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Saturday, April 16, 2011

Thoughts While Flying Across the Aegean

Flying across the Aegean from Athens to Crete, the sun was rising and the only way to distinguish the sea from the sky beyond it was the band of sunlight stretching over the water.
This was the sea Theseus crossed to kill the Minotaur, and returned - partway - with the Princess Ariadne who'd - predictably - fallen in love with him, agreeing to betray country and family. (The Minotaur was her half-brother by Queen Pasiphae and a sacred bull. It's complicated.)
Theseus stopped on an island, and Dionysius, falling in love with Ariadne, took her for his own. At least that's what Theseus claimed. Theseus was a big one for claiming things weren't his doing whenever they worked out to his advantage. He said the thing with the sails wasn't his doing either. Before sailing, he'd promised his father, King Aegeas, to raise white sails if he returned safely; otherwise the sails wouldbe black. When Aegeas saw the black sails on the horizon, he leapt to his death in despair, throwing himself into the sea that still bears his name, the Aegean.
Theseus said it was all a big misunderstanding, that he'd been asleep below decks and hadn't thought to tell the crew about the sails; what with killing the Minotaur, escaping Minos, and meeting Dionysisus, it had slipped his mind. These things happen. Of course, it did mean Theseus was now king, but you really can't hold him responsible. In a later episode of the same story, Daedelus and Icarus flew over this sea on their wax and feather wings. Only Daedelus made it. Flying from Crete to Sicily, they'd have been on a sharp diagonal course under my plane. "I just flew in from the coast, and, boy, are my arms tired!" is what Daedelus said when the King of Sicily welcomed him, only in those days it wasn't a joke, but just a statement of fact.
Jason sailed this patch of sea, too, although Odysseus only did so on his outward journey, if I recall. Returning, he bounced around the coast of Africa, went up the coast of Italy, back down to Africa, before finally returning to Ithaca from the west. Odysseus says his really big mistake was letting his crew kill and eat one of the sacred cattle of Helios, the sun, and all-white herd that neither calved nor died.
Robert Graves says the "white cattle" of the sun is a sort of riddle, the answer to which, is "clouds." If so, claiming to lasso and barbeque one of these is a tall-tale akin to Pecos Bill. But Odysseus was the sole survivor of his voyage and could play faster and looser with the facts than Theseus who had eye-witnesses and had to be a little more circumspect when it came to bending the truth.
Such were my thoughts on the way from Athens to Crete, touching down in front of the snowy peaks of Hania.

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