Thursday, March 04, 2010
DOES ANCIENT GREECE EXIST?
The first morning I arrived in Athens, Greece, in October 1979, I left the Tempi, my five-story walk-up hotel on Eolou Street and stepped out to the narrow cobbled roadway. I had no idea of my location, but when I looked up I saw at the end of the street, a high stone buttress and on top of it what I recognized as the Parthenon. I said to myself “Feet, just take me where you want to go!” and I started to walk.
I went down a block, past what is the ruins of Hadrian’s Library, turned right and kept on going down the narrow lanes until at last I was at the entrance to the ancient Agora. I stepped inside the gate, and stopped, transfixed. In that hot morning sun, what I saw the Agora exactly as it had been centuries ago. There were no ruins, just buildings and cobbled roadways and beyond it rising high against the blue Attic sky, the magnificent Acropolis crowned with it’s shining temples. I suddenly began to cry and could not stop. I knew then, that I had come ‘home’.
Some may say that ancient Greece does not exist. But I know it does. For that whole holiday I explored not only Athens, but other places nearby. And on future trips I would visit almost every important archaeological site in the country, as well as the beautiful islands with their golden sand and the brilliant blue Aegean Sea where once triremes and merchant ships plied their sea-routes.
If you have never been up on the Acopolis, seen the Parthenon bathed in the golden light of sunset, walked the shaded pine-scented groves of the Hill of Nymphs and stood on the Pnyx where the ancient Assembly met, you have not experienced the real Greece. Ancient Greece.
I have had many déjà-vu experienced in Greece such as that first one I had in the ancient agora of Athens. On my first visit to Delphi, traveling by bus with a Greek friend, we arrived at night and threw our sleeping bags down on the hillside, sleeping under a sky so clear and dazzling with stars you felt as if you might reach up and touch them. It was a full moon night, too. Totally magical.
In the morning I went to visit the sanctuary where for many centuries pilgrims came to consult the fabled Pythian in the Temple of Apollo. I, too, followed the rituals: first cleansing myself in the clean, pure waters of the Kastilian stream, then climbing back up the hill to enter the sacred ground. Even now the Greeks treat this site as sacred and demand respect from visitors. You feel the presence of the gods there, but you must see it on a day when there are not hordes of tourists. I have been many there many times. I make a pilgrimage to Delphi each time I visit Greece. And I know the gods do dwell there.
That first visit to Greece changed my life. A couple of years later, after several more visits, I decided to go and live there. It was a big decision because I had to leave a good job and my family behind. But I knew I must go. And I have never regretted it.
I lived in the Plaka, right below the east flank of the Acropolis in what was Athens ancient city. Every Sunday I climbed the steep marble steps up to the Parthenon and sat contemplating, absorbing the atmosphere and feeling the ancients around me.
This time I was on a quest to find Alexander, the invincible Macedonian hero of my teens, the one who I had written about since I was in high school and was once asked if I had really ‘been there and known him and his companions’ because I had such a strong connection with them. In my work-in-progress novel “Dragons in the Sky” which I began writing just before I went to live in Greece, I made that connection. A Celtic girl, acolyte of the Druids, who is kidnapped by a renegade chieftain’s son and finds herself in Macedonia at the time Alexander was recruiting warriors for his invasion of the East. I have channelled Olwen to tell her story. But if you believe in past lives, then perhaps I am really Olwen.
Several times I have walked the ruined streets of ancient Pella, visited Mieza, the school where Aristotle taught him and his friends, explored Dodoni, in Epiros, where Alexander’s mother had lived. And eventually, I even visited the Royal Tombs where the remains of his father and son were found in their tombs. That had to be one of my biggest thrills!
One of my most memorable trips was to the Sanctuary of the Great Gods in Samothraki where I walked alone down the highway through fields of yellow flowers where butterflies flitted in the sun. This Thracian Sanctuary of the Great Mother, one of the oldest in Greece, was visited by Greeks and slaves alike. And this is where Alexander’s father Philip met Olympias and later married. I have visited Samothraki twice and again felt the power of the ancient gods. On one occasion I visited the remains of the small Temple built to honour Alexander and Philip, and dedicated by Alexander’s brother Philip Arridaios and his little son Alexander IV who were named joint kings after Alexander’s death in Babylon 323BC
I have been to other sacred sites, too, including Dion near Mt. Olympus, and I’ve also many of the ancient theatres and had the thrill of seeing the ancient plays performed there. The archaeology and history of Greece is one of my passions.
When I started writing my novel “Shadow of the Lion” I became more and more involved in that ancient world and getting to know the characters from history who I am writing about. I have spent as much time as I can walking in those same places where they had walked, played, studied and lived their remarkable lives. To me, ancient Greece is very much alive and I would challenge anyone who says it is not, though perhaps these are the unlucky ones who have never had the privilege of seeing it for themselves.