British historian, author and filmmaker Bettany Hughes, who has just shot a fascinating new documentary series in Greece, spoke of her great love for the country and its people recently.
In an article published in the Daily Mail she reveals that the “Greek islands were where I first fell in love — twice. First with my travel companion, and second with the land we were traveling through. We were island-hopping on ferries, mopeds and bicycles, and I was searching for ancient history and fabulous myths and legends.”
Hughes explores the Greek islands from the time of the Ancients right up to the present day in the documentary series “Greek Odyssey,” which airs on Fridays at 9 pm on Channel 5 in the UK.
“Now, 30 years later, in the epic journey of a lifetime, I’ve gone back across the Aegean. I’ve traveled more than 1,700 miles by boat, through storms and earthquakes, with the company of dolphins (good) and killer bees (bad), on my own modern Odyssey,” she says.
“We’re told that around 3,000 years ago the legendary Greek warrior, Odysseus, traveled by boat from the site of the Trojan War to his home island of Ithaca, having all kinds of adventures on the way. So I decided to pack a film crew and follow the hero’s course,” she adds.
Hughes has written two books on ancient Greek subjects. Her first, “Helen of Troy: Goddess, Princess, Whore” has been translated into ten languages. Her second, “The Hemlock Cup: Socrates, Athens and the Search for the Good Life,” was Book of the Week on BBC Radio 4.
Writing in the Daily Mail the noted historian describes her adventures while island hopping in Greece.
“The adventures certainly came thick and fast. An earthquake rocked the converted olive oil warehouse we were staying in on Ithaca, and a sea storm saw us caught in 6-meter (19-foot) waves for seven hours in the middle of the Icarian Sea.
“There was nothing the Greek hero loved more than a hot bath and an oil rub. On Lesbos I was invited to sit in volcanic jacuzzis with jolly local Lesbians, and on Mykonos (after clinging on through that white-knuckle storm) I was given a good rub down with oil infused with St. John’s Wort — a remedy for aches and pains used ever since the ancient Olympics.
“Say ‘Greek island’ and the stereotype of blue skies, blue seas and blue-domed churches springs to mind. We found all that and more.
“On Mykonos, one of the last fishermen from one of the last fishing villages (now bought up for holiday developments) took me out with him. I met his seven-year-old son, who he fears will be the last in his family to harvest the sea.
“On Samos, a traditional boat builder has made a house in the sky — a tree-top cafe serving oven-fresh lamb and bread, and local Greek spirit tsipouro.
“On Corfu I spent a wild night with best-selling authors Sebastian Faulks and Peter Frankopan, who were mourning their loss against Corfu’s ferocious cricket team — a sporting legacy from the British protectorate that existed for half a century from 1815.
“Santorini, meanwhile, is the Pompeii of Greece. You can wander through the spooky streets of the town of Akrotiri, which was smothered by a massive volcanic eruption around 1615 BCE. Here, among the fabulous artwork and houses three stories high, you’ll find the roots of the legend of Atlantis — a sophisticated civilization swallowed up by earth and sea. The island has a cool Archaeological Museum, too.
“Greece is still making its own myths. On the delightful island of Icaria it is rumoured that there are more people in their 90s than anywhere else in Europe — is it the water, the seasonal produce or the delicious lack of deadlines?
“Chatting to youngsters Irene and Eleni — 90 and 97 respectively — they told me it was all down to the Greek attribute philoxenia: a love of strangers. It is a love I’ve felt for three decades, and one which has endured for at least 3,000 years.”
Hughes concludes her comprehensive travelogue by saying “I can’t see even Covid 19 stopping the Greeks welcoming strangers as though they are old friends.”