We should have sacrificed to the deities to work out how our fortunes would have fared today. As it was it was a day of both ups and downs, mentally and in terms of height. Our first destination was the Korykian Cave – the route which Pausanias describes as follows:
“On the way from Delphi to the peaks of Parnassos, about seven and a half miles beyond Delphi is a bronze statue, and the way up to the Korykian Cave: easier for an active man than it is with mules and horses.”
Therefore we started off in the Delphian streets, and climbed for over one-and-a-half hours to reach the summit of the mount to whose side Delphi clings. Our route was north-north-east towards Parnassos’ cloud covered mount itself. Four hundred metres higher we began to access the mule path which Peter Levi (the translator of the copy of Pausanias’ journeys to which we were referring), mentions as leading towards the fabled Korykian cave. Though both Levi (who gave his instructions in French and Latin), and Pausanias were very unclear in their instructions beyond the distance to the cave and the zig-zag nature of the path; the magnificent views well made up for it.
Accompanied by the music of the wind in the pines, goat bells, and the occasional car honking us companionably we managed to reach the Korykian Cave by about 2.00pm.
What Pausanias did capture was the glory of the Korykian cavern itself– possessing two long sections, stalactites and stalagmites, and even an inscription on the inside of the opening. Dark and light melded to create a strange and wonderful atmosphere. Here are a few choice Pausanias phrases on the matter:
“[In comparison to other famous Greek caves] it was the most worthwhile grotto I have ever seen….the Korykian Cave is bigger than these and you can travel most of the way through it without lights”
“The people of Parnassos believe it is sacred to the Korykian nymphs [some branch of water nymph], and most of all to Pan”
Though we could not speak for the origin of the cave itself (though such a cavern must have been of ancient use due to its relationship with the untamed and barely humanoid Pan, and it’s sheer presence in the landscape), we can talk about its magnificence. The water channels in the cave which Pausanias also mentions were no longer present (the area was occupied by the fire stains of campers/hippies/new ageists), but it was certainly a worthwhile visit. The entrance gave unhindered views towards cloud-topped Parnassos, and the plain between showed off the main road between Eptalafos and Arachova. Once the eyes had adjusted to the gloaming the first portion of the cave was wide and high with fewer rock formations, the gap to the second section was, however, festooned with these. Ancient Greeks and Romans equipped with torches which would throw a dancing red light onto those same rocks surely gave the place an unworldly atmosphere filled with quasi-human figures (we certainly saw shapes of men and women). Pausanias had led us to a glorious location where the past was not too far away, and the spirituality of those who occupied the region then could be explained and justified.
We were unsuccessful when looking out for the Thuiades who run raving up Parnassos in honour of Apollo and Dionysus– a sight Pausanias mentions, but we doubted whether any New Ageist would take their belief that far. So leaving the cave reluctantly we walked back to our hidden bags (Pausanias must have been truly active or followed by a train of helpers to have climbed to the cave with an equivalent amount of baggage); the route to Eptálofos beckoned.
Pausanias only gave general (and they were certainly general) instructions to how to get to Lilaia (the town after Eptálofos):
“Lilaia is a day’s journey from Delphi even in winter, provided you cut across Parnassos; I reckoned the road to be twenty-five miles (therefore 20 to Eptálofos)
Levi is also unclear except to say that we should follow a mule path that was also on our map. So we followed it. We started at 3.00pm, and two-hours-and-a-half later we finally reached a small village called Kalania (not a village according to our Greek saviour- but more on this later). From this place several ‘footpaths’ led off, and adding to our sense of confusion ominously nothing moved in this village except a single old black-clad woman. The houses were poverty-stricken: there was one built entirely from broken planks with an outdoor toilet wrapped tightly around a tree. The landscape was beautiful- a rolling grassy meadow- the living places saddening.
We walked from the village down one road, and the yells of the old woman became clearer: this was not the path. Only by 6.30 did we find the right route down the valley towards Eptálofos, the time in between was spent attempting to use compass, map, and then google to find out where we should go. This path was a mountain-bike ride towards the valley bottom making sure we didn’t break an ankle we wandered on. During this time we wondered whether Pausanias used a local guide to find his way, either that or there was a mass deforestation in this area in the second-century CE to show the way clearly. Two hours on we were certain that Pausanias had a local guide, and began to curse (though with due respect to his reputation), both his not pointing out of important local geographical features, and whoever had created the map we were using. It was obvious when we finally stumbled onto the main road that the path we had followed towards Eptálofos did not exist in its entirety.
So neither Pausanias nor the military grade map were able to rescue us in our predicament. Night had fallen we were two hours from Eptalafos and beginning to tire. The taxi service there decided we were prank callers. The hotel owners were made of something touching on holy, however, and decided to come and find us on the road when we called to say we would reach them late. Relief and jubilation gripped us, and when he arrived though we never knew his name he took us under his wing. He knew of Pausanias and admonished us for our reliance on a man who was centuries old, he also thought we were very brave or very foolhardy to try to walk to Eptálofos from Delphi, and then led us to a restaurant (then only one left open). Was this a clear example of xenía (guest friendship) fabled in some parts of Ancient Greece and about which a whole myth had been written, or just the comforting of some loveable lost English idiots we can never know. But as we curled up last night we knew that his kindness had given us food and warmth for that evening.
Joe: “I think if Pausanias had been walking without mules, oxen, and slaves there would have been rather more moaning about the steep hills in his account”
David: “It was intriguing to note that all of the many Orthodox churches we passed were closed-off by locked doors and padlocked new-looking heavy metal gates. It makes a stark contrast to the otherwise friendly and easy-going Greek culture, and the general openness of churches in the rest of the world”