Sunday, July 5, 2015

Scholars cannot put a price tag on what the world owes Greece

After the recent aticle in The Guardian on why modern man should invest time in the study of classical literature, especially in this socially and economically troubled climate, it can come as no surprise that many people who have devoted their lives to the study of the Classics and the ancient Hellenic civilization agree that when our politicians decide n how to handle the economic situation in Greece, they keep in mind the debt we all have to the ancient Hellenic civilization.

In a letter to The Telegraph, these philhellenes urge our readers 'to remember the very great cultural debt that we owe to Greece'. The letter has been signed by In Our Time presenter Melvyn Bragg, historian Michael Wood, founder Martha Lane Fox, poet Professor Simon Armitage, novelist Victoria Hislop and a string of notable academics and writers. In full, it reads:

Dear Sir,
It is timely to remember the very great cultural debt that we owe to Greece, how valiantly many Greeks fought in WWII and how hard-working, frugal and family-minded the majority of Greeks have long been and continue to be. Whatever the precise nature of Greece’s economic future, it is profoundly to be hoped that the Greek people will receive robust support from its European allies, including those in the British Government.
Prof Angie Hobbs, Dr Bettany Hughes, Martha Lane Fox, Tom Holland, Victoria Hislop, Prof Simon Armitage, Prof Michael Wood, Prof Paul Cartledge, Melvyn Bragg, Prof Chris Pelling, Dr Armand D’Angour, Natalie Haynes, Charlotte Mendelson, Prof Edith Hall, Prof Armand Leroi, Dr Michael Scott
Unsurprisingly, many of these people have written books that Hellenists all over the world reffer to often for information and understanding. these are people most of us respect and admire. I have my own idea about the whole economic affair (I am sure we all have) but no matter what our standpoint is, this letter hits the nail on the head. As the Archaeology News Network reports:

"It is the country that gave us democracy, the Olympics, philosophy, medicine, mathematics and some ruddy good stories. Surely you can't put a price on that. [...] Just think: where would we be if Achilles hadn't been shot in the heel or Odysseus hadn't made it home? If Archimedes hadn't been obsessed with circles? If Pythagoras hadn't preferred angles? If Theseus hadn't killed the minotaur or Icarus hadn't flown too close to the sun or Persephone hadn't made a deal with Hades or Helen hadn't launched a thousand ships?

What would our world be like if Socrates hadn't talked of knowledge, Plato hadn't written about love, and Aristotle hadn't thought about science and ethics and logic and God? If Phidias hadn't designed the Parthenon and Polykleitos hadn't defined male beauty and Praxiteles hadn't sculpted the female form? If Hippocrates hadn't revolutionised medicine? If Alexander hadn't been so great?"
Try to argue with that, I dare you.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Constellation series: the Milky Way

the cConstellation series is done, but I have two bonus points for you, one of which today. There is more in the sky than the constellations, after all. Today we will talk about the mythology about the MilkyWay. Not the candy bar (sadly), but the galaxy that contains our Solar system.

The term 'Milky Way' is a translation of the Latin 'via lactea', from the Greek 'γαλαξίας κύκλος', 'galaxías kýklos', which translates as 'milky circle'. From Earth, the Milky Way appears as a band because its disk-shaped structure is viewed from within.

The Milky Way is a barred spiral galaxy that has a diameter usually considered to be roughly 100,000–120,000 light-years but may be 150,000–180,000 light-years. The Milky Way is estimated to contain 100–400 billion stars, although this number may be as high as one trillion. The Solar System is located within the disk, about 27,000 light-years from the Galactic Center, on the inner edge of one of the spiral-shaped concentrations of gas and dust called the Orion Arm (yes, named for the Orion constellation). The Milky Way was just one of eleven 'circles' the ancient Hellenes identified in the sky, others being the zodiac, the meridian, the horizon, the equator, the tropics of Cancer and Capricorn, Arctic and Antarctic circles, and two colure circles passing through both poles.

The ancient Hellenes were aware of the Milky Way, but were very unsure of what it actually was. Among many others, Aristotle (384–322 BC) wrote about it that the Hellenic philosophers Anaxagoras (c. 500–428 BC) and Democritus (460–370 BC) proposed that the Milky Way might consist of distant stars. However, Aristotle himself believed the Milky Way to be caused by 'the ignition of the fiery exhalation of some stars which were large, numerous and close together' and that the 'ignition takes place in the upper part of the atmosphere, in the region of the world which is continuous with the heavenly motions'. From the 'Meteorologica':

"Let us now explain the origin, cause, and nature of the milky way. And here too let us begin by discussing the statements of others on the subject. Of the so-called Pythagoreans some say that this is the path of one of the stars that fell from heaven at the time of Phaethon's downfall. Others say that the sun used once to move in this circle and that this region was scorched or met with some other affection of this kind, because of the sun and its motion.

But it is absurd not to see that if this were the reason the circle of the Zodiac ought to be affected in the same way, and indeed more so than that of the milky way, since not the sun only but all the planets move in it. We can see the whole of this circle (half of it being visible at any time of the night), but it shows no signs of any such affection except where a part of it touches the circle of the milky way.

Anaxagoras, Democritus, and their schools say that the milky way is the light of certain stars. For, they say, when the sun passes below the earth some of the stars are hidden from it. Now the light of those on which the sun shines is invisible, being obscured by the of the sun. But the milky way is the peculiar light of those stars which are shaded by the earth from the sun's rays.

This, too, is obviously impossible. The milky way is always unchanged and among the same constellations (for it is clearly a greatest circle), whereas, since the sun does not remain in the same place, what is hidden from it differs at different times. Consequently with the change of the sun's position the milky way ought to change its position too: but we find that this does not happen. Besides, if astronomical demonstrations are correct and the size of the sun is greater than that of the earth and the distance of the stars from the earth many times greater than that of the sun (just as the sun is further from the earth than the moon), then the cone made by the rays of the sun would terminate at no great distance from the earth, and the shadow of the earth (what we call night) would not reach the stars. On the contrary, the sun shines on all the stars and the earth screens none of them.

There is a third theory about the milky way. Some say that it is a reflection of our sight to the sun, just as they say that the comet is. But this too is impossible. For if the eye and the mirror and the whole of the object were severally at rest, then the same part of the image would appear at the same point in the mirror. But if the mirror and the object move, keeping the same distance from the eye which is at rest, but at different rates of speed and so not always at the same interval from one another, then it is impossible for the same image always to appear in the same part of the mirror. Now the constellations included in the circle of the milky way move; and so does the sun, the object to which our sight is reflected; but we stand still. And the distance of those two from us is constant and uniform, but their distance from one another varies. For the Dolphin sometimes rises at midnight, sometimes in the morning. But in each case the same parts of the milky way are found near it. But if it were a reflection and not a genuine affection of these this ought not to be the case.

Again, we can see the milky way reflected at night in water and similar mirrors. But under these circumstances it is impossible for our sight to be reflected to the sun. These considerations show that the milky way is not the path of one of the planets, nor the light of imperceptible stars, nor a reflection. And those are the chief theories handed down by others hitherto." [1.8]

Mythologically speaking, Hyginus is our sole surviving account of the mythology behind it. He believed it to be either the breastmilk of Rhea or Hera. From the 'Astronomica':

"There is a certain circular figure among the constellations, white in color, which some have called the Milky Way. Eratosthenes says that Juno [Hera], without realizing it, gave milk to the infant Mercury [Hermes], but when she learned that he was the son of Maia, she thrust him away, and the whiteness of the flowing milk appears among the constellations.
Others have said that Hercules [Hēraklēs] was given to Juno to nurse when she slept. When she awoke, it happened as described above. Others, again, say that Hercules was so greedy that he couldn’t hold in his mouth all the milk he had sucked, and the Milky Way spilled over from his mouth.
Still others say that at the time Ops [Rhea] brought to Saturn [Kronos] the stone, pretending it was a child, he bade her offer milk to it; when she pressed her breast, the milk that was caused to flow formed the circle which we mentioned above." [II.43]

As viewed from Earth, the visible region of the Milky Way's Galactic plane occupies an area of the sky that includes 30 constellations. The center of the Milky Way lies in the direction of the constellation Sagittarius; it is here that the Milky Way is brightest. From Sagittarius, the hazy band of white light appears to pass westward to the Galactic anticenter in Auriga. The band then continues westward the rest of the way around the sky, back to Sagittarius. The band divides the night sky into two roughly equal hemispheres. The Milky Way has a relatively low surface brightness. Its visibility can be greatly reduced by background light such as light pollution or stray light from the Moon. For observers from approximately 65 degrees north to 65 degrees south on Earth's surface, the Milky Way passes directly overhead twice a day.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Dver is looking for Hellenic festival experiences

Just a note today, from Dver, over at A forest Door. Dver, for those unfamiliar with her, is a spirit-worker on the margins of Hellenic polytheism and a fellow blogger who focusses mostly on Dionysos, Hermes, and Hekate withing the Hellenic pantheon. It seems she is in the middle of writing 'Komos: Celebrating Festivals in Contemporary Hellenic Polytheism', and it has occurred to her that she might like to include some experiences and/or ideas from other Hellenic polytheists to balance her own.

So, I am spreading the call: if you identify as Hellenic Polytheistic in any form and have either adapted an ancient festival or have created and entirely new one, and if you are willing to have it included in this book, please e-mail Dver a brief (one or two paragraphs) description of what it was about, why you did it, how you celebrated it, etc. She is looking for festivals that have actually been implemented, not just theoretical ideas.

Please note that at this point, this is just a preliminary possibility. She is not sure if she will definitely go ahead with it. It depends in large part on the submissions received and the way the book takes shape as a whole. And if she does, she is not sure if she wants to quote people in full or just incorporate the ideas. Either way, if she uses your submission, you will be given credit by whatever name you want.

So if you are interested, send her that e-mail, alright? And see you tomorrow!

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Pandora's Kharis nominees Skirophorion 2015

Another round of pitches has completed and once more, two worthy causes have been selected by the members of Pandora's Kharis.

Project Prentenboek (Project Picturebook)
Maaiek Kramer and Marjolein Witte, Dutch artists and art teachers, are working hard to crowdfund a new project. They are in the process of creating a picturebook for and by refugee children in The Netherlands (although the book will be translated into many languages after publishing (including English, Arabic, and French)). They came into contact with these kids after being asked by the local government to make a mural at the refugee centre and afterwards they just wanted to do... more. So they started teaching art classes at the kids' school and now they will use their stories and their drawing in a picture book that is meant to help non-refugee children (and adults) understand these kids, and for refugee children to see themselves reflected in the pages of a beautiful book.

Of course a project like that needs money. Books need to be printed, materials bought, and people paid to do the lay-out and translations. Total costs: about 6000,- euros. They have made about half so far and I would like to help them push their total even further.

The League Against Cruel Sports
The League Against Cruel Sports is the leading UK charity helping to prevent cruelty to animals associated with sports such as fox hunting, game bird shooting and wildlife crime. Over nine decades of campaigning, the League has developed effective ways to thwart such sports through calling form and bringing about, legislative change; educating the general public and gaining public support for the issues at hand; and causing difficulty for the people inflicting cruelty. All these actions help animals on a day-to-day basis. But there is always more to do.

They rely on public support to carry out their work, which includes campaigning to keep the Hunting Ban and preventing illegal hunting with dogs which, despite the Hunting Act, is still happening around the UK.

You may cast your vote here or in the comments until July 18, 2015. Thank you!

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

'Classics for the people – why we should all learn from the ancient Greeks'

The Guardian recently put up an interesting article on why modern man should invest time in the study of classical literature, especially in this socially and economically troubled climate. I would like to share a bit of that article and encourage you to write the rest over at the Guardian itself.

"The foundations of Greek culture were laid long before the arrival of Christianity, between 800 and 300BC. Greek-speakers lived in hundreds of different villages, towns and cities, from Spain to Libya and the Nile Delta, from the freezing river Don in the northeastern corner of the Black Sea to Trebizond. They were culturally elastic, and often freely intermarried with other peoples; they had no sense of ethnic inequality that was biologically determined, since the concepts of distinct world “races” had not been invented. They tolerated and even welcomed imported foreign gods. And what united them was never geopolitics. With the arguable exception of the short-lived Macedonian empire in the later 4th century BC, there never was a recognisable, independent, state run by Greek-speakers, centred in and including what we now know as Greece, until after the Greek war of independence in the early 19th century.
What bound the Greeks together was an enquiring cast of mind underpinned by a wonderful shared set of stories and poems and a restlessness that made them more likely to sail away and found a new city-state than tolerate starvation or oppression in a mainland metropolis. The diasporic, seafaring Greeks, while they invented new communities from scratch and were stimulated by interacting with other ethnic groups, made a rapid series of intellectual discoveries that raised the Mediterranean world to a new level of civilisation. This process of self-education was much admired by the Greeks and Romans of the centuries that followed. When the texts and artworks of classical Greece were rediscovered in the European Renaissance, they changed the world for a second time.
Yet over the last two decades the notion that the Greeks were exceptional has been questioned. It has been emphasised that they were just one of many ethnic and linguistic groups centred in the eastern end of the ancient Mediterranean world. [...] It has become a new orthodoxy that the Greeks were very similar to their Ancient Near Eastern neighbours, in Mesopotamia, Egypt, the Levant, Persia and Asia Minor. Some scholars have gone so far as to ask whether the Greeks came up with anything new at all, or whether they merely acted as a conduit through which the combined wisdom of all the civilisations of the eastern Mediterranean was disseminated across the territories conquered by Alexander the Great, before arriving at Rome and posterity.
I do not deny that the Greeks acted as a conduit for other ancient peoples’ achievements. But to function successfully as a conduit, channel or intermediary is in itself to perform an exceptional role. It requires a range of talents and resources. [...] The Greeks, more even than the Romans, show us how to question received opinion and authority. [...] To stay free also requires comparison of constitutions, utopian thinking, fearlessness about innovation, critical, lateral and relativist thinking, advanced epistemological skills in source criticism and the ability to argue cogently. All these skills can be learned from their succinct, entertaining, original formulations and applications in the works of the Greeks."

Read (much!) more here. When you do, I would encourage you to try to filter from it what a modern Hellenist could learn from the Classics. Which behaviour is inspired? Which political, social, financial and ethical behaviour is encouraged? What life's lesson can you learn? Feel free to debate or reply in the comments.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Signs of second shipwreck found at Antikythera, Kore of Thera to be on display, sixth anniversary exhibition of the Acropolis Museum

Let's do another news round-up, shall we, as much has happened in and concerning Greece--and no, I am nto talking about the current economic situation, which is of course horrible. Today on the agenda: signs of second shipwreck found at Antikythera, the Kore of Thera will be on display as of next year, and the Acropolis Museum celebrates its sixth anniversary with antiquities from Samothrace.

Signs of second shipwreck found at Antikythera

The Archaeology News Network reports that the Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities, in collaboration with the American Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, has completed the digital underwater surveying and dimensional precision display of the Shipwreck of Antikythera.

Last year’s imprinting pinpointed the exact shipwreck site of the vessel that carried the Antikythera Mechanism. However, the proximity of other findings such as anchors and amphorae from the same era made archaeologists consider the possibility that there was a second cargo vessel that accompanied the original ship. Therefore it became imperative to map a wider area of 350X45 meters approximately.

Archaeologists now can put all the findings together and draw conclusions about the possible relationship between the two wreck positions. The detailed mapping creates a clearer picture of the relationship between the two sites, while the placement of the findings in the now imprinted area enhances the understanding of all the findings in the two positions.

Resources for the investigation/excavation were provided by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, American, European and Greek organizations, to meet the needs in qualified technical and scientific personnel. The Catherine Laskaridis Foundation contributed greatly by offering the vessel that was used as the basis of the research team.

The Ephorate of Underwater Activities and its partners will continue research at the end of the summer season. The Antikythera shipwreck research is conducted on a five-year plan. The mapping was done by a specialized team of the University of Sydney using the autonomous underwater vehicle Sirius.

Kore of Thera will be on display as of next year
A 2.3-meter-high archaic-era statue dubbed the 'Kore of Thera', which was found during excavations on Santorini 15 ago will be exhibited on the renowned holiday island’s archaeological museum next year, the culture ministry announced. Additionally, an agreement between the ministry and the island’s municipal government will fund excavation in the area of Medieval Kastelia. Thera is the ancient name of the island.

Acropolis Museum celebrates its sixth anniversary with antiquities from Samothrace
The Acropolis Museum is celebrating its sixth anniversary on June 20 with the inauguration of the temporary exhibition 'Samothrace. The mysteries of the great gods'. The exhibition, a cooperation of the Acropolis Museum and the Antiquity Ephorates of the prefectures of Rodopi and Evros and the expert of Samothrace antiquities Dimitris Matsas, will open for the public on June 20 and will run until September 30. The museum’s Board of Directors President, Dimitris Pandermalis, stressed in a Press Conference about the exhibition that:

“In our country we have the advantage that most of the exhibitions presented in museums can be related to archaeological sites and excavations. Moreover, the history of the discovery and preservation of antiquities enriches our knowledge and allow for a better interpretation of the exhibits”

The relationship between the ancient Hellenes and their Gods was well known and existed publicly in daily life. However, from very early times, mystery cults began to emerge that were accessible only to those who had been accepted into the rites following certain trials. The most famous ‘Mysteries’ in antiquity were those of Eleusis and Samothrace. The strict prohibition against insiders ever divulging the contents of the sacraments has not allowed much information to be gleaned about the ancient mysteries. Archaeological excavations in the Sanctuary at Samothrace, however, have brought to light buildings and paraphernalia belonging to the cult that allow us to form an impression of events.

“Insiders believed that by invoking the Great Gods they would be saved from any serious dangers at sea and, as members of the Mysteries, they would become more just and pious people. The rituals were held at night, the Sanctuary illuminated with torches, during which initiates had to participate in a purification ceremony, to confess their greatest sins, to attend the sacred narrative speech that included mythological stories, to wear the wide, purple sash around their waists and to witness the unveiling of sacred symbols."

As an introduction to the Mysteries of Samothrace, an assortment of finds has been selected from the site of Mikro Vouni, located a few kilometers southwest of the sanctuary, where excavations have revealed a settlement with an organized social structure of the 2nd millennium BC. Of particular importance are the Minoan stamp seals and seal impressions with representations of a double ax and fish, which have counterparts at Knossos. Perhaps the ancient tradition that gave rise to the Mysteries originated in prehistoric Crete and from there spread to other places, where it became the basis for subsequent historical developments.

The arrangement of the exhibition within the gallery is inspired by two circular constructions in the sanctuary. The first is the Theatral Circle with tiers for standing spectators, an altar in the center and pedestals around the periphery for statues from which survive many examples of bronze eyelashes. In this place was also discovered the golden lion of Persian origin, which once adorned a garment or object. For the content of the exhibition, please visit this article on The Archaeological News Network.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Seven Sages Series: the wisdom of Thales of Miletus

Thales of Miletus (Θαλῆς ὁ Μιλήσιος) was a pre-Socratic Hellenic philosopher and mathematician from Miletus in Asia Minor. According to Herodotus, Thales predicted the solar eclipse of May 28, 585 BC. Diogenes Laërtius quotes the chronicle of Apollodorus of Athens as saying that Thales died at the age of 78 during the 58th Olympiad (548–545 BC) and attributes his death to heat stroke while watching the games.

Thales' parents were Examyes and Cleobuline, and his family traced their line back to Kadmus, the mythological Phoenician prince of Tyre. Many, most notably Aristotle, regard him as the first philosopher in the Hellenic tradition. Thales attempted to explain natural phenomena without reference to mythology, and almost all of the other Pre-Socratic philosophers follow him in attempting to provide an explanation of ultimate substance, change, and the existence of the world without reference to mythology. He was not only a philosopher but also a businessman, and he also became involved in politics in his lifetime--like many of the Sages.

If Thales wrote down any ethical guidelines or other works of prose (a treaty entitle 'On the Solstice' and one entitled 'On the Equinox' are mentioned by other ancient writers), they have sadly been lost to us. Proclus acknowledged Thales as the discoverer of a number of specific theorems, both mathematical, geometric, and philosophical, and he is recognised as one of the--if not the--first mathematician.

Thales was esteemed in his times as an original thinker, and one who broke with tradition and not as one who conveyed existing mythologies. He never attributed organization or control of the cosmos to the Gods. Thales hypothized that water had the potentiality to change the myriad of things of which the universe is made, the botanical, physiological, meteorological and geological states--in fact, he proposed that the primary principle is water. He believed that the disk of the earth rests on water. Thales did not mention any of the Gods who were traditionally associated with the simple bodies; we do not hear of Okeanos or Gaea: we read of water and earth.

Thales has been credited with the discovery of five geometric theorems: (1) that a circle is bisected by its diameter, (2) that angles in a triangle opposite two sides of equal length are equal, (3) that opposite angles formed by intersecting straight lines are equal, (4) that the angle inscribed inside a semicircle is a right angle, and (5) that a triangle is determined if its base and the two angles at the base are given. His mathematical achievements are difficult to assess, however, because of the ancient practice of crediting particular discoveries to men with a general reputation for wisdom.