The world is in a state of upheaval at the moment, and we’re all looking for things to make us feel less anxious. Maybe Classics can help.
Today’s interview is with Steve Jenkin
Is there a source from the ancient world that you find yourself coming back to when you want to feel better?
I find it almost impossible to pick a favourite anything when put on the spot (not sure what this says about me), and so even this question was tricky. But, I think if there’s one spot in the Ancient Greek world of which even a photograph would bring a smile and wondrous awe, it’s the view from Delphi’s theatre, across the valley to the Temple of Athena Pronoia in one direction and to the Gulf of Corinth in the other. The site of Delphi’s sanctuary nestles in the slopes of Mount Parnassos.
When did you first come across this spot?
Admittedly it was not until I became a teacher and led a school trip to the country that I finally visited Greece in my mid-twenties. Sadly one of the pupils became ill on the day that I would have seen Delphi which I instead spent by a hospital bed in Athens. So when I organised a return trip a couple of years later, the promise of visiting Delphi held more fascination and became something of a pilgrimage.
Can you tell me a bit about Delphi and its context?
Mythologically Delphi is the centre of the Classical Greek world, and before Apollo was worshipped there the location was associated with Gaia, goddess of the earth, fertility deity. In respect of the first, the Greeks erected a stone ‘navel’ in the very middle of the site, and as to the latter the very name Delphi alludes to Gaia’s womb, associated with Greek δελφύς.
Delphi became not only a sanctuary predominantly to Apollo, but also the seat of the most important oracle of the Greek world, the Pythia, and the location for the second-most-important games (the most important taking place at Olympia). As a result of all this, the place is chock-full of votive offerings, statuary and buildings, dedicated by generally the wealthiest Greeks from across the Greek nations.
What is it about Delphi that appeals to you most?
The wealth and splendour aside, it’s THE VIEW! Or, as I like to say, ‘A Womb with a View’.
Whatever the reason why those who first worshipped there chose this particular site, if it was simply and initially because there is something incredibly spiritual and awesome about the spot, I would have to wholeheartedly agree. The Greeks did like to place religious sanctuaries on mountain locations (Olympus?) but by no means exclusively, and some dramatic settings just seem to evoke a certain spirituality that urges you find gods there. Is there any better spot for a temple to Poseidon than the cliff’s edge at Sounion, at the very southern tip of Attica as it juts proudly into the Aegean?
And finally… what do you do, outside of Classics, to cheer yourself up?
Food, cooking, the countryside and foraging will always be important to me, and enjoying the last two with my beloved dogs, Sophie and Henry. I try to grow as much veg as I can, and, jointly with friends, rear and breed pigs, sheep and cows, which makes for a relatively healthy and happy cooking and eating experience. As for foraging, at the moment I’m trying my hand at elderflower champagne for the first time. Cheers!
Steve has had a near lifelong love of Classics, where teaching in schools has allowed him to share it. Setting up the Classics Library website in 2008, he hoped that other Classics teachers would be brave and kind enough to share their teaching resources and ideas in order to help teachers in other schools and to bring the Classics community closer together. Of course, they were.
Catch up with all the Comfort Classics interviews here.