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A hopeless romantic meets her match

Touring Greece's antiquities, a traveler comes face to face with the temples of the ancient gods – and her childhood dreams.

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Just steps from the Agora where democracy was born, her words conjured up an enclave of spiritual and noble yearnings. All this, I felt, must be empowering today's Athenians in their own yearnings for dignity and prosperity.

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The first night, on the ship's al fresco dining terrace, the captain regaled me with tales of steering the ship through celebrity waters – the same wine-dark seas that Homer's Odysseus had sailed. Leaning over, as if to impart a secret, he said: "At our next stop, Epidaurus – the best preserved of all ancient Greek theaters – the tragedies of Euripedes and Sophocles are still performed. Shakespeare's masterpieces, too."

Later, in my cabin, I thought of the parallel quest, from Sophocles to the Elizabethan bard, to unfold the mysteries of the human psyche.

The mystical ingredients of the voyage were the near-obsession of a fellow passenger, a charming Londoner. At Mycenae, Troy, and Delos, he'd find secluded spots to create watercolors of the sites. "For me," he said joyfully, "making these pictures is a way of communing with their creators – even penetrating, just a little, their enigma." His words reminded me of a professor at Columbia, who required his students to write a poem in the style of the ancient poetess, Sappho, from the Greek island of Lesbos, as a catalyst to probing her genius. [Editor's note: The name of the poet was incorrectly stated in the original version.]

In Mykonos, that quintessential Greek isle, long a mecca for international voyagers, the Londoner surrendered his sketchbook to simply relish a souvlaki at a waterfront cafe. "I must rejuvenate myself," he confessed, "for the next ports of call and Turkey's gems, the ruins at Aphrodesias and Ephesus."

Wandering through these vast, ancient sites a few days later, it was as though Aphrodite, goddess of love, had returned to me from my childhood fantasy and whispered: "Don't mind the others if they accuse you of being a hopeless romantic. Look at me, I've devoted 2,500 years to being just that."

Back home, reimmersed in the workaday world, a friend from the ship called to commiserate about our shared malaise. "I feel bereft of ruins and all those sublime islands," she lamented, "and can't wait to return." Near retirement, she was determined to experience, solo, all 25 odysseys.

"But what about your husband?" I asked. "Isn't he a homebody with a low tolerance for your absences?"

In a heartbeat, she fired back: "If Odysseus could be apart from Penelope for 20 years, then Max can handle it."


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