The Kidnap and Travels of the Karpathos Lady

Travel writer Alan King falls for the ‘Karpathos Lady’, kindly allowing followers of the Bents to share his own fascination for her… It makes quite a story!

On the Turkish-controlled island of Karpathos, shortly before midday on Monday, April 20th, 1885, a 6000-year-old female figure, hidden under a carpet, carried on the back of a man from Anafi, was smuggled onto a ship in Pigadia harbour, never, to this date, to return to her island home.

This is the story of her kidnap and of how she later travelled the world under her new name of the ‘Karpathos Lady’.

The Kidnap and Travels of the Karpathos Lady

The kidnappers

Theodore and Mabel Bent
Theodore and Mabel Bent
© The Bent Archive

During the winters between 1882 and 1890, the British travellers Theodore and Mabel Bent would leave their home in London’s fashionable West End to meander around the Greek islands and the Turkish coast in search of adventure in the exotic Levant. Theodore Bent’s main interest was archaeology and their itinerary would be designed to take them to locations where there were opportunities to excavate new sites.

In March and April, 1885, they visited the island of Karpathos and came upon a limestone statue of a naked female, baring all. When they left the island, six weeks later, the Karpathos Lady went with them.

A desert diversion

Three months before, in mid-January, the Bents had travelled from London to Dover where they boarded a ferry to Calais to connect with the train which would take them on the first stage of their latest adventure.

Travelling via Paris, they reached an uncharacteristically snowy Marseilles on January 14th and the next day were on board the M.M. Tage heading for the somewhat warmer climes of Egypt, where they arrived 7 days later.

It was a birthday jaunt for Mabel who, on January 28th, climbed a pyramid at sunset and later wrote: “It was splendid being up there and I think it very very unlikely that any other person has been up by moonlight on his birthday before … it felt odd to be alone with the Pyramid and the moon.”  note 1 

World Enough, and Time: The Travel Chronicles of Mrs J Theodore Bent Volume I: Greece and the Levantine Littoral – All Mabel Bent’s quotes in this article can be read in full in Gerald Brisch’s excellent transcription of Mabel’s chronicles, the informal diary entries she made throughout their adventures in Greece and Turkey.

Arrival in Karpathos

Mabel was clearly over the moon about her 38th birthday celebration, however, there was another motive for the Bents travelling to Egypt. With their ‘holiday’ over, they had work to do and February 4th saw them aboard the S.S. Saturn, bound for the island of Rhodes, although Bent’s sights were really set on excavating on neighbouring Karpathos.

He’d become aware of four potential dig sites on Karpathos. However, the Turks were cracking down on such unlicensed archaeological activities. In addition, after the publication of his article in 1883 about the islands of Chios and Samos  note 2 , in which he criticised Turkish rule, he feared he would have difficulty obtaining the necessary travel permits for the islands he wished to visit. At that time, Egypt was still effectively Turkish territory and Bent figured that he would more easily slip into the Turkish-occupied Greek islands from Egypt rather than the usual point of entry of Istanbul.

In the event, when the couple reached Rhodes, it became evident that the Turkish governor, or Pasha, Khamel Bey, was going to make life difficult for Bent. Not surprising really; at the time of Bent’s critical article about Chios and Samos, Khamel Bey had been Pasha on the nearby island of Lesvos and had become embroiled in the fallout from the article.

Khamel Bey refused to allow them to travel to Karpathos on the Turkish government steamer and the couple were forced to take a circuitous, clandestine route using the Greek steamer Roúmeli and small local caiques. After stopovers on the islands of Nisyros and Tilos, they finally made landfall on Karpathos, at Tristomo Bay, in the north of the island, on March 6th, 1885.

The Karpathos Lady appears

The main town of Pigadia had been their intended destination, but after an horrendous 9-hour overnight voyage from Tilos, bad weather forced them to take shelter in the wide, protected bay of Tristomo before continuing on their way next morning. But bad luck dogged them again.  Two sudden gusts of wind took the sail and mast overboard and they just managed to limp into the small harbour village of Diafani where they found another boat and crew to continue their journey south. After a further seven and a half hours, they reached Pigadia, not far short of two whole days after having left Tilos, just 100 kms distant.

Bent was to encounter yet more problems. It seems that word from Rhodes had preceded his arrival on Karpathos and the Turkish authorities were aware of his intentions. Under scrutiny from the Turks, he found it difficult to excavate on Karpathos as he’d planned; he wrote while in Pigadia: “Here there are evidences of pre-historic inhabitants, the graves of whom I was unfortunately unable to open owing to the presence of the Turkish authorities …”

At this point however, Bent seemed unaware that he already had in his possession the most important object of his entire mission on Karpathos. His somewhat downbeat sentence above continues: “… but I was able to obtain a large stone figure of a female idol.”  note 3 

The Karpathos Lady had appeared. Her fate was now sealed.

The Karpathos Lady
The Karpathos Lady
© The Trustees of the British Museum
Licence CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

Evading the Turks

Bent left the statue in Pigadia with the man who’d sold her to him, planning to collect her when he finally left the island.

He’d been hoping to excavate the sites of the four ancient cities of Karpathos.  With Posidonia and Arkessia in the south of the island effectively off the agenda, his only recourse was to travel to the isolated north, well away from the inquisitive eyes of the Turks, to investigate Vrykounda on the north-west coast and the presumed site of Nisyros on the islet of Saria.

Shortly before Easter, in preparation for their journey, they arranged to leave some of their baggage in store in the Custom House in Pigadia with the aim of collecting it as they departed the island some weeks later. Of course, one very important item, the Karpathos Lady, was already in Pigadia, awaiting collection at the house of the man who’d sold her to Bent.

They travelled north to Olymbos and on to Vrykounda where they started their excavations at the site of the ancient city, with a break to celebrate Easter in Olymbos and Diafani. Visiting Saria after Easter yielded nothing but disappointment and they returned to Vrykounda.

Their digs at Vrykounda yielded some interesting finds which later ended up in the British Museum.

The kidnap

Their excavations in the north of the island completed, they returned again to Diafani and set out from the village in a small boat for the journey south to Pigadia to retrieve their stored baggage, and, of course, the Karpathos Lady. They planned to take the Greek steamer, Roúmeli, from Pigadia, which would carry them out of Turkish jurisdiction to Greece, but, to their horror, shortly after leaving Diafani, they saw the steamer heading north toward Diafani. Incredibly, they managed to flag it down by waving their umbrellas so that the captain would know they were the British passengers he’d taken from Rhodes to the island of Nisyros some weeks before. The Roúmeli had already called at Pigadia and was en-route to Diafani before proceeding on to the island of Kassos. They persuaded the captain to return, after Diafani, to Pigadia, with the help of 13 British pounds (some £800 or €900 at today’s value), much to the annoyance of some the passengers already on board.

Manthaios Simos
Manthaios Simos, thought to be in his nineties in Athens in the 1930s, sits with a cat between two of his granddaughters – Maria (left) and Irini
© Andreas Michalopoulos 2010

Mabel’s diary account takes up the story of what happened when they arrived in Pigadia and how their loyal Greek dragoman, Manthaios Simos from Anafi, was given the special task of retrieving the 40kg statue while Bent kept the Turks occupied with “much raki”:

“Manthaios set off to run to the house where was a very hideous statue, more than the size of a baby, half a mile off. Theodore and the Turks sat down at the café … At last I saw Manthaios tearing back with the burden [of 40kg] on his shoulders and very soon they reached the ship and all was on board . . . we were safely off . . . ‘Oh!’ I could not help exclaiming ‘How thankful I am to be under the Greek flag’. And indeed with 3 umbrellas in the cabin, though all in disrepair, what now had we Britons to fear from Turks?”

“We sat down to luncheon at 12 in gay frame of mind and then I heard how Manthaios had run to the house and found it locked and had broken the door open, found the statue, wrapped it up in what he carried for the purpose, and ran back. Theodore was in the meantime drinking much raki with the Harbourmaster and other Turks, having been to the custom house and told an old woman to take a long time carrying the things, one by one, very slowly to the boat and thinking Manthaios would never be back; as I could see Manthaios I was luckier. When Manthaios appeared, Theodore could see that the statue showed behind and told him so, but Manthaios said ‘No matter’ and rushed on to the boat and then went back to say goodbye to the Turks. Theodore saw them spot the statue and whisper together and shrug their shoulders“.

The raki had done its job well!

Mabel continues: “… so now we are in possession of the most hideous thing ever made by human hands.”

So thought Mabel of the Karpathos Lady. If only she could have known that, 130 years later, the beauty of this “very hideous statue” would finally be recognised for all the world to see.

The Get-away Ship
The steamer Roúmeli was probably an unknowing accomplice in the kidnap of the Karpathos Lady. She’d been plying her way around the islands for just a short period before her two encounters with the Bents. On the first occasion she took them from Rhodes to Nisyros. Her second encounter saw her being flagged down to return to Pigadia where she picked up the Karpathos Lady. Read more about the Roúmeli
And so, shortly before midday on Monday 20th April, 1885, the Karpathos Lady left her island home and started out on the odyssey that would ultimately see her travelling the world. With her went the possibility that the most important archaeological artefact from the island’s past would ever assume its rightful place as an icon of the island. Even today, few islanders know of her existence and still fewer are aware of the story of her dramatic abduction.

Roúmeli – copyright uncertain
Roúmeli – © uncertain

The odyssey begins

Karpathos to Kassos
Roúmeli’s ‘Bent charter’ route from Pigadia, Karpathos to Fry, Kassos
© Google Maps

Passing to the south of Karpathos and after a 3-hour stop in Kassos, the captain of the Roúmeli set a course for the next stop on the escape route from the Turks, the Greek island of Kythira, aiming to sail across the Libyan Sea, parallel to the southern coast of Crete, before steaming north and out of Turkish-controlled waters.

During the night, some hours after leaving Kassos, maybe in fury at the loss of a goddess he might have sought to seduce, the great god Zeus unleashed his winds upon the Roúmeli and her passengers. Mabel wrote: “We had a fearful night of storm, pitching, rolling … and fears of falling on the floor … Much splashing took place and water flew over the ship”. Roúmeli battled bravely on, but next morning, close to the island of Gavdos, the captain was forced to turn the ship around and head back for the shelter of Kali Limenes (Fair Havens), at the most southerly point in Crete, where the ship carrying St. Paul, on his journey from the Holy Land to Rome, is said to have rested before encountering its own winds near Gavdos: “a tempestuous wind, called the northeaster, struck down from the land … and no small tempest lay on us”.  note 4 

Kassos to Crete
Roúmeli’s route from Fry, Kassos to Kali Limenes, Crete
© Google Maps

Arriving at the safe haven of Kali Limenes in the early afternoon of Tuesday, Roúmeli waited out the storm until 8 o’clock in the evening, when the winds abated sufficiently to allow the captain to continue on through the night. Wednesday morning saw them off Paleochora, the most westerly outpost of Crete, before Roúmeli turned north, finally entering the safety of Greek waters, close to the island of Antikythira, at 10 o’clock. A sigh of relief must have been breathed by Bent and Mabel.

At midday, the Roúmeli docked at the Kythira port of Kapsali. The Karpathos Lady had made it to Greece. Sadly, her stay was to be lamentably short.

During the few hours’ stopover in Kythira, the Bents arranged for papers to be drawn up to cover the true origin of the Karpathos Lady. Mabel tells us: “At Kythera a ‘manifesto’ was made and signed by the captain, saying he had picked us, and our cases, up in Turkey, and by the Kythera customs people to say we had not started from there.”

Crete to Syros
Roúmeli’s route from Kali Limenes, Crete, via Kythira to Ermoupoli, Syros
© Google Maps

From Kythira, sailing overnight, Roúmeli arrived at her home island of Syros on Thursday, April 23rd, and the Bents checked into their usual haunt of the Grand Hôtel d’Angleterre from where Bent wrote to the Keeper of the Department of Greek and Roman Antiquities at the British Museum:

We returned from Karpathos yesterday and had hoped to catch a steamer which would have brought us and our things straight to England. Unfortunately we shall have to wait a week at least, and as we have so much plunder we cannot take the Marseilles route … but of course now we shall not reach England till the middle of May. We were fairly successful in Karpathos, finding a large number of rock cut graves unopened which have produced pottery, etc … I have likewise got a good-sized statue of one of those quaint figures which I got at Antiparos last year; it is of stone and nearly a yard long.

That “good-sized statue” was, of course, the Karpathos Lady, who spent the final few days of her time in Greece locked up in the Custom House in the port town of Ermoupoli, where the Bents often stashed their “plunder”.

It was not until some 10 days later that the Bents found a ship that could take them at least part of the way on their journey home. And so – the Karpathos Lady finally left Greek soil from the island of Syros at 07:00 on Saturday May 2nd, 1885, never, to this day, to return.

The M.M. Erymanthe took them from Syros to Messina in Sicily where, with fortuitous timing, they boarded the Maréchal Canrobert for the overnight leap south to the British colonial island of Malta, a busy staging post on the route between Britain and its colonies in the Indian subcontinent and beyond.

Syros to Malta
The Karpathos Lady leaves Greece and travels to Malta via Messina, Sicily
© Google Maps

In Malta, they found it “not so easy to find a ship for London as we had thought, most of them being crowded at this season, and lots of people waiting for passages.” It was 6 days before they could secure a passage, with less than an hour’s notice, on Friday May 8th, on the cargo ship Restormel, carrying grain from Odessa to London.

One final act of subterfuge was necessary: “[The Restormel] is not a passenger ship and we are to be smuggled into the chartroom and there concealed; when we reach London our baggage to be supposed to be travelling alone”.

Sometime around May 20th, 1885, the Karpathos Lady finally landed on British soil, a month, and almost 7,000 km, after her odyssey had begun on the back of the Bents’ man-servant in Pigadia.

Malta to London
Leaving from Malta, the Karpathos Lady finally arrives in London
© Google Maps

Mabel’s final entry in her chronicle for the adventure they’d embarked upon four months earlier reads simply: “We reached home via Millwall Dock in safety with our 24 pieces of the most varied luggage, and I am more convinced than ever that there is no place like it.”.

Descent into the Underworld

Given Mabel’s opinion of the statue, it’s hard to think that the Karpathos Lady would ever have been a house guest or graced the entrance hall of the Bents’ home near London’s Oxford Street. Indeed, Mabel may even have been more forceful about the ‘other woman’ in her husband’s life, for we know that, a year later, the Karpathos Lady was sold by Bent to the British Museum.

Alas, there her odyssey faltered, and for the next 110 years or so, the Karpathos Lady was consigned to the dingy basement of the British Museum to confront her shades, hidden from public view, despite her then being, and still remaining, the oldest Greek statue in the Museum’s collection!

Rebirth – the odyssey continues

After over a century of confinement in the ‘Underworld’ of the British Museum, the Karpathos Lady finally emerged into the daylight of the modern world. Her ‘rebirth’ came when her beauty was recognised by Dr. Peter Higgs, the Curator of the Department of Greece and Rome at the Museum. Dr. Higgs told us “The Karpathos Lady – a grand name for a wonderful object (if not to everyone’s taste). I can hold my head up high and admit that I brought her out of obscurity where she was languishing unloved in the basement and persuaded my colleagues to put her on display. Now she has toured the world!”

Thanks to the keen, professional eye of Dr. Higgs, the Karpathos Lady remained on display for a number of years, bringing pleasure to the many millions of visitors to the Museum.

In January 2010, BBC Radio 4 broadcast the first of a 20-part weekly series, produced in conjunction with the British Museum, entitled A History of the World in 100 Objects. The series met with great critical acclaim and the Museum embarked upon creating a touring exhibition based on the objects featured in the radio programme.

Shanghai Exhibition Poster
Poster advertising the 2017 Shanghai exhibition
© The Trustees of the British Museum

Inexplicably, the Karpathos Lady was not included in the BBC Radio series, nor did she become part of the initial touring exhibition. However, after the first exhibition venue in Abu Dhabi in 2014, her beauty and importance were once again acknowledged and she replaced another exhibit as a permanent member of the touring exhibition. Her debut, later that year, was in Taipei, Taiwan – her first journey outside Europe. Japan followed in 2015 with exhibitions in Tokyo, Kyushu and Kobe. She jumped continents in 2016 and visited Perth and Canberra in Australia before heading back to Asia in 2017, where she wowed them in Beijing and Shanghai; Beijing attracted 340,000 visitors and Shanghai 8,000 visitors on its first day alone. 2018 saw her back in Europe for the exhibition in Valenciennes in France. In May 2019, she returned to Asia for a 4-month gig at the Hong Kong Jockey Club where the organising Hong Kong Heritage Museum highlighted the Karpathos Lady as one of the top exhibits – an accolade indeed for an object that had been almost overlooked.

All a long, long way – and a long, long time – from her Karpathos home.

Return to her Ithaka

Since her return to London from Hong Kong, the coronavirus pandemic has clipped the wings of many a traveller, the Karpathos Lady included, but our hopes are high for her further, future travels.

The travels of the Karpathos Lady have not, to date, included Greece, where she would surely be welcomed as a home-coming heroine. However, maybe one day, she will finally find her way back to her very own Ithaka – her island home of Karpathos.

Bring Her Home’ – sign the petition

The Karpathos Lady in Pigadia Museum (c) Alan King www.tales.click
“Stylised female limestone statuette. It was found in the area of Pigadia in 1886 and is exhibited in the British Museum. Figurines similar in shape, made of stone or clay, have been found all around the East Mediterranean, in Asia Minor, the North African coast, Malta and Crete. The Karpathos statuette however is the only known large size figurine in this period in the Aegean; it was probably a cult statue.”

The Archaeological Museum of Karpathos in Pigadia dedicates a small part of a display cabinet to an artefact which should be the pride of the island and its people. How appropriate it would be if the REAL Karpathos Lady could be proudly displayed for all to see.

With this in mind, we’ve started a campaign aiming to persuade the British Museum and the Greek Ministry of Culture and Sports to negotiate the loan of the Karpathos Lady to Greece. The idea is for a ‘summer season’ in Pigadia, hopefully in 2022, where tourists and locals alike could admire the beauty already seen by so many across the world, establishing her rightful role as an icon of the island of Karpathos.

Please visit the Bring Her Home web page to ‘sign’ the petition to be sent to the British Museum and the Greek Ministry – it takes less than a minute. Why not tell your friends about the campaign and get them to visit the web petition page? http://karpathoslady.click

Bring Her Home

#karpathoslady

Interactive map of her travels

The Karpathos Lady Meets the World
1998-2014 On public display at the British Museum, London, England
2014-2015 December 13-March 15 National Palace Museum, Taipei, Taiwan
2015 April 18–June 28 Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, Tokyo, Japan
2015 July 14–September 6 Kyushu National Museum, Dazaifu, Japan
2015-2016 September 20-January 11 Kobe City Museum, Kobe, Japan
2016 February 13-June 18 Western Australian Museum, Perth, Australia
2016-2017 September 8-January 29 National Museum of Australia, Canberra, Australia
2017 March 1-May 31 National Museum of China, Beijing, China
2017 June 29-October 8 Shanghai Museum, Shanghai, China
2018 April 19-July 22 Musée des Beaux-Arts, Valenciennes, France
2019 May 18-September 9 Hong Kong Jockey Club, Hong Kong

The essential data

British Museum number: 1886,0310.1
Description: Limestone female figure.
A thick slab worked flat, with beak nose, pointed breasts and vulva triangle left in high relief on the front. The eyebrows are marked by incised lines. Above the slit in the vulva triangle are four incised lines to represent the pubic hair; below is a horizontal groove.
Function: Her stylised form is very striking and raises many questions, as her original significance remains a mystery. One possibility is that she is a fertility goddess, testimony to the importance of female fertility at this time.
Cultures/periods: Neolithic (late)
Production date: 4500BC-3200BC
Excavated/Findspot: Bourgounte (Vrykounda), Karpathos, Greece
Materials: Limestone
Height: 660 mm
Width: 354 mm
Depth: 200 mm
Weight: 40 kg
Condition: Broken off below the hips. Rejoined below breasts.
Purchased from: James Theodore Bent
Acquisition date: 1886
Conservation: January 8, 1998. Remove dowel and base, light clean. Reason: Permanent Exhibition. Removed object from base and dowel from object mechanically aided by hot water to dissolve the plaster. Slightly cleaned with Wishab sponge (vulcanized latex, filler).

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Article ©2021 copyright Alan King. All images copyright Alan King unless otherwise stated.

Notes

Note 1: In her Chronicles, Mabel is not specific about which pyramid she climbed but we might suppose that it was the Pyramid of Menkaure. She writes: “After dinner we went out in the bright moonlight and Theodore and Mr. Head’s brother went to visit the Sphinx but I preferred to go up the Pyramid, as I had not done it on Monday.” The entry for the previous Monday talks of her visit to the Pyramid of Menkaure (Mycerinos): “We visited the Sphinx and when we got to the Pyramid of Mycerinos we found we had no candle …”
Return from Note 1

Note 2: ‘Two Turkish Islands To-day’ published in Macmillan’s Magazine, Vol. XLVII (May 1883-October 1883) p.299, https://archive.org/details/macmillansmagazi48macmuoft/page/299/mode/1up
Return from Note 2

Note 3: Extract taken from p.235 of ‘The Islands of Telos and Karpathos’ published in the Journal of Hellenic Studies, 1885, Vol. VI pp. 233-42, https://archive.org/details/journalhellenic04englgoog/page/n305
Return from Note 3


Of Crows and Swans and Calamine – the Archaeology Theatre of Antiparos

Alan King, long-term traveller in Greece, is in the front row as the Bents take to the stage in the Cyclades…

Overview

Between December 1883 and March 1884, Theodore and Mabel Bent were travelling around the Cyclades in search of ancient sites that they could excavate.

In December 1883, they stayed for a single night on the island of Antiparos, as Mabel recounts, “carrying only our night things and a card of introduction from Mr. Binney for Mr. R. Swan who has a calamine mine on this island.”

In the short time they were there, on the basis of information provided by Robert Swan, they visited an ancient burial site and found, and opened, four graves. This initial dig prompted their return a few weeks later for a longer visit in the hope that it would yield further finds.

The British Museum Objects
On May 30 1884, just a few months after his Antiparos digs, Bent wrote to the Keeper of Antiquities at the British Museum: ‘Do you care to make me an offer for my figures, vases, ornaments, etc., from Antiparos? It occurs to me that a collection of this nature is rather lost in private hands.’See some of the objects excavated by Bent in Antiparos.
In the event, the additional finds from the site, and from another they excavated on that second visit, surpassed their expectations and would lead to the establishment of Bent’s future reputation as a credible archaeologist, or, depending on your point of view, with some justification, an ‘illegal excavator’  note 1 . The objects he took from Antiparos he later sold to the British Museum, where they remain today.

Bent was the first player on stage and he wrote about his excavation work in 1884  note 2  but omitted to disclose the precise location of his two excavation sites.

Finds from Krassades in the National Archaeological Museum, Athens
Objects excavated from Krassades, in the National Archaeological Museum, Athens

Following Bent, some fourteen years later, in 1898, the Greek archaeologist Christos Tsountas took the stage when he located a site which he attributed to Bent’s initial site at a place he named as Krassades, but knowledge of exactly where Krassades lay was lost over the ensuing years.

For well over a century, the location of Bent’s site remained a mystery and the theatre stood silent. Only recently, thanks to the efforts of Dr. Zozi Papadopoulou, has the location of Krassades been pinpointed and the footlights have once again illuminated the scenery and the actors involved.

But the answer had always been there, hidden between the lines of Bent’s book and Mabel’s chronicles, ready to be revealed in conjunction with a little local research.

In 2017, Dr. Zozi published a paper  note 3 , in Greek, in which she describes rediscovering the location of Krassades. Unfortunately, Dr. Zozi’s paper slipped under the radar of The Bent Archive.

On a visit to Antiparos in September 2019, unaware of Dr. Zozi’s discovery, I resolved to try to put together the pieces of the 130-year old jigsaw puzzle which would reveal: 1) the house of Robert and John Swan, in which Theodore and Mabel Bent stayed while on the island; 2) the site of the calamine mine managed by Robert Swan; and 3) the precise location of Bent’s initial dig. Together they form the three scenes for the set of the “Archaeology Theatre of Antiparos”.

Theodore's and Mabel's books
The Cyclades or Life Among the Insular Greeks – Theodore’s classic book of his and Mabel’s adventures in Antiparos and the other Cyclades islands can be found in this print version, which also contains additional information about the Bents and their travel itinerary.

World Enough, and Time: The Travel Chronicles of Mrs J Theodore Bent Volume I: Greece and the Levantine Littoral – You can read more about Theodore’s and Mabel’s visit to Antiparos in this print version of the informal day-by-day entries Mabel made in her chronicles.

The cast (in order of appearance)

Theodore and Mabel Bent

Theodore and Mabel Bent are the main players in the story. Read more about their lives and their travels.

William Binney

William Binney seems to play a small but important part in the story. He was Her Brittanic Majesty’s Consul to Syra (Syros) during much of the time of the Bents’ travels around the islands. He facilitated their travels by way of letters of introduction to important figures on each island they visited, one of whom was Robert Swan on Antiparos. Many of the Bents’ finds were illegally exported out of Greece, usually via the port of Syros, and one wonders whether William Binney’s role should be extended to include his services to the Bents in this area. Read more about William Binney.

Robert Swan

Robert McNair Wilson Swan was born in Scotland in 1858, making him 3 years younger than Bent. His biography tells us that he worked in Greece as a ‘mining expert’ from 1879 to 1886. He would have been around 25 years old when he and his brother, John, first met Theodore and Mabel Bent in Antiparos in December 1883. We deduce that he’d been working on the island for around four years at that stage.

Christos Tsountas

Christos Tsountas (under Wikimedia licence)
Christos Tsountas (licenced by Wikimedia)

Christos Tsountas was a highly-respected Greek archaeologist. He was born in 1857 and died in 1934. Aside from his other important areas of work, notably Tiryns, Mycenae and Syros, he investigated ancient burial sites on several islands in the Cyclades in 1898 and 1899, including Antiparos. It was he who coined the term “Cycladic civilization”.

Dr. Zozi Papadopoulou

Dr. Zozi Papadopoulou is Head of the Department of Classical and Prehistoric Antiquities of the Ephorate of Antiquities of the Cyclades. Among other projects, she has been the driving force in rediscovering, and continuing work at, the site of Bent’s first excavation, now known as Krassades.

Setting the scene

In December 1883, Theodore and Mabel Bent visited the island of Paros, and, during their visit, they made the 10-minute hop across the narrow strait to the neighbouring island of Antiparos, armed with a letter of introduction from the British Consul in Syros, Richard Binney, to a Scottish engineer, Robert Swan, carrying out mining operations on Antiparos. They stayed for just one night with Swan and his brother John, but this brief encounter sowed the seeds of a friendship which would last for many years. Over the following few weeks, they saw more of Swan, who joined them on parts of their island-hopping odyssey.

This budding friendship was in stark contrast to that which Bent had feared he would encounter in Antiparos after advice from his muleteer in Paros. Bent writes:

The Pariotes look down on their neighbours with supreme contempt and call them kouroúnai (κουρούναι), or crows … and my interest was excited about the crows into whose nest we were about to deposit ourselves; but, as it turned out, we found our home for three weeks at Antiparos, not amongst the crows, but in the hospitable nest of the Swans — two English brothers, who work calamine mines on this island, and who not only assisted us in our digging operations, but gave us the rest that we much needed.

Mabel’s chronicle echoes Bent’s endorsement of their new-found friends and tells us of a conversation, on that first night, which would spark Bent’s interest and bring the travellers back to Antiparos for a longer stay just a few weeks later. Mabel writes of that first visit:

Rode 1 1/2 hour to the nearest point to Antiparos carrying only our night things and a card of introduction from Mr. Binney for Mr. R. Swan who has a calamine mine on this island. Crossed in about 10 minutes. Found the population all enjoying the feast of St. Nikoloas who replaces Neptune. At one house I was obliged to join in the syrtos holding 2 handkerchiefs. We sent a messenger to Mr. Swan and knowing he would take 3 hours to return, rode to meet him. Met Mr. Swan who more than fulfilled our warmest hopes. He took us to his house, and after resting told us that in making a road he had come upon a lot of graves and found a marble cup, broken etc. So, we manifesting a great wish to dig too, he got men and we opened 4. They were lined and paved with slabs of stone and the people must have been doubled up in them, they were so small; we only found, besides bones, 2 very rough marble symbols of men and women, little flat things and some broken pottery.

So, in early February 1884, the couple returned for a longer run with a script which saw Bent excavating 40 ancient graves, yielding a plethora of unique finds. Those finds, now in the British Museum, essentially wrote the text-book for our understanding of early Cycladic culture.

Following the plot

Although Bent’s work during his 2 weeks on Antiparos led to his being recognised as a serious archaeologist, we know little about his day-to-day activities. Unusually, Mabel’s chronicles do not give us as much information as on some of the less important islands they visited.

In Greek Waters
Read Theodore Bent’s gripping account of his day spent fishing

We do know he left for a visit to Amorgos for a week, leaving Mabel with the Swans to recover from a bout of ill health. We also know from Bent’s book, The Cyclades or Life Among the Insular Greeks, that he took a day off to go fishing on St. Simeon’s Day  note 4  when his workers refused to work on the Saint’s day. Even on his day off, he used the time to gather material for a magazine article entitled ‘Fishing in Greek Waters‘, which he later incorporated into the book. You can read the gripping story in The Cyclades book or in the free online ebook, In Greek Waters, on our sister site.

Bent and Mabel both mention that they stayed at Robert Swan’s house but give us few clues as to exactly where that house was. We know his first excavation was at the suggestion of Robert Swan who ‘in making a road he had come upon a lot of graves and found a marble cup, broken etc.‘ But where was that road and hence the excavation site?

The following sections try to answer these questions. These ‘answers’ are not definitive and are hypothetical assertions based on researching the island’s recent industrial history, speaking with local people and visiting potential sites. We welcome discussion and further information from any source and will update this article as new information becomes available or any of the assertions are proved to be false.

We have one ‘hard’ piece of evidence. Bent tells us that his first excavation site was “on the slope of the mountain, about a mile above the spot where the houses were”. He saw the ‘houses’ submerged in the narrow stretch of sea between the island of Tsimintiri and the southern shore of Antiparos near present-day Aghios Georgios. Using this fact, I’ve tried to bring together discrete pieces of Bent’s and Mabel’s writings and local exploration and research to come up with the most probable positioning for all three of our sort-after locations.

The narrow stretch of sea between the island of Tsimintiri and the southern shore of Antiparos
The narrow stretch of sea between the island of Tsimintiri and the southern shore of Antiparos where Bent saw the submerged houses. The island of Despotiko looms in the background.

1. The Swans’ house

The location of the Swans’ house is key to finding Bent’s initial exploratory dig site in December 1883 and his subsequent, more extensive digs a few weeks later.

Theodore and Mabel Bent had been staying in Paroikia in Paros, and Bent tells us that they left early for the journey to Antiparos: “On the next morning early we started for Antiparos, a desolate ride of two hours to the point where the ferry boat takes passengers across.” Mabel’s chronicle contradicts Bent’s timing: “Rode 1½ hour to the nearest point to Antiparos”.

Mabel writes that Swan’s house was a 90-minute ride (in one direction) from Antiparos town where the ferry landed the couple: “We sent a messenger to Mr. Swan and knowing he would take 3 hours to return, rode to meet him. … He took us to his house, and after resting told us that in making a road he had come upon a lot of graves and found a marble cup, broken etc. So, we manifesting a great wish to dig too, he got men and we opened 4.”

These events all occured within the same day so, timing, and Bent’s subsequent description of the location of the dig site, pins down the approximate location of the house.

Mabel noted in her diary that they visited Antiparos on December 18, however, that date needs to be clarified. Bent says it was St. Nicholas’ Day (December 6). With the 12 days old-style/new-style calendar shift that Mabel always factored in, it would confirm Mabel’s date of December 18  note 5 . In 2018 on that day in Greece, there were 9 hours and 32 minutes of daylight with the sun rising at 08:35 and setting at 18:07. The actual times would vary slightly according to the longitude of a specific location, but the interval would be the same. Over the intervening 134 years, a few seconds of drift may have to be factored in. Also, without further research, it’s not certain that there was a universal Greek time or whether, more likely, it changed with longitude, and, the relationship between the ‘clock time’ and sunrise may not have been as now. However, this is all self-balancing and we still end up with around 9:30 hours of daylight.

We have to assume that Bent and Mabel would not be travelling by mule in the dark. Adding up Mabel’s chronicled day should give us the amount of time remaining for Bent’s exploratory dig:

  • Paroikia to Pounda 1:30 (Mabel’s lower reckoning)
  • Awaiting the boat to come from Antiparos 0:15
  • Crossing 0:15
  • Festivities (Mabel tells us they joined in) 0:30
  • Ride to the Swans’ house 1:30 (although Bent tells us it was 2 hours)
  • Resting at the Swans’ house (say) 1:00

This totals, conservatively, 5:00 hours, leaving just 4:30 hours for Swan to organise the men for digging, to travel to the site from Swan’s house, excavate 4 graves and travel back. Therefore, the site must have been VERY close to the Swans’ house.

Bent tells us, almost exactly, where the dig site was:

A rock in the sea between Antiparos and the adjacent uninhabited island of Despotiko is covered with graves, and another islet is called Cemeteri, from the graves on it. The islands of Despotiko and Antiparos were once joined by a tongue of land, which was washed away by the encroachment of the sea on the northern side; and in the shallow water of the bay, between the islands, I was pointed out traces of ancient dwellings … I was able to discern a well filled up with sand, an oven, and a small square house. … A clever fisherman, who knows every inch of the bay, told me that pottery similar to that I found in the graves was very plentiful at the bottom of the sea near the houses. It is on the slope of the mountain, about a mile above the spot where the houses were, that an extensive graveyard exists. It is not unlikely that the submerged houses form the town of which this was the necropolis.

Taking our assertion of the proximity of Swan’s house to Bent’s initial dig site, would locate the house to be 1 to 2 kms north of the present-day village of Aghios Georgios.

While researching another, unconnected, story in Aghios Georgios, I mentioned my Bent search to a local man, Tassos G… . This conversation threw up a tantalising possible candidate for the Swans’ house. “If you follow that track up and over the hill, you’ll come to a building which was owned by a French mining company” he said. “It’s used as a farm building now but it’s not an average local house – look at the stonework”.

After leaving Tassos’ house, I immediately took the track he’d indicated. The house he’d described was indeed more high-status than the usual farm building. It’s now being used to store hay. There are some additional buildings around it with another largish building across the track.

The Swans' house
The Swans’ house?
Decorative lintels
Decorative lintels

Part of the house has been demolished and the existing walls represent approximately two thirds of the original length of the house.

The stones forming the walls are of a regular shape and have either been cut or carefully selected; by comparion, the other large building mentioned, on the opposite side of the track, is of a much rougher construction.

Rendering on the internal walls
Rendering on the internal walls

An element of decorative embellishment can be seen in the door and window lintels, being curved and formed from stones rather than a simple straight piece of timber. All the internal walls were at one time rendered.

While looking around the site, I noticed SOMETHING QUITE AMAZING – but more of that a little later.

The track continues on up the hillside and eventually reaches a large mining site to the north of Mount Profitis Ilias at Koutsoulies. Could this road have been the one which Mabel writes about: “He took us to his house, and after resting told us that in making a road he had come upon a lot of graves.”

Further investigation yielded more ‘evidence’ as set out in the following sections.

2. The calamine mine

Calamine is a combination of zinc oxide and ferric oxide. Read more about calamine.

The Municipality of Antiparos’ official website states: “Mining activity on the island began in 1873, when the state ceded the exploitation rights to these deposits to the Elliniki Metalleftiki Etaireia [Greek Mining Company]”  note 6 

Another account of mining activity tells us: “Limonite ore, from which iron containing pockets of azurite and zinc are extracted, can be found on the western slopes of Profitis Ilias of Antiparos. The Greek Mining Company began mining operations in 1873 and started mining zinc from Kaki Skala. In 1900 the mines were taken over ​​by the French Company of Lavrion”  note 7 

This second account mentioning the French Company of Lavrion would seem to tie in with Tassos’ statement about the house having been owned by a French mining company.

In searching for the calamine mine, I was initially drawn to the site of the mines at Koutsoulies, however, being on the north slope of Profitis Ilias somewhat casts doubt on this being the site of Swan’s mine. Additionally, the track from the house to those mines twists and turns around the folds of the mountain, probably a distance of 8-10 kms or so. Why would Swan live so far from the place of his work? The house indicated by Tassos is not in a ‘desirable’ location: it’s not in a village, or a town, it’s not by the sea. There had to be another reason why the mining company had built the house at that location. The calamine mine just had to be closer to the house, and, remember, in a very short space of time, Swan had gathered up a team of men to help Bent on his initial exploratory dig.

The quarry in the ravine near the house
The quarry in the ravine near the house

A kilometre further on from the house, the track passes above a ravine showing clear signs of quarrying with heaps of mining spoil to be seen, not yet fully overgrown. A kilometre further on, a track leads down to the ravine bed and closer examination of the quarry can be made. To the untrained eye, some of the loose spoil looks iron-based (ferric) with rust-red patches revealing its presence – a possible indication of calamine. The extent of the quarry can be clearly seen on the map in this article when switched to satellite view.

Rock from the quarry near the house
Rock from the quarry near the house. Is it calamine?

Bent writes of the local man named Zeppo:

On the opposite side of the island to the village of Antiparos, about two hours on muleback over the mountains, are a few scattered houses gathered round the calamine mines. Here we were staying, close to our graveyard, and here Zeppo has his store and dispenses his goods to the miners.

So, Bent’s writings would seem to support our assertion that the calamine mines were close to Swan’s house and hence his initial dig site. Were those “few scattered houses gathered round the calamine mine” the ‘farm’ buildings I’d seen?

Bent’s statement in relation to calamine extraction, “I could find no trace of any ancient works here [Antiparos]“, supports the premise that the quarry near to the Swan’s house was from the modern era.

3. Bent’s excavation sites

Bent was relatively restrained in his excavations on Antiparos, given the number of sites he was told about, and one would like to think that he thought he’d leave some for future generations of archaeologists. He writes:

I was induced to dig at Antiparos because I was shown extensive graveyards there. Of these I visited no less than four on the island itself, and heard from natives of the existence of others in parts of the island I did not visit.

Of the four sites he visited, he excavated only two: “I opened some forty graves from two of the graveyards”. Just these two sites yielded a vast number of finds, all of which are now in the British Museum (view the objects in the British Museum).

Subsequent excavations by Tsountas and Dr. Zozi yielded a smaller number of finds, some of which can be seen in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens (see earlier image).

The first site

I’ve tried to establish earlier that Bent’s first excavation site was close to the Swans’ house and close to the calamine mine.

The fortuitous conversation with Tassos about the French mining company house led me to explore the track he’d pointed out to me.

I found the house and, on walking around the immediate area, I saw to my utter amazement, just across the track from the house, some fairly recent excavations of, what looked like, graves identical to those described by Bent. How could this possibly be? Bent’s original excavations would have eroded or been overgrown over the past 130 years, so somebody had been excavating here recently.

Evidence of excavations just across the track from the house

Back at the Bent Archive base, on receiving my report of finding these new excavations, the team started scouring the Internet for any recent references to Bent’s excavations on Antiparos. They came upon an advance notice of a lecture  note 8  which was to have been given to The Archaeological Society at Athens in December 2018 – just 9 months previously. The presenter was to be Dr Zozi Papadopoulou. A précis of the lecture stated: “In recent investigations by the Ephoria of Antiquities for the Cyclades, the Krassades site was relocated [located once more] and a cluster of graves, some undisturbed, were explored.”

With no contact details for Dr. Zozi Papadopoulou, the Bent Archive sent an email to Demetris Athanasoulis, Director of The Ephorate of Antiquities of the Cyclades, who forwarded the message to Dr. Zozi, to which she replied:

The site of Krassades has been located in the last decade about 1km north of the modern settlement of Ag. Georgios in Antiparos. We actually excavate part of the cemetery with very interesting findings. I am sending a link directing you to one of my articles with informative photos included (pp 357-359). The “southeast site” you mentioned has not been identified yet…

Dr. Zozi’s reply arrived after I’d left Antiparos. The information in the article which she references  note 9  in her email looks to be extremely interesting and, armed with this new information, a return visit beckons soon after travel is permitted following the current (2020/21) pandemic.

Her reply confirmed what I’d deduced from the lines of Bent’s book and Mabel’s chronicles, and from my researches on Antiparos – the exact location of Bent’s first excavation site, the location of the Swans’ house and the location of the calamine mine.

The second site

Neither Bent nor Mabel provide us with any precise information on where the second site was located, although Jörg Rambach in Early Cycladic Sculpture in Context (Marthari et al. (eds), Oxford, 2017,  ch. 7) suggests in the area of Apantima or Ag. Sostis. Bent only gives us two vague geographic references.

One reference tells us that it was “to the south-east of the island”. This could lead us to believe that it was somewhere on the peninsula, south or west, of the present-day village of Soros.

The other reference provides the information: “In Antiparos the inhabitants had their obsidian close at hand, for a hill about a mile from the south-eastern graveyard is covered with it.”

SO – a project for a future (very long) visit to Antiparos – find an obsidian needle in an obsidian haystack in the south-east of the island!

Dr. Zozi’s reply seems to confirm that the location of Bent’s second site is still unknown:

The “southeast site” you mentioned has not been identified yet.

Epilogue

As with any complex plot, the individual players each add their part to the overall story and serendipity often plays a major role.

In 1884, Bent published his article, Researches Among the Cyclades in the Journal of Hellenic Studies  note 10 , describing his excavations on Antiparos. Around the same time, he was also writing his book, The Cyclades or Life Among the Insular Greeks  note 11 , in which he included much of the text of the previously published article, save for a short appendix, Notes on an Ancient Grecian Skull. Aside from this appendix, the text of the article and the book are largely identical with the notable exception of the first paragraph. In the article he writes:

It is first of all necessary to state why I chose Antiparos as a basis for investigation on this point: firstly, because during historic times…

The version in his book contradicts that of the article:

On ascertaining the existence of extensive prehistoric remains at Antiparos I felt that it would be a satisfactory spot for making investigations — first, because during historic times…

Both versions continue identically and both contain the second paragraph starting:

Secondly, I was induced to dig at Antiparos because I was shown extensive graveyards there.

In the article version, Bent is suggesting that he chose Antiparos in advance because, from the considerations he sets out, he foresaw that he might find remains there, whereas, in the book version, his considerations were only entered into following the meeting with Robert Swan and his excavations on that first brief visit.

Although Bent was always on the look-out for potential dig sites wherever he roamed, one might assume, given that he only intended to stay overnight, that his reason for visiting Antiparos was other than archaeology. It would seem that he came as a ‘tourist’ to visit “the celebrated grotto” for its medieval historical interest, about which visit he wrote extensively in his book. His archaeological interests lay much further back in history and, for Bent, Antiparos was “a place without a history.”

It can be said therefore that the discovery of the Krassades site was a result of two supreme examples of serendipity. Firstly, in Robert Swan’s stumbling upon the graveyard while making the road to the calamine mines and, secondly, in Swan’s mention of the graves on that first night, without which, Bent might never have proceeded to dig on Antiparos. Maybe it was always in Swan’s mind to mention his finding of the graves, and Mabel’s account makes it sound as though the subject might have been on his agenda: “He took us to his house, and after resting told us that in making a road he had come upon a lot of graves and found a marble cup, broken etc.”

Robert Binney, the British Consul in Syros, played his part well in bringing Swan and Bent together.

We don’t know for sure, but it would seem that Swan made no monetary gain from bringing the site of the graves to Bent’s attention, nor for assisting him during the Bents’ 3-week stay on the island (although Bent himself stayed only for 2 weeks, leaving Mabel with the Swan brothers on the third week, suffering from poor health). Robert Swan and the Bents became close friends from that point on and Swan later drew some element of fame from accompanying Bent on his expedition to Great Zimbabwe.

Bent, of course, gained the greatest applause and accolades. As an established author of books and journal articles, and as a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries and a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, he had all the right contacts to finally make his name as an archaeologist, aided by his sale to the British Museum of the Antiparos finds, his article Researches Among the Cyclades, published in 1884 in the Journal of Hellenic Studies,  note 12  and the publication of his best-selling book The Cyclades or Life Among the Insular Greeks  note 13  in 1885.

Christos Tsountas played a key ‘linking’ role, some 15 years after Bent’s excavations. Probably working from Bent’s writings, and being able to find local people with personal recollections of his visit in 1884, he identified Bent’s excavation site and named it as Krassades. He was also the first to methodically excavate the site using sound archaeological practices.

That ‘link’ provided by Tsountas, was picked up over 100 years later by Dr. Zozi Papadopoulou who successfully located, once again, the Krassades site and has produced detailed and modern analysis of older parts of the site as well as new areas of interest. Her work on the site continues.
<!– The last words of the script should rightly be spoken by Dr. Zozi, to rapturous applause from the audience:

“May I take the opportunity to also express the wish that the skeletal remains come back to the island.”

Should Dr. Zozi’s wish be granted, expect to see a sequel to this story, possibly entitled ‘Of Crows and Swans and Calamine – A Wish Come True’.–>

We leave it to you, the audience, to make up your own mind, from the script we’ve compiled, as to who should share the applause in the “Archaeology Theatre of Antiparos”.

Map of the scene

Read how to use the interactive map.

Critical reviews

This section sets out discussions and new information on the subject of the precise locations of Bent’s excavation sites and Robert Swan’s house.

 
Article ©2021 copyright Alan King. All images copyright Alan King unless otherwise stated.

Notes

Note 1: “In contrast to Bent’s illegal excavations, are the researches of Chr. Tsountas in southwest Antiparos.” Extract translated from Greek from the paper Recent Archaeological Researches in Antiparos by Z. Papadopoulou (2017). https://www.academia.edu/38788690/Πρόσφατες_αρχαιολογικές_έρευνες_στην_Αντίπαρο.Recent_archaeological_researches_in_Antiparos
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Note 3: Πρόσφατες αρχαιολογικές έρευνες στην Αντίπαρο (Recent Archaeological Researches in Antiparos) by Z. Papadopoulou (2017). https://www.academia.edu/38788690/Πρόσφατες_αρχαιολογικές_έρευνες_στην_Αντίπαρο.Recent_archaeological_researches_in_Antiparos
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Note 4: In the Othodox Calendar, St. Simeon’s Day is April 27th. Simeon is also honored, together with 70 other apostles, on January 4th. Those who are named after Simeon, or Symeon, can celebrate their name day on either of these days. However, Theodore and Mabel Bent were in Antiparos on this second visit in February 1884 so Bent may be mistaken in his reference to this saint’s day – or he was being hoodwinked by his workers?
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Note 6: Source: Municipality of Antiparos website section on Geology/Morphology
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Note 7: Source: Atlas of the geological opmonuments of the Aegean/Publication of the Ministry of the Aegean, 2002, www.ypai.gr
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Note 8: Antiparos: from the Early Cycladic cemetery at Krassades to the Middle Cycladic/Late Cycladic I site at Agriokastro (N.B. The date below the heading of the notice states the wrong year and should read “Tuesday, December 11, 2018” instead of the erroneous 2016)
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Note 9: Πρόσφατες αρχαιολογικές έρευνες στην Αντίπαρο (Recent Archaeological Researches in Antiparos) by Z. Papadopoulou (2017). https://www.academia.edu/38788690/Πρόσφατες_αρχαιολογικές_έρευνες_στην_Αντίπαρο.Recent_archaeological_researches_in_Antiparos
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Note 10: Journal of Hellenic Studies (Volume 5, November 1884, pages 42-59) – Researches Among the Cyclades. The article is also reproduced in Bent’s book The Cyclades or Life Among the Insular Greeks
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Note 11: The book, The Cyclades or Life Among the Insular Greeks, is still available in print.
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Note 12: Journal of Hellenic Studies (Volume 5, November 1884, pages 42-59) – Researches Among the Cyclades. The article is also reproduced in Bent’s book The Cyclades or Life Among the Insular Greeks
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Note 13: The book, The Cyclades or Life Among the Insular Greeks, is still available in print.
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Love in the Levant – archaeologist William Paton’s encounter with a Greek goddess – Kalymnos, 1885

Love in the Levant – the true story of an aristocratic British archaeologist and his profound love for the goddess he encountered on a remote Greek island – and Mabel Bent’s account of meeting her.

Another in our Greek island series: “The Bents – great friends of… ”

Love at first sight

W R Paton with his sister Mary aged 2 or 3
W R Paton with his sister Mary aged 2 or 3

William Roger Paton was born in Scotland on September 2nd 1857. He studied Classics at Oxford and London and moved on to law for a while in London. However, the legal world was clearly too staid for William, whose real interests lay further afield in literature and archaeology in the Eastern Mediterranean. One wonders whether Oscar Wilde had his friend William Paton in mind when he wrote “To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.”

On one of his trips to the region in the late summer of 1885, his ship anchored off-shore near the village of Pothia on the Turkish-controlled Greek island of Kalymnos. Standing on the deck of the steamer, he could not have known that his life was about to take a turn which would see him married within just 3 months and a father before a year had passed.

Few large ships called at Kalymnos in those days; there was no dock and such ships had to anchor well out to sea. As soon as a ship was spotted, a scramble of small boats would go out to meet it to take off alighting passengers and maybe to make a few piastre from the ship’s passengers. The local boys would hope to come back with a coin or two by entertaining the passengers with their diving skills as they retrieved coins thrown from the deck.

Pothia harbour
Pothia harbour as Paton might have seen it. One of the small boats used to embark and disembark passengers. Photograph taken from the deck of a ship anchored in the harbour (photograph courtesy of Manoli Psarra)

Leaning on the rail, Paton’s eyes were intractably drawn to one of the small boats. In it sat the young girl who would become his wife and the mother of his four children. His fate was sealed at that very moment in time.

He instantly made up his mind. Quickly getting his baggage together, he disembarked into one of the small boats. To the surprise of the boatman, in perfect Greek, he asked where he could find accommodation on the island. The boatman agreed to take ‘O Lordos’  note 1  to the most important man on the island, the Demarchos, or Mayor. As he rowed toward the shore, singing the praises of the Demarchos,  he added, with a nod of his head toward the boat which had so captivated Paton, “that young girl is his daughter.”

Emmanouil Olympitis - Demarchos of Kalymnos and Irini's father
Emmanouil Olympitis – Demarchos of Kalymnos and Irini’s father (photograph courtesy of Emmanuel Olympitis)

Paton got on well with the Demarchos, Emmanouil Olympitis, who very much impressed the younger Paton. He was successful in the sponge fishing industry, for which Kalymnos has always been renowned, and the family was much respected by the people of Kalymnos for the defiance that Emmanouil’s grandfather had shown toward the occupying Turks.

However well the two men got on, it must have been a bolt out of the blue the very next day when Paton proposed marriage to his daughter, Irini. People were outraged and, on a more lawless island, this might have been the end of Paton’s amorous advances, and his life to boot! But wise Emmanouil Olympitis was far above all that and countered by trying to delay on the basis that a trousseau needed to be arranged. With dogged persistence, Paton told him he would arrange everything and that he wanted Irini just as she was.

And what of Irini’s feelings in all of this? Of course, Emmanouil Olympitis would not have allowed his daughter to enter into marriage against her will. We learn from the autobiography of Irini’s daughter, Augusta, from later conversations with her mother, that Paton’s emotions were mirrored in Irini’s own; she described him as a ‘fair, blue-eyed god’.

Paton stayed in Kalymnos for a month and he and Irini grew ever closer – but he had to return to Britain leaving Irini in Kalymnos. While in Britain, he wrote her long letters every single day.

On Paton’s return to Kalymnos, two months later, signalled by tender telegram messages to Irini from each port of call along the way, they married in November 1885 – he 28 and Irini 16 years of age.

Paton and Irini at Rattray, his cousin’s home North of Aberdeen
Paton and Irini at Rattray, his cousin’s home north of Aberdeen (photograph courtesy of William Paton)

Shortly after their marriage and their honeymoon in Symi and Rhodes, they moved to Paton’s Scottish estate, but neither Paton nor Irini were happy in Scotland and both pined for Greece. From Mabel Bent’s diary entry, we know they were back in Kalymnos by March 1886. Later that year, in August, their first son George was born in Irini’s mother’s house on the Turkish coast at Gümüşlük near Bodrum.

Theodore and Mabel Bent visit Kalymnos

At the beginning of 1886, the British explorers Theodore and Mabel Bent were travelling around the islands of the eastern Aegean looking for likely sites to excavate, but they were constantly thwarted by the Turkish authorities to whom Bent was known.

Theodore and Paton were acquainted. It’s thought that they first met as a result of their connections with the British Museum or as members of the Hellenic Society. Their various papers on their respective archaeological excavations were published by the same journal, sometimes in the same issue. They each also had a close relationship with the classicist (and later Bishop of Lincoln) E. L. Hicks, who co-authored publications on ancient inscriptions from both Theodore and Paton. They would have been very well aware of each other’s work.

However, it seems that it was actually Mabel’s inquisitiveness which drove their decision to visit Kalymnos. She wrote in her diary:

“I am most curious to see a young lady of Kalymnos, aged I hear about 16 and just married to a Mr. William Paton of Granholme in Aberdeenshire. Her father’s name is Olympites, a sponge merchant and very rich. Everyone has heard of ‘O Ouiliermos’  note 2  in the neighbouring islands.”

They arrived in Kalymnos on Wednesday March 17th, 1886. The next day Mabel wrote:

“We were lucky enough to fall in with a clean little English steamer, lanthe, where we had a most comfortable flealess night and a very calm passage here. We started about 6 and arrived about ½ past 12 yesterday.

This is a very populous town of large houses filled with rich sponge fishers who have a reputation in these regions of being thieves, liars and cheats. We were sorry to hear that Mr. Paton had returned to England 2 days ago, leaving his wife at her father’s as she does not wish to undertake the long journey till the summer of next year.”

So Theodore missed meeting Paton in Kalymnos. Whether Theodore and Paton ever met on their overseas travels we don’t know – but they certainly trod in each other’s footsteps.

It would seem that Theodore and Paton had more than just a passing physical resemblance to each other. On Kalymnos, this created some confusion on the island:

“We were very much amused on landing to hear William has returned’. ‘No, it is his brother.’ ‘He is exactly the same.’ ‘How very like he is.’ ‘No, it is not him.’ And these sentences never cease to be buzzed round wherever Theodore goes. At the British Museum they have been taken for one another and a gentleman came and shook hands with him and said ‘When did you come’ and then ‘Oh! Excuse me. I thought you were the son-in-law of Olympidis’.”

Meeting Irini’s father Emmanouil Olympitis

But one man, at least, was not fooled by Theodore’s apparent likeness to Paton. He approached Theodore, saying in English:

‘This is the father-in-law of Mr. Paton and I am the brother-in-law of Mrs. Paton.’

Thus was Theodore introduced to Emmanouil Olympitis, the Demarchos of Kalymnos and the father of Irini, Paton’s wife. Mabel continues:

“So on invitation we entered the café and gave our history, in Greek, to the crowd. The brother asked us to come and take a walk in their garden, so we were removed to an orchard of young lemon and orange trees. Chairs were procured and we sat on ploughed beds, damp, so that one had never to forget to be always trying to sit on the highest leg of the chair for fear of overturning. He would talk English which we had constantly to help out with Greek so we sat silently for a long time till I shivered loudly and we were led silently home.”

Meeting Mrs Irini Paton

Mabel continues, but it should be stressed that she is writing her diary for herself and a small number of friends and family and, as such, her tone may at times seem to border on the insensitive and the rude:

“We announced that in an hour we would call on Mrs. Paton. Accordingly they prepared themselves. We entered a mud-floored hall littered with broken machinery; up dirty marble stairs with a rusty banister and reached a drawing room where some matting had been thrown down, but rolled up where it could not pass under the chest of drawers. A quantity of pieces of embroidery bought during the honeymoon to Simi and Rhodes were plastered round in an absurd way. The chest of drawers had a green table cover falling over the front of it, over that a large cotton antimacassar and on top a large pier glass smashed in 4 bits, some hanging out.

Mrs. Paton is a fine big girl who might pass for 20 but some say 14. She had a pretty new dress, quite out of keeping with the place, her wedding ring and a splendid diamond one on her middle finger and a pink coral one on the other middle finger. Her face is good looking but not very pretty. She was very quiet and very much more ladylike than her sister, a coarse rough girl with a dirty snuff-coloured handkerchief on her head, a loose black jacket and a green skirt, much too long in the front. She brought us coffee and jam and seemed very respectful to Mrs. Paton.”

Mabel’s comment that Irini was ‘a fine big girl’ was made without her being aware that, at the time, Irini was 15-16 weeks pregnant. How Mabel would have relished writing about that, had she known! This fact might partly explain why Irini was reluctant to travel back to Scotland with Paton in March 1886.

With Mabel’s inquisitiveness about Irini Paton sated, she and Theodore left Kalymnos for Astypalea on Saturday March 20th, 1886.

The Olympitis house
The Olympitis’ house where Paton and the family stayed while in Kalymnos (photograph courtesy of Emmanuel Olympitis)

The Olympitis’ ‘beautiful’ house on the quayside at Pothia where the family stayed while in Kalymnos and where Theodore and Mabel would have met Irini. Augusta wrote : ‘It was the biggest house with the best accommodation on the island and was situated on the quayside with only a large pavement between it and the sea, which, with its anchored coloured boats, full of sponges and brilliantly coloured fishing equipment, was a sight to gladden my heart.’

The house was demolished in the 1970s and the current Olympic Hotel was erected in its place – ‘the best accommodation on the island’. The hotel is still run by members of the Olympitis family.

Return to Scotland

Irini with George, Thetis and John in Aberdeen before 1900
Irini with George, Thetis and John in Aberdeen before 1900

We know from Theodore and Mabel, and from the birthplace of Paton’s first son George, that Irini did not go back to Scotland in 1886, however, Augusta’s autobiography records them being there for much of the time during the first four years of their marriage. Their daughter, Thetis, was born in November 1887 in Aberdeen followed by a son John, in 1890, born at the family seat of Grandhome.

Irini always called Paton ‘Willie’, the name used by Augusta in her wrtings.

George, Thetis and John taken in Aberdeen
George, Thetis and John taken in Aberdeen (photograph courtesy of Emmanuel Olympitis)

Irini was a devout Orthodox and was unhappy not to be able to worship in her faith, there being no Greek Orthodox church in Aberdeen. She was also uncomfortable that her children were not ‘properly’ Christened in ‘that austere Presbyterian cathedral’ which she went through the motions of attending each Sunday, listening to Willie reading the lesson in his ‘carrying sonorous voice’.

The couple were still deeply in love and there were happy times in Scotland. Paton’s family and friends had welcomed Irini as its own. However, neither of them could stand the climate and Paton was never happy running the affairs of the estate. As soon as the children were old enough, he accepted an assignment for a new excavation in Asia Minor.

The house by the Aegean sea

Irini and Paton in Samos
Irini and Paton from the same photo studio in Samos at around 1900 when the family were living in the house at Gümüşlük (photographs courtesy of Emmanuel Olympitis)

Irini’s mother, Palia, had a property on the Turkish coast at Gümüşlük near Bodrum, where Irini and Paton’s first son George had been born. Palia owned much of the land around and a simple house existed on the property, close to the sea. She’d built a small chapel on the hill for the few local Christians. The happiest years for all the Paton family were those spent at the house. Paton and Irini’s youngest child, Augusta, or Sevastie, was also born in the house and her first few years were spent there. For Paton it was perfect. He could take himself off, sometimes for many months, and immerse himself in his work while still being able to return home, at times, for Irini and the children. For the children, it was an idyllic adventure playground and Augusta writes evocatively of those ecstatic days.

Thetis - probably taken in Greece
Thetis – probably taken in Greece (photograph courtesy of Emmanuel Olympitis)

But Irini was doing other things while in Gümüşlük as well. Paton’s great-grandson, also William Paton, provides us with an insight from a publication by Paton, originally in French – “Myndos is a town which knows well how to hide its inscriptions. The inscriptions that I published in the ‘Bull. de corr. hell. (volume XIV)’ do not come from the town itself but from the surrounding area. The town and its cemeteries only provided two inscribed stones. The two that I added were found, in the final days, in the rubble of a church near the Halicarnassus Gate. We owe them to excavations carried out without my knowledge by Mrs. Paton.”

Mama and Augusta
“Mama and Augusta” – Irini with Augusta around the time of their departure from Greece (photograph courtesy of William Paton)

As Paton’s work in Asia Minor came to an end, the spectre of leaving Gümüşlük weighed heavily on Irini. The boys were approaching the age when boarding school in England beckoned – John had already spent time there. During the period the family were in Gümüşlük, George and John had attended a school in Kos while Thetis was schooled in Smyrna (present-day Izmir).

George and Thetis believed to have been taken in Greece (photograph courtesy Emmanuel Olympitis)
George and Thetis believed to have been taken in Greece (photograph courtesy of Emmanuel Olympitis)

Irini and Augusta left Gümüşlük to meet Paton and the boys in Kalymnos. Irini was heartbroken to leave the home where she’d been so happy. She was never to see the house again.

The family came together again in the Olympitis house on the quayside of Pothia in Kalymnos, where they celebrated Christmas 1905.

Paris

Thetis believed to have been taken while in France
Thetis believed to have been taken while in France (photograph courtesy of Emmanuel Olympitis)

But, for the ever-driven Paton, time was dragging in Kalymnos and, early in 1906, he uprooted the family in favour of the Parisian suburb of Viroflay, near Versailles.  There, Irini and Augusta learned French and made friends. Irini was happy that she could go to the church of St. Julien le Pauvre  note 3 . They were content with life in Viroflay.

Brittany

But, once again, Paton moved them on, this time to a villa by the sea on the coast of Brittany at Peros Guirec. Irini was never happy in the period she spent in Brittany.

A sad, sad ending

It was in Brittany that the first signs of Irini’s illness appeared; she was often in great pain. One of her kidneys was damaged and had to be removed. In October 1908, she was admitted to a hospital in Paris where the successful operation was carried out. Irini was free from the pain she’d suffered.

The day came to leave the hospital and Irini’s best friend, Delphine, was helping her to dress amid happy laughter while Paton was pacing around outside in the corridor. Suddenly Irini clutched at her chest and said in Greek ‘Pono’  note 4 . She collapsed into Delphine’s arms and died. She was 38 years old. Paton ‘went quite beserk’ and ripped his shirt to shreds in his uncontrollable grief.

William Paton in later life on Samos, (c) Endre Kemeny

The fairy-tale romance had ended. Paton was 51, George 22,  Thetis 21, John 18, and Augusta just 8. Irini had been the source of all the love that had brought happiness to Paton and the family since that first vision of her, all those years ago, in a tiny boat bobbing on the waters of Pothia Bay. William Paton was a broken man.

 
Mabel’s diary entries are taken from the book The Travel Chronicles of Mrs J Theodore Bent Volume I. ©2015 Gerald Brisch and Archaeopress. Reproduced by kind permission. Get the book or download the e-book.

● The author wishes to thank Emmanuel N. Olympitis for his enthusiastic assistance in providing material and invaluable information for this article.

● The author wishes to thank William Paton, Paton’s great-grandson, for his suggestions and contributions from the family archives.

● Some of the material for this article was derived from the autobiography of Augusta Paton (Kemény), William and Irini Paton’s daughter. The autobiography is currently available only in Hungarian. Read a short biography of Augusta Paton.

● The images used in this article may be subject to various copyright restrictions.

Notes

Note 1: O Lordos – literally ‘the Lord’ – used to describe a gentleman of high status.
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Note 2: O Ouiliermos – The transliterated Greek phonetic spelling of ‘William’ with the masculine nominative ‘os’ ending added.
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Note 3: St. Julien le Pauvre is actually a Melkite Greek Catholic church which has its roots in the same beliefs and rites as the Greek Orthodox Church.
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Note 4: Pono (Πονώ) – I have pain.
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The legend of Kera Panagia and the tragic story of the hermit monk Vasilis

The beach at Kera Panagia

The idyllic beach at Kera Panagia is said by many to be the most attractive on Karpathos with its crystal-clear waters and the beautiful church of the Panagia perched on the heights above.

But how many visitors know the legend of the origins of the church and the tragic story of the hermit monk, Vasilis, who looked after it?

In 1885, Theodore and Mabel Bent spent 6 weeks on Karpathos and, on Friday March 6th, they visited Kera Panagia where they met an aged Vasilis, who told them his sad story.

Theodore wrote about their visit in an article, On a Far-off Island, published in Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine (Vol. 139, Feb 1886), 233-244), while Mabel, as ever, took to her diary to pen a colourful account of the day.

Theodore’s account of the visit

This account is taken from the book The Dodecanese: Further Travels Among the Insular Greeks (get the book or download the e-book).

“… our other friends arranged a sort of picnic for us, to a lovely spot called ‘Mrs Madonna’ (Kera Panagía), where a church contains a miraculous picture, and is looked after by a well-known old hermit-monk called Vasili.

The church of Kera Panagia
The church of Kera Panagia

The church is at the foot of a narrow gorge down by the sea, amidst tree-clad heights, which culminate in Mount Lastos, the highest peak in Karpathos, 4000 feet above sea-level. Close to this church there is a water source, which springs right out of a rock: it is icy cold and clear, and all around its egress the rock is garlanded with maidenhair; mastic, myrtle, and daphne almost conceal it from view. To this spot, the most favoured one in the island, our friends took us.

a miraculous picture
“a miraculous picture”

“In 1821 a Cretan refugee whose flocks had been destroyed by the Turks, vowed a church to the Panagià if she would lead him to a place of safety. So, says the legend, she conducted his boat here, where he found water, fertility, and seclusion, and here he built the church he had vowed.

“Once a year, on the day of the Assumption, the Karpathiotes make a pilgrimage to this spot; for the rest of the year it is left to the charge of poor old Vasili, who told us the very sad story which had driven him to adopt this hermit life.

“A few years ago he lived in the village, with his two sons and one daughter. She married a sea-captain, a well-to-do sponge-fisher, who owned a boat and much money he said.

“On one of his voyages, the sponge-fisher took with him Vasili’s two sons, and on their way they fell across a boat manned by pirates from Amorgos. The pirates shot the captain, boarded the caïque, and strapped the two brothers to the mast. After they had cleared the boat of all they could find, they sank it, and shortly afterwards some other sponge-fishers found the two brothers fastened to the mast at the bottom of the sea. They gave notice to the Government, and a steamer was despatched from Chios in pursuit of the pirates, and the bodies were brought home and buried. It was but poor satisfaction to old Vasili to hear of the capture of the murderers.

His daughter shortly afterwards married again, and left Karpathos, and he, with his broken heart and tottering step, donned the garb of a monk, and came to end his days at Kera Panagía, where he lives in a little stone hut alongside the church, and tills the ground, lights the lamps before the sacred pictures, and rings the church bell.”

Mabel’s diary entry for the day

This account is taken from the book World Enough, and Time: The Travel Chronicles of Mrs J Theodore Bent Volume I.(Get the book or download the e-book).
While Theodore, in his article, recounted the history of the church and Vasilis’ story, Mabel opted for a gastronomic account of the ‘picnic’. On the following day she wrote:

“Yesterday was really a day to be marked with a white stone. We had a delightful picnic to Kyriá Panagía. The company were 3 Turks, one of whom could speak no Greek, 2 English, 4 Greeks, 3 of whom could speak Turkish. There was also an Albanian cook who could speak no language but his own and that no one understood, and 2 soldiers.

Theodore and Mabel might be described today as foodies. Theodore’s writings and Mabel’s chronicles are peppered with details of food and drink. Read about their passion for mizithra cheese and about Mabel’s menus.
“We arrived first. I riding 2 hours on a bone-shaking road. The latter part was through pine woods smelling sweetly and with big single white peonies and arums. M  note 1  at once set to work to cook a chicken, or rather aged cock, and was ready with brandy to offer the Turks on their arrival, and at one o’clock we all were seated round a waterproof rug of ours with 2 glasses, few plates, and a moderate amount of forks and spoons. We talked English together. The Turks talked Turkish together, but of course then and there determined to send the soldiers off for a lamb to be eaten à la Palikári  note 2  for dinner. We 2, the 2 Sakolarides  note 3  and a certain Manolakakis  note 4 , in whose house the Kaïmakam  note 5  lodges, went on a long hot rocky walk, and I think I got a little sunstroke, for I had a great pain in the back of my head which is gone today very nearly. We at length found ourselves at the source of a stream springing out of a bed of maidenhair under great big myrtle trees. It was such an enchanting spot.

A spring close by
A spring close by

“At 4 o’clock we sat cross-legged round a heap of mastic bushes and rosemary, and on this bed was laid the lamb who had been borne on a spit through his head and his hind feet tied to it.

“We then tore him limb from limb by hand and all gnawed. I never saw a funnier scene or a merrier meal. After the lamb’s bones were cleaned by the 8 sets of teeth, the Kaïmakam examined the shoulder blades and prophesied peace and quietness, then more sheep’s cream and then home.

“We went half way together and the Kaïmakam and Co. went to Apéri, and we and Mr. Frangisko Sakolarides to Volátha. Having been taking lessons from Hassam Tachrí Effendi, the secretary, I was able to say ‘Teshekür edérim’, ‘Thank you’, to the Kaïmakam. We were led to the café by Mr. Frangisko Sakolarides and given coffee and were very glad to get home safely with only starlight to help us, and I had to walk some way.

“In the little church at Kyriá Panagía, which is quite good and not ruined, there were lots of scribbled names and one of the Greeks said, ‘Now we will write up your name’ and I said ‘Oh, not my name please’, they said ‘Why?’ and I said it was not our custom in England to write our name in churches.”

Research and contributeWe’re always searching for more information on the topics and people we write about. Can you add more information about Kera Panagia or old Vasilis, or about the Sakolarides or Mr. Manolakakis? Please contact us using the ‘Comment’ form on this page or on our ‘contact us’ page.

References and copyright

The account from Theodore is taken from the book The Dodecanese: Further Travels Among the Insular Greeks: The Selected Writings of J. Theodore & Mabel V.A. Bent, 1885-1888, edited, with additional material, by Gerald Brisch. Copyright ©2015 Gerald Brisch and Archaeopress. Reproduced by kind permission.

The extract from Mabel’s diary is taken from the book World Enough, and Time: The Travel Chronicles of Mrs J Theodore Bent Volume I: Greece and the Levantine Littoral, transcribed from Mabel’s original hand-written chronicle, with additional material, by Gerald Brisch. Copyright ©2006 Gerald Brisch and Archaeopress. Reproduced by kind permission.

Pictures copyright ©2019 Alan King and inAid Ltd.

Notes

Note 1: Mabel uses ‘M’ to refer to Manthaios Simos, the Bents’ dragoman for many of their travels throughout Greece and beyond. Manthaios was a native of the island of Anafi.
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Note 2: Palikári (‘rogue’, ‘bandit’) is much used in a familiar form to mean ‘pal’, buddy’, etc. Lamb ‘banditstyle’ exists in older recipe books for a slow-cooked dish of lamb chops, oregano, onions, garlic, tomatoes, cheese and potatoes, similar to kokinistó. It seems, however, that Mabel and her pals devoured their lamb spit-roasted. NOTE: See the comment below, received after the publication of this article, from Deppy Karavassilis-Patestou, the Greek vblogger.
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Note 3: Mr. Frangisko Sakolarides was the Greek dragoman and interpreter for the Turkish Kaïmakam, or Governor. It seems he was present on the day with his wife. He and his family are mentioned several times throughout Mabel’s chronicle.
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Note 4: The Manolakakis family was prominent on Kárpathos at the time. An Emmanuel Manolakakis published Karpathiaká (1896), a valued monograph on the history and culture of the island.
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Note 5: The Kaïmakam was the Turkish Governor of the island.
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The ‘Syra British Cemetery’ – Syros

I was prompted to write more about the ‘Syra British Cemetery‘ after reading Gerry Brisch’s fascinating account of the life of one the Bents’ friends and key ‘fixers’, Her Britannic Majesty’s Consul to Syra, William Binney, who helped ease the Bents’ travels around the Cyclades by way of letters of introduction to mayors, priests and other prominent figures throughout the islands.

These days, the island of Syros doesn’t figure too prominently on the radar of many non-Greek visitors to the Cyclades, and the three cemeteries, Orthodox, Catholic and British, on the road between the lower town and the ‘Catholic’ upper town, receive even fewer visitors.

After the Greek War of Independence started in 1821, the then-sparsely-populated Syros grew rapidly to become the commercial and administrative centre of the Greek Aegean world, earning it the sobriquet of ‘The Capital of the Cyclades’. Theodore and Mabel Bent were constantly drawn back to the island because of its position as the transport ‘hub’ which enabled them to explore further afield in Greece and beyond (see the interactive maps of their travels)

The Syra British Cemetery
The Syra British Cemetery

The ‘Syra British Cemetery’ illustrates the importance of Syros to Her Britannic Majesty’s Foreign Office following the foundation of the modern Greek state in 1832, until its pre-eminence was later eclipsed by King Otto’s new capital of Athens and its port of Piraeus. Like other British overseas cemeteries, located in many a corner of a foreign field, the Syros cemetery reveals some of the human sacrifices of those who served the Empire and suffered sickness and death far from home.

As Gerry Brisch tells us, the ‘Syra British Cemetery’ holds the grave of the Bents’ friend, William Binney, whose tombstone epitaph reads:

To the memory
of William Pryor Binney
H.B.M. Consul
Divisional Manager Eastern
Telegraph Company
Born in Halifax Nova Scotia
Canada
the 21th July 1839
died at Syra the 12th March 1888.
The Lord gave and the Lord
hath taken away Blessed be
the name of the Lord
Job I21.

The grave of William Binney
The grave of William Binney

Although the grave of HBM Consul William Binney, is the grandest in the tiny cemetery, there are also the graves of two former British consuls.

The grave of St. Vincent Lloyd
The grave of St. Vincent Lloyd

Binney’s predecessor, St. Vincent Lloyd, had been HBM Vice-Consul for the state of Wallachia in 1838 where he later made a name for himself by supporting the 1848 revolutionaries who went on to found the united Romanian state. December 14th, 1861 sees him promoted to Consul in Syros where it would seem he remained until his death in 1884. Part of his epitaph reads:

Sacred to the memory of St. Vincent Lloyd Esq., for many years H.B.M. Consul Syra, who died here 25th February 1884, in the 74th year of his age.

Lloyd’s promotion had been prompted by the death of another HBM Consul in Syra, Richard Wilkinson, in 1861. Two Wilkinson graves tell the story of tragic family grief.

The grave of Richard Wilkinson
The grave of Richard Wilkinson

Richard Wilkinson had been born in Smyrna, now Izmir, in 1783 and died in Syros on 26th September, 1861. Records exist showing him as HBM Consul in Syros in 1838 , one of five consuls stationed in important cities throughout the fledgling Greek state, the others being in Patras, Pyrgos, Napoli and Piraeus. With the exception of the Patras Consul, their role was primarily trade, highlighting the commercial importance of the island of Syros at that point in its history.

The epitaph on Richard Wilkinson’s grave reads:

Sacred to the memory of
Richard Wilkinson Esqr.
H B M Consul in Syra and its
dependencies
Born in Smyrna Dec 12 1783
Died in Syra Sep 26 1861

The childern's grave of John and Helene Wilkinson
The children’s grave of John and Helene Wilkinson

The other Wilkinson family grave holds the tiny bodies of John Wilkinson and Helene Wilkinson; John died in October, 1855 aged just over 2 years, while Helene survived just a few days over 3 months of age and died in January, 1856, three months after the death of her elder brother. Were they Richard Wilkinson’s grandchildren, or possibly even his own children conceived late in life? Either way, the grave evokes a time of great sorrow for Richard Wilkinson and his family.

One can only imagine the added heartache that the misspelt epitaph would have caused:

Sacred
to the memory of
John Wilkinson
born Aug. 1, 1853 died Oct. 27, 1855
and of
Helene Wilkinson
born Oct. 17, 1855 died Jan. 28, 1856
Suffer the little children to come unto
me, and forbid them not for such is the
Kingdom of Godt (sic)
Mark X, 14

Syra New British Cemetery
Syra New British Cemetery

During the First World War, Britain was fighting in two campaigns in the region, one against the Turks at Gallipoli, the other against the allied German, Austro-Hungarian and Bulgarian forces on the Macedonian front. The seaborne lines of communication and supply for these campaigns ran through the Aegean Sea, and the islands of the Cyclades were a favourite hunting ground of German submarines.  British war graves were to be found on several islands of the Cyclades, mostly containing the bodies of sailors and soldiers washed ashore from torpedoed ships. Many came from the sinking of the transport ship ‘Arcadian on April 15th, 1917. In 1921, the small ‘Syra British Cemetery’ was extended to take the scattered graves from all the islands. It contains 111 British graves including those of 30 sailors. See the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website for detailed information.

Grave of an unknown sailor
Grave of an unknown sailor in the ‘Syra New British Cemetery’

Some forty years after the Bents’ travels in the Cyclades, another British traveller, Vincent Clarence Scott O’Connor, retraced the footsteps of the Bents through the islands and drew upon Theodore’s experiences and writings. O’Connor’s book, ‘Isles of the Aegean’, was published in 1929. While following Theodore to the village of Langada on the island of Amorgos, O’Connor met a kafeneion (café) owner whose grisly account supplements the history of the ‘Syra New British Cemetery’:

. . . I went over to the Kapheion, where the life of every little town and village in Greece moves upon the surface. The owner joined us at a table and began to talk of his experiences during the Great War. “During the war,” he said, “English ships constantly passed up and down the Aegean to Salonica, Egypt and India. Some were sunk, and we became accustomed, even here in Amorgos which was out of the way of their traffic, to finding the bodies of their dead floating on the sea. One of these ships, the Arcadian, was torpedoed off Siphnos, and one day as I walked along the cliffs at Acroteri with my gun, looking for partridge, I saw a cask floating on the sea. I got a boat and went out to it, and found the bodies of two British soldiers in khaki who had been drowned. I brought them ashore and buried them, together with eight others, who had been cast upon the rocks one by one. I got the Papa to come with me and recite the burial service over their remains, which he willingly did for they were Christian men. We desired their souls to rest in peace. Their identification discs I handed to the Greek control at Livadhi. Two years after these events British officers came here from Syra, photographed the graves I had made, measured their distance from the sea, and took away their bones for burial in the British cemetery on that island. But I found afterwards that the body of one man had been overlooked, and there were other fragments that had come on shore; these I carried up on my back to our cemetery here and buried them, asking the Papa once more to read the service over them; and for this I paid him. I was glad to do these things, for they were Englishmen, and Christians.”

I never managed to find the final resting place of that last man buried in the Langada cemetery – maybe you can be more successful – let us know.

Langada cemetery
Langada cemetery, Amorgos, where the last British body washed ashore from the ‘Arcadian’ was given a Christian burial

Theodore and the Tsabouna (video)

The sound of the tsabouna, or the Greek bagpipe.

The strains of music from this instrument would have been very familiar to Theodore and Mabel as they journeyed from island to island. At the time of their travels, the tsabouna (sometimes sambouna and various spellings) was still one of the most popular folk instruments for the islanders. Its prominence probably linked to some degree with the goats and sheep the islanders were raising.

Every part of the animal was used. The milk was used to produce the delicious mizithra cheese enjoyed by the Bents, while the meat formed the key element of many local dishes that we still enjoy today – even the entrails were used for the ubiquitous dish, kokoretsi, and the Easter soup, magiritsa. The wool and hide, of course, found many uses.

Maybe somebody, hundreds, or even thousands, of years ago, scratched their head searching for other uses for the goat’s inedible skin. With a gurgling, a squealing and a wailing, the tsabouna was born.

Theodore was never too adoring of the melancholy sound of the instrument. ‘that wretched Grecian substitute for the bagpipe’ he wrote on Anafi, and in Karpathos he describes it as ‘a species of bagpipe, being a goatskin with the hairs left on, which palpitates like a living body when filled with air. These instruments are romantic enough when played by shepherds on the hillside or in the village square as an accompaniment to the dance, but they are intolerable in the tiny cottages where women tread their flannel.

Theodore Bent’s ‘sabouna’ from Karpathos in the Collection of the Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford (1903.130.23).

Despite his apparent dislike for the tsabouna, one does wonder whether he really had a sneaking admiration for it. While in Karpathos, he acquired his own tsabouna and brought it back to England where, after his death, it eventually found its way to the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford. Mabel has left quick note of the instrument as they heard it in Olymbos, Greek Easter time 1885: “We then went all together to a ball in the outer room of the church. We sat in a heap of people in the middle and round the edge sat mothers, each with a babe and a string of men screwed round in the narrow space left, preceded by the sampouna, pronounced sambouna, or bagpipe…” (From Mabel Bent’s Greek Chronicles, Vol 1, 2006, page 105)

Did Theodore ever learn to play this wretched Grecian substitute for a bagpipe – we’ll never know – but it would be nice to think he at least tried!

During the 20th century the tsabouna’s popularity faded and it’s only in recent years that a small number of traditional musicians has embraced the instrument and is bringing about its revival. One of these musicians is Yannis Pantazis who crafts his own instruments and demonstrates them in his artisan workshop in Santorini. Yannis is an outstandingly versatile musician who fell in love with the tsabouna on first hearing before he even knew what it looked like. Ever since, he has devoted his life’s work to the plaintive-sounding Greek bagpipe and the other instruments in his collection such as the lyre, the panpipes and the flute as well as traditional percussion instruments. Pop in and see him if you’re in Santorini – you will undoubtedly end up ‘gigging’ with him as he demonstrates and enthusiastically talks about the history and mythology attached to each instrument.

There’s a final twist in this tale of Theodore and the tsabouna. On the 11th January 1884, he and Mabel came ashore in the south of Santorini having travelled by sail-boat from the neighbouring island of Anafi. They landed near the small church of Aghios Nikolaos, ‘a little white thing under a red rock’ wrote Mabel. Taking a rough track, after some difficulties, they finally reached the hill-top village of Akrotiri just before dusk. Eating only what they’d carried from Anafi, they slept the night in the tower of the Venetian castle.

That very tower, known as La Ponta, was the first workshop of Yannis Pantazis where he constructed and played the instrument seemingly both loved and abhorred by Theodore. Yannis had never heard of the Bents but he believes Theodore’s accounts of the tsabouna are some of the earliest records we have in modern times of the playing of the instrument.

La Ponta has cast a powerful spell over the course of the past 130 years, bringing into its orbit, two key figures, generations apart – one who experienced and documented the popularity of the tsabouna in its heyday, the other spearheading the vanguard of the renaissance of the instrument today.

One hopes Theodore would have approved!

Discover more about Yannis Pantazis, his workshop and performance space

SYMPOSION by La Ponta Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/symposionsantorini

SYMPOSION website at https://www.symposionsantorini.com

Woodcock and mizithra

Gerald Brisch’s blog ‘Mabel’s Menus: the culinary notes of an archaeologist‘ sheds a fascinating light on an otherwise little-known area of the Bents’ lives.

Of course, back home in London, Theodore and Mabel would have dined very well. Unfortunately, Mabel’s chronicles only cover their travels and it’s a shame we know nothing about their day-to-day lives when they were not on their travels. They almost certainly would have had house servants and one doubts they would have cooked for themselves, but we have little insight into what gastronomy they may have enjoyed at home.

However, we DO know from Theodore’s writings, and from Mabel’s chronicles, that food and gastronomy were high on their list of survival strategies on many of their arduous journeys.

The Bents were clearly partial to woodcock and Theodore writes enviously while delayed in Milos waiting for the steamer:

We frequently visited Consul Brest, and had interesting conversations on Melos. Moreover he gave us an excellent pot of vegetable-marrow and almond jam to help us in our evil day; but we looked grudgingly at some woodcock on his stairs, which we longed for, and could not get, as they were to be sent to Syra by the steamer; and it was our one consolation in the eventual delay to learn that all these woodcock went bad and had to be thrown away.

We certainly know that, during the Greek explorations, the local mizithra cheese was something they relished. As Theodore wrItes:

Ios is celebrated for its flocks and herds, and of all islands Ios is the most celebrated for its mysethra, ‘food for the gods,’ as they call it. It is simply a curd made of boiled sheep’s milk, strained and pressed into a wicker basket called tyrobolon, just as they are spoken of in the ‘Odyssey’; from this basket it gets a pretty pattern before being turned out on to a plate. When eaten with honey it is truly delicious. I have tasted the same in Corsica called broccio but not so good as those of Ios; in fact, the mysethra of the neighbouring islands does not approach that of Ios — there is something in the pasturage which produces the proper flavour. They make mysethra cakes, but they are inferior to the original thing, and the peasants most frequently salt them, in which condition they are perfectly horrid.

Some of this excellent mysethra we had for our breakfast next morning, and some of it, together with cold fish and plenty of wine, the demarch put into a basket for us to take with us on an expedition … The three brothers and the three girls went down with us to the harbour, where our boat was waiting, bringing with them a fresh mysethra, wine, and figs for our journey.

And on Kea, Theodore writes:

The people at the convent, the old man and his granddaughters, who till the ground around and look after the church, were most hospitably inclined, and provided us with an excellent mysethra, hot and fresh, for our midday meal, and we had the further charm of watching it made. They poured fresh goats’ milk into boiling whey and then squeezed it and compressed it into a wicker basket until it was compact and beautifully white

The following video is a portrait of Manolis Farm Guesthouse on Naxos, featuring the making of traditional mizithra cheese. Produced, filmed and edited by Anneke Verschave.

Stay at Manolis Farm Guest House on Naxos.

Buy mizithra and feta products from Amazon.

Read about mizithra cheese on Wikipedia.