New York.- By Vicki James Yiannias
Zeus released two eagles at the edges of the earth, one to the East and one to the West, and they met at Delphi. In Phocis, In Greece. The center of the ancient Greek universe.
Artemis Leontis, in her new book, Eva Palmer Sikelianos: A Life in Ruins, examines the life and times of Evelina (Eva) Palmer (1874 – June 4, 1952) the American debutante who beginning in her early life in New York and Maine became dedicated to the study of Classical Greek culture.
After her marriage in 1907 to the Greek lyric poet, actor and dramatist, Angelos Sikelianos, she became an expert weaver, student of choral dance and Byzantine music. Then, at the invitation of Angelos, whose attention was drawn to the archaeological site of Delphi as the place to stage a renewal for the tired modern soul, says Leontis, Eva “veered in another direction to produce the festivals at Delphi in 1927 and 1930. The ideals adopted by Angelos and Eva, focusing on the solidarity of people and mutual respect between people all over the world inspired their idea for the revival of the the Delphic Festival.”
Because the Amphictyonic League had been established at Delphi for centuries, the Sikelianos couple believed that this was the right place to foster global understanding. Together they organized the revival of the Delphic Festival of art, music and theater with the aim of promoting Angelos’s Delphic Idea, “a balanced sense of enlightenment that would further the goals of peace and harmony in Greece and beyond,” says Leontis. At their initiative, a series of events of international caliber comprised the First Delphic Festival, held on May 9 and 10, 1927 in the archaeological site of Delphi.
According to the festival program, the first day of the festival, May 9, 1927, began with a tour of visitors in the archaeological site and the Museum of Delphi by Greek and foreign archaeologist guides who explained the historical and esthetic importance the of monuments and ruins. These had been excavated relatively recently. Then breakfast was offered accompanied by traditional Greek music, κλεύτηκα (songs of the Klephts) performed by villagers.
At 4:00 p.m. the signal to the visitors to gather in the ancient theater was given by someone standing at the top of the Phaedriades, so that the three main events of the first day could follow: the hymn to Apollo would be performed by the choir and orchestra (as an opening act), the tragedy Aeschylus’ Prometheus Bound would be presented and, finally, Angelos Sikelianos, would speak to the public about the Delphic Amphyctyony in antiquity and today.
Dinner at 8:00 concluded the first day, and visitors who had come by boat were escorted down to their ships to the bay of Itea built deep in Crissaean bay of the Gulf of Corinth.
The second day of the festival, May 10, started with a morning visit to the Delphi Artisan Fair, where Eva Sikelianos talked about the importance of folk art and about the value of weaving, At 11 a.m. a speech on Ancient Theatre was delivered in German by the archaeologist Wilhelm Dörpfeld, followed by breakfast. At 3:00 students of various athletic disciplines participated in the ancient pentathlon along with sports teams from the cities of Thessaloniki and Desfina. “Warrior” dancers in armor performed the Pyrrhichios Dance under the guidance of Athanasios Veloudios to music composed by Constantine Psachos.
As the day before, dinner at 8:00. A performance of Byzantine choir music at the Ancient Theatre concluded the day. The weekend would be concluded with a dance/theatre performance, a mimic representation of the Septeria (the battle between Apollo and Python) by the “famous dancer of ancient Greek dances”, Vassos, and the “mime” Tanagra Kanellos (both Greek expatriates to the US who returned for this purpose), and the repetition of the Hymn to Apollo.
A dramatic departure: athletes holding torches guided visitors along the Sacred Way (Hiera Odos) to the bay of Itea,
The repeat of this festival, in 1930 (differentiated from the Festival of 1927 by the performance of one more ancient Greek tragedy, the “Suppliants” by Aeschylus), again initiated by the Sikelianos couple, finally exhausted their finances. Eva, deeply in debt, returned to the US. For this work, however, Eva and Angelos were decorated by the Greek government and honored by several archaeological societies.
The Museum of the Delphic Festival, in the Sikelianos’s house at Delphi holds exhibits of costumes and photographic material from the Delphic Festivals, Angelos’s handwritten texts, his personal items, and Eva’s looms. The most important archaeological sites are the Temple of Apollo, the Ancient Theatre of Delphi, the Athenian Treasury, the Sacred Way, the Castalian Spring, the Tholos at the Sanctuary of Athena Pronaia. The Archaeological Museum of Delphi.
Delphi is recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. There is shopping for ancient jewelry and ceramics replicas and various products from Parnassos in the modern town of Delphi, which is built next to the archaeological site and has views of the olive grove of Amfissa and Itea bay.
Very well-known for its ancient trail from Kirra to Delphi walked by Apollo’s devotees, Delphi is an independent destination for hikers, as it is now part of the F4 European long distance path. Skiing at The Parnassos Ski Center and mountain hiking and biking are other attractions of the area.
The Parnassos National Park is a 15-minute drive from Delphi. The combination of mountain and sea, unique to Delphi. After a day of hiking (or skiing in the winter) on Parnassos Ski Center, you can visit the fishing villages of Galaxidi, Itea, and Antikira for swimming and sea food.
And before leaving Delphi, it is always recommended to buy olive oil and olives from Amfissa’s Traditional Olive Grove, called “the greatest continuous olive grove in Greece”.