The Athens Suite

Gail-Nina explains that "These assorted verses were written during a splendid Christmas tour to Athens with ACE travel company. While I'm sure our various guides won't mind the publication of the limericks I composed in their honour, an explanatory footnote seems necessary for the general reader: our archaeological guide was called Aristotle (yes, really), our Greek guide (who was half Welsh and brought up in Cornwall) was Gareth and our company guide, who was Scottish, was called Andrew.

"The slab of blank verse was inspired by visiting the exact spot on the Acropolis which saw the contest between Poseidon and Athena for the veneration of the city. Poseidon called up a spring of salt water while Athena offered an olive tree, but our daily menus suggested to me that some other deity might have got a bit ahead of himself by proffering different gifts."

The Songs of the Guides

With archaeological rigour
The Glory of Greece looms much bigger
When described by a guide
Who can take us inside
It with Aristotelian vigour.

Though Athens has served us up dishes
To fulfil all our greediest wishes
An additional thrill
Must be watching the skill
With which Gareth can fillet our fishes.

The discomforts of travel can niggle
When through sight-seeing crowds you must wriggle
But when touring with Ace
Gareth sorts it with grace
And a quite unmistakeable giggle.

Of city guides Andrew's the star
With a cheerfulness nothing can mar
As he makes each decision
With Scottish precision
En route to the next whisky bar.

Of Gods and Heroes

An Athenian god quite capricious
Fell in love with a maiden delicious
He wore down her resistance
With honeyed insistence
And oracles wildly auspicious.

Taken up by the god of the vine
Ariadne is doing just fine
But Theseus' act
Has established the fact
That a hero can still be a swine.

Extract from an epic - Athens Contested

(with an Additional God Thrown in.)

Scenting the steam of contest in his nostrils
Briny-haired Poseidon struck the rock
And out gushed water, wave upon potent wave
But salty as its summoner.
"A symbol," said Athena,
"Of maritime command,
But hardly useful for the taverna trade."
Her nectar-dripping words brought forth a tree,
Olive for peace, grey-green,
Bearing the fruit whose flesh is oil,
A slippery commodity.
The citizens, before her speech was finished,
Had voted with their hands,
Fingers, eager for olives slipping into bowls.
"Maybe a little cheese with these,
A sprinkling of herbs or salted anchovies..."
Then Hermes, swift-sandalled messenger,
Conveyor of goods from A to B,
Purveyor of novelties (and souls) spoke up.
"Did you say taverna?
These bowls of glistening olives appetise
But I can offer sturdier fare -
Tomatoes and potatoes, salads and fries,
To tempt across the sea all visitors to...Hermens,
To the Hermopolis, the city, the temple
Built surely in my name
For gifting such consumable delights."
He raised his snake-tipped staff
But there appeared none of the promised bounty.
Athena, spitting out an olive stone, smiled thinly.
"Your time has not yet come, impatient Hermes!
A myriad, myriad platters of Greek salad,
And fried potatoes heaped in golden mounds
May greet the mouths of future generations.
Already, though, this is Athena's city -
The city where the olive reigns supreme."
The messenger frowned his protest
But the goddess' words had sealed her triumph.
Accepting, cool as ever, her civic sovereignty,
She added, sotto voce,
"Besides, dear brother,
The red, sun-ripened fruit of which you speak,
The earth-fed tubers nourishing as corn -
How will you dress the one and fry the other
Without my olive's smooth and fragrant oil?"
Then, ever in victory gracious,
She whispered in the defeated sea-god's ear,
"A sprinkling of your wave-born salt, Poseidon,
Completes the bill of fare."
Poseidon, somewhat mollified, departed,
But Hermes, despoiled of shrine-filled city hopes
Had the last laugh.
"Go... press your olives, sister dear," he muttered.
But just don't set your heart
On golden apples!"