In the preface to Bitter Lemons, Lawrence Durrell mentioned with regret that “the cutting of my overgrown typescript removed the names of many friends to whom I am deeply indebted for material on Cyprus” (11). Curiously, the typescript of this volume that Durrell sent to Faber and Faber was barely trimmed at all.1 On the other hand, the typescript of his earlier book on Rhodes, Reflections on a Marine Venus, had been severely cut by his editor at Faber and Faber, Anne Ridler. After the publication of Reflections, Durrell wrote to his friend Theodore Stephanides: “Glad the Rhodes book amused you—cut in half as it was—I can’t bear it” (Spirit of Place 119). Durrell exaggerates just slightly, for only about a third of typescript did not make it into the published version.
“Dream, Divinations,” the chapter published here for the first time, was the only complete chapter that disappeared from Reflections as it moved from typescript to published text. It was numbered chapter 6, and so placed in between “In the Garden of the Villa Cleobolus” and “The Three Lost Cities.” Its removal from the book occasioned no changes in the end or beginning of those two chapters. Still, it is interesting to know that “In the Garden of the Villa Cleobolus” ends with an invitation from Gideon to “come visit us” at the house that he and Gideon have taken outside of town, and that “Dreams, Divinations” is an account of Durrell and E. making that visit. Further, “Dreams, Divinations” concludes with the phrase, “Chaire. Be Happy.” And that phrase will play a role in the following chapter, when Durrell and his companions spend a night in the ruins of the ancient city of Cameirus. “Dreams, Divinations” fell out of the book without the need to change a word, but something was still lost when it disappeared.2
There are hints in the published text of the existence of “Dreams, Divinations.” The most prominent and significant is in the chapter “The Little Summer of Saint Demetrius” when, during a stop at Cos, Durrell said that “There is no time to see the Aesculapium on this visit, as it lies some way outside of town” (61). That is the only mention of the famous sanctuary of healing on Kos available to the reading public, even though Durrell mentions visiting all of the other major sites in the Dodecanese islands outside of Rhodes town (Lindos, Cameirus, and the monastery at Patmos). In fact, he had focused almost an entire chapter on the Aesculapium, and, the phrase “on this visit” above served as lead for his account of the time that he did visit the sanctuary. Further, there is a thematic link between sleepers having the dreams of other people and the Abbot of Patmos receiving phone calls from a mysterious Major Anthony which may or not be for him. But with one of the elements left out, we don’t see the pattern that Durrell has created concerning messages that somehow reach those for whom they are not intended..
Ridler may have thought that the quality of this chapter was not up to the rest of the book, although it is hard to see why. The opening descriptions of the colors of autumn on Rhodes are lyrical. Durrell slowly builds to his discussion with Sand about dreams, but the pages on the state of house and the banter between the congenial and already familiar characters are amusing. When Durrell finally gets to the discussion of Aesculapius and the dream therapy that occurred in the god’s sanctuary, it is late in the night and he has set the stage for it. Finally, there is the question to E. at the end and her answer (“Are you happy?” “Yes, . . . In a new kind of way. A Greek way”). Durrell’s explanation that this kind of happiness was a “primal attribute of place, whose god of operation had selected this chain of sunburnt island as his province of operation.” The god in question should be Helios, but, in this context, might be Aesculapius. And that makes sense, as there is a reason that Durrell wants Sand to confirm that there was an Aesculapium on Rhodes as well oneon Kos. From his interest in the patterns of history, we know exactly where Durrell wants it to be—on the very spot where the Knights of St. John had their famous hospital.
Did Ridler want to drop “Dreams, Divinations” because an early version, entitled “Can Dreams Live on When the Dreamers Died,” had been published in The Listener, the magazine of the BBC, in October 1947? It was not the only part of Reflections to be published before the book appeared. “The Telephone,” a version of his visit to Patmos in a storm, was published in a Greek translation by Michalis Papathanasi in the Rhodian magazine Techni just before Durrell left the island. But, of course, the English reading public would not have seen that. It is worth noting that Durrell significantly rewrote his account of dreams for Reflections on a Marine Venus, and there was a long time lag between the publication of the short piece in 1947 and the appearance of Reflections in 1953. While Ridler might not have wanted to include the chapter because elements of it had appeared in The Listener, it is hard to see why that would have been a cogent reason.
Along with the nightmares recounted in “Dreams, Divinations,” the typescript contained vampire stories told in the ruins of Cameirus and other paranormal phenomena.
After the vampire stories, Durrell and Mills take a walk among the ruins and discuss whether there was any truth to the stories. “It would sound crazy . . . anywhere. Somehow not here. Somehow not in Greece” (T 165). Those lines were also penciled out. While there is no definitive evidence, a case can be made that Ridler excised some of these references to give a sunnier atmosphere to the book. Durrell included two chapters, “Orientations in Sunlight” and “Dreams, Divinations,” balancing day and night. Whatever else one can say about Ridler’s cuts, they oriented the book more to sunlight.
Durrell visited the sanctuary of Aesculapius at Epidaurus once before World War II, in December 1939. His comment in “Dreams, Divinations” that he could “not recall who my companions were” is completely disingenuous as the only companion he had with him was his first wife Nancy.3 There is no record in any letters or other writing of the time of a conversation about nightmares with the custodian of the site. Indeed, in the poem written shortly after the visit Durrell would say the “only disorder is what we bring here” and at the sanctuary “we are safe from everything but ourselves.” In the later accounts of this visit, described either in The Listener in 1947 or Reflections or The Greek Islands, the ‘disorder’ comes from the dreams of people long dead that still haunt the area. If Durrell did have a conversation about nightmares at Epidaurus in 1939, it seems to have gained importance for Durrell after he encountered the Aesculapium in the late 1940s.
“Dreams, Divinations” deserves to be read, both for the contribution it makes to Durrell’s overall conception of the Rhodes book and for what it has to say about the dream therapy of the Aesculapium. In an excised passage from the opening chapter, we are told “On islands . . . there is no present past and future. We live in the historic present. For the true islomane time on island is abolished” (T3). The dreams that live on after the dreamers have died is one important example of the abolishment of time. In offering a complete chapter that has never been published, the best comment is the one that ends the chapter itself. “XAIPE– Be Happy.”
The late summer has surrendered all its promises, the last of the figs from Kalavarda, and the small yellow grapes which come from some anonymous vineyard in the eastern corner of the island. St. Demetrius has been duly celebrated by the unstapping [?] of casks, and the dancing on the green to the humming and picking of mandolines. And now autumn itself is hanging by a hair. Walking across the ravines below the Malpasso you are aware of the sound of running water, like the hushing of strings before the opening statements of winter. The gravel stirs at the bottom of the river-beds and the long stiff hedges of reed move in the north wind with the noise of starched linen.
These last fine days have the hesitation of something valedictory, something about to pour itself away into the abyss of the seasons, to join all those other years and days of sunshine we hardly counted as they passed. The sunsets of Rhodes are justly celebrated but at no time are they so wonderful as in the autumn. Each is different – each is dedicated to a different colour of the spectrum: and while the hot lilac skies are still over us by daylight, dusk brings a pale mist to blot out the channel and the mountains opposite, so that to stand after sundown upon the great crest of Monte Smith is like standing upon the bridge of a ship moving through mist.
The hour before darkness is the richest of all. The red gold and green tones of the sinking sun slant down upon the Villa Cleobolus, picking out the Mufti as he stands in his tight-shanked cotton trousers, leaning upon his broom-handle to watch the great drift of scented eucalyptus leaves, brushed down from his tombs, crackle and wither in the flames. The fire-light winks upon the domes of the little Turkish vaults with their barred windows, trembling for a moment upon the white turban on a tomb, or upon a line of carved Arabic dappled with lichens. And if you walk through the town by this soft light you see how it plays upon objects with a new accent, as if restoring, freshness and beauty to the simple forms of boats, nets, and ploughs – objects which custom has staled: but which glow now with some of the mysterious force of the symbols from which they were derived, the wheel, the cone, the line.
It was in such a weather that E. and I set out yesterday to visit Gideon and Hoyle in the house they have rented on the Trianda road. In the old stadium the goats cropped at the wet grass which was studded with bright anemones, unwrapped by the warm fingers of the new rain. The warm rays of the sun filtered through a cloud-bank to rest for a moment upon the shattered pillars of the temple. The sea was very still, veined like gray marble, and reflecting back the chain of coloured houses and the white minaret which marks the site of Mixi. Walking along the spine of the hill, where the cliff fell sheer away below one, the travelling eye, so much greedier and quicker than legs are, had already marked Trianda, where the houses of scorched and peeling summer plaster lay among dense green orchards and opposed their warped green shutters to the damps of the dark sea. Houses of suffocating rose, of lilac, with coloured belfries and squat Turkish chimneys, their walls speckled with coloured lichens and marks of damp – the whole lying spread out upon the ground of green and veined-grey like spots of vivid gouache in a Miro.
At every turn in the leisurely mule-track which took us down the valley the strange powdery brilliance of the plaster, the whitewash, the water-paint, struck upwards into the opaque evening air with a trembling radiance: so that so simple an object as a Greek village seemed to have been assembled from the broken fragments of some discarded rainbow. Somewhere in the corner of the picture a single white windmill lazily turned and turned, standing like an egg-cup on the green plain, while the bossy summit of Phileremo, darkened with shadow, allowed itself a few momentary touches from a pencil of sunbeam which caressed it once, twice – like the stealthy brush of a master – and withdrew again. It took us the better part of an hour to reach the cross-roads. Here we turned right, and left the high road for a narrow track which wound down among the orchards and the grey spreads of olive which stood between us and the silent sea. The house stood back behind a white wall, perched awry upon the great plumes of cypresses and walnut that clustered behind it. It was called Villa Mondolfo, and despite the narrow grated windows which betrayed Turkish origins, and the squat tower with its arrow-vents, you could see at a glance that its most recent tenants had been house-proud Italians if only because the rooms gave out upon a spotless pillared loggia whence white pigeons swooped and called, busy with the task of stealing from the adjacent fields. The gravel drive, with its hedges of box, turned to the left and led you to the old doorway, with its crazy escutcheon of water-painted stone.
The door was opened by an old peasant woman who led the way rapidly through a number of low cool rooms, stone- flagged and dark, towards the kitchen. Here we found our friends, sitting in attitudes of weary dejection at a low window, drinking wine from tea-cups and staring out upon the unkept [?] gardens with their yellow mulberries and currant bushes. A fire roared in the grate. Three small children played with a cat upon the flags before it, while Serjeant Croker stood upon a step-ladder with his lipscompressed about some pins, holding up a length of coloured material which was obviously destined one day to serve as a curtain. Both Gideon and Hoyle were wearing aprons. They looked tired out: “You have intruded,” said Gideon, “at a moment of the wildest farce. Hoyle and I were just deciding to move back to the hotel. We simply can’t get this place straight, what with dogs, children, mosquitos, and lack of womenfolk.” Hoyle poured himself out a glass of wine with shaking hand. “I had no idea that setting up house was such a trial,” he said.
They had spent three days trying to reduce the house to some sort of order, having haughtily refused all help from Chloe and E. This was the result. The two camp-beds upon which they slept stood against the wall. In the shelter of the porch stood a tremendous mound of assorted furniture, waiting to be placed inside. The kitchen was bulging with dirty cups and saucers from their latest meal. “It looks,” I said, “not unlike a bombed signal-station on the Rimini front. Why not kick out the children?” Gideon groaned. “We have. They keep coming back. I tried to frighten them but the servant is their mother and we’re afraid she’ll leave.” We selected a cane chair each from the pile in the porch and sat ourselves down at the table. Serjeant Croker took this opportunity to fall off the step-ladder. He sat looking gravely up at us from thefloor, the iron-shod army boots turned upwards like palms, his carefully-tended spitcurl over one eye. “I beg pardon, sir,” he said in that grave beadle’s voice with its flat north-country accent. “I don’t know how it happened.” Gideon did not even turn round. “You see?” he said to E. And then turning to Croker he added “It’s quite all right, my dear fellow. Smash anything you like. When you are finished we will pour some petrol over the walls and set fire to the damned place – won’t we Hoyle?” Serjeant Croker looked at him reproachfully as he folded up his length of material and dusted his battle-dress down. “I’m sorry, sir,” he said, “I get dizzy on ladders.” Gideon poured him out a cup full of wine. “Here,” he said with a fine irony, “drink this down. You should have told us you had no head forheights.” The serjeant drank with a smooth tilting action such as only a beer-drinker brought up on pint-measures could achieve. The dark wine slid smoothly into the battle-dress. He wiped his mouth on the back of his hand, replaced the cup, and withdrew, still wearing a faintlyreproachful look. The children began to run up the ladder and jump off the top of it on to the stone floor. E. caught them by the hair and propelled them into the courtyard. “Now,” she said, “when Chloe comes we can get at least one room straight for you.” The faintest gleam of hope lit up the eye of Hoyle./ He undid his apron and sighed. “Your dinner,” he said, “will consist of a stew eaten by firelight, and washed down by some wine – can you. bear it?”
With the arrival of Manton and his wife things seemed to take on a more hopeful colour; Chloe and E. set about tidying the room and laying places for dinner, while the three of us went outside to help Manton admire the new hamerless twelve-bore shotgun which he had bought from an Italian. He promised us a continuous supply of woodcock, quail and turtle-dove for the pot – and was only dissuaded from adding venison to the list by Gideon’s expressed conviction that the deer on Monte Profeta would certainly keep well out of range of ball cartridge, and would require something like a Winchester rifle. After a quarter of an hour’s posturing and aiming at trees, and crying “Bang”, the temptation to actually fire the shotgun was too much for Gideon. Manton produced a couple of crumpled cartridges whose tired cases betrayed the handiwork of an amateur loader, and snapped them into the barrels. A large supercilious pigeon, entering into the spirit of the thing, posed itself upon a cornice above our heads, within easy range. “What a temptation,” sighed Gideon, squinting along the gleaming tube of steel. The pigeon put its head on one side and watched him with detachment. “Once I embraced Buddhism”, said Gideon softly, “and became a vegetarian. Until I read of Bose’s experiments in measuring the heart-beats of trees. It made nonsense of the whole idea of …” He pressed the trigger. There was a crash. The pigeon leapt smartly into the air and sprang into the nearest tree. A chip of white plaster and a tail-feather fell into the courtyard. “Damn,” said Gideon. The ejector snapped smartly and the steaming case fell at my feet. There is no smell quite so delicious as the smell of an empty cartridge case with, its warm fumes of cordite. It was passed from nose to nose. Hoyle collected the one grey feather from the courtyard and handed it to Gideon with a flourish. “I think these cartridges are loaded with sparrow- dust,” said Gideon, and to prove his theory he fired the second barrel into the white wall. It was indeed so. We were examining the pattern when Chloe appeared and called us all in to dinner.
“The stew is burnt and the wine is too young,” said Hoyle sorrowfully, “But if you two females can help us getsettled here we promise you better fare in future.” Tact prevented me from reminding Gideon of his last letter in which he had described so optimistically the life he proposed to lead here. The firelight leapt and glanced upon his red face as he spoke. We sat in a semi-circle round the hearth, balancing our plates upon our laps, and before the meal was ended we were joined by Sand. First we heard the noise of his car and then the timid and diffident tread of his heavy army boots in the loggia. “May I…?” he enquired as always, apologetically, mildly, his innocent face puckered about the stem of a pipe. “I have a story to tell you … just an idea. Might interest you Gideon.” His archeological excursions had taken him very far afield to visit other islands, and for the past month we had seen little of him. He drew up a chair, accepted a piece of bread and butter, and balanced his wine upon the arm of his chair, before speaking. “First,” he said, “I nearly forgot. A present for Manton.” And groping in the pockets of his coat he produced a little Roman terra cotta figure which, he said, they had dug up the day before in the old town. Manton was delighted, “This,” said Sand shyly,”is in the nature of a bribe. I hope it will prevent him from doing unauthorised digging by moonlight.” Manton blushed, and Gideon began to laugh. For some time past Manton had been confessing to solitary excursions in the direction of Cameirus where, with the help of a couple of orderlies, he had been working over the diggings with an entrenching tool and a jack- knife. His private collection of treasure had grown to include two small decorated scent-bottles, and a packing-case full of shards which he hoped one day to assemble into amphorae. Sand sucked at his pipe and went on. “For some time past we have been interested in the question of unauthorised digging. We didn’t know who was doing it. But at several places we found traces of the most diligent work. At Cameirus the western wall of the town looks as if a herd of wild elephants had been attacking it, while at Alaerma somebody had been busy with an electric drill – to judge by the holes in the landscape.”
“Come,” said Manton uncomfortably, “Don’t exaggerate, dear old thing. It’s a vice we leave to Gideon.”
“The peasants,” pursued Sand, “told us that these marks were made at night by a man in a black coat; They said he was probably a vampire as he cast no shadow, even at full moon. We, in the department, called him ‘The Shadder’.”
Manton writhed in his chair, torn between his joy at the terra cotta figure which he was rubbing his fingers over, and his shame at this public recital of his misdeeds. “Well, we have been watching ‘The Shadder’ for some time. He has kept us out of bed. Last week while I was away he was operating at Cameirus. Then my spies told me that he had moved south to Ialysos. We waited, ready to pounce on him. Finally ‘The Shadder’ slipped up. At the bottom of a trench he had dug he … dropped his Identity Card. Imagine our pain and chagrin to discover that it was someone personally known to us, and deeply esteemed by all of us. Imagine, Manton, our pain at discovering that one of our closest friends was a vulgar shard-snatcher, whose experience was so limited that he was crashing from culture to culture, ploughing up the ground about him in search of fragments, and making life more difficult for the professional archeologists who would have to work over his leavings.”
“Come,” said Manton in anguish. “Don’t exaggerate, old thing.” Sand unbuttoned the breast pocket of his battle-dress and extracted a clay-discoloured Identity Card which he handed over to his victim. “The Shadder is unmasked,” he said. “Call Serjeant Croker and have him put under arrest.” Gideon was delighted. “I knew you’d be found out,” he said, in great good humour. “After all, you’ve been going about with your boots full of Cameirus clay for the past month.” Manton looked so completely discountenanced that one could not help laughing.
Sand leaned against the hearth and warmed his hands at the fire. ”There is, however,” he said, “another sinister influence at work. It is perhaps a little premature to speak of his activities. He has been described at a confidence-trickster disguised in a major’s uniform, who makes a point of buying ancient coins illicitly in the town. He has offered my diggers the price of a shilling per ancient coin, if they will treat with him privately instead of dealing with the museum authorities as they should…” It was Gideon’s turn to look uncomfortable. His mania for ancient coins was a weakness which he had kept secret. I had discovered it by accident through my Greek editor, who was an equally ardent if unprincipled collector. Gideon, he told me one day, made a point of sneaking down to the dig in the town and bargaining for coins, which he carried about him in a little velvet purse. “This second figure,” said Sand quietly, “we have christened Captain Foulenough, and we expect to run him to earth this coming week.” Gideon whistled softly to himself and examined the darkness outside the window with simulated attentiveness. “I wonder who he can be,” he said, in a tone of voice which left hardly any room for doubt. Hoyle pursed his lips virtuously and sipped his wine. Perhaps Gideon had already confided in him. It was obvious from the smile on E.’s face that she was under no doubts as to the identity of Captain Foulenough. “Well,” said Sand. “That’s all I can say for the moment. Foulenough will be in our hands in a day or so. I shall be interested to see his collection, which I believe he carries on his person.” Gideon was looking acutely uncomfortable. Manton burst out laughing. “Why do you laugh?” said Sand mildly. “O nothing,” said Manton, blowing his nose and giggling. Gideon was struggling against his blushes. “O nothing, nothing at all.” “Why are you looking at me?” said Gideon testily. “I assure you that this has nothing to do with me, nothing whatsoever.” Sand adopted a pained expression. “But of course not,” he said softly, caressingly, as if he were soothing the anxiety of very small child. “I never thought for an instant, Gideon…”
“Coins,” said Gideon scornfully.
“But Gideon – ”
“What would one want with old coins?”
He was beginning to work himself into a fit of righteous indignation over the matter. It was time to spare his guilty blushes. I refilled the glasses and took up a great pine-log from the hearth. Its dry outer bark caught fire instantly and began to burn while sputters of blue resin trickled slowly from it. “Coins!” said Gideon once more.
“There’s something else I wanted to talk to you about,” I said to Sand, “when you have finished your account of criminal activities on the island. It’s about Aesculapius. As you know I’ve been interested in the cult for some time and live in hopes of doing a book on it, and what astonishes me is that they haven’t discovered an Aesculapium on Rhodes.” Sand nodded patiently, for we had already touched upon the topic at the time of his discovery – the inscription from the temple of Aesculapius in Rhodes town. Unfortunately the inscription had been swept into a pit along with other fragments unearthed by the German sappers, and there was no way of telling from where they had dug it up, “Of course,” he said, “we know that there was a temple in the town. As for a centre of healing, it does seem impossible that an island so near Cos, and so like it in many ways, shouldn’t contract the religious infection which spread all so widely over Greece. Roscher, for example, calculates that there must have been some three hundred and twenty temples to the God scattered about all over Greece. The sick were healed in most of them, one imagines. Several became famous – Trikka, Cos, and Epidaurus. Later on Pergamos became popular, too. My bet is that ancient Rhodes had more than one site sacred to the God. Just south of Jannadi, for example, there is a little town called Sclipio. By the way, ‘The Shadder’ also operated here a week or so ago. I don’t know what he discovered, if anything.”
“Not a thing,” said Manton.
“Why don’t you co-opt Manton,” suggested Hoyle, “and divert his energies into orthodox channels?”
“That’s right. Make him go straight.”
“I was going to suggest that,” said Sand. “I just got some money – not very much: and I am proposing to try a couple of casts about Sclipio to see whether we can find anything. Would you care to help?”
“Would I? Just ask me.”
“I am asking you.”
But now the conversation broke into a hundred tributaries and I was free to talk to Sand upon a subject which has fascinated m..e since first I came to Greece: dreams. Hoyle and Manton had begun a rowdy and inattentive game of draughts; the womenfolk began to organise the washing-up of the supper dishes. Left before the fire with a great blue jug of Hoyle’s wine, smoked and scented, it might almost seem, from the burning resin leaking from the wood in blue pennons, we were free to explore those outposts of myth and legend which have always been the most attractive to idle minds; and above all when gathered together in the speculative idleness of remote islands; minds which the sun has warmed up, and whose theft of animal well-being from the body makes them feel free to expand outside themselves and the narrow bounds of ordinary conversations to which habit has confined them.
I had known little or nothing about dreams that sunny morning when we set off for Epidaurus in 1939. That for XXth century man responsibility began in dreams – so much I had heard; but I had no clear idea of how much of the subconscious marshland Freud md drained and cleared for cultivation, nor of the techniques he had formulated to reduce the lovely tangled imagery of dreams into a coherent pattern of the dreamer’s preoccupation. It was only some years later that, by a stroke of chance, I found myself living in a house with a library, when my host, whose judgement I trusted, told me it was my duty as a writer to examine the series of fantastic hypotheses upon which dream-interpretation is founded.
I had also, at that time, stumbled upon a small group of cabbalists working in Egypt, to whom I went for lessons in hermetic philosophy, and who made a great play with dreams – taking them as a sort of coloured tarot pack of symbols which mirrored, not personal guilts so much, but decrees of esoteric knowledge achieved or sought for. It was through them that I found myself studying the ancient authorities on divination who had first divided dreams into their five categories of which the fifth was dreams of an oracular kind.
It had crossed my mind too that in Freud we might have stumbled upon something already known to the priests of the ancient temples who set their patients to dream within the sacred precincts, and found in the dreamer’s account of his experience, the pattern of a diagnostic. Alas! so little is known of ancient healing that the lack of evidence has enabled the scholar to push aside the whole theory of Aesculapian healing as hocus pocus; but it did seem to me then that the analyst’s horsehair sofa bore more than a superficial resemblance to the pallet of the dreamer in incubatio. The common point of reference was the dream, though for modern man the grave bearded God of healing had been replaced by the God of reason.
This brought back to my mind a forgotten spring visit to Epidaurus – that magical valley which even today causes a hush in the mind as one crosses the shallow hills to the green bowl where the temple stands; vague and undefined as the premonition of an experience as yet out of reach – an experience perhaps which will never be reducible by logic to plain statement – the valley fans out like a carpet, its boundaries marked by the green boles of hills behind which one can hear the silken alliterations of the sea breaking along those deserted promontories.
I have forgotten who my companions were, but they were quiet ones. I remember us making our way separately about the ruins, sitting in the warm stone seats of the theatre to stare up to where, again the blue sky, arbutus and holm oak etched their breezy patterns. And consonant with all the deep merged silence of the place came the chirping of swallows, and the furry preoccupied drudging of bees.
The keeper of the Museum was a pleasant enough fellow, the fifth son of a schoolmaster who lived beyond the temple in a little hut with a wife and two children, ekeing out his small salary with vegetables from a neighbouring plot. He was not over-talkative, as these people often are, and after a desultory attempt to air his knowledge, yawned and left us alone in the museum to rejoin his two children who were, like sparrows, having a dust-bath by the well.
I remember nothing of the museum save the huge stone representation of the God, whose long curling hair gave him a strange Assyrian look; outside in the sunshine the guide accepted a cigarette and showed some disposition to talk. He offered no commaent at our praises for the beauty and seclusion of the valley, and when I expressed envy for his work in such a place, he wrinkled up his face and said “As for me, I’ve got a transfer to be keeper at Mycaenae. And I’m glad to be off.” Mycaenae! We echoed the word with some surprise, recalling the grim mountain fortress with its blood-soaked ruins. Did he know it? Yes, he knew it. “As for me,” he repeated, “I’m off and glad of it. Epidaurus looks beautiful to you, but it must be unhealthy. One sleeps very badly here.” He half smiled, as if not expecting us to believe his next remark which was indeed rather a surprising one. “It’s the dreams,” he said, “one dreams terribly here. Ask anyone who lives here.” I remember as I write the peculiar nasal way he pronounced the word “dreams”; it seemed Laconian in accent. “What sort of dreams?” somebody asked him. “Nightmares.” He described a rather muddled and terrifying dream which he had had the night before.
While our knap-sacks were being loaded and the car turned I took my camera and walked back to the theatre to take a picture which I had noticed earlier in the day. The guide walked beside me, still chatting about dreams and nightmares. Something else he said was also interesting:”The children dream too. And you know, what? My girl said that once in a dream a big bearded man had appeared to her. I asked her to describe him, and from the description it sounded like that statue in the museum. To the best of my knowledge they have never seen it anyway because I don’t allow them inside the museum. Don’t you think it is strange?”
It was strange. I could not help remembering the appearance of the God to the ancient dreamers. I questioned the guide but found that though he knew a few facts about Epidaurus, chiefly details of sites, he did not seem to know anything about the incubation-technique.
As the tyres munched their way along the dirt roads which led us out of the valley, the sea rising slowly on our left, we discussed the guide’s story which seemed then one of those pleasant fantasies with which lonely and semi-literate people beguile themselves for lack of anything better to do. I remember someone saying: “Why shouldn’t one saturate a valley with dreams, if thousands upon thousands of people came here intent upon the specific dream which would cure them?” That was all very well. Could such dreams live on after the dreamers themselves were dead? The idea was pleasing if a little frightening.
After all, what sort of human current, what pattern of affect, surrounds shrines like Lourdes and Tinos, generated by the collective wish? Could such a pattern, like an electric current, be absorbed into the landscape and retained like a hidden spring …. But I am not even sure that I went as far as this in my speculations then; the incident vanished from my mind and returned only many years later when my studies in Egypt had touched the frontiers of the hermetic philosophies which also acknowledge the force and meaning of the dream.
I have no doubt that all this would have sounded unremarkable enough to Gideon and Sand had I not been able to add one more small incident to strengthen the slender chain of my hypothesis. A month ago I visited Cos for a day and a night; leaving Gideon in town I had borrowed a jeep in order to explore the ruins of the Aesculapium which lie some little way outside Cos itself, in the lap of a green hillside overlooking the sea. The greater part of the ruins have suffered, as so much else in the Dodecanese, from the tastelessness of the latest governor whose mania for restoration has resulted in some of the ugliest architecture in Rhodes and other islands of the group. But the site .itself was so beautiful that one hardly noticed, for in the clear sunshine the green orchards ran away down to an enamel sea. A family of eagles whistled overhead with slow powerful wing-beats, to settle in some secret corner of the ruins.
On the crown of the hill I saw a small lean-to and, approaching it, found it inhabited by two soldiers of the R.A.S.C. who appeared to be ammunition-gatherers working a nearby dump of anti-aircraft shells. I passed the time of day, and accepted the offer of a cup of tea. I do not know what it was that made me comment on the exposed site they had chosen for their lean-to shelter of canvas – perhaps a wind sprang up. At any rate one of them replied that they had originally camped in the ruins themselves and pointed to where below us stretched the green grassy squares divided up by walls and colonnades. “My chum didn’t like it,” he said, “so we moved up here.” The chum was a very taciturn Yorkshireman who hung his head at this; his companion went on in a teasing fashion. “He had awful nightmares and kept me awake.” The Yorkshireman seemed about to say something unpleasant in return but he pursed his lips and went on pumping the Primus stove. “But he sleeps like a baby up here, don’t you mate?”
At once I remembered Epidaurus. I tried to pursue the subject further but without success. The dreamer obviously disliked having his leg pulled and obstinately refused to tell me anything more about the experience. But I thought then that I would take the first opportunity of sleeping out in the ruins of the temple to see what sort of dreams I had.
These idle fancies, retailed over red wine in the firelight of that autumn night, provoked the interest of at least one of my listeners. Gideon announced quite firmly that he would second me and begin a dream-notebook when next he found himself in Cos. Sand was too factual in his habits of mind to produce more than a gentle scepticism. “Dreams,” he said, “are not real things. You poets get reality mixed up too often.”
But by now the draughts-plavers had ceased and the women had returned, and our conversation branched off into other fields. It was time to say goodnight, for Hoyle had brought out his monumental timepiece and treated it to the time-honoured ritual, shaking it twice, holding it against his ear, and then winding it up.
The old duty-car would be waiting for us on the Trianda road. We built up the fire and said goodnight to the two bachelors who were profuse in their thanks for all the feminine energy which had been spent on their behalf.
“Tomorrow”, said Chloe, “I shall spend the whole day out here getting you straight and whipping your servants into shape. You are very weak with them, Gideon.”
“You must take a firm line.”
“It’s no good repeating ‘I know’.”
It was raining lightly outside. Serjeant Croker appeared with a lantern to lead us down the drive and through the orchard to the road where our rendezvous with the duty-car was to take place.
Smell of rain-washed lemons and earth renovated by the spade! Branches of raindrops brushed our lips in the orchard.
“Goodnight, sir,” said the Serjeant mournfully as the headlights of our car approached us.
We echoed his sleepy goodnight and climbed aboard to watch the headlights cut their silver screens of rain as they swept us back along the lower road to the town.
“Are you happy?” I asked E.
“Yes,” she said thoughtfully, “In a new sort of way. A Greek way.”
I knew what she meant, for somehow in Greece happiness – animal unthinking happiness – was the norm. It flowed out of good spirits and good health in a way that was simpler and more natural than happiness in other lands and climates. It was a primal attribute of place, whose god had selected this chain of sunburnt islands as his province of operation.
XAIPE – “Be happy.”
1. On the differences between the typescript and the published text of Bitter Lemons, see Roessel, “A Selected Fiction?: Lawrence Durrell and the Overgrown Typescript of Bitter Lemons.”
2. The first paragraph of “The Three Lost Cities” was removed. It read:
What of the three ancient cities which once dominated the politics and government of the island before the foundation of Rhodes. I should long since have answered the question to my own satisfaction had not the multiplicity of sources and cross-references not forced upon me the need for what you might call digestive selection. Torr’s material is cumberously arranged; Bileotti wraps fact and conjecture in the same wrappers of rhetoric, and often gives no sources. Meanwhile, I have been anxious not to overload my canvas with too much detail for fear of damaging the pattern of evocations which it is my intention to build upon the armature of a precise location—the grassy island of the sun-beloved God which nourishes our own temporal present.
One can understand why it would seem more elegant to begin the next chapter of the typescript, which now serves as the opening in the book. “The function of all this in history is a precise one.” But this is an aesthetic choice, not one made to make a new transition after the removal of “Dreams, Divinations.” And while the opening might be more elegant and lyrical, we should note that Durrell’s expression of his intention for the book is not longer offered to the reader.
3. See MacNiven 224.
Durrell, Lawrence, Bitter Lemons (London, Faber and Faber, 1957).
———— “Can Dreams Live on When Dreamers Die”: The Listener, October, 1947. Reprinted in From the Elephant’s Back: Collected Essays and Travel Writings, ed. James Gifford (Alberta: University of Alberta Press, 2015), pp. 311-315.
———— Reflections on a Marine Venus (London: Faber and Faber, 1953).
MacNiven, Ian, Lawrence Durrell: A Biography (London: Faber and Faber, 1998).
Roessel, David, “‘Cut in half as it was’: Editial Excisions and the Original Shape of Reflections on a Marine Venus”, Deus Loci NS6 (1998): 64-77.
“A Selected Fiction?: Lawrence Durrell and the Overgrown Typescript of Bitter Lemons.” Synthesis 10 (2017). http//synthesis.enl.gr.html. Special issue on the Cyprus Problem in Literature and Theory.