Hail, sea-girt earth of Lemnos!
I saw you, Lemnos
Swathed in the fate of blood
Proudly abolishing death
Upright on the mane of the waves
Recanting death again and again
Cyclical ascent on my race's glory
I saw you
Muse once more raising the new times
Bearing blissful memory
I who spent centuries inside your earth
Seeking the sunken words
Pebbles polished by time
I who lived in the heart of your sun
And in the night of myth.
"Hail, sea-girt earth of Lemnos!"
Sophocles' verse glorifies you with the morning seabirds. And I hear the swaying of the gilded rock above the Aegean waves. I listen to words of your glory washed up by the sea over your sands. And I envisage the cradle of a four thousand-year civilization, of your great Aegean civilization born of the Greek miracle, the cultural dawning of mankind.
Hephaestus, Artemis, Hypsipyle, Myrina, Lykio, , Apollo, Chrysi, Sirens
I walk your streets searching for signs of the gods that bore you, seeking my roots and descent, the secret of my evanescence. Avlonas. Here was the temple of Artemis, here on this enchanting hill looking across the dazzling azure as far as Athos. Only stones around me, among the cement of tourism that hurts me so. But that goddess, magnificent and still above the ruins glorifies our temporal passing.
I touch her holy stone in the sanctuary of her worship and look beyond the lacework of the sea. The sea which carried the Argonauts to your shores, the legendary Jason to fall in love with Hysipyli and make her a heroine of the tragic poets. It was the time when madness struck the women of Lemnos and they drowned their men from the cape of Petassos for ignoring their love. Is this legend or truth? Sophocles' tragedy "The Lemnians", which made reference to the "Lemnian Evils", has been lost. So that we will never learn how painful was this bloodletting, how cruelly the goddess Artemis punished them, only because they betrayed her cult.
"Athos shadows the back of cow-shaped Lemnos". This is the sole verse saved from that tragedy. Plutarch called it "legendary iambics" something that Pliny verified. Once a year, at the summer solstice, the shadow of Athos sets over the marketplace of Myrina.
Kotzinos, Hephaestia, Cabeirio, Poliochni.
My footsteps lead me to peaceful Pterin. The silver sands of Bournias in the distance and the Venetian castle of Kotzinos deserted beside me, this silent symbol of sacrifice with the white seabirds flying above it, witnesses of a forgotten glory.
Here in this magical region lived the heroic Maroula, Maid of Lemnos, sung by poets. I transcend time to meet her. 1478. The enemy spreads like a nightmare over the island. All defenses spent. The governor of the island, Maroula's father, falls wounded, dying. The struggle seems lost. But not so! Maroula dons his arms and like an Angel or another Joan of Arc leads the Venetians and the Lemnian warriors to vanquish the Turkish enemy.
This star of hers, half-effaced by the centuries, has charmed me since childhood. I was born and bred on that earth, where five hundred years earlier Maroula lived out her own human destiny. Now she occupies only the few lines of a poem in the military records of Venice. But such beautiful creatures shouldn't be lost. "Maroula of Lemnos" was my happiest moment as an author.
ΑAnemoessa, Amichthaloessa, Pyroessa, Aithaleia, Lelki.
Beloved over aIl lands.
It was you that Homer loved. Beloved over all lands. Anemoessa and Lefki. He who has inhabited you knows the winds that blow there, streaming down from the Bosphorus, raising onto their mane the unspoken Ionian visions, and subsequent nights of mourning. He knows your white ivory bones those full-mooned solitary nights when Sappho's "Selana", the Moon, kisses you.
I move further down. It was here they mined the earth, the famous "Terra Lemna" or "Terra SiggilJata", the "Sealed Earth", which cured fevers and bites and which remained as the sole medicine sold at the price of gold for three thousand years. The woodcarved galleons came from all corners. And since antiquity, Lemnos has been the island blessed on the crossroad of nations, the passage between East and West.
A small seam produced this blood-red clay which cured, also known as "scorched earth". Galenus came to Lemnos twice to investigate the phenomenon. "I sailed to Lemnos, too as the gods, for no other reason but for what they call the Lemnian earth or seal". And, as people tend to relate unexplained cures to religious faith, they say that this was the very spot where Hephaestus fell, and thus it became a holy place. There was also a famous temple for the worship of Hephaestus. Philostratus, who lived in the 2nd century, says this was the reason they left Philoctetes behind in Lemnos "so that he would be cured by the Lemnian earth". They even named the region where Philoctetes lived "Akessa" from the ancient Greek "akeomai" meaning "I become cured".
Mining this Holy Earth was carried out with ritual ceremony . Priests would pack the holy clay into expensive hampers. In antiquity, the 6th of May was the feast of Artemis. In Christian times it has become the day of the Saviour. And interest in the Lemnian clay remained strong right up until the beginning of the previous century. Thus Lemnos, the lone island with the emerald shores and harmonious lines, was all the while becoming more and more of a nexus attracting different nations, travelers and scientists. But miracles die out. They become the "unsolicited donations" of the poet. And all this is now in the past. A past in which man carved the story of his civilization with ritual and majesty, contemplating those wonders of nature which benefited him with mysticism and transcendence.
Moudros, Romanou, Propoli, At(s)iki, Kaspakas, Kornos.
I move on to the reaped fields. The sun renders the landscape golden and the lizard silken. Above the ancient city of Hephaestia, the ancient theatre of Lemnos has stood for over 22 centuries. Deserted now, as if scorned. That which still bears the words of Philoctetes carved on the stone: "What do you say? You remain silent? I am nothing, the wretch. .." A flock of birds rises high above the weed-grown rows of seats.
An ancient theatre is a holy place. A place for the ritual of existence.
Further down, the once brilliant Hephaestia, where if you put your ear to the stone you will hear the voice, "The Athenians from Hephaestia in honor".
Kopefstes, Hypsipyli, Cabeiri, Lemnians, Philoctetes.
Lemnos inspired five of the famous tragedies of our ancient poets. She had been the beloved Muse since the earliest of times, from the times of the Homeric epics, which spoke of her fine wine, of how the Achaeans sent for it from Troy in exchange for weapons and slaves.
I touch the porous stone of the seats, the broken marble altar. It lies deserted surrounded by silence. Perhaps it is waiting for a hand to lift it out of time's solitude, to pluck it from oblivion, to revitalize it so that the voice of the poet might once again be heard. Becausethe voice of the poet never dies with the passing of time. It sleeps in the cracks between the stones, alongside the roosting birds, waiting for our participation. Perhaps Elytis had such a stone in mind when he wrote, "I placed the rough cheek against the roughest part of the stone, aeons upon aeons".
My steps lead me to the cave of Philoctetes above the deserted Cabeirio.
"Oh, two-portaled shape of stone!"
Sophocles' verse springs to mind. He knew that the cave had "two portals or gates", in the depths of an enormous white sea-rock, that which hosted Philoctetes' wounded body. Outside it smells of burnt light, the fragrance of thyme and scorched earth. And here, inside the cave, a sharp salty smell. I touch the stones, smooth and wet from the sea-spray of time. And I think how the touch of Philoctetes is on them. It may be that his groaning still haunts the deserted landscape, "alas, alas".
I come out into the light again. Walk up the hill, passing by the ruined Sanctuary of the Cabeiri with its nocturnal orgies carved in the stone's memory. I am overcome, feel giddiness from the smell of thyme and reeds. Philoctetes' groaning follows me: "alas, alas, demon, demon / lost the miserable ... "
Sindies, Minyes, Pelasgi
My steps bring me to Poliochni. Above a region inaccessible from the sea, the Paleolithic settlement saved right up to our times. Saved in order to gaze upon the sad shores of Troy. The hanging diagram depicts the thousand-year periods that have passed over it for the visitor. Pre-Hellenic cultures, sowing the first seed of civilization. I walk between the narrow corridors. Minimal spaces human dwellings, the one close to the other, surrounded by thick walls, with troughs for water. And in the middle of the Pre-Hellenic settlement, the Bouleuterion. A building in the form of a parallelogram, with primitive seats along the sides and at the head the leader's seat. It is said to be the first Parliament in human history.
Antoniadis, Pan telidis, Moschidis, Papa-Michelis, Arvanitakis.
Names lost in time and of the present. Yesterday, today, myth and the light of the sun over the ochre of old manor houses, take you on a journey through the past to the present with the same fascination. You drink a coffee at "Terrain" or" efeli" and watch the sun setting behind Mount Athos, painting golden facades on the houses by the Romeikos Yalos. Or you sit in "Glaros", looking at the deer on the rocks of the castle chasing one another behind the perennial ramparts. Better to walk.
Then you will see the names of
the great benefactors of Lemnos, Antoniadis and Pantelidis carved
on stone in the forecourts of the schools, the archdiocese building,
the churches. You will see the bust of Moschidis at Kaminia, that
honoured Lemnian historian. You will weep before the statue of
Arvanitakis at Moudros, the proud and daring resistance fighter.
And, should you pass by Diapori, you will hear the same words of
Kountouriotis still playing in the wind, "! sail with unrestrained dash".
Lemnos is first. First also in the flag of freedom.
Published in the Olympic airline magazine "motion", 1999-2000