Wind-bound in Nicaria, circa 1740


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 Old stone shelter near Langada in Ikaria
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Hello readers!
I don’t expect this long article to become too popular. It’s just that several modern-day Ikarians show a lot of interest in knowing as much as they can about the more recent history of the island and they are usually very disappointed. Compared with other islands of the Aegean Sea, there is so little to say about Ikaria! No glorious battles, no illustrious rulers, no forts and fleets, no trading towns, no towers, cathedrals and famous monasteries; only mossy stonewalls and old thrifty houses scattered in the ravines, the valleys and the forests in the hills.
Εxcept one Greek Orthodox clergyman in the 17th century, no other educated person from East or West felt the urge to visit the island and write an account. If I’m not mistaken, the first book about the history of Ikaria appeared in the middle of the 20th century. Until then, there was no big narrative but only countless little stories told by the fireplace; persistent little stories which by force of repetition, became local legends; local legends some of which today, by force of time and culture gap, may sound like wild fairy tales.

Imaginary depiction of Charles Perry's ship wind-bound under Cape Papas in Ikaria
Neverthelss, there were some short descriptions of the life in the island during the Obscurity («Αφάνεια») as we like to call in Ikaria the first hard centuries of the Ottoman occupation. These were written by the very few European travelers who touched at our rough, inhospitable shores, often by chance or accident. In Pr A.J. Papalas’ book «Ancient Icaria» I found a reference to one of these documents, which, although brief and trivial, capticated my imagination. It is by Charles Perry, a wealthy medical doctor from England who travelled in the Levant from 1739 to 1742. After visiting Egypt, Perry sailed from Alexandria to Athens. On his way across the Aegean he visited and described the islands of Cos and Patmos. But after that island, as he was heading for Mykonos, his ship was caught in a storm and was forced to drop anchor in Ikaria.

Old settlement in Karkinagri Ikaria I liked Perry’s account. Reading his one and a half page about his accidental visit to Ikaria, I felt the genuine puzzlement of a man of the Century of Lights for the unwelcoming, extremely mountainous environment of the island and his also genuine astonishment (and contempt) for the attitude and the way of life of its inhabitants. But, most of all, I liked his account for a more personal reason: through the eyes of the good old British doctor, I saw some places of western Ikaria which I know very well, such as Karkinagri, Agios Isidoros and Langada, looking as uncanny and wild, as if we were talking about a remote, unfriendly rock in the middle of the South Pacific!
I found that very exciting! In my mind it fitted in with the other tales of my island and their mixture generated cores for several imaginary storylines! Maybe some day I’ll sit down Drawing of Imaginary Ikarians fiesting in the 18th century and write a similar story, this time not from the side of an enlightened European physician, probably wearing a powdered wig, but from the side of the «wretched, almost naked and savage» Ikarians!

😌
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Wind-bound in Nicaria, p.484 «We spent three days in Patmos, not disagreeably; and the fourth in the morning we set sail for Myconos; but the wind, which was otherwise pretty favorable, grew slack, next to a calm; so that it was with much-ado, with what wind we had, and the help of our oars, that we reached the west end of Nicaria in two days. We much lamented our hard fate, that we should thus long want a wind at such a favourable (for it) crisis of the year, it being near the Autumnal Equinox.
However, that night, about an hour after sunset, even whilst we were reproaching the malice of our stars, a fine gale sprang up. We failed not to embrace it immediately, and we went driving on, Jehu-like, with our sails full of wind and our hearts full of joy: But alas! How frail and transitory are human hopes and happiness, especially upon the sea? Within an hour after, the wind turned against us, and blew a storm; so that we were forced to change our course, and to seek shelter under a rock at the west end of Nicaria, which we did not attain, however, without much difficulty and danger.»

Wind-bound in Nicaria, p.485 «Here we lay wind-bound four nights, and above three days; during which irksome interval we amused ourselves in the best manner we could with fishing: But after we had spent two days without other recreation than fishing, that sport grew dull and tedious; and whilst we were looking out for some sport and divertissement, kind Providence (of its grace and favour) sent us the glad tidings that about a mile off, on the side of a high rocky mountain, there was a spring of excellent water, which was resorted to by great number of partridges. Upon this intelligence, (which we got the third day of our detention there) we immediately got ready arms and ammunition of all sorts, as well for the belly as the barrel -such as bread, butter, cheese, salt, pepper, wine, glasses, etc. We marched on directly, (flushed with the hopes of new game) with uncommon ardour, or rather avidity; and we were well recompensed our pains; for we passed that day very agreeably.
The mountain (though in general very steep) admits a sort of level in that place; and the spring of water issues out of a rock, in a very convenient and delightful spot, where nature or chance has formed a sort of grot, large enough to receive and accommodate a dozen or 15 persons. This natural grot (if we may so call it) is covered over, and secured against the weather, by a large flat stone of about 24 feet in diameter: This rests upon and is supported by other stones on all sides, except to the eastward; where, being open, it presents to view a sort of alcove. Here we passed the whole day (which but for that retreat would have been tedious) very agreeably -reclining upon the bed of our grot, with the water trilling along close by us, whilst our partisans upon the hunt for partridges, wild goats, and the like, of which they brought us in good store.»

Wind-bound in Nicaria, p.486 «There are some few inhabitants on this island, but those almost naked and savage, seldom seeing or conversing with any of the human species, except those of their own isle. The second day after we put in there, we sent out some of the mariners a shooting for us, who pursuing their game to the north side of the mountain, met with some of the natives. These were so affrighted at sight of strangers, that they fled from them with precipitation; but our people calling after them, and telling them they had brought them bread and corn, they at last prevailed on them to stop, and come to a party with them. These poor wretches, being at length persuaded of our good intentions, came to see us aboard our vessel, and afterwards brought us good store of grapes and meat. We were really at a loss to guess where they found those things; for the whole island, so far as we could see of it, is the most miserable, barren rock that ever was seen.
The 4th day, towards noon, the wind changing in our favour, we set sail for Myconos, which is 40 miles distant from the westernmost point of Nicaria. This (as it is to be supposed) is a run of about 7 hours, with a good brisk gale…»

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Pages 484-486 from Charles Perry’s book, «A View of the Levant», which I have arbitrarily named «Wind bound in Nicaria», can be found in Google books

Modern books about the history of Ikaria:

Pr A.J.Papalas 'Ancient Icaria' on Amazon.com A presentation of the Greek translation of Pr A.J.Papalas 'Ancient Icaria' in my blog In my blog a rather personal and enthusiastic presentation of Pr A.J.Papalas 'Rebels and Radicals', a book about the history of Ikaria after 1670

Comments on this article are very welcome!
Ελενη

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16 σχόλια on “Wind-bound in Nicaria, circa 1740”

  1. Ο/Η egotoagrimi λέει:
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    It makes a historical tale: a primitive but organized life for the price of freedom and safety. What a bet, those old Ikarians! If only Perry was a romantisist, instead of a classicist…

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    What a great article, sister, from top to bottom!

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    ^^’

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    • Ο/Η Θεοδώριχος λέει:
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      And I think, Nana, about «these poor wretches«, that their incredible hardships, manual labor and constant exposure to mountain weather conditions, but on the other hand, without experiencing any psychological stress or fear other than for the will of God and the forces of nature (including the cruel law of natural selection, I am afraid), forged during the Age of Obscurity that strong DNA which you would agree with me, is mostly responsible for the famous Ikarian longevity.
      If only Perry was a genius like Darwin…

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      Αρέσει σε 5 άτομα

  2. Ο/Η girl of the last chance λέει:
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    A man of the Century of Lights visiting by accident an island in its Age of Obscurity! How —- I can’t find the word —- scenic!

    I liked very much the part with the grot and the spring of fresh water and the partridges and wild goats. Eleni, you think that was in Agios Isidoros?
    Agios Isidoros in Ikaria

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    Αρέσει σε 5 άτομα

  3. Ο/Η elinalafina λέει:
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    How cool, Eleni! Please, write the story now! Let’s beat Pocahontas and Robinson Crusoe in one blow!
    Pocahontas Robinson Crusoe

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    🙂🙂🙂

    Αρέσει σε 5 άτομα

  4. Ο/Η angelosk λέει:
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    First of all, congratulations for another great piece of blogging about … Nicaria!
    🙂
    I know you are waiting for me, so here I go:

    «…we were forced to change our course, and to seek shelter under a rock at the west end of Nicaria»

    That’s definitely your beloved leeward coast of Mavri under Kavo Papas. The «rock» should be mt. Papas itself.

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    «…about a mile off, on the side of a high rocky mountain, there was a spring of excellent water, which was resorted to by great number of partridges. … The mountain (though in general very steep) admits a sort of level in that place; and the spring of water issues out of a rock, in a very convenient and delightful spot, where nature or chance has formed a sort of grot… [It] is covered over, and secured against the weather, by a large flat stone of about 24 feet in diameter: This rests upon and is supported by other stones on all sides, except to the eastward; where, being open, it presents to view a sort of alcove.»

    There are two spots I know that are one steep mile distant from the south side of Kavo Papas and they both have water and ruins of old stone huts (Perry mistakes them for natural cavities) from the middle ages and before. One of them is Agios Isidoros, and knowing that you love that place, I will vote for it.

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    «… [The Ikarians] brought us good store of grapes and meat. We were really at a loss to guess where they found those things; for the whole island, so far as we could see of it, is the most miserable, barren rock that ever was seen.»

    You are absolutely right upon that. The place where they brought the provisions from could not be other than the hidden valley of Langada on the north side of the island. It was impossible for Perry as he was anchored under the steep rocks of Cape Papas to even suspect its existence!

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    I’ll be by your side if ever you decide to write that story!

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    ^^’

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  5. Ο/Η Nicoleta λέει:
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    Very nice article.I havent’t been to Ikaria till now but I follow your blog and with every round I read I feel a little bit closer to this island.I still have hope that someday I will come there.Nice work.

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    ^^’

    Αρέσει σε 1 άτομο

  6. Ο/Η takisggg λέει:
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    ΤΙ ΑΡΘΡΑ ΕΙΝΑΙ ΑΥΤΑ ΕΛΕΝΗ !!!! ΑΥΤΗ ΕΙΝΑΙ ΙΣΤΟΡΙΑ …

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    ^^’

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  7. Ο/Η Greg λέει:
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    Hey sweet Eleni, love this post, but what about the dude who flew too close to the sun? Now that is some epic history, yes?

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    Αρέσει σε 1 άτομο

  8. Ο/Η Greg Johnston λέει:
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    Embrace the myth, real or not its how we in the dark north woods first learn of your island. I want to go there just to see where he splashed down!

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  9. 

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    Just shared this on our Google Plus page and wrote:

    «For any of you who like old stories: A European traveller on a short accidental visit in Ikaria’s westernmost cape, «Kavo Papas», around the year 1740. What he saw, what he did, what he thought.
    A rare and very interesting account of the island’s appearance to an outsider in the so-called «Age of Obscurity» and of course, a great blog article overall.»

    Thanks, Eleni, for your great work!

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    🙂

    Αρέσει σε 2 άτομα


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