Telecatoptics

This was the word we devised a few years ago for what fascinated a Class Civ student: the study of things that are visible far away.

His interest was sparked by experiences over a few months. First, he climbed Skiddaw with his father on a hot day of Whitsun: there, from the summit, they could see the Isle of Man, 70 miles away, and it looked, he said, like Phaeacia as first seen by Odysseus: ‘like a shield laid flat upon the misty sea.’

In the summer he was taken by his cousins to see Ely Cathedral: they climbed the tower, and from there, bathed in morning sunlight, they could see Peterborough Cathedral, 32 miles away across the Fens.

At the end of August he visited his grandparents on the Wirral: and one Sunday evening, from the steps of a hilltop church called St Hilary’s, his grandfather pointed out to him the summit of Snowdon, 90 miles away. This was unusual: it was one of those evenings of late summer when the effect of the light is almost telescopic.

Then, in the Michaelmas term, he was reading about Hermann Göring sitting on a headland near Calais and scouring the white cliffs of Kent through his binoculars.

Now he had two questions. First, is it true that from the Acrocorinth you can see the Athenian Acropolis, and even make out the Parthenon?

I could answer that at once: yes—I had seen it myself.

But the second question I could not answer: was it true that on a clear day the Corinthians could even see the giant bronze statue of Athene Promachos* with her spear glinting in the sun, and that they would enrage themselves by trying to make it out? This he had been told by a friend. I did not know the source of this and could not answer. Perhaps it is in the category of things that ought to be true.

 

*This stood in the middle of the Acropolis, to the left of the Parthenon when you see it from the Propylaea (and in the picture above).