But One Man Alone…

In June 2007, I departed by myself for Greece, trusting in the guidance of the ancient gods and following in the footsteps of Odysseus as I sought a return to a metaphysical home of my own. I brought my Holga and my Bronica along, unsure of exactly what I was looking for or what I would be shooting. As I traveled across Attica and the Peloponnese, then up the Ionian coast, circumstances soon forced me to come to terms with puzzles and mysteries that have remained unresolved in my life for quite some time. What I found was so inexpressibly startling and sublime that I had no choice but to let my cameras speak for me when words failed me or proved otherwise unutterable in describing those experiences.

I do not plan my series in advance. Instead, I have learned to take things as they come, to let my cameras show me what needs to be seen. In crafting this series, I chose to let the Bronica serve as my spyglass—allowing me to see experience through the deeds of the great hero whose footsteps I was trying to follow—and the Holga function as my compass, leading me almost supernaturally to discoveries and revelations I had not anticipated when I left home. The text that accompanies these images was chosen later, after I had returned home, from Robert Fagles’ excellent translation of The Odyssey and from my own personal journal entries written during my walkabout with the ancients.

In a gallery setting, these images are presented as 11″ x 11″ silver gelatin prints, matted and framed in 16″x20″ frames, in conjunction with equivalent separately matted and framed negative contact prints of the accompanying text written in my own hand (Homer in block print, my journal entries in cursive). The frames are then mounted immediately adjacent to one another, thus suggesting an open book on the wall.

[These images can be viewed in a larger format by clicking on them, and they are best viewed on a Mac as opposed to a PC. Gamma rate is what lies behind this problem. On a PC, a Mac-based image appears too dark. On a Mac, a PC-based image appears too light. I live in a Mac world these days, so that’s what I choose to offer.]

*****

Toward Ithaca, Ionian Sea

“Immortals are never strangers to each other,
no matter how distant one may make her home.
But as for great Odysseus–
Hermes could not find him within the cave.
Off he sat on a headland, weeping there as always,
wrenching his heart with sobs and groans and anguish,
gazing out over the barren sea through blinding tears.”
–On Calypso’s Island, Book 5
Temple of Hephaestus, Athens

I stayed up later than I should have last night,
weary, footsore, trying to compose the letter
that explains my own behavior over the past months.
I find it difficult to do so without revealing particulars
about her, and I desperately don’t want to do that.
–June 19, 2007

Temple of the Olympian Zeus, Athens

“Stranger…
Friend, you’re hardly a wicked man, and no fool, I’d say–
it’s Olympian Zeus himself who hands our fortunes out,
to each of us in turn, to the good and bad,
however Zeus prefers….
He gave you pain, it seems. You simply have to bear it.”
–Nausicaa’s reply, Book 6

Roadside Attraction, Attica

A young man came in, called me “friend,”…and
explained that his companions were arguing
about where I am from. One thought Holland,
another the UK, and he simply “another country.”
–June 20, 2007

Temple of Poseidon, Sounio

“True, there’s an old tale I heard
my father telling once. Nausithous used to say
that Lord Poseidon was vexed with us because
we escorted all mankind and never came to grief.
He said that one day, as a well-built ship of our
sailed home on the misty sea from such a convoy,
the god would crush it….”
–Alcinous of the Phaeacians, Book 8

The Plutoneion, Eleusis

I took several wrong turns at poorly marked junctions….
Then, as I approached Elefsina (ancient Eleusis)
around midnight, I saw a sign for the only
respectable hotel in town: _____________.
Perhaps that is what I needed most, and I find it
certainly appropriate, given my arrival in
this sacred city of mysteries.
–June 20, 2007

From the Temple of Aphrodite, Acrocorinth

Leaving the ship and shore, I headed inland,
clambering up through hushed, entrancing glades until,
as I was nearing the halls of Circe skilled in spells,
approaching her palace–Hermes god of the golden wand
crossed my path…and grasped me by the hand and asked me kindly,
“Where are you going, my unlucky friend–
trekking over the hills alone in unfamiliar country.”
–On Circe’s Island, Book 10

Mosque Ruins, Acrocorinth

I began to feel kind of lost…and I realized
that I miss that sense of shared
understanding, homophrosyne, comfort,
and I’ve spent so long waiting for it to come
back to me. But I haven’t done my part….
I have made myself the willing prisoner
by not doing what I promised to do.
–June 22, 2007

Cistern, Ancient Mycenae

“…So even your own wife–never indulge her too far.
Never reveal the whole truth, whatever you may know;
just tell her a part of it, be sure to hide the rest….
The time for trusting women’s gone forever!”
–The Shade of Agamemnon, Book 11

Ancient Tiryns

What once must have been mysterious and overwhelming
must have become rather pedestrian and then forgotten
with time, in terms of the truly sublime….As for my own
predicament, maybe I imagine these things, but I prefer
not to diminish or discount them–things go much better
when I believe.
–June 22, 2007

The Necromanteion of the Acheron, Epirus

“One rule there is,” the famous seer explained,
“And simple for me to say and you to learn.
Any one of the ghosts you let approach…
will speak the truth to you. Anyone you refuse
will turn and fade away.”
And with those words,
now that his prophecies had closed, the awesome shade
of Lord Tiresias strode back to the House of Death.
But I kept watch there, steadfast till my mother
approached….
–In the Kingdom of the Dead, Book 11

Temple of Apollo, Delphi

At the small grocery in Delphi I found the proprietor–an
elderly lady–trying to push a large box of apples across
the floor to the front of the store. I offered to help
through gesture, and she let me….She then threw an apple
in my bag as a means of thanks–a reminder of how
kindness breeds kindness, even among strangers.
–June 25, 2007

Sacred Grove, Mount Parnassos

“All is now made good, my heart’s desire,
your convoy home, your precious, loving gifts,
and may the gods of Olympus bless them for me!
May I find an unswerving wife when I reach home,
and loved ones hale, unharmed! And you, my friends
remaining here in your kingdom now, may you delight
in your royal wives and children! May the gods
rain down all kinds of fortune on your lives….”
–Odysseus to the Phaeacians, Book 13

Rock of the Sibyl, Delphi

But I refused to be daunted….
At the Temple of Apollo, I paid my
respects and asked my question of the Oracle.
In no uncertain terms, I received an answer on the spot,
one consistent with everything else that had occurred,
for which I expressed my deepest gratitude.
–June 25, 2007

Racing for Ithaca, Ionian Sea

So the stern hove high and plunged with the seething rollers
crashing dark in her wake as on she surged, unwavering,
never flagging, no, not even a darting hawk,
the quickest thing on wings, could keep her pace
as on she ran, cutting the swells at top speed,
bearing a man endowed with the gods’ own wisdom,
one who had suffered twenty years of torment….
–Ithaca at Last, Book 13

School of Homer, Ithaca

I enjoyed walking around the remote countryside of
the northern end of Ithaki, where the lost palace of
Odysseus and the School of Homer are alleged to have
once stood. There were some moments of real satisfaction
as I began to understand Homer’s and Odysseus’s love
for this remarkable land, if indeed–as I believe–
it is the same place.
–June 26, 2007

Aphales Bay, Ithaca

At those words
Dawn rose on her golden throne in a sudden gleam of light.
And great Odysseus caught the sound of his wife’s cry
and began to daydream–deep in his heart it seemed
she stood beside him, knew him, now, at last….
–Penelope’s lament, Book 20

Stairway, School of Homer, Ithaca

But what was interesting to me were the promises that
had been made the night before on the voyage across the
Ionian Sea, fulfilled on Ithaca that next day by an
unexpected and captivating discovery on the horizon.
Between landscape and cartography, those circumstances
did a rather fine job of blowing my mind.
–June 26, 2007

The Great Tree, Ithaca

“Strange man,”
wary Penelope said. “I am not so proud, so scornful,
nor am I overwhelmed by your quick change….
You look–how well I know–the way he looked,
setting sail from Ithaca years ago
aboard the long-oared ship. Come, Eurycleia,
move the sturdy bedstead out of our bridal chamber….”
–Penelope’s secret sign, Book 23

The Palace at Knossos, Crete

Very odd night once settled into my secondary lodgings.
Wandered back out, captivated by these strange
people and their even stranger city. Returned,
unable to sleep for thoughts of her,
frustrated and angry a little at the gulf between us.
Turned on the TV and heard this:
“Love doesn’t end just because we don’t see each other.”
–July 1, 2007

*****

All text from Homer’s The Odyssey is from the Penguin Classics edition of the Robert Fagles translation, ©1996. All images and the text from the private journals of Eric Plaag are ©2007, and they may not be reproduced or redistributed in any manner without written permission from Eric Plaag.

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