Dive into history during the holidays By Marieke Audsley
Summer holidays – as well as being glorious for relaxing in joyful warmth – are also perfect for exploring; discovering new places, meeting new friends, tasting different flavours, and of course learning all kinds of new things. On my own recent holiday to the beautiful Greek island of Skopelos I was riveted by the mythical tales Captain Pagis told our group whilst sailing across the dazzling sea. Greek mythology has always fascinated me and it got me thinking about a little research project and what fun it would be to rootle around and discover myths, fables and stories from popular summer holiday destinations. To kick off, here are a few stories from some of the Greek islands…
The Sporades: Skiathos, Skopelos & Alonnisos
The story told by Captain Pagis is that the Sporades were formed when the younger brother of two enormous giants wasn’t allowed to play with his older siblings. Quite what he’d done to annoy them has been lost in history, but what ever it was, he was excluded by the pair and so bored and no doubt rather frustrated he went down to the beach nearest Mount Olympus. The giant whiled away the time by skimming stones into the water. As he was a giant the stones he threw were somewhat larger than the pepples we would usually skim with, and these enormous rocks were chucked into the water and became the Sporades.
The windiest of the Greek Islands is named after ‘Mykons’, who was believed to be the son (or grandson, no one’s quite sure…) of the god Apollo (Apollo by the way was one of Zeus’ sons and was the god of music, truth and light). The island is best known in mythology as a battleground: where Zeus fought the Titans but also where Hercules slew the Giants. Hercules cunningly lured the Giants away from Mount Olympus – where they were invincible and immune – out to Mykonos where he could kill them and the large rocks scattered around the island are supposed to be the Giants’ petrified corpses.
Crete is most famous for being the birthplace of Zeus, father of the Greek gods. Indeed one of his sons, Minos, became the king of Crete and lived in his magnificent palace in Knossos. Minos’ brother, Rhadamanthys helped Minos to rule over Crete, whilst their other brother, Sarpidon, decided he’d rather not stick around playing third fiddle and so trotted off and founded his own kingdom in Lycia.
One of the best-known stories about Minos’ time as king is of Theseus and the Minotaur…
The god Poseidon wished to punish Minos for something that had offended him and so he prompted Minos’ wife, Pasiphae, to fall in love with someone else. In fact she didn’t fall in love with another man, but a bull! Together Pasiphae and the bull had a child, which when it was born had the head of a bull but the body of a man and he was known as the Minotaur. Minos was horrified and locked the bull-man up in the Labyrinth, a prison in the form of a maze underneath his palace. The Minotaur ravenously gobbled up humans and as he needed a constant supply, Minos imposed a tax on Athens and demanded that the city sent over snacks for the creature. The valiant Theseus of Athens was horrified when he discovered this and determined to set off to Crete, kill the Minotaur and rescue the latest batch of 14 young Athenians from being munched as a monster’s dinner.
When he arrived at the Labyrinth Theseus craftily walked through trailing a ball of string behind him so he would be able to find his way out again (if he survived his battle with the Minotaur of course!). Luckily Theseus was a dab hand with a sword and he succeeded in slaying the creature, racing back out of the maze and whisking the young Athenians back home. In the midst of their jubilant celebrations Theseus and his friends forgot to change their black sail to a white one, as they had promised Theseus’ father, Aegeus, they would do if they made it out of Knossos alive. Anxiously waiting for his son’s return Aegeus spotted the ship with the black sail, assumed the worst and devastated, threw himself into the sea and drowned. The sea has been known as the ‘Aegean’, in memory of him, ever since.