Ancient Greece gave such a lot to the world, including architecture, philosophy and theatre. I thought about this when I visited Greece with two friends in the late sixties. Stories of Delphi and the oracle had enthralled me when I was studying at Teachers College a few years previous to this.
Armidale Teachers’ College
Miss Margaret Mackie, my Philosophy teacher at Armidale Teachers’ College in 1961-62, regaled us with stories of the Delphic Oracle, and of Plato and Socrates; we studied parts of The Republic by Plato in detail, including The Allegory of the Cave, and I came to idealise these great thinkers of ancient times. A few years later, I revelled in the chance to visit these magical places that my teacher had opened up for me. This was in 1968, when I travelled from France to Greece with two girlfriends from Melbourne, whom I had met while working at the Australian Embassy in Paris.
These Four Photos
I know that you can find more perfect photographs than these scenes of Delphi, taken with my camera in 1968. But these slides, with their scratches, are precious mementoes for me. I took these photos while clambering around on the mountainous Greek terrain in the summer of 1968. I was soundly punished by the gods, perhaps by the guardian of the sanctuary, Apollo, with a bad case of sun-stroke for my ecstasy. Or was it by the jealous goddess Athena? A small price to pay for such an experience that I have carried with me through the years. These photos were reproduced from slides that I had stored away for thirty-nine years.
A Modern Greek Playwright
More recently I saw a play, “The Pride”, which was a comment on society’s changing attitudes to our lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) communities. The playwright, Alexi Kaye Campbell, was born in Athens to a Greek father and an English mother.
Campbell calls on the beauty and mystery of Mount Parnassus to portray one of the main character’s epiphany, prophesying a better future for LGBT people. I must add, too, that my cousin’s daughter, Geraldine Hakewill, played the only female role alongside the two male actors. To add further to the synchronicity, at least for me, I watched the play at the Eternity Playhouse, a modern theatre in a restored heritage listed 129 year-old building in Sydney.
Around the same time, I saw an episode of the British television documentary Great Continental Railway Journeys, presented by Michael Portillo, who visits Delphi, and reveals some of the theories to do with the identity of the oracle.
We learnt that the name “Pythia” is derived from Pytho, the original mythical name of Delphi. Pythia was also the House of Snakes. The modern theory is that the Pythia (oracle) spoke gibberish while in a frenzied state induced by vapours rising from a chasm in the rocks at the site. Priests interpreted the woman’s ravings as the enigmatic prophecies preserved in Greek literature.
Was it my imagination playing tricks on me, or was there indeed a breathtaking godliness about this place? The mountains towering about like guardians of a sacred place—orange, pink and stony, powerful and gleaming in the sun. The walks up to each of the ancient monuments inspiring sacred awe: starting below with the Gymnasium, The Marmaria Temple to Athena, protectress of the Apollo Temple further up, the one lovely in its rosy granite lightness, the other perfect in its simple lines. We searched for a site marking the oracle, a shrine or stone or something, but, despite its physical absence, you could believe that you heard its voice, saw its slippery serpent-like tail gleaming among the rocks and ferns and springs. The theatre steps spanned mightily around, and on high, the stadium!
That evening, suntanned, spirit-fresh and tired, we drove to the camp below and drank cognac, and talked of ancient gods, of beauty, and of life.