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Natural assets: The history of Monemvasia is a reminder that Greeks were once "not ignorant of the love of freedom"

To reach "Homer's Tomb", you now drive across the Cycladic island of Ios along a good road, paved with euros, to the rugged north shore. When we first landed, 50 years ago, there was not a single wheeled vehicle. "Homer's Tum" — as it was then advertised on a rusty placard on the quayside — was accessible only by donkey or, if you were in a hurry, by mule. It took at least two hours, side-saddle, and there wasn't much to see when you got there. Now — embellished with a dinky stone surround — the poet's modest mausoleum lies on the crest of a steep hillock overlooking the choppy channel of wine-dark sea that takes the smaller ferries to Pholegandros and Anafi, the least visited of the Cyclades.  

On Ios a few months ago, ours was the only vehicle in Homer's car park. The summer had gone out of Greece's year, which is when I like it best. According to scholarly opinion, Homer was actually a succession of peripatetic bards who, between the 8th and the 6th century BCE, compiled and polished the undying stories of war, travel and ambition which lie at the root of European literature. Never mind the scholars, the myth of a single blind genius retains its charm. Bending to the north wind (which was given divine status in 480 BCE, after it had blown the Persian fleet on to the rocks), I trekked up to his solitary resting place.

Musing there an hour or less, I wondered what Homer's travelling man, Odysseus, might say about the pickle in which today's Hellenes have managed, and mismanaged, to land themselves. Odysseus was a reluctant hero. He went to Troy only because he had failed to dodge the column. An oracle had warned him that the war would take ten years to win and that it would take him another ten to get back to Ithaka, a green island, over to the West, nothing like the Cyclades. He was also told that he wouldn't end up a drachma the richer. The original meaning of "drachma" was whatever you can grab with one hand. Euros are what the powerful have, for years, been grabbing with two.

Without Odysseus, the war might never have ended. Who else among the loutish leaders could have thought up the idea of the wooden horse — a Greek gift stuffed with Special Forces? Even after the towers of Troy had been toppled, he had to use all his cunning to make it back safely to the faithful Penelope. Not that he was in that much of a hurry: the delicious Calypso, with her secret charms, made sure he dawdled a while (on Malta's Gozo, they say) before he had to be going.  And once he did return, so the Cretan poet Nikos Kazantzakis claimed, the cunning hero couldn't stand domesticity for long. In his 33,333-line sequel to The Odyssey, the author of Zorba the Greek depicted the wandering Greek setting sail again in search of Calypso II, the sequel.

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