Magic & Mythology: intro

This Tuesday morning I will be travelling to Athens to tour as many archaeological, mythological and history laden sites within 150km that I possibly can, for seven days. I’m currently working in Crete for the summer and have decided that now is a good time to make the trip; before the summer tourist barrage begins and before the heat arrives in July and August. The flight was only £50 return and I’m arriving early and leaving late to maximise my time to the fullest. I did contemplate taking the ferry across, however, it’s overnight (9 hours) and 38 euro one way. If I’m stuck in an engine room cabin the size of a rabbit hutch, with a weak orange light giving me atmosphere ─what’s the point? If I was going to take a ferry, I’d want plenty of writing time on deck looking out across the Aegean and feeling the journey by sight too. Definitely one for a future, airplane alternative, route ─ but not this occasion.

Touring around Athens and the surrounding area is something I have wanted to do for a long time. I’m half Greek and that Greek side was from a tribe of Greeks (Pontians of Pontos) that were particular remnants of the Byzantium empire, preserved on the south coast of the Black Sea (which is now modern Turkey). I spent many years of my youth looking at the history of my ancestors in books and old photos, and then when older – in British museums at captured Hellenistic artefacts and indoor reconstructions. All of which were awe inspiring and I remember gazing at rusted hoplite soldier armour wondering such things from; why people were so small then (shrunken sword grips and helmets)? And what was the difference between mythology and the actual history of Hellenism? I’ve been to excellent museums and ruins sites in London, Istanbul and Rome, and have seen much collected Hellenistic / Byzantium period artefacts and frieze mythology. Now I want to head to the originating source.

The crisscrossing pastiche in my mind then as to what was ancient history and what was mythology, was self imposed and maintained to some degree. I wanted to believe it was all rooted in truth. I guess that’s why I always wanted to become a story teller ─ that I could possibly create something where someone may also one day blur the boundaries about whether it really could have happened or not. That it would be as awe inspiring to believe if something could happen as it did in such mythological tales involving the Gods of Olympus or the many Titans and lesser deities that held supernatural power in that world. Even the human heroes held magic in their own way, as to what they achieved and how. The people of those pre-Christian days were also embracing science and mathematics ─ so how did magic fit into that universe? Was it just a remnant of something to explain the inexplicable? Humans have obsessed over the supposed supernatural for so long, looking for a way to root it in the foundations of the known science of the time and invariably it could not be done. They say that the early Greek mathematicians were strong believers in magic, the mystery of numbers and the power they held. A mathematician, astronomer and philosopher named Hypatia was allegedly even murdered by Christians for her pagan ways and seemingly demonic charm and, though some attribute it to politics, her death in Alexandria (Egypt) was labelled as the first murder by Christians of a famous Witch. We, today, are still grasping at so many straws for solutions, beginning even with the human brain, let alone the forces of the outside world. I always imagined if you want to untangle something, you have to start from the beginning…

So back to the present day and the route I’ve planned to make. I’ve created a rough idea for where id like to go as you can see in the map below. Probably way too much for seven days tour, but hey — aim high:

National Archaeological Museum, Athens / Archaeological Museum of Piraeus / Pyrinos Kosmos, Athens / Cemetery of Keramikos, Athens / 
Monument Philopappo, Athens / Temple Of Poseidon, Sounion / Shrine to Hekate, Athens / Athenian Agora, Athens / Temple of Hephaestus, Athens / Archaeological Site Of Eleusis / Temple of Apollo — Delphi / Tomb of Agamemnon, Mycenae / Sanctuary of Asklepios, Epidavros / Fortress Palamidi, Nafplion / Byzantine And Christian Museum, Athens / Theatre of Dionysus, Athens / Temple of Athena Nike, Athens / Mycenaean cemetery Deirada, Argos / Archaeological Museum of Ancient Korinthos / Temple of Isthmia, Loutraki.

Pythia, Selene, Hermes, Hecate and Artemis are all names I would like to find out more information during my trails, if I was to refine a particular direction for curiosity. If I can find anything out about cults (there were plenty of moon cults in Crete — there’s a cave on a mountain above my house which was dedicated to Pan and his nymphs) or any particular shrines to deities and figures from mythology, I would come home very satisfied. I’m quite excited to be visiting some of the oldest cemeteries I will have ever seen. In U.K. I’ve been to the oldest graveyards in London, Newcastle, Glasgow and Edinburgh and I think that Edinburgh took the award for oldest graves (maybe one or two in Tynemouth, Newcastle), but in Athens…i mean, they're labelled ‘Ancient cemeteries’ for a start. None of this Victorian or 18th century nonsense, we’re talking 12th century BC burials!

I will also be taking extracts of my new favourite book ‘The Greek Magical Papyri’ as below:

Its basically a book of Greek spells, hymns and rituals from 2nd century BC — 5th century BC. I’m searching out any relevant ones to particular sites I will visit. Well, where better to read one out like they used to thousands of years ago? Having said that, I have this idealised image of me in a hood and cloak reciting a spell within a circle in amongst the ruined columns of a temple of Poseidon, and waving a stripped olive branch wand whilst storms rage above me and the sea crashes on the rocks below covering me in their spray. The reality is I’ll be wedged amongst a sweaty throng of cap and backpack wearing tourists picking their way around a predestined route past the gift shop on way out, whilst I mumble something about bat-wings rather hurriedly before getting on the bus. I’m sure if I go to enough places, i’ll be able to get a moment or two of something authentic and even that will make the whole trip worthwhile.

My plan for accommodation is going to be quite loose because i’m not 100% sure where i’ll be and when. I’ll arrive in a place and see how long i’m there and then research cheap hotels in a coffee shop on the day. There’s so many small hotels about that i’m sure to find something. Although if i’m left with 5 star hotels and sky high prices I might be in the doodoo. I’m imagining this ‘knife’s edge’ style travelling with put fire in my belly. Maybe i will listen to Paul Engemann — Push It To The Limit as I travel round in all the air conditioned coaches musing on the knapsack on my back, life on the road. An ’80s style montage of me photographing temple ruins, climbing up rocks and typing furiously into my laptop long into the night. Actually whilst I was getting my camera lenses cleaned somewhere here in Crete, the guy in the shop turned out to be from Nauplion and is going to hook me up with some of his friends there that have accommodation there. If the price is reasonable enough it would be better experience to have some local contacts too.

In regards my camera, I’m taking my DSLR and two lenses; wide angle and telephoto, plus my mobile. I think that should cover all the bases. I’m a bit loathe to carry the telephoto one as it’s so damned heavy and to top it all off, I have to carry the camera charger with me to be safe as no extra batteries. It’s all adding up. I’d be half tempted to just take my iPhone but too many views to waste the opportunity for some excellent pictures too. I’m packing really light for this trip, everything into a 32lt backpack and i’d really prefer if it wasn't full. I’m going to try this ultra minimal which means; jeans (wearing on flight), flipflops, swimming shorts, camera and lenses, leads, battery pack, chargers, boxers, half-socks, few t-shirts, shirt, laptop, book, mobile. That’s it.

Roll on Tuesday…

The Byzantine wall of Chania, Crete not far from where I live. Old walls are fascinating. I like to imagine what was going on in the builder’s life and conversation on the day they were laying that first line of bricks at the bottom. Likely the theme was exactly as today — politics and war!