Gregory Nagy will again be leading the Spring Break Trip in Greece for Students and Alumni of Harvard University. There may still be waiting-list places available for the next trip, March 13–March 21, 2020. For further details, please see the Harvard Alumni website, here.
Whether or not you are able to attend yourself, you might like to read about the experiences of one of the 2019 group.
Continuing the dialogue: a travel-study in Greece
Anything that could be said about this amazing travel-study in Greece with Prof Gregory Nagy—Greg, as he asked us to call him!—and a group of Harvard students, Alumni, and HeroesX participants would never be enough, since language does not have the accuracy to reproduce the intensity of this experience. Nevertheless I will try to get as close as I can.
For me it was a unique experience that I lived as a real “theōriā”. Actually, when we “travel” we have to depart from one point and get to another. We have a spatial passage to cover. Similarly, in a deeper level, this is a spiritual passage too: we start in one level of consciousness that is expanded as we finish. Something happens that transforms us and enriches our most inner self. That was really what happened to me in this trip.
Since I was always interested in ancient philosophy and myths, for me, this was a big and special trip. I studied Literature at Buenos Aires University and now work as a literary editor after having collaborated for several years in a beautiful editing project about myth, religion and ancient texts. As I said above, I was always interested in Greek studies. Last year when I was searching for some online courses to join, I came across this extraordinary HarvardX project, The Ancient Greek Hero in 24 Hours (HeroesX) by Professor Nagy and all those brilliant and generous scholars who participate in it. Since then, I have continued to learn and share with other participants through the Kosmos Society.
I was beyond excited when this promising study-travel was announced on Kosmos. I immediately decided I wanted to go and it was an excellent decision! Not only was I excited about the places we were to visit but also because of the opportunity to meet Professor Nagy in person and the possibility to learn from him on the spot, since he is so outstanding, friendly and generous! Moreover, I was going to meet other wonderful people and, among them, my friend Kelly with whom I was in a study group of the Iliad at Kosmos.
Everything went so well right from the beginning, when we all met at Athens airport from where we went to Nafplio in the Peloponnese to start our journeys to Argos, Mycenae, and Olympia. Then we visited Delphi in Phocis and finally Athens in Attica. It was as though we were traveling in space and time, from the most ancient world of the legendary heroes through the Omphalos/sacred Delphi where all the world used to meet and, finally, arriving at overwhelming Athens with all its power and grandeur that had developed in the classical period! Experiencing this whole arc of space and time in person opened my mind and made me understand and put together many things I had dispersed in my head before this trip. It made vivid what I studied in books, and that was incredible!
What was of great help and I enjoyed very much were the previews and reviews we did with Professor Nagy and all the group where we talked about what we were going to visit and what we saw. Also, the readings Professor Nagy proposed for us were so well chosen and helpful! It is not my intention to tire you here with long descriptions or details. I only want to transmit that sense of awe and all the intense feelings I experienced. I could grasp the sacredness of that civilization that considered life a continuum between man and cosmos, life and death as parts of a whole cycle. You can only seize the dimension of this sacredness when you are in the locations yourself, in that landscape, between those mountains, and that sea, among olive trees, orange trees and rocks, where those breathtaking remains of temples and buildings were settled, when you experience the intensity of light and wind.
One of the spots that interested me the most was the sacred space of Hera in Argos. I very much love this goddess as “the guiding cosmic principle that makes everything come together.” This struck me as I was walking in her temple among different colored wild flowers and thinking of the pomegranate and the scepter Pausanias told us her statue once held. That made sense! Life, death and immortality, and a cosmic principle of regeneration! I then understood better the story of Kleobis and Biton. And I also grasped this sense in that fresco at the Museum at Mycenae where we saw a female figure standing below ground-level, holding handfuls of wheat in each hand as a sign of imminent regeneration! I remembered I talked about this in office hour with Prof Nagy in the bus. He told me to pay attention to the so-called Snake Goddess terracotta plaque at the Agora Museum in Athens. So wonderful!
An emotional special moment was definitely the night when Carol Rumens, our poet in residence, read her poetry to us in Delphi:
…Souls clatter like wings,
like netted marsh-birds, blind
to everything but their sky…
After having all drunk from the waters of Castalia that was absolutely pure beauty!
I could fill plenty of pages with anecdotes like this but I won’t. I just want to let you experience these things yourselves and do your own “theōriā”. I only want to finish my record by telling how wonderful was to meet all this interesting people from different places, ages, interests and professions. The group was so warm and inclusive! We were a really close group sharing perspectives, points of view and so many things and moments from breakfast to dinners. Also Evan and Tassos from the Center for Hellenic Studies in Nafplio were wonderful! Making friends was definitely one of the best experiences in this trip.
One thing I still don´t want to skip telling you is how touched I felt when we visited the place where Socrates drank the hemlock in the Agora of Athens in 399 BCE after conversing with some of his disciples and uttering his famous last words with which he asked them not to forget to sacrifice a rooster to Asklepios. As you know, Professor Nagy argues this means the idea of keeping the word, the logos, alive and I think this is what this trip is actually about. And it’s exactly what we did!
So now it is your turn: it´s time for new travelers to continue this dialogue. I wish those lucky ones to have the most blissful of trips!
Group photo: Center for Hellenic Studies
Other photos: William Betson, participant on the trip, with permission
María Eugenia Romero completed HeroesX and is now a member of the Kosmos Society.