And all the ways grew dark

Hom. Od. 2.388

δύσετό τ᾽ ἠέλιος σκιόωντό τε πᾶσαι ἀγυιαί
Now the sun set and all the ways grew dark

Many years ago – 1971 to be precise – I spent a month in Greece wandering around the Peloponese and a further up as far as Delphi. I had set myself an itinerary to see various ancient sights and among these was the cave where supposedly Hercules killed the Nemean lion. Well I arrived in Nemea in the early afternoon and set off walking in the direction where I thought the cave was located but when I had been walking for several miles and was obviously not going to find the cave I decided to turn back so that I could get back to Nemea before night fell. Alas I had left it too late because as I was walking it began to grow dark and futhermore unlike the lingering English summer twilights I was used to the sun sets much quicker in Greece. It was then that I noticed something about the sunset that I wouldn’t have noticed if I had not been anxious and away from any lights. The light did not fade gradually but appeared to stay at the same intensity then suddenly get a bit darker and it continued like this. At this point I realised that the line from Homer above exactly described this sensation or rather the word σκιόωντό. There are three vowels in a row in this word with no intervening consonants and the sound this produces mimics the way that darkness was falling. After the two short vowels longer Omega introduces a longer but darker period.

This is just one of the many places where the sound of Homer matches something and can transport you into his world. Even in the line I’ve quoted δύσετό τ᾽ ἠέλιος and πᾶσαι ἀγυιαί  are in their own way onomatopoeic although not of a sounds but sensations and I may touch on them in a later post.

Eventually all traces of daylight fell but a kind Greek farmer passed by in his truck and offered me a lift. I never did find the cave of the Nemean lion.

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