Something I often hear about the ancient Hellenic religion, and prescribed about its modern equivalent, is that there was no magick in ancient Hellas. This is true. It's also a lie. It all depends on your definition of magick, and while I want to spend another blog post on that subject at a later date, let me say for now that for the purpose of this post, we are going to see magick as a form of prayer and ritual, conducted outside of the usual ritual steps. The Theoi were always invoked, but for magick, the sacrifices were usually to the khthonic, or Underworld Gods. When reading this post about a very specific subset of this type of magick, try to disassociate it with the modern use of the word: the same goes for 'spells', 'cursing', and 'binding'. That having been said: this post is about katadesmoi (κατάδεσμοi); cursing tablets, or binding tablets.

The ancient Hellenes were a competitive people, and struggled with many of the issues we do today: the urge to perform well, the desire for justice to be served, and a need for love. Prayers for these things were made often, usually in their normal ritualized form at the house altar. If these requests were made against, or at the expense of another person, however, they were generally taken out of the realm of regular worship and kharis, and into the realm of the khthonic. The preferred form were katadesmoi.

Katadesmoi are relatively small tablets, inscribed with a desire asked of the Theoi to fulfill. The Katadesmoi that have survived were generally made out of very thin sheets of lead, which were then rolled, folded or pierced with nails. Wax, papyrus, stone, precious metals, and precious minerals would also have been used as a medium. Some katadesmoi were accompanied by a small doll representing the intended victim or even a lock of their hair, especially in the case of love spells. In general, the katadesmoi always included the name of the intended victim and the name(s) of the appropriated Gods--most often Hades, Kharon, Hekate, and Persephone. Exceptions have been found, of course.

There have been around 1600 katadesmoi found around the whole of Hellas, and the practice was wide-spread. In fact, for the Olympic Games, competitors had to vow to Olympian Zeus that they would not cheat, and curse their opponents. Divine retribution would befall those competitors who did. A large percentage of the katadesmoi found contained love spells ("I want [name] to love me beyond all others"), or legal desires ("May [name] stumble on his words in defense of himself"), but many other ill wishes have been found.

Katadesmoi were usually deposited where they would be closest to the Underworld: in chasms, pools of water, wells, caves, temples to the deity in question, buried underground, or placed in graves. The latter was usually a special form, however, and the katadesmoi placed with the dead were usually requests to avenge the death of the deceased.

In general, katadesmoi were used out of desperation: regular channels had been exhausted, human courts would never convict the perpetrator of a crime, or the murderer could no be found. Pleading with the Gods--who knew more, saw more, ad had a much farther reach--was considered the only alternative to get justice. This was even the case in many love spells. Katadesmoi were not made willy-nilly: there needed to be a strong incentive to make one.

One other such incentive was the fear that a katadesmos curse had been placed upon you. In this case, the subject of the curse could make their own, and ask that the perpetrator of the katadesmos may suffer for it, and that his or her katadesmos may have no effect at all, except maybe to backfire on them. In this case, the katadesmos acts as a binding curse.

We will revisit katadesmoi in the grander scheme of political and social structures at a later date, but for now it is important to realize that the practice was frowned on by many philosophers (most notably Plato), but that the act was not considered 'evil'. It was a form of protection, and a vessel for justice. It was regarded as such.

Personally, I see no need for katadesmoi, and have struggled against these urges in times of need. I see their appeal, but my modern frame of mind would not do them justice, I think, and therein lies lots of potential for trouble. I wouldn't encourage anyone to use katadesmoi, but would understand if they did in times of need. Still, I would rather place my trust in the Theoi, regardless of curses or bindings.
I'm not sure if I ever mentioned this or not, but I'm terrible with plants. They tend to die on me. Period. I either overwater them, underwater them, don't give the enough sunlight or they just wither away and die for no apparent reason at all. What can I say? I was not born with a green thumb. A few weeks ago, I got a tiny olive tree as a surprise present, and logically, I worry about it, mostly because the weather here is less than stellar at the moment and sunlight seems far off. So, I have decided to consult for some good advice about keeping a potted olive tree in my neck of the woods.

Can olives be grown in pots?
Yes, but they will require more attention and care than will trees planted in the ground. Most people use a pot that is too small and do not water sufficiently. To keep any tree in a pot for long requires a really big pot. Olive trees can make fruit while growing in pots, but keep in mind that if your olive tree does not put on new growth, you will have little or no fruit the following year. Your olive tree will continue to need light and water if you bring in indoors for the winter; a bright, cool spot out of heater drafts is preferred. 

Can they be grown in cold climates?
Superficial damage to olive trees begins when temperatures fall into the low 20s. Significant damage occurs by mid-teens. Single digit temperatures are fatal. Olive trees (especially semi-dwarf cultivars) are easily grown in containers for bringing indoors for protection in winter. We suggest bringing your tree indoors when temperatures dip to below freezing, and taking it back outside on mild days whenever possible.

Any more tips on winter care? 
  • Leave container-grown olive trees outside in a sunny location until temperatures fall below freezing.
  • Remember that trees in pots will be more vulnerable to cold than trees in the ground.
  • When sub-freezing temperatures are expected, bring potted olive trees indoors to a cool, well-lighted place. A room with a south-facing windows and a temperature of 40-50 degrees is ideal.
  • Move it in and out. When temperatures are above 40 degrees, move your tree outside to a sunny location during the day. Move it back inside if freezing is expected overnight.
  • Water. Remember that your tree will need some water during the winter, too. Keep the soil slightly moist through and through. Check the top of the soil and drain holes to be sure soil is not just damp on the top.

What pests do they get?
In over 20 years of growing olives, the only significant pest we have found is an armored scale insect. Adult scales look like 1/2 a BB and are usually on the shadier parts of the tree (e.g. undersides of the leaves). The trees you receive from us will be pest-free, but you should monitor your tree for pests.
If scale insects are found they may be controlled by a number of products, both organic and not. If you have only one or a few trees the simplest control is manual — remove them with your hands. If there are ants on your tree, it may be because they are eating the droppings of scale insects. Untreated scale infestations may lead to the development of sooty mold.

How do I (re)pot the olive tree?
When you are ready to re-pot your olive tree, get a larger pot and some good quality commercial potting mix. Always be sure to use potting "soil" that drains well. Never use dirt out of your yard or heavy, dense potting medium labeled for house plants. It is good to go ahead and move it up and let it feed if the weather is warm. Unless you are in a very warm climate, don't fertilize it after August. Always be sure to use fertilizers that are safe for putting in pots. We like Osmocote Plus with minor elements. It's expensive but worth it.
Be careful with your tree — don't pull it out by its stem. You may want cut the pot for easy removal. If you want to reuse the pot, place one hand over the top of the root ball to hold the potting medium in place, turn the tree upside down (or nearly), and give it a quick shake or two to loosen it from the pot. Remove the pot and upright the tree, supporting it by the bottom of the root ball. Never tear apart the roots or wash the potting medium out of the root ball. Have the new home ready before taking your tree out of its pot. You can measure the potting medium level by firming some in the new pot and then placing the still potted tree in it to see that the level is good. We recommend against adding rocks or other material in the bottom of the pot because it robs your tree of growing medium. Pebbles, pot shards and the like can also block drain holes. Be sure to water it often after the transition, and regularly thereafter.
How much water does my potted olive tree need?
While MATURE trees can resist some drought, olives are not desert plants, and can suffer or even die from lack of water. Trees kept in containers need more water than those planted in the ground. Do not let the bottom of the pot stand in water.

Do I need to prune my tree?
Olive trees may be pruned to the desired shape. Some people prefer a tree form; others like a rounded shrub as is done in production groves to facilitate picking of the fruit. Pruning between mid-February and the ripening of fruit in the fall, except for the lightest tipping of new shoots, can result in a reduced crop. Otherwise, prune to the desired shape. Keep in mind that olives bear their fruit on last year's new growth.
Alright, that's a lot to take it. I think it come to the following, though: olive trees are easy plant to handle, but they are harder to keep alive in a pot. As soon as the weather allows, take them outside for some much needed sunlight. Handle with care. If you need to take them inside, keep them away from the heater, but put them in a sunny place. Give them enough water, wherever they are, but don't drown them. They don't like it if water remains behind in their saucer. For easy to handle trees, they sure have a lot of wishes. Sill, enough water and enough sunlight are things even I can provide. If my tree survives until next year, I'll take a look at that pruning thing again. Wish me luck!

Information taken from: here, here, here, and here.
As promised two days ago, it's finally time for a new constellation post! This one is going to be all about horses, so if you're a horse lover, rejoice. If not, well, then there is at least some interesting mythology here.

Equuleus, or 'little horse' is the second smallest of all of Ptolemy's constellations. It is depicted by solely a horse's head, and seems almost hidden away behind the much larger horse constellation Pegasus. There is a mythological reason for this hiding behavior: Equuleus is said to represent Hippe (Ἵππη), or Melanippe (Εὐίππη), daughter of the kéntauros Kheiron. She became pregnant and could not let her father know. As such, she begged the Gods to be transformed into a mare. From Hyginus's Astronomica:
"Euripides in his Melanippe, says that Melanippe, daughter of Chiron the Centaur, was once called Thetis. Brought up on Mount Helicon, a girl especially fond of hunting, she was wooed by Aeolus, son of Hellen, and grandson of Jove, and conceived a child be him. When her time drew near, she fled into the forest, so that her father, who supposed her a virgin, might not see that she had given birth to a grandchild. And so when her father was looking for her, she is said to have begged the power of the gods not to let her father see her in childbirth. After the child was born, by the will of the gods she was changed into a mare which was placed among the stars."
He also gives another reason for her change:
"Some say that she was a prophetess, and because she used to reveal the plans of the gods to men, she was changed into a mare. Callimachus says that because she ceased hunting and worshipping Diana [Artemis], Diana changed her into the shape we have mentioned. For the reason above, too, she is said to be out of sight of the Centaur, who some say is Chiron, and to show only half her body, since she didn’t want her sex to be known."
The constellation is also known as Eguus Primus, the 'first horse' because it rises just before Pegasus. Because it rises first, it is sometimes identified as the offspring of Pegasus, Celeris, whom he had with his wife, Euippe (or Ocyrrhoe). The second child out of that marriage was Melanippe, a common female name when associated with horses, as it means 'mare'.
The third and last horse that this constellation is connected to it the horse that was born the moment Poseidon's trident struck the ground in the battle for patronage of the city of Athens:
"The common tradition about Poseidon creating the horse is as follows : -- when Poseidon and Athena disputed as to which of them should give the name to the capital of Attica, the gods decided, that it should receive its name from him who should bestow upon man the most useful gift. Poseidon their created the horse, and Athena called forth the olive tree, for which the honour was conferred upon her. [Serv. ad Virg. Georg. 1.12.]
The constellation Equuleus is visible at latitudes between +90° and −80°, and best visible at 21:00 (9 p.m.) during the month of September.
On the 19th of Thargelion, an Athenian festival for the Thrakian Goddess Bendis (Βενδις) was held. This festival, which went on into the night of the 20th of the month, was designed especially for Bendis, who was introduced to Attika by Thrakian métoikos who took the opportunity to introduce their Goddess into the Athenian pantheon after the Oracle of Dodona decreed that Thrakian worshippers should be granted the right for ground to build a sanctuary on. Their shrine to Her was built on the hill Mounykhia, near to the temple of Artemis, with whom She was identified. The temenos was completed somewhere before 429 BC, and at least one Thrakian festival to the Goddess was held before the Athenians got involved.

The Goddess Bendis originated in Thrake, to the north of Hellas. Her cult was imported into Athens around 432 BC, at the outbreak of the Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta. Athens had always had close ties with Thrake, but besides the oracle's decree, it seems that the acceptance of the foreign cult into the city at this time was probably connected with Athens' military alliance with the Odrysian Thrakians, who supplied mercenaries throughout the war.
The Bendideia (Βενδίδεια) itself was celebrated in the port town of Peiraeeus. At first, only the Thrakians honored Her, but within a few years, the Athenians held their own procession alongside the Thrakians, theirs winding down from the Prataneion (Πρυτανεῖον)--the seat of government in ancient Hellas--in the morning  to the sanctuary of the Goddess in the Peiraios, while the Thrakian procession was entirely within the port town. The six-mile procession of the Athenians was so unusual, that a decree called for basins, water and sponges to bathe after it, and garlands. It seems obvious to place a meal here in the timeframe, followed by a period of rest until it became dark enough to perform the most telling of cult worship to the Goddess: an evening torch race on horseback; a true novelty. Plato, in his 'Republic' tells us a little it about this race:
"Polemarchus said to me: I perceive, Socrates, that you and our companion are already on your way to the city.
You are not far wrong, I said.
But do you see, he rejoined, how many we are?
Of course.
And are you stronger than all these? for if not, you will have to remain where you are.
May there not be the alternative, I said, that we may persuade you to let us go?
But can you persuade us, if we refuse to listen to you? he said.
Certainly not, replied Glaucon.
Then we are not going to listen; of that you may be assured.
Adeimantus added: Has no one told you of the torch-race on horseback in honour of the goddess which will take place in the evening?
With horses! I replied: That is a novelty. Will horsemen carry torches and pass them one to another during the race?
Yes, said Polemarchus, and not only so, but a festival will he celebrated at night, which you certainly ought to see. Let us rise soon after supper and see this festival; there will be a gathering of young men, and we will have a good talk. Stay then, and do not be perverse.
Glaucon said: I suppose, since you insist, that we must.
Very good, I replied."
What, exactly, Bendis presided over to either the Thrakians or the Athenians is unclear. She was identified mostly with Artemis, but not equated with Her, as She received a temple of Her own. Due to a connection with grain and the growth cycle of plants, she was identified with Demeter, and sometimes Persephone and/or Hekate. She was also associated with Selene. What we do know is that the worship of Bendis outside of Thrake and Athens never caught on; she was revered almost solely at these places. Yet, the Athenians seemed to have held her in high regard for a Theia not of their pantheon.
Whether or not you want to celebrate the Bendideia hinges on a couple of factors. Those who reconstruct the archaic period might see no reason at all to pay homage to a Goddess who was not worshipped in Hellas in their time period. Similarly, if you feel no need to worship 'imported' Gods, this festival might not be for you either. If you do want to celebrate his festival, I would suggest something with horses and torches besides offerings to the Goddess. Alternatively, you could look at the Goddesses She was associated with for clues about Her worship. Whatever the case, enjoy your Bendideia tonight, and deep into the night tomorrow.
Today, I was going to give you another constellation post, but then I got an awesome package in the post. For now, the constellation post is going to have to wait, because yesterday, I received two big pots of the spoon sweet mastic.

When I was a kid, I visited Greece twice. What I remember most about the tips is eating chocolate flake covered coconut bars and vanilla and strawberry flavored spoon sweets. My mom had a Greek friend whose family would send care packages to her, so I had eaten it before, but it tasted much better when we visited my friend's family in Athens and I had it in their small apartment with a glass of ice cold water during a heat wave. When we got home, we started receiving care packages as well, and there would always be a jar of mastic in there for me.

Once we fell out of touch with my mom's friend, the care packages eventually stopped as well, and I didn't know what the spoon sweet was called: we called it 'lolly spoon', as you're supposed to scoop some of the thick paste onto a spoon and then dip it in cold water before licking the softening paste off of it like a lollipop. I never found it again. I happened to ask a very good friend--and fellow Hellenist--about it who has been to Greece quite often, and also when he was old enough to actually remember this stuff, and he knew right away what I was talking about. As a surprise, he bought two jars at his local Greek convection store and Fed-ex'd them to me.

Spoon sweets are sweet preserves which are generally served as a gesture of hospitality. That's how I got my first lolly spoon. Usually they are made of fruit, and the trick is to preserve the shape or at least the texture of the fruit used. Mastic is a variety of spoon sweet not made out of fruit, but out of a resin called 'Mastic'. In Greece it's called 'Vanilla' (βανίλια), and the treat is called a 'Vanilla Submarine' (βανίλια υποβρύχιο). they come in vanilla flavor, mastic flavor (which tastes a little piney), and strawberry--at least it used to when I was a kid. I haven't been able to locate the strawberry flavor anywhere.

Mastic resin comes from the masic tree (Pistacia lentiscus), which is found most famously on Chios. It's an expensive resin and many products claiming to contain it--including Vanilla--contain mastic essence instead. When I went to Greece, we did buy a tin of the resin tears, but to my child's pallet, it tasted horrible. Then again, I was a terribly fussy eater, and I lived on bread with olive oil for most of the trip.

The resin is said to have medicinal properties and ancient Hellenic writers praised it for its ability to cure intestinal problems, bad breath and as a remedy for snakebites. Hippokrátēs said chewing the resin helped cure the common cold. It was also considered good for the skin. Modern research has shown that mastic contains antioxidants and has antibacterial and antifungal properties. It helps lower total serum cholesterol, and chewing the tears helps prevent tooth decay. Of course, the amount of sugar or glucose syrup in the spoon sweet totally negates that last quality.

I opened both jars yesterday, and tasted them both. I had not tasted the mastic flavored one before, but it might be my favorite. the slightly piney or cedar aftertaste is truly delicious. So, if you're in the area (central part of the Netherlands), let me extend you xenia with a spoon of sweet preserve. I swear you'll feel right at home.
I had a party last night and did not get a chance to put a post together. This is why, today, I'm letting someone else speak for me. In a course introduction about ancient Hellas, Yale professor Donald Kagan explains why people should study the ancient Hellenes. From the description of the video:

"He argues that the Greeks are worthy of our study not only because of their vast achievements and contributions to Western civilization (such as in the fields of science, law, and politics) but also because they offer a unique perspective on humanity. To the Greeks, man was both simultaneously capable of the greatest achievements and the worst crimes; he was both great and important, but also mortal and fallible. He was a tragic figure, powerful but limited. Therefore, by studying the Greeks, one gains insight into a tension that has gripped and shaped the West and the rest of the world through its influence. In short, to study the Greeks is to study the nature of human experience."

00:00 - Chapter 1. Ancient Greece as the Foundation of Western Civilization
13:06 - Chapter 2. The Judeo Christian Tradition
24:50 - Chapter 3. Problems Posed by the Western Tradition

Complete course materials are available at the Open Yale Courses website: This course was recorded in Fall 2007.

I go on about ancient Hellas a lot on this blog, even if the subjects can not be traced back to the Theoi. The reason is that the ancient Hellenic religion could not exist separately from its culture. We are not trying to bring back that culture, but the ethics the ancient Hellenes had are still engrained in our religion, and the culture they had, still reflects in ours. Studying ancient Hellas should be at the core of Hellenismos, and I'm grateful for professors like Kagan who make it their life's work to share their vast knowledge on the subject.
In the blog post about sayings which can be traced back to ancient Hellas or Hellenic mythology, I make mention of Oedipus. The saying he is connected to--the Freudian Oedipus complex--introduced Oedipus and explains the saying:

"Oedipus was born to King Laius and Queen Jocasta. King Laius was fortold his son would kill him and marry his mother, and so he left him to die on a mountainside. The child was found, however, and raised by King Polybus and Queen Merope. Oedipus eventually heard of the prophecy about him and fled, not wanting to hurt his adoptive parents, who he believed to be his biological ones. Fate would have him end up on the same road as King Laius, and in an argument over whom would step out of the way, Oedipus killed his father. He then traveled on and eventually met and married his mother. The myth continues on, but this is the part where the figure of speech comes from."

Today, I want to go a little deeper into this myth, to a milestone in the life of Oedipus. I quite recently acquired a little vase with a depiction of Oedipus solving the riddle of the Sphinx. It's a replica of a kylix motif. This seems like a perfect opportunity to tackle this story.


The story of Oedipus (Οἰδίπους, Oidípous) was written by playwright Sophocles. The playwright wrote three plays about him: Oedipus the King, Oedipus at Colonus, and Antigone. Together, these are called the Theban plays. Sophocles was not the only one to write about him, though: fragments of his story exist in the works of Hómēros, Hesiod, Pindar, Aeschylus and Euripides. Sophocles was simple one of the latest authors to write about him, and the version that was preserved best was his. He has Oedipus wander to Thebes after killing his father. Here, he finds the Sphinx at the gates to the city--a city that is starving and slowly emptying out, as the Sphinx will not allow anyone to pass without answering her riddle. Those who answer the riddle incorrectly, get killed or eaten (depending on the author).

The Sphinx is not mentioned by every author. Some, like Hómēros, only mention the oracle that Oedipus' father got, and Oedipus' murder of his father, and marriage to his mother. Hesiod mentions the Sphinx, but does not mention Oedipus. The Sphinx in Sophocles' Oedipus the King never speaks, and the words of the riddle are never conveyed. The sole mention of the riddle is as follows:

"See, for this crown the State conferred on me.
A gift, a thing I sought not, for this crown
The trusty Creon, my familiar friend,
Hath lain in wait to oust me and suborned
This mountebank, this juggling charlatan,
This tricksy beggar-priest, for gain alone
Keen-eyed, but in his proper art stone-blind.
Say, sirrah, hast thou ever proved thyself
A prophet? When the riddling Sphinx was here
Why hadst thou no deliverance for this folk?
And yet the riddle was not to be solved
By guess-work but required the prophet's art;
Wherein thou wast found lacking; neither birds
Nor sign from heaven helped thee, but I came,
The simple Oedipus; I stopped her mouth
By mother wit, untaught of auguries."

Apollodorus is one of the first to mention the very words of the riddle and has them as follows, including the tale of Oedipus' involvement:

"For Hera sent the Sphinx, whose mother was Echidna and her father Typhon; and she had the face of a woman, the breast and feet and tail of a lion, and the wings of a bird. And having learned a riddle from the Muses, she sat on Mount Phicium, and propounded it to the Thebans. And the riddle was this:— What is that which has one voice and yet becomes four-footed and two-footed and three-footed? Now the Thebans were in possession of an oracle which declared that they should be rid of the Sphinx whenever they had read her riddle; so they often met and discussed the answer, and when they could not find it the Sphinx used to snatch away one of them and gobble him up. When many had perished, and last of all Creon's son Haemon, Creon made proclamation that to him who should read the riddle he would give both the kingdom and the wife of Laius. On hearing that, Oedipus found the solution, declaring that the riddle of the Sphinx referred to man; for as a babe he is four-footed, going on four limbs, as an adult he is two-footed, and as an old man he gets besides a third support in a staff. So the Sphinx threw herself from the citadel, and Oedipus both succeeded to the kingdom and unwittingly married his mother, and begat sons by her, Polynices and Eteocles, and daughters, Ismene and Antigone. But some say the children were borne to him by Eurygania, daughter of Hyperphas."

There are other versions of the riddle, but this is the one best known. Note that in older versions of the tale, Oedipus was not such a smart man at all. In fact, he was more of a warrior-hero like Hēraklēs. With the popularity of Odysseus, it was convenient to transform Oedipus into a cunning man, instead of a brawler. In the older art depicting the encounter between Oedipus and the Sphinx, he outright kills her. There is no riddle, and no suicide. She is a monster, who is vanquished by the hero, who collects his reward in the form of a wife.

Personally, I like the inclusion of the Riddle of the Sphinx. In general, I prefer the clever heroes over the brawling ones. I'm also a big fan of these types of riddles, although I'm terrible at solving them. For now, I'm just going to enjoy my latest addition to the collection, and leave you with a question of my own: would you have known the answer to the Sphinx' riddle, if it had been asked of you?
When I first started out with Baring the Aegis, one of the first posts I did was on miasma and katharmos--pollution and purification, respectively. The post can be found here. Nearly a year later, I stand behind what I wrote in that post, but it's time for a revisit. Today, I'm talking about katharmos and miasma, the importance they had in ancient Hellenic religion, and the importance they have in its modern equivalent. From the previously linked post:

"Within Hellenic practice, miasma describes the lingering aura of uncleanliness in regards to a person or space through which contact is made with the Gods. Miasma occurs whenever the space or person comes into contact with death, sickness, birth, sex, excessive negative emotions and bodily fluids. It also comes from a lack of contact with the Hellenic Gods. Not the actual acts of dying, sex and birth cause miasma but the opening up of the way to the Underworld (with births and deaths) as well as contact with sweat, blood, semen, menstrual blood and urine pollutes us. Miasma is an incredibly complicated and involved practice and it's often misunderstood. The most important things to remember about miasma is that it holds no judgment from the Gods, and that everyone attracts miasma. It's a mortal, human, thing."
"The practice of purification is called katharmos (Καθαρμός). The process of katharmos is elaborate because the process not only involves the physical but also the emotional, mental and spiritual.
The practice of katharmos historically starts with a bath (or shower, in modern times). Step two is the preparation and use of khernips (Χἐρνιψ). Beyond the practical, there is a large mental component to katharmos. It means leaving behind negativity, worry, pain and trouble before getting in contact with the Gods."
There has been quite a bit of talk about miasma lately. Dver wrote a rousing piece on it a couple of weeks back which I read with great interest, and mostly agree with. Ruadhán continued the trend with a fabulous rant, which I also largely agree with, so please, if this is a subject of interest to you, read these people's post in addition to my own. It might shed more light on the subject matter.

The greatest barrier in understanding miasma and katharmos, to me, is our modern frame of mind. On the one hand, we know too much about personal hygiene, about the human body and about science as a whole, on the other hand religion in general has become something separate from life in general. As a result, we color ancient Hellas with our 'hygiene brush'. Secondly, not everyone has faith, our society does no longer revolve around it, and as a result, we--as modern religious people--struggle for a mindset of simple, all-encompassing, unquestionable worship. There might be a few remnants of 'Original Sin Thinking' lodged in there as well.

We all incur miasma, every single day of our lives. It has nothing to do with sin, shame or guilt. Miasma is a consequence of living. We breath, make decisions, come in contact with others, and along the way, we become too human--for lack of a better term--to petition the Gods. The divide between the purity and cleanliness of the Theoi and our human mortality and imperfection, keeps us away from Them.

Miasma is not about being physically dirty, although that is a part of it, and katharmos is not about becoming physically clean, although that is a part of it. Like Ruadhán rightly points out, men would sometimes come to public rituals fresh off the fields, dirty, sometimes cut up and scraped, in rumpled daily wear. With a washing of the hands, and the sprinkling of the body, they would be considered clean from the daily miasma, although they were almost as physically unclean as they were before their cleansing. I would argue, though, that was more exception than rule, as state festivals were huge affairs that people prepared for for days--sometimes weeks--and wearing your best outfit was usually part of that preparation. For many of the tragic festivals, people even dressed up as something else. From Harrison's pre-Olympic themed 'Themis: a Study of the Social Origins of Greek Religion' comes the following reflection on a procession exhibited by Ptolemy Philadelphos in honour of Dionysos:

"The procession was headed by Silenoi clad, some in purple, some in scarlet, to keep off the multitude; next followed twenty Satyrs bearing lamps; next figures of Nike with golden wings; then Satyrs again, forty of them, ivy-crowned, their bodies painted some purple, some vermilion."
In researching this post, I pulled out some of my most trusted books on ancient Hellenic religion, from Parker to Harrison, to Mikalson, and of the ten books I gathered, none made note of miasma or katharmos in the index. To get that information, you need to buy a dedicated--and expensive--book on the subject. In reading these books, one finds mention of 'sprinkling with water' before a state ritual. I have discovered, though, that 'pollution' is often in the index, and miasma is meant with it, so keep an eye out for that. The fact that you have to search the indexes of scholarly works for any mention of miasma and katharmos completely blows past the importance that was placed upon these in the past. I think that is a problem, honestly.
Katharmos is devotional. It not only helps you get in a ritualistic mood, it prepares the room and your body for it. Even if you do not understand the use, it's a vital part of Hellenistic worship. I would advice any Hellenist to invest time in researching miasma and katharmos, however, as a large part of its effectiveness lies in understanding the practice. I will give you an example of the influence katharmos has on me:
I live a very busy, hectic, life, and most of my labour is mental. I get to work in the garden on occasion, but between college, a large number of projects, and the blog, I do most of my work with my brain and fingers, behind a computer screen. During busy times--which is nearly always--I work eighty hours a week on everything I have to do or feel I need to do, and all of it is behind a computer. That means that I'm behind this thing at least 11 hours a day; usually longer on three or four days a week, because I have appointments the other days of the week. By the time I get off of the computer at night, my back hurts, my head is swimming, and I'm exhausted. I perform my night time rituals before heading to bed. As soon as I start preparing for them, my mind clears. When I wash my hands, the tension drains out of my body, when I wash my face, the frantic pace of my brain slows down. I wash my face three to six times, depending on how stressed and distracted I am. By the time I'm done, I feel calm and relaxed, and I have room in my head and heart to address the Theoi as They should be addressed.
Note that I'm not dirty at all, so technically do not need a washing, but mentally, I'm sullen, distracted. I'm not in the right frame of mind to address the Theoi. If I were to do so without washing, I would be focused on my work, on tomorrow, on the pain in my back, on my exhaustion. After washing, I feel powerful, pious. I feel like the best version of myself, who comes to the Theoi with achievements under her belt, provided by the Theoi. I feel blessed.
It's felt like this for me from the first time I prepared khernips and washed myself with the lustral water.
Personally, I think the importance of katharmos can not be overstated. You can view it as a necessary step you need to take, or as a way to bring yourself closer to the Gods; I think the latter is more constructive. 
Yesterday, I gave you ancient weather predictions based upon the moon I gave fair warning then that today, I would give you Aratos' weather predictions based upon the sun--which are equally fascinating in my opinion. Tomorrow, you can sink your teeth in something a little beefier, but for today, enjoy Aratos' advice from the second half of his excellent Phaenomena.

"To the Sun’s march at East and West give heed. His hints give even more pertinent warning both at setting, and when he comes from below the verge. May not his orb, whenever thou desires a fair day, be variegated when first his arrows strike the earth, and may he wear no mark at all but shine stainless altogether. If again thus all pure he be in the hour when the oxen are loosed, and set cloudless in the evening with gentle beam, he will still be at the coming dawn attended with fair weather. But not so, when he rises with seemingly hollow disk, nor when his beams part to strike or North or South, while his center is bright. But then in truth he journeys either through rain or through wind.
Scan closely, if his beams allow thee, the Sun himself, for scanning him is best, to see if either some blush run over him, as often he shows a blush or here or there, when he fares through trailing clouds, or if haply he is darkened. Let the dark stain be sign to thee of coming rain, and every blush be sign of wind. But if he is draped both black and red at once, he will bring rain and will strain beneath the wind. But if the rays of the rising or setting Sun converge and crowd on one spot, or if he go from night to dawn, or from dawn to night, closely beset with clouds, those days will run in company with rushing rain. Nor be thou heedless of rain, what time before him rises a thin mist, after which the Sun himself ascends with scanty beams. But when a broad belt of mist seems to melt and widen before the rising Sun and anon narrows to less, fair will be his course, and fair too, if in the season of winter his hue wax wan at eventide. But for tomorrow’s rain face the setting Sun and scan the clouds. If a darkening cloud the beams that wheel between the Sun and it part to either side of the cloud, thou shalt still need shelter for the dawn. But if without a cloud he dip in the western ocean, and as he is sinking, or still when he is gone, the clouds stand near him blushing red, neither on the morrow nor in the night needst thou be over-fearful of rain. But fear the coming rain when on a sudden the Sun’s rays seem to thin and pale – just as they often fade when the Moon overshadows them, what time she stands straight between the earth and Sun; nor are the fields unwetted on that day, when before the dawn, as the Sun delays to shine, reddish clouds appear here or there. Be not heedless either of wind or rain to come, when, while the Sun is still below the verge, his precursor beams shine shadowy in the dawn. The more those beams are borne in shadow, the surer the sign they give of rain, but if but faint the dusk that veils his beams, like a soft mist of vapor, that veil of dusk portends wind. Nor are dark halos near the Sun signs of fair weather: when nearer the Sun and dark without relief, they portend greater storms: if there are two rings, they will herald tempests fiercer still.
Marks as the Sun is rising or setting, whether the clouds, called parhelia, blush (on South or North or both), nor make the observation in careless mood. For when on both sides at once those clouds gird the Sun, low down upon the horizon, there is no lingering of the storm that comes from Zeus. But if only one shine purple to the North, form the North will it bring the blast; if in the South, from the South; or down pour the pattering raindrops.
With even greater care mark those signals when in the West, for from the West the warnings are given ever with equal and unfailing certainty." [819 - 890]
What I love most about Hellenism is the treasure trove of ancient texts at our disposal. This wisdom, information, and these simple observations help us form our practice, and shape our world views. As I try to devote as much time to research for this blog and my personal practice as I can responsibly spare, I come across many of these gems in scholarly notes, or straight there by way of Google. I fully admit to not knowing half of these texts even existed before I stumble upon them. At any rate, today, I want to share with you some beautiful wisdom about predicting the weather, based upon the moon.  The advice comes from Aratos, by way of his excellent Phaenomena.

Aratos (Ἄρατος) lived from about 310 BC to 240 BC, and he was a Hellenic didactic poet. His Phaenomena (Φαινόμενα, appearances) came upon my radar because of his description of the constellations, but as far as I can tell, not everything he writes in the first half of the Phaenomena is entirely correct--at least not according to the current night's sky. The latter part of the Pheanomena is of interest today. It's called 'Diosemeia' (Διοσημεῖα, forecasts), and is about weather lore. It seems that the Diosemeia is largely copied and rephrased from other works, including that of Aristotle and Hesiod, but that doesn't make it any less beautiful, or entertaining.

Also, try not to skip ahead too much, because you are getting his weather predictions based upon the sun tomorrow *wink*.

"Markest thou not? Whenever the Moon with slender horns shines forth in the West, she tells of a new month beginning: when first her rays are shed abroad just enough to cast a shadow, she is going to the fourth day: with orb half complete she proclaims eight days: with full face the mid-day of the month; and ever with varying phase she tells the date of the dawn that comes round.
For oft, too, beneath a calm night the sailor shortens sail for fear of the morning sea. Sometimes the storm comes on the third day, sometimes on the fifth, but sometimes the evil comes all unforeseen. For not yet do we mortals know all from Zeus, but much still remains hidden, whereof, what he will, even hereafter will he reveal; for openly he aids the race of men, manifesting himself on every side and showing signs on every hand. Some messages the Moon will convey with orb half-full as she waxes or wanes, others when full: others the Sun by warnings at dawn and again at the edge of night, and other hints from other source can be drawn for day and night.
Scan first the horns on either side the Moon. For with varying hue from time to time the evening paints her and of different shape are her horns at different times as the Moon is waxing – one form on the third day and other on the fourth. From them thou canst learn touching the month that is begun. If she is slender and clear about the third day, she heralds calm: if slender and very ruddy, wind; but if thick and with blunted horns she show but a feeble light on the third and fourth night, her beams are blunted by the South wind or imminent rain. If on the third night neither horn nod forward or lean backward, if vertical they curve their tips on either side, winds from the West will follow that night. But if still with vertical crescent she bring the fourth day too, she gives warning of gathering storm. If her upper horn nod forward, expect thou the North wind, but if it lean backward, the South. But when on the third day a complete halo, blushing red, encircles her, she foretells storm and, the fierier her blush, the fiercer the tempest.
Scan her when full and when half-formed on either side of full, as she waxes from or wanes again to crescent form, and from her hue forecast each month. When quite bright her hue, forecast fair weather; when ruddy, expect the rushing wind; when dark stained with spots, look out for rain. But not for every day is appointed a separate sign, but the signs of the third and fourth day betoken the weather up to the half Moon; those of the half Moon up to full Moon; and in turn the signs of the full Moon up to the waning half Moon; the signs of the half Moon are followed by those of the fourth day from the end of the waning month, and they in their turn by those of the third day of the new month. But if halos encircle all the Moon, set triple or double about her or only single – with the single ring, expect wind or calm; when the ring is broken, wind; when faint and fading, calm; two rings girding the Moon forebode storm; a triple halo would bring a greater storm, and greater still, if black, and more furious still, if the rings are broken. Such warnings for the month thou canst learn from the Moon." [733 - 818]
On May 7, the body of an unidentified male is found a little less than twelve kilometers from my home. Early morning walkers come upon the body and notify the police. To the police, it soon becomes clear that this is a case of suicide, and they work to identify the male, intending, undoubtedly, to inform the next of kin. It turns out to be Jeroen Denis, a 38 year old physical therapist who works in my town. He has hung himself. When the family is informed--including his ex-wife Iris van de Schuit--the police is informed that Denis is a father of two, Ruben and Julian, who were supposed to be with their father for the weekend. The kids are not at home, nor with family, and it soon becomes very clear that the boys--who are nine and seven years old--are missing, and if they are still alive, they need to be found--fast.

What follows are days of searches in the areas where Jeroen and the kids have been seen on the night of May 6. Their whereabouts are tracked by way of surveillance camera and eye-witness reports. Everyone, from volunteers to the army helps search for the boys, but to no avail. Fragmented reports come in: Denis at a gas station with his kids in the back of the car, a purchase receipt for tie down straps, reports of the nature of the divorce, and threats against his own life and that of his kids that Denis has allegedly made as the divorce went final and he lost most of his custodial rights.

On May 19th, Sunday, a passer-by notices something strange in a drainage tube--the little black hole on the bottom left of the picture above. He notifies the police, and police divers pull out two little bodies. They have been in the water for a long time, and it's impossible to identify them on sight, yet, their heights seem to match Ruben and Julian, and that evening, the police issue a press statement that the boys have been found. That drainage tube is bout 15 kilometers from my home.

Identification of the bodies is still underway, but the forensic investigation into the crime scene has been completed. Two little boys are dead, most likely murdered by their own father after a night of cross-country driving. Two boys--who went to school 900 meters from where I live--were strapped together and weighted down, then stuffed into a dark tube. I can only pray that their death came fast--the cause of death has not been released yet.

The boys leave behind an inconsolable mother, grieving family, friends, and acquaintances, and most of all, questions. What happened? Why did it happen? Could it have been prevented after the accusations Denis made? As it turns out, several governmental organizations were already assigned to the family to mediate and watch over the boys. In the coming days, the case will be looked into thoroughly, but for now, the focus is on identification and community. Later today, the results of several tests to determine the identity of the boys will come in, and we will know for sure if Ruben and Julian have been found, but there is very little doubt left. People here are coming together in churches, they lay flowers at the school, meeting are held for all involved, and there might be a vigil later on, after the identification. I'm not sure about that last one yet.

There is nothing Hellenistic about this post, and I won't make it so. I just needed to write about this, about something that has been occupying my mind for nearly two weeks. The senselessness of the act, and the shock that a father would do something so horrible to his own sons are my primary reactions, next to grief for two--three--lives that never touched mine, but should not have ended when and how hey did. May Hermes Psychopompos have carried their souls swiftly into the Underworld, and may the Theoi prevent something like hi to ever happen again. This is a true tragedy, and it hits very close to home.

If that vigil is organized, I will attend. I want to stand with others in grief, in solidarity, in hope that this tragedy will prevent others from taking place. My thoughts go out to the mother of the boys, who must be going through hell. I wish so many things to change in this tragedy, but most of all, I wish for the Gods to lift the burden of grief from her.
I am currently on holiday with my girlfriend's family, who are very awesome and sweet. I don't have the best relationship with my parents, but my girlfriend's parents are always there for parental guidance or a hug. That said, in our vacation sleeping arrangement, our bedroom is adjacent to their bedroom, and in such a way that we have to go through their bedroom to get to ours. The walls are paper thin. Anyway, all of this to set the stage for last night when I went to do my evening prayers with the provisions from the larger of my two portable shrines, which had not been tested yet.

Oh--I forget to mention that I forgot to check for smoke detectors....

At any rate, I had set up my altar, my girlfriend was busying herself with something else, her parents were getting ready for bed in the other room, and I was just about to sacrifice to Hestia after lighting her candle and the ethanol when a very loud shrieking noise tore through the quiet of the 2 a.m. night.

After a moment of complete shock, I checked the temperature of my offering bowl, picked it up, put it in the sink, drowned it, then went back to blow out my candle, while my girlfriend's father burst into the room in his boxers and t-shirt, and my girlfriend frantically searched for the 'off' button on the fire alarm.

My girlfriend located the button, pressed it, and sunk back onto the bed. I quickly assured my girlfriend's father that everything was under control, and he left with a last glance at my suddenly disorganized altar. Still in a bit of shock, I finished my prayers with prayer alone--as the offering bowl was still in the sink in our room--and then fell into bed, vowing to clean up the mess in the morning.

It took a while to fall asleep, as you might imagine.

Besides a very funny anecdote (looking back on it, anyway), I also get to remind everyone--myself included--that things to wrong sometimes. There is nothing wrong with that; it's how we learn. I, for example, will perform a fireless libation tonight, as I did this morning. I will take out my sacrifice tomorrow morning and all will be fine. It's not like I would do it at home, but I much prefer an adapted ritual to the Theoi than no ritual at all.

I will be back home by Tuesday, so I promise a longer post then. Until then, enjoy your rituals, and remember: never forget to check for fire alarms!
I'm not exactly sure how long this has been active, but I think it's a crime I was not informed. Alright, not really, but this virtual tour of the Acropolis is absolutely epic.

I have mentioned before that I was a very little girl when I visited Athens with my parents. I have been longing to go back and walk the roads with the knowledge I have now, to experience the remainders of the temples with the emotional connection I have now. Unfortunately, money is a big issue at the present time, so that's not going to happen any time soon. For people like me (and anyone else), the Acropolis Restoration Service took this initiative. In their own words (under 'contributors'):
"The decision to adopt "state of the art" technological solutions to "bring online" the entirety of the Acropolis is not merely a statement for the preservation work undertaken by the institution, but also a great contribution to the institution's mission to promote access to cultural heritage. Enhanced visual access may be used as an inspiration for interested parties and potential visitors, but also as a scientific or educational tool to enable research in various disciplines, as well as an incentive for institutional or business collaboration towards further goals."
The application was created by orbitlab, a multidisciplinary team that provides interactive media and tools for the cultural heritage domain. The Virtual Tour of the Acropolis:
" an interactive website that allows various aspects of the historical site to be explored in a unique way. It consists of high-resolution gigapixel images and panoramas of the four main monuments - the Parthenon, the Propylaia, the Erechtheion and the Temple of Athena Nike - as well as a detailed photographic representation of the inner and outer ancient walls surrounding the hill, all accompanied by historical information and a descriptive map. The images offer a full zoom in towards details of the moments otherwise difficult to reach, an overview of the location of the monument with respect to its surroundings, or even a virtual "walk" through the site. The user is given the opportunity to exploit task-specific applications or create more personalized approaches, being in overall immersed into a virtual visit of the Acropolis."
I will be spending some very pleasant time on this website, dreaming of walking these stones myself one day, if the Theoi allow it. I hope you enjoy the tour as much as I will.

A little over a week ago, I introduced a new series for the blog: a short series about the labours of Hēraklēs. In that post, I described the life of Hēraklēs up until the point where he set out to complete the tasks. Today, I'm taking you through the first of twelve labours: Hēraklēs' challenge to slay the Nemean lion.

The Leon Nemeios (Λεον Νεμειος), or Nemean lion has been described with a large variety of parents. Selene is mentioned by Aelian and Seneca, amongst others, but one of the drakons is also possible, especially Echidna. Diodorus Siculus, in his Library of History describes the lion so: 

"This was a beast of enormous size, which could not be wounded by iron or bronze or stone and required the compulsion of the human hand for his subduing. It passed the larger part of its time between Mycenae and Nemea, in the neighbourhood of a mountain which was called Tretus from a peculiarity which it possessed; for it had a cleft at its base which extended clean through it and in which the beast was accustomed to lurk." [4.11.3]

As the lion was terrorizing the area surrounding the mountain, Eurystheus must have seen in the lion a worthy opponent of  Hēraklēs, whose tales of bravery and brute strength has proceeded him. He ordered the hero to return with its skin. In the words of Apollodorus:

"When Hercules heard that, he went to Tiryns and did as he was bid by Eurystheus. First, Eurystheus ordered him to bring the skin of the Nemean lion; now that was an invulnerable beast begotten by Typhon. On his way to attack the lion he came to Cleonae and lodged at the house of a day-laborer, Molorchus; and when his host would have offered a victim in sacrifice, Hercules told him to wait for thirty days, and then, if he had returned safe from the hunt, to sacrifice to Saviour Zeus, but if he were dead, to sacrifice to him as to a hero." [2.5.1.]

And so, Hēraklēs went to the cave of the lion after picking up a bow and quiver of arrows, because he was unaware he would not be able to harm the creature with mortal weapons. What comes after is undoubtedly best said by Theocretus in the third century BC. In his 'Idylls', he has Hēraklēs explain his victory himself:

"Now this did Eurystheus make my very first task; he charged me to slay that direful beast. So I took with me my supple bow and a good quiverful of arrows, and in the other hand a stout cudgel, made, without peeling or pithing, of a shady wild-olive which myself had found under holy Helicon and torn up whole and complete with all her branching roots; and so forth and made for those parts where the lion was. Whither when I was come, I took and tipped my string, and straightway notched a bearer of pain and grief, and fell a-looking this way and that way after the pestilent monster, if so be I might espy him ere he should espy me. ‘Twas midday now, yet could I nowhere mark his track nor hear his roaring; neither was there any man set over a plough-team and the toil of the seed-furrow that I could see and ask of him, seeing pale wan fear kept every man at the farmstead. Howbeit, I never gave over to search the leafy uplands till I should behold him and put my strength speedily to the test.
Now towards evening he came his ways unto his den full fed both of flesh and gore, his tangled mane, his grim visage and all his chest spattered with blood, and his tongue licking his chaps. To waylay him I hid myself quickly in a brake beside the woody path, and when he came near let fly at his left flank. But it availed me not; the barbèd shaft could not pass the flesh, but glanced and fell on the fresh green sward. Astonished, the beast lift suddenly up his gory head, and looked about him and about, opening his mouth and showing his gluttonous teeth; whereupon I sped another shaft from the string (for I took it ill that the fist had left my hand to no purpose), and smote him clean in the middle of the chest where the lungs do lie. But nay; not even so was the hide of him to be pierced by the sore grievous arrow; there it fell vain and frustrate at his feet.
At this I waxed exceedingly distempered and made to draw for the third time. But, ere that, the ravening beast rolled around his eyes and beheld me, and lashing all his tail about his hinder parts bethought him quickly of battle. Now was his neck brimming with ire, his tawny tresses an-end for wrath, his chine arched like a bow, as he gathered him up all together unto flank and loin. Then even as, when a wainwright, cunning man, takes the seasoned wild-fig boughs he hath warmed at the fire and bends them into wheels for an axled chariot, the thin-ringed figwood escapes at the bending from his grasp and leaps at one bound afar, even so did that direful lion from a great way off spring upon me, panting to be at my flesh. Then it was that with the one hand I thrust before me the cloak from my shoulders folded about my bunched arrows, and with the other lift my good sound staff above my head and down with it on his crown, and lo! my hard wild-olive was broke clean in twain on the mere shaggy pate of that unvanquishable beast. Yes as for him, or ever he could reach me he was fallen from the midst of his spring, and so stood with trembling feet and wagging head, his two eyes being covered in darkness because the brains were all-to-shaken in the skull of him.
Perceiving now that he was all abroad with the pain and grief of it, ere he might recover his wits I cast my bow and my broidered quiver upon the ground and let drive at the nape of that massy neck. Then from the rear, lest he should tear me with his talons, I gat my arm about his throat, and treading his hind-paws hard into the ground for to keep the legs of them from my sides, held on with might and main till at length I could rear him backward by the foreleg, and vasty Hades received his spirit.
That done, I fell a-pondering how I might flay me off the dead beast’s shag-neckèd skin. ‘What a task!’ thought I; for there was no cutting that, neither with wood nor with stone nor yet with iron. At that moment one of the Immortals did mind me I should cut up the lion’s skin with the lion’s talons. So I to it, and had him flayed in a trice, and cast the skin about me for a defense against the havoc of gashing war. Such, good friend, was the slaying of the Lion of Nemea, that had brought so much and sore trouble both upon man and beast.” [204-280]
There are other versions, mostly those where Hēraklēs does not fight the lion outside, but instead pursues the beast into his den, having blocked the other end of it so the lion cannot escape. In the dark, he hits the lion over the head, and then proceeds to strangle it. Depending on the author, Hēraklēs looses a finger in the struggle. Polemy Hephaestion, for example, speaks of the finger in his New Histories 2:

"...Heracles, after the Nemean lion had bitten off one of his fingers had only nine and that there exists a tomb erected for this detached finger; other authors say that he lost his finger following a blow by a dart of a stingray and one can see at Sparta a stone lion erected on the tomb of the finger and which is the symbol of the power of the hero.  It is since then that stone lions have likewise been erected on the tombs of other important people; other authors give different explications of the lion statues."

In my introductory post, I spoke of the first lion who was vanquished by Hēraklēs, the lion at Kithairon, whom Hēraklēs is said to have skinned as well, and whose skin he wore as a cloak. Which famous lion skin cloak Hēraklēs wear in most of the art he is depicted on is unclear, but the properties of the hide of the Nemean lion do make it likely he swapped out the cloaks after cutting the pelt off of the lion with the help of Athena. In some versions of the myth, however, he does no skin the beast, but takes it to Eurysteus in one piece. Apollodorus:

"And when the lion took refuge in a cave with two mouths, Hercules built up the one entrance and came in upon the beast through the other, and putting his arm round its neck held it tight till he had choked it; so laying it on his shoulders he carried it to Cleonae. And finding Molorchus on the last of the thirty days about to sacrifice the victim to him as to a dead man, he sacrificed to Saviour Zeus and brought the lion to Mycenae. Amazed at his manhood, Eurystheus forbade him thenceforth to enter the city, but ordered him to exhibit the fruits of his labours before the gates. They say, too, that in his fear he had a bronze jar made for himself to hide in under the earth, and that he sent his commands for the labours through a herald, Copreus, son of Pelops the Elean. This Copreus had killed Iphitus and fled to Mycenae, where he was purified by Eurystheus and took up his abode."  [2.5.1.]

And so, Hēraklēs vanquishes the lion--in one way or another--and completes the first of what he then thinks will be ten labours. Eurystheus warns him, however, that the labours will only become harder as time passes. For his next labour, he will need to keep all of his wits about him, as he is to slay the nine-headed Lernaean Hydra.

Image source:
Those who visit this blog on a regular basis know that I'm a fan of Solon and his reformations of the political landscape of Athens in the sixth century BC. I wrote about some of his reforms a little while ago. Solon (Σόλων) was an Athenian statesman, lawmaker, and poet, who lived from 638 BC to 558 BC. He spent most of his adult life trying to legislate against political, economic, and moral decline in archaic Athens. His ideologies are often credited with having laid the foundations for Athenian democracy. Today, I want to discuss one of his most important reforms: the move from a judicial system where the Zeus-born kings decided the fate of the accused, to the basic foundations of democracy. I fully admit that I'm hanging this off of a 'J'-post, because 'J' is a hard letter for a Hellenist--no such letter in the Greek language--so expect the 'jury' part to be a somewhat loose interpretation.

I have written about the Zeus-born kings and the democracy in ancient Athens before, in separate Pagan Blog Posts. I suggest reading those posts before reading this one, but I'll add the highlights of those post below just in case, with links to these articles (mostly) so you know where to find more information on the terms.

Back in ancient Hellas, if you were a citizen--and especially one from an important family--you could trace your family line back to a Theos. For Athenians, this divine link was first through Gaea (autochthonous, αὐτός χθών, 'earth-born') and/or Athena (with links to Zeus), and then through Poseidon. The kings of Athens were legendary, mythological, even in the time of ancient Hellas. With the death of Codrus, this system came to an end and was replaced by a political system were the decadents of these kings became árchōntes.

The árchōntes did not rule as kings; where kings were sole rulers of the city state, archons ruled first in threes, then in nines, then in tens and their power did not extend to law-making. Indeed, the Athenians had a clear understanding of the difference between sovereign power and executive government, and they kept the two separate far more than any modern government. The system started with three árchōntes: the 'Archōn Epōnymos' (ἄρχων Ἐπώνυμος), the 'Polemarchos' (πολέμαρχος), and the 'Archōn Basileus' (Ἄρχων Βασιλεύς). Together, these three oversaw the tasks the ancient kings had carried alone.

Originally the árchōntes were chosen from the 'eupatridae'--those who were 'good fathered'--by elections every ten years, but after 508 BC the titles were held for only a single year. Other changes came in 487 BC, when the archonships became assigned by lot to any citizen. Before this assignment by lots, for which I have described the procedures here, there was another system in place for a while: Solon's system, which still operated by lot, but with a few more rules to placate the aristocracy.

When Solon came to power, he pushed a few very important changes through the system. As a statesman, Solon put principles before expediency. In a time when Athens was struggling under the burden of civil war, his reforms strove to bridge the gap between the rich an the poor. He cancelled all debts, and purchased the freedom of all slaves, allowing everyone to start with a clean slate. This caused a massive financial crisis, for which new reforms were necessary, including new trade ties, and an halt in the export of all foodstuffs but olive oil, of which there was plenty. Solon did not stop there, however. Once he was given full legislative powers, he abolished political distinctions of birth in politics. Instead, he created four new groups:
  • Thetes, the lowest group, who paid no taxes, provided no equipment city state or its army, and who were not eligible to hold an office of any kind.
  • Zeugitae, the second lowest group, who paid tax at the lowest rate, provided body armor to the Athenian army, and who were eligible to hold office.
  • Hippeus, the second highest group, who paid higher taxes at the middle rate, provided their own war horse when they served in the army, and they were eligible for higher offices.
  • Pentacosiomedimni, the top class of citizens, who paid the highest amount of taxes, and were eligible for all top positions of government in Athens. Archōntes were chosen from this class.
A person belonged to the first class if he could produce more than five hundred measures of goods, to the second class for more than three hundred, to the third class for more than two hundred, and everybody else belonged to the last class, the thetes. Members of the first three classes could hold offices such as those of the archons and the treasurers. The last class gathered at the assembly and could act as jury in court.
Especially the latter of the reforms created a system where the power was in the hands of the people, because instead of leaving justice to be administered by the aristocracy, Solon formed a 'boule' (βουλή), who met at the 'bouleterion'. The term comes from the ancient Greek word for 'citizens': bouleutai (βουλευταί). About a hundred years after these reforms took place, in 508 BC, the árchōntes Kleisthénês (Κλεισθένης) organized the citizens of Athens into ten tribes, but in Solons time, there were only four, and every Athenian belonged to one of them. It may have been that these tribes were originally small villages which came together to form the foundation of Athens, but this is pure speculation on my part. No evidence of this--or any other theory--survives. At any rate, in Kleisthénês' time, the boule was assembled from 50 men, chosen from each of the ten tribes of Athens, for a total of 500 men. Solon founded the boule with 400 men, one hundred from each of the four tribes, but only with members from the three most wealthy of classes. This council was responsible for processing  public matters before bringing them to the assembly, or 'ekklesia'.
In the ancient Athens after Solon and Kleisthénês, sovereign power was held by the ekklesia, and only by the ekklesia: they were the jurors of ancient Athens. The árchōntes didn't factor into lawmaking at all. Every citizen in ancient Hellas had the right to vote on new or changing laws and was thus required to be aware of them and have an opinion on them; a direct democracy. In fact, Solon introduced a controversial law punishing those who did not take part in public decisions on crucial matters, following the view that everybody should care about public issues. This law was overturned in later times, but there were still reminders of it in Athenian life afterwards, like the miltos. In Solon's time, however, the árchōntes did still have the power to act as judge in disputes, as they--and he kings before them--had always had. However, after Solon's reforms, anyone could appeal to the jury of the ekklesia if a decision of the árchōntes was not acceptable. Furthermore, one could seek justice for other persons who could not represent themselves, something that had not been possible before. 
When I say 'everyone' it is important to distinguish that there were quite a few people who were not entitled to serve on the ekklesia; women, for example, and children, but also métoikos--resident aliens--and slaves, because in no way did Solon's reforms end slavery; his reforms only bought the freedom of indentured citizens. Very roughly measured, about a quarter of the inhabitants of ancient Athens were eligible to vote.

Solon's reforms were substantial, and took a lot of power away from the aristocracy. They gave every free man the hope that they could hold office one day, if they worked hard to reach the upper class. For those without political aspirations, Solon's reforms provided judicial safety and a sense of power: no matter who you were, if you were an adult male citizen, your opinion counted, and you could influence the course of the city's political and social landscape. Obviously, Solon's reforms did not create a democracy, but they did lay the groundwork for further reforms, and they did so wisely, and with consent from the elite--at least for his lifetime.
Some days I get reminded how little ancient or even modern Greek I know. I'm not the best with languages, and although I'd love to say I have a special Percy Jackson-esque ability to read ancient Greek without effort, I don't. My understanding of the ancient language is one I hope to increase in the coming years, and when I do, perhaps I could travel to Turkey for some practice.

This video, by the University of Cambridge, shows a bit of the journey of  Cambridge researcher Dr. Ioanna Sitaridou, as she travels to north-eastern Turkey, where an endangered Greek dialect which closely resembles ancient Hellenic is still spoken. The dialect, called Romeyka, is far more widespread than the tiny mountain villages of north-eastern Turkey, but because of the remote location of the towns, their version of the dialect was influenced far less by contact with other languages and dialects that the more widespread version of Romeyka. The discovery is labeled a linguistic treasure trove by researchers.

Because this is not my area of expertise at all, I'm going to copy/paste wiki for a bit of history on the Romeyka language:

"Pontic Greek (Greek: Ποντιακή διάλεκτος or Ποντιακά), is a form of the Greek language originally spoken in the Pontus area on the southern shores of the Black Sea, northeastern Anatolia, Eastern Turkish/Caucasus province of Kars, southern Georgia, and today mainly in northern Greece. Its speakers are referred to as Pontic Greeks or Pontian Greeks.
The linguistic lineage of Pontic Greek stems from Ionic Greek via Koine and Byzantine Greek and contains influences from Georgian, Russian, Turkish and to a lesser extent, Persian (via Ottoman Turkish) and various Caucasian languages. Pontic is most closely related to Cappadocian Greek, and the Greek spoken in Mariupolis (and formerly in Crimea, Ukraine) (see Mariupolitan Greek).
Historically the speakers of Pontic Greek called it Romeyka (Romeika, Greek: Ρωμαίικα), which, in a more general sense, is also a historical and colloquial term for the modern Greek language as a whole. The term "Pontic" originated in scholarly usage, but has been adopted as a mark of identity by Pontic Greeks living in Greece.
The inhabitants of the Of valley who had converted to Islam in the 17th century remained in Turkey and have partly retained the Pontic language until today. Their dialect, which forms part of the Trapezountiac subgroup, is called "Ophitic" by linguists, but speakers generally call it Romeyka. As few as 5,000 people speak this dialect. Estimations show however that the real number of the speakers must be considerably higher.
Ophitic has retained the infinitive, which is present in Ancient Greek but has been lost in other variants of Modern Greek; it has therefore been characterized as "archaic" (even in relation to other Pontic dialects) and as the living language that is closest to Ancient Greek. A very similar dialect is spoken by descendants of Christians from the Of valley now living in Greece in the village of Nea Trapezounta, Pieria, Central Macedonia), with about 400 speakers."

It's striking to me how different the pronunciation is between these speakers and, for example, the young man below, who is trained in ancient Greek (and Latin, Italian, Russian, Japanese, etc.).

I am sure dialect is part of the difference, but I think the biggest difference comes from years upon years of use. For the young man above, ancient Greek is a subject of study. For the men and women in the Turkish mountain villages, their language is their language; they were raised with it. Their version is a lot less 'clean'. I value this young man's recording, I love hearing the women in the other video speak. It sounds far more like the way the ancient Hellenes would have spoken with each other, although that opinion is, of course, subjective.
Yesterday we spoke about the constellation Draco, or Drakon, which was said to represent two on ancient Hellas' dragons. I mentioned in that post that I would speak more of dragons tomorrow, so here we are. The dragons of ancient Hellas had very little--if anything--to do with the fantasy dragons we are so accustomed to now. The ancient Hellenes knew four types of dragon: the Drakones, the Ketea, the Khimaira and the Drakaenae.

The Drakones were named after the Greek 'drakein' and 'derkomai, meaning 'to see clearly' or 'gaze sharply'. These were guardians, usually of wells and springs, groves, Gods, or treasure. As guardians, they were usually equipped with sharp fangs, deadly poison and/or multiple heads. In essence, they were however seen as giant snakes which--and this is wholly a personal observation--makes sense when most protective and purifying Theoi were depicted as snakes.

Some examples of the Drakones are the Drakon Hesperios (Hesperian Drakon), who guarded the golden apples in the grove of the Hesperides; the Hydra, most famous of all mythological drakons, who had nine, regenerating, heads which grew back in pairs when cut off; and the Drakon Ismenios, who guarded the sacred spring of Ares near Thebes and was slain by Kadmos. The ancient Hellenes also believed that remote, unexplored corners of the earth housed a variety of Drakones, which could be found in Aethiopia, the hills and mountains of India, and in central Anatolia.

The second type were the Ketea, sea-monsters. These resembled snakes, again, but did no guard anything. These were destroyers, usually sent by the Gods in punishment. Cetus, the sea monster sent to ravage the coasts of Aethiopia after a prideful boast by Queen Cassiopeia. Cetus could only be appeased by sacrificing Androméda to it. According to the ancient Hellenes, the Ketea had real-life counterparts as well, in the deep Indian oceans, and in the form of the Scolopendra. Aelian, Hellenic natural historian from the second century AD describes them as follows in his 'On Animals':

"Now in the course of examining and investigating these subjects and what bears upon them, to the utmost limit, with all the zeal that I could command, I have ascertained that the Skolopendra is a Ketos (Sea-Monster), and of Sea-Monsters it is the biggest, and if cast up on the shore no one would have the courage to look at it. And those who are expert in marine matters say that they have seen them floating and that they extend the whole of their head above the sea, exposing hairs of immense length protruding from their nostrils, and the tail is flat and resembles that of a crayfish. And at times the rest of their body is to be seen floating on the surface, and its bulk is comparable to a full-sized trireme. And they swim with numerous feet in line on either side as though they were rowing themselves (though the expression is somewhat harsh) with tholepins hung alongside. So those who have experience in these matters say that the surge corresponds with a gentle murmur, and their statement convinces me." [13.23]

The third type of drakon was the Khimaira, a fire-breathing mythical beast whose form was a hybrid of lion, serpent and goat. Medieval artists used this creature as the template for the Dragon of Saint George, and this form became the link from ancient Hellas to modern D&D creature. The hero Bellerophon was commanded to slay it by King Iobates. He rode into battle against the beast on the back of the winged horse Pegasos and, driving a lead-tipped lance down the Khimaira's flaming throat, suffocated it. From Hómēros' Iliad:

 "On first deciphering the fatal message, he ordered Bellerephon to kill the monstrous Chimaera, spawned by gods and not men, that had a lion’s head, goat’s body and serpent’s tail, and breathed out deadly blasts of scorching fire. But Bellerephon slew her, guided by the gods." [VI:119-211]

The Drakaena were hybrids as well, usually with the upper body of a beautiful nymph, and the lower body of a drakon or sea-monster. Most often, these were parents to the above--a necessary evolutionary step. Famous examples include the Goddess Keto, who spawned the Hesperian Drakon, Ekhidna, who was married to the serpent-giant Typhôeus and spawned most of the dragons and monsters of myth, and Skilla, who did not spawn anyone, but was the she-dragon who haunted the Straits of Messina, snapping up sailors from ships--as Odysseus discovered.

These are the four types of drakones the ancient Hellenes identified, some mythological, some actually living in those days. Hopefully this will clear up the confusion of dragons in ancient Hellas and Hellenic myth once and for all.

Image source: Hydra, Cetus, Khimaira, Skilla.