08 July 2017

A morning by mountain springs
and the shores of Lake Kournas

Waterfalls provide the backdrop for many tavernas in Argiroupolis (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

I spent Friday morning [7 July 2017] in the mountains above and west of Rethymnon, travelling through some beautiful villages and small towns, along river banks and gorges and through olive groves, visiting Argiroupolis, with its springs and waterfalls, Kournas, which was briefly the capital of revolutionary Crete in the 19th century, and Lake Kournas, the only freshwater lake in Crete.

Argyroupolis (Αργυρούπολις) is 27 km south-west of Rethymnon, about 260 metres above sea level between Mousselas and the River Petres. The upper and lower village are well preserved, and many Venetian mansions, with their beautiful doorways, are still used as family homes.

The lintel in the Venetian house that was once the villa of the Clodio family preserves the Latin inscription: Omnia Mundi Fumus et Umbra, ‘Everything in the world is smoke and shadow.’

The town has about 700 inhabitants, who are mainly farmers and stock breeders, but is known for its springs and waterfalls that create lush vegetation and provide a green background for the many tavernas.

The springs and waterfalls are the main attractions for visitors to Argiroupolis (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

The main attraction for visitors to Argyroupolis is these springs. Water gushes from a cave at the chapel of the Aghia Dynami, where the water is said to be miraculous. These springs and waterfalls appear throughout the village, behind the tables in the many tavernas or even on the roadside. The springs are also the sources of the River Mouselas, and once powered large mills for grinding grain.

The cave at the chapel of the Aghia Dynami in Argiroupolis (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Argyroupolis covers the ancient city of Lappa, a Doric city state that was founded by Agamemnon according to the Mycenaean tradition.

Ancient Lappa spanned a large part of the region of Rethymnon from the Cretan sea in the north to the Libyan coast. In the 2nd century BC, Lappa allied with Lyttos and other cities in the wars against Knossos.

During the Roman civil war, Lappa sided with Octavian against Antony. With Octavian’s victory at the Battle of Actium, Lappa gained special privileges and autonomy, and flourished and grew.

The Diocese of Lappa was one of the oldest on Crete and is said to have been founded by the Apostle Paul’s disciple, Saint Titus.

Lappa prospered during the late Roman period, from the second to the fourth century, leaving many rich and impressive architectural structures across the hills between the Mousselas and the Petre. The cemetery of ancient Lappa has fine limestone tombs and a huge plane tree.

Lappa was destroyed by the Saracens when they conquered Crete in 828 AD, but recovered in the second Byzantine period. Lappa later belonged to the feudal Ηortatsis family. But when they rebelled against the Venetians, Lappa passed to Alexios Kallergis, an ally of the Venetians.

The ruins of a Venetian fullers’ mill at Palios Mylos (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

In the grounds of the Palios Mylos (‘Ancient Mill’) Taverna, we saw the remains of a 17th century fullers’ mill, looking more like the ruins of an old temple or church.

Later, under Ottoman rule, the village was known as Gaidouropoli or Samaropoli. The town was given the name Argyroupolis by the revolutionary committee in 1822, and its geographical position gave it strategic importance during the revolutionary activities in the 19th century.

A beekeeper tends his hives and feeds his bees (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

We could have spent more time in Argyroupoli, exploring the excavated parts of the ancient city and Roman remains or visiting the large church of Aghios Ioannis., and we passed one old Byzantine church that has a mosaic floor from a Roman bath.

As we continued on the road,travelling with Talos Road Tours, we stopped briefly to watch a beekeeper tending his hives and feeding his young bees.

A colourful corner at a taverna in Kournas (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Our next stop was Kournas, a pretty traditional village 12 km further west. Despite the attractions of nearby Lake Kournas, the village is virtually untouched by tourism, with its old houses, village square, pottery workshop, kafeneion, taverna and traditional bakery.

Today, about 500 people live in Kournas. The town prospered from the 16th century on and is linked to many battles for freedom from the Turks. It was the seat of the Revolutionary Government in the Rising of 1866 and the seat of the Cretan General Assembly in 1897.

From Kournas it was a short journey down on Lake Kournas, the only freshwater lake in Crete. The lake used to be called Korisia after ancient Korion, a city thought to be in the area with a temple to Athena.

The lake was once full of eels but today it is better known for its terrapins, tavernas, tourism and the pedalo rental shops that line part of the shore. The White Mountains above are reflected in the mirror-like waters.

After a short drink on a balcony overlooking the lake, it was a short journey down to the coast to spend an afternoon in Georgioupoli.

The view of Lake Kournas from a balcony in a taverna overlooking the lake (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

The Greeks have a word
for it: (11) chaos

Chaos on sale in a shop in Koutouloufari in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

Is the present economic disaster in Greece chaos, a crisis, a catastrophe or a disaster?

In Greek mythology, Chaos (Χάος) was the first thing to exist. Hesiod wrote ‘at first Chaos came to be,’ or was. But next, possibly out of Chaos, came Gaia, Tartarus, and Eros. Darkness, Night and the Ether were born from Chaos.

The Greek word χάος (chaos) is a neuter noun that means ‘yawning’ or ‘gap.’ But what, if anything, was on either side of this gap or chasm is not clear. For Hesiod, Chaos, like Tartarus, though personified enough to have given birth to children, was also a place, far away, underground and gloomy, and the Titans lived beyond this chaos.

For the Roman poet Ovid, Chaos was an unformed mass, where all the elements were jumbled up together in a shapeless heap.

In his comedy Birds, Aristophanes says that first there was Chaos, Night, Erebus, and Tartarus, from Night came Eros, and from Eros and Chaos came the race of birds.

A crisis (κρίσις, krísis) is any event that is going to or is expected to lead to an unstable and dangerous situation. Crises are deemed to be negative changes in life, especially when they occur abruptly, with little or no warning.

In ancient Greece, the word κρίσις referred to a separating, power of distinguishing, decision, choice, election, judgment or dispute. The word was derived from the word κρίνω (krínō), to pick out, separate, choose, decide or judge. It comes from the root krei-, to sieve, and so to discriminate or distinguish.

More specifically, a crisis in Greek was a decisive moment. Hippocrates and Galen used the Greek word krisis to refer to a turning point in a disease. It could also refer to a judgment that was a result of a trial or selection.

The Oxford Dictionary defines a crisis as ‘a time of intense difficulty or danger,’ while the Cambridge Dictionary describes a crisis as ‘a situation that has reached an extremely difficult or dangerous point; a time of great disagreement, uncertainty or suffering.’

The word catastrophe comes from the ancient Greek καταστροφή (katastrophḗ). The words καταστρέφω (katastréphō), ‘I overturn,’ and καταστρέϕειν (katastréphein) have their roots in κατά (kata, down, against) and στρέφω (stréphō, ‘I turn’).

In classical Greek literature, particularly the tragedies, the catastrophe is the final resolution in a poem or narrative plot that unravels the intrigue and brings the piece to a close. In comedies, this may be a marriage between main characters; in tragedies, it may be the death of one or more main characters. It is the final part of a play, following the protasis, epitasis, and catastasis.

The catastrophe is either simple or complex. In a simple catastrophe, there is no change in the state of the main characters, nor any discovery or unravelling. In a complex catastrophe, the main character undergoes a change of fortune, sometimes by means of a discovery.

Critics have long debated whether the catastrophe should always end happily and favourably on the side of virtue. Aristotle, for example, preferred a shocking catastrophe rather than a happy one.

The English word disaster is derived from Middle French désastre and that in turn came from the Old Italian disastro, which in turn comes from the Ancient Greek pejorative prefix δυσ- (dus-), ‘bad,’ and ἀστήρ (aster), ‘star.’ The idea that a calamity could be caused by bad star comes from a belief in astrology, and that what happens is dependent on the position of the stars and planets.

As for calamity, the English word is derived from the Middle French calamite, and through that from the Latin calamitās (‘loss, damage; disaster’), from clāmāre (‘to shout, proclaim, declare, cry out’).

The Greek political vocabulary is laden with enough chaos, crises, and catastrophes without needing to add a Latin calamity to the woes of today.