The Wonderful Greek Sun: Fact, Theory, and Myth

by Christopher Xeneopoulos Janus

The wonderful some say unique Greek sun has been written about over the centuries by scientific climatologist poets, philosophers, and ordinary writers like me. And there is also a writer which Greeks call Koutos, which in Greek, means stupid or naive. Which is really a misnomer, for what Koutos has to say in many instances also makes sense, which I will be writing about later on in this article.

In the scientific poet category I refer to Oxford's, Sir Maurice Bowra, my tutor during my days there.

Sir Maurice believed that although the same Greek sun shined over all planet Earth, in certain areas at certain times, it had a special affect on the sensitive brains and conduct of people.

The special power of the sun is, of course, that itself gives light and makes things grow. Sir Bowra claims that, in Greece, the sun also grows and changes, but that its rays are affected by Greece's sea and mountains.

Who can say if it's really a fact, though many ancient Greeks themselves believed it. Euripides would write only around noon in the direct sunlight, and the poet Sappho wrote her poems only under direct sunlight.

Plato's Academy, three thousand years ago, stood in the area near the Acropolis that was always in the brightest part of town and when Plato, Socrates, Aristotle, and other philosophers walked around the academy making their "dialogues," it was always in the brightest part of the day. However, I must say that when I visited Plato's Academy in 1936, the area was actually shaded.

Following is a general but factual account of the sun and climate in Greece today.

In climatological terms, the year can be broadly subdivided into two main seasons: The cold and rainy period lasting from mid­October until the end of March, and warm and dry season lasting from April through September.

During the first period, the coldest months are January and February, with a mean minimum temperature ranging, on a average between 5-10 degrees Celsius near the coast, and 0-5 Celsius over the mainland - with lower values (generally below freezing) over the northern part of the country.

Long stretches of consecutive rainy days are infrequent in Greece, even during the winter, and the sky does not remain cloudy for more than a few days in a row, as it does in other regions of the world. "Bad weather" days in winter are often interrupted during January and the first fortnight of February, with sunny days, known as 'Halcyon days: since ancient times.

The winter is milder in the Aegean and Ionian Islands, compared to Northern and Fasten mainland Greece. During the warm and dry period, the weather is usually stable, the sky is clear, the sun is bright and there is generally no rainfall. There are, however, infrequent and brief intervals of rapid rain or thunderstorms chiefly over mainland areas.

The warmest periods occur during the last ten days of July and the first ten days of August, when the maximum temperature lies between 2?0 and 35.0 degrees Celsius. During the warm period the high temperatures are tempered by the fresh sea breezes in the coastal areas of the country and from the north winds, known as 'Etesian', blowing mainly in the Aegean.

The light of the south, as manifested in Greece in the dry climate of Attica par excellence, describes volumes and shapes with sharp precision and without the graduations which distinguish the atmospheric landscapes of the north. This suggestion is confirmed in all Greek painters, who even well into the 20th century continued to paint in an impressionist style, despite the Pact that originated from the school of Munich.

What makes Greek light in general seem so special? The combination of small masses of land dotted against the Aegean Sea, high island vantage points and steep cliffs which allow an observer to perceive the light falling from the sun while more light simultaneously reflects back up off the sea, the neutral brownness of the landscape, especially in summer, and the sparkling white of the simple Cycladic house.

It is sheer magic and is not to be found in any guide book or monitor screen: it must be seen to be believed.

I mentioned earlier, a writer whom Greeks call Koutos. In 1936 my Uncle Pan Aristophanes arranged for one of his archeologists to show me the academy he'd discovered.

The young archeologist introduced me to one of his workers which, it seems everyone called, Koutos. But he was far from stupid. He just had some wild theories and a great imagination, and I found him to be a most unusual Greek. In the first place he was about 6'5" the tallest Greek I've ever met. He had a small, saint like face, his feet were very large and his hands seemed about twice the size of ordinary hands. He did some of the hard labor work at the academy and when he was not at the academy, he was usually sitting at one of the outdoor Taverns in town, surrounded by children. They loved his stories; which told of the time there were dinosaurs, which the sun had made large and of lions that were kept as pets in Greece.

Koutos claimed that, at the time of dinosaurs, Greek men and women were 7 feet or more tall.

In addition to children loving Koutos he was much loved animals, especially the Greek donkey. Koutos had six donkeys in his home and one of them which he called Zeus had almost human qualities about it, these donkeys were especially sensitive to and caring of older people. Zeus would waken Koutos by nudging him in the morning. He would give Zeus a list of things to buy and the donkey knew the store to go to and bought them. Zeus became famous when he entered a burning house and brought out a baby in his crib. These donkeys were very protective of older people. When a man tried to rob one of the older people a donkey stomped him, kicked him and drove him away.

It is interesting to note that today psychiatrists and doctors recommend the Greek donkey as a therapy for older people.

Finally, Koutos had strong and clear views about the power of the sun. He'd say there is no doubt that three thousands years ago the Greek, sun at a special angle, its special-rays is responsible for making the Greek genius.

The sun allowed people to live an outdoor life and this too, as Sir Maurice Bowra agrees, has much to do with the Golden age of Greece.

(Posting date 28 November 2008)

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