Kate Tempest a 21st Century London Poet Musing and Rapping on Greek myths

04 April 2015 James Stratis

We can be inspired by words, the art of words as in the inspirational art of poetry. Previously1 we connected to the ancient place of Kommos when we posted an article, a blog, on the poetry of place, through a poem by Constantine Cavafy.

If the archaeological site of Kommos on Crete is to receive the stewardship and attention it deserves, its story must continue to be told and not just to the intellectual specialist. One can read interpretation about a subject like a person, place or thing for only so long, before the cloud of boredom descends and the fresh air of the new, the light of the next… pulls us onwards.

Finding another way to connect the public to a story, such as through puppetry, animation, humor and/or music is something we wrote about before2. Kate Tempest, an award winning young poet from London England, likewise, connects her audience to stories artfully. She has put her own spin on timeless Greek stories, some of them like Icarus located off the waters of Crete, where our story of Kommos is anchored.

Here below we include a continuation on the subject of the poetic delivery of a story shared by three New York Times journalists; Charles Isherwood, Rachel Donadio, and Michiko Kakutani. They write in part about the means and values of storytelling.

“The roots of theater lie in oral storytelling, and Ms. Tempest’s huge ambition is to reanimate this tradition — or at least keep it chugging along for a little while longer. In her hypnotically persuasive vision, the same passions and poisons that made Olympus such a lively place still simmer in the hearts of men and women trudging through their drab lives in cities the world over.”Donadio observes3


Kate Tempest — a playwright, poet, rapper and published novelist — in her home neighborhood of Brixton in London.
Photo Credit: Andrew Testa, The New York Times

Charles Isherwood says “Ms. Tempest mostly speaks but occasionally sings out her tale in long, spiraling phrases, rich in inspired images, although the language is vernacular (and the rhymes are often approximate). While she moves casually across the stage, she often seems to be vibrating like a tuning fork with the urgency of the telling, her arms sawing at the air in time with the propulsive rhythms of her speech, which also reflects hip-hop and rap influences.”4

One of Ms. Tempest poems stems from the fact that there were Bronze Age Minoan colonies on what is now the Italian island of Sicily. After the Bronze age, families from Crete continued to thrive there and the ancient Greek poet Diodorus “of Sicily” wrote in his Library of History [4.77.8} of Icarus and his father Daedalus and their inventive yet fatal escape from King Minos’ island Crete.5 The myth of Icarus is a lesson of thoughtless hubris, I do because I can, the timeless moral of the story being – listen to your (wiser) elders, steady on and you may get there.Kate Tempest performs her poem, “Icarus”, in this Speakers Corner video


Soaring the skies that had always been beyond his reach
He felt like a champion
His feet kicked the clouds
His arms are bound in the feathers of his father’s labour
Which a little while later would be ashes … vapour.

Cumbersome limbs furnished with powerful things
He heard the wind speak
Every time he heard his wings beat
His Father flew before him and so the course was set
He said, Don’t fly by the waves ’cause your wings will get wet
but don’t fly so high that the sun melts the wax
He said stay on my path, son, Follow my tracks
But Icarus, enamoured by the feeling of flight
He just had to fly higher and get closer to the light
The sun was hot against him as he carried on ascending
He felt strength in him increasing like the heat that was so tempting
Beneath was the world he left behind in search of better things
but to achieve that freedom he sacrificed everything.

I told him
Come down from the sky you’re flying too high
Heed your Father’s words this ain’t your territory
No one even noticed as he splashed and hit the sea bed
I wonder what he saw before he fell
And if he needed my help
Would he asked for it?
Probably, he wouldn’t
Probably, he thought he was invincible
He weren’t
In principle he burned
He smouldered in those myths
So that we who never flew before could learn from what he did.

Given the gift of flight
It was too easy to ignore
The warnings of his Father
How could he be truly responsible
When really all he wants to do was soar above his station and become the Sun’s equal
But the Sun can have no equal
Poor Icarus
That flicker in his eye
That distant picture in the sky
About to catch the light he sought
Ah, foolish young pride
Silly man-cub
How can you learn to fly if you haven’t even learned to stand-up
If he had listened to his father
Well then he would never would’ve drowned
But the happiness he felt is one he never would have found

Gifts are dangerous when they are given and not earned
A lesson merely heard, well that’s never a lesson learned
By the time his father turned, the wax had completely burned
Feathers scattered on the waves
And they just rolled on unconcerned
But for the small moment before he fell in to the sea
Icarus the head-strong had been completely free

Come down from the sky,
You’re flying too high
Heed your Father’s words, this ain’t your territory
No one even noticed as he splashed and hit the sea bed
I wonder what he saw before he fell
And if he needed my help
Would he asked for it?
Probably, he wouldn’t
Probably, he thought he was invincible
He weren’t
In principle he burned
He smouldered in those myths
So that we who never flew before could learn from what he did.

“Her spoken-word performances have the meter and craft of traditional poetry, the kinetic agitation of hip-hop and the intimacy of a whispered heart-to-heart, drawing on ancient mythology and sermonic cadence to tell stories of the everyday.”6

Kate Tempest -Niamh  Covery

Kate Tempest Credit: Niamh Convery


Brand New Ancients book cover

“It’s almost disorienting to realize that this intensely vivid tale (Brand New Ancients), which touches the deep chords of pity we associate with Greek tragedy, has been created by the petite, girlish young woman onstage, in jeans and sneakers. She is indeed someone you might just walk by on the street, perhaps noting her English-rose loveliness and her ingratiating smile, but little suspecting the mighty passions firing her imagination.” writes Donadio3

we’re the same beings that began, still living
in all of our fury and foulness and friction,
everyday odysseys, dreams and decisions …
(Brand New Ancients)

Similar to the current financial disparity of today’s Greek citizens within the European Union, Donadio also says “An insistence on connection and revealing quiet moments of beauty in the lives of Londoners — many of them struggling to stay afloat in economic uncertainty — is at the heart of Ms. Tempest’s work. Citing both the poet William Blake and the rapper RZA among her influences, she is a powerful mix of innocence and experience with a growing, and fervent, following. Her play ‘Brand New Ancients’ reimagines the Greek gods as ordinary Londoners through the tales of two interconnected families.” and “She uses myth to frame contemporary personal stories.”3
Isherwood called it “a story so vivid it’s as if you had a state-of-the-art Blu-ray player stuffed into your brain.” He notes that ”With Ms. Tempest’s words painting the pictures, it’s pretty easy to focus.”4
Journalist Kakutani writes of the “29-year-old Kate Tempest’s gift for shattering — and transcending — convention and conventional genres, and says that “they also underscore the tensions and contradictions that fuel her dynamic art. Tiresias, the blind seer in Greek mythology who lived as a man and a woman, is the presiding figure in her (Tempest’s) collection ‘Hold Your Own,’ and the contemporary characters in her dazzling story-poem ‘Brand New Ancients’ are also conflicted beings in search of a self. They are torn between confidence and self-loathing, between aching loneliness and the tumult of love, between ambition and a revulsion for the phony accouterments of fame. Ms. Tempest describes these ordinary people as gods, and their quarrels — so reminiscent of the squabbling among the Greek gods on Mount Olympus — are both petty and profound. Myths used to be ‘the stories we used to explain ourselves,’ she (Tempest) observes, and to her, myths, like art, are a way to universalize individual dreams and suffering: They lend continuity and weight to the everyday struggles of life — ‘deadlines, debts, divorces’ — and remind us that every person, every passer-by on the street, has an ‘epic narrative’ within.”6

Times writer Donadio reports “And her fans believe the appeal will carry across the Atlantic. While Rachel Mannheimer, who acquired the new poetry collection for Bloomsbury, explained by email.3 ‘Her vision is about finding the universal in the local, the mythic in every individual — how we’re all part of something bigger and older than ourselves.’

We are in the age of leveraged value and multi-tasking. There are many paths to choose, leading us away from boredom. We ride on a bus with an earbud in place, we sit across from friends and our attention is redirected to our smart phones. Mass exposure to the MTV like videos with their rapid fire – quick video editing and the non-stop sight and sound action of the movie industry over the last thirty years has been fully integrated into commercial advertising for global capitalism.

We are expecting to have our attention held or we change the channel – change the delivery system.
The messages of the ancients, however, still resonate and must still be taught afresh. Combining poetry, music, live performance and an inspirational place such as Kommos the Minoan seaport and Greek temple site, has the potential to provide a sensory experience greater than the sum of the parts. We must encourage the multi-sensory experience of the feel of the sun, the wind, the sea, where the smell of the air and the presence of the spirit of Icarus’ past, frees the imaginations of visitors of all ages.

Kate Tempest’s ghostly familiar fatal lesson delivered through her lyric poem and performance, transports us to a place with learning from millennia ago, which is still relevant today. There, a better understanding that can be achieved by recalling lyric poetry, even more so within a full immersion environment like Kommos. Performance art like rap and poetry / rap poetry out of the in-door stage, amidst the sound and feel of the wind, the weather and cadent wave backdrop of the abandoned ancient seaport, can compound the visitor learning experience because the leveraged values of history, place, archaeology, and culture count and matter as much as ever in our recreation choices and in the funded curricula of formal institutions of learning.

1. Poetry and Place — Ιθάκη / Ithaka – C.P.Cavafy September 30,2014

2. Contemporary Music and Minoan Mythology December 06,2010

3. Rachel Donadio; NYTimes March 6, 2015

4. Charles Isherwood; NYTimes January 14, 2014

6. Michiko Kakutani; NYTimes  March 18, 2015

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James Wright discusses Kommos at the 2014 Open Meeting of the ASCSA

06April2015 R. C. Bigelow

At the 2014 annual OPEN MEETING of the American School of Classical Studies of Athens, Dr. James Wright discussed the progress made in 2014 in developing a Master Plan for Kommos, Crete. The following video fragment is excerpted with the kind permission of Dr. Wright from a full video of his address at the conference.

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Publication Logistics in the Kommos site publications


 Multidisciplinary Field Projects

January 4, 2014.

1) Introduction.
Excavations at Kommos in Crete were carried out in two phases, from 1976 through 1985 and from 1991 through 1996. The publication of the site consists of a series of nine preliminary reports in Hesperia, and five volumes (I-V) focusing on the site overall (Minoan and Greek), complemented by a volume on a Minoan pottery kiln, and two volumes on Minoan Mansion X (the first [2011] on architecture and finds, the second [forthcoming] on the pottery). [Those can be seen in the appendix]. Read more ›

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The Middle Minoan Ship Slipway at the Kommos Harbor

segment section insert of slipway plan

In the past a boat or ship’s hull after construction, repair or dry dock storage was at times coated with grease allowing it to slip into the sea. A boat ramp on the shore is known as a slipway. The co-excavator of Kommos, Professor Joseph W. Shaw, President of Kommos Conservancy, will be giving a paper on the Kommos slipway at a Conference on Minoan Architecture in general, in Toronto Canada in early January 2015. Here below is a brief abstract of the paper. – James C. Stratis 4 October 2014

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Ποίηση και Τόπος Ιθάκη / Ithaka

Ithaka Blog cover 100114

Τι ήχοι, τι μουσική, τι πεζογραφία και ό, τι ενέπνευσε τη ποίηση συμπληρώνει την έμπνευση που προέρχεται από ένα μέρος. Ένα αρχαίο προ-ιστορικό τόπο, όπως ο Κομμός της Κρήτης.
Ο William Logan το 15 ​​Ιουνίου, 2014 στο New York Times κατέληξε στο συμπέρασμα “Η γλώσσα του επικερδώς απασχολούμενου έχει τη θέση του. Η ποίηση ποτέ δεν θα έχει το κοινό του “Game of Thrones” – που είναι ό, τι η τηλεόραση μπορεί να κάνει. Η ποίηση είναι κάτι που η γλώσσα μόνο μπορεί να κάνει. “1
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Poetry and Place — Ιθάκη / Ithaka

Ithaka Blog cover 100114

What sounds, what music, what prose and what inspired poetry can supplement
the inspiration derived from a place especially an ancient pre-historic place such as Kommos Crete? One outstanding example is the poem “Ithaka” written by Constantine P. Cavafy in 1911.

William Logan in his 15 June 2014 New York Times opinion concluded “Language gainfully employed has its place. Poetry will never have the audience of “Game of Thrones” — that is what television can do. Poetry is what language alone can do.“ 1 Read more ›

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Ένα βίντεο σχετικά με τη διατήρηση και την ανάπτυξη του αρχαιολογικού χώρου του Κομμού σε βιώσιμο δημόσιο αρχαιολογικό πάρκο.

A You-Tube video in Greek about the conservation and the development of the Kommos archaeological site into a sustainable public archaeological park.

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Video – Kommos pottery at the end of Minoan phase – plenty and fade to black

Posted for James Stratis

Jan Driesen of the Universite Catholique de Louvain has brought to our attention a video of Jeremy Rutter’s presentation entitled Late Minoan IIIB at Kommos : an abundance of deposits, a dearth of clear sub-phases, and probably a gradual desertion of the site  which was presented at the Workshop Colloquium “ARC A World in Crisis? The 13th c. BC in the Eastern Mediterranean”


Other pod casts from the UCL colloquium are available at: http://www.uclouvain.be/457589.html

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A Review of “Kommos V”

blog image Kommos V review4

Kommos V the Monumental Minoan Buildings at Kommos presents the southern area of the excavations which includes the monumental buildings found at the site. In addition to chapters written by the principle excavators at Kommos, Joseph and Maria Shaw (JS and MS henceforth), nine other authors contribute, with particularly extensive contributions on pottery by Jeremy Rutter (R) and Aleydis Van de Moortel (VdM). Read more ›

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A Cretan Conundrum


This post is a somewhat modified version of a talk that I presented to the Egyptian Study Society of Denver Colorado on 21 January 2014. It was intended for a general audience; thus, it includes some information that is already well known to readers of these blogs. See also James Stratis’ post “The Egyptian Gods of Kommos” for additional information on Sekhmet and Nefertum.
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The Egyptian gods of Kommos


Posted for James Stratis.

During the fourth season of the Kommos excavation in 1979 the team from the University of Toronto, discovered, amongst other finds, two faience statues of Egyptian deities – Sekhmet (AB85) and Nefertum (AB86). The fact that both statues were found together points to a connection with Memphis, Egypt. This is where Sekhmet was the consort of Ptah and the mother of Nefertum.
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The Kommos Virtual Reconstruction Project

Building P Minoan Shipsheds by Joe Wynn

By Alexander Assaf

Every perfect traveler always creates the country where he travels.
~Nikos Kazantzakis

The bright sun beat down on the plains overlooking the distant Rocky Mountains. In the midst of this landscape ouzo flowed, the crowds dined on saganaki (flaming cheese), traditional Greek dancers shouted, “OPA!” and I couldn’t tell if I was http://www.kommosconservancy.org/wp-admin/edit.phpactually in Greece or in Denver at the annual Greek Festival on a sweltering day in June of 2011. Read more ›

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Ερμηνευτικό θέμα 1: ΥM IA κεραμικός κλίβανος στην νότια περιοχή Στοά

Η LM Ia εντός του κλιβάνου νωρίτερα Στοά

Ένας κλίβανος κεραμικών γεμάτος με είδη κεραμικής, που χρονολογείται στην Υστερομινωική  περίοδο  IA  (1500 Π.Κ.Ε) , χτίστηκε  στα ερείπια μιας πρώην  Μεσομινωικής στοάς (1700 Π.Κ.Ε). Έτσι ερμηνεύτηκε σε μια δημοσίευση της Αμερικανικής Σχολής Κλασικών Σπουδών στην Αθήνα από τον A. Van de Moortel, P.M. Day, Β. Κιλίκογλου και τον Διευθυντή Ανασκαφών/ Πρόεδρο της Υπηρεσίας Προστασίας Φυσικού Περιβάλλοντος του Κομμού, J.W. Shaw. Read more ›

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A Lakonian (Minoan?) Shipwreck


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The Sounds of Silence


Today is the tenth anniversary of the terrorist attacks that caused the deaths of many innocent people. I am reminded of the man who lead some passengers on flight 93, over Shanksville Pennsylvania to counter attack. He was overheard by a telephone operator to say “let’s roll”. Read more ›

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A Donation Box for Delos (& Kommos…?)

Delos Kommos Athens triptyke

In recent news a new government, and somewhat recent news – a new freedom to spend on cultural resources from donations. Good site stewardship requires regular site maintenance, and there has never been sufficient government funds to meet all the needs. Read more ›

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Capitalizing on Existing Assets: Infrastructure and Planning

existing assets infta-structure 2


The disappointment of the Gaddafi government’s stewardship at Cyrene

An important Hellenic-Roman heritage site in eastern Libya, as recounted in a  recent Kathemerini article by M. Abbas, reminded us of the planning that the Kommos Conservancy continues to invest in, towards producing a sustainable leveraged amenity for the Mesara in south central Crete. Where Shahaat, the neighboring town to the archaeological site of Cyrene has unaddressed short comings – the Cretan towns and villages of Pitsidia, Kamilari and Matala, near the Kommos archaeological site, offer the visitor plenty of good accommodation and restaurants. Read more ›

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The Chinese Are Coming

Photo: Chania Museum

We learned from an article in Ekathemerini on 24 February 2011 that Greece has committed to evacuating 15,000 Chinese from Libya, which is south of Kommos across the sea. This is another sign of the intergovernmental cooperation that is so pronounced at Greece’s primary shipping hub at Piraeus, where the Chinese have already been given control of 2 of the 3 container terminals, with the intention of their investing $300 million to upgrade the facilities over their new 35 year contract. Read more ›

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The Future of the Great Minoan Triangle

composit logic Athens Mesara

In Athens there has been planning and implementation for 25 years on a project called the Unification of Archaeological Sites, which connects pedestrian pathways to different archaeological sites. This  walkway across history and infrastructural improvement  provides the heritage tourist safety, convenience and a quality experience. And …Just in time as the tourism industry, according to Kathimerini in July 2010, was severely impacted by internal unrest and the Icelandic volcano eruption combined with political-economic uncertainty, have cost Greece’s Tourism sector over €200,000,000. euros.

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Contemporary Music and Minoan Mythology

LOL – We previously posted about “closing the gap with humor” as a way to connect a larger audience to the relevancy of the Kommos site and its Minoan era artifacts. By using contemporary media we can reach out to people outside the interest groups of archaeology and conservation. Similar to the podcast in the Zits comic strip this video utilizes a popular web based medium but with added contemporary music (Radiohead), to make accessible artifact images and humor, introducing the pre-Greek culture with its associated mythology of the man-bull minotaur. Read more ›

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bull leaper podcast

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Interpretive theme 2: artifacts – pottery

The Kommos kiln, described in a previous Blog entry is but one architectural feature of the site that deserves interpretation. The site also yielded many artifacts besides the architectural legacy of the former inhabitants. Chief amongst the artifact categories is pottery. The kiln was filled with pottery and there were other intriguing earlier and later significant finds, examples of Minoan but also Greek, Egyptian, Phoenician and Roman pottery. Read more ›

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Transparency for Growth

venn transparency

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Summer Work Season Plan

smmr wrk ssn blog featured image

The American and European economic downturns have caused a postponement of the previously planned continuation of the Master Plan development for construction documents ( efarmogis –εφαρμογις) and the necessary government Ministry of Culture and Tourism ( Υπουργείο Πολιτισμού και Τουρισμού) and Κ.Α.Σ. regulatory approvals. Read more ›

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Full Scale Minoan Ship Reconstruction as an educational tool

blog featured image full scale reconstruction tool

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Interpretive theme 1: LM IA ceramic kiln in the Southern Area Stoa

The LM Ia kiln within the earlier Stoa

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