I'm sorry, I ran out of spoons. Please enjoy this video about the temple of Olympian Zeus. It's located in the heart of Athens, Greece. Only 500 meters from the Acropolis and the Parthenon.

The Temple of Olympian Zeus (Greek: Ναός του Ολυμπίου Διός, Naos tou Olympiou Dios), also known as the Olympieion or Columns of the Olympian Zeus, is a monument of Greece and a former colossal temple at the centre of the Greek capital Athens. It was dedicated to Olympian Zeus, a name originating from his position as head of the Olympian Gods. Construction began in the 6th century BC during the rule of the Athenian tyrants, who envisaged building the greatest temple in the ancient world, but it was not completed until the reign of the Roman Emperor Hadrian in the 2nd century AD, some 638 years after the project had begun. During the Roman period the temple--that included 104 colossal columns--was renowned as the largest temple in Greece and housed one of the largest cult statues in the ancient world.
Once the construction works of the tram line in the Piraeus are concluded in Vassileos Georgiou Avenue, earth will cover the ancient ruins of the Long Stoa, the long covered way in the heart of the city.

Tram works in the Piraeus in April 2018 [Credit: Arxeion Politismou]

The Long Stoa was part of the temple of Dionysus, still seen between the Municipality Theatre of Piraeus and the Agias Triadas Church. Archaeology website Arxeion Politismou (Culture Archives), in an article entitled “Last time we see Ancient Piraeus,” stated:

"The construction works for the Tram line did not obtain the permission of Greece’s Archaeological Council (KAS) and there has been no relevant decision by Ministry of Culture."

The section of the archaeological site to be covered by earth and tram tracks was close to the House of Dionysus theatre groups that participated in the 4th century BC festivities to honour the god Dionysus. The website implies a “first-class scandal in the name of development.'”

It is not the first time the ruins in the area are been covered in the name of development. Unearthed in 1884 during construction works for the Municipality Theatre of Piraeus, workers brought to light an altar, columns, rooms, corridors, arcades, water cisterns, and inscriptions dedicated to the sponsors of the ancient festivals. Most of the ancient ruins were reburied and the impressive modern theatre built above them.
My girl and I are currently planning our vacation and it's brought back memories of the last real trip I went on, which was to Berlin. I had the wonderful fortune to see the Pergamon altar in person and walk the stairs.

The Pergamon Altar is a monumental construction built during the reign of king Eumenes II in the first half of the 2nd century BC on one of the terraces of the acropolis of the ancient Greek city of Pergamon in Asia Minor.

The structure is 35.64 metres wide and 33.4 metres deep; the front stairway alone is almost 20 metres wide. The base is decorated with a frieze in high relief showing the battle between the Giants and the Olympian gods known as the Gigantomachy. There is a second, smaller and less well-preserved high relief frieze on the inner court walls which surround the actual fire altar on the upper level of the structure at the top of the stairs. In a set of consecutive scenes, it depicts events from the life of Telephus, legendary founder of the city of Pergamon and son of the hero Heracles and Auge, one of Tegean king Aleus's daughters.

In 1878, the German engineer Carl Humann began official excavations on the acropolis of Pergamon, an effort that lasted until 1886. The excavation was undertaken in order to rescue the altar friezes and expose the foundation of the edifice. Later, other ancient structures on the acropolis were brought to light. Upon negotiating with the Turkish government (a participant in the excavation), it was agreed that all frieze fragments found at the time would become the property of the Berlin museums.

In Berlin, Italian restorers reassembled the panels comprising the frieze from the thousands of fragments that had been recovered. In order to display the result and create a context for it, a new museum was erected in 1901 on Berlin's Museum Island. Because this first Pergamon Museum proved to be both inadequate and structurally unsound, it was demolished in 1909 and replaced with a much larger museum, which opened in 1930. This new museum is still open to the public on the island. Despite the fact that the new museum was home to a variety of collections beyond the friezes (for example, a famous reconstruction of the Ishtar Gate of ancient Babylon), the city's inhabitants decided to name it the Pergamon Museum for the friezes and reconstruction of the west front of the altar. The Pergamon Altar is today the most famous item in the Berlin Collection of Classical Antiquities, which is on display in the Pergamon Museum and in the Altes Museum, both of which are on Berlin's Museum Island.

It was announced that on September 29th, 2014 the Pergamon Exhibit will be closed for the duration of 5 years for a complete remodeling of the exhibit hall, including but not limited to construction of a new glass ceiling and a new climate control system. The exhibit is scheduled to reopen in late 2019 or early 2020.

[Borrowed from Wikipedia.]

If you want to get a feel for the beauty of these sculptures--and by the Gods are they beautiful!--watch the in-depth discussion below.

Ancient Hellenes may be known for their love of wine, but it seems they also had an affinity to beer, according to a study by the Aristotle University of the northern city of Thessaloniki. Two Bronze Age brewers that were recently unearthed prove that ancient Hellenes would brew beer on a regular basis 4,000 years ago.

Archaeologists from the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki located several archaeobotanical remains of a cereal that could have been used in beer brewing. Similar remains found in the Archontiko area in the island of Corfu were also discovered in Argissa in Zakynthos.

At Archontiko, archaeologists found about 100 individual cereal seeds dating back to the early Bronze Age from 2100 to 2000 BC. In Argissa, they found about 3,500 cereal seeds going back to the Bronze Age, approximately from 2100 to 1700 BC.

Moreover, archaeologists discovered a two-room structure that seems to have been carefully constructed to maintain low temperatures in the Archontiko area, suggesting it was used to process the cereals for beer under the right conditions. This discovery is the earliest known evidence of beer consumption in Greece, but not in the planet.

Beer is one of the oldest beverages humans have produced, dating back to at least the 5th millennium BC in Iran, and was recorded in the written history of ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia and spread throughout the world.

As almost any cereal containing certain sugars can undergo spontaneous fermentation due to wild yeasts in the air, it is possible that beer-like beverages were independently developed throughout the world soon after a tribe or culture had domesticated cereal. Chemical tests of ancient pottery jars reveal that beer was produced as far back as about 7,000 years ago in what is today Iran. This discovery reveals one of the earliest known uses of fermentation and is the earliest evidence of brewing to date. In Mesopotamia, the oldest evidence of beer is believed to be a 6,000-year-old Sumerian tablet depicting people drinking a beverage through reed straws from a communal bowl. A 3900-year-old Sumerian poem honouring Ninkasi, the patron goddess of brewing, contains the oldest surviving beer recipe, describing the production of beer from barley via bread. In China, residue on pottery dating from between 5400 and 4900 years ago shows beer was brewed using barley and other grains.

The invention of bread and beer has been argued to be responsible for humanity's ability to develop technology and build civilization.The earliest chemically confirmed barley beer to date was discovered at Godin Tepe in the central Zagros Mountains of Iran, where fragments of a jug, from between 5400 and 5000 years ago was found to be coated with beerstone, a by-product of the brewing process.

Beer may have been known in Neolithic Europe as far back as 5,000 years ago, and was mainly brewed on a domestic scale.

Most if this is not new, I wrote about it five years ago, but it's good to see it confirmed form new findings.
A musical family has recreated ancient music based on 60 musical scores that still exist from thousands of years ago. Using replicas of instruments used in ancient Hellas, a family of musicians gave the audience at Athens’ Archaeological Museum on Thursday a sense of what Hellenic antiquity actually sounded like, according to a report in Reuters.

In order to recreate the music that the ancient Hellenes played thousands of years ago, the group, which calls itself Lyravlos, fashioned instruments out of animal shells, bones, hides and thorns. According to Reuters, Panayiotis Stefos, who leads the group, “travels to museums at home and abroad studying ancient Greek antiquities and texts in order to recreate the instruments.”

As for the music itself, there are only about 60 written scores from ancient Hellas that have survived, Lyravlos member Michael Stefos told Reuters. “Joking aside, ancient CDs have never been found,” he said.

In ancient Greece, most the music would have been played at religious, social and athletic events. The audience at the performance, which was held as part of World Music Day celebrations, was treated to a hymn to the god Apollo, music from the ancient Pythian Games in Delphi, and selections that would have been played during the bacchanalia honoring the god Dionysus, reported Reuters.

To read the rest of the Reuters’ story and see pictures of the performance, click here.
On June 28, Elaion hosts a PAT ritual for the Dipolieia. The Dipolieia appears to have been a sacrifice on the altar of Zeuis Polieus on the Acropolis and not a public festival involving a procession or rites conducted in homes. It was for the administration of Athens. The Dipolieia, because of its association with the Bouphónia, has caused a great amount of ambiguity between scholars. Will you join us in celebrating a mix?

The Dipolieia (Διπολεῖα) has much contradictory evidence and differences of opinion on it's function and importance. It seems to have been primarily for Zeus. The Dipolieia appears not to be a festival involving the Polis as a whole but--like the Bouphónia that was held during it--purification was of great importance. I have written about the Bouphónia before; the post can be found here. In short, the odd ritual of the Bouphónia comes down to this:

"Every year on the fourteenth day of Skirophorion, from the time of Erechtheus (1397 - 1347 BC) to--at least--the second century AD, an odd ritual was reenacted. It was called the 'Bouphónia'  (βουφόνια), and was part of another festival; the 'Dipolieia', a feast in honor of Zeus Polieus (Zeus of the City). 

On top of the Acropolis, oxen are released from the temple of Zeus Polieus. Outside lie cakes on a table, and the oxen are herded past them. Nearby, two women with bowls of water in their hands and a man who is sharpening an axe and knife watch. One of the oxen in line reaches for one of the cakes and devours it. One of the nearby men shouts at the ox, and rushes to the man who is sharpening his weapons. He grabs the double-bladed axe and with one big swing, ends the life of the ox. The Ox-Slayer drops the axe and flees the scene. The slain animal is sacrificed properly to Zeus Polieus. And a hunt begins for the murderer of Zeus' sacred ox. He is found and brought to trial. The blame is passed from the Ox-Slayer, to the man with the weapons, to the women with the water and eventually the weapons themselves. They are found guilt and tossed off of a cliff. The ox is stuffed and put out on the field, in front of a plough. 

[...] It seems to me that there is an underlying theme to this myth, and its subsequent festival: that an animal which is slaughtered by a man alone, is killed, yet an animal which is slaughtered by a group becomes a sacrifice. Everyone is 'to blame' for the death of the ox, simply by being there, and in order to break the circle, an inanimate object--which, obviously, cannot defend itself, thus the cycle cannot possibly continue--is chosen to bear the blame, thus taking it off of everyone else. "

The Bouphónia is an ancient ritual, archaic even in classical times. the Dipolieia is old as well but was celebrated for a very long time in classical times. As such, we invite you all to join us on 28 June at the regular 10 AM EDT to honour Zeus in a mixture of the two festivals. The ritual can be found here and if you would like to discuss the PAT ritual with others, feel free to do so here.
Sorry, I'm swamped, so I'm going to leave you with a pop quiz! Tell me if you got them all!

All right, I will stop posting about Assasin's Creed Odyssey soon, but I just saw the trailer and my goodness! This is not the Hellas-that-was, but it's definitely the Hellas I would have wanted it to be. How do you feel about the aesthetics? The statues of Gods holding up mountains? The buildings? The ships? The everything!

Assassin's Creed is a franchise centered on an action-adventure video game series developed by Ubisoft. It depicts a centuries-old struggle pitting the Assassins, who fight for peace and free will, against the Templars, who believe peace comes through control of humanity. The series features historical fiction mixed with real-world historical events and figures. The series took inspiration from the novel Alamut by the Slovenian writer Vladimir Bartol, while building upon concepts from the Prince of Persia series.
The excavation in progress this year suggested from the very beginning that the human presence on the acropolis of Selinunte is several millennia older than previously assumed. In fact, below the first level of the Greek settlement, under a natural deposit more than a metre deep, pottery shards of the Early Bronze Age were discovered, as well as evidence of a Mesolithic stone industry (about 8000-6500 BC).

The discovery was announced today by archaeologist Clemente Marconi who, together with Rosalia Pumo, leads the teams of archaeologists from New York University and the State University of Milan who are carrying out important excavations at the Archaeological Park of Selinunte. 

Remains of animals and fragments of coal were also found in association with the first level of the Greek presence in the area, which will be analyzed by radiocarbon.

"The excavations confirm that the layer in which the spears were found stuck in the ground at the end of the last campaign corresponds to the oldest level of Greek occupation in our area. The discovery of numerous animal bones and charcoal should make it possible to date this layer with a certain degree of precision, thanks to the radiocarbon analyses that we will undertake in the coming weeks. At present, the layer is dated, based on the pottery and its position in the stratigraphic sequence, to the founding phase of the Greek settlement. Below this first level of Greek occupation the earth is clean, with no trace of an indigenous level from the Early Iron Age. This year's results, like those from the last ten years' excavations in the southern sector of the large urban sanctuary, suggest that when Selinunte was founded, the site had been uninhabited for many centuries."

The focus of the archaeologists' investigations will be on the period prior to the foundation of Selinunte by the Megarians in 650 BC in order to reconstruct the history of the territory in its entirety. In this context the foundations of Temple C were uncovered.

"It's an exciting finding and I see that the foundations are a bit below ground level. This will allow us to date with certainty the start of temple's construction, which is dedicated to Apollo, and which ancient sources date back to 540 BC, while the completion of the structure is said to have taken place in 510 BC."

The excavation campaign will continue in the coming weeks and will focus on the acropolis of the Greek city.

Image credit: La Repubblica
The best part about reading ancient texts that deal with politics is that their wisdom still applies. In almost all cases, wise lessons in politics that were true in ancient Hellas are still true today.  I want to give an example today, and I am sure you know who this is directed at. Sir, I am done with your antics. At least parents and kids get to see each other again.

"The truth is that because you live without fear day-to-day and there is no conspiring against one another, you think imagine your ‘allies’ to live the same way. Because you are deluded by whatever is presented in speeches you are mistaken in these matters or because you yield to pity, you do not not realize you are being dangerously weak for yourselves and for some favor to your allies.

You do not examine the fact that the power you hold is a tyranny and that those who are dominated by you are conspiring against you and are ruled unwillingly and that these people obey you not because they might please you by being harmed but because you are superior to them by strength rather than because of their goodwill.

The most terrible thing of all is  if nothing which seems right to us is established firmly—if we will not acknowledge that a state which has worse laws which are unbendable is stronger than a state with noble laws which are weakly administered, that ignorance accompanied by discipline is more effective than cleverness with liberality, and that lesser people can inhabit states much more efficiently than intelligent ones.

Smart people always want to show they are wiser than the laws and to be preeminent in discussions about the public good, as if there are no more important things where they could clarify their opinions—and because of this they most often ruin their states. The other group of people, on the other hand, because they distrust their own intelligence, think that it is acceptable to be less learned than the laws and less capable to criticize an argument than the one who speaks well. But because they are more fair and balanced judges, instead of prosecutors, they do well in most cases. For this reason, then, it is right that we too, when we are not carried away by the cleverness and the contest of intelligence, do not act to advise our majority against our own opinion."
[Thucydides, 3.37]
Last month, the Carabinieri, Italy’s military police, unveiled a cache of antiquities seized from a Roman property developer. The objects, which include two Hellenic vases as well as a bull’s and a horse’s head, both in terracotta, are worth €900,000, the Carabinieri’s cultural protection squad says. The collector from whom they were seized now faces prosecution for possessing illegally excavated works, Lieutenant-Colonel Nicola Candido told The Art Newspaper in an email. But when The Art Newspaper sent this picture to five independent experts, all of them questioned the objects’ authenticity.

Although the specialists said they could not offer a definitive opinion based on a photograph, all of them expressed grave doubts. One specialist who asked not to be named said: 

"I cannot imagine where a terracotta life-size horse head could come from in antiquity."

Another described the bull and horse heads as "crude copies," while a third said that "both the vases are suspect, as well as the larger terracottas, but they are good quality. As I understand it, the Italian forgers [are] some of the best." The London-based dealer Rupert Wace concurred.

"The bull and horse heads do look dubious. The value suggested for the pieces in the photograph is preposterous, even if the objects are genuine."

The suggested price is "vastly over-exaggerated," another expert agreed. In the case of the vase on the far right, "The background colour is suspicious as well as the shape of the vessel. There are subtleties in where the handles are placed, the shape of the vessel as well as the foot, which are giving me pause for thought." But he noted: "This could be resolved with a thermoluminescence test, which I would hope the Carabinieri would do before prosecuting the owner of the collection."

John Boardman, emeritus professor of classical archaeology at the University of Oxford, said:

"The vases look more plausible than the rest, but who knows?'

In response to our questions, Candido said the Carabinieri had consulted art history experts with Italy’s Ministry of Culture, and that scientific analysis of the works is taking place. The €900,000 valuation is based on prices for similar antiquities which have been sold, he said.
A brush fire in central Greece has helped authorities discover a hoard of illegally excavated antiquities. The Greek culture ministry said Friday that firefighters trying to extinguish the blaze found about 200 artifacts, some as much as 2,800 years old, in plastic bags hidden under bushes.

The discovery was made Thursday in the countryside between the villages of Livanates and Megaplatanos, some 150 kilometers (93 miles) northwest of Athens. A ministry statement said most of the pottery and metal objects were unharmed by the fire, while some bore traces of smoke.

Authorities are trying to establish who excavated and hid the artefacts, some of which had been cleaned and undergone basic repairs on the spot. Under Greek law, all ancient artefacts found in the country are state property.

For images of the finds, go here.
For the second PAT ritual of the month, Elaion would like to present to you the rituals for the Skiraphoria. The Skira(phoria) was celebrated mainly by women, perhaps to contrast the Greater Dionysia celebrated mostly by men, but we have created a separate ritual for men which excludes portions of the festival but does allow them to participate. Will you join us on June 26th at 10 AM EDT?

The Skira, or Skiraphoria was celebrated over a three day period and we have few details about it. What we do know is that the Skira is most likely a fertility festival, mostly of the earth so that a good harvest was ensured for the following year, which started a little more than half a month later. Demeter was certainly honored during the festival, as well as her daughter Kore, as the Goddess of spring growth. Yet, many other deities are tied to the harvest and the success of the nation in some way, especially in Athens from where most of the surviving material originated. There, Athena Skiras and Poseidon Pater also had a role to play.

What we know of the rites is that a gathering left Athens on the day of the Skira, and another delegation left Eleusis. At Skiron, a precinct on the road to Eleusis, stood a sanctuary dedicated to Athena Skiras, Poseidon Pater, Demeter and Kore. Here, the two delegations met, and the priests and priestesses of all Theoi involved interacted in some way; Plutarch mentions that one of the three 'sacred plowings' of the Athenians took place at this time. It is, perhaps, possible that at this time, the priestesses of Athena and the priests Poseidon made amends with the priestesses of Demeter and Kore--there was bad blood between them for, as Apollodorus reminds us:

"Athena, therefore, called the city Athens after herself, and Poseidon in hot anger flooded the Thriasian plain and laid Attica under the sea." [3.14.1]

The Thriasian plain is where Eleusis is located, and it would have been entirely flooded during this episode. Perhaps the Athenian deities ritually made amends for this during the Skira? Alternatively, or perhaps additionally, during the reign of Erechtheus in Athens, war broke out against the Eleusinians, who were assisted by Eumolpus, whose mother was Khione, daughter of Boreas, and whose father was said to be Poseidon Himself. Eumolpus attacked Ahens because, as he put it, that land belonged to his father. Could the rituals of the Skira be penance for this war as well, where Poseidon (and Athena) 'rode out' to meet Demeter and Kore in the middle for a rite that would settle their grievances?

The details of the procession to the Skiron and the subsequent ritual are largely lost to us. Although debated by certain scholars, it seems that those in the procession--or perhaps only the priests and priestesses--carried umbrella-type canopies over their heads which were of a bright white color. It is possible that this was only one large canopy per group, and it was held over the heads of the priests and priestesses by others in the procession. The canopy was or were called 'skiron' as well. Of the sanctuary itself, we know very little besides its location and deities. It is, however, said to have been the place where the first sowing took place, tying the Skira rituals back in with the purpose of fertility.

The Skira was celebrated over a three day period, but when this procession took place is unclear. To bring fertility, the women abstained from intercourse on these days, and to this end they ate garlic to keep the men away. We also know that during the Skira, offerings were thrown into the sacred caves of Demeter located in a cliff at Eleusis: cakes shaped like snakes and phalluses, and very real piglets. These became the Thesmoi--'things laid down'--that were removed in the Thesmophoria. The piglets were fertility symbols but also related to the myth of Demeter, Persephone and Hades, because it is said that when Hades opened a chasm to swallow up Persephone--the caves of Demeter--a swineherd called Eubouleus was grazing his pigs and they were swallowed up in the chasm as well.

For the men, there was a race in which they carried vine-branches from the sanctuary of Dionysos to the temple of Athena Skiras. The winner was given the Fivefold Cup, or 'pentaploa', containing wine, honey, cheese, some corn and olive oil. Only the winner was allowed to pour libations to Athena from the cup, and ask Her to bless these fruits of the season.

For these rites, we will honor Demeter, Kore, Athena, and Poseidon. The female version of the rite which includes Demeter and Kore as well as the Thesmoi, and that of the men has sacrifices to Poseidon, Athena, and Demeter. We also encourage the men to perform some sort of athletic feat afterwards to honour Athena.

The PAT ritual will take place on the 26th of June, at the usual 10 am EDT. The rituals can be found here for the women, and here for the men. We look forward to your participation and if you would like to discuss the rite or festival with others, feel free to join us on Facebook on the event page. We hope you will join us!
A short warning today, from Bacchylides's, Processionals

“There is one border, a single path to happiness for mortals—
When a person is able to keep a heart free of grief
Until the end of life. Whoever keeps a ten thousand
Affairs in their thoughts
Whoever tortures their heart
Night and day over what may come,
Has toil which brings no profit.”
[fr. 11-12]
Among the J. Paul Getty Museum’s most treasured items is a bronze Hellenic statue of a young man, his weight shifted onto his right leg, his head crowned with an olive wreath—the prize bestowed on victorious athletes in ancient Greece. The aptly named “Statue of a Victorious Youth” was discovered in the Adriatic Sea by Italian fishermen in 1964, and purchased by the Getty in 1977. But this month, as Naomi Rea reports for Artnet News, an Italian magistrate ruled that the museum must return the precious relic to Italy.

The magistrate, Giacomo Gasparini, rejected Getty’s appeal against an order of confiscation that was issued by an Italian court in 2010 and upheld by another Italian court in 2012. Ron Hartwig, a spokesperson for the J. Paul Getty Trust, said in a statement that the organization “disappointed in the ruling, but we will continue to defend our legal right to the statue.”

“Statue of a Victorious Youth” dates to sometime between 300 and 100 BC. According to Sopan Deb of the New York Times, the work is believed to have been inspired by, or even created by Lysippus, the favorite sculptor of Alexander the Great. Very few life-size Hellenic bronzes survive today, and so the statue “provides much information on the technology of ancient bronze casting,” the Getty Museum explains on its website. Experts think that the Romans, who collected many Hellenic works of art, tried to take the bronze across the Adriatic, but the ship carrying the statue sank.

Centuries after the bronze plunged to the bottom of the Adriatic, the fishermen who found the statue brought it to the Italian city of Fano. They did not notify customs authorities about the discovery, according to Rea of Artnet, and sold the work to an antiquities dealer. In 1977, the Los Angeles Times editorial board said, the Getty Museum Board of Trustees bought the bronze in the United Kingdom for $3.95 million. (The Los Angeles Times editorial board supports the Getty keeping the statue.) Today, the bronze is housed in the Getty Villa, a campus of the Getty Museum devoted to ancient Hellenic and Roman art.

In 1989, the Italian government asked the Getty to return “Statue of a Victorious Youth,” and the fight over the bronze has been ongoing ever since. A 1939 Italian law stipulates that Italy can lay claim to any antiquity discovered on its territory, but the Getty has argued that the law does not apply in this case because the statue was discovered in international waters.

“Moreover, the statue is not part of Italy’s extraordinary cultural heritage,” Hartwig, the spokesman for the Getty Trust, said in his statement. “Accidental discovery by Italian citizens does not make the statue an Italian object. Found outside the territory of any modern state, and immersed in the sea for two millennia, the Bronze has only a fleeting and incidental connection with Italy.”

The Getty has, in the past, repatriated artifacts that were acquired under suspect circumstances. In 2007, the Getty Trust agreed to return more than 40 items to Greece and Italy after questions arose about their provenance, including a statue said to be of the goddess Aphrodite that the museum had purchased for a then-record $18 million. But museum officials maintain that “Statue of a Victorious Youth” was acquired legally, after “extensive review of applicable laws, previous investigations of dealers and a statement by the senior Italian official in charge of export licenses for cultural property who said Italy had no claim on the statue,” according to the L.A. Times’ editorial board.

In the wake of the most recent ruling, the Getty says that it plans to file an appeal with the Court of Cassation, Italy’s highest judicial authority.
Just because scholars have analyzed ancient Greek pottery for centuries doesn’t mean they’ve uncovered all their secrets. A researcher announced Thursday the discovery of hidden messages in some artifacts that casts new light on the creative process behind some of the most important art in history.

Maurizio Sannibale, director of the Gregorian Etruscan Museum,
part of the Vatican Museums. Photo: Vatican Museums

Mario Iozzo, the director of the National Archaeological Museum in Florence, revealed details of a study that has led him to re-examine hundreds of items. He spoke to an audience of scholars Thursday at a specially arranged lecture in the Vatican Museums.

The path to Thursday’s announcement began almost two years ago as Dr. Iozzo was inspecting a kylix, an ancient Greek cup with handles for drinking wine. It is part of the collection of the Gregorian Etruscan Museum in the Vatican. Painted in a style known as Red-figure and dating from around 470 B.C., the main design on the cup is of Oedipus listening to the riddle of the Sphinx of Thebes. On the underside of the kylix is another mythological scene depicting satyrs. The curator of the museum, Maurizio Sannibale, recalls:

“It was an afternoon in the fall of 2016. At a certain point, a beam of sunlight came through the window and fell directly on the kylix. In that special light, you could see that something was there.”

The two men were studying the underside of the cup. They could just make out an inscription beneath the paint. The words had to have been inscribed in the clay while it was still moist, and then covered with the black paint that is used in the creation of Red-figure ceramics for the background.

There had been hints before of the existence of hidden writing on classical Greek vases, urns and cups. In 2012, a scholarly paper was published revealing that a verse of poetry had been found beneath the painted surface of another example of the ancient potters’ art. But the paper was more focused on the attribution of the verse than its purpose.

Twenty years earlier, a Canadian scholar, J. Robert Guy, had made out a single word carved into the surface of the kylix in the Vatican, which is why Dr. Iozzo took such a close interest in it. That’s also why he and Dr. Sannibale became excited when they saw in that autumnal light not just one word, but many.

With the help of advanced photographic equipment at the Vatican Museum, Dr. Iozzo established that the inscription on the Oedipus kylix was a message to the painter, telling him what to represent and, to some extent, how. The writing isn’t in the same hand, or even the same dialect, as that used by the painter, so he concluded that it could only have come from the potter. Dr. Iozzo has since examined several hundred pieces of Red-figure ceramic and found similar inscriptions on seven.

“What we now realize is that the potter had considerable influence over the choice of subject matter.”

The messages follow a convention: They start near the mouth of the figure in question, like cartoon bubbles, and extend in the direction to which the figure is turning in the finished painting, suggesting the potters often decided in detail the arrangement of the scene to be depicted and the position of the characters in it.

Why their messages were cut into the surface of only some items isn’t known. Dr. Iozzo’s theory is that they were reserved for the most valuable, luxury products. He believes his findings, to be published next month in the American Journal of Archaeology, could open up new areas of study.

“What we need to do now is to take the ancient Greek ceramics in all the museums of the world and see what is underneath the paint.”

For Dr. Sannibale, it has another significance. He notes that much of the high culture of the ancient Greeks and Romans survived. Many of their plays, for example, have come down to us. Yet archaeologists and other specialists are still piecing together the mundane details of everyday life in classical Greece and Italy.

“What this does is to open a gash through which we can peer into a workshop producing ceramics two and half thousand years ago and see how it operated. For me, that is more fascinating than the discovery of a [new text by] Cicero. ”
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 Skiraphorion:
  • Skiraphorion 3 - June 17Sacrifice to Kourotrophos, Athena Polias, Aglaurus, Zeus Polieus, Poseidon & possibly Pandrosos at Erkhia
  • Skiraphorion 12 - June 26Skirophoria - festival in honor of Athena, Poseidon, Apollon & Demeter; the Tritopatores were worshipped at Marathon on the eve of this festival
  • Skiraphorion 14 - June 28- Dipolieia/Bouphonia - festival in honor of Zeus Poleius
  • Skiraphorion 29n - June 12n - Sacrifice to Zeus the Savior and Athene the Savior

Anything else?
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According to Aristotle, the world was based on five building elements, earth, fire, water, air and ether. Gastronomy professor Giorgos Palisidis built what he calls the  “Aristotelian menu”, based on foods and ingredients of northern Greece, the birthplace of the great philosopher. The recipes, Palisidis is making today are based on archaeological findings regarding the materials ancient Hellenes used in the kitchen for their daily diet. The dishes also combine materials from Chalkidiki, the professor’s native place. The use of the specific fruits, herbs, wines, honey and other materials were widespread at the time of Aristotle. The aim of the gastronomy professor was to bring the diet of the ancients to today’s table, mainly as good grounds for a healthy diet.

Over the past three years, 10 hotels and seven restaurants in the Chalkidiki area have been serving the Aristotelian Menu. Palisidis told the Athens-Macedonian News Agency:

"In the four elements of Empedocles theory, earth, water, fire and air, Aristotle added the ether, the fifth element, to describe the unborn, indestructible, unalterable, that which combines all in one substance. At the same time the references of the great Hellenic philosopher to the basic tastes, salty, sour, sweet and bitter were accompanied by recommendations for combining at least two of them at a time, aiming at the culmination of the taste, an explosive experience. This experience was later determined by the Japanese with the word ‘umami’ (which can be translated as ‘pleasant delicious flavor’) to describe an intensity of flavor similar to that found in foods such as beef, saffron, yolk, cardamon, the lamb, the mushroom, the truffle."

The professor said that the original idea for the Aristotelian Menu came in 2016, the year Aristotle was celebrated. The emphasis was given to the fifth element. In collaboration with the Chalkidiki Hotel Association, guests were invited to enjoy the four elements of nature (fire, through local gastronomy, air, through visits to places with a beautiful view, water, through acquaintance with the secrets of the ancient seabed and land through acquaintance with wine, tsipouro and olive oil). The next step was to discover the fifth element, the mystery that each visitor is invited to discover from his visit to Ancient Stageira, birthplace of the philosopher and Aristotle Park.

Palisidis presented a model menu in order to make an effort to explain and apply the philosophy of Aristotle to dining. The purpose was to provoke an experiential experience by tasting dishes and products from the place where the great philosopher was born. On this basis, the menu includes five clay jars instead of dishes, as the ancient Hellenes cooked in clay pots.

Each of the elements of nature, as described by Aristotle, was combined with basic materials. For example, air was combined with a bird; land with the wine produced by the vineyard;  water with sea water; fire with the element that combines and joins in the cooking of the seafood, and ether with a flavor resulting from sun dried fruits, honey, herbs, wine and pezyme. The corresponding dishes are served in restaurants in Chalkidiki and have attracted the interest of visitors. At €7 per dish, the prices are low. The owners of hotels and restaurants have welcomed the menu with enthusiasm as they are easy to prepare and incorporate local raw materials characteristic of the region.

"The Aristotelian Menu is an ideal nutritional proposition for anyone as it combines the characteristics of the Mediterranean diet, foods rich in fiber, probiotics, antioxidants and trace elements, foods consumed raw like olives, ease of preparation as it does not require complex forms cooking and eating."
On the 17th of June, 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 17 June?

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 17 June at 10 am EDT. You can find the ritual here and join the community page here.