Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Sounion, Menelaus and the Fall of Troy

"When we [Nestor, Menelaus and their men] got to Sunium [Gre. Sunion], which is the point of Athens, Apollo with his painless shafts killed Phrontis the steersman of Menelaus' ship (and never man knew better how to handle a vessel in rough weather) so that he died then and there with the helm in his hand, and Menelaus, though very anxious to press forward, had to wait in order to bury his comrade and give him his due funeral rites."

Homer - Od. IX
Translated by S. Butler

The east bay of Sunion. This is probably where they ancient Greeks imagined that Menelaus landed. A shot of the so famous temple can be found here.

Cape Sounion, the southernmost point of Attica. This site has somehow always reminded me of a poem a read a long time ago, Achilles in the Trench by Patrick Shaw-Stewart. In it he very much captures the feeling of standing there, at the edge of the sea, on a short leave from hell, soon to return to battle. A battle in which he was to be killed. Did he know? It is perhaps this feeling of an impending doom, shared by Achilles and Shaw-Stewart alike, that makes me recall these lines as I imagine the many times near and dear must have stood here, searching the sea and awaiting the ships their beloved, hoping for their safe return – far too often to be disappointed.

I saw a man this morning
Who did not wish to die;
I ask, and cannot answer,
if otherwise wish I.

Fair broke the day this morning
Upon the Dardanelles:
The breeze blew soft, the morn's cheeks
Were cold as cold sea-shells.

But other shells are waitind
Across the Aegean Sea;
Shrapnel and high explosives,
Shells and hells for me.

Oh Hell of ships and cities,
Hell of men like me,
Fatal second Helen,
Why must I follow thee?

Achilles came to Troyland
And I to Chersonese;
He turned from wrath to battle,
And I from three days' peace.

Was it so hard, Achilles,
So very hard to die?
Thou knowest, and I know not;
So much the happier am I.

I will go back this morning
From Imbros o'er the sea.
Stand in the trench, Achilles,
Flame-capped, and shout for me.

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