Last week I took myself off to Greece. I intended to spend four days in Athens and three in Delphi. I had visited the Greek capital before but had never taken the two and a half hour bus journey into the mountains to the great sanctuary of ancient Greek religion. To the extent that ancient Greek religion is discussed or referred to at all nowadays it`s usually in a playful manner, implying that only rather stupid people could have had such naive religious views. We have Zeus turning himself into a bull to rape Europa and Pluto enticing young lovelies into his underworld. Semi-human Titans get chained to rocks with eagles pecking their liver because they stole the fire of the gods and mischievous Pan holding sex romps in the woods rather like modern rock groups or Italian politicians.
Not only did I find that the more I knew about the ancient Greeks the more I thought that naivety was not one of their characteristics. Add to this the opinion I`d had from a number of quarters that Delphi has a special magic and I decided to explore. Some of the apparently ridiculous stories have much more interesting undercurrents. The story of Zeus and Europa,for example, is almost certainly an ancient fertility myth. The name `Europa` is probably made up of two Greek words meaning` broad face`, a term for a cow. As in much else of Greek religion there was a clear acknowledgement that sexuality is in fact fundamental both to life on earth and to human wellbeing, despite the terrible distortions some other middle eastern religions have tried to impose on followers.
Anyway, I began in Athens where the sight of the Parthenon on its mighty rock still seems to me one of the most thrilling sights in Europe. I am surprised by how much it moves me. Then I took the bus through some fine Greek countryside. This,of course, iincludes a specifically Greek experience. People wonder and laugh at The Midnight Bus in the Harry Potter stories which charges effortlessly through dense traffic jams where no real bus could ever pass. Greek children must wonder what the fuss is about since this is perfectly normal on Greek bus journeys. As I expected, we came to little towns, especially the ski resort of Acharova, designed for two malnourished horses to squeeze past each other. There, the broad, modern coach hurtles through the narrow streets. The `serious gulp moment` inevitably happens when you see an equally broad delivery van approaching from the other direction. There is no possibility in the non-Greek, non Harry Potter world that a dreadful collision can be avoided and yet they sail past each other, quite possibly with some mighty Hellenic expletives yelled through the eerie mountain passes, but no one is hurt. No metalwork is scraped.
This experience is an effective preparatory for Delphi itself. There, on the epic, historic slopes of Mount Parnassus, home of the eternal poets, are the ruins of the sanctuary of Apollo, the strange `omphalos` stone allegedly hurled by Zeus, probably the most breathtaking theatre in the world and, further down, the sanctuary of Athena. In Athena`s sanctuary is the uniquely shaped Tholos, a small circular temple with some pillars remaining. It is said that this was the site of the first worship of the ancient earth goddess Ge. However, perhaps the most evocative of all its wonders is the huge rock by which the Delphic oracle uttered her famous pronouncements.
All of this is set in a landscape of quite remarkable grandeur and beauty. Although I saw it in wet, cloudy weather it was a wonderful experience. Did I think Delphi had a special magic, more than other historic locations I have seen? I have to confess that I did. Whether that awe resulted from finally seeing this famous scene after hearing so much about it or whether the natural grandeur of Mount Parnassus would have had that effect anyway I really cannot say, but I felt genuinely privileged to have seen it.
Along with the ruins there is a very well stocked museum and a great deal of information. Others may not react as I did, but increasingly as I immersed myself in this venerable place I began to feel the mythology which is so readily dismissed as naive and primitive is very far from that. I concluded that it contained a degree of wisdom and understanding of life that I do not find in other religions which advertise themselves as superior.
I have written one book about Greece already, Coffee with the Colossus and now have plenty of material for another which I shall get to work on before too long.
More information about my writing can be found on my website at www.rngnovels.co.uk