1.To Thasos with Shakespeare to guide us!

Holidaying in Greece this northern Summer, we were blessed. Our vacation was a time of reconnecting with relatives, many of whom I hadn’t had the pleasure of knowing as adults. Getting to know them now, was like making new friends minus the awkwardness. They were so hospitable, so generous with their time, so indulgent.

Catching up, of course, meant answering the inevitable question of what am I doing with my time. Kids. House. Family. Writing …blogging. About what? Which fixation should I go with? Karagiozis? Menander? Shakespeare?

The modern day township of Limenas, built up over centuries of history. The ancient marina is submerged beneath this modern day one.

The modern-day township of Limenas, built up over centuries of history. The ancient marina is submerged beneath this modern-day one.

Did I know Thasos wasn’t too far away – when you consider the distance already bridged that is – Sydney, Abu Dhabi, Istanbul, Thessaloniki? We could go tomorrow. Why not? On the morrow with Pericles in hand and a child being cared for by the extended family, my cousins Michail and Aristea, drove me, my husband and eldest son, through Chalkidiki, north to Kavala and onto the ferry for Thasos.

We were there to answer the question, “How well acquainted with Thasos was Shakespeare?” With so many holes in the historical record, could he have slipped through a trip to Thasos without leaving a trace on the fabric of history? Are the details of Tharsus so precise that they describe Thasos? Unless I looked, all I would be left with was my own conjecture.

The place I wanted to find the most was the Governor’s, Cleon’s, residence. I imagined that he would have lived in a castle or fortress. Being unsuccessful in my attempts at googling archaeological sites on Thasos, in English, we headed for the archaeological museum to make our first enquiries. Just across the road from the museum’s entrance was the entrance into the Roman Agora. I was thrilled. I had placed the action of the play during the time of the Seleucid Empire, which coincided with the Roman occupation of Thasos. The Agora, just metres inland from ancient boat sheds and marina, was a place of interest in forming the possible cityscape of Shakespeare’s Tharsus. It was the heart of the ancient city.

Ancient Agora of Thasos

The Ancient Agora of Thasos

Could this archaeological site be all that is left of:

This Tharsus…
A city, on whom plenty held full hand,
For riches strew’d herself even in the street;
Whose towers bore heads so high, they kissed the clouds,
And strangers ne’er beheld, but wondered at…

Riches? Ancient Thasos was a mineral rich island. There had been a succession of mining activity on the island that began with ochre in pre-history and moved through gold and silver and continues today off-shore, with oil. If statues can be numbered as riches, Thasos honoured gods, civil leaders and a home-grown athlete, Theagenes, with public installations.

The ancient drain, to the right of which was the two story building.

The ancient drain, to the right of which was the two story building.

Walking through the Agora and along a drain that cut across the width of the site, it was hard to imagine a double storey structure by it.* Harder to imagine towers. Walking deeper into the site and under a small bridge that accommodates the present day road, we came to an area only partially excavated by the French archaeological school in the 1930s. Beyond this and only recently excavated is a Roman official’s villa and bath. The mosaic floor has been relocated to the forecourt of the archaeological museum. It is one, complete floor, shown in the next couple of photos.

Roman Official's Villa -  Mosaic Floor

Roman Official’s Villa – Mosaic Floor

Detail of Roman Villa's Mosaic Floor - joins the previous image

Detail of Roman Villa’s Mosaic Floor – joins the previous image

Having found the city and possibly the Governor’s residence, I was euphoric. I wanted to find more. Is this how Richard Roe felt during his searches for the real settings of Shakespeare’s Italian plays? Did he get carried away wanting to find more?

More? What about Marina? That’s a nice Christian name belonging to a saintly maid. Marina, the virtuous, despoiling the clientele of Mytilene’s brothel with her philosophising! Shakespeare’s Marina whitewashed their blackened souls. St Marina, a wealthy young woman of the Eastern Mediterranean world shunned marriage for her loftier religious ideals. Could there be a connection between Shakespeare’s Marina and St Marina? Was Shakespeare thinking of the saint when he named Pericles daughter? Has there ever been a connection between Thasos / Tharsus and St Marina? And what of more specific connections between the text of Pericles and Thasos? I’ll leave these for next time.

Acknowledgments

I’d like to especially thank Michail Papalexiou and Aristea Londou for their enthusiasm, generosity and patience in making this search possible and the extended Papalexiou family for their caring and capable child minding.

*Mc Gilchrist, Nigel, Mc Gilchrist’s Greek Islands:11. Thasos,Genius Loci Publications, London, p.27.

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