Belfast Telegraph

The meteoric rise of my Greek odyssey

By Frances Burscough

Perseus was the first and the greatest of the heroes in Greek mythology. According to the legends, he was known for his unbeatable courage and as a slayer of evil creatures — his most famous being the conquest of the snake-headed Medusa whose evil eyes could turn a man to stone. He called on the help of his friends who all happened to be gods with incredible superpowers ... and the rest, as they say, is classical mythology.

Now I didn’t learn any of this from school. I was too busy daydreaming. No, my fascination for all things ancient started with those wonderful technicolour adventure films of the sixties and seventies such as Jason and the Argonauts, Sinbad the Sailor and Clash of the Titans to name but a few. So you could say that I owe more to the genius animator Ray Harryhausen than to anything my history teachers had to offer.

And so it came to pass that in the month of August in the year of 2015, Frances set off on her own personal Greek odyssey to retrace the steps of her ancient idols. Well, actually, she took advantage of the Greek bankruptcy crisis by snapping up a last-minute package holiday for a fraction of the normal price. But regardless of my less than noble intentions to avail of another country’s dire misfortune, I nevertheless found myself on the island of Rhodes, the very birthplace of so many magnificent tales, of Gods, demi-gods and mere mortals and of a civilisation long since passed into legend. With every step on the parched ground the whole magic and mystery of the myths came flooding back. As our coach wound its way up and down through the mountains and valleys dotted with olive trees, I was half hoping to see a legion of rattling skeleton swordsmen rise from the dust and start battling it out just like in the Seventh Voyage of Sinbad; or a giant goat-legged Cyclops emerge from a dark cave brandishing a boulder, ready to flatten us all in one fell swoop.

Now although the odyssey of the interminable airport transfer took many hours, we did finally arrive safe and sound in the early evening at the Hotel Golden Sunrise in the tiny coastal village  of Gennadi, only to discover that a complete power cut (possibly due to unpaid electricity bills?) was under way and the place was sweltering with no air-con and murky with no electrical lighting; so I made a dash for some fresh air up on the hotel roof. I had just kicked off my shoes and stretched my tired legs across an abandoned sun lounger, when I saw it — the most spectacular night sky I have ever seen in my life. We were so far from any light-pollution (helped also by the timely power cut) that the sky was like an inky black silk screen ablaze with a billion brilliant lights. And then, just as I was thinking the view could not get any better, a meteor streaked across the sky like a gleaming needle piercing the heavens’ embroidered cloths.

And then another from the exact same spot but searing across the blackness in the opposite direction. Then another, then another. It only took a second for me to comprehend what was happening. This was the beginning of the Perseid meteor shower. So called because the shooting stars emanate from within the constellation of Perseus, like sparks from the hero’s mighty sword. I had searched and hoped to see this annual phenomenon every year and now, by accident, I was at the right place at the right time. How significant and wonderful that the right place just happened to be an immortal Greek island!

Unfortunately I didn’t have a helmet of invisibility to hand, so I was eaten alive by mosquitoes, but I was finally experiencing something I’d always dreamed of.

The closing lines of the fabulous film Clash of the Titans came to mind when Zeus says: “To perpetuate the story of Perseus’s courage, I command that from henceforth he will be set among the stars and constellations. As long as man shall walk the Earth and search the night sky in wonder, they will remember the courage of Perseus forever. The stars will never fade. They will burn till the end of the time.”  

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