Conversations on Philosophy

All Greeks think they are great philosophers. After all, the very word is pure Greek, derived from two simple words: philos –friend and sophia – wisdom; this combination makes Greeks friends of wisdom. Let me rather say that it made the Ancient Greeks friends of wisdom and somehow the Modern Greeks seemed to have strayed, for surely financial wisdom forms part of general wisdom.

My father had friends, both in South Africa and in Greece that he could comfortably philosophise with for hours on end. Somehow the friends in Greece seemed better in these discourses and there was one friend in particular that stood out as a fountain of wisdom for my father. It helped that my father had the time when he was in Greece to sit for hours on end, sometimes days, talking with the old man, George Simbonis.

The old man would have made fine company for Solon in Athens 27 centuries before. Solon said “I grow old learning many things.” My father learnt immeasurably from Simbonis. When they were both younger and the old man would work in the fields near Kortsouli my father would walk there, about 7 kilometres from the village, have a break and a chat and then work in the fields with him and walk back. They would talk comfortably about this and that, never scandalous, always enquiring, reasoning and advising.

The walk from the house to Kortsouli is flat and on a narrow tar road that takes you to Tripolis. After passing a handful of houses and the old village spring’ you enter the avenue of planes trees for about a kilometre. This shades you from the warm morning sun in summer with its promise of heat later. The road curves gently to the right around a hill with a church on top amidst the pines, Agio Ilia. As you round that hill you can see the smaller hill of Kortsouli, after which lie the fields of the old man, amidst the ruins of the ancient city of Mantinea.

The two men, one older by twenty years, were quite ascetic in the fields. Working and drinking deep dark cold well water, eating fruit and for lunch some cheese and bread with a sip of wine. It was one of my father’s favourite sayings, metron ariston – moderation is best, attributed to Cleobolus, who was another of the seven sages, like Solon. All fathers of philosophy. The two friends lived this philosophy in the Arcadian sunlight.

This legacy of philosophy has left me intrigued; it is an exploration of the link between modern and ancient life that is bridged by Christianity. One of my old affirmations is this:

“My mind is quiet and rich, and I have accumulated the wisdom of the generations before me.”

It came to me from this rich tapestry, and the more I think about it the more complex it is in its derivations yet simple in origin.

A page from my father's 70th birthday book gift from the staff at his office

Converations from Tripolis

I have walked from Tripolis to Kakouri. One third of the distance might include the outskirts of Tripolis, until you reach the provincial road to Levidi that crosses your path perpendicularly. After this the road narrows. There is a small church on cement stilts opposite on the right. The road narrows and has a shiny tar surface, spotted with sheep droppings that have been flattened into black discs on the grey road.

After that you pass a place called Xania, which is halfway between town and village. It is a collection of a few houses, stables and chairs on the side of the road that used to welcome villagers on the way back from the market at Tripolis in the days when they too used to walk to peddle their wares. They would have had hard earned cash in the scarves around their necks, some of which could be spent on a coffee or cooled water with cherry preserve.

After this on the right you can see Analipsi, the mountain above Kakouri. It is covered on an oak bush called pournari for the lower two thirds. The peak is at about 1800 meters, and is rock and screed. Just above the junction of the pournari there is a small plateau facing Tripolis and if you lock closely you can see the white walls and red tiles of a tiny church called Analipsi, The Resurrection.

After Xania, below Analipsi, is a small round hill called Kortsouli, with the ancient city of Mantinea at its feet. The road to Old Man Simbonis’ farm runs along the outer boundary wall of great stone blocks that are 2500 years old, and everyone referred to his farm as Kortsouli. An everyday term used easily that encompassed a whole civilization of proud farmers and warriors.

After Kortsouli, also on the right, is a taller round hill, with another church, this time Agio Ilia. This is hidden amongst the pines on the crest. This saint’s churches are always on the top of mountains or hills, closer to the sun, after which he is named.

The road curves slightly, left here, right there, but there is no altitude change from Tripolis to Kakouri, until you enter the village which straddles the foothills of Analipsi. From Agio Ilia you enter an avenue of plane trees, their white fluff ball blossoms covering the road like snow in late summer. A few of the trees are missing, like a tooth missing in the gnarled mouth of a villager. In the missing tree’s place is a small iconostasio, in remembrance of the young person who died driving too fast on this quiet road. If the tragedy was recent, or if they were really loved, there is a fresh bunch of flowers lying inside with the burning olive oil wick.

As the avenue ends you enter the village, with Simbonis’ house on the right and the old Manelis house on the left. My grandmother grew up as a Manelis there. In front, in the elbow of the fork, is a bigger iconostasio for The Ascension, and on the right is the now disused village spring, where we used to fill our large glass wicker covered bottles for house water when we first arrived in the village.

If you follow the left fork, towards Levidi, at the first intersection 150 meters further on is our house, the Patriko, on the left opposite corner.

The Iconostasio Analipsi in the elbow of the fork of the road as you enter Kakouri