Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Moody Weather Gods

(Storm on the Boulevard of Eftalou)

When we want to know what weather is awaiting us we look at the weather forecast on television or the internet. We have learned so much about the weather that we can predict what wind will be blowing from which direction, or no wind at all, how warm or cold it will be and if we are going to be bothered by rain or snow.

In the days before we were able to predict the weather we thought it was the gods who were responsible for it, and that they alone scattered rains or released storms upon us. So when we wanted a little sunshine or some refreshing winds, we had to pray to them. And when the gods were impressed by our prayers, we were rewarded.

In the Odyssey Homer tells how Odysseus and his travel companions arrived at the floating island of the God of the Winds Aeolus. Aeolus was the son of the God of the Sea Poseidon and he entertained Odysseus for several weeks. They had such a nice time together, that when leaving, Aeolus let the West wind blow Odysseus home, but he also gave him a bag containing the winds that blew from other directions. The companions of Odysseus did not know what was in the bag. They thought that it could be a treasure and when they were nearly home they became so curious that they opened the bag. The opposing winds all flew out of the bag and chased the West wind away - and that is how Odysseus and his men were once again blown far from their home, the search for which had to start over.

The Roman poet Virgil also used Aeolus in his famous epic Aeneid about the Trojan hero Aeneas. At the beginning of the story Aeolus released all the winds in a fury that made such big storms Aeneas, escaping from Troy, got lost and was sent around the known world before he settled near Rome, and according to Virgil founded the Roman empire.

Aeolus kept the gods of the wind on his island and ruled over the world with the power of their temper. His four big gods were called the Anemoi. Boreas was the god of the North wind, Notus blew from the South, Eurus the East and Zephirus the West. And there were also some minor winds like Kaikias for the north east wind, Apeliotis for the south east, Skiron for the north west and Livas for the south west wind.

Zephyros is said to be the kindest wind because he brings the spring. He is also partly responsible for the creation of one of the most beautiful spring flowers: the hyacinth. There used to be a Spartan prince named Hyacinth. Zephyrus fell in love with this beautiful young man but the god Apollo also made a pass at Hyancinth. When Zephyrus came across Hyancinth and Apollo playing with a discus, he became so jealous that he released the wind that made the discus change its direction and hit Hyancinth in the head. The beautiful young man died and Apollo was stricken with grief. From the blood of Hyacinth he created the fine smelling spring flower with the same name.

Boreas and Notus however stand for the most evil weather. Boreas brings cold and snow in winter and Notus brings rain.

It could be that Boreas was in bed with the infamous Mexican flu this winter because he came here only a few times, so it was Notus who ruled in recent months, and plagued the island with storms and rain. And he was not alone in enjoying himself. Zephyrus also attended the party, as did Livas, god of the south west wind.

However the big storms and all the rains we experienced did not feel like Zephirus was trying to bring spring to the island. But maybe at the end of winter during those bacchanals Zephyrus and Notus got into a fight, and I bet the seldom seen Livas, who made the sea and the quays so unsafe with his big and long waves, took the side of Notus.

For the umpteenth time this winter people have had to turn their cars away from the Eftalou Boulevard, too afraid to continue because mighty waves enthusiastically thrash over the street, make the already damaged road much worse. Notus has brought some nice warm temperatures of about 20oC already and Zephyrus has tried to foster spring by opening oceans of anemones, the first orchids, daffodils and other spring flowers. But like a schizophrenic god, Notus then tries to undo the benevolence of spring weather with more nasty storms.

I have been wondering how the frail petals of the almond blossoms will survive the storms. When you hear such a thundering gust of wind coming, you feel sure it will denude the tree of all its flowers in one blow. But no, the almond blossoms continue to open their beautiful flowers and dance happily even in the strongest wind. Maybe they are glad that it is not Boreas, who surely would have killed them all with his cold blasts.

Notus did show us his bad temper this winter, and even though Livas is still partying, spring does seem to have arrived on the island. The sun shines as a mighty arbiter over the turmoil of the winds of Lesvos, and I am sure she will eventually chase away the miscreants. Zephyrus may have finally won the battle and brought spring on, but this year he made us pay a high price.

(With thanks to Tony Barrell)

@ Smitaki 2010

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