Thursday, July 30, 2015

Exercise and Hellenismos

Perhaps no other civilization has held fitness in such high regard as ancient Hellas. The idealism of physical perfection was one that embodied ancient Hellenic civilization. The appreciation for beauty of the body and importance of health and fitness throughout society is one that is unparalleled in history. The ancient Hellenes believed development of the body was equally as important as development of the mind. Physical well-being was necessary for mental well-being, with the need for a strong, healthy body to harbor a sound mind. Many founding medical practitioners facilitated the growth of fitness throughout ancient Hellas, including the likes of Herodicus, Hippocrates, and Galen.
Gymnastics, along with music, was considered to be the most important classroom topic. Gymnastics took place in palaestras, which were sites of physical education for young boys. The palaestra consisted of an indoor facility for gymnastics, in addition to an outdoor area for running, jumping, and wrestling. When adulthood was reached, typically between the ages of fouteen and sixteen, the site for fitness training switched from palaestras to gymnasiums. Exercise in the palaestra and gymnasium was supervised by the paidotribe, who is similar to the modern fitness trainer. This idealistic fitness situation existed most strongly within Athens and in Sparta, but was widespread throughout.

Training in ancient Hellas, particularly for the Spartans, was structured and extremely intense. Spartan training began for men at a very young age. At seven years old, Spartan males were sent to military and athletic training school where they were taught toughness, discipline, pain endurance and survival skills. The Spartan life centered around military training and toughness. Spartan males were soldiers from the age of 13 to 60, and even the women were taught physical and gymnastics training.

The ancient Hellenes relied mostly on body weight exercises--work-outs without instruments. Push-ups, pull-ups, and box jumpes were favourites. They excelled in cardio practices like mentioned above, but the ancient Hellenes weight trained as well--with activities such as stone lifting, stone throwing, wrestling and rope climbing. They also lifted each other, animals, and whatever else was heavy and handleable.

In order to get the actors in shape for the movie '300', a grueling exercise routine was created, based on the ancient Spartan training regime. It included plyometrics, sprinting and intense weight training. They used such equipment as barbells, kettlebells and medicine balls instead of stones and animals, though. At the end of the four months of training, the actors where invited to complete the '300' graduation workout which involved performing the following exercises in sequential order. The combination of all repetitions for all of the exercises totals 300 repetitions. Note, every featured Spartan warrior in that movie was required to complete this test.
  • 25 pullups
  • 50 deadlifts at 135 lbs
  • 50 pushups
  • 50 box jumps onto a 24 inch box
  • 50 floor wipers at 135 lbs
  • 50 kettlebell clean and presses at 36 lbs
  • 25 pullups
Gerard Butler--who plays King Leonidas in 300--told Men’s Health:

“You know that every bead of sweat falling off your head, every weight you’ve pumped — the history of that is all in your eyes.  That was a great thing, to put on that cape and put on that helmet, and not have to think, shit, I should have trained more. Instead, I was standing there feeling like a lion.”

I work out. Mostly cardio, but I do some bodyweight strength training as well, kettlebell workouts, and some light lifting. I can tell you right now that I would not be able to complete that routine even if I had a year to train. I am awed by these men, and I am awed by the physical prowess of the ancient Hellenic soldiers--especially the Spartans. But having said that, every time I get on my mountain bike for a grueling trail ride, or push up the kettlebell until my arms shake, I think of them and I feel just a little closer to the Gods. A little closer to the ideal They have for humanity.

I believe physical exercise, eating healthy, and being in shape to the best of your ability is part of Hellenismos. I believe it's one of many ways in which we honour the Gods. Now, I know not everyone is physically ready to be a Spartan warrior. If, for you, lifting one kilo weights is the max of your ability, then do that. Go on a walk. Do a situp. Dance during your cleaning. Think of your body as your altar and take just as good care of that as you do the other tools with which you honour the Gods. Bring out your inner Spartan!

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Dusting off my mix-tape series! Input wanted!

Every month, Hellenion members pour a libation to a different Hellenic God or Goddess. I'm not a member of Hellenion, but I did partake in this practice for one Hellenic year. Every month, I would make the libation to the God honoured that month and create a mix-tape, a wonderful idea I gratefully stole off of Sannion. This is an overview of those mix-tape and any subsequent ones I have done.
I would like to dust off this series, but I don't know which of the Theoi to make a mix-tape for! So, if you would like to request one, please feel free. Who do you feel close to who is not yet on the list? Who would you like me to choose music for? Feel free to leave a comment or send me an e-mail.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Pindar's Paean VI

I was going to do an actual post today, but then life exploded, so I am going to leave you with some words of beauty today: Pindar's Paean VI, for the Delphians to Pytho. The poem was performed at Delphi for a festival called the 'theoxenia', at which gods were entertained.

O golden Pytho, that art famed for thine oracles! I beseech thee, by the Olympian Zeus, with the Graces and Aphrodite, to welcome me at this sacred season as a prophet of the tuneful Pierides. For, beside the water of Castalia, with its outlet of brass, I have no sooner heard a sound of dancing reft of men, than I have come to relieve the need of the townsmen, and of mine own honour.
I have obeyed my dear heart, even as a son obeyeth his kind mother, and have come down to Apollo's grove, the home of garlands and of banquets, where, beside the shadowy centre of the earth, the maidens of Delphi fiill often beat the ground with nimble step, while they sing the son of Leto.
And, whence the strife of the immortals arose, of this the gods are able to prompt sage poets; while, for mortal men, it is impossible to find it.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Seven Sages Series: the wisdom of Periander of Corinth

Welcome to the last installment of the Seven Sages Series! The weeks have truly flown by. Today, we will be talking about Periander of Corinth, who was the second tyrant of the Cypselid dynasty that ruled over that city-state. He was the son of Cypselus, of the family of the Heraclidae. He married Lyside (whom he called Melissa). She was the daughter of Procles, the tyrant of Epidaurus. He had two sons, Cypselus and Lycophron. The eldest, Cypselus, is said to have been mentally disabled.

Periander continued the policies of his father, which were directed against the hereditary nobility. In the interests of the trading and artisan classes, Periander introduced customs duties and state coinage of money and organized a large-scale building program. Under his rule, many vestiges of the hereditary order were eliminated, hereditary divisions were replaced by territorial divisions, territorial courts were created, and military units of mercenaries were organized. To strengthen the centralized authority, Periander introduced statutes to register the income of the populace and prohibit public banquets, lavish holiday celebrations, and mass gatherings in public squares. He also instituted a law against luxury.

To promote and protect Corinthian trade, Periander established colonies at Potidaea in Chalcidice and at Apollonia in Illyria. He conquered Epidaurus and annexed Corcyra. The diolkos (“portage way”) across the Isthmus of Corinth was perhaps built during his reign. It appears that the commercial prosperity of Periander’s Corinth became so great that the tolls on goods entering its ports accounted for almost all government revenues. Periander cultivated friendly relations with Thrasybulus, tyrant of Miletus, and maintained ties with the kings of Lydia and Egypt. In the cultural sphere he was a patron of art and of literature; by his invitation the poet Arion came to the city from Lesbos.

While his wife Melissa was pregnant with Lycophron, Periander and his wife seem to have gotten into an argument about (false) accusations of infidelity on Priander's part,  during which he either kicked or threw his her down a staircase. Melissa died, and Priander sent Lycophron away to Corcyra because he grieved for his mother. When Priander called Lycophron back to rule in his stead, the Coryreans who had been taking care of him killed the boy. Priander became so angry he sent the Coryreans' children off to be made eunuchs of. The youths were saved, however, and Priander died despondent at eighty years old.

Periander was said to be a patron of literature, who both wrote and appreciated early philosophy. He is said to have written a didactic poem 2,000 lines long. The following is a list of sayings commonly attributed to him:

Never do anything for money; leave gain to trades pursued for gain.
Whoever wishes to wield absolute power in safety should be guarded by the good will of his countrymen, and not by arms.
It is as dangerous to retire voluntarily as to be dispossessed.
Rest is beautiful.
Rashness has its perils.
Gain is ignoble.
Democracy is better than tyranny.
Pleasures are transient, honors are immortal.
Be moderate in prosperity, prudent in adversity.
Be the same to your friends whether they are in prosperity or in adversity.
Whatever agreement you make, stick to it.
Betray no secret.
Correct not only the offenders but also those who are on the point of offending.
Practice makes perfect.
Be farsighted with everything.
Nothing is impossible to industry.
Live according to your income.
The mind still longs for what it has missed, and loses itself in the contemplation of the past.
He who assists the wicked will in time rue it.
He who has once made himself notorious as utterly unprincipled, is not credited even when he speaks the truth.
He who trusts himself for safety to the care of a wicked man, in seeking succour meets with ruin.
However exalted our position, we should still not despise the powers of the humble.
Judge of a tree by its fruit, not by its leaves.
Liars pay the penalty of their own misdeeds.
Relaxation should at times be given to the mind, the better to fit it for toil when resumed.
Success brings many to ruin.
The soft speeches of the wicked are full of deceit.
The success of the wicked tempts many to sin.
Those who plot the destruction of others often perish in the attempt.
To counsel others, and to disregard one's own safety, is folly.
Unless your works lead to profit, vain is your glory in them.
Witty remarks are all very well when spoken at a proper time: when out of place they are offensive.
The useful and the beautiful are never separated.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Megalo Kavouri pathway uncovered by archeologists

The Ministry of Culture announced on Monday that a 300-meter section of an ancient carriage way dated to the 4th century BC was excavated by archaeologists at Megalo Kavouri beach in the southern suburb of Vouliagmeni. The pathway is believed to have linked the ancient demos of Aixonidai Alon with the beach and is connected to a ggreater road network that included a road linking Athens with Sounion – the southernmost tip of the Attica peninsula. There was also an ancient road from the coast of Faliro to Voula.

Protothema reports that the foundations of a rectangular building with a floor that resembles the road were found in the area, leading archeologists to believe it was constructed at the same time as the road. Evidence on pottery and coins shows that it the area was in use throughout the 4th century BC. Small stones placed close to each other marked the pavement with variations in width from 1.90 meters to 6.10 meters. Retaining walls on either side helped keep the pavement over the soft and sandy area smooth and stable.

Excavations began within a general NSRF-funded project to improve the area of Megalo Kavouri, and were later funded by Greek shipowner Athanassios Martinos, whose support allowed the completion of an archaeological park at Megalo Kavouri beach. Excavations are under the ministry's Ephorate of Antiquities of Western Attica, Piraeus and the Islands (formerly the 26th Ephorate of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities).

Saturday, July 25, 2015

PAT ritual announcement for the Kronia

The 12th of Hekatombion marks the start of the ancient Hellenic Kronia festival. The Kronia honours Kronos, Zeus' father, not to be confused with Khronos; creator of the Gods and Lord of Time. In Athens, Kronos and Rhea--His wife and sister--shared a temple. They represented an age before the Theoi took to rule; a time when societal rules did not exist yet, and there was no hierarchy. As such, on the day Kronos was worshipped, the fixed order of society was suspended, and slaves joined--and even ruled over--a banquet given by their masters. As much fun as this was, the day served as a reminder that for a society to function, societal rules were necessary, and as such, it was also necessary for Zeus to overthrow His father and assume the throne. You can read far more about the festival here.

To honour Kronos on this day, we will hold another PAT ritual; will you be joining us? We celebrate the Kronia on Tuesday July 28, at 10:00am in EDT. For those of you who don't want to go on Facebook for the event, you can find it here.

Friday, July 24, 2015

The Beginner's guide to Hellenismos: The daímones

As part of the Beginner's guide to Hellenismos, I would like to discuss an often misunderstood part of the Hellenic divine family: the daímones (δαίμονες). The word 'daímones' has its etymological origins in the word 'daiō' (δαίω) which means 'to divide', 'to distribute destinies', 'to allot'. For the Minoan (3000 - 1100 BC) and Mycenaean (1500 - 1100 BC), the daímones were seen as attendants or servants to the deities, possessing spiritual power. Later, the term 'daímon' was used by writers such as Hómēros (8th century BC) to describe an incorporial benevolent or benign nature spirit which provides wealth and justice to mortals. Daímones fulfill an important role in mythology and life: all aspects of life can be overseen by Deathless beings, without taking away from--or needlessly adding to--the portfolio of the Theoi.

Hesiod gives us our first glimpse into the nature of daímones as he writes about the five Ages of Man in Works and Days. In this standard work, he writes about the golden age of mortals, created by the Theoi when Kronos was still leader of the Gods. There humans lived like Gods, without sorrow and grief. They had all they desired and lived the perfect, ethical life. They died as if falling asleep and knew no pain. These mortals were called pure spirits. Even after this generation of mortal men ended, they continued to roam everywhere over the earth, clothed in mist and keep watch on judgements and cruel deeds. They became givers of wealth because that is what they knew in life and are considered guardians of mortal men. These are the daímones khryseoi: 'golden spirits'.

According to some ancient writers, the spirits of the Silver Age also became daímones: the daímones agryreoi. They were described as earth-dwelling fertility spirits who proferred mankind with rich harvests. They were inferior to the Daimones Khryseoi. The former resided within the earth, while the latter occupied the air.

Hesiod makes clear distinction between the Theoi and the daímones: the Theoi are Gods, the daímones are members of the Gold (and Silver) Age who gained immortality. Hesiod makes a clear distinction between the Theoi and all daímones. This differentiation is much less pronounced in the writings of Hómēros, where 'Theos' and 'daímon' are used virtually interchangeably. Especially through Neo-Platonics, comes the placement of daímones between the Theoi and mankind. They are less powerful than the Theoi, with lesser domains; more concerned with the daily happenings of life than the Theoi are, but they, too, are immortal, and deserve honors.

Important to note, too, is the destination made between daímones and heroes: similar in terms of power of the lives of man, but different in their identities, with the heroes having very pronounced personalities, accomplishments and cult worship, and the daímones having none of those. They are also not the same as the spirits of the (recent) dead, as these were considered baleful and frightening. Elaion views the daímones as a group of unidentifiable (nature) spirits who are incorporial and nameless. As such, we consider humans who died and recieved apotheosis--were raised to godlike stature--to be heroes. We consider minor Gods who are sometimes called 'daímon(e)s' are Theoi and feel They should be treated with that level of respect in ritual.

It should also be mentioned that Plato labeled the daímones (or some daímones, most notably those of the Silver Age) as dangerous spirits and eventually they became the demons of Christianity. Yet, neither Hómēros or Hesiod ever intended them to be so: all daímones were pure and Deathless; they acted as a policing force for humanity. Elaion ascribes to the view of Hesiod and Hómēros: the daímones are benevolent and helpful, incorporial, unnamed spirits whose sole purpose is to aid and guide humanity in living prosperous, happy, and ethically. We know that Hellenismos does have its evil spirits: the keres--female death-spirits. They are bringers of death, hunger, pestilence, madness and nightmares. They are, however, not to be confused with the daímones.

As mentioned in pasion, the daímones did not, and do not, recieve (state) ritual. We do feel, however, that they should be thanked for guidance and blessings. Elaion encourages members to do this during your Agathós Daímōn celebration on the second day of the month with a libation of (unmixed) wine and some words of gratitude.

Daímones are an important part of Hellenismos, but because they are so intangible--both in substance and intellectual pursuit--they seem hard to incorporate. Allow us to give examples of what we feel is the influence of the daímones instead of the Theoi, heroes, or any other spirit. It are the daímones who have us look one more time to check if there is a car coming, thus avoiding a collision. It are the daímones who still our tongue when we want to speak ill of someone. It are the daímones who hear our plea for a quiet night while our friends were scheduled to come over and suddenly everyone cancels. These little thing, the Theoi are generally not involved with, but the daímones hear our every day needs and grant the wishes of those whom they deem worthy.

We consider becoming aware of the influence of the daímones in our lives a very important part of practicing Hellenismos, and hope this entry in the beginner's guide will help to do so.