Greek Poetry for Everyman

Greek Poetry for Everyman

Greek Poetry for Everyman

Greek Poetry for Everyman

Excerpt

The happy traveller who approaches Greece may enter, like most of her barbarian invaders, from the mountains of the north or, like the Roman, from the western sea. The sea-gate is perhaps even finer. And more sudden. Here at first sight stands revealed the character of Hellas, in full contrast to her richer sister, Italy. Yesterday the eye rested on the green hills of Samnium, the sun-baked flats of Apulia: but now, beyond the Straits of Otranto, dawn reddens on gaunt mountains towering like a rampart sheer from the Ionian Sea. No European coast I know, but Norway, stands up in such grim splendour. All day one's ship steams southward -- past fertile Corcȳra (Corfu), perhaps the ancient Phaeacia that sent the sea-worn Odysseus home; past the death-grey ranges of Epīrus, where Ácheron and Cōcȳtus, the infernal rivers of Woe and Wailing, wind through dark gorges down to the shore that rang with unseen lamentations one night two thousand years ago, at the news that Pan was dead; past the gulf of Actium, ringed with the mountains that watched Antony lose a world for Cleopatra; past the sheer white Leucadian headland of Sappho's legendary leap; past the rugged little Ithaca of Odysseus, nestling beneath Mount Nēritus, bare now of the 'tossing leaves' that Homer knew; past the low coasts of Cálydon and Missolonghi, where Meleāger died for Atalanta and Byron for Greece -- to anchor under Mount Panachaïcus in the harbour of Patras.

The northern land-gate through Jugoslavia brings contrasts of a different kind. In March the snowflakes may still be drifting down on that dreary Siberian plain south of the Drave, a muddy infinitude beneath a muddy sky, broken at last by the great mud-brown swirl of Save and Danube as they meet before Belgrade. South from Belgrade, gaunt and black on its height amid the snow, the train pants up the gorges of featureless hills towards Nish and the watershed of the Aegean; till beyond it, on a moorland desolate as Rannoch, watched from eastward by the blue peaks of Thrace, winter vanishes and there comes a sudden sense of the approaching south, of the magic of the Mediterranean world. The same night at the frontier station of Ghevghelí (in those happier years before the states of eastern Europe had become a block of prisons) the traveller would suddenly see shining out of the darkness a word in Greek characters -- AIΌOUɛA. It was a word he had last encountered in Homer; but three thousand years had not killed it; it had merely changed its meaning from the 'vestibule' of an Achaean king to the 'waiting-room' of a modern railway. And one felt, suddenly, as if at last one had come home.

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