“Men became women and women men” despaired Xerxes, king of Persia, on seeing his fleet, much superior in number, ignominiously defeated by the Greeks at Salamis, and the only queen Artemisia, ally of the Persians, fighting against ships like a lioness. That battle of 480 BC was full of destiny: if the East had won, the Western civilization that shaped us as we are today would never have seen the light, or would have developed in a completely different way. In short, it was a decisive turning point in history, such as the clash of Poitiers in 732 AD
Even before the historian Herodotus, it was Aeschylus who wrote about it in the tragedy “The Persians” from which the line that opens this article is taken. In passing, we note that almost 2500 years ago Aeschylus had an infinitely more mature attitude towards the enemy than that of the film “300”, which mocked and mocked Xerxes and his Persians as much as possible: the Greek author could have chosen the most easy, abandoning oneself to triumphalism, dehumanizing enemies, or reducing them to specks, and instead does the exact opposite, takes their point of view, treats them as people with a complex psychology, the protagonists of the tragedy are them, and here is the greatness of Aeschylus.
Salamis Island, which is a half hour ferry ride from Piraeus, the port of Athens, has an important place not only in Greek history as the scene of that battle, but also in Greek mythology as Ajax’s birthplace. Telamonius, hero of another war, that of Troy: he was the bravest of the Greeks after his cousin Achilles. And just a little further away, an hour by sea from Piraeus, the island of Aegina offers other legends: in particular, a complicated tale of gods and nymphs which ends with the creation of the Myrmidons, which Achilles then brought with him to Troy. In this myth the goddess Hera (Juno) exterminates almost all the innocent people of Aegina to avenge the horns that Zeus put on them; but someday we will have to question the bad image that goddesses have in classical myths, they are always there to wreak wars out of trivial envy between them, or to sink fleets for little whims, or to have dogs torn apart who has seen them naked by mistake; in short, it would take a bit of “cancel culture” to purge the texts and clean up their image.
Why are we talking about all this? The fact is that at the beginning of the summer, when we were coming out of the grip of Covid and were starting to travel abroad again after a long eclipse, a beautiful book entitled “The Sea of the Gods” was published. Mythological guide to the islands of Greece “(Raffaello Cortina Editore), written by Giulio Guidorizzi and Silvia Romani and inspired by an observation:” A web of tales plows these waters, like ancient ships, and connects the islands to each other , like the lines drawn on a nautical chart “. Today’s traveler who goes to Greece and looks for and finds the famous three Ss (sun, sand, sex) is not wrong, he makes the right choice, but he would lose something if he limited himself to this, because without taking anything away from the three Ss, these islands , these rocks and these beaches, which we see from the plane and from the ships and on which we finally land, also have much more to give, something that transcends them and binds them to the poems and stories of antiquity, an antiquity never gone lost, current as if it were today. This is where our identity was born.
Maybe the desire for Greece was relaunched this summer even a little by this book, which we used on holiday for what it aims to be: not a volume to be read in one breath but to be used as a Baedeker d ‘ author for a circumnavigation of the islands and to associate a chapter on Greek myths with each landing; in our case it was a physical journey, on a cruise ship, with seven landings, but if you don’t make the circumnavigation materially, you can do it indirectly by putting together a collage of memories, going to fish out the places visited at one to one in past years, to then combine them with the corresponding pages, and discover or rediscover them in a new light; and finally, as a last resort, if you have never been to these places, you can evoke them with your imagination.
Let’s take for example the two islands closest to Athens, the capital where we flew to board the ship. We have already mentioned them, Salamis and Aegina; being so close at hand makes them suitable for integrating a weekend in Athens with a bit of sea. Now it might be too late to bathe in it, but if you happen to be there on a beautiful day, a little sun on the beach escapes us, and if you are Italian as well as a little Swedish, maybe take the courage in both hands and dive in too. in water.
Salamis and Aegina although so close to Athens are not very urbanized and offer the atmosphere of the Greek islands without long and complicated movements. The great author of tragedies Euripides was born in Salamis (and this is not a legend). Disembarking here you can pay homage to him by visiting the theater where he staged his works and the cave where they say he loved to take refuge to write in peace. The island also houses an archaeological and an ethnological museum. The monastery of Faneromeni, the churches of Ayios Dimitrios and Ayios Nikolaos Kalyvitis and the birthplace of the poet Aggelos Sikelianos refer to epochs closer to us. As for the beaches, we preferred the one of Psili Ammos because it is sandy, while the others are mostly pebbles (which do not excite us) or mixed.
As for Aegina, it houses a temple of Apolo and a more dilapidated one of Zeus; but the most beautiful thing to see here is the temple of Aphaia (the local name of the goddess Athena) built around the time of the battle of Salamis. Round and round it always comes back there.