If you come here regularly, you know I am always excited when researchers use new, modern techniques to further our knoledge and understanding of history. Scientists using a new technique have uncovered the colourful and once-hidden scenes in paintings of the ancient Etruscans, a group of people who flourished on the Italian peninsula around 2,500 years ago at a time before Rome became powerful. 

For instance, they found new details in a painting from the "Tomb of the Monkey" and scenes of an underworld in another work of art.

The Etruscans created detailed paintings, but the passage of time has meant that many of them are now only partly visible and that much of their colour has been lost. Gloria Adinolfi, a researcher at Pegaso Srl Archeologia Arte Archeometria (a research institute), said in a presentation given Jan. 8 at the virtual joint annual meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America and the Society for Classical Studies:

"A major issue is the significant loss of information on the polychromy of the preserved paintings, with special regard to some specific colors owing to their physical chemical composition." 

The fact that some colours survive the passage of time better than others can give a distorted view of what ancient paintings looked like at the time they were painted, Adinolfi said. For example, some shades of green tend not to survive well, whereas red often does, she said. 

"Red oaks usually seem to be more resistant so that sometimes reds are dominant and alter the correct perception of the original polychromy of the pictorial decoration." 

To reveal the paintings, the scientists used a technique called multi-illumination hyperspectral extraction (MHX), which involves taking dozens of images in the visible, infrared and ultraviolet bands of light and processing them using statistical algorithms developed at the National Research Council of Italy in Pisa, said team member Vincenzo Palleschi, a senior researcher at the research council. 

The technique can detect Egyptian blue, a color developed in ancient Egypt that "has a very specific response in a single spectral band," Palleschi said. The team also analyzed the residual remains of other remaining colours to help determine what colors were in the painting. 

By combining the MHX and color analyses, the team revealed vanished scenes from ancient Etruscan paintings. The researchers unveiled several examples during the presentation, including details of paintings depicting the Etruscan underworld showing rocks, trees and water. 

In the Tomb of the Monkey, so named because a painting in the tomb shows a monkey on a tree, the researchers uncovered details of a painting depicting a person. To the naked eye, the painting looks like a red blur, but after the MHX and colour analyses were complete, the painting clearly showed a person carrying an object and details of their hair and face. The tomb was discovered in the 19th century but now, with the new technology, the painting has become much more visible. 

The team's research is ongoing, and more paintings may be revealed in the future. 

In the modern world of today we are privileged to take for granted that the ingredients in our cosmetics are safe. However, it is only recently that cosmetic manufacturers have taken on the responsibility to ensure that they will do no harm. In the ancient world, lead was one of the most widely-used substances in makeup. Known today to cause severe developmental delays, infertility and dementia, it was used in a paste form, much like today’s foundation, to whiten the complexion and make a woman look more youthful.

It is believed that the Greeks were the first to use such ingredients in their makeup, despite a general distaste for the use of cosmetics (at least according to the writers of the time, who of course were exclusively male). Some Greeks of the day moralized that makeup was only used as a trick, by lower-class women or prostitutes, in order to lure men.

However, in reality, it is thought that women of all classes, both single and married, actually used cosmetics of all kinds, both to brighten the skin and to highlight their features.

The Greek word “kosmetika” is of course the root of the English word ‘cosmetics.’ However, in its ancient form, the word meant any preparations which protected the hair, face, and teeth. The term for beautifying make-up was “to kommotikon.”

Ancient Romans, who adopted so much from Greece, took up the practice of using both white and red lead in facial makeup, and, with few exceptions, the extraordinarily pale look this imparted continued to be popular even into the eighteenth century.

However, using these lead-based pigments actually ended up causing disfigurement — along with the other, much more serious maladies which surely occurred in those days as well, although they were never linked to lead in those times.

Kevin Jones, from New York City’s Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising Museum, explained in the NBC News report that “It would eat the skin away, causing all sorts of scarring. And the way they covered that up was to apply thicker amounts of the makeup, which would then exacerbate the situation.”

Perhaps in the most disturbing visual of all, it was recorded in ancient times that lizard excrement, of all things, was used to combat wrinkles.

However, as much as we may scoff at ancient wisdom such as that, the modern cosmetic industry is still making use of time-honored medicaments such as snail mucin, or the excrement that they trail behind them as they move, which has made an appearance in recent years as a popular skin care ingredient.

The publication Women’s Health raved about its “hydrating properties,” saying that skin can be “softer, more moisturized and glowing with consistent use of snail mucin.”

Cleopatra, the Queen of the Nile, who was the last descendant in the Macedonian Ptolemaic dynasty, was known not only for her power as the ruler of Egypt but for her alluring powers over men as well — and she amazingly even authored her own book on cosmetics.

As evidenced by myriad representations of other women in Egyptian art, she undoubtedly used kohl, a combination of oils and powdered metals — usually lead, antimony, manganese or copper — as an eyeliner, along with an array of other cosmetics, including eyeshadow and blush.

Swan-shaped makeup container, made from a hippopotamus tusk. Egypt, Bronze Age. Hechy Museum, Haifa, Israel. Credit: Golf Bravo /Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 3.0

However, we know now, according to dermatologist Dr. Joel Schlessinger, that using these substances around the eyes leads to “irritability, insomnia and mental decrease,” according to a recent NBC News report.

Greek women also used more natural ingredients, such as red ochre from the earth, and dye extracted from lichen, for rouge, and ashes and soot for eyebrow color. Saffron, derived from the pistils of the crocus flower, was used as a rouge to give color to the cheeks.

The most widely-used eyeliner in ancient times, however, was derived from the element antimony, which according to the journal Nature is “poisonous by inhalation and ingestion,” and is carcinogenic as well.

Ocher, the naturally-occurring pigment from the earth, which occurs all around the globe, can be seen on portraits of Queen Nefertari, who lived in 1255 BC, which decorate the walls of her tomb. Cosmetics used by the ancient Greeks and Egyptians were not only for beautifying the face, but were used for their more practical value as well.

Since very ancient times, skin moisturizers have been made from animal fats, including lanolin from sheep’s wool, and plant oils. Wood ash has been combined with fats to make soap in a process which continues almost unchanged to this day, when lye, which is derived from wood ash, is combined with olive or other fats and oils to make our modern soaps.

Historians have noted that Greeks were known to have made perfume as far back as the Middle Bronze Age, from the 14th to the 13th century BC. Such toiletries were first mentioned in Homer’s works the Iliad and the Odyssey, which were written in the 8th century BC.

To make perfumes, plants, flowers, spices, and fragrant woods, including myrrh, rose, and cinnamon, would be infused in oils. Since oil was used as the base, most perfumes were in the form of a thick paste. This necessitated the use of a special spoon-like tool to extract it from its containers.

Amazingly, such implements have even been excavated in England, as part of a Roman settlement there. A bar brooch found there featured several miniaturized bronze tools hanging from it — one of them shaped like a tiny spoon, which was most likely used with solid perfume.

In ancient times, perfumes were used for the pure pleasure they gave, as well as to seduce; due to their labor-intensive manufacture, they were also a status symbol and were used in rituals (especially in burials).

Egyptian priests were known to anoint statues of gods with scented oils — and even applied make-up to them as part of their religious rituals.

Just as in Egypt, ancient Greeks often left their best cosmetics and perfumes in tombs to accompany their dead. Lekythoi, the graceful vessels used for storing fine oils and perfumes, were often decorated with themes related to burial and traveling onto the next life, when they were used for this purpose.

Pyxes, or decorated boxes, would also be left with bodies in their resting places, along with vessels called alabastrons, used for creams and ointment in Minoan and Mycenaean civilizations.

Intriguingly, in the 1970’s Italian chemist Giuseppe Donato recreated some fragrances from ancient texts; some have even been produced commercially, including Donato and Seefried’s “Cleopatra” perfume, based on one worn by the Egyptian queen.

Much as in sausages, where it is usually best not to know how they are made, hair dye in ancient times was full of stomach-wrenching ingredients. Dyes, which are thought to have been used by both sexes, could be used to either make hair darker or lighter. The dye to darken hair was made by leaving leeches to rot in wine for forty days. The other, perhaps marginally less disgusting, consisted of a mixture of beechwood ash and goat fat to make hair lighter. It is also recorded that in order to achieve gleaming white teeth, ancient Greeks would use ashes to clean them.

Perhaps all these things were worthwhile, perhaps not — but it just goes to show how far human beings would go — and still do — in order to improve their looks.

Today, I'm picking up the fourth of the constellations in the zodiac: Capricornus. Capricornus is often referred to as 'Capricorn', the latin word for 'horned goat' or 'goat horn', and in ancient Hellas--and even in most modern interpretations--the hybrid is not between human and goat, as one might expect from a culture with satyrs in its mythology, but goat and fish.

Obviously, Capricornus is a recognized constellation to this day. In fact, Capricornus is one of the oldest recognized constellations which have survived intact to this day; the association of the fish-goat hybrid even dates back to the Middle Bronze Age. The ancient Hellenes called it 'Aigokeros' (Αιγόκερως), literally 'goat-horned'. 

Because of its age, mythology surrounding the constellation has been muddled quite a bit. Because of that, this post will mostly be an exercise in debunking or expanding upon the stories that surround it. The first Hellenic myth that is associated with the constellation is that of Zeus' wet nurse Amaltheia (Ἀμάλθεια). She was either a goat, a nymph or a Goddess in her own right, most likely a nurturing Goddess imported from Krete, where Rhea delivered Her child (see below). The versions of the myth where She is a goat is the reason She is often linked to Capricornus.

After Zeus' birth, his father Kronos threatened to swallow Him whole, just like He had done with all of Zeus' brothers and sisters. Rhea, Zeus' mother, had gone off to Krete to give birth to Zeus unhindered. Amaltheia helped with the delivery, and when Rhea returned to Kronos with a baby-shaped boulder in a blanket, She left Zeus in Her care.

Amaltheia was, indeed, placed amongst the stars as a reward for Her services, but it wasn't as the Constellation Capricornus, but as the constellation Capra, the group of stars surrounding Capella on the arm  of Auriga, the charioteer. Here, She became tied to a myth that is a lot more gruesome: the myth that Her skin was used to create the sacred Aegis, the shield thus being placed on the arm of the charioteer for protection.

Amaltheia aside, Capricornus is mostly accurately linked to another myth connected to the Titomanchy; the Olympians were in for a rough fight when Zeus led them against the Titans. One of their toughest fights was against the storm-giant Typhôeus (Τυφωευς), a fight so tough, in fact, that the Olympians had to flee from battle. The young Theoi were so scared of the storm-giant, They fled to Egypt, crossing the river Nile in such a hurry that one amongst Them didn't even allow Himself the time to fully change shape so he could cross the river faster. He crossed in the shape of a half-goat, half-fish.

In most modern retellings of the myth, this Theos is identified as Pan, the Arkadian Theos of shepherds and flocks, of mountain wilds, hunting and rustic music. The ancient Hellenes, however, distinguished between several Panes (Πανες), daimones, guardian spirits, who are often conflated into Pan in modern times. Besides Pan, the ancient Hellenes at least distinguished between Agreus (Αγρευς), a Pan-daimon of hunting and rustic prophecy; Nomios (Νομιος), a Pan-daimon of shepherds and pastures; Phorbas (Φορβας), a Pan-daimon of grazing; the Paneidês (Πανειδης), the twelve sons of the Theos Pan; two Italian-born Pan-daimon--Pan Sybarios (Παν Συβαριος) and Phaunos (Φαυνος)--and Aigipan (Αιγιπαν), the Pan-daimon who helped Zeus in his battles with the storm-giant Typhôeus. It was Aigipan who was placed into the sky as the constellation Capricornus.

There are many versions of this myth, about Aigipan's birth, his connection to Zeus and the acts for which he was eventually placed amongst the stars. All are of relatively late design, but the basics are as follows: Aigipan was either a child of Zeus by a variety of mothers, a child of Almatheia--and thus fed alongside Zeus--or the father of Pan. In all versions of the myth, he stood alongside Zeus during the Titan war. Some versions of the myth say that Aigipan put panic (panikos) in the hearts of the Titans during the fight and thus gave Zeus such an edge, He won the war.

Other myths say that after the Titans were defeated, the Theoi thought They had won. Yet, there was one who sought revenge for the defeat of his father: Typhôeus, the most-feared son of Tartaros and Gaea. He came for Zeus, when all Theoi had gathered in Egypt, and the Theoi fled. Impressed by Aigipan's shrewdness in escaping over the river Nile as a sea-goat, Zeus rewarded him by placing him in the sky. In other versions, Typhôeus got a hold of Zeus and in the battle that followed, he ripped Zeus apart limb for limb. He hid the sinews of Zeus's arm or entire body away, but Aigipan got them back for Him, alongside Hermes.

In the last version of the myth, Zeus preemptively goes after Typhôeus, who is hiding in a cave by the sea. He commands Aigipan to lure him out, which Aigipan does in the form of the sea goat. Zeus then brings down a thunderbolt so powerful, it vanquishes Typhôeus and allows Zeus to lock him into Tartaros.

Whatever the case, Aigipan is most likely the Hellenic mythological source of the shape Capricornus has gotten, although Capricornus is also rumored to be an entrance into the Underworld. To find out for yourself, you might have to wait a while. This dim constellation is visible at latitudes between +60° and −90°, and best visible at 21:00 (9 p.m.) during the month of September.

The casts of three antique marbles reliefs returned to the archeological museum of Thasos a few days ago. They were displayed at the Louvre Museum in Paris since they were found during excavations in the so-called Passage of Theories in the second half of 19th century.

Director of the Ephorate of Antiquities of Kavala-Thasos, Stavroula Dadaki, pointed out, “the three reliefs were found fallen in the corridor, in 1864, by the archaeologist Emmanuel Miller, in the first substantial excavation attempted in Thasos. Inscribed stones bearing the names of lords of the island were found along, hence the name theory he gave.

The reliefs occupied a central position in the Passage of Theories, an important and expensively constructed structure (walls of marble orthostates) at the northeast corner of the Agora. It takes its name from the list of Theoroi inscribed on the wall, but in addition to its function as a passageway it was apparently an important place of cult.

The reliefs were transferred to Paris and had been on display at the Louvre Museum since then. “The plaster casts,” said Dadaki, “were made in the Réuniondes Musée Nationaux of the Association of National Museums of France and were kept in the warehouses of the Greek, Etruscan and Roman antiquities department of the Louvre Museum. cultural and private monuments of the Louvre “.

The Passage of the Theories was a corridor of two parallel  marble walls, 11m long, formed in the NE corner of the ancient market of Thasos, Agora, and connected the latter with the slopes of the citadel, where the ancient sanctuaries, Artemisio, Dionysio and Poseidonion

In the middle of one wall was a marble slab with relief figures depicting Apollo with a guitar in his hand to be crowned by a female figure on one side and three Nymphs on the other side of a rectangular recess. The second plaque depicted Mercury and a female figure and the third the Three Graces. They are date between 480 BC -465 BC and are important evidence of the sculptural art that flourished on the island since archaic times.

The actions for the enrichment of the permanent exhibition of the Archaeological Museum of Thasos with the casts of these sculptures, started in 2011 at the request by the then mayor of Thasos Costas Hadjiemmanuil and on the occasion of the celebration for the completion of 100 years of excavations at the French Arch island of Thasos.

Moves in the direction to return them to the island continued in the following years both by the administrations of the municipality of Thasos, the directorates of the Ephorate of Antiquities and in cooperation of the French Archaeological School.

With funding from the French School of Archeology in Athens and a marble company based on the island, the slabs were transported and handed over to the Archaeological Museum for inclusion in its permanent exhibition, following approval.

The French Archaeological School and the Ephorate of Antiquities of Kavala-Thasos, are planning a series of event to honor the return, scheduled for summer, if the pandemic conditions allow.

Found with a metal detector in his hand, a 68-year old man was arrested on Sunday for illegally excavating in the archaeological site of Amphipolis.

The area in Serres is known to hold a wealth of archaeological treasures and several objects were found on his person by the authorities. The man also had digging tools with him when he was caught red-handed by the Hellenic Police. An investigation had been underway by officers belonging to the Department of Cultural Heritage and Antiquities in Thessaloniki. After arresting the man, police searched his car and two houses — one in Thessaloniki and one in Serres — for objects which may have been stolen from the area.

Items were found that fall under the protective provisions of laws drawn up for the protection of antiquities and ancient culture in Greece. An archaeologist from the Ephorate of Antiquities of Serres stated to the press that a bronze coin from Hellenistic times, a lead slingshot projectile with lettering, a lead pillar, eight lead spherical missiles, five other lead objects, two bronze objects, nine other bronze coins, and a lead pyramidal-shaped agnita were discovered in the searches.

Two metal detectors, digging tools and headphones believed to have been used in the unearthing of the objects were also collected at the sites searched by authorities. The man has been charged with violating the laws regarding the protection of antiquities and cultural heritage. His case will be put before the public prosecutor’s office in Serres.

The site, which contains the renowned Kasta Hill Tomb, was an ancient Greek city in Macedonia. Located on the Strymon (Strimón) River, it is about three miles away from the Aegean Sea. From antiquity a strategic transportation center, Amphipolis controlled the bridge over the Strymon and the route from northern Greece to the Hellespont, including the western approach to the timber, gold, and silver of Mount Pangaeum in Thrace.

Originally a Thracian town called Ennea Hodoi, or “Nine Roads”), it was colonized by Athens in 437–436 BC but it actually remained independent, despite Athenian attempts to regain control in 416 and 368–365. Philip II of Macedonia occupied Amphipolis in 357 BC, and it remained under Macedonian control until 168, when Rome made it a free city and the headquarters of the Roman governor of Macedonia.

Archaeologists have made a number of important discoveries on the site since excavations began there in earnest in August 2014. Experts say that the Tomb bears the handprint of Dinocrates of Rhodes, the chief architect of Alexander the Great. Some of the findings made there have already been moved to the Archaeological Museum of Amphipolis.

So far, archaeologists have found the following treasures:

Two marble sphinxes approximately 2 meters (7 feet) tall, guarding the main entrance to the tomb and a fresco, with paint still visible, that mimics an Ionian peristyle, on top of which the sphinxes sit.

Two 2.27 meter (7.4 foot) high female statues in the Caryatid style were found in the antechamber, which support the entrance to the second compartment of the tomb. 

A mosaic measuring 3 meters (9.8 feet) wide and 4.5 meters (15 feet) long was found in the second chamber, which appears to depict Persephone being abducted by the god Pluto (Greek: Πλούτων, Ploutōn).

The ruler of the underworld is depicted wearing a laurel wreath and driving a chariot drawn by horses led by the god Hermes, the conductor of souls to the afterlife. The depiction of the abduction of Persephone in the mosaic floor implies links with the cluster of royal tombs in Vergina (Aigai), as a mural representing the same scene decorates one of the tombs where King Philip II, Alexander the Great’s father, is buried.

The skeletal remains of five individuals were also found in the tomb, including a woman over 60 years of age; two adult men, between 35 and 45 years of age; a newborn infant; and fragments of a cremated adult.

The renowned giant statue known as the Lion of Amphipolis (Greek: Λέων της Αμφίπολης) is a 4th-century BC tomb sculpture. According to Oscar Broneer and archaeologist Dimitris Lazaridis, the first person excavating in the area in the 1960s, it was created in honor of Laomedon of Mytilene, who was an important general under Alexander the Great, the king of Macedon.

The discovery of the monument has extraordinary meaning for the Greek people since it is also is connected to the modern history of Macedonia. The first sections of the Lion were discovered initially by Greek soldiers who had camped in the area during 1912-13 during the First Balkan War.

British soldiers in the area a few years later in 1916 then discovered other large pieces of the monument. The British tried to steal the pieces, but a Bulgarian attack fortunately prevented those plans from bearing fruit.

Yet more sections of the Lion were discovered in the early 1930s, during works for draining part of nearby Lake Kerkini. After uncovering the remains of an ancient bridge,  large pieces of the marble lion were also found in the mud of the lake. In 1937, thanks to Lincoln MacVeagh, the US ambassador to Greece, there was a private initiative, along with support and funds from the Greek government, to restore the Lion. Although in a seated position, the lion is larger and bulkier than the one erected at Chaeronea and has a height of more than 4 meters (13 feet). With its monumental base, the Lion towers more than 8 meters (26 feet) into the sky. According to experts, its craftsmanship shows that it was sculpted in the 5th or first half of the 4th century B.C. Unfortunately, there is no mention of the Lion in ancient sources. Some have speculated that the lion was once on top of the Kasta Tomb, but this theory has now been discounted.

The Kasta Tomb is still undergoing excavation work by a team of archaeologists. Asked when the monument could open for the general public in December of 2019, Greek Culture Minister Lina Mendoni said that there is much that needs to be done and pointed out that it had taken 20 years for the tomb of Philip in Vergina to open to the public. However, she added, modern means can make it possible that the same type of work can be carried out in less time at the Amphipolis site.

“I live for the day the Lion of Amphipolis will be transferred to the Kasta tomb,” the regional governor told Mendoni at the time she visited the site in 2019.

“That will happen too,” she answered.

Architect Michalis Lefantzis, who guided the minister and the regional governor around the site, noted that 330 large slabs of marble that were structural elements of the enclosure around Kasta Hill Tomb had been transferred back there from the site of the Lion of Amphipolis, where they had been stacked in order to facilitate the Tomb’s excavation.

The slabs have now been placed next to each other like pieces in a jigsaw puzzle, waiting for their precise position in the original structure of the enclosure to be determined.

One of Hellenismos' most important festivals is the Anthesteria. It is held in honour of Dionysos Limnaios; of wine, and the dead. Elaion will hold a PAT ritual for the festival every day from 23 to 25  February at 10 am EST. Will you join us?

The Anthesteria was held annually for three days, the eleventh to thirteenth of the month of Anthesterion. It is an ancestral festival, the oldest of the festivals for Dionysos in Athens, a time of reflection and trust in the new growing season to come, a time to celebrate with the spirits of the departed the indefatigable resurgence of life. The festival centered around the celebration of the maturing of the wine stored at the previous vintage, whose pithoi were now ceremoniously opened, and the beginning of spring. The three days of the feast were called Pithoigia (after πίθοι 'storage jars'), Khoes (χοαί 'libations') and Khytroi (χύτροι 'pots').

On the first day, the pithoi were brought to the city of Athens and opened in the temple of Dionysos. Everyone from age three and up wore garlands of new flowers, and many were present when the pithoi of new wine were opened, and a libations was offered to Dionysos before drinking of it. It was a truly celebratory day.

On the second day, all temples were closed, except the temple of Dionysos. Social order broke down on this day--as slaves were permitted to celebrate alongside everyone else--and there was a drinking contest in the afternoon where three liters of wine were drunk in complete silence, from khoes. Whomever finished first, won. At the end of the day, the garlands that had been worn were wound around their khoes which they then took to the priestess in charge of the sanctuary at the Limnaios (the marsh) to be dedicated. The wife of the Archōn Basileus--the Archon in charge of religious and artistic festivals--the Basilinna might have taken part in a sacred marriage with Dionysos, either with her husband acting as a conduit for Dionysos, or one of His priests. Geriai, priestesses or followers of Dionysos, might have assisted in this ritual, or would have held their own cult rituals on this day. Young women swung in trees and decorated them to commemorate the death of Erigone, as chronicled below.

On day three, everyone joined in a procession to the temple of Dionysos. It was a somber day consisting of the preparation of a mixture of a panspermia, grains and beans boiled together (a good recipe can be found here), along with honey which was offered to Hermes Khthonios on behalf of the spirits of the dead, especially those who died in Deukalion’s flood. The slaves, as well as the dead, were then told to go home, as 'the Anthesteria had ended'.

The origins of the Anthesteria are based in myth. After the battle of Troy, King Agamemnon returns home to his wife Klytaemnestra (Κλυταιμνήστρα). When Agamemnon returns, playwright Aeschylus in his Oresteia, writes Klytaemnestra as not having been faithful to her husband. She has taken as her new lover and husband Aegisthos (Αἴγισθος), cousin of Agamemnon, and when Agamemnon and his young slave come home, Klytaemnestra kills them both. Orestes (Ὀρέστης), son of Agamemnon and Klytaemnestra ends up killing Aegisthos, as well as his mother for her crime, under orders of Apollon. Yet, the matricide is a terrible offense in the eyes of the Theoi, and the Erinyes--Khthonic deities of vengeance--are sent to kill Orestes. They chased him relentlessly and upon reaching Delphi he is told by Apollon that he should go to Athens to seek Athena's aid.

Phanodemus (Athenaeus 10.437c-d) describes what happens to Orestes next, as it is this practice that was reenacted again and again, during the second day of the Anthesteria:

“When Orestes arrived at Athens after killing his mother, Demophon [king of Athens] wanted to receive him, but was not willing to let him approach the sacred rites [to Dionysos] nor share the libations, since he had not yet been put on trial [and had not yet been cleansed of miasma]. So he ordered the sacred things to be locked up and a separate pitcher of wine to be set beside each person [instead of sharing a drinking vessel as usual], saying that a flat cake would be given as a prize to the one who drained his first. He also ordered them, when they had stopped drinking, not to put the wreathes with which they were crowned on the sacred objects, because they had been under the same roof with Orestes. Rather each one was to twine them around his own pitcher and take the wreathes to the priestess at the precinct in Limnai, and then to perform the rest of the sacrifices in the sanctuary.”

As mentioned, Orestes arrives at Athens during an existing festival to Dionysos. It is posed that this festival was the Aiora, a festival instituted to commemorate the death of Erigone, her father, and their dog Maera. The story goes that Ikários (Ἰκάριος) was such a fine winemaker that he could produce wine so strong, those who drank it appeared to be poisoned. His skill turned out to be his undoing; Íkaros was killed by those who drank his wine, thinking the wine maker was out to kill them. His daughter Erigone was taken to his body by the family hound, Maera, whereupon both she and the dog committed suicide by hanging. It may have been that Dionysos was so angry over the murder and the following suicides, He punished Athens by making all of the city's maidens (or only the daughters of those who had killed Ikários) commit suicide in the same way. The citizens of Athens turned to the oracle of Delphi to stop these suicides, and the oracle told them to burry the three with honors, and appease their spirits. The Athenians buried the bodies with full honors, and a festival was founded where young Athenian women swung in swings, and hung ribbons, cups, and dolls in trees.

The Anthesteria might sound like a confusing festival, and it was, in a way. The three days were almost completely separate events, but have a few things in common. It's a fertility festival, but birth is linked to death. All life is linked to death, after all, and both birth and death were miasmic events. After the rough winter, everything was dead: the soil, the remaining food stores, people... miasma tainted everything. So, as new life began from the ashes of the old, Dionysos was invoked and sacrificed to, to cleanse the old, to remove the miasma resting upon the earth and the people. It is not odd to find mythology connected to this festival which is so strongly linked to miasma, birth and death.

How does a modern Hellenist celebrate the Anthesteria? The first day should focus upon the fertility aspects of the festival: the coming abundance of flowers, wine, and fruit now the spring is almost upon us. Day two began at night, and was filled with... well... sex. People were intoxicated, enthusiastic about the upcoming spring and the end of winter, and they tended to find each other in the dark of night. I would suggest starting there for day two, if you have the option.

On this second day, I cover all other shrines I have in the house but the one on which I will honor Dionysos, to prevent them from becoming tainted with miasma. This is optional, of course. Do think about Orestes, and what he was forced to do--fail either his father by not punishing his killer, or fail his mother by killing her, and dooming himself, regardless--and think about hard decisions you have had to make, and ask forgiveness for them. If you are of legal age and have the opportunity to do so, empty a glass of wine, and feel it swirl in your stomach, as restless as the spirits of the mythic dead who will come up from the Underworld tomorrow. Swing on a swing, as high as you can, and revel in the feeling. Decorate trees with knick-knacks. If you made yourself a garland, take it outside, preferably somewhere wet, and beg that Dionysos accept it and cleanse you of the pollution you carry within you. Again, this night is perfect for making love, especially in honor of Dionysos.
Keep your shrines covered for the third day if you chose to do this, as miasma has not yet been lifted, and the dead roam the earth freely. Give honors to family members and others who were close to you, who have died. Speak with them and try to find closure. Make them a meal; a panspermia is best, but eggs, leeks and garlic also work well. There are different stories surrounding the eating of the panspermia yourself. Some say no one was to eat from it, but Walter Burkert in 'Greek Religion' notes:

"On the 13th Anthesterion, the day of the Pots, grains of all kinds are boiled together in a pot along with honey. This is the most primitive cereal dish of the early farmers, older than the discovery of flour-milling and bread-baking; in funeral customs it has survived down to the present day. But the idea of food for the dead, conjoined to an abridged version of an ancient source, has lead to the mistaken view that the living were actually prohibited from eating from the Pots. According to the full text, it is only the priests who are barred from eating this food, in accordance with the fact that all sanctuaries are closed on the Choes day. The meal of pottage is linked to the myth of the flood: once the water had subsided, the survivors threw everything they could find into a pot and cooked it as their first meal after the cataclysm, an occasion for summoning up new courage and yet in memory of the dead. One sacrifices to the chthonic Hermes for the sake of the dead and eats from the Pots in the certainty of life regained. The day of defilement is over, the masks and the dead lose their rights: 'Out you Keres, the Anthesteria are over' became a proverbial saying."

Yet, Harrison in 'Themis: A Study of the Social Origins of Greek Religion' has the following to say:
"The panspermia has not, I think, been rightly understood. In commenting on it before, misled by the gift-theory of sacrifice, I took it to be merely a 'supper for the souls.' No doubt as such it was in later days regarded when primitive magical rites had to be explained on Olympian principles. But it was, to begin with, much more. The ghosts had other work to do than to eat their supper and go. They took that 'supper', that panspermia, with them down to the world below and brought it back in the autumn a pankarpia. The dead are Chthonioi, 'earth people', Demetreioi, 'Demeter's people,' and they do Demeter's work, her work and that of Kore the Maiden, with her Kathodos and Anodos."

Where you stand, you must decide for yourself. Personally, I will not taste of the panspermia. Like with the Deipnon, however, setting outside the meal will lift the miasma from your person and the house, so afterwards, you can uncover your shrines again if you covered them in the first place.

The Anthesteria is a festival of deep, emotional, involvement, and it is best celebrated by emerging yourself as completely as you can. As with any rites to Dionysos, transformation within yourself is almost always a consequence. The Anthesteria is a heavy festival, but filled with joy, regardless, because you are working towards spring. Burdens will be lifted from you. Rejoice with us and you will get through these festivals just fine. You can find the rituals here and join the community here. Enjoy!

 I get a lot of questions from readers, and most of the time, the answers are fairly short. When I feel the question or the reply would be valuable to others as well, I make a post with a collection of them and post them in one go. Today is one of those posts.

"What kind of incense can I offer to Aphrodite? Thank you! :-)"

The Orphic incenses prescribe a hymn to Aphrodite, so as far as the go-to guide for incenses goes, the Orphic hymns aren't helpful. That said, there were a few staples. Frankincense (λίβανον) is one of them. Frankincense is tapped from the Boswellia sacra tree. The bark is stripped off, and the tree 'bleeds' tears of frankincense, which are allowed to harden before being cut off. There is great variety in quality--colour, purity, aroma, age, and shape--and, thus, in price. Another staple is Myrrh (σμύρναν). Myrrh is harvested in the same way frankincense is, and is commonly harvested from the species Commiphora myrrha. Myrrh gum is waxy, and coagulates quickly. It becomes rock hard very fast, and becomes glossy. The gum is yellowish, and may be either clear or opaque. It darkens deeply as it ages, and white streaks emerge.

Myrrh, especially, is connected to Aphrodite in legend. It's said that Myrrha (or Smyrna) was a young princess who refused to honour Aphrodite, and so She made her lust after her own father. Eventually, she was turned into the first Myrrh tree. Apollodorus, in his 'Bibliotheca':

"And Adonis, while still a boy, was wounded and killed in hunting by a boar through the anger of Artemis. Hesiod, however, affirms that he was a son of Phoenix and Alphesiboea; and Panyasis says that he was a son of Thias, king of Assyria, who had a daughter Smyrna. In consequence of the wrath of Aphrodite, for she did not honor the goddess, this Smyrna conceived a passion for her father, and with the complicity of her nurse she shared her father's bed without his knowledge for twelve nights. But when he was aware of it, he drew his sword and pursued her, and being overtaken she prayed to the gods that she might be invisible; so the gods in compassion turned her into the tree which they call smyrna. Ten months afterwards the tree burst and Adonis, as he is called, was born, whom for the sake of his beauty, while he was still an infant, Aphrodite hid in a chest unknown to the gods and entrusted to Persephone. But when Persephone beheld him, she would not give him back. The case being tried before Zeus, the year was divided into three parts, and the god ordained that Adonis should stay by himself for one part of the year, with Persephone for one part, and with Aphrodite for the remainder. However Adonis made over to Aphrodite his own share in addition; but afterwards in hunting he was gored and killed by a boar." [3.14.4]

"Hi, I watched your "making manna" video tutorial, and I couldn't really understand what you said was in the yellow glass bottle. What is it, and where can I get it?"

I had to watch my own video again to remember a yellow bottle, but I think I know what you mean. The yellow bottle is used to store my bio-ethanol, the burning agent I use when building a fire indoors. This is a form of biofuel (fuel derived from biological sources), and a variation of denatured alcohol. It's a clear, flammable liquid which burns without smoke and without scent. As such, it works very well for indoor use. Make sure to use a cast-iron or at least solid container to burn in!

"Is there a greek god of finding missing things?"

Not as far as I know, but in general, Gods and Goddesses whom you have built kharis with will help you when you are truly in need. From a purely personal perspective, Hermes would most likely be able to find your items, seeing as he's been known to hide (and steal) items Himself ;-)

The director of the British Museum has hit back in a row with former trustee Sir Antony Gormley. Writing in The Times, Hartwig Fischer said the London museum is progressing with plans to 'give a new and powerful presence to the museum's collections from all parts of the globe'.

Sir Antony told the British Archaeology magazine the museum should be 'rebuilt' Africa at its core, drop its 'obsession with the classical world' and return the Elgin Marbles to Greece. He said objects from different regions and points in history should be displayed together to highlight connections between them.

But Fischer has rejected calls to reduce the museum's European collection and insisted work is already underway to modernise exhibits with a strong presence from all areas of the world. Fischer said: 

'Sir Antony Gormley is right to say that the British Museum should be modernised and the display of the connection renewed. This is precisely the plan that we have been developing since my appointment as director in 2016, and is one of the many reasons I do not accept his view that some of the museum's objects should be removed from the collection. Our work will give a new and powerful presence to the museum's collections from all parts of the globe, including the Pacific and the Americas, and give greater prominence to Africa. Changes at the museum will make it easier to understand the connections between different cultures, both ancient and modern, and restore the fabric of our wonderful historic building.'

The work will 'take some years to complete' as it is a 'large and complex exercise', Fischer added.

'The pandemic may have temporarily closed the museum to the public but we are continuing to make progress with the construction of our research and storage centre in Reading and with our plans for the redisplay of the galleries in Bloomsbury.'

On the Elgin Marbles, which the museum says were acquired legitimately in the 19th century and Greece says were looted, he said: 

'I would be happy to return [them] because I think the present galleries are not a particularly inspiring place.'

Noted British sculptor and former Trustee of the British Museum Sir Antony Gormley came out for the return of the Parthenon Marbles on Wednesday, saying “I would be happy to return them,” according to greekreporter.com.

In an interview with the magazine British Archaeology, the sculptor urged the British Museum to “take Africa out of the basement” and to stop what he described as its “obsession with the classical world.”Opining that the Museum “misrepresented” some areas of the world while under-representing others. In addition, he said, Africa should be the core of the Museum’s holdings.

The Marbles, which were chipped away from the facade of the Parthenon during the time of Ottoman occupation of Greece, were spirited away from the country in the early 1800s by Thomas Bruce, the 7th Lord Elgin. After the “Mentor,” the ship taking them to England, was wrecked on the coast of Greece, they were painstakingly brought to the surface by sponge divers — and sent on their way once again.

They are now in a dimly-lit area of the Museum, with gray concrete walls as their backdrop.Speaking to interviewers about the sculptures, which the Museum continues to maintain were acquired legitimately, Sir Antony said “I would be happy to return (them) because I think the present galleries are not a particularly inspiring place.”The eminent sculptor, whose works showing the human form are on display at Gateshead in the UK, in the Alps, and in other scenic locations, was especially scathing about the Museum’s display of African artifacts, which are housed in the basement of the building. He called this “an instance of post-colonial iniquity.”

Hartwig Fischer, the director of the British Museum, has already taken notice of the rising movement to address colonialism, saying that he planned to make its displays from non-European cultures more visible in the future.

Read the full article here

Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons License: CC-BY-SA Copyright: Solipsist~commonswiki 

 Ladies and gentlemen, this is going to be a short one again. Canis Minor is... well... minor. The picture below gives a good overview of its position in the sky, completely surrounded by constellations a lot bigger than it is. In fact, there are only two stars in the recognized constellation. One of them, however, is the seventh brightest star in our sky. 

Canis Minor is, unsurprisingly, closely linked to the constellation Canis Major. Like Canis Major, Canis Minor may represent one of Orion's hunting dogs. The Ancient Hellens called the brightest star of the constellation 'Procyon' (προκυων), 'coming before the dog', because it rises an hour before the 'dog star', Sirius, of Canis Major. Canis Minor may thus also represent the Teumessian fox, a fox that could never be caught. With just two stars, there is a lot of leeway, after all. As I wrote in my post about Canis Major, Canis Major may represent Laelaps, a dog who would always catch his pray. The fox was a prey that could never be caught. Zeus, stunned by the display, rewarded them both and placed them in the sky.

The constellation may also be linked to the constellation Boötes, the herdsman. From that post:

A second interpretation for the source of Boötes is given to us by Latin author, Gaius Julius Hyginus (64 BC – AD 17) is that of Ikários (Ἰκάριος), a grape farmer from Athens who was trained by Dionysos. Ikários is not to be confused with Íkaros from mythology, the son of Daidalos. This Ikários was such a fine winemaker that he could produce wine so strong, those who drank it appeared to be poisoned. His skill turned out to be his undoing; Íkaros was killed by those who drank his wine, thinking the wine maker was out to kill them. His daughter Erigone was taken to his body by the family hound, Maera, whereupon both she and the dog committed suicide by hanging. It may have been that Dionysos was so angry over the murder and the following suicides, He punished Athens by making all of the city's maidens commit suicide in the same way. Zeus, stricken by the events, placed all of them in the sky; Ikários as Boötes, Erigone as Virgo, and Maera as Canis Major, Canis Minor or the star, Procyon.

Canis Minor's size is one of the reasons I'm a big fan. Throwing professionalism out the window: it's just so cute. If you want to observe it for yourself, it's visible at latitudes between +90° and −75°, and best visible at 21:00 (9 p.m.) during the month of March.

Not Hellenic, but so cool! Archaeologists in southwestern England have discovered a nearly 2,000-year-old figurine of Cupid along the route of a former Roman road. As Matty Airey reports for the Gloucestershire Gazette, a Highways England team surveying the area ahead of construction discovered the statuette, as well as a bow-shaped brooch and a human skeleton, outside the town of Birdlip in Gloucestershire County.

“It is a rare and exciting find,” says Mel Barge, inspector of ancient monuments at Historic England, in a statement. “It will tell us about the lives and beliefs of the small Roman community that lived alongside this road.”

Per BBC News, fewer than 50 Roman Cupid figurines have been found in the United Kingdom to date. This one is made of solid bronze and shows the winged god of love holding a flaming torch. The statue was unearthed in a charcoal deposit, suggesting it may have been an offering to the gods.

In a separate statement, Highways England notes that worshippers may have left the petite deity in a roadside temple—a common feature in Roman-era England.

Cupid, the Roman version of the Greek god Eros, is known for shooting arrows that cause their targets to fall in love (or lust). Today’s Valentine’s Day cards depict him as a chubby-cheeked winged baby, but as Alice Abler wrote for Vision in 2010, the god was often shown in ancient times as an older boy or young man. He, and his mother, Venus, were associated with Lupercalia, the ancient Roman festival of purification, health and fertility.

The skeleton buried alongside the artifacts proved to be more enigmatic. Though Christian tradition dictates that burials should face east to west, this grave was oriented north to south. The researchers theorize that the individual may have been a Roman buried before the fourth century or an early Saxon from between the fifth and seventh centuries.

Adding to the mystery is the fact that the body was buried facedown, which might have been a sign of disrespect for a criminal or someone otherwise disliked by their local community. The skeleton will be reinterred rather than removed for further research.

The archaeological work is part of the A417 “missing link” project, a planned 3.4-mile connection between the A417 highway and a bypass road. The existing highway is built along the path of a former Roman road; researchers have previously found the remains of villas and temples from the Roman period in the area, as well as settlements dating back to the Neolithic period.

According to Claire Hayhurst of PA Media, the team studied historical records and conducted geophysical surveys to identify likely places for excavations. The archaeologists are not disclosing the precise location of the new finds, but Highways England tells PA that it was on privately owned land close to the planned construction route.

The excavation is one of a number of archaeological projects organized by Highways England in conjunction with its road-building work. Elsewhere in England, the government-owned company has uncovered evidence of early Roman settlements, mammoth tusks, ancient breweries and pothole repairs from the Roman period. Some of its archaeological work has come ahead of construction of a controversial tunnel near Stonehenge, as Gwyn Topham and Steve Morris reported for the Guardian last November.

“It has been fascinating to reveal more about the area and the people who once lived here,” says Jim Keyte, the project’s archaeology lead, in the statement. “Our investigations will continue as the project progresses, and we expect more interesting discoveries to come.”

The Acropolis in Athens was covered in a layer of heavy snow on Tuesday as the Greek capital received its "fiercest" winter storm in 12 years. Although the more mountainous regions of Greece are used to snowfall, it is a rare sight in Athens. Particularly heavy, wet snowfall.

Ancient ruins around the city were covered in a coat of white snow, making for unique photoshoots of monuments across Athens. Theodoros Kolydas of Greece's National Meteorological Service said the storm was the "fiercest, in terms of intensity and volume, in 12 years," Reuters reported. Temperatures dropped to four degrees below zero Fahrenheit in northern Greece as storm "Medea" moved in.

The snow closed parts of Greece's highways and temporarily stopped ferry service from Athens to the Grecian islands. Flights to and from regional airports were also disrupted, according to The Associated Press. Authorities urged the public to refrain from nonessential travel. Power outages were reported across mainland Greece and some islands on the eastern coast. The fire department received more than 600 calls due to the snow, including six people who required rescue.

The snow arrived as Athens was in lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Schools and stores are mostly closed and a nightly curfew is in place. But some students skipped out on online classes to play in the rare weather. Residents of the city emerged from their homes on Tuesday to snap pictures before returning indoors. The cold weather is expected to stay in Greece until Wednesday, moving further south to the island of Crete.

Greece had been experiencing unseasonably warm days before the storm as other parts of Europe already experienced the unusual winter storm. Northern European capitals like Paris, London, and Amsterdam were blanketed in snow last week. Forecasters predict that Europe's unusual cold temperatures will continue into spring.

For many more images, please go here.

I get a lot of questions from readers, and most of the time, the answers are fairly short. When I feel the question or the reply would be valuable to others as well, I make a post with a collection of them and post them in one go. Today is one of those posts, and because I got a few questions directly or indirectly related to the Hellenic calendar, I decided to bundle them up.

"Just a quick question concerning the Hellenic Calendar. When it comes to the months and the festivals & observances within that month, are these observances, etc based off of seasonal events? Currently I am putting together a calendar for myself suited to the southern hemisphere and considering Australia's seasons are opposite to that of Greeces, would I need to swap around the months in which the festivals are held. For example traditionally Gamelion is in the Month of January & February which in Greece is Winter where as in Australia it is Summer so should I therefore adjust my calendar so that Gamelion is July & August?"

Hellenists on the Southern Hemisphere have two (well, three actually, but we'll get to that) choices: you can either follow the calendar of Greece and celebrate harvest festivals in Spring, or you can go against the grain, adapt the calendar to fit your seasons but remain half a year ahead/behind ancient Greece. Which one you choose depends on your priorities, I think. Let's work the pro's and con's of both scenarios.

Follow the original calendar: you have the benefit of being in line with the majority of Hellenists, which is awesome, but not essential. What does matter, though--at least to me--is that it is the calendar the Gods are used to. As a Traditional Recon, most of what I do, I do because the Gods were worshipped that way in ancient Hellas (or at least as close to it as I can get). As such, it matters to me that I perform a certain ritual on a certain date.

Adapt: so, you'll be out of sync with just about everyone, but most likely you will be in sync with local Hellenists--and that is a major plus. You might not be celebrating the festivals when the ancient Hellenist did, but at least you are celebrating them in the proper season.

In general, you can draw conclusions about the nature of the festivals by the God or Goddess to which the festival was dedicated. Demeter, obviously, is linked to agricultural festivals, Athena--usually--to the polis, or to a major historical event, etc. I am very happy I do not have to make this choice, but in my opinion, a blend of the two choices would be best. Craft a calendar where the agricultural festivals follow your seasonal cycle, and leave the polis and historical festivals where they are. Some will not blend well, but most, I suspect will fall into place quiet readily. I wish you the best of luck.

"How does the concept of Poseidon II work in the Hellenic Calendar. For example in Feb 2016 we had 29 days in the month rather than 28. So on the 29th would that be 1 Poseidon II and then March first being 2 Poseidon II?"

The ancient Hellenes had a problem: Hellenic months were either twenty-nine or thirty days in length, since the moon orbits the earth in roughly 29.5 days. Hollow months had twenty-nine days, full months had thirty. The ancient Hellens chose not to alternate the hollow and full months according to a set schedule ("Hekatombaion is a hollow month"), but instead, the duration of each month was declared just before month's end. The thirtieth day was always included; in a hollow month, the twenty-ninth day was left off of the calendar.

A full lunar year is 354 days long. Because the earth rotates around the sun in roughly 365 days, an extra month was inserted into the calendar every few years--usually every third year. This month was usually a repeat of the previous month, most frequently Poseideon, but there are references to repeats of Hekatombaion, Metageitnion, Gamelion, and Anthesterion. It is unknown if the festivals which fell in this month were repeated as well, if other festivals were held, or if no festivals were celebrated at all. How long this month was, depended on the previous years. The ancient Hellens had a tendency to repeat days to suit their needs, usually to postpone the arrival of a certain date. Assembly meetings, for example, were not held on festival days, so if the meeting was urgent, the previous day was repeated and the festival day postponed. A standard extra month would have been thirty-three days long, but it rarely was.

"Are there any hymns for the Agathós Daímon?"

I'm filling this one under 'calendar related' seeing as I am assuming the person who asked it probably wants to use it for His festival. As you might be aware, I have my own thoughts about Agathós Daímōn. On the second day of the new Hellenistic month, we give sacrifice to (the) Agathós Daímōn, on a day named after the 'Good Spirit'. The Agathós Daímōn was always a positive in one's life, and was generally seen as the source of personal or familial good fortune. Libations of (unmixed) wine were given to Him with each newly opened case of wine, and during feasts and symposium, Agathós Daímōn received the first libation. When crossing a snake on the road, it was also customary to pour out a libation, just in case it was a herald of Agathós Daímōn, or Agathós Daímōn Himself.

It's interesting to note that Agathós Daímōn is reported as receiving libations of unmixed wine, instead of the standard mixed libations of the Ouranic Theoi. This Khthonic aspect of His worship brings me to two possible explanations of the nature of Agathós Daímōn: a link to Zeus Meilichios ('the kindly one'), a Khthonic epithet of Zeus, and a link to Zeus Kthesios, the household protector. Artwork found at Lebadeia suggest a marriage between Zeus Meilichios and Agathe Tyche, and Zeus Meilichios--like Agathós Daímōn and Zeus Kthesios--is a snake God, often represented as one as well.

So, recapping: there is a good possibility that Agathós Daímōn is linked to Zeus and thus hymns to Him would work for Agathós Daímōn as well. I am partial to Orphic Hymn 72. There is also a short hymn from the Papyri Graecae Magicae, also known as the 'Greek Magical Papyri'. They are a body of papyri from Graeco-Roman Egypt, which each contain a number of magical spells, formulae, hymns and rituals. The materials in the papyri date from the 2nd century BC to the 5th century AD. The manuscripts came to light through the antiquities trade, from the 18th century onwards. One of the best known of these texts is the so-called Mithras Liturgy. It's quoted in Themis by Harrison.

"Give me every grace, all accomplishment, for with thee is the bringer of good, the angel standing by the side for Tyche. Therefore give thou means and accomplishment to this house, thou who rulest over hope, wealth-giving Aion, holy good Daimon. Bring to accomplishment and incline to me all the graces and divine utterances."

Two-and-a-half millennia ago, Athenian artist Phidias depicted the Hellenic myth of the Centauromachy in his sculptures for Athens’ Parthenon. Athens, the wealthy and powerful democratic nation-state, was of course analogous in the story to the civilized Lapiths; any foes the city faced resembled the barbaric Centaurs, who, as the tale goes, attempted to rape the bride at a Lapith wedding feast, launching a battle between the two peoples. The Parthenon still stands all these centuries later, but Phidias’ work, which once adorned the building, is scattered between the Athens’ Acropolis Museum and the British Museum nearly 2,000 miles away.

It’s been more than 200 years since Thomas Bruce, Earl of Elgin, obtained a royal Ottoman mandate to excavate near the Parthenon, document the sculptures, and “take away any pieces of stone with old inscriptions, or sculptures therein.” An international debate has raged ever since: Did Britain’s Lord Elgin, who was the British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, which then ruled Greece, have the legal right to remove the sculptures? Should the British Museum, the current home of the sculptures, yield to Greek demands for their return?

Recently, a line in a potential post-Brexit trade deal being drafted by Europe demanding that Britain “return unlawfully removed cultural objects to their countries of origin” has reignited the debate. It’s an issue that, much like Brexit itself, boils down to a question of “Leave” or “Remain.” But perhaps it’s also a question of who, in modern Europe, are the civilized Lapiths, and who are the barbaric Centaurs?

To understand the turns the discussion has taken, it’s helpful to go back to the sculptures’ beginning, 2,500 years ago, when the Athens city-state was at the height of its power and influence—Euripides and Sophocles were writing their great tragedies; Socrates was still young.

After a Persian invasion destroyed an older temple, Athens celebrated Greece’s victory by building the Parthenon in its place. Its name means “the virgin’s abode,” and the temple was dedicated to Athena, the virgin goddess of war and wisdom. Though a temple, it was not strictly a religious site and was used as a treasury.

The building featured hundreds of sculptures by Phidias, one of the greatest artists of Ancient Greece, whose figures tell stories of gods, celebrations, and battles. Phidias installed finely carved sculptures on multiple levels of the building: the most fully modeled were on its pediment, while the 92 highly sculpted friezes known as the metopes, sat right below the roof. Finally, the frieze, in low relief, lined the walls just above the temple’s inner columns.

Like the Centauromachy, some of the stories carved into the marble are allegorical. It’s perhaps not a coincidence that the frieze contained exactly 192 horsemen, which was the number of Athenian warriors who died at the Battle of Marathon during the first Persian invasion of Greece.

The beauty and detail of the sculptures are truly awe-inspiring—every fold of every peplos, the draping, sleeveless tunic favored by women of ancient Greece, is included; not even fingernails are neglected on a frieze that was mounted 30 feet above eye level. At the center of the temple stood a giant gold-plated statue of Athena herself, known as the Athena Parthenos. At some point, that sculpture disappeared from the temple and the historical record, its whereabouts unknown.

Over the millennia, the Parthenon has changed with times, states, and faiths. Around 450 A.D., it was rededicated to a different virgin saint, Mary of Nazareth, and next became a mosque after the Ottomans took Athens in the 15th century. When a Venetian shell hit the temple in 1687, during a war between the Turks and Venice, it became the temple we know now—a ruin.

That was how Elgin viewed it at the dawn of the 19th century, when, armed with his mandate from the royal Ottoman empire, he chiseled off and conveyed to England the sculptures, metopes, and friezes from the temple that would become known as the Parthenon Marbles.

It has since been the subject of fierce debate whether or not the hazy perimeters of the stunningly inexact document Elgin obtained allowed him to simply sift through the debris surrounding the Parthenon and collect any treasures that had already fallen from the building, or remove the works from the structure.

By contemporary standards, what happened at the Parthenon was deeply unethical. No major institution like the British Museum would today acquire artifacts from an occupied land under the permission of the invading force. But those who would return the sculptures see the question of lawfulness simply: “They were ‘stolen’ in that an alien Ottoman regime was in power at the time,” says Dame Janet Suzman, celebrated Shakespearean actress and chairperson of the British Committee for the Reunification of the Parthenon Marbles.

And this isn’t merely a modern interpretation of Elgin’s actions: Even in 1801 contemporary witnesses to the despoiling of the Acropolis were framing the situation as a tragedy. “Athena wept over her lost virginity,” one traveler wrote at the time.

In 1816, the British Museum bought the Marbles from Elgin. The Elgin Marbles, as they became known, became an instant phenomenon when they went on view the following year. Keats was observed gazing at them in an uninterruptible rapture, and wrote his famous sonnet “On Seeing the Elgin Marbles” in response. The French Romantic Alphonse de Lamartine declared the Marbles “the most perfect poem ever written in stone on the surface of the earth.”

But they were also instantly controversial when they went on view—even in early 19th-century England, it was considered shocking for an ancient monument to be stripped of its adornments. Byron, Greece’s most famous foreign champion, was appalled, and dedicated five stanzas of “Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage” to his outrage.

The British Museum, would, in turn, begin to justify its possession of the marbles by positioning itself as preservers of the sculptures, which the Ottomans had taken to grinding up for limestone. More recently, the institution has gone on to argue that it sheltered and preserved the marbles from environmental damage as the Parthenon was subject to acid rain and other environmental pollutants.

But those who advocate for repatriation point to the shoddy record of British care for the marbles, starting with the two years some of the works spent at the bottom of the ocean when one of Elgin’s ships sank, and continuing through a 1930s effort to scrub them whiter-than-white with steel wool and household bleach. In 2014, Britain undermined its longstanding argument that the Marbles were too fragile to be moved by loaning them to a museum in St. Petersburg.

The controversy will not go away, especially at the British Museum’s Duveen Gallery, which attempts to help visitors envision the works as they were intended to be displayed. Here, it’s impossible to escape the fact that this is not the way these works were supposed to be displayed. The sculptures of the east pediment are arranged at one end of the rectangular gallery; the sculptures of the west at the other, while friezes and metopes line the walls in between at eye level. This attempt to emulate what was lost in stripping the stones from the Parthenon only underscores one of the most convincing arguments cited by those who would repatriate the Marbles to Athens: this art is intensely site-specific.

“This case is unique because the Parthenon itself is standing there,” says political sociologist and University of Virginia researcher Fiona Rose-Greenland. “So you have the idea that these things are actually ornaments for a structure that exists. It’s not like they were statues pulled out of the ash heap of some building that’s no longer there.”

The Duveen Gallery does contribute one major benefit to viewers—they’re no longer dozens of feet from the ground, as they were when they decorated the Parthenon. But Phidias explicitly carved the sculptures with this distance in mind; figures in the frieze were sculpted to account for the distorting perspective of eyes 35 feet below.

Though no one will ever again stand at the Parthenon and gaze up at the sculptures above, it would be possible for visitors to see the art closer to its birthplace. Partially in response to the British Museum’s long-held contention that Greece lacked a suitable home for the Marbles, the country in 2003 opened the Acropolis Museum, where the Parthenon sculptures owned by Greece are now displayed. The Parthenon itself is visible from the galleries of the Acropolis Museum, “an eye flicker [away] from the picture window in the dedicated Parthenon Gallery,” according to Suzman.

Though a British government spokesperson recently said that returning the marbles is “not up for discussion as part” of the Brexit trade deal, there are precedents for similar returns of ancient art. In 2006, New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art agreed to repatriate to Italy the Euphronios Krater, a terra cotta bowl that predates the Parthenon by approximately 100 years. The Krater may be the finest surviving example of ancient Greek pottery, and in 1972 the Met purchased it for more than one million dollars, a staggering amount at the time. But the bowl had been looted from an Italian tomb, and eventually the museum agreed to return it to Italy, in exchange for three lesser early vases.

Opponents of repatriation in the op-ed pages of the British press trot out the rather hoary argument that the return of the Marbles could lead to the gradual emptying of the world’s encyclopedic museums. The Rosetta Stone would follow the marbles out the doors of the British Museum shortly thereafter, then Berlin’s Neues Museum would be forced to ship its bust of Nefertiti back to Egypt. In fact, Egyptian wings the world over would be empty husks.

It is in global institutions like the British Museum, these advocates argue, that art achieves its true cosmopolitan promise. If art is for all peoples and all ages, then it’s most appropriate that it be showcased in museums featuring art made by all peoples during all ages, rather than segregated in far-flung state museums that serve narratives of glorious nationalistic pasts. Shortly after the Euphronios Krater was returned to Italy, a reporter for the New York Times noted that the bowl didn’t seem to attract many visitors in its new-old home. Is the Krater better served at the relatively little-known Cerveteri Museum where it now resides than it was at the Met, with its more than 6 million annual visitors?

But, “if really what we’re talking about is equal share for all, and a universal culture, then why isn’t there an old Dutch masters museum in Namibia?” asks Rose-Greenland, “Why isn’t the Art Institute of Chicago handing over its exquisite collection of French 19th-century watercolors to a Peruvian museum for a long-term loan?”

“Ownership necessarily betrays historical balances of power,” says James Cuno, art curator, historian, and president and CEO of the Getty Trust. But he argues that the fact that Western developed nations possess a disproportionate share of the world’s encyclopedic museums doesn’t mean that the idea of such museums is invalid. The cure isn’t fewer encyclopedic museums, but more of them, in more countries.

More problematic is another question raised by some supporters of global museums—that contemporary communities lack serious claims on objects built for and by people who lived centuries ago on the same patch of earth. The logic of this objection is that either art knows no age or national boundary, or it so grounded in its context that every other culture and era is equally without claim to it.

In his book Cosmpolitanism, Kwame Anthony Appiah argues that parsing thousands of years of human creation into categories of “yours” and “mine” isn’t easy, particularly since it can hardly be argued that the ancients were creating art with any of us in mind. He points out that the Euphronios Krater, found in and returned to Italy, was actually a Greek bowl. “Patrimony, here,” he writes, “equals imperialism plus time.”

In the case of the Parthenon Marbles, however, the suggestion that contemporary Greek people are not the legitimate heirs of Ancient Greece has a very ugly history. Elgin himself remarked that “The Greeks of today do not deserve such wonderful works of antiquity,” and “[Modern Greeks] have nothing whatsoever in common with [Ancient Greeks]. He made this claim based on the idea, popularized by the 19th-century Austrian travel writer and theorist Jakob Philipp Fallmerayer, that modern Greeks are descended from Slavs. “The race of the Hellenes has been wiped out in Europe,” he wrote in 1830. “Physical beauty, intellectual brilliance, innate harmony and simplicity, art, competition, city, village, the splendour of column and temple … [have] disappeared from the surface of the Greek continent.”

Though controversial from its inception and now debunked, Fallmerayer’s implicitly racist theory has appeared as recently as 2015 in the conservative German newspaper Die Welt, in an article in which the author argued that Greece was the perpetual demolisher of Eurozone order, from the early 19th century through austerity. He writes that Greeks are not “descendants of a Pericles or Socrates” but “a mixture of Slavs, Byzantines, and Albanians”—less worthy of a place in the European order, pretenders to admission to the EU. As if foretold in Phideas’s sculptures of the Centauromachy, the discussion has been reduced to an explicitly racist rumination on who inherits the title of civilization from the Ancient Greeks, and who is cast out as a barbarian.

The works of Phidias were completed in 432 B.C., but it might be argued that the Parthenon Marbles were created in 1687 when that shell turned the Parthenon into a husk and many of its adornments to dust. These were the sculptures that Elgin began excavating in 1801— and no one can argue that the 19th-century Greeks who watched the Parthenon defiled are unrelated to the Greeks today who clamor for their return.

The Parthenon Marbles as they are now are not the same art as the works Phidias painted and sculpted. Recreations of the works are almost jarring—their bright colors seem garish to contemporary eyes—accustomed as we are to the cool white scrubbed marble that western curators claimed showed the elegant simplicity of Ancient Greece. And of course, in the place of missing faces and limbs we project our own imaginings of the ancients, projections that have become part of the works themselves. As Margaretha Rossholm Lagerlof writes in The Sculptures of the Parthenon, “The ancient artifact naturally possesses a certain sublimity from the sheer passing of time, but also because it represents an unfilled and unfillable void.”

Source and more images here.

On 14 February, at 10 am EST, Elaion hosts a PAT ritual to Dionysos in compliance with the Erkhian calendar, which mentions one such sacrifice on 2 Anthesterion. Will you join us?

Dionysos is a very varied Theos. His domains range from fertility and exuberance, to death and dying. He is both an Ouranic Theos and a Khthonic one. He is a Year-Daímōn and the God of wine. He is associated with ecstatic rites, sex, and madness. He can bring on obsession and cure you of it. He does not shy away from either the light or dark and speaks to the side of us that will always be wild, that chafes against the restraints of polite and societal living.

Help us honour Dionysos in His many guises on 14 February, at 10 am EST. You can visit the community page here and download the ritual from here.

Earlier this week, Greece’s Minister of Culture and Sports Lina Mendoni inspected the Temple of Olympian Zeus which is currently undergoing major restoration works.

The minister was accompanied by Secretary General of Culture George Didaskalou and officials from the Ministry of Culture and Sports. They closely inspected the recently completed 17 meter high scaffolding, in the westernmost column of the temple.

“This is a project with many difficulties and problems, which in many cases appear during its development. The competent Services of the Ministry make every effort, so that the project is carried out and completed within the planned schedule.”

The proposed plans envisage the repair of damaged architectural elements and work to maintain the marble surfaces.

“Given the difficulties and the unforeseen circumstances, we are here to provide immediate solutions and to coordinate those involved in the implementation and management of the project.”

The Temple of Olympian Zeus or ‘Olympeion’ in central Athens, is one of the signature monuments of the Greek capital. The temple is located approximately 500 m south-east of the Acropolis, and about 700 m  south of the center of Athens, Syntagma Square.

Construction of the Olympeion began in the 6th century BC during the rule of the Athenian tyrants, who envisaged building the greatest temple in the ancient world, but it was not completed until 638 years after later, by the Roman Emperor Hadrian in the 2nd century AD. During Roman times it was renowned as the largest temple in Greece.