Nissan van, Renault coupe, Volkswagen pickup. As author has stood observing these passersby, a dozen cats have also traversed the square, each careful of his or her territorial prerogatives.
Now a taxicab arrives from Mytilini to deposit four of its five occupants, which include two children. Perhaps on this holiday a family in the mountains has been visiting its relatives in the harbor. At any rate, all are still in a festive mood. Two twenty-year-olds arrive on a motorbike to mount the hill quickly, the first in yellow windbreaker, the second in red and blue. Author takes seat across street at a small café, where a white tablecloth has been spread, ornamented with two blue butterflies. Closer inspection reveals that the “cloth” is made of paper. He changes seats for an uphill view of the town. Rising slightly above this restaurant’s porch is the terrace of an ice cream parlor. On a tree painted pale green to a level of three feet a sign has been attached that depicts a vanilla ice cream cone with an ampersand above it.
“Flushed with indignation, Athena answered sharply:” Not everything that appears is true. “‘Telemachos, you are no longer a child but a full-grown man.’” First, even if perception, at least of its proper objects, is not false, still, appearance is not the same as perception. “‘If only Odysseus, with his matchless cunning and bold strength, would arrive unannounced to stand here in the doorway with shield and helmet, bearing two spears, just as I once remembered him!’” Furthermore, perception itself raises many puzzling questions, such as these: “‘Let me, however, first ask you.’” “Are magnitudes and colors such as they appear to observers from a distance or such as they appear to observers close at hand?” “‘Why don’t you call the people of the island to a meeting and tell them what you are suffering at these suitors’ hands.’” “Are they such as they appear to healthy people or such as they appear to sick people?” “‘Then order these drones to pack their bags and go back to where they came from.’” “Are things heavier if they appear so to feeble people or if they appear so to vigorous people?” “‘Call on the gods as witnesses that if they do not leave the palace they will come to a sorry end.’” “Are things true if they appear so to people asleep or if they appear to people awake?” “‘And another thing:’” It is evident that they do not really think the appearances of the dreamer are true. “‘If you know what’s good for you, take the trouble to find out whether your father is alive or dead.’”
Author’s bread and salad arrive, along with a glass into which a folded napkin has been inserted. On the table sits a saltcellar, one-third full. Beneath the ice cream cone on the shop’s sign read in Greek letters the words “Gluka” and “Utopia.” When the salad arrives, it consists of a mixture of greens, heavily seasoned with oil, vinegar and salt; two slices of carrot, two peppers, and a pickle; plus several delicious small black olives. Before long three small fish make their appearance, hot from the grill, one full of roe.
“Athena continues: ‘Take twenty good oarsmen and your fastest ship and set off for Pylos to find old Nestor.’” Certainly no one who is in Libya and one night supposes in a dream that he is in Athens sets off for the Odeion. “‘If he knows nothing, at least he will give you good advice.’” (Aristotle, The Metaphysics.) “‘Next make your way to Menelaos, in Sparta, for he was the last man to return from Troy; surely he will have some news for you.’” Furthermore, as for the future, Plato says: “‘If you hear that your father is alive, be patient and await him, for he will return.’” “The belief of a doctor and an ignorant person surely do not have equal authority.” “‘But if you learn that he is dead, then raise his tomb-mound high and offer funeral sacrifices; when that is done, make sure that you get rid of these hangers-on.’” For instance, about whether someone is or is not going to be healthy. “‘You’re a grown man now, Telemachos, and either by stealth or direct action you must find a means to do away with them all.’”
Across the way a man on a white-and-blue Honda motorbike stops, enters the fruit and grocery store and exits bearing two bottles of Fanta and one of ouzo. As he remounts his bike, the back of his sweatshirt reads “Heroic Giants / Dodgers.” Paying his bill, author leaves the café and begins his climb up the red-and-grey cobblestone street, past a second café, then quickly past a third. “New Democracy,” announces a poster, a picture of the party’s candidate in the storefront. Within a few more yards another political party advertises its candidate.
We have reached a second plaza, this one more complex, made irregular by the terrain. “2000,” says its planned graffito, “ A Good Time,” underneath it a five-pointed star. In this square all the shops are closed for the holiday, which makes investigation through their windows easier. At the barber’s, author observes, the customer sits in a chair before an ornate dresser of nineteenth-century vintage. Within this tiny emporium there can be no question of entertaining two customers at once. From a second story’s narrow window a comely woman looks down upon author, half concealing herself behind its curtain.
“Having spoken these words the goddess transformed herself into an eagle and soared into the heavens.” The ascent continues, more arduously. “Telemachos stared up at her in wonder.” Finally we arrive at the level of the clock on the Greek Orthodox church. “He knew now that it was not a king called Mentes who had spoken with him, but rather Athena herself, and this filled him with new strength and courage. He would follow to the letter the advice that the goddess had given him.” As we rise above the ancient tiled roofs, the roadway narrows to the width of a footpath, paved in cement.
“Phemios was still singing and they were all listening in silence.” We look down into a forested gully, out over the flat rooftops of the town, past a valley on toward the mountain, seen almost entire as it rises above the inlet sea. “His song told of the Achaeans’ return from Troy.” We find ourselves in the “Road of the 18th of November,” so narrow, at its turning, that we can almost touch the buildings on both sides of it at once. “Hearing this song from her chamber, Penelope came down the stairs, accompanied by two serving girls, her eyes filled with tears.”
“Phemios,” she said, “since you know many other actions of mortals
and gods, sing for the suitors one of those, and let them in silence
go on drinking their wine, but please leave off singing this sad
song, since an unforgettable sorrow comes over me, beyond all others,
so dear a head do I long for whenever you remind me of my husband.”
A young man drives by on his yellow Suzuki bike, exercising it as though it were an animal. “In answer the thoughtful Telemachos asked her:
“Why, my mother, do you begrudge this excellent singer
his pleasing himself as the thought drives him? It is not the poets
who are to blame, it is Zeus who is to blame. And there is
nothing wrong in his singing the sad return of the Danaans.
So let your heart and let your spirit be hardened to listen.”
We have reached the mountainside outskirts of the town and begin to rise higher still. In the breeze the leaves of a grove of olive trees turn their silvery sides toward author. Their trunks are wizened and complex. On his yellow steed the boy returns. “When this peerless woman had left them, the suitors became noisy. ‘Stop!’ roared Telemachos through the hubbub of their conversation. ‘I will have you here no longer. Tomorrow I will call my people to a meeting and tell them what has been going on within these walls!’”
At last we have reached a height at which only a donkey observes us, though we have by no means climbed as high as the mountaintop. Here the road begins its descent. Before a substantial house have been parked two red vehicles, one of recent vintage. A little farther along and we pass two motorbikes, in identical red, one a “Virago,” the other a Honda “Melody.” The sidewalk itself is red, paved in rust colored tiles but with yellow ones interspersed. As we return into the town’s original square we notice a second grocery store, a new house, the latter still under construction. This wall of the ice cream parlor, like the tree that stands before it, has also been painted pistachio.
Author takes a seat opposite one of the two cigarette-candy stores to rest for a moment. With no bus available for his return to Mytilini today, he must soon begin his descent of the mountainside, the first stage in the long walk ahead of him.
On Chios, says Maria S. Fafalios, in antiquity there lived a tragic poet by the name of Ion. “Once upon a time,” wrote Ion, “the god Poseidon came to the island, which was then uninhabited.” Poseidon had taken Amphritrite to be his wife, after snatching her from her father, the renowned seer Nereus (Stephanides). “There, in the midst of the desert, he found the beautiful nymph and married her.” Amphitrite was so terrified, however, that when she saw him she ran to hide at the very ends of the earth, where the mighty titan Atlas bears the heavens upon his shoulders. “It is said that Solon visited Chios and took from it to Athens many principles of government” (Chios: The Fragrant Island). Poseidon searched and searched for the lovely Nereid but in vain. “Later, after he had won her,” Plutarch tells us, “Chios, Amphitrite’s son by Poseidon, found the treasure of the rich Lydian King Croesus, removing the king’s gold a little at a time without being noticed and distributing it to his countrymen, until one day he was caught by guards and arrested.”
In despair, Poseidon vented his disappointment upon the blue sea, lashing it into foam with his fearsome trident. “This is verified by Neolithic finds from 3000 B.C. recently discovered at Spilaio in the area of Ayios Galas at the north of the island.” Month after month went by, and still the sea rose in mountainous waves, lashed by savage spray. Its fossils include trilobites, crinoids and fusulinidae, 350 million years old. “More recent finds from the Protohelladic period (2600-2000 B.C.) have been found in the south, at Emboreio; others from the Mycenaean period, at Fana and in the town of Chios itself.” The geological record includes rhyolites, abradorites, esites and basalts (John Perikos, Homer & Chios). “They all confirm the constant presence of human life on the island for millennia.”
Finally, when it seemed that calm would never again return to the face of the waters, Zeus sent his brother Poseidon a dolphin to reveal Amphitrite’s hiding-place to the ruler of the seas. “They also serve as proof of the historical myths that mention the first colonist of Chios as the Cretan Oinopionas, grandson of Minos.” In the central part of the island mammal findings include cerrids, bovids, hipparion, hyaenas, mastodons, and girrafids, as well as the famous skull (three meters in length) of Choerolophodon Cioticus, a special kind of mammoth, 13.5 million years old. “One account asserts that the island took its name from Oinopionas’ daughter, Chiona.” Poseidon followed the dolphin, found Nereus’ daughter and took her for his wife, and so at last the sea was calm once more.
Micromammal findings of the Quaternary Age (250,000-45,000 years B.C.) and fauna resembling that of Asia Minor suggest that Chios and Asia Minor were once connected. Now Amphitrite lived in a majestic sapphire palace deep beneath the waves. Chios was once a part of the mountain Mimas, but thousands of years ago the two parted from one another. Far above, storms might lash the surface, but down there all was forever still and peaceful. The tops of the mountains and the “grottos” found on them show that in the old times volcanic craters were formed here, as declares "Aethalia” (Chios’ ancient name), and this was the cause of her fertility. “According to others, the name of Chios comes from the Phoenician word for mastic.” Hosts of the sea nymphs were at Amphritrite’s call and served her every wish. But others (including Maria S. Fafalios) think that the island was named by Poseidon, for on a snowy winter day, Amphitrite gave birth to a handsome little boy (the word chion means “snow”). Drawn by four immortal horses, Amphitrite would often thunder over the waves in a chariot at the side of her husband, Poseidon, the earth-shaker.
In Chapter 50 of his masterpiece
Cervantes has the Don recommend
Books of chivalry in the belief they
"Will drive away the melancholy and
Improve your temper if it happens to be bad."
He speaks of a lake of pitch, boiling
Hot, from which a voice beckons the
Knight, who, forthwith abandoning
All thought of himself, dives
Into the midst of that boiling lake
To find himself in flowery meadows
Finer than the Elysian Fields. Whereat
A strong castle appears, its walls
Of solid gold, gates of jacinth.
Whence issues a passel of maidens,
Who bathe and dress the knight, and feed him.
Feast finished — the knight picking
His teeth — a maiden, loveliest of all,
Appears, sits beside him and tells him
What manner of castle it is, and how
She lives there under a spell.
In search of the Daskalopetra, the site where Homer is said to have taught, author sets out mid-morning for the bus station by way of Venizeloy Street. As we mount Odos Korah we pass “La Nuit,” a naughty underwear store with offerings in red and black. Our trip is to take us from Chios city, the capital and principal port, to the coastal town of Vrontados, perhaps half an hour distant. Turning into Venizeloy Street we suddenly come upon a magnificent graffito that fills the wall of a park: an unrolled map has been represented in the shape of an eye, in whose iris a nuclear mushroom cloud protests the construction of a nuclear power plant, here depicted with the word “Death” inscribed above it. To its left is an icebox, followed by three forms suggesting the pyramids at Giza. In the mural’s next section the peace symbol has been pointed in three different directions, then rotated and represented in perspective.
As we continue walking uphill we encounter yet more details: a green sailing ship, a silver heart outlined in black, a guitar in the form of the male genitalia, a cityscape of Chios, a bicycle heading out of it. We pass an art gallery, in whose window is a painting of Homer that shows him sitting on his stone, one arm resting on his lyre. At the corner an Orthodox Greek priest stops in the sidewalk, blocking our way. At Argenti Street we turn into Apotarias, open to commerce and closed to all but pedestrian traffic. Chios is prosperous.
Having reached the station for “distance” buses, we discover instead that it is a local bus that one must take to Vrontados. Crossing the public plaza to the local bus stop, author takes seat on bench. Here he is joined by an elderly Greek man of scholarly mien, who, it turns out, has written two books, one about Orpheus, one about Hermes Trismegistus.
As we wait together for our buses to arrive, author-scholar engages scholar-author in a long conversation (many of whose awkward turns of expression are here preserved). Having first reviewed one another’s publications, we turn to the matter at hand:
Author: I am about to set out for Vrontados to visit the Seat of Homer, but you tell me that “maybe it is not Homer’s.” What do you mean? Herodotus of Alikarnossos tells the story of the birth, childhood and adulthood of Homer (John Perikos).
Scholar: There is disputation. In the Aeolic city of Kyme gathered together. They are not sure. Many Greeks. Some say that maybe it is a tablet where sacrifices were made. Many of these from Magnesia.
Author: This would be the opposite of Homer, wouldn’t it — Death instead of Life.
Scholar: Tell me, which place you come from?
Author: From America.
Scholar: The United States?
Author: Yes, The United States of America. Among which was Melanopos, son of Ithagienis, in turn the son of Krithonos. Now some scholars say that Homer’s tomb will eventually be found in Vrontados, others, in Volissos.
Scholar: I do not heard about that. They say Homer, seven places, they will argue.
Author: Yes, I understand. And what is your opinion? Melanopos, who had few worldly possessions, in Kyme married the daughter of Omyritos.
Scholar: I cannot say. And from this marriage a girl was born, named Kritheida.
Author: Some say that he was born in Ismir, then went to Ithaka, and only afterward came to Chios.
Scholar: They say so, but it’s not sure. When Melanopos and his wife died, Kleanax of Argos looked after their daughter. Many people have their opinion about the origin of Homerus.
Author: Some people say that he was still sighted — could still see — before he went to Ithaka, but when he was in Ithaka, then he went blind.
Scholar: There is a story about Homer: Evvios says that he includes many things that were not permitted. Not given over to the public. Like, let us say, the secret. How would you call it? The things they say are like Elefsis, they make the mysteria. In his poems he says many things. As the years passed by, the girl, so it happened, had an affair and became pregnant.
Author: He says many things that are secret; in other words, you are telling me that Homer must be understood in a different way. At first she kept this a secret.
Scholar: So finally they blind him. But later it was understood by Kleanax.
Author: How interesting! I did not know this story. Who was angry at what he saw to be a great disgrace. I did not know that, though I once wrote a poem called “The Blinding of Homer.” He blamed Kritheida very much. Now here is another question: Telling her how she was a shame to the people. Do you consider the Homeric poems sacred ?
Scholar: Yes, many people explain that Homer in his poems is writing secrets, of all history. So, like Socrates, because he say these things, he is punished.
Author: Let me ask you something else. At that time the Kymeans built a town in the innermost part of Ermeiou Bay. Do you think that Homer was one man or many men?
Scholar: Some people historical, you know, say that Homer was Ulysses.
Author: So Homer is Odysseus!
Scholar: Yes, and they also say Ulysses is a person that we call Homer.
As it was being constructed Theseus gave to the town the name Smyrna, in memory of his wife. This Theseus, among the first Thessalians to build a city at Kyme, was the son of Evmilos, in turn the son of a very rich man called Admitos. At this point Kleanax helped Kritheida to leave, bringing her to a safe home, that of Isminia from Veotia, who was a Greek immigrant and a very good friend.
Author: Let me ask you yet another question. After a time. Do you believe that Homer wrote both the Iliad and the Odyssey? Kritheida went with other women to the River Melis, on the occasion of some celebration.
Scholar: Well, I believe so. Here, as her time came, she gave birth to a son, Homer, who was not then blind but enjoyed full sight. He was collect these, because they were old poems. And she named the boy Melisigenis, taking the name from the river.
Author: So, when Homer is writing about Odysseus, he is writing about himself ? Up to that time Kritheida was staying with Isminia, but after some time she left, doing odd jobs to provide for the boy and herself. In the Odyssey, you know, Odysseus is a storyteller, for example. And she was also educating the boy as much as she could.
Scholar: Yes, I believe so. At the time when Homer was in Smyrna, there was a teacher called Fimios, who instructed children in general education and music.
Author: So it occurs to me that all the characters in the Odyssey may well be figures out of Homer’s autobiography. At that time Fimios, who was living alone, paid Kritheida to spin wool. However traditional the sources of his stories may be. He received money from his students whilst she worked, showing modesty and prudence, and this pleased him.
Scholar: It may be true.
Author: When I arrive at Daskalopetra, what will I find there? Eventually he tried to persuade her to live with him.
Scholar: Well, daskalopetra means “the stone of the teacher.” He told her that he would call Melisigenis his own son and educate him so that he might become famous.
Author: In addition, then, to being a poet, and, like Odysseus, a traveler, Homer was also a teacher. Because he had noticed that Homer was very clever.
Scholar: Yes, a teacher. In the end he persuaded her. He has the old knowledge. To do whatever he said.
Author: By “old knowledge” what do you mean? Homer had a good, diligent character.
Scholar: I mean the stories from the old era. And in matters of education he gained distinction from the others.
Author: Do you believe, for example, that Homer knew about Egypt? As the years passed by, not only was the child becoming a man, he was also coming to equal Fimios in learning.
Scholar: I believe that Homer was older than they. Finally, when Fimios died, he left his property to the child.
Author: Older than the Egyptians? After some time, Kritheida also died.
Scholar: Yes, the civilization of the Egyptians comes from Creta. And Melisigenis succeeded Fimios in teaching. The Minoan kings went from Creta to Egypt and gave them the knowledge of their civilization.
Author: I have just been in Egypt, and I lived on Crete thirty years ago. You know, Odysseus often tells people that he comes from Crete.
Scholar: I did not hear that he comes from Creta.
Author: It is just an idea of mine. Perhaps his family originally came from Crete. Homer, you recall, says that Odysseus on his way to the battle in Troy stopped on the island of Crete.
Scholar: Yeah, maybe, maybe. I would suggest you interesting about the old history, because there are so many books. This is a part of the Greek history. There is another history, for example, about 10,000 years before the Christ. Very old.
Author: I understand. Now the Egyptian civilization is also very old.
Scholar: Yes, but it is not so much as the Greek history. The old kings of Creta worshipped Osiris, which Osiris is in the star of Sirius. The seven sites where they call Medea, the word had seven letters, and the word “Sirius” has six letters, the other six letters in this word. And they say Osiris was coming down to earth from Sirius.
Author: So they say, according to your understanding, that there are seven letters in this word “Sirius,” and which seven things do they signify?
Scholar: Medea, we call, the very Delphos, Thebes, where the priests are saying what there is going on, for their lives, or the expedition they make, and all these things.
Author: So you are speaking of oracles.
Scholar: Yes. When he became alone, more and more people admired him, from locals to immigrants arriving in this place, because Smyrna was a great port with considerable exports of wheat and other grains.
Author: And why are you telling me about Sirius? This is related to Osiris? You are suggesting, do I understand correctly, that Osiris comes from Sirius?
Scholar: When the immigrants finished their work. Yes. They began passing their time by listening to and watching Melisigenis.
Author: And that he was originally Greek?
Scholar: Yes. The people from this star were coming down. Apollo, the glorious light, signifies the Sirius.
Author: So you believe that early civilizations came from another planet.
Scholar: It is not the planet, it is the big star Sirius, bigger than ours. And among them at that time was a boatswain from the island of Lefkada called Mentis.
Author: Maybe they came from a planet in the planetary system of Sirius? He came with his own ship to buy wheat.
Scholar: Yes, there were two planets. For Mentis was educated according to the education of that time and knew many things. They make for every 100 years the metric system of ten. And he persuaded Melisigenis to travel with him, to leave his teaching and to receive from him a salary and have all his needs met.
Author: This is very interesting. You know, there is a new book, which looks at the photographs of Mars, and they find on Mars the pyramid. Do you think that Mars was also civilized and gave the Egyptians the pyramid?
Scholar: Maybe, because you know Mars have satellites, Phobos and Deimos are their names, which are Greek names and make a mention of the satellites of the Mars. Phobos mean terror. And Deimos also mean like terror. So I am wondering, how these people they knew, thousands of years ago before us.
Author: I think there are many things from the past that we no longer know, about Egypt, about ancient Greece.
Scholar: Yes, it was a great crime against humanity, when they burn the books of Alexandria. Ptolemais collect all the old knowledge, and give all these books very beautiful binding, and the Muslims burned them.
Mentis promised Homer that he would travel to kingdoms and republics well worth seeing, because he was young. It seems to me that with this decision Melisigenis succeeded. Maybe he was thinking of spending this time only on poetry. At any rate, he left his teaching and traveled with Mentis. Whichever and whatever country Homer visited, he was watching everything and asking the people about local history. So it was easy from all these trips to keep strong memories.
Author: You mention many old things in Greece, much older than Homer. In Chios there is evidence of civilization long, long before the time of Homer. Is that right?
Author: Earlier, when we began talking, you mentioned the worship of Kybeli. But there was also a much older civilization, in caves, the Neolithic civilization.
Scholar: Myself, I don’t believe the Neolithic era, something like this. I have a different idea about the human being.
Author: Please tell me.
Scholar: As I tell you before, human being coming from other planets.
Author: From the star Sirius.
Scholar: Yes, from the star Sirius, but also from other places. I believe that the human being is something separate from the other creatures.
Author: He did not evolve from monkeys?
Scholar: I don’t believe so. At some time he returned from Tyrrhenia and Iberes, and reached Ithaka.
Author: Now there’s another great myth, a great story, which may be true, the story that things came from Atlantis. Then it happened that Melisigenis’ eyes began to suffer.
Scholar: Atlantis is another story, if you read Plato. Wishing to travel to Lefkada for treatment. Plato makes mention of this. Mentis left Homer there with his loyal friend Mentoras, son of Alkimos from Ithaka. And Solon, when he went to Egypt, he told them, you forget your story. And asked him to take care of Homer. You have become the very selfish peoples. Saying that he would return to take him back. Because you forget that the peoples of Europe and Asia and Africa before were very good, but you push them away.
Author: And this Atlantis, do you think it was on the island Santorini? Or the island that they called Thera?
Scholar: I don’t believe so. Mentoras took much care of the illness in Ithaka. I don’t believe so. I think Atlantis is closer to The United States. He was rich and well known among the Ithacans for his justness and hospitality. Because they found so many things close to the coast of The United States. Here they told Melisigenis about Ulysses. Andos and Dimini islands. They found at the bottom of the sea.
Author: So you believe that Atlantis was in the Atlantic Ocean.
Scholar: I believe so. And I think people know about Atlantis, but I don’t know why they keep them silent.
Author: Now there is another mystery. Some people say that the great pyramids in Egypt are not Egyptian, because they have no hieroglyphs, no Egyptian writing on them. And some people think that the Egyptian civilization came from Atlantis.
Scholar: Yes I don’t believe either that there was Egyptian civilization on the pyramids. Because when they excavate the things, Egypt was under the British sovereignty. So that when they were excavating and they found out the mystery, the British say “Stop, and don’t do anything more.” And so they do not give out the secrets.
Author: Yes, our view of Egypt is limited by the Egyptologists! I agree.
Scholar: As I told you before, you see many big cities of Egypt with Greek names: Thebes, Heliopolis, these are Greek names. And the religion of the Egyptian civilization come from Creta.
Author: Well, even Homer says there were 100 cities on Creta. Ithacans say that Homer lost his sight in Ithaca. And you are telling me that all the European races and people have come from Creta.
Scholar: Yes, and that these people migrated from Creta to Arcadia, and they multiplied and become all the races of the world. They were coming, our race and your race, and they were multiplied and they were the Arians, who not coming down from the north.
Author: A very interesting theory. I say that he recovered this time and became blind in Colophon. The Arian race, then, is not from the north but from the south.
Scholar: Yes, there is not Arian race, it is Elloi. “Aria” was the old form of Creta.
Author: So everything comes from Creta.
Scholar: Yes, the white people comes from Aria. The people in Colophon believe this!
So Mentis returned from Lefkada, stayed in Ithaca and took Melisigenis away. For a time he traveled with him. Coming to Colophon, Homer’s eyes again suffered. He did not get well this time, instead going blind there. And so blindness returned, from Colophon to Smyrna, and Homer was given to poetry. From this infliction, Melisigenis took the name Omiros (Homer). For the Kymeans called blind men “Omiros.”
Author: May I ask you, what is your view of Hermes?
Scholar: Hermes, you know, was born in Pallini, in the Peloponnisos. His father was Atlas, and his mother was Maia. And he was a very clever god, and his father sent him to Egypt, and then he gave Egyptians civilization. Also the religion of the one god.
Author: So your books have a consistent thesis: that Orpheus, who is a poet of greater antiquity than Homer, mentions the one god, and that Hermes also mentions the one god.
Scholar: Hermes, in his book, is exactly the Christian religion.
Author: Hermes, in the Corpus Hermeticum, you are saying, predicts Christianity.
Scholar: He wrote 42 books but only 6 was saved.
Author: Some people, you know, think that Odysseus in Homer is also like Hermes.
Scholar: The Egyptians they call him Thoth.
Author: Yes. And when Odysseus is on Circe’s island, Aiaia, Hermes comes and tells him to leave. Coming to the town of Erythrea, Homer asked to travel to Chios.
Scholar: It is different. Hermes is a god.
Author: I see. Someone who had seen Homer in Phokea greeted him.
Scholar: The other Hermes is a people.
Author: So we are not talking about the god. Homer then asked his help finding a ship going to Chios. What do you think about the god Hermes?
Scholar: First of all I have to tell you about the Greek gods.
Author: Yes, please do. Here in Chios the fishermen were doing their job.
Scholar: These Greek gods are not really gods. These were kings.
Author: Homer, however, slept all night on the beach. They were men first.
Scholar: Men, let’s say, from extraterrestrial places, very very clever, and they make so many good things to the humanity, so people call them gods. When day broke, walking and wandering he came to a village called Pitys.
Author: Another question of interest to me is where Odysseus traveled. Where is the island of Kirke, the island of Kalypso, the island that Homer called Phaiakia, or Scheria?
Scholar: I will tell you, because I read the books of authors. A servant Glafkos took him to his boss called Xios. He mentions traveling whole Mediterranea, passing Gibraltar, and then goes off the course, and they say that the island of Kirke was in The United States, and then was off to the Labrador and the State of Maine. In his discussions with Homer, Xios found him to be very educated and experienced. And from there was coming back to Azores, and from Azores coming back home. And Xios persuaded him to stay and become the teacher of his children.
Author: In the Odyssey, then, which places correspond to America, to Labrador, to the State of Maine, to Azores?
Scholar: Labrador is the story of the Cows of Helios. Odysseus tell his men not to eat the cows, but his men do not obey and they cut the cows. And then the god was really angry with them. And the Kos is the Azores.
Author: And Azores, which Homer calls Ogygia, is where he meets Kalypso?
Scholar: Yes, Azores is where he meets Kalypso. And she says to he, go back home.
Author: But first he lands in Phaiakia. There in Volissos, Homer composed his “paeginia” (joyful works) such as Cercopes, Batrachomyomachiae (Battles of Frogs and Mice), Eptapaktiti and Epicichlides.
Scholar: Scheria, they say now, is the Corfu. And soon he became very famous for his poetry in the town of Chios. But the others they say that the Scheria is like Madeira. After a time, he pleased the man Xios to show him the town of Chios, where he founded a school and taught the children his epics. Or Malta. The Chians understood that he was very able. Something like this. And many of them became his admirers.
Author: Then, from Scheria, they send him in a magical boat back to Ithaka. Homer became rich, married and had two daughters. What is this magical boat?
Scholar: There were many stories. One died unmarried. Some people say from outer space they take him off to another world. The other was married to a Chian.
Author: Very interesting. From his poetry Homer became famous in Ionia. But he returns to Ithaka. And all over Greece they spoke of him. And here is another problem: Living in Chios, many people visited him, asking him to go on trips with them. On Ithaka we cannot find his palace. He accepted, wishing very much to travel to other places.
Scholar: Some people say that Ithaka is not the place of Odysseus but Kefallonia.
Author: And your opinion?
Scholar: Kefallonia is more correct. After Kyme, eighteen years passed until Smyrna was colonized by the Kymeans.
Author: Why does Homer tell a story about a man from Ithaka, why not a story about someone from Crete or Chios? Since Homer was born, six hundred and twenty two years passed until Xerxes crossed the Hellespont.
Scholar: These poems, he collect all these poems. From this it is very easy for anyone to estimate the time by counting the dates in office of the Athenian governors.
Author: And do you think he also wrote the Iliad? From the time of the Trojan War sixty-eight years elapsed till Homer was born.
Scholar: Yes I do, for we do not have any evidence that someone else wrote this.
Author: And which poem do you think is the greater poem?
Scholar: Both, I think, have their value.
Conversation with learned scholar is finally interrupted by arrival of author’s number 8 bus to Vrontados. And we are off, rounding one of the corners of Chios city’s Genoese castle on our way to the coastal road. “On one of his journeys,” Maria S. Fafalios tells us, “Orion met Merope, princess of Chios, and married her straight away.” As we turn northward, we pass a flower shop called “Azalia.” “Merope’s father, King Oinopion, was not, however, at all happy with this marriage.” We pass a British Petroleum station. “He waited for the right opportunity and one day made Orion drunk.” We continue on, passing Peugeot, Fiat and Nissan dealerships. “Then, as soon as the young man fell into a deep sleep, tired from drunkenness, the king blinded him and cast him on the beach.”
As we emerge onto the seashore we confront three windmills. “A few hours later Orion awoke.” A sign indicates the direction of the “Basilica of St. Isidoros.” “Realizing what had befallen him, he arose and, unable to see, headed towards the smithy of the gods, Hephaistos.” For a moment the sea is not visible. “Once there, he grabbed a young boy, set him on his shoulders and ordered him to lead the way towards the east.” But before long we return to the seashore. “Orion,” we are told, “was to regain his eyesight by looking straight into the sun.” Once beyond the outskirts of Chios town we begin to pick up speed. “Indeed it so happened, and Orion set off as fast as he could to take revenge upon the king.”
On our left a mountain ridge hovers behind the shallow coastal plain. Long ago Chios was part of the mountain Mimas (John Perikos), but thousands of years ago the two parted from one another. “The god Poseidon had set up a dark underground house for Orion, especially built by Hephaistos himself.” We pass the turn-off for Volissos, the supposed burial place of Homer, “37.5 km” distant, says the sign. “But Dawn, deeply in love with Orion, took him off with her to the island of Delos.” Along this coastal road, villages at last begin to reflect independent organization. At the center of one, over the lintel of its whitewashed café, are depicted three blue dolphins at play.
At a sign reading “Daskalopetra” author descends from the bus. Inquiry indicates, however, that he has not quite reached his destination. Small fishing boats in red, turquoise, and pink, in blue, white and yellow have been pulled up on the pebbly beach. Regarding Chios’ historical wealth, during the years of the Trojan War and after, the island was covered with plants and trees. Behind it a gorgeous chestnut is bursting into blossom. Indeed, a former name for Chios, “Pitoussa,” means “plenty of pine trees.” Behind and above it loom two huge mountains, one topped by a butte reminiscent of the American Southwest, the other assuming a form reminiscent of the Chinese landscape. Both are bare of vegetation.
We turn up a winding lane past four eucalyptus trees and head in the direction of the Daskalopetra. Homer called Chios “The richest of the islands.” Another sign indicates the “Sanctuary of Cybele.” “The island’s mild climate in combination with cool summers and the Aegean’s sparkling crystal-clear waters lend to it a beautiful character” (Chios: The Fragrant Island). We pass a tavern called “Omiros.” The Arioussan wine, which Homer drank, was the best in Greece. Its first story painted blue, its second brown. “This sweet-smelling island runs to both tame and rugged landscapes, and a visitor will find these alternations restful.” From ancient times Greeks felt the magic, charm and power of the poetic word. Three enormous sycamores, already budded, have begun to leaf out. The oldest Greek poetry, consisting of hymns and appeals to the gods, had an overtly religious character. We pass the “Daskalopetra Taverna” and continue to mount toward Homer’s Seat. They referred to the works of the gods and their genealogy. The two mountains dominate the landscape, like Iliad and Odyssey.
During the immigration of the Greeks to the South, however, and during the colonization of Asia Minor, poets began to reflect reality. We enter into the sanctuary of Cybele, negotiating the high risers of more flights of stairs so as to achieve perspective on the scene. Consequently, the nature of poetry itself changed. At last author arrives alone at the Seat of Homer. This new body of work reflects what life is actually like. One of Homer’s lovers has left a memento: a menstrual pad, a Greek message inscribed upon it in ballpoint pen. The Greeks of this period were often involved in long wars aimed at conquering other countries. Another devotee has left a clump of wild flowers atop the stone itself. From these battles heroes arose, who were honored and admired by the people. On the circular platform where Homer’s students sat to admire him, in the crevices between its stones, more wild flowers, purple with green leaves, have begun to sprout. Likewise, human values, which began to motivate people, came to be embodied in this new kind of poetry. We look down into a grove of slash pines, in amongst them a hawthorn, its white blossoms speckled orange. In ancient times Chios was covered with pine-trees.
Out over them the cresting waves along the seashore gleam white and gold. Thus was the epic (epos) born. Author, his recorder in one hand, a Coca-Cola in the other, takes a seat on the throne. To praise specifically the great heroes and their adventures. Behind him rises the mountainous earth, before him stretches a placid sea. Both the old and new kinds of poetry commingled people as gods and gods as people. Above him, vaulted heaven. All taking part in a larger heroism. Author mounts a path that leads even higher. The singers, such as Homer, praised and blamed the acts of both people and gods. Directly ahead lies the notch between the two mountains. Here Homer’s characterization of Chios as “rugged” is appropriate. Behind which, a third, smaller hill, in scale comic by comparison.
During Roman times Chios sent a large quantity of wheat and other agricultural produce to the capital of the Empire. Author continues on higher along a pathway that leads beyond Vrontados. Chian figs were famous for their delicacy and sweetness. Here Homer would have strolled, or been led along. And for this reason were sent to Rome. Having reached a level above blossoming cherry trees, author looks out to survey the scene, beyond olive grove, out over the sea, into a distance scarcely recognizable. At last he turns back to retrace Homer’s steps. Above the Daskalopetra sits a shrine that includes a portrait of St. George; the figure of a priest, two crosses on either shoulder; incense holders with views of Mary and Child; an empty wine bottle; a bottle of oil; a cigarette lighter.
The Achaians had established strong kingdoms such as Sparta, Argos, Tiryns, Pylos and Mycenae. As author begins his descent, large Mercedes trucks bearing cylinders of concrete, others loaded with heavy construction equipment and materials, climb the mountainside. They had made great expeditions abroad in order to conquer places rich in minerals along the coasts of Asia Minor and the islands. The cliff immediately opposite, to the north of Homer’s peaks, has burst into a yellow glory of blossoms. The Achaian dominance lasted from 1600 down to 1100 B.C. As we swing through a double curve on our way down the hill. Whereupon the Mycenaean civilization developed from the Achaian. At its foot a “Café-Bar” bears the name “Homerides.” Immigration occurred in the East and, more intensively, in the Aegean islands. Author pauses, turns about, and, lingering in uncustomary nostalgia, takes one last look at the mesa-like Iliad, the remainder of Homer’s work having receded behind it. The Mycenaeans continued to perpetuate themselves through the efforts of other Greek races, such as the Aeolians and the Ionians, who, however, never managed to achieve its grandeur. The Vergilian hill has at least for the moment disappeared from sight.
From 1870 onwards, inspired by Homer, the German archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann (1822-1890), undertook excavations at modern Hissarlik, in the hopes of discovering Troy. Author must duck off the road to avoid a descending, empty construction truck. Some feel that these have proven the “historical” existence of Ilion and Priamos, where the expedition and settlement of the Achaians is said to have taken place. He stands against a cliff side recently blasted. With better armaments the Dorians destroyed the Achaian civilization. The grooves for dynamite tubes are palpable in the rock face. In 1876, at the ancient site of Mykene, Schliemann also discovered, or so he thought, the royal tombs of Agamemnon and Klytemnestra. Into the mountainside a new house has been carved. These findings were said to have certified the power and magnificence of the golden city of Argos. As author turns the corner, even the “Iliad ” leaves his purview. In accordance with Homer’s most poetic account. As the road makes one last bend, the “Odyssey,” however, reappears over author’s left shoulder. “Danger: Work in Progress,” reads a sign, as the road straightens out and proceeds on toward the sea. At last both mesa and mountain disappear altogether.
Having taken a very early bus to the western city of Mesta, one that departs before the light of dawn, author delays his reportage till, after an hour’s journey, he descends from a nearby intersection toward the city’s outskirts. From Mesta we will return on foot by another route that passes through Olympi and Pirgi. This 40-kilometer trek should take all day.
At 7:00 am clouds fill a sky that nonetheless appears to be clearing. Along the roadside: vineyards, a primitive threshing floor, a large pile of lumber. Distributed throughout the landscape, fruit trees are in bloom. A cock crows. Farmers and their families have begun to move about. A roto-tiller starts up; work gets under way. A dozen chickens scratch and cluck. As we approach the town we encounter a cylindrical tower, its stone windows mere slits.
By a narrow alleyway we have entered Mesta. Gradually it becomes apparent that we are traversing one of the town’s main streets. “For centuries Arab pirates scourged and pillaged the island’s coasts and harbors” (Maria S. Fafalios). We descend into a narrower alley bordered with two-story stone buildings. “Only after the Byzantine recapture of Crete did life on Chios improve.” We have entered into the confines of an authentic medieval town. “The Byzantines recognized the strategic nature of the site and so fortified it.” We turn to descend farther through even more constricted ways. “In the 11th century, for greater security, they constructed a fortress.” We arrive at ramparts to gaze out over the plain beyond through blossoming apple trees. “By 1050 the famous Nea Moni (New Monastery) had been founded under the guidance of the emperor Constantine Monomachus.”
Quickly we ascend. “Progress on the island continued despite threats from the Turks and the Venetians.” Then descend again, toward the western end of the town, turn about and re-ascend, back up through the labyrinth. “In 250 A.D., when Decius expelled the Christians, mention is made of “the island of Ayios Isidoros.” Above eye level an ancient porch overflows with pots of colorful flowers. “The Early Christian churches of the 4th and 5th centuries observable on Chios represent the only physical evidence that we possess of its reorganization.” Two tethered donkeys are being led from a threshold into the alleyway. “The end of antiquity is signaled by an even greater decline in data for the centuries that follow.” In a courtyard tomatoes have been hung from the ceiling, along with gourds. “During the Byzantine period, everything would seem to indicate that Chios followed the fate of the rest of Greece.”
We head down another street covered with archways past the church’s clock tower. “Around 1204 Chios, like Constantinople, passed under the suzerainty of the Franks, but the island was later liberated by Duke Vatatzis.” Turning right, we approach the tower itself and after another right turn arrive in the principal square, set like a dining room with wooden tables and chairs. “By this time the Genoese had expressed their interest in Chios, which was situated in their sea lanes.” So as to be less conspicuous, author retreats into café’s interior, where a large television set suspended above the bar is showing the Euronews. “They coveted it mainly as a commercial transit station for their Black Sea trade.”
The weather report indicates a general pattern of cloud covering the whole Eastern Mediterranean, though there is still hope that our own skies will clear in the course of the day. As we exit through more arched streets, a pale sun emerges from behind a cloud. The passageway twists and turns, narrows then expands, to accommodate a café. Through another archway it leads out of town and into the main road, where the skies are still veiled in grey. Riding a brown donkey sidesaddle a man crosses the road, followed by another man resting a hoe on his shoulder. A car with two men in the front seat, a child in back, stops and honks, as a woman hastens out of her house to join the entourage.
Reentering the countryside on the road to Olimpi, five kilometers distant, we encounter the chickens again. As scheduled, Pope John Paul II knelt in the Grotto of the Nativity last Wednesday. They are no longer scratching or clucking. Earlier in the day he had announced that “Bethlehem is the heart of my Jubilee Pilgrimage.” Several hundred yards up the road we come to a church made of concrete blocks, interlayered with rows of red brick. Having tottered on aching, 79-year-old legs, down the narrow steps from the basilica above. Its domes and half domes painted a faint blue and topped with green crosses. He found his way to his knees and prayed over the Silver Star in the pavement that many believe marks the very spot where Jesus Christ was born. On the opposite side of the highway a green truck and a red sedan, an Allegro, have been abandoned. Then — again as planned — he moved on, knelt and prayed in the adjoining Grotto of the Wise Men, where the child Jesus lay in the manger. The two vehicles are pointing in opposite directions. (David Van Biema, with Lisa Beyer and Greg Burke, reporting from Jerusalem for Time magazine.)
We now begin a winding ascent, which takes us to a new altitude, where a man in a white pickup is leading his mule behind him on a rope tied to its bumper. He, the pickup truck and the mule are in turn followed by a large flock of sheep and goats, their bells respectively tinkling and clanking. The man stops to get out of his truck. Having left it behind, the shepherd/goatherd now ascends a craggy hill, his mule in tow, his sheep and goats still following.
Two kilometers out of town a motorcyclist stops in the middle of the road to engage author in conversation, then offers him a ride to Olympi. To save Ixion from the wrath of the gods and men, Zeus made the greatest gesture of hospitality that was in his power: Within three more kilometers we descend a hill off the main road to enter the village in style. He brought the cruel king from the land of the Lapiths, where he was expelled for misdeeds from his native land, to Olympus and sat him at the table of the gods, at Hera’s very side. Author exits village for a view of its unstuccoed buildings, mounting a hill in hopes of rejoining the main road. Ixion ate ambrosia, drank the nectar of the gods and thus became, like them, immortal. A black truck, a scale hanging from its tailgate, is winding through the streets of the village, announcing fish for sale. But even this, it seems, was not enough for him, since he had decided that he must have Zeus’ wife for himself.
Having left the village behind, we climb higher along the main road to Pirgi, achieving at last a plateau level with a distant village beyond. Hera tried to make him understand that she was a goddess whose role was to hold marriages together. An orchard has been planted with lemon as well as orange trees. Not to help break their sacred bond. A white Nissan truck, a wheelbarrow in its bed, honks at author. But Ixion had no intention of respecting her wishes. We have skirted most of Olympi. As for his own desires. Forty meters ahead a tabby cat crosses the road. His conduct made them plain to everyone on Olympus.
A black car overtakes us, moving slowly itself. As John Paul’s journey unfolded last week. In its driver’s seat is an Orthodox priest, in its back seat a young boy. He found moments of sublime communion. The priest honks at author. As in the grotto. The black car stops alongside the road 200 yards ahead. Or near the bank of the Jordan River. There it pauses. Where the Pope reportedly confided in companions: Now it begins to back up. “In my mind I see Jesus coming to the waters.” On past author. “To be baptized by John the Baptist.” When it has reached a point another hundred yards behind him. “Not far from here.” The car again pauses. “I see Jesus passing on his way to the Holy City.” The priest descends. “Where he would die and ascend from the grave.” Within three minutes he returns in his car, now to offer a ride all the way to Pirgi. “As he passes by I see him opening the eyes of the blind man.” Though prepared for a long walk, author can hardly decline this fresh display of hospitality, a twelve-kilometer lift.
Having been deposited by the kindly priest, he mounts into what appears to be the main square of Pirgi. Zeus could scarcely believe that this was how his hospitality was repaid. Three of whose cafés seem not yet to have opened. Curious to learn the extent of Ixion’s ingratitude, he transformed Nephele, a cloud, into the shape of Hera. With no place available to break his journey, author proceeds on, to the main road out of Pirgi. Thinking that Nephele was Hera herself. But then veers back up an alley into it. Ixion made her his own. Turning right then left, into increasingly narrow byways. She even gave birth to a child. Then right again, to avoid a dog. The result of the union of Ixion and Nephele was as monstrous as the union itself: Until finally he emerges into the main street of the town. A creature half man and half horse called a centaur. Across the way, its door left open, stands a bakery. After having showered such hospitality upon Ixion. Author enters a small café frequented by men in their seventies and eighties. Zeus could hardly let his ingratitude go unpunished. To take a seat apart from the table where others have congregated. And so he called for Hermes. At a smaller table two men welcome him to join them. Ordered him to catch Ixion. One of whom offers to buy him a coffee. And tie him with snakes to a wheel. As the other, in Pidgin English, hospitably inquires about author’s situation in life. And to place fire beneath it. Finishing his coffee, thanking the men for their hospitality, author departs.
“Year by year the Genoese used more and more of the island as a station for their trips to the East.” Ever since that day the immortal Ixion, snake-bound, has spun in the flames, forever crying: “Because of the assistance they offered to the emperor Michael Palaiologos in his battle against the Venetians, they gained ever greater privileges.” “Hospitality is sacred!” “The Genoese acquired their own public buildings, houses and churches and increased their influence on Chios. Meanwhile the ailing Byzantine Empire was unable to protect the island from the incursions of the Turks.” This is how Zeus punished Ixion, who broke a holy rule: “Thus, in 1307 Chios was handed over to the Genoese Benedetto Zaccaria and remained under Genoese rule till 1329.” Never do harm to a person who offers you a kindness. “Afterwards, due to the violation of an agreement with the Byzantines, the island was reoccupied by Andronicos Palaiologos.”
Climbing about through the streets of Pirgi, author again turns to descend through a narrow alleyway. “Undoubtedly the principal characteristic of these houses is the scratched patterns decorating their facades.” His stroll takes him past the city’s gorgeous building fronts of grey and white design. “Theories as to the origin of this impressive art are divided. Some maintain that it derives from a parallel ‘graffiti’ art from Genoa. Others believe that it originated in Byzantium, specifically in Constantinople. Wherever it came from, the Pirgians loved and developed this form of exterior decoration, keeping it alive to our day. Going back in time one can distinguish three different periods of the ‘ksista’ (scratchings).
“(1) An early period that stretches up to the second half of the 19th c. and uses rectangles or rhombuses to cover the whole facade.” Author heads on out of Pirgi in the direction of Armolia. “Ksista from this period can be found almost everywhere on Chios.
“(2) The period from the beginning of this century until about 1950, which carries the mark of master Georgios Kountouris, also known as Vatte, saw the development of the technique in Constantinople itself.” The skies have not yet entirely cleared but have not really worsened either, though the temperature has dropped considerably. “The themes of this period include new embellished geometric forms and the free depiction of flora and fauna.” Perhaps author’s luck will hold for the rest of his journey. “In the same period there is wide spread use of the ‘circle with its moons,’ done in a great variety of color.
“(3) The third period, in which we are now, is characterized by changes in materials, reduction of color, and limited creative activity.” We pass the public school, where the priest’s seven-year-old son is playing with half a dozen of his schoolmates. “This process is relatively simple, though it requires experience and knowledge.” The teacher sits on a step observing them. “The artisans, on the surface to be decorated, first spread a mixture of sand, asbestos and cement, then cover it with white asbestos.” On a whitewashed wellhead someone has written a Greek graffito reading “graffiti.” “Next they carefully draw the various patterns in strictly horizontal zones.” On the outskirts of Pirgi we pass a clinic. “Finally they scratch lightly with a kitchen fork the appropriate parts of the surface asbestos to reveal the underlying darker substratum.” In whose courtyard a nude statue has been decorated in grey and white ksista. “The scratched motifs named after this last phase of the process depend upon what they depict.” The female figure’s breasts have been rendered grey, her shoulders white. “Thus are they given special names such as ‘mill’s wing,’ ‘flag,’ ‘chalice,’ ‘moons,’ etc. ”
A kilometer out of Pirgi we begin a descent into a valley filled with trees and wild growth — a purple-headed thistle. The sun begins to warm the scene a little. A military vehicle, somewhat dilapidated, its side window cracked and splintered, ascends the hill. Just as we have reached the end of the valley, the man who had bought author a coffee in the Pirgi café, stops by the roadside in his ancient pickup truck and gestures to him to get in. Continuing on to Armolia, he drops author off at its city limit in view of an idyllic valley. High above, a priest, cane in hand, his beard white and full, slowly descends the steps of a church.
“On the island of Chios, Armolia is the center for the production of ceramics.” Author studies examples of the art in a shop offering large bowls with extravagantly beautiful floral designs. “Though of strictly local provenance, the artistic work is not at all naïve.” One is especially impressed by a platter, whose lively and delicate strokes portray the scales of a fish, its contours the fish’s head and tail. Another in the shape of a bird, about to take flight, is also striking. One of the town’s artisans greets author at the door to her shop and shows him the entire extent of her lovely work in blue and white.
To leave Olimpi one must mount a steep hill, but one is properly rewarded with a view out over a complex landscape that begins in green vegetation and rises through sandstone to a stark grey granite outcrop. In its valleys are olive trees, swaying in the wind and interspersed with deciduous bushes as large as they. Its rate of ascent scarcely that of a pedestrian, a twelve-wheeled gravel truck painfully mounts the hill, finally overtaking author. The sky has cleared to a patchy uniformity of clouds. At each level of the heavens their forms are different: on the horizon, cumulus have massed; above them, smokier, romantic configurations; then, much higher still, another layer of stratocumulus much greater in scale. Overhead an enormous flock of broad-winged birds is floating and cawing.
Having reached a yet more elevated crest, we again enjoy the fruits of our laborious climb. We look out over a landscape of individual terraces, on which olive trees have been planted. Above them, in the chalky cliffs, stand the high openings of caves. “We entered the cave while he was out grazing his sheep in the meadows.” On one of the terraces nine olive trees have been planted. “It was wide and lofty and ran deep into the mountain.” Off the main road, in the midst of our descent, we ascend a concrete apron onto a rocky dirt road in the direction of Timos Masticochoria.” “Inside the vast cavern there were stone pens for the Cyclops’ herds.” Here we come upon the trees that are bled for their sap. “In one corner were deposited stacks of cheeses.” The Chios gum mastic tree has always flourished on the island. “In another, great jars filled with whey and the empty pails that he used for milking.” In the very regions where the island’s famous clay and the ceramics produced therefrom are found.
“My companions were terrified.” We have reached the town’s pumping station. “They pleaded with me to let them help themselves to some cheeses and a sheep and goat or two apiece and then be off.” Having noticed the trees, but not knowing how friendly a reception an intruder into the town might meet with. “I ignored them, being curious to meet the Cyclops and see what he would give us of his own accord, rather than stealing from him.” Author turns back to the main road. “If only I had listened to my men!” When we have reached the turquoise, white-bordered sign for the turn-off again, our descent continues. We look down into a dry riverbed filled with boulders of sandstone and marble, their surfaces worn smooth by the flow of millennia. Once more we begin our arduous re-ascent. A grey mustachioed farmer, working at the blades of a roto-tiller perched in the bed of his red pickup, responds to author’s “Kalimera” with a single English word, “Yes.” As we rise on up the mountainside we reach a restraining wall, along which a graffito reads “Eirene eta Balkana” (Peace in the Balkans).
From the next precipice we gaze down into a huge gully, where half a dozen abandoned vehicles, electric stoves, and gas canisters have been cast. As we round another bend, we find that we have risen high enough for a view of the sea along the eastward coast of Chios. Two breast-like mountains have sufficiently parted to permit the eye to continue down the ensuing belly and mons Venus of the landscape between them. One of the goddess’s thighs has also been raised, and from here we witness her knee crop out not far from the Aegean.
Mounting yet higher we reach a field of yellow wild flowers, in amongst which is posted a sign that seems to warn of poisonous snakes. The immediate crafting of the Pope’s Odyssey has been painstaking and personal, a powerful three-part journey recapitulating the very development of the Christian concept of God. The roadway itself is black with a new dressing of thick asphalt. It began officially on February 24, when, denied entrance by Iraq, John Paul made a “virtual pilgrimage” (using props and videotape) to the city of Ur, the birthplace of Abraham, with whom God made his first covenant. Along the next down-slope rises an outcrop of rock reminiscent of Dong Qi-chang’s distinctive landscapes.
The journey continued with the Pope’s visit to the mountain in Egypt thought by many to be Mount Sinai, atop which the Lord is said to have presented Moses with the Law. Next occurs a scene of fabrication: In a rapid acceleration that mirrors the explosion of events in the Gospels. Walls have been constructed all the way up the height of the mountainside. Over seven days he visited Bethlehem; surveyed not one but two spots where Jesus may have been baptized; offered Mass from the site of Christ’s Sermon on the Mount; climbed the steps to the upper room, where tradition places the Last Supper; prayed at Gethsemane, where Jesus was betrayed, and just before flying back to Rome celebrated Mass again at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the site at which Catholics and the Eastern churches believe that Jesus was buried and resurrected. In the foreground a single fruit tree is blossoming but at the same time also leafing out. It all sounded so simple and elegant and inevitable.
We pass up the turn-off for Thea Katoni without bothering to climb the mountain for this encounter. And yet there was almost nothing simple about the trip. Within a couple of hundred yards we pass a cement factory: Because the Pope is not just a religious pilgrim. Yellow bags of the product have been stacked. He is one of the world’s great moral authorities. Then covered with plastic sheets. Whose support or very presence (or even the brush of his lips on a proffered pot of soil as he visits a new land) can lend validity to states, policies and causes. A huge ugly house has just been constructed. Moreover, he heads an entity with its own foreign policy goals: Down the hill from the factory. Ranging from the protection of religious sites, to support for the fast-vanishing Christians of the Holy Land, the guarantee of a Palestinian homeland, to his recent rapprochement with Israel.
Once more we are afforded a vista all the way to the sea. Friday he enjoyed a moment of triumph when, at the mountain where Jesus was said to have delivered the Sermon on the Mount, he celebrated Mass for 80,000 mostly youthful believers. With a good way yet to go before we reach Chios, author is rather beginning to yearn for another ride. They had come from around the world, but a sizable number were Lebanese, and parts of the Mass were performed in Arabic. We look up into a green field spotted with magenta and yellow cardium. Said Wadie Abu-Nassar, director of the Great Jubilee Office in Jerusalem: Across the road stands a grove of olive trees. “Since the time of Jesus, no one has ever managed to bring a crowd like this together in a peaceful way.” Where their branches have been cut, new shoots are arising from them. “When crowds like this have gathered in the past it was normally for a war.” From the distance, in the breeze, they wave to us like maidens.
In a white babushka an old woman, seated on her front stoop, studies passing author, as she attempts to determine who he might be. “During the time of the campaign of Alexander the Great (334-331 B.C.) a Macedonian garrison was established on the island.” We descend to a point where the whole sea becomes visible, including islands that stand between Chios and the coast. “Later, during the period of Alexander’s Successors the center of the Hellenistic world was far removed from the Aegean, and Chios began to decline.” The sky to the east has lightened, giving a white sparkle to buildings along the Turkish coast. “Through the influence of Ptolemy I of Egypt the island passed into the sphere of the Seleucids and Pergamon.” Along the shore of Chios, however, all is shrouded in a pleasant mist. “Subsequently, the island was occupied by Philip V of Macedonia, and after the Battle of Magnesia in 189 B.C. it regained its independence.” We look back up at a village, the sides of its buildings in pink and rust, pale blue, light green and white. “At about this time the Chiots formed an alliance with the Romans and helped them overcome the Seleucids of Syria.”
On Saturday, with some help from the Israeli police, John Paul defied rumors of trouble at Nazareth’s Church of the Annunciation. We are passing a house, situated close to the road, that dates from a much earlier era. It was in this place that the Angel Gabriel is believed to have told Mary that she would give birth to the Messiah. Fields tilled behind it suggest that it is still inhabited. Accordingly, a legend on the altar reads “HERE THE WORD WAS MADE FLESH.” Though no sign of life emanates from the house itself. It was also here that Muslim riots last year broke out when Christians objected to a mosque going up nearby. And its doors are weathered to extremity. No disturbances, however, rent the peace during the Pope’s two-hour Mass. As we turn the corner, a rick of wood behind the house comes into view. Perhaps because a Muslim prayer leader preached against disturbances. And a well-tended orchard beyond also appears. Or perhaps because the threat of violence was exaggerated.
To author’s tired feet and tired legs are added a tired lower back, but he pushes on. By Saturday the Pontiff’s strength was flagging somewhat, and concern was expressed as to how he would fare on his pilgrimage’s final day. At the crest of a hill a sign promises the traveler “Kalimasa” in “2 km.” But he managed to celebrate his week’s last Mass at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. The sea opens up from yet another perspective, a pleasant view, but the wind at one’s back has grown icy. Shortly afterwards he visited the Western Wall of the Temple, Judaism’s most holy shrine. Before long the little village emerges into sight. And before that, to a place only a football field away. We are almost out of the mountains. That Muslims call the Square of the Mosque. Author takes the turn-off into Vavili, hoping perhaps that he can find something to eat, for his spirit has become weakened.
He stares at a white goat, her breasts full of milk. She brays at him. This little town, at least in the face that it presents in this direction, has a highly polished look: an ample park, new houses, a new city hall perhaps. We are on the verge of reentering the prosperous realm of modern Chios. As we round the bend, an elegant house appears, a young boy climbing an outdoor stair to its second floor. Finding no restaurant in this bedroom village, author rejoins the main road as it descends to the coast on its approach to the capital.
For a long way we proceed through landscapes neither rural nor urban. We pass a telephone pole to which has been tied a bouquet of flowers; we skirt a light brown field freshly ploughed, at whose center stands a man dressed in city clothes, a spade in his hand. Pausing at his work, he reaches beneath a fashionable sweater to take out a pack of cigarettes. Finally we have reached the suburbs of Chios. At Kampoxoron author takes a seat at an outdoor café for a Pepsi. From the sidewalk a longhaired, sympathetic woman of 30 smiles at him. “They say,” according to Maria S. Fafalios, “that in Chios a blind fisherman named Formion predicted dire consequences, if the women of the island would not cut their locks.”
Afoot once again, author passes four red vehicles parked in a row alongside a yellow municipal curb. “When they followed his recommendation, not only were the people saved, afterwards even the blind fisherman had his eyesight restored.” Suddenly we seem to have reached the capital but find that we must mount higher before we may enter into Chios proper. At the top of the hill we once more begin to descend, this time quite quickly, passing modern houses still under construction, their silver insulation panels lined up along their studded walls but not yet nailed into place. As the road turns, however, we find ourselves once again in a kind of countryside, broad orchards filling the spaces between random buildings old and new. In a field onions and cabbages have been interspersed. Only here, at last, do we glimpse the higher buildings of Chios, a tanker beyond them indicating the bay.
On the boat from Chios to Samos, as he sits in the lounge, author is joined by a woman named Kalliope (the muse of epic poetry). The wife of the purser on this boat, where she herself tends the gift shop, upon learning of author’s project, she tells him that she is really “Penelope.” Author proceeds to introduce himself as “Odysseus.” Having mentioned Kalypso, Kirke and Nausikaa as her rivals, he finds that “Penelope” is vehemently, not to say jealously, dismissive of this threesome. The conversation turns to the particular attractiveness of the daughter of Alkinoös and Arete, to what it is that not only Odysseus but also Homer’s reader might find attractive about the maiden and about her older counterparts, why it is that she feels that all suffer by comparison with his wife.
Author: As he’s about to depart from Ogygia, you remember, Odysseus is sad, he’s crying on the beach, and he wants to leave. But he must have found Kalypso attractive, at least earlier in their relationship, for otherwise how could he have spent seven years with her?
“Penelope”: She represents for him something different from his wife.
Author: She is a goddess, of course, and his wife but a mortal.
“Penelope”: Wife is wife. He is missing his wife.
Author: Yes, I see, Penelope is his wife, and there can be no other. Tell me, in Odysseus’ absence did Penelope have a boyfriend?
“Penelope”: Yes. Probably two or three.
Author: Ah-hah . . . To change the subject, if I may: When Homer is writing about Odysseus, is he really writing about himself?
“Penelope”: Maybe it is all a story from Homerus.
As we are about to prepare for debarkation, an event that interrupts the interview, Kalliope tells author quite pointedly that, though the other women — Kalypso, Kirke, Nausikaa — have their individual virtues, Penelope “possesses all their virtues combined.”
We have had an uneventful trip from Chios to Samos, which author, despite disagreement of learned scholars, is treating as Homer’s Scheria. On his way from the dock into the town, a gorgeous girl of eighteen, as lovely as Nausikaa, gives him a naïve stare.
It was to the house of Alkinoös that the grey-eyed Athene
went, devising the homecoming of great-hearted Odysseus,
and she entered the ornate chamber, in which a girl
was sleeping, like to the immortal goddesses for stature and beauty,
Nausikaa her name, the daughter of great-hearted Alkinoös.
Athene drifted in like a breath of wind to where the girl slept.
At the Catholic Church author turns and mounts a narrow street past a rudimentary traffic circle on to the Hotel Helen only to find it closed. “Anaximenes, a pupil of Anaximander, says that the ‘material principle’ was air and the infinite” (Diogenes Laertius). Hotel Samos has no room for the night. “Pythagoras spent his early life on Samos but is said to have left the island to escape from tyranny” (Kirk and Raven). And so author must settle for the more expensive Hotel Aeolus. “For Anaximenes, the underlying principle,” according to Hippolytus’ clarification, “was
infinite air, from which things that are becoming, and that are, and that shall be, along with gods and things divine all come into being, and the rest from its products. The form of air is of this kind: whenever it is most equable, it is invisible but is revealed by the cold and the hot and the damp and by movement. It is always in motion: for things that change do not change unless there be movement. Through becoming denser or finer it assumes different appearances; for when it is dissolved into what is finer, it becomes fire, while winds, again, are air that is becoming condensed, and cloud is produced from air. When it is condensed still more, the product is water; with a further degree of condensation earth is produced, and when condensed as far as possible, stones.
If all goes well, author will spend one night here, one at Hotel Samos. “We know little about Pythagoras” (Raven and Kirk), and, as Plutarch says, “He wrote nothing.” At least this room has a balcony, from which we will have a broader view of the harbor.
As we open its French doors, there is no sign of wind. The skies, though not completely clear, are mild and sunny. “This world,” says Heracleitus, “is an ever-living fire, parts of which are continually extinguished to form the two other world-masses, sea and earth.” Below, on the sidewalk before the hotel, stand groupings of four, of three, of two officers from the Port Authority. Otherwise the street is untrafficked. The sun shines placidly on the harbor’s broad waters. “For the world-order,” according to Heracleitus, “did none of the gods or men make, but,” he adds, “it always was and is and shall be an ever-living fire, kindling in measures and going out in measures” (Clement of Alexandria). Their blue-green is rippling gently.
Samos is the most beautiful of the islands that we have so far visited. Author is looking forward to his trip to its famous Temple of Hera. In search of a guidebook, however, he finds none available in English, French or German and must settle for one in Italian. In search of reservations for his forthcoming voyage to Rodos, he is also disappointed, for at 4:30 pm the travel agents have closed their doors.
Now when they had come to the delightful stream of the river,
where there was always a washing place with plenty of water,
they unyoked the mules and set them free from the wagon,
and chased them out along the bank of the swirling river
to graze on the sweet bank side grass, while they from the wagon
lifted the wash in their hands and carried it to the black water
and stamped on it in the basins, making a race and game of it,
until they had washed and rinsed all dirt away, then spread it
out in a line along the beach of the sea, where the water
of the sea had washed the largest pebbles up onto the dry shore.
Midway along the harbor side we come to the Bank of Greece. As they were carrying Ctisylla to her grave, a white bird came winging out of her coffin, but when they opened it they found it empty. In a little square to one side a white marble lion is posing, while a white dove struts back and forth before him. Aphrodite had transformed Ctisylla into a dove, and every night, as Ermoharis lay sleeping with his child, a white dove fluttered in the darkness.
Author returns to the balcony for a truly glamorous 5:45 view of a molten gold sun as it illuminates the scene. “All things are an equal exchange for fire and fire for all things, as goods are for gold and gold for goods” (Plutarch, in summary of Heracleitus). Across the way a green mountainside almost bare of houses is suavely somber, clouds covering its first rank of dwellings. A boat, its sides red, its forecastle yellow, rides at the opposite end of the harbor.
Now the princess threw the ball toward one handmaiden,
and missed the girl, and the ball went into the swirling water,
and they all cried out aloud, and noble Odysseus awakened
and sat up and began pondering in his heart and his spirit:
The hour of siesta over, pedestrians have returned to the walkway bordering the bay. In front of our hotel a television station’s video cameraman is focusing on the subject of an interview; the interviewer, a girl of 25 in a pure blue suit, regards her subject nervously, shivering a little as the sun dips behind a cloud. Though the weather is fair today, it is by no means warm.
“Ah me, what are the people whose land I have come to this time,
and are they violent and savage, and without justice,
or hospitable to strangers, and with a godly mind? See now
how an outcry of young women echoes about me.”
On the balcony below a woman of 28, in high black shoes, black pants and black cardigan, having observed the same scene that author has, steps back into her room. Author turns and looks out past the jetty toward the rest of the harbor to where its surface extends toward the open sea.
So speaking, great Odysseus arose and came out of his thicket,
and from the dense foliage with his heavy hand he broke off
a leafy branch to cover his body and hide the male parts,
and went in the confidence of his strength, like some hill-kept lion,
who advances, though he is rained on and blown by the wind, and both eyes
kindle. So he was ready to face young girls with well-ordered
hair, naked though he was, for the need was on him; and yet
he appeared terrifying to them, all crusted with dry ocean spray,
and they scattered one way and another down the jutting beaches.
Author closes the French doors and steps back in from the balcony but continues to view the scene, having turned on the heater for comfort. A single, tiny truck concludes its progress through the crescent. Like Odysseus, when he sailed from Kalypso’s Ogygia, author today has felt the protective aegis of Hermes, Poseidon, and now Athena.
Only the daughter of Alkinoös stood fast, for Athene
put courage into her heart, and took the fear from her body,
and she stood her ground and faced him, and Odysseus debated
whether to supplicate the well-favored girl by clasping her knees
or to stand off where he was and in words of blandishment
ask if she would show him the city and lend him clothing.
A silver vehicle arrives before the Aeolus Hotel. The harbor police have been controlling the traffic in front of it, while the interview with what appears to be a government official continues. The surface of the harbor’s waters reflects the pink, white and grey of scumbled clouds, as the sun begins to set.
(Later, author learns that the subject of these interviews has been the Prime Minister of Greece, whom he passes in the lobby of his own hotel. The Prime Minister has paid a visit to Samos to marshal forces in the tourist industry.)
Having arrived too early to negotiate an itinerary for his up-coming trip to Rodos (at 6:00 pm the tourist agency has not yet reopened after siesta), author settles in at a lesser restaurant on a back street. Here a 26-year-old Nausikaa, already married but still working in her mother and father’s establishment, recounts her experience.
Homer, In Odyssey 6, we recall,
Has the sea-wrecked, beached, slumbering
Odysseus awakened by cries from
The entourage of Nausikaa
She herself detained by Athena
So that Odysseus — depicted by the Bard
As a rain-soaked mountain lion —
Might see the royal daughter’s beauty
And display his eloquence, shielding
His nakedness with an olive branch.
Homer (Odysseus) likens the
Maid to Artemis, daughter of Zeus.
Her lovely form recalls to the hero
The sight of a young palm tree
Near Apollo’s altar at Delos.
With grace and a bland wisdom Nausikaa
Replies, assuring Odysseus an
Hospitable reception, and assuages
The fears of her maids, whom she instructs
To bathe him, this stranger sent from Zeus.
Some see in her the Soul’s image.
Raised as an overseas Greek in Australia, she only arrived in Samos city at age twelve. Her account of her self-consciousness makes it clear that as a Greek abroad she was more aware of her Greekness than a Greek in Greece would be. By “Greekness” she means her superiority, her sense of a classical past, her command of an unusual language. “We modern Greeks have no identity,” she complains. “We have been invaded by American culture.” When author suggests that the collectivity of Europe may also be degrading Greek uniqueness, the idea is new to this restaurant worker. Vivaciously outspoken throughout all the argument, admitting cheerfully that she knows next to nothing of Greece’s last two thousand years of history, she nonetheless expresses the view that Greece is forever fluctuating between being ancient and being modern. She cites the example of Samos’ public square, which, having been strictly modernized to eliminate all vestiges of the past, is now being archaized to focus upon it.
She takes a sensible view of her own life in this very small town. Epicurus agrees with the Skeptical goal of tranquility (Kirk and Raven). One is happy if one’s personal relations are happy, if one’s ambition is satisfied. And he agrees with Democritus’ critical view that the senses lead to Skepticism. If not, one flees to Athens, or farther afield. The Skeptic leaves us unable to decide between two positions supported by equipollent appearances. Author brings conversation to a pleasant close, then heads off again to the travel agent, who organizes his transportation for the next two days: Claiming that this indecision and suspension of judgment lead to tranquility. Tomorrow morning, it is agreed, he will take a taxi to Pithagorio, proceed on foot to the Heraia, walk back and then take an afternoon boat from Pithagorio to Kalymnos. In Epicurus’ view, however, indecision leaves us worried and agitated. The following day a boat from Kalymnos, in this sparse winter season, should be running to Kos. Tranquility results only if we have some basis for judgment and decision. After a full day in Kos, it should be possible to catch a boat to Rodos.
There will be no night at the Samos Hotel, and the route from Scheria to Ithaka (from Samos to Rhodes) will not be as magical, somnolent or direct as it might have been according to author’s original plan for a nighttime journey, but perhaps it will prove more fortuitous. The lights sparkle over the harbor, bleeding down from lamppost, neon sign and traffic light in garish rays of yellow, blue, and red. The street is full again, the Prime Minister having retired for the evening. A single armed guard still stands watch at the hotel’s entrance.
So far in Samos we have met with nothing but conviviality, politeness and efficiency.
“Since this is some poor wanderer who has come to us.
we must take care of him, because all strangers and wanderers
are sacred in the sight of Zeus, and the gift is a light and a dear one.
So, my attendants, give some food and drink to the stranger,
and bathe him, where there is shelter from the wind, in the river.”
On the morning of the day of his departure author awakens refreshed. At the mouth of the port a green landscape greets him. Behind it rise the snow-capped mountains of Asia Minor. Today he will visit a small city named in honor of Pythagoras and the site of a great temple to the goddess of air and earth, the wife and sister of Zeus and mother to other gods.
The Egyptians, says Herodotus, are the first to have maintained the doctrine that the soul of man is immortal, and that, when the body perishes, it enters into another animal that is being born at the time, and when it has completed the round of the creatures, of the dry land, the sea and the air, it enters again into the body of a man at birth. A tiny blue fishing dory makes its way diagonally across the early waters of the harbor, its skipper standing on its aft deck, his face and hands struck by the sun, as a white bird gracefully circles above. And its cycle is completed in 3000 years. Sunday morning church bells begin to toll the hour. Behind the clock tower fog nestles in the valley. There are some Greeks who have adopted this doctrine as if it were their own invention, some in former times and some in later. On the sidewalk below, three trees planted close to one another, having been pollarded, have now had their new shoots tied together. Their names I know but refrain from writing down. Art is exercising its control over Nature.
Overnight two ferries have arrived. Porphyrius, in Vita Pythagorae, quotes Dicaearchus, a follower of Aristotle on the aftermath of Phythagoras’ teaching: One of them, the “Daliana,” is enormous. Subsequently the following tenets became universally known:
- First, that the soul is immortal
- Second, that it changes into other kinds of living things
- Third, that events recur in certain cycles
- Fourth, that nothing is ever absolutely new
- Fifth and finally, that all living things should be regarded as akin
Next to the first ship stands the Stomatis, more modest in scale, which is moving out from the pier, doubtless to visit a smaller island. After an overnight rain, the streets are still slick, but the skies have cleared. As author sits at the breakfast table, a rusted grey freighter slowly enters the harbor and turns about, a maroon stripe at its waterline reflected in the now duller, grey-green waters, clouds again having occluded the heavens. Returned to his room, author steps out onto the balcony for one last view.
A solitary man is fishing off the pier. Pythagoras was interested in science as well as in the fate of the soul (Kirk and Raven). Across the bay three white houses gorgeously nestle together in a little valley between two sloping peaks. The central notions, which held together these two strands of his thought, seem to have been:
- theoria (contemplation)
- kosmos (an orderliness in the arrangement of the universe) and
- katharsis (purification)
At the end of the crescent a single white car passes up the street. By contemplating the principle of order revealed in the universe, especially in the regular movements of the heavenly bodies, and by assimilating himself to that orderliness, man himself was progressively purified until he eventually escaped from the cycle of birth and attained immortality.
Then Nausikaa of the white arms thought what to do next
and urged Odysseus and spoke a word and named him by title:
“Rise up now, stranger, to go to the city, so that I can see you
to the house of my own prudent father, where I am confident
that you will be made known to all the highest Phaiakians.”
Author’s taxi having arrived, we are leaving Samos town by driving first to the end of the crescent. “Then Odysseus rose to go to the city.” Almost at water level we review the harbor’s surface. “Athene, with kind thought for him, drifted a deep mist about him.” We pass the stone lion and head into new territory, the farther half of the port.
But when he was about to enter the lovely city,
there the grey-eyed goddess Athene met him, in the likeness
of a young girl, a little maid, carrying a pitcher,
and she came and stood before him and great Odysseus questioned her:
Artemis is alive in the landscape, though its clear skies have somewhat ominously clouded over.
“My child, would you not show me the way to the house of a certain
man, Alkinoös, who is lord over all these people?
For I am an unhappy stranger, and I have come
a long way from a distant land, and I know nobody
here of the people who keep this city and the fields about it.”
The upper half of the crescent is rather touristically urban, but as we reach its tip the countryside emerges into view, rocky and grassy at once. Pythagoras seems to have been the first to introduce these beliefs into Greece.
We have virtually escaped the confines of the town, even though we have not yet escaped the crescent. He is said by later writers to have visited, and to have learnt from, peoples as various as the Chaldaeans, the Indian Brahmins, the Jews and even the Druids. We glance up towards a modern house on the hillside, four stories high, its second story glassed in. But all that such traditions tell us is that certain similarities were later detected between the teaching of Pythagoras and the beliefs held in countries other than Greece. From here we look through the rear windshield to survey the whole of the crescent.
Having passed its tip, we turn left to ascend a hill and double back behind the crescent on our way out of town. As we rise along this hill we are offered more breathtaking views of the harbor. Light has broken out on a patch of white buildings behind the large ferry. It is possible, but no more (Kirk and Raven again), that in a world which he regarded as dualistic Pythagoras believed that phuxi, “life,” was somehow a unity, a single mass, a part of which was scattered in an impure form throughout the world, while another part, into which the individual soul would be reabsorbed after its final incarnation, retained its purity. Our rate of ascent suddenly decreases. We turn right, and the harbor disappears. We turn left, and it reappears below us. The grey-hulled freighter swings into view, then disappears again. Gradually we are making our way up one side of a valley between two irregular mountains, the town still visible as it recedes over author’s shoulder.
At last we have lost sight of it for good. If one were to believe the Pythagoreans, with the result that the same individual things will recur, then I shall be talking to you again sitting as you are now, with this pointer in my hand, and everything else will be just as it is now, and it is reasonable to suppose that the time then is the same as the time now (Eudemus). We have entered into a new wilderness of tall cedars interspersed with pines, sculpted majestically by Nature herself. We proceed beyond the village suburbs of Samos town.
Approaching Pithagorio, Samos’ second city, as with all Greek island towns we first reach a stretch of road bordered by automobile dealerships, large furniture outlets, buildings under construction. The early Greek assumptions about the soul help to explain why Thales, according to Aristotle, took souls to be present in all sorts of things, including those that we would not normally count as alive (Terence Irwin, Classical Philosophy). Paradoxically, these commercial establishments are followed by farmsteads. In an animal or a human being, the soul is an “origin of change,” since human beings and animals are capable of change as long as they are alive and have souls. Then, more paradoxically yet, all signs of habitation vanish, as we travel through a landscape too rocky for cultivation. Thales generalizes this view still further, suggesting that we should speak of a soul wherever we have an origin of change in a body. Within a kilometer, however, the landscape turns to pure green. Here the film reverses itself, to recapitulate: buildings under construction, large furniture outlets, automobile dealerships.
According to this suggestion, magnets as well as human beings and animals should have souls. The road makes a dramatic curve — a cloud visible behind the mountain — and the new town emerges into view, the sea unfolding beyond, the coast of Turkey in the grey distance. There seems no reason to doubt the tradition that Pythagoras himself discovered that the chief musical intervals are expressible in simple numerical ratios between the first four integers (Kirk and Raven’s paraphrase). If the musical scale depends simply upon the imposition of definite proportions on the indefinite continuum of sound between high and low, might not the same principles, Limit and the Unlimited, underlie the whole universe?
Having traversed Pithagorio without stopping and having continued on out of town, we arrive at the site of Hera’s temple, some six kilometers distant. As author steps out of the taxi, ahead of him, like the Roman numeral “I,” rises its only extant column. If numbers alone are sufficient to explain the “consonances,” might not everything else likewise be expressible as a number or proportion? This is clearly an appropriate site, since Hera herself lounges about in the landscape on all sides of it, except for the one facing the sea. Moreover, since the first four integers contain the secret of the musical scale, their sum, the number 10 (or the Decad) might well “seem to embrace,” as Aristotle puts it, “the very nature of number.”
It has been raining and it is threatening to rain again, for Hera is in one of her fickle moods today. “But now Odysseus
came to the famous house of Alkinoös, and the heart pondered
much in him as he stood before coming to the bronze threshold.
For as from the sun the light goes or from the moon, such was
the glory on the high-roofed house of the great-hearted Alkinoös.
Brazen were the walls run about it in either direction
from the inner room to the door, with a cobalt frieze encircling,
and golden were the doors that guarded the close of the palace,
and silver were the pillars set in the brazen threshold.
As we approach the temple, the ground is soft under foot. “Marriage is the principal event in the life of Greek society and has always been the cause of great celebrations, dancing and feasting” (Maria S. Fafalios).
Virtually all is in ruin here, a great disappointment to the pilgrim. For the Hours received little Hera gladly, and Rhea, her fears that Cronos would devour her daughter laid to rest, set out once more for Greece (Menelaos Stephanides). And so our encounter with Hera will have to be more indirect yet, through archeological plans and reconstructions. “They begin with the engagement, which is arranged by a matchmaker.” The Hours brought Hera up with all the loving care of true mothers. The combination of winter and Sunday means that author has the site entirely to himself. “Love is not a seriously considered factor.” Having rejected the driver’s offer to return him to Pithagorio, he has dismissed the taxicab. “What counts most are the two families and their property holdings.”
Hera grew into a girl so beautiful that the birds and the beasts of the forest were dazzled when they saw her. “Now it was white-armed Arete, wife of Alkinoös and mother of Nausikaa, who began the discourse, questioning how it was that the stranger, who had told them that he had arrived by raft, should be wearing such beautiful clothing.” Yet her beauty did not turn her head. “Resourceful Odysseus then spoke in turn and answered her:
“It is a hard thing, O queen, to tell you without intermission
all my troubles, since the gods of the sky have given me many.
But this I will tell you in answer to the question that you have asked me.”
She was fond of study and learning, and wished to become a goddess worthy and capable of aiding both gods and mortals. “The engagement usually takes place in the evening, so that it may be kept a secret and not be ruined by the envious or ill-wishers.”
“There is an island, Ogygia, which lies in the water far off.
Here the daughter of Atlas, subtle Kalypso lives, with ordered
hair, a dread goddess, and there is no one, neither a god
nor a mortal person, who keeps her company. I was unhappy,
I alone whom my destiny brought there to her hearth,
when Zeus with a gathered cast of the shining lightning
shattered my fast ship midway on the wine-blue water.”
And so she asked the Hours ceaseless questions on every subject under the sun. “This is why the lantern that the matchmaker carries with her when she visits the houses in the evening became her symbol.” These fond foster-mothers took her for walks, showed her the sky and the earth, and explained how the winter comes, and the spring, and the summer. “The first official conversation between the two families, held at the prospective bride’s home, deals with her dowry and the economic situation of the prospective groom.”
“There all the rest of my excellent companions perished,
but I, catching in my arms the keel of the oar-swept vessel,
was carried for nine days, and on the tenth in the black night
the gods brought me to the island Ogygia, where Kalypso
lives, and she received me and loved me excessively and
cared for me and promised to make of me an immortal, but
nevertheless she could never win over the heart within me.”
“When the assembled parties agree upon the terms, everyone is then treated to sweets, and wishes are made for a good start in life.” Drumlike bases of several columns remain in situ, but elsewhere the capitals of no longer extant columns have been situated where their bases would earlier have been.
Hera has collapsed and returned to the earth. They would often take her off to a mountain, show her the clouds and the sea and explain how thunder and lightning and storms are caused. “‘The stormwind,’ said Odysseus,” expanding his narrative to include his voyage from Ogygia to Scheria, “‘scattered my raft far and wide, and I now / made my way across the great gulf by swimming, until / the wind and the water carried me and drove me to your shore.’” “Part of the agreement is the setting of the date of the wedding itself, and this involves a visit to the notary for the writing up of the dowry.” When night fell, they would show her the starry sky and teach her to pick out the constellations. Only after author has clambered up and off every available surface does he come upon a sign asking that the monument “be respected.” Hera never tired of listening to all that the Hours had to tell.
“The dowry usually consists of fields, various sizes of olive groves, vineyards, clothes and other articles.” She had now learned the mysteries of the skies and felt immortal power stirring within her. Disappointed with the meagerness of the remains, author is up and off, past an olive grove, past a vineyard, past an open field, to begin his return on foot to the city. “The herald came near, bringing with him Demodokos, / the excellent singer, whom the Muse had loved greatly and given both good and evil.” She loved the sky and would exclaim with girlish simplicity: “The prenuptial agreement also fixes the ‘deposito.’” “Oh, how I would love to be Queen of the Heavens!” “This is the guarantee paid by whichever of the two parties breaks the engagement.” “She reft him of his eyes, but she gave him the sweet singing art.” “The amount of the deposit is fixed in accordance with the economic circumstances of each family.”
The skies have clouded over completely. Again mist has formed in the valleys between the bare mountains. “After the drawing up of the dowry agreement a date is set for the ‘filocheria’ (kissing of hands), which always takes place on a Friday.” “Natural Herb and Honey Stop” read hand-painted blue letters, two feet high, on a white wall, as we reenter the main road that will take us back to the seaside town.
Pontonoös set out a silver-studded chair for Demodokos
in the midst of the feasters, propping it against a tall column,
and the herald hung the clear lyre on a peg placed over his head,
and showed him how to reach up with his hand and take it
down, then set beside him a table and a fine basket,
and beside him a cup to drink whenever his spirit desired it.
“On this afternoon the prospective bride comes to the home of the prospective groom, accompanied exclusively by married women.” Before long we pass an olive grove bordered by fruit trees that are still blossoming, their leaves a light green. “The mother-in-law puts the rings on the hands of her son and the bride-to-be.” Within fifty yards we come upon an orchard entirely in bloom, upon a ploughed field bordered in olive trees. “Then the parents, the brothers and sisters and the other relatives hang gold pieces on the new couple.” Ahead rises the massive form of Hera in mystery, a mountain with multiple moundings, mist enveloped. “With each gift the couple kisses the hands of the gift giver.”
In amidst two olive groves set perpendicular to one another a field has been ploughed in high rows, water puddling in between the ridges. “So this ceremony is called the “hand-kissing.” The whole island, it would seem, is sacred to Hera. “He sang of the quarrel between Odysseus and Peleus’ son, Achilleus, and of many other matters.” Along the road we encounter an ancient gun emplacement, camouflaged in brown and green. “The evening ends with the treating of everyone to sweets and hand-made items in exchange for offering the couple many blessings.” Ahead lies a farmer’s white cottage, its front yard filled with orange trees. “These things the famous singer sang for them, but Odysseus,
taking in his ponderous hands the great mantle dyed in
sea-purple, drew it over his head and veiled his fine features,
shamed for tears running down his face before the Phaiakians;
and every time the divine singer would pause in his singing,
he would take the mantle away from his head, wipe the tears away,
and, taking up a two-handled goblet, pour a libation to the gods.
Spectral birds flitter in and out of bushes along the wayside. We pass a white stuccoed farmhouse, its pillars, like the facings of its windows, in pale blue. We pass another house with a front gate, its pillars, like its lintel, in grey. “This whole process is called the anivasmata (the ‘rising’), because it advances the wedding process.” Over a broad green field, olive trees rising modestly beyond it, the larger undulant landscape opens up, parts of it light-struck, parts of it darker green, parts of it looking like a landscape by Wen Zheng-ming to which Southern Sung mist has been superadded. “After the hand-kissing ceremony, the prospective groom freely visits the house of his prospective bride each Thursday and Saturday.” We reach an orchard filled entirely with orange trees, the fruit already ripe. “This is considered obligatory, and it is taken as a bad omen, if he does not come.”
We pass an orchard whose trees have been recently cut to a height of three feet. “The young man brings along sweets or nuts.” Their hapless shrubbery is no higher than the walls that enclose Hera’s temple. “The couple is never left alone.” We pass the fork in the road that leads thereto. “They are always accompanied by a relative of the bride.” We pass a corrugated shed that has been camouflaged. “If a crisis arises in the relationships between them, the matchmaker always hurries in to patch it up and to calm everyone down.” Now a spectacular vista opens out to the sea, dark blue under grey skies, which are dripping with rain. In the near ground olive trees fill the horizon. A green sward returns the eye to the near ground, which, for all its length, has but a single tree standing in its very center. “If the agreement falls apart, she must return the gifts from the hand-kissing ceremony to all those who had given them.”
We pass a bush of forsythia trained against a fence. “The preparations for the wedding begin on the first Sunday after the nuptials when the future couple had gone to church and taken communion together.” Up the road several hundred yards, at the entrance to a driveway, the modern flag of Greece, blue and white, flutters and droops. “The next day, Monday, exactly seven days before the mystery of marriage is to be performed, the bride’s dowry is taken out and washed by her unmarried female friends, to the accompaniment of songs and best wishes.” Having reached a very modest elevation, we look out over the tops of olive trees, past a band of open beige fields, and on to the sea, which has lightened slightly, though it seems troubled, if not plainly turbulent. “Afterwards the freshly washed dowry is laid out in chests, the number of which is used as a measurement of its size.”
We encounter the broadest and deepest field yet. “On Thursday two girls, one from each family, undertake the task of making the invitations, going from house to house formally to apprise the guests of the wedding.” “Demodokos struck the lyre and began singing well the story / about the love of Ares and sweet-garlanded Aphrodite.” “On the afternoon of the same day the marriage bed is made, a custom that can be found in most parts of Greece.” “How they first lay together in the house of Hephaistos secretly.” In the midst of its rich brown soil are many rocks. “He gave her much and fouled the marriage / bed of the lord Hephaistos.” In its midst a windmill is turning. “Then to him came as messenger / Helios, the sun, who had seen them lying in love together.” Smoke arises from within an olive grove.
We are offered a closer view of two mountains that earlier we had seen only from afar. “First the whole room is decorated, except for the bed.” Between them rises a monstrous pudendum, to its left and right two mounded, symmetrical breasts, the left slightly larger than the right. “Next the girlfriends of the bride, who have gathered there for that purpose, make the bed, topping it with the ‘richtan,’ a lavish and expensive bedspread, and two pillows and everything that has been embroidered.”
Hephaistos, when he had heard the heartsore story of it,
went on his way to the smithy, his heart overcome with hard sorrows
and set the great anvil upon its stand, and hammered out fastenings
that could not be slipped or broken, to hold them fixed in position.
“Over the finished bed they shower petals and rice, so the couple will ‘take root.’” We pass a small house whose stuccoed face has been painted pink and blue. “These two / went to bed, and slept there, and all about them were bending / the artful bonds that had been / forged by subtle Hephaistos.” Its doors and the facings of its windows have been painted white. “So neither of them could stir a limb or get up.” “So as to insure that the couple will have a son, they also set a small boy on the bed.”
We come to a house with a sign that advertises amphibious activities. “The two sets of parents toss money on the bed, as a gift but also as a symbolic gesture on behalf of the new household’s prosperity, the girls all the while singing.” We come to a house, the first, which is painted yellow. “The gifts arrive from everywhere, until Sunday, the wedding day, and they too are placed on the bed.” We view it over a green field filled with yellow wild flowers. “Now they saw the truth, and there was no longer a way out for them.” Across the road from the house is parked an ancient Volkswagen bus in pale blue and white. “The glorious smith of the strong arms came and stood nearby.” “The ceremony is usually performed in the church, more rarely at home.” “He took his way back to his own house, heart grieved within him, / and gave out a terrible cry and called to all the immortals.” “The instruments, clarinet, violin, zither and the like, play first below the bride’s house, where the groom arrives with his own family. Then the bride comes out in all her wedding finery, and the procession sets off for the church.”
“Father Zeus and all you other blessed immortal gods,
come here and observe a ridiculous sight, no seemly
matter, how Aphrodite, the daughter of Zeus, forever
holds me in little favor, but she loves ruinous Ares
because he is handsome, and goes soundly on his feet, while I am
misshapen from birth, and for this I regard no other responsible
but my own father and mother and wish that they never had got me.”
“This is always led by an unmarried girl bearing a tray for the wedding crowns and the candied almonds, the ‘koufetes,’ while to her right and left walk a boy and girl grasping large candles. These are followed by the musicians and immediately behind them by the bride and her family, then, farther back, by the groom and his.”
We have passed the two large mounded breasts of the landscape and have come upon two much perkier stone tits, perhaps those of a 22-year-old. “At the ceremony two young people stand behind the couple, the best man and the woman, who cannot be orphans.” “So he spoke, and the gods gathered to the house with the brazen / floor.” A sign indicates the road leading off to the modern airport. “The young guests take a bag of candied almonds from the tray and put it on their pillow, so that they will dream of the one they themselves are about to marry.” “And Poseidon came, the shaker of the earth, and the kindly / Hermes came, and the lord who works from afar, Apollo came.” On the blue wall of a house has been painted a swan, a golden sun, and a clump of grass, among which red flowers are blooming. “But the female gods remained each at her home, for modesty’s sake.”
In Book 7 Homer describes the garden
Orchard at Phaiakia: flowers, fruit,
Vineyards — even vegetables.
From a fountain a clear stream
Flows into the palace itself.
As Odysseus enters, guests make
A final libation to Hermes. Invisible,
He reaches the king and queen: then
Revealed, throws his arms about
The knees of maternal Arete.
Alcinous addresses him as a father,
Removing Laodamas, his own son,
From a seat beside the throne. Arising
From the ashes of the hearth, the hero takes
The place of the son, to eat and drink.
Later on Cervantes has Quixote
Extol Amadis of Gaul’s virtues —
For Sancho’s benefit. Then, seeming
To change the subject, the Don says
That a painter "must copy the best painters";
That this rule holds for all professions.
In fact, he says, he who desires
To be known for patience and prudence must
Imitate Ulysses, in whose person
Homer embodies those virtues;
Just — the Don continues — as Vergil,
In Aeneas, gives us a picture of the
Dutiful Son, the skillful, courageous,
Sagacious captain. They describe them,
He says, not as they were,
But as they should have been, to serve
As examples for future generations.
“After the ceremony, and once back home, the couple offers everyone a drink of soumada (orgeat of almonds) brandy, or raki, along with a pastry, and as they leave they receive a handful of candied almonds wrapped in cloth. The groom is then called to the wedding table. The first dish is pilaf, served, in agreement with custom, with the rendered fat from a rooster. The table is replete with all food imaginable. The wine flows freely, and the whole village is invited to a celebration that lasts till morning and takes place in the main square.”
The gods, the givers of good things, stood there in the forecourt,
And amongst the blessed immortals uncontrollable laughter
Went up as they saw the handiwork of subtle Hephaistos.
“Often when the newlyweds come from a poor family, the elders who run the local government place a tax on the inhabitants to pay for the wedding. This is where the well-known phrase ‘Someone else always pays for the bride’ comes from.” “And thus they would speak to each other, each looking at the god next to him:
“No virtue in bad dealings. See, the slow one has overtaken
the swift, as now slow Hephaistos has overtaken Ares,
swiftest of all the gods on Olympos, by artifice, though he
was lame, and Ares must pay the adulterer’s damage.”
“The newlyweds are the first to begin the wedding syrtos dance.” We approach civilization. “The party goes on all evening and often till daybreak.” “Taverna Argo” presents its large sign, the “Taverna” depicted as though atop a high mountain. “On the morrow following the wedding, at midday, the in-laws take to the newlyweds’ house ‘loukoumades,’ a kind of local doughnut, and other sweets.” The “Hotel Athenais” follows immediately. “The first Sunday after the wedding the couple goes to the church to receive the blessings of the priest.” Still, however, the 22-year-old’s tight belly and bosom rear themselves above the scene. “So mighty Hephaistos spoke and undid the fastenings. Then straightway
the two of them, when they were set free of the fastenings, though they
were strong, sprang up, and Ares took his way Thraceward,
while she, Aphrodite, lover of laughter, returned to Paphos
on Cyprus, where lies her sacred precinct and her smoky altar,
and there the Graces bathed her and anointed her with ambrosial
oil, such as abounds for the gods who are everlasting,
and put delightful clothing about her, a wonder to look on.
“After this final ceremony, their everyday life as man and wife finally begins.”
As we approach the town, more of the sea begins to open up. Iris, one of the goddesses of the sky, was very fond of Hera. The skies have improved a little, but again it has grown colder with the advance of the day. Often, to please her, she would deck the heavens with the hues of the rainbow. Into a freshly cemented sidewalk have been inscribed two recent graffiti: And Hera could never gaze deeply enough upon its beauty. “Love,” says the first, “99,” then a heart; “Love,” says the second, “99,” followed by another heart, a knife driven through it. Of all the creatures that lived in the lovely land of the Hesperides, Hera was especially fond of a large bird whose tail resembled a starry sky. A dog’s paw prints fill the next long segment of sidewalk. This was the peacock, which became Hera’s inseparable companion.
We have now passed the stony 22-year-old, only to find beside the road a sign marking the site as “Archaic Sanctuary of Artemis.” On the right a sign leads the traveler off to an early Christian basilica. We have reached the end of the sidewalk and prepare for another stretch of Nature. A large sign, erected by the Archaeological Service, indicates the “Athletic Area of Ancient Samos.” The sidewalk recommences.
We pass the Thermae, the ancient Roman baths. Next we are treated to an uninterrupted view of the mountainside, largely devoid, for a change, of anthromorphic or divine features. “‘Goodbye, stranger,’” said Nausikaa, “and gazed upon Odysseus with all her eyes and admiration.” “‘Think of me sometimes when you are back and home, and how I was the first you owed your life to.’” Opposite the mountainside lies the beach, indicated by a picture of a nude bather. We move along toward two olive groves on either side of the road. “Then resourceful Odysseus spoke in turn and answered her:” One masking the mountain, one the sea. “‘Nausikaa, daughter of great-hearted Alkinoös.’” If you fight all your sense-perceptions, you will have no standard to refer to in judging even those sense-perceptions that you say are false (Epicurus). “‘Even so may Zeus, high-thundering husband of Hera, grant me to reach my house.’” If you reject outright any sense-perception, and do not distinguish the belief and what awaits confirmation from what is now present in the sense-perception. “‘And see my day of homecoming.’” In the affections, and in every application of thought to appearance, you will also disturb the rest of your sense-perceptions with your empty belief. “‘So even when I am there.’” You will affirm everything that awaits confirmation and what has no confirmation, but you will not escape error. “‘I will pray to you, as to a goddess all the days of my life.’” Rather, you will have maintained every disputable point in every judgment. “‘For, maiden, my life was your gift.’” About what is correct or incorrect.
Resourceful Odysseus called the herald over and spoke to him,
but first he cut a piece from the loin of the pig with shining
teeth, one that had most of the meat left on it, and was edged with rich fat:
“Here, herald, take this piece of meat to Demodokos so that
he may eat, and I, though a sorry man, may embrace him.
For with all peoples upon the earth singers are entitled to be cherished
and to have their share of respect, since the Muse has taught them
her own way, and since she loves all the company of singers.”
On our approach to the city the chilly wind ratchets up yet another notch. Foregoing the famous Eupalinos tunnel, we look out toward the sea instead. A sign advertises “Taverna Lemontes,” immediately after which we enter the town proper. “Olympic,” reads a commercial sign, as we forego yet another archaeological site, the Castle. Entering the central part of the town, the road begins to rise again.
So he spoke, and the herald took the portion and placed it
in the hands of the hero Demodokos, who received it happily.
On our right, at a most undistinguished site, we stumble upon the “Temple of Aphrodite.”
So the famous singer sang his tale, but Odysseus
melted, and from under his eyes the tears ran down drenching
his cheeks, and they went unnoticed by all the others,
but Alkinoös alone understood what he did and noticed,
since he was sitting next him and heard him groaning heavily.
As we take our leave of Samos, we take leave of the Northeast Aegean islands as well, to enter into the Dodecanese. “Odysseus spoke aloud to the oar-loving Phaiakians \ addressing his words to Alkinoös beyond all others:” On our way to Kalymnos, Kos and Rodos, we will be passing, mostly under the cover of darkness, Agathonisi, Patmos, Lipsi, and the infamous Leros.
“Make libation and send me on my untroubled way, and
yourselves fare well, for all my heart’s desire is rewarded,
conveyance and loving gifts. May the sky gods cause these
to prosper for me. May I return to my house and find there
a blameless wife, and all who are dear to me unharmed.”
We are approaching landfall on the inhospitable island of Agathonisi. “Meanwhile, the ship had been got ready.” Goats are climbing up its cliffs. “The next day Odysseus would sail at sunset.” We have ventured into a little cove, where there is nothing but large rocks and a dozen buildings all painted blue and white. “In the first light of dawn they had carried the presents down to the quay.” Along its wharf: a pile of sand, another of gravel. “And Alkinoös himself had been there to see them safely stowed in the ship’s hold.” The skies have cleared, turning the water a deep cobalt. Even at mid afternoon it is almost freezing, author huddling for warmth by the ship’s smokestack. Onto the pier our hold releases a white pickup, followed by an open-bed truck piled with sticks. Rifles by their sides, a dozen soldiers congregate on the quay, as two larger trucks packed with produce back off the ship, followed by a single white sedan.
By the time that we have arrived at Patmos the sun has set, but the cloudy moonlit sky is dramatically alive. Four stark streetlights glare out at the viewer, as we enter the small harbor. “The Dodecanese islanders were the first Greeks to convert to Christianity.” Higher up on the hillside, in among sepulchral buildings, more ghostly lights come on. “This was through the tireless efforts of St. Paul, who made two journeys to the archipelago.” The domes of the harbor’s two white churches are silhouetted against a grey-green, darkening background. “And through the efforts of St. John, who was banished to the island of Patmos.” A red car with its red rear lights burning is parked as though waiting for something to happen. “It was here that his Revelation took place.” The skies lower. “Odysseus had been impatient for the homeward voyage to begin and kept looking upwards at the sun, anxious to see it set.” The red car creeps off into the darkness. “When its bright disk was low above the horizon.” It is fearfully cold. “They had all arisen and filled their cups with wine.” A little girl, dressed completely in red, seems lost on the pier. Straining to back off the ship is a canvas-rigged truck filled with swine, whose grunts and squeals grow loader as it bumps down the gangplank. Yet other vehicles follow, almost colliding with on-loading passengers. A few remaining rays of light fleece low-lying black clouds. Atop a church in the dusk a blue neon cross comes on.
From Samos to Agathonisi, and again from Agathonisi to Patmos, author for the first time in his Aegean travels has slept soundly at sea, though with each landfall he has been awakened by the commotion. “When the sun had set, Odysseus went aboard ship and lay down on a mattress spread with fresh linen, which the crew had put out for him.” At Lipsi he arises again; having stepped on deck, however, only to find it blackened by night, he returns to bed.
As we approach Leros, the clouds have darkened considerably but now remain faintly illuminated by the moon. “Then they had sat down and whipped up the sea with their oars, while the gods sent Odysseus into a sleep so sweet and sound he might have been a dead man.” Rounding a black mountain, we enter the harbor. “As he was leaving he had handed a cup to Arete.” As we turn our attention to the quay, the soldiers among our complement prepare to debark. “‘May all be well with you, most noble queen,’” he had said to her.” The driver of an empty truck starts up his engine. “‘I wish you health, and the joy of home and family.’” A full moon emerges through the clouds. “And with these words he had crossed the Phaiakian lintel for the last time, tears shining in his eyes.” At each new port, without a precise itinerary and with no signs identifying the new island, each time we land author must ask by devious means where it is that we have arrived. “Swifter than a stallion the Phaiakian vessel leapt across the waves.
“Not even the falcon could have matched her speed.” Kalymnos nighttime promenade. “And he is the fleetest of all wingèd creatures.” At last we have come to rest. “Onward she sped bearing homeward a man whose wisdom matched that of the gods.” Along the harbor author has come upon a statue of Poseidon. “Who now slept quietly, forgetting all his troubles.” In his upraised hand he bears a trident. Though the god also fathered many human children (Stephanides), most of his offspring were monsters and brought men nothing but ill fortune. The trident’s base extends beneath his foot. Not that this should strike us as strange. Which rests upon an elevated pedestal. For we should never forget that Poseidon was the god of the sea, and that the sea has given men bitter experience.
High above on the mountain rises a concrete cross, lit from below by electric light. Its call draws the bold like a magnet. Some distance away stands a monastery, it too brilliantly illuminated. Yet how often are brave seafarers sucked down beneath its foaming waves! Both the streets and the sidewalks of this modest port are under construction. How often are the hopes and dreams of men shattered like the wreckage that strews its waters, and those who long for the return of loved ones filled with despair! Or rather reconstruction.
Yet most of the time the god of the seas is a protector of ships, and then they set their sails to a fair wind and make a safe and speedy voyage. Everything in the harbor bears a transitional signature. As well as being ruler of the waves, Poseidon, true Greek god that he is, also protects the land of his birth from its enemies. Since the ferry to Kos will be leaving at 7:00 am, and it is now midnight, author’s stroll must be abbreviated. Legend, for instance, has it that he thrust his trident into the sea and stirred up waves as high as mountains to wreck the Persian fleet upon the rocky shores of Athos, when Xerxes sailed to invade Greece. We pass a large handsome ship, the Marco Polo, in ordinary brown wood and white trim. And at the battle of Salamis it is said that Poseidon himself brought confusion upon the Persians and helped the Greeks to shatter them. Once he has reached the end of a harbor side devoted to pleasure boats, author returns to the Olympic Hotel.
Athena, goddess of wisdom was born from the head of Zeus. As he proceeds down its hallway to his room, he comes upon a reproduction of Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus.” An unusual birth, but one with a very logical explanation: wisdom springs from the head of the lord of gods and men! Author retires for the night. When Hephaestus brought his hammer down upon his father’s brow, suddenly it flashed with unearthly light, and from it sprang Pallas Athena. The earth gave a terrifying shudder, the blue sea was whipped into fury and the sun, his immortal horses reined in, stood motionless in the sky.
Punctual 6:00 am departure from Kalymnos to Kos, lights no longer shining on concrete cross, on monastery, on pier. We are leaving the harbor, leaving behind a red-hulled fishing boat, leaving behind a freighter to pass the blinking red light at the end of the quay, to exit across waters stilled by a calm morning sky, its horizon streaked in rose and grey above a nearly symmetrical stretch of the Turkish coast, whose mountainous form once again is not humanoid but merely natural. We are heading for the town of Kos. The skies are exhilaratingly clear, the wind brisk and refreshing.
Author mounts to upper deck to view the magnificent Alpine ridge that tops the island of our destination. We recede ever farther from Kalymnos, or rather it recedes from us. Soon we are passing the smaller island of Pserimos, the land mass of Turkey visible ahead of us to the east. At Cape Scandario we will turn south to enter the port of Kos.
Hermes, to aid Odysseus
In combating Kirke’s magic, gives him
Moly, the fabled plant, whose black
Root and white flower some
Think symbolize man’s nature.
Hermes himself mediates
Between heaven and earth,
The world and the underworld, where,
In Book 11, Odysseus,
Hermes-like, finds himself.
Allegorical reading is always
Dangerous, but also inevitable.
For the Neo-Platonist, moly
Stood for paideia, the education
That would enable man to raise the power
Of light within him, dispel the dark
Of his earthly and sensual being. Hermes
Thrice-mighty dispensed that light.
For the alchemist, moly represented
The lapis, agent of transmutation,
Or the transformation of consciousness.
Having entered the port and found a hotel, expecting to encounter Athena we instead encounter Aphrodite again, for the Hotel Astron’s adult channel is showing “Dirty French Bitches,” “Lusty English Lesbians” and “The Life of Reilly.” Mild weather has returned. After a stroll to the end of the harbor author returns past the many private boats moored alongside it: in red, the “Themistocles,” in blue and white, the “Kalypso.” Pictured on the latter’s stern are the islands of Kalymnos, Pserimos, Kos and Nisyros. With its stern to us, as though for immediate departure, has docked the “Hermes,” its decks in yellow, its hull in blue. Have we landed on Ithaka?
“Hercules,” says Dimitrios Davaris in his guide to Kos, “on his return from Troy, where this greatest of heroes had gone to perform a secondary labor, arrived at the island with several of his companions.” Author takes seat at a café opposite Demotiki Agora, between whose two words are depicted two clusters of grapes, one blue, the other green. “Being all of them hungry and very tired.” Waitress arrives to take order: Greek coffee and French croissant. “With his companions the greatest of heroes marched toward the island’s interior.” The sun is shining brightly on this pleasant plaza, designated, in Italianate English, “The Piazza of Freedom.” “On their way they met the shepherd Antagoras, who was grazing his sheep.” Streaming past his table are more beautiful girls than author has seen during all his time in Greece. “Whereupon Hercules asked Antagoras to sell him a sheep.” This is not the realm of Athena but of Aphrodite.
One spring morning long ago in distant Cyprus the nymphs and dryads of the forest awoke with a feeling of surprise (Menelaos Stephanides). Across the way stands a jewelry store. “Antagoras, who was famous for exceptional strength, challenged Hercules to wrestle with him instead for the sheep.” On its awning, in silver, reads the word “Yiota.” This particular morning had a different aura: it was cooler and more fragrant. “If Hercules won, he would receive the sheep without payment.” The light was clearer, the earth greener, the sky bluer. A drop dead gorgeous girl in a yellow jacket strolls by. The flowers more thickly strewn and beautiful. “Cosmima,” reads the awning, across the plaza, of another jewelry store, its name picked out in gold against a white ground. The birds and the beasts seemed happier. “Perhaps from egoistic motives, but also because he and his companions were hungry, Hercules accepted the challenge, and the wrestling contest began.”
In a crystalline light three girls have taken seats at a small marble-topped table next to author. The newly born goddess had sprung from the waves and set foot upon the shore. “Many inhabitants of Astypalaia, the capital of Kos, gathered to watch this struggle between Hercules and Antagoras.” One of the girls is a redhead, one a brunette, one a blonde. She was the goddess of beauty and love, the daughter of Uranus, the peerlessly charming Aphrodite. “When they saw that Hercules proved the stronger of the two and that Antagoras could not prevail, they began to come to the latter’s aid.” To her lips the blonde has applied a heavy paste of red, to her eyes, a black mascara. How had this birth come about? In her cleavage dangles a golden cross. “At this, the companions of Hercules imitated those of Antagoras, and so the fight transformed into a battle.” The brunette, her hair fashionably cropped, is dressed in a taupe coat that reaches to her ankles. When Cronus had wounded Uranus with a sickle and caused him to lose his throne. The dazzling redhead inserts into the curly locks atop her head a pair of green sunglasses framed in gold. A small portion of his flesh fell into the sea off the coast of Cythera. All three girls converse vivaciously, their coffees, their tall glasses of water as yet untouched. There formed, on the spot where it dropped, a patch of foam. “As the battle grew more and more intense, the townspeople gaining an advantage, Hercules slipped away from the fray, taking refuge in the home of a woman from Thrace.” It grew and grew until suddenly, from the midst of the snow-white mass, there appeared a resplendent, fully formed beauty. “As King Euvripilos, who considered him a pirate, gave chase, Hercules, dressed in the woman’s clothes, escaped to the mountainous part of the island.” At the sight of the lovely goddess the sea swelled with joy, and fish jumped into the foam to delight her. In tight Levis another gorgeous pair of blondes passes through the square, the sun glinting off their artificial locks.
“There, finding the inhabitants more hospitable, Hercules disclosed to them what had happened and who he was.” Sea birds brought forth a great shell shaped like a chariot, and upon it the goddess seated herself. The blondes re-cross the plaza, their bare midriffs adorned with silver belly button studs. “Hercules, whose fame had preceded him, denounced the inhospitality of Euvripilos and convinced the inhabitants of Kos that their king had violated the rule which says that one must receive all strangers with magnanimity.” On high black heels they totter out of view. With a fluttering of countless sighs and harsh shrieks of joy the gulls drew the sea-borne chariot across the waves to Cyprus. “This passive stand of the great son of Hera, coupled with the King’s deficiency, persuaded the mountainous citizens of Kos to follow Hercules, who forthwith declared war on Euvripilos.” When the goddess set foot on the island, all nature rejoiced. At the adjacent table, the resplendent blonde, redhead and brunette continue to converse. As she passed by, fragrant flowers of many hues sprang up, and a carpet of cool green appeared beneath her feet, whilst overhead the birds sang cheerfully. “Later on from Hercules was born the Herculean Thessaios, whose sons, Fidippos and Antifos led thirty ships from Kos to the Trojan War.” This is no Judgment of Paris but rather a choice among three Aphrodites.
The Hours and the Graces arrived at once to welcome and tend her. The clock in the Piazza tolling noon, author arises for more adventure. Before a fashionable clothing store, The Guerrilla Republic, he engages its owner in conversation and is invited in to view photographs, in which this thirty-year-old Koan appears side by side with Miss Greece, an Athenian.
Author: You know, ever since I arrived in Kos, where I had thought to find Athena, I find that everywhere instead I am encountering Aphrodite, and now you have shown me a picture of Miss Greece. They dressed the lovely goddess in a shining robe. But why, as you tell me, is she “coming from Athens”? Patiently they combed her golden hair.
Owner: Why ees Miss Greece coming from Athens? On her brow they placed a golden diadem. Eet ees be-cause we open a shop and Miss Athens, who ees a top model, ees coming from Athens to Kos, so that she may show the clothes. Decked with fragrant violets.
Author: But you are not telling me, are you, that the islands do not also have beautiful women of their own? Then they fastened sparkling earrings upon her ears.
Owner: Oh yes, they have many beautiful girls. And adorned her neck with golden necklaces. But they are very young. Whilst her lovely hands they decorated with glittering rings and bracelets. When I say “young,” I mean they are thirteen to seventeen years old!
Author: Sort of like . . . Nausikaa. And thus the fairest girl and goddess ever born was adorned with the world’s most beautiful jewels. The young maiden that Odysseus encounters. And by hands most worthy to perform that task. Who, you recall, is about to be married.
Owner: Yes, yes, they are as you say, like Nausikaa! The radiance of her loveliness transformed the world.
Author: And these young girls that you mention, are they more like Artemis, or Athena, or Aphrodite? Now the sun shone brighter and the birds sang more sweetly.
Owner: Ah, yes, yes, yes, I believe that you understand. The wild creatures of the forest would await her passing and seize the moment to gambol joyfully about her.
Author: Thank you very much. And Aphrodite, exulting in the power bestowed by her grace and beauty, walked proudly through a rejoicing Nature.
Owner: You are welcome. As yet the other gods, however, had not set eyes upon her.
Author: Now tell me, if you will, about your store. But soon the Hours and the Graces lifted the lovely girl upon a billowy cloud and carried her swiftly to Olympus. We are examining your merchandise, which is very beautiful (author examining yet more photographs of owner, beautiful models on either arm). So great was the impression that her beauty made upon the Olympians that it seemed as if blindness had dimmed their eyes.
Owner: Yes, we do this in summer time. Soon they had realized who she was and hastened to embrace her. Each year we make the festival about Miss Kos. For everyone wanted to talk with her and enjoy her delightful company.
Author: Miss Kos, you say. And she would reply gracefully, her queenly face glowing with happiness. You have an annual festival in honor of Miss Kos?
Owner: Yes. And her sweet words accompanied by a charming smile. Miss Kos. Now by a captivating gesture. Thees geerl here ees Miss Kos (showing photo). And now by a look which held her listener enthralled.
Author: And these other girls, in these three photos?
Owner: Thees one is from Sweden, and thees one from Austria, and thees one from Finland. Aphrodite was the queen of eternal beauty and goddess of love.
Author: Yes, the Finnish girls are really very special, aren’t they?
Owner: Oh yes, oh yes. And from the towering heights of Olympus she ruled over the hearts of men.
Author: Now where is this girl from (new photograph)? Helped by her little son.
Owner: She is, I believe, from South Africa. The wingèd Eros.
Author: Here, it seems. I recognize you again (another photo) with two Miss Greeces. Whose arrows never missed their mark. But here (yet another photo) is another girl who is even more beautiful. Both sorrow and joy she dealt to all men. And where is she from? Both a joyful happiness and a bitter disappointment.
Owner: From Kos. The gods, too. She is Miss Kos. Were often smitten by her shafts.
Author: You know, I think you are prejudiced. Why? Because the girls from Kos are really more beautiful than the girls from Athens. For there was no one.
Owner: No, no, no. Mortal or immortal. You cannot say that. Who could resist the power of the Cyprian goddess.
Author: Well, then, perhaps this is a political question. As she is sometimes called.
Owner: Political? For she protected those who know the meaning of true love.
Author: Yes. Of all living creatures, though. You know, yesterday I was staying in Samos at the Aeolus Hotel, and when I went out on the balcony I looked down and saw many policemen. It was doves that she loved best. On the sidewalk were a television camera crew and a girl interviewing the Prime Minister.
Owner: Yes, I know, he was coming from Athens.
Author: But I noticed that the girl was very beautiful and that he was not so handsome. For these birds couple as soon as they are born.
Owner: No, he is not very handsome. And their love endures till death.
Author: So this must be a political question. “Here (Dimitrios Davaris) are found parts from the columns of the temple, which are in the Corinthian style.”
Owner: Yes (laughing), I see. “And inside the marble enclosure were located two temples of the same size.” Thees question of the beauty, as you say, ees a poleetical question.
Author: Yes. “And the temple was called The Sanctuary of The Universal Venus.”
Dusk outing, the sun, having just set, blushing the undersides of blue-grey clouds pink with the distant rays of departed Apollo. The sacred island of Delos was not always fixed in its present position (in the archipelago of the Cyclades) but for eons drifted endlessly over the seas and oceans (Menelaos Stephanides). In search of other gods who have governed the history of Kos, author ventures out into the streets of the modern town. Until the goddess Leto set foot upon its shores, fear and anguish written upon her face. After a day spent under Aphrodite’s dominance, he is still looking for other divinities to manifest themselves. For in her womb she bore two of Zeus’ children.
Having quickly traversed the streets of this small town, we enter into a half day-lit, half moon-lit scene on its outskirts. Apollo and Artemis he called them. Cypresses no longer green in the dimness point their elegant spires toward the low-lying cloud cover, itself now dissolving in darkness. Leto was seeking an hospitable place to give birth. Modern Kos has its beauties too: a filling station, painted half red, half blue, twinkles with tiny white lights that flash on and off at random. “O island,” cried the goddess, “age-long wanderer upon the waves, give me refuge and allow me to bear my children.” Leaving behind the mild if mysterious landscape, author returns into the city’s byways.
He has stopped at a gyros shop for dinner. “For I have been hunted the world over by the Python, that fearsome monster which jealous Hera sent after me to seek revenge.” Where a television set is showing awkward Athenians at discus, high jump and running events, all on a modern track. “I have visited Attica, Lesbos and Chios — I have been everywhere.” “Saturday in Athens gold medalist Antje Buschschulte from Germany, bronze medalist Mary Lyn Chiang from Canada and silver medalist Kellie McMillan from Australia show their medals during the award ceremony for the 50 meter backstroke final.” “Receive me now, O island.” “At the fifth World Short-Course Swimming Championship.” “You who know what is meant by endless wandering.” In a window within the gyros shop, shutters have been thrown open, and on its high sill a model of a chicken is crowing. (Photo caption in Kathimerini, the English-language paper.) “And I promise you that Apollo, the son whom I shall bear, will raise on your soil a splendid temple that will make your name renowned.”
Dinner finished, back out on the street we pass a courier service, having once again reached the outskirts of this little town, this time on the harbor’s opposite side. Hardly had these words passed Leto’s lips, when a violent trembling shook the whole of Delos. “In 554 A.D. (Dimitrios Davaris) one of the most terrible earthquakes ever to take place destroyed the city completely.” Two huge rocks thrust themselves upwards from the seabed and the island settled firmly upon them. “According to the historian Agathas, whose travels had taken him to Kos, tremors and explosions brought about landslides, the sea rushed inward and at once submerged the coasts; then the sea waters, in their rush to return, carried away and destroyed men, buildings, and everything else in their road.” Thus it fixed itself in the position where it lies today. “The event, according to Agathas’ eyewitness account, was terrifying.” And so it was that Delos (Kos) received Leto. “Everywhere were heaps of ruins, parts of ancient temples; the only things remaining were the glorious name of the Aesculapians and that of Hippocrates, the Divine.” Immediately a host of other goddesses came to Leto’s aid.
As we turn into town once more we pass by Kos Gym. “Sauna, Aerobic, Solarium,” reads a sign in its window. We come upon a small ceramics factory, whose salesroom occupies its front room. On the sidewalk, under the streetlight, a chartreuse Toyota has parked. In the factory’s window stand Dionysos with the Infant Hermes, the Venus de Milo, Beethoven’s bust. In the yard to one side are ceramic lions, a figure of Zeus, Apollo plucking his lyre.
She was in labor for nine whole days, and when on the tenth night she finally bore her children, the darkness immediately turned to bright daylight. In the central part of town the streetlights have come on. The sun appeared in its majesty high above in the heavens. To augment the lights of the shops’ vitrines. Casting its golden beams upon the isle. Lending to the scene quite a gaudy glow. Truly, it could not have been otherwise, for the son that she bore, golden-haired Apollo, is The God of Light. We have reached the precise divide between city and countryside, between the town’s illuminated downtown and its darkened residential outskirts. With him was born stern Artemis, goddess of lunar nights. In amongst the houses sits an ancient, moonstruck olive grove, the earth scarred under its spreading branches by the tracks of excavation vehicles.
Through the grove, on this western side of the city, the pink and blue-grey sunset persists, while to the south arises a bland, undistinguished apartment complex. Four days passed, and already Apollo had grown into a lithe youth filled with immortal power. On the corner pillar of a school playground someone has sprayed in graffito a pale blue cross, a red circle about it, a black line painted diagonally through the Christian symbol. When Hephaestus made him a gift of a silver bow with golden arrows that could not miss their mark. We continue past the Galakteria Kafe Musea: bright, chipper, trendy, without customers at this early evening hour. The young god resolved to kill the Python. Instead of continuing on to the Asclepion, indicated by a road sign, we turn back to stroll again the streets of the town. The monster that had pursed his mother relentlessly.
A dog barks on the roof of an unfinished building, it not clear whether or not he is able to descend to the ground. Swift as lightning Apollo flew to Parnassus, where the dreadful monster had its lair. Above a high-rise adjacent building three silver water tanks gleam with a sunlight no longer visible to us but apparent to them. Until that moment no one had dared to raise his arm against the Python. We pause before a brand new mini-market liquor store. Which spread unheard-of miseries all around it. On its sign are depicted a bottle of Coke, a bottle of white wine, a package of cigarettes half opened, lemons and grapes, a lunar croissant. Wherever it dragged its serpent’s body the earth and all its fruits decayed. “International Telephone,” reads another sign next door. And a foul rottenness spread over the land, whilst men died as soon as they set eyes upon its awful form.
“For Rent:” says a sign at the next corner, “Motorcycles, Scooters, Bicycles.” We cross through a plaza formed by a random confluence of streets. Up one a large sign in blue on white reads “Taverna / Grill.” A motorcycle whines by as it accelerates, immediately followed by a blue Chevrolet convertible. We continue down another of the streets issuing out of this irregular plaza past a recently constructed multiple-family dwelling, past a boutique whose sign reads “Flower Paradise.” Within the shop, up several steps, sits a woman in a white plastic chair before a deeply saturated color TV screen, as the evening news unfolds. In the shop window behind her: dried flowers, cut flowers, potted plants and teddy bears. Across the street we can see which space her old store had occupied, for on the building’s dirty front are again visible, in pale blue letters outlined in pink, the words “Flower Paradise.” On Kos Flora is alive again. The old shop has now become a bicycle rental store.
When the dragon realized that someone had dared to try his strength against him, he emerged from his lair. As we arrive now at a row of new shops the uniform light bulbs above them go on simultaneously. It wormed its huge length amongst the rocks, searching out the enemy. Within a dry cleaning establishment a flowerpot sits atop a marble counter.
When the monster saw that the being who stood before it was none other than the child of Leto. Among a Laundromat’s six dryers only one is circulating. It went mad with anger. Before it sits a red basket ready to receive a load of clothes. Flecks of foam dripped from its mouth in fury. Whoever’s clothes these are, however, is not in evidence. Raising itself upon snaky coils. We pass a hardware and home appliance store called “Minos.” The Python loomed threateningly over Apollo. In its window is an advertisement for “Happy Feet Fussmassagerbad,” the lime colored machine on display behind the glass. Drawing its head back for the lunge. Along with a milkshake maker. That would tear the young god. And an apothecary’s mortar and pestle. Into a thousand bloody pieces. Made of bronze.
The interior of another store is cluttered with a hundred items, including mirrors, wastebaskets, TV sets, all manner of knives and other utensils, among them Teflon-coated pans in a wide variety of sizes and colors. Argos is alive. We are passing a paint store, which also sells tiles, samples of which the owner has left out on the street, not bothering to take the display inside overnight. Quicker than lightning. We pause before the window of a store called “Video Club Hollywood,” on whose walls hang posters of American movies. Apollo loosed a single arrow at the Python. “Jack Frost.” And hit it. “Wild Wild West.” Straight between the eyes. “Matrix.” Their titles are in Greek, above them depicted in vivid Technicolor the modern gods: Bruce Willis, Eddie Murphy, Michael Douglas.
We pass a store that is showing model kitchens on its acrylic tile floor. Hestia is still alive. A freestanding aluminum hood with a smoke stack sits above a counter. A terrifying howl echoed through the mountain gorges. We pass another store showing fashion items. As the horrible monster. One of its manikins has been undressed and left coolly naked. Mortally wounded. The gaps between her joints visible. Beat its writhing scales against the rocky slopes of Mount Parnassus. Others, only partially clad, have been left in their exaggerated postures, as though in expression of an existential malaise. Coiling and then uncoiling to its full length. Medusa is still alive. Suddenly it raised itself to its full height, only to fall back again with a fearful thud that shook the whole mountain. The owner has arrived to survey the disarray and make recommendations. The Python was dead.
Nestled in amongst these undistinguished buildings is an orchard filled with lemon trees. Overjoyed by his great victory. As we continue to stroll, the neighborhood gradually reverts to the styles of fifty years ago. Apollo took up his golden lyre. We pass the Junior Café Club, the Rotary Association, a kids’ club. To sing the paean of victory. We pause before “Sol-Rajser” and yet another late-illuminated streetlight comes on. Apollo is still alive. To one of his heroic feats was added yet another triumph. Two cats play in an empty yard among used and broken concrete blocks. A triumph that amounted to no more than a song. We pass a store showing various pumps, radiators and other items manufactured from iron. But a song it was, so wonderful that the world had never heard its like before. Not all entirely recognizable.
Through the white Venetian blinds of an insurance agency, a woman is visible sitting before a computer. Next door, at what appears to be a lottery agency, the door is standing open, a whole family in attendance: The Fates are still alive. The mother behind the counter, the kids at a wooden table doing their homework, the younger brother using a calculator for his math. We pass by an older taverna called “The Village.” Over a trellis leading up to its second story have grown thick vines. It seems to have recently gone out of business. We have returned at last to “an area rebuilt,” the guidebook tells us, “following the island’s most recent earthquake, which occurred forty years ago.” Here a carpet shop is showing rather attractive oriental rugs. Within a corner of its showroom sits a new bed, a Scandinavian quilt atop it.
We pause before a general store in the old style. From its words and music sprang the contrast between savage struggle and peace. On the sidewalk wooden crates hold various fruits for sale. Between destruction and creation. An ice cream vendor is working a softee machine at the curb. Death and life. On a balcony above, newspaper racks provide reading material for habitués of the coffee shop that occupies the second floor. Within the general store, reminiscent of 1950s small-town America, shelves have been crammed with necessities: house cleaning products, canned goods, batteries, cigarettes still in their cartons. It was a song of overwhelming beauty and power. Two pretty girls in their middle twenties, their smocks covered with aprons, are minding the store, each engaged in lively, polite conversation with a customer. A song that nature heard in silent awe. One, with a mustachioed middle-aged family man; one, with an older lady who has dyed her hair a bright magenta. A song that filled the eyes of oppressed mankind with tears of trembling happiness.
We pass by the Hotel Elena. Helen herself is still alive. It is this hotel where author first sought lodging, only to find its rooms fully booked for the week. Next door rises the Hotel Katherina. Both, though small and a little dingy, are nonetheless inviting. Across the street beckons a fashionable Internet café called “Del Mare.” A waiter within is rearranging its canvas-backed wooden chairs, clearing coffee cups and empty Coke bottles. We pass the “Istituto Calisto.” The nymphs are still alive. Having reached the harbor we study its official signs, in white on yellow and brown, directing the traveler to the Asclepion, to the Roman Odeon, to the city’s Archaeological Museum. On a wall behind these markers have been plastered large advertisements, one of which shows a horse seated with a cowboy at a billiards table. Together they are consuming glasses of beer. When Apollo’s paean had ended, a mighty clamor rose up on all sides. “Be a Greek,” reads a taverna’s ad listing the cable TV times for showings of American basketball and football. It was the tumultuous cheers and delighted cries of mankind and of Nature itself. Zigo’s, another bar, is advertising live music. Their roars of applause at this triumphant hymn. Three demotically styled Greek singers, dressed in red and blue, are represented on its poster. And ever since, unchallenged, Apollo has rightly held the title of The God of Music.
We arrive at the harbor side, whose restaurants and bars have adopted non-Greek names: “Flamingo,” “Espresso Café,” “Billy’s.” As we return into smaller streets behind the quay we come upon an airy gallery called “Greek Art Diogenes.” Down the alley a doctor advertises his specialty in venereal disease. Venus is still alive. We are passing two shoe stores, one for men, one for women. Hermes is alive again. A clock store. Cronus is still alive. A store called “Golden Dream.” Midas is alive again. A music store showing “Hits from the Late ’Fifties.” Elvis is still alive. An art gallery. Hephaistos is alive again. At last we arrive at Makedonia Bookstore, in its window a picture of Alexander the Great, rays issuing like spikes from his cranium. Apollo buried the Python on the side of Mount Parnassus. Before the store, in a miniature temple fronted with classical columns. And over his grave he built a temple. Sits a marble bust of Alexander. And an oracle. On its four sides, in Modern Greek, German, French and English, reads “Alexander’s Creed.” We enter to inspect the bookstore’s offerings. This was the sacred oracle of Delphi. A book titled “Historia” has a female allegorical figure on its cover. Next to the history section, reading backward in time, are Omeros, Odysseia, Tome B, Tome A. Which reveals to men the judgments of Almighty Zeus. Omeros, Iliada, Tome C, Tome B, Tome A. Apollo’s father. Homer is alive. Thucydides, The Neo-Hellenics, Archaea, Sophocles. The classics are alive. Translations and commentaries in Modern Greek line the shelves, attractive books in pink on turquoise, lavender on beige, cream on olive.
Having taken one bus to the outskirts of Kos City, we transfer to another, for rural excursion, to the village of Zia, site of the Taverna Olympia, stronghold of historical resistance and reputed vantage point for scenic views of the island. As we change from city to long distance bus, a donkey beside the road is eating from a plastic bag of trash on the ground before him, supplementing this fortuitous provender with mouthfuls of natural grain, which his owner has left at his feet in a wicker basket. We leave the town of Pili behind to head on down a small road toward the Dikeos Mountains, the island’s Alpine range.
No oracle had claimed that Priam’s city could not fall without the intervention of Odysseus, yet the Greeks could never have conquered Troy without his intelligence, persistence and valor, for it was he who conceived the Wooden Horse in which the Greeks entered the citadel. Nor was this all. Odysseus managed to locate Achilles when Thetis, the great hero’s mother, had hidden him away. It was also Odysseus who brought Heracles’ arrows from Lemnos; who took Neoptolemus to Troy; who contrived to steal the Palladium from the Trojans. Though no prophesy foretold it, Troy would not have fallen without Odysseus. Now, after twenty years, it was said, no man knew whether he was alive or dead. But the gods knew.
Higher and higher we climb. Odysseus is alive. At an abrupt turning in the road we glance back at the blue Aegean, the skies having cleared since our departure from Kos. “‘I was nine times a leader of men,’” says the many-minded hero, “‘and ventured in fast-faring vessels
“against outland men, and much substance came my way, and from this
I carried off an abundance of things, but much I allotted
again, and soon my house grew even greater, and from that time on
I walked among the Cretans as one feared and respected.”
We begin our approach to the sharp line of peaks visible over lower ridges covered with spiring conifers, they in turn visible above the near-ground summits of Eucalyptus trees. With every hairpin turn our view of the sea broadens.
“One month only I stayed, taking pleasure in my children
and my wedded wife and my possessions, but then the spirit
in my breast urged me onward for an expedition to Egypt
with ships well appointed, accompanied by godlike companions.”
At this higher altitude the olive trees are smaller. A forest of pine and spruce begins. Soon we have begun our approach to Zia. “‘There I stayed for seven years and gathered together much substance from the men of Egypt.’” First, however, we pause at Asfediou to let off passengers. “‘My eager companions’” (Odysseus’ fictive account continues),
“following their own impulse, and giving way to marauding
violence, suddenly began to plunder the Egyptians’ beautiful
fields, carrying off the women and the innocent children,
and killing the men. Before long an outcry had reached the city.”
On our bus only three passengers remain. The pines have grown much taller now, intermingling with cypresses. At last we arrive at our destination. Having in Kos consulted a thirty-year-old hotel clerk, who has been to Zia but never ventured beyond, author decides to risk a return to the coastal city through the mountains, against the advice of a fourteen-year-old boy, who, when questioned in Zia itself, says that the only road leading that way to Kos is “very difficult.” The Taverna Olympia closed on this holiday, author makes his move at once. “Now Athena came near him,” says Homer, “likening herself in form to a young man, a herdsman / of sheep.” Prudently the hotel clerk has warned that author may get lost. “A delicate boy, such as the children of kings are, / wearing a well-wrought shawl in a double fold.” On further reflection, says the fourteen-year-old boy, one cannot return by that route to the city.
“Meanwhile Odysseus had awakened, but he could not recognize his own homeland, for Athena had spread a thick mist over everything. (She did not wish for him to be seen by anyone, until the suitors had been punished by death.) As Odysseus was worrying as to his whereabouts, and lamenting the dawning of another day of exile, the goddess approached him in the guise of a young shepherd. Delighted to see another human being, Odysseus begged the boy to take pity on a stranger and tell him what land this was.”
We have taken the only route leading northward out of town, despite its bearing no markings whatever. “‘You surprise me by your question, stranger,’ Athena replied.” Though periodically we look out over rooftops and glimpse the Aegean, so that author feels that he has maintained his general bearing. “‘Everyone knows this place,’ she added.” Before too long a cemetery makes its appearance, rising along the hillside above the dome of a church. “‘Why, even in the farthest corners of the world, eastward towards the rising of the sun and westward to where it sets, you will find thousands who can tell of it.’” Perhaps we have arrived at the monastery indicated on the map. Faced with a fork in the road not indicated in its sketchy detail, author takes a right and before long is rewarded with a long vista that appears to open up all the way to Kos. “‘It is a rocky land and has no roads for chariots or horses, but yet it is not poor.’”
A little farther along, however, the road doubles back upon itself to head back southward. “‘Barley and wheat grow here in abundance.’” Accordingly author returns to the fork and takes instead the left-hand alternative. “‘The rains are plentiful.’” For the moment, the skies are clear, though it has rained and even heavier rains are predicted — another concern of his. “‘There’s enough lush grass to graze great herds of goats and oxen.’” We come upon several large bee houses, whose roofs have been weighted down with stones. “‘There are trees of all kinds, and water gushes from springs.’” When Odysseus fails repeatedly to recognize his homeland, Athena abruptly informs him: “‘Stranger, this is the famous island of Ithaca!’” “Odysseus’ heart leapt at these words,” says Homer, “but carefully he concealed his joy.”
Ahead a fence has commenced, which three workers are busy extending. As author approaches, he discerns that one of them is an older woman, dressed in hat, shirt and pants. Presumably she is the mother of the other two workers. She informs him that he must proceed along this road, which, she says, will eventually lead him to the Asclepion, Hippocrates’ research institute on the outskirts of the city. In response to the mother’s inquiry, author reveals his identity. He has come from Samos, Chios and Lesvos, he tells her. She accompanies him around a bend in the road to a newly constructed concrete gateway that culminates the fence surrounding an orchard, within which her husband is at work. “‘I heard the name of Ithaka,’” says Odysseus to Athena, “‘when I was among the Cretans.’”
“I have fled, an exile, because I killed the son of Idomeneus,
Orsilochos, a man swift of foot, who in wide Crete surpassed
all other mortal men for the speed of his feet. I killed him,
because he tried to deprive me of all my share of the plunder
from Troy, and for the sake of it my heart suffered many
pains: the wars of men; hard crossing of the big waters;
for I would not do his father favor, and serve as his henchman
in the land of Troy, but instead I led others, of my own following.”
To the mother’s warning (“Go very slowly”) the father adds no admonition. He has had to build this fence, he says, to keep his goats and sheep out of his orchard. “‘After I had cut him down with the sharp bronze,’” Odysseus continues,
“I went at once to a ship and supplicated the lordly
Phoenician men and gave them spoil to stay their eagerness
and asked them to carry me and to set me down in Pylos,
but the force of the wind beat them away from Nestor’s realm.”
Leaving the family behind, author descends farther down this valley, the roadway littered with shotgun casings: bright blue, pale green, orange and black. We have come to a point even with the final peak in the razorback ridge, which now begins its slope to the sea.
“So, driven off those courses, we came in here by night
and rowed her hastily into the harbor, nor was there any
thought in us of the evening meal, much though we wanted it,
but we all came off the ship, as we were, and lay down;
then, since I was weary, the sweetness of sleep fell upon me,
while they, taking the possessions out of the hollow hull, set them
ashore on the sand, close to the place where I was lying,
and then, re-embarking, went on their way to strongly settled
Sidon, while I, grieving at the heart, was left behind here.”
Another fork in the road presents itself. “And so he spoke.” Author chooses the better-worn path. From this still relatively high vantage point, though he could not possibly identify all the islands and islets before him, he has no difficulty orienting himself in relation to the Turkish coast and so feels confident of his safe return to Kos. Kalymnos, ahead in the distance, is shrouded in grey mist. “Then the goddess, grey-eyed Athene, smiled upon him,
and stroked him with her hand, and took on the shape of a woman
both beautiful and tall and well versed in glorious handiworks,
and she spoke aloud to him in wingèd words, saying:
“It would be a sharp one, and a stealthy one, who would ever get past you
in any contriving; even if it were a god who was opposing you,
O wretched one, so devious, never weary of tricks. Even in your
own country you do not give up your ways of deceiving,
your fabrication of thievish tales.”
Lately it has rained considerably, perhaps even more in the mountains than in the town. We arrive at a flat stretch where the road has puddled to some depth. For the second time along our route, here, through intermittent openings among the trees, one can see the course that the road will take over the next several miles. For an hour we have proceeded without any sign of human habitation, but as we reach the lower stages of our descent deserted stone houses begin to appear. “Having said this, the goddess laid her golden scepter on Odysseus and transformed him at once into a wrinkled old beggar, withered by poverty and life’s misfortunes.” Passing it by without noticing it through the foliage, author now looks back at a village. “She dressed him in tattered, foul-smelling rags and, giving him a stick to help him on his way, bade farewell and set off for Sparta.”
We have arrived at another fork in the road. The sign to our rear indicates that Zia is behind us, “3 km.” The branch to the right indicates the monastery, Agios Demitrios, which we had already passed. Should we take the unmarked left branch? “He followed her instructions and took the path leading over the hillside toward the cabin of his faithful swineherd.” Author chooses the left branch, for the directions given from on high had indicated a road of its particular color. This route is also declining rather than rising, as are the other two. After sheep and goats, one now has an eye peeled for pigs, with no promise that they are about to appear, though presumably they would reside at a lower level, and he has been told that a swineherd inhabits this area. “Eumaios receives Odysseus hospitably,” if not as Hospitality Itself, and like Athena asks him to reveal, or at least affords him an opportunity to devise, his identity.
“‘I will accurately answer all that you ask me,’ says Odysseus.” From the vantage of a kilometer farther down the slope we look back and now understand that the “village” author had spoken of is in fact the monastery on his map. “‘I announce to you that my origin is from Crete,’” he begins, “‘a spacious land.’” Moreover, as the view lengthens out, the buildings earlier identified as Kos, we realize, represent instead a large village on the northern side of the island. “‘I am the son of a rich man,’” Odysseus continues (veraciously), “‘and there were many other sons by his wife,’” he continues (mendaciously), “‘reared in his palace. These,’” he explains,
“were lawful sons by his wife, but a bought woman, a concubine,
was my mother, yet I was favored with a legitimate father,
honored among the Cretans in the countryside as a god is,
in those days, for wealth and power and glorious children.”
We arrive at a turning in the road. Suddenly the harbor appears, a red freighter standing out from the port. Beside the road, on a huge concrete block placed to prevent the passerby from falling into the culvert, someone has inscribed, in its hard surface, “Momma ♥ Mikas.” “‘But then, you see,’” says Odysseus, “‘the death spirits caught and carried him from us
“to the house of Hades, and his overbearing sons divided
the livelihood among them and cast lots for it. Little enough,
however, was what they gave me in goods and houses.
But I took for myself a wife from people with many possessions,
because of my courage, for I was no contemptible man, not
one who fled from the fighting; but now all that has gone from me,
Yet still, if you look at the stubble you see what the corn was like
when it grew, but since then hardship enough has had me.”
As the sun breaks through a cloud, it illuminates yellow, yellow-green and green fields along the coastal plain. Likewise, the white buildings of the port have moved into the sunlight and gleam as though their beauty were eternal. We have descended past the mountain range into its foothills. The hero appends to his long fantastic account of himself a story of how he had washed up “on the shore of Thesprotia,” where the hero Pheidon looked after him “without price.” “‘It was there,’ says Odysseus, ‘that I had word of Odysseus, for this king told me
“he had feasted and befriended him on his way back to his own country;
and he showed me all the possessions gathered in by Odysseus,
bronze and gold and difficultly wrought iron. But the great king
also told me that Odysseus had gone to Dodona, to listen
to the will of Zeus, out of the holy deep-leaved oak tree,
to learn how he might return to the rich countryside of Ithaka,
in secret or openly, having been by now long absent.”
The vegetative cover of the foothills is very different indeed from that of the mountainside. It consists almost entirely of sage and thistle. But the effect of the landscape is not at all unpleasant. As the reclining sun emerges more fully from behind the clouds, it uniformly illuminates the plain. “To these great fictions of Odysseus, Eumaios calmly responded:
“O sorrowful stranger, truly you have troubled my spirit,
by telling me all these details, how you suffered and wandered;
yet I think some part is in no true order, and you will not persuade me
in your talk about Odysseus. Why should such a man as you are
lie recklessly to me? I myself know the whole truth
of what and when my lord’s homecoming will be.”
At long last, as we make our way back toward a town more or less fully in view, we join an asphalt road. During the whole trip through the mountains on the dirt road only one vehicle has passed us, an ascending magenta sedan. And as yet there has been no sign of traffic on this asphalt stretch either. Lazily author crosses from side to side so as to shorten the distance along the meandering way. After a kilometer he is finally overtaken by an ascending green pickup truck, bearing in its bed new olive plantations. As we continue to descend, we come upon a military installation, a sign beside the roadway forbidding photography.
We have reached a large stony field filled with several dozen sheep, the shepherd tending them at the road’s margin. “Ya harai,” he says to author, upon whom his tenor is lost. We come to an ancient dilapidated building, then cross a modern bridge to begin a slight ascent. We have entered into a new landscape: on one side, olive trees in rocky fields; on the other, tall stands of conifers. At the end of one olive grove two tethered cows are grazing, a calf along with them. Filling the air is the rich aroma of manure. Below the road lies pasture, a single black cow recumbent in a vast green field. Finally we reach the Asclepion’s monumental ruins, which we glimpse through shaggy fir trees planted along the shoulder. Searching for an entrance to the ancient site, we learn that we have arrived after the closing hour. The gate is shut; we must content ourselves with gazing up its magnificent staircase. As we resume our progress, the blue truck, descending, overtakes us again, a single word on its side reading “Metafora.”
Sequestered for two days in his hotel room, on the third day author turns on the television news. After arriving in Tel Aviv, having spent the day before yesterday in Jerusalem, yesterday in Bethlehem, today the Pope has arrived in Galilee for a Mass by the sea. Serenely he sits upon a dais of red, above him an image of Christ against a blue background. Paul and his traveling party arrived at Troas (Athan J. Delicostopoulos, St. Paul’s Journeys to Greece and Cyprus). It was there that the great Apostle beheld the vision that would mould not only his own destiny but that of the western world as well. Before his visit to Israel, the Pope had recently visited Egypt, then the Sinai. (“And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia standing before him beseeching and saying, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us’” [Acts 16:9].) As the local bishop speaks, a golden cross in his hand, the cross picks up the red of the dais and reflects it, turning the cross itself crimson.
It was at Troas that Paul would see the European continent for the first time in his life. Tomorrow the Pope will visit Nazareth. Europe’s first island, Samothrace, could be seen at a distance, mistily emerging from the deep-water sea. Two days of inclement weather, including a nine-knot gale, have prevented the Kos to Rodos ferry from leaving Piraeus. (“We came by a straight course to Cos and the next day to Rhodes” [Acts 21:1].) Author has spent his time in re-reading the Odyssey, re-immersing himself in the fables of the Olympian gods. As the weather clears (it is still chilly), he tours the rubble of the ancient agora. To the north of Troas were the remnants of Troy, Priam’s old city, founded about 3,000 B.C. and continuing, increasing or decreasing, for many centuries till the Hellenistic and Roman periods. Returning to his room, he studies the history of the agora and a catalogue of its remains.
It was this city that the united Greek forces destroyed after their ten-year siege, the famous Trojan War. The following morning he sets out again for Freedom Square. At the same site Alexander the Great offered a sacrifice for Achilles, the hero whom he most admired. To take a seat on a blue and yellow cushion at a different café, the Kafe Einados, across from his earlier vantage point. (Blue is the color of Hermes, yellow the color of Aphrodite.) Later, in the same location, his generals founded the city of Alexandria Troas. From this perspective its awning is obscured by the baptistery of the town’s mosque. In the year 189 B.C. the Romans established their “Ilium Novum,” which was full of life till the time of Constantine the Great, who considered making it the capital of his Empire. At this corner of the public market stands a butcher’s shop, on its walls photographs and sketches of cattle, chickens, sheep and pigs. Troas was the place where Hellas and Rome shook hands. Strung from the Market, strung from the Mosque, strung from the city’s Museum are three lines supporting miniature flags of Greece, alternating with triangular pennons that bear a white cross on a blue ground.
Here the Greeks, more than a thousand years before Christ, had suffered much for the sake of a woman named Helen, fairest in the world. At the center of the square, on a four-candelabrum post, the three lines have been tied together. Paul understood the meaning of human grandeur, and he would not have by-passed this ghost-haunted place without emotion. The sky is perfectly blue. Foremost in his mind, however, would have been one thing: The sun is warming and pleasant. To win the world for Christ. Author prepares to descend from its dole into the hole of the Archaeological Museum. Nothing could have stopped Paul from proclaiming that the Son of God had defeated the Olympian Gods and that humanity’s future was now a bright one. Where he hopes to encounter all twelve divinities. Paul would have been very happy that he could set forth again on his beloved sea. (“Sailing from Chios, the next day we touched at Samos” [Acts 20:13].) As he ascends its marble steps, a flock of a dozen pigeons lifts off. Universal sea and universal church, in Paul’s thought, were united in a single picture.
“Then resourceful Odysseus spoke in turn and answered him:” The Museum’s vestibule, with its second century B.C. head of Hera. “‘You must have been very little then.’” Her face disfigured. “‘O Swineherd Eumaios.’” Gives into an atrium. “‘When you wandered far away from your parents and own country.’” On whose floor, taken from a Roman house, is a perfectly preserved mosaic depicting the arrival of Asklepios in Kos. “‘But come, now, tell me this and give me an accurate answer.’” “On the wall is another mosaic, dating from the Hellenistic period” (the Museum guide). “‘Was there some storming of your wide-wayed city of people.’” On the floor: Hippocrates in the act of welcoming another man. “‘Where your father and the lady your mother lived.’” A traveler in a purple robe. “On the wall: the bottom of the sea (the Museum guide again).” “‘Or were you caught alone beside your sheep and cattle?’” “Which is displayed at the north of the peristyle.” On the floor: a figure (Mercury) bearing in his left hand a staff, entwined with a serpent. “It comes from the restored Casa Romana.” “‘Was it enemy men who carried you in their ships and sold you / here in this man’s house, being paid a fair price for you?’” Black and beige dominate the Roman color schemes.
“The swineherd, leader of men, then said to him in answer:” Along the periphery of the atrium, according to the guide, are Roman copies from the second century A.D.
“My guest, since indeed you are asking me all these questions,
listen in silence and take your pleasure, and sit there drinking
your wine. These nights are endless, and a man can sleep through them,
or he can enjoy listening to stories, and you have no need
to go to bed before it is time. Too much sleep is only a bore.”
Each represents (or imitates) Greek divinities: Dionysos and Pan, at whose feet an infant Eros, all three gods excluded from the Olympian circle of twelve. Across from this group stands the headless figure of Asklepios. “‘So I will tell you now the answer to your questions.’” Within facing portals have been situated a mature Roman woman and her younger counterpart, both “dating from the time of Trajan.” “‘There is an island, called Syria, that you may have heard of, / lying above Ortygia, where the sun makes its turnings.’” Completing the ensemble is “Hygeia offering an egg to a snake,” which she holds in her hand. “‘Not so much a populous island, but a good one.’” The final, and only Olympic, figure is Artemis, depicted with a dog at her feet, as she prepares to shoot an arrow. “‘Good for
“cattle and good for sheep, full of vineyards, and wheat raising.
No hunger ever comes upon these people, nor any other
hateful sicknesses, such as often befall wretched humanity;
But when the generations of men grow old in the city
Apollo of the silver bow and Artemis, his sister, appear
with a visitation of their painless arrows, and kill them.”
Though powerful, continent and determined, Artemis’ bow has been broken.
“There are two cities, and everything is divided between them
and over both of these cities there was one king, my father,
Ktesios, Ormenos’ son, in the likeness of the immortals.”
Hellenistic work dominates the peristyle about the inner atrium.
“There came Phoenician men, famous seafarers, gnawers at other
men’s goods, with countless pretty things stored in their black ship.”
Once resituated in an antechamber we return to a more classical ambiance. A seated Hermes (winged petasson on his head, twined kyrikeion in hand, a lamb to his side), though Roman in provenance, nonetheless retains a certain Attic elegance and strength.
“In my father’s house there lived a Phoenician woman,
both beautiful and tall, and skilled in glorious handiwork,
and yet these Phoenicians, subtle men in their talk, beguiled her.”
His facial expression, however, has lost the classical spirit. More convincingly antique is a seated Demeter, the draperies in her lap folded basin-like.
“First of all, when she went out washing, one of them lay with her
in love’s embrace by the hollow ship, which for women is a heart’s
beguilement, even for one who has proved an accomplished worker.”
Opposite the two stands a Roman copy of the many-breasted Artemis of Ephesus.
“Then he asked her who and whence she was, and she readily
told them all concerning the high-roofed house of her father:”
Paired, in turn, with a second, faceless representation of a disfigured Trajan.
“‘I claim that I come from Sidon, rich in bronze; I am daughter
of Arybas, who has rivers of wealth, but men from Taphos,
pirates, caught me and carried me away as I was coming home
from the fields, and brought me to this place and sold me,
here in this man’s house, being paid a fair price for me.’”
Into this mix has been inserted a standing Heracles. “Then the man who had lain with her secretly said to her:” Hellenistic figures dominate the waiting room. “‘Would you then be willing to go return to your native land with us, / to see once more the high-roofed house of your father and mother / and themselves too? For they are still alive and called wealthy.’”
“Then in turn the woman answered them:” The sunlight is beginning to filter in amongst this undistinguished work, human in subject, heroic in scale. “‘Yes, this could be arranged, if you sailors were willing / to assure me by an oath that you would take me back safely.’” Hippocrates has been granted a semicircular space by himself. “And to this she added, ‘Silence now.’” To which a smaller Aphrodite of some charm has been added. “‘Someone must go to the house and tell the old man / lest he be suspicious, and bind me / in painful bondage, and plan destruction against the rest of you.’” Along with an Athena modeled “on a fourth century prototype.” “‘But keep the word in your hearts, and get on with buying your homeward cargo.’”
“Found in a Roman house,” the latter has been blackened, her hands mutilated. “‘When your ship is loaded with goods, then let there / be someone sent to me quickly at the house with word of it.’” The Demeter, along with two representations of her daughter, Kore, has been more happily preserved. “‘For I will bring you gold, and whatever else I can lay my hands on.’” Clio, the muse of history, has also been damaged but persists in monumental form. “‘And there is another thing that I would willingly give you, to pay for my way home.’” Another, votive Demeter, her hair swept back in braids, her garment unfurled at midriff, stands at attention, her lower dress straightening into a rigid column. “‘I am nurse to the man’s son in his palace, such a cunning child when he runs around outside.’” There is no Poseidon here, no Zeus, no Apollo. “‘If I could take him aboard your ship,’” she pleads, “‘he would bring you a price beyond counting, / wherever you might sell him among alien-speaking people.’”
The popular Hestia too is absent. “So she spoke, and went away, back to the splendid palace.” Ares has been forgotten. “And they, with their hollow ship, for a whole year remaining / in our country, traded and piled up much substances.” Though seven Olympians are represented, along with the perhaps more important Dionysos, who again makes an appearance, adorning a domestic table. “But when at last their hollow ship was loaded for sailing.” Having finished his survey, author takes his leave, to stepping back into the sunlit plaza. “They sent their messenger to bring the news to the woman:” The public square is almost vacant, except for two customers waiting, in a blue plastic chair and a white one, outside a barbershop called “Hermes.”
“There came a knowledgeable man to the house of my father,
with a golden necklace, and it was strung with pieces of amber.
Now in the hall the servants of the lady, my mother,
were turning it in their hands and eyeing it and offering
to buy it, and the man nodded silently to the woman; then
after nodding to her he went away to the hollow ship,
and she took my hand and led me out of the palace.”
We descend, through a smaller plaza on down a sidewalk toward the Kastro, past the Fountain Cocktail Bar, on up an avenue of palms. “‘Snatching three goblets, she hid them in the fold of her bosom / and carried them off, while I in my innocence went with her.’” In a strong wind the flag of Greece is fluttering over a turquoise harbor.” “‘As the sun set, and all the journeying ways were darkened.’” Ahead there rises the arch of a bridge leading into the castle.
“Walking fast, we made our way to the glorious harbor,
where lay the fast-running ship of the men from Phoenicia.
They then putting out to sea went over the ways of the water,
having taken us aboard, and Zeus sent a wind to follow.
Thus it was that for six days and nights we sailed forward,
but when Zeus, son of Kronos, had brought on the seventh
day, Artemis of the showering arrows struck down the woman,
and she dropped with a splash, like a diving tern, in the hull’s bilge.
They then threw her overboard to be the spoil of the fishes
and seals, while I was left alone, my heart full of sorrow;
and the wind and the current carried the men and brought them to Ithaka,
where Laertes bought me for himself with his own possessions.”
We are touring the Kastro. “Built by the Order of St. John in the Middle Ages, it is based on the foundations of an even older castle and the walls of the ancient city” (Dimitrios Davaris). We pass through an arch to arrive at a glorious view of the Aegean, her translucent waters rippling over a pebbled beach. “Its high fortifications, considered excellent examples of medieval defensive technique.” The towers of the stronghold are crenellated in their upper reaches. “Were constructed of materials drawn from Koan temples and other classical buildings.” We pass the semicircle of “The French Tower” (1465). Athena’s great virtues and her service to mankind caused her to be worshipped throughout Greece. The sun shines brightly as a brisk wind picks up and cleanses the scene.
“Today the City of Iraklion stages its first festivity in celebration of the 100-year anniversary of the discovery of the palace at Knossos along with the entire Minoan civilization, the Athens News Agency reported”(Kathimerini, March 23, 2000.. In every city, Athena the Protector was honored, and the Palladium, a small wooden statue of her, was carefully guarded. Atop a ship an Islamic flag and a Greek flag audibly flap in the breeze. For if the Palladium were lost, the city too would be lost — or so they believed. A dog barks.
Now as he perceived that Odysseus had come close to him,
he wagged his tail, and laid both his ears back; only
he now no longer had the strength to move any closer
to his master, who, watching him from a distance, without Eumaois
noticing, secretly wiped away a tear.
We round another corner of the Kastro and face into the sun. Athena’s favorite city, however, was the one that bore her name — Athens. “The ceremony will commence with the laying of a wreath by Iraklion’s mayor at the bronze bust of Arthur John Evans, the archaeologist who through his excavations revealed Knossos.” The Athenians regarded her as their most important goddess, and accordingly they dedicated most of their temples, as well as the Acropolis, to her. We round another corner to observe the extent of this imposing edifice.
“The Castle was truly impregnable.” The goddess worked tirelessly on behalf of Athens. The outline of the mountains behind the city of Kos emerges above the Kastro’s ramparts. She helped Cecrops, the city’s founder and its first king, fortify the Acropolis and raise lovely buildings on its summit. “Meanwhile Penelope, sitting up in her chamber, conversed / with her serving women, as Odysseus was eating his dinner below.” As we have almost completed our circumspection, we come upon three graffiti:. The owl replaced the crow in Athena’s affections. A Nazi swastika. Its great shining eyes symbolizing wisdom. The circled A of Anarchy. And deep thought. A carefully drawn marihuana leaf. “But now she summoned the swineherd to her, saying:
“Go on your way, noble Eumaios, and tell the stranger
to come, so that I can befriend him, and so that I can ask him
if he has somewhere heard any news of steadfast Odysseus
or seen him in person. He seems like a man who has wandered widely.”
“The main event for the celebration is an international scientific symposium entitled ‘Knossos: Palace, City, State,’ to be held from November 15 to 18 at Iraklion City Hall.”
When Erechtheus became king of Athens, he beautified and improved the city. “Then, O swineherd Eumaios, you said to her in answer:” We have entered the inner castle and descend a small lane, its stones worn into ruts by carriages. “‘If only these Achaians, my queen would let you have silence!’” With the help of Athena he built the first horse-chariot. “‘His stories will charm the dear heart within you.’” He discovered how to refine silver. We are passing an advance wall that bears the coat of arms of the Grand Masters, Jean de Lastic and Jacques Milly (1454). And he minted the first coin. “‘Three nights I had him with me, and for three days I detained him in my shelter, for he came first to me.’” We duck under an arch into the stronghold, then through a gate dedicated to Eduardo di Cameratino (1478). When Eumolpus, King of neighboring Eleusis, entered Attica with his armies, Erectheus defeated him. “‘He had fled from a vessel.’” Eumolpus was killed in the battle, but his death brought down the wrath of Eumolpus’ father, Poseidon, upon Erechtheus, who was killed in his turn. “‘But he has not yet told the story of all his suffering.
“And yet, as when a man looks to a singer, upon whom the gods
have bestowed the skill with which he sings for delight of mortals,
and they are impassioned and strain to hear it, when he sings to them,
so he enchanted me in the halls as he sat beside me.”
We emerge again into the sunlight, where elaborate wildflowers, purple on the inside, lavender without, greet us. Ominously a bird soars over the Castle. Bright buttercups answer the lavender petals. We continue to stroll, through a spacious, diverse courtyard, peering into the dwellings of servants, the quarters of the courtiers, the chambers of the king and queen themselves.
“He says that he is a friend by family of Odysseus who makes
his home in Crete, where lives the generation of Minos,
and from there he has arrived at this place, suffering hardships
along the way, driven helplessly.”
“In the evening the city will honor the two archaeologists who led the excavation of Knossos.” Erecththeus was mourned by Athena and by all Athens. “Minos Kalokairinos and Arthur Evans.” They buried him on the spot where Poseidon had struck him down, on the summit of the Acropolis. “In a photo exhibit of their lives at Iraklion’s Archaeological Museum.”
“He claims that he has heard that Odysseus
is not far off, in the rich country of the men of Thesprotia,
and alive, and bringing many treasures back to his household.”
We mount a half-demolished stair to view again the mountain peaks and to glimpse the outline of the sea. At last we reach an opening to look down upon the harbor. Under the strong noontime sun its coastal waters have turned deep blue, but the broader Aegean beyond retains its limpid turquoise. The Turkish ship bearing the Greek and Islamic flags is leaving port with a farewell waving of hands on deck toward those still standing on the pier. We re-descend the ramp to mount another winding path. The Palace — random, open, organic — has nonetheless been carefully executed. Later the Athenians built a splendid marble temple there and named it the Erechtheum. We repair to the high point of its fortifications.
“Then the circumspect Penelope said to him:” They dedicated it to Athena, to Poseidon and to Erechtheus, to whom they gave all the honors due an immortal.
“Go now, call him here, so that he can tell me directly,
and let these people sit by the doors and play their games, or else
go and do it at home, whenever the spirit favors.
For their own properties are stored, unspoiled, in their houses,
bread and sweet wine, but this their own house-people eat.”
We re-descend the winding ramp and exit through the portal by which we had entered. From that time onwards, the city of Athens was often called after Erechtheus too. We tour the space between inner and outer walls. And from him sprang all the kings of Athens down to the great hero Theseus. Again a bird ominously over-flies us.
Into the sides of the tower have been inserted many coats of arms. “Circumspect Penelope continued:” Erechtheus’ most lasting gift to his city was the Panathenaia, a great festival in honor of Pallas Athena.
“Meanwhile they, day by day visiting our house, and always
dedicating our oxen, and our sheep and fat goats,
hold their festival, and recklessly drink up our shining
wine, and most of it is used up, for there is no man here
such as Odysseus was, to keep the plague from his household.”
But the Athenians’ greatest tribute to their goddess was the Acropolis and its monuments, chief among them the Parthenon, the great temple dedicated to the virgin Athena. A lion, one of an original pair, stands beside the heraldic shields, as if to guard them.
As we enter the final courtyard we glance into a narrow tunnel, but six feet high. This architectural and sculptural miracle is rightly considered one of the masterpieces of all times. We turn past an Islamic arch, whose stone face has been carved in bas-relief, then remount the steps for our exit. Fate has decreed that, of all the buildings the world has ever known, the loveliest of all was intended to honor the goddess who taught men the meaning of beauty. But first we survey the scene for a last time from this higher elevation. And that the city which chose as its patroness the goddess who taught me the meaning of wisdom should become a center of wisdom for the world. Though not quite so high as that of the French tower. “Never refuse a stranger water, or the warmth of a fire,” said the priest of Athena, as he drew the goddess’ plough across the sacred courtyard.
“But if Odysseus could come, and return to the land of his fathers,
soon, with his son, he could punish the violence of these people.”
“Never point out any way but the right one.” From its window we glimpse the City Hall. “Never kill the ox that draws the plow.” And say farewell to Kos. “Deny no man a grave.” “Taking delight in a happy omen, Penelope turned to him and said:
“Go, please, and summon this stranger into my presence.”
“The name Dodecanese,” says the guide, “originated in 1908, when twelve islands united against the Ottoman parliament.” We have departed for Rodos. “In addition to Kos and Rodos itself they include Kalymnos, Karpathos, Patmos, Tilos, Symi, Leros, Astypalea, Nisyros, Kassos and Halki.” Our voyage will take us past the volcanic Nisyros, past Symi and on to the port city at the north of this historical center of Mediterranean civilization. Picture a ship-owner, far taller and stronger than all others aboard the craft, but a bit deaf, a bit shortsighted, and limited in his knowledge of navigation. Progress aboard our large ship so far has been uncomplicated. The seamen are in disagreement about piloting the vessel. “Rodos has been inhabited from pre-Minoan times.” Each thinks that he should be the pilot, though he has never studied the art and cannot name his teacher. “By Cretans, by Archaic Greeks, by Athenian imperialists.” The skies are blue, the waters serene. What’s more, they claim that it is not even teachable, for if anyone says that it is, they are ready to tear him to shreds. “By Alexander the Great, by Ptolemy I of Egypt and by virtually all the later emperors who ruled this part of the world.”
They are always crowding round the ship-owner, pressing him by any means whatever to turn over control to themselves. “The Dodecanese islanders were the first Greeks who converted to Christianity.” Sometimes, if they fail and others persuade him, they put the others to death or expel them from the ship. “Through the tireless efforts of St. Paul (again), who made two journeys to the archipelago, and of St. John, who was banished to Patmos, where he had his “revelation.” After binding and drugging the noble ship-owner with mandragora or intoxication, they rule the vessel, devour its stores, and with all their eating and drinking direct its course as one might imagine besotted fools to do (Plato, The Republic). Foremost in Penelope’s mind at this point was her hope that Odysseus might return to reassert sovereignty over the chaos created by the suitors, the nobles who had invaded Ithaka from the neighboring isles.
From Doulichion alone came fifty-seven: Intending to conquer. Among them were Amphinomos, Thoas, Demoptolemos, Amphimachos and Euryalos, Paralos, Evenorides and Clytios, Agenor, Eurypylos, Pylaimenes and Acamas, Thersilochos, Hagios, Clymenos, and Philodemos. They included Meneptolemos, Damastor and Bias, Telmios, Polyidos, and Astylochos, Schedios, Antigonos and Marpsios, Iphidamas, Argeios, Glaucos, Calydoneus, Echion and Lamas, Andraimon, Agerochos and Medon, Agrios, Promos, Ctesios, Acarnan, Cycnos, Pseras and Hellanicos, Periphron, Megasthenes and Thrasymedes, Ormenios, Diopithes and Mecisteus, Antimachos, Ptolemaois and Lestorides, Nicomachos, Polypoites and Ceraos. By seeking the hand of Penelope in marriage. From Same came twenty-three: And thereby overthrowing Odysseus: Agelaos, Peisandros, Elatos; Ctesippos, Hippodochos, Eurystratos; Archemolos, Ithacos, Peisenor; Hyperenor, Pheroites, Antisthenes; Cerberos, Perimedes, Cynnos; Thriasos, Eteoneus, Clytios; Prothoos, Lycaithos, Eumelos; Itanos and Lyammos. And denying to Telemakhos. From Zakynthos, forty-four: His hereditary rights. Eurylochos, Laomedes and Molebos; Phrenios, Indios and Minis, Leiocritos, Pronomos, and Nisas, Daemon, Archestratos and Hippomachos; Euryalos and Periallos, Evenorides and Clytios, Agenor and Polybos, Polydoros, Thadytios, Startios, Phrenios and Indios, Daisenor, Laomedon, Laodicos, Halios and Magnes, Oloitrochos, Barthas, Theophron, Nissaios and Alcarops, Periclymenos and Antenor, Pellas, Celtos, Periphas, Ormenos, Polybos and Andromedes. Not least of all, from Ithaca itself, were twelve suitors, the local threat: Antinoos, Pronoos, Leiodes, Eurynomos, Amphimachos, Amphialos, Promachos, Amphimedon, Aristratos, Helenos, Doulichieus and Ctesippos. (Apollodorus.)
Suddenly we have made landfall under the cover of night, the gangplank is thrown down and our disembarkation begins. The one that they praise as a navigator, a pilot who knows about ships, is the one who is a clever accomplice in schemes to persuade or force the ship-owner to let them rule. Having awaited the appearance of a ship for three days, a large crowd has formed on the dock. Anyone of a different sort they blame for being useless. They constitute a rowdy lot: They do not have the least idea concerning the True Pilot. Stevedores, truck drivers, hawkers, merchants awaiting their cargo, all impatient for the ship to unload. Who must attend to the time of the year, the seasons, the sky, the winds, the stars, and everything that bears on his skill at ruling the ship. With night sticks in hand police control this unruly activity. As for seizing the helm, whether or not others want him to. The more elegantly clad passengers negotiate the fray in some dismay. He does not believe there is any discipline in this matter that one can acquire. Someone has set up a canteen for the crowd’s refreshment, pink neon lights atop it. While all this is happening on shipboard. Meanwhile in the vast hold of the ferry large trucks jockey for position, their drivers cursing one another. The True Pilot would indeed be called a stargazer. Our arrival has been unaccountably later than scheduled. A babbler. Already darkness has fallen. A useless fellow. As we descend along the ramparts. By passengers in ships ordered in this way. A naval vessel beams a glaring beacon of light into our eyes.
We pass through a yellow gate, immediately setting foot onto a quay dominated by massive fortifications: medieval turrets above, ogival archways leading into the old city. High above, on a fortified wall, a lantern illuminates the tenebrous world of nighttime Rhodes, as author heads off in search of St. Catherine’s Gate, through which he must enter to reach the Cava d’Oro. By sheer instinct he finds his way, having asked directions of two black-clad girls along the street to find that they have never heard of “Agias Aekaterinis.” Continuing on past a bare ruined choir, past menacing dogs, up many steps, he reaches a sign reading “Cava d’Oro.” The institution in question, however, proves to be not an inn but a restaurant. Its proprietor recommends that he continue along a crescent-shaped path, turn before the next gate and proceed another hundred meters. We enter a dark grove of cypresses and emerge before a sign reading “Albergo Cava d’Oro,” only to find its doors locked. The bell eliciting no response, author retreats into the larger street. From behind the steering wheel of a car, its back seat occupied by two girls, a man steps out to offer him lodging. The room, he says, is in a lane just off Aristotelous Evrion near Martyrs Square. Author takes seat beside him. Within three minutes we have reached a sign that reads “Kamiros”; here author is escorted at once into a medieval chamber, almost a house by itself, consisting of two rooms separated by an archway. Above the bed rise roof beams; in a corner of the sitting room is a small fireplace. On the bedroom’s whitewashed wall hangs a painting, of a nineteenth-century sailing ship. It has just arrived, is arriving, is about to arrive. The skies are cloudy, the seas rough. Have we reached Ithaka?
“Odysseus, abused by the suitors in his own Great Hall, has been going about from guest to guest holding out his hand beseechingly, as if he had been born to beg. Many of the suitors unquestioningly offer him crumbs from the table, but some demand who he is and where he comes from. Melanthios, the goatherd, answers them:
“Hear me now, you suitors of our glorious queen, concerning
this stranger; for I have seen him before; know, then, that it was
the swineherd who guided him here, but I myself do not know
clearly who the man is, or what race he claims to come of.”
His response causes Antinoös to complain to Eumaios:
“O most distinguished swineherd, why did you bring this fellow
to the city of ours? Do we not already have enough of such
vagabonds and bothersome beggars to ruin our feasting?
Or, now that men gather here to eat up your master’s substance,
is that not enough, but you had to invite in this one also?”
Hyperion married Theia, and they conceived Dawn, the Sun and the Moon. First morning in Rhodes, author is up and out for a jog about the ramparts. Then Poseidon married Amphitrite, daughter of Oceanos, who bore to him Triton and Rhode, the latter the bride of Helios. Returning through St. Catherine’s Gate, up narrow alleys to his little house, he opens its outer door with a golden key. In the course of his journey Heracles, overheated by Helios, aimed his bow against the Sun. With a silver key, its inner door. So impressed by his bravery, Helios offered him a golden cup, which he used whenever he crossed the Ocean.
Mid-morning, he is up and out again, to reconnoiter the city. After killing Mermeros and Pheres, her children by Jason, Medea received from Helios a chariot drawn by wingèd dragons. Leaving by way of Aristotle Street. She fled on it to Athens. This sunny holiday an official parade will celebrate all twelve islands of the Dodecanese. Minos lived in Crete, where he married Pasiphae, daughter of Helios and Perseis. Off Aristotle Street run others: (Though, according to Asclepiades, his wife was Creta herself.) “Pindar.”
The island of Rhodes opened like a flower from the watery depths,
Child of Aphrodite, Goddess of Love,
And then became the bride of the Sun.
“Pericles,” “Demosthenes,” “Pythagoras,” “Democritus.” “At bottom the relationship one has with Rhodes,” says T. Petris (author of another guide), “is based upon love.” All these streets together lead into Plato Square. “The emerald island lies on the sea lane betwixt East and West.” Out of which, by “Sophocles,” one communicates with Sophocles Square. “Like several of the Dodecanese, in the distant past it broke through the surface of the sea, as result of an earthquake.” Out of which in turn leads “Aristophanes.”
The sun is shining brightly. “The town’s most brilliant temples are dedicated to Helios, to Zeus Savior.” For a change, it is genuinely warm. “To Hera, to Dionysos.” An old man, sunning himself on the stairway of a medieval tower, has a dove atop his hand, another on his shoulder. The latter flies off and alights at author’s feet. We continue on into “Aristotle,” swept along by festively garbed Rhodians. The Philosopher shares many of Plato’s views about the proper aims of political life but he disagrees sharply with his teacher’s views about how to achieve them. Little girls dressed in red, their mommies in black, stroll hand in hand. He believes that Plato has seriously undervalued one aspect of democracy — the role of individual citizens in determining decisions taken by the state on their behalf. Author’s detailed street map is of almost no help, since upon a maze of classical street names has been superimposed a maze of medieval buildings. This does not, however, mean that Aristotle agrees with the presuppositions of Greek democracy. He has caught up with a gaggle of teenies wearing tight black slacks and lightweight black jackets. The errors of Plato and the democrats, in Aristotle’s view, become clear only if we set out from a true conception of the role of the city in human happiness.
Two girls are wearing grey sweaters under their black jackets, two, white shirts only, their junior bras showing from behind. Many ideas of the Politics are anticipated in the Ethics. At last we find ourselves facing up the famous sloping Avenue of Knights, which we decline to enter. This explains Aristotle’s view that happiness cannot be achieved by an isolated individual but rather requires all the institutions that constitute a city. Later we plan to return and examine these medieval “Inns,” once maintained by the major European crusaders. In Aristotle’s view, the city is required for the individual’s happiness, because it fulfils human nature. But for now we continue to trail behind the teenies on their way toward the festival. For human beings are “naturally political animals,” he says. The parade has begun to lead out through a medieval gate into the modern city. Aristotle explains this claim in his treatment of friendship. Two of the teenies are smoking, two holding hands, two doing both; clearly they are having more fun that the rest of us. In Aristotle’s view, practical reason is more fully expressed in friendship and cooperative action than in purely self-regarding action. The fiesta is about to begin. Concern for the common interest of oneself and one’s friends establishes a “community” of interest.
We are passing through inner city gates, gates within the city (rather than those that define the border between the city and what lies without). The complete community, in which our life as a whole is subject to cooperative deliberation, is the city. Who, then, we might ask, is the true goddess of the city, Athena or Aphrodite? Since cooperative concern for the common interest is to be valued for its own sake, Aristotle rejects the version of the “social contract” theory put forward by Glaucon and Adeimantus. We have rejoined the route of author’s early morning run. According to this version, political life is worthwhile, because it provides means to ends that we pursue even outside political life. The crowd has already formed, to watch as white-shirted students line up for some display or other. We already want security, and the city provides it. The boys are dressed in dark blue pants, the girls, in remarkably short dark blue skirts. In Aristotle’s view, this defiance of the state (which he ascribes to Lycophron the Sophist) fails to recognize that the state creates and achieves aims that we would not pursue outside the state. To the girl’s school sweaters have been added high-heeled black platform shoes. By creating in us a concern for common interest, it thereby fulfils our nature (Terrence Irwin).
We have arrived at Symi Square, in the heart of which are the ancient ruins of the Temple of Aphrodite. On the avenue that bounds it, in preparation for the procession, several thousand school kids have assembled. From here we continue on to Alexandria Square, in front of which the ranks of kids in their white-and-dark-blue uniforms have been swollen by Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. Lined up in front of them are children and young women in brilliant old-fashioned native costumes: gold brocade skirts with black and red vests, multi-colored babushkas and shawls. Together they are practicing dance steps, causing their skirts to swirl from one side to the other. Patiently waiting in line to join the parade are six-year-old girls in red shawls and white peasant skirts; black dresses highly embroidered with green, yellow and red; gold shifts trimmed in silver; other girls in silver-spangled, layered blouses. Over and against all this peasant ebullience stands a troupe of white-clad nurses, headed by the Red Cross flag. In front of them waits a group of grey-haired male dignitaries dressed in dark blue suits, in sports coats and slacks; at their head a standard-bearer holds a large rectangular blazon in gold, a silver cross stitched to its center. Herakles, who was taught archery early by Eurytos. A red-coated, blue-trousered marching band, red stripes up their pant legs, is assembling. Received from Hermes a sword, from Apollo a bow and arrows. Both sides of the roadway are lined with expectant spectators, most of them wearing their Sunday best. From Athene a silver robe. The whole town, it would seem, has turned out for the occasion.
“All this while, Penelope has been of half a mind to go down into the Great Hall, but burdened as she is with grief, she cannot find the heart to bathe and deck herself in her finery. Accordingly, Athena grants her a deep, relaxing sleep so as to wipe away all trace of care and weariness.” When, after sailing over from Argos, they arrived in Aulis for the second time, the fleet was held back by adverse winds. “As she slumbers, the goddess bathes her lovely face with heavenly balm and makes her seem taller, slimmer and more fair-complexioned.” Calchas declared that they could not sail unless the most beautiful of Agamemnon’s daughters was offered in sacrifice to Artemis. “Eventually, awakened by the voices of her servants, she sits up in bed and says:” For the goddess was angry with Agamemnon.
“‘How refreshed I feel!’” Because, when shooting a deer at a hunt on Icarion: “‘If only Artemis would grant me a death just like this sleep of mine.’” He had said not even Artemis could have shot as well as that. “‘Instead of my drowning in tears of longing for my husband.’” And because Atreus had failed to sacrifice the golden lamb to her. “‘The finest man in Greece.’” On hearing such words, Agamemnon sent Odysseus and Talthybios to Clytemnestra to ask her for Iphigeneia, claiming that he had promised to give her in marriage to Achilles as a reward for taking part in the expedition.
“At last, accompanied by two serving girls, Penelope made her way downstairs.” So Clytemnestra sent her off. “When Odysseus saw her, his heart started to pound, but his face revealed nothing of his emotion.” And Agamemnon brought her to the altar for the slaughter. “At this Eurymachus approached the queen:” But Artemis snatched her away, conveyed her to the island of the Taurians and installed her there as her priestess. “‘Penelope, how beautiful you are today!’” he cried. Substituting a deer for her at the altar. “‘If all the noble sons of Greece could see you now, they would come running in such numbers that this palace could not hold them.’” According to some accounts, Artemis made her immortal. “To which Penelope replied:
“Eurymachos, all my excellence, my beauty and figure,
were ruined by the immortals when the Argives took ship
for Ilion, and with them went my husband, Odysseus.
If he were to come back to me and take care of my life, then
my reputation would be greater and more splendid. Now, as it is,
I grieve, for such evils the god has let loose upon me.”
“This was the answer Penelope gave Eurymachus, and Odysseus, who had heard it all, was filled with love and admiration for her.”
We pass the Palace of Justice, closed for the weekend, but shortly to reopen. We pass Olympia Restaurant Coffee Bar: “Dancing,” “Music,” “Greek Show with Local Folk Ballet.” “As evening fell, the suitors began to dance and sing.” Now up the avenue from the opposite direction comes a military band, its members dressed in camouflage uniforms and camouflage helmets. In turn they are followed by an army squadron with automatic rifles on their shoulders. “As the shadows lengthened, some serving girls came out from their quarters, the ones who had curried favor with the unwelcome guests.” We have paused before the Central Harbormaster’s Office to observe them. “Laughing and joking with the men, they lit the lamps and built up a great fire in the middle of the courtyard.” A girl in dyed blond hair has added bright maroon lipstick to an already heightened cosmetic effect. “Taking turns to feed the flames with logs and keep it burning brightly, as long as the merrymaking lasted.”
“Finally resourceful Odysseus himself turned and addressed them:
“You maids of Odysseus, whose master has long been absent,
go back into the house where the respected queen resides,
and in her presence turn your distaffs, and sit beside her
in the halls, and comfort her, or comb your wool in your hands there.
But I myself will provide the light for all these people.
And even if they wish to keep at it until high-throned Dawn
appears, they will not wear me out, for I am very enduring.”
The blonde looks like one of the twelve hussies, among the fifty servant girls, that Odysseus will eventually have to deal with. “The temple of Helios was renowned because that is where the quadriga chariot of the god was found.” And whose fate has already been sealed. “One of the most beautiful creations of Lysippos.” A woman parades past in white top and white slacks, her hair dyed bright orange, a gold stud in her navel. “The horses of the Delphic group,” the guide points out, “are the ones that people admire today at St. Mark’s in Venice.”
“The serving girls were none too pleased by this suggestion, for the last thing they wanted was to leave.” Could she be Rhodes’ Penelope? “One of them, Melantho, sister of the goatherd Melantheus, even spoke to him rudely.” The crowd continues to wait expectantly. “She was afraid, for Eurymachus was her sweetheart, and she the madam of the brothel.” Author continues to stroll forward. “With an insolent sneer she asked of Odysseus:
“Wretched stranger, you must be one whose wits are distracted,
when you will not go where the smith is at work, and sleep there,
or to some public gathering place, but staying here speak out
boldly and at length among many men, and your spirit
knows no fear. The wine must have your brains; or else always
you are such a man in your mind, a babbler of nonsense.”
We are passing through Freedom Square, its sidewalks congested with revelers, the sun ablaze high overhead. Left with a single ship, he put in at the island of Aiaie, the home of Circe, a daughter of Helios and Perse and sister of Aietes, who had knowledge of all manner of drugs (Apollodorus). At one side of the Square has been placed the formal reviewing stand. The clock tower tolls. Fascist buildings from the Mussolini era border the open space. “Los Angeles,” read yellow letters on the back of a black jacket.
From there he went on to Thrinacia, on which island Helios grazed his cattle; held back by unfavorable weather, Odysseus and his companions remained there. Author now situates himself opposite the reviewing stand, within which are visible a Greek Orthodox priest, soldiers in swords and white gloves, and a central figure, doubtless the Governor of Rhodes. After his companions have slaughtered the cattle. The distant sound of approaching drums has begun, signaling the parade’s commencement. And feasted upon them for want of food. The Harmonic Marching Band passes in review, the sun glinting off its brass instruments. At this, Helios reported the matter to Zeus. Glinting as well off the silver helmets of four policemen, two male, two female. And when they set sail again. The grey-haired elders follow the police. Zeus struck them with a thunderbolt. Followed in turn by a dog, who leads the Red Cross unit and the twelve representative island girls in their peasant costumes.
The girl at the head of the twelve, dressed in the red, white and black characteristic of Rhodes, bears a flowing flag of Greece. A man and a boy, black caps and pants, white shirts, maroon scarves and cummerbunds, carry between them a sailing boat, another Greek flag carved of wood flying from one of its masts. As the ship broke up, Odysseus clung to the mast and was carried toward Charybdis. There passes a contingent of black-shirted, beige-panted youths in fringed skullcaps and tie-up boots. But when Charybdis sucked down the mast, he seized hold of an overhanging fig tree and waited. Followed by more girls in multi-colored peasant outfits, smiling at the crowd’s applause. When he saw the mast rise up again. In turn by the various scout troops. He threw himself on to it and was carried across the sea to the island of Ogygia. They smiling and laughing too.
The red-coated bandsmen, having made a U-turn, on their way back toward the inner city walls continue to provide musical accompaniment. Troops in green, in yellow, in beige all pass for review, against the background of the École Militaire with its medieval arches and turrets. Now commence the endless battalions of school kids, as on the sidewalks squadrons of buxom, black-sweatered teenage girls in tight-fitting black slacks are arrayed in the opposite direction, above them balloons for sale: inflatable versions of Mickey Mouse, Pocahontas, The Lion King, in counterfeit, pirated Greek renditions. We too continue along the sidewalk beside the parade, passing another squadron of male and female twenty-somethings in spiked hair and gold earrings. At last we have reached procession’s end, the ranks of marchers coming unraveled, mommies arriving to retrieve their little boys and girls.
The parade has been a great success, everyone smiling. The sun is beaming down its rays upon the whole of Rhodes. Normal gossipy discourse recommences. “Now Eurymachos came up to stand beside Odysseus and taunt him:
“Stranger, if I were to take you up, would you be willing
to work for me on my outer estate — I would give you adequate
pay — assembling stones for fences and tending the tall trees?
There I would provide you with an allowance of victuals
and give you shoes to put on your feet and clothing to wear.
But since all the skills that you have are insufficient, you will not
go off and work hard; no, you would rather beg where the people
are, and so be able to feed that ravenous belly of yours.”
“Then resourceful Odysseus spoke in turn and answered him:
“Eurymachos, I wish there could be a contest of work
between us, in the spring season when the days are lengthening,
out in the meadow, with myself holding a well-curved sickle,
and you one like it, so as to test our endurance for labor,
without food, from dawn till dark, with plenty of grass for our mowing.
Or if it were oxen to be driven, those of the best sort,
large ones and ruddy, both well fed with grass, of an equal
age and carrying power, and their strength not contemptible,
with four acres to plow, the glebe burdening the plowshare.
There you would see if I could carve a continuous furrow.”
“Spurred by the secret rage within his breast, Odysseus continued:
“Or again, if this day the son of Kronos should bring on
a battle, and I were given a great shield and two spears,
and a helmet all of bronze well fitted over my temples,
so would you see me taking my place among the foremost fighters.
But now you are very insulting, and think to be short with me; also,
because you have dealings with few men and no brave ones; surely,
if Odysseus were to come back to the land of his fathers,
the gates of the house, although they are very wide, would suddenly
be too narrow as you took flight to escape from the forecourt.”
Author decides to walk on farther and explore those new parts of the city that have exceeded its historical greatness. It was time for Aphrodite herself to taste the bitterness of death. We are passing the Hotel Adonis, its blood red, neon sign bleeding, unextinguished, into midday. For just as Echo had lost Narcissus, so the goddess of love lost her darling boy (Menelaos Stephanides). As we proceed, the town, growing less and less attractive, comes to be dominated by seedy Scandinavian establishments: “Suomalainen Ravintola,” “Restaurant Viking,” “Romantika Jom Jom.” “The new town,” says the guide, “has a plethora of discos and bars — over 600 at last count, and rising.” At noon the heavy drinking has already begun, to the accompaniment of speakers blaring out old-style rock and roll from musty, smoke-filled interiors not yet swept clear of last night’s refuse.
Adonis, son of Cyniras, king of Cyprus, was born one spring in the forest from the trunk of a myrtle. Heading farther westward we arrive at Taverna Hesperia. Which suddenly split open and brought him forth. Everywhere hotels are being retrofitted. (This myrtle, it has been said, was really Smyrna, queen of Cyprus.) At last we attain the seashore, only to peer out toward a misty Turkish coastline. (Whom the gods had changed into a tree.) Massive, newly constructed hotels, face an indistinct vastness. (As if in punishment for an evil deed.) The harbor road rather run-down and boring, author seeks reentry into the more historical city.
Adonis grew up in the forest, tended by the nymphs. One street in from the ocean-side drive and things begin to pick up. He soon became renowned as the most handsome young man the world had ever seen. “The Crown Prince Pub,” says one sign, “Restaurant George,” another, two golden, modern mermaids framing the latter’s doorway. Indeed, there were many who felt that in beauty he surpassed even the golden-haired Apollo. “Bar Berlin,” “Red Door Energy Club,” “Planet Hollywood.” So divine were Adonis’ looks that two goddesses quarreled over which of them would take him for her own. “Down Under,” “El Corazon.” Finally Aphrodite won. “The Music Bar,” “Pete’s Pub.” Soon she and Adonis together were happily gamboling through the forest beneath golden shafts of sunlight. Author turns to mount yet farther inward, in direction of the island’s greater past.
Before long we reach a crescent-shaped street that leads us back toward lower ground and on into a more questionable neighborhood filled with small hotels and smaller cocktail lounges: “Vesuvio,” “Juke Box,” “The Love Nest.” There are many who know the meaning of true love. “Hotel Helena.” But none can be compared with the goddess of love herself. In a neighborhood that Apollonius would doubtless have known we arrive at “Jason #1.”
Having subsequently set out to sea, the Argonauts called in at Lemnos (Apollodorus). It happened that on the island there were no men whatsoever, and it was ruled by a queen, Hypsipyle, daughter of Thoas. “Restaurant, Pizzeria, Café Bar.” The reason was this. “Medea’s Ingle.” The Lemnian women had failed to honor Aphrodite, and the goddess had afflicted them with an evil smell. “Herakles & Co.” As a result, their husbands had taken women captive from the neighboring land of Thrace and slept with them instead. “The Wild Bull.” To this slight the Lemnian women responded by murdering their fathers and husbands (Hypsipyle alone saved Thoas, by hiding him away). So the Argonauts put in at Lemnos while it was under female rule and slept with the women. “Up to You.” Hypsipyle took Jason to bed and bore him two sons, Euneos and Debrophonos.
Working on instinct, author turns inward, heading back in the direction of the historical city. For the sake of Adonis (Stephanides again) Aphrodite gave up the airy halls of Olympus and hastened to Cyprus to be with her beloved. A helicopter passes overhead. Neither cold nor heat nor storm could keep Aphrodite from his side.
Café Monroe Bar displays by its door three fading photos of Marilyn. Adonis was fond of hunting, and Aphrodite would often accompany him in chase of deer and rabbits and wild goats. Having extricated ourselves from the seedier side of the New Town, we now enter into a more genteel, commercial district. But she warned him not to hunt bears, wild boars or wolves. In these fancier clubs couples are seated side by side at the bar. For fear that he might come to harm. Here the disco beat is reserved for clothing stores. One day, however, when Aphrodite was away. Three teenage boys stroll by, lemon drinks in hand, one flipping his shoulder-length hair up out of his collar. Adonis spied a huge wild boar. The morning’s parade now completely dissipated, the city streets have returned to their normal aspect. The goddess’ warnings did not even cross his mind. Momentarily, author retreats into Minoa Palas, an Internet café. On silent steps he approached it and prepared to strike. Only to find its computers all taken, overwhelmed by video games, by kids lounging about at billiard tables.
Having more or less exhausted the streets in behind Freedom Square, author decides to head uphill, so as to avoid sights already encountered. Alas! At the very moment that he was taking aim. On this early Saturday afternoon the teenies have crowded into every available café, motorcyclists clogging the streets before them. Suddenly the boar threw itself upon him. Pedestrians add their own mass to the scene, as they spill out into the intersections. Impaling him on its savage tusks. A motorcycle policeman briefly turns on his siren in an attempt to break up the traffic congestion ahead of him.
We have entered a shopping street devoted to upmarket demotic fashion: Aphrodite sensed that some misfortune had befallen her beloved Adonis. Rodeo Blue Jeans, Escada, Marina Rinaldi. And hastened in search of him. Pier 26, Lacoste. She combed the forest. Having achieved a high enough altitude, we turn to descend. In her haste and anxiety her sandals slipped from her feet. We are heading toward Roman Casual Wear. Which soon became scratched and bleeding. Then turn back past Scarabée. When she finally found Adonis. On the one side, Alfa Credit Bank; on the other, a vista of rising cypresses before a rocky cliff. He was already breathing his last. Ahead a fire truck descends towards the harbor. Beside herself with grief, she collapsed upon his dead body, the heart of the goddess of love torn asunder by unbearable pangs of sorrow.
“IT SMELLS LIKE EASTER ON THE ISLAND OF NISYROS.” A yellow Nissan has been parked behind a blue Mercedes. (Kathimerini, March 20, 2000). As another bright red fire truck wails through the intersection. Alone and desolate, she wandered through the forest bemoaning the cruel loss of her beloved. Along the sidewalk a black-jacketed woman is window-shopping on a Honda Dream. “It could be the title of a book by Menelaos Loudemis, but instead it is a documentary by Helen Alexandrakis.” As we enter into the street, a yellow Volkswagen in traffic has paused behind a red Ferrari. Her tears watered the earth, and where they fell anemones sprang up. “Which she shot last Easter on the island of Nisyros.” We descend past “Gold and Watch,” past “Top Three Pub.” From the drops of blood that trickled from her feet, the roses, which hitherto had all been white, took on a crimson hue.
Niseros is a small, almost invisible island in the Dodecanese with a huge volcanic crater at its center. Its idiosyncratic behavior has ensured that its 800 or so inhabitants feel incredibly close to their religion. The director, Alexandrakis, who does not originate from Nisyros, but who nevertheless feels very closely linked to it, having been a regular visitor there for the last eleven years, has recorded in great detail the island’s Easter rituals. “Whether we believe or not, all Greeks love Easter,” she says, adding, “Faith is not only individualistic but also communal, of the flock.”
We have reached “Telephone and Fax Service.” Aphrodite’s pain and grief over the loss of the noble youth awoke the sympathy of every god on Olympus. More fire vehicles continue to rush along the harbor road toward an indeterminable destination. And almighty Zeus, ruler of gods and men, pitied her most of all. We are passing by the entrance to the historic Moat Walk, which will also have to await its visit till another day. “Kontiki’s Floating Restaurant,” says a sign on a boat in the bay visible from our new elevation.
We reenter the old city by the same gate through which we had left it. And so he commanded his brother Hades to permit Adonis to return to earth for six months every year. Again we encounter the Municipal Art Gallery of Rhodes, again decline to enter it. A long-legged teenaged girl in a miniskirt has paused to re-strap her high, velvet-textured shoes, her long straight hair cascading down over her face in the process (not an event that one would have wished to miss on account of high art). The command was obeyed. Once within the old city’s confines, we pass beneath the same inner arch again, despite author’s intention to adopt a new route of return. Again we encounter the Avenue of the Knights, once more passing up the chance to inspect it more closely. Every year Adonis returns to earth and in a remote forest on Cyprus is received with tears of joy by the goddess who adored him. Still seeking the new route, we turn into “Agissandrou” and backtrack through “Polidorou,” braving for the sake of novelty touristic displays: Socrates Homemade Ceramics, Platano’s Leather Emporium.
At length arriving at a T, we hasten past a pastry shop and head on uphill. When the time comes for him to return to the underworld. We pause to inspect a display of medieval chessboards. Aphrodite gives him a last, a heartbroken, kiss, and the whole world mourns. A large statue of Helios smiles down on the scene. The skies become dark with clouds, because Adonis has gone, and autumn is coming, and the harsh winter.
Nonetheless he will return, and with him spring’s blossoms and joys, the happy festivals of April, when men praise Adonis, Aphrodite and the earth’s renewal, as somewhere in the forest the divine couple runs and plays again.
It is one of the ironies of history that the demise of the Byzantine Empire was accelerated not by invasions of infidels from the East, nor of barbarians from the North, but by an invasion from the West of fellow Christians, the Frankish Crusaders. Having reached the end of the flagstones of the new city, we turn back into the cobblestones of the old city with its glorious medieval buildings. The stated mission of the crusades was to liberate the Holy Land from the Muslims. The tops of the pebbles that form the cobbled street. But in reality they were driven as much by greed as by religious fervor. Have been worn away by ages of abrasion. By the time the First Crusade was launched in 1095. We rise and then descend again along the same narrow street. The Franks had already made substantial gains in Italy at the empire’s expense. To catch the rays of the sun. And the rulers of Constantinople were understandably nervous about giving the crusaders safe passage on their way to Jerusalem. Old men have turned their chairs about and leaned their backs against the sun-struck wall.
The capital was sacked in 1205, after which the crusaders installed Baldwin of Flanders as head of the short-lived Latin Empire of Constantinople. As we descend this ordinary medieval street, we glance into narrower alleyways, past a building painted yellow on one side, blue on the other. Much of the Byzantine Empire was partitioned into feudal states ruled by self-styled “Latin” (mostly Frankish) princes. We have reached the Roman Agora. Greece now entered one of the more tumultuous periods of its history. The Byzantines fought to regain their lost capital and to keep the areas they had managed to hold, while the Latin princes fought among themselves to expand their territories.
Meanwhile, the Venetians had secured a foothold in Greece. We turn left and continue to descend. Over the next few centuries they acquired all the key Greek ports. At the bottom of the hill we emerge with a right turn into a sunny scene behind the inner walls of the moat. Including those of the island of Crete. It is a magnificent prospect. They became the wealthiest and most powerful traders of the Mediterranean. We look directly across a bridge but only through slitted apertures down into the moat itself. Despite this disorderly state of affairs, Byzantium was not yet dead. There opens up a vista of walls embracing another inner wall. In 1259 the Byzantine emperor Michael VIII Palaeologos recaptured the Peloponnese from the Frankish Villehardouin family and took as its headquarters the city of Mystras. Huge cannonballs are here strewn about the sandy floor of the waterless moat. Michael VIII managed to reclaim Constantinople in 1261, but by this time Byzantium had become a shadow of its former self. We continue farther in order to exit under coniferous trees into a major avenue.
Constantinople was soon facing a much greater threat from the East. We have taken a stand opposite a Fascist-style Catholic Church, St. Francis of Assisi. The Seljuk Turks, a tribe from central Asia. The sunlight falling on its facade too. Had first appeared on the eastern fringes of the empire in the middle of the 11th century. Before the church stands an awkward representation of the saint, a little bird perched on one of his clumsy hands. They established themselves in the Anatolian plain by defeating a Byzantine army at Manzikert during 1071 (The Lonely Planet’s Greece). One sign directs us toward Diagoras Stadium, another toward the port.
We have left the medieval city and look to reenter it ahead. When Theseus arrived in Crete, Ariadne, the daughter of Minos, fell in love with him and promised to assist him if he would agree to take her away to Athens and marry her (Apollodorus). Were we to enter it too soon, we would run the risk of getting lost in its maze, and so we remain outside its walls for the moment to contemplate our reentry strategy. When Theseus agreed on oath to do so, she asked Daidalos to reveal how it was possible to escape from the Labyrinth.
At an Internet café near the base of the medieval town author pauses to check his email. Although the gods and all nature rejoiced at this sacred wedding, there was one foolish nymph who did not wish to attend the great feast (Stephanides). Here he engages in conversation a 20-year-old girl named Anna, inhabitant of Rhodes, who regards Hera as her true identity. Her name was Helone, and she pretended that she was unable to walk.
Author: In Samos, at the Heraion, I looked and looked and could not find Hera, and now I have found her. You are the computer-mother, and these computers are your babies, is that right?
“Hera”: Yes, that is right. She dragged herself slowly along the road.
Author: It would be a great privilege, if you would tell us what it is like to be Hera. For she had no intention of reaching Olympus. You have a very famous family, consisting of three brothers, and one of these, you know, is Zeus?
“Hera”: Zeus is my brother? I thought he was my husband.
Author: He is both your husband and your brother.
“Hera”: Oh. Then you mean I went with my brother and I made a son? The wedding was already over and she was far way, feigning painful haste.
Author: Do you know who are your sons? Though she was really walking as slowly as she could. Two of them are Ares and Hephaistos.
“Hera”: Hephaistos? When Hera learned of this.
Author: Yes, the god of art, the smith, the metalworker. She could not let Helone go unpunished. You recall that in Homer he makes a shield and armor for Achilles.
“Hera”: Oh really. She turned her into an animal encased in a hard shell.
Author: Yes. But to return to Hera and Zeus. So she would never again be able to walk faster than she had done on the way to the wedding. You know, they are always fighting, arguing like man and woman.
“Hera”: Ah . . . yes. They are just acting like a normal husband and wife. The animal is the familiar tortoise of our days, or “helone.” And I want to tell you, I have a problem with the Hercules. As the Greeks call it.
Author: You mean another son of yours?
“Hera”: Yes. He never listens to me, and he’s always with people, little creatures, and I don’t want that. He doesn’t respect me. He’s always trying to help these people instead of helping me.
Author: And how do you punish Herakles, when he is a bad boy?
“Hera”: Um . . . I create some giants, or I create lots of things in my imagination. And I make him fight with them. But he always kills them. I cannot beat him. I cannot kill him.
Author: You know, some people say that you are the goddess of the earth, but others say that you are the goddess of the air, that your name, Hera, means “air.”
“Hera”: I’m both.
Following his conversation with Anna (“Hera”) at the Internet café, author reenters the old city through a massively arched portal. On his advice, she gave Theseus a thread as he entered (Apollodorus again). It is mid afternoon. He attached it to the door and played it out as he went in. Crossing over the inner moat, we descend into winding passageways, across narrow public spaces, until we have reentered the domestic quarters of the town once more. Prudent author takes a turn along a flagstone walkway toward the outer wall, lest he get lost in the cobble-stoned maze.
As it is, return to one’s rooms will be difficult, for there are no clear landmarks, much less street signs. Discovering the Minotaur in the innermost part of the Labyrinth, Theseus killed it with blows from his fists. We hug the outer wall, passing stuccoed facades on our left, peering up alleyways overarched in stone. He then made his way out again by pulling on the thread. At last a detail of the port emerges into view: the high stack of a ferry recently arrived. We have reached a gate, though which one we are not sure. An arrow points us in the direction of the harbor’s “Hellenistic Fortification Wall.” A sign above it, on a building’s corner, indicates that we have entered “Dionysus Road.” A bronze plaque on the outer wall names “Akantias Gate.” Rather than continuing around a point in the fortifications, we hazard another inward foray to cut across towards the known entity of Agias Aekaterinis Gate. Luckily we have reached a part of the maze that we had earlier traversed, as we now retrace the route taken in search of the Cava d’Oro. As he was returning to Athens with Ariadne and the children, he stopped on the island of Naxos, arriving there at night. This alleyway, recognizable by its border of cypresses, leads directly to St. Catherine’s Gate, thence into Martyrion Street. Where Dionysos fell in love with Ariadne and carried her off.
By nightfall the old city has given up its cheerful touristic aspect to revert to basics: stone, mild Aegean air, flickering flame. Underfoot are pebbles garnered over the ages from the seashore. A mild breeze wafts through magnificent courtyards now grown emptier and more mysterious. On the eroded lip of a well, beneath a gas lamp, perches a cat. But for the quiet hum of Japanese cars passing along the harbor road, the glow of their rear lights going, the distraction of their headlights coming on, one could be living in the fourteenth century.
By the time Mongol power began to wane, the Seljuks had been supplanted as the dominant Turkish tribe by the Ottomans, the followers of Osman who ruled from 1289 to 1326. Saturday night few are afoot. By the early 14th century it fell to the crusading Knights of St. John of Jerusalem, known as the Knights Hospitallers, to conquer Rhodes. (Author is reading the guidebook again.) Eventually they came to rule almost all the Dodecanese, building mighty fortifications, not, however, mighty enough to keep out the Turks in 1522. The gaudy shops have been shuttered. All that remains is silence. At this late hour even their names are no longer illuminated, their inner recesses fallen into total obscurity. “The Order of the Knights had been founded as a philanthropic brotherhood by merchants from Amalfi, who had taken up permanent residence in the Holy Land” (T. Petris). Ahead of us lights in the windows of a huge tower, massive in its curvature, shine meaninglessly. “In time, and particularly after 1099, when the Crusaders occupied Jerusalem, the Order gained considerable strength and assumed the character of a military body under the control and authority of the Church.” We pass through the streets not as though in danger but nonetheless with a growing sense of vacuity. “After the capture of the Holy City by Saladin, in 1187, they shifted their base to Acre in northern Palestine, then to Ptolemais and finally to Cyprus, where King Henry II ceded Limassol to them.” No enemy has announced itself. “They remained on Cyprus for only eighteen years, then in 1309 settled on Rhodes after overcoming heroic resistance from the island’s inhabitants.”
It has grown much darker. Overhead the stars are shining. As we pass through the Plaza of the Jewish Martyrs, street stalls, so colorfully decked out during the day, have been denuded of all their content. By memory we must feel our way back up the residential alleyway, as illumination steadily decreases. Our progress is fortuitous yet fated, the spirit cramped yet spacious, the scene colorless yet infinitely colorful. At last we arrive at number 26 and once more insert the golden, then the silver key, to gain entrance.
Late morning walk up Socrates Street, past Byzantine clock tower, on toward bus station for outing to Lindos. The village, says the guidebook, 47 kilometers from Rhodes, lies below an Acropolis and consists of dazzling-white seventeenth-century houses. Following Panetiou Street we reach the precinct known as the Palia Poli but must circumvent it, since the Palace of the Grand Masters is circled by a fence. Many with ornate lintels and doors, as well as courtyards with black-and-white hohlakia (pebble mosaic) floors. We descend into a small street in which a painter is refurbishing the yellow stucco surface of a building. “According to Homer, Lindos was built by the Dorians, along with Kameiros and Ialyssos, in the 12th century B.C.” (T. Petris). Repainting its brown windows and shutters. “Rhodes sent nine ships to the Trojan War and most probably they all came from Lindos.” We pass through the Gate of St. Anthony, following in the footsteps of a high-hatted Greek Orthodox priest. “By the 7th century Lindos already had colonies.” Who has pulled back his long hair into a ponytail. “It monopolized a large part of the shipping in the Mediterranean.” In one hand he carries a black briefcase. “The ubiquitous St. Paul landed here en route to Rome.” In the other, a sprig of herbs.
We must exit through a gate, cross a moat and continue along a winding passageway. “Eurykleia, laughing loudly, entered the upper chamber / to inform her mistress that her beloved husband was inside / the house.” “The Lindians were the first to draw up a maritime code of justice, later known as the Rhodian Naval Code.” “She stood above Penelope and spoke a word to her.” Under a high, arched, stone ceiling, on a bridge between palace retaining wall and outer city, we turn to skirt a lively series of stalls selling jewelry and brocade, still in search of the bus station. “This was to become the basis of Roman naval justice.” We descend farther, on into Alexandria Square. “And is even to be found at the core of modern maritime law.” At last we reach the terminal and are told by another traveler that we have “encore quatre-cinq minutes” until our departure for Lindos.
“Wake, Penelope, dear child, so that with your own eyes
you can see what all your days you have been longing for.
Odysseus is here, he is in the house, though late in his coming;
and he has killed the haughty suitors, who were afflicting
his house and using force on his son and eating his property.”
Author again peruses Lattimore’s Book 23. “The worship of Athena at Lindos dates back to 1000 B.C.” Our journey today will take us by way of Sgoyrou, Faliraki, Afantou and Archangelos to the capital of Marmari province. “In answer to her, circumspect Penelope turned and said:
“Dear nurse, do not yet laugh aloud in triumph. You know
how welcome he would be, if he were to appear in the palace;
to all, but above all to me and the son we gave birth to.”
An hour and a quarter later our bus has still not departed for Lindos.
“But no, this story is not true as you tell it; rather,
some one of the immortals has killed the haughty suitors
in anger over their wicked deeds and heart-hurting violence.”
Author nonetheless has boarded the bus and sat down next to the driver’s seat. “Then the beloved nurse Eurykleia said to her in answer:” Its equipment includes: a necking knob (on the steering wheel), a special grip (on the gear shift), a small television set (a bronze bird atop it). “The Lindians were great sculptors.” An electric fan. “The famous Colossus of Rhodes.” A cell phone (in its leather holder). “(The gigantic bronze statue.)” A short wave radio. “Was the work of the Lindian artist Chares.” (With chord and speaker).
“Though your husband is here beside the hearth, you would never
say that he has returned, for your heart is always mistrustful.”
Many religious icons have been assembled above the window, including three in a special niche.
“But here is another proof that is very clear, I will tell you,
that scar, which once the boar with his white teeth inflicted.”
Three silver crucifixes along with a plain brown wooden cross above them.
“I recognized it while I was washing his feet, and I wanted
to tell you about it, but he stopped my mouth with his hands.”
The sunshield on the front window displays the flags of Germany, France, Spain and England.
“Thus she spoke and came down from the chamber, her heart pondering / much.” A digital clock reads 11:58. “Whether to keep away and question her dear husband.” An old-fashioned clock reads 12:57. “Or to go to him and kiss his head, taking his hands.” Family photos have been affixed to the dashboard: “But then, when she came in and stepped over the stone threshold.” Of mother, father and a boy, presumably the driver. “She took a seat across from him in the firelight.” Along with another photo of his own son as an infant. “Facing Odysseus where he was seated against the opposite wall by the tall pillar.” At three years old, at five years old. “His eyes downcast as he waited to discover whether or not his majestic wife / would have anything to say to him.” There are three No Smoking signs: one barring a single cigarette, one barring two, one barring two cigarettes plus a pipe. “She sat a long time in silence, her heart wondering.” There are two thermometers. “Sometimes she would look at him with her eyes full upon him.” And a stuffed bird. “Again she failed to recognize him, in the foul clothing that he wore.” A coffee cup, a flask of air-freshener, a holder for bottled water.
“At last Odysseus.” Finally, the driver makes his appearance. “In his own house.” And starts up the motor. “Spoke to her, saying:” From the water bottle he takes a swig, shouts out the door, closes it, and abruptly we are off, at 12:02.
“You are so strange. The gods, who have their homes on Olympos,
have made your heart more stubborn than the rest of womankind.
No other woman with spirit as stubborn as yours, would keep back,
as you are doing, from her husband who, after much suffering,
came at last in the twentieth year back to his own country.
Come then, nurse, make me up a bed, so that I can use it
here; for this woman has a heart of iron within her.”
Author has scarcely had enough time to describe the extent of the driver’s paraphernalia. “Then circumspect Penelope said to him in answer:” For there are also three houseplants flourishing on the dashboard: one in a ceramic vase, one in a pink, translucent plastic container, one whose holder is not visible from author’s perspective.
“Come then, Eurykleia, and make up a firm bed for him
outside the well-fashioned chamber: the very bed that he himself
built. Put the firm bed here outside for him, and cover it
over with fleeces and blankets, and with shining coverlets.”
An ashtray has been attached to the dashboard. “So she spoke to her husband, trying him out.” Likewise, a silver crucifix. “Whereupon Odysseus responded to his virtuous-minded lady in anger:” Sunglasses, keys, a folded newspaper, receipts for gasoline peeking out from a Kleenex box, atop which sits a red ballpoint pen.
“What you have said, dear lady, has hurt my heart deeply. Which man
has put my bed in another place? Though it would be difficult
for even a very expert one to do, unless a god arrived in person
to lend him his help, easily to change its fixed position.”
At last we begin our exit from Rhodes. “‘Is this the secret that you have spoken of?’” Through streets not hitherto traveled. “‘If so, then listen.’” “Faliraki,” reads a directional indicator. As we breathe a sigh, the driver turns right and heads on down the coast. Before long we stop to let off a passenger but must wait, before resuming our voyage, as the driver engages in long conversation a restaurateur who has stepped to his window. “‘Within a courtyard grew an olive tree knotted into a great, thick trunk.’” Once outside Faliraki a single line of traffic obstructs our route, making for slow progress. We are passing Club Dido. At a dusty patch beside the highway we stop to pick up a dozen school kids. “‘I built around it four walls of chiseled stone.’” The rest of the seats already taken, they noisily fill the aisles with their animated japing. Twisting and turning, the bus enters a two-way avenue bordered with pines. Along the roadside we pass a man with a wounded leg, leaning on a crutch. “‘He made a room with fine doors and a good strong roof.’” Beside the road a Volvo with Swedish plates has parked. At last we leave Faliraki behind to begin a steep climb at ten miles an hour. “‘I cut off the bushy branches of the tree and chipped away at its rooted trunk, till I had leveled it off on top and all around to make the bed, fitting it with carved legs and ornaments of gold and silver.’”
After fifteen minutes’ dawdling in the outskirts of Faliraki, suddenly we begin, and now with greater alacrity, to hasten down the coast. The time goes much more quickly. We pass by Afantou, then Archangelos without entering either. Soon we are rounding a bend into Vichla Bay, where we first sight the Acropolis of Lindos. “So he spoke, and her knees and the heart within her went slack.” We are five kilometers from this small city, a road sign says. “As she recognized the clear proofs that he had given her.” A blond, grey-eyed thirteen-year-old Athena gets on the bus. “She burst into tears and ran straight to him, throwing her arms / about the neck of Odysseus, and kissed his head, saying:” She is chewing green bubble gum. The bus nearly an hour late, the school kids have been especially tired and naughty. As other passengers try to get off, the driver must shout at them.
“Do not be angry with me, Odysseus, since, beyond other men,
you have the most understanding. The gods granted us misery,
in jealousy over the thought that we two, always together,
should enjoy our youth and come to the threshold of old age.”
In brown sweater and blue book bag, a young Hera ascends alone. We have entered the city limits and begin to deposit the school kids at the doors of their houses.
“Then do not be angry with me nor blame me, because
I did not greet you, as I do now, at first when I saw you.
For always the spirit deep in my very heart was fearful
that some one of mortal men would come my way and deceive
me with words. There are many who take wicked advantage.”
Along a path of huge rock outcrop, volcanic in texture, the bus brakes its way to conclusion, as a painter preparing for the high tourist season descends, white tarpaulins over his shoulder, a five-gallon bucket of whitewash in his hand.
First Heracles shot Alconeus with his arrows, but when he fell to the earth, he recovered some of his strength (Apollodorus). Athena glances across at author, smiles and pops a green bubble. On the advice of Athene, Heracles dragged him beyond the boundaries of Pallene. The front of her sky-blue sweater, lettered in silver, reads “A B C.” And so it came about that the Giant met his death. Beneath the letters are hearts, in red, blue and silver. During the course of the fighting.
We have descended from the bus and begin our winding way on foot through this preciously beautiful town, from which all vehicular traffic has been excluded. Porphyrion launched an attack against Heracles and Hera. Over a sign reading “Bar and Restaurant” we glimpse the Acropolis. Penelope continues:
“Nor would the daughter born to Zeus, Helen of Argos,
have lain in love with a stranger from another country, if she
had known that the warlike sons of the Achaians could bring her
home again to the beloved land of her fathers.”
Gradually the line of school kids diminishes, as one or two at a time they disappear up narrow alleyways, Hera among them. Athena, the last remaining, smiles again at author over her shoulder, as she steps across a threshold. But Zeus inspired Porphyrion with a lust for Hera, and when he tore her clothing and tried to rape her, she cried for help.
“It was a god who stirred her to do the shameful thing that she
did, and never before had she had in her heart this terrible
wildness, out of which came such suffering to us also.
Zeus struck the Giant with his thunderbolt, Heracles killing him with a shot from his bow. We pass the “Mythos Rooftop Garden,” “The Mida$ Exchange,” its “s” in the form of a dollar sign. We pass “Dela Bar Dela,” “Lindos Gold.” We pass a sign reading “Market is Super!” Author remounts a narrow street into a more residential neighborhood.
As for the others, Apollo shot Ephialtes in the left eye with one of his arrows. “Now Dawn of the rosy fingers would have dawned on their weeping.” While Herakles shot him in the right. “Had not the grey-eyed Athene planned it otherwise.” In search of a place to have lunch, author examines three expensive menus, at “Symposio,” “Taverna Dionysus” and “Acropolis Roof Garden Restaurant,” settling instead for the more moderately priced “Delight.” “She held the long night back at the outward edge.” Here he is shown to a table in its second, higher roof garden filled with blue and white plastic chairs. “She detained Dawn of the golden throne by the Ocean.” He takes his seat directly across from a three-story arched stone tower. “She would not let her harness those fast-footed horses who bring the daylight to mankind.” Eurytos was killed by Dionysos with a blow from his thyrsos, Clytios by the torches of Hecate, Mimas by the red-hot iron missiles of Hephaistos.
Over the balustrade a deep blue sea rises to a bay-filling horizon. We gaze upward across the striated granite of a natural cliff to the upper summit of the Acropolis, back down over rooftops to the city at its base.
After Penelope and Odysseus had enjoyed their lovemaking,
they took their pleasure in talking, each one telling his story.
She, shining among women, told of all that she had endured
in the palace, as she watched the suitors, a ravening company,
who on her account were slaughtering many oxen
and fat sheep, and much wine was being drawn from the wine jars.
As he fled, Athene hurled the island of Sicily on Encelados’ head. A brilliant Helios, this early spring afternoon, adds luster to the whitewashed houses of the town. Then she flayed Pallas and used his skin to protect her own body during the rest of the fight. High above, the sky is wisped with cirrus clouds, in its lower reaches, dotted with small cumulus.
Shining Odysseus told her of all the cares that he had inflicted
on other men and told her too of the many miseries that he had
toiled through. With delight she listened to everything that he said,
nor did any sleep fall upon her eyes until he had finished.
“Cleobulos, regarded as one of the Seven Sages of antiquity, was the first to institute public fund-raising drives for the construction of public works.” Despite today’s delays, we have finally arrived at something worthy to commemorate the Martial Virgin. “The Temple of Athena he had constructed in 550 B.C.” Roast lamb consumed, author descends from the rooftop for ascent on foot to the Lindian Acropolis. Poseidon pursued Polybotes through the sea, where he made his way to Cos. We are passing “Pallas Travel.” There he broke off the part of the island called Nisyron and threw it down upon him. Turning to one side we reach “Aphrodite Garden.” Then Hermes, who was wearing the cap of Hades, killed Hippolytos. Beginning our rise across canted, pebbled plateaus, before long we have reach the granite outcrop.
He began with how he had beaten the Kikonians, then told of how
he had traveled to the rich country of the men who feed on the lotus.
He recounted how Cyclops had pitilessly eaten his strong companions,
and how he himself had taken ruthless vengeance on this son of Poseidon.
And Artemis killed Gration. We turn about to view through tree branches the ensemble of the gorgeous town. And the Fates, fighting with bronze cudgels, killed Agrios and Thoon.
He told how he came to Aiolos, who generously received him
and gave him passage, but it was not fated for him to come back
yet to his country, so the storm winds caught and carried him
out again on the sea where the fish swarm, groaning heavily.
But within a few paces we have reached a level above the trees to look down upon the garden restaurant from which we have departed. We have even risen above the delicate stone tower.
He told her of the guile and the many devices of Circe,
and how he had gone into the moldering home of Hades,
there to consult the soul of Theban Teiresias, and his
mother, who had borne him and nursed him when he was little.
At our new elevation we come upon a cave, two huge boulders, carved, in its embrasure. Far below is a field of blood-red anemones, interspersed with white, yellow and orange wildflowers.
He told how he had heard the song of the echoing Sirens,
and made his way to the Roving Rocks and the dreaded Charybdis
and Skylla, whom no men ever yet have escaped without damage.
As we surmount the tops of cypresses, we reach at last the entrance to the fortress, only to find it closed. Our late departure and slow progress have denied us a close view of Athena’s temple.
He told how his companions ate the forbidden cattle of Helios
and how Zeus who thunders on high had struck his fast ship
with the smoky thunderbolt, and how all his noble companions
had perished alike, how only he escaped the evil death spirits.
As we turn to descend, a black goat cries out to its companions. Author himself follows a narrow path back to the bastion’s base, where he turns toward the sea and the clouds above it.
He told how he came to the island of Ogygia, and then of the nymph
who detained him there, desiring that he should be her husband,
in her hollow caverns, and how she took care of him and told him
how she would make him ageless all his days, and immortal.
The path grows rockier still. A modern ridge assists us in reaching a sheer wall face, beyond which we cannot go. Wisdom of this sort is unrelenting. The others were destroyed by Zeus, who struck them with thunderbolts. And so we turn back. And they all, in their death throes, were shot through with the arrows of Heracles.
And at last he told her of the Phaiakians, who had honored him as though
he were a god and returned him by ship to the beloved land of his fathers.
The antitype of the relentless Achilles is the mild Telemachus (Werner Jaeger, Paideia). After, one day, inspecting the Avenue of the Knights, the next day, walking the Moat, author takes his leave of Rhodes. In the first book of the Odyssey we are shown something of his education. Unable to reach the Peloponnisos by any other means, he must retrace his course from Rhodes to Kos to Kalymnos to Leros, before sailing on under cover of night to the harbor at Piraeus. While Achilles rejects the teaching of Phoenix and meets his doom thereby, Telemachus gives willing ear to the counsels of Athena, who disguises herself as his father’s friend, Mentes. At Piraeus a fellow passenger, an Athenian, graciously conducts him by taxi to the Athens station and sees him onto a bus for Nafplio. In the succeeding books Athena — the goddess who in Homeric belief inspired men to fortunate adventures — disguises herself as another old friend, Mentor, and accompanies Telemachus to Pylus and Sparta.
Leaving Nafplio, after over-nighting among its Venetian houses and neoclassical mansions, author continues on, past Mycenae, Tiryns and Argos. It is impossible to read the Odyssey without feeling its deliberately educational outlook as a whole. At a crossroads we turn southward in the direction of Sparta. Although many parts of the poem of course show no trace of it. The Peloponnese is a region of outstanding natural beauty (the Lonely Planet guide), with lofty-snow-crested mountains, valleys of citrus groves and cypress trees, cool springs and many fine beaches. This impression derives from the universal aspect of the spiritual conflict and development, which moves parallel with the external events in the tale of Telemachus — and which is in fact their real plot and leads to their real climax (“The Culture and Education of the Homeric Nobility”).
Since ancient times, the Peloponnese has played a major role in Greek history. We have just arrived in Sparta. “They came into the cavernous hollow of Lakedaimon, / Peisistratos, son of Nestor, and the thoughtful Telemakhos, / and made their way together to the house of glorious Menelaos.” As author is heading toward Konstantinos Street, he comes upon a funeral in progress. “They found him in his own house giving, for many townsmen, a wedding feast in honor of his son and his stately daughter.” Townspeople have assembled outside the Greek Orthodox Church. “The girl he was sending to the son of Achilleus, breaker of battalions.” Taxis have parked on the sidewalk, ready to convey the parishioners to the cemetery. “For in Troy land first he had nodded his head to it and promised to give her away.” The back of the hearse has been opened to receive the casket. “And now the gods were bringing to pass their marriage.”
When the Minoan civilization declined after 1450 B.C., the focus of power in the ancient Aegean world shifted from Crete to the hill-fortress palaces of Mycenae and Tiryns. After checking in at his hotel, author heads for an Internet café. As elsewhere in Greece, the 400 years following the Dorian conquests, in the 12th century B.C., are known as the Dark Ages. Where the nimble fingers of a gorgeous grey-eyed thirteen-year-old girl assist him. Athena is alive on the Mainland too. When, by the 7th century B.C., the region emerged from this hiatus, Sparta had surpassed Mycenae as the most powerful city of the Peloponnese.
So these neighbors and townsmen of glorious Menelaos
were at their feasting all about the great house with the high roof,
and taking their ease, and amidst them stepped an inspired singer
playing his lyre, while with the dancers two acrobats
led the measures of song and dance, revolving among them.
In this way Pericles tried to dissolve the Athenians’ anger against him and divert their thoughts away from their present alarming situation (Thucydides). The modern region of Laconia occupies almost identical boundaries with the powerful kingdom ruled, in Mycenaean times, by King Menelaus. “These two now, the hero Telemachos and the shining / son of Nestor stood in the forecourt with their beautiful horses.” Arrived again at the intersection of Constantine Street, author begins a 6:00 pm stroll. So far as public policy was concerned, they accepted his arguments, sending no more delegations to Sparta and showing increased energy in the conduct of the war. Menelaus ruled from his capital at Sparta, which was later to achieve much greater fame in classical times as the archrival of Athens. “While powerful Eteoneus, who as the active / henchman of glorious Menelaos, came forward and saw them / and went with his message through the house to the shepherd of the people.” He pauses to study the window of a photographer’s studio, filled with pictures of nineteen-year-old brides and their bridesmaids, snapshots of costumed high school students celebrating Independence Day.
Then, when the maids had bathed them and anointed them with oil
and put cloaks of thick fleece and tunics upon them, they went
and sat on chairs beside Menelaos, the son of Atreus.
The Spartans who fought Athens were the descendants of the Dorians, who arrived in about 1100 B.C., after the Mycenaean empire’s decline. As private individuals, however, they were constantly distressed by their sufferings.
The people had begun the war with very little and had now been deprived of even that. We pass a new café, where most of the kids seated outside are in their early twenties. The richer classes had lost their fine possessions, including their rich and well-equipped houses in the country. A family group, mother and daughter, push a stroller along the sidewalk, three other kids under six years old in tow. Worst of all, they were at war instead of peace. We pause to look in the window of a bedding and towel store. In fact, they persisted in their anger against Pericles, until they had fined him. All the bedding is for king- and queen-sized mattresses. Not long afterward, however, they behaved as masses usually do. A large towel in maroon and green displays the cartoon image of Tarzan. By re-electing him to the generalship and entrusting to him all the affairs of state. A single bed sheet and pillowcase is adorned with Winnie the Pooh, Eyeore and Tigger. By this time the people felt their own private sufferings less keenly, and for the needs of the city as a whole they counted Pericles as the one who merited their confidence. The thirteen-year-old Athena from the Internet café, arm in arm with her girlfriend, nods as she encounters author again on the sidewalk. Indeed, during the whole period of peacetime when Pericles was its leader he led the city with good judgment and guarded it safely, and Athens ascended to its apogee.
It having been nearly a week since author has had sustained conversation in English, he chances into a restaurant with the intriguing name, “Australia,” where he finds, seated at table, three lively Greeks with Aussie accents. Modern Sparta is an easy-going town of wide, tree-lined streets that is very much in contrast with the ancient image of discipline and deprivation. All have recently retired and returned to occupy family homesteads in and about Sparta. “‘Much did I suffer,’” Menelaos tells Telemakhos, “‘and wandered much before bringing / all this home in my ships, when I returned in the eighth year after the fall of Troy.’” As new blood in town, author is warmly welcomed. “‘I wandered to Cyprus and Phoenicia, to the land of the Egyptians, / I reached the Aithiopians, the Eremboi, the Sidonians.’”
He recounts his recent adventures in South America, in Spain and Portugal, in Egypt, Israel and Turkey, in the Eastern Mediterranean. “‘And Libya, where the rams grow their horns quickly.’” The middle-aged proprietress of the restaurant has taken a special interest in him, suggesting that he and she collaborate in the writing of a book. In the past (James Pettifer, The Greeks), and to a large extent the pattern still persists, three types of Greeks made up the Diaspora (The Land and People Since the War). Meanwhile, Menelaos turns to grieving for all those companions lost to him, in what Homer calls “a surfeit of gloomy lamentation.” The very poor, the very rich, the political exile, often an intellectual. The overseas Greeks, now returned, reminisce at length about their experience “down under,” painting a rosier view of the difficult past than of their present idyllic but boring retirement.
“For none of all these, sorry as I am, do I grieve so much
as for one, who makes hateful for me my food and my sleep, when I
remember, since no one of the Achaians labored as much
as Odysseus labored and achieved, and for him the end was
grief, and for me a sorrow that is never forgotten for
his sake, how he is gone so long, and we know nothing
of whether he is now alive or dead.”
The very rich are those who in many cases have been in the Diaspora longer. Presently we are joined not by another Greek but by an Englishwoman who has married one and taken up residence in a second house of hers, at Sparta. Helen has returned to Greece. Some of the most prominent names in London’s Greek business community left islands such as Chios at various stages during the nineteenth century. She too is starved for conversation, offering to give author a conducted tour of Menelaos’ palace and the Sanctuary of Artemis Orthia, neither of which, she says, is accessible by foot but both of which are easily reached by automobile.
“While he was pondering these things in his heart and his spirit.” Like most of the deities in Greek mythology (the Lonely Planet guide), the goddess had many aspects, one of which was Artemis Orthia. “Helen came out of her fragrant high roofed bedchamber.” We will make the trip tomorrow, the hour now become too late for good visibility. “Looking like Artemis of the golden distaff.” In earliest times, this aspect of the goddess was honored through human sacrifice. “The distaff she had received from Alkandre, the wife of Polybus, / who lived in Egyptian Thebes.” The Egyptian census in 1906 (James Pettifer) showed a population of 97,000 Greeks, including a substantial additional number who were Orthodox but not of Greek nationality.
Polybus himself gave Menelaos two silver bathtubs,
and a pair of tripods, and ten talents of gold, and apart from
these his wife bestowed her own beautiful gifts upon Helen.
The Spartans (the guidebook) gave up this activity for the slightly less gruesome business of flogging young boys in honor of the goddess.
She bequeathed to her a golden distaff and a basket, silver,
with wheels underneath, and the edges were done in gold. Phylo,
her maidservant, now brought it in and set it beside her.
full of yarn that had been prepared for spinning.
At Lykourgou Street, whose intersection with Konstantinou marks the center of town, a kiosk is selling Playboy and Penthouse magazines. Aphrodite is alive on the Mainland too. Author buys a soft drink and continues his stroll. Stoic political theory is fragmentary (Terrence Irwin), but we can describe some aspects of it in the light of Stoic ethics and natural philosophy. Traffic Club, a fashion jeans store, is showing bone-thin models in hip-huggers, the bottoms of their pant legs in flowery patterns. “Then, in answer to Helen, fair-haired Menelaos said to her:” The basic principle is the Stoic belief in the supremacy of moral virtue.
“I also see it thus, my wife, the way you compare them,
for Odysseus’ feet were like this man’s, and his hands were like these,
and the glances of his eyes, and his head, and the hair growing.”
One long-headed model has glitter under her eyes. “Then, in answer to Peisistratos, fair-haired Menelaos said to him:” The basic principle is developed in different directions, resulting in different tendencies in Stoic theory.
“See now, this is the son of a man greatly beloved who has come
into my house, one who for my sake endured many trials, and I
knew that he would arrive, and that I would love him beyond all others.”
On her upper arm she has a heart tattoo, a rose growing out of it, a dagger through the heart. It is not always clear from the available evidence how many of these tendencies are present in an individual Stoic theorist. “‘If only Olympian Zeus of the wide brows granted / both of us to come home across the sea in our fast ships.’” A fifteen-year-old girl stops her strolling mother and father to make them look at a pair of red jeans fringed at the bottom. Artemis too is still alive.
It is not so much Menelaos’ conventional view of Odysseus that interests us as Helen’s womanly insight and memories. Two thirds of the models are showing bare midriffs. A belief in a city of people may also be defended from the Stoics’ treatment of friendship. “‘I could not tell you,’” she says, “‘all the number, nor could I name them, the exploits of enduring Odysseus.’” Enticed by the sound of music, author turns up Konstantinou Street to enter a large square, where speakers have been mounted on a scaffolding high above. “‘But here is one task such as that strong man accomplished in the Trojan country.’” The Stoics develop Aristotle’s suggestion that the highest form of friendship is between virtuous people. “‘He flagellated himself with degrading strokes, then threw / a worthless sheet about his shoulders.’” Part of this modern square is still being constructed. “‘He looked like a servant.’” The community of virtuous people extends even more broadly than human beings, for in Stoic theology God (or the gods) is also rational, exercising providence for the good of the whole universe. Café tables and chairs, completely occupied by the citizenry, encroach on the public space. “‘So he crept into the wide-wayed city of the men he was fighting, / disguising himself in the likeness of a beggar, a man unlike the hero who had fought beside the ships of the Achaians.’” A DJ, his earphones on, has taken a seat next to the speakers. “‘In this likeness he crept into the Trojan’s city.’” The music is hardcore, the audience young. The community also has a singular law. “‘In this guise I alone recognized him, / and I questioned him, but he in his craftiness eluded me.’” Fashionable shops line the plaza: “Lime,” “Café Imago,” “Cosmos.” The rational principles followed by human beings and God constitute this natural law, a universally valid guide for individual and social life, in the light of which we can examine actual states, to see how far they follow or violate it.
Author takes another stroll about the center of town to investigate its livelier early evening activity, in pubs, in youth clubs, in cafés frequented by older men. “‘After I had bathed him and anointed him with olive oil,’” Helen continues,
“and put some clothing upon him, after I had sworn a great oath
not to disclose before the Trojans that this was Odysseus,
until he had made his way back to the fast ships and the shelters,
then at last he told me all the purpose of the Achaians,
and after striking many Trojans down with the thin bronze
edge, he returned to the Argives and brought back much information.”
By the time that he reenters the public square, the scene has changed: political campaigners have taken over the sound system to rhetorically harangue a willing crowed of middle aged citizens, who have replaced the younger generation at the outdoor cafés ringing the plaza. Some of these tendencies in Stoic political theory may lead us to conclude that the Stoics are not interested in political life, as it is ordinarily understood. Bright lights illuminate the new crowd, a red neon digital clock atop a bank alternately burning the exact date, the exact time, into their retinal consciousness. That instead the theory abandons politics in search of individual perfection. Menelaos counters Helen’s story by regaling Telemakhos with the story of Odysseus’ greatest invention: the Trojan Horse. The purely theoretical community of virtuous people and a divinely ordered universe may appear to replace the ordinary ties between fellow citizens. The married crowd has brought their children with them, the teenagers among them chafing at the bit, the six-to-ten-year-olds running about and having a good time.
This conclusion, however, is not justified. Despite the interest that the tales of Menelaos and Helen hold for the reader, and even for Telemakhos himself, the son of Odysseus is clearly chafing under the regimen of such domestic, sentimental entertainment. Other lights around the plaza now come on: “Power Gym,” “City Center,” “Vita Plus” (the “Vita” in red, the “Plus” in blue). “At length the thoughtful Telemachos said to him in answer:” The Communist Party’s hammer and sickle glows with an inner light, followed by the letters “PKE.” The Stoic belief in natural law is a basis for moral criticism and the evaluation of existing societies.
“Great Menelaos, son of Atreus leader of the people,
I have come to see if you could tell me some news of my father,
for my home is being eaten away, the rich fields are ruined,
and the house is full of hateful men, who now forever
slaughter my crowding sheep and lumbering horn-curved cattle,
these suitors of my mother, overbearing in their rapacity.”
It seeks to provide some basis for the forms of social life that best suit human nature. In the crystalline evening air Venus has made her appearance, the sky still slightly illuminated where she rides the horizon. “‘Please tell me,’” Telemakhos implores Menelaos, “‘all that your eyes have witnessed.’” The community of the wise and virtuous transcends, but does not replace, attachment to other communities. “President Cigarettes,” reads an ad, “The Taste of Freedom.”
“If Odysseus ever undertook work for you and fulfilled it,
tell me these things from your memory. And tell me the whole truth.”
Homer highly praises Penelope for her wisdom, chastity and good housekeeping, Jaeger observes, yet the sight of Helen’s beauty, which has brought such disaster at Troy, is enough to disarm the Trojan elders. “Little remains of ancient Sparta,” according to the guidebook, an observation confirmed by author’s visits to Menelaos’ “Palace” and “the Temple of Artemis.” As they are dazzled by her, they decide to blame the gods alone for their misfortune. Adding that “the disappointment is more than compensated for by the glorious Byzantine churches and monasteries at Mystras.” In the Odyssey, however, she is the pattern of all great ladies, the model of social elegance. Accordingly, author decides, after taking leave of Sparta, to accompany Telemakhos thither. She leads the conversation with her young guest, making graceful reference to his surprising resemblance to his father. So that he may witness for himself the aftermath of the classical world in the region that later renamed itself The Morea. Her tact reveals a mastery of the social art.
As Sparta recedes behind us, we approach the mass of Mount Taygetos, the conical shape of the hill of Mystras gradually coming into view as we arrive at its foot (Manolis Chatzidakis, Mystras: The Medieval City and the Castle). Telemakhos and MM appear separately at the top of the hill. It is hard to fix the point when rational thinking begins in Greece (Paideia, “Philosophical Speculation”). When another Telemakhos, a young Greek at the ticket booth, is asked what he thinks of Helen, “Very good,” he responds, “very good!” This line runs throughout the Homeric epic. The early spring hillside is covered in a rich verdure. Yet it is hardly possible to separate “mythical thinking” in the epic from the rational ideas with which it is interpenetrated. Apart from the seven churches and castle of Mystras, the rest of the buildings are dilapidated or in ruins. If we analyze the epics from such a viewpoint, we find that logic invaded mythology quite early. We are, says the modern Greek, overwhelmed by the forlornness of the dead city. In short, there is no discontinuity between Ionian natural philosophy and Homer (“The Discovery of the World Order”).
Pine, cypress, deciduous bush all flourish here. It is hard to say how Homer’s idea that Ocean is the origin of everything differs from Thales’s doctrine that water is the basic principle of the universe: We have reached an elevation high above the modern village. Thales’ theory was certainly inspired by the tangible reality of the inexhaustible sea. The life and bustle of the medieval centuries have petrified into the absolute silence of extinction. We mount higher still to reach the Castle, historically misidentified with Menelaos’ Palace. And the stillness is disturbed by nothing noisier than the swoop of a hawk. At its entrance a beautiful married woman takes our ticket. Penelope is still alive, though no longer young. “So spoke Menelaos, and Eidothea, shining among goddesses, answered him:” Thus we cannot say that scientific thinking began either when rational thinking began or when mythical thinking ended.
“At the time when the sun has risen to bestride the middle of heaven,
then the ever-truthful Old Man of the Sea will come out of the water
under the blast of the West Wind, circled in a shudder of darkening
water, and when he emerges he will sleep, under hollow caverns,
and around him seals, those darlings of the sea’s lovely lady,
go to sleep in a huddle, as they emerge from the grey sea,
giving off the sour smell that comes from the deep salt water.”
Even in the philosophy of Plato and Aristotle we can find genuine mythologizing: Purple campion and yellow buttercups border the walkway. Castle and town, creations of the final centuries of the Byzantine Empire, even today present a complete picture of the city state as it developed during the difficult years that followed the Frankish conquest of the Morea. The Platonic myth of the soul, for instance, or Aristotle’s description of the love that all things have for the unmoved Mover of the universe. For the Byzantines the Peloponnese was one of the few areas of the Empire that had close and continuing connections with Constantinople, linked to the capital by bonds of political and intellectual independence. As we begin the strenuous exertion required in mounting to the hill’s summit, we pause for a commanding overview. To adapt a phrase of Kant’s, mythical thought without the formative logos is blind, and logical theorizing without living mythical thought is empty. As we circle ever higher we look back to glimpse the plain below, as it opens up into freshly plowed fields of red earth, bordered with blood-red poppies and burnt-orange nasturtiums. In these years Mystras was the soul and center of the Greek Peloponnese. From this point of view, the great scholar continues,
we must interpret the growth of Greek philosophy as the process by which the original religious conception of the universe, the conception implicit in the myth, was increasingly rationalized. Vineyards, olive groves, a carpet of new grass beneath their trees. Picture this process as the gradual shading of a great circle into smaller concentric circles from the circumference to the center. Telemakhos silently gazes out on All. Thus it is rational thinking that invades the circle of the universe. With a broader view of things than Ithaka or the narrow confines of Sparta had afforded him. Taking possession of it more and more deeply, until in Plato and Socrates it reaches the center, which is the human Soul. Menelaos and Helen have helped him grasp the recent past. And from that point the movement spreads back again until the end of ancient philosophy in Neo-Platonism. But the glories of history and thought still lie before him.
The first church, to the right, is the Metropolis, entered through a small door giving onto a narrow street. Eidothea, daughter of the Old Man, continues:
“There I will take you myself, when dawn shows, and make orderly
arrangements for the ambush; you must choose from your companions
those three who are your best beside your strong-benched vessels.”
As we turn about on a hairpin curve, we sight three workmen. In the work of Socrates, Plato and the Stagirite the philosopher is regarded as the great eccentric, an uncanny but lovable character who deliberately isolates himself from the society of men to live instead for his studies. After visiting the Metropolis, the best plan is to continue on this street in the same direction, passing Byzantine houses on the left and proceeding on the right to the little church of the Evangelistria. “‘Now I will tell you all the devious ways of this old man,’” she said:
“First of all he will go among his seals and count them,
but after he has reviewed them all and noted their number
he will lie down in their midst, like a shepherd among his flocks.”
He is childishly naïve, awkward and impractical. Have we, on the mountainside, come upon the ghosts of Ajax, Agamemnon and Odysseus? Telemakhos wonders. He lives in eternity, not in time and space.
“Next, as soon as you see that he has fallen asleep, this will be
the time for you all to use your strength and your vigor,
and hold him there as he strives and struggles hard to escape you.”
Nothing, he says on reflection, is correct but that which I can explain to myself on conclusive grounds, that for which my thought can reasonably account. Telemakhos greets the first with a “Kalimera!” and turns to enter the Kastro.
“And he will try you by taking the form of all creatures that come forth
and move on the earth, he will be water and magical fire.”
(Or could these be the ghosts of Thales, Heracleitus and Pythagoras?)
From Hecataeus, the first ethnologist and geographer, and Herodotus, father of history, to the Ionian doctors who founded two thousand years of medical science. Higher still he mounts, through an arch, up rock-cut stairs. The whole of Ionian literature is filled with this spirit.
“You must hold stiffly on to him and squeeze him the harder.”
(Till the whole town of modern Sparta emerges before our eyes.)
“But when at last he himself, speaking in words, questions you.”
And expounds its criticism in the characteristic first-person form. At last we have attained the highest possible altitude, at least in this sphere. Yet in the victory of the rational first person over traditional authority there is latent yet another force:
“Being now in the same form he was in when you saw him sleeping,
then, hero, you must give over your force and let the old man
go free, and ask him which one of the gods is angry with you.”
The concept of Truth. “And how to make your way back home.” A new universal category. “On the sea where the fish swarm.” To which every personal preference must yield. We look out over the northern wall of the Castle into a narrow ravine. “And so,” says Augustine,
while the heavenly city travels as a stranger on earth, it calls citizens out of all peoples, and in all languages, and gathers together a society of aliens. Past two mounded forms. It is not concerned about what is different in the practices of law or institutions that achieve or promote earthly peace. It does not abolish or destroy any of them. Along with a third, in their interval. Indeed it keeps and follows them. For, however different they may be in different nations, they all aim at earthly peace, if it does not hinder the observance by which the one supreme and true god is worshipped. To the snow-capped peak beyond. So the heavenly city also in its journey uses earthly peace and guards and seeks the concord of human wills about whatever bears on the mortal nature of human beings.
Grey clouds float above the landscape. Telemakhos turns back to brave his descent. Odysseus, Agamemnon and Ajax continue their work with mortar and trowel, the latter two dressed in loose-fitting camouflage pants, Agamemnon laboring in a black tank top. He has a tragic look about him, a ten-day growth of beard. Odysseus, to one side, works alone. Meanwhile, as he shuffles down the path, Telemakhos recalls the stories that Menelaos in Sparta has told him of his father’s fate, searching the past to find if Truth might instead lie therein. If not Truth, certainly much material rubble lies in his path, for the masonry of the Castle has crumbled and slid down the hillside, leaving a trail of brick shards, large pebbles, small sharp stones, in amongst wild fennel, green velvet leaf sage and wild thyme. Like his ascent, conducted without benefit of the modern automobile, Telemakhos’ descent too is proving arduous, hard-going for the inexperienced.
“Meanwhile she had dived down into the sea’s great cavern
and brought back the skins of four seals out of the water.
All were newly skinned. She was planning a trick on her father.
And hollowing out four beds in the sand of the sea, she sat there
waiting for us, and we came close up to her. Thereupon
she bedded us down in order, and spread a skin over each man.”
We are passing the gatekeeper’s house, centered from our perspective against a mountain behind it, and prepare to exit the Kastro. At a turning in the way, between high walls, we head on down toward Santa Sophia, dedicated to the Word of the Father, but nonetheless a modest structure. In its little courtyard, tiny red flowers are blooming in amongst the clover.
“That was a most awful ambush, for the pernicious
smell of those seals, bred in the salt water, oppressed us terribly.
Who would want to lie down to sleep by a sea-bred monster?
But she herself came to our rescue and devised a great help.”
Telemakhos enters the church’s narrow narthex and turns about to study the mysterious, charismatic figure of Jesus Christ, depicted here in the guise of the Pantocrator. In an arch behind him, angels have been floated above his head. Christ himself rises from the floor, independent of the wall upon which he has been represented.”
“She brought ambrosia, and put it under the nose of each man,
and he smelled very sweet, and did away with the stench of the monster.
All that morning we waited, until the seals emerged from the sea,
And they lay down to sleep in order along the break of the beach.”
From here we descend in the direction of the church of St. Nicholas, the Pantanassa and the Palace, pausing on the way at a wall for another overview.
“At noon the Old Man came out of the sea and found his well-fed
seals, and went about them all, and counted their number,
and we were among the first he counted; he had no idea
of any treachery. Then he too lay down among us.”
Workmen have erected scaffolding and are using noisy electrical tools on a building recently re-roofed in orange tile. The path descends by giant steps through the natural rock outcrop. In the order of our descent we are to visit the Palace first. The way in, however, once we have reached its precinct, is blocked by three more men mortising a wall.
“With a cry we sprang up and rushed upon him, locking him
in our arms, but the Old Man did not forget the subtlety
of his arts. First he turned into a great bearded lion, then
into a serpent, next into a leopard, finally into a tusked boar.”
Accordingly, we must be content to gaze into the many-compartmented Palace from above. Not only is Menelaos’ relationship with Helen undergoing renovation, so too is the palace, as had often happened before in historical time. From his author’s Spartan friends, he has learned of other traditions in Sparta: of adulterous relationships, of drug abuse, of children gone bad.
“Next he turned into fluid water, then into a tree with towering
branches, but we held stiffly on to him with enduring spirit.
Finally, when the Old Man versed in devious ways grew weary
of all this, he spoke to me in words and questioned me:”
We have arrived at the Church of St. Nicholas and entered its broad forecourt, irregular, sited so as to face the plain below. With no guardrail restraining us, we step to its dizzying edge for a sidewise glance down into the Palace and beyond it to the mountains that rise above its roof, then once again down into the plain below, and above, to the Castle high overhead.
“‘Which of the gods, son of Atreus, has been advising you
to capture me from ambush against my will? What is it that you want?’”
So he spoke, and I in turn spoke to him and gave response:
“‘You know, Old Man. Why try to put me off with your answer?’”
We enter the narthex and press on into the church itself. Fragments of its Byzantine mosaics have survived, but more attractive than the church is another view from an open portal, again out over the plain, where the mist has dissipated, leaving a smoky dew. Dampened during the night by a light rainfall, the surface of the highway to Sparta gleams in the morning sun.
“‘See, I am held so long on the island, and can find no way
out of it, while the inward heart in me is greatly diminished.
Do you then tell me, which immortal is keeping me from my journey?
Tell me, if you will, the way home on the sea where the fish swarm.’”
“And so I spoke, and he in turn made answer:” The burnt orange tiles of the nearby village present an archetypal Mediterranean image, rising, as they do above white, stuccoed walls. In amongst the houses too grow new cypresses. Telemakhos is alive, and still young. Culture has little attraction for the son of Odysseus, who hastens his descent. At the turning of the path we are given yet another chance to examine the courtyard to the Palace. “DANGER: Keep Out,” says a sign. A chestnut is bursting into bloom, another tree’s branches sprouting leaves.
“‘But you should have made sacrifices to the immortal gods,
so as to reach your own country by sailing over the wine-blue water.
It is not your destiny now to see your own people and come back
to your strong-founded house and to the land of your fathers.’”
Workmen above the edifice are disassembling the metal scaffolding, tossing its parts, tube by tube, into a pit of sand. Telemakhos chooses not to linger. We pass a final workman leaning on his rake and continue on our way downhill, alongside a ledge, atop which has been left a bottle half filled with water. We have reached a sign pointing us toward the Peribleptos.
“‘Until you have gone back once again to the water of Egypt,
the sky-fallen river, and there have accomplished holy hecatombs
in honor of all the immortal gods who hold wide heaven, only then
will Zeus and the others grant you that journey which you so long for.’”
As we proceed, a large crow flaps out of the bushes alongside the path, cawing as it soars. We have descended to a terrace on which a single redbud, its branches spread wide, has blossomed. Telemakhos stands beneath it for a Japanese view of the plain. Before he experiences the Peribleptos, however, he must first deal with the Monastery of the Pantanassa.
The earth is shaped like a cylinder with flat ends. It does not rest (as mythological thought naively assumes) on a solid foundation; nor does it grow like a tree into the air out of invisible roots reaching down into the depths. Instead it hangs free in space. (Werner Jaeger again, from the Paideia.)
Its cool flagstone parterre and broad wooden doors present an attractive alternative to the gnarled path that we have been negotiating. We pause at a spigot for a mouthful of mountain water. The path leading to the church is lined with earthen pots, tended by the nuns who inhabit the complex, the only denizens of Mystras. Geraniums, narcissus and tulips are all flowering.
It took Chateaubriand, passing through from Paris to Jerusalem (in 1806) for us to realize that Sparta and Mystras were two different places. Later, however, (in 1827) he asserted that he had said nothing new, for this was known to earlier travelers. Nonetheless, his reminder was salutary (Manolis Chatzidakis).
We enter into the church’s interior to face its elaborate iconostasis of a two-dimensional Christ. Between two candelabra, each bearing three candles, stands a cross. An icon of the Virgin and Child has been surrounded by plaques representing various parts of the body, presumably rescued from pain by Mary’s benefactions. We exit through a porch strewn with yellow petals.
The redbud has now risen above us, and we continue our descent. Along a narrow path we are offered a view of the Vengopoulos mansion. Wildflowers sprout from the cliff-side itself. A view of the plain opens, only to close quickly behind pine branches, then once again to open up. A pleasant path bordered with ferns leads us to the “mansion” but nonetheless ends in disappointment, for the “mansion” itself is undistinguished. On our return spring flowers offer solace. Before continuing our descent, we pause for another view of the broad plain.
Faust is another story: the magic
Odysseus; Aeneas inversus, filtered
Through the Middle Ages; but still Homeric,
This ghost wandering through Goethe’s life.
(Or is it Goethe wandering through his?)
We begin with a Prologue in Heaven: the Devil
Having obtained permission to attempt
The ruin of the hero’s soul, the Lord
Remains confident that he will fail.
The play itself opens with Faust
Entering into a compact with the Devil,
Whose servant he will be, should Faust,
Of any delight procured for him,
Exclaim, "Stay, thou art so fair!"
Then follow attempts to satisfy,
Which culminate in the incident of Gretchen,
Whom Faust, at the Devil’s instigation,
Though not without some rebellion from
His better self, seduces, thus
Bringing about her miserable death.
Here Part I ends.
The mist beginning to clear beneath us, suddenly the Peribleptos appears before us. Up well-kept steps we tread through an archway guarded by two couchant lions. Once within, Telemakhos glances again at the almost incomprehensible frescos adorning its walls. Together we descend the steps of the church to exit through an open door.
Having left the church behind, we pass down a walled path, almost missing St. Giorgios, a little chapel along the wayside. Ancient gnarled trees are putting out new branches. Proceeding ahead alone, Telemakhos finds that the lower gate is locked. He must turn about and ascend, arduously again, toward the Museum. His return offers an underview of Mystras.
At a fork in the road we are mercifully spared the museum experience and offered the alternative of proceeding directly toward the exit. Telemakhos rejoices. Down a steep and narrow staircase, he makes his escape. Once through the gateway we seek refreshment and find it in the form of a glass of fresh orange juice, expensive but well worth it.
In the cultural history of Europe the city acquired a new significance with the “Helen” of Goethe’s second Faust (1824). Guided by his sure instinct, the poet of Weimar endowed Mystras with symbolic significance as the place where classical beauty, as exemplified by Menelaos’ wife, united with romantic Chivalry.
The story of Part II is complex
And its symbolism obscure. It consists
Of two portions, the first of which
Is the incident of Helen, originally
Composed by Goethe as a separate poem.
Helen, symbolizing perfect beauty
As produced by Greek art, is recalled
From Hades and ardently pursued by Faust,
But finally reft from him. Euphorion,
Their son, who personifies the union
Of classic and romantic, and at the end
Represents Lord Byron, vanishes
In a flame. In the second portion Faust,
Purified, pursues the service of
Man, redeeming land from the sea.
But Care attacks and blinds him. Satisfied
In the consciousness of a good work
Done, he cries to the fleeting moment,
"Ah, stay, thou art so fair,"
And falls dead. Hell tries to seize his
Soul, but it is borne away by angels.
From the Mystras site yet another descent is required to reach the village. As we round a bend along the highway we come upon a sign in red, yellow and black that indicates a narrowing of the road. We cross over a small bridge, a brook rushing beneath it, and reenter the modern town.
“‘Are you wandering on your journey home from Troy for so long a time, with your ship and your companions? Have you never yet got back to Ithaca nor seen your wife in your own house? As for my own death, Artemis did not take me quickly with her gentle shafts in my own house, nor was I attacked by any illness such as those that generally wear people out and kill them. It was my longing to know what you were doing and my affection for you. It was this that took my sweet spirit away.’
“So spoke Anticlea, and as I took it in, I tried to embrace the soul of my dead mother. Three times I tried, and my spirit urged me to take hold. Three times it flew from my arms, like a shadow or a dream, and piercing sorrow kept rising in my heart. Finally I said, ‘Mother, why do you not stay still when I try to embrace you, so that by embracing we might delight in cold lamentation, even in the house of Hades? Has proud Persephone sent me an image, to make me lament and grieve even more?’
“‘My son,’ she answered, ‘most unfortunate of all mankind, it is not Persephone who forbids it. This is the way of mortals when they are dead. The sinews no longer keep the flesh and bones. These perish in the strength of consuming fire as soon as the spirit has left the body, and the soul flutters out and flies off as though it were a dream.’”
“While Odysseus was stretching out his weary limbs on the floor of Eumaeus’ hut, Telemachus was fast asleep in a silver-studded bed at the Palace of Menelaus.” Having in Sparta learned what he could of his long-lost father, this morning, along with Peisistratos, he begins the arduous return to Pylos. “As he slumbered, the goddess Athena appeared to him in a dream.” Today’s first stage will take them to the modern port of Kalamata. In the elder epic (Jaeger) we see a world at war. “Be careful,” the goddess added, “for the suitors are lying in wait for you in the port at Ithaca.” As we leave Trypi, the bus driver shifts to a lower gear for our more earnest ascent into the craggy mountains. The Odyssey presents a different picture. “They plan to seize your ship and murder you.” The Nostoi (the returns of the heroes) made a natural pendant to the story of the war at Troy. “Do not pass that way as you return but rather come ashore in some deserted part of Ithaca and let your comrades sail alone into the harbor.” Gouged cliff faces rise high above us, black birds wheeling in their crevices.
The road winds over ancient revetments. “Stay away from the city and make for the hut of swineherd Eumaeus.” It led on naturally to a description of their life at peace. “He has always had your best interest at heart.” Slowly, painfully we clamber up the mountainside, as the road cuts its tenuous way into the rock. The sagas of the return were very old. Ancient towers loom overhead. “Spend the night with him.” A later age found its chief interest in the human side of their heroes’ lives. “In the morning send word to your mother that you have returned.” Repelled by the bloody fighting of the Iliad. “Then she can set her mind at rest.” We pass beneath a shelf of shale, then tunnel through a mountain to enter into a narrow gorge, winding on up its northern flank, its southern flank but a hundred yards from us across the river. “Thus Telemachus and Peisistratus bade farewell to Sparta and set off on their journey.”
When Homer depicts the existence of his heroes after the war, their adventurous journeys, and their home-life among their families and friends, his inspiration has been derived from the life of the aristocrats of his own day projected backwards with a naïve realism into a more primitive epoch. At length we double back upon ourselves, contriving at last to crest a mountain that we had been chiseling through. It is therefore our chief piece of evidence for an aristocratic civilization in early Greece. Signs of human habitation have begun to emerge, and suddenly we round a bend into a village, perhaps the very place where Telemakhos and Peisistratos changed horses in their progress toward Pylos, for by now their steeds would surely have been exhausted by such a steep ascent.
The modern tourist enters a Greek world of political and economic stress (James Pettifer), a country in many ways profoundly at odds with itself (“The Visit to Paradise”). That civilization belonged to Ionia (where the Odyssey must have been created). Achaia owes its name to the Achaeans (the Lonely Planet guide), an Indo-European branch of migrants who settled in mainland Greece and established what is more commonly known as the Mycenaean civilization. But it may for our purposes be regarded as typically Greek. Perhaps they paused here for honey-sweetened mead and other refreshment. When the Dorians arrived, they pushed the Achaeans into this northwestern corner of the Peloponnese, thereby displacing the original Ionians. The Odyssey portrays this life, not as an assemblage of poetic details derived from old sagas, but as something real, something recorded from the most contemporary observation. An ancient beekeeper inquires about Menelaos, his hero, and Nestor, lauding the latter’s legendary wisdom. These exiguous circumstances are not, however, emphasized (Pettifer), for Greece, like other holiday destinations, is packaged and sold as Utopia, or Paradise.
“On Friday hundreds of thousands of Greeks swarmed back from Athens to the provinces, after political parties made a last-ditch effort to charm swing voters on the final day of campaigning for the parliamentary elections” (AP report). Most people visit Greece to forget about the rain, the vandalism on the council estate, the possibility that George Bush or Tony Blair might win the next election, in short, to forget about their own social and political realties. In return, Peisistratos and Telemakhos describe, for these isolated mountaineers, the fortunes of Helen, her stay in Egypt, her newly restored palace. The Greek people themselves are but small figures in the landscape, like the decorative well-dressed peasants in eighteenth-century antiquary drawings. Though many precedents for heroic action existed, epic tradition offered far fewer models for the portrayal of domestic scenes. The new horses are champing at their bits. It had been concerned with the gods and the cosmos, not with such quiet description of ordinary events. And so Pesistratos and Telemakhos, along with their retinue, take leave of the village to face again the monstrous facts of Nature.
Through the whole length of the village, strung out along the road, logs have been cut and deposited beside it. This new motif of peaceful life. We have risen into the clouds. Was much preferred by the taste of a more contemplative, hedonistic and pacific age. Which wreathe themselves about the mountaintops. The history of Greek tourism (Pettifer again) is seen by some as the admirable attempt of successive generations to understand the roots of their civilization. Peisistratos and Telemakhos pause at a desolate spring to pay homage to the primitive gods. But by others as an endless catalogue of the theft of antiquities, the looting of churches, the insensitivities and stupidities of eighteenth-century gentlemen greedy for souvenirs on their Grand Tour. Though sunlight illuminates the road, a dense mist covers the opposite peak. In this context the Arabic proverb that says “To travel is to conquer” seems apposite. Deciduous trees have erupted with delicate pale green foliage.
At last we begin our descent from the heights toward a distant village nestled in the plain against the foothills. By seeing and portraying as a living whole the culture of an entire social class. Peisistratos and Telemakhos have become fast friends, two young princes, one soon to inherit his throne from an aging father, the other soon to defend his future throne alongside a still vigorous father. (That of the noblemen settled on their estates.) The alliance that they have formed will rule the western Peloponnisos and the Ionian islands. The Odyssey marks a decided advance in the artistic observation of life and its problems. As we approach the village, signs in turn of the cultivation of the vine, of the olive tree, of the orchard emerge. It is the epic metamorphosing into the novel. Again Pesistratos and Telemakhos solicit hospitality for their entourage. Its world merges, at its circumference, the fairyland of heroic sagas with the poet’s own adventurous imagination. Here, in Artemissia, we change buses and continue on toward Kalamata. But at its center it is illuminated by the strong light of reality. The road has narrowed, the skies have cleared, the horses have disappeared.
We are passing by an almost comically breast-shaped hill. Greece to most visitors represents something infinitely desirable. A hairpin turn affords us a second view of its nipple-topped volume. A combination of unsurpassed natural beauty and antiquity. A second hairpin turn allows us yet another view. Of warm climate and human sensuality. After a third turn. Byron’s “sweet south.” We enter the southern side of the gorge, and Artemis disappears. A single redbud is opening at the foot of a bridge. All human presence has vanished from the scene. On the opposite mountainside an enormous cave beckons. A large river joins our smaller stream. The gorge’s flat bottom fills with deciduous trees. Alongside them rapids whiten the flood. We reach a point beyond which we cannot continue and hairpin back.
The community of Ithaca is governed, in the absence of its king, by a popular assembly under the leadership of the noblemen. In touristic terms Greece has not suffered as badly as the coast of Spain. And the city of the Phaeacians is a faithful likeness of an Ionian city ruled by a king. But there are places, especially on Corfu and Rhodes, so popular with mass tourism that they have been taken over and despoiled as thoroughly as Greece had been under the pillage of the Slavonic invaders, when they swept down from the North in the seventh century. Obviously the poet feels that aristocracy is a social and psychological problem. But even here images and stereotypes can be deceptive. He looks at it with an interest that is somehow detached. The hordes of backpackers who troop off boats are also performing a rite of passage. Thus he is able to depict it objectively and completely. But now they are usually refugees more than conquerors. And despite his sharp criticism of the unworthy nobles, he shows an unmistakable admiration for truly high sentiments and aristocratic culture.
The normally sure-footed steeds of Peisistratos and Telemakhos dislodge gravel along the narrow path, kicking it down the mountainside. The ancient Greeks were tourists themselves. We pass a billy goat with a long white beard. Herodotus of Halicarnassus, a city state on the southwest coast of Asia Minor, wandered extensively throughout the ancient world. We arrive at a ridge this side of which is covered with flowers. In a real sense he was the first travel writer. Having crested it, we are offered a view of Kalamata, spread out before us on the fertile plain. In Egypt, in Asia, in Greece itself, he toured classical sites like today’s tourist. As it stretches toward the sea. Noting the famous offerings from King Croesus at Delphi, the grandeur of the pyramids, the battlefields of Thermopylae and Marathon.
At last Telemakhos and Peisistratos enter the city limits. Very few people traveled out of mere curiosity or for pleasure. They stop for a Pepsi and a bag of potato chips. Most were instead the ubiquitous Greek traders. The road is still winding as it descends to the port. Who set up colonies throughout the Mediterranean. Past lemon tree, palm and pine. But kept scarcely any records. Having left all means of transportation behind, they begin a stroll on foot through the streets of the Future. Later, the Romans traveled widely, in a recognizably modern sense, throughout a country that had become a Roman province. They have stopped again, this time to purchase curiosities: a Christian cross for Peisistratos, a string of worry beads for Telemakhos. They initiated the long history of the looting of antiquities. For each, a blank diary. And the habit of writing down what they saw.
They have paused before two adjacent tire stores, Pirelli and Michelin. The first is showing magnesium hubcaps, the second a jovial man made of inner tubes. Ronaldo, the famous Brazilian athlete, is promoting tires by kicking a soccer ball. They study graffito-covered walls surrounding a vacant lot paved in concrete, within which a tangerine tree desolately flourishes. We are approaching 3:00 pm. The long afternoon of the Hellenistic world saw Greek culture spread to countries as distant as India. “Queen of Paranoia,” says a bright red graffito, in comment on a poster celebrating the International Communist Movement. In time Greek civilization came to be seen as a universal. We continue past apartment blocks, along an avenue filled with the disconcerting noise of motorbikes. “Copy Net Xerox / Sales and Service Center,” reads a sign. Others in English direct traffic “To Athena,” “To The Port,” “To the Tourist Police.” The young princes pause to regard the city’s uncomfortable mélange of ancient and modern architecture. The Roman world absorbed Greek teachers, doctors and administrators. Newspapers have been strung out on a wire, attached by clothespins, as though hung out to dry. Greek became the language of the eastern part of the Empire. An air conditioner repairman is visible through his shop’s window. And of nascent Christianity. Talking on his cell phone.
On the black-and-white checkered floor of its showroom a motorcycle store is displaying bikes by Honda, Yamaha, Suzuki and Kawasaki. Scions of the leading Roman families were sent to Athens for study. A travel agency has posted a picture of what appears to be a tropical waterfall, though closer inspection reveals it to be located in Queensland, Australia. It is part of the “Planet Earth Collection.” The Emperor Hadrian attempted to renew the greatness of classical Athens with his monuments. Peisistratos and Telemakhos have taken seats outside at a small restaurant to sample modern Greek food. Over a turquoise tablecloth the waiter has spread on the bias a smaller white cloth and now returns to cover both beautiful tablecloths with paper. St. Paul attempted, with a notable lack of success, to convert the questioning philosophers of the Athens agora to Christianity. Dispassionately Telemakhos and Peisistratos look up over their menus to gaze at the facades of ’60s, ’70s and ’80s buildings across the street, in rose, in beige, in blue-on-white. Two glasses arrive with a bottle of ouzo. They watch as a Japanese car parks at curbside, its Greek driver descending to feed the parking meter.
The intrepid twentieth-century traveler first encountered Athens, after which he crossed the Aegean to Constantinople, Kos, Rhodes and Delos. As they are feasting on retsina, lemony chicken and feta salad, Telemakhos’ ship makes its way into port. In the long period of Athens’ decline, its monuments fell into neglect or were damaged by earthquakes. A little girl walks by in a blue and green running suit. “As Telemachus was boarding ship for the crossing to Ithaca, supper was being laid in Eumaeus’ cabin, where Odysseus, who wished to put the swineherd to the test, announced:” There followed the Peloponnese, for visits to Nauplion, Tiryns and Mycenae, with a final jaunt to Olympia, then back on the boat to Venice. Within two minutes she passes again, this time jogging. The city of Athens devolved into little more than a collection of villages, and in Ottoman times it came to be seen by northern Europeans as rather mythical, as an echo of a medieval legend. “LOS ANGELES,” read the white letters across her back. ‘“Listen, my friend, tomorrow morning I shall go into the city to beg.’” Although they had a fine itinerary, the travelers probably made no contact at all with Greek people. “‘I shall call upon Penelope as well, and tell her all that I know of Odysseus.’” Later, travel in the form of the Grand Tour became impossible, since Europe was permanently at loggerheads with the Turks. “‘After that.’” Changes in the sea level turned many coastal areas into malarial swamps. “‘I shall see if I can find employment with the suitors to earn my keep.’” The lectures and talks organized on the voyages during these years were very much designed to complement a classical education, and they did not normally touch on modern Greece. “‘But now I have imposed myself upon you long enough,’ he concluded.”
“‘Stranger, you are mad,’ cried the horrified Eumaeus.” Dinner finished, Peisistratos and Telemakhos are up and off to the port. “‘Throwing yourself on the mercy of those suitors, when they have no shred of feeling for the poor and the unfortunate!’” Past a fish market. Past an embossed picture of a teenage girl eating a Popsicle. The situation remained much the same till the end of the sixteenth century. The word “Magic” written across her forehead. “‘You must stay here instead.’” The great Elizabethan writer Robert Burton wrote: “‘You are no burden to me.’” Past a shop with a sign reading “Rent-a-Car Helen Rent-a-Bike.” “‘And when Odysseus’ son comes by.’” “Greeks have condemned all the world but themselves to barbarism.” Past “Dionysos,” another rental agent. “‘He will dress you in clean clothes and send you where you want.’” “The world as much as vilifies them now.” Past a barbershop, past an awning that reads “Breakfast Coffee.” It was not surprising if in this climate educated people thought there was little worth visiting. At last, on the harbor’s jetty, they reach the ship that has just arrived.
Very slowly the situation improved. “‘My thanks,’ Odysseus replied.” “Diamante,” reads a sign on its forecastle. “‘And may Zeus, who sees all, give you what your heart desires.’” “Exotic Fruit.” After the battle of Lepanto, in 1571, the Turks ceased to be a menace to Europe, and travel in the territories that they controlled became more feasible. “‘You have saved me from a hateful bondage, for there is nothing worse than a beggar.’” On its bow, “Avila Star.” After their defeat at the battle of St. Gotthard, in 1664, their military power continued to decline, and following the Venetian invasion of the Peloponnese, in 1685, it became possible again for the traveler to visit the country. Telemakhos buys his ticket and boards the ship. “‘But now that you intend to keep me here, I want to ask you something.’” It is bound for Patras. During the eighteenth century trade expanded, and by the time that Byron arrived, in 1809, an English reading public was ready for his passionate philhellenism. “‘Tell me, do Odysseus’ mother and father still live and see the light of day?’”
After Telemakhos had said farewell to his new friend, Peisistratos continued to stroll the modern town in contemplation. In due time he would return to the Palace at Pylos, towards which author tomorrow will wend his way, in yet another identity, that of Odysseus’s son.
We are walking along the road to Pylos, Neil, Zara and MM. Pindar represents a new and deeper view of the relation of education to natural ability. “Telemakhos” (MM) has come across a noted seer from Cornwall, “Theoklymenos” (Neil), who has been telling us that the people whom we encounter amongst us on Earth are not all homogeneous. He says that mere teaching has little to do with the formation of heroic arêté. “Athene” (Zara) is a bit skeptical.
“Telemakhos”: Would you tell us a little more about this?
“Theoklymenos”: Yes. I would begin by pointing out that not everyone you see is of human origin. His pious faith in saga-tradition leads him to confess:
“Athene”: How’s that? That the great men of ancient times received instruction from masters imbued with a love of heroism.
“Theoklymenos”: Well, there are many of us here who come from different parts of our solar system. Sometimes he simply admits the fact, sometimes he strives to deny it.
“Athene”: Really. It is certain that he found the tradition firmly established.
“Theoklymenos”: Yes, and also from beyond the universe that we are familiar with. And it is clearly older than the Iliad. Many of these creatures, which superficially resemble human beings, do so because they have the ability to take on the form of whatever they wish.
“Telemakhos”: So they are hard to distinguish from human beings.
“Theoklymenos”: Precisely. They often take the form of human beings, but they can also take the shape of birds and animals. (See Phoenix, or the Centaur, for example.)
“Telemakhos”: Tell us, if you will, Theoklymenos, a little more about the reptilians, the creatures that you mentioned before we began recording this conversation.
“Theoklymenos”: There are not just the reptilians but beings of other forms as well, and to understand them we must use a different part of the mind. The tutor of the heroes par excellence is the wise centaur Chiron. The part of the human mind that uses words, that understands concepts, is not necessarily capable of understanding the sort of things that we are alluding to. Who lived in the wooded glens of Mount Pelion in Thessaly.
“Telemakhos”: You know, there once was a famous psychologist at Princeton, named Julian Jaynes, who believed that an actual shift in brain function occurred between the time of the composition of the Iliad and the time of the composition of the Odyssey.
“Theoklymenos”: Yes, I know this book. Tradition says that many heroes had been his pupils, and that Peleus, when Thetis deserted him, chose him as guardian of his son, Achilles.
“Telemakhos”: To elaborate a little further, for Athene’s sake: Jaynes believes that the Iliad represents a stage in human psychology in which the ancient Greeks, like modern schizophrenics, heard the voices of the gods. In early times his name was attached to a didactic poem in the epic style, a series of instructive aphorisms derived from the aristocratic tradition.
“Theoklymenos”: Julian Jaynes is partially correct, but again he only understood what he could understand with his own mind. Many things, however, need to be dealt with from a wholly different mode of perception altogether. The poem was addressed to Achilles himself.
“Telemakhos”: Now Athene, through all this discourse, I notice, has just been smiling benignly, as if she might have a higher wisdom with regard to it all.
“Athene”: I don’t know if my wisdom is “higher.” It must have been full of proverbial commonplaces. But I must say that I am more impressed today by the landscape. Since in antiquity it was attributed to Hesiod. By these blood-red poppies, these white snow drops, this pale lilac, and that beautiful turquoise sea and the mountain in the distance.
“Telemakhos”: Athene, may I ask, have you always been serene? The few verses that have been preserved are not enough to describe it with any certainty.
“Athene”: No, I have not always been serene. Yet Pindar’s appeal to it is sufficient evidence of its aristocratic content. But today I feel very serene, perhaps because of Nature.
Author (Telemakhos) stands, mid-morning, in Pylos Square, before the Hotel Galaxy, across from Nestor Souvenir, preparing for venture into the harbor, where a Homeric ship has been reconstructed. We recall that Patroclus is bidden to smear on a warrior’s wound the healing remedies that he learned from Achilles, whom Chiron, most righteous of the Centaurs, had taught. From behind a cloud the sun breaks through to shine upon an orange freighter. (Chiron was also of course the instructor of Asclepios.) As Telemakhos strolls the pier this cool morning, the wooden ship comes into closer view. But Pindar calls him Achilles’ teacher “in the hunt and the high arts of chivalry.” A silver coast guard vehicle pulls up. It is clear that this was the original conception. The Homeric ship, we are told, is a reconstruction of an ancient find. The poet of the Embassy to Achilles could not set this half-savage centaur beside Odysseus and Ajax in their attempt to pacify the angry hero. A photo shows her fully rigged with sails. So he must have felt that only a knightly hero. Encouraged to board her, we have been provided with metal steps for the purpose. Would be a fitting instructor for the greatest of all heroes. Having embarked for Ithaka, Telemakhos disembarks at once.
Author’s experience of Pylos turns out to have been more profound than his much earlier experience of Argos, or his recent encounter with the meager remains of Sparta. “‘O Nestor, Neleus’ son, great glory of the Achaians, you ask us where we come from.’” For in Pylos he senses the true essence of the Mycenaean culture. “‘I implore you, if ever noble Odysseus, my father, / undertook any work and fulfilled it / for you, in the land of the Trojans, where you Achaians suffered, / tell me these things from your memory. And tell me the whole truth.’’” Though perhaps not explicitly religious in its function, nonetheless there is a profundity and depth, a cosmological scope, to the Palace of Nestor, bounded as it is by sea and mountain, by a space that slopes on three sides into an undulant plain. Its four quadrants, we note, are all sited on stone peaks, its throne room too apparently set on a geocentric axis. The Mycenaean palace, in short, seems to have been grounded on a far more ancient site.
“In turn the Gerenian horseman, Nestor, answered him:” Aristocracy, in all ages and all nations, is marked by discipline, the deliberate formation of human character through wise direction and constant advice. Again, MM-Telemakhos is attentive.
“For nine years we fabricated evils against them, trying them
with every kind of stratagem, and at last the son of Kronos
finished it. Then there was no man who wanted to be set up
for cunning against great Odysseus, for he far surpassed them
all, your father, in every kind of stratagem, if, as you say, you
truly are his son, and wonder seizes me when I look on you.”
The aristocracy is the only class that can claim to produce the complete Man. “‘Anyway, we came to Tenedos and made sacrifice to the immortals,’” he continues. Which can only be justified by cultivating the fundamental human qualities towards that perfect end.
“Some who followed the lord Odysseus, the wise and resourceful,
turned about, and boarding once more their oar-swept vessels
went back, bringing comfort to Atreus’ son, Agamemnon.
But I fled, for I saw how the god was devising evils,
and the great fair-haired Menelaos came to join us, and
caught us at Lesbos as we pondered our long sea-voyage,
whether or not we should sail over the top of rocky Chios.”
The tholos tombs are truly hive-like. How far digging up the past has really changed it is a moot point. We descend the hill to the first of these, enter it, and find that bees have joined us, apparently recognizing in this structure a home of their own. It is a political question that goes to the heart of the relationship between Greece and its northern neighbors. “‘I held on for Pylos,
“Never did the wind fail, once the god had set it to blowing.
And so, dear child, I returned, without news, and had learned nothing
concerning those other Achaians, which had survived and which had perished.
Instead, all that I know I have got by hearsay sitting here in my palace;
this you too shall know; it is right that you should; I will not conceal it.”
Schliemann’s obsessive rediscovery of the Mycenaean world. The superior rank and worth of the aristocracy. Is inextricably linked to the enormous influence. Imply an obligation to shape its members. That such images of classical Greece. During their malleable youth. Had on nineteenth-century German intellectual life. In their accepted ideal of nobility.
“They say that the Myrmidons, those furious spearmen led by
the glorious son of greathearted Achilleus made a good voyage,
and Philoktetes, Poias’ shining son, had thereafter fair sailing,
and Idomeneus brought back to Crete all his companions
who had escaped from the fighting. The sea took none of these men.”
The power, for example, of classical images in Hegel’s philosophy.
A tortoise shell cat, who with very friendly gestures had met us at the entranceway to Nestor’s palace, returns to meet us again, some distance off, at the tholos tomb, its dome,” says the Cincinnati guide, “restored in 1957 by the Greek Archaeological Service.” Nestor had sent 90 ships to the Trojan War, compared with Agamemnon’s hundred. In a less attractive context, the excavations at Olympia were a major influence on what was to become fascist architecture in Italy and Germany. In this process education becomes culture for the first time. Pylos seems to have ruled the seas from the western Peloponnisos. It becomes, that is, a process by which the whole personality is modeled on a fixed pattern. Pylos likely had extensive contacts with Crete too, as the marvelous design on the tiled floor of the Great Hall attests. “Then the thoughtful Telemachos said to him in answer:” The excavation process is an exact image of colonialism, in which monuments were removed lock, stock and barrel to museums in northern Europe.
“If only the gods would grant to me such strength as my father has,
to take revenge on the suitors for their overbearing oppression.
They force their way upon me and recklessly plot against me.
No, the gods have spun out no such strand of prosperity
for me and my father. Now we must forever have to endure it.”
Odysseus’ repeated assertion of his own Cretan identity, in stories patently false, nonetheless suggests that a link among Ithaka, Pylos and Knossos existed and that the full expansion of Minoan culture, into the western Peloponnisos and Ionia, has not yet been uncovered. The Pergamon Altar in Berlin is perhaps a case in point, and the Elgin Marbles are by no means an isolated example. “Then in turn Nestor the Gerenian horseman answered Telemakhos:” The Greeks always felt the importance of such a pattern in the development of any culture.
“Tell me, are you willingly put down, or are the people
who live about you swayed by some divine voice and hate you?
Who knows whether he will come some day and punish the violence
of these people, either by himself or along with all the Achaians?”
Where, for that matter, is the true Ithaka? It is essential in any aristocratic civilization. “‘If only grey-eyed Athene would deign to love you.’” Whether the ideal be the khalos khagathos of Greece. Both author and Telemakhos. The cortesia of medieval knighthood. In however different ways. Or the social elegance that smiles its conventional smile. Have profited from their education at Pylos. From the portraits of the eighteenth century. Nestor continues:
“If she would deign to love you as she did him, and care for you
in her heart, then some of those people might well forget about marrying.”
To which the thoughtful Telemachos said to him in answer:
“Old sir, I think that what you have said will not be accomplished.
What you mean is too big. It bewilders me. That which I hope for
could never happen to me, not even if the gods so willed it.”
At this point, however, the two figures diverge, Telemakhos making his way by sea from Kalamata, author preparing for his train tomorrow to Pyrgos, where he hopes to locate his own Eumaios’ hut. The next day he will follow on to Patras and rejoin the young hero.
Leaving behind at last the rustic mountains, we descend to the plain, skirting the famous sandy beaches of Pylos as we head on north. “Dawn’s pearly light was gilding the horizon by the time Telemachus reached Ithaca.” A turquoise sea extends toward the horizon. “Into a deserted cove he sailed his high-masted ship.” But within minutes, the atmosphere having changed, the sea re-colors itself a dark blue. “The suitors, lying in ambush for him, were unaware that he had taken another route.” Like the early spring landscape of central Oklahoma, the countryside is flecked with redbud and the white petals of flowering fruit trees. “As Telemachus jumped ashore, he shouted to the sailors:” White hawthorn and fig trees crowd up to the tracks, our tiny electric train whirring along across the coastal flats. “‘Sail her on to the city, while I go up to see the swineherd Eumaios.’” We struggle to keep pace with a bus traveling on a road farther inland. ‘“In the evening I’ll come down and visit the palace.’”
Our train. Aesop’s master. Treats all reality as transient phenomena. Later sold him to a slave trader, who made his caitiffs carry heavy loads as they traveled from town to town. Slipping through villages as easily as it does through the olive groves that border both sides of the track. Plato tells us that in his time many came to believe that Homer was the educator of all Greece. At each unguarded intersection it honks its car-like horn. One day, when the slaves were asked to pick the loads that they preferred to carry. At our approach a flock of sheep scampers from one end to the other of a field speckled with fennel. Since then, Homer’s influence has spread far beyond the frontiers of Hellas (Jaeger). Others picked lighter loads, but Aesop picked the heaviest, the one that contained their food for the journey (Deccan Herald, “Open Sesame”). We pause at a station, but no one boards our little three-wagon affair. “At the moment that Telemakhos arrived, Odysseus and Eumaios were preparing breakfast.” A green agricultural pickup is parked at the station, a tractor, farther up the town’s main street.
Finally, this late Saturday morning, we arrive at Pyrgos. “The other men had already gone out to graze the pigs.” Now the others made fun of Aesop. Plato himself held that the value of Homer’s poetry was immediately diminished by a proof that it did not tell the truth (“Homer the Educator”). “Hearing his footsteps, Odysseus glanced through the open doorway and saw the dogs jumping and wagging their tails.” The idea that poetry is not useful to life first appears among the ancient theorists of poetics. After each meal Aesop’s load kept on decreasing. “‘Eumaios,’ he called out, ‘There’s someone coming, and he must be one of yours.’” By the time they reached their destination, Aesop had nothing to carry. “‘I can see the dogs frisking round him, and not a bark from one of them!’” All those who had laughed at him. “As he was speaking, who should cross the threshold but his beloved son.” Began to praise Aesop for his cleverness. “The swineherd sprang to his feet.” It was the Christians who finally taught men to appraise poetry by a purely esthetic standard. “In his joy the wooden cup that he held in his hand slipped from his fingers.” A standard which enabled them to reject most of the moral and religious teachings of the classical poets as false and ungodly. “Throwing himself at the young man, he hugged him to his breast.” While accepting the formal elements in their work. “Like a father.” As instructive and esthetically delightful. “Who sees his dear and only son returning from the jaws of death.” We have mounted up from the station to Odos Manolopoulou, where two enormous butcher shops stand facing one another. “In a burst of weeping he spoke to him in wingèd words:” The “Agora Kreatos” displays a picture of a cow, a pig and a goat, depicted against a blue sky, grey hills and a green plain, the sign itself in the shape of a cloud.
“You have come, Telemachos, sweet light; I thought I would never
see you again, when you had gone in the ship to Pylos.
But come now into the house, dear child, so that I can pleasure
my heart with looking at you again, once you are inside;
for you do not very often visit the estate and the herdsmen
but instead stay in town, since now it seems you are ever
minded to face the deadly company of the lordly suitors.”
Diagonally opposite, another butcher’s shop displays, outdoors, a full pig and a flank of pork; inside, very pink representations of hams, shanks, cutlets and spareribs. “Then in answer the thoughtful Telemachos said to Eumaios:
“So it shall be, my father; but for your sake I came here,
to look upon you with my eyes, and to hear a word from you,
whether my mother endures still in the halls, or whether
some other man has married her, and the bed of Odysseus
lies forlorn of sleepers, with spider webs grown upon it.”
Since that time many poets have conjured up the gods and heroes of pagan mythology. The day is brisk and clear, the street heavily trafficked: by motorists, by buses preparing for departure, by pedestrians doing their pre-weekend shopping. But now we regard them as mere shadow puppets of poetic fancy.
Complete with colored stills the local theater advertises two Greek movies: “Fight Club” and “The End of the Affair.” “Eumaios took from the younger man his bronze spear and bade him cross the threshold, where his true but disguised father Odysseus rose from his seat and yielded his place; yet Telemachos from the other side checked him, saying: ‘No, sit, my friend, and we shall find us another seat, here / in our own shelter; since this our serving man will lay it for us.’” At this point we must discuss the educative influence of Greek poetry in general, with special reference to Homer. A beautiful tall blond girl hops past us in tight stone-washed Levis, her black sweater revealing high ample breasts, her black stiletto heels, white shapely ankles. Poetry can educate only when it expresses all the esthetic and moral potential of mankind. Pedestrians are crowding the sidewalk, so much so that one must step off it into the street to continue. But in poetry the relationship between the esthetic and the moral element. Losing her balance as she herself does so, the blond drops her purse in the mud. Is not merely that of essential form and more or less accidental material. “‘I’ve come here to learn,’ said Telemachus, ‘what during my absence has been happening in my father’s house.’”
As author leans over to pick it up, he finds himself suddenly face to face with the beauty. “‘Nothing at all has changed in your father’s house,’ replied the swineherd.” Beneath now apparent makeup, her forehead is lined with care. “‘Your mother’s days are spent in grieving.’” Observing her head from above, author notes black roots. “‘Her nights, in bitter tears of hopeless longing.’” Mascara has smudged her cheek. “‘For your father’s return.’” “Efharisto,” she says, as she retrieves the purse herself. The educational content. “Again Odysseus took a seat.” And the artistic form. “As Eumaeus piled green twigs together.” Of a work of art. “Over which he spread fleeces to make a place for the younger man.” Affect each other reciprocally. “‘Tell me, grandpa, how does this stranger come to be with you?’ Telemachus asked.” In fact they spring from the same root. “Then you, O swineherd, said to him in answer:
“Be patient, my child, and I shall relate the whole true story to you.”
We shall show that the esthetic effect of style, structure and form.
“This man announces himself by birth to be one from spacious Crete.”
Is in every sense conditioned and interpenetrated.
“But his wanderings have wheeled him through many mortal cities.”
First and foremost by its intellectual and spiritual content.
“For so have the immoral gods and the fates spun out this thread for him.”
(It is of course impossible to lay this down as a general esthetic law.)
“And now, he says, he has fled from a ship of Thesprotian sailors.”
There always has been a type of art. “To which Telemachus made a sensible request:” Which, passing over the central problems of life. “‘Detain him here a little longer, so that I can bring him a cloak and a tunic and a sword.’” Depends for its effect purely on its form: “‘Afterwards I will send him on to wherever he wants.’” And indeed some artists deliberately ridicule every great and lofty theme. “‘But as for leaving him to the mercies of that jealous bunch.’” Or show themselves indifferent in their choice of subject. “‘No!’ he said, ‘Never!’” Such consciously frivolous art has of course its ethical effect. We continue on past the congested edge of town, leaving behind a beautiful, provincial, stuccoed house, its balconies in maroon, its shutters in pale blue, its window frames in white. Relentlessly it exposes the shams of conventions. We pause before a shop advertising maps and old books, faxes and photocopies. And thus purifies the moral and esthetic outlook of its age. We turn farther inland.
But poetry cannot be really educative unless it is rooted in the depths of the human soul. Arriving at Odos 2 October. Unless it embodies a moral belief. Here we pass yet another butcher’s shop, the bloody carcass of a lamb hanging in its bright doorway. A high ardor of the spirit. Mounting this street, we pass a collection of modern buildings, then on to more ancient, dilapidated houses, until we have come to a building whose name in Greek identifies it as “Public Library.” A broad and compelling ideal of humanity. The building has been abandoned, its walls crumbling, its shutters ripped off. The greatest of Greek poetry does more than show a cross section of life taken at random. Windows broken out, its interior has been bared to the devastation of the elements. It tells The Truth. We are passing yet another butcher’s shop, hanging in its doorway a headless cow, on its walls, naïve, child-like paintings. But it chooses to present this Truth in accordance with a definite idea. One Romantic landscape depicts a castle, as viewed across a large vague lake.
As we mount higher. “‘My good friends,’ Odysseus broke in.” The modern regime of shops reasserts itself: “‘It grieves me to hear of these suitors.’” The Body Shop, The Cook Shop, Fuji Film, their names all in English. “‘Tell me, though, young gentleman, could it be that the people are against you, and that this is why you must submit to them? Or have you quarreled with your brothers?’” At the top of the rise we reach a large white building with marble steps, marked “Kastikon Megaron.” “‘Stranger,’ Telemachus replied, ‘the people are not against me, and neither have I quarreled with my brothers, for I have none.’” We continue, on past fancier and fancier coffee shops, fancier and fancier clothing stores. “‘If I were Odysseus’ son,’ said Odysseus, ‘or if I saw the man himself return (and well he may), I’d march in there and bring destruction to them all.’” One coffee shop is called “Jazz,” one clothing store, “Pretty.” “‘I am an only son,’ Telemachus retorted, ‘Long ago my father left, and that’s why I can’t defend my mother. But run off now, Eumaeus, and tell her I’m back. She must be worried sick.’”
At last we arrive at what appears to be the town’s main square, a broad sunlit space ringed with cafés, a whitewashed Greek Orthodox church at one end of it. On the other hand, it is usually through artistic expression that the highest values acquire permanent significance and the force that moves mankind. We mount steps past a fountain and head toward its farthest reaches. “Meanwhile the swineherd hastily buckled his sandals and set off.” The sun is smiling on the scene. “Then Athena, who had been watching over Odysseus all this while, appeared before him in the doorway.” Fluffy motionless cumulus fills the summery sky. “It was only he who saw her, however, and not Telemachus, for this was how the goddess wished it.” Art has a limitless power to convert the human soul, a power that the Greeks called psychagogia. “From the opening she beckoned, and when Odysseus stepped across the sill, she spoke to him, saying:
"Notes from Underground," the work that
Introduces the mature Dostoevsky,
Contains his essential self, proceeding
From a deep level of his personality.
Here his tragical intuition
Is expressed in its most unadulterated
And ruthless form. Transcending art
And literature, the work takes its place
Among the great mystical revelations of
Mankind (cf. Augustine, Pascal).
The irrational basis of the universe —
Beyond all distinctions between
Good and evil — is embodied in this
Form. Viewed as a literary
Performance, it is Dostoevsky’s most
Original work, though also his most
Unpleasant, even "cruel." It shouldn’t
Be recommended for those either
Insufficiently strong to overcome it
Or too innocent to remain unpoisoned.
At last we reach a monument to people who have sacrificed their lives. For art alone possesses the two essentials of educational influence: On its back graffiti have been scribbled in spray paint. Universal significance and immediate appeal. “Punk,” says one in pink. By uniting these two ways of influencing the mind, it surpasses both philosophical thought and actual life. To which two more have been added, in black: For it is more philosophical than life. “Fuck the Cops,” “Fuck the Nazis.” (If we may employ Aristotle’s famous epigram in a wider sense.) Plus a third pensée in green: Because of its spiritual actuality. “Too drunk to fuck.” It is, in short, more life-like than philosophy.
A final epigram, in silver, brings her discourse to conclusion: The Greek epics express. “Army life is hell,” it reads. With an incomparable depth and fullness. We turn back now to look out over the broad plain. The external knowledge of truth and destiny. Which here, as is often the case in Greece, stretches out to meet the sea. The creation of an heroic age. And extends far down the beach. An age that cannot be destroyed by any bourgeois “progress.” “With these words Athena touched Odysseus with her scepter, turning him once more into a strong, handsome man clothed in a spotless cloak and tunic.” Even the Germanic epics, with all their nobility, cannot be compared with the Iliad and Odyssey for depth and permanence. “Then as suddenly as she had appeared the goddess disappeared from sight.” So, when Heracles had been at a loss how to drive the birds from the wood, Athene had given him bronze castanets (Apollodorus). “And Odysseus returned into the hut of Eumaeus.” By rattling which, from a certain mountain that lay beside the lake, he had frightened the birds, which then flew up in alarm. “Telemachus could not believe his eyes at what he saw.” In this way mighty Hercules was able to shoot them down with his arrows. “‘Stranger,’” he cried, ‘you must be some god, if you can change your appearance in this way.’
“Then resourceful Odysseus spoke in turn and answered him:” The vast difference between the historical position of medieval epic and Homeric epic is implicit in the latter’s influence upon Greek civilization, which has lasted for nearly three thousand years.
“Telemachos, it does not become you to wonder too much
at your own father when he is here, nor doubt him. No other
Odysseus than I will ever come back to you. But here I am,
and I am as you see me, and after hardships and suffering
I have, in the twentieth year, returned to my own country.”
By comparison, the medieval German and French epics were forgotten soon after the decline of chivalry. As Hölderlin has said, “That which endures is the work of the poet,” and for the Greeks, the Poet was Homer.
We ourselves return to stroll again past the fashionable cafés, one called “Obsession,” thence on to the other end of the square with its older cafés, one called “Rex.” “Finally persuaded, Telemachus embraced his father and burst into sobs of joy.” At this end of the square everyone is dressed in black, except for a woman in dyed red hair and matching suede jacket, who is deep in conversation with her mother before a bulletin board. “The two of them shook and cried in their relief louder than sea-eagles.” On which photos have been posted representing scenes from amateur theatricals staged at the Apollo Theater. “When cruel hands snatch their new-born from the next.” Apollo is not alive in Pyrgos.
Having stopped for a cup of coffee in one of the older cafés, author arises, the sun at his back, tremendous darkened clouds looming above the sea. “At length Telemachus asked his father how he had reached Ithaca.” The route back down toward the lower reaches of town takes us past “Ashito Ryu Karate,” past a shoe store called “Name,” another called “Fame.” “‘The Phaeacians brought me,’ Odysseus replied.” Past “Photo Video,” past “Opera Omnia.” “And set me ashore in a narrow cove.’” Past “Hotel Olympia,” its letters in black on orange. “‘But more of that later.’” The bard’s vocation is to keep alive among posterity “the deeds of men and the gods.” “‘Our task right now is to find a way of wiping out our enemies.’” A red, a yellow and a silver car have been parked outside it. Glory, its preservation and increase. “‘Tell me who these fellows are, and how many.’” Is the real purpose of these heroic poems.
The flags of seventeen nations are flying from the balcony of this very provincial hotel. “‘So that we may see what help we may require.’” Such poetry is several times described in so many words as “the glory of mankind.” “Odysseus’ words horrify the cautious Telemachus.” On past metalworking shops fabricating troughs for large animals, pens for small animals, metal roofing for barns. “‘Father,’ he says.” Past a farm store called “Hermes.” “‘I always knew you were a swordsman second to none, and with a mind as keen as your blade.’” Past a pet store with 26 cages for birds in its window. “‘But how can you take on so many at once?’” All in different colors. “‘We are not, you know, talking about ten or twenty, but many, many more.’” Plato, for his part, counts poetic ecstasy as one of the beautiful effects of divine madness, and describes the poet’s rapture in this way:
After a nap author ventures out into yet more ordinary neighborhoods. “Possession by the Muses and their madness invades the gentle, chaste soul and awakens it.” We pass a store called “Diva.” “‘If we go and face that dastardly lot, one thing alone is for sure:’” “It bewitches the soul with songs and all kinds of poesy.” Past another, called “Centro di Pelle.” “‘We’ll pay a heavy price for our foolhardiness, unless we have strong help from somewhere.’” Past “Pinocchio.” “And educates posterity by glorifying countless deeds of the men of old.” Past a lingerie shop called “In,” which is showing Scandinavian brands. “‘And that we shall have,’ Odysseus replied, ‘for Athena will be by our side, and Zeus too.’” It is being dismantled and refurbished, black brassieres and white negligees still in its window. “‘Now listen to me,’ said Odysseus to his son.” We pause before a dispenser of ecclesiastical brassware.
“Athene also attended the rites of Nestor, the aged horseman, / who gave to the smith the gold, who in turn gilded the cow’s horns with it.” Elaborate crosses, chalices, censors and other equipment. “‘Early in the morning, before it is light, you must set off for the palace.’” A single line of cars is backed up, motorists honking, as though eager to get out of town. “‘I shall come on later with Eumaeus, but wearing my beggar’s guise once more.’”
Statios and the noble Echephron led the cow by
the horns, and Aretos came from the inner chamber bearing
lustral water in a flowered bowl, and in the other hand
scattering barley in a basket, as steadfast Thrasymedes
stood by with the sharp ax in hand, to strike down the heifer.
The street otherwise largely deserted, author turns to head back, stopping on the way for a plate of souvlakia that he had noticed simmering on the back burner in a family restaurant. “‘Be careful not to show your anger if you hear the suitors insulting me.’” Dinner finished, he continues his stroll behind three jean-jacketed teenies, as together we pass a graffito reading “Psychedelic.” “‘When I nod to you, take all the weapons out of the hall and hide them in the loft.’” We pause before a gun shop, in its window: a Biretta, a Colt 45 and three shotguns.
Perseus held the dish for the blood, and the aged horseman
Nestor began with the water and barley, making long prayers
to Athene, in dedication, and tossed the head hairs into the fire.
At the end of town we come to a T where a road sign reads: “‘But leave two swords, two shields and two spears handy, for when we launch our attack.’” “Patras 96 km.”
MM-Telemakhos, en route from Pyrgos to the capital of Achaia, having taken a seat facing backwards, watches the past recede toward infinity, as our train ignores what has been to hurtle onward into the invisible future. The present arrives from what will be and rushes to convert it into what has been. Only the train itself exists in the present, to know which requires that we ride inside it, still, yet always in motion. Thus epic poetry aims at the creation (and perpetuation) of the most heroic ideal. So be it. Presenting to us an objective picture of life as a whole. There is no objectivity. Poetry, history and philosophy, the scholar tells us, are the principal modes of Greek culture. The Homeric train is at once personal and abstract.
The present holds the key to both future and past. We find it hard not to believe that the oldest form of epic was the aristeia. It always has, and it always will. The Tale of Prowess commences. But for us, future and past are interchangeable. In which a famous hero fights a duel with a powerful adversary. The buildup along the tracks. And defeats him. Suggests that we have begun our approach to Patras (Patra in Greek), our final Ithaka. The exploits of a single champion, so it is said, interest us more deeply than a general battle scene. “Patron,” read Greek letters along a trackside building. Which soon becomes obscure and complicated. “Extra Imports,” reads an English sign. It grows exciting only in those episodes dominated by the great heroes. Farther inland a switchback road scales the mountainside.
Beside the tracks has parked a large red Chevy van, facing a blue Suzuki motorbike. Our sympathy is sooner awakened by a duel than by a battle. We are making our way through industrial suburbs. Because it is less impersonal. Now the buildings begin to rise, from two to three stories, from three to four, as we enter Patras proper. Because it shows more clearly the interplay of character. “My heart grows cold,” says a blue graffito on the side of a railway car. And because its various incidents and motives form a far deeper unity. We have entered the train yard and are coming into the station. (Paideia, “Homer the Educator”). The harbor and a mountain rising above it have emerged into view.
“GREECE-ITALY-GREECE,” reads the sign on a ferry. In the Odyssey the aristocracy represents an exclusive caste, which has a strong consciousness of its privileges. “Sveriges Konsultat,” says a plaque, in whose corner a yellow cross emerges from a blue ground. Of its power. “Graeco,” reads a sign in blue on white. (Paideia, “Education of the Homeric Nobility”). “Graeco,” the word repeats itself. And of its refinement. Painted in brown, beige, black and white, the apartment blocks are large and handsome in this city, which, the guidebook tells us, “was destroyed by the Turks during the War of Independence and rebuilt on a modern grid plan.” Instead of the grandiose passions. Of wide arcaded streets. Tragic destinies. Large squares. And colossal figures. Ornate neoclassical buildings.” Of the Iliad. “The higher you climb up the steep hill behind the somewhat seedy waterfront,” it says, “the better Patras gets.”
Author takes the hint. We find in the younger poem a multitude of everyday characters. Having deposited his backpack at Olympic Hotel, he sets out at once to mount the 108 steps leading to the palace, a Venetian Kastro that historically has controlled the city. Their speeches and their acts are filled with what is called ethos. “Top Sport,” reads a sign in gold on black. Each has something human, something lovable about him. Across the way, in white on green, a sign proclaims “Universal Life.” For they show great refinement. Another, in Greek, reads “Alpha-sigma-phi-alpha-lambda-epsilon-iota-epsilon Sigma-zeta-omega-iota-zeta.” In all their intercourse with one another. First, however, cognizant of the future, author pauses to purchase his on-going ferry ticket to Italy.
The tour agent, apprised of author’s project, has begun to quote certain lines from Homer. E.g., in Nausicaa’s treatment of Odysseus when, naked and shipwrecked, he implores her protection. The recitation in Greek continues for half a dozen lines. Or, in Telemachus’ conversation with his father’s old friend Mentes. “Thank you,” says author. In the gracious entertainment that he enjoys at the courts of Nestor and Menelaus. “May I ask you: Have you been quoting from the Iliad or from the Odyssey?” Or, in the hospitable reception that Alcinous offers to his famous guest. “From Odysseia,” he replies. Or, in the noble courtesy of the hero’s leave-taking from Phaeacia. “And would you be kind enough to locate these lines in Homer’s text?” No less than in the meeting of the swineherd Eumaeus with Odysseus in beggar’s guise. “Here,” he replies obligingly, “Homerus is expressing the beauty of Elena, and how she admired Odysseus.” In his wise civility to his master’s young son Telemachus. “Thank you again,” says author, “for quoting these lines. It has been a privilege to hear them.”
I ought to have read, in Latin, Cicero, Tacitus and Lucretius, in Greek, Herodotus, Thucydides, Plato and Aristotle; but I studied only portions of them, and accordingly my knowledge remains fragmentary. Author has purchased a ticket on Aphrodite II. My real acquaintance with the philosophers, for instance, was confined to a few dialogues of Plato and some of Aristotle’s works on logic. For his trip from Patras to Brindisi. The rest I became familiar with from such works as Ritter and Preller’s great Historia Philosophiae Graecae et Romanae ex frontium locis contexta. During which he will imitate Vergil’s final return from Greece to Rome. And from the very useful lectures of Niedner in the history of ancient philosophy (F. Max Müller, My Autobiography).
At last MM-Telemachus begins his climb up through the town toward the beetling brow of the palace. The spiritual refinement of these scenes complements the formal correctness that always characterizes the life of a society which admires polite speech and civil behavior. Just as Odysseus, in the forthcoming episodes, encounters primarily a world of men (Eumaios; the suitors, among them his antagonists Melanthios, Antinoös and Eurymakhos; other beggars; the loyal oxherd Philoitios), so Telemakhos encounters primarily a world of women (Eurykleia, the serving girls and especially his mother, to whom now he hastens to give report of his recent travels to Sparta and Pylos).
A word about the educational influence of women in Homeric civilization: the real feminine arêté, naturally enough, is Beauty. The cult of womanly grace in the Greece of this period corresponds with the courtly refinement of every knightly age. However, woman is not only the goal and ideal of erotic admiration, she also has a constant social and legal status as mistress of the household, and as such her virtues are sober morality and domestic prudence (Paideia, “The Education of the Homeric Nobility”).
We are passing Club Nostos, the climb seriously under way. Even the exchanges between Telemachus and the brutal, arrogant suitors, despite the parties’ mutual hatred, are conducted with impeccable politeness. We are passing the grey Goethe Institute. Every member of this society bears the stamp of decorum and good breeding. In view of the height to be attained, which author can now measure with his own eyes, he stops in a bakery for sweet-ingestion, and is charged nothing for a honey-filled pastry.
The shameless behavior of the suitors is constantly stigmatized as disgraceful to them and to their class. We have reached the head of the noisy street, whose upward progress is arrested by the precipitous rise of the mountain. No one can witness it without indignation. Taking a deep breath, five-mile-a-day MM-Telemakhos addresses the problem of the staircase, whose course of steps confront him seventeen at a time, broken only by half a dozen landings. In the end their behavior is severely punished, and, by implication, censored. Any actual prospect of King Constantine’s return to the royal palace in Athens must be deemed remote (James Pettifer, “The End of the Monarchy: A New Democracy?”). The first two stages, thirty-four steps in all, are accompanied by no demotic text. Most Greeks do not want their monarchy back. But along the railing of the third stage a graffito reads, “Men!” The reasons for this to be found. “Men in Acme Ack Out!” In the Second World War. Beginning to labor. And in Greece’s Civil War. He reaches the fourth stage, where another graffito reads: When, during the quasi-democratic Fifties, opposition to the monarchy was suppressed. “Sun City 21.” Only to reemerge under the Junta. Nevertheless they are called the noble suitors.
To the fifth stage has been added another graffito, reading: The illustrious suitors. “Original 21 Anti-Nazi Club.” The valiant suitors. Although the institution had been in an unstable position many years before. Quite as often as they are reproached by references to their outrageous conduct: The sixth stage (author beginning to wilt) begins with a graffito reading “Antzy + Alex.” The poet always remembers them as gentlemen of rank and breeding. Followed, at the top of its landing, by a glorious redbud, just blooming. Their punishment is very hard. The next (and last) stage, which has but half a dozen steps, concludes with a yellow graffito reading “Nikos.” Because their offense was doubly grave. We turn about to observe the beauty of the harbor, whose waters a new wind has laced with whitecaps. Though their wickedness is a dark blot on the escutcheon of their rank. Suddenly the scene has turned chill and misty. Nonetheless it is hidden by the shining courtesy of the principal characters. On a wall ahead of us has been painted a final message. Whom Homer describes with all conceivable charm and sympathy. “Aggelos + Aggeniki,” read its letters, in Greek.
As we turn the corner, along a retaining wall the graffito text, however, continues, the “writers” of Patras a lively and learned lot. The suitors do not diminish the poet’s admiration for the nobility as a whole. For the next (green) spray-painted entry is in Russian (“No Palestinian State,” it says). He truly loves the men and women whom he portrays. “Cool,” reads another (black) graffito, in English. In every line we can see that he admires their culture and high refinement. Next a bilingual entry appears, its first (red) entry in Russian, its second (blue) in Greek. We are confident that he had an educational purpose in thus exalting them. “Kolonos” reads a Sophoclean exit line. For he presents the courtesy of his heroes as an absolute value. We have reached a phone booth. Not as an unimportant background to their life, but as a real factor in their superiority. The phone itself has been ripped out. For him the forms and formalities of their life are inseparable from their conduct. On its glass enclosure, “NATO Killers,” in a fuzzy black spray. Courtesy is the bloom on their lives. Down in the harbor, an anchored ship, not earlier visible, from this height has come into view, its forecastle bearing the dimly legible word, “Diamante.”
Telemakhos has returned. Outside a taverna’s door (“Ouzo” to one side, “Biera,” to the other) sit four men anticipating a fifth. One of them is old, two in later middle age, one rugged and imposing, though dressed in rags, bandana and Nike running shoes. It gives them a special excellence. On the wall behind them has been painted, in red and black, a hammer and sickle. Which they justify by their grand and noble deeds in happiness and misery alike.
“While these plans were being laid, the ship that had brought Telemachus put into harbor, having first deposited the son of Odysseus in a secluded cove.” Greek political thinking begins in the development of Greek political life itself (Irwin, Classical Philosophy, “Political Theory”). “The moment it docked, a sailor ran to tell the queen that they were back and that her son was safe with the herdsman.” Especially in the struggles that resulted in the establishment by the city-states of different forms of government. “Outside the palace he came across Eumaeus, who was also going off to inform her.” Author takes seat at a small table to one side of the four men, who politely ignore him.
“When Penelope heard the good news, she buried her face in her hands and wept for joy.” The wife of the taverna’s owner steps to the door and takes his order for a Greek coffee. A young man of twenty, his black hair spiked with wax, a gold ring in his right ear, strides past and heads on up the hilly road toward the entrance to the palace. The Greeks regarded monarchy as the earliest form of government. “When Eurymachus, with a black look on his face, heard that the ship had docked without Telemachus, he said to the other suitors:” In Homer both Greek and non-Greek communities are ruled by kings. “‘The little brat has slipped our clutches.’” In Athens. “‘Now we must send a boat over to our comrades and tell them to return.’” The title of “king” survived in later times as the title of a religious official. “Just as he was saying this, the suitor’s ship hove into sight.” In Sparta. “‘It looks as though they saw his ship but were too late to stop it.’” The hereditary kings retained an important role as military leaders. “‘Some god must have let him slip away.’”
When Erichthonios died, he was buried in the same precinct of Athens, and Pandion became king (Apollodorus). “‘If he escapes death this time,’ said Amphinomus, ‘I warn you things will go against us.’” Some say that Erichthonios was a son of Hephaistos and Atthis, daughter of Cranaos. “‘Let them send us some sign that we are free to do away with him, and I will be the first to pierce him with my sword.’” But others say that he was born to Hephaistos and Athene, in the following way: The Homeric poems suggest that the kings took advice from other leading families in their community. “The others fell in reluctantly with Amphinomus’ decision and returned to the palace looking gloomy.”
Athene visited Hephaistos, wanting him to fashion some arms for her. But Hephaistos, whom Aphrodite had deserted, yielded to his desire for Athene and chased after her, while the goddess for her part tried to escape. When, after much effort, he caught up with her (for he was lame, we recall), he tried to make love with her. In the meantime, the young man in black, Telemakhos himself, under Athena’s protection, has entered the palace to give his mother report of his recent adventures. She, being a virgin, would not permit it, and he ejaculated over the goddess’s leg. In disgust she wiped the semen away with a piece of wool and threw it to the ground. As she was fleeing, Erichthonios came to birth from the seed that had fallen on the earth. “Penelope, who heard from her faithful herald Medon of the plot against her son, had the day before already upbraided Antinoos, calling him ‘a shameless plotter’ and an ‘ingrate.’” Athene, who reared the child in secret from the other gods, wishing to make him immortal placed him in a chest that she entrusted to Pandrosos, the daughter of Cecrops, and told her not to open it.
“After spending his first night back on Ithaca with Eumaeus and his guest, Telemachus said:
“Father [i.e., Eumaios] I am going into the city, so that my mother
and I can have a talk, since, as I suppose, she will never give over
that bitter lamentation of hers and her tearful crying
until she sees me myself. But here is what I will tell you
to do; take this unhappy stranger [Odysseus] up to the palace, so that
there he can beg his dinner, a crust of bread and a cupful of wine.”
“‘Light of my eyes, Telemachus!’ his mother cried, as she descended from above to clasp her dear son tearfully in her arms.” Out of their curiosity, however, the sisters of Pandrosos opened it. “‘I thought I would never see you again, after you went off to Pylos that way, without a word.’” And beheld a snake lying coiled beside the baby. “‘Come, sit by me and tell me if you have any news of your father.’” According to some, the snake had destroyed them while according to others the anger of Athene had driven them mad and they had hurled themselves from the Acropolis.
“‘I will tell you the whole story, mother,’ Telemachus replied. ‘When I reached Pylos, Nestor received me like a long-lost son.’” After Athene had brought up Erichthonios herself in her sanctuary. “‘But since there was nothing that he could tell me of my father, he advised me to go on to Sparta and see Menelaus.’” He expelled Amphictyon and himself became king of Athens. “‘Giving me a chariot with swift horses, he chose one of his sons to be my guide.’” Then erected the wooden image of Athene on the Acropolis. “‘At Sparta I also saw the fair Helen, who brought ruin on the Trojans and the Argives.’” And founded the festival of the Panathenaia. “‘Yet what moved me most of all was not her beauty but the way Menelaus greeted me when he learned that I was the son of Odysseus.’” He married Praxithea, a naiad nymph, who bore to him a son, Pandion. “‘He told me that my father is alive!’”
“To which his mother replied: ‘I too wish that Odysseus were still alive, but I fear that my wish is hopeless.’” In the Iliad the leaders of the Greek army at Troy hold deliberative council, apparently to advise Agamemnon, the supreme commander. “‘No, mother,’ Telemachus insisted, ‘he says that he heard it from the ocean seer Proteus, whose words are always true.’” Though they do not seem to make decisions that bind him. “At this Penelope returned to her rooms to weep afresh.” In the Odyssey those who attend the assemblies in Ithaca merely advise the dominant chiefs. “Meanwhile, outside the palace, the suitors were passing their time by hurling the spear and the discus.” In both Iliad and Odyssey the common people have no formal political role. “When the time for their dinner drew near, they abandoned their games and congregated in the courtyard.” For though mention is made of their views. “Where they slaughtered fat sheep, well-fed goats, prime boars and a yearling calf.” There is no specific procedure for allowing them to form, much less to express, a collective opinion. “All this rich provender, as usual, they seized from the herds of Odysseus, whom they dismissed as ‘dead in foreign fields.’”
At the table near author the foursome is about to conclude their early-morning repast. After brief consultation, the older man and the beggar in his running shoes, arise together to take their leave from oxherd and goatherd, who are also roughly attired. From within the taverna the owner’s wife emerges to take their coins and clear the table of half its clutter: ashtray, coffee cups, empty glasses, saucers, spoons. Smiling, she rearranges sugar bowl, toothpick dispenser, salt and pepper shakers, bidding Eumaios and Odysseus a good day. Author too pays his bill, gets up and departs.
Following on a few paces behind the swineherd and beggar, he too enters the grounds of the Venetian Kastro. A little dog leaps up onto a stone wall by the sidewalk, its owner restraining him with a leash. “‘Here,’ said Eumaeus to the beggar, ‘is Odysseus’ house.’” The medieval fortress, built on the ruins of an ancient acropolis, is set in an attractive pencil-pined park (the Lonely Planet guide). “‘I guessed as much,’ said Odysseus.” Athens is really defined by the Acropolis. “‘I hear singing and the harp’s accompaniment.’” The most important monument in the western world. “‘They must have company in there feasting.’” Crowned by the Parthenon, it stands sentinel over the capital of Greece. ‘“Yes, it is those who are wolfing down my master’s fortune,’ Eumaeus replied.” The Kastro offers great views across to the Ionian islands of Zakynthos and Kefallonia. “‘Will you go in first, or shall I?’”
“‘It’s better that you go first,’ Odysseus replied, with a mind to the appearance that Athena had bestowed upon him.” First inhabited in Neolithic times, the Acropolis saw its first temples built during the Mycenaean era, in homage to the goddess Athena. “As they were entering one after another, Antinous caught sight of the beggar and loudly berated the swineherd for allowing him in. Telemachus, who had finished the interview with his mother, stepped to the gate to determine the cause of the trouble.” In Pentelic marble. “‘You are unjust, Antinous,’” the swineherd was saying.” Its monuments gleam brightly in the midday sun.
“‘Leave him be, Eumaeus,’ said Telemachus, thereby averting a potential altercation.” Gradually taking on a honey hue as the sun begins to sink. “Taking the beggar aside, the son of Odysseus offered him some morsels of food.” At night they are floodlit and seem to hover above the city. “When Odysseus had wiped the last crumbs from his mouth, he tottered to his feet to beg about the hall.” No matter how harassed you may become in Athens. “Some were generous, but others challenged him, asking who he was and where he had come from.” A sudden unexpected glimpse of this magnificent sight cannot fail to lift your spirits. “But Melantheus, the goatherd, quickly came to his defense and answered: ‘I saw him on the road as I was coming. Eumaeus brought him, though who knows where he picked the fellow up.’
“Others were satisfied, but Antinous, in response to Telemachus’ rebuke, shouted:” All the buildings of the Acropolis were reduced to ashes by the Persians on the eve of the Battle of Salamis (480 B.C.) “‘What are you blathering about now?’” People lived on the Acropolis until the late 6th century, but in 510 B.C. the Delphic oracle declared that it should be the province of the gods. “‘I suppose you think we should all hand over half our dinner and give the parasite enough to live on for three months.’” When Pericles set about his ambitious rebuilding program. “Telemachus heard all this with the bitterest resentment, but for the moment he held back his tears and kept peace.” Transforming the Acropolis into a city of temples that has come to be regarded as the zenith of classical Greek achievement. “Eumaeus decided that it was time that he himself return to feed his own pigs, but, before he left, he promised Telemachus that he would return early in the morning, for his master told him that his presence would be required.”
This entrance to the Kastro leads only to a park alongside it, not into the Castle itself. “The suitors continued to harass Odysseus, pitting him against another beggar called Irus.” “Chico Mendez,” reads a graffito on a bench. “Odysseus allowed Irus to strike him first, but then, with a crisp punch beneath his ear, he felled him.” Back in the street, we mount higher. “As a reward for his prowess, Amphinomus gave Odysseus a black pudding and a cup of wine.” Along one side of the Kastro stand government offices of the City of Patras. “Odysseus accepted the food but took the occasion to warn the suitors that the return of Odysseus was imminent.” We mount even higher. “When he sets foot in his own palace again, the beggar warns him, “‘he will not bid farewell to you all without bloodshed.’”
Paul was the Apostle of all nations (Athan J. Delicostopoulos, St. Paul’s Journeys). “Having said this, Odysseus sprinkled a few drops as an offering to the gods, drank the rest of the wine and returned the cup to Amphinomus.” He was fascinated by Greece, the country of free spirit, the cradle of a civilization that he had learned to respect and admire. “Emboldened, Odysseus took a seat at table, next to Eurymachus, who had taunted him, and said again:” The birthplace of the language that he had mastered in his early years.
“It will not be the same, when Odysseus returns.” It was March 49 A.D.
“I’ll have your blood for that, you dog!” roared Eurymachus. The spring stirring of the year, when kings would march against their enemies.
“Have you all gone mad?” shouted Telemachus. Merchants would travel abroad. Paul would feel the impulse that drove him away, farther and farther westwards: “Or is some malign spirit driving you on to still more hateful deeds?” Ephesus, Athens, Corinth, Rome. They all bit their lips and fell silent, then hurriedly left the Great Hall. Rome was the final destination. Odysseus approached Telemachus and said to him: But he kept it as a personal secret.
“Now that they’re out of the way, here’s our chance to gather up the weapons.” The Hellenizing of the world had smoothed his way. “Let’s waste no time.” Immediately Telemachus called Eurycleia. But it was the public tranquility the age enjoyed within the shelter of the vast, organized Roman Empire that made Paul’s mission possible.
“Close the doors of the women’s chambers, nurse,” he said, “while I put the spears and shields up in the loft.” A man like Paul would perhaps get into scrapes with local authorities, but he would always be able to move on. Odysseus sprang to his feet and the two of them carried up the helmets, shields and spears, while Athena herself lit their way for them. Because the roads were open and the seas free of pirates. When this had been accomplished, Telemachus took his leave, and his mother returned with the old nurse, instructing her to bathe Odysseus.
Paul, traveling by sea, arrived in Athens, the famous capital of Hellenism. Then Eurycleia went and fetched a bowl. Here in the agora of the capital. Into which she first poured the cold water, then the hot. Paul met many philosophers and spoke to them about this new doctrine of salvation. Odysseus, fearing that she might recognize him, moved his stool from the fireside and turned his body till it was in the shadows. The philosophers asked Paul to deliver a speech on the Areopagus, the supreme court of Athens that supervised matters of religion and ethics. For since his youth he had borne a scar upon his leg. The Athenians were surprised to hear about the resurrection of the dead. Notwithstanding his efforts to conceal himself, as soon as Eurycleia began to wash his legs, her groping hand detected the scar. And about the final judgment. “Odysseus, my child,” she said, “how come I did not recognize you before I felt your wound?” She swung round to Penelope, her eyes alight with the good news, but Athena turned the queen’s gaze aside, while Odysseus seized the poor old woman by the throat. Eurycleia understood immediately why it was that her master had to maintain his disguise.
Much of Greek political history consists of the struggle between social classes favoring different forms of government (Irwin). Soon the day of the contest dawned. From the point of view of the rich, democracy represented the domination and expropriation of the rich by the poor. Odysseus and Telemachus rose from their beds, while old Eurycleia gave her orders to the serving girls. From the point of view of the poor, democracy ensured just protection of their interests against the rich. “Give everything a careful sweep today,” she said. Each side was often willing to call in support from other cities. “Put out the finest covers on the chairs, scrub down the tables well and wash the drinking cups.” Hence the struggles between rich and poor were often prolonged, and sometimes violent. “We’re throwing a feast for the competitors.”
Not long afterwards Eumaeus the swineherd came in from his hut with two little pigs. Athens and Sparta were exceptions to the general instability of Greek constitutions. The Stoics told Paul that they would be glad to hear him again. The Spartans retained their mixed constitution, with strong oligarchical elements that made them sympathetic toward oligarchies in other Greek cities. He left the piglets out to root around for scraps. The Spartan citizens dominated a much larger class of serfs, and their need for internal security may help to explain the rigidity of their political culture. Then he came in and asked Odysseus how he was faring with the suitors. The Epicureans were scandalized and mocked Paul. In contrast to Sparta, Athens was governed democratically. Had they begun insulting him again? The Athenian system left an important role for richer citizens as political leaders, subject to the sovereign power of the popular Assembly.
“They can insult me all they like,” he replied. The excerpt from Thucidides’ account of Pericles’ funeral speech describes the Athenian democracy as a system that recognizes talent and merit as well as the rights of the majority. “As long as they pay for the ruin that they have brought upon another’s house.” Those who believed in Paul’s doctrine were few in number. Before long, Melantheus, the goatherd arrived, bringing some kids for the suitor’s table. They included Dionysus, a member of the Areopagus, and a girl of noble origin called Damaris. Finally a third arrived, Philoiteus, the chief cowherd, who brought kine for the slaughtering. Our constitution is called a democracy because government belongs to the majority not to the few (Thucydides). Then the suitors arrived. In relation to private disputes everyone has equal standing before the law. At once they began to slaughter sheep and goats, pigs and a whole calf. In areas where one person excels another, we assign honor, for the public good, not by rotation but on the basis of excellence. When they were roasted and cut into steaming joints, the slave girls brought them to the table. Nor does poverty hold anyone back by the obscurity of his reputation. Then Theoclymenus, the seer. If he is capable of doing some good to the city. Who had come back with Telemachus from Pylos. And just as our political life is free and open. Called out: So is our private life in our daily relations with one another.
“Miserable wretches!” In 490 B.C. the Persian armies invaded Greece. “What horror hangs above your heads. After forcing the pass of Thermopylae, they seized and burnt and evacuated Athens and then attacked the Greek fleet at Salamis. “What darkness veils your eyes!” The ships of Themistocles gained a sweeping victory and the Persians retreated to Asia. “See how the tears are streaming down your cheeks!” The triumph of the Athenians over Persia proved to the rest of the Hellenic world that Athens was powerful enough to keep its leadership. “The time of lamentation has begun!” Megabyxus urged them to entrust things to an oligarchy (Herodotus). “The walls drip blood!” “In so far as Otanes spoke in favor of abolishing tyranny,” he said, “I agree with him, but he is wrong in asking us to transfer power to the masses, for there is nothing more ignorant than a useless mob.” “Shades of the dead are scurrying this way and that!” “It would be intolerable to escape the insolence of a king, only to be the victims of the insolence of an undisciplined mass of people.” “The sun is lost!” “How can the people rule, when they have never been taught and do not know what is fine and appropriate?” “A pall of darkness hides the sky!” “Let the people govern Persia’s enemies, but instead let us ourselves choose a group of the best men in the country and turn over power to them.” “Black death is upon us!” “We ourselves will be among them, and it is only natural for the best men to find the best policy.”
Eurymachus jumped to his feet. “This fellow’s lost his wits,” he sneered. “If he finds it dark as night in here, why don’t we take him out into the sun.”
Then Athena put it into Penelope’s mind that she should bring the bow and ax heads and initiate the contest that would prove the beginning of the end for the suitors. Up the staircase she went, in all her majesty, and with a fine wrought key opened the door to the chamber where the king’s treasures were locked away. From his ship sailing along the coast of Attica on his approach to Piraeus, Paul would have seen the Acropolis and the statue of Athena the Warrior with her golden spear reflecting the rays of the sun. Athena was the daughter of Zeus alone, she was not born of woman but instead had sprung from Zeus’ head fully grown and fully accoutered in armor. Taking the bow in her hands, Penelope sat down pensively, letting the weapon rest upon her knee. Suppressing tears, she wiped her eyes, arose and went back down into the hall. She was preeminently the goddess of the organized world, of the City, the protector of civilized life. There she announced to the suitors: Her father, Zeus, had entrusted her to carry the thunderbolt, his devastating armory.
“Hear me, all you who eat and drink away the fortune of a host who’s lost in foreign lands, all you who claim that you want me for your wife, when instead living well at others’ expense attracts you more.” Our city is rarely tranquil, for it suffers continued factional conflict and struggles more within itself than against external enemies (Thucydides). “Come now, and prove yourselves with Odysseus’ bow.” Sometimes power has been unjustly seized by tyrants or ruling groups. “If any one of you can bend and string it, and then shoot an arrow through the haft holes of twelve ax heads standing in a row, I promise that I will take him for my husband.” “Or what is it that you young men really want?” said Megabyxus (Herodotus). “I will bid farewell to this lovely house of my fond dreams.” “Is it to hold office immediately?” Then she told the swineherd Eumaeus to set the bow and the twelve ax heads before the suitors. “But that is unlawful.” At this Antinous stood up to make a speech. “The law exists, because you yourselves are not yet capable of holding office.” But Telemachus wrested the floor from him. “You are not to deny honor to people who are capable of holding office.” “Enough of speeches,” he said, “come and admire the prize:” “But how could it be just, if people who are equal do not deserve equal treatment?” A woman whose match cannot be found in all the lands of Greece. Herself called Parthenos Athena, she was one of the three virgin goddesses, the greatest of them all,” and the temple in her honor was called the Parthenon.
Having given this assurance, the son of Odysseus set up the ax heads in a straight line. “Some will say that rule by the people is neither intelligent nor fair.” The suitors were surprised to see how confidently he carried out the task, despite his inexperience. “I say that rule by ‘the People’ here means rule by the whole body of citizens, whereas ‘oligarchy’ means rule by a few of them.” Then, picking up the bow, he tried to string it himself and failed, pretending to be incapable of doing so. “Next I say that the rich are best for looking after money, the intelligent are the best advisers, and the many are best at listening to advice.” “Here, suitors, why don’t you try yourselves?” he said. “In this all alike have shares in a democracy.” To a man they proved themselves incapable, much to their dismay and collective disgrace. In addition to the Parthenon, Paul would have seen four other buildings among those that remained on the Acropolis, all originally dating from the period between 448 and 400 B.C.
Meanwhile, two of the loyal herdsmen have stepped out into the courtyard, where, unbeknownst to the suitors, they confer with the beggar. We round the corner and mount higher. A red, a blue and a black car precede us up the hill. “Tell me, comrades, if Odysseus were to turn up unexpectedly, which side would you be on?” he asks. As he descends, the young man in black with the gold earring passes us. “On your side,” they say. We have reached another entrance, but it too is locked. “Well,” said Odysseus, “here I am, back home!”
A green Mitsubishi van heads uphill as author turns into the Great Hall, followed by Odysseus, the three loyal men and Telemakhos. “Listen,” the man in the Nike running shoes had told them, “go back inside now, but one by one, and not too obviously, for I myself am about to take up the bow, and that will be your sign.” A black, a blue and a red car head downhill, just visible through the gates of the palace as they are passing. “Eumaeus, bring me the bow, and then see to it that all the serving girls return to their room; and bar the doors behind them, for they are not to witness the groaning work ahead of us. Meanwhile, you, Philoiteus, shut the gate to the palace and secure it with this length of rope. Paul saw the same buildings that we see today, including the Propylea, the imposing gateway to the Acropolis, which would have made him think back to the days of the city’s glory and splendor.
During the seven days that Eurymedon remained there with his sixty ships, the Corcyreans continued to massacre those of their own citizens whom they considered to be their enemies, on the charge that they were seeking to overthrow democracy. After issuing these instructions, Odysseus returned to the hall, where the suitors were consoling themselves for their own inadequacy. Before long the two herdsmen entered unobtrusively, as Antinous, in full bluster, proclaimed, “This is no day for stringing a bow. Toss it in the corner and have the serving girls fill our cups again. Tomorrow, when we have slain a few more goats and offered them to Apollo, the best archer of all, we will have the contest rescheduled.” According to Homer (Apollodorus), Amphion and Niobe, who had seven sons and seven daughters, considered themselves more fortunate than Leto, who caused Artemis, her daughter, to shoot all seven of their daughters and Apollo, her son, all seven of their sons.
Some were killed in personal feuds (Herodotus), or else by the debtors to whom they owed money. Wine was brought in, the cups were filled, and when all had poured their drops to the gods and themselves drunk deeply, Odysseus rose from his seat by the door and said: “Hear me well, my lords, contenders for the noble queen, Eurymachus and Antinous above all.” There was death in every form. “May you be right in hoping that tomorrow Apollo will award the victory to the man he chooses.” As usually happens in such situations. “Meanwhile, let me try the bow as well.” People went to every extreme and beyond it. When they heard this, the suitors were furious, Antinous jumping up with a shout. Fathers killed their sons. “Have you gone mad, you vagabond?” he cried. Men were dragged from the temples. “Is it not enough that you sit here feasting with your betters and overhear our secrets?” Or even killed as they worshipped. “Have you drunk so much that you can no longer tell what is good for you?” Some were actually walled up alive in the temple of Dionysus.
At this Penelope intervened indignantly. Paul would undoubtedly have seen the Athena Nike’s temple, the delicate and graceful structure to the right of the Propylea, the one also known as the “Temple of the Wingless Victory.” “Antinous,” she said, “you have no right to behave so discourteously to any guest of Telemachus’.” Because the Athenians wanted their victory to remain permanently within this city, which is why it has no wings. “Or do you fear that if the stranger bends the bow he will take me for his wife as well?” The temple was built in the fifth century to commemorate the victories of the Greeks against the Persians. “Noble lady,” Eurymachus replied, “we do not fear that this ragged stranger will take you as his bride.” The fourth Acropolis monument is the Erechtheum, tonic in design, and most sacred of all. “Eurymachus,” Penelope replied, “you all have battened shamelessly upon a brave man’s house, eaten and drunk away the fortune of an absent host, so why feel shame at what the world may say if the stranger happens to defeat you?” The view of these monuments and of Athena told Paul that the power and beauty, the ideals of the human heart on this earth, are gifts of God.
At this point Telemachus broke in to say: “Mother, it is up to me to tell the stranger whether or not he should string the bow, so please return to your quarters and mind the women and leave to me the decision as to what should be done concerning my father’s arms, or any other question that arises, for I am the master in this house.” Pleased by the way that her son had assumed command, Penelope went up willingly to her chambers, where Athena cast sweet sleep on her eyes. Meanwhile Eumaeus hastened to pick up the bow and deliver it into the hands of Odysseus. Then, running to Eurycleia, he had her bar the doors behind the serving girls. According to prior agreement, Philoiteus closed the palace gate and made it fast with a stout nautical rope, then returned to the Great Hall to await Odysseus’ next action.
The civil conflict reached this degree of savagery. Odysseus grasped the bow.
Then plucking it in his right hand he tested the bowstring,
And it gave him back an excellent sound like the voice of a swallow.
It seemed all the worse, because it was one of the first that had broken out. The suitors paled with fear, and at that very moment Zeus loosed a clap of thunder. Later, practically all the Greek world was disturbed with conflicts in every city. Delighted by this signal from the god, Odysseus picked up an arrow lying loose upon the table, grasped string and arrow in one hand and the bow in the other, pulled hard and true and sent the bronze-tipped missile winging through the hole in the first ax head and straight out through the last. Democratic leaders were trying to bring in the Athenians, and oligarchs were trying to bring in the Spartans. At this Telemachus slung his keen sword over his shoulder and gripped his sharp-tipped spear. In the various cities these conflicts were the cause of many disasters of the sort that happen and will always happen as long as human nature is the same. In his armor he took his position beside his father, who chose this moment to reveal himself, godlike, in all his glory.
For in times of peace and prosperity, cities and individuals have a better outlook, because they are not compelled to make choices they do not want to make. “Here is a task,” said Odysseus, “that has been achieved, without any deception.
“Now I shall shoot at another mark, one that no man yet
has struck, if I can hit it and Apollo grant me the glory.”
He spoke, and steered a bitter arrow against Antinous, which caught him in the throat as he was in the act of lifting a lovely gold cup to his lips. But war, by depriving them of easy satisfaction of their daily wants, is a violent teacher. In his death throes, he overturned the table, splashing the fallen bread and meat with wine. It matches most people’s passions to their current circumstances. At this, Odysseus flung his rags aside, leaping up on the doorsill, his bow in one hand, his quiver in the other, as he spilled its arrows out on the floor before him.
By their justification they reversed the accustomed valuation of names in relation to actions. “Villain,” yelled one of the suitors, “how could you shoot towards a man?” For unreasonable daring was counted bravery in support of one’s party. He said this, thinking that the beggar had loosed the arrow by mistake. Provident delay was counted fair-seeming cowardice. It had not even crossed their minds that a trap had closed upon them. Being temperate was counted a pretext for being cowardly. But when they heard Odysseus’ voice, no longer disguised, they froze in horror:
“You dogs, you never thought that I would any more come back
from the land of Troy, and because of that you despoiled my household,
and forcibly took my serving women to sleep beside you,
and sought to win my wife while I was still alive, fearing
neither the immortal gods who hold the wide heaven,
nor any resentment sprung from men to be yours in the future.
Now upon you all the terms of destruction are fastened.”
Understanding every side of a situation was counted as a way of doing nothing about it. It was the threefold combination of religion, power and beauty that constituted the foundation of the glory of Greece. Impulsive impetuosity was regarded as characteristically manly. The suitors stood there trembling at the knees, until Eurymachus plucked up the courage to blame everything on Antinous and exonerate the rest of them, suggesting that each would be willing to pay a fine of twenty oxen. But deliberating without taking risks was regarded as a specious excuse for deserting one’s own side. To which Odysseus responded:
“Eurymachos, if you gave me all your father’s possessions,
all that you have now, and what you could add from elsewhere,
even so, I would not stay my hands from the slaughter,
until I had taken revenge for all the suitor’s transgression.
Now the choice has been set before you, either to fight me
or run, if any of you can escape death and its spirits.
But I think not one man will escape from sheer destruction.”
This incomprehensible wonder is unique in the history of humanity. The leaders on each side in the cities used the most appealing words. Eurymakhos had some more things to say, but his reliance on words at this point did not prove a match for the deadly arrow of Odysseus, which buried itself in his breast, nor did the military rhetoric of Antinoös, whose blade Telemakhos turned aside with a spear, before heading upstairs to secure more weapons for Eumaios and Philoitios, who needed arming. In less than a hundred years a few select people, in the arts and philosophy, in politics, in science and medicine, arrived at the culmination of human genius.
Then, in the early Christian era, the Parthenon was converted into a church, after which the Turks turned it into a mosque. Meanwhile, Odysseus continued in this mode of activity, fortunately for Penelope, Eurykleia, the loyal serving girls, and his four keen allies, unfortunately for his enemies. It must be acknowledged, however, that he would not have succeeded in the operation had it not been for Athena, who at one point turned aside a whole volley of spears, thereby reducing the improbable odds of his victory. Soon — to make a long story short — there was not a single suitor left alive. Paul would certainly have visited the prison of Socrates, the wisest man of antiquity, and one who reached the limits of his knowledge. The slaughter nearly drove the nurse Eurykleia to distraction. At the age of seventy this legendary teacher of Plato had attempted to bring his inner world ever nearer to an existence entirely of spirit, authority and kindness. Nonetheless, Odysseus now turned his attention to the fifty serving girls, twelve of whom, it is said, had lost all sense of shame and brought dishonor on his house. Socrates belonged to the invisible, universal church of those who love God and seek the truth (Athan J. Delicostopoulos). These he forced to clean up the ankle-deep blood and to remove the corpses in the Great Hall, before he strung them up on a single clothesline.
After the dominion of Ares, who governs the revenge of Odysseus, the final episode opens under the aegis of Hermes, the psychopomp, who summons the souls of the departed suitors forth from Hades. “In his hands,” says Homer,
the eloquent, handsome, fleet-footed god held the beautiful
golden staff, with which he mazes the eyes of those mortals
whose eyes he would maze, or wakes again the sleepers. Herding
them on with this, he led them along, and they followed, gibbering.
At bottom, artistic creation and spiritual interpretation are one and the same (Jaeger). We have reached a stage from which another side of the Kastro might have been approached, had it not been closed today. According to mythology (the Lonely Planet guide) the world was formed from a great shapeless mass called Chaos. Instead, the street begins to descend. From Chaos came forth Gaea, the earth goddess. Through a middle-class residential neighborhood.
Fitzgerald, in his "Postscript," defends
Book 24 against the separatists,
Who, as early as Aristophanes,
Had pointed to line 296
Of Book 23 as the poem’s "goal."
"This line," Fitzgerald says, "in which
Odysseus and Penelope retire to bed,
Could have been the conclusion of an old-
Fashioned movie but not of a poem
Like this." Book 24,
He insists, is fully Homeric. References
To Laertes elsewhere require it; likewise
Allusions to the aftermath of the fight
With the suitors. "The comparison between Penelope
And Klaitemnestra . . . is rounded off here."
But there’s "another reason," he says,
"And a great one. If Homer’s incidental
Purpose in the Odyssey was to complete
The Iliad, 24 in effect completes
Both poems at once . . . . Agamemnon
And Akhilleus are here reconciled among
The dead, and, as the Iliad ends with
Hektor’s funeral, the Odyssey does not
Come to a close until the funeral
Of Akhilleus has been described." Thus
The unity of the two poems is argued.
Four women in their early sixties, two sitting on a stoop, two standing to gossip, observe author as he passes. She bore a son, Uranus, the Firmament, and their subsequent union produced three 100-handed giants and three one-eyed Cyclopes. Up over the two- and three-story rooftops of houses rise the battered walls of the Venetian fortress. It is easy to see that the immense superiority and originality of Greek epic in the art of constructing a unified whole. From the railing of a newly plastered balcony, in the forecourt of a handsome house, hangs a green hose. Springs from the same root as its educational effect. A trowel and a white-spattered bucket have not yet been removed. From its deeper consciousness of the problems of life.
We descend past a vacant lot that offers a view out over a wooded hill and beyond it into the Saronic Gulf. Gaea clearly loved her hideous offspring, but not so Uranus, who hurled them into Tartarus. The sky above is menacing the city with a roiling cloud cover, increasingly dark on its underside. An increasing pleasure in the mastery of great masses of material characterizes the last stage in the development of epic poetry among other nations as well as the Greeks. At Paul’s time Athens was also the center of mythology. A slight rumbling is audible, though the sky above us remains blue. Greeks had shaped their mythology/theogony with such genius and imagination that all other civilized people formed their conception of gods according to the Hellenic prototype. A gold car has parked behind a black car.
In this view the whole world constituted a unity, a spiritual universe, in which a graded hierarchy of personified divine powers prevailed. The couple then produced the seven Titans, but Gaea still grieved for her other children. Having passed the two vehicles, we look back up for a fuller view of the Kastro. She asked the Titans to take vengeance upon their father and to free the 100-handed giants and the Cyclopes. We continue to descend along a curving route. All these divine powers had sprung from the supreme god Zeus, who at the same time was the father of all gods and mortals. The Titans did as they were requested, castrating the hapless Uranus, but Cronos (the chief among the Titans), after setting eyes on Gaea’s hideous offspring, hurled them back into Tartarus, whereupon she foretold that he (Cronos) would be usurped by one of his offspring. On a stucco wall we come upon the number “36,” the numeral inscribed in pencil.
“On the morning that followed the slaughter, Odysseus and Telemachus set off for the mountainside, accompanied by their herdsmen.” In the years that followed Persia’s defeat Athens enjoyed prestige and power, and its only care was to deck the city with ornaments in keeping with its leading position as head of all Greece. Embedded in the massive wall of the fortress are the fluted columns and capitals of Ionian pilasters. “Odysseus’ outing had two purposes:” It was during these years that Athens became a center of learning. “First, he was eager to see his father again.” Cronos married his sister Rhea but wary of the mother’s warning swallowed every child that Rhea bore him. “Second, he knew that it would not be long before the slaughter in the palace was discovered and the suitor’s relatives rounded up their people.” Philosophers, poets and other writers had the leisure to reflect and to raise questions that were later to influence all western civilization. As though in a second katabasis, the numerals of the houses also descend: 14, 12, 10, 2, 1.
When Rhea bore Zeus, her sixth child, she smuggled him to Crete and gave Cronos a stone in place of the child, which he duly swallowed. We have reached the head of the stairs. Rhea hid the child in the Cave of Dictaeus, under the care of three nymphs. “After visiting his father, Odysseus planned to descend into the city, where he would join forces with Dolius, a faithful slave, and his six sons.” On reaching manhood, Zeus, determined to avenge his swallowed siblings, became Cronos’ cupbearer and poured poison into his wine.
Cronos drank from the cup, then disgorged, first the stone, and afterwards his children: The Nike-sneakered Odysseus and his black-clad son Telemakhos have stood up from a table at the taverna, returned to their ancient red Ford, and driven off, Philoitios and Eumaios rolling down the back seat windows, as the third herdsman settles in between them. Poseidon, Hades, Demeter, Hestia, Hera. “When they arrived at Laertes’ house they found an old crone from Sicily, who cared for him, and who told Laertes’ son where he could find his father, out in his garden plot.” Aided by his regurgitated brothers and sisters, who seemed no worse for wear, Zeus deposed Cronos and went off to wage war against the Titans, who refused to acknowledge his authority. From the top of the stairs author observes, 108 steps below on Odos Manolopoulou, a red Ford parallel parking behind a blue Suzuki motorbike that faces it. “‘What man are you, and whence, and who are your parents?’ Laertes asked, to which Odysseus replied:” But it does not necessarily lead to the art of the great epic poem.
“I am from Alybas, where I live in a famous dwelling,
and am the son of Apheidas, son of the lord Polypemon.
My own name is Eperitos; now the divinity
drove me here on my way against my will, from Sikania.
And my ship stands nearby, off the country, away from the city.”
The Homeric epic is concentrated, vivid and dramatic. In the harbor the Diamante has been joined by the Voyager and the Aphrodite II. It plunges in medias res. Commerce flourished despite the ravages of the Peloponnesian War (431-404 B.C.). It keeps its main plot on the anvil, and hammers it out with short sharp blows. Hephaistos is alive. But by the end of it, almost all the achievement of the Golden Age of Pericles lay in ruins. Though his deception of his father may seem cruel and circuitous, the careful reader will recognize how kind and direct is Odysseus’ response, for within half a dozen more lines he says:
“Father, I am he, the man whom you ask about. I am
here, come back in the twentieth year to the land of my father.
But stay now from your weeping, shedding of tears, and outcry,
for I tell you this straight out: the need for haste is upon us.
I have killed the suitors who were in our palace, avenging
all their heart-hurting outrage and their evil devisings.”
Hasty Homer himself is not. Within a short time they revived their city, restored their fleet and reassumed their leading position among the Greeks. Gaea, who still had not forgotten her hideous, imprisoned but beloved offspring, told Zeus that he would only be victorious with the help of the Cyclopes and the 100-handed giants. The arrival in Greece of the Macedonian conqueror, Phillip II, spelled Athens’ political doom. And so he released them from Tartarus. In response to Laertes’ demand that Odysseus prove his identity, he shows him the scar and mentions “the trees in the well-worked / orchard, which you gave me once”:
“You bequeathed to me thirteen pears, and ten apple trees,
and forty fig trees; and remember you also named the fifty
vines that you would one day give me.”
The numbers may appear randomly chosen, but they are not. The Cyclopes gave Zeus a thunderbolt, and the three 100-handed giants threw rocks at the Titans, who eventually retreated. Across the street from the Ford and the Suzuki bike three cars have parked: white, yellow and brown. Athena, Aphrodite and Hera are still alive. For the work of Homer is inspired by a comprehensive philosophy of human nature and the eternal laws of the world process, a philosophy that has seen and judged every essential factor in man’s life. The battle of Chaeronea (338 B.C.) reduced the city to ruins, and the Athenians did not dare dispute the mastery of Alexander the Great. The Poet contemplates every event and character in the light of his universal knowledge of the eternal Truth. In the Odyssey there remains only the skirmish with the inimical townspeople, who wish to avenge their relatives’ deaths. Zeus banished Cronos, as well as all the Titans except for Atlas, who was ordered to hold up the sky. Led by Eupeithes, they set off to find Odysseus, and, since word had got out that he had gone to Laertes’ farm, that is where they headed for.
Author turns away from the top of the stairs to seek another route downtown. Homer presents all action as guided by the gods (Paideia, “Homer the Educator”). “Town Mate / Super Deluxe,” reads a sign above the head of a beautiful girl, as she rounds the corner past the taverna. Heraclitus’ insight into the meaning of the world was the birth of a new and nobler religion, an intellectual realization of the way of the highest wisdom (Jaeger again, but this time from the chapter “Philosophical Speculation: The Discovery of the World Order”). It is not always easy to draw the line beyond which this narrative method becomes simply a poetic device, but the intervention of the gods is never merely a trick of the epic style in Homer. Across the street a second taverna is advertising bands and bistros in its window. Zeus (Apollodorus) had intercourse with Metis, though she changed into many different forms in the hope of escaping him. The beautiful girl has quickened her pace. Living and acting by that realization were called phronesis, and Heraclitus, in prophetic words, showed how to reach it by following the way of the philosophical logos. “Deus ex Machina: Live,” reads a poster. After she became pregnant, Zeus forestalled future developments by swallowing her. Another poster reads “Club Paranoia.” For Gaea declared that when the girl had borne a daughter, Metis would give birth to a son who would rule the heavens. The second poster is in red and black. For Homer does not inhabit the banal, rationalized world of the commonplace, but disguises it with the painted scenery of poetic illusion. We continue on downhill past the old Municipal Hospital. And the earliest physicists had not expressly posed the religious problem, for their conception of the universe was a dehumanized world of being. Before long we have reached a public square on the other side of the hospital.
It was for fear of this that he swallowed her down. Now, glancing over her shoulder at author, the girl brushes her hair back. If we study the instances of divine intervention in the Homeric epics, we can trace a development from the occasional external interference of the gods to the constant spiritual guidance of a great man by a divinity. “Heavily outnumbered Odysseus and his gang may have been, but Athena did not leave them to defend themselves unaided, for as the other gang approached she whispered into Laertes’ soul:” For example, Odysseus is guided by the perpetual inspiration of Athena. “‘Old comrade, make a wish and be the first to hurl your spear.’” When the time arrived for the child to be born, Prometheus — or according to others, Hephaistos — struck the head of Zeus with an ax and from the top of his head leapt Athene, fully armed.
So Pallas Athene spoke, and breathed into him enormous
strength, and, making his prayer then to the daughter of great Zeus,
he quickly balanced his far-shadowing spear, and threw it,
and struck Eupeithes on the brazen side of his helmet,
nor could the helm hold off the spear, but the bronze smashed clean through.
The divine will, which governs the whole story and at last brings it to a just and happy conclusion, appears in a natural way, always consistent with its own omnipotence, to resolve the narrative crises. “He fell, thunderously, and his armor clattered upon him.” For the poet systematizes all its incidents and harmonizes them with his own religious beliefs.
To exit from the public square we must descend yet another stairway. Demonstrative knowledge (Aristotle, in the Posterior Analytics) must be derived from things that are true, primary, immediate, better known than, prior to and explanatory of the conclusion. “Smoke Grass,” says a graffito on the side of an abandoned building, “It’s Healthy.” For in this case the principles are proper to what is being proved. The Orphic cult, to fill the gap, taught that, though natural philosophy seemed to destroy mankind in the confusion of the universal coming-to-be and passing-away, yet man’s soul was really akin to the divine, and so eternal. “Hurt,” reads another graffito, in green, the word lined out with a black stroke. Since these conditions are not necessary to a deduction, but they are necessary to a demonstration; since without them a deduction will not produce scientific knowledge. Yet natural philosophy, in its concept of a cosmos under the rule of diké, offered a focus upon which religious ideals might center, and Heraclitus, with his doctrine that man has a place in the cosmos at last unified the two contrasting ways of thought. On the opposite wall, in orange: the peace sign.
So at this point is was necessary that Zeus and his minion Athene intervene, for otherwise Odysseus and Telemakhos, on the heels of the others, would have killed them all. “Hold back,” she said, “men of Ithaka, from the wearisome fighting / so that without blood, you can settle everything.” And this conception of the soul raised the Orphic religion to a higher level, for it taught that through kinship with the “ever-living fire” of the cosmos the philosophical soul is capable of knowing divine wisdom and harboring it within itself. We continue our descent in a direction different from that of the stairs that we had mounted.
So spoke Athene, and the green fear took hold of them,
and in their terror they let fall from their hands their weapons,
which clattered to the ground at the cry of the goddess speaking.
As Rome rose to power, Athens declined as a political force (Delicostopoulos). Author steps into an airy courtyard to examine a benign woman in terracotta surrounded by her naked children. Throughout the course of Empire, however, Athens remained a cultural force. Farther downhill, a gatekeeper closes the door to a Roman building, as author is about to enter it. But Paul came along and preached an entirely different message. “Then with a terrible cry, much-enduring Odysseus, gathering / himself together, made a swoop, like a high-flown eagle.” The unknown God, to whom the Athenians constructed an altar, had created out of one nation, “all nations of men to live on the earth.” “At this the son of Kronos threw down a smoky thunderbolt, / which landed in front of his grey-eyed daughter.” At last reaching the city’s streets, we pause before a department store window, in which a duckling raises its head out of a red half shell; next to her stands a two-dimensional bunny in artificial grass, a real hat perched atop his vertical ears.