The economics of the illicit trade in antiquities is no different from standard market economics—the price of commodities in relation to demand and supply govern the market. Leila Amineddoleh, a lawyer who deals with art crime, in her paper titled “The role of museums in the trade of black market cultural heritage property”, sums this up as follows: “The market for illegal goods is driven by buyers’ wants, as the trade in looted antiquities is a demand-driven crime. 

There is a well-documented link between the demand for looted items and museums. To eliminate black market demand, legislation is necessary to prosecute and regulate buyers, such as museums.” What is often conveniently forgotten is the fact that most source nations (as culture-rich countries are called) have passed legislations in the late 19th-20th century nationalising their cultural property (yes, even those that are still inside the ground), which eventually culminated in the 1970 UNESCO convention—meaning there is no “fresh” supply.

However, even 50 years after the UNESCO convention, there is a thriving market for antiquities, creating an unsatiated demand for sacred objects. The main supply valve has been closed but yet for 50 years, the tap continues to dispense! The New Indian Express [October 17, 2020] examines one of the key consumers of this miracle tap—museums—and studied their major acquisition routes and policies connected to those. They divided this into two main categories: 1. Direct museum purchases and 2. Gifts and donations, and focus here on the second route—via cases that throw up serious concerns on the ethics, responsibility and legitimacy of such acquisitions by museums.

How do you measure competence when there are no extant benchmarks? There have been feeble attempts at proposing guidelines, for example by the AAMD (Association of Art Museum Directors) in the past for the US and for ICOM (International Council of Museums) recently.

Gary Vikan, former director of the Walters Art Museum and columnist, in his piece ‘Why US museums and the antiquities trade should work together’, starts off rather interestingly: 

“For years, the AAMD required of its members that they only ‘not knowingly’ acquire or accept as gifts works of art that had been exported from their country of origin in violation of national laws. This put a premium on ignorance of the truth, and invited museum directors not to ask those difficult questions for which they did not want to hear the answers. A decisive blow to America’s antiquities-collecting ecosystem came in 2008 with the rewrite of the AAMD’s acquisition guidelines, which now includes this critical passage: ‘AAMD members normally should not acquire a work unless research substantiates that the work was outside the country of probable modern discovery before 1970.’” 

I would like to critically analyse this.

Though the AAMD revised guidelines move from “don’t ask, don’t tell” to “research”, parking the goalpost at 1970 has lulled major museums and collectors into a false sense of security. It doesn’t take a legal brain to understand laws relating to ownership and possession pale in comparison to clear title and no amount of passage of time vests good title to a stolen object. In our context, this is especially true. India has had its antiquities law from 1878.

And it was India and Italy, faced with looting on such a drastic scale, that championed the UN to come up with the 1970 Convention. So the AAMD guidelines seem to hint that a pre-1970 provenance would miraculously wash clean a stolen object and secure good title? Let us now look at a particular sculpture originally from Madhya Pradesh, the 11th century Chandela period Celestial Dancer currently housed in The Metropolitan Museum of Art (MMA), New York.

This “extraordinary rendering of a heavenly celebrant performing in honour of the Gods”, as the museum labels it, hides a rather shady past. The current provenance (record of past ownership) shared by the MMA is interesting: “Gift of Florence and Herbert Irving, 2015”. The devil is however in the details. The Apsara’s acquisition detail is split into two parts: bust and lower torso, which were joined by the MMA in 1992. We shall come to this aspect shortly but more interestingly, the bust’s provenance presented by the museum does not extend to 1970 even as per the revised guidelines.

Further, soon after buying the bust in 1986, the Irvings seem to have loaned it to the MMA. Now comes the interesting detail, the lower torso’s acquisition in fine print [“Art of the Past, Inc., New York, until 1992, sold to the Irvings”]. Yes, the same Art of the Past gallery of the arrested Subhash Kapoor! Again, the lower torso was immediately offered as loan to the MMA by the Irvings.

Now, for those studying the illicit trafficking of antiquities, having seen the multitude of cases of artefacts being deliberately sawn off and shipped as different sections to obscure their origin and fool customs, this innocuous line in the MMA’s website makes it self-evident: “The work was acquired by Florence and Herbert Irving in two parts, bust and lower torso, and joined by MMA in 1992”.

Kapoor was arrested in Germany via an Interpol Red Corner Notice in the September of 2011 and the press release by Homeland Security Investigations, US, dated 12/04/2012, said: “Investigators urge collectors and museums to further scrutinise their collections and contact HSI with any additional information.” 

Despite all these obvious red flags, the MMA went ahead and accepted the donation in 2015! The MMA has so far not released any research of the bust provenance prior to 1970 and the lower torso’s prior to 1992, has not revealed information of how the MMA/Irvings realised the lower torso and the bust matched (something not easy to do unless you have prior knowledge) or detailed conservation photos on whether the breakage was induced or accidental!

It is important to mention that the MMA still continues to display unprovenanced antiquities from Chandraketugarh in West Bengal as gifts directly received from Kapoor in honour of his daughter, mother, etc. It’s pertinent here to mention that despite the extent of pan-India looting by Kapoor and his associates, only the state of Tamil Nadu has filed cases against him In the next column, we will look at a more sinister and dangerous aspect of these gifts— something that archaeologist and criminology professor Donna Yates elaborates in her paper “Museums, collectors, and value manipulation: tax fraud through donation of antiquities”. 

Researchers discovered a gem seal featuring a portrait of Apollon in the drainage channel of the City of David late last month. It was found in archaeological soil that was removed from the foundations of the Western Wall during work on the Archaeological Sifting Project in Tzurim Valley National Park. The excavations were carried out under the auspices of the City of David and the Israel Nature and Parks Authority.

The gem features an engraved portrait of Apollon. According to researchers, this surprising and rare find is only the third secured gem sealing (intaglio) from the Second Temple period to have been discovered in Jerusalem.

The gem is cut from dark brown jasper and has remnants of light yellow, brown and white layers. In antiquity, jasper was considered a precious stone. The gem sealing was embedded in a ring, and it dates from the first century CE (Second Temple period).

The oval-shaped gem is 13 mm. long, 11 mm. wide and 3 mm. thick. Because it is an intaglio – having a design carved into the upper side of the stone – its main function was a seal to be stamped on soft material, usually beeswax, for use as a personal signature on contracts, letters, wills, goods and bundles of money.

The intaglio features an engraving of Apollon’s head in profile to the left, with long hair flowing over a wide, pillar-like neck, large nose, thick lips and small, prominent chin. The hair is styled in a series of parallel lines directed to the apex and surrounded by a braid above the forehead. One line of hair marks a strand that covers the ear; long curls flow over part of the neck, reaching the left shoulder. Thin diagonal lines at the base of the head mark the upper end of the garment and the body.

Although Apollon is an Olympian deity of the Hellenic and Roman cultures, it is highly probable that the person wearing the ring with Apollo’s portrait was a Jew, according to the researchers, archaeologist Eli Shukron, Prof. Shua Amorai-Stark and senior archaeologist Malka Hershkovitz. SHUKRON, who conducted the excavation in which the gem was found, said in a press release: 

“It is rare to find seal remains bearing the image of the god Apollo at sites identified with the Jewish population. To this day, two such gems [seals] have been found at Masada, another in Jerusalem inside an ossuary [burial box] in a Jewish tomb on Mount Scopus and the current gem that was discovered in close proximity to the Temple Mount. When we found the gem, we asked ourselves: ‘What is Apollo doing in Jerusalem? And why would a Jew wear a ring with the portrait of a foreign god?’ The answer to this, in our opinion, lies in the fact that the owner of the ring did so not as a ritual act that expresses religious belief, but as a means of making use of the impact that Apollo’s figure represents: light, purity, health and success.”

Amorai-Stark, a researcher of engraved gems, added: 

“At the end of the Second Temple period, the sun god Apollo was one of the most popular and revered deities in Eastern Mediterranean regions. Apollo was a god of manifold functions, meanings and epithets. Among Apollo’s spheres of responsibility, it is likely that association with sun and light – as well as with logic, reason, prophecy and healing – that fascinated some Jews, given that the element of light versus darkness was prominently present in the Jewish worldview in those days. The fact that the craftsman of this gem left the yellow-golden and light brown layers on the god’s hair probably indicates a desire to emphasize the aspect of light in the god’s persona, as well as in the aura that surrounded his head,” he said. “The choice of a dark stone with yellow coloring of hair suggests that the creator or owner of this intaglio sought to emphasize the dichotomous aspect of light and darkness and/or their connectedness.”

The Archaeological Sifting Project at Tzurim Valley National Park, sponsored by the City of David and the Nature and National Parks Authority, is a large-scale archaeological project that offers the public an opportunity to experience and appreciate archaeological activity without the need for advanced training or specialized knowledge.

The sifting has been supervised closely by archaeologists. It allows participants to become “archaeologists for a day” as they process archaeological material unearthed in City of David excavations, where they often find ancient treasures. The findings discovered thus far in the project include an imprint of King Hezekiah, coins from different periods, arrowheads and jewelry.

Due to the current nationwide closure of tourist sites, the site is closed. But it will be reopened to the public as soon as conditions permit.

The Maimakteria is one of those festivals not a lot has survived about. We know it was in honor of Zeus Maimaktes, the Blustering, and that it was connected to the weather and protection of crops. Protecting our crops is a desire we have to this day so we will celebrate the Maimakteria, regardless. Will you join us on November 2, at the usual 10 am EST?

The months of late fall and early winter are relatively light on the festival agenda. This could have at least three reasons: It's getting cold and wet out and the ancient Hellenes held their rituals outdoors, most of the harvesting was done so food was assured or there was nothing that could be done to decrease the shortage, and with the fall of winter, warfare came to a halt; the seas were too rough to go on campaigns and it would soon be too cold to exist comfortably in a war camp. Seeing as these two latter two reasons were the major ones to have festivals, these months are quiet ones. In the Athenian calendar, only two festivals are attested to take place this month: the Maimakteria and the Pompaia.

Most likely, the Maimakteria was connected to the Pompaia, which took place at a later date in the month. I say 'a later date' because we are not sure of the dating. Parke (in 'Festivals of the Athenians', page 96) states that the Pompaia in honor of Zeus Meilichios was held during the last third of Maimakterion which would be on or after 20 Maimakterion. Parke cites the treatise on the Pompaia by Polemon of Ilion so we're fairly confident he is correct on the date. He also states that the Maimakteria took place 'mid-month'. The sixteenth is as viable a date as any other around this time.

The Pompaia was linked to purification. During this rite a white sheep's fleece--the 'Diòs Koidion', as it was called--was placed on the ground and the priests who took part in the rite stood on it with their left foot to be purified and blessed. We believe the Maimakteria was when this sheep was sacrificed.

If the rite followed the standard practice of Hellenic ritual, the sheep was led to the altar--most likely that of Zeus--in procession and then sacrificed. The animal was skinned and the fleece cleaned. The Diòs Koidion was said to have purifying and other magical qualities that would rub off on he who interacted with it, if he stood on it with his left foot.

The sheep skin was most likely not connected to Zeus at the start of the practice. The connection with Zeus most likely happened through assimilation: the rite fell in a month where people prepared for winter and where the weather got harsher. As such, Zeus had a major impact on the inhabitants of Athens; he controls the weather after all. The sheep from which the skin was used became sacrificed to Him as an appeasement, and then the ritually charged skin made its way through the city.

We hope you will join us for the Maimakteria on November 2. You can download the ritual here and join the community for the event here.

 Busy, busy, busy day! Please have some nice, relaxing music on me, inspired by ancient Hellenic music. 

A large number of grave offerings and high-quality burial items were discovered during the five-year excavation programme at the Mycenaean necropolis of Trapeza, seven kilometers southwest of Aegion. The findings testify to the region’s amazing cultural and social vitality. The plateau is identified with the city of Rhypes, the metropolis of Croton in Magna Graecia during the colonization of the 8th century BC.

The Mycenaean necropolis is located on the southwestern slope of the plateau and on the ancient road leading to the citadel of historical times. The excavated tombs are arranged on at least three levels of terraces along the south side of Trapeza, a few meters from each other, in a parallel arrangement and with a north-south orientation. These are chamber tombs carved into the soft rock of the subsoil.

The necropolis comprises tombs with chambers no wider than 3.5-4 meters and streets not exceeding a length of 6-7 meters and a width of 1.5 meters. The burial chambers have various shapes; circular, rectangular and even almost quadrangular with rounded corners and walls with irregular contours. Elongated pits were unearthed below the chambers, carved niches in the streets’ retaining walls for the secondary deposition of older burials, as well as elliptical or square pits dug in the street surfaces which were found to be empty and could have been originally been carved for concealing ritual ware. The side chambers in the streets of the tombs where children were buried are of particular importance.

The tombs were used repeatedly and over a long period of time. The tomb chambers collapsed in historical times, between the Geometric and Archaic period, as indicated by the artefacts found in “craters” formed in the ground owing to the collapse of the chambers’ roofs.

The necropolis, founded in the LH IIIA 1 period, experienced its heyday during the Early Palatial period of the Mycenaean world, i.e. in parallel with the heights reached by the great centers of Mycenae, Tiryns and Pylos. A significant reuse of the tombs dates back to the 12th century BC, during the Post-Palatial period, probably after the early LH IIIC, when the tombs were repeatedly reopened, being at the same time a place of burial customs and complex ritual practices until the end of the Bronze Age, probably in the advanced Sub-Mycenaean period.

The quality of the finds of the Mycenaean necropolis of Trapeza is proved by the valuable sets of vessels that show a dependence on palace standards but also autonomous links with other regions, from the western Peloponnese to Crete. The grave goods are enriched with numerous seal stones and all kinds of beads and tesserae from various materials – glass, faience, gold, carnelian, rock crystal – that make up necklaces and ornate jewelry, ox head shaped gold-amulets indicating trading relations with the eastern Aegean and Cyprus.  A few tombs show elements of elitism, declaring social prestige and a possible connection with the palaces especially by a valuable combination of weapons and tools.

The Post-Palatial period from the 12th century BC.and after includes various phases of use, which impress mainly for their ritual practices. These relate to the treatment of the bones and remains of the former deceased, who are regarded as glorious ancestors and become the recipients of offerings. The purpose of these ceremonies is to create a genealogical bond by activating the memory of a past perceived as an integral part of the community.

Moreover, the findings from the backfills of the streets of tombs provide exclusive evidence of social practices that are a milestone in the conducting of a funeral, but also of rituals such as offerings and libations in front of the sealed chamber doors during posthumous visits to the tombs. Thus, the necropolis also becomes a place for transmitting traditions and a collective memory.

The location of the Mycenaean settlement of Trapeza is not yet clear. During the early cycle of use of the necropolis, the settlement was possibly situated on a hill, about 100 meters south of Trapeza. Today, research of a Middle Helladic settlement is in progress at this site, yielding sporadic evidence of Mycenaean pottery.

The systematic excavation of Trapeza in Aigion, is headed by Dr. Andreas G. Bordos of the Ephorate of Antiquities of Achaia. Participating in the interdisciplinary research programme of the Mycenaean necropolis are Elisabetta Borgna, Professor of Aegean Archaeology at the University of Udine, with a group of students from the Universities of Udine, Trieste and Venice, as well as postgraduate students from Greek universities.

The months of late fall and early winter are relatively light on the festival agenda--Maimakterion, the month we are in now, wasn't even on the sacrificial calendar of Erkhia, for example. This could have at least three reasons: It's getting cold and wet out and the ancient Hellenes held their rituals outdoors, most of the harvesting was done so food was assured or there was nothing that could be done to decrease the shortage, and with the fall of winter, warfare came to a halt; the seas were too rough to go on campaigns and it would soon be too cold to exist comfortably in a war camp. Seeing as these two latter two reasons were the major ones to have festivals, these months are quiet ones. Elaion will host a PAT ritual for the Pompaia October 27, at the usual 10 AM EST.

Let's start with something obvious we do not know about the Pompaia: the actual date of the festival. Parke (in 'Festivals of the Athenians', page 96) states that the Pompaia in honor of Zeus Meilichios was held during the last third of Maimakterion which would be on or after 20 Maimakterion. Parke cites the treatise on the Pompaia by Polemon of Ilion so we're fairly confident he is correct on the date.

What we do know is that the Pompaia was not originally celebrated by the people of Athens, but solely by its priests. Potentially, it was only celebrated by the priests of Zeus. It was linked to purification. It was one of the festivals that, by Classical times, had already lost much of its original meaning, but which was repeated year after year because it had always been repeated year after year--and in general these had been good years. Not having the rite on the calendar could have devastating effects, so it was performed.

The Pompaia followed the Maimakteria during which a sheep was most likely sacrificed and the fleece collected and cleaned. During the Pompaia a second procession took place with the fleece. The fleece--the 'Diòs Koidion', as it was called--was said to have purifying and other magical qualities that would rub off on he who interacted with it, if he stood on it with his left foot. In fact, a sheep skin was used in the Eleusinian Mysteries in this fashion to absolve those who had a lot of guilt to carry around--or a lot of grief. The Homeric Hymn to Demeter mentions her sitting down in a chair covered by a fleece, and there is also artwork of initiates shrouded in a fleece.

The sheep skin was most likely not connected to Zeus at the start of the practice; as we have seen, it had much stronger ties to other deities. The Pompaia rite simply called for a sheep skin. The connection with Zeus most likely happened through assimilation: the rite fell in a month where people prepared for winter and where the weather got harsher. As such, Zeus had a major impact on the inhabitants of Athens; he controls the weather after all. The sheep from which the skin was used became sacrificed to Him as an appeasement, and then the ritually charged skin made its way through the city.

In the same fashion, the kērukeion (κηρύκειον)--better known as the caduceus--the snake-entwined staff that was the symbol of Hermes, was carried through the city. Most likely Hermes was not part of the actual rite; the kērukeion, like the Diòs Koidion, was a powerful symbol which was used to offer protection and purification to the city now winter was upon them. After all, the kērukeion was said to ward off all evil--and the cold, dark, days of winter most certainly had those. Hermes was added through the procession solely by association, but it is doubtful that He also received an animal sacrifice. 

The Pompaia--meaning 'to exorcise'--was not popular, and in general these minor festivals were performed by the priests, for the city, without its inhabitants taking part. A small group of priests most likely walked the city with the objects and those who came upon the group would have said their prayers, spoke their wishes, and paid their respects. Yet, they were not included in the ceremony. This rite fell to the priests, so they could ask the Gods to continue placing their blanket of protection over the city.

As we have no ancient priests of Zeus hanging around, we take this responsibility upon ourselves instead. Will you join us on November 7, at 10 AM EST? You can join the community here and download the ritual here.

A marble altar with an ancient Greek inscription has been discovered at the site of Patara, close to the south-west coastal city of Antalya in Turkey. The altar, which features a relief of a snake wrapped around the ancient stone, is thought to be over 2,000 years old.

Speaking to Turkish media, Mustafa Koçak, an archaeologist working at the site, noted that such an altar has never been found in the area, but similar finds have been discovered at other ancient sites. He hypothesized that the snake motif relates to the worship of the Gods, as people would make sacrifices and give offerings to the Gods at altars like this one.

Koçak added that archaeologists have encountered sculptural forms of large snakes throughout their excavations that resemble the one found on the altar, and theorized that they may have also been others present in the city during ancient times.

Further study and translation of the Greek inscription may reveal more information about the use and historic context of the altar. However, in descriptions of the impressive find, the Turkish press has not even mentioned the presence of the ancient Greek inscription on the column.

The ancient city of Patara, located in Lycia, where the altar was found, was a hub for commerce and maritime activity in antiquity. Taking its name after its mythological founder Patarus, son of Apollo, Patara served as an important site in Greek and Roman antiquity. In 333 BC, Alexander the Great conquered the city, and it was governed by a series of emperors throughout its long history.

Patara’s strategic location in modern-day southwest Turkey helped it preserve its economic and cultural importance through the Byzantine period as well, and it has significance to Christians, since it was the birthplace of St. Nicholas, the bishop of Myra, in 270 AD.

With its ancient history, and because it was continually inhabited for so many centuries, the site is home to many Greek and Roman ruins, including an impressive Roman-era theater.

The Acropolis is the crowning jewel of the Greek capital and one of the most important cultural sites not only in Greece but the entire world. This astonishing archaeological site was the birthplace of democracy and one of the most important centers of ancient Hellas.

For anyone heading to Athens, it’s a definite must-see and has put together some interesting facts about the Acropolis that shine even more light on a monument which is a universal symbol of civilization and one of the greatest architectural complexes to ever be built.

-The term “Acropolis” comes from the Greek words “akron” (which means the “highest point or extremity” and “polis” (which means “city”). Acropolis can be taken to mean “High City”, “City on the Extremity”, or “City on the Air”. Greece has many other acropoleis, but the term most often refers to the Acropolis of Athens.

- Three main structural edifices of the Acropolis are the Parthenon, the Erechteion and the Temple of Athena Nike. The Parthenon, which literally means ‘the apartment of the virgin’, is dedicated to the Goddess Athena, who is also considered as the patroness of the city of Athens. The Erechteion is said to be located on the most sacred corner of the Acropolis Hill, and was a place where all holy ceremonies linked to Goddess Athena and God Poseidon were held.

-The Acropolis suffered extensive damage during the Morean War. The Parthenon was used to store gunpowder during this time, and it was hit by a cannonball when the Venetians lay siege to the area in 1687. The Turks had also demolished the Temple of Athena Nike to create space for a canon battery.

-This temple to Athena was built in 447 BC and completed 9 years after, although it took another 6 years to decorate the structure. It was constructed during the time when the Athenian Empire was at its most powerful.

-The temple was the first on Acropolis to have a fully Ionic order form. It has been dismantled to remove its friezes, which are now on display in the Acropolis Museum. The friezes depict several scenes such as the deeds of Hercules and involves various sculptures like the statue of Moscophoros.

- Christians converted the temples of Acropolis into churches in the 6th century, with the Parthenon becoming a church that was dedicated to Panagia (Virgin Mary). It then became known as the Church of the Parthenos Maria.

- When the Ottomans conquered the city in the 1460s, the Parthenon was transformed into a mosque.

- The Parthenon is often called “the world’s most perfect building.” Architectural tricks like a slight angling of the temple pedestal correct the optical impression that the building sags in the middle, and barrel-like curves on the columns counteract the illusion that they narrow in the middle. So in a way, one might say the Parthenon’s perfection is only achieved through a series of deliberate imperfections.

- The Greek flag flying on the Acropolis today has special historic significance. In 1941, two young men pulled down the swastika flag flying there during the Nazi occupation, leaving it empty. Incredibly, they’d reached the Acropolis using ancient passages they’d learned about in Greek history books. It was a powerful act of defiance that set the tone for the fierce Greek Resistance movement. Today, you can see the Greek Presidential Guard, the Evzones, perform a flag-raising and flag-lowering at dawn and dusk on Sundays.

- The Acropolis is one of the earliest known settlements in Greece. Built sometime around the fourth millennium, the Acropolis was an ancient city that still retains much of its original Classical architecture and temples, including the Parthenon. The Parthenon was built between 447 and 432 BC as a sacred temple for the goddess Athena, and it’s a true marvel to behold. The entire complex of statues, temples, pillars, and structures is stunning.

- The Acropolis rises 490 feet above sea level and covers a surface area of about 30,000 square meters.

- The earliest instances of human occupation of the Acropolis belong to the Neolithic phase of the 4th millennium B.C., where evidence shows human occupation in the caves around Attica.

- In 1806, Lord Elgin took permission from the Ottomans and managed to remove some of the marble sculptures which survived the explosion. These are now currently housed in the British Museum in London. Greece has tried very hard to try and gain the Marbles back.

 Yesterday, I got into a bit of a discussion about Hellenismos and the foundation of its ethical system. The person I was debating this with, stated that in the Hellenic Era, myths lost their standing as literal facts, and as such, they should not be used to structure the ethical system of modern Hellenistic religion. Instead, we should focus on philosophy, as set out by the ancient Hellenes in said era. Examples include Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle but also 'pre-Socratic' philosophers like Xenophanes, Pythagoras, and movements like Pluralism and Sophistry. There are many more, of course, and many of them older. Stoicism comes to mind, as does Epicureanism. Wiki has good introductions to all of those, but seeing as the focus of this post will not be on the actual philosophies, I'll not explain these terms further at this time.

Seeing as this was the view of my opponent, it is only logical that my thoughts on this differ from his. I have discussed the importance of defining the age or era of ancient Hellas you draw your major inspiration from before, in a blog post about said ages. In that blog post, I also specify I am a follower of the Classical period, a period where the popularity of scholars and poets increased, but had not yet overtaken the minds of the followers of the Theoi in a way. This is the age in which Socrates was put to death for endangering Athens with his ideas.

Needless to say, at least to those who frequent my blog, I am very invested in mythology, and most--if not all--of my ethical, social, and religious framework comes from the accounts of ancient writers like Hómēros, Hesiod, and all the playwrights. I believe in a form of literal interpretation of mythology. From that post:

"Literal: this one is related to the previous three and is probably the most controversial one; Hellenists are called to see the myths of the Theoi as a literal interpretation of the nature of the Divine, as well as history as a whole. What happened in the myths, literally happened. It's called living with the Theoi on a daily basis. It means seeing the divine in everything. Lightning is just as much a scientific phenomenon as Zeus' mighty weapon cast down upon the earth. The little girl who guided Odysseus to the palace of Alcinous was just as much a little girl as the personification of Athena. The two overlap and co-exist. And as such, Hēraklēs' madness was brought on by Hera, and--at an even more basic level--Hēraklēs existed. He may have existed in multiple men, but there was once a man so powerful that he could only be the child of Zeus, and the many extraordinary things he did could only be attributed to a man aided by the Theoi. Literalism is tied to supernaturalism in a way that can not be untied, and as such, I feel it is part of Hellenismos. To chalk the myths up to metaphor is to deny the Theoi."

As I explained in that post, this is my vision, my view, on Hellenismos, and it might not fit yours at all, while we both honor the Theoi in a Recon manner. If so, think of the ages of Hellas and see if you subscribe to an earlier or later era, or a different region of Hellas.

I feel myth was inspired by the Theoi Themselves, while philosophy was created by humans who saw society and drew conclusions from it. These conclusions often included a religious aspect because society was religious (even though the ancient Hellenes didn't have a word for 'religion'), but at its core, they deal not with religious matters. they deal with the influence of religion on humanity and society. As such, philosophy--of which I am a great fan, by the way--will never be the foundation of my faith, because religion and philosophy have a different goal; one to guide mankind in the way of the Theoi, the other to understand mankind. There is nothing religious about the latter.

Myth, on the other hand, was written by human hands, but with the Theoi in mind. They describe events in a way the ancient Hellenes viewed them--guided by divine hands. As such, it is far more logical to me to look for ethics in mythology than philosophy--this is the way the ancient Hellenes saw the world, and if I want to re-create their worship, I, too, must learn to look at the world through their eyes. They encourage and discourage certain behavior upon which the Theoi looked favorable or frowned upon. It is this behavior pattern I, as a Reconstructionist of ancient Hellas, look to adopt. For me, that is the core of Reconstructionism; to adopt not only the Gods, but also the mental framework of religion of the culture that you are invested in. This is why I go on and on about ancient Hellenic culture on this blog: to understand them is to understand a little more of the Theoi, and of the behavior desired of me. 

My opponent and I worked it out: we applied a 'live and let live' mentality to our discussion and we both learned something from it. I got to cement my feelings about mythologically inspired ethics in a blog post, and he--hopefully--learned not to make sweeping generalizations in the future. Again, I don't have The Truth™ or the One True Way™. Your mileage might--and probably will--vary. To me, that's alright, as long as we can be civil and respectful to each other. 

Berlin police confirmed Wednesday that they are investigating the vandalism of dozens of antiquities in three of the capital's museums this month. About 70 artifacts were visibly damaged at the Pergamon Museum, Alte Nationalgalerie and Neues Museum, police said. All three are on Berlin’s Museum Island, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the Spree River that courses through the city.

Carsten Pfohl, the criminal director at the State Criminal Police Office, said police have not been able to identify the perpetrator or perpetrators on security video footage. He said he would not “engage in speculation” about a motive. Investigators have looked for links among the objects that were damaged but have not found any, he said.

German media have noted that the Pergamon Museum has become a target for conspiracy theorists in recent months. QAnon, a theory that falsely alleges that a cabal of Satan-worshiping pedophiles is running a global child sex-trafficking ring and battling to bring down President Trump, has gained new followers in Germany during the coronavirus pandemic.

Attila Hildmann, a vegan chef who has become prominent during anti-lockdown protests in Germany spouting baseless theories on topics such as forced vaccines and Microsoft founder Bill Gates, is one of QAnon’s most vocal proponents in Germany, and he has also taken aim at the Pergamon Museum.

He has described the museum’s Pergamon Altar, a 2nd-century B.C. artifact built in ancient Greece during the reign of King Eumenes II, as the throne of Satan and a site for child sacrifice. It is undergoing a long refurbishment and is not displayed to visitors. Hildmann called on his followers to storm the museum in August, according to German news reports.

Christina Haak, the deputy director general of state museums in Berlin, said several acts of vandalism occurred outside the museums over the summer, with posters cut up and graffiti sprayed. However, she said, the latest attacks on dozens of exhibits amounted to the worst vandalism at the city’s museums.

“The vandalism shocked us,” she said, adding that 63 exhibits were soiled, three or four of which were on loan. It was not immediately possible to put a price on the damage, she said.

 A touch of Roman today. Marcus Vitruvius Pollio (80–70 BC – after c. 15 BC), commonly known as Vitruvius, was a Roman author, architect, civil engineer, and military engineer during the 1st century BC, known for his multi-volume work entitled De architectura. His discussion of perfect proportion in architecture and the human body led to the famous Renaissance drawing by Leonardo da Vinci of Vitruvian Man. He was also the one who, in 40 BCE, invented the idea that all buildings should have three attributes: firmitas, utilitas, and venustas, meaning: strength, utility, and beauty. These principles were later adopted by the Romans. His only surviving work is 'De Architectura.'

De architectura (On architecture, published as Ten Books on Architecture) is a treatise on architecture, dedicated to his patron, the emperor Caesar Augustus, as a guide for building projects. As the only treatise on architecture to survive from antiquity, it has been regarded since the Renaissance as the first book on architectural theory, as well as a major source on the canon of classical architecture. It contains a variety of information on Greek and Roman buildings, as well as prescriptions for the planning and design of military camps, cities, and structures both large (aqueducts, buildings, baths, harbours) and small (machines, measuring devices, instruments). Since Vitruvius published before the development of cross vaulting, domes, concrete, and other innovations associated with Imperial Roman architecture, his ten books are not regarded as a source of information on these hallmarks of Roman building design and technology.

A few paragraphs from Book 1 today.

“The building of temples relies on symmetry and architects need to most carefully understand the reason for this. It comes from proposition, which was called “analogy” in Greek. Proportion derives from fixed segments of the parts of the building and the whole—and the balance of symmetry is achieved through this. For no building can have an order in its design without symmetry and proportion, unless it has something like the precise design of a well-figured human body.  For nature has so composed the human body that the face from the chin to the top of the brow and the roots of the hair is one tenth of the whole and the palm of the hand from the wrist to the end of the middle finger is the same.

The head from the chin to the top is one eighth and the top of the chest where it meets the neck to the hair’s roots is a sixth. From the middle of the chest to the crown is one quarter of the whole. The third part of the length of the face extends from the bottom of the chin to the base of the nostrils. The nose from the nostril base to the space between the brows is the same. From that line to hair forms the forehead, a third part. The foot comprises a sixth of the body’s height and the chest is a quarter. The other limbs all have appropriate measures too. And ancient painters earned great praise by observing all these measures.

In the same way, the limbs of temples should have proportions of their various parts responding appropriately to the general size of the whole construction. Consider that the navel is the natural center of the body. For, if a person should lie on the ground with hands and feet spread wide and a circle has the navel as the center, fingers and toes will touch the line of the circumference. In addition, a square can be traced within the figure in the same way. For, if we take the measure from the sole to the top of the head and compare to measure to the distance from one hand to another, the lengths will be found equal, just like foundations squared with a rule. For this reason, if nature designed the body so that the parts correspond in their dimension to the whole design, then ancient people seem to have decided with good reason that they should keep in their works the exact proportions of the separate components to the design of the whole. Therefore, they have handed down orders in all of their works, especially in temples to the gods, the kinds of accomplishments whose excellence and weakness persist for generations.”

"Just a random question - do you happen to know if a portion of chthonic sacrifices was offered first to Hestia?  I had always heard that She received the first and last portion of all sacrifices, but given the difference between Olympian and Chthonic sacrifices, I have to wonder.  Any light you can shed on the question would be appreciated!"

There are records that at least in some parts of ancient Hellas, Hestia was always sacrificed to first and last in state festivals, and I have adopted that for my household worship as well; many modern Hellenists have. That said, there is a difference between rituals held for the Ouranic deities and the Khthonic; most notably for this question, in the altar used.

In ancient Hellas, an altar was called a 'bômos' (βωμός)--properly signifying any elevation--with an 'epipuron' (ἐπίπυρον)--a movable pan or brazier--used on top of the bômos so it could serve as an altar for burnt-offerings. The household hearth was used to make sacrifices as well, and thus served as an altar of sorts. It was named after the Theia of the home and hearth: 'hestía' (ἑστία). Some state-owned altars--especially when they were simply large fires--were named 'hestía' as well.

These altars were used for sacrifices to the Ouranic Theoi, but were rarely--if ever--used for sacrifices for the Khthonic Theoi. For Khthonic Theoi, an offering pit--'bothros' (βόθρος) in Greek texts--was used. Bothroi were usually dug when the occasion called for it, and closed up afterwards. As written previously, the Khthonic Theoi received special nighttime offerings of black animals, unmixed wine and special libations of milk and honey. Animal sacrifice was always done in a holókaustos--a sacrifice where the entire animal was burned and none of the meat was saved for human consumptions.

State festivals were almost always held for Ouranic deities, and they included a feast, consisting of the meat of the sacrificed animal. This wasn't possible with sacrifices to the Khthonic deities; there was no meat to feast on--and no occasion to feast. This matters, because our primary evidence on the topic is one of the Homeric Hymns to Hestia:

"Hestia, in the high dwellings of all, both deathless gods and men who walk on earth, you have gained an everlasting abode and highest honour: glorious is your portion and your right. For without you mortals hold no banquet, -- where one does not duly pour sweet wine in offering to Hestia both first and last." [XXIX]

It is my personal opinion that Hestia was not honoured (first, last or at all) in Khthonic rites. In fact, I think as few as possible Gods were called in these rites, and all of them had a Khthonic character. I think this is tied to the practice of miasma--after all, contact with the Underworld (and thus the Khthonic Gods) was a major source of it.

Within Hellenic practice, miasma describes the lingering aura of uncleanliness in regards to a person or space through which contact is made with the Gods. Next to piety, being ritually clean is one of the most important things to adhere to within Hellenismos. Miasma occurs whenever the space or person comes into contact with death, sickness, birth, sex, excessive negative emotions and bodily fluids. It also comes from a lack of contact with the Hellenic Gods. As a note, I should say that not the actual acts of dying, sex and birth cause miasma but the opening up of the way to the Underworld (with births and deaths) as well as contact with sweat, blood, semen, menstrual blood and urine.

Our Gods are immortal and are sometimes called the Deathless Ones. It's our duty to uphold this sacred name by making sure no Gods but psychopomps (guides of the dead) come in contact with death even if it's through us. If we can not respect Their purity, They might be inclined to withhold Their gifts from us. As such, I cannot even phantom inviting Hestia into a ritual with a Khthonic character.

One of the most important private collections of ancient Hellenic and Roman marble sculptures opened for the first time to the general public in Rome last week. The 90 works from the Torlonia Collection – the most prestigious private collection of Greek-Roman sculptures in the world – opened in the newly rebuilt Palazzo Caffarelli, overlooking the Roman Forum.

The collection began more than a century ago by Prince Alessandro Torlonia. He found many of the pieces on the grounds of his family’s Roman properties. Wealthy from a business relationship with the Vatican, the family purchased other well-known sculpture collections. In 1884, the Prince built his own museum to show off his collection. When the museum closed in 1976, the pieces went into storage.

Italy’s Culture Minister Dario Franceschini says the works “take your breath away,”  when he spoke to reporters on Monday. He added that it was unfortunate that COVID-19 safety restrictions would limit the number of people who can visit.

The show will stay open until June 29, 2021. It is the result of public and private cooperation among the culture ministry, the city of Rome, the Torlonia Foundation, and the Roman jeweler Bvlgari.

Archaeologists working in the ancient Hellenic city of Soli Pompeipolis in the southern Mersin province in Turkey have unveiled the memorial tomb of the Greek poet and astronomer Aratus, who was born in 315 BC.

The city, located in the ancient region of Paphlagonia, was still prominent during Roman times but was only rediscovered in the 1800s with the unearthing of the ruins of Zımbıllı Tepe in the Black Sea region of the country.

Soli Pompeipolis, lying just across the river from Taşköprü, in the Gökırmak (Greek: Amnias) Valley, in ancient times stretched as far as the Küre and Ilgaz mountains

The tomb of the gifted poet and astronomer is being excavated by Professor Remzi Yağcı, who is the head of the Department of Museology at Turkey’s Dokuz Eylül University.

According to the archaeologist, the discovery is of lasting importance to the history of the area and will be of great interest to travelers who will want to see the monument. Speaking to interviewers from the Anadolu News Agency, Yağcı said “For the first time, a memorial tomb has been unearthed linked to the archaeology of the ancient city of Soli Pompeiopolis.

“Aside from more familiar structures, such as the colonnaded streets, the ancient port, the theater, and the bathhouse, something very unique has been found. This find brings dynamism to the ancient city and can influence tourism in the region – for both those interested in cultural heritage and general visitors to the region.”

The unearthing of the ruins has been ongoing since July 20 of this year, Yağcı said. Showing photographs of the unique discovery, he indicated the two rows of hexagonal structures and arches around the memorial tomb that had been unearthed by his workers.

“This place looks like a crater, and has a circular area (that could have been used by) an astronomer. We have also come across a solid and large monumental structure.”

Yağcı added that Aratus was widely known during both the Hellenistic and Roman periods and his works on astronomy, as well as his poetry, are still read and studied to this day.

Additionally, he noted that NASA had named a crater on the moon after the brilliant Greek thinker, leading the archaeologist to hope that the tomb of the great man will one day be included on the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage List.

 On the day of the Hene kai Nea (or sometimes, like this month, on 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 Maimakterion:
  • 16 Maimakterion - 2 November - 20 Maimakteria - festival for Zeus Maimaktes ('Blustering') to be gentle come winter.
  • 25 Maimakterion - 11 November - Pompaia - festival in honor of Zeus Meilikhios ('Kindly') and Hermes

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

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

The 29th of Pyanepsion is the date for the Khalkeia. It's the only festival to be held on a Deipnon and we will be celebrating it on 17 October, 10 am EDT.

The Khalkiea was the festival of bronze workers, a religious festival devoted to the God Hēphaistos and the Goddess Athena Ergane (Εργανη, Worker). In ancient Hellas, this was the day priestesses of Athena started work on a special peplos to be presented to Her during the Panathenaia. This festival involved a procession of workers with baskets of grain for offerings as well as meat sacrifices. Originally, it seems to have been a festival for Athena solely but over the centuries the focus shifted to Hēphaistos instead.

Elaion is holding a PAT ritual for the Khalkeia on 17 October, EDT. You can find the ritual here and join the community here. Also, make sure to celebrate the day by doing something crafty!

Do you know MWTH, short for Medusa With The Head (of Perseus)? A seven foot bronze version of it will be installed in Collect Pond Park, located on Centre St, Lower Manhattan, as part of NYC Parks’ Art in the Parks program. In 2018, Garbati posted a photograph of his original sculpture to social media. This re-imagined Medusa went viral and became a symbol of resistance worldwide, inspiring thousands of women to reach out and share their own stories. Garbati’s Medusa questions the mythic figure’s characterization as a monster, and investigates the woman behind the myth.

From the site:

"MWTH (Medusa With The Head) is a project entangled in the narrative habits of classical imaginaries, their foundational role in present culture and visions of the future. MWTH seeks to reorient androcentric lore, to queer iconography, to re-reformulate antiquity’s heroic center and its modes of (re)production. 

Through stories that are told and retold over centuries, our iconography shapes our ideology.
MWTH is an artist run project. We are working in collaboration with artist Luciano Garbati, to share his sculpture, Medusa With The Head of Perseus, with the world.

MWTH Project was (immaculately) conceived by Bek Andersen in the immediate wake of the Kavanaugh hearings. The day Kavanaugh was confirmed to the highest court of the land, we were feeling pretty low. Bek came across the viral image of Medusa with the Head of Perseus by Luciano Garbati, an inversion of Cellini’s Perseus With the Head of Medusa. She was inspired to contact the artist in Argentina and bring the sculpture to New York. "

For the record, I love the sentiment, and I love the statue. I just don't like the appropriation.

The legend of Médousa (Μέδουσα) is one of the hardest myths to deal with out of ancient Hellenic mythology. It tells the story of a beautiful woman, who got raped by Poseidon, and gets transformed into a hideous monster who can turn people to stone just by looking at them, by Athena, because of it. She spends the rest of her life trapped on an island, in isolation, while brave warriors try to kill her for her head, which will still turn people to stone once cut off. Perseus eventually does so and gives the head to Athena to place on her shield. The circle is complete and Médousa is dead, after a lifetime of horror which was not her fault to begin with. It's one of the best known Hellenic myths, and the movies, series, books, comics and other mediums which feature it--or Médousa--are endless. Percy Jackson comes to mind, and Clash of the Titans, but there are many others. What's less well known is that this particular myth doesn't date back to ancient Hellas, but ancient Rome: it was written by the Roman poet Ovid, in 8 B.C., in his Metamorphosis.

Yet, Médousa was a well known figure in ancient Hellas, so well known that the images of her cut off head adorned everything from armors to stoves. Her name meant 'guardian', and her head frightened off enemies as well as little children who would otherwise have burned their hands. The blood from the veins on the left side of Médousa's head was allegedly capable of killing, but Asclepius, a great healer, used the blood from the veins on the right side of the head for saving lives.

In ancient Hellenic mythology, Médousa was one of three sisters, Khthonic daímōns called Gorgons. They were named Médousa, Stheno (Σθεννω), and Euryale (Ευρυαλη), and were born to the ancient marine deities Phorkys (Φόρκυς) and Keto (Κητώ), his sister. They were part of the Phorcides (Φόρκιδες), the offspring of Phorkys. Their sisters were Echidna (Ἔχιδνα, half woman, half snake), the Graiai (Γραῖαι, 'old women', sharing one tooth and one eye), and Ladon (Λάδων, the dragon serpent who guarded the golden apples in the garden of the Hesperides). This view comes from Hesiod:

"And to Phorkys, Keto bore the Graiai, with fair faces and gray from birth, and these the gods who are immortal and men who walk on the earth call Graiai, the gray sisters, Pemphredo robed in beauty and Enyo robed in saffron, and the Gorgones who, beyond the famous stream of Okeanos, live in the utmost place toward night, by the singing Hesperides: they are Sthenno, Euryale, and Medousa, whose fate is a sad one, for she was mortal, but the other two immortal and ageless both alike. Poseidon, he of the dark hair, lay with one of these, in a soft meadow and among spring flowers. But when Perseus had cut off the head of Medousa there sprang from her blood great Khrysaor and the horse Pegasos so named from the springs (pegai) of Okeanos, where she was born."

According to Apollodorus, Médousa and her sisters came into the world with snakes on their heads, instead of hair, with yellow wings and brazen hands. Their bodies were also covered with impenetrable scales, and their very looks had the power of killing or turning to stones. Médousa was the only mortal of the three, and in nearly all versions of the myth, has her head cut off by Perseus, who gifts it to Athena. The big difference? In the Hellenic version of the myth, Médousa was never a beautiful maiden who served as a priestess to Athena and was punished for being raped.

There is a third version of the myth, inspired, it seems, by Hesiod, in which Médousa was a very beautiful maiden who lived far to the north where the sun did not reach. She begged Athena to allow her to leave and see the sun, but Athena refused. Médousa got angry and shouted at Athena that she was only disallowing her request because she was jealous at her beauty. Athena, angered, turned her into the monster she is so famous as today. There is a variation of this myth where Médousa tells the sculpture of a statue of Athena that he would have done better making a sculpture of her, because she was far more beautiful. The result is the same; Athena takes her beauty and forces her into isolation as punishment for her hubris (and was thus a valuable lesson/example for humans to remember their place. Same goes for Ariadne and Niobe, for example). Apollodorus, interestingly enough, also confirms this:

"It is affirmed by some that Medousa was beheaded because of Athene, for they say the Gorgon had been willing to be compared with Athene in beauty."

Archaeologists suspect that Athena, Médousa and Poseidon found their origins in Libya. They came to Hellas through Crete at the dawn of Hellas. In the beginning of Her rein, Athena may have been a snake and fertility Goddess--a trait she shared with her Libyan counterpart, who had Her own cult--and may have either had a priestess who fit the Médousa myth or--and this is more likely--Médousa had her own cult as a snake, fertility and (menstrual) blood Goddess. Especially the latter may be linked to the myths concerning Médousa's blood.

Athena's role as a snake and fertility Goddess is still visible in the myth about the child she had with Hēphaistos; Erichthonios (Ἐριχθόνιος), who was half man, half snake. It's even posed that in the early days, Athena was married to Hēphaistos and had His child willingly. As Athena was stripped of Her roles as a fertility and snake Goddess, Médousa's myth came into being, where Athena distances Herself from sex and snakes, by punishing an epithet of herself (Athena Tritogeneia, perhaps: 'born of Trito', a lake which was supposedly located in Libya), or the Libyan snake Goddess Médousa, who may have still been attached to Her worship. By placing Médousa's head on Her breastplate or shield, Athena's mythology is continuously linked to Her Libyan heritage, but harmlessly so, to Her new image of a virginal warrior.

Few references remain to Médousa's Libyan cult. There's vague reference to Médousa being a patron of Libya as a whole, or that she was the Goddess most worshipped by the Amazons. She was linked to protection, snakes, menstrual blood, blood, fertility, and femininity in general. If this is true, it's understandable why her worship did not match the Hellenic religion: for one, she's most likely a very powerful female deity. This did not match the hierarchy of the ancient Hellens, and so, Médousa became a monster, and was dealt with accordingly. Blood was one of the fluids that caused serious miasma, and menstrual fluid wasn't even spoken of in ancient Hellas, let alone revered. Not a single Goddess would have it in their portfolio.

I don't like Ovid's version of the Médousa myth. In my view, it's an embellished version of the myth which overshoots its purpose. It also puts both Poseidon and Athena in a very bad light, and takes a lot away from Médousa. It also introduces an element to the story that has nothing to do with Hellenic mythology and that makes no sense within the context of ancient Hellenic society.

The Roman empire came up about a thousand years after the rise of the Hellenes. the Hellenes valued physical prowess, but it were poets and scholars who were held in the highest regards. For Rome, it were the warriors who received the most attention. This reflected in the Gods of both people as well: the Roman Gods resemble the Hellenic Gods, but they are stricter, harder, and possess more bloodlust. At the same time, they were also pruder when it came to excesses of any kind. Ares, temperamental God of War, has his Roman counterpart in Mars, yet, Mars is a much stabler God, who is also in charge of agriculture and fertility. Baccus, the Roman equivalent of Dionysos, lost all ecstatic rites that made the worship of Dionysos so famous. Romans tried becoming Gods their whole lives, while the Hellens accepted their lot as mortals, and respected the Theoi as all-powerful and all-ruling. A frame of mind like that shows in Gods that get neatly packaged, made non-threatening and can be rivaled by mortals. Yet, because of the warrior mentality of the Romans, the Gods that became more predictable and less formed, also became harder. They punished socially unacceptable behavior more severely and myths from the Hellenic period got retold from the viewpoint of a warrior's society. Médousa's myth is one of the most classical examples of this shift.

Medusa With The Head of Perseus will be installed directly across from the New York County Criminal Court, the location of high profile abuse cases including the recent Harvey Weinstein trial. Garbati’s Medusa stands facing the courthouse, as an icon of justice and the power of narrative.

The statue cast in Bronze by Vanessa Solomon of Carbon Sculpt Studios in Red Hook, Brooklyn, New York and Laran Bronze Foundry in Philadelphia. 

Medusa With The Head of Perseus will be on view from October 13, 2020 - April 30, 2021.

 The ancient Hellenes had an odd view of blood; for one, they made a very clear distinction between human blood and animal blood, and ascribed powers of pollution and purification to it. It's a fascinating--if not somewhat dark topic--and I'd like to take a moment to discuss blood and blood rituals in ancient Hellas today.

To a modern practitioner, 'blood' most likely has a negative connotation to it; it's considered miasmic, after all, at least the blood of humans. Miasma--the lingering aura of uncleanliness in regards to a person or space through which contact is made with the Gods--is a constant concern for the modern practitioner, and judging by the amount of purification rituals and methods we have available from the ancient Hellenes, it was for them as well.

Human blood has connotations of death; bleeding is a human thing, a weakening, an act that brings us closer to death even though we may have only cut our thumbs. We still spill our life's blood. While the ancient Hellenes studiously avoided talking about menstrual blood and the menstrual cycle of women, this reasoning is exactly why I feel menstruating women were most likely barred from religious rites: especially to the men who dictated these rules, a woman loosing blood would be a terrifying thing; a literal bloodletting and something that brings the woman closer to death and more in tune with her humanity. Miasma are those things that taint us as human while we long to be in the presence of the Gods, and take it from me, very few things make a woman feel more humbly human than suffering through her period.

Animal blood in Hellenism has an entirely different connotation; not only was it a religious sacrifice, but it was used as a purifier as well. During an animal sacrifice, the animal was killed by a blow to the head or the slitting of the throat. Even if the animal was killed by a blow to the head, the throat was slid afterwards, and the blood was collected. Some blood was sprinkled on the front of the altar and poured into the fire as part of the sacrifice; a representation of the animal's life force, and along with the barley groats that were tossed into the fire previously, a purifier.

Animal blood as a purifier was especially important in the ritual absolution of murderers. If we look at the Eumenides by Aeschylus, we can see how Apollon has purified Orestes of the murder of his mother by killing a swine and holding it out over him, letting the blood of the animal drip down over his head and hands. In this regard, the blood serves to make visible the blood guilt--Orestes is literally covered in blood, more so than he ever was during or after the murder of his mother--and then have something physical to wash away, taking the blood guilt with it. It's one of the many steps of Orestes' redemption which is only complete when Athena absolves him, but it starts with the presentation of a substitute to the daimons of vengeance, and the physical manifestation of blood guilt.

"Taught by misery, I know many purification rituals, and I know where it is right to speak and equally to be silent; and in this case, I have been ordered to speak by a wise teacher. For the blood is slumbering and fading from my hand, the pollution of matricide is washed away; while it was still fresh, it was driven away at the hearth of the god Phoebus by purifying sacrifices of swine. It would be a long story to tell from the beginning, how many people I have visited, with no harm from association with me." [276]

This link between blood and the tension between death and life shows more often in Hellenic mythology; the blood from the vein on the left side of Médousa's head was allegedly capable of killing, but Asclepius, a great healer, used the blood from the veins on the right side of the head for saving lives. Dionysos--a God very close to the cycle of life and death due to his troubled birth--was intricately linked with blood. There are many stories on His birth, but two are of importance to this post. In one, he is born from Semele and Zeus, and while Semele is pregnant with Him, Hera plants seeds of doubt in her mind about the father of the child truly being Zeus. Semele asks Zeus to reveal Himself to her in his true form, and when he is left with no other option, He does so, killing her in the process. Zeus takes pity on His child, and takes Him into either His thigh or testicle, where He is eventually born from.

In the other version of the myth, stemming from Krete, Dionysos is the child of Zeus and Persephone (or Demeter). In this version, Dionysos is born, but ripped to pieces by Titans, under orders of a jealous Hera. Zeus smites the Titans, but is too late to save anything of Dionysos but His heart, which He gets implanted into His thigh like the first myth, or implants into Semele.

In both versions of the myth, Dionysos is twice-born, hence his epithet 'Dimêtôr' (Διμητωρ). Dionysos was considered a fertility God, but also closely related to nature's eternal cycle of birth and death. The ancient Hellens considered the moment a plant--especially the grape--began to grow for the first time after being planted its first birth, and counted its second birth when it became laden with ripened fruit. As Dionysos is so closely related to  the grape vine, it was Dionysos Himself that was considered being born once from the earth and again from the vine--and as such, wine was literally his blood. Many of His festivals allude to this, and the wine so copiously drunk during them often has a bitter connotation because of it.

There are many hidden references to blood in Hellenic mythology and ritual. It's both a corrupter and a purifier; a gateway to birth, and to death; a manifestation of the divine and of humanity. This is only an introduction on the subject--at best--but I hope it at least serves as something to ponder on.