Dr. Jeffrey Collins, assistant professor of art history, is the director of OU Study Abroad. He and Professor Alan Loehle led the short term study abroad to Greece during June 2013. This is the first in a four-part series about the trip.
We have returned from an extraordinary odyssey across hundreds of miles of Aegean sea, islands, Santorini volcanoes, mountains, and endless olive and oleander. Our OU students stood before the sunlit ruins of the Parthenon, walked where Socrates and Plato taught, examined the sculptures in the new Acropolis Museum, and spent hours discussing, reporting, and engaging in lively talks about ancient architecture, politics, and myth.
At Delos, they stood in burdock growing where lush buildings and mosaics once gleamed in the Attic air; in Crete, they worked through the maze of Knossos, speaking of Theseus and the minotaur; in Chania, they marveled at a reconstructed Minoan boat that carried painted pottery and jewelry once to Egyptian ports 1200 years before the Parthenon was even built.
On Santorini, they were dumbfounded at the stark and sublime power of the cliffs and the myth of Atlantis. Several read Plato’s Timaeus. There, they hiked the volcano, rode donkeys on Thirissa, and spent evenings in tavernas dancing the crane dances. Days of feta, bread, olives, baked cheeses, rich Assyritiko wine, sun, deep wind, pure light.
They gave reports and asked brilliant questions, sketched ruins at Delphi, and sang in the perfectly acoustical, ancient theatre at Epidauros. At Mycenae, they stood in the tholos tomb, and spoke of Agamemnon and the gold death mask. Some read the Odyssey; others, the Iliad. As we passed Thermoplyae, they laughed about the movie 300, and bought T-shirts, with the heroic and defiant words the Spartans retorted to the Persians when they told the Greeks to lay down their arms: “come and get them!”
History was not for them mere words in a thick tome—it was alive, it was before them, it was under their sandalled feet, it was in their blood.
They felt it and knew it.
On boats, buses, on foot for many hours, our students voyages across vast expanses of water, through mountains and apricot groves, down twisting white alleys of Mykonos, upon slick marble floors in hotels and lobbies; our students journeyed with notebooks full of ideas and history and dates and poems and drawings, with digital cameras filled with thousands of photos of old widows in black dresses against blue doors, or of tanned fishers in the shoals, or of nameless dogs asleep near Byzantine churches, or of themselves, laughing and singing, and dancing—as they all did—like Zorbas in tavernas smelling of jasmine and kalimara. Oopah!
Who said learning should be all so serious? A Greek philosopher once said, we learn best when we laugh. Our students laughed at misspelled signs, worry beads, the wild chaos and charm that is Greece, the odd times of shop closings, but mostly at themselves, falling over stones, suitcases, and falling in love with every beautiful man—or woman—they saw. Apollos and Aphrodites on vespas—they are everywhere in Greece. Oopah!
We have not heard such excellent reports given with such passion and insight. Our students will never forget the flame of skies, the early morning belled sheep, the climb up Palamidi. They will not lose sight of what they accomplished and what they witnessed.
On one of our final days, after long hours of talking and analyzing myths of Zeus and Demeter, history, ancient ruins, and wars, we took a silent sacred run, our ritual at Delphi, and saw, laid out before us, the outline of Gaia, the Mother Earth goddess, honored before Apollo and Dionysos were worshiped at the Delphi.
We watched in striking silence the sun curve across her flanks. We drank from the sacred Castelian springs, the source of poetic inspiration, as did everyone from Plato to Yeats.
No one can take the memories from them now as their coming blogs will show. They will live in our students’ hearts and minds as long as they live. No one could ever take from them now their newly discovered ideas and images—try, and they will no doubt respond: “come and get them.”
They are Spartans.
Part II: An Odyssey of Learning
Part III: Study Abroad Creates ‘Momentum‘
Part IV: An Oglethorpe Journey