The Mysterious Peloponnese and the Mani: this is where the “Beautiful Helen” was born

The Mysterious Peloponnese and the Mani: did you know that the “Beautiful Helen” was born on the islet “Pefnos”, located in the port of Agios Dimitrios of West Mani? Plenty of us could see this islet without understanding how important this place is.

The islet “Pefnos” the next place you need to visit: here the “Beautiful Helen” was born

On Saturday 22 August 2020, the professor Petros Themelis and the Minister of Culture and Sports Lina Mendoni, inaugurated the statue (the egg from which Helena, Castor and Pollux was born), on the harbour of Agios Dimitrios. The statue is designed by the sculptor and artist Giannis Gkouzos. The process was done with methods reminding of the ones used in the ancient times and all the materials were carried hand in hand on a fishing boat. The created statue depicts Zeus who transformed into a swan and mated with Leda. From this union an egg emerged, through which the “Beautiful Helen” and the Dioscuri were born. And from now the islet “Pefnos” should be the next place you need to visit! Do you want to know who is behind the project? Keep reading!

How I met the man behind the project: the islet “Pefnos” and the “Beautiful Helen”

I met Ilias Moutzouris for the first time in the spring of 2019. Ilias is a contractor and owner of a well-run apartment complex in Agios Dimitrios that I wanted to offer for rent to our customers. The second time Elias and I met him was when a couple from Sweden was visiting the area. Our friend Jan Andersson and Ilias discovered that they shared the same interest and passion: Greek mythology. And especially the story around Helen of Sparta. This was the first time Ilias Moutzouris revealed to us which type of dream he had many years ago: memorial place there the “Beautiful Helen” was born. I asked Ilias now in August about the details and I am proud and happy to share his story with you all!

Ilias Moutzouris: about the background to the project

The whole project was based on an idea i had many years ago, when i first read the ancient traveller Pausanias text (150 AC), describing two bronze statues that were erected on Pefnos islet (Pausanias – Description of Greece – page 225). This islet is next to the harbour of Agios Dimitrios on West Mani. I was really curious to see what happened to those statues, so i found some reports, for example one report from the English traveller Morrit (Morrit – Modern traveller – page 317) that mentions on 1800 that he visited the tower of the pirate Christeas in Agios Dimitrios and reports: “the island contained nothing except two small bronze figures of Castor and Pollux, which were, however, miraculously immovable, even by the winter’s storm and the sea which beat upon them. The miracle is no longer performed, and the statues are gone.” I imagined that possibly the statues were stolen and i felt really sad because the ancient residents of Agios Dimitrios village (called Pefnos in antiquity) made so much effort to build these statues and place them on the islet. The idea of creating another statue and put it back on the same spot were the statues existed, has just been created.

Five years ago i met the professor of Archaeology Petros Themelis (he is responsible for all the excavations of ancient Messini) and i told him my thoughts. The idea was to create two bronze statues of the Dioscuri, exactly as Pausanias mentioned in his text. But professor Themelis advised me not to try and copy the look of the ancient statues, because they were stolen and we dont have reports of how they looked. So he suggested that we find an artist and create a modern sculpture that will describe the myth of birth of Dioscuri and “beautiful Helen” (also known as “Helen of Troy”). Because he told me that according to one version of the myth (Euripides Helen – vs.17 and 252, Fulgentius The mythographer – page 78 etc) Helen and Dioscuri were born from the same egg, on the islet Pefnos!

He introduced me to the artist Giannis Gkouzos and a lot of ideas were discussed. But in the end we concluded to an idea that was referred to the myth and also protected the statue from the huge winter’s waves. Because as Pausanias mentioned about the statues: “These the sea cannot move from their position, though in winter time it dashes violently over the rock”, the same thing happens in nowdays, the waves are so big sometimes in the winter, that the whole islet is covered by the sea. The idea was to create an egg for all the above reasons, but mainly because the myth says that Helen and Dioscuri were born from an egg. On the top of the egg a carving would depict the union of Swan/Zeus with Leda, because from this union Helen and Dioscuri led to birth.

All the materials (metal bars, woods, concrete, stones etc) were carried hand by hand with a small fishing boat, exactly like the in ancient times they carried their own materials for making the bronze statues. The construction lasted about a week of everyday work, on difficult but creative moments. All the residents helped voluntary with any way they could and all the village got closer with this construction. A part of the cost was covered by the municipality of West Mani and a part was covered by me.