Athenapallas's Blog

May 15, 2016

HOW THE PARTHENON MADE ME CRY

The following post was published five years ago and now at last I have finished my novel:  

DIGGING UP THE DEAD

 Greek Mythology Meets Coal Mining

by Narelle Scotford  With Art by Selina McGrath

It  has been a long journey but the experience recorded in this post has become part of this extraordinary novel…. to learn more follow the link at the end of the post… now read on…

I arrived in Athens  accompanied by a flight full of Greeks from Melbourne making their annual pilgrimage to the islands of their youth. After listening to conversations that criss-crossed the plane in that peculiar antipodean version of Australian Greek, peppered with Ozzie slang and words in English with the Greek endings, I was in a state of exhausted anticipation. However I managed to find my way via the Metro to my Hotel in Plaka and somehow my energy returned.

I needed to seek out my temple, the PARTHENON. Walking through Plaka’s seedy but somehow charming streets, passed hawkers and markets full of trashy goods and hopeful shopkeepers I abandoned the map and chose one of the many marble-paved lanes that headed upward to the Acropolis.                

Here the seediness disappeared as I passed  quaint tavernas

with smiling owners touting for business,

Athenians in intense conversation,

with only a few tourists in sight.

Then looking up to see what appeared to be a giant wall, columns peaking over it, what is that? Many steep steps in narrow lanes all leading up, following  a wider path not wanting to look up to my left, that must be it, it’s so large,steep, high, a mountain of a rock but where is the PARTHENON?

The  Acropolis, the Uluru of Western Culture, and I felt like I was an ant, my cloak of knowledge abandoned, falling off. I tried not to look at it, maybe this was not it,  and maybe the PARTHENON doesn’t even exist except in my imagination.

I stopped to listen to a lone Greek player of a kind of medieval lute or sitar, soft sounds in a minor key as I sat beside him on the pavement. I hummed the chords quietly, we talked slowly with him respecting my meditative state as he waved away people who tried to take his photo. I felt my heart opening, breaking at the same time, saying at last I’m Home. I said goodbye to the slim fine-boned intelligent man whom later I would call Dimitri as he became my friend and guide. He stood and shook my hand, thanking me for stopping and sitting beside him. No-one ever does that, he said in perfect English. Was he Hermes the Divine Messenger?

The smog was lifting and the sun shining more than I expected, the pink white rows of houses and small apartment blocks sparkled from this distance, their shabbiness turned into jeweled boxes as I looked across the plains of Attica. I realised as I looked up again at the rock, it felt like the backside of the Acropolis with just a hint of columns above what appeared to be giant city walls. No wonder Pericles chose this place on which to build his monument to the glory of  the Athenian Empire!

As I reached the car park and tourist office I could see the magnitude of the rock, it truly was a fortress. I bought a 4 day ticket and withdrew as  tourists swarmed, not wanting to join them. I wandered into the Pnyx, hurried off the wider path into narrow tracks in the bush, surrounded by ancient debris, feeling the presence of the past, still hardly daring to look up to my left towards the PARTHENON. Seeking shade and solitude. Found the prison of Socrates, caves in a rocky outcrop  with bars across the interior,wondering how it was for him as he waited to take his poison receiving his students and friends all of whom were offering him escape in exile which he refused. I wanted to climb up the rock to get  a better view but could not, I crouched behind a bush to have a pee hoping the cops on motorbikes don’t see me. At last I lay down exhausted, my view of the Acropolis and its elusive temple obscured by the fir trees scattered among the pine cones. I sat down with my back to a tree and then I saw framed in its branches the unmistakable PARTHENON, hardly daring to look at it as if its shining might blind me like Tiresias. I had no camera with me to capture this first image, the photo below was taken at 8am the next day when I was alone on the Acropolis except for a few workers.

Now the sun was at its zenith, no clouds, bright bright blue sky and here I am, am, am. Tears coursed down my face, my whole body shook with joy, relief, pneuma, knowing, gratitude and awe. I lay there and the only words that came to me were, now I can die. I’ve seen all I want to see, if I die now it doesn’t matter. Transcendent  was the word that came to me later as I encircled this experience and found more and more places to catch this image and blend it into my psyche forever. I sat upon  a rock nearby while my image of the corner of the PARTHENON grew and grew, shone and shone, two long thin cranes appeared like beacons above this wounded cultural icon of the West, here at last we were restoring Pericles’ vision of the embodiment of sophrusune/balance after centuries of pillage,theft, misuse, war and pollution – or was it just as it should be with its complex history still present?

I hoped the restoration would not result in it becoming a plastic caricature of itself. I tried not to load it up with concepts and kept coming back to my body, exhausted, tingling, awake, aware, feeling ‘zoie’ divine breath, everything in my life that had led to this moment , an older woman, ‘xseni’ foreigner, from 9000 kilometres away, guardian of the temple, Athena inside me, calling to passers-by ‘Ela etho’, look up, stand here, they obeyed and thanked the strange woman lying on the ground as if I must somehow belong here.

I can still feel that moment within me, it is enshrined forever no matter what ugly and sad realities I must inevitably encounter here and elsewhere on my journey.

 

http://www.scotford.com.au

 

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July 18, 2011

WITNESSING THE ATHENS UPRISING May/June 2011

Narelle Scotford, the writer of this blog, visited Greece in May and June this year. Although of course her alter ego has resided for 2500 years in Greece, this was Narelle’s first trip. Long long ago she was a Greek bride and learnt to speak, read and write the language of her beloved Greek Gods and Heroes. In preparation for her trip she studied Greek language, mythology and history again as well as re-learning how to make Greek coffee and sampling the culinary delights of the great cooks in her Modern Greek class at Sydney University.

Narelle arrived in Athens at the beginning of the recent unrest finding a small hotel half a block from Syntagma Square. She  wandered around the square on her first day where only a handful of students were gathered and after this she was there every day until she left Athens for Delphi and for her attendance at a  Buddhist  retreat north of Athens in the company of other Athenians.

The following photos and comments are her personal record of her time in Athens. She left Athens a few days before the Parliament passed the Austerity Measures Bill when TV screens around the world showed over and over again violent images of what was happening on the streets. More about that later in the post……

Greek Cops Waiting

 
 
 
 
 
 
It was a common sight to see groups of cops (police) on bikes or foot around the square and gradually as the week  progressed their presence became more obvious particularly towards evening when the people were starting to gather in Syntagma Square for the evening discussions, speeches and songs.
 
 
 

Beginning of the Tent City in the Square

 
 
 
 
At this stage there were just a few tents and people were busy talking as usual and some were creating makeshift signs.
 
It looked more like a scout camp than a revolution.
 
Most of the young people I met spoke good English but appreciated my attempts to converse in my faltering Greek.
 
They were pleased I could read their signs some of which I will show and translate below.

Greek Parliament

 

Fancy Dress Soldiers on their way to guard the Parliament

 
 
 
 
 
 
           

What We Need!

                                                                                                   

 This is the first sign I saw after I started going to the Square, as you can see it
is Texta on Cardboard, hardly high-tech. Before I had a chance to translate it (always tricky as Greek Capital letters are often different to their lower case equivalents) I thought it must be a kind of  Bill of Rights or List of Political demands but no, it is nothing of the sort. Ever practical they were asking for:
 
CLOTH,CARDBOARD,PAINT,TEXTA PENS, SELLOTAPE,ROPE, BRUSHES,
TABLES,CHAIRS,TENTS,PORTABLE LAMPS, MICROPHONES,WATER, RUBBISH BAGS, NOTICE BOARDS, MORE TENTS, FLOODLIGHTS.
 
When I asked where these would come from they told me ‘the people’ and they were right, as the days went by all this as well as food and drink and sleeping bags, linen, clothes etc were donated by ‘the people’.
 
 
  

Love this tent!

              

More and More Tents

                                                                                              

 

REAL DEMOCRACY like we had 2500 years ago!

 
 
 The young Greek students who painted this sign and set up their website were well aware of the sorry history of their failed political process where cronyism, elitism and bureaucratic feather bedding had eaten away not only at their democracy but also their economic and  civic resolve. 
They all knew how Western Democracy and its many imitations around the world started here, when each of the 12 tribes of what was then Greece or Attica sent a representative to live and work  for one month in what was then their National Assembly returning home afterwards to allow another member of their community or group take their place.
 
 
 

In the name of Melina Mercouri

          
A visit to the New Acropolis Museum is a must for any traveller to Greece if only to realise how much has been stolen from  the birthplace of democracy by many of the countries whose citizens make their pilgrimage here.
The new Museum stands out for its modern architecture which aligns itself with the Parthenon way above  on the Holy Rock called the Acropolis.  What made the most impact inside the museum  for me was not the few marvellous sculptures that have managed to survive, but all the gaps left in the Museum’s mockup of the Parthenon where images of the Gods and mighty heroes of our shared mythology and history have been hacked away and taken to museums and private collections all over the world. If all these stolen artifacts and works of art could be valued and Greece compensated for them imagine how their economy might be!
                                                                                                             

Global Stooges

     

No word needed here

Individual citizens express their anger and frustration at what feels to them to be a return to a kind of dictatorship with the ordinary people having no say in  their future.

 
 

Man with a Mission

                    at first I did not realise what this man’s mission was until I saw the reference to the Bible, John 14:14. Standing at the top of the steps with the Parliament as his backdrop and looking down on all the activity in the Square,  seemed oddly appropriate when I translated his biblical quote: If you ask for something in My Name I will do it’.
 
 

Message from France

     

Riot Police Relaxing outside the Parliament

         

Syntagma Square Filling Up

Every night more and more people would gather in the Square I would walk there for a while and then go into nearby Plaka the old area of Athens to my favourite tavernaki to eat and listen and talk with other people working or dining there. Most of them depended on tourism and were worried on the effect of all this activity, noise and crowds on the tourists. Many were sanguine about it saying nothing will change, it never does.  ‘We have been living in a dream and now it will become a nightmare,’ one philosopher told me.
 
I came back to Athens on the night of the  biggest demonstration ever(over 200,000 people) travelling on the metro which was packed with well dressed well spoken people all heading for the Square. They advised me to take the back exit from Syntagma station which I did but the crowds were just as thick and it took me a long  time to find my way through them to my friends.
Back on my hotel balcony late at night I could still hear and see the crowds singing, shouting and blowing whistles and banging drums. I fell asleep to this cacophony wondering about the clash of pragmatism and idealism,the need for economic independence, civic responsibility, true democracy, the battle of the Titans, Heracles 12 Labours, Odysseus’ 20 year journey home to his faithful wife Penelope, and the mighty Achilles defeating Hector on the plains of Troyzzzzz zzzzzzzz.
 
Later at home in Australia watching the violent images from the Square where I had spent so much time, I was at first sad and then angry particularly when I had a message  from a friend in Athens I trusted who told me the rioters were paid provocateurs who had nothing to do with the People’s Movement I had been privileged to witness during my time in Athens.
                                                                

April 7, 2011

THE LEGACY OF OLYMPIA AND HOW TO SURVIVE THE OLYMPIC DREAM

 

'Ancient Olympia

The start of the first official OLYMPIC GAMES was declared in 776 BC by King Ephitus at a time when there were many Hellenic states.    The games were held   what is now the prefecture of Elia in Greece 24ks from the modern  town of Pyrgos at the site of Ancient Olympia.

The Games were  to honour of Zeus the King of the Olympian Gods, father of Athena, whose gigantic temple at Olympia was one of the wonders of the ancient world. Little remains of the temple but it might have looked something like this:

The Ancient Games took place around the first full moon in August and consisted of merely a foot race of about 500 metres. Gradually longer races were introduced as well as the pentathlon (a contest of running, leaping, wrestling, discus and spear-throwing), with chariot races as well as the pancration, a vicious combination of boxing and wrestling.

The early competitors were naked and were required to undergo a training of ten months, to make sacrifices to the Gods and to vow that they would compete fairly. There were official trainers as well as the judges who awarded the prizes─wreaths cut with a golden knife from the sacred olive tree in honour of Heracles, the mighty but disgraced son of Zeus who defeated monsters and man-eating animals in his famous 12 labours.

Marvellous stories were told of the feats of the victors at these ancient games. In a single leap they would cover a distance of nearly 17 metres, and one year the winner of the nine mile race kept running past the finishing line before he stopped at Argos, fifty miles away, the same evening.                    

The Games were held every four years and vast crowds camped

on the slopes of Mount Cronos or in the dry river beds.

Dense throngs stood around the racecourse and

must have suffered in the heat as water was scarce and often polluted.

A holy truce was declared for a whole month during which

all warfare was forbidden and the land of Ellas was considered sacred.

These ancient games were exclusive to male athletes and spectators

and the story goes that if any women were caught within the precincts

they would be thrown from a nearby rock!

There is one story however, of a Spartan woman being detected in male attire

but as her son was the victor of the Games she was forgiven.

Writers, poets and historians also read their works to large audiences,

and the citizens of the various city states of the ancient world got together in a way that happened nowhere else.

 The Modern Olympic Games were instituted in 1896 and except during the first and second world wars were held every four years in various cities around the world including Sydney in 2000 and Athens in 2004 where thousands of athletes compete in hundreds of events and sporting activities.

                                                                                                                                

The Olympic Flame is lit at the ancient site in Greece and

carried by runners to the city where the games are held.

In modern times the good will and good fortune

generated by the games rivals the work of the United Nations

in trying to bring the nations of the world together.

So into this rich history comes the story of one of our own Olympians,

Nadine Neumann, a young woman who would not even have  even

a spectator let alone competitor in the ancient games.

Wobbles an Olympic Story written by Nadine is her story,

the story of a young girl who became one of the fastest and

most versatile swimmers of her generation in the world,

who was part of the world of elite sport in Australia in the 1990’s,

and who by the time she was 20 had experienced more physical and

mental suffering than most of us ever have.

This book was written during her painful journey of finding a new life

after the cruel, triumphant, gloriously crazy Olympic dream.

Frighteningly real, insightful and compassionate,

 Nadine reveals what it was like inside the Olympic swimming family in Australia.

Nadine’s story will make you angry and sad and affect you so deeply you will start to question things about your own life, your obsessions and the culture that carries them.

 A beautifully constructed book, showing all the skills Nadine learnt in her University English teaching degree.

 Cleverly she starts the story at the end of her Olympic dream, about to dive into the water at the 2000 Olympics Sydney Trials and then takes you back to where it all began for her at her local swimming pool in Ryde.

She tells her story through her own child’s voice and as the story progresses we see her change, but once she has decided that she will go to the Olympics there is no way she can be diverted, and her family become her ally in this dream. She is Herculean in the pursuit of her dream.

Nothing will stop her: not the punishing training regimes and internal politics of the day,

the undiagnosed Chronic Fatigue Syndrome triggered by glandular fever,

the broken neck and major depression,

the social isolation and fractured relationships

and the family hardships related to supporting her and her quest.

There is some wonderful writing in this book which make you realise what a multi-talented woman she has become. She uses short sentences, sometimes even single words like Euphoria, to great effect, showing the ability of a novelist to build tension, suspense and the desire to keep reading.

Even though sometimes you want to shake her and say, please stop, no more, she carries you on her journey, willing you to be on her side and to understand what it was like for her, and she succeeds.

There are many extracts which I have noted but this is one of my favourites.

To me the sound of water is the sound of heaven the tinkle of bubbles as the surface breaks and swirls around your ears, the rhythmic bass-drum of your breath, the roaring cymbals of your feet agitating the waves of your body curves, the melodious movement of an element that supports you, surrounds you, becomes part of you completely. And the symphony plays through a silence that makes you feel the song is yours alone….’

If you have ever marvelled at the Olympic swimming,

or swum yourself and felt the water element embracing you,

had an extraordinary dream in your ordinary life, overcome suffering with not too much grace,

felt like curling up and dying when it all gets too much,

you will find much in this book to illuminate your way.

It should be compulsory reading for all young would-be athletes and their families

 but it is much more than that– it speaks to all of us and

we should thank Nadine for her courage in telling it so well and using her natural writing talent to such great effect.

Photos of Ancient Olympia courtesy of T.Palimperis

Other Photos courtesy of Nadine Neumann

October 25, 2010

WHY I SWAPPED MY HELMET FOR A GORGEOUS HAT

Filed under: Modern Athenas — athenapallas @ 5:23 pm
Tags: , , , ,

When a stone tablet arrived with an invitation carved in it 

to watch a famous national race where the women wear beautiful hats,  

I decided that I would accept the invitation

and leave my helmet on  the peg for a while.

It is onerous always to be  ready for battle. 

 My helmet gets very heavy and there is not much call these days 

for helmeted warriors whose main skills are with the sword, spear and shield.

The last time I went to such an event was  in Olympia  Greece over 2500 years ago

and I was not actually invited even though my father Zeus was a major sponsor.

Goddesses, women and slaves were forbidden to watch the Hellenic men compete

in foot races, discus and spear throwing, and horse races. 

The pride of Greek and Spartan manhood competed in these events

 and as was the custom of the time they were naked so all could see their muscled splendour and manhood. 

I being the cagey goddess that I was usually changed myself into a man and attended but I knew if I was caught and I could not escape in time I would be thrown from a nearby cliff as was the custom. There was one exception however.  In  767 BC the mother of  one of the most famous sporting heroes  disguised herself as a man to watch her son ride and run to victory. If he had not won her life would not have been spared. 

But where to find a substitute for my trusty helmet so I could attend this 21st century race of races known as

THE MELBOURNE CUP?                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     

I consulted my friend and rival  Aphrodite who had beaten me in the most famous beauty contest of all time.

She  was still smarting at losing the contest to that bitch Helen of Troy so she  gave me a bum steer and sent to me to large store where ready-made hats hung sadly on hooks and no-one was there to advise me. I was not used to such treatment and even I could see such hats were not fit for a mortal let alone a goddess.

Where the Delphic Oracle Sits

I consulted the Delphic Oracle  and it told me that               

I would need to find a rare person called a milliner

who was trained in the ancient skills of hat making and

who would design a hat specially for me

-one that would draw all eyes my way.

I took this wise advice and headed for

 Philadelphia Philpot Hat studio to meet the famous Wendi.

Vibrant, red-haired and full of fun she soon had me relaxed and hopeful that she could design and make a hat fit for Athena the Warrior Goddess of Ancient Greece.

She showed me many examples of her art and materials and together we  decided on three possibilities.

When she had finished making the hats I returned to try them on.

I gasped when I saw the first one.

This was celestial indeed.

Not only mortals but 

the goddesses of Mt. Olympus would

be so envious and all eyes would be on me as I paraded

before the multitudes. 

Surely this was the one to wear.

But wait there were two more to go.

I could hardly believe my eyes. 

This hat was completely different.                                                                                                                                                

My face was not hidden behind a veil and the top hat

design was fit for a god as well as a goddess.

What to do?

How could I choose between them?

I was about to make a choice when Wendi reminded me there was one more.

Maybe it would be even more outstanding than these two.

                                                                                                                                                                      

This one was so exquisite it took my breath away and the colour was the colour of

the rarest flowers that grew on the islands of the Aegean.

I was so overcome with the beauty and originality of these hats that suited my fine features so well that I decided to take all three of them. I couldn’t wait to return to Mt Olympus with my spoils. Maybe just maybe I would invite  Aphrodite and Helen to accompany me to the race next week wearing one of these special hats.

That could end centuries of conflict as we sipped champagne, placed our bets and tried to spot the most  handsome gods among the other spectators. We wouldn’t worry about other hats. Ours  would be the talk of the town and the heavens.

Thank you Wendi Wonderful Goddess of Hats.

( images on this post are copyright 2009 TorunnMontazi)

September 28, 2010

Melting Aphrodite, Eros and Growing Old Disgracefully.

Filed under: Athena's musings,Modern Athenas — athenapallas @ 10:02 pm
Tags: , , ,

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 

Athena stared at  the  melting statue of Aphrodite in horror 

 Only half of her face remained intact an arched brow,

a high forehead and the end of a once handsome nose.

 Her mouth sank into oblivion as did her chin,

and rough tears scarred her cheeks.

The drape of her gown covered fallen breasts

which had once been proud and firm.

Her waist was no more and her hips slid down to her legs

hardly more than a fusion of whatever material the sculptor had used to fashion his creation,

a cruel mirror image of what happens to  even the most perfect female body. 

When this excerpt  was read to a group of older women writers it provoked a discussion

which revealed the full extent of the grief and anger women can  feel as they age.

 It is not simply the grief of vain frustrated women  but of  intelligent vibrant older women living in a society

that puts so much store by how women must look to be attractive and successful.  

As a result older women walk along the street like invisible ghosts.

If a male is coming towards you they do not make eye contact unless they are under six years of age and mostly they do not move over to their side of the pavement, so you do, lest there is a collision.

Older women flock to book clubs, singing groups and ballroom dancing where even an ordinary boring little man can be feted as a hero. In the choir if a male turns up, even if he has curly nose hairs the ladies clap him in.

In the book club the sole male can dominate the conversation while other more interesting contributors are ignored.

At the RSL  dance time older men, even those who need walkers to get into the building,  can take their pick from the many women of all ages who love to dance. Older women who are great dancers can find themselves as fading wall flowers,  a  uniquely harrowing experience for women who were great lookers in their youth.

So how can older women come in contact with good male energy, when the pool  of unattached men gets smaller and smaller as you age,  and  where can older women  find male companionship or even an occasional roll in the hay?

You can widen the pool by going younger but if you do you run the risk of being stigmatised as one of those awful coogars as well as catching all those nasty modern sexual bugs.

Your young lovers can be the men that younger women have rejected as not being suitable husband material

 not good-looking,intelligent,successful, sensitive,erotic etc etc enough .

If you are into educational makeovers then you could take on one of these younger men

and have some fun but beware you can never be seen in public

and eventually he will go to younger and  more fertile pastures.

You could steal another woman’s husband, partner or lover,

after all many men love to play the field and are turned on

by what they think will be a

desperate erotically charged older woman.

Keeping up this mirage can be exhausting and there will be some nights

when it is all too  much and all you want is to don your flannies and  sink alone into your large snuggly comfortable bed complete with chocolate, fluffy dog or soft toys, I-phone music, and books books books!!

And if by chance you mange to meet a  randy widower at his wife’s funeral who comes on to you(don’t laugh it’s happened) beware you may find out  you need to make up for all the deficiencies of the first model as well emulate her great virtues. And if you survive this late life coupling you may find yourself caring for an older man who does not age as gracefully as you and whose grown up children are absolutely delighted they don’t have to worry about poor grumpy old dad anymore as long as you sign an agreement not to take their inheritance.

So for attractive, intelligent, agile, warm-blooded  older women

what is the answer to the disappearance of male energy from your life?

Withdraw thankfully from the futile chase and accept and celebrate who and where you are.

Surely not you say!                         YES I DO!                                                                                                 

Fill your life with family, friends, travel, some form of exercise 

such as yoga, pilates, tai chi  (avoid lawn bowls at all costs)

but climbing this mountain in Meteora Greece may be too ambitious;

creative and/or educational pursuits like writing, painting,

learning a language, ecstatic dancing, 

or sculpturing your own version of Aphrodite;

good works and/or political action, like feeding the homeless, greening your neighbourhood, becoming a mentor to troubled young women, signing petitions, attending council meetings;

and  last but not least some form of spirituality that honours you and your life path.

THEN watch yourself blossom even as you face the inevitable crises that life/death will throw your way

(don’t take to reading the Obituary columns).

And as you love yourself more and value the sisterhood of women some positive male energy will be attracted to you. It may be in new and better relationships with a brother, cousin, son, son-in-law, grandson,neighbour, blogger, fellow walker or it may be with a stranger with whom you stop to talk (preferably not the local bikie gang chief)  or the person you meet in your charitable activities, (but remember charity does not mean taking him home).

And all of this will enrich your life so that eventually you will wonder

Meteora

how so much of your time in the past was given over to

the imaginary other who is no more.

And DON’T PANIC if you still can’t give up the fantasy

 of the perfect  male lover/companion

you won’t find him in the monastry at Meteora but

you just may find him hiding under a toadstool in the bottom of your garden!

After writing this post I was walking my dog singing all the gospel songs I sing with the Acapella Group, Jonah and the Wailers. Suddenly a man  stopped  as I was passing, his face transformed by the most beautiful smile as he looked at me. Nothing was said. But it was a moment when his maleness met  my femaleness and it felt so good to be alive and well in this great city of ours.

My dear twin brother would say ‘that silly man smiled at you because he thought you were stark raving bonkers’.

And maybe he’s right.

September 5, 2010

BLACK ATHENAS IN THE DESERT AMPHITHEATRE

Amphitheatre At Delphi

 

I was not sitting in  the carved seats of the Amphitheatre of Delphi 

 I sat in mortal form wearing boots, pants, and my trusty Akubra helmet 

with my goat’s skin backpack on the seat beside me.                     

I looked down at the depths of   a valley which was carpeted 

with spiky green  spinifex

I wondered how I came to be so far from my ancestral home 

in this vast southern continent.  

Long before the Bronze age of Homer this land was inhabited by 

some of the first peoples of the earth  

The splintered steps and paths of the   Amphitheatre  were not carved by the artisan slaves of Delphi but 

 by the elements and violent actions of the earth                

Desert Amphitheatre Ormiston Gorge

 

millions of years before my father Zeus was conceived. 

As I sat here I watched  a ghostly platform 

rising in front of me. 

Instead of Pan pipes playing in the background 

I could hear the sound of rushing water at the bottom of the Ormiston Gorge. 

And then out of the mists of antiquity figures of the Gods and Heroes appeared before me. 

Odysseus, Hermes, Apollo, Persephone, Aphrodite, Achilles, Poseidon, Calypso, Pericles, Eros, Heracles and more. Then I saw Athena the Warrior Goddess with helmet, robe, aegis and spear. 

I looked behind me and on the top of the gorge I could see a group of black women gathering. They were singing in language more like a wailing, a kind of continuous cooing with edges of joy shining through the power of their song. 

They were doing what they had always done like their mothers and grandmothers before them through the long sorry story of the last 200 years. I, Athena, so far from my Temple in Delphi stood to salute these Black Athenas

The sky opened above and  I saw not my father Zeus but Gaia,  the Earth Mother who possessed the secrets of the Fates and whose Oracles and Secret Places were older and more powerful than those of Apollo and other male deities….. 

This was why I was here in this extraordinary place to meet the powerful descendants of these women, traditional owners and custodians of the land  like Mavis pictured here with her beautiful baby Tyrene. 

August 27, 2010

ATHENA RETREATS TO SANTORINI

Filed under: Athena's musings — athenapallas @ 9:15 am
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Athena is weary. She has been scheming and working on Odysseus’ behalf

to help him on his epic journey back home to Ithaca. 

She fought beside him in the Trojan wars,

she sent a dream to Nausicaa to give her the idea of doing  her washing

at the river on the day Odysseus landed at Phaeacia;

she gave him supernatural good looks to ensure Nausicaa would obtain a boat for him to return home;

she begged her father Zeus to help him,

‘Olympian Zeus have you no care for him in you lofty heart?’

She caused Calypso to release him after seven years of imprisonment on her island of erotic delights and persuaded her  to give him the means to put to sea again.

She wants to get far away from the Homeric haunts of the Ionian Islands   

 so she has come at last to Santorini

formed by a cataclysmic volcanic explosion

long before Homer told his tales to passers by.

No one knows her here and there is no trace left

of her stay beyond  a little known path along the cliffs

where if you are observant you can see her foot prints.

Like the thousands who have come to this spectacular island

she watch its sunsets in awe.

She finds a cave long since abandoned by its inhabitants

and here she sleeps dreaming of the time when she might welcome Odysseus home.

Then as she feels the ground beneath her  heave in yet another attempt to stop her,

 by her angry Uncle Poseidon who hates Odysseus,

she  knows she has to leave to continue her own Odyssey.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         

Before she goes she takes one more look at the sunset     

 that will  become the hallmark of this island

 in the centuries that follow drawing thousands

of modern travellers to the shores of this

magic place.

July 31, 2010

DESERT WRITERS AND FOUR NOBLE TRUTHS OF WRITING

Filed under: Modern Athenas,Novel in Progress — athenapallas @ 8:38 pm
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 In the West Macdonnell Ranges of Central Australia our writing guru Jan Cornall taught us these 4 noble truths:

  1. WRITERS WRITE
  2. WRITING IS A PROCESS
  3. YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT YOUR WRITING WILL BE UNTIL THE END OF THE PROCESS
  4. IF WRITING IS YOUR PRACTICE THE ONLY WAY TO FAIL IS NOT TO WRITE.*

At the finale to this wonderful week of learning, writing,                      

Desert Writers Walking

exploring country, listening to the stories of traditional owners  

and visiting  secret women’s  places,  

we presented our work at  the Desert Writers’  Festival of Hermannsburg .   

While it was good to realise that as writers we cannot fail and that the process is the truth,  

the power of our group experience combined with the talent of  eight extraordinary women to produce some wonderful examples of writing in a variety of genres including film script, biography, poetry, haiku, memoir, short story and novel. 

Athena was  asked to present a short precis of her latest                  

Desert Writers Listening

work in progress, Digging Up the Dead   as  well as to read 

 a scene she wrote under the  mesmerizing influence 

of her desert writing experience. 

But  be warned, as noble truth no 3 asserts, 

this may bear no resemblance to the finished work! 

Digging Up the Dead

Athena Pallas, nicknamed Pal,  is a very unusual Diviner  who is summoned  in 1992 to Yungaburra, a small mining town  in Queensland, by David the mine geologist. After the death of Gary, the blast engineer  in the open cut coal mine, and with the coal running out on top, the mine bosses decide to go underground to extract the rest of the coal left in 1972 when a gigantic underground explosion sealed the mine entombing 12 miners. Alice,  Gary’s girlfriend and the  daughter of George  one of the entombed miners joins Naomi, an Aboriginal elder concerned by  the mine’s desecration of sacred burial places, to help Athena  find out where and how the miners died and to stop the re-opening of the mine.  David, Alice and Naomi have a secret ally who is funding Athena’s assignment and gradually other townspeople like Stan the wily newspaper editor and  Edgar the enigmatic Mining  Warden are drawn into the events that follow. 

Mysterious signs and happenings lead Athena  to think she may be the mortal manifestation of Pallas Athena, 

Desert Writers Climbing

the Warrior Goddess of Ancient Greece, or

that  someone or something is trying to drive her crazy. 

In any event she will need all of the powers of this goddess

as well as those of ancestral Aboriginal spirits 

 to complete her mission and defeat the mine…….. 

As  the plot thickens Athena has a vision of herself at the Gateway to the Underworld where she engages in mortal combat to save George and learn from him what really happened underground in 1972. 

……An enormous roar came from the depths of the tunnel like the explosion George had described but I knew that this was no mine explosion because although loud it did not bucket us with a fiery gaseous wind.  

However I knew we were in trouble when Cerberus the guardian dog  of the Underworld sprung into our presence and sat defiantly on his haunches in front of  us. 

Up close he was a terrifying sight. With three huge heads all with vicious white teeth he reminded me of  the jagged jaws of the continuous mining machines that tore out and swallowed the coal before spitting it into the shuttle cars.  

Here the similarity ended for I could see  the end of his serpent’s tail between his legs and there were innumerable snakes attached to his body.            

Nicholas Guarding Desert Writers

The snakes and his tail were deadly 

if you were foolish enough to  touch them. 

I threw my aegis shield over George to try 

and protect him from the pernicious poison I knew the Dog had in store for us if I defied him and tried to enter the Underworld. 

Cerberus seemed to be able to read my thoughts for suddenly there was a swishing sound and movement of the air in front of me. One of the Dog’s heads moved towards the sound and then the head flung itself towards us. 

I grabbed my shield to stop it before I realised it was detached from its mighty body as if it had been decapitated by an invisible sword. The hideous head fell useless at my feet, but I knew that even a two-headed Cerberus was a formidable opponent. 

Before I could think of a plan, his whip like serpent’s tail flashed out from between his legs and caught me on the side of my head. Without my helmet I would have been showered with the most toxic substance known to the gods-capable of immobilizing whole armies let alone  one woman, albeit the Warrior Goddess and daughter of Zeus. 

Recovering from this close encounter with Cerberus’  tail I lost sight of his heads for a moment and he leapt towards me with all his remaining teeth bared. I cried out: 

‘Zeus, don’t leave me, I have much to do in mortal realms. I must return above.”  

As I yelled these word another decapitated head hurtled towards me………. to be continued maybe …..

The audience clapped enthusiastically when she finished reading this scene but now the writer is left with the task of working out what on earth this means both  for Athena and the story! 

She will keep you posted maybe…… if she survives… 

*From One Continuous Mistake, The Four Noble Truths of Writing by Gail Sher

June 4, 2010

WHY I NEVER DESTROY A SPIDER’S WEB

Filed under: Athena's musings — athenapallas @ 3:03 pm
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There are not many episodes in my history that I truly regret, even the skinning of the giant Pallas to make my aegis, or the killing of the Trojans when I fought beside Achilles and Odysseus.

None of these acts of naked aggression, regrettable though they were, sit as heavily on my heart as my treatment of Arachne.

Some mischief-making nymphs came to tell me about a wonderful weaver, a peasant girl in Lydia who was considered my rival since I was also the Goddess of weaving and spinning.

I disguised myself as an old woman and went to investigate their claims. I was amazed by the vastness and intricacy of her weaves and I realised I was in the presence of a true artist.  I hung around admiring her work and listening to the praise that was heaped upon her.

You are the best weaver of all time, you have excelled you teacher Athena, were some of the exaggerated tags which she accepted so willingly. I wanted to immediately transform and thrust my spear into her heart. But I did not, after all I was a discerning and usually compassionate goddess in peacetime.

Instead I counselled her to behave with more modesty.

‘Old woman,’ she replied, ‘ how can I help it if my talent is so recognised, I have worked long and hard at my art.’

‘But surely there is no weaver who does not owe their talent to Athena ? I replied.

‘Not I, dear crone, I alone have achieved this great feat.’

With that I threw off my disguise and the contest began. She created a masterful tapestry depicting the more salacious love affairs of the Gods. I answered this with one that showed all the Olympian Gods defeating  the mortals who dared to defy them.

 She looked at me with those innocent blue eyes as if she had no idea of the extent of my wrath.  Soon she was to find out. I hit her with the shuttle of my loom and then I destroyed all of her vast gallery of unique tapestries.

Later I heard on the nymph line that Arachne had hanged herself, distraught that she would never weave such tapestries again. I was so smitten with remorse that I resurrected her as a spider so she could forever weave the most beautiful webs in the world. Some would say this was part of my revenge, and it is that judgment which haunts me to this day.

Now when I walk down the front path to my gate, I always make sure I do not disturb the spider webs, and I caution visitors to do the same.

For these webs are the examples of the most skilful weaves in the whole of nature and the are also a reminder of the never-ending consequences of pride and envy.

April 12, 2010

Warrior Goddess ready to do battle

Last night after watching 4Corners on the ABC I went over to the Bronte Surf club to retrieve my helmet, spear, and shield (aegis) because I’m going to to need them. I’m going to have leave my musings behind for a while and get dirty. Dirt is what the ABC  program was all about. Dirt from the 14 Open cut coal mines in the Upper Hunter Valley that make the lives of its 40,000 inhabitents like living in  Hades.

A truck driver encounters an orange cloud of toxic  gas and is so overcome with its poison he nearly  loses control of his truck;  families have all their children suffering from coughs,  asthma, bronchitis, hideous skin allergies which all disappear within days of holidaying on the coast.

In one small town 100 of the 150 people who have lived through this enormous expansion of King Coal in the area, have left to protect their families’ health. For some interviewed it’s already too late as they have inoperable cancers which they attribute to living so close to the  toxic dust and gases from the area’s mines and two power stations, and there is mounting research, overseas and here ,to support this claim.  

some stats:

14 mines in the Upper Hunter pump out 99 million tonnes of coal a year for the furnaces of Japan, India and China.

100 kilometres to the south the port of Newcastle has become the biggest black coal exporter in the world and the mines are going to get bigger in the next 6 years maybe doubling their output. 

At any one time 20 to 30 coal ships are lined up all the way to the central coast waiting to swallow their loads of black gold.

For the 40,000 people who live in the Upper Hunter, some of whom have been there for 5  or 6 generations,

there is no escape.

Latest yearly stats show a total of 108 tonnes of toxic metals including arsenic, cadmium, chromium, cobalt and lead soaking the air of the upper Hunter along with 122,000 tonnes of sulphur dioxide.

If Mt Olympus was an active volcano and if  my father Zeus got really angry and ignited it,  it could not produce a cloud of poison as bad as this.

You may ask why this makes me so angry. I’m the narrator in a  factional fantastical story Digging Up the Dead  being written  about  the effects of coal mining on a  town and its people in Queensland in 1972 and 1992.

The local mine is  small compared the ones of the Hunter and the Bowen Basin in 2010. But even back then people who lived near or worked in the mines were dying from underground explosions, fire, blasting accidents, toxic dust and gas.  In my story, when the coal company decided to go underground again and mine the area in which 12 men were entombed in 1972, the town calls on me in my mortal manifestation as an unusual sort  of diviner to help… more  about this later

I was  so moved by what  the local GP  in Singleton is doing

 to try to get the government to even acknowledge there could be a problem

that I wondered if I should be going there to help him.

This man, who has been living and working there for years, is one helluva god.

After no response to a well written and researched submission from the town

for some sort of study into what might be happening,

with the help of volunteers he started a study of his own, 

 testing the lung capacity of 900  local children  to see if they had asthma related problems.

 One in six had significantly lowered lung function compared to the national average of one in nine. 

 He would like to test the lung capacities of a  matched group  on the coast

or in some other rural community away from mines. 

But this surely is  a job for the government.

I’m going to let him have the last word on this post.

Dr Tuan An said ,’ I’ve been here for 14 years, I have a good family and wonderful community and friends.

I can’t just pack up and leave. I hope every body working together, we can change the community.

 I think the community’s not against the mining company or power station, they just want change.

The would like the goverment to listen to their…what they request

and because it’s their life and their family

and if we do not do anything else, the one we lose is our family…..’

Sorry, he can’t have the last word.

 Unlike him I’m angry and

when Athena the Warrior Goddess is angry the whole universe shakes

I don’t want to have to use the full strength of my powers, not yet anyway,

but I’m aiming my spear of Pallas and woe betide if it’s aimed at you: 

 irresponsible mining moguls, greedy consumers,

dumb governments, and dumber media

who think all we want to know about is Britney’s latest disaster.

What about a disaster that’s happening to  40,000 people

who live in what was once the most beautiful valley in the world.

and one more stat:

the  NSW government earns 1.5 billion from coal royalties

and earnings from power stations and coal transport,

that’s a lot of reasons to ignore the people of the Upper Hunter.

Much of what I’ve written is based on the transcript of the  excellent 4corners program of last night.

Any errors of stats, facts etc are my own as are the opinions expressed.

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