Posts Tagged ‘Ancient Greece’

The Onassis Cultural Foundation in midtown Manhattan has just opened an interesting exhibition on the role of women in ancient Greece, as illuminated in art of the time. The New York Times writes,

The main misconception is the notion that women had a universally mute and passive role in Athenian society. It is true that they lived with restrictions modern Westerners would find intolerable. Technically they were not citizens. In terms of civil rights, their status differed little from that of slaves. Marriages were arranged; girls were expected to have children in their midteens. Yet, the show argues, the assumption that women lived in a state of purdah, completely removed from public life, is contradicted by the depictions of them in art.

Much of that art is religious, which is no surprise considering the commanding female deities in the Greek pantheon. Like most gods in most cultures they are moody, contradictory personalities, above-it-all in knowledge but quick to play personal politics and intervene in human fate. Four of them make in-depth appearances here.

Read more of this excellent review.

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This is the Antikythera Mechanism, and it’s the oldest computer on Earth, discovered over a century ago in a shipwreck off Crete, and built in the 2nd century BC. We have only now learned about what it is, what it’s for, and what it does through high-resolution computer imagery and three-dimensional X-ray tomography. Reports earlier this year confirmed that it was an astronomical calendar; now we know the full capacities of this machine, perhaps the most sophisticated gear-based mechanism in human history before 18th-century clockworks.

The New York Times reports:

After a closer examination of the Antikythera Mechanism, a surviving marvel of ancient Greek technology, scientists have found that the device not only predicted solar eclipses but also organized the calendar in the four-year cycles of the Olympiad, forerunner of the modern Olympic Games.

Archimedes, who lived in Syracuse and died in 212 B.C., invented a planetarium calculating motions of the Moon and the known planets and wrote a lost manuscript on astronomical mechanisms. Some evidence had previously linked the complex device of gears and dials to the island of Rhodes and the astronomer Hipparchos, who had made a study of irregularities in the Moon’s orbital course.

The new findings, reported Wednesday in the journal Nature, also suggested that the mechanism’s concept originated in the colonies of Corinth, possibly Syracuse, in Sicily. The scientists said this implied a likely connection with the great Archimedes.

Read more from the Times here.

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From the esteemed Mediterranean Archaeology blog of Ioannis Georganas, and immediately following our previous discussion of Queen Zenobia and powerful women of antiquity, we learn that:

University of Manchester researchers have revealed how women, as well as men, held positions of power in ancient Greece by right of birth.

Women were thought to have had little power in ancient Greece, unless they married a powerful man and were able to influence him. But a team of researchers testing ancient DNA from a high status, male-dominated cemetery at Mycenae in Greece believe they have identified a brother and sister buried together in a richly endowed grave, suggesting that she had as much power as him.

Professor Brown recalled: We were surprised to discover what appears to be a sister buried beside her brother in the high status, male-dominated grave circle. The implication is that she was buried in Grave Circle B not because of a marital connection but because she held a position of authority by right of birth.

DNA analysis has therefore enabled us to glimpse the factors contributing to the organisation of the higher echelons of society at the beginning of the Mycenaean age.

Read more here.

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They went to Delphi, the Earth’s center, to visit Phoebus’ Oracle, and prayed to him to grant them his aid in their misery, to give them some oracle that would restore their health and put an end to the evils of their great city. The ground, the laurel tree and the quivers which the god himself carries, all trembled together and, from the depths of the shrine, the sacred tripod uttered words, making the listeners’ hearts quake with fear… (Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Book XV)

Up on the slopes of Mount Parnassus, in the time before Time, the young god Apollo slew the monster Python and founded a shrine commemorating the event. It was the omphalos, the navel or center of the world, and Pegasus swooped in and stamped his hoof and cracked the ground from which came forth the Castalian Spring, pluming underground waters bearing a sweet perfume. (Of the last, so said Plutarch.) Down in an enclosed subterranean chamber, the Pythian Sibyl sat on a three-legged stool, breathed in the vapors surrounding her, swooned into a trance, and uttered delirious visions that would be translated, by the Pythian Priestesses, into prophesies that would command the fortunes of the kings of the world.

The Sibyl was a huffer.

In 2001, geologists discovered that two geologic faults intersected directly beneath the ruins of the Delphic Shrine. About every hundred years, earthquakes rattle the faults, heating the adjacent rocks and vaporizing the hydrocarbon deposits stored in them. The result: ethylene vapors, which, inhaled in concentration, produce a sense of disembodied euphoria. It is no longer a myth or a tall tale: that’s how the Pythian Sibyl received her visions from Apollo. Read more about the Delphic Oracle’s drug use here and here.

See Delphi and get a whiff of myth on Travel Dynamics International’s Landmark Sites of the Mediterranean: Greece, Sicily, North Africa, and Spain from November 9-28, 2008.

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Last summer, The New York Times‘ travel section published a lovely piece by Jennifer Conlin on her “Zeus Trip”: a summer vacation in Greece specifically planned to teach her kids about ancient history and mythology. It’s written with deft tongue-in-cheek, as she learns, by trial and error, how to keep her kids interested and learning, rather than bored and flippant.

She needn’t have worried, she needn’t have stressed, if she’d left the planning to us at Travel Dynamics International. Our family learning adventure, “Voyage to the Lands of Gods and Heroes,” is the model for ancient mythology-themed trips for kids. We design two separate sets of excursions: one for adults, and one for children, led by professional youth counselors who bring the legends of Theseus, Hercules, and Odysseus to life. Meaning you can have your cake and eat it too — you get to have your own elegant cruise in the Mediterranean, and give your kids or grandchildren a summer enrichment experience they’ll treasure for the rest of their lives. It’s a formula that’s a proven success: this trip has sold out for the past five years in a row.  

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Parthenon westSometimes something is so iconic, so lodged in our collective memory, its image so reproduced time and time again, that it becomes washed out, and decayed of meaning. It happens with everything great and old; consider van Gogh’s “Starry Night,” or Michelangelo’s “David.” The same thing certainly has happened to the greatest, most perfect construction of the ancients, the Parthenon.

What’s really exciting, in our age of infinite reproduction, is that the new sciences are completely refashioning the way in which we look at old things — reminding us of the genius and impossible craftsmanship that was necessary to create things of such greatness.

Smithsonian Magazine has an amazing article on new insights into the way the ancients constructed the Parthenon.

“The ancients spent a lot of time on another finishing touch. After the Parthenon’s exposed marble surfaces had been smoothed and polished, they added a final, subtle texture—a stippling pattern—that Korres says dulled the shine on the marble and masked its flaws. With hundreds of thousands of chisel blows, they executed this pattern in precisely ordered rows covering the base, floors, columns and most other surfaces. “This was surely one of the most demanding tasks,” Korres says. “It may have taken as much as a quarter of the total construction time expended on the monument.”

With such fanatical attention to detail, how could the Parthenon’s architects have finished the job in a mere eight or nine years, ending somewhere between 438 and 437 b.c.? (The dates come from the inscribed financial accounts.) One key factor may have been naval technology. Since the Athenians were the greatest naval power in the Aegean, they likely had unrivaled mastery of ropes, pulleys and wooden cranes. Such equipment would have been essential for hauling and lifting marble blocks.

Another, counterintuitive possibility is that ancient hand tools were superior to their modern counterparts. After analyzing marks left on the marble surfaces, Korres is convinced that centuries of metallurgical experimentation enabled the ancient Athenians to create chisels and axes that were sharper and more durable than those available today.”

Even if you’ve seen the Parthenon before, it’s time to look at again, with new eyes.

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