In these days of severely heightened tensions originating from Turkey’s repeated incursions into the waters of the Eastern Mediterranean in search of oil and gas, even the sending of warships to accompany drilling vessels there, it appears yet another threat looms on the horizon. However, this specter has to do with something quite different — the possible erasure of history by means of a newly-proposed Memorandum of Understanding, which some experts believe grants free rein to Turkey to pillage and loot the movable remnants of civilizations which once flourished in Turkey going as far back as 12,000 years.

Dr. Elizabeth Prodromou, a visiting Associate Professor of Conflict Resolution at the Fletcher School, a graduate school for international affairs at Tufts University in Boston, sees the potential signing of the new agreement as “preposterous, even outrageous,” considering Turkey’s history of looting, pillaging and selling artifacts from the Hellenic and Byzantine civilizations which once flourished within what now are its borders.

In October of 2019, the government of Turkey sent a request to the United States to sign a Memorandum, ostensibly for the “imposing of import restrictions to protect its cultural patrimony under Article 9 of the 1970 Convention,” according to the introduction to the document. However, cultural heritage experts and professionals, as well as social scientists and diplomacy experts such as Dr. Prodromou, believe this is simply a smokescreen for Turkey to continue its campaign to “destroy, appropriate and expropriate” any artifacts from all cultures which once flourished in what is now Turkey, including the Hellenic and Byzantine civilizations.

Prodromou explained that the cultural pillaging and looting which took place in occupied northern Cyprus after the Turkish invasion of 1974 reflects an ongoing pattern engaged in by Turkey regarding artifacts from any culture which preceded their own rule and will serve as a foretaste of what will happen after the possible signing of the MOU.

In a recent podcast with interviewers from the Hellenic American Leadership Council, the religion and geopolitics expert lamented that the Memorandum “would enable the Turkish state, unfortunately, to continue to do what they have done in the past; that is, to destroy, expropriate and appropriate — and that is why it is so concerning, because it will produce exactly the opposite outcome of such MOU’s, which are intended to protect cultural heritage.”

Speaking to Greek Reporter in an exclusive interview, the Tufts professor says that the United States “even considering” such an agreement is out of the question in light of how Turkey has disregarded all conventions and cultural norms as laid out by UNESCO and other global organizations.

Prodromou explains that there are four threshold conditions that must exist in order for the US to sign such an agreement — according to its own stipulations as established in its own cultural heritage laws, namely the 1983 Cultural Property Implementation Act — and that Turkey meets none of those four metrics.

“Turkey’s actions in occupied Cyprus should figure into the MOU discussions, because Turkey is considered an occupying power under international law and therefore, according to international law, Turkey must meet its obligations to safeguard and protect the cultural heritage, both tangible and intangible, in occupied Cyprus.”

Prodromou notes that

 “...this is obvious to anyone who has seen the documented evidence or traveled to occupied Cyprus. And indeed Turkey has utilized the occupation of the northern part of Cyprus to destroy, pillage and loot the rich cultural and religious heritage of that part of the island. I think that’s an important statement in and of itself, but it also relates directly to the paradoxes of the preposterous notion that Turkey could satisfy the “four threshold” requirements that are foundational for this proposed MoU.”

The recent move requesting the MOU with the United States, she explains to Greek Reporter, comes under the umbrella of what is called “cultural diplomacy,” which often tends to be overlooked in international relations.

“Certainly if we think about Turkey now and its actions, not only in the Middle East and the entire Mediterranean but in terms of US/Turkey relations, I think we tend to focus on political and military affairs, or economic issues, and now, energy. I think cultural policy and cultural diplomacy are so important, and this proposed MoU really highlights that. I think it speaks to the fact that Turkey, like other states, understands that cultural diplomacy is part of their larger diplomatic tool box; and in the case of Turkey, this proposed MOU is completely consistent with the broader ambitions and behaviors of Turkey for geopolitical hegemony on three continents — with Turkey lying at the intersection of Europe, Asia and Africa.”

“It is very concerning that the MOU could be signed,” she emphasizes, “especially because the decision is not a transparent one. A committee of experts — the Cultural Property Advisory Committee, in the State Department — evaluates the proposal, and then renders a recommendation to the Assistant Secretary and the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

“The Assistant Secretary takes the recommendation under advisement, but can render a different decision, so the lack of transparency is accompanied by a kind of procedural arbitrariness. That’s why, she says, it is “particularly important for people to contact their Congressional officials to voice their concerns over the possible signing of the MOU. At a time in the US when there is great sensitivity to and understanding of historical accuracy and inclusion, with recognition of the symbolic meaning and active impact of cultural sites as signs of human dignity and respect for diversity, one hopes that the US government would be equally attuned to respect for diversity and inclusion in our foreign policy decisions regarding cultural heritage. The proposed MOU would put the US on the wrong side of international law and would signal that America does not support the protection of cultural heritage as a form of present-day inclusion and diversity — and the historical remembrance of cultural and religious diversity.”

Read the full article here.

The find was made on the Peloponnese Peninsula, south of Athens, in an area close to Kiladha Bay, which is known to be of historical importance. It is protected by the Greek government, who strictly regulates diving to prevent the looting of archaeological artefacts. But, a group of researchers from the University of Geneva made a stunning discovery while training at the nearby Lambayanna Beach. Divers first spotted fragments of pottery below the surface, hinting at the possibility of a submerged settlement, and returned a year later to conduct a full investigation. Overseen by the Swiss School of Archaeology in Greece, in collaboration with the Greek Ministry of Culture, they used the world’s largest solar-powered boat – the PlanetSolar – to aid in their search.

What baffled the archaeologists though, was the settlement contained at least three horseshoe-shaped foundations attached to the wall line, believed to be a type of defense fortification unseen anywhere else in Greece. Julien Beck, an antiquities professor at the University of Geneva, said: 

“The importance of our discovery is partly due to the large size. The chances of finding such walls underwater are extremely low. The full size of the facility is not yet known. We do not know why it is surrounded by fortifications.”

The team found more than 6,000 artefacts connected with the settlement, including paved surfaces that appear to be streets, as well as a wide array of pottery and stone tools.

The submerged structures found by the researchers date to around the same period as the pyramids of Giza and early Minoan Settlements in Crete. But they predate the first great Greek civilisation, the Mycenaean, by roughly 1,000 years.

Though the experts are still determining the extent of their discovery, Prof Beck compared its importance to the town of Lerna, located in the nearby Gulf of Nafplion. Believed to be the site of Hercules’ battle with the many-headed Hydra in Greek mythology, Lerna has long been used as a reference point for researchers because of the ceramics and architectural structures found there.

Prof Beck and his colleagues did not make a guess as to why the city sank below the ocean’s surface thousands of years ago, though rising sea levels and shifting tectonic plates have been suggested as possibilities.

The research team hopes the artefacts will enable them to “learn more about trade, shipping, and day-to-day life from the period” in the future. They believe further investigations around Lambayanna Beach will provide new insight into a dense network of coastal settlements spread throughout the Aegean Sea.

The Thesmophoria was another harvest festival tied to the Eleusinian Mysteries and the mythology surrounding Demeter and Persephone. This is another female only festival. Will you join us for it from 29 September to 1 October, all at 10 am EDT?

Two days after the Stenia, the three day festival of Thesmophoria took place. There was a male and female encampment at the Thesmophorian and the division was clearly set; no men were allowed in the female encampment, and no women in the male encampment. Sex was not allowed. From what I have been able to gather, the three days in the female encampment followed a strict regime.

On the first day, called Anodos ('ascent') and Kathodos ('descent'), the women sacrificed the rotting piglets to Demeter and Persephone. The remains were mixed with seeds and would be ploughed into the earth after the festival to assure a good harvest. 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, a swineherd called Eubouleus was grazing his pigs and they were swallowed up in the chasm as well. The women ate on this day, but only food which would not upset Demeter. Pomegranate fruits were off the menu.

The second day was called Nēsteia ('feast of lamentation'). On this day, the women did not eat. They recreated the time before Demeter taught humankind to cultivate the fields. It was a dark time, a time of hunger and pain. At the same time, this day was also used to remember the time when Demeter sought her daughter and neglected her duties as a harvest Goddess. This had also been a time of great hunger.

The third day, Kalligeneia ('she who is of beautiful birth'), was a happy one. The women prayed to Demeter and Persephone for fertility for themselves, their loved ones and the earth. They celebrated the magic of new life, fertility and the kindness of the Gods.

Needless to say, this festival was huge. All free women, except for maidens, were allowed to participate. While we can never be entirely sure why this is, I dare to wager an educated guess. The Stenia and Thesmophoria were festivals in honour of Demeter Thesmophoros, the law-giver. She was seen as the foundation of law and society: agriculture allowed settlements to thrive, allowed societies to be built, and humanity to evolve into what it was now. In short, Demeter was at the root of modern life. A huge part of that modern life was the institution of marriage, which was far more important then as it was now.

Demeter is, perhaps, ancient Hellas' most famous mother, and marriage allowed for the continuation of the family line. Children born out of wedlock were frowned upon, and as such, maidens were excluded from a festival intended to raise fertility in the ground and the women who took part in it. As women married young, maidens were often teens, and they would represent Persephone more than Demeter--and since the Stenia and Thesmophoria commemorated Demeter's separation from her daughter, the inclusion of maidens was most likely discouraged because of that fact.

The Stenia and especially the Thesmophoria were festivals intended for mothers, for those who sought to bear children. They acknowledge the powerful position of women in a patriarchal society. It was because of that that women could say no to their husbands when it came to sex, and why they all left their marital homes. Many women rarely left their homes, and never overnight. To do so for not one but two nights was huge. These were powerful festivals for women because they celebrated their fertility: the one thing they were always respected and honoured for by the men in their lives.

We don't know what happened for the men on these days (sorry), so this is another female only festival. You can find the rituals here and join the community here.

 We're coming upon a few women-only festivals, which always brings up the question: "Why did the ancient Hellenes have women-only festivals?" and then: "Why didn't they have men-only festivals?" Well, I have an idea.

Ploughing festivals, especially connected to the Eleusinian Mysteries, were tied to fertility. They celebrated the bond between mother and daughter, and the one thing for which all women were respected and honored: the ability to produce children--and sons especially. For the women, these rites gave them a rare opportunity to assert their independence and escape from the restrictions of their household.

That said, many women-only festivals had special rites for the men as well. There was a male and female encampment at the Thesmophoria, for example, and the division was clearly set; no men were allowed in the female encampment, and no women in the male encampment. Sex was not allowed. What the women did is fairly well preserved, but what the men did is less clear. What we do know is that Eleusinian festivals honored many other deities which were also 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, Poseidon Pater, and Dionysos also had a huge role to play. 

Poseidon and Athena were important Gods in ancient Hellas, and in Athens in particular. Poseidon controlled the seas and tides, caused earthquakes, and gave men the horse; Athena protected the city, resided in its citadel, stimulated its economy and had gifted mankind with the swing plow used in the harvesting of the gifts of Demeter. They looked after Hellas, and Athens especially. Without Their influence, the following year would never be successful, so as the year ended, they were placated--a requirement as Poseidon and Athena most notably did not get along. Dionysos, as Athens' unofficial patron and God of wine was naturally included--perhaps even to help get Poseidon and Athena to get along, but that is pure speculation on my part.

Many Eleusinian festivals had a special rite reserved for Poseidon and/or Dionysos, especially, and during the Haloa, for example, these rites were reserved for men only. We don't have evidence for this at the Thesmophoria, for example, but there is a good chance the men performed a rite like this.

Women-only festivals were the Stenia, the Thesmophoria, the Skiraphoria, the Haloa, the Theogamia, the Adonia, the Tauropolia, and the Brauronia. Male-only festivals were the Theseia, the Dipolieia, the Olympieia, and the Demokratia. 

As you can read, we don't know much about men-only festivals, but we do know they existed. So why don't we know much about men-only festivals but quite a bit about women-only festivals? I'll wager another guess. The ancient Hellenic writers whose work has survived were almost exclusively male and their audience was mostly male as well. They both knew what happened at these festival celebrations and they respected them enough not to write about what happened. Women-only festivals, however, well, those must have been a constant source of wonder and curiosity. Of course they wrote about them, both in speculation and with whatever detail they'd managed to gather.

On September 27, we'll host a PAT ritual for the Stenia. The Stenia is connected to the Eleusinian Mysteries, Demeter, and Persephone.

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

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

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

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

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

The Stenia is a female only festival, sorry guys! We can't really provide you with laughter and jokes, so here is my suggestion: get all your friends together and have a girl's night. Find Magic Mike on Netflix and break out the wine and popcorn. The ritual will focus on the religious part. You can find the ritual  here and chat amongst yourselves here.

The Theseia was an ancient festival held in Athens in the honor of Theseus--as there were many others this month. The focus of this one is actually on his bones and lasting memory; it's a memorial rite. Will you join us in honoring Theseus? In remembering his deeds and the lessons he taught us? Join us on the 26th of September at the usual 10 am EDT.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We hope you will join us for the event! If you feel like doing so, the ritual can be found here and you can join the community here.

 Time for a minor history lesson courtesy of The Greek Reporter. The story of the ring known as the “Ring of King Minos” sounds like a tale made in Hollywood, a mix of ancient Greek history, mythology and a plot involving a poor boy, a cunning priest, an English archaeologist and hidden treasure.

The story starts in 1928, when a boy, Michalis Papadakis (1918-1974), found a ring by accident at the archaeological site of Knossos. The place of discovery alone meant that the ring certainly had a very long history behind it, probably even going back to the Minoan civilization.

Indeed, several decades later, the shiny gold seal ring proved to be 3,500 years old (1,500-1,400 BC), as archaeologists assured him — and his was the most significant discovery of Minoan Civilization.

The boy’s father, a destitute farmer named Emmanouil, for some  unknown reason, hid the ring from his wife and, for another unknown reason, two years later he handed it over to the village priest, Father Nikolaos Polakis. Yet, before giving it away, he carved a line on the ring with his knife in order to mark its originality.

Father Polakis initially presented it to English archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans with the intention of selling it. However, there was no deal struck between the two, since the priest demanded an astronomical amount of money.

In 1933 or 1934, Father Polakis decided to take the ring to the Heraklion Museum. At the time, the distinguished archaeologists Nikolaos Platon and Spyridon Marinatos were on the staff of the institution. Platon decided that the ring was genuine while Marinatos believed the ring was a fake.

Since both archaeologists could not come to an agreement, they decided it was best to return the ring to the priest.

The King Minos Ring at the Heraklion Archaeological Museum. Credit: Bokeras/Twitter

However, Platon kept a copy of the ring by casting it in plasticine. (The cast was later found in Platon’s archive). Several years later, he manifested a new interest in the ring and went back to the priest to ask for it. Father Polakis told him that he had given it to his wife for safekeeping — but she had lost it.

Platon wrote a treatise on the ring saying that it depicts three themes: the Minoans’ rule of the seas (“thalassocracy”), tree worship (dendrolatry), and a goddess descending from heaven to earth and getting into a row boat.

There are other, more recent interpretations of the depictions of the ring including the worship of goddesses, including Mother Dimitra, and offerings to the Great Mother Rhea and to Great Mother Artemis.

For some time, all traces of the ring were lost. The only information about the ring came from the copies that had been made and a number of archaeological reports which were associated with those copies.

Many years later, when Father Polakis was in his last days, he felt great regret about the “disappearance” of the precious ring. He called Evangelia Papadakis, the wife of the farmer Emmanouil, and apologized for lying to her family. He admitted that he had actually sold the ring ro the English archaeologist Evans for 100,000 drachmas back in 1938.

However, that was one last lie by the cunning priest. What he had actually sold to Evans was a fine replica of the ring.

Evans had returned to England with the belief that he had bought the actual ring, along with a copy, and donated both, along with other precious artifacts to the Ashmolean Museum. Today, two replicas of the legendary ring are still exhibited at the Ashmolean.

The story of the ring was forgotten for decades. But in the early 2000s, Giorgos Kazantzis, a retired police officer, inherited the house of the priest who was the last person in Greece who had had possession of the priceless artifact.

During renovation work, Kazantzis found a jar hidden inside the wall next to the fireplace. Inside the jar was a ring — which indeed proved to be the original Ring of King Minos. It even had the scratch made by Papadakis over 70 years ago.

Kazantzis delivered the precious artifact to the state and in 2002 the Central Archaeological Council and a panel of expert archaeologists confirmed the authenticity of the ring. The actual monetary value of the ring was estimated to be €400,000, although its cultural value is incalculable.

Yet, for finding the ring and promptly delivering it to the appropriate authorities, Kazantzis was given a measly finder’s fee of €440.

Today the priceless gold Minoan ring is exhibited in all its splendor at the Heraklion Archaeological Museum.

As you may have noticed, it's a new month and thus many festivals are taking place in the coming days. Two today: the Pyanepsia and the Oskhophoria. The Pyanepsia will take place on the 25th of September, at 10 am EDT and the Oskophoria at 11 am.

The Pyanepsia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Oskhophoria

The Oskhophoria (ὀσχοφόρια), or Oschophoria when Latinized, was an ancient Hellenic festival dedicated to Dionysos, Ariadne, Athena Skiras, and Apollon. This month, festivals are either related to the Eleusinian Mysteries or the mythology surrounding Theseus. This festival is one of the latter. It was a vintage festival and we would like to invite you to celebrate with us.

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the daylight hours of the 24th of September, on 6 Pyanepsion, we will celebrate and host a ritual for the Proerosia which, in Attica, honoured Demeter and Apollon first and foremost as Goddess of the harvest and oracular deity who insured bountiful harvest. It seems that in Myrrhinus, the primary recipient of worship during the Proerosia was Zeus. Will you join us on the 24th of September, at 10 AM EDT?

The Proerosia (Προηροσία) was a festival for Demeter’s blessings in preparation for the ploughing and sowing at the beginning of the agricultural season. In ancient times it was held at Eleusis. The name serves to convey the essence of the rites: 'sacrifice before ploughing'.

The myth goes that the whole of Hellas was suffering from a terrible famine or plague, and the oracle of Delphi was visited to ask how to stop this terrible affair. The Delphic Oracle said that Apollo ordered a tithe to Demeter of the first harvest on behalf of all Hellenes. Except for disruptions during the Peloponnesian War, offerings arrived annually at Eleusis from all over Hellas. While Athens wasn't a big contributor to the rites--perhaps because they already made their own offerings of grain and first fruits to Demeter--most other city-states contributed generously, and the Athenians were welcome during the rites. For His help, Pythian Apollon also received an offering during the Proerosia.

There is some confusion over the dating of the festival. Many modern sources date the festival on the fifth of Pyanpesion, but new research shows that, because of the placement of the Pyanepsia festival, in honour of Apollon and Theseus, the Proerosia could only have been celebrated in the daylight hours of the sixth.

The festival can be celebrated with first fruit-offerings, any offering related to grains (like bread, cakes, or pancakes), or a kykeon libation. The kykeon was made of barley, water, herbs, and ground goat cheese. Sometimes honey was added. Herbs that are described as part of the kykeon are mint, pennyroyal and thyme, although it seems any herb that was found to flavor the drink, was acceptable.

You can join our community for the event here, and find the ritual here.

 Disney's "Hercules" (1997) is a beloved animated retelling of the classic Hellenic myth, but even die-hard fans may not have caught all these hidden gems. The film is full of references to Hellenic mythology, including the tale of the Titans and the divine guests at Zeus and Hera's party. There are also jokes related to more recent cultural phenomena, like "Buns of Bronze" and the Marilyn Monroe constellation. Did you catch them all? Insider did!

One of the Muses is attracted to Hercules.

The Muses are the musical goddesses who narrate the movie. All of them are fans of Hercules, and throughout the movie they praise him for his heroic feats. However, one of the Muses in particular — Thalia, the muse of comedy — focuses on Hercules' attractiveness and calls him "Hunk-ules." She also says that she'd "like to make some sweet music with him" while lying next to his image before another Muse interrupts her.

Though this movie only shows Megara as Hercules' love interest, in Greek mythology, the demigod had several wives throughout the course of his life. So, this blatant showing of other women's attraction to him could be a subtle acknowledgment of that.

The Muses explain some pretty accurate Titan mythology.

The story of the Titans that the Muses sing about at the beginning of the film is mostly accurate to Greek mythology. They explain that the Titans wreaked havoc until Zeus overthrew them, which follows the Greek myth where Zeus imprisons the Titans and ends their rule over Earth. However, "Hercules" only shows four Titans, and there are actually 12 in the classic myth. 

There's an alcohol reference that kids likely don't understand.

The Muses describe life on Mountain Olympus as "neat and smooth as sweet vermouth." Vermouth is a wine that is used in a variety of mixed drinks. Although the alcohol can be "neat and smooth," so it makes sense in the Muses' metaphor, this reference would presumably go over the heads of the young audience that the movie is aimed at. 

Several recognizable gods and goddesses are shown at Zeus and Hera's party.

There are many gods and goddesses in attendance at the party that  Zeus and Hera throw on Mount Olympus when Hercules is born. Hermes delivers a gift to Zeus, a fitting act for the messenger of Mount Olympus, and he's shown wearing his famous winged cap and sandals. In another brief scene, Narcissus, famous for his self-love, is seen looking at himself in a mirror. There are also several non-speaking gods and goddesses scattered in the background with distinct physical characteristics that make it clear who they're supposed to represent.

A goddess with long, heart-shaped hair and a heart clip on her toga appears to be Aphrodite, the goddess of love. A god with a massive helmet and sword is identified as Ares, the god of war. One god with a fin on his head and a trident in his hand is recognizably Poseidon, the god of the sea. And another goddess in the background of the scene is shown holding an owl, the symbol of Athena, the goddess of wisdom and war. 

Zeus uses the major cloud types when making Pegasus.

Zeus makes Hercules' winged-horse companion, Pegasus, out of clouds, and as he does this, he mentions each cloud type he's using by name. The god of the sky makes Pegasus out of three of the main cloud types: cirrus (high-level ice clouds), nimbostratus (mid-level rain clouds), and cumulus (low-level fair-weather clouds).

Zeus and Hercules have matching medallions.

During Hercules' party scene, viewers can see that Zeus and Hercules are both wearing medallions with the same symbol. Zeus has his pinned to the shoulder of his toga, and Hercules wears his as a necklace. Both medallions show a cloud with a lightning bolt, and this symbol is later described by Hercules' adoptive mother as "the symbol of the gods."

Hades travels across a river of dead souls.

Viewers first see the Underworld when Hades returns after visiting Mount Olympus for the party. He travels across a river, but instead of water, there are floating ghost-like people under his boat — which may have been a little jarring for any child who noticed.

This is reflected in Greek mythology, which depicts the Underworld as having five different rivers that Hades and other gods can travel on by boat. Later, when Hercules rescues Meg from the Underworld, it's clear that the transparent people in the river represent the souls of people who have died. 

The movie makes some odd word choices, such as "lugubriousness" and "furshlugginer."

This movie includes not only references but also words that children aren't likely to know. Two examples of this that particularly stand out are "lugubriousness" and "furshlugginer." Pain, one of Hades' henchmen, calls Hades "your most lugubriousness" the first time he is on screen. Lugubrious means exaggeratedly mournful or brooding, which is certainly fitting for Hades, but it's odd that the word is included offhandedly as though children will understand it.

Later in the film, Phil refers to Achilles' famed weakness as "that furshlugginer heel of his." Furshlugginer, which is a slang word with Yiddish origins that means foolish, is also somewhat out of place in a film geared toward kids.

The Fates kill a woman during their first scene.

The Fates, magical women who can see into the past, present, and future, only have one eye between the three of them. They're typically remembered for the humorous scenes in which they take turns using this eye, but if you pay attention, they have a pretty dark introduction. When viewers are first introduced to the Fates, they are holding and cutting a thread — a symbol traditionally included in the Fates mythology — that they say is connected to a mortal's life. Immediately after they cut this thread, a woman screams and appears in the Underworld, showing that they did indeed kill her.

There are only six planets shown during the prophecy scenes.

The Fates tell Hades that in 18 years, if he releases the Titans while the planets are aligned (and Hercules does not interfere), he will have the chance to usurp Zeus. However, the image that's shown alongside this prophecy only depicts six planets. Later, when the prophecy comes true, six planets are again shown instead of eight. 

The decision to leave out a few of the planets from our modern knowledge of the solar system may have been done to accurately reflect Ancient Greece's understanding of the planets. At that time, Mercury, Earth, Mars, Venus, Jupiter, and Saturn had been identified, but Uranus and Neptune had not. 

Hercules' human parents are accurately named after their mythological counterparts.

In the film, Hercules' adopted mortal parents are his mother, Alcmene, and his father, Amphitryon. Alcmene and Amphitryon are accurate names from the Hercules myth, but their roles are depicted a little differently in the Disney film. In Greek mythology, Zeus cheats on his wife and has Hercules with the human Alcmene — which explains Hercules' demigod status. This differs from the movie, which shows Hercules being born to Zeus and Hera before becoming a demigod when Hades arranges for him to drink a poisonous potion. 

Philoctetes' interaction with the wood nymphs shows classic satyr behavior.

Hercules first finds Philoctetes in a forest where he is watching a group of wood nymphs. Phil runs after the nymphs, trying to catch them, but they turn into flowers and trees before he can reach them. Phil, who appears to be half-goat, half-man, tells Hercules that he is a satyr. In Greek mythology, satyrs are fertility spirits known to engage in sensual acts with nymphs, making Phil's chase scene accurate — but perhaps a bit inappropriate for a kid's movie.

Phil brags about training some major mythological figures.

Phil's home is full of objects related to some of the heroes he used to train. Hercules hits his head on what Phil says is the mast of the Argo — a ship that belonged to Jason, the mortal hero of the Argonauts, in Greek mythology. This head bump is also ironic because Jason died after a rotting beam of the Argo fell on him. Phil then mentions that he trained the Greek legends Odysseus, Perseus, Theseus, and he shows off a giant statue of Achilles, his most promising hero-in-training. 

There's a visual pun to go along with the term "greenhorn."

When Hercules first starts training with Phil, he struggles to complete the practice drills the satyr arranges for him. As part of his big song "One Last Hope," Phil complains about having to work with a "greenhorn," which roughly translates to mean an amateur. As Phil sings the line, "I get the greenhorn," there's a clever visual pun to go along with it. Green olives get stuck on his horns, making him look as though he actually has green horns.

There's also a visual reference to "The Karate Kid" in the training montage.

In the same training montage that takes place during "One Last Hope," Phil, Hercules, and Pegasus stand on wooden posts and strike fighting poses in front of a setting sun, which resembles one of Daniel LaRusso's famed training sequences in "The Karate Kid" (1984). 

The centaur Hercules fights plays into a traditional Greek myth.

Hercules first meets Meg when he saves her from a centaur, and when Meg and Hades are talking afterward, they mention that the centaur's name is Nessus. Nessus the centaur is a creature from Greek mythology who Hercules fights to save one of his wives. But in contrast to the movie, it wasn't Megara, it was his second wife, Deianeira. 

Thebes is compared to New York City multiple times.

Hercules and Phil journey to the city of Thebes, where Hercules can accomplish his heroic feats. As they travel there, Phil calls the city "the Big Olive," a pun that seems to be a take on New York City's nickname, "the Big Apple." In the same scene, Phil tells Hercules, "If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere," a phrase from the popular Frank Sinatra song "New York, New York." Later on in the film, Meg also uses the phrase "in a Peloponnesian minute," which, with all the other references to New York, seems like a play on the phrase "New York minute."

There's a not-so-subtle Roman numeral joke.

While pretending to be trapped under a boulder, Hades henchmen Pain and Panic appear as young boys crying for help, and one of them shouts, "Somebody call IX-I-I!" That's the Roman-numeral equivalent of 9-1-1, which seems like a clever way to include a modern American cry for help in an era-appropriate numerical style. However, the film takes place in ancient Greece, not ancient Rome, so Greek numerals would've been the norm in Thebes.

Modern references are made while describing Hercules' new popularity.

Throughout the film, there are a few allusions to modern culture. While singing about Hercules' popularity, the Muses remark that he can make an arena "SRO," which is usually used as a concert term that stands for "standing room only." Phil also advertises Hercules-themed merchandise, including a "Buns of Bronze" workout scroll, which is likely a reference to the "Buns of Steel" workout videos that were popular in the 1990s when the film was made. Another merch item featured in the film, "Air Hercs," seem to be a take on Nike's famous Air Jordan sneakers. But the reference is even more meaningful when you remember that Nike is the Greek goddess of victory. 

Hercules passes a constellation that imitates a famous Marilyn Monroe scene.

During "Zero to Hero," Hercules rides Pegasus through the sky and we see a constellation in the shape of a woman with short hair wearing a halter-neck dress. When Hercules rides past this group of stars, the woman's dress flies up and she uses her hands to push it back down. This, along with her appearance, makes it clear that the constellation is a recreation of Marilyn Monroe's most famous movie moment from "The Seven Year Itch" (1955).

There's also a reference to Grauman's Chinese Theatre in "Zero to Hero."

After the Marilyn Monroe reference, Hercules and Pegasus are shown leaving their handprints (or hoof prints) in wet cement, much like celebrities do in front of LA's famed TCL Chinese Theatre (also known as Grauman's Chinese Theatre). If you look closely, Hercules' signature is addressed "To Sid," which is likely a reference to the original owner of the Chinese Theatre, Sid Grauman. 

Scar from "The Lion King" makes an unfortunate appearance.

Three years before Hercules hit US theaters, "The Lion King" (1994)introduced the Disney fandom to one of the studio's most despicable villains, Scar. However, the brother-murdering lion seems to have gotten what was coming for him seeing as he makes a brief appearance in the 1997 film as a dead lion's mane that the Hercules wears while he's getting his portrait painted. We get a clear view when Phil uses the thwarted villain as a wipe to remove paint from his face, and it's a little creepy that his pricing green and yellow eyes are still intact. 

Hercules and Meg see a play about Oedipus.

When Hercules and Meg return from spending the day together, they talk about having gone to a restaurant and seeing a play about "that Oedipus thing." This is most likely a reference to the Ancient Greek play "Oedipus Rex." In the play, and classic Greek mythology, Oedipus was the ruler of Thebes, so it makes sense that they would be performing it there. However, the real joke comes with Hercules' next line, "Man, I thought I had problems," which is probably a reference to Oedipus' romantic relationship with his mother. 

The film tries to answer the age-old question of how a famous statue lost its arms.

At the end of his date with Meg, Hercules skips a stone in a fountain and accidentally breaks the arms off of a statue of a woman. The result resembles the famous Venus de Milo statue by Greek sculptor Alexandros of Antioch that is well known for its mysterious lack of arms. As the statue's name refers to the Greek goddess, its appearance in the movie adds another reference to mythology while also providing a fun explanation for why the real statue is armless.

The Muses recreate a scene from Disney's popular Haunted Mansion ride.

During "I Won't Say I'm in Love," the Muses transform themselves into stone busts that are arranged in an eerily similar way to the singing busts on Disney's famed Haunted Mansion attraction. Six years after "Hercules," the busts also made an appearance in Disney's live-action movie, "The Haunted Mansion" (2003). 

Hades uses legal terminology when describing his contract with Hercules that ends up thwarting him in the end.

Hades makes a deal with Hercules in which the demigod agrees to give up his strength for a day as long as Meg is safe. While explaining the contract to Hercules, Hades describes the deal as "boilerplate," which is a legal term that refers to a standard contract format. Interestingly, boilerplate provisions call for rules for how the contract will be interpreted, which in this case should have included a definition of what Meg's safety entailed. Since Meg's injury is what breaks the contract and returns Hercules' strength, Hades probably should have been a bit more careful with the wording of the deal he drew up.

The different monsters Hercules fights at the end of the film include some of his most famous mythological enemies.

Some of Hercules' most famous accomplishments in mythology were part of his 12 Labours. The 12 Labours of Hercules was a series of tasks he completed as part of a punishment. Fighting a Hydra and the three-headed dog Cerberus were two such tasks, both of which are included at the end of the movie. The "Zero to Hero" montage also shows Hercules fighting a boar, a lion, a bird, and a bull — all creatures that were part of his 12 Labours. 

For image proof, visit Insider!