The Book That Launched a Thousand Trips

June 2, 2011

When it comes to armchair travel I like to think that I started right at the beginning of Western Literature. I was weened on Homeric tales. And happily, my first physical journey was not only to Greece but to Homeric beginnings.

I have stood in the same place that Helen of Troy stood when she was still Menelaus’ Queen. I have walked around the stones and terraces in Mycenae. The same ones that Helen spent her days in. I have taken photos of myself under the Lion Gate, knowing that, momentary tourist that I may be, I am touching the same ground, the same soil that Paris stood on moments before capturing and escaping with beautiful Helen triggering a long war, that even thousands of years later, people are still discussing, minds are still speculating, archaeologists are still exploring and kids are still discovering.

I grew up listening to Greek myths being told across the dinner table. These were not official storytelling sessions, these were discussions and stories passed down through generations. We were all captured by the intrigue, the romance, the battles and the gods.

And in my family, it was all about beautiful Helen. Did Helen elope with Paris? Did he kidnap her? Was she unwilling? Why would so many soldiers cross the sea in order to bring her back to Menelaus? She was a traitor. Was this her father Zeus’s doing or was it Hera in her usual spitefulness that caused all these misdeeds.

As a child, I didn’t understand that these people were myths. They were real. If my parents talked about them in such a familial way, then they must be my relatives over in a country I have only heard about. It dawned on me when I was about 9 during a lesson in class that they were not relatives – they were heroes and heroines! And at 16, I felt such an overwhelming moment of awe sweep over me as I slowly walked up the hill, at Mycenae, towards the Lion’s Gate.

I have since visited Mycenae 3 more times. The last time was to take my children. They too, have grown up listening to Greek myths at the dinner table from when they were young. And they too stood on the sparse rocky soil looking across terraced olive groves across the Peloponnese. And they too marveled that all those stories of Homeric feats originated at the place we all stood.



3 Responses to “The Book That Launched a Thousand Trips”

  1. Same story, different country.
    I have recently helped my daughter (aged 10) prepare a speech where she had to speak about the built environment or the natural environment.
    Between us we chose Stirling Castle and said it was a combination of the two. The man-built castle stands proud on the nature-built rock and is visible for miles and you can see miles from there.
    Although my father was a British Army officer and we lived most of my childhood in Germany, England or Cyprus, my parents are both from Stirling in Scotland and my sisters and I were brought up on tales of William Wallace (I hate the Braveheart film), Robert the Bruce, Mary Queen of Scots and the other heroes and villains of Scottish history who pepper the history of Stirling.
    They are stories to stir the heart and get the blood going.
    And in Cyprus and Athens a few years ago, we marvelled at the history – seeing the birthplace of Aphrodite, the Pantheon. We fell in love with those histories too.

  2. Vassiliki Says:

    That is the other side of my kids’background. We also stayed at Borthwick Castle in Scotland which is part of my husband’s family. Both our children were amazed that it was their ancestors home & that Mary, Queen of Scots honeymooned there, Oliver Cromwell’s canons pockmarked it’s 16ft thick walls. It just serves to inspire reading and exploring history further.

  3. […] reminisces on “the book that launched a thousand trips” and on visiting […]

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