The heroine of my new novel, Aphrodite’s Tears, is an archaeologist, passionate about unearthing the treasures of past civilisations and studying them to bring meaning to modern times. At the start of the book Oriel takes on a new commission: to travel to the Greek island of Helios and join a team of divers on the subsea excavation of a wreck dating back to Roman times.
Oriel’s boss on the project is Damian Lekkas, manager and owner of Helios. Like Oriel, he is passionate about archaeology – but most of all, he is passionate about the Greek islands which are his home; I write: ‘a love of these islands was in Damian’s blood, at the very core of his heart’. As part of the research for the excavation project, he takes Oriel on an overnight trip to one of the most significant of these islands, Delos.
Approaching Delos by boat, an unwitting visitor may wonder what makes this island so special. It is small, just over three square kilometres, and from a distance looks like little more than a rocky outcrop jutting out of the blue waters of the Aegean Sea. But as you near, your eye starts to pick out lines amid the rocks: columns, walls – ruins.
Delos is, quite simply, an archaeologist’s heaven. The island has more excavations than any other site in the Mediterranean – it is the place to visit if you are interested in Ancient Greek history and archaeology.
Here is a description of this ‘sacred isle’ written by the poet and scholar Callimachus:
The sacred isle its deep foundations forms
Unshook by winds, uninjured by the deep.
High o’er the waves appears the Cynthian steep;
And from the flood the sea-mew bends his course
O’er cliffs impervious to the swiftest horse
Around the rocks the Icarian surges roar,
Collect new foam, and whiten all the shore
Beneath the lonely caves, and breezy plain
Where fishers dwelt of old above the main.
No wonder Delos, first in rank, is placed
Amid the sister isles on ocean’s breast.
This description of the island was penned back in the 3rd century BC. By the time of Homer’s The Odyssey (see http://hannahfielding.net/the-iliad-and-the-odyssey/), in the 8th century BC, Delos was recognised as the legendary birthplace of Apollo, the god of the sun, and his twin sister Artemis, the goddess of the moon, and as such it became a major cultural centre of the Ancient Greek world.
Here is a glimpse of just some of the archaeological sites that Damian and Oriel visit on the island:
[Picture credit: Bernard Gagnon]
Meeting halls, houses, market squares, temples, theatres… there is so much to discover on Delos. My own favourite part is the ‘Terrace of the Lions’ (pictured below). Like the Egyptian avenue of sphinxes at the temple of Karnak, here twelve lions carved from Naxian marble stood along the Sacred Way. Remaining today are five beautifully preserved lions, snarling silently and guarding the sanctuary.
On Delos, there is so much to feed an archaeologist’s soul. But Oriel finds it is not only the history of the place that affects her. There is a beauty to this place, which is cast in a unique light. ‘The light on Delos has a strange glitter that really dazzles the eyes,’ Damian explains. ‘It’s been described as the “whirling of silver wheels”.’ The whole atmosphere of the island soothes Oriel; she finds ‘an absolute peace’ has crept into her heart.
As Damien puts it: ‘Pure air, good water, sunshine, the beautiful surroundings of nature… these are God’s means for a great life.’ On Delos, Oriel finds this… and much more besides. After all, I did mention that this was to be an overnight trip, which will mean camping on the slopes of Mount Cynthus all alone, a man and a woman amid thousands of years of history.