Sunset on Kea

Sunset on Kea – i’m not going to wake up to watch the dawn for you.

I haven’t written anything historical about the islands I’ve visited yet; of course, being Greek, each one has a unique and interesting history, but none more so that the island of Kea.

Well, yes, it is here, that Simonides, one of the greatest poets was born; he is best known from his epitaph to the 300 Spartans at Thermopylae: “Stranger, announce to the Spartans that here we lie, having fulfilled their orders.” (it loses a bit in translation).

But what I find blogworthy is that there was a tradition that anyone who reached the age of sixty would voluntarily kill himself by drinking a cup of conium (hemlock) – the same poison Socrates was executed with. It was called Kea’s law and it is reported by many ancient writers like StraboHerakleides Pontikos, even Claudius Aelianus who wrote of this as late as 225AD. Valerius Maximus in 18AD even describes such a suicide, which took place in his presence. An old lady took conium surrounded by her family, having made her will and kissed everyone goodbye; an ancient version of Zurich’s Dignitas ritual.

It is said that the law was passed during a long siege and that it was proposed by the older population so that the younger ones could live. No one knows when and how it was abolished but, as usual, there’s a good story about it.

There was once a Keian who refused to let his old father die and hid him in his house against the law. During a power vacuum on the island, it was agreed that the first person to spot the dawn’s sunrays would become king. The good son listened to his father’s advice and instead of looking east like everybody else,  looked west to the tall mountains and saw the first dawn light hit their peaks. When asked whether he thought of this stratagem himself, he told the truth; that it was his father’s idea – and that his father still lived.

This event made the islanders realize that the old citizens still had a lot to contribute from their experience, and they abolished the law.

Maybe something also to be learned in our ageist times..