Posts Tagged Greece
Homer’s Iliad is an ancient Greek epic poem, set during the Trojan war, a long ten year siege on the city of Troy, by Greece. The poem is long and complex and centers more specifically around the short period of a quarrel between King Agamemnon and the great warrior Achilles. Setting this poem to a performance on stage, would seem like a challenge of epic proportion. But it is effortlessly done at the current production of the “Iliad” running at www.thestage.org, in San Jose, CA.
Based on Homer’s Iliad, writers Lisa Peterson and Denis O’Hare, created the stage piece, over a period of 5 years, utilizing video, video transcriptions, improvisation, original music and diligent research. It was translated by Robert Fagles. Kenneth Kelleher is a brilliant director who has directed over 20 productions for The Stage, and once again he did a marvelous job, in The Iliad.
Jackson Davis in the role of the poet, gives a spell binding performance. Although the story itself covers only a few weeks in the final year of the war, the Iliad alludes to the preceding events, including the cause of the war, the hundreds of thousands of wounded soldiers who returned home to find their spouses and fashions changed, and those who kept fighting but had forgotten the true cause of the war. Towards the end, it sets the stage for the sequel, the Odyssey, also attributed to Homer. This poem is regarded as more or less a complete narrative of the Trojan War. Davis holds the audience as he tells this complex tale, alternately playing various characters, and using the many props, to set the stage for the next sequence of events.
Paris, a wayward and handsome younger brother of prince Hector of Troy, abducted Helen, the most beautiful woman and wife of the Greek king Menelaus, and brought her to Troy, as his wife, and thus began the Trojan war, that lasted for 9+ years, and took tens of thousands of lives. Towards the end of the war, where the poem begins, Agamemnon, the Greek leader has abducted Chryseis, a daughter of a Trojan priest, and he refuses to give her up, despite being offered wealth and riches by the father. Chryseis prays to Apollo who causes plague on the city. Agamemnon returns Chryseis back but abducts Briseis, Achilles’ captive, as compensation. This angers Achilles and he refuses to support Agamemnon any more in the fight against Troy. This sets the stage for the succeeding epic battle.
Without Achilles, the Greek side is enormously weakened, and is getting slaughtered, prompting his closest and most dear friend Patroclus to beg Achilles, to allow him to don the great Achilles’ armor, and fight in his stead. Soldiers imagine Patroclus to be Achilles, and Patroclus inflicts great casualty, before he is found out, and killed by Hector of Troy. Achilles is mad with grief upon hearing of Patroclus’s death, and in turn not only kills Hector, but drags and dishonors his body. King Priam of Troy comes to Achilles to beg for his son’s body. Achilles is deeply moved, and not only returns Hector’s body, but halts the war for 9 days, allowing Troy to mourn Hector’s death.
Like any war, this is a classic tale, with all critical ingredients, like politics, regret, deep losses, innocent victims, and women taken as captives, against their will. Like any war, time and again, the fighters, winners and loosers alike, appeal to the higher power, for mercy, for compassion, for winning. This is one of the greatest stories ever told and Jackson Davis does a fabulous job of conveying this complex narrative. There is a point when he puts this war into larger perspective and names every single war fought and recorded in history. Wow, wow, wow! Sickened by war and the destruction it inflicts, the poet says, “Every time I sing this song, I hope it’s the last time”.
For this tour, we boarded ship at Piraeus, suburb of Athens, Greece, on Holland America Cruise Line. First stop was Istanbul, Turkey, then Greek island of Lesbos, Mitheline, then Turkish island Kusadasi, then Greek island Mykonos, and then Greek island Iraklion, Crete.
Athens has a lot of history and while there is much to see, the Acropolis or hill on which the most famous Parthnon is situated, is historical and wonderful site. Around 490 BC Pericles began construction of the buildings on the acropolis. Many buildings were damaged in 1687, during siege by the Venetians and during other wars. Some have been restored. Most famous one is a temple dedicated to Athena Nike (Nike means victory and Athena means wisdom). Vying for power, Athena won the battle against Poseidon, God of the sea and the temple was therefore dedicated to Athena. While Poseidon offered water, Athena offered olive tree as a sign of peace and was declared the winner. To the right of the entrance, the Propylaea is also beautiful.
To preserve the impact of the Acropolis, there is a restriction on the height of the buildings in Athens, so the Parthenon remains the highest building. Athens is full of olive trees and beautiful buildings, marred by unimaginable amount of graffiti, perhaps indicative of the economic troubles. Similar to Spain, nearly everyone smokes in Greece. The Constitutional Plaza or Syntagma Square, opposite the Parliament is a great hub of activity. We walked around there, ate peanuts, offered some to the pigeons (who were immediately sitting on our hands and head for food), and watched the change of guards, at the entrance of the parliament, with big pomp and circumstance.
Istanbul, Turkey was the fist stop on the cruise ship that we boarded at Piraeus, Greece. Istanbul is a gorgeous city adorned with many mosques, blaring every now and then with a lyrical calls to prayers. Istanbul is a crowded city, humming with activity. We visited the Ayasofya Mosque, also called Hagia Sophia (meaning holy wisdom in Greek) mosque and museum. It was a former Greek Church, later converted to Imperial Museum, and in 1935 was opened as a museum by the Republic of Turkey. It is absolutely spell binding. We also visited Sultanahmet Camii or the Blue Mosque, so called because of blue tiles surrounding the walls. It is a historical but functioning mosque. You need to go there modestly dressed, with a scarf, (if you do not have one then it would be provided). The walls outside are inscribed with beautiful writings from the Quran.
The Basilica Cistern, the largest cistern, built in 6 century BC (apparently by 7000 slaves), lie beneath Istanbul, and provided a water filtration system for the Great Palace of Constantinople and later to the Topkapi Palace. It is about 105,000 square feet in area and is one of the most memorable sites, I saw. At one end, there are columns with visage of Medusa (blocks oriented sideways and inverted to negate the power of her gaze). The cistern was the location of 1963 James Bond film “From Russia with Love”.
Topkapi Palace museum consists of four main courtyards and many smaller buildings. After entering the gate of salutation or bab-us-selam, you enter Divan Meydani, a gathering place for courtiers. Several building inside house the extensive imperial treasury, the arms collection, clock collection, royal home of the emperor, home of the queen mother, courtyard of the eunuchs, and more. We could have spent days there but only had couple of hours.
Later we walked in the park, shopped for Turkish candies topped with nuts, had Turkish desert filled with pistachios, almonds, and hazel nuts, looked at the range of turkish spices, took picture of the man making pomegranate juice and then savored the delicious, tart-sweet juice, with corn on the cob, sesame bread, and roasted chestnuts.
Mytilini, Lesbos, Greece
Mytilini is the capital of Lesobs, a tiny island in northeastern Aegean sea. The island is covered with olive and fruit trees, has a petrified forest (which we did not get to see) and has a huge Molyvos castle. Walking around on the grounds of the Mediterranean’s largest fortress with over 200,000 square meters was an incredible experience. The views from every angle are simply amazing. This was not a guided tour but everywhere there are boards with explanation in English and we wandered at our own pace and took tons and tons of pictures. Lesbos is well known for Ouzo, the traditional distilled Greek drink that tastes very much like Sambuca. I saw a sign for Ouzo and went in the distillery and asked the man what exactly was Ouzo and he promptly showed his distillery where it was made and brought out some ouzo for us to try.
Kusadasi, the coastal town of Turkey is known for the ruins of Ephesus. Ephesus, once a port, was an important commercial center, on account of its strategic location. It is located in fertile valley with delicious fruit trees all around. In ancient times it was also religious center of early Christianity. There is temple of Artemis (fertility goddess) built in 356 BC, which was one of the seven wonders, at one time. The city continued to expand and built by successive rulers but new rulers in AD 262 sacked it and the city was abandoned when the harbor silted up. It has since been rediscovered and is a great tourist attraction. The ruins give a great insight into the lives of the people. We had a leisurely drive to Ephesus, to see the ruins. And then we visited the house where Virgin Mary is believed to have spent her last days. I took the opportunity to tack a prayer to Virgin Mary. Among million other prayers, will she get to mine?
As you land on the shore of this tiny beautiful island, you are greeted by the small Paraportiani church. This tiny town of has some 70 little churches. Votive offerings is an old tradition. As per one tradition, the residents enshrine the bones of their dead in the walls of the shrines. As you walk a little further, you come to the enormous seven 16th century windmills that were used to store grains. These windmills are now the trade mark of Mykonos. On the other side, is little Venice with colorful balconies hanging above the sea. There are many beaches, and we visited one, though we did not venture out in the ocean, to swim.
I Loved this small, beautiful Greek island, east of Turkey. It is absolute clean with all the houses pained white and doors and windows painted in bright hues of all diverse colors. We had a leisurely walk through the island, a short trip to the beach, and then a lazy walk through the long market street. We broke and ate pieces from the loaf of bread that we got from a local bakery as we strolled through the market street, buying little knickknacks.
The final highlight was meeting the respected Pelican, Petros. The ancestor of this Pelican came to the island around 1954, after a storm. He was welcomed and since then he and his descendants have lived on the island and all are called Petros or Pedros. Petros is official mascot of Mykonos. As we were walking through the market street, Petros regally strolled in and as we all reverently made way, Petros simply strolled through the town.
Heraklion, Creete – Island of Greece
The Palace of Knossos is the primary tourist site in Heraklion. It was built during the Bronze age (ceremonial and political center of the Minoan civilization) and was discovered in 1878. The palace was excavated and partially restored in early 20th century.