The British Museum seems to enjoy telling the world about its statutory restrictions. Whenever would-be claimants approach the museum seeking restitution of an object from the collection, the almost mechanical response from the museum is that its trustees are prevented from doing so, even if they wanted to, because of the onerous restrictions on deaccessioning collection items found within the British Museum Act 1963.

This has been part of the response to Greek representatives regarding the Parthenon Sculptures, and, most recently, to the delegation from Rapa Nui (Easter Island) who emotionally pleaded to get the giant carved moai figure back from the museum.

But this spring, a delegation from Ethiopia arrived at the British Museum with a somewhat different sort of request. The country’s culture minister was looking to discuss the potential return of 11 tabots currently held at the museum. These are tablets of wood or stone meant to represent the Ten Commandments, sacred to the Christian church of Ethiopia. Though they entered the collection at different times, the tabots had originally been taken during a particularly notorious expedition by British imperial forces at Maqdala against the Abyssinian Empire in East Africa (current-day Ethiopia). These, along with Abyssinian regalia and manuscripts, were brought back to Britain as war loot and entered a number of major British institutions.

Today, the tabots are rightly revered by British Museum authorities. They are apparently kept in a sealed storage room, each one meticulously wrapped in cloth, and museum staff is not allowed to touch or even look at them. On occasion members of the Ethiopian church have been allowed to perform religious rites with the objects. But the Ethiopian delegation was looking to go further. They suggested that these items be sent back to Ethiopia in order to be properly looked after by the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. According to Ethiopian belief, tabots should be kept in churches, not in a secular space.

As reported by Martin Bailey in The Art Newspaper in May, after the delegation met with British Museum director Hartwig Fischer, a museum spokesperson relayed that Fischer was “going to report to the trustees, and the suggestion of a long-term loan of the tabots may be discussed.” Unlike the British Museum’s openness to dialogue, Westminster Abbey has refused access for Ethiopian Church authorities to an Abyssinian tabot kept on its premises.

In this light, the British Museum’s long-term loan suggestion may seem like a reasonable response. Long-term loans are, after all, often practical solutions to restitution requests, avoiding the legal difficulties of permanent returns, while offering meaningful access to the items in their place of origin, even if for a finite period. Long-term loans make sense in cases where the interest of the museum in retaining custodianship is significant and is necessarily balanced with the interests of communities of origin. That’s why the willingness of the British Museum to participate in the Benin Dialogue Group, a consortium of European museums intent on establishing a series of loans of the Benin Bronzes from their collections to Nigeria, is to be applauded.

But in the case of the 11 tabots, a loan will simply not do. These are items of compelling importance to an active church in Ethiopia today. They were taken in particularly egregious circumstances during a punitive raid. They are serving no museological or academic purpose within the institution and create an unnecessary obstacle for church officials looking to venerate them.

The British Museum will likely answer that its hands are tied and that the statutory prohibition precludes it from even considering a complete restitution to the Ethiopian Church. But if one reads the British Museum Act 1963 closely, one will see that such stonewalling is untenable.

There is a specific provision that allows the British Museum trustees to give away items from the collection if the trustees deem them to be “unfit” for retention in the collection and that the removal wouldn’t be detrimental to the interests of students. Of course, in the case of the tabots, no student has access in the first place, so no detriment exists. As to whether the trustees deem them “unfit” for the collection will necessarily depend on the circumstances in which they are held. While unfitness for the collection is unlikely to apply to key items like the Parthenon Sculptures or the Benin Bronzes, it most certainly can apply to items like the tabots: of great religious importance and with no measurable value to the museum itself. The trustees should, at their next meeting, take the step – entirely consistent with the language and intention of the British Museum Act 1963 – of approving the disposal of these items from the collection for the benefit of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.

In the past, the trustees have played it safe with the Act’s “unfit” provision. They have always appeared to either disregard or ignore it for fear of becoming vulnerable to an avalanche of restitution claims: the famous “floodgates” argument so familiar to Greek, Turkish and Indigenous ears. If we accept that your items are unfit for our collection, then what’s stopping a multitude of other groups lodging similar claims? While the argument might hold true in the case of the majority of museum objects, it most certainly does not in the case of the tabots.

When the Act was passed by Parliament, the MPs debating the provision made reference to “unfit” including forgeries and wrongly identified works. This is indeed comprised in the meaning of the term and nothing would stop the trustees from disposing of, say, a watercolour that has turned out to be a worthless forgery. But “unfit” is broader than this. If Parliament had wanted this power of the trustees to apply only to fakes and forgeries, it would have used those very words in the Act. Instead it opted for the broader and more circumstance-driven phrase “unfit to be retained in the collections”. The trustees should honour Parliament’s decision and use their powers appropriately. In this case that should lead to only one result: the permanent restitution of the tabots to the Ethiopian Church.
On the day of the Hene kai Nea (or sometimes, like this month, the day after), I post a monthly update about things that happened on the blog and in projects and organizations related to it. I will also announce Elaion's coming PAT rituals.

PAT rituals for Skirophorion:
  • Skirophorion 3 - May 26 - Sacrifice to Kourotrophos, Athena Polias, Aglaurus, Zeus Polieus, Poseidon & possibly Pandrosos at Erkhia
  • Skirophorion 12 - June 4 - Skirophoria - festival in honor of Athena, Poseidon, Apollon & Demeter; the Tritopatores were worshipped at Marathon on the eve of this festival
  • Skirophorion 14 - June 6- Dipolieia/Bouphonia - festival in honor of Zeus Poleius
  • Skirophorion 29n - June 22 - Disoteria - Sacrifice to Zeus the Savior and Athene the Savior

    Anything else?
    Are you looking for an online shop to buy incenses and other Hellenistic basics from? Try The Hellenic Handmaid on Etsy.

    Would you like to support me? Buy me a coffee.

    While some museums are organizing online exhibitions as a way to safely share art during the pandemic, students in Ambra Spinelli's spring archaeology class had planned an online show all along. It's a bit of a side-step, but I like it too much not to share.

    That show, Spectacle in Antiquity and Beyond, features displays of objects and photographs from ancient Greece and Rome to the twentieth century. Together, the objects in the exhibition's six galleries illuminate how large, spectacular events—a Roman gladiator fight, an Inuit kayak contest, a Christian pilgrimage, a Nazi march—can foster and sustain a shared identity and reinforce social cohesion.

    Spinelli, who specializes in Roman art and archaeology, designed her course to culminate with a student-curated exhibition that spans centuries. "[The show] looks at spectacles as a way to connect people in time and space, as something that characterized both ancient and modern societies," she said.

    The three students in the small Classics department class—Mike Brown ’20, Brooke Wrubel ’21, and Benjamin Wu ’18—were each responsible for two of the show's galleries. They selected objects from the Museum of Art and the Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum collections and, after researching them, wrote object labels and introductory texts for their items.

    "The collections here are stunning," Spinelli said. "The Museums have so much to offer—I wanted students to explore and engage with the many resources on campus."

    The variety of pieces in Spectacle highlights the breadth of Bowdoin's collections, Wu said. "There are all these different ways to interpret these objects to form a story," he added. "A lot of the items we picked were either directly involved in the specific spectacles, or they were commemorating or depicting such spectacles."
    On the 26th of May, which converts to the third of the month of Skiraphorion, two festivals were held, one in Athens and one in Erkhia. The first was the Arrephoria and, as I will explain later, was not a public festival. As such, we will not celebrate it as such. It is, however, a festival of Athena Polias who was also honoured at Erkhia on this day, along with the Kourotrophos, Aglaurus, Pandrosos, Zeus Polieus, and Poseidon. Will you join us at 10 am EDT on 26 May?

    Let's start with some background on the Arrephoria festival, as it seems to have influenced the sacrifice at Erkhia. The Arrephoria festival wasn't a state festival; young girls in the service performed a ritual for Athena Polias as a public service, but beyond those girls, their mentors, and perhaps their parents, no one was very concerned with it. As with most secret rites, I'm sure people knew a rite was being held, but knew it was not their business to interfere. As long as the rite was performed, all would be well for them. The girls who were selected for the honour of tending for Athena were in service of Athena Polias for an entire year and were called 'Arrephoros' (Ἀρρήφορος), Arrephoroi as a group, consisting of four members.

    The Arrephoroi were always girls between the age of seven and eleven, although seven and ten seem to be the ages that are mentioned most often. They were selected from the wealthy and powerful families of Athens, as those families were considered to be especially blessed. Excavations on the Acropolis have led to the discovery of their quarters, and even their playground. It seems even mini-priestesses can't be priestesses all the time. The young girls seem to have favored ball games and were lodged near the Erechtheion in an area which was the main inhabited area on the Acropolis in Mycenaean times.

    The Arrephoroi had three important tasks to perform in their term. One of the tasks the young girls assisted in was the creation of the peplos for Athena Polias, which was presented to Her during the Panathenaia. Secondly, they were almost solely in charge of grounding the meal for the honey cakes which were placed upon the altar of Athena during religious ceremonies. As a special part of their service, they performed the Arrephoria. During the Arrephoria, the priestess of Athena Polias gave the young arrephoroi sealed baskets to carry to a nearby cave. Here, the girls were supposed to enter, walk the corridor, set down their baskets at the end and pick up ones which have stood there for a year. When they returned with the baskets, it signaled the end of their year of service and they were dismissed. They were replaced with new girls who would serve the Theia.

    It seems the Arrephoria ritual has ties to the ancient Athenian myth of Erichthonios (Ἐριχθόνιος), child of Hēphaistos and Athena, through Gaea, who was half man, half snake, and left in a basket by Athena, to be cared for by three of Her young attendants at the Acropolis, with clear instructions not to open the basket. They did, of course, and were scared so by the sight of either a snake in the basket, or Erichthonios' deformities, they cast themselves off of the Acropolis in terror. Yet, despite his deformities, Erichthonios became king of Athens and ruled it long and well. Myth tells us it was Erichthonios who founded the Panathenaiac Festival in the honour of Athena.

    It seems that there was a certain fertility aspect to the rite, not for humans, but for the olive tree. The rite was most likely performed when the first dew settled on the sacred olive tree on top of the Acropolis--very near where the girls were housed--or when dew was about to settle onto it. In climates as dry as Hellas, dew was needed to produce rich fruit. The months following Skiraphorion are crucial to the olive crop and in ancient times, olive trees--and Athena's sacred olive tree--were vital to the survival of Athens. Olive oil was a main export product, it was used in nearly everything, from cooking to sacred rites, and Athena's olive tree atop the Acropolis had been her gift to the city, which led to her patronage over the city, instead of that of Poseidon. It is said that the sacred olive oil gifted as a reward for winning the Panathenaia te megala was harvested from that very tree. Its survival, and the bearing of good fruit, were therefor essential.

    The Arrephoria was performed to appease Athena and to assure the best possible (divine) conditions for the sacred olive tree of Athena on the Acropolis--and, by proxy, all olive trees--to grow and bear fruit. These young girls performed a vital part of this rite to make up for the failings of Herse and Aglauros. For much more information about the Arrephoria, please see here.

    So why did the ancient Erkhians sacrifice to this marry band of Theoi on this day? They are all linked to the city's well-being and the circumstances that led to the creation of the Arrephoria festival. Athena Polias is regarded as Protector of the City (of Athens). She had a sactuary on the north side of the Acropolis, the Erechtheion. Built between 421 and 406, the Erechtheion was associated with some of the most ancient and holy relics of the Athenians: the Palladion, which was a xoanon--an aniconic cult-statue--of Athena Polias, the marks of Poseidon's trident and the salt water well that resulted from Poseidon's strike, the sacred olive tree that sprouted when Athena struck the rock with her spear in her successful rivalry with Poseidon for the city, the supposed burial places of the mythical kings Cecrops and Erechtheus, the sacred precincts of Cecrops' three daughters and those of the tribal heroes Pandion and Boutes.

    The sisters entrusted with the care for Erichthonios, hidden away in a basket, were Aglauros and her sister Pandrosos. For their roles in the Arrephoria rites, they seem to have been regarded as fertility deities in Athens. Aglauros had a sanctuary on the Acropolis in which young men of military age swore an oath to her as well as to Zeus and to other deities. Herse, sometimes regarded as a third sister, has no mention in the accounts of the Arrephoria and was not honoured at Erkhia.

    Athena Polias and Poseidon were included because of the founding mythology surrounding Athens and Zeus Polieus was another powerful protector of the city. His inclusion might not be intirely linked to myths and practices surrounding Erichthonios, but His inclusion makes sense.

    The Kourotrophos (κουροτρόφος, child nurturer) are (mostly) female deities who watched over growing children--and especially boys. Gaea, Artemis, and Hekate come to mind but Aglauros and Pandrossos were also considered Kouroptrophoi. Specific offerings to Them are known from the demos Erkhia but duplicate similar offerings on the Acropolis of Athens. Especially at Erkhia, it varied per sacrifice which Kourotrophos was/were sacrificed to. In this sacrifice They were honoured for the fertility aspect of Erichthonios being born from Athena as well as Gaea and the desired fertility of olive trees so we know at least Gaea, Aglauros and Pandrosos were honoured.

    The Kourotrophos received a pig, Athena Polias a sheep, Aglouros received a sheep as well, but the remains of which were not to be removed from the bomos, which was equally true for the sheep Zeus Polieus received. Poseidon and Pandrosos also received sheep. All animals were the gender of the deity in question.

    We hope you will join us for this sacrifice on 26 May at 10 am EDT. You can find the ritual here and join the community page here.
    Antiphanes (Ἀντιφάνης) an ancient writer of Middle Attic comedy who was alive from around 408BC to 334 BC. He was apparently a metoikos, a resident alien; foreigner, from either Cius on the Propontis, Smyrna or Rhodes) who settled in Athens. It seems he started writing around 387 BC and he created a massive body of work--more than 200 of the 365 comedies attributed to him are known from the titles. Nearly all of his work has been lost, save fragments that have survived in the works of others, most notably in the work of Athenaeus. His plays chiefly deal with matters connected to mythological subjects, although others referenced particular professional and national persons or characters, while other plays focused on the intrigues of personal life.

    I came across one of his fragments, not in Athenaeus but in Porphyry's 'On Abstinance'. They deal with sacrifice to the Gods and speak directly to a modern reconstructionistic issue: how much we are truly able to give to the Gods.

    In ancient Greece, sacrifices were usually given of meat--lots of meat. Hecatombes were rather commonplace--the sacrifice of a hundred animals for a single (set of) Gods presiding over a festival. Porphyry saw in that a waste and needless slaughter and he quoted Antiphanes to explain why he thought this. His words, taken from the lost work 'Mystis'; 'Woman Initiated Into the Mysteries':

    "In simple offerings most the Gods delight:
    For though before them hecatombs are placed,
    Yet frankincense is burnt the last of all.
    An indication this that all the rest,
    Preceding, was a vain expense, bestowed
    Through ostentation, for the sake of men;
    But a small offering gratifies the Gods."
    [Book 2]

    I find these words comforting, as most of my sacrifices consist of wine, cakes and incense--as I suspect most of our sacrifices today are. Yes, animal sacrifice is traditional, but even in ancient times there were voices raised against it--and they managed to practice their religion with bloodless and small sacrifices that seemed to have satisfied the Gods.
    A government decree is expected to prohibit the construction of buildings over five stories tall in the area surrounding Athens’ world-renowned Acropolis.

    In a bid to prevent any future buildings from blocking the public’s views of the Acropolis, the new rules will prohibit either residential or commercial buildings, particularly hotels, from blocking the sight of the hill overlooking the city.

    In its Tuesday ruling, Greece’s Central Archaeological Council (KAS) approved a maximum height of 21 meters (68.89 feet), or just below five stories, for all buildings built near the Acropolis.

    Additionally, the Archaeological Council has issued an order for the demolition of the top two floors of a 10-story luxury hotel managed by the Coco-Mat mattress company, noting that the height of the building was blocking the public’s view of the Acropolis and its monuments.

    Commenting on the demolition order today, Athens mayor Kostas Bakoyannis said “It was a very brave decision. The Acropolis is our heart and our soul, an essential part of our cultural heritage. It’s very important that everyone can enjoy it,” as reported in The National Herald.

    Additionally, Greece’s highest court, the Council of State, revoked construction permits for an even taller hotel, which had earlier been approved at a site near the Acropolis.
    Many people--myself included--sometimes forget how extensive the ancient Hellenic empire was. It wasn't just what is now modern Greece. It extended all the way down to, for example, Ukraine. Today: Odessos.

    Odessos (Οδησσος), which is the modern day Odessa, is one of the oldest settlements in Bulgaria. It was found during the last quarter of 6th century BC (about 585–550 BC) by Hellenic immigrants from the Asia Minor city of Miletos. They came upon the site of an earlier settlement by Thracians, which name the ancient immigrants preserved.

    During its first two centuries of existence, to about the middle of the 4th century BC, Odessos was an important harbor on the Black sea western coast. Its citizen traded with numerous cities and islands of Hellas and Asia Minor, from where they imported luxurious objects: painted ceramics, gold, marble, as well as amphorae with wine and olive oil, and many similar edible or general use objects. Part of the imported items stayed in the city while another part was exchanged or traded with Thracians from the internal parts of the city’s region with whom the Odessians had excellent relations throughout their stay. In return, the Thracians sold to Odessos grain, meat, wood and other raw materials for the city to export.

    Odessos, until this point in time, was a wealthy city but not a large one. Around the middle of the 4th century BC Odessos was fortified with seige walls in the hopes of withstanding the attacks of Phillip II of Macedonia in 339 BC. Their efforts succeeded but Phillip II's son, Alexander III the Great (336–323 BC) conquered the city in 335 BC.

    Odessos flourished most during the Hellenistic Age (end of third to first century BC), when the city served as temporary center for the armies of the Thracian heir of Alexander the Great, king Lesmachus (323–280 BC). From the second half of the 4th century BC, Odessos started its own mint house. Local coins were illustrated with the head of city’s chief deities: Appollon and the so-called 'Great God'. Other deities were honored as well: Dionysos, Demeter and various Samothracian deities. During this time, large public buildings like theatres, temples and gymnasia were constructed during the period. Due to the increase of Thracian population in the city a temple for the Thracian God-rider Heros Carabazmos was erected  in second to first century BC, as well as a temple of Artemis Phosphoros.

    In 15 AD Odessos became part of the Roman Empire as part of the province Moesia (later Moesia Inferior) and served as its main port. The city remained relatively independant and retained the right to mint its own bronze coins to the middle of the third century AD. Over the coming centuries, the city flourished and remained a major hub of import for marble, gold, precious stones for its jewelry workshops, glass, bronze utensils, luxurious ceramics, wine and other unavailable locally items. Local craftsmen produced ceramic, glass and bronze utensils, lamps, gold and silver jewelry, architectural ornaments. Arts were very popular – theater, music and poetry. Bronze and marble statues were erected. New cults appeared – to the Emperor in Rome, to the health related deities Asclepius and Hyggia, to the eastern god Mithras. Very popular were sports and gladiator fights. Each five years traditional sport and cultural events took place.

    Christianity's influence expanded gradually but Odessos preserved the old cults prevailed well until 5th century AD. During that period the city turned into one of the most important commercial centers of early Byzantine Empire. It became the seat of a bishop. By the end of 6th and early 7th century Avar and Slav intrusions depopulated and ruined the lands between the Haemus (Balkan mountains) and the Danube river. Gradually these territories were left to barbarians from the Byzantine officials. Odessos still remained the most solid ground for ancient civilization and traditions and it was one of tha last cities to fall into barbarian hands. In 614 AD its inhabitants left it, the city overrun and ruined by barbarians and left without population for a number of centuries.

    In the Middle Ages successive rulers of the Odessan region included various nomadic tribes, the Golden Horde, the Crimean Khanate, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, and the Ottoman Empire. During the Russian-Turkish War of 1787–1792, Russian forces took the city for the Russian Empire. In 1819, the city became a free port, a status it retained until 1859. Following the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, during the Ukrainian-Soviet War, the city then known as 'Odessa' became a center of the Odessa Soviet Republic. In 1991, when Ukraine gained its independence from the Soviet Union in the aftermath of its dissolution at the end of the Cold War, Odessa became part of the Ukraine.
    A new and fascinating online event series will bring the famous ancient civilisation of Sparta back to virtual life for a 21st century audience during the COVID-19 lockdown.

    Sparta is a popular chapter in the history of Classical Greece that has ignited imaginations in the modern world and inspired books, graphic novels and Hollywood films such as the 2006 movie ‘300’ starring Gerard Butler.

    Sparta Live is a new programme of online presentations and discussion workshops hosted jointly by the University of Nottingham’s Centre for Spartan and Peloponnesian Studies and the City of Sparti, in Laconia, Greece – the site of ancient Sparta.

    Importantly, the event series is aiming to challenge the common misconceptions that have led to the misappropriation of the Spartan story by far-right political movements in modern times, for example by the Nazis and the alt-right movement that exists today.

    The series of 11 free live events will take place online every Thursday, starting this week, 21st May at 5pm (UK time), introduced by the British ambassador to Greece, Kate Smith. Over the next two months, University of Nottingham and international experts from the fields of Spartan history and archaeology, as well as popular writers Steven Pressfield, author of the best-seller ‘Gates of Fire’, and graphic novelist Kieron Gillen, will be joining the weekly sessions on different aspects of the ancient Spartan civilisation and culture.

    Sparta was a leading city-state in ancient Greece and was at the height of its power in the 5th century BC. The ‘300’ Spartans’ fight to the death against overwhelming odds at Thermopylae in 480 BC has become a byword for selfless heroism. The city was renowned for the fighting prowess of its highly trained army who famously defeated the rival city-state of Athens in the Peloponnesian War between 431 and 404 BC. Spartan culture was driven by loyalty to the state, public education for both men and women, and military service for all Spartan men with agricultural labour carried out by a slave community ‘the Helots’. The word ‘spartan’, meaning self-restrained, frugal and austere, derives from the ideals of that society.

    Sparta Live organiser, Dr Chrysanthi Gallou, from the University of Nottingham’s Department of Classics and Archaeology and Director of the University’s Centre for Spartan and Peloponnesian Studies, said: “This year is the 2,500th anniversary of the Battle of Thermopylae in 480BC that paved the way for the apogee of Western civilisation as we know it, so we thought this is worth celebrating during our own momentous historical event – the COVID-19 pandemic. With the lockdown prohibiting physical events, travel and conferences, our online alternative has the potential to widen our audience as anyone can join the sessions whether they have a knowledge of Sparta or not.

    “Exciting topics we are covering include the Battle of Thermopylae; the ‘Lord of Vapheio’ and the warriors of Bronze Age Greece; death and commemoration rituals; Spartan women; Sparta in films and in historical and graphic novels; Sparta and international relations; Sparta and philosophy; and the legacy of ancient Sparta in modern politics. We are thrilled that representatives of the modern-day city of Sparti will be joining us to give their unique insight into these famous ancestors.”

    Dr Petros Doukas, Mayor of the modern City of Sparta, said:

    “This year and next (2021), we are celebrating 2500 Years from the Battle of Thermopylae, the ‘300’, and the heroic King Leonidas I who sacrificed himself defending the values of freedom, democracy and the rule of law. But we are also celebrating Sparta as the birthplace of Democracy (200 years before Athens), the birthplace of Constitutional Monarchy (such as the one in the UK), the birthplace of the chamber of the Senate, and the birthplace of universal public schooling! Our collaboration with the world-leading Centre for Spartan and Peloponnesian Studies at the University of Nottingham, presents us with a unique opportunity to pay tribute to our ancestors, promote the understanding of the glorious history of our City and allow us to better manage our cultural heritage!”

    For the first live session on Thursday 21st May 5-6pm UK time, two honorary citizens of Sparti, Professor Paul Cartledge from the University of Cambridge and Professor Stephen Hodkinson from the University of Nottingham, will be joining Dr Gallou and Dr Doukas to discuss ‘Thermopylae and Sparta’s practice of war’.

    Go here for the event.
    Iásōn (Ἰάσων), better known as 'Jason', is one of the best known Hellenic heroes. Along with Hēraklēs and Theseus, Iásōn's mythology is taught in schools around the globe. If you say 'Iásōn', you immediately say 'Golden Fleece' as well. It's always been seen as 'just a myth', but what if there was truth in it?

    A little mythology first: Phrixos (Φρίξος) was the son of Athamas, king of Boiotia, and Nephele (a goddess of clouds). His twin sister Helle and he were hated by their stepmother, Ino. So hated, in fact, that Ino burned the local crops and asked for an oracular message to see if the Theoi were angry at her husband's people. She bribed the messengers to tell her husband that the Theoi were, indeed, angry at him. To appease Them, Phrixos and Helle had to be sacrificed. Pious Athamas did as he was told, but just before they could be killed, a ram with golden wool appeared by order of Nephele, and carried the children off.

    The ram flew over the ocean and Helle looked down. Spooked by the height, she fell off of the back of the ram, leading to her death. The stretch of water she fell into was called the Hellespontos (Ἑλλήσποντος), literally 'Sea of Helle', a narrow strait in northwestern Turkey connecting the Aegean Sea to the Sea of Marmara. It was later renamed Dardanellia (Δαρδανέλλια).

    The ram, unfortunately did not get to live a long, healthy life. As soon as the ram delivered Phrixos to the palace of King Aeëtes--the son of the sun god Helios--on Colchis, it was sacrificed to Zeus. It's golden fleece was hung from a tree in a sacred grove of Ares, guarded night and day by a dragon that never slept. Iásōn eventually slew the dragon with Mēdeia's help and took the fleece back to Iolkos. The ram, after being sacrificed, was placed into the sky by Zeus.

    Archaeologists and geologists alike have struggled to make sense of what the golden fleece could symbolise, or have been inspired by. Now, however, a team led by geologist Avtandil Okrostsvaridze from Ilia State University in Georgia has found evidence to suggest that the myth of Jason and the Golden Fleece was indeed based on historical events related to ancient gold extraction techniques, thus Science Alert reports.

    Between 2002 and 2010, the team carried out field work in Svaneti region on the east coast of the Black Sea, where they compared the available geological data, artefacts, myths and historical sources surrounding the kingdom of Colchis. Publishing in the current edition of Quaternary International, they now suggest that the myth took inspiration from an actual voyage sometime between 3,300 and 3,500 years ago. Iásōn and the Argonauts’ destination was the kingdom of Colchis, famous at the time for harbouring a great wealth of gold. The researchers write:

    "According to Greek mythology and historical sources the ancient Georgian Kingdom of Colchis was rich in 'gold sands' and the natives mined this metal from the rivers, using special wooden vessels and sheepskins.”

     As a result of their geological investigation, they confirmed that still today in the Svaneti region, the rivers that snake down the sides of the mountains contain tiny particles of gold that have worn off the edges of the rocks. The researchers also found that the Svaneti region contains numerous goldfields and river placers--an accumulation of valuable minerals--one of which they estimate contains around 65 to 70 tonnes of gold. They suggest that this particular resource was one of the main suppliers of alluvial, or river, gold in Svaneti, which the locals have been using sheepskin to extract for thousands of years. This ancient tradition was likely passed down from time that the mythology of Jason was being formed, the researchers suggest. So it turns out that the theory proposed way back in the 2nd century AD by Roman historian, Apian Alexandrine--that the myth was based on a real journey to Colchis to obtain the famed sheepskin gold mining technique--was likely to have been accurate.

    "We think, from our investigations, that the bedrock and placer gold contents of this region give grounds to believe that there was enough gold in this region to describe Svaneti as 'the country rich of this noble metal'. The end result of this technique of gold recovery river gravels was a gold imprinted sheepskin, giving rise to the romantic and unidentified phenomena of the 'Golden Fleece' in the civilised world."
    American writer Rick Riordan, the author of the successful novels of “Percy Jackson”, announced on Twitter that the adventures of “Percy Jackson” will land on the small screen with a series on the Disney + platform.

    “We can’t say much more at the moment, but we’re very excited about the idea of ​​a high-quality, live-action series that follows the original narrative of the five ‘Percy Jackson’ books starting with the book ‘The Lightning Thief ‘in season one. Be sure that Becky [his wife] and I will be involved in person in every aspect of the series.”

    Known by its full name as “Percy Jackson & the Olympians”, this saga that reimagines and updates the mythology of ancient Greece is formed, fundamentally and apart from other complementary volumes, by five books: 'The Lightning Thief', 'The Sea of ​​Monsters', 'The Titan’s Curse', 'The Battle of the Labyrinth' and 'The Last Olympian'.

    The first two titles were adapted for cinema. Chris Columbus (“Home Alone”, 1990; “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone”, 2001) directed “Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief” (2010) with a cast led by Logan Lerman and Alexandra Daddario that included others highly contrasting actors such as Pierce Brosnan, Sean Bean, Rosario Dawson or Uma Thurman. “Percy Jackson: Sea of ​​Monsters”  came out in 2013. The two “Percy Jackson” tapes raised $ 425 million worldwide, according to data from the Box Office Mojo portal.

    At the moment, details of the cast of the “Percy Jackson” series have not been released on Disney +, although it is assumed that it will be a different cast than the movies.
    Ubisoft is offering free downloads of its educational tours of ancient Greece and ancient Egypt, which are based on the studio’s recreations of those worlds in Assassin’s Creed Origins and Assassin’s Creed Odyssey.

    According to Ubisoft, here’s what’s available in Discovery Tour: Ancient Greece:

    "Travel throughout 29 regions and uncover hundreds of stations with tours on 5 different themes: philosophy, famous cities, daily life, war and myths to learn more about history of Ancient Greece."

    And here’s what’s you can do in Discovery Tour: Ancient Egypt:

    "The Discovery Tour allows you to roam freely in the beautiful world of Ptolemaic Egypt. Learn more about its life, habits and customs by yourself, or let historians and Egyptologists guide you on one of the 75 available historical tours they have curated."

    You can download Discovery Tour: Ancient Greece and Discovery Tour: Ancient Egypt from Ubisoft’s website here, though you’ll need a Uplay account to claim them. The tours will be free to claim until May 21st.
    The 25th of the month of Thargelion marks the day of the Plynteria festival. This minor festival was held solely in Athens and surrounding areas and was in honor of Athena Polias, protector of the city. It was considered an auspicious day by the ancient Athenians because on this day, they did not have the protection of Athena. Around the time of the Pynteria the Kallunteria also took place, a festival during which the temple of Athena was cleaned thoroughly and Her sacred fires relit. Elaion will organize PAT rituals for both celebrations and invites you to join us on 17 May and 20 May. Note! The Plynteria is a nighttime festival and thus not at the usual 10 am EDT.

    Plutarch, in his 'Life of Alkibiades' describes the Plynteria festival beautifully:

    "But while Alcibiades was thus prospering brilliantly, some were nevertheless disturbed at the particular season of his return. For he had put into harbour on the very day when the Plynteria of the goddess Athene were being celebrated. The Praxiergidae celebrate these rites on the twenty-fifth day of Thargelion, in strict secrecy, removing the robes of the goddess and covering up her images. Wherefore the Athenians regard this day as the unluckiest of all days for business of any sort. The goddess, therefore, did not appear to welcome Alcibiades with kindly favour and good will, but rather to veil herself from him and repel him. However, all things fell out as he wished, and one hundred triremes were manned for service, with which he was minded to sail off again; but a great and laudable ambition took possession of him and detained him there until the Eleusinian mysteries." [34.1]

    During the Plynteria, the wooden statue of Athena was disrobed of the Peplos that she received during the Panathenaia by Her priestesses, veiled, and then taken down to the sea for a wash. Veiling a Theos' image from head to toe was considered apophras, unlucky, as it removed Their presence.

    The women who removed the robe and jewelry from the ancient wooden image and then veiled her, were part of an Athenian family traditionally entrusted with this task. They were called the Praxiergidai. The procession to the sea, several miles away, was a city-affair. As all other sanctuaries and temples in Athens remained closed on this day, it's likely many attended.

    In front of the procession was a single woman, carrying a basket of fig pastries (known as 'hegeteria'), for the fig was believed to be the first cultivated food, and was--like the sea water--a purifier. Mounted young men, known as 'epheboi' escorted the statue deep into the water before coming back to shore. Thee, it was bathed by two girls, the bathers (loutrides). A single priestess was most likely in charge of washing the peplos of the Goddess. her title has not survived. In the evening, a torch-lid procession brought the statue back to Her temple and she was redressed by the Praxiergidai. The statue may have remained veiled for the remainder of the day.

    There is another, smaller, festival connected to the Plynteria: the Kallunteria, which was celebrated somewhere in the vicinity of the Plynthria. During this festival, the temple of Athena was swept out--the name of the festival means 'sweeping out' or 'to beautify by sweeping'--and cleaned thoroughly, so that the washed statue would have a clean home to return to. The lamp of Her eternal flame was also refilled and relit by the priestesses on this day. The lamp was a golden vessel, created in the late fifth century by Kallimakhos, and was big enough to hold enough oil to burn day and night for the whole year. It's therefor logical to assume that the festival was held on a day close to the twenty-fifth, possibly the twenty-fourth or twenty-sixth. Ancient sources state that the festival must have taken place after the Bendideia. From Proklos' 'Timaeus of Plato':

    "For they say, that the Bendideia were celebrated in the Piraeus on the twentieth day of [Thargelion], but that the festival sacred to Minerva followed these."

    Mikalson, in his 'The sacred and civil calendar of the Athenian year', gives the 24th as the date but stresses that the 24th is merely a estimation, and we, in fact, do not know when the festival was held. He assumes it could even have taken place after the Plynteria, and places the Kallunteria between the 24th and the 28th of the month, with the exception of the 25th, as that was the date of the Plyneria. Christiane Sourvinou-Inwood in 'Athenian Myths and Festivals' sets the date as the 27th with a somewhat unshakable certainty. We have accepted the 27th as the possible date of the Kallunteria festival for our PAT ritual although we again stress that the date of the Kallunteria is unknown.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    All in all, I think Hellenismos and science go together very well. Most (if not all) scientific breakthroughs either work with Hellenic mythology or don't detract from it. Hellenic scientific research and philosophy often forms the base of our modern understanding of the world around us. The ancient Hellenes made great contributions to the field of 'science'. So yes, Hellenismos is 100% compatible with science and evolution, and that is something I find very appealing.
    The Dark Ages of Greece, spanning roughly from 1200- 750 BCE, is a period defined by dramatic societal and cultural shifts. In fact, it was one of its most famous periods. Here is a top ten of things that happened at that time.

    #10 Collapse of Mycenaean Civilization 
    The start of the Greek Dark Ages is marked by the fall of the Mycenaean civilization around 1200 BCE. The exact cause of this collapse is not known, though evidence of widespread destruction between 1250-1200 BCE led to the theory of a catastrophic invasion of outsiders, the “Doric Invasion”. More recent evidence has generated arguments that instead climate change or an economic crisis triggered the collapse. Whatever the cause, the collapse of the Mycenaean civilization marked the start of a dramatic societal shift in Greece that led scholars to name the following period as the “Dark Age”.

    #9 Settlements Abandoned - Migration and Decentralization
    The Mycenaeans had established a thriving, highly centralized early Greek society, with palatial centers across Greece. Following their collapse, centers of power were abandoned and political states vanished. The period was defined by the redistributed of the population to small scattered settlements, and a lack of centralized power. Subsistence farming and sheep herding became the primary modes of life. Beginning around 1050 mainland Greeks moved in large numbers to Athens, perhaps fleeing a northern Dorian invasion, and settled on the Anatolian coast. With no central rule villages became fiercely independent, laying the foundations for the Greek city-states that would define Greece in the following centuries.

    #8 A Silent Period – Writing Lost  
    It may come as no surprise that one feature of the Dark Age is the loss of writing, which vanished with the Mycenaean civilization. There are no written records to illuminate the period, leaving scholars in the dark, left with the archaeological records alone to piece together the events of the period. The complete lack of written sources from this period has contributed to the sense that there was a dramatic loss of culture following the collapse of the Mycenaean Civilization.

    #7 An Impoverished Age?  
    Along with the loss of writing, the Dark Age is defined by the disappearance of specialized crafts, luxury goods, and monumental buildings, creating the impression of an “impoverished culture”. In addition, the period saw a marked decrease in population, along with a decline in agricultural production and an apparent loss of trade networks with the outside world.

    #6 Protogeometric Art
    Thoughts of Ancient Greek pottery typically conjure up images of black vases with painted images depicting gods, heroes, or mystical beasts from Greek mythology. These images disappear from Greek pottery after 1200 BCE, replaced by protogeometric motifs, with zigzags, triangles, and cross-hatching covering the surfaces. Not until the eighth century BCE do motifs of living creatures start to reappear. The Lefkandi centaur (thought to date around 950 BCE) is a fine example of this, and is seen as an indication of the Dark Age in Greece coming to an end, signaling the “rebirth” of Greek culture. 

    #5 An Age of Iron  
    The Dark Age saw the transition from bronze to iron in Greece, and some prefer to refer to the period as the “Early Iron Age”. While iron ore was plentiful throughout the Mediterranean, and archaeologists have identified iron artifacts dating back as early as 2000 BCE, iron was a rare commodity until the late eleventh and tenth centuries BCE. The techniques for smelting and working iron, which required far higher temperatures than bronze but produced far stronger tools and weapons, were not mastered until the late eleventh century BCE. By 950 BCE, iron objects were no longer a commodity; iron had become the metal of choice.

    #4 Diversity
    The lack of centralization led to greater cultural diversity. While generalizations are made about the material culture, settlement structures, and burial practices of the time, regions developed their own unique styles and identities. Lefkandi is the best example of this, as it appears to have prospered during the Dark Age, contradicting many of the common conceptions of the period. The unique “Heroon of Eritrea” burial indicates a rich hierarchical society, and alphabetic graffiti suggests that some semblance of literacy remained. There is also evidence that Lefkandi never lost contact with the outside world.

    #3 Homer
    The famous blind poet Homer, credited as the author of the Iliad and the Odyssey, Greek epic poems which tell of the Trojan War and Odysseus’ tumultuous voyage home in the aftermath, has shaped what many know of the Ancient Greek world. He is thought to have lived around 800-700 BCE. Often described as a travelling bard, it is widely believed that his poems represent a tradition of oral composition; that he was one of many poets who travelled reciting poems composed and passed down without writing. (The composition of the Illiad and the Odyssey is dated to the mid-eighth century BCE, but they were not written down until the sixth or seventh centuries). These travelling bards are thought to have contributed to the spread of Greek language throughout the Mediterranean.

    #2 The Trojan War 
    Homer’s epic tales of the Trojan War are thought to have some grounding in actual historical events. Scholars point the period of apparent destruction around 1200-1185 BCE, the beginning of the Dark Age, as the source of the legends which bards retold and embellished over the following centuries. Typically associated with the earlier, “heroic” Bronze Age, the “Trojan War” defined the age that followed it.

    #1 Nostalgia 
    A feature prevalent in the art and culture of the Dark Age, exemplified in Homer’s poems, is a sense of nostalgia, a yearning for an earlier “heroic” past. This is also evident in the continuation of “hero cults” and the emergence of cremation burials in the style of Homeric epics. Surrounded by the massive palatial ruins of their predecessors, the Greeks of this period imagined the lives of larger than life figures and worshipped them.
    Faced with the reality of the Covid-19 disease and with social distancing made imperative, the British Museum now offers more than half of the catalogue of art works it hosts for free on the Internet: about 4.5 million works of art and 1.9 million photographs. High-resolution photographs ranging from the Rosetta Stone to the Parthenon Sculptures give visitors the opportunity to enjoy or study the works in detail, zooming in or “moving” above the objects. This latest version of the British Museum’s online catalogue includes more than 280,000 photographs on display for the first time.

    “We’ve been working extra hard to bring you this update early so you can #MuseumFromHome even better than before,” wrote museum officials on its Twitter account.

    Among the works on show to the public, of particular Greek interest is the stone block from a pilaster of the temple of Athena Polias in Priene with the inscription “βασιλεύς Αλέξανδρος ανέθηκε τον ναόν Αθηναίηι Πολιάδι” (King Alexander dedicated the temple to Athena Polias). Alexander the Great made a gift of the temple to the people of Priene, dedicated to their patron goddess Athena, after his victory at Granikos and the capture of Sardis. In fact, the temple had been completed and Alexander donated a sum that covered much of the cost of its construction.

    The new version of the online catalogue is available here.

    At the same time the British Museum continues offering its virtual tour with Google Street View, a podcast hosted by Sushma Jansari and  Hugo Chapman, audio tours on Apple Music or Google Play and a series of interviews and “curator’s corner” on its Youtube account.
    An epigram is a brief, interesting, memorable, and sometimes surprising or satirical statement. The word is derived from the Greek: ἐπίγραμμα, meaning 'inscription', from 'ἐπιγράφειν', 'to write on, to inscribe'. The Hellenic tradition of epigrams began as poems inscribed on votive offerings at sanctuaries, including statues of athletes, and on funerary monuments. Epigram became a literary genre in the Hellenistic period, probably developing out of scholarly collections of inscriptional epigrams.

    A major source for Greek literary epigram is the Greek Anthology, a compilation from the 10th century AD based on older collections. It contains epigrams ranging from the Hellenistic period through the Imperial period and Late Antiquity into the compiler's own Byzantine era. Today I would like to show you some of these epigrams, dealing with religious topics, as these provide a wealth of inspiration and bits of knowledge about proper worship.

    "O sailor, burn by the altars the glittering round of a mullet or a cuttle-fish, or a vocal scarus, to Priapus, ruler of ocean and giver of anchorage; and so go fearlessly on thy seafaring to the bounds of the Ionian Sea." - Theaetetus, Worship in Spring (1)

    [Priapus is a minor rustic fertility god, protector of livestock, fruit plants, gardens and male genitalia.]

    "Let one call from the stern on Zeus the Fair Wind for guide on his road, shaking out sail against the forestays; whether he runs to the Dark Eddies, where Poseidon rolls his curling wave along the sands, or whether he searches the backward passage down the Aegean sea-plain, let him lay honey-cakes by this image, and so go his way; here Philon, son of Antipater, set up the ever-gracious god for pledge of fair and fortunate voyaging." - Author Unknown, Zeus of the fair Wind
    "Go and rest your limbs here for a little under the juniper, O wayfarers, by Hermes, Guardian of the Way, not in crowds, but those of you whose knees are tired with heavy toil and thirst after traversing a long road; for there a breeze and a shady seat and the fountain under the rock will lull your toil-wearied limbs; and having so escaped the midday breath of the autumnal dogstar, as is right, honour Hermes of the Ways." - Author Unknown, Hermes of the Ways
    "I who inherit the tossing mountain-forests of steep Cyllene, stand here guarding the pleasant playing fields, Hermes, to whom boys often offer marjoram and hyacinth and fresh garlands of violets."
    - Nicia, Below Cyllene
    "Small to see, I, Priapus, inhabit this spit of shore, not much bigger than a sea-gull, sharp-headed, footless, such an one as upon lonely beaches might be carved by the sons of toiling fishermen. But if any basket-finder or angler call me to succour, I rush fleeter than the blast: likewise I see the creatures that run under water; and truly the form of godhead is known from deeds, not from shape." - Archias, The Spirit of the Sea
    "Whether thou goest on the hill with lime smeared over thy fowler's reed, or whether thou killest hares, call on Pan; Pan shows the dog the prints of the furry foot, Pan raises the stiff-jointed lime-twigs." - Satyrus, The Guardian of the Chase
    "Fair fall thy chase, O hunter of hares, and thou fowler who comest pursuing the winged people beneath this double hill; and cry thou to me, Pan, the guardian of the wood from my cliff; I join the chase with both dogs and reeds." - Leonidas of Tarentum, The Hunter God
    "They call me the little one, and say I cannot go straight and fearless on a prosperous voyage like ships that sail out to sea; and I deny it not; I am a little boat, but to the sea all is equal; fortune, not size, makes the difference. Let another have the advantage in rudders; for some put their confidence in this and some in that, but may my salvation be of God." Leonidas of Tarentum, Saved by Faith
    "Me Chelidon, priestess of Zeus, who knew well in old age how to make offering on the altars of the immortals, happy in my children, free from grief, the tomb holds; for with no shadow in their eyes the gods saw my piety." -  Author unknown, The Service of God
    "He who enters the incense-filled temple must be holy; and holiness is to have a pure mind." - Author unknown, Beati Mundo Corde
    "Hallowed in soul, O stranger, come even into the precinct of a pure god, touching thyself with the virgin water; for the good a few drops are set; but a wicked man the whole ocean cannot wash in its waters." - Author unknown, The Water of Purity
    Representatives from the Center for Hellenic Studies, the Kosmos Society and Out of Chaos Theatre have been presenting scenes from Greek tragedy in our shared time of isolation to explore how the context of the ‘small screen’ changes the way we understand the genre and its performance, how the themes and concerns of ancient tragedy communicate to us today, especially in a time of crisis, and, most importantly, to stay occupied and engaged with one another.  Each week we select scenes from a play, actors and experts from around the world, and put them all together for 90 minutes or so to see what will happen.

    The latest is Euripides’ Orestes, a play that revisits Orestes’ fate after he kills his mother Klytemnestra and her lover Aegisthus to avenge the murder of his father, Agamemnon. If the story sounds familiar, well, it is: the Homeric Odyssey presents Orestes as a model for Telemachus repeatedly. Aeschylus makes his story the topic of our only surviving Greek trilogy, ending in Athens with an aetiology for the trial by jury

    But, in typical Eurpidean style, this Orestes is surprising and unsettling. If Aeschylus’ Oresteia is optimistic, projecting a belief in the redemptive or at least balancing powers of human institutions, Euripides’ Orestes is the opposite, showing that human institutions fail to distribute justice when needed most and that individuals give in to the worst excesses of human nature.

    Orestes – Richard Neale
    Electra – Tabatha Gayle
    Chorus – Tim Delap and Evelyn Miller
    Pylades – Martin K Lewis
    Menelaus – Robert Matney
    Apollo – Paul O’Mahony

    Scene Selection and dramaturgy: Emma Pauly

    Special Guest: Claire Catenaccio

    Upcoming Readings(Wednesdays at 3PM EDT, Unless otherwise noted)
    Aeschylus, The Persians May 13th
    Euripides, Trojan Women, May 20th
    Sophocles, Ajax, May 29th
    Euripides, Andromache, June 3rd
    Sophocles, Oedipus Tyrannos, June 10th
    Euripides, Ion, June 17th [10 AM EDT/3PM GMT]
    Euripides, Hecuba, June 24th
    Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound, July 1st

    Videos of Earlier Sessions
    Euripides’ Helen, March 25th 
    Sophocles’ Philoktetes, April 1st
    Euripides’ Herakles, April 8th
    Euripides’ Bacchae, April 15th
    Euripides’ Iphigenia , April 22nd
    Sophocles, Trachinian Women, April 29th
    A process to determine the presence of beer and malted remains amongst archaeological finds by analysing microstructural markers have been proposed in a study by the Austrian Academy of Sciences.

    By applying electron microscopy, experimental barley grains had unusually thin aleurone cell walls (specific to grains of the grass family Poaceae, the aleurone layer is a tissue forming the outermost layer of the endosperm). The archaeological grain samples across all five prehistoric sites showed the same aleurone cell wall thinning.

    A beverage with prehistoric roots, beer played ritual, social, and dietary roles across ancient societies. However, it’s not easy to positively identify archaeological evidence of cereal-based alcoholic beverages like beer, since most clear markers for beer’s presence lack durability or reliability.

    To explore potential microstructural alterations in brewed cereal grains, Heiss and colleagues simulated archaeological preservation of commercially-available malted barley via charring (malting is the first step in the beer-brewing process.). They compared these experimental grains with ancient grains from five archaeological sites dating to the 4th millennium BCE: two known beer-brewing sites in Predynastic Egypt, and three central European lakeshore settlements where cereal-based foods were found in containers, but the presence of beer was not confirmed.

    Although there are other potential reasons for this type of thinned cell wall (such as fungal decay, enzymatic activity, or degradation during heating–all of which can be ruled out with careful analysis), these results suggest that this cell wall breakdown in the grain’s aleurone layer can serve as a general marker for the malting process.

    This new diagnostic feature for confirming the presence of beer (or other malted beverages/foodstuffs) in artifacts works even if no intact grains are present. A novel tool for identifying the possible presence of beer in archaeological sites where no further evidence of beer-making or -drinking is preserved, this method promises to broaden our knowledge of prehistoric malting and brewing. The authors note:

    “Structural changes in the germinating grain, described decades ago by plant physiologists and brewing scientists alike, have now successfully been turned into a diagnostic feature for archaeological malt, even if the grains concerned are only preserved as pulverized and burnt crusts on pottery. A ‘small side effect’ is the confirmation of the production of malt-based drinks (and beer?) in central Europe as early as the 4th millennium BC. For over a year, we kept checking our new feature until we (and the reviewers) were happy. However, it took us quite a while to realize that en passant we had also provided the oldest evidence for malt-based food in Neolithic central Europe.”

    Beer has been around for a very long time, at least six thousand years, although the art of beer-making could date back as far as fifteen thousand years ago. The ancient Hellenes certainly were not the ones who invented it. Most likely, it travelled to them by way of the Egypt, but the Egyptians could probably trace the art back to Mesopotamia. A four thousand year old seal to the Goddess Ninkasi--the Goddess of beer--has been found, which is as well a hymn to Her as a recipe for beer. You can read more about beer, or zythos, in ancient Hellas here.
    On the May 9th, which coincides with 16 Thargelion, Elaion will hold a PAT ritual to Zeus Epakrios as was done on this day in ancient Erkhia. Will you be joining us at the usual 10 AM EDT?

    Zeus Epakrios (Ἐπάκριος) is an epithet of Zeus derived from 'epi akrios', literally 'on the height' or 'upon the high place'. Zeus Epakrios had an altar on Mount Hymettos (Υμηττός), along with an altar to Zeus Hymettios (overseer) and Zeus Ombrios (of the rain). The cult to Zeus Epakrios seems to have been separate from the cults of Zeus Hymettios and Zeus Ombrios, with the altars of Zeus Epakrios and Ombrios located on the very summit of the mountain and the altar to Zeus Hyettios further down the slope. The altar of Zeus Epakrios lay unused for a while, even though the altar of Zeus Hymettios remained in use. The altar to Zeus Ombrios remained in use well into the 8th-7th centuries BC. All ancient remains of the altar to Zeus Epakrios have been obliterated by recent military building operations.

    The Princeton Encyclopedia of Classical Sites tells us about Mt. Hymettos:

    "Separating the southern end of the plain of Athens from that of the Mesogaia to the east is the mountain range of Hymettos. In antiquity Hymettos was famous for honey and marble, and the scars of the worked-out quarries can be seen concentrated for the most part on the western slopes for a distance of 3 km south from Kaisariani. The bare summit performed a different function: even as today, it gave the Athenians a reliable indication of weather by the presence, or absence, of threatening clouds."

    We are not entirely certain of the funtion of the sacrifice or the epithet. 'On the height' speaks for itself when taken together with the location of the altar, but it says nothing of its function. We do know that the altar was only visited once a year, for this sacrifice. It stands to reason that Zeus Epakrios oversaw the weather, as did Zeus Ombrios and Zeus Hymettios. In this time of year, sacrifices would have called for good weather for the continuation of the agricultural cycle and perhaps the herding of sheep and other grazers on the mountain who were presumably used to keep the area open for herbs and flowers for the honey creating bees to feast on.

    The sacrifice was nephalios (wineless) and au phora (not carried – totally consumed (on site)).

    The ritual for the event can be found here and you can join the community page on Facebook here.