Pylos: Where Nestor Ruled & Hermes Hid the Cattle of Apollo

Helios the sun-god left his limpid pool and rose into the brazen sky to bring daylight to gods and mortal men across the fertile plough-lands. And so they came to Pylos, the well-built citadel of Neleus. Here on the beach the people were all making sacrifice, slaughtering black bulls to Poseidon, the dark-haired shaker of the earth. They were seated in nine companies, five hundred men in each, and each company had nine bulls. When the men of Pylos had tasted the entrails and were burning the thigh pieces for the god, the others quickly put in to shore, hauled up and furled their fine ship’s sail, let down the anchor-stone and disembarked. Telemachus, too, disembarked, and with him went Athene.

Pylos: Where Nestor Ruled & Hermes Hid the Cattle of Apollo Photo Gallery

Noontide, and the molten sun hangs in a cloudless sky. Insects murmur drowsily in dry air, aromatic with the woody scent of shrubs and arid grasses. Their high-pitched voices throb in counterpoint to the rhythm of the waves as they lap and fizzle far below. Beyond the lagoon with its scrubby sandbars, haze shimmers on the sheltered bay of Navarino, its mouth almost enclosed by the rocky spine of the waterless, long, narrow island of Sphacteria. In the distance modern Pylos is an exuberance of pretty houses, its town square bounded on one side by a sheltered harbour – cafe chairs and tables in the shade of leafy trees; yellow nets laid out to dry; lolling boats; and shoals of tiny fishes gliding in clear glassy water.

Despite the breadth of the horizon, with its pale blue mountains, patchwork farmland and the coastline stretching north beside the gentle swelling sea, a nearer bay demands the eye. Its narrow entrance flanked by steep-curved hills, it is a perfect horseshoe of turquoise water, soft white sand, and lilies flowering in the sand dunes. It is perhaps the most idyllic beach in all of Greece. On its western headland, Coryphasion, below the crumbling grey walls and squat square towers of a Venetian castle, is a portal to an ancient past – a cave where stalactites hang like red and rusty oxhides from the high roof. For it was here (so legend tells) above the cove (where Nestor’s men of Pylos once made sacrifice and which today the Greeks call Voidhokilia, Ox-belly Bay), that the newborn Hermes hid the stolen cattle of Apollo.

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