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The Oxford Letter

By Christopher Janus

Without imagination Syracuse is a dull port city with a museum, a Bar maid, 500 donkeys, 70,000 inhabitants and a cinema where Rudolph Valentino plays one week and Bambino Shirley Temple the next. But this is not the Syracuse you will love.

By cart and donkey twenty minutes from here and you're at one of the largest ancient Greek Theatres where Pindar read his poetry, Aeschylus gave the first performance of one of his plays and Plato mused and looked at the sea. And wasn't Archimedes a son of Syracuse? And didn't Simonides and Epichamos and Bacchylides grace the city with their presence?

And you can't escape Arethusa who is bubbling before me now. She's just as young today as two thousand years ago when as a young girl chasing a deer she was forced to cross the river where lived the river-god Alpheus. And, you remember the story, Alpheus was so attracted by her beauty that he embraced his cool waters about her and would have captured her, had it not been for Diana who heard Arethusa's cries and to save her caused a subterranean passage to be formed and the lovely maid to emerge as a Spring.

She's remained a Spring ever since, and the inhabitants have erected a Fountain in her honor which seems to please the little lady: for all day long she sings a pretty little Spring song and goes visiting and chattering with the many flowers about her. Some say the flowers are her children and, every time one kneels to kiss her, new flowers come up. But no one really knows. Yet it is quite possible, for there are many different flowers there: Roses, Honeysuckles, Water Lilies; yes, and poison Ivy--perhaps for the tyrant Dionysius--and a catcus plant!

But I must close now, for I want to finish pressing some papyrus. I've been to the Anapo River where the Arabs planted papyrus many years ago and it still flourishes abundantly. If ever I have anything important to say and the papyrus actually proves a success (neither of which is likely) I'll send you a letter on it!

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