Mythic Wisdom: A Greek Author’s Perspective

Connecting the past with the present has always been a powerful experience for me, maybe because I live in a land rich in history. In this blog I am going to explore a variety of topics, which I find deeply meaningful: women’s roles, gender and sexuality issues, activism, goddesses and gods, etc. By examining myths, symbols, and archetypal figures, I feel that we gain a fresh perspective on our lives and society. Ancient history, art, and literature can become amazing sources of inspiration. By learning from the wisdom of the past, we can transform ourselves and the world we live in.

  • Home
    Home This is where you can find all the blog posts throughout the site.
  • Tags
    Tags Displays a list of tags that have been used in the blog.
  • Bloggers
    Bloggers Search for your favorite blogger from this site.
  • Login
    Login Login form

My Quick Visit to an Amazing Underworld

"As I look at some of the rock formations around us, it’s hard to miss their similarities to breasts, labia, and phalli. It feels like we’re truly inside the womb of Gaia, a hidden place preserving its secrets for eons." Read about Harita Meenee's journey to the Diros Cave.


 

The blinding sunshine and the calm sea temporarily dispel the images of death from my mind. The Neolithic skulls, the female skeleton, and the burned remains of children can rest in peace in the small local museum, close to the shining Goddess figurines. (See my previous blog post, “Lessons from the Dead.”) It’s time now to visit the famous place where these objects came from: the Diros Caves in Mani, in southern Peloponnese.

One of them, aptly called Alepotripa (Foxhole) was inhabited by humans for more than 2000 years, from about 5400-3200 BCE. Close to is Vlyhada, a natural wonder at least 14 km long. It’s considered one of the most impressive caves in the world. An underground river runs through it merging with sea water. It’s a mazelike place with amazing rock formations that took shape over millions of years. I was a child when I last visited this site but still remember the awe I felt back then.

Nature has created a true work of art, but the place’s stunning beauty is not its only asset. Humans lived peacefully there once upon a time: the caves served as their homes, workshops, and storehouses, as well as burial sites and a places of worship. Fossilized bones of animals like panthers and hippos, which became extinct in Greece thousands of years ago, have also been discovered. Now the Vlyhada cave is inhabited by bats and, as the guide tells us, eels live in the black cold waters.

My friend and I, along with a small group of tourists, are about to embark on an eerie journey traveling by boat on the underground river. We’re surrounded by clusters of stalactites and stalagmites (from the Greek words stalaktos, “dripping,” and stalagma, “a drop”). They have all possible sizes and shapes. Our skin, parched by the hot sun outside, welcomes the humid coolness and the small drops falling on us from the ceiling. Our eyes are dazzled by the otherworldly landscape, which seems almost unreal.

b2ap3_thumbnail_Vlyhada-Cave.jpg

But this journey is not without perils. As the ferryman rushes the boat through dark and frighteningly narrow corridors, the risk of injury is quite real. Time and again we have to duck to keep our heads from being smashed against rocky protrusions. We must keep our hands inside the boat at all times and wear life jackets. I gasp as the boat rocks or bumps hard against the cave walls. The splashing of the water and the ferryman’s voice shatter the silence.

I wish he would slow down and let us enjoy this voyage through space and time. No such luck! He’s rushing like crazy, pushing against the cave walls with his paddle, trying to finish this trip as soon as possible. He reminds me of his mythical counterpart in ancient times: Kharon (or Charon) took the souls of the dead in his boat to transport them through the dark waters of Akheron, an Underworld river. His name has somewhat changed through the centuries; in modern Greek kharos or kharontas has become a synonym for death.

Could the Underworld be anything like this awe-inspiring place? It was usually described as murky but certainly had its own appeal. Traveling to the realm of the dead is a motif common in many traditions around the world. A number of mythical heroes undertook that journey. One of the best known examples is Odysseus. Kirke (Circe) the witch advised him to journey there in order to get guidance from the blind seer Tiresias. The spirits of the dead could possess knowledge and wisdom.

I smile as I think that my friend, sitting next to me, is called Telemakhos—the name of Odysseus’ son. An appropriate companion for this voyage to the innards of the Earth! In ancient times, people believed that caves and clefts could serve as entrances to the Underworld. The Diros Caves were no exception, according to archaeologists.

Yet in later times, caves were associated with fertility deities: the Nymphs and Pan. Goddesses of childbirth, like Artemis and Eileithyia, were also worshiped in certain caves. As I look at some of the rock formations around us, it’s hard to miss their similarities to breasts, labia, and phalli. It feels like we’re truly inside the womb of Gaia, a hidden place preserving its secrets for eons.

It would take hours and hours to fully explore this labyrinth, but our trip is over before we know it. The boat reaches the shore at the other side. The ferryman helps us disembark and departs. He has safely transported our enchanted souls, but our journey is not over yet. We have to walk for the last few hundred meters in order to reach the outside world. The other tourists move on. Now it’s just me and my friend alone in the silence, two travelers in the mists of time. I walk very slowly, drinking in the essence of this mysterious site. Watching the play between light and shadow on the strange rock formations, the clusters of stalactites, they seem like liquid frozen in stone. 

As we come close to the exit, the scorching sunrays and deep blue seawaters are there to greet us. A thought strikes me: what an amazing gift to emerge reborn from the womb of the Earth Goddess! A sense of power and joy washes over me. Suddenly the hardships of life seem minor, almost irrelevant. I smile. Once you’ve been through the Underworld, you can no longer be the same. We feel blessed by the energy of this sacred journey and the magic lingers on…

 

Further reading:

Homer, The Odyssey, Book 11, The Internet Classics Archive, trans. Samuel Butler, http://classics.mit.edu/Homer/odyssey.11.xi.html

“Kharon,” Theoi Project, http://www.theoi.com/Khthonios/Kharon.html

Mavridis, Fanis, Jesper Tae Jensen and Lina Kormazopoulou, “Introduction,” Stable Places and Changing Perceptions: Cave Archaeology in Greece, BAR International Series 2558, Oxford: Archaeopress, 2013, http://www.aegeussociety.org/images/uploads/pdf/Mavridis-et-al-2013-introduction.pdf

 

Last modified on

Harita Meenee is a Greek independent scholar of classical studies and women’s history. Her graduate studies were in the field of archetypal and women’s psychology. She works as a writer, translator and editor while also being a human rights activist. Harita has presented cultural TV programs and has lectured at universities in Greece and the US. She is the author of five books, as well as of numerous articles and essays published in Hellenic and international anthologies and magazines.

Comments

Additional information