I was always acutely aware that the island I was brought up on is internationally renowned for its beauty. I am also very aware of the interest my land has for many scholars and Shirley Valentines. Leaving the island for periods of time only accentuates my connection to it. Like a siren it calls you back, myself and many others.
Many myths tell the story of this island as it lies majestically off the northwestern coast of mainland Greece. A crucible of myths and legends, ethnicities and religions as so many have recognized its strategic importance and others its potent beauty. Neolithic communities, Athenians, Corinthians, Romans, Barbarians, Pirates, Turks, Italians, Germans, French, English and the list continues of all that have lived out their predicaments on this island.
Poseidon fell in love with Medusa
The shape of a cycle, it was once called just that, as they say Goddess Dimitra lost her sacred tool in dispute with Zeus somewhere around here. Or indeed it could have been Poseidon running off with the nymph Korkyra that gave birth to Pheacas father of King Alkinoos and the lineage of the Pheaceans that dreamt up this godly place. Then again Poseidon also enamored the Queen of sirens the Gorgon Medusa.
The oldest and largest surviving temple apex in Greece takes up an exhibition space larger than my childhood home. Taken from the temple of Artemis, virgin maiden Goddess of the Moon, the sculpted relief is that of the Gorgon Medusa. Not dead and decapitated by Perseus as the predominant myth and Renaissance artistry would have her but paradoxically, very much alive and kicking in magestic grandeur.
Can you look in her eyes?
Flanked by her two children Chrysaor and the winged horse Pegasus, she is present in such strength and magnanimity it really does make you want to not look her in the eyes just in case the legend is true and you are left there standing in stone amongst the other cold marble exhibits. Could it be that because her eyes are all knowing, they see through us, penetrating our illusions and looking into the abyss of truth that very few can stand before her in clear conscience?
To the left and right of her are scenes from the Titan battles. The end of the old and the beginning of the new. Could it be that this is a marker for the cosmological shift in consciousness that saw the end of the matriarchal spirit in Mother Gaia and the ascension of patriarchy by Zeus on Mt Olympus?
Who was ‘nobody’?
To me it seems that the woman’s breasts that form the two central mountain axis peaks of this island are that of the laying medusa siren that calls you back over and over again. As you stand on the western peak of Pandokratoras mountain range and look down to sea were the sun sets in the west one can see another legend turned to stone. Is it a rock or is it Ulysses’ ship petrified by almighty Poseidon avenging his son Cyclops’ humiliation by ‘nobody’?
A holiday destination for gods
When the horny Calypso finally releases Ulysses after ten years of captivity and he is bashed and bruised a bit more by yet another storm of water he is washed ashore upon a legendary land. As Homer would have it, this is Scheria, the land of the Pheaceans. Corfu, Greece that is folks! Not the Corfu of cheap Thompson package holiday brochures, but Kerkyra, the island where the Gods came down to play and make merry.
The better I look the more clearly I see it. 1.500 types of flower, 1.100 species of bird, peacocks, dear, wild bore, serpents, nymphs, forests, grottos and sparkling waters. A first class glossy brochure for a godly holiday destination.
As legend has it, the Pheaceans had no use for bow and quiver. Their extraordinary skill in handling ships at sea which reached mythical proportions of boats traveling at the speed of thought thus in need of no bow, is rivaled only by the dexterity of their womenfolk at the loom, so expert has Athena made them in their finer crafts, and so intelligent. As to corfiot women and their dexterity at the loom, I am not quite sure. As to the sea, however, Corfu had the second largest navy fleet in Ancient Greece after Athens. For those blessed enough to live her seas you can feel she is under the aegis of the Divine not man.
Meanwhile, in his birthday suit Ulysses climbs onto shore, somewhere around Ermones beach on the west coast they say, only to lay his eyes upon Nausika. A maiden of such beauty, grace and stature he thinks she is the Goddess Artemis or at least of some godly lineage. She is no other than the daughter of King Alkinoos and Queen Ariti famed for her beauty, kindness and wisdom.
The result of divine providence
Alas, Pallas Athena intervenes in divine providence. ‘Mind that you walk alone to the king’s palace’ she whispers ‘for the Pheaceans are welcoming but they are proud and there are plenty of vulgar fellows in the place”. Bad mouthing and backstabbing appears to be a trait of many years. The traditional “petegoletsia” or the art of skillful gossip adheres to this day. A serious consideration, to date, for the progress or not of any given activity on the island.
Meanwhile as Odysseus approached King Alkinoos’ splendid dwelling:
“His heart was filled with misgivings and he hesitated before setting foot on the bronze threshold. For a kind of radiance, like that of the sun or moon, lit up the high-roofed halls of the great king. Walls of bronze, topped with blue enamel tiles…the interior of the well-built mansion was guarded by golden doors hung on posts of silver which sprang from the bronze threshold”
What do Ithacas mean?
It is in this mythical palace of Transcendence perhaps, that Homer’s famous epic unravels. It is on this blessed island that Odysseus recounts his journey’s tale. It is to this audience he pours his heart’s trials and tribulations. It is on this island he is soothed, cleansed and healed back to life. It is these people that carried him home to Ithaca. Had it not been for the island of the Pheaceans, I wonder, would our hero have ever reached his Home?