National Geographic : 1973 Jul
him for months. Now he captains a cruise ship." I saw the ship, a big white steamer lined with waving tourists, as she veered to salute the friends who had saved the captain's life. Festival-goers Dance the Night Away We were scheduled to sail for Cephalonia. "Too bad you're not going to be on Ithaca tonight," our driver said. "It is the festival of St. John in Kioni. Everyone will be there." So we sailed instead for Kioni. Guarded by three windmill towers, its lovely harbor a horseshoe of whitewashed houses and ter raced vineyards, the village was all abustle. Strings of lights and banners canopied the quayside. Seating us amid a sea of tables, the taverna proprietor served us from great tubs of roast chicken still steaming from the oven. Some festival-goers arrived by boat, while others streamed down the corkscrew road on foot, by donkey, scooter, taxi. I heard an Odysseus greet a Laertes, a Mentor welcome Athena back from Athens with her young sters Telemachus and Penelope. Homeric names still run in Ithaca families. The orchestra struck up and couples danced bouncy two-steps. Then a circle of men laid arms upon each other's shoulders and moved in rhythmic steps from left to right. Suddenly their leader snapped his fingers, leaped high, dropped in deep knee bends, and began whirling in counterpoint. As the night wore on and the wine flowed, the dancing grew wilder. Chains of celebrators snake-danced among the tables. Circles closed like human carousels on the square. Ranks broke, interlocked, spun off into trajectories. The music grew louder, faster, more frenzied. Imperceptibly the crowd melted away un til the quayside stood strangely empty and the night sounds took over: Back on White Mist I heard the coo coo of the tiny Ionian owl, regular as a drumbeat; a donkey's bray, answered by a hee-haw across the way; a dog barking, then another and another; and finally the cock's crow that heralds dawn. Our voyage next day was short. Cephalonia, largest and loftiest of the Ionian Islands, lies only two and a half miles from Ithaca. And Ulysses still accompanied us, for he was "lord of the Kephallenians." Timber for his ships came from forests that once darkened the entire mountain core of Cephalonia, namesake isle of Abies cepha lonica, a fir growing widely in Greece. Even the charred columns of palace ruins at Knossos on Crete have proved to be of that wood. We sought signs of Ulysses' day on Cepha lonia, whence Homer says many of Penelope's suitors came. We traced ancient ramparts on the hills behind the port of Sami, explored Mycenaean catacombs at Mazarakata, and studied gleaming jewelry of beaten gold in Argostolion's archeological museum. There are even more impressive ruins at Krani, overlooking Argostolion Harbor. For two miles, walls of giant polygonal blocks run along the crest like the spine of a gigantic dinosaur. Laboriously shaped and smoothed, the blocks were fitted tightly with no mortar. Walls defend, but they also divide. In the fifth century B.C., the historian Thucydides speaks of four city-states on Cephalonia. Down the centuries, under many masters, the island's towns remained isolated by mountain barriers, its lands parceled among warring feudal nobles and worked by wretched peas ants. But the British, during their protector ate over the Ionian Islands, 1815-64, built roads, reformed justice, revitalized agricul ture, and sparked a cultural flowering. To Greece and the world the island gave scientists, statesmen, navigators. Cephalonia still boasts many shipowners, and more pro fessors than any other Greek island. One, Professor Spyridon Marinatos, Greece's In spector General of Antiquities, had provided valuable insights during our earlier Aegean odyssey.* And now he helped our Ionian quest by introducing us to a Cephalonian colleague, Marino S. Cosmetatos. Mr. and Mrs. Cosmetatos invited us to their charming Venetian-style home, served us tea, and talked of Cephalonian history. Both are authorities; Mrs. Cosmetatos devotes most of her days to a folk and history museum she is developing in Argostolion. Road Builders Work Above the Clouds Mr. Cosmetatos took me north to the steep castle-crowned peninsula of Assos (pages 18 19). Charles Napier, once British administra tor of Cephalonia, later famed for his military conquests in India, described road-building operations along this coast: "The precipice is about 600 feet down, the sea foaming at Bottom; clouds flying under your feet," Napier wrote in 1825. In fact he noted that some of his men were *The author wrote of "The Isles of Greece, Aegean Birthplace of Western Culture," in the August 1972 NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC.