If you thought an encounter with the best of the Achaians was beyond the scope of modern mortals, think again: go to Farsala, in northern Greece, and you can bump into him on your way to the zacharoplasteío (cake-shop). The town in Thessaly, roughly on the site of ancient Pharsalos, has recently erected an imposing bronze statue of Achilles, their most famous son. It’s easy to forget, when reading Homer, that Achilles came from Thessaly, but the people of Farsala are clearly in no danger of letting it slip their minds! When questioned, Farsalians said firmly that no, an adjacent statue of Patroklos was not on the cards; but Achilles should at least get his mother’s company, as a statue of the sea-nymph Thetis is planned when funds allow.
Farsala was the location of a recent conference on the region which brought together local archaeologists and historians as well as a small number of international specialists on ancient Thessaly, including Dr Emma Aston of RUCD, shown above (at right) in the company of Achilles and some colleagues from the Canadian team who excavated the important south-Thessalian site of Kástro Kallithéas (probably ancient Peuma). The event was organised jointly by the local Archaeological Service and by the Municipality of Farsala. As well as academic papers on a range of Pharsalian topics, the conference included a visit to the ancient acropolis of Pharsalos, still in the process of being excavated, whose fortifications display an impressive range of Archaic, Classical, Hellenistic and Byzantine masonry, testifying to centuries of occupation and embellishment. It is also worth noting that southern Thessaly contains some of the loveliest scenery in Greece, wooded hills rising out of the famous horse-bearing plains.
The conference as a whole, and the passion of the local participants, really brought home the extent to which the myths and folktales of ancient Thessaly (Achilles and his family, centaurs, Lapiths, Jason, Asklepios) remain a vibrant part of the local community and its self-perception. It also demonstrated that no conference should be allowed to proceed without tsípouro, a northern Greek liquor of great potency whose stimulating effect upon academic discourse and intellectual engagement cannot easily be overstated.