Saturday, 19 January 2013

Join the Guided Tour of Greek Mythology!


All aboard, all aboard!  Please take your seats and make yourselves comfortable as we take an incredible journey around some of he key sites and locations that feature in the Greek myths.  On this very special tour, not only will you get to relax and enjoy some amazing scenery as we travel through the Greek countryside, but you will also have some exclusive introductions to the gods, goddesses and heroes who played the crucial parts in these ancient legends.  So please make sure that you have your seat belts buckled and your tables in the upright position and we will travel back over two thousand years to our first destination.

Sparta

And see how fast we have arrived out our very first destination, Ancient Sparta.  During the classical period Greece was mainly comprised of independent city states, but what made Sparta stand out from the rest is that it was the only one that had a full time standing army and the Spartans gloried in war and physical fitness.  Young boys were sent off to the army barracks for training at the age of seven and even the little girls were made to participate in sport and feats of physical endurance so that they could go on to have many healthy Spartan children when they grew up.  In fact,  in our day and age the term ‘spartan’ has come to mean  harsh, austere conditions and living a life with few luxuries or comforts.  The Spartan army was a disciplined, awesome fighting machine and was regarded with respect and fear throughout the classical world.  Their most famous military engagement was the stand they took at Thermopylae in 480 BC.  Along with a small force of Thebans and Thespians, they stood their ground against a much larger army of invading Persians, inflicting a huge amount of casualties before they were finally overcome.

Ancient Theatre, Sparta
Ancient Theatre, Sparta


The founding of Sparta came about after the great god Zeus, King of Olympus indulged in one of his favourite pastimes and pursued a local nymph called Taygete, the result of which was a son called Lacedaemon.  When he grew to manhood he founded the city of Sparta and named it after his wife.  Probably the most famous citizen to have ever been born in Sparta was the legendary beauty Helen of Troy.  The girl that was destined to grow into ‘the face that launched a thousand ships’ was another of the prolific progeny of the god Zeus, this time pursing the wife of the Spartan King Tyndareus, who was called Leda.  Now Greek myths tend to have several versions, but it was said that as Zeus pursued Leda she turned into a swan.  After he had made her succumb to him, she laid an egg out of which emerged the beautiful Helen.  In some versions of this myth there were two eggs laid, one of which produced Helen and Clytemnestra and the other the heavenly twins Castor and Pollux. One dark twin and one light twin emerging from each egg.

Garden of the Hesperides

Now we have to wave goodbye to the beautiful Helen of Troy and the mountains of Sparta, although we will meet her again later on in our journey.  It is time to take some refreshment and relax in the beautiful Garden of the Hesperides.  Now you might be tempted to pluck one of the exquisite golden apples growing on the many apple trees in the grove, but we would advise you against this and would encourage you to stick with the packed lunch that we have provided for your delectation.  Although the garden is tended by the beautiful nymphs, the Hesperides, the golden apples which confer immortality on those that eat from them, are guarded jealously by a fearsome dragon with a hundred heads called  Ladon.  Please note that your travel insurance does not cover any injuries sustained while trying to pat the dragon.

Garden of the Hesperides - Wikimedia Commons Public Domain
Garden of the Hesperides


The garden is owned by Zeus’s long suffering wife Hera, and we are hoping that she will pop in while we are there to have a cup of teas with us and tell us some more about this fantastic garden and the problems that she is always having with her husband.  One of the most famous stories is of the time when one of the golden apples was stolen and secreted out of the sacred grove.  It was taken by the goddess of discord, Eris, who then had engraved on it ‘for the fairest’.  Now the unpleasant events that were to follow the stealing of the golden apple, including the Trojan Wars, were all down to Eris’s nose being put out of joint because she had not been invited to the wedding of Peleus and Thetis.  She secretly snuck into the wedding reception and rolled the engraved golden apple in amongst the revellers.  On reading the inscription, three of the most powerful goddesses instantly claimed it as theirs.  A un-deity like fracas broke out which had to be mediated by the all powerful Zeus, who decided that a handsome youth called Paris, who was a prince of Troy,  would get to choose who was the most beautiful goddess.  The three contenders immediately got their kit off, had a quick bathe in the Spring of Ida and proceeded to bribe the judge just in case he was not impressed enough by their naked beauty.  Athena offered to teach him military skills and guarantee him prowess in war, Hera offered the young prince the chance to rule all of Europe and Asia, and the goddess of love Aphrodite tempted him with the possession of the most beautiful woman in the world.  Being a typical man, Paris rejected the more practical offers of Athena and Hera, and tossed the golden apple to Aphrodite, bagging for himself the pulchritudinous Helen of Troy (told you we would meet her again!) in the process.  Now there were a few little snags that he hadn’t taken into consideration when he made his choice, such as the fact that the gorgeous Helen was already married to King Menelaus and that it is never a good idea to get on the wrong side of two important goddesses. The Judgement of Paris was to prove another of the steps on the way to the Trojan War.

The Labyrinth of Crete

Now I am very aware that the tour so far has been a bit short on visitor attractions, so we are going to get some sea air and explore the legendary Labyrinth on the island of Crete.  The price of admission was included in the tour price and we will give you several hours to see if you can find your way into the centre and then get out again.  We have only lost seven tourists in the last three seasons, so we are very proud of our record.  The mythical Labyrinth was constructed for King Minos by Daedalus to house the half-bull and half-human monster that was the Minotaur.   Legend has it that the god of the seas, Poseidon, gave Minos a white bull to sacrifice. But Minos decided in his infinite wisdom to keep the white bull for himself, so to teach him a lesson Poseidon, with a little help from Aphrodite, fixed it so that Minos’s wife fell into lust with the white bull and several months later  gave birth to the Minotaur.  Now please note that the Labyrinth was built to a very complicated design and apparently even Daedalus had trouble finding his way out. 

Silver Coin from Knossos showing the Labyrinth
Silver Coin from Knossos showing the Labyrinth


Now to keep the Minotaur fed and watered, Minos demanded a tribute of seven brave young men and seven beauteous young girls every seven years from the city state of Athens.  This was so that Athens could pay a suitably high price for assassinating King Minos’s eldest son Androgeus some years previously.  The Greek hero Theseus decided that enough was enough and took over from one of the doomed youths so that he could go and slay the monster.  Although he had been divested of all his weapons when he sailed for Crete he had managed to secrete his sword under his tunic, and fortunately for the dashing hero Minos’s daughter Ariadne slipped him a ball of twine before he was shoved into the Labyrinth.  He tied the end of the twine to the door post and managed to find his way through the dark to its very centre, where the Minotaur lay sleeping.  A tremendous fight ensued and Theseus eventually cut off the monster’s head.  He followed the twine back out into the Cretan sunshine and took off with the Athenian youngsters that he had saved and Ariadne and her sister Phaedra.  However, to show his gratitude to the Cretan princess he left Ariadne asleep on the beach on the island of Naxos one morning and then he forgot to change the sails of the ship to the white ones from the black ones as they approached Athens to signal that the youths were safe, so the poor old king committed suicide out of grief.

Cruise on the Argo

Now we have to leave the beautiful island of Crete behind us as we embark on the Argo for a cruise through the Mediterranean to the Black Sea with Jason and the Argonauts.  We are glad that in Crete you have had the chance to swim in Homer’s ‘wine dark sea’, but there will be many further opportunities for sea bathing as our cruise stops at the island of Lemnos,  then Samothrace, and then through the Bosphorous into the Black Sea. On this cruise you can join Jason and his Argonauts in their quest for the fabled Golden Fleece that Jason needs to find in order to claim his kingdom. Now the Argonauts are a pretty VIP bunch, so you will be priviledged to rub shoulders with the likes of the son of Zeus, Pollux, the Greek hero Perseus who rescued the fair Andromeda from the sea serpent, and chat with the legendary Hercules, another son of Zeus, about his twelve labours.  When the tour reaches the city of Aria in Colchis you will be given the chance to pan for gold using a sheep’s fleece, and will be given a souvenir grain of gold set in a tasteful plastic frame to take home with you as a treasured memory of your trip.



Troy

The next stop is one of the highlights of the tour as we travel overland by luxury coach to the fabulous city of Troy on the coast of Turkey.    Here you can choose which side you would rather be on, and join the siege of the city either on the side of the Greeks or the Trojans.  The fair Helen enters our story once more, as to gain possession of the most beautiful woman in the world, our hero Prince Paris had to steal her away from her husband King Menelaus’s palace at Mycenae.  With his pride and his honour severely dented, King Menelaus raised an army stuffed full of Greek heroes to go and reclaim his wife.   As it was a long and tiring siege that lasted ten years, there will be optional tours of Achilles’ tent, lessons in how to deliver prophecies that won’t be believed with Cassandra, and workshops on how to build a Trojan horse.  After a decade, you will be really looking forward to the grand finale when the great wooden horse is rolled through the gates of Troy and the Greek warriors leap out and fall upon the unsuspecting Trojans.  We have to tell you, however, that at this stage of the tour your travel insurance will not cover you if you accidentally get run through with a sword or are hit by an arrow through the heart.  And to show that all men are fools for love, when Menelaus reclaimed his wife after the death of Paris he fully intended to have her killed for her betrayal, but she somehow she managed to charm him all over again and he put off killing her until an unspecified later date.




 Hades                     

Now we had hoped to round off this tour with a very special, VIP trip to visit the gods on Mount Olympus. We even had Ares, Apollo, Hermes and Artemis lined up to give you exclusive audiences and photo opportunities with the deities.  However, all is not lost as the god of the underworld Pluto and his gorgeous young wife Persephone have invited us to visit with them in Hades.  You will get to enter Hades through the cavern at Avernus, and you will then be given a souvenir coin to put under your tongue to pay the ferryman Charon for the crossing of the river Acheron.  On the far side of the river you will be given a few minutes for a photo opportunity with the three headed guard dog Cerberus and then you will be given plenty of free time to chat with the shades of the dead and find out what the underworld is really like.  For a small extra fee, you can enjoy the whole abduction by Pluto experience, where we will leave you in a grassy meadow plucking flowers, and the dark lord of the underworld will spring out of the earth in his chariot and drag you down into Hades and feed you pomegranates.  Now unless your name is Orpheus, Theseus or Hercules, we have some unfortunate news for you.  Hades, like the Hotel California in the song by the Eagles, is somewhere you can check in but you can never leave, so make sure that you have packed enough for an extended stay.





We would like to thank you for joining us on our exciting trip around Greek mythology and we would be very grateful if you could fill in our feedback forms and hand them in to your representative.  As you are now a permanent resident of Hades, we have taken all the necessary steps to inform your relatives and wind up your earthly affairs.  If you ever manage to find a Greek hero who is willing to bust you out from the underworld, we would be very happy if you choose to travel with us again. Have a nice day and mind how you go.





Ancient Sparta Theatre image NicktheGreek82 Wikimedia Commons
Garden of the Hesperides Image Wikimedia Commons Public Domain
Knossos Silver Coin image Almare Wikimedia Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike 3.0 Unported

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