Perched atop turquoise waters and white sand beaches is the Island of Lipsi, one of Greece’s 14 Islands – a member of the Dodecanese Chain (while dodecanese means 12, there are 14 in this cluster). An hour boat ride from the shores of Kos, Lipsi is a far less traveled destination. Few come this far out, besides Odysseus whose ship washed up on these beaches some three thousand years ago.
Something that this place has that is missing in America and especially Portland is the ancient fabric that knits this place together. As a sophomore in high school who has found themselves in plenty of classrooms learning about the history of the ancient Greeks, it is impossible to understand the age of the Grecian relics until traveling to the excavation sights.
Sure, there is history of Native Americans walking the lands of the United States hundreds of years ago. Yet this time period seems like yesterday when compared to history from the Mycenaean times.
For example, I have never been digging a hole in the backyard of my home in Gaston, Oregon and happened upon a piece of statue from 300 BCE. A local named Giannis told us that the half of a woman’s face he found a few inches below the grass in his backyard currently rests on his mantelpiece next to a certificate from the Ancient Greece Historical Society listing the artifact.
Even in the major cities of Greece have this history that is infectious and impossible to glance over. When walking down the street in Athens, to the left you can look up and see modern buildings and busy streets and to the right stands Hadrian’s Arch. Hadrian’s Arch – built at around 130 AD – was established in honor of the Roman Emperor who had conquered the city. The Arch served as a gate between Grecian and Roman Rule.
Beneath a beautiful modern museum built just 8 years ago lie the ruins of an Ancient town. Walking over glass paneling, tourists can peer down and see the structures being excavated, light touching marble columns for the first time in thousands of years.
Just as this history is a part of this land, it somewhere along the way becomes a part of you, the traveler. The stories of the past are infectious, and learning the origins of things we take for granted give spectators even more things to question. For example, the sign for medicine – a snake and a staff – is derived from the priests at the time who walked from town to town helping the sick – hence the walking stick – and the snake (a household pet, often found in ancient hospitals for their ability to calm patients and their venom which could be used as a an antidote. The work panic – a word commonly thrown around when level 6 earthquakes are daily fears – comes from the Greek God of the wild “Pan” who used to call out in warning to animals in danger using his pan flute.
For the animal lover in everyone, even kittens have history. Greece is known for their cats. These cats are not native. Instead, it is said that these cats came from Ancient Egypt when the Leaders of Egyptian armies would grant Grecian and Roman emperors them as gifts. So while looking into the eyes of a furry critter, consider its history, how it got to where it is today.
Stories like these are far removed from the daily life of a Portlander. Yet here, they are impossible to escape. There is something wonderful and healing to be found in going back to the Origin of the Western Culture.
Only a few days into the trip and the knowledge is pouring in, not because I am intensely reading books about the Minoan Civilization but simply as a result of the ancient culture that once roamed these towns. The streets of Greece are painted with tails from the past.