Steven Runciman — a great, if sometimes romantic, historian, wrote a book I’ve read many times called ‘The Lost Capitol of Byzantium’ with a forward by John Freely. It’s about Mistras, a town that overlooks the vale of Sparta.
Mistras is one of the most magical places I’ve ever been. The location is superb,and so are the views. It seems to be the real life Minas Tirith; at least seven levels of houses and palaces and walls. And art. And churches. It represents the last, last, last gasp of the Roman EMpire; the last of many small renaissances, and the place provided a haven for Greeks and Greek learning int he dark days of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. George Plethon, who, incidentally, thought he was Plato reborn and whose life and writing inspired Harmodius, my mage in the Red Knight series, floushed here, and conducted one of the last great Greek philosophical schools; he educated Bessarion who became a cardinal int he western church and one of the leading sponsors of the Italian Renaissance. Plethon also taught in Florence for a little while, and had a huge impact Sigismondo Malatesta retook Mistras from the Turks as almost the last acto fhis brilliant military career and moved Plethon’s bones to Rimini; the two old pagans lie there together.
And there at your feet is Sparta. The vale of Sparta is magnificent; the ruins of ancient Sparta are not. In fact, they are a little dull. The Spartans prided themselves on being aristocratic communities and not a metropolis like Athens. And so they did not leave us a temple like the Parthenon. I wonder what that says about history?
Today we’ll also see the battlefield of Sellasia, where Antigonus and an army of Macedonians and Achaeans took on the Spartans in a nearly impregnable position.. and defeated them. Philopoeman was the hero of the day, as a young cavalry officer.
Day after tomorrow we’ll go to Olympia.
I’ve never been. Olympia has the best collection of original armour of the Archaic and Classical periods in the world; I’ve read whole books on this collections, and tomorrow I’ll see it, and I hope bury you in photos… not to mention the staggering beauty of the site. the Greeks chose their temple sites for their beauty, and I must say that they had a remarkable eye. Given Delos, Delphi, and the Parthenon, as well as the temple locations I’ve seen on Lesvos and elsewhere…
Olympia will probably blow me away… I’m really looking forward to it.
But tomorrow… is Mycenae. And Tiryns and Argos… one of the best scenes in Dread Wyrm (IMHO) emerged from my last visit to Mycenae… we went down into the ancient cistern, about 70 steps into unfathomable darkness. I had forgotten how dark it could be, 70 steps deep. In a place people carved out of the rock about four thousand years ago. Dark. And not without fear. Slippery stone steps.
Khazad Dum? the Stygian darkness? Anyway, that’s where I dreamed up how I would write Desiderada’s scenes. But for those reading them, I won’t spoil them further…