Not many places on this planet get to lay claim to being the birth place of a god (let alone twins!), but the small island of Delos is the exception. Today we braved the remarkable swells to reach this ancient religious, and commercial center. The boat ride was only 20 minutes, but with the wind still whipping, it made for an exciting ride!
Delos is unlike any place I’ve been. It is a small, photogenic island surrounded by emerald and turquoise waters, scattered with nothing but ancient ruins. Doric and Ionic columns line the landscape like Cyprus trees. Wandering the ancient streets you might encounter a Greek temple, a Roman theater, remains of some of the largest ancient domestic structures we know of, oh, and you might just stumble by the birth place of the god of music, truth, prophecy, sun and light, plague and poetry. Apollo is the son of Zeus and Leto, and was born, along with his twin sister Artemis, from an egg since Zeus did what any reasonable man would do in seducing the object of his desire—turned himself into a swan. The exact birthplace is said to be at the base of a palm tree in the center of an ancient lake on Delos. I for one saw the palm tree, so I know it’s true.
We spent the morning exploring this fascinating island that had been inhabited since the 3rd century BC, named as a religious shrine to Apollo by the Greeks and flourished as a religious and commercial center until the Romans declared it a free port in the 2nd century B.C. Interestingly, to this day the Greeks have a strict law that no one can be born and no one can die on the island, so word to the wise if you are pregnant or ailing and planning a visit to Delos! The reason behind this dates back in part to the Homeric Hymn to Delian Apollo in which Leto, looking for a birth place for her egg babies addressed the island:
Delos, if you would be willing to be the abode of my son Phoebus Apollo and make him a rich temple –; for no other will touch you, as you will find: and I think you will never be rich in oxen and sheep, nor bear vintage nor yet produce plants abundantly. But if you have the temple of far-shooting Apollo, all men will bring you hecatombs and gather here, and incessant savour of rich sacrifice will always arise, and you will feed those who dwell in you from the hand of strangers; for truly your own soil is not rich.
— Homeric Hymn to Delian Apollo 51–60
The island, rich in neither soil nor water, was not an ideal place to spend one’s life. But that did not persuade centuries of Greeks and Romans from calling it home. In another truth, it was decreed by Athens in the 5th century B.C. that no one could be born or die there to strengthen control of the Delian League and hence Athens over the island that housed the treasury, thus expelling all native inhabitants and ensuring monetary control. Either way, it’s an amazing place to visit, but I think the Greeks have it right—I wouldn’t want to give birth, or to end my life there.
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