June 30, 2019, The Peloponnese, Greece — The longest day: Corinth, Mycenae, the Epidaurus Theatre + a Concert at 9 pm and a 2-hour drive back to Athens. I don’t know about you, but I may be getting too old for this.
We drove along the shore of the Saronic Gulf from Athens to Corinth, first settled 9,000 years ago and the most powerful city until Rome conquered it in 146 BCE. Who ruled changed over the years: First, it was kings. Then the aristocrats (think oligarchs and fiefdoms). Then came the tyrants.
Today it is famous for the 4-mile-long Corinth Canal, which cuts through the isthmus that joined the Pelopponese peninsula to the mainland. The idea for a canal dates to the tyrant Periander, in 602 BCE, who wanted to expedite trade with Italy. Though other rulers over the next 2 millennia considered it, none could figure out how to get it done — until 1893. There are two bridges over the canal that submerge when a ‘tall ship’ needs to come through. The canal is too narrow for modern ships, so it’s become a tourist attraction that is used by pleasure boats.
Without a canal, the ancients moved their boats across the isthmus on wheeled platforms!
Padlocks must be outlawed now, so I guess lovers tie plastic bags to bridge railings as a sign of their love that will last forever. Their love might disintegrate, but the plastic will last forever.
Much of the archeological work in Greece is made possible by earthquakes: they break apart the ground and reveal parts of old buildings or artifacts that lead to further excavation; or they damage or destroy more modern cities, thus allowing excavations of what’s underneath when the rubble is cleared away. After a major quake in 1928, a Roman forum was unearthed here, and the city of Corinth was moved to another location.
Since we had a lengthy bus ride...
...Kriton brought us up to date on Greek mythology and tragedy, which is mostly a laundry list of who killed whom in extraordinarily dysfunctional families. In no particular order, we have Paris & Helen, Clytemnestra & Agamemnon, Leda & Zeus (aka the Swan). And Persephone and her husband Pluto, god of the underworld, about whom Kriton advised, ‘Don’t mess around with Pluto.’
Modern historians think Greek theatre might be based on history, e.g., Agamemnon (of Aeschylus’ Oresteia trilogy) may have been a real king. Over millennia, Greece was invaded by so many powers, few actual records remain, and Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey have been used as historical reference books. Scholars aren’t sure there was a person named Homer... ‘Homer’ may have been many writers. Others believe the Odyssey might have been written by a woman. But I digress...
On to Mycenae... possibly the home of a real King Agamemnon. The ruins were discovered by Heinrich Schliemann in 1876 — six years after he had unearthed a Troy. There are several possible Troy sites. Historians aren’t positive there was a Trojan War, with or without the famous horse. Schliemann’s objective was to prove that what ‘Homer’ wrote was based on fact.
Mycenae dates to the 14th-13th century BCE, during the Bronze Age. It was founded by nomadic people from the north, perhaps the Balkans. They brought horses and bronze weapons, conquered the people they found on the islands, built boats and invented the centaur — half man, half horse. By 2000 BCE, Mycenae had become one of the major centers of Greek civilization — but by 1200 BCE, their power waned and the Mycenaeans moved on to Cyrus.
This is The Lions Gate into the hilltop site at Mycenae. The sides of the triangle are two headless lions standing on their hind legs — the oldest surviving relief in Europe. Building this gate, in 1240 BCE, was an architectural marvel that used a new technique: the ‘relieving triangle.’ The lintel alone weighs 18 tons. Old Greeks thought the site had been built by the giant Cyclops — who else could have moved all those huge stones into place?
Below is their cemetery, where 19 excavated skeletons of men, women and 2 children were covered in 40 pounds of gold — the largest single gold ‘find’ in Greece.
Archeologists at another site were overjoyed to find 1,000 clay tables incised with the oldest form of the Greek language. Turned out to be lists of inventory — how many amphora of olive oil, how many goats, etc. There were no names of people, no events, no written ‘history.’
The entrance to a nearby ‘beehive tomb,’ named for its interior, domed shape. This 3,250-year-old structure might be the tomb of Agamemnon.
Next on the program: The Epidaurus Theatre, built in the late 4th century BCE as a place of worship of the cult of Dionysius, the god of theatre and wine. It could hold 12,000 ancient, smaller butts. It was another earthquake victim, and over the centuries nature buried the site under a forest of trees... until archeologists in the 1930s found one extant piece of scenery — a royal throne — and unearthed the rest.
It has been called ‘the best preserved ancient theatre in Greece in terms of its perfect acoustics and fine structure.’
‘Tragic irony’: In Greek theatre, violence — patricides, matricides, infanticides — never occurred onstage. So the ‘Greek chorus’ told the audience what was happening offstage — but they never got it right, and the audience knew it. This, we were told, was the birth of ‘tragic irony.’
Greek theatre reached its peak in the 5th century BCE, with Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides. Some 2500 years later, their works are still performed. While theatre was always a religious activity for the Greeks, the Romans turned it into entertainment.
Moving along... As part of their summer festival, Nafplion hosted YAC that evening on the waterfront in this seaside gem, a popular resort for Athenians. The Athens Academia Orchestra trekked out from Athens to join us again. The crowd kept growing and was very appreciative. It was a lovely night.
From the risers, we looked up at one of two Venetian citadels overlooking the harbor. According to a googleable writer named Brian Abbott, ‘Nafplio was occupied by the Byzantines, then the French, and in 1377 the Venetians arrived but were soon ousted by the Ottomans. The Venetians returned in 1685 and fortified the city, but this was the last gasp of the Venetian empire. In a little over 100 years, the 1,100-year [Venetian] empire would be divvied up between Napoleon, the Austrians, and the Turks.’
More of the Nafplio waterfront...
The festival gave us dinner at the Έλατος restaurant. Unfortunately they did not serve us fish.
Pre-concert sound check...
So... the very stiff wind was at our backs (and turned our pages for us). For acoustical purposes, we needed a buffer. Let’s use the buses! Worked well.
There was absolutely no point combing my hair...
Back to the hotel at 12:45 a.m. Ugh. The next day we flew to Rhodes, an hour away by air — or 15-19 hours by ferry! #