The gods, history, art, food and agriculture of the Isle of Naxos, Greece

There are a lot of pages and references  dedicated to the Greek donkey as of late. A sturdy animal used often for the purpose of agriculture by farmers or by villagers without cars to carry heavy weight in incredibly hot temperatures. This is what they were built for as they are similar to the desert camel.  So, please people, unless the donkey owners are untrained or ruthless “meanies” most of these animals are beloved in Greece. I should know, we owned several in our family in years past.

Greece is considered the “hottest” country in Europe with summer temperatures  exceeding 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius). The last “hydration” post is most important to review as one can even get sunburnt if they don’t wear a hat often — it happened to me! Health literacy indeed should include the “donkey” holistic model described on this site if we are to look at the bigger picture.

Greece has over 6,000 islands but only 227 are inhabited. So this post will be one of several where I will be sharing some extraordinary experiences with the hope that you will visit there too!

4783E0CD-5D4B-4609-9D92-23BDA16D81FALast year, during this summer period,  we were privileged to stay at the “Princess of Naxos” on the isle of Naxos main town, and interview the owner and island hotel association rep. who was very proud about his island and more recent tourism developments. It’s an island for “all tastes” for families, couples, or individual adventurers. We had the chance to walk and drive around various parts of the island enjoying the pristine blue waters of the sea (Agios Prokopios, Agia Anna, Agios Georgios were personal favorites) visiting museums with remnants from ancient, medieval, to modern times. An island of antithesis yet complementary sites, smells, sounds and tastes. Also a geological marvel with stones and minerals, including Naxos marble, would make anyone want to “dig” for more!

The marble Sphinx is proof of the Hellenistic and Egyptian relationships while the marble “portal” door welcomes visitors to the island. 8110DEED-9A7E-41EE-AC52-469304D7F4F1.jpegAs if a sleeping pharaoh, the gigantic statue of Apollo is carved on the mountain side for worshipers and the majestic pillars of the temples of Artemis and Demeter (female goddesses of fertility and earth’s bounty), or the site of Dionysus (merriment and “wine god”) remind one of how important fertile land and the bounty of food is for human survival.  The gods of pagan times likely affected the mentality of Christianity as various saints are important to Orthodox Christians. We remain with elements of various personality types and the cosmos: earth, air, fire, and water — ancient philosophy, astrology, and later psychologist Carl Jung aspired personality experts Myers & Briggs to better understand ourselves and others.

One can take a side trip to neighboring islands of Paros or Mykonos, and the small (uninhabited) isle of Delos dedicated to the sun god Apollo with a fabulous “terrace of the lions” built around 600 B.C. with infamous Naxos marble showcasing the strength of dominance of the island as biggest sea trades happened here of all the Cyclade islands, the name of the island “group”—  see fellow blogger’s site here.

 

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Following Artemis’ path, I became a “huntress” of sorts to try and understand the island “identity” and driving towards semi-mountainous Filoti (Φιλώτι), we stopped right before at at a local pottery maker whose family art goes back three generations. We still admire his work today in our home and they deliver goods almost anywhere globally. The impressive “wine glass of equality” was fascinating as all drinkers could only have equal amounts — if you went over the ‘line’ wine would be lost pouring to the floor (one would not be happy).

A small shop owner told us stories of agriculture and dedications to the ancient gods as people aspired to live off the land and how Naxos became the main trading isle of the region. Some of the popular trades of the island continue to be their cheeses like my favorite graviera (γραβιέρα), Naxos potatoes (something similar to the U.S. Idaho potato), or their famous citron (κίτρο) green colored liqueur.

His shop was full with handwoven baskets, and anything from mountain oregano to sheep’s bells or khoudounia (there is a site on their origins in Greece here) in smaller animals the smaller bell is called a “trokani” (τροκάνι). Noteworthy is the fact that there are similar herbs and medicinal plants shared among other islands and mainland Greece (Alan Touwaide’s research work is highlighted in a past post on ancient and medicinal plants). This shop is a cultural treasure that will hopefully make it through the ongoing financial crisis of the country.

 

Find out more about this “must visit” Greek island via the website Naxos.gr — from museums to gastronomy, or simply a relaxing seaside vacation, that will leave everyone wanting to return.

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March onwards… Spring Traditions

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There are many traditional sayings for March, one of the most unpredictable months weather wise of the year!

Best to have a warm March rather than a cold March — “Κάλλιο Μάρτη καρβουνιάρη, παρά Μάρτη καψαλιάρη”. (Καλύτερα κρύο παρά ζέστη)

I hung the bracelet on a tree for the ‘healthy’ swallows (χελιδόνια) to supposedly carry to their nest to protect them from the diseases that may come from other birds traveling to Southern Mediterranean from colder climates. Since it turns out the sick birds avoid the red, thus why people allow these bird nests on their property today.

This cotton woven bracelet traditionally goes back to Ancient Greece and Rome and almost identical traditions exist in many areas in the Balkans including Greece, with similar language names (past blog post on Lent and the Ides of March). It is interesting to me how many of these traditions have survived today and are reflecting cultural health literacy. Perhaps the Institute for the Preservation of Medical Traditions is the one of the best vehicles to spread the value of traditions and medicinal plants, to recreate such medical centers as Asclepius  [Ασκληπιός]  intended (Ancient healing centers in article by Visit Greece).

Πάει ο Μάρτης — March is gone, but Spring is in full bloom quote “April showers bring May flowers”. No surprise, around the world due to extreme rainfall and other natural disasters because with climate change we’ve had several tragedies and more public health community problems. Some of us understand the value of community planning including creating more eco-friendly environments to attract more animals, and keep spaces cooler with less water such as this seaside succulent (cactus like) plant.  Let’s March onwards and think smarter.

The language of medicinal plants from the ancient world through modern times

Dr. Alain Touwaide in the beginning of this month mesmerized his audience presenting the “Hyppocrates’ Legacy: Greek Medicine in the Mediterranean and Beyond” showcasing his 40+ years of research experience as a classicist and scholar of the Byzantine world, taking us on a “medicinal plant journey” from Ancient Greece (Hellas), the Mediterranean and Middle East, through the Byzantine Empire and Middle Ages,the west, and tying in our modern times. A speaker of 12 languages, university lecturer and researcher, and Scientific Director of the Institute for the Preservation of Medical Traditions; Touwaide, with the support of Emanuela Appetiti (cultural anthropologist, Touwaide’s wife and research partner) gave his audience a true “intercultural” lesson of sorts.  He helped us travel back to the days of Pedanius Dioscorides (Πεδάνιος Διοσκουρίδης) of Anazarbus (the then ancient Hellenic world, now modern Turkey) through Byzantine and modern times… Medicinal plants (e.g. Δρακόντιον) from archaeological representation, art, to actual plant.

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Johnson papyrus fragment of an illustrated herb

How fascinating to learn about the circulation of information via a papyrus and how this may have had effect on translation, since this medium was often recycled — the ancients and those through the middle ages printed on top of other manuscripts in order for this information to eventually reach the ‘commoners.’ We wonder, what has been erased at the base!??

Furthermore, the Greek concept of “ιατρό σόφια” or “γιατροσόφια” (meaning wisdom of medicine passed on from your grandmother) may indeed be one of those very useful things to more carefully look into –an oral and written tradition carried through the ages to our modern days. Indeed, we see that most of the world still uses traditional plants as therapies — these “traditional”,”alternative” or “complementary” medicines (see World Health Organization for the differentiating definitions), may be plants or herbs we use in our everyday cooking like basil and garlic, or for stress and pain reduction like lavender and peppermint. As a matter of fact there are several webpages dedicated to grandma’s medicinal knowledge or “γιατροσόφια” like this one and one interesting one that is tied to the “Agion Oros” (Mount Athos holy mountain, Northern Greece).

Since Greece is among the top three biodiversities in the world, could this not be cultivated more systematically in turn to produce and retain knowledge, create more jobs, and even tourism by rebuilding some of those ancient sites for consulting on medical care the revitalizing of the Ἀσκληπιεῖον – Asklepieion as a way to help the country look to something more positive in the midst of the ongoing crisis for the last almost ten years? Rumor has it that the Greek WWF may be thinking of more serious plant biodiversity proposals in the near future, we hope so!  The first ‘hospital’ was created by the “Asclepiads” inspired through Hippocrates’ original work (we all recall the Hyppocratic Oath), these ancient physicians  followed the cult of Asclepius and the temple of healing. The most well-known asklepieia in Greece today are the Asclepieion in Kos & the Asklepieion of Epidaurus — more that existed in the ancient Hellenic world, some are found in modern-day Turkey.  As an aside, it seems that there is a catalogue of physician’s “oaths” affecting the code of ethics that doctors still use today (anyone want to do a linguistical comparative study in context of the various historical times?).

Dr. Touwaide referred to terms like “diffusion of pharmacotherapies” or reconstructing the “life of the book” (pressed plants in books, etc.), and how the knowledge of a book was transmitted to common people — diffusion through translation (Arabic science is rooted in Greek science) as he showed us remnants from Arabic Baghdad of the 9th century….even in arabic one can clearly see mention of certain terms within the texts and even the image of Asclepius shown in a more culturally-specific and acceptable form that would be more geared for the middle east arabic-speaking world. Indeed we share a common language and interest, can this not overcome any modern-day barriers?

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Modern symbol in U.S. Medicine, the caduceus

The Asclepius staff is pictured in the U.S. as Herme’s “Caduceus” a universal images used for modern day medicine but there is so much more to those snakes than even we know (healing snakebites, etc.). It turns out that the original staff by Asclepius had one snake and nothing to do with ‘wings’…. this was exclusive to the messenger god Hermes, so another case of mistaken ancient-to-modern identity!

Thanks Alain…just in time for winter and thinking of prevention and healing of our common colds the flu, health problems I’m sure we all experience and likely natural cures that stand the test of time…