CLIMAX IN CRETE (1946)

Theodore Stephanides

By 1941 the halcyon Corfu years with the Durrells were long gone and the naturalist Theodore Stephanides, a veteran of World War 1, approaching 50, and an Army Doctor finds himself retreating before the German military machine as it invades Greece.

By incredible bad luck, he is evacuated to Crete where another military rout follows. For weeks he is bombed and machine gunned day in and day out first at sea en route to Crete and then on land before being evacuated yet again at night and in the nick of time, in a perilous mission by the Royal Navy, to Alexandria in Egypt.

"While all this was going on, I tried — as I have tried before and since — to analyse my sensations and to determine what fear actually is. In this I was unsuccessful. I feel sure, though, that the terror of death is only a secondary factor in the whole complex, and proof of this can be found in the many authenticated cases of people who have committed suicide rather than face their fear. For my own part the danger of being killed almost never occurred to me; I was far more terrified of being mangled, painfully mangled, than of being launched into Nothingness, or Eternity, or whatever awaits us after death. And the thought that I might lose my sight always haunted me like a dark cloud. It is more than probable, in my opinion, that the basic cause of fear is just a plain physical reaction of the organism without the intervention of any other process, whether mental or psychical. Nature has seen to it that, at the slightest hint of danger, the bloodstream is flooded with adrenalin and other fear reaction hormones, with the object of galvanizing the body into action and getting it to remove itself as quickly as possible from the object of its apprehension. Nature could not guess that man would not only create new ways of terrifying himself, but would also make it a point of honour to stay put and be scared out of the few wits he allegedly possesses.

Time seemed to have been petrified like one of its own fossils, but at last, after what seemed an age, the planes departed and we crept out dazedly into the open and resumed our march. Two or three of the houses which had just been strafed were on fire and sending up thick columns of smoke, there was a number of huge craters in and around the road and one smashed truck with its driver lying dead beneath it. That, as far as I could see, was the total result of all that late sound and fury. Soon heads began to appear from all sorts of unexpected hiding-places, followed cautiously by their owners, and the southward retreat continued as before. Somebody else must have taken shelter in our limekiln at some previous time, as I found a tattered copy of one of the ‘Saint’ books lying in the brambles. I stuffed it into the breast of my battle-dress before leaving, but it dropped out later without my noticing it; this was a pity, as it was a story that I had not read before. ..."

CLIMAX IN CRETE © Theodore Stephanides (1946)

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The Mediterranean Island of Crete from space (NASA)

Lying in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, the entire Island of Crete (35.0N, 25.0E) can be seen. The volcanic origins of this island can also be observed in the many sharp and angular ridgelines and rugged coastal features.

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Crete and E. Mediterranean/Aegean Greek Islands from space (NASA)

This north-looking view shows the western margin of Turkey (right) and the Dodecanese Islands of Greece between the Aegean Sea (left) and the Sea of Crete (foreground). The largest island is Crete (foreground) with the semicircular island of Thira beyond. Thira is dominated by the volcano Santorini. The narrow straits of the Dardanelles, joining the Black Sea to the Mediterranean, can be detected top left.

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"This vast bay is a caldera, a collapsed area above a volcanic pocket which has emptied itself of its lava. ... it was a gigantic eruption of the Thera volcano that ended, in all probability, the heyday of Minoan civilization in about 1470 B.C. and perhaps gave rise to the legend of Atlantis."

ISLAND TRAILS © Theodore Stephanides 1973

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