The Gift A voyage around Acropolis

“This is what I know…” said the old man softly, as he started wiping off the condesation that had accumulated on the bathroom mirror with the palm of his hand. He had learned a lot in his days. Lately though all of his life’s knowledge, like his mirror image, felt only vaguely familiar to him.

*

“This is where I belong…” said the old man another day, having lost track of time inside an old curiosity shop in the district of Monastiraki, right under the rock of the Acropolis.

“Are you looking for something?” asked the salesman, as he dusted off a collection of vintage cameras.

“Yes,” answered the old man after a long pause and pointed at the salesman’s feathery duster.

*

The sun was beating down as the old man stepped out of the shop. So he raised the duster over his head. “This is no good. Where is my hat?” he wondered out loud. “Where is my mind?”

“Hey, old man!” shouted a voice from across the street. “Are you going to clear the air for us?”

“Yes,” replied the old man without turning around. “This is what I must do.” And as he caught sight of the Parthenon, he took off to conquer the ancient rock with a duster in his hand.

*

The old man wished he were younger, as he strained to climb the slippery slabs of marble that led up to the Acropolis. At the Propylaea he sank down, exhausted. “I should have done this a long time ago,” he told himself.

“This is what I have to learn,” he said then, and would have sprung up had his knees obeyed him. “I must learn something older than myself, to feel young again.”

*

The old man weaved his way through the temples of the Acropolis, but soon grew tired again. The Pandroseion, the Erechtheion, the Sanctuary of Zeus Polieus, even the Parthenon, started to blend into one another.

“Maybe if I had remembered to bring my reading glasses…” he scolded himself, standing over a small sign with very small letters, that offered a keyhole introduction to the place.

“I must have a talk with you...” he said finally to himself.

*

“You and I…” started the old man, observing the Parthenon from its northern side. “You and I are missing a lot…”

The ravaged temple was a shell of its itself. And yet, the way the columns reached to the blue sky, free of a roof to hold them down, took a burder of his own shoulders.

“Now look at me…” said a female voice at that point.

The old man turned around, but was alone. “This cannot come from my own head,” he said. “I can still recognize my voice.”

“I was considered the most beautiful woman in the world...”

The old man got a shock. He had been in love a long time ago. And his love had been the most beautiful woman in the world. So it had to be her.

“Where are you?” he asked, looking around for a woman as old as he was.

“Your eyes are weak, old man” the voice replied. “But maybe it’s better so.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, I can still break a heart. I’m Helen, the Helen of Troy, and I was trouble since my youth.”

“This cannot be!” protested the old man. “If you are that Helen, you can’t possibly remember your youth!”

“Oh, but I do” replied Helen, and told him how she was abducted by Theseus in her youth before being won over by Menelaus in a competition between her many suitors. “But surely you remember the story of my abduction by Paris and the ten-year-long Trojan War.”

“Stop!” protested the old man. “You’re making me crazy!”

“That is how beautiful I was.”

“No! You’re just a voice in my head!”

“But I am here” replied the voice. “Accept me as a gift.”

“A second voice inside my head is as much of a gift as a wooden horse outside the gates of Troy,” replied the old man and turned to walk away. “And we all know that end.”

“Now it is you who are breaking my heart!”

“Enough!” he said and swung his duster in the air.

*

For a time the old man found comfort among a group of tourists. They were younger and more animated than he was and their foreign tongue raised a wall against the voices he sought to avoid. But the tourists moved on, and he found himself alone again at the eastern side of the Parthenon.

“It all looks the same from here” he said after having strained his eyes to notice any differences with the northern side. “Or maybe it is the heat that is getting to me” he added, wiping the sweat on his brow.

“No. It’s always the same!” boomed a male voice in his ears.

“I didn’t say that” replied the old man, looking over his shoulder to see who was around.

To his frustration he was all alone.

“We could have ruled the world,” continued the voice. “We were the Giants. But it’s always the same, whether you lose one or a hundred battles.”

“I can’t remember if I won or lost more battles in my life,” said the old man. “Or if those battles were battles at all. But then, I never was a giant.”

“Size has nothing to do with it,” came the reply. “We were a race of great strength, but not particularly of great size. Ours is almost a misnomer.”

“At least you learned that you were not the strongest of them all,” said the old man. “Helen, around the corner, still thinks she was the prettiest in the world.”

“This is our story, old man” replied the voice angrily. “Don’t mix us up!”

“I was just saying--”

“We are the Giants. And don’t confuse us with the Titans, either!”

“Why would I do that?” asked the old man.

“Because so many do! But just because we both fought the Olympian Gods, and both lost to them, it doesn’t give you the right to lump us all together.”

“I know,” said the old man. “First came the Titans. Then came the Olympians and upstaged the Titans. I remember that much.”

“And then we came!” thundered the voice. “And lost not only the battle for supremacy, but also the battle of identity. You think you could at least remember that?”

“I’ll try” was the only promise the old man could make.

*

“I came totally unprepared,” said the old man as he paused for a breather in front of the southern side of the Parthenon a short while later.

“So did we” said a new voice.

“I meant that I forgot my hat” the old man replied, not even bothering this time to look around. “And pen and paper. I tend to forget.”

“We, too” continued the voice.

“How comforting,” said the old man, a smile sending ripples across the wrinkles of his face.

“Not if you are doing battle for as long as we have been fighting,” continued the voice.

“And what battle is that?”

“The Battle of the Lapiths and the Centaurs. A misunderstanding, really. That’s why it is so hard to stop.”

“And are you with the Lapiths?” asked the old man, who would have sworn never having heard that name before.

“I just said that we came totally unprepared. That can only make me a Centaur” said the voice, and told him how the Centaurs were invited to the wedding of King Pirithous of the Lapiths, how they forgot that even a very small amount of wine drove them wild and how, after becoming drunk, they started running after the Lapith women--one of them even trying to run off with the king’s bride.

“Well, that wasn’t very nice” said the old man.

“Well, we tend to forget,” replied the Centaur.

“This sounds to me like a great excuse to keep fighting” said the old man.

“And now that you know, do you think you will be able to remember?” asked the Centaur.

“For that to happen I must fight” said the old man and slowly walked away, repeating under his breath: “the Lapiths… and the Centaurs… the Lapiths… and the Centaurs…”

*

“And what do you have to say for yourself?” asked the old man out loud, once he got to the western side of the Parthenon. By now sweat trickled in streams down his face and the dryness of his voice grated his throat.

A group of tourists near by turned and looked at him with surprise.

“Oh, just go away! Leave me alone!” he said, waving his duster at them.

“So let’s hear it!” he demanded again from the voice he hoped to hear. “I don’t have all day. And if I did, I wouldn’t know how to remember it all.”

“Then go away!” said finally a female voice.

“Helen?” he asked and his heart skipped a beat.

“You have no place here, old man,” continued the voice.

“I am in the ruins of my life. Helen…” he replied and sunk to the ground. “What happened? Did you run away? Were you abducted? We had a story… a long time ago… but we could have had a life…”

“I am not Helen” answered the voice. “So I cannot tell you the story you want to hear.”

“Then tell me your story!” demanded the old man.

“My story is buried under another story,” explained the voice, and told him of the fatal Venetian mortar that fell on the Parthenon, used by the Ottomans, occupiers of Athens, as storage grounds for their ammunition, in 1687. “So you see, ironically, our war was a casualty of war,” concluded the voice.

“But which war was yours?”

“They called it the Amazonomachy.”

“The Amazons! Of course! I know you!” rejoiced the old man. “But not your battle...”

“We had our day” conceded the voice. “Now there is little that remains, other than what people imagine us to have been.”

The old man lowered his head. “I feel more lost than ever now,” he said. “How can I find myself again?”

“Perhaps, instead of trying to remember who you are, you should try to reimagine yourself,” suggested the voice.

"Perhaps..." repeated the old man. "Perhaps..."

*

The old man came down the ancient rock not in the least wiser.

By the time he entered his house the stories had been tangled up in his mind, and by dinner time the remains of the day were sparser than the leftovers on his plate.

“So this is what I’m left with” he said disappointed, as his tired eyes caught sight of the duster on the table. “Well, they say tomorrow is another day…” and brought the plate to the sink.

*

“11-3! I won again!” cried the little boy with joy, raising his ping-pong racket in the air.

The old man smiled at the child from across the table.

He had forgotten of their weekly game and during the game he had forgotten to keep the score, just like he had forgotten so many stories of his life and all the stories he had been told from 2500 years ago.

But he was happy nonetheless. Because for that brief moment he was part of this child’s story.

And the little boy, his grandchild, would first have to grow into an old man before he in turn would forget all about him.

Created By
phedon konstantinidis
Appreciate

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Photos by Phedon Konstantinidis

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