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Cyclades Islands | Delos

Delos: The Delian Dilemma

As the small boat is approaching the ancient tiny harbor of Delos, it is high time, if you have not already made up your mind, to do so now:  What kind of a visitor are you going to be once you reach this islet?

Stone lions, ruins of ancient shops and sacred sanctuaries, half the torso of an ancient god here, a couple of unexpected dolphins there, not in the Aegean all around you, but in mosaics, surrounded by hot stone.  Digital video shooting, capturing everything but the soul of the place, photo shooting like a maniac ... me in the ancient theater, me in the ancient water supply aquaduct, me and the lions, me and Dionysus, me and the Phalluses, me and me. Disrespectful shouting, laughing, sandwich eating, and coca cola littering.  Piracy- tourism!

Or, the opposite, of the ones who can turn themselves inside-out, like a stocking, pilgrims in a sacred place.  No, it is not the ruins that are filmy and blurred, the dazzle and the wonder are in your eyes.  Here is Aralos, abating its stone anchor, unloading its precious cargo, treasures and gold offerings, here is King Eressichthon, first king of Athens, a palmer of the Sanctuary.  The island, all of a sudden, is not at all arid, it’s full with olive trees and fig trees and vines.  There does not exist one lonely palm tree in the sanctuary, instead you enjoy the atmosphere of an entire oasis.  The lizard's crawling noises are covered by the sounds of birds chirping.  Here, at the end of the Inopos torrent, there is no swamp, there is the ancient Sacred Lake.  You are no longer parched by the summer vertical sun, it is not the sun, it is Apollo himself shining over you.  The deserted streets come to life, shop-owners trumpet their goods, and their trumpeting lingers in the air for two and a half thousand years.  Out of the well in the peristyle court of the House of Dionysus, a young girl is dragging up a bucket full with water, loud loughter is rolling down the street coming from the androns of the house of Triaena and the one of Cleopatra.  Holy ceremonies ongoing at the Sanctuaries of Heracles', Jeus', Athena's, Sarapis', Isis', psalms lingering over the Sanctuary of the Syrian gods and Samothrakeion, the Sanctuary of the gods of Samothake Island.  You are enjoying a fine performance on stage at the theater, you cannot help envying the happy houselords in their two- and three-storied mansions visible from your bench...

And all of a sudden, all of a sudden, it is 88 B.C., it is 69 B.C., and the site gets filled with clanging swords and people hollering and arson smoke and wailing and bloodshed.  This is neither the place nor the time for Winged Dionysus, who is trying to flee riding the panther, the panic stricken dolphins make their last dive deep into the soil that is to cover the mosaics, a dive that is going to last for some 1900 years.  Only the lizards are smiling, safe in their stone holes, dreaming of themselves alone enjoying the Apollo sun.  How was it ever possible for the order of the Cosmos to turn upside down?  How could a place, where no one was allowed to be born nor die, harbor so much Death?

Time to leave…  Bathed in the Delian light, the last boat back to Mykonos or Tinos is blowing its impatient whelk…  “Delon esti” [It is obvious] that you will be coming back to Delos.

Michael Tziotis
(Translated by Sharon Turner)