But since I am convinced that God is where you look for Him, I looked. But somehow neither of us got the frisson of awareness we have had at other ancient “holy” sites. And we couldn’t figure why.
Not to say that we didn’t have a marvelous time! Delphi has been on my must-list as long as Mycenae. Our first job was to hike down the cliff to the Temple of Athena Pronaia [which we kept calling Paranoia. But it means “before the shrine” meaning that you would stop there before approaching Apollos’s shrine.] Yianni had finally realized that he had a Criplympics champion on hand and gave Ron and I a head start down the hill. We could still hear him through the walkie-hearie earphones, as we took the rocky, rooty switchbacks at bottom speed. Pausing at an overlook on the trail, we drank in the view of the sheer, shining face of the other side of the deep valley-crevice.
The splendid little temple complex includes a circular colonnade and a tholos tomb. We have seen this picture dozens of times since we got home, since it is so beautiful and serene, but never heard what it was before. It is iconic of Greece, without being specific to most folks.
the iconic temple of Athena Pronaia
The mountains of Delphi are the tallest, top to valley floor, and most precipitous I have ever seen. [Except maybe western Scotland—ok, the mountains above Sta. Barbara CA…] They are composed of some type of conglomerate stone with solid plugs of limestone [?] of a bright tone of yellowish tan that catches the light. Indeed, the cliffs above Apollo’s temple are called The Shining Ones.” And the east-west orientation of the canyon allows the sun to catch the cliffs aflame morning and evening. In other words, it is the perfect home for the sun god. And the reflected light is such that I ended this day with an under-chin suntan!
the ruins and cliffs of Delphi
From there, Yianni [and the bus] took us to the museum before the crowds arrived. [He is a clever guide in this way; we never had to jockey around to get close to the art.]
I knew that this museum was going to be the top experience for art and I wasn’t disappointed. The culmination of the collection is The Charioteer. This near-perfect life-sized bronze was a thank offering by the winning chariot driver of the Delphic Games, depicting the solemn expression and heavy drapery [so he can retain his dignity at top speed] that are required of a victor.
The exhibit included bits of the rest of the grouping, which had included 2 horses with trappings, the chariot itself, and a young groom.
The Charioteer and bits
I will digress just a bit here to expound upon the philosophy of the shrine of Apollo. The gateway to the temple had the following phrases, one on either side: “Know Yourself “ and “Nothing in Excess”. And these require a little explanation.
I always thought “Know Yourself” was a touchy-feelie guru idea, but it is far from that. The Greek gods were understood to be jealous and proud of their powers and any human who dared aspire to greatness would be accused of hubris and punished grotesquely. To “Know Yourself” was to know your limitations in skill, greatness and praise and to remain humanly humble.
“Nothing in Excess” was not exactly “moderation in everything” but truly another warning about the capriciousness of the Greek gods. Again, no human can reach the heights of the gods.
This is why The Charioteer must maintain a serious and humble expression with none of the “touchdown dance” attitude of the modern sportsman. And why he must offer a rich gift of the bronze [read “hugely expensive”] grouping for his victory. Not HIS victory but the god’s.
And one more note: in all the pan-Hellenic [all-Greece] games: Olympic for Zeus, Pythian for Apollo, Nemean also for Zeus , and Isthmian for Poseidon. There was a first prize. No second or third or honorable mention. You won or you lost. If you won, you were crowned with a wreath and glory; no prize money, no medals, though your home town would feed you for free the rest of your life. You paid for your victory statue and other votive offerings. If you lost, you were ashamed forever. You could literally never go home again. We are a sports-crazed society but we hardly keep score anymore, let alone expect no personal profit. And, btw, there were competitions in poetry, playwriting, heraldy [sportscasting], trumpet playing, and recitation [acting] without any reward but fame. And no self-promotion, commercial endorsements or special shoes. And most of them were dead by 35.
Following these reflections, we scrambled up the hill through the shrine complex of Apollo: the treasuries for the donations of the various city-states to the god along the paved path to the retaining wall below the temple itself, where the names of freed slaves were engraved as public record.
The temple building itself, though mostly tumbled in earthquakes, is still striking but no longer open for tourists. WE made our way around and then up another elegant switchback to the theater. As I mentioned earlier, if you could not get a prophecy on the one day a month the oracle was receiving, you waited around Delphi til the next month…or the next. So theater and games were open daily for 9 months of the year. Apollo departs Delphi in the winter to visit Hyperborea [“Where the North Wind originates] and Dionysis—and snow-- occupies the site.
a sacrifice to the god? No, a sleeping dog, which we let lie.
Many folks in our group continued the steep climb to the Stadion well above but we, Yianni and one other couple “Knew Ourselves” and figured it would be hubris to try. So we took lots of photos of ourselves and strangers [so they could all get in the photo] becoming dazed by the intensity of the sun and dried by the breeze coming up the canyon, but losing any sea moisture on its way from the Gulf. Like Sta. Barbara, indeed, my CA friends.
Sated and sun-slammed, we boarded the bus and switch-backed down the great canyon to the town of Itea [not to be confused with Ikea] for a lunch by the sea. Cousin Vinny ² served a wonderful stuffed eggplant and we sat with our fellow Criplympics contestant and his wife, finishing a lovely meal with a life-threatening crossing of the road to get to the bathroom. Lastly, we were served ice cold ouzo with a 5 to 1 ratio of water. It tasted just like ice cold ouzo with a 5 to 1 ratio of water.
According to Yianni, The perfect quartet for a Greek is: a sunny day, by the seaside, eating seafood, with ouzo for lunch. We had a trio since eggplant if strictly a land-dwelling creature. A trifecta is good enough for me.
A delightful treat was in store for us: a stop at Thermopylae! This was not on the itinerary and I suppose they skip it if they are running late. Some 19th century bozo put a twice life-sized, naked Leonidas [lee-ON-a-das] on a memorial wall and it is such that it’s hard to take a picture without seeming like a voyeur. Next to it is a really ugly, 20th century, headless Herm to commemorate the Thespian tribe that also fought here. The actual mound of the dead Spartans is across the street; police will not let tourists cross from one to the other but we could at least see it. It is hard to imagine the battle, as the river had silted up to create a broad plain beyond which we could not even see the water. This is great for tourism, but destroyed the strategic value of the “Hot Gates” bottleneck that allowed the 300 Spartans and their allies to slow the Persian advance.
where's the leather bikini, Gerard Buter?
We snoozed on the bus, waking in time for a view of the mountains as we approached. Kalambaka, the site of our next hotel, Is the gateway to Meteora, home to monasteries and nunneries. Meteora simply means "high"
Picture a line of sheer cliffs, an escarpment, blue in the distance, with a giant W carved out. In the center of the W is a spire upon which perches a monastery. It is to this summit we travel tomorrow.
Finally at the hotel in Kalambaka, we were invited to some trad Greek music and dance. This I longed to see, but the music was way over-amped for the room. We made our way to the small garden outside to listen through the open door, but someone got cold and closed the door [rather than moving across the room. Huh?] So we left, enjoyed the peaceful garden and made our way to the Trough for dinner [to which the landlady allowed us early access].
I was writing up these notes and Ron yelled from the shower, “Do you want me to do the raindance on these socks?” And now you know our travel laundry secrets.
N4: 104, The Delphic Oracle, Greece Sept. 26th, 2016
1 Cousin Vinny’s: a stop on a bus tour that involves a store, often with a demo of what they make there and a long opportunity to purchase. Always includes restrooms.
2 Trough: an all –you-can -eat buffet. Always looks more delicious that it is.
3 CTC is Cheap Tourist Crap. It is not necessary inexpensive. Often to be found in Cousin Vinny stores. One must sort through and can sometimes find treasures.