Sunday, September 21, 2014

Byzantine grave unearthed in Thessaloniki

I work part-time for a construction company, as a communications liaison for the citizens and companies located in the construction zone. I am currently involved in a project located on the remains of a Roman settlement, meaning that every time anyone on-site pushes a spade into the ground, there is a person from the archaeology department looking at whatever emerges. From meetings with said archaeology department, I know that a good archaeologist can unearth, photograph, preserve, and remove two skeletons a day. An amateur or junior archaeologist takes about a day to a day and a half to remove just one. I was reminded of this when the Archaeology News Network reported that a Byzantine grave was unearthed in Thessaloniki during the excavation works for the creation of underground waste containers along Agia Sofia Street in the centre of the city.

Byzantine grave unearthed in Thessaloniki
Credit: ANA-MPA
The grave was discovered after the workers dug a hole that was only a meter deep. Deputy mayor Thanassis Pappas stated that the construction crew found traces of a Byzantine wall, a Byzantine grave and a small vessel, which probably dates back to the 14th century AD. A second grave with human remains was also found, but it was partially destroyed by underground utility networks. Now, I am not sure how things are arranged in Greece, but if the construction crew I work with stumbled upon two graves (no matter the condition), an ancient wall, and old pottery, I swear my site supervisor would weep. That right there is a month of delays.

The deputy mayor underlined that the works for the installation of underground waste containers are being carried out in the presence of archaeologists, so I am sure there will be delays for them as well. Personally, I am excited about the chance to discover more about the past. The Byzantine Empire was not exactly Hellenic--it was the predominantly Greek-speaking continuation of the eastern half of the Roman Empire during Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages--you never know what else there is to find.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

The ancient Ptolemaic D20's

I won't reiterate how much of a geek I am (trust me, I am), but when I randomly stumble upon something insanely geekish that is (somewhat) related to ancient Hellas, you can be darn sure I will be blogging about it: in this case several icosahedron in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which date back to the Ptolemaic Period (so between 304-30 BC) and were found in Egypt. The symbols on the shapes are part of the coptic aphabet. The repertoire of glyphs is based on the Greek alphabet augmented by letters borrowed from the Egyptian Demotic and is the first alphabetic script used for the Egyptian language. Incidentally, the icosahedron--a polyhedron with twenty faces--is a often used dice in table top roleplaying games, and in modern times it carries numbers. As ancient Hellenic lettering often doubled as numbers themselves, the similarities are striking.

The term 'icosahedron' comes from Hellenic 'είκοσι' (eíkosi), meaning 'twenty', and 'εδρα' (hédra), meaning 'seat'. It was a shape well known in ancient Hellas. It is mentioned, for example, in Eukleidēs' 'Elements'. Eukleidēs (Euclid) of Alexandria was a Hellenic mathematician, often referred to as the 'Father of Geometry'. He was active in Alexandria during the reign of Ptolemy I (323–283 BC). His 'Elements' is one of the most influential works in the history of mathematics, serving as the main textbook for teaching mathematics (especially geometry) from the time of its publication until the late 19th or early 20th century. Eukleidēs defines the icosahedron as 'a solid figure contained by twenty equal and equilateral triangles'. In 'Elements' he proposes to 'construct an icosahedron and comprehend it in a sphere, and to prove that the square on the side of the icosahedron is the irrational straight line called minor. After a long list of equations and proves, he eventually concludes that:

"[T]he square on the diameter of the sphere is five times the square on the radius of the circle from which the icosahedron has been described, and that the diameter of the sphere is composed of the side of the hexagon and two of the sides of the decagon inscribed in the same circle." [Book XIII, Proposition 16]

For what the icosahedrons were used is unknown. Personally, I could see them be used as lots, as tools for divination, or even just as a part of a game like we use these shapes today. All of this to say that I recently had a major geek moment over a bunch of carved minerals (the dice are made out of Serpentine), and I need one of these, pronto. I recently found out, by the way, that you can buy a replica for about 16 euro's. For anyone reading this who has me on their Christmas list, this is a not-so-subtle hint.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Evolution, science, and Hellenismos

Religion has the reputation of being un-scientific. By its definition, religion--the believe in something one can't prove--seems the polar opposite of science. So what of Hellenismos? Is that incomaptible with science like most major world religions? No. What I love about Hellenic mythology and philosophy is that it works with science--and the ancient philosophers agreed.

I have explained before how I differentiate between mythology and philosophy, where I feel myth was inspired by the Theoi Themselves, while philosophy was created by humans who saw society and drew conclusions from it. These conclusions often included a religious aspect because society was religious (even though the ancient Hellenes didn't have a word for 'religion'), but at its core, they deal not with religious matters. They deal with the influence of religion on humanity and society.

An example: the ancient Hellenic philosophers and mythographers were pretty much in agreement, however, that the Gods, indeed, created the universe--or are the universe itself. The most famous account of how everything came to be comes from Hesiod. His 'Theogogy' is a complete recounting of the story, starting with Khaos:

"Verily at the first Chaos came to be, but next wide-bosomed Earth, the ever-sure foundations of all  the deathless ones who hold the peaks of snowy Olympus, and dim Tartarus in the depth of the wide-pathed Earth, and Eros, fairest among the deathless gods, who unnerves the limbs and overcomes the mind and wise counsels of all gods and all men within them. From Chaos came forth Erebus and black Night; but of Night were born Aether and Day, whom she conceived and bare from union in love with Erebus. And Earth first bare starry Heaven, equal to herself, to cover her on every side, and to be an ever-sure abiding-place for the blessed gods. And she brought forth long Hills, graceful haunts of the goddess-Nymphs who dwell amongst the glens of the hills. She bare also the fruitless deep with his raging swell, Pontus, without sweet union of love. But afterwards she lay with Heaven and bare deep-swirling Oceanus, Coeus and Crius and Hyperion and Iapetus, Theia and Rhea, Themis and Mnemosyne and gold-crowned Phoebe and lovely Tethys. After them was born Cronos the wily, youngest and most terrible of her children, and he hated his lusty sire." [ll. 116-138]

He goes on to list a great many deities, cutting out a rough shape of the cosmos while doing so. There are many variations of this family tree, and in the ancient writings, there are also creation stories that range beyond this basic framework. Many of them match very well with science, though.

I believe in the theory of the Big Bang, where the universe was in an extremely hot and dense state and began expanding rapidly. After the initial expansion, the universe cooled sufficiently to allow energy to be converted into various subatomic particles, including protons, neutrons, and electrons. Giant clouds of these primordial elements later coalesced through gravity to form stars and galaxies, and the heavier elements were synthesized either within stars or during supernovae (courtesy of Wikipedia, because of ease). I see no issue in overlaying this theory with Hesiod's cosmology, however. The Big Bang theory does sound like first there was Khaos, and from that, matter came into being to eventually form the Earth as it is now. So as far as the creation of the universe and the Gods goes, I will go with Hesiod and his explanation, although a variation of his work is also fine by me.

As for how we came to be, I believe in evolution. I don't think we were put on the Earth ready-made by the Gods. That said, the proposal that one type of animal could descend from an animal of another type goes back to some of the first pre-Socratic Hellenic philosophers, such as Anaximander and Empedocles, so it's not an odd frame of mind to have for a Hellenist; even the ancient Hellenes flirted with the idea that at least animal species evolved from one another. I love the myth of Prometheus, but no, that is not how I think we came to be, although I won't rule out that the Gods had a hand in our formation through evolution.

All in all, I think Hellenismos and science go together very well. Most (if not all) scientific breakthroughs either work with Hellenic mythology or don't detract from it. Hellenic scientific research and philosophy often forms the base of our modern understanding of the world around us. The ancient Hellenes made great contributions to the field of 'science'. So yes, Hellenismos is 100% compatible with science and evolution, and that is something I find very appealing.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Maetreum of Cybele Pandora's Kharis Boedromion 2014 cause

By unanimous vote, the Maetreum of Cybele is Pandora's Kharis' Boedromion 2014 cause. The Maetreum of Cybele, a Pagan temple and convent located in upstate New York, is a non-profit organisation which has been struggling against the city of Catskill in an ongoing tax-battle.

The Wild Hunt has frequently reported on this issue, and posted a good overview at the end of august:

"The legal issue at hand is if the Maetreum uses its property primarily for religious purposes, which would exempt them from paying property taxes. The Town of Catskill says the group is an “illegitimate religion” and is using the property for residential, rather than religious uses. The Maetreum says the town doesn’t want to “open the floodgates” to other nonprofit groups claiming tax exemptions which deprives the town of tax revenue.
Despite the unanimous decision in 2013 by a three judge panel of the Appellate Division of New York’s Supreme Court favorable to the Maetreum, the Town of Catskill took the unusual step of appealing the ruling to the New York State Court of Appeals. A ruling by the Court of Appeals is expected later this Fall and the Maetrum expects it to uphold the previous decision that the Maetreum is a religious nonprofit and as such is exempt from paying property taxes. Catskill also recently filed charges against the Maetreum for refusing to allow a municipal inspection to look for code violations and a trial is now scheduled for late September. The Maetreum, in an effort to preserve their property rights while the September trail takes place, filed suit against the town’s attempt to use property codes to condemn and foreclose on the property in the Greene County Supreme Court of New York.
So far the Maestreum has paid out more than $65,000 in legal fees. The Town of Catskill, the Maestreum estimates, has spent hundreds of thousands. But the town’s deep pockets, Rev. Mother Cathryn Platine says, is how the town plans to win despite their losses in the courtroom, “Rather than being over, we now find ourselves in three legal actions at once. The town dragged the original two legal actions out for years with multiple bullshit motions and now this. The town attorney is known for this tactic against non-profits all over the state. To make it too expensive to keep fighting them.”
The town may finally be successful. If the Maetreum can’t raise $10,000 in the next few weeks to cover legal fees for the appeal, the Pagan convent may close."
The Maetrum is a Neo-Pagan organisation. It has been running since 1997 and has developed a full theology and method of practice. Their theology starts from the simplest basis:  
"That the Divine Feminine principle is the basis of the universe. That all of us, all that we encounter is Her in the aggregate.  We are all the Great Mother learning about Herself.  From this simple beginning springs our organizational models, our rituals, the principles of what we call Wholistic Feminism, our mission of charitable outreach and indeed the way we, as Cybelines, live our lives.  We are sometimes called the 'scholarly Cybelines' because we have invested many years of strict historical research in order to embrace the essence of what proved to be literally the oldest surviving religion in the world.  We embraced the essence and then stepped away from "Pagan Reconstructism" by bringing those essences into the modern world.  We re-introduced to the world a model for Pagan Monasticism.  We've recovered long believed lost principles, our drumming patterns, ritual practices and corrected history.  The world centre of our Religion is in the Catskill Mountains of upstate New York at the foot of the Kaaterskill Clove.  Unlike many neo-Pagan groups, we have a "horizontal" organization, our Priestesses all considered equals but also expected to live our religion, dedicate themselves to a live of charitable works and ministry to others according to their strengths.  We welcome all to our services and to visit our first Phrygianum of the modern era.  We do not require anyone to renounce anything to join us."
This organisation is in danger of going bankrupt, and we would like to help prevent this from happening. You can now donate to Pandora's Kharis at or by clicking the 'donate' button to the side of the Pandora's Kharis page. Thank you in advance for any amount you can spare. It will matter. The deadline to donate is 26 September, 2014.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Antikythera dive sure to pay off

In the ongoing saga of the new dive down to the Antikythera wreck, I am here to report that things look positive in the murky water. The Archaeology News Network reports that the divers and researchers are almost certain that they will make new discoveries.

The Antikythera wreck is a shipwreck from the 2nd quarter of the 1st century BC. It was discovered by sponge divers off Point Glyphadia on the Hellenic island of Antikythera in 1900. The wreck manifested numerous statues, coins and other artefacts dating back to the 4th century BC, as well as the severely corroded remnants of a device that is called the world's oldest known analog computer, the Antikythera mechanism.

I first blogged about the new Antikythera wreck dive when I posted about the brand new exosuit that was going to be used. The cutting-edge diving suit will be worn by U.S. divers who will be able to remain deep underwater for extended periods of time, enabling them to conduct excavations and handle the fragile ancient objects with due care. The 1.5-million-dollar Exosuit was made by the Canadian robotics firm Nuytco Research and comes equipped with a number of features that will allow divers to work at the 120-metre depths for an essentially unlimited period of time, without being at risk from decompression sickness.

As for the goals of the dive: Angeliki Simosi, head of Greece's directorate of underwater antiquities is positive after exploratory dives in the area in 2012 and 2013. She is sure there are dozens of artefacts left in the original wreck, and the archaeologists also hope to confirm the presence of a second ship, some 250 metres away from the original discovery site. All in all, there is a lot left to discover, and the Exosuit will help the archaeologists do that.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Hellenic mythology 101

Do you know what I dislike more than working a 16 hour day? Exactly, working two in a row with another one ahead. Please forgive me, kind readers, but I need to work and sleep. All I have for you is a video on the Hellenic Gods that I quite enjoyed. I hope you do too.

"Greek mythology is the body of myths and teachings that belong to the ancient Greeks, concerning their gods and heroes, the nature of the world, and the origins and significance of their own cult and ritual practices. It was a part of the religion in ancient Greece. Modern scholars refer to and study the myths in an attempt to throw light on the religious and political institutions of Ancient Greece and its civilization, and to gain understanding of the nature of myth-making itself.

The oldest known Greek literary sources, Homer's epic poems Iliad and Odyssey focus on events surrounding the aftermath of the Trojan War. Two poems by Homer's near contemporary Hesiod, the Theogony and the Works and Days, contain accounts of the genesis of the world, the succession of divine rulers, the succession of human ages, the origin of human woes, and the origin of sacrificial practices. Myths are also preserved in the Homeric Hymns, in fragments of epic poems of the Epic Cycle, in lyric poems, in the works of the tragedians of the fifth century BC, in writings of scholars and poets of the Hellenistic Age, and in texts from the time of the Roman Empire by writers such as Plutarch and Pausanias.

Archaeological findings provide a principal source of detail about Greek mythology, with gods and heroes featured prominently in the decoration of many artefacts. Geometric designs on pottery of the eighth century BC depict scenes from the Trojan cycle as well as the adventures of Heracles. In the succeeding Archaic, Classical, and Hellenistic periods, Homeric and various other mythological scenes appear, supplementing the existing literary evidence. Greek mythology has had an extensive influence on the culture, arts, and literature of Western civilization and remains part of Western heritage and language. Poets and artists from ancient times to the present have derived inspiration from Greek mythology and have discovered contemporary significance and relevance in the themes."

Monday, September 15, 2014

Plutarch on heroes

I'm sorry guys, I literally have no time to write anything for the blog today. Juggling four jobs sucks sometimes. As such, I am going to quote a few interesting bits and pieces from the 'Quaestiones Graecae' by Plutarch. He was a Hellenic historian, biographer, and essayist, who later in his life became a Roman citizen. As such, he was extraordinarily qualified to write two standard works: the 'Quaestiones Graecae' (Αἴτια Ἑλληνικά, or 'Greek Questions'), and the 'Quaestiones Romanae' (Αἴτια Ῥωμαϊκά, or 'Roman Questions'). These essays are part of the book series 'Moralia' (Ἠθικά, loosely translatable as 'Matters relating to customs and mores'), and can be found in book IV of the series. The Greek Questions contain fifty-nine questions, the Roman version hundred-thirteen, and all pertain to matters concerned with their respective culture. Many of the answers are names or customs, and because Plutarch often refers (back) to Hellenic customs, both are extremely valuable for research on ancient Hellenic life. Today, I am focussing on the questions dealing with ancient Hellenic heroes.

27. Why is it that among the Rhodians a herald does not enter the shrine of the hero Ocridion?

"Is it because Ochimus affianced his daughter Cydippê to Ocridion? But Cercaphus, who was the brother of Ochimus, was in love with the maiden and persuaded the herald (for it used to be the custom to use heralds to fetch the brides), when he should receive Cydippê, to bring her to him. When this had been accomplished, Cercaphus fled with the maiden; but later, when Ochimus had grown old, Cercaphus returned to his home again. But the custom became established among the Rhodians that a herald should not approach the shrine of Ocridion because of the wrong that had been done."

28. Why is it that among the inhabitants of Tenedos a flute-player may not enter the shrine of Tenes, nor may anyone mention Achilles' name within the shrine?

"Is it that, when Tenes’ stepmother falsely accused him of wishing to lie with her, Molpus the flute-player bore false witness against him, and because of this it came about that Tenes had to flee to Tenedos with his sister? But as for Achilles, it is said that his mother Thetis straitly forbade him to kill Tenes, since Tenes was honoured by Apollo; and she commissioned one of the servants to be on guard, and to remind Achilles lest he should unwittingly slay Tenes. But when Achilles was overrunning Tenedos and was pursuing Tenes’ sister, who was a beautiful maiden, Tenes met him and defended his sister; and she escaped, though Tenes was slain. When he had fallen, Achilles recognized him, and slew the servant because he had, although present, not reminded him; and he buried Tenes where his shrine now stands and neither does a flute-player enter it nor is Achilles mentioned there by name."

40. Who was the hero Eunostus in Tanagra, and why may no women enter his grove?

"Eunostus was the son of Elieus, who was the son of Cephisus, and Scias. They relate that he acquired his name because he was brought up by the nymph Eunosta. Handsome and righteous as he was, he was no less virtuous and ascetic. They say that Ochnê, his cousin, one of the daughters of Colonus, became enamoured of him; but when Eunostus repulsed her advances and, after upbraiding her, departed to accuse her to her brothers, the maiden forestalled him by doing this very thing against him. She incited her brothers, Echemus, Leon, and Bucolus, to kill Eunostus, saying that he had consorted with her by force. They, accordingly, lay in ambush for the young man and slew him. Then Elieus put them in bonds; but Ochnê repented, and was filled with trepidation and, wishing to free herself from the torments caused by her love, and also feeling pity for her brothers, reported the whole truth to Elieus, and he to Colonus. And when Colonus had given judgement, Ochnê's brothers were banished, and she threw herself from a precipice, as Myrtis, a the lyric poetess of Anthedon, has related.

But the shrine and the grove of Eunostus were so strictly guarded against entry and approach by women that, often, when earthquakes or droughts or other signs from heaven occurred, the people of Tanagra were wont to search diligently and to be greatly concerned lest any woman might have approached the place undetected; and some relate, among them Cleidamus, a man of prominence, that Eunostus met them on his way to the sea to bathe because a woman had set foot within the sacred precinct. And Diodes a also, in his treatise upon the Shrines of Heroes, quotes a decree of the people of Tanagra concerning the matters which Cleidamus reported."

58. Why is it that among the Coans the priest of Heracles at Antimacheia dons a woman's garb, and fastens upon his head a woman's head-dress before he begins the sacrifice?

"Heracles, putting out with his six ships from Troy, encountered a storm; and when his other ships had been destroyed, with the only one remaining he was driven by the gale to Cos. He was cast ashore upon the Laceter, as the place is called, with nothing salvaged save his arms and his men. Now he happened upon some sheep and asked for one ram from the shepherd. This man, whose name was Antagoras, was in the prime of bodily strength, and bade Heracles wrestle with him; if Heracles could throw him, he might carry off the ram. And when Heracles grappled with him, the Meropes came to the aid of Antagoras, and the Greeks to help Heracles, and they were soon engaged in a mighty battle. In the struggle it is said that Heracles, being exhausted by the multitude of his adversaries, fled to the house of a Thracian woman; there, disguising himself in feminine garb, he managed to escape detection. But later, when he had overcome the Meropes in another encounter, and had been purified, he married Chalciopê and assumed a gay-coloured raiment. Wherefore the priest sacrifices on the spot where it came about that the battle was fought, and bridegrooms wear feminine raiment when they welcome their brides."