Saturday, November 1, 2014

National Geographic on the Amazons

This week is the week of news outlets writing about ancient Hellas. Yesterday, I shared with you a piece about Socrates and the Socratic teaching method, and today I am sharing an article written by National Geographic on the Amazons. It comes on the heels of another recent post they did on them, this one about their awesome names. This article is about how archaeology shows that the Amazon warriors smoked pot, got tattoos, killed--and loved--men.

A photo of a vase with scenes of Amazon women fighting.  
[Photograph by DeAgostini/ Getty Images]

Drawing on a wealth of textual, artistic, and archaeological evidence, Adrienne Mayor, author of The Amazons, dispel the negative myths surrounding the Amazon warriors and takes us inside the true life of these ancient warrior women.

As the article mentions, the real Amazons were long believed to be purely imaginary. They were the mythical warrior women who were the archenemies of the ancient Hellenic heroes, and every one of them had to prove his mettle by fighting a powerful warrior queen. They were long thought to be just travelers' tales or products of the imagination. Archaeology has now proven without a doubt that there really were women fitting the description that the ancient Hellenes gave us of Amazons and warrior women.

The ancient Hellenes thought they resided in the areas north and east of the Mediterranean on the vast steppes of Eurasia. Archaeologists have been digging up thousands of graves of people called Scythians by the ancient Hellenes. They turn out to be people whose women fought, hunted, rode horses, and used bows and arrows--just like the men.

Somehow the myth that Amazon warriors had one breast to make archery easier has entered our collective consciousness. All modern scholars, however, point out that the plural noun 'Amazones' was not originally a Hellenic word—and that it has nothing to do with breasts. According to Mayor, the notion that 'Amazon' meant 'without breast' was invented by the Hellenic historian Hellanikos in the fifth century B.C. He tried to force a Hellenic meaning on the foreign loan word: a for 'lack' and 'mazon', which sounded a bit like the Hellenic word for breast. His idea was rejected by other historians of his own day, and no ancient artist bought the story. Linguists today suggest that the name derives from ancient Iranian or Caucasian roots. When we say 'Amazons', we mean Scythian women. In this case Scythian warrior women... and they had two breasts.

Another myth that Mayor attempts to debunk is the one that says all Amazons were lesbians. That started in the 20th century. The Russian poet Marina Tsvetaeva declared that Amazons were symbolic of lesbianism in antiquity. Then others took that up. According to evidence Mayor dug up, the ancient Hellenes didn't think of them as lesbians; they described them as lovers and killers of men.

Mayor praises the Amazon spirit: the assumption that women are the equals of men and that they could be just as noble and brave and heroic. This spirit comes through in the artworks and literature about Amazons. Accordign to Mayor:

"The ancient Hellenes were both fascinated and appalled by such independent women. They were so different from their wives and daughters. Yet there was a fascination. They were captivated by them. Pictures of Amazons on vase paintings always show them as beautiful, active, spirited, courageous, and brave. I talked to a vase expert whose specialty is gestures on Greek vases. He has written an article about gestures begging for mercy in single combat images. Quite a few of the losers in duels are shown gesturing for mercy. But among Amazons, not so much. We have about 1,300 or so images of Amazons fighting. And only about two or three of them are gesturing for mercy. So they're shown to be extremely courageous and heroic. And I think that's the Amazon spirit."

According to Mayor, Amazons smoked pot and drank a powerful concoction of fermented mare's milk called kumis, which they used in rituals:

"Herodotus gives us a very good picture. He says that they gathered a flower or leaves or seeds—he wasn't absolutely sure—and sat around a campfire and threw these plants onto the fire. They became intoxicated from the smoke and then would get up and dance and shout and yell with joy. It's pretty certain he was talking about hemp, because he actually does call it cannabis. He just wasn't certain whether it was the leaves or the flower or the bud. But we know they used intoxicants. Archaeologists are finding proof of this in the graves. Every Scythian man and woman was buried with a hemp-smoking kit, including a little charcoal brazier."

Ancient Greek historians described the tattooing practices of the culturally related tribes of Eurasia. There are a lot of tattoos in images of Thracian and Scythian women on vase paintings. We also now have archaeological evidence that Amazon-like women were tattooed. Tattoo kits been discovered in ancient Scythian burials. The frozen bodies of several heavily tattooed Scythian men and women have been recovered from graves. According to one account, Scythian women taught the Thracian women how to tattoo.

The idea that Amazons abandoned, maimed, or killed young boys is a fairly early story that circulated among the ancient Hellenes, according to Mayor, because several writers assumed that Amazon societies must be women only. That then raised the question: How do they reproduce? What did they do with their male children? The most common story was that they sent the boys back to the fathers to be raised, which  was a very common custom among nomadic people, called fosterage. Sending sons to be raised by another tribe ensures that you're going to have good relations with that tribe. It's a way of sealing treaties. According to Mayor, it was very common in antiquity, and did not make them bad mothers at all. She also stresses that there were definitely men in Amazonian villages.

Read the full interview with Adrienne Mayor here.

Friday, October 31, 2014

The teacher Socrates and the Socratic method

News Network NPR recently started a new series of articles, focussed on the greatest teachers who have ever lived. they decided to start their countdown from fifty to zero with Socrates, classical Athenian philosopher. You can visit the article here, or listen to the accompanying radio item here.

[LA Johnson/NPR]

The article calls Socrates the 'superstar teacher of the ancient world'. His ideas helped form the foundation of Western philosophy and the scientific method of inquiry. And his question-and-dialogue-based teaching style lives on in many classrooms as the Socratic method. At the heart of that method is the expectation that students question the teacher and each other--dialogue-based critical inquiry. The goal here is to focus on the text, ideas and facts--not just opinions--and to dig deeper through discussion.

Maryann Wolfe, a teacher at Oakland Technical High School who helped build this school's Socratic seminar program, which is part of a national Paideia program that encourages the Socratic method, explains the importance of the Socratic method:

"I think the Socratic method means that you're going to have a whole bunch of ideas floating to the surface. I want them to see the complexity of the issues. I believe the students really learn that way. Because they have to speak, they have to be engaged in what we're trying to learn. Maybe we won't find exact truths in this class, but we will at least look at all possibilities, and they will have a truth right at that moment. And the moment comes when they have to stand up and debate it, when they have to write an essay about it. They have to take a side."

Tim Ogburn, a seventh grade teacher, applies the Socratic method in his class as well:

"The Socratic method forces us to take a step back from that and ask questions like: What's going on here? What does this possibly mean? What's important? What's less important? What might be motivating this person to say this?"

The Socratic method implies to students that the teacher doesn't have the one true answer; the class constructs knowledge together. This teaches students to listen to one another and learn from one another and celebrate mistakes. It teaches them to think critically and to stand up for their own viewpoint--and to let it go when presented with evidence to the contrary. In the end, Socrates taught his students to be their own teachers, and in my opinion, that makes him one of the greats, indeed.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Ancient Hellenic shipwreck discovered near Aeolian Islands

Highly trained technical divers with a Florida-based group called Global Underwater Explorers--GUE for short--are helping Italian researchers to unlock an ancient shipwreck thought to date to the second Punic Wars between Rome and Carthage. Called the Panarea III, the ship was discovered off the Aeolian island of Panarea in 2010 by American researchers using sonar and a remotely operated submersible in waters about 40 miles (64 kilometres) north of Sicily.

Archaeologists said the ship is a wooden vessel about 50 feet (15 meters) long that could have hit rough seas and broken up on rocks before plunging to the sea bottom--possibly a wealthy merchant's cargo ship or one used to supply the Roman military. The ship was so far underwater that it has been safe for centuries from looters and entanglement in fishing gear. According to Sebastiano Tusa, an Italian archaeologist who is studying the site:

"This shipwreck is a very important occasion to understand more about daily life on the ancient ship as well as the real dynamics of ancient trade. Of course, there are other similar shipwrecks that can offer similar study cases. But this has the peculiarity to be in a very good preservation condition."

The divers found many important pieces needed to tell the ship's story. Of note were the ship's anchor and a sacrificial altar with Greek inscriptions that provide clues to the ship's origin. The size and shape of the amphora help them understand what the ship was carrying.

Experts believe it could have been a supply ship for Roman legions or that it belonged to a wealthy merchant, possibly from the Italian region around Naples. Another possibility is that the ship was a supply vessel in the fleet of Claudio Marcello, a Roman consul who conquered Sicilian city of Syracuse in 212 B.C.

Much more research is needed before the team can be sure about many of its early hunches about the Panarea III, but with help from GUE the crew plans to return next year to the site for more dive work. Read more about the dive here.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

On Atalanta

I was in need of a little mythology today, and took out my copy of the ancient Hellenic myths translated to Dutch by B.C. Goudsmit and H.A. Guerber. The book is old, from around 1915, and it's one of my favourite translations. When I'm in need of a mythology fix, I enjoy opening it to a random page and reading whatever myth comes up. Today, that was the myth of Atalanta.

Atalanta (Ἀταλάντη) was usually considered the daughter of Iasus, king of either Tegaea or Maenalos, by Klymene, daughter of Minyas. Her father wanted a son, so he abandoned her in the forest where a bear suckled her until Artemis sent hunters to rescue her. She could outshoot anyone with the bow and was also the most fleet-footed mortal alive with the exception of Euphemos and Iphiklos of Phylake. When still young, she killed two centaurs, Rhoecos and Hyaelos, who had attempted to rape her. She also took part in the Kalydonian boar hunt and was a member of the Argonautai who went out to retrieve the Golden Fleece.

Atalanta is my all-time favourite heroine. She kicks ass and because I read about her, I'd like to share a bit about her today, in the words of Claudius Aelianus. Claudius Aelianus (Κλαύδιος Αἰλιανός) was alive from around 175 to 235 CE. He is often referred to as 'Aelian'.  He was a Roman author and teacher of rhetoric. While Roman born, he spoke fluent Greek and loved the ancient Hellenic writing styles. Varia Historia (Ποικίλη Ἱστορία) is one of his best known surviving works. The work contains miscellangelous anecdotes and biographical sketches, lists, pithy maxims, and descriptions of natural wonders and strange local customs. There are fourteen books in total. In book 13, he describes the myth of Atalanta. Enjoy!

"Here is the story from Arkadia about Atalanta the daughter of Iasion. At birth her father exposed her; he said he wanted sons, not daughters. But the man who took her to be exposed did not kill her, and instead went to Mount Parthenion and put her down near a spring. At that point there was a cave in the rocks, and close by it a dense wood. The child was under sentence of death, but she was not betrayed by fortune, for shortly afterwards arrived a bear, deprived of her cubs by hunters, her breasts bulging and weighed down with milk. Moved by some divine inspiration she took a fancy to the child and suckled it. In this way the animal simultaneously achieved relief from pain and gave nourishment to the infant. And so, still full of milk and supplying nourishment though she was no longer mother to her cubs, she nursed the child who was not her own. The hunters who had originally attacked her young kept an eye on her. They watched all her movements, and when the bear made her usual journey to hunt and feed, they stole Atalanta, who was not yet so named, for it was they who gave her the name. She was brought up by them in the mountains, and slowly her body grew with age. She was committed to virginity, avoided contact with men, and longed for solitude. She established herself in the highest mountains of Arkadia, where there was a well-watered glen with big oak trees, also pines with their deep shadow.
What harm does it do us to hear of Atalanta’s cave, like Kalypso’s in the Odyssey? At the bottom of the defile was a large and very deep cave, at the entrance protected by a sheer drop. Ivy encircled it, the ivy gently twined itself around trees and climbed up them. In the soft deep grass there crocuses grew, accompanied by hyacinths and flowers of many other colours, which can not only create a feast for the eye; in fact their perfume filled the air around. In general the atmosphere was of festival, and one could feast on the scent. There were many laurels, their evergreen leaves so agreeable to look at, and vines with very luxuriant clusters of grapes flourished in front of the cave as proof of Atalanta’s industry. A continuous stream of water ran by : pure in appearance and cold, judging by the touch and the effect of drinking it; it flowed in generous and lavish quantity. This very stream served to water the trees already mentioned, with an unfailing current contributing to their vigour. The spot was full of charm, and suggested the dwelling of a dignified and chaste maiden.

Atalanta slept on the skins of animals caught in the hunt, she lived on their meat and drank water. She wore simple clothes, in a style that did not fall short of Artemis’ example; she claimed the goddess as her model both in his and in her wish to remain a virgin. She was very fleet of foot, and no wild animal or man with designs on her could have escaped her; and when she wanted to escape, no one could have caught her. It was not just those who saw her that fell in love with her; by now her reputation won her lovers.

Now let us describe her appearance, if that is not unwelcome--and it is not, since form it one might gain experience and skill in writing. While still a girl she was bigger than a full-grown woman, and more beautiful than any young woman from the Peloponnesos in those days. She had a fiery, masculine gaze, partly the result of having been nurtured by an animal, but also because of her exercise in the mountains. But since she was full of spirit, there was nothing girlish or delicate about her; she was not the product of the women’s apartments, not one of those brought up by mothers and nurses. Nor was her body overweight, not surprisingly, since she exercised every limb in hunting and physical exercise. Her hair was golden, not due to feminine sophistication, dyes, or applications, but the colour was natural. Exposure to the sun had reddened her face and it looked just as if she was blushing. What flower could be so beautiful as the face of a young woman taught to be modest? She had two astonishing qualities : unrivalled beauty, and with it a capacity to inspire fear. No indolent man would have fallen in love on looking at her, nor would he have had the courage to meet her gaze in the first place; such radiance with beauty shone over those who saw her. To meet her was remarkable, especially since it happened rarely; no one would have easily spotted her. But unexpectedly and unforeseen she would appear, chasing a wild beast or fighting against one; darting like a star she flashed like lightning. Then she raced away, hidden by a wood or thicket or other mountain vegetation.

One day her neighbours, audacious lovers and very tiresome revellers, burst in upon her noisily at midnight; they were two of the Kentauroi (Centaurs), Hylaios and Rhoikos. Their noisy interruption was not done with flute players or in the style of young men from the city; there were pine torches, which they lit and made to burn fiercely; the first sight of fire would have terrified even the population of a city, let alone a solitary young woman. Breaking fresh branches off the pines they wove them together and made garlands for themselves. The incessant, continuous sound of hooves was heard in the mountains; they burned trees and made towards the young woman, evil suitors who in a violent and over-excited state brought gifts for the wedding in advance. But she saw through their plan. From the cave she caught sight of fire and realised who the revellers were; not flinching or cowed by what she saw she bent her bow, shot her weapon, and hit the first of them directly. He lay there, and the other advanced, no longer in the mood of a reveller but with hostile intent, wishing to defend his companion and vent his anger. But he too was punished, by the young woman’s other arrow. So much on the subject of Atalanta, daughter of Iasion." [13.1]

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

TV updates: Atlantis returns, casting news for Olympus, and Face Off

Guys! Guys! The airdate for the second season of Atlantis was finally announced! Atlantis, a show about Jason, a strapping young man who ends up traveling to the--previously believed to be mythical--city of Atlantis in search for his father, is slated to start airing its second season November 15 on BBC One! And to tease us and rekindle our love for Hercules, Pythagoras, Jason and--of course--Medusa and Ariadne, BBC One has released this little snippet:


The snippet comes with the following explanation: "[a]n epic war of power commences as Atlantis comes under attack from Pasiphae and her army. Jason, Hercules and Pythagoras defend the city and it's new Queen Ariadne."

Let's just say I am very excited and looking forward to recapping this show again for you guys! Are you as excited as I am?


Some casting news about US television network SyFy's latest Greek endeavour 'Olympus':

By the way, did you see that SyFy's Face Off went Greek a while back? Face Off is a competition/elimination series exploring the world of special-effects make-up artists and the unlimited imagination that allows them to create amazing works of living art. This time, the challenge was to re-imagine some of the ancient Hellenic Gods.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Investigate the daily lives of the ancients in the Acropolis museum

I am a bit jealous of everyone living in or visiting Greece right now. Admittedly, I always am a little, but it's worse today. The Archaeological News Network reports that until now, visitors to the Acropolis Museum in Athens could only peer through the glass floors of the Bernard Tschumi-designed structure to get an idea of the ancient neighbourhood lying among the building’s foundations. Soon, however, they will be able to take a closer look at the findings unearthed during the construction of the museum, which opened its doors to the public in the summer of 2009, and learn more about the city’s past from the time of its first inhabitants to around AD 1200.
Acropolis Museum to put the daily lives of the ancients on display

The Central Archaeological Council (KAS) recently gave the green light for a permanent outdoor exhibition that will see some 1,400 items go on display on the museum’s underground level. A new wing will be added to the Acropolis Museum when the excavated area lying beneath its ground level is opened to the public to showcase the history of an Athenian neighbourhood between the third millennium BC and the first century AD.

According to KAS officials, the aim of the exhibition will be to cast light on lesser-known eras in the ancient city, such as the Mycenaean and Roman periods. Moreover, it will highlight aspects of daily life in Athens focusing on more humble, everyday items. These may be in a different league than, say, the Parthenon Marbles or the Caryatids, but they were very necessary for people back then. The findings from excavation works at the construction site will be divided into three main groups depending on the period when they were crafted.
Read more about the objects and the to be designed sections here.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Pandora's Kharis raised $60,- for The Wild Hunt

Members of Pandora's Kharis have come together to raise $60,- for Pagan news outlet The Wild Hunt. The Wild Hunt is primary destination for those interested in following news relating and of interest to modern Pagan religions and other minority faiths. Founded by Jason Pitzl-Waters in 2004, The Wild Hunt has grown to become one of the most-visited and popular destinations exploring these topics. Recruited to in the Summer of 2011, The Wild Hunt decided to exist as an independent entity once more in the Summer of 2012. In addition, The Wild Hunt has now expanded into a media outlet with paid contributors and three paid staff members.

From this moment on, the Pandora's Kharis Facebook page is open to pitches. If you do not have Facebook, feel free to pitch your cause in the comments. We will relay the message to the community.

On to another month of pitching, voting, and giving. Thank you for your generosity!