Tag Archives: Homer

Homer and King Nestor

nestorAt school I studied Latin and as part of the literature module I had to read the 1st century BC “Aeneid” by Virgil. The story has many similarities to Homer’s 12th century BC “Iliad” and tells the tale of the Trojan Aeneas who travelled to Italy and founded Rome. It also refers to the Trojan War and the heroes who took part in it.

Nestor was the son of King Neleus who inherited the Kingdom of Pylos after his father was killed by Hercules. He fought in the Trojan War and frequently gave advice to others such as Agamemnon and Achilles. His life ended when he was killed by an arrow shot by Paris.

dscf3466I decide to go in search of Nestor’s legacy, starting at Voidokilia Beach, on the far side of the Gialova Lagoon and beneath the Paleokastro of Pylos, the old castle, built in 1278 by the Frankish Nicholas II of Omer. All over Greece, ancient sites are marked by small brown signs and I follow one now, fording a small stream and scrambling up a rocky slope to find what I hope is a cave, once used by Nestor to shelter his cattle. When I finally arrive at the site, it’s not a cave at all but a ruined tholos tomb that is thought to have been for Thrasymedes, Nestor’s son. It’s surrounded by a high fence but someone has helpfully removed the gate from its hinges so I am able to access it easily.

dscf3461

dscf3475As I look across to the Paleokastro, I spot the cave in the cliffs below it. There’s is just one problem. There’s a lot of water between me and it. I backtrack down to the beach and see that it’s possible to reach the cave by walking along the beach, across the dunes and up the cliff face but it’s a long way, so I settle for a zoomed photo instead.

dscf3495A few kilometres inland is a palace complex, excavated in 1938 and attributed to King Nestor. The site has recently been covered by a huge domed roof and is now viewed from a raised platform to protect the ruins. All of the removable artefacts, including 600 Linear B tablets, have been transferred to museums.

dscf3481-2

However, one key feature remains – a carefully sculpted and decorated bathtub. Could this have been the place where Polycaste, the youngest daughter of Nestor, bathed Telemachus who was visiting the king while searching for his father Odysseus?

dscf3506

 

Advertisements

The Gates of Hades and the Oracle of Zeus

dscf2955About 70 kms south of the port of Igoumenitsa, set above the Fanari marsh and the former Acherousia Lake, is the ancient site of Ephyra and the Nekromanteion. It’s no coincidence that the name gave rise to such words as necromancy as it comes from the ancient Greek meaning divination from a dead body. The Nekromanteion was a place where pilgrims came to communicate with the souls of those they had lost.

Homer wrote about the site in his ‘Odyssey’, describing it as,

Hades’ Kingdom of Decay, where the River of Flaming Fire and the River of Lamentation (which is a branch of the Styx) unite around a pinnacle of rock to pour their thundering streams into Acheron. This is the spot to seek out the souls of the dead and departed.

dscf2947The geography certainly fits and the vaulted underground chamber seems the perfect spot to commune with the dead. It’s a spooky place, lined with porous volcanic rock that dampens any echo. However, there is a dispute between the findings of the first Greek archaeologist and a later German one who believes the site to be nothing more than a fortified farmhouse.

When I visit the Archaeological Museum in Ioannina, where they have finds from the site on display and information about their uses, it seems that the scholars there agree with the German opinion, though I’d like to think that both could be correct.

dscf3001

dscf2956Inland from the Nekromanteion, I arrive in the town of Glyki and follow signs to the source of the Acheron which lead me along a narrow road beside a fast flowing, spearmint blue river. The last section must be completed on foot along a narrow, muddy and slippery path. The gorge is quite narrow when I reach the end of the path but on the far side I can make out a small cave where a source emerges to join the main flow. I’m sure it’s quite a popular place in the summer, but I’m lucky enough to have it all to myself.

dscf2960

dscf2977Next to the Via Egnatia motorway, which crosses northern Greece, is another well-preserved ancient site. Homer also wrote about Dodona and the Oracle of Zeus, while Herodotus describes its origins as the site where a dove from Egyptian Thebes settled in an oak tree and ordered that it be made a place of worship. The oracle apparently spoke through the leaves of the tree.

dscf2981Though the original oak was destroyed by Christian zealots in the 4th century AD, a keen archaeologist planted another at the remains of the Sanctuary of Zeus, allowing the legend to live on. Excavations also uncovered a huge theatre built in the 3rd century BC and one of the largest on the Greek mainland at the time.

dscf3005

 

Dodona became quite a wealthy place as pilgrims from all over Greece came to consult the oracle. Their questions were written on lead tablets, some of which are displayed in the Museum in Ioannina. Questions relate to paternity, ‘Am I her children’s father?’ and theft, ‘Has Piestos stolen the wool from the mattress?’ I wonder what sort of questions people would ask today.