Today Big Boy T and I followed the path of those who sought to be initiated into the mysteries of Demeter in antiquity. The purist would walk the 20km or so from the Athenian Acropolis to Eleusis on the Sacred Way, but somehow my passion for the Great Goddess does not go that far. We took a taxi. Taxis may sound like an indulgence, but I have learnt through the years that time is money. Besides, one learns a lot from taxi drivers. Our taxi driver was the chatty kind. He told us that in 25 years in the job, he had never been asked to go to Eleusis. He gathered pretty quickly that I was the quirky type who would be interested in cultural insights. We were treated to a little detour to see the ‘tree of Socrates’ (although we never found it); a stretch on the Sacred Way within Athens (the fastest way to Eleusis is now the motorway); and a little speech on the beauties of the botanic garden of Athens. I was also given a little Greek lesson. This kind taximan congratulated me on my ability to pronounce the letter theta, which is a first for me (Francophones, as it is well known, struggle with any ‘th’ sound). A few missed turns and several cigarettes later, the taximan eventually got us to the archaeological site of Eleusis.
Eleusis was once one of the most important sanctuaries in Greece. Nowadays, very few people go there. In all fairness, the site is difficult ‘to read’. Still, it is worth visiting. T was particularly fascinated by the Plouteion, the cave that is an entrance to the underworld. He cheerfully asked whether we ‘could go to hell’. In ‘hell’ we found the remains of a pomegranate, perhaps left by a neo-pagan. I spotted quite a few of those offerings to the Goddess here and there: ears of corn, little flower bouquets, etc. It made me smile. Fortunately, we did not find any remains of rotting piglets, the traditional gift to Demeter – just a lovely little statue of the animal in the archaeological museum.
Our taxi driver on the way back was less inclined to speak, but got us to Athens on time to visit the Kerameikos. This is the ancient cemetery of Athens, situated in a beautiful park planted with cypresses. It is located on the Sacred Way, which leads from the centre of ancient Athens to Eleusis. Again, it is a site that is not very much frequented. And again, this is not justified.
I am somehow pleased that T was not in too much of an inquisitive mood today, and only asked 3 or 4 times what an initiation was. How does one explain this to someone who is 7 and 3/4? To be honest, I don’t really know how to explain this to university students. Altogether, the myth of Demeter and Persephone is not the easiest one of the Greek myths. And yet it is one of my favourite… perhaps because, at the end of the day, it is nice to have a bit of mystery in one’s life.