October 5th, 2004

Per Sempre

At Posiedon Spa I emerge from a hot, steamy Roman sauna, and enter a hot spring-fed thermal bath. Then I walk the oval of a mini-Circus Maximus over rounded stones. I recline on a deck chair in the sunshine, dozing and dreaming, until it’s time to do it all again. Then I go up a steep ascending path, through a tunnel of overhanging shrubs and trees, opening to the light. Upward toward the light. It is a dream, but then it is not.

Butterflies flutter from one exotic flower to another. Little green speckled lizards with narrow brown tails dart along the stone walls. The sea roars, the solitary gull circles. In a niche a bust of Francesco Petrarch, in yellowed marble, his nose broken off, stares toward the roaring sea.

Lying in the sun, my eyes closed, I lazily dream: This is, precisely, the Scheria Homer describes. The luxuriant garden plot of the palace of Nausicaa’s father, Alcinoüs, King of Phaeacia. Within this grove fountains flow, Homer says. And now here I—James Sephens—have arrived, after long toil, and from a country far remote.

A spacious garden, fenced all around. Four acres measuring complete here grows luxuriant many a lofty tree. Pomegranate, pear, apple, fig, and unctuous olive smooth. Eucalyptus, pine, cypress. Palm. Cactus, spined and unspined, tall and short. Flow’rs of all hues smile—luminous bougainvillaea, hibiscus, oleander, geranium, broom, daisy and rose and jasmine. All arranged with neatest art judicious, and amid the lovely scene fountains welling forth. Such are the ample blessings by the Gods bestow’d.

I dream of my sweet Vittoria. Her face bathed in moonlight.

The Phaeacians of Scheria sail the world in ships. Nausithoos, founder of their city, and Nausicaa, the princess, are nautical names. On this beach, then, a goodly temple of Poseidon, furnished with heavy stones deep bedded in the earth.

The Greeks speak of Typhoeus, son of Gaea and Tartarus, a dreadful monster with a hundred dragons’ heads. In the battles between the Gods and the Titans, Typhoeus is cast by Zeus into the Bay of Naples and chained to the bottom of the sea. Enraged, he rises up, spews forth flaming rocks and molten lava, thus forming the mountain and the steep rocky coasts and this very beach. But Typhoeus turns to stone, and he weeps hot tears in endless streams—which flow now as these healing thermal springs.

I weep for my Vittoria.

The Greeks see the universe in human terms. Thus an abundance of anthromorphism, even in architecture. A pillar, for instance. Its capital is the head, and the section joining it to the pedestal is a neck, and the whole pillar is either male or female. Surrounded by thousands of blossoms, Flow’rs of all hues smile…arranged with neatest art judicious.

The palms, umbrella pines, the flowing fountains. Exactly.

My Vittoria bends down, gently brushes away my tears.

“Ti amo, James,” she whispers. “ Per sempre.”