Nowadays ‘so-called’ seems to be used mostly as a kind of passive-aggressive verbal side-swipe. As in ‘so-called friends’ or ‘so-called experts’. And ‘so-called valley’, which, as we saw in a previous post (In the (Not)Valley of the Temples, Aug. 9, 2015) is not a valley at all – it’s a ridge. But if you are one of those individuals who still look up such things, you’ll see that it also has another, quite different meaning: the use of one commonly known term for another. In one dictionary entry a phrase taken from a newspaper article helps clarify this less frequent use: ‘At the scene of an airplane crash, investigators will search for the flight recorder, the so-called black box’. Here there are no sardonic undertones. The journalist is simply using a simple, concrete term to identify what we all know is a small container inside of which are complex, scientific data that will hopefully tell us how the plane crash occurred.
When I started walking around the ruins of Agrigento, dutifully noting – and hopefully remembering – the names of the various temples, I had no inkling of the role the black box meaning of ‘so-called’ had played in how the temples got their names.
The Olympian Field was the site of the Temple of Zeus, which would have been the largest Doric temple ever built, had it not been for earthquakes and pillaging, which continued well into the 18th century. As bad as the pillaging and pilfering were from a strictly moral point of view, if you saw the decidedly unattractive town of Porto Empedocle, where so much of the temple ended up (and where I got miserably lost for a while one day on my way to the Turks’ Staircase, another ‘so-called’ site), you’d think it was even worse.
Enormous hunks of rock littered the field. Off to the side were a couple of supine male figures, their hands behind their necks as it they’d been resting. They were Atlases or Telamons, support columns like the female sculptures – caryatids – I’d seen at Hadrian’s Villa in Tivoli (An Emperor’s Country Retreat, Feb. 22, 2015).
In another corner of the field there were the ruins of another temple, but so little of it remained that they didn’t even bother with any ‘so-calling’ and simply referred to it as ‘Tempio L‘. (Temple L)
Continuing along the ridge, the next temple you come to is named in honour of the ever-popular Greek god, Hercules.
Halfway along the ridge, was the temple I’d gazed at over breakfast. According to the plaque, written in Italian, English and French, it was called il Tempio della Concordia. The Temple of Concord. A wonderfully apt name, I thought, for such a serene-looking building.
It owes its marvellous state of preservation to the fact that after all the pagan gods were properly expelled and the rear of the building was redesigned as the entrance, it was used as a Christian Basilica. Not even the most unscrupulous pillagers would have stooped to using a Christian church as a quarry.
Nowadays, the area in front of the temple is the site of la Sagra del mandorlo in fiore, an annual festival in celebration of the almond trees that are covered in white blossoms, creating a white wonderland. It is held the first Sunday in February, the same time of year some Canadians also celebrate a white wonderland. (While others of us curse it.)
Near the statue was a plaque no-one seemed to be paying any attention to. Curious, and lacking a guide to tell me about the temple, I went over to have a look. I was surprised to see that unlike the others it was written solo in italiano. I was even more surprised when I read the first line – La denominazione errata deriva da… The name was ‘errata‘?!
It turns out the name Concordia has nothing to do with the original temple. It was plagiarized from the inscription on a chunk of marble – from a different temple – that had been found nearby. In any event, to take liberties with Juliet’s declaration of love for Romeo, ‘a temple by any other name is still as beautiful’.
According to the map, somewhere around here there were more so-called ruins – the so-called Tomb of Theron, the 4th century AD so-called Grotte Fragapane, and the so-called ‘Oratory of Phalaris’, where the tyrant presumably ranted and raved when he wasn’t roasting his enemies in his iron bull.
I continued up the ridge.
At the top of ridge, are the remains of the Temple of Juno, wife (and sister) of Jupiter, King of the Roman Gods. Since it has been dated to the middle of the 5th century B.C., long before the Romans arrived, I’m not sure why it wasn’t named for the equivalent Greek goddess, Hera. Given the status of women in ancient Greece – remember Aristotle’s words on the subject of women? – having it named for the Roman goddess was perhaps a sign of progress. In any event, it too is a lovely temple.
I would have spent more time at Juno’s temple, but I was uneasy. Looking down the ridge to the south, things looked fine. But one glance northward made it clear that it wasn’t just the Tinnitus playing tricks on my hearing. The thunder really had been getting louder.
I took one last photo, put away my camera and with the clouds darkening by the second and thunder crashing all around, raced back to my car. I almost made it.