Short on time today, so you're getting a theological tidbit about, you guessed it, the origin of snakes! It comes from Aelian's On the Nature of Animals.

Claudius Aelianus (Κλαύδιος Αἰλιανός), commonly called Aelian, was born at Praeneste around 175 AD. He was a Roman author and teacher of rhetoric who spoke Greek so perfectly that he was called "honey-tongued" (meliglossos). He preferred Greek authors, and wrote in a slightly archaizing Greek himself. "On the Nature of Animals" (Περὶ Ζῴων Ἰδιότητος) is a collection of seventeen books. 

Aelian has written some really weird things, among them the origin of snakes: 

"The spine of a dead man, they say, transforms the putrefying marrow into a snake. The brute emerges, and from the gentlest of beings crawls forth the fiercest. Now the remains of those that were fine and noble are at rest and their reward is peace, even as the soul also of such men has the rewards which wise men celebrate in their songs. But it is from the spine of evil-doers that such evil monsters are begotten even after life. 

The fact is, the whole story is either a fable, or if it is to be relied upon as true, then the corpse of a wicked man receives (so I think) the reward of his ways in becoming the progenitor of a snake. "

You all know I like modern inventions bringing to light more of ancient history, so of course I am interested in this ground-breaking project that has recently shed new light on Scotland's Isle of Arran’s ancient past.

A cutting-edge archaeological project using innovative technology has revealed around 1,000 previously unknown archaeological sites on the Isle of Arran. The project, undertaken by archaeologists at Historic Environment Scotland (HES), used airborne laser scanning, also known as lidar, to document the land surface in 3D. The survey is the largest of its type so far in Scotland and has detected the remains of ancient monuments on the island.

Previously unknown ancient archaeological sites which have been discovered include prehistoric settlements and medieval farmsteads, as well as a Neolithic cursus monument — an exceptionally rare find on the west coast of Scotland. Dave Cowley, Rapid Archaeological Mapping Manager at HES, said:

"This survey has shown us that there are double the number of ancient monuments on Arran than we previously knew about. This new 3D technology has allowed us to undertake a rapid archaeological survey, over weeks rather than months or years, and allowed us to discover sites that might even have been impossible to find otherwise. We have been able to see how densely settled parts of Arran were, and the medieval and post-medieval shieling sites that were discovered have told us how upland areas were used by shepherds. This is an exciting time to be involved in the development of remote sensing and archaeological mapping. We are exploring the benefits of new technology and new datasets to record Scotland’s historic environment and inform our knowledge of the past. As a result, we are enriching the information through which we tell Scotland’s story. And Arran is just a first step. As this technology become more widely available, we expect to find tens of thousands more ancient sites across the rest of Scotland – working at a pace that was unimaginable a few years ago."

The lidar data is available from the Scottish Government Remote Sensing Portal. Shona Nicol, Head of the Geographical Information Science and Analysis team said:

"It is great to see HES making such exciting use of the increasing amount of remote sensing data becoming available which will help to play a part in keeping Scotland at the forefront in this field."

Research and technological advances like this create possibilities for discoveries in other part of the world, including the areas that made up ancient Hellas.
A room of classics students is about to get a lesson in ancient literature via a very unexpected method: Instructor Brandon Bourgeois — clad in black, a gold medallion depicting the face of Medusa slung around his neck — is ready to rap.

3,000 years ago, a Greek poet whose name was Homer composed a flow for his feta, he was a real rov-uh.
He spun and spread a tale of lust, war, rage and revenge.
A tapestry, a masterpiece, words stitched together without a pen.
A story — rather gory in detail:
10 years of bloody battle waged by Greeks over a female — hell, you heard-uh Helen.
She sailed to Asia with a prince named Paris already married to a Spartan king named Menelaus.
Ran to his brother — the great king Agamemnon: “What happened to my queen?!” The brotha told him to stay strong: “We out for blood!
“Grab your weapons, spread the message to all the kings in Greece. We’ll have your Helen home in no time, a matter of weeks.”

The lyrics are his hip-hop adaptation of the prologue to The Iliad, delivered as a rap lecture in staccato bursts to music Bourgeois composed using Apple’s GarageBand app. It’s his way of making the classic poem — one of the foundational texts of Western civilization — relevant to a modern audience. But it’s also more than that. For centuries, The Iliad passed from generation to generation by spoken word.

Homer lived in the eighth century B.C. and told a story that dated from the 12th century B.C., Bourgeois said. It wasn’t until the third or fourth century B.C. that scholars in Alexandria committed the sprawling epic to the page.

Bourgeois believes that the oral tradition that kept The Iliad alive bears remarkable similarities to modern rap. Both tell tales of everyday life, hardship, violence, love lost and gained. Both are histories.

"Homer is at the end of a long line of bards just like him,” Bourgeois noted. “And he happens to be the best at it. He happens to do things with the stories that no one else has done before. It’s like having Jay-Z. Jay-Z’s not the first rapper ever, but he’s in the tradition."

Bourgeois arrived this summer at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences as a freshly minted assistant professor of classics. His primary area of research focuses on Roman political tradition.

Bourgeois acknowledges that the classics have long been considered the domain of white scholars. The glory of Greece and Rome have even been invoked by white supremacists to allege their superiority. But he notes that the classics have also been used as a tool for emancipation.

Frederick Douglass was inspired and informed by a primer on classical oratory that he spirited from the room of his owner’s son. Enslaved Africans across America in the 18th century absorbed the classics to promote insurgency.

And it didn’t end there. Bourgeois added that Black Panther Party co-founder Huey Newton reportedly taught himself to read by reading Plato’s The Republic; Newton’s autobiography,

It’s hard to imagine that Bourgeois would end up as a classics professor, much less an accomplished rapper, based on his early academic aspirations. The son of a nurse and a pharmaceutical executive, Bourgeois headed to the University of Chicago as an economics major.

"I wanted to be filthy rich. I wanted to be one of those guys that you would see in a limo or something, and people would shout down the street, ‘Die, you capitalist pig.’ I wanted to be that rich."

There was only one problem: He hated economics. His path began to change thanks to a fraternity friend who spoke 16 languages and dabbled in classics. That led Bourgeois to courses in the subject and, ultimately, a PhD from Ohio State University.

Bourgeois’ ability to translate The Iliad into rap lyrics comes from more than his knowledge of ancient tomes. He was an avid actor in high school, even becoming the national president of the Junior Thespian Society. He also plays guitar and plinks the piano when he visits his parents.
Those diverse talents and interests have coalesced into his performance project, which he calls Hype 4 Homer. His ultimate goal is to render the entire Iliad in rap — what he calls “The Trilliad” (“Trill” is hip-hop slang for true).

"The project is not just a marriage between hip hop and ancient Greek poetry,” he said, “but a marriage between Homer and I."
It's been a while but I like to spend a post every now and again on the Delphic Maxims. They are very important for our faith and as such, talking about them--and keeping them in mind--matters. Today I want to talk about number 21: 'cling to discipline' (Παιδειας αντεχου).

I'm not sure if all of you are aware, but I am a bit on the Autism spectrum. Not diagnosed, but it runs (diagnosed) in the family. It's manageable and doesn’t affect my life much; it’s just something to remain vigilant of. One of my primary ‘symptoms’ is that I enjoy structure. I enjoy doing the same thing at the same time every day, or every week, or every month. I like things being predictable. 

For me, doing these things does not require discipline. It might for others, but for me, doing things over and over is exactly what makes me happy. What I have to be vigilant about is the anxiety that comes from breaking my routine. If I do something solely because I can’t stop, I’m in trouble. And it’s happened quite a bit in the past.

Especially as a teenager, I often ended up hooked on things. I was smart enough to avoid drugs or alcohol (both of my parents are prone to addiction issues so I wasn’t going to risk it), but gaming, for example, has been a downfall. What took discipline was putting the controller down. I am not allowed to do Multiplayer Online games anymore because I still have trouble balancing the time I spent doing them. There are more examples, but that goes beyond the purpose of this post.

What I want to talk about today is discipline itself. Discipline, in general, means forcing yourself to behave in a manner not entirely comfortable to your own being. It means getting up to work out if all you want to do is lie around on the couch. It means heading to the office five days a week, even though the tasks suck. It means not doing all the things you want to do because other things are more important, or are better for you.

In order to exhibit discipline, you first need to be aware of your own behavior and your own inclinations towards life. In short, discipline requires the highest good of the ancient Hellenes: knowledge of the self. You need to know who you are in order to affect your own behavior. No matter who you are, facing all the good and all the bad in you takes discipline. There is nothing easy about it. It’s great to pat yourself on the back over all your fine qualities but the bad? No one wants to face the bad. And that is exactly the part that discipline speaks to.

‘Cling to discipline’, as a maxim, reminds me of two things: to do well in, and stick with all things I might not want to do but should do to help myself and others in the long run, and to learn as much about myself and the behavior I am inherently comfortable with so In don’t self-sabotage my life—like I have done often in the past. Discipline, to me, means working towards a better version of yourself, and I believe the ancient Hellenes might have viewed it in the same way. It’s a worthwhile endeavor, after all. 
The excavation conducted this season by the University of Athens at ancient Alasarna (today’s Kardamaina) on Kos is into its 35th year. It is the longest, continuous, systematic archaeological research on the island, as well as one of the most long term university excavations in Greece. Hundreds of Greek and foreign archaeologists have trained there since 1985 to the present, many of whom now are employed at the Archaeological service or teach at Universities in Greece, Cyprus, Poland, Australia and elsewhere.

Ancient Alasarna’s advantageous position by the sea, opposite Nisyros and the Knidos peninsula, had attracted inhabitants since antiquity and was associated with the most ancient cult of the Koans, that of their forefather Apollo Pythaius or Pythaeus. For this reason, magnificent buildings in his honour were erected in Hellenistic times, and numerous inscriptions and statues and other offerings were established.

After the repeated catastrophic earthquakes that hit the island and the prevailing of Christianity, the sanctuary area was taken over by part of a flourishing early Byzantine settlement that grew in the area, while the excellent quality clay and location of the settlement on the wheat sea route from Egypt in Constantinople led to a new flowering, until the settlement was finally abandoned in the 7th century AD due to raids by the Arabs.

This year’s excavation team worked for one month. It was headed by Emeritus women Professors G. Kokkorou- Alevra, S. Kalopisi-Verti and M. Panagiotidou-Kesisoglou and was made up of 45 people; PhD holders, postgraduate and graduate students.

The unearthing continued of the monumental enclosure (Building E) which appears to have surrounded a magnificent Hellenistic temple (Building C), possibly that of Apollo as testified by inscriptions, issues were looked into related to the construction and chronology of the Roman temple (Building D) located outside the enclosure and lastly, selected areas were excavated for a fuller understanding of the early Byzantine settlement that had occupied the sanctuary district since 400 AD and perhaps even earlier.

The unearthing of one more Roman building to the west of the Roman temple (Building D) is of particular interest, testifying to a greater flowering of the sanctuary in Roman times than what excavations had shown to date.

The most distinguished of this year’s finds are a clay Cupid figurine, a Hellenistic skyphos vase with relief decoration, oil lamps, a coin from the times of Augustus, architectural members, fragments of frescoed plaster, early Byzantine amphorae with graffiti and more.

At the same time, movable and immovable finds from the excavation are being studied, as the volumes that make up the Alasarna series (Thales European Programme of Excellence) continue to be published. To date, this places the University excavation of Kardamaina among the few systematic Greek excavations that provides a series of publications, as is usually the case with excavations conducted by foreign archaeological schools in Greece.

The excavation is supervised by the Ephorate of Antiquities of the Dodecanese and is funded annually by the General Secretariat of the Aegean and Island Policy while receiving increasingly warm support from local authorities, the Kardamaina community and educational and cultural institutions of Kos. The ultimate goal is to promote the site and hand it over to the inhabitants and visitors of the island.
Will you be joining us at 10 AM EDT on 13 October to celebrate the female heroes that we have so plentifully in our religion?

The ancient Erkhians honoured the Heroines twice a year, once on the 19th of Metageitnion, and once on the 14th of Pyanepsion. Certain heroines--like Basile--were worshipped separately from the group as well, most likely because they were local heroines instead of universally accepted heroines like Atalanta, who hunted the Calydonian boar, slew Centaurs, and defeated Peleus in wrestling, or Kallisto, who was an Arcadian princess and hunting companion of the Goddess Artemis. The Heroines received a white sheep in sacrifice, of which the meat was partly sacrificed and partly eaten by those who came out to sacrifice. The skin of the animal went towards the priestess.

Heroes and heroines have a special place in Hellenismos, as they had in ancient Hellas. These were humans--most with at least a part divine heritage--who were considered so brave, so skillful, so extraordinary in their lifetime that they became revered. Some were priests or priestesses of a temple, some excelled in battle, others were skilled healers or good rulers. Once they passed to the realm of Hades, their names were remembered at least once a year on a special occasion, because the ancient Hellenes believed that if the name and deeds of a person were remembered, they would live forever and potentially look out for those they had looked out for before.

Archaeological evidence suggests that hero worship was closer to Khthonic sacrifices in execution than Ouranic ones the further back in time you go; especially in the archaic period, it seems that hero worship consisted of destructive sacrifices--sometimes in the form of a holókaustos where the entire animal was burned, sometimes in a sacrifice where only a part (most often 'a ninth' of the animal) was burned and the rest remained on the altar for the heroes to eat from until gone. The sacrifices were generally burned in an offering pit known as a bothros. The food offered to heroes consisted of meat, blood, and 'food eaten by men' like grains, fruits and other every-day dishes. These were usually offered to the heroes on a table--known as a trapeza--and the heroes were sometimes offered chairs or a bench to sit on. As time went on, the living began to eat part of the meal laid out for the heroes, joining them in celebration.

You can find the ritual here and join our community page here. We have added some of the other main Hellenic Goddesses to the ritual as well. Feel free to add more of our Goddesses and heroines to your own ritual, especially if you feel close to Them! This ritual will be a celebration of the feminine power in our religion! 
Percy Bysshe Shelley (4 August 1792 – 8 July 1822) was one of the major English Romantic poets and is regarded by critics as amongst the finest lyric poets in the English language. A radical in his poetry as well as his political and social views, Shelley did not achieve fame during his lifetime, but recognition for his poetry grew steadily following his death. Shelley was a key member of a close circle of visionary poets and writers that included Lord Byron; Leigh Hunt; Thomas Love Peacock; and his own second wife, Mary Shelley, the author of Frankenstein.

The poetry I'm sharing today is Prometheus Unbound, a four-act lyrical drama first published in 1818. It is concerned with the torments of the Greek mythological figure Prometheus, who defies the gods and gives fire to humanity, for which he is subjected to eternal punishment and suffering at the hands of Zeus. It is inspired by the classical Prometheia, a trilogy of plays attributed to Aeschylus. Shelley's play concerns Prometheus' release from captivity, but unlike Aeschylus' version, there is no reconciliation between Prometheus and Jupiter (Zeus). Instead, Jupiter is abandoned by his supportive elements and falls from power, which allows Prometheus to be released.

Shelley's play is closet drama, meaning it was not intended to be produced on the stage. In the tradition of Romantic poetry, Shelley wrote for the imagination, intending his play's stage to reside in the imaginations of his readers. However, the play is filled with suspense, mystery and other dramatic effects that make it, in theory, performable. This is an excerpt.

SCENE.—A Ravine of Icy Rocks in the Indian Caucasus. Prometheus is discovered bound to the Precipice. Panthea and Ione are seated at his feet. Time, night. During the Scene, morning slowly breaks.

Monarch of Gods and Dæmons, and all Spirits
But One, who throng those bright and rolling worlds
Which Thou and I alone of living things
Behold with sleepless eyes! regard this Earth
Made multitudinous with thy slaves, whom thou
Requitest for knee-worship, prayer, and praise,
And toil, and hecatombs of broken hearts,
With fear and self-contempt and barren hope.
Whilst me, who am thy foe, eyeless in hate,
Hast thou made reign and triumph, to thy scorn,
O'er mine own misery and thy vain revenge.
Three thousand years of sleep-unsheltered hours,
And moments aye divided by keen pangs
Till they seemed years, torture and solitude,
Scorn and despair,—these are mine empire:—
More glorious far than that which thou surveyest
From thine unenvied throne, O Mighty God!
Almighty, had I deigned to share the shame
Of thine ill tyranny, and hung not here
Nailed to this wall of eagle-baffling mountain,
Black, wintry, dead, unmeasured; without herb,
Insect, or beast, or shape or sound of life.
Ah me! alas, pain, pain ever, for ever!

No change, no pause, no hope! Yet I endure.
I ask the Earth, have not the mountains felt?
I ask yon Heaven, the all-beholding Sun,
Has it not seen? The Sea, in storm or calm,
Heaven's ever-changing Shadow, spread below,
Have its deaf waves not heard my agony?
Ah me! alas, pain, pain ever, for ever!

The crawling glaciers pierce me with the spears
Of their moon-freezing crystals, the bright chains
Eat with their burning cold into my bones.
Heaven's wingèd hound, polluting from thy lips
His beak in poison not his own, tears up
My heart; and shapeless sights come wandering by,
The ghastly people of the realm of dream,
Mocking me: and the Earthquake-fiends are charged
To wrench the rivets from my quivering wounds
When the rocks split and close again behind:
While from their loud abysses howling throng
The genii of the storm, urging the rage
Of whirlwind, and afflict me with keen hail.
And yet to me welcome is day and night,
Whether one breaks the hoar frost of the morn,
Or starry, dim, and slow, the other climbs
The leaden-coloured east; for then they lead
The wingless, crawling hours, one among whom
—As some dark Priest hales the reluctant victim—
Shall drag thee, cruel King, to kiss the blood
From these pale feet, which then might trample thee
If they disdained not such a prostrate slave.
Disdain! Ah no! I pity thee. What ruin
Will hunt thee undefended through wide Heaven!
How will thy soul, cloven to its depth with terror,
Gape like a hell within! I speak in grief,
Not exultation, for I hate no more,
As then ere misery made me wise. The curse
Once breathed on thee I would recall. Ye Mountains,
Whose many-voicèd Echoes, through the mist
Of cataracts, flung the thunder of that spell!
Ye icy Springs, stagnant with wrinkling frost,
Which vibrated to hear me, and then crept
Shuddering through India! Thou serenest Air,
Through which the Sun walks burning without beams!
And ye swift Whirlwinds, who on poisèd wings
Hung mute and moveless o'er yon hushed abyss,
As thunder, louder than your own, made rock
The orbèd world! If then my words had power,
Though I am changed so that aught evil wish
Is dead within; although no memory be
Of what is hate, let them not lose it now!
What was that curse? for ye all heard me speak. 
A group of European scientists has found a hidden ancient Greek text on the back of a papyrus that was burnt after the Vesuvius volcano eruption in 79 AD. The scrolls – known as the Herculaneum papyri or Herculaneum scrolls — are more than 1,800 papyri found in the ancient Italian village Herculaneum in the 18th century. They were carbonized by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius.

Herculaneum was a resort during ancient times and it is often referred to as “the other Pompeii,” because it was buried in superheated pyroclastic material after the volcano eruption. It is also famous as one of the few ancient cities that can now be seen in almost its original splendor.

In the 18th century, a group of archaeologists uncovered a remarkable library scroll that had been carbonized. In the beginning, scientists attempted to unroll the burnt papyri, but because of their fragile state, many of them were destroyed.

Italian and other European scientists have, for the first time, using a high-tech non-invasive imaging method, managed to see fragments of ancient Greek text hidden behind the back of one of Herculaneum’s famous scrolls.

These papyri, many of which relate to works of Hellenic philosophers, were discovered in 1752-54 in archaeological excavations at the so-called “papyrus villa” in Herculaneum  (today Ercolano) in Campania, Italy. The villa was destroyed and buried in the ashes after the eruption of the nearby Vesuvius volcano in 79 AD.

Today, some 1,840 papyri are kept at the National Library of Naples and at the Institute of France in Paris. It is essentially the only ancient Greek-Roman library preserved in a small room of the Roman villa. They are the first Greek papyri found in archaeological excavations.

Following the eruption of the Mount Vesuvius volcano, a surge of hot air, reaching 320 degrees Celsius, burned the delicate papyri and left them in a state of extreme vulnerability. Up to now, scientists and archaeologists have tried to open them, but with disastrous or limited results.

However, with the use of advanced digital technology, researchers from Italy, France, Germany and Russia “announced that by using the ultrasound imaging technique in the short infrared portion of the electromagnetic spectrum (1,000 to 2,500 nanometers), they were able to” see “portions of Greek text hidden behind the PHerc. 1691/1021 papyrus.

This papyrus, the most famous of the collection, contains text from the “History of the Academy” (of Plato), which is part of a much larger work by the Epicurean philosopher Philodemus.

Reading through the new technology – which yields better results than the previous imaging at 950 nanometers – paves the way for something similar to other charred papyri of the same or other collection, which will greatly help experts on papyrus reading and restoration, on philology and ancient philosophy. Thanks to the new technique, the hidden text is even clearer than the one on the front, visible side.
Important remains from the Early Minoan era (circa 2,600 BC), including an intact skeleton of a woman, were revealed recently near the complex of monuments currently being excavated by archaeologists in Sisi, in the Lasithi region on Crete.

The Greek Ministry of Culture noted in its announcement on Thursday:

"After the abandonment of the settlement by its people, who left almost the entirety of their material culture in loco, a monumental structure was constructed to the east of the village. This building became the heart of the later west wing. Even though it was destroyed by a fire in 2,500 BC, its remains were almost fully incorporated into the construction of a complex of monumental buildings with a courtyard, which was constructed around 1,700 BC."

Further excavations have revealed a decorated floor, constructed with a high-quality mortar, and a well-made 33-meter (109-foot) long clay drainage pipe, the ministry said.

Significant finds from lesser-known eras have also been unearthed in other parts of the hill, among them a residence that was destroyed in the Mid-Minoan Era, most likely by an earthquake.
The woman’s skeleton found in Sisi

A box-shaped grave belonging to the Post-Minoan era containing an almost intact skeleton of a woman was also found.

A copper mirror with an ivory handle, dress pins made of copper and a necklace with 15 olive-shaped golden beads and fifteen smaller golden beads were also found inside the woman’s grave. These types of graves are rare on Crete and are usually only found in Knossos and Chania.

The Culture Ministry said that over a hundred archaeologists from different nations participated in the 10th excavation period conducted by the Belgian School of Athens in Sisi, in collaboration with the Lasithi Antiquities Ephorate.

The dig near Sisi was under the guidance of Professor Jan Driessen.
On October 8th, we'll host a PAT ritual for the Stenia. The Stenia is connected to the Eleusinian Mysteries, Demeter, and Persephone.

The Stenia is celebrated on 9 Pyanepsion. It was a festival dedicated solely to Demeter and Persephone and was held three days before the Thesmophoria. Not much information about this festival has survived, but because bits and pieces have survived of the Thesmophoria and the preceding Skiraphoria, we can put parts of the festival back together.

A little background first: On 12 Skirophorion, the Skiraphoria was celebrated. The Skiraphoria was one of the few days when the women of ancient Athens would gather in public to honor Demeter and bless the harvest. They refused to sleep with the men on this day and took part in a very odd tradition: casting piglets down into a chasm where they were left to rot until the Stenia.

During the Stenia, women came together and begun the extensive purification rituals needed to partake in the Thesmophoria. How, exactly, the women purified themselves is unknown but it is known that the women engaged in Aiskhrologia, insulting each other and using foul language. To understand this practice, it's important to know the mythology behind it. Nearly all festivals where Demeter is included, recount the myth of Kore/Persephone who was abducted by Hades. While Demeter grieved and vowed to get her daughter out, Persephone was seduced to eat of the pomegranate fruit. This decision allowed Hades to keep Persephone in the Underworld for a part of the year, while she was allowed to rejoin her mother for the rest of it. While Demeter grieved, there was only one who could make her laugh: the strange old woman Iambe. From the Homeric Hymn 2: To Demeter:

"But Demeter bringer of seasons and giver of perfect gifts, would not sit upon the bright couch, but stayed silent with lovely eyes cast down until careful Iambe placed a jointed seat for her and threw over it a silvery fleece. Then she sat down and held her veil in her hands before her face. A long time she sat upon the stool without speaking because of her sorrow, and greeted no one by word or by sign, but rested, never smiling, and tasting neither food nor drink, because she pined with longing for her deep-bosomed daughter, until careful Iambe - who pleased her moods in aftertime also - moved the holy lady with many a quip and jest to smile and laugh and cheer her heart." [188]

I believe that a large part of the Stenia was to make the other women laugh by shouting witty insults, making crude jokes or any other way they could think of that was out of character and liberal. It's a laughing day. Yet, there was also a serious note to it. At the Stenia, some women, called 'Bailers', hiked to the chasm where the piglets had been thrown into months ago. Then, in a gruesome display of devotion, the women hauled out the rotting corpses of the piglets and carried them to the Thesmophorion, a site probably on the hillside of the Pnyx, in preparation for the Thesmophoria.

The Stenia is a female only festival, sorry guys! We can't really provide you with laughter and jokes, so here is my suggestion: get all your friends together and have a girl's night. Find Magic Mike on Netflix and break out the wine and popcorn. The ritual will focus on the religious part. You can find the ritual here and chat amongst yourselves here.
Researchers led by the renowned ancient artefacts decoder, Professor Brent Seales, will be using Diamond, the UK’s national synchrotron science facility in the heart of Oxfordshire, to examine a collection of world-famous ancient artefacts owned by the Institut de France.

Using this powerful light source and special techniques the team has developed, the researchers are working to virtually unwrap two complete scrolls and four fragments from the damaged Herculaneum scrolls. After decades of effort, Seales thinks the scans from Diamond represent his teams best chance yet to reveal the elusive contents of these 2,000-year-old papyri.

Prof Seales is director of the Digital Restoration Initiative at the University of Kentucky (US), a research program dedicated to the development of software tools that enable the recovery of fragile, unreadable texts. According to Seales:

"Diamond Light Source is an absolutely crucial element in our long-term plan to reveal the writing from damaged materials, as it offers unparalleled brightness and control for the images we can create, plus access to a brain trust of scientists who understand our challenges and are eager to help us succeed. Texts from the ancient world are rare and precious, and they simply can not be revealed through any other known process. Thanks to the opportunity to study the scrolls at Diamond Light Source, which has been made possible by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Andrew Mellon Foundation, we are poised to take a tremendous step forward in our ability to read and visualize this material. The scan session promises to be a key moment in our quest for a reliable pathway to reading the invisible library."

Over the past two decades, Prof Seales and his team have worked to digitally restore and read the vast amount of material in the “invisible library” of irreparably damaged manuscripts. In 2015 they achieved singular success when they visualized the never-before and never-to-be-seen writing trapped inside five complete wraps of the ancient Hebrew scroll from EnGedi (see science Advances). For the first time ever, a complete text from an object so severely damaged that it could never be opened physically was digitally retrieved and recreated, representing a true technical breakthrough (see Virtually Unwrapping the En Gedi Scroll). It is this technology that Seales’ team plans to deploy on the data collected at Diamond.

A long-term goal of Prof Seales has been to reveal the contents of the most iconic items in the invisible library, the Herculaneum scrolls. Buried and carbonized by the deadly eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79AD, the scrolls are too fragile to be opened and represent the perfect storm of important content, massive damage, extreme fragility, and difficult-to-detect ink.

These famous papyri were discovered in 1752 in an ancient Roman villa near the Bay of Naples believed to belong to the family of Julius Caesar. As such, they represent the only surviving library from antiquity. The majority of the 1,800 scrolls reside at the Biblioteca Nazionale di Napoli, although a few were offered as gifts to dignitaries by the King of Naples and wound up at the Bodleian Library at Oxford University, the British Library, and the Institut de France.

Last May, Prof Seales headed a small team of undergraduate students in Paris to survey the Institut de France’s Herculaneum collection. They examined two completely intact scrolls, along with four small fragments from scrolls unrolled in the late 1800s. All six items will be scanned at Diamond. Because the four fragments contain many layers and feature visible, exposed writing on the top, they will provide the key data needed to develop the next iteration of the team’s “virtual unwrapping” software pipeline, a machine learning algorithm that will enable the visualization of carbon ink.

“We do not expect to immediately see the text from the upcoming scans, but they will provide the crucial building blocks for enabling that visualization. First, we will immediately see the internal structure of the scrolls in more definition than has ever been possible, and we need that level of detail to ferret out the highly compressed layers on which the text sits. In addition, we believe strongly—and contrary to conventional wisdom—that tomography does indeed capture subtle, non-density-based evidence of ink, even when it is invisible to the naked eye in the scan data.  The machine learning tool we are developing will amplify that ink signal by training a computer algorithm to recognize it—pixel by pixel—from photographs of opened fragments that show exactly where the ink is—voxel by voxel—in the corresponding tomographic data of the fragments. The tool can then be deployed on data from the still-rolled scrolls, identify the hidden ink, and make it more prominently visible to any reader.”

The scanning of these delicate items at the leading science facility, Diamond, will be a mammoth undertaking, for all involved. Because of their extreme fragility, the Seales team fabricated custom-fit cases for the scrolls that enable as little handling as possible. Only highly trained conservators are allowed to handle the samples. The Director of the Bibliothèque at the Institut de France, Mme Françoise Bérard will personally pack the scrolls into their special cases for travel to the UK, and after arrival, they will be inserted into the I12 beamline at Diamond. The I12 beamline or JEEP (Joint Engineering, Environmental, and Processing) beamline is a high energy X-ray beamline for imaging, diffraction and scattering, which operates at photon energies of 53-150 keV.

While a handful of the scrolls from Herculaneum have been subjected to physical (and largely disastrous) efforts to open them, no one as yet has managed to reveal complete texts from the hundreds that remain tightly closed. Principal Beamline Scientist on the Diamond I12 Beamline where the experiment will take place, Dr Thomas Connolley, adds:

"This is the first time an intact scroll has been scanned in such detail at Diamond Light Source. We are very excited to work with the research team, playing our part in what we hope will be a major step forward in unlocking the secrets that the scrolls contain. It’s ironic and somewhat poetic that the scrolls sacrificed during the past era of disastrous physical methods will serve as the key to retrieving the text from those survive but are unreadable. And by digitally restoring and reading these texts, which are arguably the most challenging and prestigious to decipher, we will forge a pathway for revealing any type of ink on any type of substrate in any type of damaged cultural artefact."
The Theseia was an ancient festival held in Athens in the honor of Theseus--as there were many others this month. The focus of this one is actually on his bones and lasting memory; it's a memorial rite. Will you join us in honoring Theseus? In remembering his deeds and the lessons he taught us? Join us on the 7th of  October at the usual 10 am EDT.

Theseus (Θησεύς) was fathered by Aegeus and Poseidon, whom had both slept with his mother Aethra, and was thus destined to become a hero. All heroes were given at least one divine parent--usually one connected to their later deeds. The same held true for kings. When he heard about the Minotaur of Krete, and the nine-yearly sacrifices to it--a punishment by King Minos of Krete for the death of his son Androgeus, at the hands of Athenian assassins--Theseus offered to be one of the youths who sailed for Krete. Once there, Ariadne, daughter of the king, fell for him and offered him a ball of yarn so he would be able to find his way out off the labyrinth that housed the Minotaur the youths would be sacrificed to. With Ariadne's aid, Theseus defeated the Minotaur, and brought the sacrificial children home.

The Theseia (Θησεῖα) was not instituted till BC. 469, when Athenian statesman and strategos Cimon brought the (alledged) remains of Theseus from Scyros to Athens. After the Persian wars, around 476/5 BC, Athenian Archon Phaedo was prompted by a Pythian priestess at Delphi to return the bones of Theseus to their city. Cimon, upon hearing the oracle, sailed to Skyros to retrieve them. Plutarch, in 'Theseus' tells the story of discovery, collection and retrieval as follows:

"...when Cimon took the island (as is related in his life), and had a great ambition to find out the place where Theseus was buried, he, by chance, spied an eagle upon a rising ground pecking with her beak and tearing up the earth with her talons, when on the sudden it came into his mind, as it were by some divine inspiration, to dig there, and search for the bones of Theseus. There were found in that place a coffin of a man of more than ordinary size, and a brazen spear-head, and a sword lying by it, all which he took aboard his galley and brought with him to Athens."

The Athenians were delighted with the return and the bones that either were or were not Theseus' were laid to rest where they became an intrical part of Athenian life:

"Upon which the Athenians, greatly delighted, went out to meet and receive the relics with splendid processions and sacrifices, as if it were Theseus himself returning alive to the city. He lies interred in the middle of the city, near the present gymnasium. His tomb is a sanctuary and refuge for slaves, and all those of mean condition that fly from the persecution of men in power, in memory that Theseus while he lived was an assister and protector of the distressed, and never refused the petitions of the afflicted that fled to him."

The festival of the Theseia was held on the eighth of every month, but the eighth of Pyanepsion was especially important because the ancient Athenians considered this the day that Theseus returned from Krete:

"The chief and most solemn sacrifice which they celebrate to him is kept on the eighth day of Pyanepsion, on which he returned with the Athenian young men from Crete. Besides which they sacrifice to him on the eighth day of every month, either because he returned from Troezen the eighth day of Hecatombaeon, as Diodorus the geographer writes, or else thinking that number to be proper to him, because he was reputed to be born of Neptune, because they sacrifice to Neptune on the eighth day of every month. The number eight being the first cube of an even number, and the double of the first square, seemed to be an emblem of the steadfast and immovable power of this god, who from thence has the names of Asphalius and Gaeiochus, that is, the establisher and stayer of the earth."

The festival was celebrated with donations of bread and meat, which were given to the poor people so they could 'fancy themselves equal to the wealthiest citizens'. This happened on the evening portion of the eigth of the month (the ancient Hellenes started the new day at sundown). I suspect the offerings that went along with the shared banquet had a slightly Khthonic character. Heroes and heroines have a special place in Hellenismos, as they had in ancient Hellas. These were humans--most with at least a part divine heritage--who were considered so brave, so skillful, so extraordinary in their lifetime that they became revered. Hero worship was very specific and it's a concept that translates with more difficulty than straight-up deity worship.

Archeological evidence suggests that hero worship was closer to khthonic sacrifice in execution than ouranic ones the further back in time you go; especially in the archaic period, it seems that hero worship consisted of destructive sacrifices--sometimes in the form of a holókaustos where the entire animal was burned, sometimes in a sacrifice where only a part (most often 'a ninth' of the animal) was burned and the rest remained on the altar for the heroes to eat from until gone. The sacrifices were generally burned in an offering pit known as a bothros. The food offered to heroes consisted of meat, blood, and 'food eaten by men' like grains, fruits and other every-day dishes. These were usually offered to the heroes on a table--known as a trapeza--and the heroes were sometimes offered chairs or a bench to sit on. As time went on, the living began to eat part of the meal laid out for the heroes, joining them in celebration.

Contests were also part of the festival, during the daylight hours, but we don't know much about these contests; we don't know what sort of contests they were, for example. All we know is that they were 'gymnastic contests'.

We hope you will join us for the event! If you feel like doing so, the ritual can be found here and you can join the community here.
As you may have noticed, it's a new month and thus many festivals are taking place in the coming days. Two today: the Pyanepsia and the Oskhophoria. The Pyanepsia will take place on the 6th of October, at 10 am EDT and the Oskophoria at 11 am.

The Pyanepsia

The Pyanepsia (Πυανέψια) was one of the many harvest festivals of the season, but instead of focussing on the actual harvest, the Pyanepsia focusses almost completely on the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur.

Theseus (Θησεύς) was fathered by Aegeus and Poseidon, whom had both slept with his mother Aethra, and was thus destined to become a hero. In order to claim his rightful place as ruler over Athens, he had to uncover his father's sandals and sword from under a stone in his mother's birth land where Theseus grew up, and bring it to his mortal father. He did, taking the long and dangerous route over land, and fought many Khthonic creatures and mortal bandits in the process. This was long before he would vow to bring down the Minotaur and thus, set in motion the events that led up to the strange festival of Pyanepsia.

Theseus' father, Aegeus, had taken Medea as his new wife. Afraid hat Theseus would claim the throne and take her position of power from her, Medea pressed Theseus to capture the Marathonian Bull. This, he did, but upon returning, Medea tried to poison him. Aegeus recognized his son just in time and Medea fled while father and son reunited. Theseus then heard about the Minotaur of Crete, and the nine-yearly sacrifices to it. These sacrifices were a punishment by King Minos of Crete for the death of his son Androgeus, at the hands of Athenian assassins.

Theseus offered to be one of the youths who sailed for Crete. Once there, Ariadne, daughter of the king, fell for him and offered him a ball of yarn so he would be able to find his way out off the labyrinth that housed the Minotaur the youths would be sacrificed to. Theseus defeated the Minotaur and took Ariadne and her sister Phaedra from their home in thanks for their help. That night, they slept on the beach but Athena woke up Theseus and told him to sail out now, and to leave Ariadne and Phaedra behind. He did, although it pained him greatly. In his dismay, he forgot to sail with the white sails he had promised his father to sail with if he was alive. As he reached the main land, Aegeus saw the black sails and figured his son dead. He then cast himself off of the cliffs overlooking the sea, and drowned.

Theseus blamed himself for his father's death, but was very relieved to be home none the less. He wished to thank Apollon for his safe journey and his victory over the Minotaur and thus, he ordered his men to gather all the foodstuffs that remained. This was mostly beans and grains, and he ordered the food to be cooked up for a feast and a sacrifice.

In celebration, Theseus then put together an eiresiône (εἰρεσιώνη), a branch of olive or laurel bound with purple or white wool. It was decorated with fruits of the season, pastries, and small jars of honey, oil and wine. The eiresiône was also called a 'supplicant branch', as it was intended as a thank-offering for blessings received, and at the same time as a prayer for similar blessings and protection against evil in future. He walked through the streets of Athens with his eiresiône, to signal his victory and the end of scarcity.

In ancient Hellas, and especially Athens, both observances were conglomerated into the Pyanepsia, and boys tended to carry their home made eiresiône through the streets in a Halloween-esque manner. They knocked on the doors of every house and sang a song. In return, they expected a gift. The eiresiône song from Plutarch, Life of Theseus, 22.5, goes as follows:

'eiresiône suka pherei kai pionas artous
kai meli en kotulêi kai elaion apopsêsasthai
kai kulik' euzôron, hôs an methuousa katheudêi.'

Modern Greek pronunciation:
(Capitalized syllables are emphasized according to the poetic meter)
'EE-re-si-ON-NE SEE-ka fe-RE KE PEE-on-as AR-tous
KE me-lee EN ko-tee-LEE ke e-LE-on a-POP-SEE-SAS-the
KE kee-lik EF-ZO-RON, OS AN me-thee-OU-sa ka-THEV-dee.'

Plutarch has the song:
“Eiresione for us brings figs and bread of the richest,
brings us honey in pots and oil to rub off from the body,
Strong wine too in a cup, that one may go to bed mellow.”

A special eiresiône was brought to the temple of Apollon by a boy whose parents were both alive. He was encouraged to recite the song during the procession. By the Classical Period an eiresione was hung over almost every door in Athens and remained here a full year before being replaced by a new one.

The sacrifice to Apollon was upheld for a long while as well. The ship Theseus used on his return from Crete to Athens was kept in the Athenian harbor as a memorial for several centuries. It was maintained and kept in proper shape. Often, this meant replacing parts of the ship, a practice which led to the question if the ship could still ethically be called the ship of Theseus after so much of it had been replaced. This dilemma became known as the 'Ship of Theseus paradox'. 

At any rate, the ship was sailed out to the island of Delos--which housed a sanctuary of Apollon--yearly after Theseus' return. To ensure the sanctity of the sacrifice, executions were not allowed to take place during the weeks it took to sail to Delos and back.

You can join us for this event on Facebook. The ritual for it can be found here. We would love for you to share your experiences and images of your eiresiône.

The Oskhophoria

The Oskhophoria (ὀσχοφόρια), or Oschophoria when Latinized, was an ancient Hellenic festival dedicated to Dionysos, Ariadne, Athena Skiras, and Apollon. This month, festivals are either related to the Eleusinian Mysteries or the mythology surrounding Theseus. This festival is one of the latter. It was a vintage festival and we would like to invite you to join us for it at 11:00 am EDT on October 6th.

The Oskhophoria falls during the vintage season in Attica. The principal feature of this festival, the procession, featured ripe grapevines. As such, we can assume that this festival was a thanksgiving for the grape harvest. In fact, branches of vines with fresh grapes were carried in a great procession from the temple of Dionysos in Athens, to the ancient temple of Athena Skiras in Phalerus. This was the main feature of the festival. After Theseus, hero and king, the festival was augmented to include the recounting of his many exploits with accommodation to earlier traditions. It seems that this recounting was done at the banqueting after the ritual and there would be much recounting indeed. Because the festival adopted features from mythology, Apollon also became one of the Theoi sacrificed to, as He is closely tied to the mythology of Theseus.

Many sources have snippits of information about the Oskhophoria and most disagree, as we have come to expect. We can be fairly certain the ancient Hellenes attributed the mythical foundation of the festival to Theseus, however, and many details of the festival relate back to his journey to Krete:
  • the procession featured two youthful men in female attire, said to recall the trick of Theseus in which he substituted two of the seven female tributes with young male fighters
  • mothers carrying dinner baskets also featured, representing the mothers of the fourteen tributes who made a last meal for their children before they sailed
  • the Oskophoria was an ocassion for storytelling, as the youths sailing to Krete would have needed their spirits raised
Plutarch's account, in 'Theseus', recounts the origins of the festival as follows, obviously trying to make a coherent whole out of contradictory evidence:

"The feast called Oschophoria, or the feast of boughs, which to this day the Athenians celebrate, was then first instituted by Theseus. For he took not with him the full number of virgins which by lot were to be carried away, but selected two youths of his acquaintance, of fair and womanish faces, but of a manly and forward spirit, and having, by frequent baths, and avoiding the heat and scorching of the sun, with a constant use of all the ointments and washes and dresses that serve to the adorning of the head or smoothing the skin or improving the complexion, in a manner changed them from what they were before, and having taught them farther to counterfeit the very voice and carriage and gait of virgins so that there could not be the least difference perceived, he, undiscovered by any, put them into the number of the Athenian maids designed for Crete. At his return, he and these two youths led up a solemn procession, in the same habit that is now worn by those who carry the vine-branches.
Those branches they carry in honour of Bacchus and Ariadne, for the sake of their story before related; or rather because they happened to return in autumn, the time of gathering the grapes. The women, whom they call Deipnopherae, or supper-carriers, are taken into these ceremonies, and assist at the sacrifice, in remembrance and imitation of the mothers of the young men and virgins upon whom the lot fell, for thus they ran about bringing bread and meat to their children; and because the women then told their sons and daughters many tales and stories, to comfort and encourage them under the danger they were going upon, it has still continued a custom that at this feast old fables and tales should be told.
 For these particularities we are indebted to the history of Demon. There was then a place chosen out, and a temple erected in it to Theseus, and those families out of whom the tribute of the youth was gathered were appointed to pay tax to the temple for sacrifices to him. And the house of the Phytalidae had the overseeing of these sacrifices, Theseus doing them that honour in recompense of their former hospitality."

In the myth of Theseus and the minotaur, Theseus, looking to become king of Athens, hears about the Minotaur of Krete, and the nine-yearly sacrifices to it. These sacrifices were a punishment by King Minos of krete for the death of his son Androgeus, at the hands of Athenian assassins. Theseus offered to be one of the youths who sailed for Krete. Once there, Ariadne, daughter of the king, fell for him and offered him a ball of yarn so he would be able to find his way out off the labyrinth that housed the Minotaur the youths would be sacrificed to. Theseus defeated the Minotaur and took Ariadne and her sister Phaedra from their home in thanks for their help. That night, they slept on the beach but Athena woke up Theseus and told him to sail out now, and to leave Ariadne and Phaedra behind. He did, although it pained him greatly. It was here, Dionysos found Ariadne and fell in love with her. He would later end up marrying her and she became his immortal wife.

Because the Oskophoria is in many ways two festivals in one, it is a hard one to pin down in terms of modern worship. The Oschophoria was essentially a banquet celebration in honor of Theseus and the rescue of youths and maidens and even more so, an older celebration of the vintage combining traditions of Salamis and Athens. Well into the fourth century BC, two branches of the Salaminians were involved in preparation, were Deipnophoroi, and received equal portions of the meat. The vintage rituals of the Salamic Goddess Skiras became associated with Athena Skiras and naturally Dionysos. The various Theseus mythos was explained through the numerous recounting which we have added to the ritual.

We hope you join us in celebrating this festival. You can join the Facebook community here and find the ritual here.