How I Love Ya

“The sun shines east, the sun shines west, I know where the sun shines best.” Do those words ring a bell? Who would have thought that Captain Gary knew anything about “My Mammy,” the 1921 song Al Jolson sang in the musical “Sinbad.” The Captain had his chance to perform in one of the oldest theaters in the world.

We were traveling through Greece in our VW van in 1977 and thought we’d check out the famous amphitheater at Epidaurus on the northeast corner of the Peloponnesus. This all-stone theater was built right into the hillside in the 4th century BC. Originally it was 34 rows high, but in Roman times this was extended by a further 21 rows, to give a seating capacity of about 15,000. You can see where the additional rows were added, because there’s a wider row for walking along where the signposts with letters E and Z are.

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I climbed the steps to the top row. The limestone seats were worn smooth from centuries of polishing by rear ends of spectators. While I sat there, a tour bus arrived and its riders filed into the stands near the stage. The tour guide, the lady in the mint green dress, went to the circular stone pad in the center of the stage and demonstrated the excellence of the acoustics. She dropped a penny. Her guests acknowledged that they could hear it, as I could too, in the thin air at the very top of the theater. Then she struck a match. I was amazed that I could hear every fizz and splutter of the sulphur burning on that match head. The limestone seats are meant to muffle any low-frequency audience noise, whispers, and shuffling of feet, while enhancing the high-frequency sounds of the actors’ voices.

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The tour guide stepped aside and invited her guests to give it a go at center stage. Who knew that Al Jolson was mingling among those guests and would get down on one knee to profess his love? With one arm reaching up, he sang out, “Mammy! How I love ya, how I love ya–” his one line in a major dramatic role, in one of the oldest theaters in the world.

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So like many a Greek actor of 2300 years ago, Captain Gary stood in the center of the stage at Epidaurus’ amphitheater and made his claim to fame. You can do it too, next time you’re in Greece.

39 thoughts on “How I Love Ya

    • I think the Greeks built it and then when the Romans moved in, they added to it, but regardless, the architecture of those days was something special to have lasted over so many centuries.

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  1. I love the explanation of the acoustics through dropping a penny and lighting a match. The explanation of the limestone dulling whispers and also being smoothed by centuries of bottoms. A brilliant post in time for me to depart soon for Greece! Perfect! – Thanks, Renee

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    • If you have a chance to go there, you really should. We were heading north, on our way to the Corinth Canal (another post) and had to take a detour to the east to get to Epidaurus. It was a few miles, but well worth it and I’ll never regret going there. And beside me on the top seat of the theater, I found a small Danish coin that made it kind of special to think that someone from Denmark had been there. People come from all over the world to see these remnants of a fascinating history.

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  2. The Greeks sure knew what they were doing. Thanks for sharing. Great memories. Travel does that. No one can ever take it away from you. Gary was and still is quite the entertainer and story teller. 🙂

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    • Such a long time ago and they already had amazing designers and architects – and a big (probably – I don’t know – slave?) labour source. And yes, Gary is still quite the ham and storyteller.

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  3. It amazes me that such constructions were built so long ago with such an understanding of acoustics, sound projection etc.. yet we sit today and profess how we have progressed above the times past… I like to ask the question, have we? I (as a surveyor) have always been fascinated by the mathematics and construction around the pyramids at Giza, and intend one day to actually visit the site, the accuracy of the building in those days, yet lacking the instruments for surveying that we have today, they managed to construct such monuments to their abilities. Such that I don’t think we can emulate that today. Now here’s a place built so many years ago that we struggle to get the same effect indoors that they got outdoors… let alone us trying to do this outdoors… where has all this knowledge of science and mathematics gone to.? What with all our quantum Physics and advanced Maths we can’t do what they did years ago with seemingly no calculators or computers…. mind boggling actually…

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    • Simple. In the case of the pyramids, aliens did it. In the case of why don’t we build things like that anymore- nobody wants to work that hard for minimum wage. Okay, I’m being facetious, but I agree with your comment. The math in the case of the pyramids is amazing, as is the design of the amphitheater and many of the other huge structures. Someone might have made a connection between putting a hand up to cup the ear, and a solution for capturing sound in the shape of that “cup,” the amphitheater being that cup on a much larger scale. I wonder….

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  4. We can do the design part now (which remains a feat for those early civilizations) but I think where they had the advantage in construction is in using such massive rocks. The labour involved must have broken many a back, but the structure will endure. Only the rocks that were placed high up at the entrance, have suffered, probably from earthquakes. but I’d guess that those rocks built into the hillside will be there for thousands of years to come. Probably wasn’t built overnight, either.

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  5. Reading all these great little posts of your travels throughout Europe is giving me a travel bug! I have always wanted to go to Greece and visit these beautiful old sites. So did the crowd of tourists give “Captain Gary” a round of applause when he was done? That’s pretty funny! Great little story!

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    • No, it was like being in New York where everyone shouts their personal business in the streets and no one pays attention. But I was tickled! I’m glad I gave you the travel bug. The world is so big and full of wonderful sights to see.

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  6. Not only Greece has those beautiful amphitheatres. Last year we visited the one in Side (Turkey, seating 15- 20.000 spectators).
    The year before we visited the one in Ephesus, also in Turkey, seating 25.000 spectators. All of them are so beautiful to visit. I always get the same creepy feeling. Thinking of how many spectators were there – where did they go? Great job to dig up all those old slides and show them to us! Thanks for sharing.

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    • This is the only one I’ve seen. You’ve been lucky to see more than one. Aren’t they amazing though?! I don’t think the spectators worried too much about where to “go.” Nowadays, there would have to be bathrooms built in. Too much to worry about when you’re building into a hillside. Guess they had to go before the performance or between acts.

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    • I guess I misunderstood you when you said “Thinking of how many spectators were there – where did they go?” The word “go” can have more than one meaning. Okay, let’s leave that one alone then. 🙂

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    • That old architecture is something you never forget when you see it and imagine the scenarios that must have taken place there for over 2000 years. And for it still to be pretty much intact after such a long time really is impressive, as you said.

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  7. What a feeling to be there, Anneli, and knowing all those past lives sat their bums on those seats once upon a time. Very fascinating, is time.

    The acoustics – that would have been something. I LOVE your photos.

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    • Yeah, who knows? Maybe I sat on the same seat that some famous Greek sat on way back in the 4th century BC. Wouldn’t it be amazing to be able to see what went before – look through a time machine?

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  8. Pingback: Corinth Canal | wordsfromanneli

  9. I am so glad you redirected us back to this post… I have done a bit of research into this phenomenal structure… and I think I said it before, this type of structure fascinates me… this is a wonder of old time construction that we struggle to emulate today… fascinating…

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  10. I remember reading somewhere that one of our experts felt that the ancient Greeks did not understand the acoustical design of the theater… I say what rot, do they think this was designed by mistake, one that worked.?.. the ancient Greeks fully understood acoustics and sound waves and this was so designed to produce the best sound for all to hear (without modern mikes and amplifiers)..

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