Monthly Archives: July 2017

Letters from Crete (vii) : The Real Phaecia



So, I am back at Star Beach a few hours before my flight – where I shall attempt one final essay before returning to Britain as, I hope, a Pendragon. Yesterday we drove around the coast of Mirrabello to Mochlos, a startlingly mellow village-cluster reminscent of an Indian getaway. In fact, a few dope-smoking travellers were chilling out there – idling the time perhaps until they could return to the East. My attempts at getting a boat to Pseira were of no use, however, & we were redirected to Tholos, a lovely, sandy local beach for locals – set amidst an immense olive grove which carpeted the valley between mountains. Leaving the girls to frolic in the waves, I availed myself of a local sailor to take me to Pseira – an island 2 miles off the coast. I would have an hour or so to potter about the Minoan town which I have strong reasons to believe was Scheria, the capital city of the Phaecians, among whom Odysseus spent a little time on his was back to Ithica.

The Phaecians were said to have originally come from the city of Hyperia, near Kalaureia, on the Greek mainland at the plain of Troezen, before finding new home somewhere on the edge of the known – or rather known Grecian world, ‘far from men that live by toil.’ Interestingly, the name Kalaureia, is also given to ‘a small island near Crete’ by Pausanius. The new Phaecian realm is well described in the Odyssey & most people associate it with the island of Corfu, on account of a rock in the harbour. However, that the Phaecians called Odysseus ‘a stranger’, the king of Kephalonia just down the coast from Corfu, does seem unlikely, especially when Odysseus says “…if I outlive this time of sorrow, I may be counted as your friend, though I live so far away from all of you.” The answer lies elsewhere, & so we must cast our net wider to catch the Phaecian fish. Several clues in particular have pointed me to this Gulf of Mirrabello, the ‘Lovely Bay’ of the Venetians.

1 – The Phaecians are said to have transported Rhadamanthys – a Cretan Prince – to see Tytus on Euboea.

2 – The name Scheria, the chief Phaecian city, seems present in the name ‘Pseiria’.

3 – On Psiera there is a Minoan town with two harbours divided by a main street which is a perfect match for the description of Scheria as given in the Odyssey.

4 – Pseira lies in a gulf, the Gulf of Mirrabello, a key word used in the Odyssey… ‘for seventeen days I sailed over the sea, and on the eighteenth appeared the shadowy mountains of your land; and my heart was glad, ill-starred that I was; for verily I was yet to have fellowship with great woe, which Poseidon, the earth-shaker, sent upon me. For he stirred up the winds against me and stayed my course, and wondrously roused the sea, nor would the wave suffer me to be borne upon my raft, as I groaned ceaselessly. My raft indeed the storm shattered, but by swimming I clove my way through yon gulf of the sea, until the wind and the waves, as they bore me, brought me to your shores.’

5 – Pseira lies across the Aegean Sea from Athens, which connects with the Odyssey’s ‘flashing-eyed Athena departed over the unresting sea, and left lovely Scheria. She came to Marathon and broad-wayed Athens.

The descriptions of the Phaecians heavily invoke the Minoans of Crete, with both races being praised for their high seamanship. At Pseria in 1991, archeologists found a Minoan serpentinite seal stone, which shows a ship with a beak-shaped prow, high stern, and single mast connected to the vessel by ropes – & significantly, no oars. This connects to the concept of the Phaecian ships being ‘steered by thought’ – ie by sailing, the intellectual use of the wind. Indeed, the greatest Minoan shipwreck – dated to between 1800 & 1675 -was found just of Pseira by Greek archaeologist Elpida Hadjidaki in 2003. There is also the story-telling of a poet at Phaecia, which involved the use of nine singer/dancers which mirror the Cretan ‘Curetes.’ At Pseira, there is a great deal evidence of such ritualistic entertainment ceremonies, where at the so-called ‘House of Rhyta’ – named after a drinking vessel known as the rhyton – many cups & goblets were found.  Chemical traces in one rhyton hint of barley, beer, and wine. In the House of the Rhyta there was also a very large, almost communal, kitchen space, suggesting the building was used for feasting purposes.

Archeologists also tell us that Psiera was a Minoan settlement (high point c.1600 BC) that was destroyed in the Mycynean ‘conquest’ of 1450. After this date, Linear B turns up on the island, while we can also see the Mycynean Greeks beginning to incorporate Minoan gods into their pantheon. As recorded in their Linear A script on tablets found across Crete & beyond, the Minoans worshipped many dieties who would later be picked up by the Greeks;

 Atana Potinija =Athena;

Ereutija = Eileithyia,

Posedaone or Poseidon;

Pajawone = Paian was a classical epithet for Apollo;

Are = Ares

Enuwarijo = Enyalios was a classical epithet for Ares.


This means that the Pheacian elements of the Odyssey must be older than 1450 BC, which assimilates into my earlier essay in the Menalean layer of the Homeric material dating to the 16th century BC.

The barren, rocky island of Pseira rises from the sea, two miles from the coast by the Kavousian plain, & sailing there was a joy, over a perfect sea & under gigantic slopes of the mainland peaks. En route I was delighted to discover my ships pilot knew what I was on about when I began babbling about Odysseus & Alcinus & Phaecia. ‘”Scheria?” he said, with an understanding eye. ‘Yes, yes,’ I replied, sweeping my hands in a broad circle about me, ‘it was here?’ Arriving at the island, my boat would wait for me for an hour as I explored the ruined town, a section of the Minoan world was excavated in the early 20th century. It was beautifully peaceful & with my notes in hand I began to make my correlations, being;


Inhospitable coast

There were neither harbors where ships might ride, nor road-steads, but projecting headlands, and reefs, and cliffs… without are sharp crags, and around them the wave roars foaming, and the rock runs up sheer, and the water is deep close in shore, so that in no wise is it possible to plant both feet firmly and escape ruin.

One side of the island of Pseira is indeed a sheer surface of unclimbable, unlandable cliffs.


There is a river below a wood

 As he swam, he came to the mouth of a fair-flowing river, where seemed to him the best place, since it was smooth of stones, and besides there was shelter from the wind… If I climb up the slope to the shady wood and lie down to rest in the thick brushwood, in the hope that the cold and weariness might leave me.

 Pseira is an arid place these days. But small rivers & springs once flowed here, & if one were to round the island to the south from its sheer side 3,500 years ago, one would have come to a river mouth under a steep climb as described by the Odyssey.


A Walled City

About the city he had drawn a wall, he had built houses and made temples for the gods, and divided the ploughlands…. when we are about to enter the city, around which runs a lofty wall

Remnants of the wall can still be found at the top of the ‘city,’ which was a quite substantial settlement of 60 houses.


 Two Harbours

A fair harbor lies on either side of the city and the entrance is narrow, and curved ships are drawn up along the road, for they all have stations for their ships, each man one for himself.

A very impressive tall, steep flight of steps, known as the Grand Staircase, leads up from the beach to the town. On either side of the Peninsular was a Minoan harbour.


Place of Assembly

Their place of assembly about the fair temple of Poseidon, fitted with huge stones set deep in the earth. Here the men are busied with the tackle of their black ships, with cables and sails, and here they shape the thin oar-blades. For the Phaeacians care not for bow or quiver, but for masts and oars of ships, and for the shapely ships, rejoicing in which they cross over the grey sea… Alcinous led the way to the place of assembly of the Phaeacians, which was builded for them hard by their ships. Thither they came and sat down on the polished stones close by one another

To the north of the Grand Staircase resembles the village square, or plateia, common in modern Cretan villages.


Palace of Alcinous

The houses of the Phaeacians are no wise built of such sort as is the palace of the lord Alcinous. But when the house and the court enclose thee, pass quickly through the great hall, till thou comest to my mother, who sits at the hearth in the light of the fire, spinning the purple yarn, a wonder to behold, leaning against a pillar, and her handmaids sit behind her. There, too, leaning against the selfsame pillar, is set the throne of my father, whereon he sits and quaffs his wine, like unto an immortal.   Of bronze were the walls that stretched this way and that from the threshold to the innermost chamber, and around was a cornice of cyanus… golden were the doors that shut in the well-built house, and doorposts of silver were set in a threshold of bronze. Of silver was the lintel above, and of gold the handle. On either side of the door there stood gold and silver dogs… Filled were the porticoes and courts and rooms with the men that gathered… within, seats were fixed along the wall on either hand, from the threshold to the innermost chamber, and on them were thrown robes of soft fabric, cunningly woven, the handiwork of women. On these the leaders of the Phaeacians were wont to sit drinking and eating, for they had unfailing store. And golden youths stood on well-built pedestals, holding lighted torches in their hands to give light by night to the banqueters in the hall.

This could well have been the ‘House of the Pillar Partitions’ dound found on the West side of the peninsula, to the north of the town square. Fragments of loom weights were found at the house, connecting with the weaving maidens. Indeed, as the Odyssey describes Phaecian women sitting & weaving, so at Pseira was found a relief showing just the same thing.


Then, with a toot of his horn, my hour was up & it was time to sail back to Tholos. As I did so, I could make out the small offshore island which looked the stony hull of an upturned boat. During my investigations, & googleearth trawls, I had searched in vain for such a topgraphical feature, which had been connected to the Phaecians in the Odyssey;

 Then Zeus, the cloud-gatherer, answered him and said: “Lazy one, hear what seems best in my sight. When all the people are looking forth from the city upon her as she speeds on her way, then do thou turn her to stone hard by the land—a stone in the shape of a swift ship, that all men may marvel; and do thou fling a great mountain about their city.”

Now when Poseidon, the earth-shaker, heard this he went his way to Scheria, where the Phaeacians dwell, and there he waited. And she drew close to shore, the seafaring ship, speeding swiftly on her way. Then near her came the Earth-shaker and turned her to stone, and rooted her fast beneath by a blow of the flat of his hand, and then he was gone

So would one of them speak, but they knew not how these things were to be. Then Alcinous addressed their company and said: “Lo now, verily the oracles of my father, uttered long ago, have come upon me. He was wont to say that Poseidon was wroth with us because we give safe convoy to all men. He said that some day, as a beautiful ship of the Phaeacians was returning from a convoy over the misty deep, Poseidon would smite her, and would fling a great mountain about our town. So that old man spoke, and lo, now all this is being brought to pass. But now come, as I bid let us all obey. Cease ye to give convoy to mortals, when anyone comes to our city, and let us sacrifice to Poseidon twelve choice bulls, if haply he may take pity, and not fling a lofty mountain about our town.”

This is where the poem leaves off, & we may assume their protestations to Zeus worked. The problem is, however, that the island is just off shore at the Minoan town of Gournia. The Minoan Pompei, it is in a state of great preservation, the foundations of all the houses still intact in stone, only the mud-brick upper storeys fading in the dust the millenia. Its many similarities with Pseira, however, suggest they were part of the same realm, which would also have included including Kavousi, Tholos, Vronda, Kastro, Azoria, Mochlos & Chrysokamino. These, then, would have been among the Phaecian princes as described by Alcinous;

Our folk have for their chiefs & rulers twelve eminent princes, or thirteen if you count myself

 In conclusion, there are too many pieces available when reconstructing a Pseiran Phaecia, & thus by the accumulation of coincidences we may at least begin to place this part of the Odyssey in its proper contextus. It is upon this hyperchisp – ie hyperthetical chisp – that further investigations may be made into the creation of the Odyssey. There are Cretan elements in the epic which pop up as almost outsiders, chaffing against the grain of the Athenian recension, but in fact may be the deepest levels of the Odyssean tale, one which took place before 1450 BC.

One also gains an inkling that if the Phaecians truly were the Minoans, then they would have spoken the language as inscribed in Linear A tablets. This language could then be traced back to their original homelands in the Troezen – at Calaureia – which were established by a Lydian called Pelops – son of Tantalus, the king at Mount Sipylus in Anatolia –  after whom the Pelopponese would be named. Now, Lydia is essentially western Turkey, where Mount Ida towers over the Trojan Plain – & of course there is a Mount Ida in Crete. Therefore, it makes sense that ancient Minoan was Lydian. Indeed, 17 letters of the classical Lydian alphabet have indentical or near identical correspondents among the Linear A glyphs.


There are also a number of phonetical similarities between Lydian & Linear A, as in


LYDIAN ———————————  LINEAR A


Atr / Atros (dead)                                    A-Du / A-Du-Re-Za

Kopai (abundant)                                          Ka-Pa

Kue (collect)                                            Ku-pa / Ku-ra / Ku-ro (appears to mean ‘total’)

Ovie (sheep)                                               Ovis

What is also interesting is that if we assimilate Lydian into the Egyptian name for Crete, Kaftiu, alongside the Biblical ‘Kapthor,’ we gain a possible translation of Kaf (Cavity, from Proto-Indo-European ḱówHwos) Tiuae (divine), as in the divine cave(s) of Zeus on Crete. In addition, that the Phaecians said themselves to have fled their homelands after the Cyclops’ went on a rampage, we may gain a Lydian transliteration of the word as FUE (flee) – KIN (clan) – ie. the clan which fled to safety.


We may now presume that classical Lydian evolved from the Bronze Age Minoan as contained in the Linear A inscriptions. This opens up a whole of potential answers to academic conundrums. Why does Linear A contain elements of the Anatolian languages such as Lycian & Carian, yet have no connections to Minoan Crete?Well, through the Phaecians they do. Why is Linear A found in certain places on the Peloponnese? Because it was introduced there by Pelops. Why is the Lydian word for the votive double-axe, ‘Labrys’ the phonetical base-root of the Cretan labyrinth, & why is the labrys itself found all over Minoan art? Because it was introduced there by the Lydians.  Why did the genius Michael Ventris, the cracker of Linear B, instinctively feel that Linear A was connected to the Etruscan language? Because according to Herodotus stated, the Etruscans came from Lydia, supported by recent DNA analysis & the Etruscan-like language was found on the Lemnos stele. Why does King Manes, son of Zeus, the first monarch of Lydia, sound so much like ‘Minos,’ son of Zeus, the great king of Crete? Because their name means king in Lydian… and so on. The idea of the Phaecians introducing a language & new aspects of culture into Crete, creating what we know as the Minoans, resonates rather well with all the information we have at the moment, & should be well worth looking into by future bards & scholars.

Finally, we may now look at the tradition of Minos as given by two classical era historians.

Minos is the first to whom tradition ascribes the possession of a navy. He made himself master of a great part of what is now termed the Hellenic sea; he conquered the Cyclades, and was the first coloniser of most of them, expelling the Carians and appointing his own sons to govern in them. Lastly, it was he who, from a natural desire to protect his growing revenues, sought, as far as he was able, to clear the sea of pirates Thucydides

Minos, according to tradition, went to Sicania, or Sicily, as it is now called, in search of Daidolos, and there perished by a violent death….Men of various nations now flocked to Crete, which was stripped of its inhabitants; but none came in such numbers as the Hellenes. Three generations after the death of Minos the Trojan war took place; and the Cretans were not the least distinguished among the helpers of Menelaos. But on this account, when they came back from Troy, famine and pestilence fell upon them, and destroyed both the men and the cattle. Crete was a second time stripped of its inhabitants, a remnant only being left; who form, together with fresh settlers, the third Cretan people by whom the island has been inhabited Herodotus

We may now assemble a timeline using some of the findings I have made so far in these ‘Letters from Crete.’

 c.1700 BC : Crete is conquered by Manes of Lydia. He is known as Minos. Neopalatial buildings spring up across Crete. Lydian is introduced into the island alongside an alphabet to write it (Linear A)

c.1600 : Pseira island settled by the Phaecians, ie the Minoans, who have left the Troezen : Men of various nations now flocked to Crete, which was stripped of its inhabitants; but none came in such numbers as the Hellenes (Herod.)

c.1550 : Events surrounding Menaleus (& Odysseus) which will be later incorporated into the Homeric narratives – Three generations after the death of Minos the Trojan war took place (Herod.).

c.1450 : The Cretan civil war in which the house of Mycynea are triumphant. Greek becomes the native language of the island, but retains the Linear A alphabet. – when they came back from Troy, famine and pestilence fell upon them, and destroyed both the men and the cattle. Crete was a second time stripped of its inhabitants, a remnant only being left; who form, together with fresh settler, the third Cretan people by whom the island has been inhabited (Herod.)


Star Beach

17th July

* An Anatolian invasion of Crete c.1700 is suggested in  Beck, Roger B.; Linda Black; Larry S. Krieger; Phillip C. Naylor; Dahia Ibo Shabaka (1999). World History: Patterns of Interaction. Evanston, IL: McDougal Littell

Letters from Crete (vi) : THE HOMERIC ANSWER (The Odyssey)


Yesterday morning I had Emily drive me to the hospital at Ireapetra. Picking up Adonis at the very foot of the mountain. His car wasn’t working & it was easier for him to come with us via Ireapetra by car, than hike up to Agios Ioannis. Leaving me at the hospital while they went back to pack, etc. my lungs were gently coaxed back to normality by a gas-splurging thing, & I was picked up by Emily at the hospital. From here we drove to Elounda, a bit of an ex-pats colony, for our final stint in Crete. The rooms are OK, but they have A/C & mosquito nets – a godsend. I slept most of yesterday & well into this morning on account of my asthmatic lack of sleep at Ioannis – it was rather like A Nightmare on Elm Street, I was afraid to nod off as I might have never woken up. One thing that did go up was the palmthorn. I had just immersed myself in a bath, when the water must have diusturbed my puncture wound’s scab & suddenly, like the cork in a bottle, the black thorn emerged out of my foot. I had no idea it was bloody huge! A great testament to the human body’s ability to expel alien bodies.

Today we’ve pottered about Elounda, having lunch on a floating restaurant – including a freshly caught, 60 euro fish – while gazing on  the old leper colony at Spinalonga. Then off to a nearby waterpark where the mixture of chlorine & seawater is making all my bodycuts scream in pain. It is under these conditions, the, that I shall begin my further investigations into the Homeric Question. In an earlier Letter, I showed how the Iliad was the construction, or rather reconstruction, of a Greek poet under the patronage of a Greek King. The Odyssey came to light ubder an extremely set of circumstances that occurred the Athens of the 6th century BC. The demagogic catylyst was a tyrant called Pisistratus, whose influence on the Homeric poems has been observed by many classical writers;


Pisistratus brought together & published the Iliad & the Odyssey



We praise Pisistratus for his gathering together the poems of Homer



Pisistratus brought them together, as this epigram, inscribed by the Athenians on Pisistratus’ tomb, makes clear: Pisistratus, great in councils, I who gathered together / Homer, who had formerly been sung here & there

Anonymous Life of Homer


Who was more learned in that same period, or whose eloquence is said to have had a higher literary culture than that of Pisistratus? He is said to have been the first to have arranged the books of Homer, which were previously confused, in the way we now have them’



Of the two epics, the Iliad seems too much of a composite to have been ‘previously confused’ as Cicero says. On the other hand the Odyssey still seems confused to this day, a jumbled mass of plots & stories which leap about through the narrative like literary atoms. Pisistratus may have had some influence on the Iliad, however, his work on which is referred to by Eusthatius, who writing about the Iliad’s tenth book – otherwise known as the Doloneia – states, ‘the ancients say that this book was put seperately by Homer & was not counted among the part of the Iliad, but was put into the poem by Pisistratus.’ Pisistratus is also said to have fudged the ‘Catalogue of Ships,’ the Iliad’s account of the Greek forces who sailed to Troy, interpolating Ajax’s bringing of 12 ships from Salamis to prove that it was once an ancient possession of Athens.

The need to show off one’s power with monumental exhibitions is an ever-present trait of the human condition. In recent centuries, the Great Exhibition of the British Empire in 1851 & the neoclassical buildings of Adolf Hitler at Nuremburg are perfect examples of the grand ego in demonstrance. Pisistratus understood how, & more importantly, why, Lycurgas had instrumented his own version of Homer, Wishing to demonstate his own cultural splendour, the Athenian lawgiver emulated the modus operandi of his Spartan predecessor. He is even mentioned by name in Book 3, where ‘Pisistratus’ appears as Nestor’s noble son, while the tyrant’s own return from exile to Athens, & the resumation of his leadership there, is a perfect metaphorical match for the return of Odysseus to Ithica. Furthermore, when we see Odysseus being praised with, ‘in the world of men you have no rival as a statesman & an orator,’ do we not in fact see a veiled tribute to Pisistratus.

The platform for the first performance of the Odyssey would have been a festival known as the Greater Dionysia in Athens, instigated by Pisistratus himself. A celebration to Dionysys, the god of wine, the festival would last six days; mirroring the very six equal parts into which the Odyssey is divided. The central stage of the festival was the theatre to Dionysis on the Acropolis – built at the instigation of Pisistratrus – which that would later play host to the works of the best playwrights of ancient Greece. Let us imagine the very first recital of the Odyssey being sung from the stage of this theatre, when for six consecutive nighst throughout the festival, Athenian bards would bring the adventures of Odysseus to life.

In contrast to the testosterone-fueled Iliad, the Odyssey has a lighter, feminine touch which has led certain scholars to believe that the poem may have been composed by a woman. In light of the period of its creation, it seems probable that this new feminine direction was intended to please the women of Athens, who held a high social standing in the democracy. Among the many strong female characters in the poem, the true star & heroine has to be the goddess Athene, who dominates the action from beginning to end. Being the ‘patron saint’ of Athens, her presence in the poem fully strengthens the idea that the Odyssey was created in the city.

Of the poem’s creation, Strabo discusses how Pisistratus ordered an official recension, while entrusting the task to four leading scholars. Indeed, inconsistancies in context run rife throughout the Odyssey, & scholars have identified an earlier ‘A’ poet, & one or more later hands who they designated as the ‘B’ poet. The latter is seen as modernising & lengthening the nucleus of the poem as given by A, & we may assume that the B poets are those employed by Pisistratus. They are never actually named, but we may suggest possible contemporaries who were active in Athens during the 6th century. One of these ancient erudites may have been the literary-minded, Onomacritus, of whom Heredotus himself states had collected the oracles of a poet called Museaus, but inserted forgeries of his own making.

Another of these scholar-poets may been the classically famous Stesichorus (632-555 BC). Only fragments of his poetry survive, but he was widely celebrated for his epic tayles in lyric metre, a talent perfect for the job of assembling the Odyssey. ‘The greatness of Stesichorus’ genius,’ praises Quintillian, ‘is shown among other things by his subject-matter: he sings of the most important wars and the most famous commanders and sustains on his lyre the weight of epic poetry. In both their actions and their speeches he gives due dignity to his characters, and if only he had shown restraint he could possibly have been regarded as a close rival of Homer.’ In a similar vein, Dionysius of Halicarnassus commends Stesichorus for ‘the magnificence of the settings of his subject matter; in them he has preserved the traits and reputations of his characters,’ while Longinus puts him in select company with Herodotus, Archilochus and Plato as the ‘most Homeric’ of authors.

The Suda, a massive 10th century Byzantine collection of biographies, attributes to Stesichorus a poem known as the Nostoi, which deals with the return of the Greeks from Troy. This makes Stesichorus the perfect poet to deal with the return of the Odysseus to Ithica & the textual source of some of the more obscure ‘nostoi’ details present in the Odyssey.

According to Plato, Stesichorus created a palinode which read, ‘that story is not true / You {Helen} never sailed in the benched ships. You never went to Troy,’ which is consistent with the ‘Egyptian’ Helen as hinted at in various places in the Odyssey. Plato adds that because of these slanderous verses, Stesichrous was rendered blind, a legend that may even have transchisper’d into Homer’s own legendary blindness.

In the wake of the Athenian recensions, by 500 BC the Homeric poems were closing in on their final forms. Two centuries later, it was up to the librarians of Alexandria to edit & critique Homer, dividing the epics into their standard 24 books apiece. That city’s founder, Alexander the Great, always slept with a copy of the Iliad under his pillow, even paying homage to Achilles at Troy on his way to conquering Asia. Plutarch tells us that Alexander’s favorite line in the Iliad was ‘Great in the war, great in the arts of sway,’ an apt epitaph for that mighty conqueror of the ancient world. Since the Alexandrian edit, the Homeric poems have been copied & copied & copied again until they would become the poems that appear in our modern texts. Holding them in your hand today is akin to the moment when Schliemann first set his eyes on Hisalrik Hill. He knew the truth about the Trojan War was in there somewhere, & all he had to do was start digging.


15th July

Letters from Crete (v) : FORMAL FREE VERSE


Formal Free Verse


The time is 3.30 AM Cretan o’Clock. I am currently having a mild account on account, no doubt, to the series of cats that hover about our Agios Ioannis home waiting for scraps. And the altitude doesn’t help. Also a bone of contention is the massive battle I’ve been having with the mosquitos, & after two hours of carnage I’ve decided to just go out onto the verandah & type an essay through the night. There is a fresh-laid coffee by my side. The goat’s bell is tinkling. The subject of my next installment shall be my recent endeavouring with Free Verse. Although a Parnasssian at heart, I have dabbled with Free Verse since my inception as a poet, including one huge vomiting of material in 2003, a piece I entitled Bohemia In fact one of my favorite pieces – The Lost Poem – is free verse.


On reaching the pinnacle of my education as a Pendragon, I became almost obliged to consider Free Verse in a formal way, to record its invented ‘species’ in the same way that the Welsh Bards recorded their poetic forms. This research I have only just completed, & also put into practice with the composition of ‘Sylvermane : The Last Wolf of Scotland,’ in which I experimented with & utilized 24 poems. The majority of these I have taken from poets of the last few decades, like the stars in the sky I shall name each form after them, or in some cases the poem which they wrote or even the collection was a part of. The 24 poems (& examples from my own work) are;


1 : Respiro


From the collection ‘Journey Across Breath’ by Stephen Watts, translated as ‘Tragitto nel respiro,’ by Cristina Viti


Upon ancient Cruachan,

Long-lost hill-fort ,mossy

gums, rings of gorse, Hipp

olytes’ spear, amber-heade

d, shaft thrust in cavern so

il : Millennia before; in thi

s den tonight a she-wolf e

mpties slowly her womb f

or Old White, these pricele

ss births AT LAST! AT L

AST! & manifesting the di

vine, four wonderful pups;


2 : Tomlinson


A staccato stanza From Charles Tomlinson’s ‘Ode to San Francisco.’


The red Dawn spread

& did suffuse

sufficient pinks

horizon turns

milky white

a splodge of paint

hits holy canvas






3 : Thorpe


From the poem ‘Putting the Boot In’ by Adam Thorpe


Malcolm waits

for full-faced moon


hearing the tales

of Cruachan’s Carlin


he’d comb’d the long locks

of Morag, by rivers


he’d heard the thunder

stun green-robed Watchers


fetch me, my love,

my bier & my bow


rough-clefted arrows

& strings so supple





4 : Wheatley


From the poem ‘A Skimming Stone, Lough Bray’ by David Wheatley


Unseen forces

lift the lid of sleep

twitching limbs, raising heads

lick her mouth

belly’s filling

blood-flow growing thicker.


Months pass by

happy playtimes

burgeoning hierarchies settle

ears flatten

tails ween legs

pointing straight at Sylvermane.




5 : Turnbull


From the poem ‘Lake’ by Gael Turnbull




This is a song for the very last wolf

of Scotland; bards call Sylvermane

to mind when thinking of lost ways,

whenever Scotland has forgotten

The Wolf once freely roamed.


Encircle & gather

ye night-flying moths,

embroider your lugs,

with the benefit of wine

my beating breast

falls, evenly,

like orchid dust

on a blazing tongue;


Long ago,

when time stretch’d taut,

the ice withdrew,

rivers thawed in silence,

spring returned to the islands,

exfoliating, blooming,

sturdy oaks flooded north,

centuries on centuries.

repeating to infinity

nature’s sacred progress.


6 : Tsvetaeva


Designed by Marina Tsveaeva



Sylvermane danders dark, waste hills

brown, unsightly plains

extraterritorial       continuous pines

rocky rivers feeding Loch Erroch


Trees without foliage

mountains covered with whiteness

bitter dawns      loneliness

watchers watch on unperturbed


There was a time when Manmeat

fear’d the wolf        from well-trodden

paths never strayed, beside the Spey

immense in trees, refused venture













7 : Tempest


A wild, stormy, random & meandering form used by Kate Tempest in her ‘Let Them Eat Chaos.’



Angry winds batter land


Climate change






Sun dimmer than any memory remembers


Except the yews, of course, & the oaks

Whose rings recall the icy ages











With feebly bleeting sheep






8 : Gaer


From the poem ‘The Hill Fort (Y Gaer) by Owen Shears


Since the day she was taken

Fuscous darkness stains the mountains

Despite gloriously daybreak the world


Choking with ashen hills

Shrunken salted lakes

‘We dallied here when we were


Alive – day sets – the scowling sun

Has smithereened into shards,

Gloomy skies, the murkiness of death


The moon is a half-sunken skull

Or a jellyfish beached & stinkin’

Begrutten – Sylvermane weeps lonely


& forgotten, ensared by sadnesses

torturous sensations of stagnancy

of life forfoughten – he paws


between wolf-pits, gap-toothed traps

whos einfignant jaws laugh at him

all in the shady sadness of a vale


Raven swoops by him, mocking

His fate’s dolour, pitying

His gait’s depression a fly drifts by


Ad infinitum not always forever,

the end has come for the Wolves,

aye, there shall be no second summer


He is the formal, final leaf

of winter, ready for the sheering

clinging stubbornly in the hurricane


of change, across the Moray sands

his paw prints weakly wander, & he

sighed low, more like a Titan in a cage.





9 : Hugo


From the poem ‘April in Cerignola’ by Richard Hugo


This is Norway, esteemed. The sun is mean

all summer, but underneath the Watchers

gaze on trollskin forests, trunks support

Valhalla on columns of adamantine granite.

Misty mountains stitched with river silver

lynxes prowl by wolverines, brown bears

& tremendous gangs of wolves, among

whom prospers, exhausted, Sylvermane.


Out of his ain soul’s dolesome desolation

he is led to a lake of blackest pitch called

Amsvartnir, his fur’s birthmark seems

a streak of fish; Lyngvi appears ahead

overgrown with heather, dilemma island,

this place Fenris imbounded by the Gods

chained to a jagged rock; saliva-formed,

the River Van his prison’s testament




10 : Aygi

From the poem’Playing Finger Games’ by Gennady Aygi


Malcolm welcom’d heartily – the Hunter Poet, whose fresh-spirited lines in these very halls have been repeated by lesser bards – they had stood before the Campbells of Glenorchy – Sir John of Bredalbane had made Kilchurn a barracks, standing as it does, knifepoint sharp, at the bare throat of cattle-tracks




11 : Berk

From the poetry of Ilhan Berk


As aroma of pine needles wafted low

Into the flatlands by the firth

Sylvermane caught the scent, & rose

In delectable postures, rising gladly

It felt good to move, paws tickled by needles

Forming sandy forest beds

He fell asleep that night, an owl calls precision

Whole nations of owls agree



12 : Barnstone

From the poem, Family, by Willis Barnstone



Two years fly by & the pack

Is changing fast, Sylvermane

his brother

& his sister

after the season of snows

tension rises with the sun

day of fangs & claws

broke oer Cruachan

it was a mighty match-up ‘til the last

when Sylvermane saw sense & slinked

away, alone

a refugee


13 : Egan

A scattering of word formations as found in the book, Thucydides & Lough Owel by Desmand Egan



sacred liquid


nowhere else in nature’s realm

can be seen that shade of red


skies streak with a glorious horizon

skies adorn’d with Dawn’s crimson tails


I am wolf & wolf I am!’




14 : Insom


From the poem ‘Insomonia; By Sydney Lea


the Trossachs’ sculptured stillness, since him born

his Fur always grey, but his name

was given under noble circumstances –

His mother watched him as a cub

sat stone-still on stones below peaktops hidden

by tottering cumuli, where flashes of cyan sky

erupted in the whiteness of the whitest cloud,

jaws gaped open… an old, old soul




15 :

From the collection ‘Deep-Tap Tree’ by Alexander ‘Sandy’ Hutchinson


In this prehistorical landscape each rock

has a name, each tree its shade of green



crystal water

flows through Glencoe; ferlie, immortal




16 : Concrete


The universal term for poetry that has both meaning & ashthetic qualities.




Over waves

Wings beating

Escorted by wyrd

Valkyrie legions

Red sun resuming

From the misty

West, shadow

Peaks climbing tall

Over Norway, her awesome glory

Bewroughten by northern Gods

An endless forest tatters skies

But out of these trees, Sylvermane

Hears the howl

Scampering call

Of happy wolves

Children of Fenris

Rapid descending

Talons flash









17 : Kazantzis


From the collection, ‘The Rabbit Magician Plate’ by Judith Kazantzis


Flipping in her iron-forged talons

she brings back fish for the feasting

Sylvermane coughs up bones


Days pass, stength increases,

cunning accumulates & speed

accelerates as teeth gnaw sharper































Agios Ioannis



Letters From Crete (iv) : FRAMING THE SONNEVERSE


Framing the Sonneverse


I am writing this overlooking the Libyan Sea, from the moputain village of Agios Ioanis. We reached her three days ago, calling in at Gortys – the ancient capital of Crete – in 39 degree heat, & too hot to explore much. I did pick up a copy of the oldest Law Code in Europe however, & have a mind to mixing it in with some classical poetry Emily gifted me as translated by Robin Skelton. From Gortys we took a wrong turn & ended up back at busy Heraklion, which was perhaps serendipitous as it allowed the girls to have another blast at Star Beach.



At 5 in the evening we set off for our next residence, crossing the island again form sea-to-sea as far as Ireapetra. On the way I was delighted to see the stone boat sunk by Poseidon near Psirea, the island which I presumed to be that of the Phaecaens of the Odyssey. I’d searched for it in vain on Google Earth, thinking it would be hard at the island’s Minoan twin harbours – but instead it is closer to the mainland & the Minoan city of Gournia, which may be of some significance. I shall be returning to the area tomorrow, & shall be studying the matter further then.


Agios Ioannis is a 9k drive at the head of a wonderful olive u-shaped mountain recess. Stacked white against the mountains, it is half dilapidated & half regenerated in the Calcata fashion. Once abustling town, in the 70s & 80s its inhabitants drifted to easier lives in the city & by the coast, leaving an insanely beautiful ghost-town. Even today, in the winter there are only 6 fulltime residents. Our house is large – with two wings, an excellent garden tended by the grey-bearded Adonis. Five cats, 3 dogs, & a goat contribute to the safari-like nature of our domicile, along with grievously nasty mosquitos that are ravaging the girls. There are only two places to eat – & no shops – the modernistic, uniquely-detailed Route 55 Café Bar, & Kristina’s tavern, where we can takeaway genuine Greek food to eat at one several places in our garden.


I have been chiefly editing the Silver Rose while here, which leads me to the contents of this essay. In one of my Pendragon Lectures, I formulated the theory that all poems stood upon four pillars – Music, Mood, Mould & Measure. Let us now apply this theory to the exploration of the sonnet form, retaining the ‘quatordicci’ element that seems natural in soneteering, ie the prevalent usage of the number 14.

The Mould of every sonnet, then, is bounded by a 14-line restriction. However, a sonnet may be divided into staves, or stanzettas as I like to call them. The Petrachian, for example, contains two stanzettas, of 8 & 6 lines respectively. In the terms of the Sonneverse, let us call to mind the following couplet;


Every stanza is a planet

Every sonnet is a star


The meaning behind this is simple. A sonnet is powered by the same energy that emanates from a star- a fiery light-giving force that gives life to its system. This energy then brings to life the planets – ie stanzas – & whether the star is powerful or weak depends upon the quality of the sonnet. As I have explored the Sonneverse, I have mapped out a number of typical star systems one expects to find.


1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9 10 11

X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X

X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X

X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X

X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X

X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X       X

X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X       X  X

X  X  X  X  X  X  X            X  X

X  X  X  X  X  X       X  X  X

X  X  X  X  X       X  X  X  X  X

X  X  X  X       X  X  X  X       X

X  X  X       X  X  X  X  X  X  X

X  X       X  X  X  X  X  X  X

X       X  X  X  X  X  X       X  X

X  X  X  X  X  X  X       X  X  X

X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X       X

X  X  X

X  X  X



In the above system charts, 6 would be the Petracrcian (8-6), 10 would be the Shakesperean (4-4-4-2) & 11 would be the sonnet form used by Shelley in his Ode to the West Wind (3-3-3-3-2). Of course there are many other variants; seven couplets, whether separated or in a solid block, irregular sonnets which look & feel like Free Verse, & so on into infinity, one expects.

 The Shakesperean Sonnet

Each x is a syllable with the letters representing the last syllable & its rhyme.





Each planet of a star-system can be mapped out via its MEASURE – giving further physical variation to a sonnet, including its potential rhyme scheme. Iambic pentameter, the measure of the Welsh Bards, the Alexandrine French – or a mixture of three & many more besides – all can utilized by the sonnet’s creator to craft their starsystem. William Blake understood the notion, when he said that the genius & creative spirit of mankind was poetry, & it is in the sonneverse that we gain our most natural reflection of the Untold Universe at large. Each planet will then have its own atmosphere, or MOOD, while its music is its life, a barren rock of sterile words or one singing with that operatic voices of man, beast, bird & insect, just as is heard – faintly – in the fabulous land of Creta.


I shall leave this essay two further expansions of the Sonneverse. In the purest sense of the physics behind sonneteering, whereas 14 sonnets make a traditional sequanza, we shall now call them Sonneclusters, 14 stars all closely linked in time, space & by theme. The gathering of sonneclusters will then create a Galaxy of Sonnets, 196 of them, & of each these galaxies are a part of the Sonneverse, when so many as yet remain undiscovered, that is to say, unwritten.


Agios Ioanniss

13th July





Letters From Crete (iii) : Finding Menaleus

I am currently sat on the patio of an air B&B in Karemas, southern Crete, overlooking the Libyan Sea. It is morning. In the foreview to my left are the double rocks of the Paximadian Islands – in which according to the Cretans Apollo was born – & to my right is Gavdos, the most southerly point of Europe. There is a high wind blowing fiercely – as it has been for 4 days now we are told. We drove here yesterday, first calling in at the many-peopled ‘funfair’ that Knossos has become, then entering & crossing the Cretan hinterland, a mixture of beautiful hills dotted with olive trees as if they were woven into some starlet’s hair, & rather desolate villages. After stopping in at the oasis watering hole that are the Goanesque beaches of Agia Galini, we then took a serendipitous wrong turn which took us into the quite breathtaking Kedros range, via the villages of Apodolou, Nithavris, Agios Ioannis & Agia Pareskevi. Another wrong turn later we were high up in the idyllic hilltop village of Vrisses, where, quickly swapping our tourist map or a more detailed in a 1995 book on Crete in my portable library, we finally came to Kerames.

On arrival we were met at the mini-market by the stylish Kleopatra, a teacher of ancient Greek & Latin in Athens, who returns to her home village to rent out the house she bought. 16 century, it was once the home of two saints &  Cretan governor, & also played host to village dances, A beautiful building, made from a mixture of searocks & quarried, a geologist’s dream – it is ours for last night & the next two. Kleopatra delighted in showing us around the house, its history, & also walking us through the village so the locals knew we were with her. The encounter with her plump mother was funny, as the mother was mocking Kleopatra’s slight firm & saying she was far too thin, that she was like a little girl, & she need to eat more, much to the agreement of the other plump women of a certain age sat in vicinity

Roll on 3 days & I am finishing this off in the pinkening sunrise on the lazy morning on the 10th of July. On the day after arrival, on a visit to the amazing Preveli Beach – reached only by footpath as in Gokarna; via a rough & twisting  Himalayanesque mountain road; after swimming in a lagoon, I suddenly found my foot pierced by a palmleaf spine &, well, ouch. The next dawn me & Emily left the girls sleeping & drove to nearby Spili & its free health centre. Cue to female doctors writhing at my poor wound, trying to get the thorn out. At one point one of the nurses tured her head & looking at me quite solemnly, said ‘pain?’ Through my acute grimacing I could only nod.

The thorn was buried too deep & see with prescription in hand we returned to Agia Galini for another day at the beach & to buy antibiotics. During this sunkissed day at the beach I ordered my notes for this essay, which I am finally polished off now. Last night was also wonderful , with us all  getting dressed up & hitting the village square for a wonderful meal which coast only 22 euros – our hostess refusing a tip & joining us in the complimentary ouzo shots!

Kerames village is a white-washed, narrow-streeted affair in the Italian style, & rather a perfect place to get to work on one of my thornier essays – that of the character of Menaleus who appears in the Homeric epics. After my researches into the matter, I believe he was not around in the thirteenth century BC to fight the traditionally dated Trojan War, but was instead active three centuries earlier, & it was his deeds at that time which were superimposed upon the story of the Trojan War by Thales, that his story was one of the ‘Homeric fragments’ & that the Trojan War in which Achilles fought was a different fragment altogether, & that Thales spliced them together into a single story. Once we detach in our minds the two threads of the Trojan story – the kidnapping of Helen & the siege of Troy – then it is much easier to dissect the narrative. In this essay I shall just focus on Menaleus & his family background, an easy place to shine a spotlight upon, after which the interminable strands of interwoven mythos can give the best of brains a major headache.

We begin with a figure in Greek mythology called Phineus, son of Bellus & brother to Aegyptus & Danaus. According to Diodorus Siculus, Bellus had established a colony on the banks of the Euphrates & appointed the Chaldean priesthood as it overseers. This gives us an immediate & wider geographical scope for Phineus, which allows a spot of comparative study to take place. Analyzing his contextus, we discover a certain tale – as given by Ovid – in which Phineus brandishes a spear against Perseus, squabbling over the daughter of Casseiopeia, who had been declared by her mother to be more beautiful than the Nereids. A spot of comparative theology later & we are brought to a Biblical figure called Phinehas, in whose tales we see an incident with remarkable echoes to that of Phineas. For Casseiopia we have a certain idolatrous Cozbi, & we also have Phinehas brandishing a spear. The ‘most beautiful woman motif’ was also confirmed by Flavius Josephus, who asserts that the enemies of the Israelites sent their most beautiful women to seduce them to idolatry. The result was Phinehas slaying Cozbi & God rewarding him & his posterity with divine recognition for all time with the covenant of an everlasting hereditary priesthood.

Phinehas was said to have assisted Moses in the Exodus – even being in charge of the Ark of the Covenant – which would have made him active during the mid-16th century BC. Also active in that time – in 1510 BC to be precise – was a certain Goidal Glas, whose name contains part of the Hebrew moniker for High Priest – the ‘Kohen Godal.’  According to the Irish sources, the father of Goidal Glas was a certain Fenius Farsaid. This man rrather does feel like he had the same High Priest status as Phinehas, for he set up seminaries in order to formalise & teach several languages, including Hebrew, & we may acknowledge the same figure turning up in three traditions; the Irish, the Greek & the Hebrew.

We have now come to the crux of the matter, for between Fenius Farsaid & Gaythelos comes a ‘certain king of the countries of Greece, Neolus, or Heolaus, by name.’ Geoffrey Keating actually gives Fenius two sons, Nenual & Niul, which seem a genflation of the same person. From Nenual we may make the following babel-chain.







Could this be the same King Menaleus, whose wife Helen initiated the Trojan War? I would say yes, for some Greek sources state that Menaleus had a son called Aithiolas, which transchispers rather easily into Gaythelos. This means only one thing, that the same Menaleus who appears in the Homeric Trojan story could not have fought in the war of 1270 BC. He was said to be the brother of Agamemnon, the king of Mycynea who lead the Greeks to Troy. Mycynea was an ancient city sited in the northwest corner of the Plain of Argos on the Peloponnese in which place Pausanius, the Greek travel writer of the 2nd century AD, recorded, ‘the underground chambers of Atreus & his children, in which were stored their treasure. There is the grave of Atreus, along with the graves of such as returned with Agamemnon from Troy.’ In the late 19th century, a renegade amateur archeologist from Germany called Albert Schliemann excavated the site, discovering fabulous grave treasures which included the ‘Mask of Agamemnon’ which proved that the ancient epithet, ‘Mycynae, rich in gold,’ was no exaggeration. Dated to 1550 BC, scholars have suggested that the treasures cannot be connected to the Mycynean leadership of the 13th Century BC as given by Homer. But if we were to unravel the factochisp & move Menaleus & Agamemnon back three centuries, then when Schilemann telegraphed the King of Greece that he had, ‘gazed on the face of Agamenon,’ his proud & swoony statement is bearing out to be true, although not in the way standard Homeric scholarship has imagined. What is happening in reality is that the Mycyenean leadership of the 16th Century BC has been poetically superimposed onto the basic narrative infrastructure of the Trojan War.

Martin Bernal, in his deeply-thought opus Black Athena, identified that a certain ancient race called the Hykos were the founders of Mycynae. His evidence comes from the prsence of a Ugarit toponym, either mhnt – camp – or mhnm- 2 camps. The Ugaritian ‘h’ is pronounced ‘kh,’ giving us a Mycynae like pronunciation of mkhn. This is our new starting point, from which we are to hyperchisp (a hypothetical chisper) that Menaleus & his father, Fineus/Phinehas/Phineas were Hyksos. The Hyksos were originally a Scythian tribe, called the Saka by the Persians, who fanned east & west in the creation of a Bronze Age Empire. Indeed, according to the Irish sources Fenius Farsaid was a Scythian. The empire seems to have been ruled very much in the fashion of the British Empire, where handfuls of elite Hyksos noblemen lorded over conquered peoples – & at some places, like at Mycnae were assimilated so much by the local culture they became like the natives. Elsewhere, like in Egypt, they were thrown out. The name of one of the Egyptian Hyksos, Seuserenre Khyan, is rather similar to the Hebrew Kohen – ie priest – & his reign seems to be the highwater mark of the Hyksos in Egypt. A few decades later & they were tossed out of Africa, leading to the Exodus as recorded in the Bible – for one branch of the Hyksos would go on to form the Biblical Israelites.

The Hyksos were also known as the Habiru, from which the word Hebrew is drawn, & were connected to ‘the children of Israel,’ by the Jewish historian Josephus. Quoting Manetho, he declared them to be ‘a people of ignoble race who had confidence to invade our country, which they subdued easily without having to fight a battle. They set our towns on fire; they destroyed the temples of the gods, and caused the people to suffer every kind of barbarity. During the entire period of their dynasty they waged war against the people of Egypt, desiring to exterminate the whole race. . . . The foreigners were called Hyksos, which signifies ‘Shepherd Kings’.”

I would like to suggest how as the Hyksos fanned west from their Scythian homeland, so too did they surge east into India, instigating transmigration known to historians as the Aryan Invasion. This is when about the year 1500, a whiter-skinned elite race swarmed into India, bringing with it ancient Eurasian culture & the ancient caste system.The Abhira tribe of northern India were described by Vedic texts describe as pastoral cowherders just as the Hyksos were ‘shepheard-kings.’ Their homelands lay on the western coast of India from Tapti to Devagarh & stretched up to the regions east of the Indus where many Hebrewesque names were identified by Godfrey Higgins (1772-1833) in his book, Anacalypsis. Among their number is Seuna-Desa (Zion Land) in Maharashtra, the many towns ending with the appendage gaon – which means in Hebrew, ‘genius; great rabbinical scholar’ –Nashik is the exact Hebrew name for ‘Royal Prince.’



10th July



Poetry should strike the reader as a wording of his own highest

John Keats



Today was a fine Cretan summer’s day, beginning with a climb to the summit of the hill which towers over Petra Village to the south. An interminable mix of jagged shrubbery & bouldering slopes, it was a poetically stalwart way to begin the day, with the red sun rising from the Aegean about half-way up, & by the time I had surmounted & dismounted I could already feel the heat of a day which would hit 30 degrees. The next few hours were spent ascending the Stromboli range in order to track down Manoles, the man who kicked off the whole Princess Scota quest. He was alive, fortunately, & we managed to find him in first through a woman who pointed to a house where English was spoken, who turned out to be a Californian Greek lady. She in turn pointed us towards Manoles’ house, where customary Greek hospitality was shown, including portions of his delicious honeyfied figs, as he confirmed the Scota-was-a-Minoan conversation he had with Gregor Sloss seven years ago.

From Kryoreni we came to a delightful village, surrounded by olive groves, where an old man in a shop began a vignette of some hilarity. After choosing a bottle of Cretan red from a rack of dusty bottles, I found a nearby café whose owner attempted to open the bottle with a too-small corkscrew. Cue broken cork & some bizarre attempts by the stocky, bearded Greek to move the cork by banging the bottle sideways against a wall. In the end I walked into his kitchen, got a wooden spoon & forced the cork into the bottle – as I had done many times before – & on doing so poured out a glass for my erstwhile new friend, who responded with alacrity & a stupendous ‘VIVA!’

From here we descended the rough & royal peaks to seagirt Bali – an excellent scatterdash of beach-dwellings where I dined on pork-in-wine while the ladies splashed in the warm seas. Then it was the drive home to Petra Village for our weary but happy late evening siesta, from which I have just recently risen. Leaving the ladies at the ranch I have idled into the old & lazy tourist-trappy streets of Koutouloufari, ordered a pizza & got to work. As I said in my last chapter, this series of essays shall be something of a dissertation to my status as a Pendragon, & so I need to return to a piece of prose I created some years ago when I was at the height of my sonneteering craze. On a future day on this Cretan sojurn I shall connect to my further theorizing, but for now, let us imagine ourselves as a poet – The Silver Rose of course – as he makes his way along the Beaches of Tamil Nadu.


I met the ascetic mystic Thirruvallavar one morning in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu. I was resting on a fine, empty beach, watching the white waves sweep sublimely across the Bay of Bengal. In a soft second of existence I was alerted to a flutter of birds & saw a mile or so along the coast a distant figure approaching. I couldn’t help but watch him come steadily nearer, a middle aged man with a thick, black beard, swathed in white robes, his bare feet leaving footsteps in the sand. I expected him to pass me by, but as he came to within a few meters he suddenly veered off in my direction & tho’ he was walking slowly was at my side in a flash.

What is your profession?” he curtly asked, his voice gravelly with wisdom, his gaze penetrating my soul.

“I am a traveler from a distant land.” 

Rider,” he replied, “Saraswathi, I see, has smil’d on you, then welcome to India. Are you wise, traveler?”

“I have studied a little, sir.”

As the city-dwellers know most animals only from photographs, your wisdom seems second-hand. You shall be my guest, for there appears much you are yet to learn in this life.”

He invited me to dine at his home, an offer which I quickly accepted. Walked together along the sands he engaged me in conversation & I could see already I was speaking to no ordinary soul.

Are you creative?” he asked.

“I write sonnets, sir.”

He suddenly froze on the spot & gazed with those magnificent eyes, burrowing into the heartlands of my mind.

“By any chance, are you carrying a silver rose?”

My startled hand suddenly went to finger the small piece of flower I had hung around my neck.

“May I see?”

“Of course,” I replied handing him the necklace. After a moments curious examination the mystic said, in esoteric tones, “I have been expecting you.”

“You have?”

“I once had a dream – in it I saw a young man who looked very much like yourself plucking a silver rose.” I was stunned a little by his words & prescience, then the mystic went on, “Could you describe where you found the rose.”

It was in Italy,” I replied, “Twenty-one years of age & taking my first steps into the poetic art. I had been inspired to write a poem on the death of the English, poet Shelly, & my journeys had brought me to the Gulf of Le Spezia, where he spent his last days. At one end of the bay lies the charming idyll of Portovenere, the port of Venus. There was a castle & an old Norman church on a rocky outcrop jutting into the azure sea, & behind me the giant cliffs of the Cinque Terra stretched away into the distance. Before setting out to Italy, I too had had a dream. In it I saw myself climbing a cliff, a wonderful panorama all around, & in my dream, as the light of the sun cascaded upon the world below, I was filled with both peace & exultation of the heart. I did not know what my dream meant, but I grew determined then to climb cliffs until it came true. Indeed, by the time I reached Italy I had climbed many along the coast of my native land.”

“Go on,” said the mystic.

As I began my ascent of the cliffs above Portovenere the still air was suddenly filled with an elemental wind. Up her stony slopes I huff’d, puff’d & scrambl’d, all a fluster in the blustery gale that was growing all the time. As I climb’d further my clothes were torn by the claws of thorny bramble as an angry Zephyrus summon’d yet more of his strength. My head told me to turn back, but my young heart had call’d upon the soul of our being, for being conquers all. As I reach’d the clifftop, glorious realm of diety, the winds suddenly settled & I began to write a poem. It was there, as the sun was setting, that my eyes were drawn to a flash of colour, reflecting the golden light of the sun as it slipped neath the clouds on the horizon. Investigating further I found a wee silver rose, & I wonder’d how such sweet tenderment grew, like a heavenly star. I spent what seemed like an eternity gazing at its lovely shape & immersed in its fragrance & every sinew of my body, & every fibre of my mind, was at peace. During this flush of pure nature I suddenly thought perhaps my dream had come true? I wasn’t sure, but if it had, & wishing for a memento of the occasion, I pluck’d that gorgeous flower.”

“Yes, these events you recant I saw in my dream,” said the wiseman, “& you are very welcome as my guest, come, my village is still a good way yet.’ 

On the way to receive his unadulterated hospitality, the sage asked me if I had any examples of my work. On answering in the positive I handed him a notebook containing my scribbled notes & polished pieces, the detritus of several years of sonnets & song. He picked up the book & skimm’d thro’ them at speed, seemingly absorbing each into his psyche.

“I notice you have master’d the fourteen feelings.”

“The feelings?” I asked.

“Yes, the fourteen impulses that drive poetic thought.”

“I did not realise I had.”

“Yes, this is the work of the Silver Rose, my friend, for he that plucks it will be enchanted – you are, in fact, a sonneteer & the rose is its emblem.”

“Well, I do enjoy the sonnet, it is a very venerable form. Do you know much of the sonnet,” I asked the sage.

“Indeed, traveler, for within its scanty plot of ground, as Wordsworth noted, many forms of poetry may be contain’d. It can be seen as the great compositive form, which draws components from all the others. It can use the monoverse of blank verse & vers libre, polyphonics, the couplet, the triplets, quatrains, cinquains, sestets, septets & octets – even Spenser has weaved his novtet into a sonnet.”

“There are many forms of poetry,” I remarked, “indeed, I have identified thirteen different forms of the sonnet itself, from the Terza Rima of Shelley’s Ode to the West Wind to the concrete sonnets of the modern surrealist; I have utilised many of these forms in creation of my own sonnets.”

The mystic held me a moment in his velvet eye, & then said, “a revered ancestor of mine also met a poet, very much like you, a troubador from Provence who composed entirely in a thirteen line form.”

“The Rondel,” I replied.

That is right. But then the young French man added another line to his form & created a Rondel Prime.”

“The French sonnet!” I replied in astonishment.

“If that is what it is called in the West, yes! My poet,” smiled the sage, “you are here to learn of a new form of sonnet. I shall introduce you to an acquaintance of mine, who is able to help you in your quest.”

“My quest?” I asked, “I did not know I had undertaken a quest.”

“But of course you have, for from the moment a poet plucks the Silver Rose, they can never rest until she is satisfied.”

Our discourse was all of a sudden dispersed by the spreading of a smile across the mystic’s face.

“At last,” he said, “Welcome to my village.”

The first house in the village was an unassuming cottage, but inside was all a-bluster with activity. Of those present in that room one was an old woman, racked with disease, led in her bed & very ill indeed. Nearby a young woman was in the final agonizing throes of labour, about to give birth to her first child. Others were watching on attentively as before them two cycles of life were fusing as one. The old woman was desperately drawing her last mortal breaths to the sound of a far younger woman gasping through childbirth, for as one soul was leaving this world another was entering. The old woman’s health had been failing her for several years, & now, surrounded by her family, she was ready to depart from her mortal coil. Her family were very distraught, slowly soaking the silken sheets with their tears. But the old woman was smiling. She said she knew it was time for her to leave this life, but she had had a good life. It was beautiful to be surrounded by her loved ones & they should not be sad, but happy they had the chance to dwell together. Then in a blaze of epiphany at the same instantaneous moment the old woman passed away & a new life was brought into the light of the world. It was a baby boy, red & raw with the onset of life. A fine babe, whose eyes stared back at his mother full of innocence. All around him grew & rushed the world & his gurgle was laced with a hint of expectancy. I smiled at the babe as the mystic turned to me.

“In this room today you saw a birth & a death – so life begins & life ends, thus is the circle of life. But there is also an inbetween. If you stay with me I hope you shall learn of this. I was born here too, in a hut just like this one. Before too long I was was running around the village, bringing delight to the wise old elders with my youthful affection for everything about me. I had a very inquisitive mind & was always asking what everything was, from the trees & the rocks, to the lizards & the birds. I would then ask why the birds lived in the trees & why the lizards crawled under the rocks. One day my father placed me upon his cart & I left the village for the very first time. We were travelling to a nearby town to buy some food, & we passed by many new places. I saw the rivers & the mountains, & saw other villages where the houses were different from those in my own. At length we came to a town where I was amazed at the many people busying about. My father held my hand tightly as we walked through the market. My eyes lit up at the new fruits father bought, & the shiny new coat he put on my back.”

I watched the mystic as he told his story, seeming both close to me & very far off in another place.

“On the walk back home I asked father many questions. I found out our village was just one of many that surrounded the town, & that town in turn was one of many that surrounded the city, & that city was not even the capital of the country where we lived. Then father told me that the world was made up of many countries & the universe of many worlds. It was only then that I realized I wasn’t the universe, but only a part, & a very small part indeed! Then father took me to a hill that overlooked the village, where we could see the business of every villager. We sat beside a gully that by some quirk of nature carried the conversations of the villagers up the hillside. I sat by my father listening attentively to all we heard & how the villages interacted with each other. At every turn he would try & explain the good & the bad in every situation & how best to be true to oneself. Once the sun had set he led me back down to the village & I had my first epiphany as to the nature of the world. I decided at that moment to help the people of the world to understand themselves.” 

Then the mystic sunk into silence & we continued on our way.


We arrived at his home a little later, a simple two-storey building of white washed stone stood within a luscious jungle of tall toddies. He was greeted by a young woman, fresh as unstirred snow.

“Gita, you shall make a bed for our guest, he shall be staying with us.”

The woman went away & the mystic led me onto the roof of his home.

“Tonight the moon is completely dark, as it will be again in a month’s time. Between now & the morrow I hope you will become wise, illumed by the light of the moon & the minds of your fellow guests.”

“Thank you for this opportunity,” I humbly said.

“You are very welcome, traveler, now if you do not mind, I must meditate. You will be looked after. But while I am gone, you must search for the moon.”

After he left with a gracious bow I began to scan the entire span of the starry skies, until I found the dark outline of the dark side of the moon, nestled between the Plough & the Bear. As I gazed upon that black sphere I found myself urging on its silvery light.

“Patience,” said the sage, who had silently re-appeared on the roof with Gita, “The light shall come!”

“Tis a vast universe,” I said, “so many stars.”

“Yes, so many stars… & so many worlds. Every action on every planet is governed by a mysterious, invisible force called ‘Divinity,’ existing everywhere at once & gives life, form & substance to all things in its sway.”

I pondered on what he had said in silence.


At this point I am back in Crete, walking to Petra Village under a bright, fullish moon, ready to insert a recent study of mine into the equasion. It was William Blake who said that divinity was, in all essence, the poetic genius, & thus when a sonneteer creates his little capsule of wordified beauty, he tosses up a new star into what I have called ‘The Sonneverse.’ More of that later, but for now let us return to Tamil Nadu & the house of Thiruvalluvar.



The sage broke the silence once more, saying ‘thoughts & ideas are pure & simple, & when a series of these are placed together arranged in power-punching brevity, the assemblage is the nearest thing to God we can get on this Earth. As one candle burns, it shall only light a portion of the room, but when many burn together, the room is cast in a blaze of light. To the poets who utilize the Kural, the world is a room, & their thoughts are its candles.

Mystic,” said I, “What is a kural?”

A kural is a form of arranging words in simple combination. It consists of seven words divided into two breaths, each forming a line. With the first breath four words are spoken & with the second, three. These kural shall contain the best ideas using the best of words in their best order & it is the orator’s purpose to condense as much depth, meaning & subtleties into each of them as possible. A kural could be in the most simple words, or pregnant with complicated scientific terms, but at all times should they be perfumed with poetica absolute, for it is thro’ the music, rhythm & rhyme of speech that ideas are easily absorbed by the memory.”

At that moment a scribe entered the roof carrying a gold-tinted scroll, a bowl of sparkling ink & a mighty swan’s quill, which was placed upon a table near to where the mystic was sat. Upon examining his writing tools he whispered in the servant’s ear, who left the room & soon returned with another scroll, ink bowl & quill. To my astonishment they were placed in front of me.

“Traveler,” he called across the room, “Can you make kural?”

I have never tried, sir!”

“Are you willing?”


All our words are nothing without understanding. Will you make kural?”

“I shall try.”

“Good, then let us begin. Listen to my speech & then condense it…. I shall begin?” The thinker-philosopher squatted in the yoga position, cross-legged, & began to speak with a ghostly air,

It is with god that everything begins. God is everywhere at once, from the beginning of time to the end. He is without bounds & infinite, & beyond the range of mortal comprehension. All we know is that he is here & this force pulses thro’ all it has created, uniting humanity with its energy, giving us life. The greatest manifestation of divinity being that of the rain that falls from the skies. This is the vital life juice of creation, without which everything would wither away & only a lifeless desert would remain.”

Life is a precious gift, created by the natural laws of the universe & improved upon by the movement of the aeons. The planet, our planet, is home to millions of different organisms of which we are only a small, yet significant number. Every one of these organisms is bound together intrinsically by the natural laws defined by the entity of creation.”

“Why does our planet teem with such a multitudinous variety of species, you may ask yourself? This is evolution; all life began the same, but environment & chance allied together to alter the offspring of the original organisms, & upon their offspring in turn, until over billions of years we have reached the state we are in today. Indeed, give another billion years the organisms of our world will be very different again.”

“Like the years are divided by four seasons & the world divided into four elements, each person on the planet exists upon four planes. Everyone of us possesses a soul, a heart to feel the passion of the world, a mind to think thoughts & a body in which to live.”

As the day began to dawn, the sage began to wrap up his elucidations of the human condition.

“Traveler, how did you find the night?”

“It was inspirational sir.”

“Excellent, & have you made any kural?”

“A small amount, sir.”

“Well, I shall leave you in tranquility to finish… Gita!” he shouted, his call soon answered by her soft smile, “get some candles for our guest, & a little wine I think.”

She returned a few moments later with several candles, which she placed upon the roof & lit. A charaff of wine & a golden goblet were placed before me & with a smile & a bow she left.

“Happy voyaging, said the sage & with a bow he also left, leaving me alone. As my mind could still hear the profound statements spoken thro’ the night, I became heady with ideas, their words fueling my imagination until I was pregnant with creation & I began to write.

As the red orb rose in glory & the pinkening sky transmorphed to cyan; when the last pearls of wisdom had been written down & the sun was casting ethereal shadows across the wax-warped candles, the sage return’d.

“So traveler, have you made your kural?”

“I have tried sir!”

“Good, may I read them?”

I was a little tentative as I passed over the ink-wet scrolls & held my breath as he began to read them.


Rain’s continuance preserves existence

Speaketh celestial ambrosia


Stances, glances, chances, dances

Epitomise youthful romances


As ant-holes collapse embankments

Civilians topple governments


Exquisite fortresses become rubble

Without excellent inmates


Her chrysoberyls perplex me -

Celestial? Peahen? Woman?


Promises, poetry, flowers, flattery

Produce sensuous pleasure-rooms


Hatred, sin, fear, disgrace -

Stain bedswervers imeperishably


Candles of knowledgable beings

Light many millions


Ancyent civilisations indecipherable pages

Futurity’s erudite manna


Splashing thro’ Parnassian streams

Mankind’s glorious attainment


He read in relative silence, broken only by the sporadic ‘hmmm,’ laced with an occasional, ‘interesting!’ Outside, commanding the morning sky, there was the thin sliver of a new moon, shining silvery against the divine canvas.

At last Thiruvalluvar had finished reading thro my meagre lines & I waited tentatively for his reaction. It was a moment of awesome proportion as I felt & saw everything around me. I admired my host, his handsome beard & endless eyes, his gleaming robes & noble stance & smile, twinkling in the sun.

Looking up from the pages the sage eventually & quite neatly said, “Good, you have the thread.” His voice was sweet, like the warbling of birds greeting the sun after a storm, “You are now ready to create a Tamil Sonnet, that is the placing of seven connecting kural together into one poem. Seven sets of couplets comes to fourteen lines, yes, & that is how many lines are in a sonnet, correct?”

“That is right,” I replied.

“There are seven words in a kural,” said the mystic, “thus making a kural sonnet a grand kural in itself – do you understand?”

As he said those words a moment of epiphany lit up my soul.

Do you understand?” repeated the poet.

“Yes,” I replied.

“Then you are ready,” said the mystic.

“Ready for what?” I asked inquisitively.

“The next stages of your quest,” said the poet, “I undertook it myself many years ago.” to my astonishment he opened a shirt & reveled a wee silver rose hung round his neck on a chain. “I am a barer of the rose & a master of the sonnet. Many moons ago I plucked my own flower & she led me on a literary quest. I see, tho you have not realised, you have also set your feet upon the path.”

The mystic sighed woosily, ‘you must return to the path now, traveler, & follow the will of the rose, for she shall guide your thought thro’ the fertile fields of creative experience.Keep writing & exercising in the sonnet form & continue a dedicated spirit, like those of the East who engage in the martial arts. The higher echelons of sonnetry are marked by discipline, focus of thought & dedication to the craft. Do you have these mental properties?”

“In a small degree. I hope they will be sufficient, for after hearing your words I wish to embark on this quest.”

“To attain the title of master sonneteer you must attain two more levels of proficiency, each marked by the composition of a polished sequenza. The first shall be a set of 14 sonnets – play with them how you will – & the second a set of 14 stanza, 14×14 sonnets, i.e. 196.”

“That seems an awful of experience & thought to pour into a single form?” I opined nervously.

You are young & youth is marked by impetuousness & restlessness. This restlessness is the mystical energy which will drive you to the mastery of the sonnet.”

“How?” I asked.

Your restlessness has brought you here, yes. Well only through travel can the sonneteer generate enough poesis to fill the major sequanzas. Before attempting the higher levels, I suggest you record your voyages; the emotions invoked, scenery, the history, the very essence of a country, in the same way you poeticized your own. These new sonnets may be of any form or feeling, even of an experimental nature, but the primal essence is exploration. When learning how to turn your experiences into sonnets, & on reaching the next stages of the art, your thought will be focused upon increasing discipline & you will be able to summon the poesis of your experiences at will. On completing this apprenticeship, as the acolyte will one day become a wise old sensei able to defend himself from attack, so shall the master sonneteer be able to produce exquisite sequanzas when they themselves are attack’d – not by an enemy but by the desire to compose poetry! You should commence your apprenticeship in Italy; for it is there that both the sonnet & the rose originated, for as nature is a constant wheel & all things once commenced will come full circle, then you should return them both to their places of birth.”

“Yes,” I said, “the sonnet was born in Sicily, out of the Canzone, those sweet & moving songs the shepherds sang as they tended their flocks on the pastures of that wonderful island. I sometimes feel very much like them, wandering the earth & singing my songs.’

Well spoken,’ said the mystic, ‘the Rose is truly with you. Even when her powers fade, the petals shall always remain a part of you, including the occasional flight of psychic fancy. You should expect many moments of verbal lucidity like these when you are treading the bloom d’argent. Please continue with your description of the canzone.”

Ah yes, the ancyent songs of the Sicilian shepherds. Over the course of many centuries these songs evolved into a fourteen-lined piece, with a turn, or volta – to a modern mind this would be where the chorus begins after the verse of a song.”

“Like the turn in an Italian sonnet,” offered the sage.

Precisely, for indeed it was from the spirit of these canzone that the first sonnets found expression at the Magnia Curia, the court of the Sicilian King eight hundred years ago. Shortly afterwards it was brought to an early perfection by Dante & the school of Tuscan poets blessed with their “Sweet New Style.”

Well explained, ‘said Thiruvalluvar, ‘& it is only natural you should travel to that country, where nature, weather, culture, history, architecture & society combine to such a pleasant degree that she has no comparison on earth.”

“I shall,” I replied, “& thank you. The time I have spent in your immaculate house has enriched me like the mountains of Parnassus.” 

A silence passed between us & the wind made noises I had never heard before. They sounded like the voice of a familiar song, summoning me to its native land. From the warmth of the melody & strength in the words I knew it to be that of the Tuscan sun & the song of the Arno.

Then I am for Italy,” I told them, “The music of the sea-breeze bids me there return.”

“Saraswati go with you,” spoke Thiruvallavar, & bowing my head I left his house, & returned to the shore where we first met.


Petra Village

July 6th

Letters From Crete (i) : THE HOMERIC ANSWER (The Iliad)

A poem is never finished, only abandoned

Paul Valéry



I am currently sat at a table amidst the sunswingingly sensuous delights of Star Beach on the northern shores of Crete. My family & I arrived late last night, hiring a car & eventually tracking down our residence for the next three nights, Petra Village, a mini-resort with pool, bar & a trillion crickets piping a cacophony. This period shall see me complete my training as a Pendragon, with a daily essay being constructed from my notes & my experiences on the ground as we tour Megalonisi, the ‘big island’ of the Greeks. During this ‘duesettimane’ I shall be also bringing to finality my poem sequence, The Silver Rose,’ & also editing here there my earlier forays into poetical theory, which these essays to follow shall form the concluding part. The lava is finally set to cool & the volcano that spewed forth two decades worth of poesis from my animated soul finally return to a dormant state. Well, perhaps.

I shall begin my final dissertation with an account of the mesmerizing energy of Homer’s mind-music, that poetical weaver of disparate strands of ancient subject matter into the world’s two most earliest & most majestic epics. That an individual author composed these poems, however, is simply not the case. This ‘Homeric Question’ has tested academic minds for many an age, with Frederick Nietzsche declaringthe primary form of this widespread and honeycombed mountain known as the Homeric question can be most clearly observed by looking down at it from a far-off height.’ The ‘far-off’ height mentioned by Neitzsche is the tall mountain upon which the chispologist builds a weather-station & shouts into the gusting breezes that Homer was a quasi-mythological deity, to whom only the highest examples of streaming elysium would be associated – less an individual genius & more the poetic soul of an entire people.

But for now, & for ease of dictate, we shall call Homer by his antique identity, as the singular author of the Iliad & Odyssey. His subject was the Trojan War & its aftermath, an event of deep history whose war-drums still beat resoundingly today. The Iliad centers on a small series of events that took place toward the end of the ten-year war, while the Odyssey sings of the return from Troy of the Grecian hero Odysseus. The poems are, in a word, magnificent, full of comprehension & understanding for the ways of men, while possessing some of the greatest phraseology ever to be uttered by a human tongue. The most astonishing thing about the epics is their sheer antiquity, through which mists of deep time the creation of the poems, & indeed their creator, have been readily obscured.

It was as early as the Classical period that the first doubts appertaining to the origins of the epics was raised. The oldest complete copy of the Iliad – the 10th century BC manuscript ‘Venetus Marcianus Graecus 454’ - has marginal notes, first published by De Villoison in 1788, which preserve substantial remnants of ancient scholarship on the poems from the intense erudition of Didymus, Aristonicis, Herodian, Nicanor & Antoninian. A century later, a similar note-smitten codex was created which ended up in the library at of the Townleys of Townley Hall, in my hometown of Burnley. Of these scholia, we encounter the thoughts of two obscure figures known as Xenon & Hellanicus, two antique scholars who first speculated that the Iliad & Odyssey had been composed by separate authors. This actually makes sound sense, for where the Iliad contains four times as many similes as the Odyssey, the language of the Odyssey is less archaic than that of the Iliad, to which surmise we may add that words for many common items are different in each poem. Aristotle further highlights the differences between the epics when he muses, ‘the composition of the Iliad is simple & full of pathos, that of the Odyssey complex, as there are recognitions throughout & full of character.’ 

So far so different, & as the Aegean sea blows a refreshingly wild wind into my beachside boudoir, we may acknowledge that long before the days of word-files & photocopying, the preservation of Homer’s poetry, spread over many centuries, suggests a great number of scribes have handled the text. Along the way, each would add something of their own making, maybe respelling a word, or perhaps re-writing whole passages in order to please a changing audience. As the poems evolved, two vast chains of transcreation would slowly fossilize themselves into the epics we whimsically attribute to a single Homer.  One cannot understand why this happened, for the dating of the ‘original’ Homer was offered quite differently by a great many ancient scholars. The early Christian churchman, Tatian, in his Address to the Greeks, identifies this scattered strata of Homeric composition;

Now the poetry of Homer, his parentage, and the time in which he flourished have been investigated by the most ancient writers,—by Theagenes of Rhegium, who lived in the time of Cambyses, Stesimbrotus of Thasos and Antimachus of Colophon, Herodotus of Halicarnassus, and Dionysius the Olynthian; after them, by Ephorus of Cumæ, and Philochorus the Athenian, Megaclides and Chamæleon the Peripatetics; afterwards by the grammarians, Zenodotus, Aristophanes, Callimachus, Crates, Eratosthenes, Aristarchus, and Apollodorus. Of these, Crates says that he flourished before the return of the Heraclidæ, and within 80 years after the Trojan war; Eratosthenes says that it was after the 100th year from the taking of Ilium; Aristarchus, that it was about the time of the Ionian migration, which was 140 years after that event; but, according to Philochorus, after the Ionian migration, in the archonship of Archippus at Athens, 180 years after the Trojan war; Apollodorus says it was 100 years after the Ionian migration, which would be 240 years after the Trojan war. Some say that he lived 90 years before the Olympiads, which would be 317 years after the taking of Troy. Others carry it down to a later date, and say that Homer was a contemporary of Archilochus; but Archilochus flourished about the 23d Olympiad, in the time of Gyges the Lydian, 500 years after Troy.

It is through these ‘Homers’ that the story of the Trojan War & its aftermath would pass, until the Iliad as we know it began to take shape in the 9th century BC – as I believe – under the auspices of the Spartan King, Lycurgus. Not a poet himself, the task was given to a certain verse-maker called Thales, whom he met on Crete, an island which I am yet to explore but have made my first landing as if I was one of the German gliders crash-landing in advance of the German Fallschirmjäger in 1941. It is through the vita of Lycurgas, as given by Plutarch, that we gain a heady hint of just how powerful a poet-thinker was Thales. We join the vita with Lycurgas on some kind of state visit to Crete;

One of the men regarded there as wise statesmen was Thales, whom Lycurgus persuaded, out of favour and friendship, to go on a mission to Sparta. Now Thales passed as a lyric poet, and screened himself behind this art, but in reality he did the work of one of the mightiest lawgivers. For his odes were so many exhortations to obedience and harmony, and their measured rhythms were permeated with ordered tranquillity, so that those who listened to them were insensibly softened in their dispositions, insomuch that they renounced the mutual hatreds which were so rife at that time, and dwelt together in a common pursuit of what was high and noble.

This description of Thales tells us he was the perfect poet, a teacher who used the soft & easy words of the lyric, but resonant with meaning in order to teach the people of Crete just how to be, how to live a good life. I have only been here a few hours, but so far all the Cretans we have met have been decent & open; from the young couple on a moped who led us to the beach road in the dark last night, to our cool & friendly waiter here at Star Beach, the appropriately named ‘Adonis.’ ‘Don’t worry be happy’ is the mantra & if these easy vibes emanated from the ancient wisdom of Thales, then to be in his actual company would have been a tremendous sensation for Lycurgas, & it is no wonder, I suppose, that he was invited to join the royal Spartan party. Agreeing to terms, perhaps, Thales left his gorgeous rock at the edge of Europa & joined Lycurgas on a visit Asia Minor, where Plutarch tells us the Spartan king;

Made his first acquaintance with the poems of Homer, which were preserved among the posterity of Creophylus; and when he saw that the political and disciplinary lessons contained in them were worthy of no less serious attention than the incentives to pleasure and license which they supplied, he eagerly copied and compiled them in order to take them home with him. For these epics already had a certain faint reputation among the Greeks, and a few were in possession of certain portions of them, as the poems were carried here and there by chance; but Lycurgus was the very first to make them really known.



At this point in time we have a certain Spartan king in possession of the two foundation stones of what would become the Iliad, these being those fragments of the early Homeric materials, & a poet who could do something with them, to turn them into something cohesive & infinitely beautiful. Such a moment provided the perfect conditions for what can only be called a regurgitation of Homer, a moment remembered by Demeterius of Magnesia, who placed the author of the Iliad in the same ‘very ancient times’ of Lycurgus. With all the pieces in position, all that was need was a catalyst to spark off the creative furnace that would produce the Iliad, & it came in the form of the first Olympic Truce. We begin with Plutarch, who writes of Lycurgas; ‘Some say that he flourished at the same time with Iphitus, and in concert with him established the Olympic truce. Among these is Aristotle the philosopher, and he alleges as proof the discus at Olympia on which an inscription preserves the name of Lycurgus.’ The truce forged by Lycurgas, Iphitus of Elis & Cleosthenes of Pisa was designed to bring peace to the Peloponnese; all three sides were bogged down in endless rounds of bloodshed, and it was decided that they would try to soothe their differences by staging a peaceful games at Olympia. A tribute to the unity of the Greek nation was needed, & a tribute to the pan-Grecian unity as it fought the Trojan War was a perfect theme, & subject worthy of Thales’ pensmanship. The following passage by the 5th Century BC Athenian historian, Thucydides, backs up the sentiment;

The weakness of the olden times is further proved to me chiefly by this circumstance, that before the Trojan war, Hellas, as it appears, engaged in no enterprise in common.

The squabbling Greeks of the Olympic Truce would need to be reminded of a time when they stood shoulder-to-shoulder in solidarity. If anything could convince them to settle their differences, the Homeric poems of Troy recreated by a noble-minded Thales would definitely do the job. That Thales handled the Iliad is unconsciously supported by Pausanius, who describes the Greece of Lycurgas’ time as being grievously worn by internal strife and plague, while the Iliad actually begins with a plague. Indeed, Pausanius tells us that Thales, ‘stayed the plague at Sparta,’ during which time, I conject, he was likely to have been composing the Iliad. The dates also fit, for where Herodotus tells us, ‘Hesiod and Homer I suppose were four hundred years before my time and not more,’ i.e. 850 BC, the Olympics of Lycurgas can be approximately dated to the same period. The Greeks counted their Olympiads from 776 BC, but the Olympic Games of Lycurgas were said to be much earlier. Sources vary as to when these actually took place; both Polybius (quoting Aristodemus of Elis) & Eratosthenes tell us that the 776BC victors were recorded 27 Olympiads from that of Iphitops & Lycurgas, whereas Callimachus differs by saying 13 Olympiads had passed. If we average that out & say 20 Olympiads, a timespan of 80 years, we gain a date of 856 BC for the Lycurgan Olympics.

Delving further into the ordinance of what I shall now call the Thalian Iliad, it’s form appears to have been based upon the ritualistic & quite theatrical mystery plays of Greece & Egypt, played out over several days like the Ring Cycle of Wagner. Plutarch even places Lycurgas in Egypt at one point, where he would have encountered an Egyptian Drama full of soliloquies by narrator-style priests, actor dialogue & dramaturgical expressions of stage-craft still used in our modern theatre. Egyptian drama of the Lycurgan period was sophisticated; consisting of a prologue, three acts subdivided into scenes & a concluding epilogue. Two have come down to us whole, the ‘Ramesseum Coronation’ & the ‘Myth of Horus at Edfu.’ In the latter, both mortals & immortals play out the action, a motif also present in the Iliad.

Over the centuries, academics have subconsciously suspected that the Iliad was in its origins a dramatic performance. The Roman writer Quintilian praises the second book of the Iliad in particular for the greatness of its speeches, while the 17th century English poet, Alexander Pope, stated, ‘for a farther preservation of this air of simplicity, a particular care should be taken to express with all plainness those moral sentences & proverbial speeches which are so numerous in this poet. They have something venerable, & as I may so oracular, in that unadorned gravity & shortness with which they are delivered.’ In recent years we have Jenny Strauss Clay’s description of the Iliad’s ‘extraordinarily high percentage of direct speech – much more than any other epic;’ Bernard Fenik’s, ‘direct discourse comprises 67 percent of the Iliad;’ & Laura M Slatkin’s, ‘extraordinary refinement & complexity of oral performance,’ from which erudite opinions we should acknowledge that the Iliad was in fact played out through a series of scenes in which actors & actresses were given lengthy speeches. Interspersed are the battle scenes, which may have been played out in the manner of the Egyptian dramas, reminiscent of gladiators in a Roman arena – beautifully choreographised physical theatre but without the actual bloodshed.

The creation of the Thalian Iliad would have called for a written script to be shared around the actors. It is interesting that before 850 BC, there is no record of the Greek alphabet anyway, but within a few decades of the Lycurgan Olympics, its first relics were preserved for posterity. The earliest recognizable Greek alphabet was based upon that of the Phoenicians, & we know that they were active in Crete circa 900 BC – when Thales would have been a boy – for they left objects at Knossos, Kommos & the Idaean cave.  There is also the famous bowl found at Tekke, near Knossos, dated to the first portiona of the ninth century BC which contain a Phoenician inscription. One can only imagine for a moment how the young, studious Thales would have learnt Phoenician & its script, realising how wonderful an entity was the recorded word, & understanding how vital such a recording would be when promulgating the script of the Iliad among the actors. In doing so consolidated all the dialects of Greece into a single, slightly artifical literary lingua franca, & thus just as Dante dodified the Itlalian language, & Shakespeare that of my own, so did the the Thalian create that of the ancient Greeks. Indeed, only a few decades on from Thales, at Lefkandi in Greece, the first scraps of Grecian letters were left to posterity, while at Gabii in Italy, remants of the same alphabet can be dated to 770BC.

The original theatrical purpose of the Iliad would be slowly eroded by time, when the mega-money spectacular of Lycurgas would gradually give way to performances by individual singers called Rhapsodes, such as the the Homeridae, the ‘Children of Homer.’ Perhaps it was their memories which preserved the Thalian Iliad, which were later transcribed by the librarians of Alexandria, or perhaps one of the scripts survived enough centuries to be copied down on fresh papyrus, but either way all evidence points to a mid-ninth century BC origin for the Iliad, when one poet & one benefactor shine out through the darkness of their times – Lycurgas the Spartan King, & Thales, the Cretan poet. Meanwhile, in 2017, some chilli olives & soft Cretan red wine await me at the Petra Village. Until tomorrow…

5th July 2017

Star Beach