Ships ride in Syracusa’s harbour
a couple of hundred metres below.
The amphitheatre, seating twenty thousand,
is a monolith carved from the limestone hill.
Behind us a natural fountain pours.
Near it is a square hole cut in the rock.
Shaped by design like the auditory
canal and tympanum of the human ear
this slave-made cleft in the limestone, some
forty feet high, echoes with the babel
of snatched arias and football songs.
At the entrance, our tour bus guide taps
his crumpled pack of Marlborough and,
despite the hubbub, we hear the echo clearly.
‘Allora!’ High up, we can see a square
of light at the furthest point of the cleft.
Our teacher, in his stained Ralph Lauren sweatshirt,
tells us that winds, blowing from the sea
during the day, would project the actors’ words.
‘Alas, how terrible is wisdom when it
brings no profit to the man that’s wise!
This I knew well but had forgotten. I
would not have journeyed here otherwise.’
As the sun begins to set, the wind shifts,
blowing from the land. Sails are hoisted
for serious journeys – navigated by nous
not compass or charts – with serious cargoes,
uncertain landfalls. So, our pilot muses,
maybe not so good to have aboard the god
of wine, art, ecstasy – and yet, and yet…
He hears the anchor drawn, the ropes hauled,
the sharp flap of the yard taking the wind,
the slap of the quickening wave beneath the prow.