| 10:30 PM local time, Tuesday, June 25 (1930 June 25 UTC) 37 25 N 025 19 E.
Temp. 81, Humidity 65%, Cloud Cover 0%. Anchored at Ornos Bay on the island
of Mikonos, Greece.
Warm greetings from the crew of Maverick.
As dawn spread its rosy fingers across the Aegean one spring morning in the
year 399 BC, although they didn't use BC back then for reasons I'll let the
reader figure out for himself, the captain of a Greek galley stood at the
harbor at Delos contemplating the sky and sea, and decided the winds had
finally turned fair for the return trip to Athens. He and his crew had come
here to transport the priests and dignitaries who had traveled to Delos on
their yearly trip to pay tribute to the god Apollo at the site of his birth,
to repay an old debt. Although Phaedo, who tells the story, doesn't give us a
season, I'm thinking it was in the spring because they certainly wouldn't
sail in winter and summer breezes are either too strong and contrary or
nonexistent. And fall doesn't seem right for a trip of this sort. Besides,
Apollo's birthday is in the spring.
After the sacrifices had been made, the prayers offered and the libations
poured, they had waited for a couple of weeks or more for the wind. This we
know because it wouldn't have taken more than two or three days to make the
voyage from Athens and Xenophon tells us that the round trip took a month. A
galley from that period could not sail upwind at all, and they couldn't row
against more than eight or so knots and make any progress, and that at the
price of some very tired oarsmen. So they waited until the wind was
favorable. Getting to Delos would not have been much of a problem since the
winds are northwesterly about three days out of four that time of year and
Delos lies to the southeast of Athens. But returning means waiting for two or
three days together of fair wind, using your best weather forecaster or
soothsayer, so there could be delays. And there was in that time of year
still the danger of storms, which were not infrequently disastrous for
vessels in this era.
It's only about 90 miles as the crow flies to Piraeus, the port of Athens,
from Delos and they could probably do five knots with a good following
breeze, so you would think it would be less than a day's sail. But they
wouldn't have done it that way, because they couldn't see the landmarks they
needed to navigate by at night so they had to be in a safe harbor by dusk.
Greek sailors didn't like overnight passages if they could avoid them, not
only because of navigation but because they didn't have decent sea berths and
lee cloths like Maverick does, or a gimbaled stove, so they couldn't
comfortably sleep or cook. So if they left Delos at dawn with a fresh breeze
aft of the beam, by mid-afternoon they'd have made it halfway there, to a
safe anchorage on Kithnos or Kea, islands off the peninsula southeast of
Athens. If the next day gave favorable conditions, they may have made Athens
in a total of two days, but if not, it may have taken a week to return.
There may have been other reasons too for delay, because there might have
been people on board of some influence who were not anxious to return to
home, since the same day they returned, a man would die. By tradition, there
could be no executions while the sacred ship to Delos was on its yearly
mission, so if a death sentence were handed down after the priest of Apollo
at Athens had consecrated the ship for the journey, anyone on death row would
benefit from a reprieve until her return. At most times, the executions were
of common criminals of no great reputation. But this year, it was different.
Awaiting death until the day they made landfall was someone everyone on board
knew, or at least knew about, and undoubtedly had an opinion of whether they
thought he was a great man, or a fool. It was Socrates.
I had to go to the island of Delos and see for myself the place where they
made their decision to sail. Perhaps it was just business as usual for them
but this seems unlikely. The captain without question would have put the
safety of the voyage above any other consideration when he made his call. Yet
even among Socrates' worst enemies there appears to have been more annoyance
with him than hatred, and there were many others who loved and admired him
deeply. So I would think that it would have been an unwelcome burden for a
skipper to bear.
Today the ancient harbor was before me, now silted up next to the new mole to
the south where the ferries dock. It was quiet except for the wind and the
harbor seemed tiny, compared to both its role in history and its reputation
as a great port. There wasn't much to see but I know that this is just where
they stood and I'll have it in my memory, when I think of that voyage, for
the rest of my life.
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