A poem for Katakolon by Oscar Wilde

3 May

Who would have thought that Oscar Wilde, one of the greatest authors of all times, would have written a poem about Katakolon? Indeed, Wilde wrote a poem about his impressions on a trip to Greece and the Ionian Sea.

There is a short story behind the trip of Oscar Wilde and is included in his biography.

oscar wilde in a traditional greek costume

Oscar Wilde in Greece

Wilde and his party arrived in Greece at the port of Katakolo, where the ancient athletes and embassies from all around the Greek world arrived and traveled up to Olympia in the heat of the beginning of July. “We found the Alpheus a broad and rapid river, which we crossed on horseback with difficulty…The prospect of Olympia truly disenchanting. However interesting excavations may be, they are always exceedingly ugly.’”

His picture of the ancient Olympics has an Irish touch: “When the drinking parties of young men began in the evening there may even have been a soupçon of Donnybrook Fair about it.”  Wilde later claimed to have seen the actual excavation of the famous statue of Hermes by Praxiteles. This was wishful thinking. The statue, depicting Hermes holding the baby Dionysus, was indeed discovered in 1877, but later in the year.

At the time of the discovery, Gustav Hirschfeld was directing the dig on site and personally lifted the statue out of the ground from  the temple of Hera. It is now one of the most prized possessions of the Olympia Museum. When Oscar Wilde was temporarily expelled  from Oxford for returning from a visit to Greece three weeks late for the beginning of term, he announced, “I was sent down from Oxford for being the first undergraduate to visit Olympia.”

Thus, Wilde wrote a romantic poem about his journey to Katakolon and Olympia just a few years before the first Olympic Games in 1896.

Impression De Voyage – Oscar Wilde

The sea was sapphire coloured, and the sky
Burned like a heated opal through the air;
We hoisted sail; the wind was blowing fair
For the blue lands that to the eastward lie.
From the steep prow I marked with quickening eye
Zakynthos, every olive grove and creek,
Ithaca’s cliff, Lycaon’s snowy peak,
And all the flower-strewn hills of Arcady.
The flapping of the sail against the mast,
The ripple of the water on the side,
The ripple of girls’ laughter at the stern,
The only sounds: when ‘gan the West to burn,
And a red sun upon the seas to ride,
I stood upon the soil of Greece at last!

KATAKOLON, 1881

Oscar Wilde (1854–1900)

Read more: History of Katakolon

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