Encountering Hermes, On the Road in Greece by David Sheppard
From the author: This short essay describes a psychic experience I had while on an extended journey through Greece. The ancient Greeks viewed Hermes as the protector of travelers, but he was more than that. He was the complete existential experience. I seemed to lead a charmed existence during that journey, and when something did go wrong, it seemed to be for a reason.
Not many will go it alone in a foreign country, particularly if they can’t speak the language. Still one day I found myself wrestling with plans for a ten-week odyssey about Greece, the mainland and islands. The longest I’d ever been on the road by myself was the week I spent motoring about Ireland a few years before. But I was pretty much a loner anyway, had been divorced for the past twelve years, my kids grown and off on their own. After making the decision, I hired a tutor and studied Modern Greek for four months. Had to learn a new alphabet. I bought a travel pack, combination suitcase and backpack, inside of which I stuffed clothes, toilet articles, etc.
I was on a spiritual quest, planning to look within myself while at the mythological sites, but not really expecting anything other than a good encounter with the country, its people and a peek at the archeology. I was particularly interested in Thebes, the land of Oedipus; Ithaca, the island of Odysseus; and the religious sites: Delphi, Patmos, whatever. I certainly didn’t anticipate an encounter with an ancient Greek god.
The first week of October, while recouping from jet lag, I spent in Athens breathing car exhaust, sweating in the late-summer heat while traipsing about the Akropolis, the temple of Olympian Zeus and visiting the National Archaeological Museum. I spent four days in Thebes, which all the guidebooks told me to avoid, and fell in love with the little city on the hill where the ancient seven-gated Kadmia stood in Oedipus’ day and even spent some time staring across the Aonion plain at the mountain of the Sphinx in the distance. But after a couple of days in Delphi at Apollo’s temple, I had a problem that threatened to cut my trip short.
Not only was I lonely, but consciously disturbed at having two more months traveling before me. From the very beginning of my trip I’d had unusually-powerful dreams, where I longed for my family: my daughter who had run away from home years before but was now well-established in Atlanta, and my son who was a freelance illustrator in San Francisco. At Delphi, I dreamed of my own death and argued with God about my divorce, woke crying. Not long before leaving for Greece, I’d finished five years of psychotherapy and unaccountably lost my job in aerospace. For the past thirty years I’d been an astronautical engineer, and getting laid off was a serious blow. But since I was also a writer, I’d taken the free time as a blessing. Now, seven thousand miles from home, and alone, I was in trouble.