The desire for tanning, the exodus to the sea, the contempt of the elite for the beach peddlers, the escape in the pool of those who can not leave … Prerogatives of our times? Wrong: from ancient Greece to today, nothing (under the sun) has changed
What’s better than a nice holiday in Greece? The sea is clear, you eat fresh fish, you relax, despite the high season crowds. It was said, almost two thousand years ago, by the learned Plutarch, writer and priest in the temple of Delphi, telling the holidays of his contemporaries. In fact, in the convivial matters one can read about one of the minor plutarchche operetta about the spa town of Edipsos: «Edipsos, in Euboea, has become a very popular holiday resort for visitors from all over Greece, especially thanks to a place called Sorgenti Calde, which has many natural resources to spend leisure time with pleasure and is beautified by villas and elegant condominiums. There is plenty of game, both of birds and of land animals, and the sea is no less generous in supplying the market with excellent fish for the table, which are found in crystal clear waters near the shores. This holiday resort flourishes especially in the middle of spring, when it becomes very crowded: people gather there, forgetting all their worries, and spend time idling and dedicating themselves to long conversations ». It is a souvenir photo of the holidays of the ancients, a fragment of daily life that serves to remind us how Greeks and Romans did not spend their time always stiffened in monumental poses. And how they also loved to travel for pleasure and fun, not only for the love of knowledge, to discover distant lands and countries, as did the wise Solon and the historian Herodotus. Solone, in particular, according to Aristotle, visited Egypt for emporia and fororia, that is to trade and to see the beauties of the places. But maybe even he, between a visit to the temples of Memphis and a learned conversation with the Egyptian priests, will have stopped in some tavern along the banks of the Nile to get a glass of beer, the most popular drink in the kingdom of the Pharaohs.
Today we love to distinguish between the tourist and the traveler. We look at the first, the predestined victim of organized tours and holiday villages, one that only wants fun, does not leave the obligatory paths and in every place looks for his house, asking for pasta with tomato or coffee of the moka. While celebrating the latter, aware, attentive and respectful of local traditions. All of us, of course, have the ambition to be travelers rather than tourists. We prefer to identify with Bruce Chatwin rather than with Fantozzi. But do not think that certain dialectics are born only with the emergence of mass tourism. Even the rhetoric of escape from the city, the conquest of a horizon of pure air and a less frenetic pace of life, already belongs to the ancient world. Seneca, philosopher and preceptor of Emperor Nero, in his Letters to Lucilius, tells how, feeling a bit ‘of fever and the pulse beat altered, decided to leave for his villa di Nomento, fleeing the busy, noisy and unhealthy life of Rome: “As soon as I left behind the heavy air of the city and the smell of the steaming kitchens that spread all their pestiferous vapors, mixed with the dust of the streets, I immediately realized that my health had changed ». Of course, the rich have always been a holiday, not tourism. And not all Romans could afford the luxurious villas of the aristocracy. The common people were content to go to the spa, as today who does not have the money to afford the holiday is satisfied with the municipal pool. “Life at the spa was Roman beach life,” wrote historian Paul Veyne. There was no city worthy of the name that did not have its spas. And there were no spas that did not swarm with idlers, who spent their time playing ball or, perhaps, getting a tan. Always Seneca, in his treatise On the brevity of life, inserted in the long list of the people who waste their existence “doing nothing, but with great effort” also “those who spend their lives roasting in the sun”. The heliotherapy, moreover, is already traced back to Hippocrates. And, next to the sun as a cure, there were also treatments against the sun. According to Pliny the Elder, a writer named Salpe recommended for the burns the application of a mixture of urine and egg white. Perhaps he also used it, since, as his nephew Pliny the Younger tells us, he used to lie down in the sun, after lunch, in the garden of his villa. In the fourth century AD, Oribasius of Constantinople, the personal physician of Emperor Julian the Apostate, recommended psammotherapy, that is, sandblasting.