The home of light

Deep night in Delphi. A sudden wind awakens me, and though I am still heavy with unfinished sleep, I move to the terrace and stand there in total peace to gaze at the stars. When I was a little girl in Greece, I stood in the same way every clear night believing I could touch them. It has been a long time since they have seemed so close.

The shape of the mountain across the way is visible under the stars, a dark, rock formation with mysteries hidden where it drops. I am filled with awe and joy unspeakable.

In the morning I slip out again and call my husband and daughters to come outside, to see the chasm which in the darkness they had only sensed. Our room is carved inside the mountain; we stand on its edge. The valley in the gorge below is covered with olive trees leading all the way to Itea and the sea.

Delphi is the home of light. Here the Greeks came to see the sun, for the mountains offer shadows. When you emerge from shadows, the light becomes real and more precious. In Delphi, light and music blended and danced on the slopes.

Is this perhaps the reason the ancients chose it as a temenos, a sacred place? They recognized this duality within them, I think, and only in Delphi, where Parnassus throws enormous shadows and opens frightening chasms, could they find the Light. They then emptied themselves of dark feelings and thoughts to come into the consolation of the Sacred Way and the rising hill which catches the full sun.

When you stand on the edge of the precipice, over that olive-grown valley that leads to the sea, do you hear the music? It is in the rustle of the silver leaves, and in the sweetness of the copper bells on the throat of sheep, and in the distant running waters of the river meandering through the olives. Dip your hand in the pool of the Castalian Spring; you hear and feel the song.

Near Castalia, under the twin peaks of the Phaedriades, I stand and contemplate Parnassus. Parnassus is a masculine mountain. Last night we drove around his unending rock, saw him at twilight, felt his brooding presence in the dark, then rose and rose circularly to Delphi, my heart's home. All that is dark and light within me finds a response in this place.

Here Pythia emerged with the double-edged oracles to offer them in priestly irony to the world's great egos. Here the young men pursued Greek ideals in the healthy beauty of their bodies as they competed in the Stadium, and all the visitors rejoiced together in the theater, the shrine of the mind. They allowed no war in this temenos of light.

As usual, my stay in Delphi will not be long. But it will offer me enough time to throw down into the chasm my exhaustion from traveling, my anger at the pollution of this country of light, my regret at having to say goodbye again to those I love.

Only a burro, tethered to an olive tree, watches me and blinks. Then I join the others and climb along the Sacred Way with my husband and children. I listen to an exuberant Dutch family talk about the monuments in a language I don't understand. Last night they giggled, today they pause, are silent, and look. I pass by an American father who sits on a fallen column and reads to his children of the past greatness of Delphi. Two Germans are measuring distance through their cameras, and momentarily I cringe to hear their language, which brings back echoes of sirens and bloodshed on the cliffs of Parnassus. But I have tossed all that down the precipice of forgetting, and I shake myself free.

A Greek guide, in a booming, humorous voice, entertains his listeners as he points to the polygonal wall with its inscriptions and calls it ''the delphic Gazette.''

We four climb hand in hand, but then we drift apart for a while to contemplate in solitude. I stand in the shadow of one of the massive, decapitated columns of the temple. I lift my eyes to the east. The sun emerges glorious above the mountain. The column is on fire. Soon the light will burn out all the shadows. In this moment, when the present and the past are fused, I think, The Oracle has spoken - peace.

A music rises below, the languages of nations. They are all coming to Delphi again, in peace. I pray to the God of all Light that they will continue to do so , no longer with offerings of gold as in the past, but leaving with gifts of peace - that Delphi, the temenos of light, will remain a temenos of peace.

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