So she was thinking, one fine morning on the slopes of Mount Athos, when minding her goats.
Orlando's Greek pastoral idyll is a brief but crucial stage of her travels and travails homeward and into the present day. In transit between identities and divested of her title and cultural position, she finds herself the guest of a nomadic tribe, who tend but do not own the ancient land that accommodates them. Her passage through Northern Greece is significantly located: setting one of Orlando's transformative epiphanies against the backdrop of Mount Athos, a site of gender exclusion, Woolf casts Orlando in the role of an unwitting interloper, trespassing on time and tradition, once again, and formatively, out of place. The episode hones Orlando's poetic disposition but also homes in on the ambivalent effects of one of its tested tropes – on the Greek mountain, Orlando both embodies and deploys the allegorical mode. As a woman (hidden among the ‘gipsies’ and under her ‘light burnous’), she is at once the emblem of an impossibility, a female creature on a sacred, forbidding all-male space, and of the very possibility of trespassing that space, on her way home. At the same time, as a pastoral poet, exercising the licence that allegory affords, she claims her own patrimony in a vision of renewed ownership, transformed by the passing of time and gender privilege. This chapter glosses the effect and provenance of this allegorical trope through a brief account of Woolf's Harrisonian Hellenism and her own passage through the Greek landscape, considered here in the light of Denis E. Cosgrove's foundational definition: ‘landscape represents a way of seeing – a way in which some Europeans have represented to themselves and to others the world about them and their relationships with it, and through which they have commented on social relations’.
‘The unseen is always haunting me, surging up behind the visible’, Jane Ellen Harrison writes in ‘Alpha and Omega’ (1915), her defence of atheism, or the ‘free idea’ as expression of the belief in the sacramental, mystical vitality of human experience. As ever, she turns to Greece to illustrate her point:
I had often wondered why the Olympians – Apollo, Athena, even Zeus, always vaguely irritated me, and why the mystery gods, their shapes and ritual, Demeter, Dionysus, the cosmic Eros, drew and drew me.