30, April 2013 § 3 Comments
During the middle of each semester the Aegean Center for the Fine Arts takes a week long pause from classes. The mid semester break provides an opportunity for students and faculty alike to travel to parts near and far from Paros. This post is a collection of notes on my travels to Delphi in Central Greece during mid-April.
-Jun-Pierre Shiozawa, instructor of painting
Legendary, mythical Delphi, where the two eagles of Zeus rejoined after circling the world. Where the Sybil sat atop her stone and the oracle foresaw Alexander’s conquests. It is the seat of Apollo, slayer of the monstrous Python at the Kastalian Spring below Mount Parnassus. Where Dionysios arrives to winter when Apollo departs every year to the land of the Hyperboreans. Delphi is a place of Gods, the Omphalus, the navel of the earth.
At the Archaelogical Museum of Delphi, a figure stands erect and alone. He is a young man. His skin, hair and robe are bronze and his lips and long eyelashes are copper. He holds reins in his right hand, writhing in static motion though disconnected from horses that escaped their charioteer long ago. There is another figure all but gone, save for his bronze left arm. It is delicate and thin, held forever upwards in a gesture resembling adoration or prayer. The charioteer looks outward and inward, a victorious champion, proud and reserved.
Today, surrounding the charioteer is a sea of faces, rapt, reaching up in the same gesture as the attending slave, arms above their heads, phones and cameras in hand.
The homogenization of site-seeing
At the archaeological site, large tour groups assemble, noisy and sprawling. Languages from around the world call out as visitors organize themselves. At this entry point the ancient, mysterious site of Delphi feels oddly familiar. This can happen when visiting any other stop on the tour of famous sites around the world, from Times Square to the Taj Mahal. With the ticket stands, gift shops, cafes and crowds, the packaging is all the same from one place to the next.
In harmonious accord among the cypress trees and the ridges of Mount Parnassus lie the ruins of Delphi. It is not a very big site. As it ascends one climbs from temple to temple. Large marble blocks sprout from the earth like wild flowers. The ancient stones nestle into the mountain. They do not feel alien to this landscape, instead they remind one of how a bird’s nest integrates with a tree. It looks perfect in precisely the spot where it sits.
Sound and silence
Midway up between the temple of Apollo and the ancient theater the voices that echo over the valley of Phocis take on a new shape. One still hears the din of foreign tongues, but the color of the sound transforms in every way, in volume, frequency and expressive quality. The noise of the chatter at the entry gate is pulled, thinned, mellowed and spread over the landscape like honey. Past the Temple of Apollo, the cacophony finds a metronome and harmony of low voices, hushed tones and pauses: the sound of people in awe. It plays in concert with the steady hum of the place. High above the site at the theater the music is ever present, a chorus of humans, birds, bumblebees and winds.
When looking down past all of the ruins and over the great valley one feels they are receiving a gift, sacred and timeless. A gift that is too immense to be contained and must be shared. The sharing of this gift takes the form of silent appreciation from one stranger to the next–raising of the eyebrows, shaking of the head, deep inhalation and release of breath, a smile. The silence communicates in a way in which words never can: that we are only human and we are here but for a moment.
Questions and Answers
Humbled, visitors walk down and out of the ancient sanctuary of Delphi. Passengers pack in to buses and we continue on our individual journeys through the world, lives busy and full.
Home of the Delphic Oracle, travelers have long come to Delphi seeking answers to their questions. Yet what we find in Delphi it is not a place to answer all the questions, but a place to reflect on them.