to: Al Burstein, Chair, University Studies
from: Neil Greenberg
Re: The Centaur of Volos
Al: at this point our best move would be to release all the data at our disposal. I suggest the Internet for rapid coverage.
Of course you recall that in the early 1990’s, Beauvais Lyons learned that the remains of the “Centaur of Volos” were stored in a private basement in Wisconsin. In 1993, Beauvais and I, working with the University Studies Cultural Recovery Committee, acquired the remains from Dr. William Willers, a Professor of Microbiology at the University of Wisconsin at Oshkosh, who had been caring for them since at least 1980. Beauvais directed the negotiations — there was great reluctance to communicate with Washington about any aspect of this. Working closely with Dean Paula Kaufman, the Centaur was prepared for permanent exhibit at the new Hodges Library in 1994; it was our belief that this belonged to the world and public display in a high-traffic gallery at the University was the safest place for it.
In the late fall of 1995, a routine inquiry led to some startling connections. While attending the Annual Conference of the Society for Neuroscience, I stopped at my favorite bookstore in Georgetown and chatted with the old senior clerk that I had met years earlier when I taught at George Washington University just before coming to UT. We shared coffee and brandy in the basement (this was far from his first brandy of the day). He babbled freely for half an hour; when I commented that I had, in fact, a new interest this year, the Centaur, he wasn’t surprised — in fact he finally really remembered me because I’ve sought books on zoological mythology from him in past years. Then, I commented on the Centaur of Volos and he became very thoughtful. When I mentioned Willers he became very quiet, serious, added brandy to his coffee, and said that the manager of the Trocodoro Gallery near Dupont Circle could tell me more. The Gallery was well-known to me — I visited every time I had brunch at Kramer’s and always chatted with the clerk (owner?), Ellen, about impossible dreams — once I blew a month’s pay on a tattered temple tapestry– but it was a wonderful place full of Museum-quality Orientalia and Mediterranean artifacts; I have received no mailings from them since the gallery space was bought out by Starbuck’s,
Ellen told me about “Alex,” (sighing, “it’s been a long time, no one else cares anymore”). It was a very affecting story –she even gave me an tiny old photo of a young man dressed in Army fatigues with a traditional Northern Greek cap with his arm resting on a pack-burro. She apparently made his acquaintance during World War II. She was a well preserved if slightly arthritic late 60ish with a lot of understated style; she occasionally flashed a detail of very intimate knowledge that hinted at more than a passing acquaintance She knew he we was trained at the Sorbonne in anthropology and spoke Greek as well as English and French (she spoke Greek) and was a fresh PhD and husband when “recruited” by the OSS.
He may or may not still be alive, but in any case, at our next Faculty Colloquium, it would not be out of order to honor him and at least present a few slides of and comments about this Indiana-Jones-like character who, according to what I have learned, saved from the Centaur of Volos gravesite from Macedonian mercenaries (bankrolled by Mussolini) who wanted to steal the remains to break up and redistribute as sacred relics back home as a morale-boosting maneuver for the fascist factions (recruited mainly from the tiny mountain villages) in Northern Greece just as WW II was ending. (In fact, a few relics — bone fragments that everyone assumed were forged– turned up in Bosnia during the recent civil war and might just be from the Centaur in the Library’s display.) She lost touch when he was suddenly sent to the North. There was speculation that he escaped traveling with a pair of guslari— he was a good singer.
The last she heard was in the mid 1960’s when she found herself pillowtalking with a rare bookseller recently returned to Washington from Minneapolis. No one heard anything for a few years and when he returned home, a brief attempt at resurrecting his family (he found he had a three year old daughter he instantly bonded to) was frustrated by time and anger at what appeared to be desertion –maybe it wasn’t desertion but it didn’t matter anymore.
He got a position at Yale (through Washington connections?) was highly productive and a shoe-in for tenure when he got the bum’s rush during the MCarthy years. He published old data as long as he could and finally sought and received an instructor’s position at the University of Minnesota. Apparently he went to Minneapolis in the early 1970’s because his daughter moved there and he might just catch an occasional glimpse of a new grand-daughter, since he wasn’t welcome in his daughter’s house, who shared her mother’s anger. His greatest pleasure was sending the grand-daughter gifts. In just a few years, however, his spirit was broken and he was virtually a homeless streetperson. His grand-daughter would be about 25 now but hasn’t been seen since she took her junior year abroad, although Ellen heard that someone ran into her at a Greek Embassy function in Libya. Surely, rumors of her being a CIA operative are gossipy exaggerations –but the old guy did get a stipend from the Argos Scholars Foundation (connected to Greek lobbying group with rumored CIA connections). He might just be dead now, he would not have been the first “retired academic” to have worked undercover at a large, diverse college campus as a Company recruiter — maybe he recruited (and trained) his grandchild.
This started with a comment connecting Willers to the Centaur. It turns out that Willers and Alex were graduate students together.
Maybe Beauvais can learn more from Willers. Also, Katherine Neville has extensive connections in Greece and in North Africa (as well as Washington) from her years as a World Bank “Technical Consultant to Developing Countries” and thinks she might be able to learn more.
In any event, this story should be told, and a public University Studies function such as a forthcoming Centripetal Colloquy or one of the planned Panel discussions might be just the place.
Neil: I talked to Al and I’m working on the Alex story –Strangely believe it!– I have contacted several authorities at the University of Minnesota who have no record of his tenure there. The elimination of his personnel files seems puzzling, don’t you think?
While discussion of Alex at the April Centripetal may be premature given continued questions regarding his role in the excavation of the Centaur, the subject could be touched on by Paula Kaufman during her introduction. Another option would be to distribute a copy of the piece which appeared in the recent issue of the Smithsonian magazine on Alex.
I understand the Greek-American Student Organization is considering picketing the
Centaur Centripetal for repatriation, so we may want to be careful about any mention of Alex.
Since this is a sensitive topic, we may want to discuss this over lunch some time soon.
Not finding records on Alex in U Minn archives is not that puzzling! If he was covert what would we expect? also, my understanding is that it was in Minneapolis first to be near his granddaughter and next, supported himself in the congenial (to recruiting) the U Minn environment. Maybe he only tutored U Minn students and was never really payroll. Also, Professor Truesdale reminded me that U Minn isn’t the only school around there that would give him the right appearances and access to the larger student body. He thought he recalled someone named Alex that picked up the odd temporary faculty fill-in post and tutored jocks and cheerleaders. (Good raw material for operatives?) My guess he would be tolerated if not fit right in at McAlister College. Still, this is why we’re sharing notes at this point, to fine-tune and come out with the most parsimonious story, separate the gossip from the rumors.
It is a wise caution not to share too much with collegaues or the university community too soon. If Alex is responsible for the CV being here, the bones were almost certainly smuggled in. Could they have been warehoused in the same place as the arc of the covenant that was shipped over from Egypt? (just kidding)
Greenberg, Lyons, Burstein:
Incredible as it seems, I think I can add some information to what we know
about Alex. It was while reading your description and account of him that
it all clicked for me. Much of what I know about him comes from Mike
Hitchcock, a former IRS (and who knows what else) agent who now works in
Planned Giving at UTK, but some I learned directly myself from the man who
I think is Alex.
I believe that Alex is the man I know as Sandos, a native East Tennesseean
and generous library donor. Prior to leaving the States to study at the
Sorbonne, Sandos taught French and Latin at West High School. Several of
my staff members have fond (and one has not-so-fond) memories of him. One
staff member keeps an old photo of Sandos tacked to the bulletin board
above her desk and I suspect that if we compare this photo with the one
Ellen gave Neil, we’ll find that Alex and Sandos are the same person — or
could they be twins? After receiving his PhD from the Sorbonne, Sandos was
drafted into Army Intelligence during WWII when against all odds the Army
actually discovered, and used, his facility for languages and his knowledge
of anthropology. (The last time I spoke with Sandos he confirmed that he’s
fluent in about a dozen languages, including French, Greek, and Ladino.)
Sandos was sent by the OSS into Greece on a mission he refuses to talk
about. Yes, Sandos is still alive – at least he was when I bought him
lunch at the Faculty Club about 15 months ago.
WWII was actually a good time for Sandos. He spent time in Northern Greece
and he was decorated highly (but secretly). Although he ostensibly went to
Yale to teach in the early post-war years he continued, in fact, on the
CIA’s payroll. His department at Yale became fed up with his constant
disappearances and reappearances (he could never explain his absences
satisfactorily), with his lack of refereed publications, and with his
outspoken criticism of almost everyone and everything, and he was not
tenured — is it any wonder? I believe that he taught briefly at Rutgers
but I know little about the years between then and his brief re-emergence
at Minnesota. His last disappearance from that institution apparently
marked his full-time return to the CIA’s Soviet Union post.
I don’t know much about Sandos’s intelligence agency career, although I do
know that he was involved in an undercover archeological operation in China
in the 1980’s where he befriended many of the dissidents who were involved
subsequently in the Tiennamen Square uprising. His home in Athens, TN
(about which more later) served as an Agency “safe house” for a number of
post-1989 Chinese dissidents, whom Sandos put to work raising rare animal
breeds. His “farm” had obviously played a role as an important undercover
operation for more than two decades and it was well known for the quality
of meat it produced. Sandos supplied the French hens served by the French
embassy in Washington at its Bastille Day Bicentennial celebration.
Sandos is circumspect about his personal life. While at his Athens, TN
home, which is modeled after the Turkistan hut in which he was sheltered
during some trouble at a dig site during the cold war, Sandos lived with a
woman he introduced to me as his “concubine.” She disappeared with the
Chinese dissidents and it was at about that time when Sandos spread the
word that he was fleeing to Canada to avoid charges of tax evasion. But he
was back in East Tennessee within a year. Sandos’s father’s family
emigrated to this country early in the nineteenth century, joining their
Sephardic relatives in South Carolina where they participated lucratively
in the then-burgeoning slave trade. His mother’s family is Melungeon and
Sandos has done significant, but unpublished, research on the Melungeon’s
origins. Although he has never considered himself Jewish, Sandos has an
extensive collection of Sephardic religious books and realia, some of which
he has donated to Special Collections. There is some suspicion that he was
involved in the Hagganah during the Israeli 1948 struggle for independence,
but he was also sighted in India at about the same time, so who knows?
Perhaps the double sighting supports the “twins” theory. There seems to be
a pattern of his postings to regions rich in archeological sites at about
the same time that certain ancient treasures disappeared mysteriously.
Rumors abound, but this connection has never been proven.
Now in his 70’s, Sandos claims to be retired from his CIA field work.
However, he still undertakes extensive trips to underdeveloped countries,
ostensibly serving as a translator to groups of businessmen (as far as I
know he only accompanies male travelers). He left for Mexico last December
and hasn’t yet returned, at least as far as I know. Sandos is a big bear
of a man; he wears a full beard, not well trimmed. His unkempt appearance
could lead some to mistake him for a homeless street person.
Just last month I spotted a man in his mid-twenties setting up a camera and
tripod and preparing to photograph the Centaur. I was about to speak with
him when the fire alarm rang (it was pulled by a 3 year old girl who was
accompanied by a woman about 25 years old). Could this be Alex’s
granddaughter and family? The mystery continues.
I agree that we should meet to compare notes and decide just how little
information we should make public at the Centripetals event.
Fascinating connections! we should have thought about the Knoxville connection long ago (so it was no mere accident or act of improbable connoisseurship that the Centaur is now here!). Also, I’ve heard for years about what a superb safe-site East Tennessee is for everyone from relocated witnesses through former operatives with enemies.
Speaking of safe-sites, our mutual friend Bruce is leaving for Greece in several weeks and I’ll ask him to inquire in Athens. He is not familiar with the Alex story but he is so fluent in Greek tradition that a few artful inquiries may turn something up. I’ll ask him to ask about “Alex” and see what turns up.
To: N Greenberg/EEB/BioSci/UTK
Subject: centaur stuff
As you requested, I did some checking on centaurs during my recent trip to Greece. I found out much more than I expected. I’m sorry it has taken me so long to write it down, but I’ve had to sort through my notes and make sense out of what happened.
When I got to Athens I called a contact I had been given; he goes by the name “Skorpios” on the Internet. I walked through the busy Plaka to the corner of Hermes and Athena Steets, where we had arranged to meet. Soon a serious-looking young man in his 20s approached, walking quickly with a lurching roll that I attributed to leg braces. “Iyia, my friend,” he said abruptly (I recognized the modern Greek form of the ancient Pythagorean greeting). “Let’s go where we can talk.” He flagged one of the cabs (most of which seemed uninterested in stopping for us) and shouted and gestured at the cabby. We roared off and careened through a sea of cars, in which jubilant Athenians honked horns and waved flags, because earlier that evening (Sep. 5) they had learned that they would host the 2004 Olympics.
After paying the cabby Skorpios led me up a rather seedy looking street (I was beginning to wonder what I had gotten into), and turned into a tiny alley filled with tables. This was the restaurant. Only the kitchen was indoors; everyone ate in the alley. We squeezed between the celebrating Athenians and wedged ourselves around a tiny table. The waiter came and after a few animated words with Skorpios, threw the blank order pad on the table in front of him. That was fine with Skorpios; he filled in his favorite dishes and handed it back to the waiter next time he passed. I don’t know what he ordered, which is probably just as well. I was enjoying some spicy sausages, when he pointed at them and said, “bulls’ balls.”
Our conversation was somewhat chaotic, following Skorpios’ serpentine stream of consciousness. Here are some snippets:
“These beastly legs are my karma. I did some very bad things in my last life. You know I found an altar to Pan in the woods on Mt. Lykaion; I made a blood sacrifice and met him there. Now I know my task for this life.”
“We Greeks have forgotten the ancient ways! All this,” sweeping his arm to indicate Athens, “is just a way of getting tourist money.” He was getting vehement. “We shit on the altars! I’m telling you we do!” He was almost in tears.
“But one of my Cabirian Brothers is very high up in the church; they don’t even know he’s one of us. We invoked Eris and now they are in chaos, fighting each other for money. They make their own reality.”
“You are 4=7, right?” he asked with no explanation. I wasn’t sure what I should say, so I shrugged and he seemed to accept that for an answer. I quickly turned the conversation to centaurs. Soon Skorpios was off and running.
“Cheiron learned his arts from Apollo and Artemis, the secrets of the sun and moon, you see? You know there are two centaurs in the sky; he put Sagittarius there to show the way to the golden fleece.
“Cheiron was so wise because he combined the best of man and beast. This is higher than the alchemical union of male and female, because it unites animal vitality with human wisdom and compassion: a human head and heart united with a stallion’s libido! This union will come in the new aeon, a revolution in heaven as well as earth. That’s why Uncle Al” (he means Aleister Crowley) “called it ‘lust’. He knew these things; too bad he was so fucked up! Remember this about Cheiron: to grasp him you must embrace his body as well as his mind!
“This is also why Cheiron is the vehicle for Faust to meet Manto, his Soror Mystica; Cheiron is always moving, circulating, but Manto is motionless; they unite the opposites, you see?
“Manto was the Thessalian Sibyl, the psychopomp who initiated Faust into the mysteries of Persephone in the underworld, so he could complete the mystical union with Helene. She leads him to the world axis where sun and moon stand still. Goethe wanted to tell what he knew about the mysteries, but he could not, so he wrote about them under a veil. So he tells us about Homunculus, a fiery spirit looking for a body. He follows that nymph, Galatea, on the shell of Aphrodite, and they submerge in the salt sea. It’s the alchemical union of fire and water by Eros, right? All life comes from the sea! Goethe was a good alchemist! Let him be your guide!”
I showed Skorpios a photo of the skeleton and told him what we know and suspect. He became very excited and said, “You must go to the centaur’s cave. Not the big one at the foot of Pelion; that is garbage. And not to Cheiron’s cave between Pelion’s peaks. Go to the cave near Anilio on the east face. It’s not so high as Cheiron’s cave; you will have to climb down to it. The bastards keep it locked now. You will have to get the key from the museum in Anakasia. You must find the kleidouchos, the key holder, of the cave. Don’t mention my name or you will never get it. Here, Skorpios will help you find the centaur.” He began writing directions on a napkin.
By the time he was done, it was well after midnight so we paid our bill and squeezed back out through the alley. Skorpios snared a cab to get me home (he lives near the restaurant). I thanked Skorpios for his help and he replied, “Good luck in Volos. You know that is the place where wild Eris came to the wedding of Thetis of the silver feet.” Then he shouted, “Hail Eris!” which made me shudder. As I climbed into the taxi he wagged his finger at me: “Never forget to invite Eris!”
I think she was not far away, since I had another hair-raising cab ride through downtown Athens, this time with a cabby who swerved to try to hit every dog that ventured near the street!
Although my visit with Skorpios had left my head spinning, the next day I rented a little Fiat and drove up the coastal highway to Volos. As soon as I was settled in my room I called the Theophilos Museum in Anakasia and tried to make them understand that I wanted to get the key for the Anilio cave. After being passed from one non-English speaker to another, a woman named Alexandra came on the phone and she understood what I was asking,
“You will have to make application to visit the cave,” she explained.
“How long will that take?” I asked.
“One week, maybe two.”
“That’s no good,” I said, “I must leave for Mykonos the day after tomorrow.”
“It is impossible then; I’m sorry.”
“But I have come all the way from Tennessee to see this cave,” I pleaded. “Have you heard about the centaur skeleton at the University of Tennessee?”
There was a moment of silence, and she said, “Be at the museum by 2 o’clock,” and hung up. It was already 1:30, so I jumped in the Fiat and screamed up the road that winds northeast from Volos to Anakasia.
When I got to the museum I had to run the gauntlet of guards and others who couldn’t understand me. I didn’t have much luck explaining what I wanted, so I kept asking for Alexandra. Eventually they took me back to her office and I said that I was the one who had called. I handed her my business card (hoping she wouldn’t notice that it said “Computer Science”), and she led me to the director’s office. He glanced at my card and handed it back to her while they spoke in Greek. It didn’t look promising.
He turned to me. “Why do you want to go in this cave? There is nothing for the public.”
“Because it’s said to be a centaur cave and I have a special interest in centaurs. You know we have a centaur skeleton at the University of Tennessee,” I said.
“Yes, I know of that hoax!” he laughed.
“Yes,” I laughed along with him, “it’s a rather silly joke, but I still would like to visit the cave.” Impulsively I added, “Alex said I should see it.”
He stopped laughing and stared at me for a moment; then he wrote two phone numbers on a slip of paper while he spoke to Alexandra. She moved to lead me out, but I asked, “What about the application?”
“No application is necessary,” he said without looking up from his papers.
It turned out that the first number was for a certain Dr. Mavrogenous, who would show me the cave, and the second was for her friend, where she was often to be found after 4 PM. There was no answer at the first number and the man who answered at the second knew no English and couldn’t comprehend my attempts at Greek. But I said “Mavrogenous” often enough that he got the idea and put Mavrogenous on. Fortunately she spoke some English, and I said the director had told me that she could take me to the cave; I judge she had already heard this from the director himself, because she said, “Be at the Antiquities Office at 10 tomorrow morning.”
When I arrived at the office the next day I found it deserted but for a young woman, in khaki shorts and shirt, wandering among the ruins and spraying something — an herbicide? protection for the stones? — from a spray bottle. She looked up at me and said, “Five minutes!” so I sat down while she finished her rounds.
When she was done she disappeared into the office and returned with a flashlight, and waved me toward her car. She offered her hand and said, “I am Manto Mavrogenous.” She must have seen my startled expression, because she explained, “Yes, I was named for the Greek patriot; she was a pirate, you know.” I haven’t a clue who she was talking about! But I noticed that her left boot had a brass frame over it, some sort of brace I suppose.
As we drove away she asked, “Do you have a light?” and I admitted I didn’t, so she stopped in front of small store and said, “Go get a light and batteries.” Thus equipped we roared up the narrow, winding road that ascends Pelion’s western face.
I thanked Manto for being my guide and told about my difficulties finding the key holder of the cave. “You grasp beyond your reach; that is good,” she commented enigmatically. When I pulled out the photo of the centaur skeleton and showed it to her, she went pale and said, “I have heard of this thing.”
Soon we left the olive groves and fruit orchards behind, as Mediterranean plants yielded to mountain varieties, and we entered forests of pine, cypress and plane, interrupted by magnificent views of Volos Bay. Eventually we cleared Hania Pass and began careening down the wildly twisting road that descends Pelion’s steep eastern face. Now extraordinary views of the Aegean Sea alternated with dense forests of beech and chestnut.
We came to the hamlet with the forbidding name Anilio (Sunless), which is perched on the side of a crevasse of breathtaking depth, and Manto turned onto a narrow road — hardly more than a bridle path — that wound down the face of the mountain into an impenetrable forest. She parked at an unmarked place and we climbed out. She remotely armed her car alarm, which seemed anachronistic and redundant in this wilderness.
We picked our way down the steep, rocky slope, Manto going ahead and showing me step by step where to place my feet. Soon we were deep in the dense woods: mostly beech and chestnut, but also plane, oak and cypress. We frequently encountered rippling brooklets and splashing waterfalls. The forest’s damp, cool, quiet twilight made it seem an alien environment far from the clear, bright Mediterranean sky. Manto stopped from time to time, looking ahead, as though gathering her strength, or perhaps praying.
We seemed utterly alone on earth, yet Manto stopped by a low, flat stone, pulled a small package from her backpack, unwrapped a piece of baklava and placed it on the stone. Although I watched without comment, she explained, “I always bring a gift for Pamphile, the old woman in these woods.”
Manto swept her arm around. “This is the Forest of the Pheres. That is the old Thessalian name for centaurs. It is said they lived here before they were driven off to Mt. Pindos.”
It was high noon and getting warm when we came to a spring running from a crack in the rocks. Manto washed her face and arms in it and suggested I do the same. In fact, as I recall now, she was quite insistent about it. However, I needed little encouragement and the water was exceptionally revitalizing.
Just beyond the spring we came to a small clearing, bathed in sunlight, in which an ancient fig tree grew from a cleft in the rocks. “This is it,” she announced, “the Cave of the Pheres.” I looked into the pit between the rocks. Behind the gnarled trunk of the fig was the mouth of the cave, which was closed by a rusty iron gate. I watched from above as Manto climbed into the pit and pulled the key from her pocket. It was much larger than I expected — about 6″ long — and looked very old. Before she put it in the lock she did an odd thing; she stamped her brass boot three times!
Manto seemed to be struggling with the key and after a few minutes climbed out and handed it to me. “Please, you must unlock the gate; it must be your dynamis” (strength?). That was OK with me, so I took the key and saw immediately how unusual it was. It had two obliquely intersecting rings for its wards. She watched me inspect it and asked, “Do you know the ‘Timaeus’?” I said, “Not well,” and she smiled but said no more.
I climbed into the pit, fit the key into the lock, and turned it quite easily, although it made a scraping sound. I was surprised Manto had had so much trouble, but perhaps she got it in crooked. I pushed the gate open and looked up to her for guidance, but she said, “Go ahead; take the key with you.” I took it from the gate and stepped into the twilight of the cave mouth. A moment later Manto joined me.
Just inside was a large stone carved with a Gorgon, presumably for protection. Manto surreptitiously slipped something under its edge. An offering? On the floor I noticed many roots and sprigs of herbs, some quite fresh, apparently put through the gate as offerings.
With Manto leading the way, we made our way past the Gorgon into the depths. Although our flashlights were on, the dark was oppressive, and I could not help thinking that I was descending into the maw of Orcus.
The floor was littered with pot shards and figurines, which even I could tell dated to every period from the neolithic, through the Mycenaean, up to the Hellenistic and Roman. In an open area there were modern (but not recent) excavations in the floor, and I wondered if this was the place where the skeleton was found. The size seemed about right.
Then Manto retreated to a dark corner, leaving me to explore on my own. Further back in the cave, as I turned the flashlight toward the right-hand wall, I saw painted images of centaurs that reminded me of the cave paintings in Les Trois Freres.
When I turned my flashlight to the left, my hair stood on end as the light revealed a large double stalactite reaching to the floor. It made such a perfect life-sized image of a centaur that one might believe that here Cheiron had met the Gorgon Medusa. It even had a crystalline phallus. The stalagmites around the centaur’s feet were smooth from the touch of the hands of a thousand generations.
In front of the image a circular hole was broken through the 3 cm. thick crystalline floor; it exposed a deep well filled to the brim with water of perfect transparency. I could not look in it for long, because its great depth made me dizzy. Bestial faces seemed to glare from the depths!
I was a bit disoriented when Manto came, and led me down into a deeper part of the cavern. “This place is for the Three: Persephone, Demeter and Hecate,” she whispered. There was a sudden blaze of light in our flashlight beams: a shining tripod, made of gold I suppose. In its basin was a fat candle, which Manto lit, and soon strange fragrances filled the air. I remember her saying, “Look through the smoke,” which swirled into almost recognizable shapes. I thought I heard her say, “Take the key. Strike the tripod of fire.” I remember hearing it ring with a strange tone, but that is all.
I must have been overcome by the fumes in the closeness of the cave, as my recollections are very confused. I remember waking up and finding a cloth over my head. I think I tried to pull it off, but someone stopped me and I thought I heard Manto say something about a veil protecting me from the Gorgon. The first clear thing I remember is lying on the cave floor with Manto watching over me. She helped me to my feet and we made our way back to the mouth of the cave, me in the lead. As I came to the gate she said something in Greek, which sounded like “Teliosate tin ierin teleturyian; apodoste ton sto ieron fos” – “Complete the highest ritual; restore him to the sacred light.”
I stepped out into the sun, and it was so bright it blinded me. When my eyes had adjusted to the glare, I thought to look back for Manto, but a strange reluctance stopped me from doing so. Soon she was at my side. I looked up out of the pit toward the towering summit of Pelion, which was crowned with snowy cumulus clouds. As I watched they seemed to take the form of a resplendent queen in her throne. Beside me Manto said, in a hush, “Ixion will be with white-armed Hera tonight.”
There is not much more to tell. On the way back I was too confused and overwhelmed to try to talk, and Manto seemed occupied with her own thoughts anyway. The next day I drove back to Athens and caught the 4:50 PM Olympic flight to Mykonos.
I hope this rambling account is of some help. Let me know if you have any further questions about my discoveries in Greece. — Best wishes, Bruce
December 7, 1998.
Bruce: last Friday, Renee returned from Jaisalmer where she was studying Jain tradition (and she loves the desert). She asked (as she always does) about the local Centaurs, more to evoke conversation than enlightenment, but she got a surprising response from an old Jain priest who persuaded her to look for “the Mother of Centaurs” on the way back home. This is what the priest told her: there is an ancient link between his people and the Greek islands, and it is said that the old stories are still told on the island where women rule and speak with the tongue of the gods. Renee knew the islands (her “eyes were opened” as they say on Epidaurus), so it was fairly easy to get around. On Rhodes she heard about Karpathos where they have the richest oral tradition. She took the ferry to Dhiafani and then a boat to Karpathos where she leased a horse. (She could have gotten a jeep, but it’s not the same. And the locals have a reverence for tall light-haired women that ride). Within a week, towards the north, she found this town where the locals still spoke in a Homerian Doric tongue. It was Olimbos, and as an eerie bonus, she learned that here the women do rule: it is a strictly matrilineal society. She drank and gossiped with the best of them, but she was stonewalled when it came to stories of Centaurs. Everything flowed effortlessly, but any allusion to Centaurs and there was a brief embarrassed silence followed by a few minutes of vaguely related (usually lewd) over-ebullience about some other topic. The mood would return to an apparently sincere camaraderie until once again Renee tried to introduce the Centaurs. She never learned anything specific, except that this is a forbidden topic. Next Spring, Karl and Katherine will try to stop there on their way back from Morocco or Tunesia. Do you think you could meet them there? No one knows more about the ancient Doric feminist traditions, and no one knows more about loosening tongues than Katherine.
August 1, 1999
Karl and I have collected some important information in Tunesia and that triggered some research that led to some extraordinary connections between the several of the previous observations our colleagues reported on both Alex and the Centaur cults. The connections began to hook up after I read Beauvais’ comment that Alex’s granddaughter (we know her as Sabrina for reasons you’ll soon understand) was sighted not long ago at a Greek embassy function in Libya–a country which, as you know, borders my old stomping grounds, over these past thirty years, of Algeria and Tunisia. We’ve recently had coffee with Bedouins and Tuaregs right on the Libyan border, and collected even more data.
By the way, I have now posted two articles on my website ( www.KatherineNeville.com ) regarding North African mythology surrounding the female centaurs of Aphrodite that we discovered in Tunisia in 1997, and also about the great North African goddess Car, or Kar, who was likely of Phoenician origin, and who plays a major role in my book of ten years ago,THE EIGHT. Her name relates to carmine, carnal, carnivorous, as well as place names like Qar-Qar, Carinthia, Bokara.
Along these lines, I also found extremely interesting the cryptic message from your colleague, the Jain scholar Renee, regarding her quest for the Mother of Centaurs in Greek Karpathos. This island was originally named for the curative powers over illness of the same goddess: Kar-Pathos. Since gods who can cure illness can also bring about illness (eg, Apollo) it is no wonder that folks on Karpathos were reluctant to wag tongues!
Paula’s earlier observations about Alex being Sephardic are probably camouflage on someone’s part, but may lead to something even more interesting. As you know, the semitic-speaking Phoenicians settled much of the north coast of Africa, and they also garrisoned Sicily, Marseilles, and much of the Greek Islands as well as Venice. Venetian means Phoenician. I suspect that when we scratch the surface we’ll find Alex’s roots may go back much further than previously suspected. And when we trace those roots, his contemporary connections–specifically with the CIA, Yale, China, and old bones–should all make a good deal more sense.
I hasten to add that everything I’ve ferreted out so far is actually available in the public domain. But as you know, the public brain doesn’t always work exactly the way mine does. At least, so Karl tells me–and he’s the brain expert.
These are some of the leads I am following up on at present –more soon– Best, Katherine