Ancient Roots, New Language
In the summer of 2017, I went trekking through Greece carrying a single backpack just as I had done in Guatemala and Chile. Starting in Athens, I first stayed in an apartment with a private roof. The rooftop had an unexpected view of the Acropolis. I took Greek language classes at the Alexander the Great school and spent my afternoons exploring the city.
In learning the language, it helped that I had already taken Greek classes at St. Nicholas Orthodox Church in Tacoma for six months prior to visiting Greece. Thanks to my teacher, George Pirotis, I had a solid foundation of the Greek alphabet, basic phrases, and some of the cultural perspectives that intersect with the language. This made my experience in Greece even richer.
The Theatre of the Ancients
My interest in theatre led me to explore Ancient Greek history. One key figure I learned about was Orpheus, a musician whose skill of song was mystical and prophetic. Orpheus could reach people and animals alike by playing his lyre and make their hearts sing. Orpheus's story, like that of many, many others, has been swept into the evolving stream of mythology that carries on even today. It is this Ancient Greek tradition of storytelling--of which mythology and music have always played central roles--that gave rise to the most powerful vehicle for transmitting Western values: the theatre.
Theatre was the platform through which people were educated, entertained, and brought together as a community. Music was key to theatre, and in fact music played even in non-theatrical settings was considered theatre in that it led people to see the world differently and to feel pathos. Theatre and music were considered medicinal and were used for healing purposes. In Athens, theatre was also a space where social and political issues could be raised in a democratic way through dramatic representation.
The Evolution of Western Civilization
As I visited museums, talked with people, and took in the social and natural environments, I came to the conclusion that theatre was central to understanding who we are as the inheritors of Western Civilization. Myths were acted out and depicted in art as a way of continuously rebirthing the concepts of character identity, narrative, and conflict that make up the "drama" we call life. The most prominent narrative we see today that survives from ancient times is the legend of Odysseus, called the Odyssey. We often say that Homer "wrote" the Odyssey, but it was originally an oral recitation without text--indeed, it was a theatrical performance that storytellers following Homer reenacted for generations before ever writing it down. The Odyssey has survived for millennia because it touches our hearts by telling a universal journey everyone can relate with: the journey homeward from a land afar.
Interpretations of Greek art, sculpture, and literature have changed significantly over the centuries. However, what remains in our Western minds are the concepts, or archetypes, that they represent to us. Whether or not the legend of Odysseus contained enough facts to be considered "history," the concept of an odyssey, or pilgrimage, has shaped our understanding of what it means to be faithful and devoted, whether to our loved ones, to our home of allegiance, or of our beliefs. All these things are represented in the theatre of the Odyssey, and yet they transcend that particular story. These ideas succeed in reaching our hearts because their representation in art taps into the universal archetypes--both comedic and tragic--that Westerners inherit from our cultural ancestors.
As I followed my own personal Odyssey through Western civilization as it appeared to me throughout Greece, I kept my eyes, ears, and heart open to the muse that had inspired the singing bards and philosophers since ancient times. What I did not expect, however, was which Home was awaiting me at the end of the pilgrimage...