Ornaments: decorative patterns and floral designs added to the foot, rim, handles and borders of vessels. Lotus, palmettes, ivy, meander, rays, tongues and rosettes were the most popular to the ancient Hellenes.  Why should you care? Well, you don't have to, but a lot of you enjoy making some form of art or decorations for shrines and as little gifts to the Gods, so I figured you might be interested. The most important ones are listed below:

I think most of those are rather self-explanatory, but let me note a bit about the two most important subgroups, the palmettes and the meander.

It is thought that the palmette originated in ancient Egypt 2,500 years BC and has influenced Hellenic art. Egyptian palmettes (or 'anthemion', in Greek, from 'ανθέμιον', a flower were originally based on features of various flowers, including the papyrus and the lotus or lily representing lower and upper Egypt and their fertile union, before it became associated with the palm tree. From earliest times there was a strong association with the sun and it is probably an early form of the halo.

The essence of the palmette is a symmetrical group of spreading 'fronds' that spread out from a single base, normally widening as they go out, before ending at a rounded or fairly blunt pointed tip. There may be a central frond that is larger than the rest. The number of fronds is variable, but typically between five and about fifteen. In the repeated border design commonly referred to as anthemion the palm fronds more closely resemble petals of the honeysuckle flower, as if designed to attract fertilizing insects.

A meander or meandros (Μαίανδρος) is a decorative border constructed from a continuous line, shaped into a repeated motif. Such a design is also called the Greek fret or Greek key design, although these are modern designations. The meander often represents a labyrinth in linear form and may have symbolized infinity and unity. The many versions with rounded shapes are called running scrolls.

Meanders are common decorative elements in Hellenic and Roman art. In ancient Hellas they appeared in many architectural friezes, and in bands on the pottery from the Geometric Period onwards. They were among the most important symbols in ancient Hellas and many ancient temples incorporated the sign of the meander. Hellenic vases, especially during their Geometric Period, were probably the main reason for the widespread use of meanders.

Image copyright Ori Keren, uploaded by Mark Cartwright.
A few days ago, I wrote about Narkissos and the (relatively late) introduction of his mythology. In it, I mentioned the Oxyrhynchus Papyri...and then discovered that a lot of you have never heard about it. Let's rectify that, shall we!


The Oxyrhynchus Papyri are a group of texts that were discovered at Oxyrhynchus (known today as el-Bahnasa). The city of Oxyrhynchus (meaning ‘sharp-nosed’ in Greek) is located in the Minya Governorate in Upper Egypt, 160 km (99 mi) to the southwest of Cairo. This city lies on the Bahr Yussef (‘Canal of Joseph’), which is a branch of the Nile situated to the west of the main river. For over a millennium, the inhabitants of the city would throw away their rubbish in a number of sites in the desert beyond the city limits. Amongst these items were texts written on papyri that the people of Oxyrhynchus no longer wanted.

The Oxyrhynchus Papyri first came to light in the final years of the 19th century. In 1896, two British Egyptologists, Bernard Pyne Grenfell and Arthur Surridge Hunt, chose to excavate at El-Bahnasa. One factor that influenced the two men to choose this city as their excavation site was its reputation as a key Christian center in ancient times. The two men were hoping that they would be able to find some interesting pieces of early Christian literature there. On January 11, 1897, a piece of papyrus with unknown Logia, or ‘Sayings of Jesus’ was brought to the surface (it would later be determined that this was the apocryphal Gospel of Thomas). Next was a leaf from the Gospel of Matthew, and then even more pieces of papyri. In three months, the men found enough papyri to fill 280 boxes.

Apart from early Christian literature, the Oxyrhynchus Papyri also contained numerous other types of works. For example, some of the papyri have been found to hold magical spells, texts used in everyday situations such as grocery lists, official records, business contracts, and personal correspondences. These papyri offer scholars a glimpse into the lives of the ancient inhabitants of Oxyrhynchus. In addition, pieces of ancient literature, which would otherwise have been completely lost, have been found amongst the Oxyrhynchus Papyri. Two of the most famous of these are a satyr play by Sophocles and poetry by Sappho.

This group of documents is seen as one of the most important discoveries when it comes to manuscripts because they have works of ancient literature that are not known to have survived anywhere else in the world. Whilst scholars have been hard at work transcribing the texts on the papyri found by Grenfell and Hunt, this undertaking is far from complete, and is still being carried out today.

The Oxyrhynchus Papyri Collection belongs mainly to the Egypt Exploration Society (apart from some personal items of Grenfell and Hunt), and is housed by Oxford University in its Sackler Library. The Society owns over 500,000 papyrus fragments, the largest collection of papyri in the world. The collection mainly comprises literary, documentary and other texts in Greek, dating from the third century BC to the seventh century AD, but also includes a few hundred texts each in Egyptian (hieroglyphic, hieratic, demotic, mostly Coptic), Latin and Arabic, and a very few in Hebrew and Aramaic, Syriac and Pahlavi. Most of these papyri come from the excavations of Bernard Grenfell and Arthur Hunt at ancient Oxyrhynchus in 1896/7 and from 1903 to 1906/7.

Some of the Greek and Latin texts come from ancient village sites in the Fayyum and from the cemeteries of el-Hibeh where Grenfell and Hunt dug between 1895 and 1903, and from the 1913/14 excavations of John de M. Johnson at Antinoopolis. The Society also holds various records of the excavations and the distribution of the finds, including several hundred photographs taken by Hunt and Johnson.

The Sackler Library provides a room equipped for the restoration, photography and decipherment of the papyri. Work is also carried out at University College London and the Institute of Classical Studies of the University of London. In the earlier years some papyri were sent to the Cairo Museum after publication, and others were distributed to appropriate museums and educational institutions in Great Britain and the North America to encourage interest in papyrology, but now all published papyri are retained to facilitate future re-examination and the possible joining of fragments.

Financial support for the care and publication of the collection, which is designated as a British Academy Major Project, is currently provided by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the British Academy. The EES appoints a Management Committee to oversee the collection and its publication.

The collection website, POxy: Oxyrhynchus Online, provides digital images of most of the published papyri (except those which were distributed). These images are created by another project, ‘Imaging Papyri in Oxford’. Requests to reproduce the images require the approval both of the Imaging Papyri project and of the Oxyrhynchus Papyri Management Committee.
An MSU professor is setting out to use new technology on old parts of the world. Jon Frey, a professor in the Department of Art, Art History and Design, is working on a project to digitize archaeological sites in Isthmia, Greece.

Greece Archive 3

A comparison of the best imagery possible from Google Earth, left,
and the image Frey's team was able to create from drone work of
ancient sites in Isthmia, Greece. Courtesy of Jon Frey.

In 1993, Frey set out to Isthmia, one of the most important cities in the Ancient World, as part of the Ohio State University Excavations at Isthmia when he was a student at Ohio State University.
Frey came back to work on the excavation in 1995 and 1996, eventually coming back as a field coordinator at the site. Art history and visual culture senior Stephanie Vettese said she first met Frey in a class freshman year and enjoyed his teaching style.

“He’s really animated when he teaches, so he’s jumping all over the place. He’s really excited and passionate about his work and he loves to make modern day comparisons, too, so that helps people learn, but also (he) is just hilarious. He’s great.”

This passion led to Frey coming back to the excavation in 2007, and he used that time to come up with a different approach. Frey has started to digitize the sites at Isthmia and the records of past excavations at those sites by making maps and 3-D models with GPS, drones, aerial photography and more to show where different discoveries were found during previous excavations. Frey said while most archaeologists do keep records of what they dig up, they don’t often share it with the public.
With the digitization, Frey's intention is to make the records public. He said he wants to honor and expand the "unspoken contract" among archaeologists. According to Frey:

“When archaeologists are given the opportunity to dig these things up, we owe it to the people who gave us the permission to do that and we owe it to the international (and) cultural heritage community to tell people what we found. In some ways, to dig something up and then to not really tell the wider community about what you found is about the same thing as not having it dug up at all.” 

Frey said digitizing these records and sites will allow archaeologists to connect them together, so future archaeologists and excavators can see what has been excavated in the past and know what to look for in the future.

“If somebody is digging in 1960 … and then somebody comes back and digs something else in 1980, and they have a general sense of what happened in 1960 but not necessarily a very careful sense, they may not make the connection that we can make today. That’s something you couldn’t necessarily do with the old plans. Now we can do it quite effectively with new, digital plans.” 

Anthropology senior Lucy Steele said Frey's ability to use technology to do excavations was something she didn’t know was possible.

“I think where he’s going with this project is very interesting, just to kind of rethink how to visualize a site, because it’s destroyed as it’s dug. To be able to put that into the digital side and recreate that and look at spacial relationships differently is very exciting.”

Source: Slatenews (Jonathan LeBlanc, April 18, 2017)
Have you ever wondered how the ancient Hellenes took care of the mess after going number two? Me neither, until I found out. If you're eating breakfast right now, you might want to hold off on reading today's post. You have been warned.


Before the age of toilet paper, people still ate and thus they went number two on a regular basis. In fact, it wasn't until 6th century AD China, when wealthy individuals started using regular paper for sanitary purposes, toilet paper came into use. The first known reference to toilet paper in the West does not appear until the 16th century, when satirist François Rabelais mentions that 'it doesn’t work particularly well at its assigned task'.

So what about the ancient Hellenes? Most commonly, they seem to have made use of rounded fragments of ceramic known as ‘pessoi’, meaning 'pebbles'. In an achaeological dig in Athens, American archaeologists found a range of such pessoi 1.2 to 4 inches in diameter and 0.2 to 0.8 inches thick which seemed to be re-cut from old broken ceramics to give smooth angles that would minimize trauma when used. As you can see, some effort went into making these tools and there seems to be a Greek axiom about frugality on the use of pessoi and their purpose stating: 'Three stones are enough to wipe'.

Some pessoi may have originated as ostraca (ὄστρακα), pieces of broken ceramic on which the Greeks of old inscribed the names of people who should be ostracized from the city for appearing to be a danger to it. During an ostracism (ostrakismos, ὀστρακισμός) each member of the ekklesia would choose a politician they wished to have 'ostracized', or exiled for ten years. If any one name received a majority and a total of 6,000 or more votes, that man would have to leave. Ostracism was often used preemptively, as a way of neutralizing someone thought to be a threat to the state or potential tyrant. As such, ostracism had no relation to the processes of justice; there was no charge or defense, and the exile was not in fact a penalty; it was simply a command from the people that one of their number be gone for ten years.

Using shards of a hard substance to clean, no matter how polished they were, had obvious medical risks. Long term use of pessoi could have resulted in local irritation, skin or mucosal damage, or complications of external haemorrhoids. Yikes! Think of this next time you're longing to go back in time to ancient Hellas!
Alright, forgive me for this one. So, I came across the video below on YouTube, 'ugh'ed at the images, clicked away. Then clicked back because why the heck? What were the criteria for this list? What was the grading based on? Who judged? Did they know Hellenic mythology? I mean, I agree these Gods are powerful, but if we're really doing something as horrible as ranking Them, at least look a little beyond the obvious, please. Here's the list discussed, with the description:


"The stories of gods and goddess from the ancient Greek mythology are immensely popular in pop culture. Their characters were popularized and subsequently immortalized by some famous play writers in ancient Greece that included the likes of Homer and Hesiod. What makes the folklore behind these ancient Greek deities stand apart is the way their stories deviated from that of other contemporary ancient religions. The Greek gods resembled humans not only in their form but also in their nature and emotions. [...] As for the majestic Gods of ancient Greece, lets see how many of your favorites make it on our top 10 list."

Okay, so, yes. All of these Olympians (because They are all Olympians) are powerful. They're Gods, so of course They are. But I'm not exactly sure that I would have held fast to this list. Since watching the video, I've been thinking about my 'ranking', which isn't so much a question of 'who is more powerful', but one of 'are there any Gods who can command Zeus or otherwise hold power over Him'? Mythologically speaking, I would say 'yes'. I'm not going to rank them, but here are six Gods (well, They turned out to be only Goddesses) who hold sway over Zeus, King of the Gods, and are thus, well, pretty darn powerful.

Gaia
All the Protogenoi, as the First Born Deities of the Hellenic Kosmos, are essential to our survival and thus are held in high regard by the Olympians--Zeus included. Still, Gaia, as the earth Herself is rather critical. On top of that, Gaia was at the head of the rebellion against Her husband Ouranos who had imprisoned several of Her giant-sons within her womb and later, when Her son Kronos defied Her by imprisoning these same sons, she sided with Zeus in His rebellion against Him. Finally She came into conflict with Zeus because She was angered by His binding of Her Titan-sons in Tartaros. She birthed a tribe of Gigantes and later the monster Typhoeus to overthrow Him, but both failed in their attempts. So technically Zeus is stronger than Her, but He needed every single other God and Goddess he could get on His side to pull it off, which brings us to...

Hekate
After the Titanomachy, Zeus bestowed upon Her the highest of honors. As Hesiod writes in his 'Theogony: "Again, Phoebe came to the desired embrace of Coeus. [...] And she conceived and bare Hecate whom Zeus the son of Cronos honoured above all. He gave her splendid gifts, to have a share of the earth and the unfruitful sea. She received honour also in starry heaven, and is honoured exceedingly by the deathless gods. [...] For as many as were born of Earth and Ocean amongst all these she has her due portion. The son of Cronos did her no wrong nor took anything away of all that was her portion among the former Titan gods: but she holds, as the division was at the first from the beginning, privilege both in earth, and in heaven, and in sea. [...] Also, because she is an only child, the goddess receives not less honour, but much more still, for Zeus honours her."

Styx
Styx is a river Goddess, one of many. Hers is the river of hatred. Styx was a firm ally of Zeus in the Titan Wars, who brought Her children Nike, Zelos, Bia and Kratos to stand beside the God in battle. Zeus rewarded Her by making Her stream the agent of oaths which bind the Gods. Read that again: if the Gods swear an oath an They break it, They answer to Styx.

Demeter
When Hades kidnapped Demeter's daughter Kore, Demeter marched right up to Zeus and told Him to get her daughter back ASAP. Zeus, in very short, told Her it was not His problem, even though Kore was His daughter. Bereft (and possibly mightily pissed off), Demeter stopped performing her divine duties and humanity nearly starved. Since the Gods need humans if They want to receive sacrifices, Zeus caved and got Hades to release Kore.

Themis
Themis was an early bride of Zeus and His first counsellor. She was often represented seated beside His throne advising Him on the precepts of divine law and the rules of fate. Not odd, considering Themis is the Titan Goddess of divine law and order--the traditional rules of conduct first established by the gods. She is also a prophetic Goddess who presided over the most ancient oracles, including Delphi. In this role, She was the divine voice who first instructed mankind in the primal laws of justice and morality, such as the precepts of piety, the rules of hospitality, good governance, conduct of assembly, and pious offerings to the Gods. In short: Themis is a Goddess who can see the future, advices Zeus on what to do based on Her insights, taught humankind the rules on which the Gods would judge them and, oh yes, she also does the actual judging.

Metis
She is one of the elder Okeanides and the Titan-Goddess of good counsel, planning, cunning and wisdom. If you haven't  heard much about Her it's because Zeus swallowed Her whole when a prophecy was revealed that She was destined to bear a son greater than His father. Metis afterwards bore a daughter, Athena, from Zeus' head and Her wisdom and powers of judgement were entirely absorbed by Zeus, basically making Smarter and a lot more powerful. Without swallowing Metis, things could have turned out very different in the Hellenic pantheon!
Anathema is a noun and in modern times it is used to mean a formal ban, curse or excommunication. It can also refer to someone or something extremely negative, disliked or damned. Curiously enough, the original Greek meaning for this word was 'something offered to the Gods'. So what happened?


Some quick definitions of the modern word from Merriam-Webster:

Definition of anathema
1 a :  one that is cursed by ecclesiastical authority
b :  someone or something intensely disliked or loathed —usually used as a predicate nominative
… this notion was anathema to most of his countrymen. — Stephen Jay Gould

2 a :  a ban or curse solemnly pronounced by ecclesiastical authority and accompanied by excommunication
b :  the denunciation of something as accursed
c :  a vigorous denunciation :  curse

Anathema derives from Ancient Greek: ἀνάθεμα, anáthema, meaning 'an offering' or 'anything dedicated', itself derived from the verb ἀνατίθημι, anatíthēmi, meaning 'to offer up'. That was its sole use.

Things changed when the Bible became involved. In the translation of the Jewish Bible known as the Septuagint the word is used to render the Hebrew word חרם (herem), and appears in verses such as Leviticus 27:28 to refer to things that are offered to God and so banned for common (non-religious) use. The Hebrew word was also used for what was devoted, by virtue of a simple vow, not to the Lord, but to the priest. In postexilic Judaism, the meaning of the word changed to an expression of God's displeasure with all persons, Jew or pagan, who do not subordinate their personal conduct and tendencies to the discipline of the theocracy, and must be purged from the community—thus making anathema an instrument of synagogal discipline.

The noun occurs in the Greek New Testament six times. Its meaning in the New Testament is disfavor of God, a meaning that, according to Vine's Complete Expository Dictionary of Old Testament and New Testament Word, in Acts 23:14 to the sentence of disfavor, and in the other instances to the object of God's disfavor.

Since the time of the apostles, the term 'anathema' has come to mean a form of extreme religious sanction, known as excommunication. The earliest recorded instance of the form is in the Council of Elvira (c. 306), and thereafter it became the common method of cutting off heretics. When the authority of Rome was split in the Great Schism between Eastern and Western churches in 1054, an anathema was issued by Rome against the Eastern Patriarch who then issued another one against the cardinal who delivered it.
In the most common version of the myth, Narkissos (Narcissus, Νάρκισσος) was a hunter from Thespiae in Boeotia who was known for his beauty. He was the son of the river God Kephissos (Cephissus) and nymph Liriope. He was proud, in that he disdained those who loved him. Nemesis noticed this behavior and attracted Narkissos to a pool, where he saw his own reflection in the water and fell in love with it, not realizing it was merely an image. Unable to leave the beauty of his reflection, Narcissus lost his will to live. Narkissos is the origin of the term 'narcissism', a fixation with oneself and one's physical appearance and/or public perception.

The Roman poet Ovid is our primary source on the myth of Narkissos, but he was, as I said, Roman. Ovid, and Roman mythology in general, has been a subject on this blog before, and always comes with a disclaimer that these views were not, in fact, Hellenic. I have mentioned in passing that I don't feel the Hellenic and Roman Gods are one and the same, although they are often painted as the same Gods with a different name, and often times, the myths the Romans knew were different from the Hellenic myths they were based on. Sometimes these differences are subtle, sometimes (like in the myth of Médousa) and also Narkissos, they are not.

The version by Ovid, found in book 3 of his Metamorphoses (completed 8 AD) is the story of Echo and Narcissus. One day Narcissus was walking in the woods when Echo, an Oread (mountain nymph) saw him, fell deeply in love, and followed him. Narcissus sensed he was being followed and shouted "Who's there?". Echo repeated "Who's there?" She eventually revealed her identity and attempted to embrace him. He stepped away and told her to leave him alone. She was heartbroken and spent the rest of her life in lonely glens until nothing but an echo sound remained of her. Nemesis learned of this story and decided to punish Narcissus. She lured him to a pool where he saw his own reflection. He did not realize it was only an image and fell in love with it. He eventually recognized that his love could not be reciprocated and withered away like Echo did.

The oldest version of the myth currently known to us, ascribed to the poet Parthenios of Nicaea (Παρθένιος ὁ Νικαεύς), composed around 50 BC, differs. It was found in fragments in ancient rubbish dumps at Oxyrhynchus in Egypt. The papyrus fragment is one of tens of thousands that were found in the late 19th and early 20th century. These dumps, now fully excavated, are the world's largest source of ancient writings, accounting for 70 percent of all known literary papyri. Many are kept at Oxford but the majority have still not been fully transcribed and translated. It was during work on these remaining manuscripts that the Narkissos fragment was found. This is what was written:

(NARCISSUS)
... god-like ...
... ...
He had a cruel heart, and hated all of them,
Till he conceived a love for his own form:
He wailed, seeing his face, delightful as a dream,
Within a spring; he wept for his beauty.
Then the boy shed his blood and give it to the earth
... to bear

There is also another ancient Hellenic version by Conon, in his Narrations 24, which differs from Ovid's account even though they were contemporaries. Conon was a Hellenic mythographer who lived from the 1st century BC to 1st century AD.

"Ameinias was a very determined but fragile youth. When he was cruelly spurned by Narkissos (Narcissus), he took his sword and killed himself by the door, calling on the goddess Nemesis to avenge him. As a result when Narkissos saw the beauty of his form reflected in a stream he fell deeply in love with himself. In despair and believing that he had rightly earned this curse for the humiliation of Ameinias, he slew himself. From his blood sprang the flower."

These versions of the Narcissus story is much more concise than Ovid's. Ovid devotes many verses to the nymph Echo, who in her unrequited love for Narkissos wastes away. There is no trace of her either in the papyrus text, nor Conon's account. There, Narkissos is a young boy and his lovers are all male. Ovid also distinguishes himself from the other two authors by having Narkissos, like Echo, simply waste away. His body mysteriously disappears, and when the nymphs come to collect it, they find a flower in its place. In Conon's version, as in the new papyrus, the boy kills himself. In Parthenios' version, no flower is mentioned, but (as a kind of midway form) the narcissus flower is mentioned by Conon.

There are no older versions of this myth we are aware of than the version by Parthenios, which stems from 50 BC. If the ancient Hellenes in the fourth or third century BC even knew of Narkissos is thus questionable. They may have, or they may not have. The more you know, right?