Friday, May 18, 2012

The Persian Arrow

It was my first visit to Greece  --  when I yet went to places because you were supposed to  --  and I one day took a bus from Athens to the Temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounion, where tourists have been going since at least the time when Lord Byron carved his name in the soft stone of the temple in that not-that-long-ago time when such vandalism was considered part of the historical process.
    I saw his graffito  --  appallingly large and deep  --  took a few photographs and tried to take in the lay of the land, or rather of the water, as it was here, in 480 B.C., at the temple at Sounion that Xerxes had set his camp in order to observe what would develop into the Battle of Salamis, fought in the straits below, wherein the bold and maneuverable Greeks destroyed the huge Persian armada and yet again saved the West from oriental despotism.
    While that had been a full day’s work for the Greeks and the Persians, I thought I had extracted as much from it as I was likely to in about a half-hour and found I then had several hours to amuse myself until the next bus came.
    There had been a number of tourists on the bus with me, but they seemed to be getting more out of looking at the temple and surveying the Straights of Salamis than I.  Fortunately, they seemed to find their interest on the south slope of the Cape and once I crossed the road to the north side I found I had the place to myself.
    The north side of the Cape sloped down in little ravines that formed pleasant little half-moon beaches, most of them by this time of the afternoon partially shaded, so I slid down a ravine to one of the little beaches and found myself a patch of shade and had a snack and wrote in my journal and gazed off across the water and otherwise had a perfectly fine time.  Eventually, I saw that it was time for the bus and I made my way back up the ravine toward the road.
    The ravine was fairly steep and I had slid down it and now had to make my way back up more or less on all fours, which meant I was facing down and so, part way up, in the loose pebbles and earth of the scree, my eye caught a familiar shape: an arrowhead.  A stone arrowhead.

In New World, where we are only a few hundred years away from the Stone Age, it is not uncommon for people who live in the country to find stone tools and arrowheads, and I have found a number myself when walking a plowed field or along a roadside cut.  In Europe, where the Stone Age is thousands of years removed, stone arrowheads are a rarer find.
    The Greeks seem to have emerged into history with bronze.  No one we think of as Greek used stone tools.  But here, beside the temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounion, in the heart of classical Greece, I found a stone arrowhead.

While I might like to carry on a while about the mystery, I had a pretty good idea what it might be.  In his history of the Persian Wars, Herodotus reports that among the great host that Xerxes brought with him on his invasion of Greece were troops of semi-civilized allies from the mountains, so backward that they were armed with stone weapons.
    That seems to me the simplest and most likely explanation for my stone arrow point.  It was dropped by one of the Great King’s rustic auxiliaries, the last Stone Age warriors to invade Europe  --  that the last person who had touched this artifact had seen Xerxes in the flesh and witnessed with his own eyes the waters below us littered with broken ships and thick with drowning sailors  --  and my arrowhead dated precisely to the year 480 B.C.

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