A Greek Odyssey

Classics and Latin students visit Greece

The definition of “odyssey” is “a long and adventurous journey or experience” and derives from the name of the Ancient Greek hero Odysseus who embarked upon such a journey and provided us with one of histories most captivating Greek myths. When I decided to take a group of Classics and Latin students to Greece to immerse themselves in the remarkable ancient monuments, I did not realise that we would ourselves begin our own odyssey, one which we shall never forget.

The journey began in the early hours of 25th March 2016, with students gathering at Manchester Airport to fly to Athens, the home of philosophy, drama and democracy. Although we might have preferred to travel like the heroes in myth, by winged horse or dragon-drawn chariot, we had to settle for Easyjet, the airline which we did not know at that point would become our nemesis and the greatest adversary in our epic journey.

Upon arrival in Greece, I had arranged for us to travel to Cape Sounion, a beautiful peninsula that is steeped in myth. We are told by Homer that the location was visited by King Menelaus of Sparta in the “Odyssey”. Myth also states that it is from this location that King Aegeus of Athens gave his name to the sea in his grief as he looked out to see Theseus’ black sail returning from slaying the Minotaur. The site is incredibly beautiful and a wonderful place to begin our journey, however, fate was against us and, due to poor research by our travel company, the highlight of the location, the temple to the god Poseidon, was closed. We did manage to get some beautiful photos from a distance, and I have also included a photo of what the view from the temple is like below. The students were upbeat, despite the closure, and enjoyed their time at the site.

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Our accommodation was in Athens itself and we were given divine blessing as we travelled to our hotel; the second we passed the temple of Zeus there was a peal of thunder and the heavens opened, the gods were watching over our trip. The hotel was in a great location to travel around the city via the metro, something we did at leisure that evening before retiring to our hotel before our big day out at Delphi on the next day.

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The origins of Delphi are again explained in ancient myth. The King of the gods, Zeus, wished to find out where the centre of the earth was, and so he sent two eagles from the edges of the world to fly together. Where they met would be the centre of the ancient world, marked by the navel-stone, and would be the place to which generations of ancient civilisation would flock, including some of histories most famous names. At this place, the oracle of the god Apollo was established, his prophetic temple and a whole settlement dedicated to the god. Its importance is arguably incomparable in the classical world, and so I can think of no other way more memorable to celebrate one’s 18th birthday, something our head girl, Flora Robson, was able to do on Saturday, as pictured below at the navel-stone. The tour was excellent and the scenery extraordinary; at the heights of Mount Parnassus we truly felt like we were in a divine setting.

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Sunday was our day out in Athens. To begin with we visited the Theatre of Dionysus, the home of drama itself and the theatre in which all the tragic plays of Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides were first performed; a truly inspirational site for the Sixth Form students studying Greek Tragedy.

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We then embarked upon a tour of the Acropolis, the Odeon of Herodes, the famous Parthenon temple to Athena and the Erechtheion temple to Athena and Poseidon and location of the famous contest between the two gods to become the protector of the ancient city.

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We later visited the ancient agora, site of the various civic buildings and the very heart of democracy. An ancient stoa, like those in which philosophers such as Socrates and Plato would have spoken and debated, has been rebuilt as a museum for the agora, and gives a view of the best preserved temple in Ancient Greece, which we also visited, the temple of Hephaestus. We ended our tour at the colossal temple of Olympian Zeus and marvelled at its grandeur.

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Our trip had been educational, emotional and enthralling, but unfortunately the day of our departure had arrived…or so we believed. Maria Alli had wished for us to stay in Athens, and stay we did. Our nemesis, Easyjet, cancelled our departure due to storm Katie over the UK. The responsibility I shouldered to secure the safe return of my student cohort had me utilising all of my resources and charging around Athens airport for around 3 hours, desperate to seek some way for us to return and get everyone home, a couple of whom were under the weather. Unfortunately, the uncooperative Easyjet representatives made it impossible to return, and despite my best efforts I failed to negotiate a departure for 30 students. Instead I was tasked with entertaining the students for a further 3 days, a delay that would amount to a whopping 83 hours by the time we would eventually return on Friday.

Miss Collins and Miss Shaw performed heroically in their efforts to aid me in the task, with their professionalism and leadership being something I valued greatly as they continued to contribute with their reliable expertise and allow for a smooth and successful trip, which could quite easily have been a disaster. The next few days were spent in a luxurious hotel with delectable meals, all free of charge, courtesy of Easyjet, the least they could do. Various activities took place over this period, with certain students commendably revising for their GCSE and A Level examinations and teachers volunteering their supervision whilst I led others to ancient sites in Athens, including the Pnyx, the ancient assembly place, and the Panathenaic Stadium.

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For Wednesday I managed to negotiate a free trip by haggling for the mistake incurred at Cape Sounion by our travel company and we were provided with a trip to the ancient sanctuary of Asclepius, the god of healing, home to the famous Epidaurus theatre, and to the beautiful port town of Nafplio. On a gloriously sunny day, all students enjoyed their excursion, with those students who had been ill even feeling cleansed at the healing sanctuary.

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On Thursday we were due to finally embark back to the UK after our extended stay. Despite Easyjet throwing a number of final trials at us, an extra 2 hour delay and a ludicrous 9 hours in Athens airport, we finally arrived back at Westholme at 8am Friday morning.

I must give huge thanks to my colleagues Miss Collins and Miss Shaw, without whom I would not have been able to successfully steer our Westholme vessel home; as a team we really did the school proud. I must thank the Westholme staff who were so helpful in the UK on the other end of the phone whilst we were stranded, the parents for being so understanding and offering such kind words and offers of help, and, most of all, the students; we had illness, a trip to the doctor, injuries, revision clinics, delays and many other labours thrown our way, yet, through it all, the students were exemplary and I must thank them for being such a mature, understanding, helpful and lovely group.

We truly walked in the footsteps of legendary heroes, each of whom are remembered for their heroic acts and famous stories. Little did we know that we would end up writing our own legendary tale, one I am sure our students will never forget and never grow tired of telling.

By Mr. J. Oracz