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The Oxford Letter


Plato made the remark that the people of Akragas (modern Agrigento) built as if they expected their buildings to last for ever, and dined as if the world would end in an hour. But Akragas is now only a shabby town: a few temples and the story remain. But still grow the almond trees which are in blossom now ond give a gay and youthful touch to the pillars of the temples; and still the acropolis, the ancient site of the town, looks down upon the Temples of Juno, Concord (one of the most beautiful of Greek Temples), Castor and Pollux, and the sea. But now let me tell you about the little Greek village I've been searching for.

It's Piana dia Greci--on a mountain top and miles from nowhere it seemed--and I was told by a professor from Oxford, whose name I think it will be best not to mention, that they spoke modern Greek in the village; and from other sources, less scholarly but more accurate, that the women there have a reputation for their beauty and the men for their great self assurance.

I arrived on a Sunday afternoon and the entire population seemed to be in the narrow streets either promenading, nursing their babies or washing clothes. I went up to the first old man I saw whose nose seemed sufficiently Grecian and tried to say a few words, but with no success. Then I approached a woman drawing water from the well, but here intuition must have given different information from what I asked for, because she called what I think was her husband, and not even my American pasport seemed to quiet his fury.

Finally I went into a church. A baby was being baptised and there was much pouring of oil and singing, and the congregation were dressed in colorful costumes. It was a charming ceremony, until a man dressed in a white skirt and a blue jacket touched me on the shoulder and said: "Hey, Buddy, 'yer an American? I used to work in Brooklyn. Well, well, well!"

Anyway, the man from Brooklyn knew the Priest who did speak Greek but told me he learned it at school and he was the only one in Piana dia Greci who knew it. Everyone else was a descendant of the first colony of Albanian Greeks who came there during the war in 1488 and spoke Italian or a bastard Greek, which no Athenian could understand today. Then he gave me goat's milk and blessed me; asked me to take his picture, and so I did. Thus endeth my great trip adventure of exploration, a sad failure. But tomorrow I go to Syracuse to whistle in Dionysius' Ear, see Venus Anadyomene, and bask in the memory of Plato, Pindar and Aeschylus.

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