An island made of legends
Serifos is one of those places which can be traced way back in history, where the borders between fact and legend become indiscernible. The island’s name has remained unchanged through the ages and the place itself has been linked to some of the greatest mythological heroes of Greece. So, how about a couple of bedtime stories?
Giants and rocks
According to some legends, the supernatural creatures called Cyclopses were the first to inhabit Serifos. Sons of the God of the seas, Poseidon, they were almighty and gigantic and only had one eye in the centre of their forehead, the name Cyclops resulting from the combination of the two Greek words that mean circle (‘kyklos’) and eye (‘ofthalmos’).
The myth that places Cyclopses on Serifos has them being the first to discover the island’s mineral wealth and forming a primitive culture, which they then passed on to humans. It also has them residing at the South-West side of Serifos, at the area between Mega Livadi and Koutalas bay, the rock formations known as “Psaropyrgos” or “Cyclops’ Throne” offering a clear indication of the site. The cave opening that can be found nearby has also been aptly named “Cyclops’ Cave”, since it is thought to have been the residence of the legendary Cyclops called Polyphemus – who will come up again later in another story.
With their great strength and craftsmanship, the Cyclopes supposedly produced a lot of constructions made out of the huge rocks available on the island, with what is left of the Liomantra Walls and Aspros Pyrgos considered as remnands of those legendary days.
Perseus and the frogs
The first renowned Greek hero linked with the island of Serifos is Perseus. Legend has it that when his grandfather Akrisios, King of Argos, received a prophecy that he would be killed by the hand of his grandson, he decided to lock his beautiful daughter Danae up in an underground cell. But he hadn’t taken under consideration, Zeus’ resourcefulness. A known womaniser and philanderer, the father of Gods, was also fathering an illegitimate child every other week. As soon as he set eyes on a woman, she would might as well start preparing for childbirth, because he would charm her one way or another.
The same happened with Danae. Zeus transformed into golden rain and managed to sip through her cell and into her womb. When Akrisios found out that, despite his precautions, Danae was with child – let alone Zeus’ offspring, he devised a new plan. He wouldn’t dare hurt his daughter or her son per se. Instead, he decided to tempt fate, by placing both of them in a golden chest and throwing it at sea…
Enter the shores of Serifos and the local fishermen who fished out the chest and – much to their dismay – found mother and child inside. They brought both of them to their ruler, Diktys, one of the two kings of Serifos. Time went by and Danae and Perseus found a safe haven at Diktys’ palace, with the child growing up to become a bright and skilful young man. But the other king of Serifos, Dikty’s brother Polydektis, soon became enamoured with Danae and tried to get rid of her son, clearing the way to their marriage. Under false pretences, which are not really essential to this part of the story, Polydektis managed to convince Perseus to travel as far as the mythical island of Gorgoni and bring him back Medusa’s head – Medusa being a horrific creature in the shape of a woman with a head full of… snakes. Her gaze had the power of petrifying anyone who dared look her in the eye.
And so Perseus went on a perilous journey. But he wasn’t alone. He had the help of not one, but two Gods. Athena had given him a bronze shield and Hermes a sword. Along the way, he even got more gadgets to help his quest, after visiting the Nymphae: Pluto’s helmet, a pair of winged sandals (to fly over water) and a satchel that could expand or dwindle into the shape of anything he wanted to carry within it. When he finally reached Gorgoni and faced Medousa, Perseus covered himself behind Athena’s shield to hide away from the creature’s petrifying gaze and so managed to disarm and behead her.
Upon his return to Serifos, Perseus showed his trophy to an astonished Polydektis, turning both him and his court-men into stone on the spot – and starting yet another legend about the reason the island’s terrain is so… rocky. Diktys was then left as the only king of Serifos and ruled the rest of his days in peace, while Danae and Perseus finally returned to their homeland, Argos, where the original prophecy (of Perseus killing his grandfather) sadly came to be. It was actually an accident, but that is another story…
An interesting byline: Yet another legend has it that when Perseus returned victorious from his adventure and was done with Polydektis et alia, he decided to take a long overdue nap. Much to his dismay though, the Serifos’ frogs (of which there were plenty) wouldn’t stop croaking. So, he asked his godly father, Zeus, to make them stop. A creature of hyperbole, actually took the poor animals’ voice away for good and from then on, frogs in Serifos were… mute! This story is the source of an interesting ancient proverb, “speechless frog” or “Serifean frog”, which was widely used in classical times to characterize a person without a voice. It was actually a snide comment reserved for those not gifted with the ability to orate (aka speak in public).
Nobody and the Fool
According to ancient Greece’s greatest storyteller, Homer, one of his most famous and beloved heroes, Odysseus (Ulysses) also spent some time on Serifos, which is thought to be one of his and his crewmen many stops on their way home from the Trojan War. Shipwrecked on the island, Odysseus and his crew started looking around for food and soon found themselves inside a huge cave. There was noone there at the time, but there was plenty of food and drink and so they ate and drunk to their heart’s content and fell asleep. To their dismay they soon realised that the cave (and food and drink) belonged to the scariest Cyclops of them all, Polyphemus, who blocked the entrance of the cave imprisoning them. And if that wasn’t enough, he started eating them two by two.
Famous for his sharp wit, Odysseus devised a rescue plan. He first got Polyphemus drunk on sweet wine. When the Cyclops asked to learn his name, Odysseus answered that people called him “Nobody”. As soon as the giant fell into slamber, Odysseus sharpened a stick and, with the help of his remaining crewmen, ran it all the way into Polyphemus’ only eye. Blinded with pain, the creature started yelling to his brother Cyclopses “Help, he is blinding me”. But when the others came out of his cave and asked “Who is blinding you?”, Polyphemus answered “Nobody”. And so, his brothers thought he was drunk and left without helping him.
The next day, when Polyphemus lifted the huge rock he used to block the entrance of his cave with, to let his herds out, Odysseus and his comrads hid beneath the bellies of the beasts and so managed to escape the blind Cyclops’ touch, as their hosts exited the cave. Furious with defeat, Polyphemus picked up the huge rock from the entrance of his cave and flug it blindly at the sea, barely missing Odysseus’ ship. This action is said to have formed the islet of Mikronisi, located South-West of Kalo Livadi.
And so, Odysseas went on with his journey, and Polyphemus was forever mocked by his brothers…
An interesting byline: The adventures of Odysseus are told in the homeric saga “Odyssey”, while the earlier saga “Iliad” describes the story of the Trojan War, including a list of all the ships from the Greek cities that took part in the crusade for the restoration of Paris’ wrongdoing. Serifos is missing from this catalogue, leading experts to believe that the island’s rulers had actually sided with the Trojans and not the Greeks. Treachery among the ancient? Who would have thought…