Met for breakfast this morning…one of those incredible gastronomical events in Sicily …and Heidi and I mentioned that we had each written a Blog entry last night. Seems like we were both on somewhat the same sheet of music. It’s a bit of a read but I think you won’t be disappointed. You will have NO difficulty whatsoever in figuring out the authors. Trust me!
“Old MacDonald had a Farm ….”
You know this part of that “memorable” song … “with a quack-quack here, and a quack-quack there, here a quack, there a quack, everywhere a quack-quack.” I don’t know if you realize that it would clearly be possible for a well-intended tour throughout Sicily to become something akin to “with a temple here, and a temple there, here a temple, there a temple, everywhere a temple-temple.” And so it would go on as a parade of historical sites whizz by. But that is certainly not where we are. Signora Lucia and Dr. Dave are going to accuse me of patronizing them but all I can say is … sticks and stone can break my bones but names will never hurt me. The bottom line is … you’ve just got to see both of them in action on these sites. They are relentless … in as great a way as I can possibly describe. Each one provide key pieces of the puzzle that is so…so…so very complex. Agrigento (Valley of the Temples’) is one temple, tomb, “whatever” …after another. Without the framework that the Pollio’s provide it would have easily been … “here a temple ..there a temple etc.. What the Odyssey participants would have missed is the essence of “purpose” in these structures, and how they fit into the fabric of history, development of civilizations, religion …and the list goes on. And ..and ..and then! This entire web of exquisitely delivered background sets the stage for iPad challenges directly related to what the “dynamic duo” have conveyed.
I simply had to say something. I snap a few pictures. I bring up the rear with Dr. Dave for some Odyssey security, put on my ugly face and make sure we’re all good Bulldogs and “represent” appropriately … but the magic of this trip is not simply in these spectacular structures thousands of years old … the magic truly lies in the way that Signora Lucia and Dr. Dave put a “face” and a “story” on each piece of the puzzle.
Trust me …I don’t sit back and watch. I take notes.
We were about three days into our adventure, and our intrepid explorers were presented with another set of Greek temples. They had already learned the basic architectural vocabulary from their pre-departure lectures–triglyph, metope, stereobate, stylobate, raking sima, etc., etc.. They knew the difference between the three types of temples-Doric, Ionic, Corinthian. They had puzzled out some questions about the temples at Segesta and Selinunte. So, when we came upon our third set of temples in Agrigento, called ‘the Valley of the Temples,’ we were ready to put them in context. Why so many temples? Why were they dedicated to these gods, and why are we here visiting them? These are important questions that deserve serious consideration.
We asked Salvatore, our fearless bus driver, to drop us off at the bottom of the valley instead of the top, which no one does, and he thought we were pozzu (this means crazy in Sicilian dialect). Everyone arriving by bus gets out at the top of the hill where the most well-preserved temples are located and then make their way down hill, the easiest route. But we wanted to give the story of Greek ‘religion’ in its developmental context–I put religion in quotation marks because the Greeks had no word that means what we think of when we speak of religion.
So we start off in the sanctuary of the chthonic gods and the remains of the Temple of Castor and Pollux. These are not the most well known or well-preserved structures in Agrigento, but they give us that context that makes the whole thing understandable.
Chthonic comes from the Greek word for ‘earth, ground,’ and these very ancient gods were the first allies and adversaries in the very earliest lives of the Greeks of pre-history. They represented the awesome and inexplicable power of the natural world and were the most intimate and, in some ways, most terrifying forces in the lives of every man, woman, and child. This sanctuary has almost nothing left to look at, which is why every tourist marches past without looking as he heads to the parking lot to rendezvous with the mega-tour bus that had dropped him off at the top of the hill. But what he misses by over-looking this area, is the meaning, significance, and context which would have made this treasure of human history prove its worth and the greatest argument for our reason for visiting and preserving these places in the first place. For, knowing that the sanctuary next door houses the remains of the Temple of Olympian Zeus, the largest Doric temple ever constructed in the Greek world (the bulk of which now tragically forms the commercial Porto Empedocle nearby) was built to establish the sky god’s dominance over the earlier, more connected-to-the-earth, chthonic powers–this would help him understand just how truly remarkable the physical manifestation of man’s struggle with divinity and his relationship with that divinity has been.
The Greek example of respecting the past but having the courage to envision a different future is a lesson worth remembering.
BWIIC …see you next time
To embark on an interdisciplinary, capstone study-abroad program in southern Italy and Sicily for Norfolk Academy 8th grade students.