ACROPOLIS

 

 

…..At the age of 45 I returned to Greece for a land and sea tour.  I had spent about 4 months in this fabulous country when I was 21.  Back then I had stayed for several months in Athens, living in hotels and basements of locals who rented out beds for the night in the ancient neighborhood known as the Plaka.  Here the honeycomb of narrow cobblestone streets and walkways wound past the shops, restaurants and old flower strewn homes of stone and wood.  Late into the night it was filled with light and the sounds of music and activity.  From the rooftop tavernas you could eat the delicious local fare with a splendid view of the hilltop temples above you while the bouzouki music played on and on.  Locals would get up and dance in their old ways, stooping and rising, tapping their shoes with their hands and springing up, holding handkerchiefs that united them in groups  Their intricate stepping and swaying had been choreographed over the centuries.  Wine flowed and they would throw plates breaking them against the floors and walls with shouts of “Opa!”.  Tradition and joy mingled and I felt connected to the celebration.   

…..Just above the Plaka, in the darkness, is a quiet and empty street that leads steeply to the ancient Acropolis, the towering home of Athena, the city’s patron Olympian goddess.  At the height of Athen’s glory, Athena was represented by a massive gold and ivory statue that stood within the sanctuary of the the renowned Parthenon.  This was the main temple and the  focal point of religious worship.  Her statue was considered a masterpiece of the ancient world.  Sadly, all traces of it had vanished in antiquity after it had been stolen and then somehow lost to history.  Many years later the Venetians cannonaded the Parthenon where Turkish troops had stored ammunition.  The resultant explosion left the temple in ruins and without a roof.  Centuries of thieves carted off the adorning statuary of the Parthenon and defaced and plundered the glorious complex of the other statues, temples and buildings that had graced the mount. 

…..But despite these depredations, the Athenian Acropolis still holds a profound fascination for us to this day.  Though skeletal, its ruins maintain the magical combination of enchanting beauty and the emblematic expression of the human spirit yearning to offer its highest exaltation, inviting the invitation of their gods.  The forms are of the classic Golden Age of Greece, the elegant marble changing color from white to gold with the phases of the sun.  These proud relics still look out upon the ruins of the ancient Agora; the market place where Socrates, Plato, Aeschylus, Sophocles and so many other towering personalities once walked.

…..I had the good fortune back then to buy an old British Leyland camper van and I was able to sleep beneath the Acropolis walls in the parking lot of the shrine for several weeks.  For that time, each night, my heart was the closest heart beating next to this great monument.  This clearly was the achievement of a soaringly brilliant civilization and I can truly say that I tried to absorb its spirit with reverence and awe.  

 …..Now I was back in the Plaka of Athens, middle aged and with a tour group.  We were watching an evening show of local performers.  They offered a variety of regional dances in their colorful native costumes accompanied by lovely Greek folk music.  The room was a large and stark rectangular space with long tables and chairs.  Before us was the improvised stage with its whirl of dancers .   I sat there for a long while with the others as the room seemed to darken and I felt somehow confined.  My mind drifted to the golden heights I had left so long ago.  As if transported in a trance, I walked out into the night through a back door and ascended the narrow streets until, in the bright moonlight, I stood alone before the gleaming walls of the Acropolis.  Again I felt the presence of the goddess Athena.  The night, the silence, the beauty surrounded me.  

…..There amid the wreckage of centuries and despite the loss of long ago stolen treasures I could sense the grandeur and the confidence of the great spirits who had inhabited this city.  The result was the poem that follows.                                                                                                        

 

                

On the moonlit walking way

To your breast Athena

Above the narrow Plaka streets

Still filled with their bright revelries

I paused in the sudden silence

Beneath your gleaming walls

And gazing upward felt the touch of awe

 

 Athenian epiphany

Thought transfixed in stone

                                             Eloquent in your silence

Exquisite in your form

 

Oh soaring place of consciousness

Your brilliant sacred marbled dreams

Once fleshed against this sky

As if the gods must surely see

And hostile arms could never reach

How sadly simple it was to breach

When the tides of conquest ran

How they tossed from hand to hand 

The crowning jewels of man

Left the temples’ bones to bleach

Like stranded whales in sand

Magnificent whales in sand

 

And yet

As I approached

My soul pressed against the night

You sang of your ancient heart to me

In the pure tones of golden light

 

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