Monday, October 19, 2009

Delphi revisited

From my first visit to Delphi in 1985:


Temple of Apollo
Photo by Jack

This morning, waking with the sun and the crowing cocks, John and I took our usual bread, cake, and marmalade, then drove to the walkway to sacred Delphi. Few were there when we arrived before eight. An elderly woman opened a gate that could easily have been circumvented. Yet her opening took on ritual feeling as I spoke " Kalimera," and she answered me in French. Following the path on which she forced us, we saw first the gymnasium before arriving upon the temples of Athena. The latter took on the sacred look of early morning as sunlight streamed in shafts through the resurrected columns of the tholos. Wandering alone among the shrines, I found the Castalian spring, drank of it, and anointed my head in its cold cascade. Anemones the color of fresh blood trembled from crevices in the morning air. A tending gardener, cutting the wild grass with an old scythe, paid me a compliment as I left Athena's grounds along the sacred way: he asked me, when I had said good morning to him in Greek, whether I were Greek, myself. From the temples of Athena, from which we had watched the sun move in a clear line to light the mountain shrines above, we climbed to these temples of Apollo and to the center of Delphi, where the Oracle once spoke. Tourists began to arrive: German, French, Spanish, Dutch dominated the few British and Americans. John and I were able to avoid them for the most part, and were able to stop in silence before the shrine of the kings of Argos, the Athenian treasury, and the standing columns of Apollo's temple. The treasury, well preserved, holds only sparrows now, whose cries are those of protesting spirits emerging from holes and crevices of the treasury walls, flying in the face of the tourist onslaught as if to check the armies of Darius.
We climbed on, beyond the amphitheatre, few tourists following. The path rises vertically, dissuading all but the true pilgrims. There, pine trees overhang the path, as does an ancient fig tree whose old limbs reach nearly to the ground. Anemones and other purple and yellow wild flowers color the tranquility, which the choruses of singing birds complete. Beyond a final bend of the upward path, the stadium opens in level expanse beneath the rock peaks of Delphi. From this quiet, highest reach, we gazed back over the ruins below descending in grandeur to the distant gulf of Corinth.

Temple of Athena, Photo by Jack

The sun-- Apollo, as I realized in revelation -- shone warmly upon the navel of the Earth. We returned to the lower temples past the throngs of people pouring through the gates. We visited the chambers of the museum, like a tomb itself, its rooms echoing as if through centuries. I looked longest upon the living face of the charioteer, whose gemstone eyes flashed in the light of the room in which he stood alone; And upon the face and body of Antinoos, last of the gods, lost to the Nile, Hadrian's vision of Beauty and Eros .
Keats' lines from Endymion seem appropriate here,

...Full in the middle of this Pleasantness
There stood a marble altar, with a tress
Of flowers budded newly; and the dew
Had taken fairy phantisies to strew
Daisies upon the sacred sward last eve,
And so the dawned light in pomp receive.
For 'twas the morn: Apollo's upward fire
Made every eastern cloud a silvery pyre
Of brightness so unsullied, that therein
A melancholy spirit well might win
Oblivion, and melt out his essence fine
Into the winds...

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