Quick study: Take high-test guide on no-test trip

GREEK CLASSICS

August 29, 1993|By Camilla Cowan | Camilla Cowan,Dallas Morning News

Athens - Summer school in Greece -- what a great way to spend two weeks and learn about the ancients.

I recently accompanied a tour of archaeological sites in Greece escorted by Karl Kilinski II, an archaeologist and art-history professor at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

Mr. Kilinski knows his stuff, and the adults on his trips are interested and eager. Like ducklings in a line, we followed him to sites. There, in lectures woven with history and myth, he told us what is believed to have been there, how it was found by archaeologists, and what has happened at the site since.

While this was not summer school per se, and no college credit is awarded, it was on-site adult education at its best -- with no tests.

Mr. Kilinski, who escorts groups to Greece, Turkey, Sicily, Kenya and Egypt on a rotating basis, holds degrees from Indiana University and the University of Missouri. He has studied at the American School of Classical Studies in Athens, has lived in and traveled extensively in Greece and has excavated underwater and on land there.

I went to Greece with little comprehension of what life before Jesus' time was like. I'd read about it, but it didn't compute. What I learned left me reeling.

The country can be overwhelming. It offers a seemingly endless number of archaeological sites, beautiful white-sand beaches, a plethora of shops with 18- and 24-karat gold jewelry, icons, clothing and pottery, not to mention the museums, open-air tavernas and narrow, flower-lined streets for strolling.

Traveling with a college professor can help solve the problem of too many choices and too little time.

Mr. Kilinski answers questions constantly: He drives the tour bus while answering our questions. He eats breakfast while answering our questions. He eats lunch and dinner while answering our questions. We are quite inquisitive.

It is a pleasure to have the same guide for 14 days, especially one who knows what he is talking about. At each site, our group grows as other travelers are drawn by Mr. Kilinski's command of the subject, as well as his command of both English (he's from New Orleans) and Greek.

This is intense -- enough information for a college semester crammed into two weeks. And we are intensely interested, our minds stimulated, perhaps overly so, by the subject and the sites.

Greece's topography ranges from lush mountainous areas with olive groves and fields of red poppies and yellow broom, to rocky, near-barren, cracking land with the occasional blooming bush. The sun is relentless, and there are few natural resources.

Yet the ancients did much more than eke out a life. Theirs was a culture that bred creativity in ideas as well as art and music. They had working plumbing, intricate jewelry and homes decorated with stucco and frescoes. To see these ruins brings more questions than answers, such as: What makes a civilization a breeding ground for creativity and what makes such advanced civilization fall or coast?

After two days in Athens, we traveled roughly counterclockwise on the mainland and Peloponnese for about a week, then visited Crete, Santorini, Mykonos and Delos before returning to Athens. They are all worth visiting.

Athens

A trip to the Parthenon on the Acropolis in Athens is a must. It is more massive than I ever imagined and visible from much of the city. Huge, numbered marble blocks lie on the ground, and a crane works slowly at putting them back into what is thought to be their original configuration.

A short walk downhill through the medieval part of the city leads to shops and outdoor cafes, with numerous cats who wait to see who orders the seafood.

The National Archaeological Museum holds treasures from sites across Greece, many taken there for "protection." Getting to sites early in the day to beat the tour buses and schoolchildren is advisable.

The Athena Parthenos, a re-creation of a statue that is believed to have stood in the Parthenon before being carried off to what was then Constantinople, offers a glimpse of one of the Greeks' early gods -- a woman. Another favorite at the museum, the bronze statuette of a satyr, possesses a man's body, hoofs, tail and other body parts that can't be described in this newspaper. Mr. Kilinski says it's the most popular postcard in the museum store.

Into the blue

About an hour's drive south from Athens is the Temple of Poseidon at Sounion. We deviate from our itinerary to go there.

Once out of Athens, you are struck by an array of blues. The color is always present -- in the water, sky, building trim. And the shades are all different: the blue-green water blending to a darker blue before reaching a deep navy; the near baby-blue of a house's trim or church dome; the varied blue of the sunset that melts from light sky-blue to purple to pink, with some yellow and gold thrown in. It is yet another aspect of Greece that leaves you speechless.

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