Curiosity: forget “Cherchez la femme” (Look for the woman.) “Cherchez l’histoire.” (Look for the story.)
An unanticipated benefit of jetlag: after the fifteen-hour trip from Portland (OR) to Athens, we were wide-awake in our VRBO Pireaus harbor-view apartment at 5:00AM. So we got up, got out and were second in line when the ticket office at the Acropolis opened at 8:00AM. We shared the Parthenon, the sanctuary of Artemis, the Erechthion—all the structures on Themistocles’ cleverly walled hilltop—with few other tourists for a couple of hours; we had time to see and ponder it. We left as cruise ship busloads arrived—nothing against cruise ship busloads, we were soon to join them.
For the moment, though, and as we made our way through the beautiful new Acropolis Museum a short way down the hill, we felt like time travelers and realized more strongly than ever before that Greece is the center of, if not Western Civilization, at least the main cultural themes of Western art and literature. The same twelve gods of the Greek Pantheon simply acquired Latin names and continued to serve the Romans. Though the gods were, of course, cast away by Christianity, the themes and values they represented emerged again in art and poetry in the Renaissance.The next day we went to Delphi; which, of course, is pronounced “Del-fee” not “Delf-eye.” If we’d done our homework adequately, we would have walked through the archeological site first, to establish a framework, then gone through the museum. I went all the way up to the stadium at the top of the site.Patros, our driver somehow thought we would need about an hour and a half—um, make that three hours.
We’d read beforehand that the pythia (priestess) chewed on laurel leaves and then inhaled vapors from a chasm below as preparation for delivering their rather cryptic prognostications. I use dried bay laurel leaves for cooking. I’ve actually picked fresh ones and dried them myself. I never thought of trying to get high. Vapors no longer rise from a chasm, but spring water comes from a tap; so I re-filled my bottle.
We read after our visit that archaeologists recently determined that fissures caused by earthquakes could have released trance-inducing petroleum gases during the centuries that the Delphic Oracle at the 4th century BC Temple of Apollo held such significance.
There are bronze animals and animal heads in the Museum that were attached to handles, rims or shoulders of vases that were brought as offerings, some from as far away as Assyria and Egypt, in the 8th and 7th centuries BC.
And I had fun taking photoshop liberties with the charioteer, depicted calmly awaiting his prize after winning a race. I maneuvered a photo of the statue into the re-constructed fragments of his chariot.
Connections with the Oracle reach back to Pireaus. There’s more to come.