It was a Friday afternoon we will never forget! The afternoon that changed our lives! Yes, we dare say that it didn’t merely influence our future as individuals but it also had a great impact on the future of our whole country! Even on the future of our whole vast continent! Well, nothing gave us a clue as to what was going to happen! That Friday afternoon was an ordinary afternoon in every single way! We were all gathered at Phaedon’s, our classmate’s, house. We regularly meet at each other’s houses when there’s no school the next day. Our parents usually accompany us. It’s a chance for them to see one another and talk about their daily problems. It’s been quite some time now that our parents look worried. They don’t tell us, but we know. We can tell how worried they are merely by looking in their eyes. They have a strange sad look full of anxiety. It’s because they don’t know whether the following day they will have a job or not. We know what’s going on in their minds but we rarely talk about it. We don’t want to make things harder. So, we pretend that we don’t understand. And they pretend that everything is all right. Lately, we play this little game with our parents more and more often. We play it at home and we play it outside. So, this afternoon we kept playing it. Well, there we were in Phaedon’s room with our favourite board game “Who’s Who?” playing as usual. Our parents in the living room were talking, as usual. You could overhear words such as “economy, crisis, unemployment, money, loans” and you could easily guess the subject of discussion. The T.V. was on, as it usually is. The news lady was telling the news. “Markets are in panic! Countries in the E.U. have lost confidence in their partners! People of Europe disagree on major issues! People of Europe don’t trust each other! People of Europe fight!” Stooop! We can’t take it anymore! It feels like our mothers and fathers are fighting as though they are getting a divorce! Why is all this happening? Who is to blame? Our beloved parents? Ourselves? When is this nightmare going to end? Phaedon rushed to the living room to turn off the T.V. But, suddenly, he stood still like stone! The worst piece of news we had ever heard struck 2
as a thunderbolt in the middle of the storm: “The twelve stars of the flag of Europe have disappeared! Nobody knows where they are! If they are not found within a few days, the whole building of the European Union will collapse! PLEASE, HELP IF YOU CAN!”
As soon as the news lady finished her words, an awkward silence spread all over the house. No-one could utter a single word! It was the first time in our lives we felt so helpless and devastated! Even our parents looked shocked! Only little Billy, our friend, had a determined look on his face. A tiny sparkle of hope lit in our hearts! Billy smiled. His smile was even more encouraging. He nodded to us to follow him to the garden. Then, he spoke. “Don’t be afraid,” he said. “There is a way to find the lost stars! But we must not lose time! And we must not tell anyone! It will be our secret!” At that very moment, a voice sounded from inside the house calling us. It was Phaedon’s mother. “Come on, children!” she said. “Your parents are leaving. Time to go home!” Before saying goodbye to each other,
Billy managed to whisper: “Let’s meet at school tomorrow morning at 9:00”. We all agreed. No-one slept a wink all night! We were trying to guess what Billy’s plan could be. In the morning, we were all up very early. We asked our parents if we could play with our friends in the schoolyard. Luckily, they said yes! We left our houses in a hurry! Most of us arrived at school much earlier than 9:00 a.m. Billy was already there! He was sitting on a rock in front of the big green bush. He looked serious and probably a little puzzled, as if he was trying to put his thoughts in order. Surely, he hadn’t slept all night either. We all sat with him and waited. Tatiana was the last to come. When we were all there, Billy said in a voice even more serious than his look: “Well, the time has come for me to reveal my secret to you! You know how much I trust you and I am sure you won’t tell anyone. It’s been a month or so… I was here, in the schoolyard, alone, when I discovered a secret path which leads directly to the computer room! I thought that it was a great chance for me to play computer games, so I started surfing the internet. Instead of playing computer games, I ended up chatting with children from schools of other European countries. While we were communicating, a strange light came out of the computer. It became more and more intense. Then, I heard a terrible sound and the whole room started to spin! I was so scared that I left as fast as I could. I didn’t tell anyone – not even Jemil - but I am sure that there is something magical about the computer room; and I deeply believe that we can take advantage of this magic power to find the lost stars. ” “Where’s that secret path?” Panos asked in anticipation. Billy stood up. “It’s right behind this bush,” he answered. “Just help me move this rock,” he added, pointing at the big stone he was sitting on. So we did and at once a flower-sided path unfolded in front of our amazed eyes! We followed it and reached the computer room in less than a second! We entered and turned on our computers. What did we see on the screen instead of the ordinary welcome sign? A figure of a friendly old man with a dark complexion and a long beard. He was wearing a worn 4
out tunic and a white cloak. It was Aesop, the great story-teller! “My dear children, he said in a soft and distant voice, you have bright spirits and clean souls! If you use these qualities well and stick together you can be really powerful! This power has magic! You can do whatever you wish with it! You can find the star of Greece! Just think of the name of our country and use each letter as a key. Use the potential of technology to come together with children from other countries and you’ll build a new wonderful world! Only YOU can do that!” said Aesop and his image faded away… “Wow! Aesop! Can it be real?” we wondered. But his soft voice was still sounding in our ears… Just think of the name of our country and use each letter as a key. “G-R-E-E-C-E,” said Phaedon. “G is the first letter.” “Let’s think of words related to Greece beginning with the letter G!” added Marios. “Glory!” said Jiola, remembering the great heroic moments in our history. “Grace!” said Alexandra, mentioning the significant role of Greece in fine arts. “Games!” said Jemil, stressing the importance of the Olympic Games and the Olympic Spirit in international history. As soon as this last word was pronounced, a jangling sound was heard from inside the computers and a bright light flashed. The sound got louder and louder. The light grew brighter and brighter. The room started to spin. It spun faster and faster. We squeezed our eyes shut. We held hands. Then, everything was still. Absolutely still. We opened our eyes. Sunlight slanted through the windows. There we all were, still holding hands in a circle. Everything was in place: the computers, the chairs and our books. We ran to the windows of the computer room. Looking out of the windows we didn’t see our schoolyard. Instead, we saw a large valley spreading below us with green sloping hills in the distance. A wonderful marble temple dominated the place. “The temple of Zeus!” said Theodore. Further ahead, minor buildings greeted our eyes, all equal in grace. “The computers have transported us to ancient Olympia, the place where the Olympic Games were born!” “Can this be real?” asked Gabriela. It was as real as we were, standing there in flesh and blood peering out of the windows in amazement! “Look!” said Tatiana “The stadium!” To the east of the magnificent temple we could see the 5
stadium, where the running races took place. To the west, there was a winding stream. “It must be the river Kladeos,” said Neda pointing to it. “Let’s go out there!” we all exclaimed. “We must attend the games!”
We opened the door and got out into the cool, misty air. The ground was covered with tall grass. Big trees shaded the place. We walked through the valley and headed to the stadium. We arrived in the middle of a race. A lot of men were sitting on both sides of the stadium. We hid behind some bushes to watch the race without being seen. “You can’t imagine how lucky we are!” whispered Alexandra. “Only men were allowed to watch the games in the past!” “And it was only once every four years!” added Jiola. At that moment, the athletes who were competing in running passed sprinting right before us! They had strong well-built bodies and seemed very well-trained. They had come from every Greek city-state to take part in the Games. In order to safeguard the participation of the athletes and visitors in the games, peace was made between all cities. It was the Olympic Truce. “Wow! See how fast 6
they run!” said Panaghiotis pointing to the athletes. “They may be fast like the wind and surely no one has been doped!” added Jemil smiling. We were so close to them, we could easily see their faces. Their eyes were fixed on the end of the track. Their mouths were kept tightly sealed with decision. Their great struggle to win was reflected on every single muscle of their face and body. The finishing line was just a few metres away. An Athenian, a Spartan and a Corinthian were competing for the first place. Triumph was close for one of them. Whoever was the winner, he would enjoy eternal glory and fame, as his victory was synonymous with the most prominent Greek virtue, the love for internal and external beauty - the ideal of excellence, called “arete”.
“Look, the Spartan came first!” said Tatiana. Spectators were standing now cheering. They were shouting the name of the winner in enthusiasm: “Euricledas! Euricledas!” Euricledas was now enjoying the greatest of honours! He was an Olympic victor equal to heroes, an “immortal”! The crowd was showering him with flowers while paeans, Greek instrumental music, were being played. “On the last day of the games, the holy judges are going to crown him with a sacred olive tree wreath before the gold and ivory statue of Zeus! This is where the holy 7
flame is burning! “I wish we could stay!” said Phaedon. “Well, that’s impossible. Don’t forget the reason why we are here. We must leave at once.” said Billy and stood up. We did the same. On the way back to the computer room through which we had first arrived, we were thinking why they were so happy to receive a simple crown of olive leaves instead of a good sum of money. Our computer room stood there behind some wild berry trees. We entered our familiar room in a hurry. The door slammed shut behind us. We started to think how on earth we were going to return home when we heard a slight knocking sound on the window pane of the west window of the room. We never opened that window to avoid the draught of air which made the door slam. Neda pushed the curtains aside to reveal a cute little dove with white feathers sitting on the window sill. “What’s that blue thing around its neck?” asked Theodore. “It must be a ribbon” replied Panos. Lydia opened the window very carefully and took the little bird in her hands. She touched something hard under its chest. “Wow! It’s a gold medal! Look!” she said taking it off. We leaned over it to have a better look. It was made of pure gold and had the letter “G” graven on its shinning surface. At that moment, the bird flew away in the dark foggy sky. Orestis held the medal for a while. He stood there gazing at it in silence. “I can’t believe we’ve got the first letter of Greece!” he whispered. “I wonder who could have sent that dove to us!” he added and approached the window. We went closer and tried to peer out through the thick veil of fog. To our surprise a very familiar building loomed out of the fog. “The Olympic Sports Complex in Marousi!” exclaimed Marios. We are near our school!” As soon as he finished his words, the stadium was brightly lit with thousands of lights. A giant video screen showed the opening ceremony of the Athens 2004 Summer Olympics. Our hearts started to beat vigorously. The great moments our country had lived many years ago were revived in front of our astonished eyes! After the great spectacle, a colourful parade of 10.500 athletes entered the stadium walking under the banners of 201 nations. Then, our windsurfing gold medalist Nick Kaklamanakis lit the Olympic flame. 8
As the flame was lifted high above the stadium in a gigantic cauldron, we were all filled with admiration for our country and touched the gold medal with the letter “G” that the dove brought us from modern Greece. “Now that we’ve got the medal we must go on!” said Marios. “Time is really pressing! Let’s stick to our aim! We must find the star before Europe, our homeland, collapses!” “R” is the next letter of GREECE. Any ideas? “What if I told you that I’ve already found the magic word for “R”! It’s been echoing in my ears for quite some time now. It’s Respect!” said Gabriela confidently. The room miraculously began to spin. “Shall we try the third letter “E” as well?” proposed Phaedon hastily. “What about Equality? Equality is closely connected to Respect. These two words go hand in hand. If Respect is the one, then Equality must be the other!” He hadn’t even finished his words when we heard the same jangling sound from inside the computers. Outside the window night had fallen. The sky was full of fireworks. They were forming the five Olympic rings. The sound got louder and louder. The room started to spin faster and faster. The computers flashed with light. We held each other’s hands tightly. The sound was unbearable. Then it suddenly stopped. Silence. “Where are we?” asked Theodore. We poked our heads out of one of the windows. We had landed at the bottom of a small rocky hill. A wonderful transparent light illuminated the place. In the east you could see another rugged cliff towering above the city. On its top, the famous temple of Athena, the Parthenon, made us almost stop breathing with emotion. A lot of men were passing in front of us heading to the top of the hill on which we had landed a few minutes ago. They were wearing very simple cloaks fastened at the shoulder with a brooch and belted around the waist. Leather sandals protected their feet from the rocky surface of the ground. As they were walking up the hill, they were talking briskly with each other. We thought that we were dreaming! We knew exactly where we were! In the very heart of our city, Athens! Only we had gone back in time many centuries ago! The place we had been studying in history was now 9
real! And we were part of this reality. We were in ancient Athens, the birthplace of Pericles! “Where are all these men going? There must be hundreds,” said Neda. “They are gathering on the hill. We are on the Pnyx, the place where ancient Athenians hosted their popular assemblies. Surely, they are meeting to discuss very serious matters. “Look! They keep coming and coming!” said Lydia. “All adult Athenian citizens take part, remember?” said Theodore. “Let’s join them! I don’t want to miss the speeches!” said Neda. “We’d better take that path if we want to remain unnoticed” said Gabriela and took a quick leap towards the passage. By the time we arrived, the presiding officer of the assembly opened the debate asking in a very formal manner: « Τίς ἀγορεύειν βούλεται;» - “Who wishes to speak?” Any Athenian citizen had the right to speak. Pericles, the most prominent and highly respected citizen, stepped on the flat, stone speakers’ platform. Everybody hushed. Pericles was a skillful speaker. He had a profound influence on the Athenian society. In his speech, he praised the role of Athens and invited all Athenians to get involved in public affairs.
“Here, our city is governed by the many instead of the few: this is called democracy. Here in Athens, we practise democracy every day,” he added. “The laws of our state provide equal justice for all citizens. And we also take into account the merits of excellence. Anyone who has achieved excellence can offer his service to the benefit of the city and no one is excluded because of poverty or humble origins. We are free, free to live as we like respecting each other’s individuality and ready to face any danger. We are taught to respect the laws and not to forget that we must protect the weak and those who get offended. Here in Athens this is how we live. We believe that happiness is the fruit of freedom and freedom is the result of the values which come from years of experience, education, compassion, and effort. That is why our city is open to the world and everyone is welcome here. For all these reasons, I proclaim Athens the school of Hellas (Greece)!” He went on and on. He praised the Athenians who had died for their homeland in the Peloponnesian War. We were so impressed by his speech we remained speechless. Many other citizens spoke after him. Even the opinions of those who were opposing were considered. After the speeches, the public had to vote for or against the continuation of the War. “I hope they decide to cease the war,” murmured Alexandra. “It’s a pity so many young people get killed!” added Marios in a very low voice. We were all trying to figure out what the outcome would be, but the crowd was so noisy we could no longer see or hear anything clearly. “Hey, Phaedon, please step aside. I can’t see a thing!” said Panos. All of a sudden, a very familiar figure passed by, cutting through the crowd. He had a dark complexion and a long beard. He was wearing a worn out tunic and a white cloak. “Isn’t that Aesop?” Alexandra asked in amazement. “Are you nuts? Aesop lived much earlier than Pericles.” shouted Theodore. “Strange! Yet, it was him! insisted Alexandra, and he left something on the rocky ground.” “It’s a little cotton bag, said Theodore picking it up, and there’s something in it!” “Open the bag quickly!” said Orestis, giving the dusty little bag to Alexandra. Alexandra’s fingers were trembling as she took two pieces of pottery out of the bag, which were decorated with meanders, each one bearing a 11
capital letter among the decorations. They were letters “R” and “E”! “Oh, we have the next letters of Greece!” we screamed with joy. Alexandra put the pieces back into the bag with great care. “Let’s move along,” she said, walking happily down the hill. As we were stepping over the rocks, we felt that the sun was shining very bright! The bronze statue of Goddess Athena Promachos on the Acropolis seemed to be smiling at us! The ancient agora, the civic and commercial center of Athens was inviting us to join its lively activities! Even the air was lighter, clearer and more scented, like a gift from the gods. Hope had nested in our hearts! We were halfway through to the completion of our mission! At the foot of the Pnyx, there laid our computer room like Noah’s Ark. We stepped inside and got ready to depart. What was going to be our next destination? It depended on where the fourth letter of Greece, another “E”, was going to lead us. Before starting to think about the new magic word, we gazed out of the west window of the room, the window we mostly kept closed. This time it was miraculously open! We went closer. The sun was beginning to set. The sky was painted with all shades of purple. Well, can you believe it? The neoclassical building of the Vouli, the Greek House of Parliament, was right in front of us! This is the place where in modern Greece the elected representatives of our people set laws, decide upon crucial issues and plan the future of our country. All members of the Parliament have the right to express their opinion freely and all points of view are being equally considered for the benefit of the country. The Parliament is overlooking the tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the monument over which a guard of honor keeps vigil. “Look, the changing of the guard is taking place!” said Jemil. “Wow, think of all the men who have given their lives so that we could be free!” “Now what shall we do?” asked Lydia. “Let’s go feed the pigeons in Syntagma (Constitution) square and then hang out at the National Park. We can have some fun at the playground, visit the zoo and have a drink at the park’s café!” suggested Jemil. “What???” exclaimed Pheadon strictly. “We can’t waste any time! There’s still a long way to go! Let’s try to find the next word.” 12
We knew he was right. So we kept thinking and thinking. A lot of words were uttered but the computer room wouldn’t move. At last, Tatiana came up with the word “Environment”. “Our country has always cared for the animals and plants around us. That’s why so many species which have been extinct elsewhere still find a hospitable home here in Greece,” she added. “Well, the geographical position of our country as well as its mild climate help a lot, too” said Panos. “So do the environmental funds and organisations, such as Arktouros, which does a great job with the brown bear and a lot more wild animals and plants. Other organizations are Mom for the seal monachus-monachus and Archelon for the turtle caretta-caretta,” argued Tatiana. “We all love and protect the animals and help the environment! We recycle at school and at home, we don’t litter, we try not to waste energy…”said Theodore. “Fair enough! Environment is our word!” said Jiola. “Listen! The computers have started to jangle! We’re leaving! Let’s hold hands.” She was right. At that moment, Alexandra slipped her hands in her pockets and pulled out the two pieces of pottery we had found on the Pnyx. We all touched them in turns. Then we formed a circle and held onto one another. As the sound of the computers grew louder and the room was filled with a blinding light, we felt we were being lifted upwards as if in a hot air balloon. We were so excited! When the sound stopped and the light went out, we rushed to the windows and poked our heads outside. “We’re flying!” we exclaimed. “See how small everything looks from up here! The houses are no bigger than matchboxes!” said Panaghiotis.” “We’re travelling westwards” said Phaedon. Indeed, our computer room was drifting to the west by a magic wind. Dawn was breaking. The sky was blooming like a giant rose! As we were smoothly moving through the colourful sky, we were enjoying the magnificent view down below! Mountain ranges, green plains and lovely coasts were embracing the blue sea! Picturesque villages were surrounded by olive groves. “Wow! Isn’t that Delphi down there?” Neda asked. Delphi was believed to be the center of the world. According to tradition, Zeus sent two eagles to fly around the earth in opposite directions. They met over 13
Delphi, which became the largest religious and spiritual center of the then-known world. “Look at the temple of Apollo!” said Panaghiotis. The ancient remains of the temple of the God of Music and Light perched in the precarious spot where the ragged cliffs of the mountain formed the deepest gorge we had ever seen! “That’s the centre of the world!” Gabriela said. “I wish Pythia, the famous priestess of Apollo, was here to tell us what is going to become of us in the future!” said Panos. Pythia was famous for her wise prophesies inspired by God Apollo. “I would ask her if we’ll manage to find the lost stars and save Europe…”said Theodore. “She wouldn’t have given you a straightforward answer. She never did,” said Marios. “I know, but at least we would have a clue!” said Theodore. “Hey, mates, don’t lose your courage! Look how fast we move! We are almost over the Ionian Sea! It won’t be long before we find the letter “E”, said Billy and pointed to an island on the distant horizon! That’s the island of Zakynthos down there!”
Zakynthos is probably the most beautiful island in the Ionian Sea. It’s an island full of pine trees and beautiful beaches. It isn’t a coincidence that the loggerhead sea turtle caretta-caretta has chosen these beaches to lay her eggs! And in order to protect them, a National Marine Park has been created which has many volunteers. On a hill we saw wind generators, which produce enough electricity to cover a great part of the island’s needs. These boosted us with a flow of air over Laganas Bay. Then our flying room suddenly paused in the middle of the sky, about 6 metres above the beach. We looked outside. White seagulls were flying all around us. The early morning light lit the sand, which sparkled like diamond dust. “Hey, look! There are some baby turtles down there!” said Jemil. We leaned forward and looked down. More than ten baby caretta-caretta turtles were still looking for their way to the sea. “They are lost!” said Orestis. “Their brothers and sisters have probably reached the sea during the night guided by the reflection of moonlight in the water. Look at those tracks in the sand!” said Panos. “The lucky ones are now swimming in the crystal clear sea, but these poor creatures will have a very early end if we don’t help them right away!” added Jiola. “There are seagulls flying in circles!” said Jiola. Swooping down for an appetizer was just a matter of time!
“Let’s go help the baby turtles!” said Marios. “But how?” asked Panos. “We’ll get killed if we jump from up here!” “Well, look what I have!” Marios said smiling. “A rope ladder!” “Where did you find it?” we all asked. “It was under my computer table! Can you believe it? Just help me fasten it up to the safety bar of the west window,” he said. As soon as we did, Marios started down the ladder and we followed him. In a few minutes we were all down. The seagulls were flying over our heads, ready to attack! “We must hurry!” said Panos picking up a little hatchling and holding it softly in his hands. Luckily, we reached the rest of them before the birds did. We put them in the water and waved goodbye! They swam away happily. We stood there by the sea gazing at them vanishing in the blue waves and wished them luck for their travels. We were happier than ever! But we had to move on! “Goodbye, Laganas Bay!” we cried and turned to leave. At that very moment a giant sea monster came out of the water heading towards us! It had a massive head, strong jaws, and a reddish-brown hard shell. It seemed like an armour-clad warrior breaking his way through the waves. “Help! Help!” we shouted and dashed to the rope ladder. Jemil reached it first and started climbing up. Most of us followed. Panos, Phaedon, Marios and Billy, however, remained at the sea shore. They were staring at the monster boldly from a short distance. After a while, we heard them shouting at us: “Hey! Come back here! There’s nothing to be afraid of! It’s a gigantic loggerhead sea turtle! She’s friendly!” So we went back to the beach, walking barefoot on the warm sand not to disturb the turtle. “She is probably the mother of the baby turtles and came to thank us for saving her babies,” said Panaghiotis. We approached the marine reptile without fear. “Look, said Marios. She’s holding something in her jaws!” The turtle opened her powerful jaws and let a large ivory seashell fall on the sand. Marios took it in his hands. It was so beautiful! “Why has the turtle been carrying this shell?” asked Gabriela. Nobody knew. Marios turned the shell upside down. The inner part was smooth and shiny. He passed his hand over it. A big clear “E” was carved on it! “Hooray! The letter we were looking for!” we hugged each other tightly and jumped up and down with joy. Then we turned to thank the turtle but she had vanished into the deep blue sea… “Thanks a lot, caretta16
caretta! We’ll always remember you!” we shouted. A cool breeze blew and carried our voices away over the blue waves...
“Another two letters and we’re done, the “C” and the “E” said Jemil. We left the wonderful beach to return to our computer room which was hovering above our heads. Up we went climbing the rope ladder. Now we knew exactly what to do to activate our strange travelling machine. We had to find a word beginning with “C”. It was Jiola who found the word which made the computer room set off this time. It was the word “Culture”. In a few seconds we landed at a different place. We couldn’t wait to explore it! Tatiana opened the door and we rushed outside. In a lush green landscape with plenty of mineral water springs we saw the most famous ancient Greek theatre, the theatre of Epidaurus in the Peloponnese. “Wow! Isn’t it impressive? Neda said. We were all admiring the theatre’s perfect construction, its symmetry and beauty. Located on a hillside, it was built with stones in a semi-circular shape. “See how well preserved the rows of seats are?” said Panaghiotis. It’s not surprising why we still use it today to hold the Epidaurus Cultural Festival every year. “How many spectators can it hold?” asked Orestis. “Well, I think that more than 15,000 spectators can attend a theatrical performance here,” replied Phaedon. “That’s amazing!” said Marios. 17
“But there’s one more reason why this theatre is one of a kind; and this is its excellent acoustics! You see, if someone claps his hands down here, you can hear the sound even if you’re sitting at the last upper row.” “How can this be possible?” asked Neda. “Oh, come on! If you don’t believe it, go up there and see!” said Phaedon. “It’s a matter of Physics. The shape of the theatre as well as the material used for its construction create this effect”. Neda ran towards the stairway. “Neda, wait!” called Gabriela. “I’ll come with you!” “Let’s all go!” suggested Phaedon. “But who would stay here to do the clapping?” “I will,” offered Jiola. It was quite a long way to the top. When we got up there, we waved at her and she clapped twice. The sound was heard so clearly as if our friend was standing right next to us. No need for loudspeakers! Jiola clapped again and again. Then she said: “I’m so proud that theatre was born in Greece! I wish we could enjoy ancient drama played here in Epidaurus!” As soon as she finished her words, the theatre was packed with ancient Greek people. The seats next to ours were taken by some young men who were talking and laughing. “They can’t see us!” Gabriela whispered. “We must be invisible!” Once again we thought we were dreaming. However, we knew that everything was real. As real as could be.
More people kept coming although there was almost no place to sit. The first rows of seats were taken by the priests of Asclepius, the healer God’s of antiquity, whose sanctuary was not far from the theatre. Theatrical performances were closely connected to the worship of the God. A lot of people attended them. Among them, there were many ill people who came here from every part of Greece to get God’s advice and regain their health. “Can you see Jiola?” whispered Alexandra. We peered through the crowd but we couldn’t see her. “I hope she finds us! She knows exactly where we are,” said Lydia. “Shh! The play is starting!” said Tatiana. The actors appeared on the stage. They were all men who wore masks made from stiffened linen, with holes for eyes and mouth. From the masks and the costumes you could easily see if the characters the actors were playing were funny, angry or sad. Thick-soled shoes made them look taller, so that we all could see them. The play we were attending was a comedy. It was called The Birds. Aristophanes, the famous playwright, had written it. What a coincidence! We had seen this play with our teachers and parents some time ago! You see, Aristophanes’ plays have come down to us through the centuries and they are still being played in many theatres today. So we knew all about the plot and had no difficulty understanding what was going on. The actors were great! From time to time, the chorus, a group of performers, wearing bird costumes, sang, chanted and danced. They also commented on the play but only their leader spoke to the actors. They were very funny! We all had a great time watching the performance! Only we began to worry about Jiola who hadn’t shown up yet! “Where can she be?” we asked one another. But no-one knew.
The play was now over. The people started to leave. We scattered here and there trying to find our friend. We agreed that the computer room was going to be our meeting point. But we would never leave Epidaurus without Jiola. The sun was beginning to set. It was getting dark. The theatre was empty now. We kept searching and searching but Jiola was nowhere. We shouted her name many times but no answer! We got more and more anxious. Night was falling. In less than half an hour it would be completely dark. The wind began to moan. The tree leaves began to tremble. The sky was filled with rain clouds. Creepy sounds were coming from the woods. We began to shiver. Just then, the clouds parted. A full moon was shining in the sky. A pool of light spread through the darkness. Then we saw a strange figure coming out of the dark creepy forest. A strange bird-like mask was covering its face. A long weird crest was hanging from the top of its head. A skinny beak was sticking out of its feathery face. Huge bat-like wings were flapping at the sides of its body. We held our breath as we stared in terror. â€œAaaahhh!â€? cried Lydia and ran to the direction where the computer room was. We all raced behind 20
her. We ran as fast as we could. Were we being followed? We dashed toward the door of the room and pushed it wide open. We entered in such haste that we stumbled over one another. We fell on the dark cold floor. The door shut behind us. Were we alone? Marios switched on the lights. The bird-like figure was standing right in front of the door. However, it didn’t look so frightening. It resembled the members of the chorus in Aristophanes’ play. “Are you one of the birds in the play? Are you an actor?” we asked. A very familiar voice answered. “It’s me!” The bird took off its mask to reveal a very familiar face. It was Jiola!!! “I’m sorry I gave you such a terrible fright!” she said. “Oh, never mind, Jiola! It’s such a relief that you’re back here safe and sound!” we said giving her a big hug. “But, please, tell us what happened…Why are you dressed like that?” We sat down in a circle and Jiola told us her story. She explained that she had always wanted to be an actress. So when the theatre was full of people and she was close to the stage, she decided to observe the action from backstage. She slipped into the place where the costumes were kept and hid behind a pile of clothes. One of the chorus members hadn’t shown up and they were trying to find a replacement. Then she continued: “So, I dressed up in the bird costume and TA-DA! There I was on stage! It was the happiest day of my life! However, I didn’t mean to scare you. When the play ended, I tried to find you but I was lost in the forest. I hope you forgive me! ” We had already forgiven her. We were so happy her dream had come true. But Jiola had another surprise for us. On the back side of her mask, a finely embroidered letter “C” pointed the end of a new interesting experience. Before taking off perhaps for the last time, we gazed through the west window. Lots of spotlights were showering the theatre of Epidaurus during a modern theatrical performance. Most skillful musicians were playing their divine music. Microphones and loudspeakers, although not necessary, spread the sound all around the place. Some of our best contemporary actors were acting out their roles before a greatly moved audience. We were so tempted to attend this performance as well, but we rested on the thought that we may see it with our parents or 21
teachers one day. So, we let go of this idea and tried to focus on the one and last letter we had to find. Last but not least, “E” called out Marios and Theodore with one voice. “Well, what about “Education”? What other word could be more appropriate!” said Phaedon. We closed our eyes and covered our ears with our hands just before the room was flooded with sound and light. Then we tightly held hands in a circle. The room was spinning and spinning. “Where was it going to stop this time?” we wondered. Our question was soon to be answered. After a while, when everything was as calm as before, we had arrived at the most beautiful garden we had ever seen.
We ran outside without hesitation. We were among blooming flowers and blossoming trees. Large olive groves could be seen in the distance. Butterflies were flying around. The air was sweetly perfumed. Further ahead we saw a gymnasium, beautiful temples and statues. “We must be in Paradise!” we shouted, looking at all this beauty with greedy eyes. 22
We were enchanted! Suddenly, a beardy man of broad build appeared. He looked calm and gentle. He was holding a bunch of olive wreaths and walked toward us with a slow steady pace. “Can he see us?” asked Lydia. Well, he could see us as clearly as a skilled watchman. He approached us smiling. Then he said: “Hello, dear travellers, I’m Plato. Welcome to my Academy!” “Plato! The great Philosopher and Mathematician!” we exclaimed with admiration and greeted him. “You are special kids who have come from afar and must be tired,” he said. “You’ve been on a very demanding journey travelling with persistence, devotion and love. You have almost reached your goal. And you’ve experienced a new real world. Because, you know, apart from the world we can see and feel there’s an invisible world which is revealed only to very few people. It’s the world of ideas! The world of truth! This ideal world can be revealed only if you love knowledge and constantly strive for it! This journey never ends!” Then, he stroked our hair and placed the olive wreaths on our heads. He left without saying goodbye. Smiling. As we saw him depart with the same slow steady pace, we felt that he had always been with us in our travels. Tears flowed from our eyes. Tears of emotion and pride, bringing responsibility. With our fingertips we felt the olive leaves upon our heads. Now we knew why a simple wreath of olive leaves was more valuable than a good sum of money! We followed Plato with our eyes until he reached the end of the path. Then he turned to us holding out a little marble cube in his hand. “This is for you!” he spoke out, leaving the cube at the foot of a tree. Then he vanished. You might be wondering what that cube was. On its white surface the letter “E” was carved. “E” for Education. So there we stood, in the middle of Plato’s garden, still, like statues gazing at the marble cube. Speechless. Then, as in a dream, we placed before the cube everything we had gathered from our travels; the gold medal, the two pieces of pottery, the seashell and the mask. These formed the word GREECE. We called out the name of our country “GREECE!” Then we formed a circle around our travel treasures. A circle like the one on the flag of Europe. On our heads were our olive wreaths. 23
We shouted “GREECE” again. Our voices sounded loud, steady, decisive. And above all, loving and uniting.
So there, in the middle of Plato’s garden, in the middle of the afternoon, a Star began to shine in the sky. It shone very bright. The brightest you have ever seen. We all stretched our hands to reach it. The Star let itself fall softly on our outstretched hands. It was soft and warm. It was the Star of our country, the Star of Greece! Its warm light filled our hearts. It filled our bodies and our souls, making us feel as though we could embrace the whole universe; all the stars, the sun and all the galaxies. And it was exactly at that moment we realized that the Star of our country was never meant to be taken away from us. It had always been shinning inside us, but we were unable to see it. We had neglected our Star and it moved away. So far from us; and, yet, so close. So, we carried the precious Star of our country to our magic room with great care. It came willingly. Back to the present. Back to our school. Our journey was over now! We were again back to the place where everything started; our school. We peeked out of the computer room window and saw the same view we saw every time we had a computer 24
class; our school yard with our classrooms surrounding it. They seemed more welcoming than before. The pine trees in the yard were lit with the golden morning light. The sun was up in the sky. “What time is it?” asked Lydia. “Our parents must be looking for us!” We looked at our watches. It was 9 a.m. No time had passed since we had left. “Hey, that’s my mum over there!” said Tatiana. “She’s hanging the wash in the garden and she’s singing!” “And look at my parents!” said Phaedon. “They’re having their breakfast on the balcony. They’re happy, too!” The warmth of the star of Greece reached out to all the people of our country. Even our parents were happy from that day on. They almost never looked worried again. That sad look disappeared from their faces. And they never played their little old game with us. They never had to. ‘Cause now we had the star of Greece with us! And we treasured it most dearly! To the end of time! Now, what’s left is to wait for the other stars to be found, so that they all can be put back onto the flag of Europe and form a perfect circle. A firm, harmonious circle. From up there, they will be shining over our country and our vast continent. They will be shining a light of unity, peace, love and creativity…