On the Road to Delphi (Part 3)

6 September 2022. Ancient Thebes of the Seven Gates.

On leaving sacred Eleusis, we drove out of Elefsina on the E962 heading north. Well, north-ish, because once we left the coast of the Saronic Gulf the land became hilly as the road began to wind its way up through the eastern edges of the Kithairon mountain range. The range formed the border between ancient Thebes and Attica. Mount Kithairon (Κιθαιρών) itself, sacred to the God Dionysos, lay to the west of where we were. The drive led us through a number of villages (Agia Sotiras, Paleochori, Thea, Oinoi, and Ethryes).

Wind turbines occupied a number of ridgelines on the way to Thebes.

It was quite a pleasant trip and took about an hour. We saw a number of wind turbines along the way. Sadly, we also saw the burn scars caused by the 2021 wildland fires that burned through Greece – a product of global warming that the wind turbine projects were built to forestall.

Thiva (Θήβα) is the modern name for the village of Thebes in the regional unit of Boeotia.

In historical times, Thebes/Boeotia was variously an ally and enemy of both Sparta and Athens. Mythologically, it is said that Thebes was founded when Kadmos, its future Baselios, abandoned his search for his sister, Europa, and followed the wanderings of a cow on the advice of the Oracle of Samothrace. Where the cow eventually came to rest, the Oracle stated, there Kadmos would found both a city and a dynasty. In the land of Boeotia, the cow, exhausted, finally lay down to sleep. And in the middle of a low ridge which served as an acropolis for the new city, Kadmos constructed his palace. Known by the Mycenaeans as the Kadmeion, the palace of Kadmos has been dated to the 13th century BCE.

Map of modern Thebes overlaid on the ancient city.
Dionysos, 4th century BCE, Pella Archaeological Museum

Thebes is perhaps best known as the place where Dionysos was conceived in a union between Great Zeus and Semele, a daughter of Kadmos. Semele was tricked by Hera into asking Zeus to reveal His true form. Doing so destroyed Semele and caused the premature birth of Dionysos. Hermes assisted Zeus in rescuing the babe and sewing him into Zeus’ groin until he reached full term.

“Dionysos: I, the son of Zeus, have come to this land of the Thebans–Dionysos, whom once Semele, Kadmos’ daughter, bore, delivered by a lightning-bearing flame . . . I see the tomb of my thunder-stricken mother here near the palace, and the remnants of her house, smouldering with the still living flame of Zeus’ fire, the everlasting insult of Hera against my mother. I praise Kadmos, who has made this place hallowed, the shrine of his daughter; and I have covered it all around with the cluster-bearing leaf of the vine.”

Euripides, Bacchae 1 ff
Peter Paul Rubens’ Death of Semele shows the moment that Zeus revealed His full glory to her.

We parked the SUV and walked to two of the three exposed Kadmeion excavation sites (we missed the eastern one, for some reason). One of the treasures discovered during the excavations of the city was a cache of Linear B tablets that were baked in a destructive fire.

Orchomenos, located 42 km west-northwest of Thiva, was another regional power which played a role in the struggles between Sparta, Athens, and Thebes. Later, it and Chaeronea were the sites of two battles that Lucius Cornelius Sulla won against the Pontic King Mithridates VI in 86 BCE. Mithridates had stirred up trouble between Athens and Rome, and it was for this reason that Sulla enacted such a terrible retribution on the infrastructure of Athens (e.g., Piraeus, Kerameikos, the Sanctuary of Dionysos).

Unfortunately, we were on a tight schedule in order to arrive in Delphi in time to meet our Airbnb host. Therefore, we didn’t have the time to visit the Archaeological Museum of Thebes, or the Orchomenos site. If you would like to read more about ancient Thebes, then you should check out Paul Cartledge’s book on the subject.

After this quick stopover, we mounted up and headed west on Route 3. Next stop, Chaeronea.

— Να εχεις μια ωραια μερα. —

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