The Thessalian Witches (Part 1)

8 September 2023. Kheiron’s Cave

We all had a decent night’s sleep after a really long, full day. We packed up everything early in order to be ready to head out on the road. Another full day on the agenda, go figure. Our first task was to figure out where Chiron’s Cave (Σπήλαιο του Χείρωνα) was located. GoogleMaps and GoogleEarth weren’t very helpful as to the start of the path. We drove north of Milina and parked in the general vicinity of the path above the Vathia Spilia beach, then began wandering back and forth like hounds on the trail. Who is Chiron, you say? I’m so glad that you asked.

While we searched, I ran across a local man about my age and asked him if he spoke English. He shook his head “no” and we began negotiating a conversation. I said “Chiron Andron” and waved my hand around, but he shook his head “no” again. He held up a finger and dug a smart phone out of his pocket. I said “cave” and he typed it in. “Spilia” he read, and I smiled and said “Nai! Chiron Spilia.” He shook his head “no” again and I told him “ευχαριστώ.” I kept walking back and forth with Michael P. and we found a trail that led uphill into an olive grove while Paul and Aaron went looking in another direction.

The olive trees along the well-beaten path were completely loaded with fruit.

We knew that we were heading in the right direction when we stumbled upon a rather distinctive sign pointing up the hill (above left). The well-worn path threaded between the olive trees and underbrush (above right), steadily climbing up a hillside that became a series of crude, rocky stairsteps (right). When we finally made it to the top of the hill we were rewarded with a … wait for it … magnificent view of the Pagasetic Gulf (photo below). I was slightly winded after the climb, so I stopped to admire the view while Michael P. went to fetch the others.

Follow the sign of the red Κένταυρος.

“Kheiron son of Philyra came down from the high ground [of Mount Pelion] to the sea and wading out into the grey surf waved his great hand again and again and wished the travelers [the Argonauts sailing off in their ship] a happy home-coming. His wife came too. She was carrying Peleus’ little boy Akhilleus on her arm, and she held him up for his dear father to see.”

Apollonius Rhodius, Argonautica 1. 551 ff (trans. Rieu) (Greek epic 3rd century BCE)

There are two caves on the Pelion peninsula which are purported to have belonged to Chiron. One is located near Milies on the north end of the peninsula, and the other is near Milina on the south end where we were. They are both on the correct side of the mountains based on the story above, where Chiron sees the Argo sailing by and comes down to the surf to farewell the Argonauts. Most people seem to believe that the northern cave (the one we did not visit) is the historical location as it is well-developed for habitation and is an intact feature. It is also more accessible to a creature built like a Kentaurus. The one thing that the cave near Milina has going for it is its location, which is much closer to a beach. But one must climb down into the Milina cave, which argues against its use by a Kentaurus. As its roof has collapsed in the distant past, this makes it somewhat difficult to assess as to its usability.

Panoramic view of the entrance to Chiron’s Cave (Milina, Thessaly, Greece).

The cave entrance (above left) was overhung with wild olive and pomegranate trees. The pomegranate covering most of the entrance was absolutely loaded with fruit (above right). The cave itself was filled with wild fig saplings. So, together in one place was gathered three of the most sacred food plants of Greece.

“Also Actor’s son [Menoitios upon departing with the Argonauts] leaves his child [Patroklos] in Chiron’s cave, side by side with his dear Achilles, to study the chords of the harp, and side by side to hurl a boy’s light javelins, and to learn to mount and ride upon the back of the genial master.”

Valerius Flaccus, Argonautica 1. 406 ff

Madeline Miller’s novel, “The Song of Achilles,” discusses the time that Achilles and Patroclus spend in Chiron’s cave learning herbs and medicine, as well as the arts of love and war. Highly recommended. Fair warning: you’ll cry at the end.

The boys spent quite a bit of time scrambling around in the cool recesses of the cave. I climbed down into the cave, too, but limited my wanderings as it was too easy to trip on branches and stones. We came back up into the sunshine and headed back to the SUV. From there it was back to the apartment to pack up the vehicle. Our Airbnb landlady insisted on farewelling us like Chiron did to the Argo. We stopped to grab snacks and drinks at the local grocery store, then headed back the way we came. Next stop (after lunch), the Sanctuary of Dion. I’ll leave you with a video of the Milina area, which is really quite lovely after all. If you want to visit someplace that’s off the beaten path, you should check it out.

— Να εχεις μια ωραια μερα. —

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