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Posts Tagged ‘Greece’

False Light in 295 Words

February 5, 2012 2 comments

In my last post, ‘Who is This Guy?’, I mentioned the novel I’m writing. Here’s a brief description.

.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .

False Light is the story of three brave but mismatched people thrown together against their wills amidst ancient danger. Hektor is a loyal, ambitious mercenary. Korinsia is a smart but frightened princess. Argurios is a skilled and cynical chariot archer. All three are among the best in their land, but that may not be enough. False Light is also a tale of how fragile a great civilization can be.

The time is more than 3,000 years ago, and the place is what we now call Greece. It is two decades since the great Achaean victory over Wilios in the east, and prosperity has soared. Fabled Pylos is first in honor among the empire of Greek kingdoms. This empire and its ships dominate most of the Great Sea, almost to the shores of eternal Aegypta.

A looming threat has begun to show itself, but the proud, confident Achaeans are blind. Arrogance, centuries of rising power, and their own internal struggles cause leaders and people alike not to see the new peril for what it is.

Our three heroes are forced together by circumstance, but they are far from being kindred spirits. Too late in the year, they must set out on a long voyage fraught with unknown risk. The goal is Thapsos, a powerful Achaean enclave many weeks away. Their galleys struggle along wild barbarian coasts amidst  jagged rocks, would-be pirates and ship-killing storms. At every outpost, they uncover more clues about a vast, new power looming in the Far West. It’s single purpose: destroy all Soft Ones. Utterly.

Can the three fight their way back to warn Pylos in time? Will their constant conflicts with each other and barbarian fanatics curse them to failure? Will any of that matter to merciless Fate? 

.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .

As you might surmise, copyrights apply to everything about the book, False Light, and The First Dark Age series.

Snooze and Ski in Santorini

January 29, 2012 2 comments

Dave the WriterWe were on a mission: find the perfect hotel for our upcoming anniversary. So, high above the deep, blue Aegean waters, we explored Thira Town on one of Greece’s most fabled islands.

With some Traveller’s Luck, we managed to achieve our objective by mid-morning: three nights booked in a romantic room with a phenomenal view for two people who were cozily sipping their morning coffee in bed.

We strolled back past the island’s whitewashed homes, shops and churches. Most of them had bright blue trim and dazzled us in the morning sun. We also marveled at how fortunate we were to be on Santorini for the first time when so few other visitors were around.

Every few feet, I’d stop for another photo op or she’d be drawn through another open shop door by that primal urge to declare “Look what I found!” when we linked up again. I have to say that whenever she does tell me that, she has found a small treasure. Not everything is a perfect green velvet riding coat, but all are ‘just right’ for the time and place.

The most scenic part of Thira town is built on the interior crater wall. In a few places, white structures hug the very steep slope all the way to the water. But, mostly, they spread down only fifty yards or so from the ridgeline. Narrow main streets run parallel to the ridge, so there’s the happy situation where you can mostly have a clear view across scenic, well-kept roofs toward the dark, barren lava island in the crater’s center.

As I finished taking the photo to the left, my bride grabbed my arm and guided me to see a roof she’d found a little way ahead. There, snoozing blissfully was a handsome cousin of Max, her beloved German Shepherd from girlhood. I couldn’t begin to describe how much she’d loved that dog, or how safe she’d felt with him by her side. But, every big, healthy ‘Max’ who we meet just melts her heart—perhaps this one most of all.

Later, we took the funicular down from the town center to the small-boat quay. The conveyance looks more like a ski lift than a typical European funicular. Each small, windowed cabin holds four people comfortably—or six whose sense of personal space has been forever ‘adjusted’ by Riechsfuhrer Napolitano and her Gropen SS Battalions.

We rode down with a couple whose ship was anchored close to the crater wall below. After a little small talk, I asked where they were from and what they did when not cruising the Aegean. The well-dressed and bejeweled woman smiled under her broad-brimmed white hat and replied in a smooth voice with just a hint of Southern Belle. They were skiers from Connecticut.

At our puzzled looks, she let out a soft chuckle and delivered her punch line, “Yes, skiers, as in Spending our Kids’ Inheritance.”

In the few minutes remaining of our descent, we learned that they traveled a lot, and always in style.

After saying our farewells at the lower station, my bride and I realized that now we must be skiers in two ways!

SKIers Ship

Some Things Last a Thousand Years

November 20, 2011 1 comment

A while ago, my granddaughter paced around the kitchen at lunchtime like an agitated tigress in a small cage while our microwave re-heated her pizza. After 30 seconds or so, she looked over at me and murmured under her breath in mock-exasperation, “This is taking forever!”

I smiled and gave her an understanding nod. For her, CDs are quaint, old technology where it takes so long to find the song you want. And, her mother’s box of cassette tapes in the closet at home comes from a time when Merlin advised Arthur about Mordred and dinosaurs roamed the earth, a time when those wacky Saudis came over to New York and got their Jihad on.

But, it’s possible for many more things than heating her pizza to last longer than a 20 second sound bite, or a school year, or even a human life span. Some of them can even last far longer than the average Sequoia.

A few examples: Han China, most major religions, Rome in the West, the Eastern Roman Empire, Byzantium, in the east, the Republic of Venice, and the Oracle at Delphi.

Delphi was the most respected source of prophesy and divine answers in the Classical world. Also, for me, Delphi is unique in that list of long-lived human things because it says a lot about human nature.

My favorite comment about that mysterious source of cryptic pronouncements on the shoulder of Mount Parnassus comes from historian and author Henry Adams back in 1898 (before the dinosaurs):

Delphi, I should think perhaps is the Greekest thing of all. It comes nearest to being serious, and is charming; a transparent and elegant fraud that no one more than half believed in except when it suited them, but that was artistically satisfactory and socially perfect.”

Just like power politics and professional doomsaying, the oracle business was based on a perpetual con. Today, we have our predictors of the end of the world (one who even tried it twice this year alone) and the pathetic Climate Fraudsters who are now only fit for roles on Walking Dead. Back then, they had the Pythia, a much more elegant vessel for fraud.

In Classical times, she was the Gods-touched young woman who delivered divine messages in a hallucinated trance. I can’t think of her without recalling the movie ‘300’. In it, a young, half-dressed Pythia in the sacred room of mysteries writhes on the floor to erotic, pounding drums, finally gasping out the gods’ reply to Leonidas’ question. Most of the time, she is surrounded by vile, slavering, deformed old men, the Ephors. To show one of the timeless aspects of human nature represented by ancient oracles, those actors could have been stunt doubles for Ted Kennedy and Chris Dodd when they tried to get into Princess Leia’s pants.

But, as Adams said, Delphi managed its con artistically and in a way that resonated socially. It did this in an astounding setting over a thousand years. The reason was that Delphi always seemed to manage the right tone and degree of ambiguity to survive. Well, most of the time.

There was that tussle with Nero. He had recently murdered his own mother and gone to Delphi with a question. In hindsight, the Pythia’s reply may have been a tad ill-considered. From out of her sinuous trance, she hurled:

“Your presence here outrages the god you seek. Go back, matricide! The number 73 marks the hour of your downfall!”

As you might imagine, Nero was not completely happy with this. Among other indications of his displeasure, he had the Pythia buried alive. Even so, he took the last part of what she said as meaning he would have a long reign and die at 73. Since he was only 30 at the time and most folks didn’t reach fifty, 43 years sounded like a good run in the Debauched Absolute Ruler of the Known World business.

But, as with so many prophesies uttered by the Pythia for so many others, he got it wrong. Not long after, there was a brief revolt that deposed Nero with extreme prejudice. It was led by a Roman named Galba–who was 73 at the time.

Prophesies are so much easier to get right after the fact, aren’t they?

Ruined and Alone with Cynisca and Milo

September 25, 2011 1 comment

For 1,115 years, the place I wandered through had been a constant in the ancient world. From centuries before ‘The 300’ stood against Xerxes, past Socrates, Alexander, Caesar and Marcus Aurelius, athletes met here every four years to test their skills against the best.

Now, the tumbled ruins are silent. I and my bride stray where our whims take us—sometimes together, often well-apart, but never out of each other’s sight.

This, happily, is another one of those days that we so treasure, when others must have something else more important to do, leaving we two almost alone to explore one of the world’s greatest archaeological sites. This day, we’re in Olympia, Greece, with just the autumnal silence, each other and two special spirits from the past.

Across the whole site, there are fewer than a dozen other visitors. And, most of those are Germans, who tend to move in snug clusters. Until we end our day, at the excellent museum, we glimpsed another person, usually far off, less than once every half-hour or so.

That leaves us precisely where we love to be, mentally transporting ourselves back in time to get the past’s true feel. In Olympia, we have two particular favorites among the ancient winners: Cynisca of Sparta and Milo of Croton. We like them most because who they were and what they did somehow seems to command more of our respect.

And, in the case of Cynisca, there is a strong thread of the romantic as well—beautiful Princess makes good and all that sort of thing. In 396 BC, she (she!) won the four-horse chariot race here, competing against great, male charioteers from Greece, Sicily, Africa and Asia. Her father, King Archidamos, watched proudly from his stone seat as she beat “those stinky boys” (as we tell our oldest granddaughter). And, just for good measure, she came back in 392 and did it again. My bride and I thought of her as we walked the very ground over which she drove. Cynisca was our kind of gal.

Milo is a favorite of ours from a different place and for different reasons. He came from Croton, a great, Greek colony city on the southern coast of Italy, which will be the subject of at least one other post here at some point.

Before the Persians failed to conquer the Greeks, Milo won six wrestling titles over 20 years. As you may know, the kind of real wrestling done at the ancient Olympic Games was among the most intense and demanding competitions ever devised. For a man to best the top youths half his age at it was unheard of, before or since.

Perhaps Milo’s achievement is the source of the saying about old age and cunning versus youth and skill. I like to think so.

Eventually, a young wrestler named Timasitheus kept Milo from winning his seventh title in 24 years. But, many more people over the millennia have remembered the man from Croton than that capable lad.

Unlike with Cynisca’s victories, we were never sure that we’d stood in the exact spot where Milo had won. But, we console ourselves with the knowledge that, with few exceptions, we explored most every spot there was that day.

Surely one of them was Milo’s.

The Puzzle-Solver of Mykonos

June 2, 2011 4 comments

It’s the party playground of the Cyclades. And a great base from which to explore the fabled island of Delos.

Dazzling white structures form the picture-perfect town of Chora on the Greek island of Mykonos. It’s a beautiful place with a wonderful little harbor. Thousands of young people from all over the world flock there to experience the wild abandon that Aegean nights seem to induce. Sadly, many of them are so busy trying to hook up that they never take the trouble of boating a few miles to see one of the most ancient and fascinating sacred places in the world: Delos, an entire island of classical ruins and layer upon layer of gripping history.

My wife and I, having long-since hooked up ourselves and also being archaeo-geeks of the first water, were in Chora because of Delos. You’ll read more about both islands in later posts, but this story is about a small archaeological museum and a blind man who spent his life resurrecting treasures from a shattered, buried antiquity.

Early one morning at a quay-front café in the Little Venice area of Chora, my wife and I sipped our strong Greek coffee and quietly appreciated the dozens of colorful wooden boats slowly rocking on their anchor and buoy lines. These brightly colored vessels ranged out in a panoply across the better part of the calm, turquoise harbor. And we were taking it slow. This was a ‘down day’ for us after hiking miles through the ruins of Delos the day before. As we waited for breakfast to arrive, we were studying our map of Chora town, deciding what to see and when.

A big, friendly Greek gentleman who sported a bushy, gray mustache and had thick salt and pepper hair was sitting at the next table. Tentatively, he offered some local wisdom. “You may want to roam around the harbor area in the morning. The young people will be nursing their headaches and upset stomachs until about 11:00. But then they will begin to stumble out in noisy packs, buying rude tee shirts and taunting each other even more rudely. The Australians are the best at it if you like that sort of thing. Even if you do though, it soon gets tiresome. That’s when you may want to go to the museum. It’s small, but there are many interesting things there.”

The burly man’s name was George, and we asked him to join us for breakfast. As we ate, he talked about his life growing up on the island. Things had changed a lot since he was a boy; back then, Mykonos had been far less prosperous, and not at all a destination for partiers from all over the world. As part of his story, George described his first job.

At nine, he had inherited the position from an older brother who’d just gotten some ‘real’ employment. George’s work was to help a middle-aged blind man named Cyr get around town.

Even then, Cyr had already been working for a long time as a technician at the Chora’s small archaeological museum. Each weekday morning, George would escort Cyr, who was always dressed in a neat suit and vest, from his house to the museum and then lead the blind man to his workbench. On it were always hundreds of broken pottery bits scattered several inches deep together with five or six partially reconstructed vases or bowls or cups. Cyr would thank George for his trouble, then take off his suit coat, don a long lab smock and set to work.

It seems that the archaeologists in charge of excavations on Mykonos and its nearest neighbor island would regularly send Cyr hundreds of pounds of broken pottery pieces recovered from sites that appeared to have been quite important. Out of the jumbled pile of debris and by touch alone, the blind man would slowly, patiently and almost magically separate the pieces of one vessel from another. Then, he would solve the often maddening puzzle of how each piece must fit with another, carefully gluing them back in place to become complete, resurrected artifacts.

Some of these pottery items, the vases especially, had marvelous designs and pictures on them that the blind man would never see. For the archaeologists, though, they yielded valuable insights.

After a few years, young George had passed the job of helping Cyr on to a still younger brother. But in his time together with Cyr almost every day, our tablemate had come to respect and love the kind, steady man. So, George had visited him often at his work over the decades, until Cyr finally died at 83, having never retired.

“If you go to the museum today,” George said quietly at one point, his eyes starting to get a bit shiny, “please take a look at the pottery. It’s the life’s work of a good man.”

So we did.

And it meant immeasurably more to us than it ever could have if George hadn’t spoken up that morning, telling us about the dedication and skill of his friend Cyr, the blind Puzzle-Solver of Mykonos.

Minoan Musings

April 19, 2011 Leave a comment

Four thousand years ago, Minoans ruled most of the Aegean Sea.

A Restored Minoan Fresco

Their palace cities on the island of Crete had no need of walls because their steep mountains and fleets kept them safe. Minoan culture was fascinating, unique and flourished for much longer than Europeans have been in the Americas.

Eventually, the Mycenaeans took over – until about 1200 BC, when Aegean civilization collapsed and all but disappeared for 400 years. Throughout this time, Egypt continued to look inward, except for a few excursions toward the northeast.

So, where did the Minoans come from, and why did they succumb? I have a theory that fits the lean archaeological record (see this post for more about what I think ‘lean’ implies in this sense).

An 'Over-restored' Part of the Knossos Palace

My view is that the Minoans began as voluntary exiles from the lower Nile who lost a dynastic struggle in the dim past. On Crete, they easily mastered the stone age people there but could not sustain the bureaucratic and religious ‘overhead’ of Egyptian culture. The island environment was just too starkly different. After a few hundred years, their culture had morphed into a powerful, seafaring one with a new form of writing and a barely recognizable religion that was completely devoid of now-useless River Gods.

On the mainland of Greece, the proto-Greek Mycenaeans had arrived and ruled everywhere but in the Minoan coastal towns and the most remote mountains. Over centuries, the Mycenaeans, whom Homer called Achaeans, were driven by geography to learn all that the Minoans knew about seafaring. And then some.

A Palace Doorway

The huge explosion of the Aegean island volcano of Thira (Santorini) around 1625 BC weakened the Minoans at a time when the Mycenaeans were poised to expand. And the cultural momentum shifted to them. First, the Minoans lost their mainland towns, then their central Aegean holdings. After a couple hundred years, Minoan people were subjects of the Mycenaeans.

Restored Fresco

Even so, Minoan culture likely had the same kind of influence on the Mycenaeans as Greek culture would later have on the Romans – an ancient, respected, civilizing and enlightening factor that moderated and shaped a much stronger, ‘modern’, expansionist will.

Outside Heraklion, Crete, are the partly-restored ruins of a famous Minoan palace, Knossos. This is one of several major Minoan centers scattered around the island. A visit there several years ago for some book research so enthralled me that I completely revamped my planned story as a result.

If you get a chance to visit Knossos on a spring or fall day and have any interest at all in archaeology or art, you will be delighted that you did.

Rosy-Fingered Dawn

April 8, 2011 Leave a comment

Homer got it right.

In the Iliad, he speaks of the incomparable Aegean dawn:

“Now, when rosy-fingered Eos in robe of saffron hastens from the streams of Oceanus, bringing light to mortals and immortals… .”

Off the Island of Delos

Ever since reading the poet’s words as a boy, I had dreamt of seeing Eos perform her magic. So, when I first had the good fortune to sail the Aegean, I was up on deck well before dawn that first morning. The beauty I found there brought me back every morning.

On that trip, my companions were enthralled by the Dodecanese evenings. And those too are not to be missed. But I happily chose to ease up a bit on night life in favor of those special dawns. I was never disappointed except for one stormy morning as a grumpy and no doubt hung over Zeus hurled his lightning bolts all around us. Even now when I return, I still jump out of my bunk at zero dark thirty every day to gobble up another helping of dawny goodness.

Eos in the Sky Near Samos

Photos are sometimes tough to get while sailing along in the dim early light. Tough but worth it. Riding at anchor is better. Ashore, with the camera on a tripod is more so. But the privilege of just being there before sunrise is always best.

Ancient Greek myth had the dawn goddess, Eos, with her rosy fingers and golden arms opening the gates of heaven every day. This allowed her brother, Helios, to bring his chariot into the world, carrying light across the sky. As you might imagine, people back then took care to make sure Eos stayed happy.

We moderns know better of course. Isaac Newton figured out that it’s all just soulless math. But when you are out there, alone with the sea, gazing at that storied sky, an Aegean dawn doesn’t feel like mundane celestial mechanics. It feels like a miracle.

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