National Geographic : 1944 May
The Isles of Greece BY LT. RICHARD STILLWELL, U.S.N.R. ONE SPRING when I was living in Athens, I received a letter froma friend who wanted to go cruising in the Cyclades. Would I make the necessary arrangements? Would I! No other sea in the world is so rich in history and legend as the Aegean. This island-flecked, tideless sea is the zero mile stone of Western geography and civilization.* In all, there are about 24 large islands in the Cyclades group. The ancients believed that they lay in a rough circle about Delos (map, page 596). The name Cyclades comes from the Greek word for circle, kyklos. Aside from some large islands along the coast of Asia Minor, there are two other prin cipal groups of Aegean islands, known as the Sporades from the way they are scattered like seeds. The Southern Sporades include the Dodecanese and Rhodes. The ancients hardly ever sailed at night. The custom was to put ashore at dusk-even to draw the ships up on land. An ancient voyage must have been a leisurely affair. We followed the custom of those times. Aboard the "Roaring Noise" Seven of us made our way down to the Piraeus one sunny afternoon and went aboard the good ship Phloisbos, a 60-foot caique, fitted for cruising. Although rigged as a schooner, her sailing powers were not remark able. In a heavy breeze we could barely make steerageway; so thereafter we relied on a powerful Diesel engine which made us won der whether the name of the ship (phloisbos a roaring noise, as of the sea) had been given her with more than a sentimental reason. All afternoon, as we coasted south along the shore of Attica, we watched the changing profile of Mount Hymettus, and late in the day we dropped anchor in a little bay just below the gleaming marble columns of Posei don's Temple at Cape Sofinion (Sunium). Few ancient temples have so fine a site or can be seen from so far. The cliffs, dropping steeply to the sea, form a magnificent pedestal for the milk-white ruins. When he wrote of "Sunium's marbled steep," Byron was not in dulging in poetic license. The description is accurate. We went ashore and scrambled up the steep rise in time to see the sun go down in a purple glory behind the distant mountains of the Peloponnesus, across the Gulf of Aegina. Early next day we chugged away to Keos, only a few miles off. Kea, the principal town, was once known as lulis, and not far from it is a lion, almost 30 feet high, cut out of the native rock. Keos was the birthplace of Simonides and his nephew Bacchylides, two famous poets of ancient Greece. Simonides is best remem bered for his epigrams commemorating those who died in battle, and especially for two epigrams on the Spartans who died at Thermopylae. "O passer-by," he wrote, "tell the Lacedae monians that we lie here obeying their orders." The other begins, "Of those who died at Thermopylae, glorious is the fortune and fair the fate; their tomb is an altar: instead of laments, memory is theirs, and pity becomes praise; such a tomb neither mold nor all-conquering Time shall waste away." A Poet Escapes "Retirement" at 60 Simonides did not stay too long in Keos, however, for one of the laws of the Kean legal code (much admired in antiquity) was that anyone who reached the age of 60 should be required to drink a cup of hemlock and die. Well before he reached that dangerous age he went to live honorably at Athens. In Sicily he reached the ripe age of almost 90. Simonides is said to have been the first poet to accept pay for his poems. It was late afternoon when we reached Tenos (page 597). In the town, not far from the shore, is the Church of the Evangelistria, built over a well where, in 1823, a miraculous icon of the Virgin was found. Supposed to have been painted by St. Luke himself, it has the reputation of effecting marvelous cures. The icon is kept in the church and is so heavily encrusted with jewels that nothing can be seen of the original painting except the age-darkened faces of the Virgin and the Angel Gabriel. To Tenos, every year on the 25th of March and again on the 15th of August, came thou sands of pilgrims, hundreds of them seeking miraculous cures. Gathered from all parts of Greece, they crowded into the shrine to sleep and perhaps be healed of their affliction. There is ample evidence of many cures, at tested by the large number of thank offerings * See "Greece-the Birthplace of Science and Free Speech," NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, March, 1944, also by Lieutenant Stillwell, who formerly was Director of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens. Also, in the same issue, "The Greek Way," by Edith Hamilton, and "The Glory That Was Greece," 32 paintings by H. M. Herget.