Friday, 13 November 2009
The dead princess in the medieval castle of Limassol
The story of Theseus and Ariadne is a double story of deception. She betrayed both her father and her brother because she has been blinded by her love for the Athenian ephebe. On the other hand, although on escaping the labyrinth he took her with him in his ship on the way back from Crete, he has irresponsibly abandoned her on the island of Naxos. There she met Dionysos, the one that had always loved her and was competing for her from the beginning. In another version of the story, Theseus abandoned Ariadne in Cyprus, although she was pregnant and carrying his child. She was left to the care of the women of Amathous, a city located on the southern coast of the island, twenty five kilometers to the east of contemporary Limassol. Ariadne waited for Theseus, she waited and waited in vain for him to come back. Tradition says that the women of Amathous, to comfort her, told her that her beloved was expected to come at any moment. They said that he had sent her a letter with a sailor whose boat got shipwrecked and thus the letter was lost in the waves…
Ariadne waited until the time came to give birth to her child. Unfortunately she died during labour. For her death people say that “the arrows of Artemis found her”. Artemis’s arrows, according to Homer, bring a sudden death to women in labour.
The sad story of this Ariadne ends here. Nevertheless, the inhabitants of Amathous, did not want to forget the princess from Knossos, cast by her fate on their island. They began to honour her with a strange ritual that was, nevertheless, not so unusual for the morals of antiquity. This ritual made Plato of classical Athens uncomfortable and for this reason he had forbidden it in his “Republic”.
In an Ideal City, according to Plato, men are not allowed to imitate women in labour. This is a ritual that some societies in Australia and Africa may still practice. It is called “couvade”, male – labour, where a man imitates the labour pains. This is what the inhabitants of Amathous decided to do, to remember Ariadne – Afrodite by, the Princess that had honoured them by going into labour and dying in their city. This is mentioned by Plutarch in his Theseus and this is how the information has reached our era.
The pregnant woman, a sacrosanct person in greek tradition, still figures in the poems of Oria castle. Oria (Orea: beautiful in Greek) castle is a labyrinthine castle – city, taken by treachery, according to the study of the Greek anthropologist Panagis Lekatsas. During the siege of an inexpugnable fortress the traitor appears: A pregnant woman asking for shelter, a young man in disguise.
The inhabitants of the besieged city – castle yield to his/her plea and open the castle gate. This is their destruction. We should not forget that the Troyan horse, the symbol of treachery that contributed to the capture of Troy, was in a way pregnant with the Achaeans, since they were hidden in his belly.
I was in Limassol last year. I did not see the traces that the order of myth might have left in ancient Amathous.
The story of Ariadne’s death and the strange gesture of the inhabitants of Amathous was constantly in my mind. I have carried this story with me for many years, ever since I was engaged in a study of labyrinths and the strange dance – map of the labyrinth, the crane dance. The crane dance, taught by Dedalus to Theseus companions on the island of Delos, shows the way out, if you are in the labyrinth. It is a map – choreography.
Ariadne’s death is dark, but always present. I cannot forget her.
The visit to the Medieval castle of Limassol, reminded me unexpectedly of the Cretan Princess. Among the burial stones of the knights and monks exhibited in the museum, there is one dedicated to a woman. She must have been of noble descent, since she was buried in the castle yard. One cannot discern very well the engravings on the stone, but there is a framed drawing next to it to help the visitor that has not a “trained” eye to see the baby that she carries in her belly clearly. The dead princess is pregnant and she deserves a burial stone. Like the women in Kerameikos cemetery in Athens that had died in labour. Like Ariadne.
Posted by Poly Hatjimanolaki, Athens, Greece