CATS: Exploring Epidaurus.
Cats were the first thing we noticed as our car came to a halt in the parking lot of Epidaurus historic site. Cats that were lounging on the edge of the parking lot, or spread out across the pavement lifted their heads to watch our car approach. Stretching, their unblinking eyes fixed on our vehicle, all at once they got up, and slunk in towards us from every direction. By the time we had the doors open the whole glaring of cats surrounded us. There must have been 20 or 30 of them, and clearly they had come to associate tourists with food. Felix was delighted! At one and a half, he had a near obsession with cats, and here there was a whole bunch of cats close enough for him to reach out and grab with his pudgy fingers. Wide eyed, with his hands outstretched and a drop of drool running down his chin he reached out to pat a fuzzy tabby’s head, but the cat moved out of range before he could grab a thick handful of that fur. He turned to grab another cat, who also managed to stay just out of range. Just like that the glaring of cats was more like a scattering of cats as the felines began to realize the dangers a toddler could bring, and Felix toddled after them all over the parking lot.
To Felix’s delight, one small tabby kitten chose to tag along with us for most of our tour. It followed us passed the little cafe next to the parking lot, through the entrance gate, and all the way down the path lined with cool green trees that were thick with the chirping of birds, that led to the amphitheater!
We had been informed that the amphitheater in Epidaurus was so well designed that it was possible to hear someone whispering on the stage all the way from the nose bleed seats. We were a skeptical, so I centered myself on stage while Nate and Felix climbed up the steps. When Nate was about ¾ of the way to the top he stopped and turned around. I rolled my eyes, not impressed that he hadn’t gone all of the way up, and as a joke I said go further in the faintest whisper. It was so quiet that if Nate was standing next to me I would have had to cup my hands around his ears in order for him to hear it. I know this because most of the time Nate doesn’t catch what I say when I speak in a normal voice! To my amazement he immediately gave a small nod and continued on up to the top! Before we could perform a second test a very noisy wave of tourists crowded around the base of the theater, and our chance was lost. Even so, I am no longer skeptical of the acoustics of Epidaurus Theater.
The funny thing is that even though the amphitheater is Epidaurus’s main tourist draw, Epidaurus was not a famous theatrical site in so much as it was a healing place. The amphitheater was built to entertain those who had come to the temples in order to ask the gods to heal them.
Epidaurus was the location of a sanctuary dedicated to the god of healing, Asklepeios, made famous for two reasons. Epidaurus was thought to be the god Askelepeios’s birth place, but also, it was a large complex that was able to offer a variety of treatments. The location and religious ceremony surrounding the temple of Asklepeion held some practical purposes too. Epidaurus was located in a valley filled with trees and spring water. Aside from being a very spiritual choice of location, Epidaurus offered isolation from those to whom they may spread their maladies. There was also evidence found if surgical equipment, and pharmaceutical drugs (Warwick, 2015).
There were not only cats all over Epidaurus, there were also dogs wandering through the ruins. While I had suspected the crowds of tourists, with bad habits of feeding strays, to be the cause of the overabundance of cats and dogs, it seems like there was a much older relationship with the place and the animals. It turns out that dogs were common when Epidaurus was a healing place, and in fact individuals with flesh wounds would let the dogs lick their sores clean! This may seem like a bad idea, but in fact modern research has shown that the saliva of dogs do in fact have antiseptic properties (Warwick, 2015)!
We had let Felix do some walking, but wanted to put him back in the backpack carrier for a bit. Felix had developed an annoying habit of standing up in the carrier, preventing us from getting the straps done up around him. He was never happy to get strapped into the carrier, but always content once he was up on Nate’s back. I put the kitten that was still tagging around after us on Nate’s shoulder! Felix was delighted and distracted enough for us to get the straps done up. “I hope it doesn’t have fleas…” I said as an afterthought to Nate. The kitten was hastily deposited on the ground.
The rest of the complex of ruins was made up of barracks, healing houses, and temples dedicated to the gods. The tumbled down stone walls, and overgrown foundations extended into a field with a breathtaking mountainous backdrop. The Abaton, a building designed for worshipers to sleep in, had once held a number of inscriptions written by people who had dreamed of the gods and been healed. Now the inscriptions can all be found inside the museum, but there were a couple of signs with examples left inside the Abaton. It seemed one woman, who had come to the temple to pray for fertility when she had been unable to get pregnant, dreamed of a handsome young man who lifted her skirt. Miraculously she soon found she was pregnant! I have a suspicion that the handsome young man did more than lift her skirt…
We let Felix out of the carrier again to walk among the ruins, and he had a great time running in the opposite direction from us! He also found the rope barriers very amusing as he would swing the ropes back and forth. Felix has developed a habit of collecting rocks, and today he moved rocks from one spot in the temple to another with a look of focus on his face. It was like he was trying to help out with the restoration efforts. After we had all had enough of poking through ruins we found a nice spot to stop and eat the lunch of fresh bread, cheese, and sausage that we had packed.
I had been harboring some stress, some of it leftover from Nate’s final semester, and also packing and moving out of our home before beginning our trip. Some of it had an ongoing cause known as work. I was having difficulty getting my pay because of some incorrect bank information, and I was finding one of my roles in the company to be growing more and more demanding and stressful. Epidaurus seemed to clear my mind. It offered an internal healing to the turmoil inside my mind, and I felt calmer afterwards. Maybe if I had slept in the temple I would have dreamed of a bank employee answering my phone call and telling me he would have my payment issue sorted out by the morning.
Warwick. “Classics and Ancient History.” Sanctuary of Asklepios, Epidaurus, Warwick, 23 Apr. 2015, warwick.ac.uk/fac/arts/classics/students/modules/greekreligion/database/clumcc/.