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Greece by Bicycle 1989

In May of 1985, my world fell apart. In the late seventies, when I first met my first wife at Prudential I had betrayed a long Apollonian relationship with another woman to be mesmerized by this intelligent, intuitive and beautiful young woman who had impacted me like a Dionysian sledge to the forehead. I returned from work in the first week after our vacation in Greece to be violently expelled from what I had thought was a happy marriage. It seems that my thoughts were not shared because my wife and I had developed different and opposed frameworks for observing what I had thought to be a shared reality. Her perspective was further intensified by her decisiveness abd unshakeable faith in her intuitive qualities, in her own ability to know what is best to do in any given circumstance, no matter how peculiar. This difference was so elemental that it could only harm the minds of the innocent children, so I packed my point of view and removed myself from the battlefield to return to cold emptyness.

What I had learned was that it is a privilege to love someone, to truly love them; and while it is a momentary paradise if she loves you back, it is unfair to demand or even expect reciprocity. We should consider ourselves lucky, honored, blessed that we possess the capacity to feel tenderness of such magnitude and be grateful even when that love is not returned.

Though I had no words or understanding for it then, with great reluctance I have concluded that I simply could not meet my first wife's seemingly insatiable needs--needs that I'd been trained since childhood to find irresistably seductive. For they had been put to me as desires that only I could satisfy. Problems that only I could solve. Conflicts that only I could resolve. Needs, problems, conflicts that in the end no man, no other human being could satisfy, solve, resolve. I could not make her happy.

In retrospect, I had been unable, boy and man, to make my mother, the primal wife, happy either. In was only on a Mother's Day in the last half of the eighties that I saw the depths to which my mother could sink in her attempts to maintain dominion over my oldest sister when she escaped my mother's roof and went to live with a manfriend. It took men in white coats plus a straitjacket to constrain her from harming the manfrend. My support for the constraint process produced venomous, unforgiving hatred in her eyes. No one on the planet, boy or man, could satisfy her bottomless hunger for attention and control. It was a hunger so ravenous and impossible to sate as to be an essentially metaphysical contradiction.

I was not aware of it at the time or had access to words for it but theirs was not merely a psychological or emotional disorder, a neurosis or minor mental illness that could be treated with pschotherapy and pharmaceuticals and kindness. Or by the love of a good man. Through no fault of their own and possibly no fault of mine, either, I was doomed, boy and man, to fail to satisfy their simple unchecked hunger for universal centrality. As a consequence they grew angry. Their grief and rage were caused by the irreducible nature of human reality. It was as if I were humanity's sole male representative on earth, and not merely a son or a husband, and for their satisfaction those needs were directed at me alone. Each of these women was manacled to a bottomless, contradictory, impossible need to exist as both the center of the known universe and its encompassing entirety.

The end of this marriage, however, had removed all of the romantic blinders from my eyes and forced me into seeing the true uncertainty of my life. Looking about me in that cold spring of 1986, I realized what was facing me. I could plan and scheme, I might work harder and longer than anyone else had ever worked, I might succeed in overcoming the refound hardships of divorce court imposed poverty, I might through determination solve problems for which my earlier life on Doty Hill had provided no training at all. But for all my labor and sacrifice and resourcefulness, my new beginnings purchased at so great a cost might be snatched away from me at any minute. And should this happen, I would again have no legal redress except those same witchery courts as found in Salem, Massachusetts with their arbitrary powers. I had been tilted from my poor boy's longing for the safety of money and position by a random and malicious hand and would never again suffer its delusions. I would turn to a search for wisdom in the place where it began.Julia and David

Zeus the guide who made men turn
Thought-ward, Zeus who did ordain
Man by suffering shall learn.
So the heart of him, again
Aching with remembered pain,
Bleeds and sleepeth not, until
Wisdom comes against his will.

On Thursday April 27, 1989 after four years of mourning for my lost marriage and children, I partially disassembled my Schwinn High Sierra mountain bike and packed it into a box for shipment to Athens. When I arrived at the Athens Airport on 4/28/89 and recovered my bicycle from baggage claims, I dragged it outside the terminal to where I could reassemble it, extract and attach my rear panniers packed with a month's worth of clothing, unpack and fire up my video camera, and start off for the port of Piraeus steering the bike with my left hand and pointing the video camera with my right. I was initially quite unsteady as I merged from the left lane airport exit across three lanes of speeding cars and trucks before I was able to make my way to the comparative safety of the right pullover lane and breathe a sigh of relief. From there I was able to fill my water bottles at a service station and then ride about five uneventful miles from Palaio Faliro to the port of Piraeus. By 8:00 AM I was walking along the waterfront in Piraeus looking in vain for a ferry that could take me to a port in the Peloponnese. I then made many requests at the ticketing agencies, before deciding to push my bike through the turnstile of a subway that could take me to Athens where I could connect to a train that could take me across the Isthmus of Corinth to Argos in the north eastern Peloponnese.

The 99 kilometers of narrow gauge railway between Athens, Eleusis, and Corinth was first completed in 1885. From Corinth the line climbs and winds through a densely wooded valley between Mt. Skiona (700 meters) and the Oneia Hills (563 meters). Along the way we pass the Athikia Station and then Aghios Vasilios at the 26 km marker where there are ruins of a medieval castle and a Bronze Age settlement. The country gets more wild after this point and the Nemea-Dervenaki station (31 km) is next. The road to modern Nemea (5 km) continues uphill from the station, while the road to Dervenakia, is further along the Argos road after the railway crossing. Within an easy bike ride is the Stymphalean Lake, which, according to myth, was the nesting ground of man-eating birds that Heracles had to quell as one of his labors. The train moves on through a narrow canyon between the twin peaks of Mt. Tretos, whose ancient Pass of Dervenakia, saw the ambush of Dramali's Turkish army in the summer of 1822 by the Greek revolutionary leader Kolokotronis. This early victory during the Greek War of Independence served as strong encouragement to continue the struggle, which lasted another decade. Descending from the pass the Argolid valley spreads out below and the line soon reaches Mycenae. After crossing the Panitsa and Xerias rivers and stopping at the village station of Koudsopodi, I see the lights of the Venetian fortress on the hill of Larissa (276 meters) coming into view before the train reaches Argos, which, apart from its other many historic and archaeological distinctions, is also a rail junction, with a line to Nafplio. My train reached the station at about two o'clock in the morning so I found a bench outside the railway station and waited for the day to come.

Airport to Piraeus Bike Route Piraeus Subway Pelopponess Piraeus to Argos

Henry Miller wrote that Greece is of the utmost importance to every man seeking to find himself; but he also noted the confusion, the chaos, the dust, the heat, the poverty, and the bareness. There is a certain quality about Greece that Spain, Italy, and other poor, sun-drenched lands lack. It's something unique and inspiring precisely because it is so harsh and unforgiving; something beautiful because it is so ugly; something happy because it is so sad; something different yet simultaneously familiar. That certain something might be a faultlessly proportioned, atmospheric mix of East and West. The ululating quarter tones of bouzouki music are siblings to Bulgarian and Serbian rhythms, and are close cousins of the Arab and Turkish music that, heard in its pure form, gives most Western listeners a headache. The fact that the music is often very sad--because for most Greeks it is meant to evoke memories of the "Lost Cause" of Bysantium, Hagia Sofia, and Smyrna--make it no less beautiful.

Greece's "only successful fascist regime" of Andreas Papandreou and his thuggish PASOK (Pan-Hellenic Socialist Movement) cohorts was finally coming to an end in the spring of 1989, but as he was leaving power he was "reforming" electoral law as a way of spitting goodbye to the country that he had ruined over the previous 8 years. When I had last arrived at the Athens Airport in May of 1985 there had been absolutely no airport surveillance and no customs officials as passengers collected their luggage and walked out into the street. One month later in June, two Shiite men hijacked a TWA airliner from the airport to Beirut. The men had spent the whole previous night in the transit lounge, armed with their pistols and grenades. Tourist cancellations reached into the tens of thousands. Greece lost hundreds of millions of dollars. Between 1985 and 1986, the number of American tourists plummeted by 80 percent. Four months later, Arab gunmen hijacked an Egypt Air jet from Athens Airport and diverted it to Malta; sixty people died when Egyptian commandos stormed the plane. In 1986 at least twenty bombings occurred in Athens, assassinations of Americans were joined by assassinations of Greek politicians and political figures, and bombings had been initiated against cars belonging to America military personnel and offices associated with developing Greek private enterprise. On June 28, 1988, a car bomb killed the U.S. defense attache and thirteen days later Arab terrorists killed nine tourists and wounded eighty others. In 1989, Greece suffered the agony of three general elections and her beauty was much marred by scrawled and spray-painted party graffitti. Papandreou gloated, while instructing his ministers not to cooperate in the handover of power, terrorism continued, the economy was in full collapse, the cities had become urban disaster zones where the phone service was the worst in Europe and garbage went uncollected due to a strike.

Brief Mythology of the Peloponnese

In mythology, the first king of Argos is the River-God Inachus, a son, like all rivers of the world, of the Titans Oceanus and his sister and wife Tethys. He was chosen as arbitrator between Hera and Poseidon in their fight for the dominion over the country and decided in favor of Hera. In Peloponnesian legends, Inachus is said to have been the father of Phoroneus, the first human being, who is sometimes presented as the one who decided between Hera and Poseidon and introduced the cult of Hera in the Peloponnese. He was also credited with teaching men to gather in cities and use fire. He was the father of Niobe, the mother of all living beings and the first mortal who was loved by Zeus, from whom she had a son named Argus, credited for teaching men how to cultivate wheat, and who became king of Peloponnese, then called as a whole Argos after him, a name that was later restricted to the city of Argos and the surrounding region of the Argolis. In Arcadian legends, Zeus and Niobe had another son, Pelasgus, the eponym of the Pelasgians, the mythical people that lived in Greece before the Hellenes, and supposedly the first man who lived in Arcadia.

Among the descendants of Inachus was Io, who is said to be the daughter of Iasos, a great-grandson of Argus, or directly the daughter of Inachus, as in Æschylus' Prometheus Bound. Io too was loved by Zeus and, when Hera, Zeus' wife, became suspicious, Zeus changed Io into a white heifer. Hera then entrusted the metamorphosed Io to the surveillance of Argus, great-grandson of the above mentioned Argus, son of Zeus and Niobe, and thus a relative of Io, endowed with so many eyes that half of them could sleep while the other half stayed awake. Zeus, then, asked Hermes to free his beloved and Hermes killed Argus, whose eyes, in reward, Hera immortalized by placing them on the feathers of the peacock, a bird consecrated to her. After that, Hera sent a gadfly to torment Io who, rendered furious by the insect, ran through all Greece. She first followed the coast of what became known hereafter as the Ionian Gulf, then crossed to Asia at the strait that, as a result, received the name of Bosporus (literally in Greek, "ox ford"), before eventually ending in Egypt where she gave birth to the son she expected from Zeus, Epaphus. In Egypt, she was later known and honored as Isis. The legend of Io is developed at length in Æschylus and is presented by Herodotus at the start of his Histories, in a rationalized version, as the remote origin of the conflicts between Asia and Greece that led, from rape of woman to rape of woman to war (Io abducted by the Phoenicians, Europa by the Cretans, Medea by the Greeks, Helen by Paris, leading to the Trojan War) to the Medean Wars whose story he writes.

Epaphus, the son of Zeus and Io, married Memphis, the daughter of the River-God Nile, from which he had a daughter named Libya, the eponym of the country west of Egypt. From Poseidon, Libya had twins, Agenor, the mythical hero of Phoenicia, and Belus, who became king of Egypt. Agenor became the father of Cadmus (the founder of Thebes), Phoenix (who settled in Sidon and gave his name to the Phoenicians) and Europa (the mother of Minos, son of Zeus and king of Crete), while Belus had two sons, Danaus and Ægyptus. Danaus had fifty daughters, the Danaides, while Ægyptus had fifty sons. Afraid of these boys, Danaus fled with his daughters and reached Argos where he overthrew the king of the time, Gelanor, last descendant of Phoroneus, to become king in his place. But, after he had settled in Argos, his fifty nephews came after him to claim his daughters as wives. Danaus gave his consent, though he was not convinced by the boy's plea of goodwill, but, during the wedding night, at their father's command, all the daughters murdered their bridegrooms, except the first-born, Hypermestra, who spared her husband Lynceus. After that, to find willing husbands for his daughters, Danaus had to offer them as prizes in games that he organized. In this manner, they could find husbands among young boys from the area and became the origin of the Danaans, the people who replaced the Pelasgians in Greece ("Danaans" is sometimes used by Homer as another name for the Greeks). Eventually, the Danaides, along with their father Danaus, were all killed by Lynceus to avenge his brethren. In Hades, as a penalty for their crime, the Danaides were condemned to pour eternally water in bottomless vessels. Danaus was said to have built the citadel of Argos, in which his tomb was still visible in historical times.

Lynceus then became king of Argos. From Hypermestra, he had a son, Abas, who became the father of twins that reproduced the hatred between their grandfathers Danaus and Ægyptus : Acrisius and Proetus. They fought for the kingship of Argos after the death of their father, and Acrisius got Argos, while Proetus settled in nearby Tiryns, fortified for him by the Cyclops. It is said that it is on the occasion of the war between the two brothers that the round shields used with so much success during antiquity were invented.

Acrisius had a daughter named Danae and, when he asked the oracle for a son, he was told that it would be his daughter who would have a son and that this son would kill him. So he jailed Danae, but this didn't prevent Zeus from falling in love with her and making her pregnant in her jail by taking the form of a shower of gold (some say it was Acrisius' brother Proetus who made her pregnant and explain this way the hatred between the two brothers). Danae secretly gave birth in her jail to a son named Perseus, and her father didn't learn of it until one day, the infant made noise while playing and Acrisius heard him. Unwilling to kill the baby, yet hoping to save his life, Acrisius put his daughter and her son in a wooden box and abandoned them to the sea. The raft drifted until it landed in the island of Seriphos, where the baby and his mother were taken care of by a fisherman named Dictys, who became Perseus' adoptive father.

Perseus grew up at the court of Polydectes, the tyrant of the island of Seriphos, who was Dictys' brother. One day, after he had become a strong and handsome young man, Perseus promised Polydectes, who had fallen in love with Danae, that he would bring him back the head of the Gorgon if only he would leave his mother alone. The Gorgons were three sisters who had snakes for hair, golden wings and turned into stone whomever looked them in the eyes. They lived in extreme Occident, near the kingdom of the dead. Only one of them, Medusa, was mortal and, at the time, she was pregnant by Poseidon. With the help of Hermes and Athena, flying sandals and a helmet that made him invisible, Perseus managed to cut the Head of Medusa while she was asleep without looking her in the eyes. From the neck of Medusa sprang a winged horse named Pegasus and a giant named Chrysaor. On his way back, while in Ethiopia, Perseus freed and married Andromeda, who was tied to a rock and offered to a sea monster sent by Poseidon to ruin her country as a result of the foolish behavior of her mother Cassiopeia, who had declared herself more beautiful that the Nereids.

Back on Seriphos, Perseus found that Polydictes hadn't waited for his return and had tried to rape Danae, who, with Dictys, had sought asylum near a sacred altar. With the head of the Gorgon, Perseus changed Polydictes into stone and handed the kingdom of Seriphos over to Dictys. Then, with his wife Andromeda, he set sail toward Argos, his homeland. Learning about that, Acrisius, afraid that the oracle might come true, left Argos and fled to the country of the Pelasgians. There, he attended games organized by the king of Larissa where he was killed by a discus accidentally thrown among the spectators by none other than Perseus, who had come as a competitor to these games. Full of grief when learning who the victim was, Perseus buried his father and, unwilling to become king of Argos after such a crime, swapped the kingdom of Argos for that of Tiryns with his cousin Megapenthes, the son of Proetus, who brought along with him the families of Bias and Melampous with whom he was sharing kingship. Perseus was said to have built the walls of Mycenæ.

From Andromeda, Perseus had many children, including Alcæus and Electryon. The former was the father of Amphitryon and the later of Alcmene, the earthly parents of Heracles (Heracles was also said to be the son of Zeus, who had assumed the appearance of Amphitryon to seduce Alcmene). Perseus was also, through another of his sons, Sthenelus, who became king of Mycenæ, the grandfather of Eurystheus, Heracles' rival for the kingdom of Mycenæ who imposed upon him the 12 labors.

Back in Argos, Megapenthes had a son, Anaxagoras, and a daughter, Iphiarina (who is sometimes said to have married Melampous). Anaxagoras succeeded his father as king of Argos, and, in some traditions, it is him, not his grandfather, who split his kingdom with Melampous and Bias after Melampous had healed Argian women become mad. Anaxagoras was succeeded on the throne of Argos by his son Alector, then by Alector's son Iphis. During all that time, and until the reign of Cylarabes, the great-grandson of Iphis, who reigned after the Trojan war and reunited the kingdom of Argos under his sole leadership after the death of the last descendants of Melampous and Bias, Argos was split between the three families.
Melampous married Iphianassa, one of Proetus' daughters he had cured, while Bias married the other, Lysippe, though he had been married earlier to Pero, the daughter of his uncle Neleus, king of Pylos, and sister of Nestor, with whom he had had several children. It is a son he had had with Pero, Talaus, who succeeded him. Talaus took part in the expedition of the Argonauts and married one of Melampous' granddaughters, Lysimache (other traditions give Lysianassa, the daughter of Polybus, king of Sicyon, as the wife of Talaus), to become the father of Adrastus, who was to lead the ill-fated expedition of the Seven against Thebes.

Argos Railway Station Map of Argos Larissa Castle Argos Theater
Sub-Mycennaen bridge mouthed po Argos Museum Theseus and the Minotaur Argos Calendar Mosaic

4/29/89 - Cold and stiff from sleeping on the bench outside of the Argos railway station, I walked my bike down Nikitara Street toward the central plakia of Argos dominated by the hill of Larissa. The city is very old and its founding may well have been before the arrival of Greek speaking peoples in the Peloponnese since the name of the acropolis is pre-Greek ("Pelasgian"). After testing my own Greek speaking capability with a simple breakfast order, I visited the nearby Argos Archaeological Museum to see the most complete set of Homeric armor discovered to date, a Minoan style bridge-mouthed pot of sub-Mycenaean times, a reddish pot (460-450 BC) representing the fight of Theseus and the Minotaur, attended by Ariadne, and the famous Roman calendar mosaics. As soon as I could get my wits about me I rode about 4 1/2 miles east across the Argive plain toward Mycenae. The Argive plain consists chiefly of alluvial soil deposited over an area of over one hundred square miles extending from the Gulf of Argos northernly for about ten miles to the entrance of the gorge of Mycenae and about as many miles east and west.

The site of the ancient Argive Heraion is about 3 miles southeast of Mycenae on the first ripple of low foothills to the north (500 feet). According to tradition the Heraion was founded by Phoroneus at least thirteen generations before Agamemnon and the Achaeans ruled . It is highly probable that before it became important merely as a temple, it was the fortified center uniting the Argive people dwelling in the plain, the citadel was then superseded in this function by Tiryns. There is ample evidence to show that it was the chief sanctuary during the Tirynthian period . When Mycenae was built under the Perseids it was still the chief sanctuary for that

center, which superseded Tiryns in its dominance over the district, and which this temple clearly antedated in construction . According to the Dictys Crelensis, it was at this Heraion that Agamemnon assembled the leaders before setting out for Troy. In the period of Dorian supremacy, in spite of the new sky god cults which were introduced by these people, the Heraion maintained its supreme importance. It was here that the tablets recording the succession of priestesses were kept which served as a chronological standard for the Argive people, and even far beyond their borders; and it was here that Pheidon deposited the weight standards when he introduced coinage into Greece. We learn from Strabo that the Heraion was the joint sanctuary for Mycenae and Argos. But in the 5th century BCE the city of Argos vanquished the Mycenaeans, and from that time onwards the city of Argos becomes the political center of the district, while the Heraion remains the religious centre. And when in the year 423 BCE, through the negligence of the priestess Chryseis. the old temple was burnt down, the Argives erected a splendid new temple, built by Eupolemos, in which was placed the great gold and ivory statue of Hera, by the sculptor Polyclitus. In the Cyclopean wall and below it were found traces of small houses of the rudest, earliest masonry which are pre-Mycenaean, if not pre-Cyclopean.

The Road to Mycenae Path to Argive Heraion Path to the lowest level temple. ArgiveInterior of 5th BC Doric temple
Detail of Doric Capital from 5th century temple Fifth Century Heraion Inscriptions Hera Bust found at Argive Heraion

I had never been alone at an archeological sight before and my bookish foreknowledge was not serving me well at all. I had thought that after reading all of the dig records from these sights that I would at least be as capable as Schliemann was when he began his amateurish efforts at decyphering Troy. The site is divided into three terraces. On the top terrace rests the scant remains of the old temple of Hera. This is the earliest temple made of cut stone found anywhere in Greece. Since we know that much of the stone architecture was developed to imitate the wooden architecture, this building probably was the first to attempt this. While it is known that the majority of the superstructure was wood, a stone column base and cut stone stylobate were found here. I had read that this sanctuary of Hera has, in recent years, figured prominently in accounts seeking to describe the process of Greek state formation. There has been a general consensus that the establishment of the sanctuary in the Geometric period served to delimit the territory of the nascent city of Argos and to establish Argive domination over the plain, to the detriment of the neighboring communities of Mycenae and Tiryns.

I first walked up the path to the lowest terrace to look at the ruins of temple erected after the earlier temple on the higher terrace had been destroyed by fire in 423 BCE. The controversial Doric column capital from the temple, capital C, is still at the site. It has been sometimes regarded as belonging to a very early (7th– or early–6th–century BCE) stage in the development of the Doric capital. Others argue the more likely case from technical evidence that the capital instead dates to the Roman period and that it was created as a replacement element for a Roman repair to the temple .

I finally found the inscriptions carved on blocks of the large retaining wall supporting this temple. Two of the inscriptions record the name Kleomachos, while the third is said to record the first three letters of a name beginning Epi... The inscriptions, which include local Argive letter forms characteristic of the mid-fifth century BCE, appear on ordinary wall blocks in places where they could not have been read when the terrace was completed. From the evidence of similar inscriptions at Delphi, it is argued that the inscriptions here should be identified as the marks of local contractors responsible for supplying building materials to the site at the time when the sanctuary was entering a major phase of expansion.

Next, I climbed to the higher terrace which is thought to have been the location of the pre-Mycenaen temple where Agamemnon assembled his leaders before setting out for Troy and which was burned to the ground by the negligence of Chryseis in 423 BCE. I walked over to the northeast corner where in 1894, Charles Waldstein (later Sir Charles Walston) uncovered a bundle of 180 iron roasting spits (oboloi) and of a solid bar of iron weighing the same as the bundle and having the same length (about 120 centimeters) where there was an accumulation of rubbish belonging to the period in which the temple was abandoned at the close of Roman times. He recognized that the obols were the objects that ancient authors mention as having been used as money in Greece in early times; he noted also that there are texts that mention the dedication of these very obols at the Heraion. The texts state that Pheidon of Argos, having ”invented” standard monetary rates (metra kai stathma kai nomisma), set up iron obols as a sacred object at the Argive Heraion. If my understanding of Walston’s report is correct, the objects should have been in sight at the Heraion through Roman times. But writers of the fourth century BCE mention the bundle of obols and not the bar, and the tourists’ guide of Pausanias does not mention either. It is possible that after the fire of 423 BCE the objects were no longer in a prominent place, but were kept in one of the several small buildings near the northeast corner of the second terrace. But what do I know?

Argive Plain and Mycenae Road from Hillside Early Temple Terrace with Cyclopean Wall 5th Century Heraion from Upper Terrae Lower Temple from Upper Terrace
Upper Terrace with Cyclopian Walls Foundation of Archaic Temple Clay Votive of Archaic Temple 5th Century Temple Computer Reconstruction

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