Island-Hopping in the Cyclades
Theodore J. Bent
Abridged from The Cyclades, or Life among the Insular Greeks originally published in 1885
J. Theodore Bent, travelled abroad each year with his wife, returning to write a book about their adventures. They spent two successive winters from 1882 to 1884 in the Aegean visiting each of the inhabited islands of the Cyclades. Their chief interest was not classical archaeology, but the culture of the modern Greeks; what had survived among them of the beliefs and customs of their distant ancestors. His book not only provided folklorists and ethnologists with invaluable source material, but the general reader with a fascinating glimpse into the life of the islanders just before the disappearance of an immemorial way of life.
Extract:¡Our voyage was a very characteristic one in these islands. We planned to go to Antiparos, and we started with a favourable though slight breeze. This died away altogether before we got an hour on our way; the exceeding heat of the sun, and ominous clouds on the horizon, made our sailors anxious about the upshot. We said we would sail for Amorgos if possible, and started in that direction, for the breeze was freshening from the west. Before very long the breeze became too fresh, and our men insisted on running for Ios; but we found we could by no means go round the northern point of Sikinos, so we had to retrace our way almost back to the harbour of Pholygandros.
It soon began to blow with a vengeance; it was impossible to make for Ios. ¡Let us run for Santorin,¢ we said, getting more and more disgusted at our fate. But no; hardly had we gone a mile than our captain said it would not be safe; we must put in to Sikinos, on the southern side. What horrors! were we again going to be storm-stayed at Sikinos? We saw to our delight, the Sikinos caique put off and make for Ios. ¡Surely,¢ we said, ¡if that craft can go we can¢; but it put back again almost immediately, and our hearts sank within us.
In our despair we implored our captain to make an attempt to reach Ios, and, the weather having taken a favourable turn, he promised to try. Though much tossed about and drenched with the waves, we reached our haven in safety shortly after 10 o¢clock, after a day¢s bitter experience of the uncertainty of caique-sailing. It is impossible to make any plans beforehand in the winter time; it is not where you will go, but where you can get, when amongst the islands where steamers do not touch.¢
Review: J Theodore Bent and his wife spent two winters between 1882 and 1884 attempting to visit every inhabited island in the Cyclades. Their purpose, unusually for people with a conventional classical education was to record the customs and beliefs of modern Greeks. They were wry, humane, perceptive observers.'
Jonathan Carr in Athens News