Vinson: Wild bird of Nemea


As mentioned in previous columns, I have an interest in Greek mythology, particularly Hercules, the Greek god of strength. For those so inclined, consider renting the movie "Hercules," released in 2014 and starring movie star and World Wrestling Entertainment/WWE champ Dewayne Johnson, a.k.a. "The Rock." For those interested in learning yet more about Hercules, attempt to get your hands on the movies "Hercules," released in 1957, and "Hercules Unchained," released in 1959. Both movies starred the late Steve Reeves, a professional body building champ turned actor. Indeed, the latter two movies are cult classics.

The following story was told to me by my friend Jimmy Zavogiannis, a full-blooded Greek who hails from Nemea, Greece.

"Began Jimmy: "This was around 1961, and I was, say, ten-years-old. My father and another man had gone to the mountains--near our small village in Nemea--to hunt for honey. When they returned, dad had this large, strange-looking bird with him. The bird had a really bad injury on his right wing."

"What kind of bird?" I interrupted.

"I would say it was kin to the eagle family because of its size, beak, claws, wingspan, and dark color," Jimmy answered. "It was maybe as tall as a full-grown, wild male turkey, and had a wingspan, from tip-to-tip, of around six feet."

Jimmy went on to tell me his family owned a small coffee shop in the Village of Nemea, and they lived directly above the coffee shop, with three sets of steps, thus three flat landings, leading from the coffee shop up to the family living quarters.

Having to restrain him with a rope, at first, Jimmy's family kept the bird down in the coffee shop and nursed him back to health by cleaning and dressing the wound on his wing, with Jimmy's mother feeding him leftover scraps from the coffee shop: bread, cheese, chicken, etc.

"It took about six months for the bird to heal up," Jimmy added. "By that time, the bird had become domesticated, wasn't a threat, and instead, was somewhat of a feature attraction for the locals . . . then . . ."

"What?" I anxiously cut in.

"Eventually, the bird got loose and started walking around in the street. Because of the damage to his wing, no one thought he could fly, so we just let the bird wander around. He got to where he would perch on a stone retainer-like wall that was part of a church across the street from the coffee shop. However, when it came evening time, he would spend the night on the second landing leading up to our home."

Jimmy paused, a smile came across his face, and he continued.

"One day, I was sitting outside the coffee shop with some customers. We were watching the bird, across the street at the church. With no warning, the bird took off flying, as though he'd never been injured. We all stood up and started clapping and waving goodbye, thinking we'd never see him again. He soared so high in the sky I could barely see him. For me, a child, it was like magic!
"This went on for about two years: The bird would fly away, stay gone a few days, return to the second landing of our home at night, and we continued feeding him. Then, one morning, we found him dead on the second landing. I guess you could say he came home to die," said Jimmy with a slight tone of sadness. "I've never seen another bird like him; no one in my village ever saw a bird like him. He's always been a pleasant mystery to me."

Here's the reason I even mentioned "Hercules" in this column: As punishment for killing his wife and six sons, Hercules was required to perform 12 difficult tasks, popularly known as the "Twelve Labors of Hercules." The first labor was to kill the "Nemean Lion," a giant, vicious lion that lived in Nemea, Greece, and wreaked havoc on the villagers.

While Hercules and the Nemean Lion, no doubt, are Greek mythology, I am convinced Jimmy's "Wild Bird of Nemea" is Greek fact!