From Kalloni to Eresos
(The main road junction in Kalloni = 0.0km for distances in the text).
The volcanic origins of the island’s formation are much more evident in the western portion of Lesbos, whose rugged landscape contrasts markedly with the rest of the island. The area around Eresos and Mount Ordymnos (589m) possesses the bare and open grandeur of the larger Cycladic islands. Southwest from Kalloni, the coastal strip is at first rich and fertile: Parakila (10.5km from Kalloni), the first settlement of any size, is well-watered. An Ottoman stone bridge is visible to the right of the modern road as it crosses the stream to the southwest of the village, and, a little beyond, a lone minaret stands to its full height beside the ruined remains of a 19th century mosque and hamam complex.
Further south at Apothika (23km) the road comes close to the narrow entrance to the Gulf of Kalloni. Beside a creek, approximately 400m north of the tiny harbour, are the remains of buildings and the sunk, conical, stone-lined pits of an alum processing workshop dating from Late Antiquity. Alum (which is a complex sulphate of potassium and aluminium) is not commonly found in nature, but it is a fundamental element in the fixing of dyes in textiles. The large markets of Late Roman and mediaeval Eu rope obtained alum principally from Phocaea in the gulf of Smyrna and from Lesbos, from where it was shipped to the main centres of western Europe. When Cyriac of Ancona visited Lesbos in the 15th century, he noted the extent to which the wealth of his Gattilusi hosts depended on their monopoly of the lucrative trade of alum.
As the road turns inland the landscape is barren and rocky: the first settlement is the village of Agra (28km), dramatically set in a spacious amphitheatre of mountains, hidden from the sea and sheltered from the wind. From here to the west’s main centre of Eresos (48km), settlements and farmsteads are infrequent, and the dusty volcanic soil supports little beyond bees and grazing flocks. The south-facing shore at this point, accessible from Mesotopos is a sequence of wide, generally shadeless shingle bays backed by low hills. The dunes and wet areas behind the shore at several points are rich in bird-life and in a variety of poppies. Further inland is the habitat of the endemic orchid, Ophrys lesbis, recognisable by the tiny mauve-coloured ‘eyebrow’ or ‘horseshoe’ marking on the crimson-brown lower lobe.
Tyrtamos of Eresos (372/1–288/7 bc), later called Theophrastus (‘divinely-tongued’) by his friend, teacher and mentor, Aristotle, is the greatest Ancient thinker to come from Lesbos—someone whose writing and research exercised a crucial influence on the development of botany up until the time of the Enlightenment. He probably first encountered Aristotle when the philosopher was living in Assos, on the mainland opposite Lesbos, between 348–5 bc. When forced to leave Athens, Aristotle bequeathed his texts and the running of his school, the Lyceum, to his friend. His influence on the range and cast of Theophrastus’s thinking—which was equally omnivorous and at ease moving from the abstract to the empirical—is fundamental. It left Theophrastus well-placed to modify and build on his master’s intellectual legacy.
Citations and fragmentary remains of his writings show the breadth of Theophrastus’s interests—hu man physiology, meteorology, propositional logic, psychology, history, cosmology, zoology, ecology. His writings on botany alone have survived almost in tact, and it is these that show best the orderliness of his thinking and research. They constitute the first writings of their kind in western science, describing and classifying plants and trees (Historia Plantarum), analysing their methods of propagation, cultivation and development (De Causis Plantarum), and creating the basis for modern botanical taxonomy. The path Theophrastus follows is scientific and biological, and has no place for the ‘miracles of nature’ so beloved of earlier thinking. He discriminatingly gathered information from those who lived and worked in the country, and benefited considerably from reports and observations made by Alexander’s officers as they marched into central southern Asia. Alexander himself—likewise a pupil of Aristotle’s— appears also to have possessed a botanical interest. Nonetheless, the meticulousness of Theophrastus’s classifications is based on a clear-headed and first- hand observation of plants—their structures, their reproduction, their uses and their pathology: what Aristotle had done for the animal world, Theophrastus did for the plants and trees. His attention, how ever, was not primarily to the ancient lore of the medicinal qualities of plants: it was a later writer— Dioscorides from Cilicia, of the 1st century ad—who was to gather and organise such knowledge in his compendious Materia Medica.
Lesvos Island is part of the Northern Aegean Island Group, Greece.
From Kalloni to Eresos.