In the So-Called Valley of the So-Called Temples

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.

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From the (so-called) Temple of Castor and Pollux it was a short walk to the ‘Olympian Field’.

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.

The view from the top of the temple, had it ever been finished would have been magnificent. Even at ground level, there was a fabulous view to the sea.

The view from the top of the temple, had it ever been finished, would have been magnificent. Even at ground level, it’s not  bad.

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).

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I was much less impressed with pile of rocks until I learned that the other... was a reconstruction.

I was much less impressed with this pile of rocks until I learned that the other one was a reconstruction.

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.

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Even the ancient Greeks may have called this one the Temple of Hercules.

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Like the columns of the Temple of Castor and Pollux, these columns were also rebuilt, but in this case, they were actually part of the original temple.

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All along the ridge were the most wonderful views.  Were the ancient Greeks as keen on views as we are today or was the site chosen solely for defensive purposes?

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There was a lot of excitement about the return of the curly-horned Girgentana goat.

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The mother had a bite to eat and then…

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…like beleaguered mothers everywhere, tried to get a bit of peace and quiet.

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.

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Concord, a beautiful name for a beautiful temple.

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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.)

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The ancient olive tree nearby is a good place to rest weary legs.  A guide had wisely gathered his group under its shade while he told them about the temple.

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Of much greater interest to this group of students was a certain part of the anatomy of the statue in front of the temple.

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‘?!

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In the end, they had to call all these ruins something. Even if it 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.

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In May the crowds are smaller, the temperatures are still in the 20’s and the Prickly Pear and Broom are both in bloom. Sometimes right next to each other.

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.

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The Greeks had brought the olive tree to Sicily with them. Did they find the oleander and broom already there or did they bring them too?

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From the Temple of Juno it was a long walk back to the Temple of Concordia, where the skies were still quite blue.

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.

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Agave americana, the so-called ‘Century Plant’.  (For a long time people thought it bloomed once in a century. Although we now know it blooms more frequently than that, it may still seem like a century.)

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.

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