I've always been a little intrigued with the two-time creation of humanity in Hellenic mythology. While Christianity's end of humanity by way of deluge is much more well-known, and everyone knows about Noah and his ark, humanity in Hellenic mythology also ended and was revived. Story time:


After the Titanomachy--the war in which the Olympic Gods took control from the elder generation of Gods, the Titans--ended, Zeus claimed His throne as rightful King to the Deathless Ones. Humanity did not yet exist. While most Titans were locked away in Tartarus by Zeus, the Titans Prometheus and Epimetheus--who were brothers--had been either neutral or on the side of Zeus during the Titan War and were therefor given a task. Prometheus was given the task of creating man and Epimetheus was ordered to give good qualities to all creatures of earth. So did Prometheus and Epimetheus. Prometheus shaped man out of clay and Athena breathed life into him. Epimetheus spread swiftness, cunning, fur and wings but ran out of gifts when he came to man. Prometheus remedied the situation by allowing men to walk upright and gave them fire.

It soon became apparent that Prometheus loved man more than the Olympians. When Zeus decreed that man must give sacrifice to the Deathless Ones, Prometheus stood ready to aid humanity. He butchered an animal and divided it into piles; the bones and fat formed one of them, the good meat wrapped in the hide of the animal, the other. Zeus vowed that he would abide by the choice of sacrifice He made now, and picked the tasty looking pile of bones. Zeus was angered but could not take back his vow: from that point on, the Gods would get the fat and the bones from a sacrificed animal. The humans were entitled to the meat and the hide. What He could take back was the gift of fire, and this He did.

Mankind suffered greatly without fire and Prometheus traveled either to the sun or Olympus to reclaim fire for his beloved mankind. This, of course, angered Zeus even further and so He devised a plan. First, He imprisoned Prometheus. He ordered Hermes to tie Prometheus to a mountain and had a giant eagle come every day to eat his liver. As an immortal, Prometheus' liver grew back over night so his torment was endless. Before Prometheus had been taken prisoner, however, he had told his brother Epimetheus never to accept a gift from Zeus, as Zeus' wrath would undoubtedly also extend to the mortal race He had created.

And Zeus, indeed, was not done with His punishment. After imprisoning Prometheus, Zeus assembled the Theoi. He told Hēphaistos to fashion a woman out of water and clay. Hēphaistos did and brought the statue before Zeus. Zeus then asked Aphrodite to bless the woman with a beauteous face and feminine whiles. He asked Athena to dress her modestly and give her the ability to weave and craft, Demeter taught her to tend the garden. From Apollon, she received the ability to make music and sing. All Gods gave her treacherous gifts, including Hera, who made her curious, and Hermes, who made her cunning and quick of the tongue. Then, Zeus named her Pandôra (Πανδωρα), All-Giving, and breathed life into her. He then bade Hermes to deliver her to Epimetheus, along with a vase (pithos) Pandôra was never allowed to open.

Epimetheus had been warned by Prometheus never to open or accept a gift from Zeus, but he laid eyes on Pandôra's beauty and fell in love too deeply to reject her. He took her into his home amongst men and wedded her right away. Pandôra loved Epimetheus, because he was a good man and good husband. She worked tirelessly to please him and helped him keep the home. Yet, she found herself drawn to the pithos she was told never to open. Her eyes would wander to it constantly and Hera's gift eventually prevented her from holding to her promise.

On a day when Epimetheus was away from the home, Pandôra decided to risk a sneak peak at the contents she had fantasized about so often. She pulled the lid off of the pithos and out flew dark spirits of disease, death and the destruction of humanity. Pandôra hastened to seal the jar but managed to trap only Hope (Elpis)--by Zeus' decree or by mere accident.

Mankind was now plagued with illness, with failing crops, with all that makes life hard. But they had Hope and soon, Pyrrha (Fire) was born to Epimetheus and Pandôra. Prometheus had a son, Deukalion, with Pronoia, an Okeanid nymph of Mount Parnassos in Phokis. They lived in the time of the Bronze Race of Man, a corrupt age in which the Gods were rarely worshipped. Zeus was angered by their hubris and decided to end this race of man. He sent a great deluge, killing everyone but Deukalion and Pyrrha, who were warned of the flood by Prometheus. They did not build a boat, but clung to a chest, eventually sailing to the mountain peaks of Parnassos. 

Once Zeus caused the water to recede, Deukalion and Pyrrha travelled to the oracle of Delphi and begged to learn how they could bring back mankind. They were told that they needed to cast the bones of their mother over their shoulders, and they understood that they needed to pick up stoned and toss them, because Gaia, the earth, is everyone's mother. Where the pebbles landed, humans rose from the earth. Deukalion created the men and Pyrrha the women, and from their efforts, humankind once more arose to populate the earth.

There are more flood myths in Hellenic mythology--Philemon and Baucis, for example--but none as all-consuming as this one, sent by Zeus. This severe example acts as a warning to mankind: the ultimate display of destructive power by the Gods should mankind disobey Them. In this case, human kind was unethical, did not give to the Gods, and overstepped their bounds. Autochthonous births (αὐτός χθών, 'earth-born') are also well-known in Hellenic mythology. Many ancient Hellenic kings traced their line back to Gaia in this way. These two themes give us an ethical standard to live up to, explain our place in the universe, and connect us to the divine in a beautiful and enlightening way. These are the major reasons why I enjoy this myth so much.

The Greek Herald has put together a list of five facts you need to know about music in Ancient Hellas, so I thought I'd share! 


1. Music as a gift of the Gods:

In Ancient Hellas, music was seen as a gift of the Gods and they considered that music could have a valuable effect on both body and mind of the listener.

The invention of musical instruments was attributed to specific deities including the lyre to Hermes, the flute to Athena and the panpipes to Pan.


2. Music and Education:

According to historical evidence, Hellenes started studying the theory of music from the 6th century BC. The earliest surviving text on music is the Harmonic Elements of Aristoxenos, which was written in the 4th century BC.

Music developed into an important element in the studies of philosophy by the followers of Pythagoras, the Hellenic philosopher and mathematician, who supposed that music was a mathematical expression.


3. The first school of musical education:

According to Plato, the first school of musical education was founded from the people of Crete followed by the music schools of Athens, where students were taught to sing and play the lyre. In Ancient Hellas, they believed that music taught order and discipline while allowing the educated to appreciate better the musical performance.


4. Music and Religion:

Music was associated with religious occasions in Hellenic cities including the Panathenaia and the Dionysia festivals in Athens.

Music contests in athletic competitions had a religious nature in honour of the Gods and the earliest such competitions were held in Argos, Paros and Sparta.


5. Musicians and Social Class:

The musicians of Hellas, also known as the makers of songs or melopoioi, were often regarded as composers and lyricists of the music they performed.

In Ancient Hellas, musicians had an elevated society status, indicated from robes and their presence on the lists of the royal household.

It's been a while since the last constellation! The constellation Leo is one of the most recognizable in the sky, and is obviously one of the constellations tied to the zodiac. Not surprisingly, it is therefor also tied to Hēraklēs.

The lion was considered the King of Beasts by the ancient Hellenic writers. For this reason, Hyginus--our primary source of ancient information on constellations--describes the constellation almost entirely as such, mentioning Hēraklēs in passing only:

"He is said to have been put among the stars because he is considered the king of beasts. Some writers add that Hercules’ first Labor was with him and that he killed him, unarmed. Pisandrus and many others have written about this. " [II.24]

The firs labour of Hēraklēs is, of course, to slay the Nemean lion. You can read about the start of Hēraklēs' life here, but for this constellation, all you need to know is that he was stricken mad by Hera, and killed his wife and children while he was out. As a result, he went on a long journey to cleanse himself of the miasma caused by these killings. First, he visited the oracle at Delphi, who, unbeknownst to him, was whispered to by Hera. The Oracle told Hēraklēs to serve the king of Tiryns, Eurystheus, for ten years and do everything Eurystheus told him to do. Eurystheus gladly provided Hēraklēs with these labors--ten of them, one for each year--and eventually ended up adding two more, resulting in the Twelve Labors of Hēraklēs.

The first of the twelve labours was to slay the Nemean lion. As the lion was terrorizing the area surrounding the mountain, Eurystheus must have seen in the lion a worthy opponent of Hēraklēs, whose tales of bravery and brute strength has proceeded him. He ordered the hero to return with its skin. And so, Hēraklēs went to the cave of the lion after picking up a bow and quiver of arrows, because he was unaware he would not be able to harm the creature with mortal weapons. After a long fight, Hēraklēs eventually chokes the lion, and hails victorious.

The Latin writer Seneca had a beautiful description of the constellation Leo, in the words of our great hero:

"See where the lion, my first toil, glows in no small part of heaven, is all hot with rage, and makes ready his fangs. Forthwith he will seize some star; threatening he stands with gaping jaws, and breathes forth fires, and shakes the mane upon his flaming neck; whatever stars sickly autumn and cold winter with its frozen tracts bring back, with one bound will he o’erleap, and attack and crush the neck of the vernal Bull." [II.942]

I want to add one more thing to he description of this constellation: Hyginus tells another tale about the constellation Leo: the story of Berenikē (Βερενίκη). The name translates to 'bearer of victory', and this version of the story refers to Berenikē II, who lived from about 267 - 221 BC. She was the daughter of Magas of Cyrene and Queen Apama II, and the wife of Ptolemy III, the third ruler of the Ptolemaic dynasty of Egypt. Prior to her marriage to Ptolemy III, she was married to Demetrius the Fair, a Macedonian prince, whom she had killed after he chose to become the lover of her mother Apama. Berenikē was quite the woman, and participated in the Nemean Games even the ancient Olympics. Her own son, Ptolemy IV eventually had her killed, but she was deified and to be honored from that moment on. The following story concerns her, her husband Ptolemy III, and Aphrodite.

"Above his likeness in the sky nearest the Virgin are seven other stars near his tail, arranged in a triangle, which Conon, the mathematician, and Callimachus call the Lock of Berenice. When Ptolemy had married his sister Berenice, daughter of Ptolemy and Arsinoe, and after a few days had set out to attack Asia, Berenice vowed that if Ptolemy returned as victor she would clip off her hair. She placed the lock, consecrated by this vow, in the temple of Venus Arsinoe Zephyritis, but on the following day it couldn’t be seen there. When the king was distressed by this, Conon the mathematician, whom we mentioned above, desiring to win the favor of the king, said that he had seen the lock among the constellations, and pointed out seven stars without definite configuration which he imagined were the lock.

Some authors along with Callimachus have said that this Berenice raised horses, and used to send them to Olympia. Others add that once Ptolemy, Berenice’s father, in panic at the number of the enemy, had sought safety in flight, but his daughter, an accomplished horse woman, leaped on a horse, organized the remaining troops, killed many of the enemy, and put the rest to flight. For this even Callimachus calls her high-souled. Eratosthenes says that she ordered returned to the girls of Lesbos the dowry left to them by their parents, which on one had released, and she established among them right to bring action of recovery."

The constellation Leo is visible at latitudes between +90° and −65°, and best visible at 21:00 (9 p.m.) during the month of April.

An Athenian "neo-muralist" is blending Greek mythology and Byzantine iconography with graffiti and street art to depict how the coronavirus pandemic has forced people the world over to put down roots.

From Bangkok to Rabat to Zurich, Fikos has painted the walls of many cities, but he is now adding a splash of colour to the sun-beaten facades of the Cypriot capital Nicosia.

"Here in Cyprus, there are not many murals yet," he says. "It's the beginning phase of the street art scene in Cyprus, so they are impressed and kind of awed when they see this happening."

The 33-year-old spends time wandering the narrow back alleys of Nicosia's Old City in search of walls to use as a canvas. The one he chose for his latest project is the cracked veneer of a crumbling mud-brick house in an abandoned, dusty lot near the United Nations-patrolled buffer zone, which divides the city's Greek and Turkish-speaking halves.

The Greek artist, who describes himself as a "neo-muralist", says he has been living on the Mediterranean island for the past year amid the Covid-19 pandemic, a theme reflected in his latest piece.

Standing on a wobbly platform, he gets to work with a brushstroke along the brow of Amaracus, the perfume-maker of Aphrodite, whose fate he says befits life in the time of the pandemic. Bit by bit, a sketch evolves into a jade-green male figure with leaves sprouting from his head, branches protruding from his chest and roots extending from his legs.

"He got punished by the gods and got turned into a plant or flower," says Fikos, who explains that he used the story from Cypriot mythology as an analogy for the pandemic, during which people "have grown roots" by staying in one place for so long.

Fikos says Cypriots have taken to his artwork, unlike others who tend to attach to it the stigma of graffiti. His works now adorn five facades on the Greek-Cypriot side of Nicosia, which has been divided on ethnic lines since communal unrest erupted in 1963 to 1964.

Fikos says he draws from a varied palette of influences, from art in ancient Greece to Egypt to Japan. One such artwork is located near the Green Line that divides Nicosia. It shows King Onassagoras, who ruled the kingdom of Ledra around 672BC, next to three female figures - one of them Nicosia, depicted as a woman split in half.

"I've studied Byzantine painting since I was 13 years old in Athens, and I studied the art of the street in the streets. Street art has evolved from graffiti and it has different rules. You must leave your stamp. But my point of view is totally different. I'm always trying to adapt my sketch to the environment and get inspired from the colours of the neighbourhood. My approach is more like fine art."

Fikos says in the past he was unable to convince Athenians to let him paint over the garish graffiti that blankets the city, even for free. But now his appeal is growing both at home and abroad, and he gets paid for his work. He has been commissioned to paint murals in many countries, including France, Ireland, Mexico, Russia, Serbia and Ukraine. They can cover entire facades of buildings as high as 17 storeys, like one in Kiev, yet they are not overbearing and do not look out of place.

"Most of the time, they have something in mind, they give me a theme," Fikos says of his commissions. "But I do my research on history, mythology or whatever I find appropriate, then I sketch and I start to paint."

Once the research is done, the process of painting the murals can take just two or three more days, he says.

"I'm mostly inspired by Greek mythology, because I trust that if these myths have survived, they must have something to say."

Ah, the Parthenon Marbles (or sculptures, or any of the other names they have). It's the topic that keeps on giving. In recent months, the Greek government has re-asserted its longstanding demand for the return of the Parthenon Sculptures from the British Museum. This demand was explicitly ruled out by UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, in March this year when he reiterated the government’s “firm longstanding position” that the sculptures “were legally acquired by Lord Elgin under the appropriate laws of the time.” This provocative statement caused outrage across Europe and the world, with many international committees coming together in one voice to renew their passionate support for the case of the return of the Sculptures.

Ultimately, these expressions of support became a crescendo of neo-Philhellenism and one of the strongest voices among the crescendo was David Hill, who is the Chairman of an Australian committee known as Australians for the Return of the Parthenon Sculptures.

Mr Hill, who is also the former chairman of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, tells The Greek Herald exclusively that his passion for the Parthenon Sculptures and Greece began over 45 years ago when he first visited the country.

“I first went to Greece in 1973… and it was like a magnet, it was the beginning of a love affair. The relationship became deeper and richer over the years and I became absorbed in the history, spirit and culture of Greece. I visited the Acropolis on my first trip to Greece and after that… I went on to London and an old English friend took me to see the Elgin collection in the British Museum and I think I was struck by the injustice of the marbles being in London.”

Ever since then, Mr Hill has been working tirelessly to persuade the UK government to return the Parthenon Sculptures to their rightful place in Greece. For four years from 1999, Mr Hill was the Executive Director of the British Committee for the Reunification of the Parthenon Marbles in London. Later, from 2006 to 2016, he was the President of the International Association which encompasses all the committees, and he is now in his current position.

“Over the years I’ve worked with the Chairman of the Board of the British Museum, various arts and culture ministers in the UK government, and I’ve worked with, I think, 11 Greek culture ministers and six Prime Ministers. I also give… my views to the Greek government on a regular basis. Most of my work is trying to persuade the British to give the sculptures back and trying to generate more public opinion and support for the return of the sculptures. You’ve got the situation now where, particularly over the last 20 years, most of the public opinion polls around the world strongly support the marbles going back… the problem is we haven’t changed the mind of the British.”

To do this, Mr Hill says, 

“...the Greek government ought to litigate or to sue” because the strategy that has been employed since Melina Mercouri has been “cultural diplomacy,” but it has produced “no results.” I think it’s a Greek cultural thing. In Australia, America, Britain, if you can’t agree on an important issue, seeking the decision of an independent court or tribunal… is considered a civilised thing to do. But there are a lot of people in Greece who think it is almost a declaration of war, they feel uncomfortable, they feel it’s an aggressive thing to do. So trying to persuade the Greeks they should explore their legal options is proving very difficult.”

One way Mr Hill desperately tried to persuade the Greeks to pursue litigation was in 2014 when he took three of the best international lawyers to Athens to advise then-Prime Minister, Antonis Samaras, of the Greek government’s legal options. These three people were Geoffrey Robertson QC, fellow barrister, Amal Clooney, and the late Professor Norman Palmer.

Mr Hill says that at the time, Mrs Clooney had just married famous actor, George Clooney, and this star factor ensured the spotlight was firmly focused on the reunification of the sculptures.

“I’ve never seen anything like it… but what it did was it made the marbles the news story around the world.”

Of course, it must be mentioned though that to this day the UK government and British Museum are still no closer to returning the Sculptures, and Mr Hill says Philhellenes and the Greek diaspora need to keep pushing and building public support.

This could involve supporting Greece through organisations such as the Hellenic Initiative, or even attending events such as the upcoming Australian book launch of Geoffrey Robertson QC’s new book, ‘Who Owns History,’ at The Governors Centre in Moore Park on June 5.

“It’s not often in history that a great wrong can’t be righted. In this case, it can be. They can be returned where they belong – to Greece. At the end of the day, it’s wrong for the British to keep them there… and I’m confident… that eventually right will prevail.”

Coming of age ceremonies are prevalent in most cultures and are often linked to the religious views of the people performing it. Famous examples are the bar mitswa's and bat mitswa's of the Jewish. The ancient Hellenes had coming of age rituals as well, and like almost everything else in ancient Hellenic life, these rituals were tied into deity worship. Today, I'm going to talk about these coming of age ceremonies, but because the differences are so great between girls and boys, I'm going to describe their coming of age ceremonies separately.



Girl to woman
In ancient Hellas, a girl's coming of age ceremony was linked to her wedding day. As soon as she got married, she would move out, into her new husband's oikos, and commit to the task she was born to fulfill: gift her husband legitimate offspring--boys, preferably. It won't come as a surprise that in preparation for this entirely new role in life, a girl's coming of age ceremony was focussed almost entirely on ending her own childhood, and petitioning the Theoi for help in her life as an adult. As such, fertility and womanhood were big parts of the rituals.

Young girls rarely had a role to play in household worship. The family only had them with them for thirteen to fifteen years, on average, after that, she joined her rightful place at the oikos of her husband, where she carried more (religious) responsibility. There were religious roles young girls could fulfill outside of the home, however, most notably as 'Arrephoros' (Ἀρρήφορος)--year long handmaidens of Athena Polias (Πολιάς)--in Athens, and as 'Arktos' (αρκτος), bear, a service in the following of Artemis Brauronia (Βραυρωνια) at Brauron (Βραυρών).

During the Arkteia festival, celebrated every four or five years alongside--or as a part of--the Brauronia, named and in honor of the epithet of Artemis. Every Athenian girl, as well as many other girls from all over Attika, had to take part of the festival before they could marry. The girls were brought to Brauron, a temple of Artemis with a rich history in both myth and history. Some versions of the myth of Iphigeneia have her taken from the sacrifice and dropped in Brauronia, where she established a temple to the Theia in gratitude. Otherwise, an oracle might have told the ancient Hellenes to build a temple to the Theia at Brauron after a terrible plague or famine plagued the land following the killing of a bear by two hunters.

The symbolism of the bear might refer to the bear which was slain by the hunters, or the clothes Iphigeneia might have left at her 'sacrifice'. It's also possible that the bear reference refers to Kallisto, who was transformed into a bear by the Theia.

During the festival young girls, and it seems that on occasion young boys, would gather to celebrate Artemis Brauronia with races, and dances. They would don bear masks and dance a dance known as the 'Arkteia', which was made up of slow, solemn steps meant to imitate the movements of a bear and was performed to a tune from a diaulos (double flute). They might have carried baskets of figs. Up until as far back as the 5th century, the girls might have worn actual bear skins, but bears soon became scarce, so they wore yellow dresses called 'krokoton', which they 'shed' instead of the skins to signal their coming adulthood.

The actual reason for the 'bear' ritual has been lost. It's possible that the ritual served to exorcise 'the wildness' out of little girls, but it's more likely that it was simply a way to procure kharis for the young girls who would soon call on Artemis during childbirth. In the same spirit, young women on the threshold of marriage made an offering to Artemis of their childhood toys and other paraphernalia that represented childhood, as with an offering of one drachma (roughly $ 60,-) at the temple of Aphrodite. Most likely, the bride also honored Hera Teleia and Zeus Teleios in some way.

A young woman came of age during her wedding and the subsequent wedding night, but became a woman when she gave birth for the first time. Especially during the latter, they desperately needed the support of the Theia Artemis. Aphrodite and Hera Teleia would support her through her marriage, and help her make it a success. With the help of the Theoi, a girl could become a woman.

Boy to man
Young boys had a very different life to young girls when it came to life in ancient Hellas. Because it was very important for a man to have legitimate children, the child's paternity was attested to on multiple occasions. In Athens, this was done the first time shortly after being named, and the second time when he reached sixteen years of age. Both times, the child was presented at the 'phratria' (φ(ρ)ατρία)--brotherhood--of his father. The system of brotherhoods, four in total, was the system that preceded the system of tribes. The brotherhoods largely fades, except for the registration of male offspring, and the vetting of such with testimonials and tests. The brotherhoods were overseen by Zeus Phratrios and Athena Phratria, who were honored yearly in a three-day festival called the 'Apoutouria'.

During a son's presentation to the brotherhood, Zeus Phratrios and Athena Phratria during the Apoutouria, boys sacrificed a lock of their hair to the patron Theoi and Hēraklēs, their father an animal. If one of the phratria contested that the father was, indeed, the father of this child, he could take the animal from the father before they reached the altar, and drag it away. Doing so would have been a very serious thing to do, and very shocking for a young boy to witness, not to speak of the father. The claim would then be put to a vote. When the phratria ruled in favor of the father, the animal was sacrificed and the meat distributed to the members of the brotherhood. The son became a full member.

At sixteen, a boy was considered a young man, and he entered one or two years of public service, either to mature, or to show he had matured enough to take part. This was called his 'ephebeia', which literally means 'young man'. On completion of this public service, a young man could enter the military and became a voting member of the Ekklesia. He became a citizen. Although young man were now considered adults, he only truly became an adult at age thirty, when he could serve in the boule, and get married.

Young men swore an oath upon completion of their ephebia, which has largely been preserved. It read as follows:

"I will not bring shame upon these sacred weapons nor will I abandon my comrade-in-arms wherever I stand in the ranks. I will defend both the holy and profane things. I will not hand on the fatherland smaller than I received it, but larger and better, so far as it lies in my power with the assistance of all the other citizens. I will obey the officials who govern wisely and the laws, both those which are already established and those which are wisely established in the future. If anyone attempts to destroy them, I will not allow it, so far as it lies in my power with the assistance of all the other citizens. I will hold in honor the ancestral sanctuaries. The following gods are witnesses: Aglauros, Hestia, Enyo, Enyalios, Ares and Athena Areia, Zeus, Thallo, Auxo, Hegemone, Heracles, the territory of the fatherland, the wheat, barley, vines, olive trees, and fig trees."

With this oath, the world opened up for young men; they would now be held divinely accountable for any trespassing upon the law and common sense. Political life would become important for men, as well as military service. They had roughly ten years to dedicate to these before he took a wife, so young men tended to fulfill much of their obligation to the city in these ten years. After his marriage, he became the one who presented sons to the phratria, and he got to experience the entire proceedings from the spot his father once held. This--most likely--created strong familial ties that continued through family lines for centuries.

In conclusion
There is much that remains to be said about coming of age ceremonies in ancient Hellas, more to be said about coming of age ceremonies in ancient Athens, even, but that is talk for another day. For now, I hope you have a basic idea of the youth and religious focal points of an Athenian child's life. Personally, I have a soft spot for coming of age rituals, and I strongly suggest creating or adapting ceremonies for the second (or even third) generation of Hellenists. What this would look like will be left for another post, but it would surely be beautiful.

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.



"I have a question about miasma and ritual purification. I understand that many start with a shower and end with khernips. But what about modern conveniences? Is it okay to use scented soaps? Is it okay to put on deodorant after the shower? Can I style my hair? Or is it better to just go straight from drying off to khernips?"

By all means, make yourself pretty and good smelling! the ancient Hellenes sure did! This whole shower-as-part-of-katharmos is a modern invention. Katharmos, or the act of getting ritually clean, starts the second you walk into the area you have designated as sacred with the intent of performing ritual. Your shower happens way before, as does any primping. Then, you prepare your mind and start your procession into the area. this is when katharmos starts. You wash your hands with khernips–lustral water, which you prepare there and then, or you could possibly have stored–sprinkle the area with the water and strew barley groats as if sowing them. That’s your purification. As you can see, all of the things you worry about happen long before!

---

"I'm really new to Hellenismos so I have a lot of questions, but in particular I have one about khernips. Do I have to use them every time I pray, or could I limit it to rituals? I am lacking in resources but I don't want to offend the gods in any way. Thank you in advance!"

You use khernips every single time you perform a rite for the Gods. This includes (daily) sacrifice, festival celebrations, etc. The only exception for the ancient Hellenes would have been the drops of wine tipped on the ground during a symposium (a social gathering where wine was consumed and philosphical talk was indulged in) or before a meal. In general, though, if you plan of getting in contact to the Gods, get ritually clean with khernips. Praying, really, is not an act that befits Hellenismos if partaken in as a standalone activity: you pray during ritual. The two are synonymous. I hope this helps!

---

"Do you know any Gods that were associated with Ravens/Crows?"

The only one that comes to mind is Apollon. For a variety of reasons, Hermes is often associated with these birds as well, but there is no ancient evidence for this. Apollon, on the other hand, has a long history with the birds. It seems odd that a deity associated with light is also associated with an animal with an image as negative as the raven. Ravens are often associated with battlegrounds, cemeteries, and death, with the rotting of carcasses, and funerals. In Hellenic myth, they are also associated with vision beyond that which is present. With oracular visions, and with spotting that which can not, or should not, be spotted.

One myth that associates ravens with Apollon is the myth of Koronis (Κορωνίς). Koronis was Apollon's lover, and was pregnant with His son, when she fell for another man, a mortal man, Ischys (Ἰσχύς). A raven--then white--had been assigned by Apollon to watch over His lover, and when the raven returned to tell Apollon of Coronis' betrayal, Apollon was furious the raven had not pecked out the eyes of the mortal whom his lover fell in love with. In a fit of rage, Apollon turned its feathers black.

---

"I've been reading your blog for a long time and you are one of my go-to sources. I have questions about statues which have left me stumped for months. My alter is far more "cluttered" than your own. Recently I've started to make it more deity neutral. Where would you suggest I place my statues? Would you mind sharing how you display your own? I've considered individual alters. Do you know any sources with images that might guide me? Thank you for all the amazing work you do and have a great day!"

I think there is an easy source of your confusion: there is a huge difference between an altar and a shrine. An altar is one of those basic necessities within Hellenismos, and it differs from a shrine. Where an altar is a ‘work space’, dedicated not so much to a specific deity, but used to do the bulk of the (daily) rituals, a shrine is a devotional area where an altar might be located. In ancient Hellas, the shrine was usually a temple, the altar an actual altar, standing outside of it. Household worship took place at a multitude of shrines. Labelling something a shrine does not mean you can’t sacrifice at these spots in your home. In general, you decorate a shrine but leave the altar rather bare.

As for your statues: I put them up on my shrines, not my altar. That’s why it’s bare-ish ;-)

In the most common version of the myth, Narkissos (Narcissus, Νάρκισσος) was a hunter from Thespiae in Boeotia who was known for his beauty. He was the son of the river God Kephissos (Cephissus) and nymph Liriope. He was proud, in that he disdained those who loved him. Nemesis noticed this behavior and attracted Narkissos to a pool, where he saw his own reflection in the water and fell in love with it, not realizing it was merely an image. Unable to leave the beauty of his reflection, Narcissus lost his will to live. Narkissos is the origin of the term 'narcissism', a fixation with oneself and one's physical appearance and/or public perception.


The Roman poet Ovid is our primary source on the myth of Narkissos, but he was, as I said, Roman. Ovid, and Roman mythology in general, has been a subject on this blog before, and always comes with a disclaimer that these views were not, in fact, Hellenic. I have mentioned in passing that I don't feel the Hellenic and Roman Gods are one and the same, although they are often painted as the same Gods with a different name, and often times, the myths the Romans knew were different from the Hellenic myths they were based on. Sometimes these differences are subtle, sometimes (like in the myth of Médousa) and also Narkissos, they are not.

The version by Ovid, found in book 3 of his Metamorphoses (completed 8 AD) is the story of Echo and Narcissus. One day Narcissus was walking in the woods when Echo, an Oread (mountain nymph) saw him, fell deeply in love, and followed him. Narcissus sensed he was being followed and shouted "Who's there?". Echo repeated "Who's there?" She eventually revealed her identity and attempted to embrace him. He stepped away and told her to leave him alone. She was heartbroken and spent the rest of her life in lonely glens until nothing but an echo sound remained of her. Nemesis learned of this story and decided to punish Narcissus. She lured him to a pool where he saw his own reflection. He did not realize it was only an image and fell in love with it. He eventually recognized that his love could not be reciprocated and withered away like Echo did.

The oldest version of the myth currently known to us, ascribed to the poet Parthenios of Nicaea (Παρθένιος ὁ Νικαεύς), composed around 50 BC, differs. It was found in fragments in ancient rubbish dumps at Oxyrhynchus in Egypt. The papyrus fragment is one of tens of thousands that were found in the late 19th and early 20th century. These dumps, now fully excavated, are the world's largest source of ancient writings, accounting for 70 percent of all known literary papyri. Many are kept at Oxford but the majority have still not been fully transcribed and translated. It was during work on these remaining manuscripts that the Narkissos fragment was found. This is what was written:

(NARCISSUS)
... god-like ...
... ...
He had a cruel heart, and hated all of them,
Till he conceived a love for his own form:
He wailed, seeing his face, delightful as a dream,
Within a spring; he wept for his beauty.
Then the boy shed his blood and give it to the earth
... to bear

There is also another ancient Hellenic version by Conon, in his Narrations 24, which differs from Ovid's account even though they were contemporaries. Conon was a Hellenic mythographer who lived from the 1st century BC to 1st century AD.

"Ameinias was a very determined but fragile youth. When he was cruelly spurned by Narkissos (Narcissus), he took his sword and killed himself by the door, calling on the goddess Nemesis to avenge him. As a result when Narkissos saw the beauty of his form reflected in a stream he fell deeply in love with himself. In despair and believing that he had rightly earned this curse for the humiliation of Ameinias, he slew himself. From his blood sprang the flower."

These versions of the Narcissus story is much more concise than Ovid's. Ovid devotes many verses to the nymph Echo, who in her unrequited love for Narkissos wastes away. There is no trace of her either in the papyrus text, nor Conon's account. There, Narkissos is a young boy and his lovers are all male. Ovid also distinguishes himself from the other two authors by having Narkissos, like Echo, simply waste away. His body mysteriously disappears, and when the nymphs come to collect it, they find a flower in its place. In Conon's version, as in the new papyrus, the boy kills himself. In Parthenios' version, no flower is mentioned, but (as a kind of midway form) the narcissus flower is mentioned by Conon. 

There are no older versions of this myth we are aware of than the version by Parthenios, which stems from 50 BC. If the ancient Hellenes in the fourth or third century BC even knew of Narkissos is thus questionable. They may have, or they may not have. The more you know, right?

It's time for part three of the series-within-a-series featuring the myth of Apollon and the raven. The previous parts were the constellation Corvus: the Raven, and the Constellation Crater: the Cup. This third installment is about the longest constellation we still recognize as a constellation today: Hydra, or the sea-serpent.


To recap the story of Apollon and the raven: the raven (or crow) was in service to Apollon, and was sent out on an errant for the Theos. He was asked to bring water to Him, but instead, he paused in his quest. Most commonly it is assumed is that he stopped for a meal of figs. When the raven returned without water, Apollon questioned him. Instead of giving a straight answer, the raven lied, and said he had been kept from the water by a snake. In some accounts, he actually had a snake in his talons as he said this. Apollon, however, saw that the raven was lying, and flung the raven, the krater with which the raven was supposed to collect water, as well as the snake into the sky, where they remain to this day.

Roman author Gaius Julius Hyginus (64 BC - 17 AD) talks about the serpent's continued function in his Astronomica:

"This is the sign on which the Crow sits and over which the Bowl is placed. [...] As long as the figs are ripening, the crow cannot drink, because on those days he has a sore throat. So when the god wished to illustrate the thirst of the crow, he put the bowl among the constellations, and placed the water-snake underneath to delay the thirsty crow. For the crow seems to peck at the end of its tail to be allowed to go over to the bowl." [2.40]


Another hydra the constellation is associated with is the Hydra vanquished by Hēraklēs as his second labour. After his victory over the Nemean lion, Hēraklēs is send off to handle another sticky problem: the Lernaean Hydra, who was raised from the earth by Hera just to end the life of Hēraklēs. The Lernaean Hydra (Λερναία Ὕδρα) was the offspring of Typhon, and layered in the swampy lake of Lerna. He realized he would need help for this labour, and asked it of his nephew Iolaus (Ἰόλαος). Together they devised a plan: Hēraklēs would cut off the heads, and Iolaus would sear the stumps shut, in this way, the heads could not regenerate. When Hēraklēs returns to Eurystheus after completing the labour, the king decrees that, because Hēraklēs could not have completed the labour without the help of Iolaus, the labour will not count against his total, and he will have to do an extra one to fulfill his debt.

On the hydra, Pausanias writes in his 'History of Greece'. He speaks of the birth place of the hydra, and of his alleged number of heads:

"At the source of the Amymone grows a plane tree, beneath which, they say, the hydra (water-snake) grew. I am ready to believe that this beast was superior in size to other water-snakes, and that its poison had something in it so deadly that Heracles treated the points of his arrows with its gall. It had, however, in my opinion, one head, and not several. It was Peisander76 of Camirus who, in order that the beast might appear more frightful and his poetry might be more remarkable, represented the hydra with its many heads." [2.37.4]


Constellations are often associated with the constellations they are surrounded with, and with no constellation this is clearer than with Hydra. Aratos, a Hellenic poet who flourished in Macedonia in the early third century BC, speaks best of Hydra in regards to his surrounding constellations in his 'Phaenomena':

"Another constellation trails beyond, which men call the Hydra. Like a living creature it winds afar its coiling form. Its head comes beneath the middle of the Crab, its coil beneath the body of the Lion, and its tail hangs above the Centaur himself. Midway on its coiling form is set the Crater, and at the tip the figure of a Raven that seems to peck at the coil." [443]


The constellation Hydra is visible at latitudes between +54° and −83°, and best visible at 21:00 (9 p.m.) during the month of April.

The University of Connecticut will soon open a new Sparta museum on its campus which will be entirely dedicated to the ancient Hellenic city-state. The news that the University would construct a museum on the Ancient Hellenic city state was made public after a meeting held two years ago between Ilias Tomazos, the head of the University’s department of Greek studies, and Greece’s Culture Minister Lina Mendoni.

The new Spartan museum will focus its interest on artifacts and events dating from the prehistoric era of the broader Laconia region all the way to Byzantine times. The museum is located in the area of the campus where an Orthodox Christian chapel and a Greek theater are already located, along with a library and an educational center. The stunning, all-marble Classical-style theatre, which was recently completed, seats over 700 spectators.

The nearby Three Hierarchs Byzantine Chapel was opened in 1995. The Greek Orthodox church is open during the academic year and during major holidays. The Macedonia Educational Building, also in the same area of the Storrs campus, was opened in 1997. It includes multiple classrooms, several offices, student meeting rooms, a community hall, a library, and an exhibit hall.

Ilias Katsos, a prominent member of the New York are Greek diaspora, donated funds for four of its marble metopes which are currently being installed. Volunteers such as himself, along with Christo Bakes and Nikos Skroubelos, whose families originated from the Epanou Riza area of the Laconian Northern Taygetos also helped make the gleaming new Museum and its facilities a reality.

Additionally, a new statue of Spartan leader Leonidas, as well as a sculpture depicting the battle of Thermopylae, will be placed there in the future. The majority of the expenses for the construction of this project were covered through donations.

The Greek Culture Ministry, which declared its intention to assist with the Sparta project, also pledged to offer materials that were used in its creation. Mendoni said the Culture Ministry would support the initiative through the provision of sculpture copies, photographic material, and digital media.

The Paideia Center’s Tomazos also informed Mendoni about the cultural programs to be offered at UConn and invited the minister to the opening of the “Alexander the Great” open-air theater in October.

On the day of the Hene kai Nea (or sometimes, like this month, the day after), I post a monthly update about things that happened on the blog and in projects and organizations related to it. I will also announce Elaion's coming PAT rituals.


Statistics:
PAT rituals for Skirophorion:
  • Skirophorion 3 - June 14 - Sacrifice to Kourotrophos, Athena Polias, Aglaurus, Zeus Polieus, Poseidon & possibly Pandrosos at Erkhia
  • Skirophorion 12 - June 23 - Skirophoria - festival in honor of Athena, Poseidon, Apollon & Demeter; the Tritopatores were worshipped at Marathon on the eve of this festival
  • Skirophorion 14n - June 25 - Dipolieia/Bouphonia - festival in honor of Zeus Poleius
  • Skirophorion 29 - July 10 - Disoteria - Sacrifice to Zeus the Savior and Athene the Savior

    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.

    Many Greeks were angered by the apparent misspelling of the name of the Greek goddess Nike on the newly launched sneakers by the American multinational of the same name. Nike, meaning “victory” in Greek, celebrated the goddess by releasing a new pair of footwear called “The Winged Goddess Of Victory” with the Air Force 1 Low. Greek-speakers were quick to spot, however, that at the heel of the left sneaker, an inscription in Greek which was apparently supposed to read ΝΙΚΗ Air, i.e. “NΙΚΕ Air”, was misspelled. The way it looks now, it would be more like “PIKS Air.”

    Many were left wondering what exactly “ΠΙΚΣ” means. Is it a colossal mistake, some unknown initials, or a made-up word that just looks Greek for marketing purposes? Some took to the social media to complain about the apparent blunder. Others started a petition to make the American multinational retract the sneakers.

    “We are demanding Nike to retract and recall the Air Force 1 “Goddess of Victory” sneakers from the marketplace. Nike has misused the Greek alphabet on the back of the sneakers misrepresenting the spelling of the Greek Goddess NIKE. Currently the sneakers spell PIKS and not NIKE – this is cultural appropriation. We are asking Nike to preserve and respect the Greek culture and history by accurately using the Greek alphabet when writing and referring to the Goddess NIKE.”

    The Air Force 1 “Goddess of Victory” sneakers have a clean white base, supposedly replicating the robes of ancient Greek gods. Keeping its look monochromatic, the low-top shoe has replaced its smooth leather with ribbed Epi leather, adding texture to its forefoot and heel overlays. A silver mesh peeks out from underneath white laces, hinting at the Greek’s devotional marble statues, or perhaps, a medal. To specify which deity the sneakers celebrate, however, the shoes bear an extended sheer tongue akin to a wing.

    Towards the heel of the sneaker, traditional Nike branding has been swapped out for thematic motifs. One shoe reads “PICS Air” in silver Greek lettering, while the other boasts a metallic palm branch graphic — the symbol of victory — embroidered into its heel tab. The dedication continues within the sneaker, where a figure of Nike the goddess has been imprinted onto the insoles alongside the definition of the Nike name.

    Dubbed the “Goddess of Victory,” these Air Force 1 Lows have yet to receive a release date, though their official imagery suggests they’ll hit the Nike website in the coming weeks. Each pair is expected to retail for $130. 

    As a business communication major, I assume the lettering is marketing, but is that a good enough excuse?

    When seen through the eyes of Manolis Korres, the architect who has long presided over the restoration of the Parthenon, the Acropolis needs no improvement at all. In the face of such architectural mastery, he thinks of himself more as a maestro of order, making a monument that has survived explosions, fire, looting and earthquakes more understandable to the public.

    “Many generations of scholars have tried to bring order to this chaos, myself included,” he said, while taking in the maze of marble slabs and scaffolding-encased ruins around him. “The issue is to safeguard what is here. In a hospital you have to take care of patients, for me the patients are stones.”

    The wiry professor, a world-renowned authority on the fifth century BC site and current head of the Acropolis Monuments Conservation committee, is regarded as a national treasure in Greece. No man, say supporters, knows more about the Periclean treasure, or the sacred rock on which it stands. But at 73, 70 years after he was first taken as a child on the shoulders of an uncle to visit the temples, the architect has also come under criticism for interventions conducted during lockdown and deemed to have gone too far.

    The installation of a new pathway paved in reinforced concrete across much of the hill’s open space in the name of facilitating people with disabilities has been met with dismay. So, too, has Korres’ proposed plan to overhaul the ancient citadel’s majestic gateway, or Propylaia, by reinstating a Roman staircase that would both broaden the entrance, correct previous erroneous interventions and return it to some of its original form.

    In the six months that the temples were closed to the public on account of Covid-19, a new lift capable of carrying two wheelchairs at a time was also installed on the rock’s northern flank, replacing an older elevator that had ceased to operate years ago. That, too, has been criticised as a modernist eyesore.

    The alterations – the most significant on the site for more than a century – replace an older pathway that followed the ancient Panathenaic way and was much narrower in size. Opposition has been fierce. More than 3,500 signatories have endorsed an open letter on the online activist network Avaaz calling for the pathways to be removed and other projected changes to be cancelled. Following the completion of the corridors on the northern and eastern area of the site, plans are afoot to extend the walkways west and south.

    “It’s as if the Parthenon itself has been lowered to street level and surrounded by a cement pavement,” said Despoina Koutsoumba, president of the Association of Greek archaeologists. “There has been a great deal of pressure, especially from the cruise industry, to increase visitor capacity so that even larger crowds can be accommodated.”

    Dr Tasos Tanoulas, until recently director of restorations at the Propylaia, also deplored the decision to cover so much of the rock’s face with reinforced concrete, saying the move would lead inexorably to “degradation of the natural landscape and a devaluation of the rock as a natural monument in its own right, as a natural fort”. In a letter to World Heritage Watch – the Berlin-based body established to ensure that prime sites are not sacrificed to economic interests – Tanoulas argued the alterations appeared to “compete with and diminish” the architectural and sculptural splendour of the monuments.

    Yannis Hamilakis, a professor of archaeology and modern Greek studies at Brown University, went further, saying the changes amounted to “a scandal of global proportions” given the monument’s significance as a world heritage site.

    “The most scandalous thing, perhaps, is that these works have been carried out without prior systematic study,” he said. “They’re clearly an attempt to recreate an imagined fifth century BC Acropolis, a neo-classical colonialist and nationalist dream which converges with the government’s agenda for further commercialisation of the site.”

    If proof were needed, he said, the French designer Christian Dior will be among the first to take advantage of the new expanded pathways with a fashion shoot on the Acropolis next week. But Greece’s culture minister, Lina Mendoni, a respected archaeologist herself, defended the measures, saying they had been ratified at multiple levels, including the powerful central archaeological council Kas. “They’ve all been approved by people whose credibility cannot be disputed,” she said during a tour of the site. “Since 2004 [when Athens held the Olympic Games] we’ve been talking about improving access for people with disabilities.”

    Each year about 150 people are seriously injured negotiating the outcrop’s slippery limestone surface, she said. “Many break legs. Each incident is recorded in the site’s logbooks. Whatever you do on the Acropolis ignites debate. If you don’t do anything, you’re criticised; if you do, you’re criticised.”

    Tour guides gathered around the monument’s ticket booths on Wednesday agreed the new pathways were overdue. “There are ambulances up here at least four times a week,” said Athina Pitaki who has been guiding visitors around the site since 1978. “I’ve been up here long enough to see all the changes and in reality it’s much better now. It hasn’t affected the monuments. They’re still as impressive as ever and for the first time people can enjoy them without always fearing they’re about to fall.”

    Korres knows he is in for a fight. Flooding at the site described as “a predictable consequence” of the new paving following heavy rains last December has intensified the outcry. But it is controversy he appears to relish. “A hilltop can’t flood,” he smiles. “Any intervention raises the issue of aesthetics and is a controversial process. It’s always about weighing what is gained and what is lost.”

     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.



    "Which theoi can be invoked in regards to friendship? Has Dionysus got any connection with friendship?"

    There is actually a Goddess in charge of friendship (and sexual intercourse): Philotes (or Philia). Not much is known about Her, but you can pray to Her for sure. Theoi.com has a small article about Her. Not surprisingly, 'philia' is also the word used by the ancient Hellenes to denote friendhsip. As for Dionysos... He does not have a direct link to Philotes, but when there is drinking involved, friendship tend to be easily born (and broken!), so I would not be surprised if Dionysos would be open to listen to issues concerning friendships.

    ~~~

    "I managed to watch the documentary. While its very interesting, many things bother me. About the fact they keep saying our gods are archetypes, for example. And at one point it's said that in ancient Greek religion 'we say we created the gods at our image'. That made me cringe. Am I wrong in thinking this?"

    That would be this documentary. The woman who explained these things, explained them very simplisticly. She ditched all 'minor' Gods and put all major domains with the dodekatheon. She also integrated ancient Hellenic philosophy into her story when she spoke of mankind creating the Theoi. Her thought process is largely influenced by Socrates, and later Plato and Xenophanes (him especially). These philosophers, in turn, were influenced by the Jewish prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel, who interpreted parts of the Old Testament to reflect the idea that man created the Gods as a way to feel safer (simplifying here).

    During the sixth and fifth centuries BC, the traditional Olympian religion began to lose its hold on some aristocratic Athenian citizens. A small number of poets and philosophers began to question popular views of the Gods (Socrates, famously, was put to death for that). They shifted their interest away from the role of Gods in mythical stories, supernatural events, and everyday life and instead towards the search for a single rational principle at the heart of the universe. They pushed religion from deities to divinity, from divine interventions to physical causes, and from tangible images to invisible forces. Xenophanes (570-478 BC) famously said:

    "Ethiopians make their gods snub-nosed and black; the Thracians make theirs blue-eyed and red-haired ... Mortals imagine that the gods are begotten, and that the gods wear clothes like their own and have language and form like the voice and form of mortals. But if oxen or lions had hands and could draw and do the work with their hands that men do, horses would have drawn the form of gods like horses and oxen gods like oxen and they would represent the bodies of the gods just like their own forms."

    Plato had much the same idea:

    "The gods are human contrivances, they do not exist in nature but only by custom and law, which moreover differ from place to place according to the agreement made by each group when they laid down their laws."

    As did Athenian playwright-poet Critias (460-403 BC), who had the leading character in his play Sisyphus, promoting a related idea:

    "... a man of shrewd and subtle mind invented for men the fear of the gods, so that there might be something to frighten the wicked even if they acted, spoke or thought in secret. From this motive he introduced the notion of divinity. There is, he said, a spirit enjoying endless life, hearing and seeing with his mind, exceeding wise and all-observing, bearer of a divine nature. He will hear everything spoken among men and can see everything that is done."

    Xenophanes and Plato believed in the Gods, though, and questioned only Their form--most ancient philosophers did. So the views expressed in the documentary definitely have ancient foundations. I don't agree with this way of thinking as the roots of my religious view lie earlier, with writers like Hesiod and Homeros. But to view the Gods as archetypes and created by humanity is definitely a valid form of thought and worship within Hellenismos. That said, I think philosophy and religion are not the same thing and while they influence each other, you can have one without the other as well. For more on that, please see here. I hope this puts your mind to rest a little.

    ~~~
     
    "Hello Elani! I have a devotional necklace I wear constantly for Apollon. Is there a time when I shouldn't wear it? Like sex or sleeping or working or showering?"

    Personally, I do not feel that a devotional necklace or anything you wear to show your dedication to the Theoi needs to be taken off for anything. It's a personal gesture that--while very important to you--is not tied directly to the Theoi, nor does it automatically draw Their gazd. It's something that shows other people what (and who) you stand for--it's not an extention of the Theoi.

    ~~~

    "Do you have any resource on Oracle of Delphi?"

    What sort of resources are you looking for? I have quite a few posts up on the subject on my blog?
    I hope this helps!

    ~~~

    "Do you speak/read ancient Greek? If so how did you learn and how would you recommend others learn? Have you ever been to Greece?"

    I don't, actually. I would love to learn, but I suck at languages. English and Dutch is about all I can manage. I hope to one day get the hang of it, though. I have been to Greece, though. As a child, but still. I went there twice. Would you like to see pictures?

    2020 was, admittedly, not a very awesome year, but some great discoveries were still made! The Greek Reporter put together a top ten that I wanted to share with you today. 

    Home to some of the most spectacular finds on earth, the country offered up yet more treasures from its brilliant past in digs from the bottom of a well in Athens to artifacts found under the pumice at Akrotiri on the Greek island of Santorini.

    While all the nation’s archaeological sites were forced to shut down during the two lockdown periods — and suffered tremendous losses of revenue due to global travel restrictions even when they were open — the ancient Greek city of Mycenae experienced yet another shock when a wildfire tore through the site.

    However, the damage there was thankfully slight, and important archaeological work was still being carried out at many other sites around the country, with many new Greek archaeological discoveries coming to light.

    Another significant milestone of 2020 was the new lighting scheme for the Athens Acropolis, with energy-saving LED lighting and new spotlights showing the Parthenon’s many features to great effect. A new lift and paved walkways also greatly improved access to the iconic site.

    Another historical site of enormous importance to Greece is the shipwreck off the tiny Northern Sporades island of Peristera, offering such a hoard of underwater treasures that it is often called the “Parthenon of Shipwrecks” for its stellar importance to the understanding of Greece’s past. This underwater site was opened to scuba divers for the first time ever in the summer of 2020, with those who prefer to stay on land able to visit a nearby museum on the nearby island of Alonnisos, which exhibits artifacts and dioramas of the site.


    1. Ancient Greek Head of Hermes, a stellar archaeological discovery under the pavement of Athens

    The recent construction work on Aeolus Street in Athens has uncovered some astounding archaeological treasures from ancient Greece, on which the Ministry of Culture has now begun restoration (top photo).

    The news of the recent discovery of the head of the Greek god Hermes, lying since antiquity at a depth of just 1.3 meters (4 feet 4 inches) under the feet of Athenians as they went about their daily business, was reported around the world.

    This was perhaps the most spectacular find of all this year due to its location, with the priceless treasure lying just under the pavement of the busy Athens thoroughfare.


    2. Archaeological Greek Discover at Athens in July: Ancient Aqueduct and Artifacts Unearthed

    One artifact stands above all others discovered this year in the Piraeus dig: A headless statue from the Hellenistic period, which was discovered at the bottom of an ancient well. Credit: Greek Ministry of Culture

    Greek archaeologists unearthed an ancient aqueduct and thousands of objects and artifacts dating from Hellenistic and Roman times during the excavations for the expansion of the Athens metro line to Piraeus.

    Many of the objects were made of wood and were preserved in water at the bottom of a well. The household objects, including wooden furniture, are extremely unusual finds considering the carbon-based material of which they were made.

    Some of the artifacts will frame the permanent exhibition that will be set up in the metro station called “Municipal Theater” in Piraeus, which is currently under construction.

    Foremost among all the treasures found was an exquisite headless statue — which was found at the bottom of an ancient well (pictured above). Archaeologists posit that the destruction of the objects may have occurred during the Roman invasion of the area.

    The exhibition will include other ancient artifacts, in addition to the Hermes, along with a model copy of the aqueduct, and an authentic pebble floor from the classical / Hellenistic era which was found during the excavations.


    3.    Archaeological treasures of the Minoan Civilization from Akrotiri, Santorini

    Exquisite pottery was unearthed at Akrotiri, the ancient settlement on the Greek island of Santorini, early in 2020. Most of the Greek archaeological discoveries at the site are related to the everyday life of the people who lived on the island before the volcanic explosion which destroyed most of the island — and subsequently, the Minoan civilization on Crete.

    A perfectly-preserved shell-shaped vessel demonstrated the high level of artistic achievement in that civilization, in what was perhaps the most endearing find of all, showing that art was made for art’s sake even on the remote island in the days of antiquity.

    Among dozens of other new findings, the Ministry of Culture noted that an inscription, consisting of Linear A syllables and an ideogram, was found written in ink on an object which is most likely related to the use of a building, also uncovered in the Akrotiri dig.


    4.  Curse Tablet Discovered in Athens Well

    Showing another side of Greek history, a curse tablet, showing imprecations against an unfortunate man called Pytheas, was unearthed at the bottom of a well in Athens’ downtown neighborhood of Kerameikos (Ceramicus) by archaeologists from the German Archaeological Institute of Athens.

    A total of thirty well-preserved curse tablets dating back to the Classical period (2,500 years ago) were found in an ancient well which was originally discovered back in 2016, when other everyday objects — but not the tablets — were found.

    The ancient tablets have curses engraved on them which Athenian citizens would pay to have made against other people, a practice which was relatively common in ancient Greece.


    5.   Eight graves Unearthed in Ilia, near Olympia in September

    Four of these rectangular grave sites in Ilia, all lined with rocks, and three extremely large funerary containers, called pithoi, were found at the site, as well as an individual coffin covered by ceramic tiles and a marble grave stele.

    Inside one of the pithoi, which were so large that they were often used as coffins themselves, archaeologists discovered an ornately decorated bronze urn, together with its base

    The urn features a floral design on its handles and lion heads fill the space between its handles and its rim. A bronze mirror with a relief was also found in the funerary container.


    6. New Findings, Remains Discovered At Theopetra Cave

    Theopetra Cave in Thessaly, Central Greece, was formed in the Upper Cretaceous period, 137,000,000 – 65,000,000 years before the present time. The cave that was created in the limestone there has been inhabited since the Middle Paleolithic period, and new findings give new insight into the lives of those early peoples.

    According to archaeologists, the cave is likely to be the place of the oldest human construction on earth, as findings indicate that the shelter was inhabited as early as 130,000 years ago.

    Neolithic residents of the cave ate wheat and cultivated barley, olives, lentils and wild pear, among others. They ate some meat, mostly from domesticated sheep and goats (which account for 60 percent of the bones found), and also kept cattle, pigs and at least one dog.

    About 11 percent of the bones found at the cave belong to deer, wild boars, bears, hares, wildcats and badgers, all of which were hunted. Bones from a bear, for example, astoundingly still bear knife marks.

    The community also made its own jewelry, drilling holes into deer-like teeth and shells from the nearby river. The remains of beeswax were also found in the community. The newest findings show that an estimated 43 people lived in Theopetra Cave during the Neolithic era.


    7.  Byzantine-era skull shows signs of complex surgery

    A proto-Byzantine-era skull which was discovered by anthropologists in the Paliokastro area on Thasos island shows signs of complicated surgery, in one of the more shocking examples of what was discovered this year in all of Greek archaeology.

    The skull, which dates from the early Byzantine period — the fourth to the seventh century AD — bears traces of surgery that are “incredibly complex,” according to researcher Anagnostis Agelarakis, Ph.D., who teaches at Adeplhi University.

    The discovery was made by an Adelphi University research team led by Agelarakis. A total of ten skeletons, of four women and six men, were found and studied. They are likely to be persons of high social status.

    “According to their skeletal-anatomical features, both men and women lived physically demanding lives…The very serious trauma cases sustained by both males and females had been treated surgically or orthopedically by a very experienced physician/surgeon with great training in trauma care. We believe it to have been a military physician,” the report says.


    8. Building from Sixth century BC discovered at Epidaurus

    Archaeological excavations conducted in July of 2020 revealed the remains of an even older temple building found at the shrine to Asclepius, the god of medicine, in the vicinity of the Tholos at the ancient site of Epidaurus, outside Athens.

    The partially-excavated building, which is dated to about 600 BC, consists of a ground floor with a primitive colonnade and an underground basement chipped out of the rock beneath. The floor is an intact pebble mosaic, which is one of the best-preserved examples of this rare type of flooring to survive from this era.

    The find is also considered significant because it predates the impressive Tholos building in the same location, whose own basement served as the chthonic residence of Asclepius, and which replaced the newly-discovered structure after the 4th century B.C.

    This shows that the worship of Asclepius at Epidaurus began much earlier than previously thought and had the same chthonic features, while altering what is known about the history of the region in general.


    9. Countless inscriptions and artifacts found on Vryokastraki

    Archaeologists from the Department of Archaeology at the University of Thessaly discovered yet more important artifacts this summer on Vryokastraki, the small rocky islet near the Greek island of Kythnos, once home to a significant city in the early Byzantine period.

    Well-preserved ceramics, jewelry, and female figurines were discovered in the sanctuary, leading experts to believe that there was an important cult to a female deity there.

    The finds, only recently released in an announcement by the Greek Ministry of Culture, also include many epigraphical remains that detail the history of the island, which was continuously inhabited from the 12th century BC until the 7th century AD.

    One of the inscriptions, which are considered “very important” by scholars, describes a pirate named Glafketis who took control of Kythnos in the 4th century BC.

    According to the recently discovered artifact, Glafketis had support from the Macedonians, but was eventually forced out of power by the Athenians.


    10. Oldest Greek Archaeological Discovery of 2020: Eighteen Million Year-old Petrified Trees on Lesvos

    Finally, in a find that far predates human history but is nevertheless just as fascinating, fourteen petrified trees were found as a result of excavations for rainwater drainage pipes  in an area near Sigri and in the region of Lesvos island’s Petrified Forest this year.

    The area was declared as a Protected Natural Monument in 1985 but the additional trees that were found this year were extremely old, dating back to 18 million years ago.

    The trees were killed by blasts of gas from the volcanic explosions and then covered by ash. Extensive heavy rains then flooded the area, sweeping away both the ash and sections of tree trunks. The giant mudflows blocked valleys, and the tree trunks piled up in successive layers, where they became fossilized.

    Professor Nikos Zouros, director of the Petrified Forest of Sigri Museum said of the summer 2020 discovery, “The trunks were in a very good state of preservation – they are impressive logs laid on successive strata, one above the other.”

     I have already written quite a lot about the Hellenic hero Hēraklēs, whose name was later Romanized as 'Hercules'. In fact, I am writing a continuing series about his labours. That said, this post will not be just about him, because there were others associated with the myth, despite the name.


     
    The name of the constellation in ancient Hellas was Ἐγγόνασιν, The Kneeler, or On His Knees. That said, the ancient Hllenes already associated the myth with the hero Hēraklēs. Hyginus, for example, in his 'Atronomica' describes:

    "Eratosthenes says he is Hercules, placed above the dragon we have already mentioned, and prepared to fight, with his left hand holding his lion skin, and his right the club. He is trying to kill the dragon of the Hesperides, which, it is thought, never was overcome by sleep or closed its eyes, thus offering more proof it was placed there as a guard. Panyassis in the Heraclea says of the sign that Jupiter, in admiration of their struggle, placed it among the stars; for the dragon has its head erect, and Hercules, resting on his right knee, tires to crush the right side of its head with his left foot. His right hand is up and striking, his left extended with the lion skin, and he appears to be fighting with all his strength.

    Aeschylus, in the play entitled Prometheus lyomenos, says that he is Hercules, fighting not with the dragon, but with the Ligurians. For he says that at the time Hercules was driving away the cattle of Geryon, he journeyed through the territory of the Ligurians. They joined forces in trying to take the herd from him, and pierced many of the beasts with arrows. But after Hercules’ weapons failed, worn out by the number of the barbarians and lack of arms, he fell to his knees, already suffering from many wounds. Jove, however, out of pity for his son, provided that there should be a great supply of stones around him. With these Hercules defended himself and put the enemy to flight. And so Jove [Zeus] put [t]he image of his fighting form among the constellations." [II.6]

    Yet, Hyginus also mentions other possibilities and other noteworthy people who have an opinion on the matter; Araethus, for example, who calls this figure Ceteus, son of Lycaon, and father of Megisto:

    "He seems to be lamenting the change of his daughter to bear form, kneeling on one knee, and holding up outstretched hands to heaven, asking for the gods to restore her to him." [II.2]

    For those who these names are unfamiliar, Megisto is in some writers another form for Kallistô, the mother of Arcas, who is also called Themisto. I have discussed the happenings with this family before, for the constellation Boötes, but will recap for the unity of this post. Arcas (Ἀρκάς), son of Zeus and Kallistô (Καλλιστω). After Arcas was born, Hera caught wind of the affair and turned Kallistô into a bear. Alternatively, Kallistô was a priestess of Artemis, and Artemis punished her for losing her virginity by turning her into a bear. Because of the metamorphosis, the boy was raised by his maternal grandfather Lycaon, who would later kill and serve up his grandson to the Theoi as dinner, for which he was turned into a (were)wolf. When Arcas grew up, he went out to hunt and found a beautiful bear. He chased her through the woods. The bear--his transformed mother Kallistô--ran towards him as soon as she recognized her son. Arcas was terrified and raised his bow to shoot her. Zeus intervened swiftly and placed Kallistô and her son in the sky. Kallistô became Ursa Major and Arcas either Ursa Minor or Boötes.

    Hyginus goes on to quote Hegesianax, who says that:

    "...he is Theseus, who seems to be lifting the stone at Troezene. Aegeus is thought to have put [corrupt] and a sword under it, and warned Aethra, the mother, not to send him to Athens until he could lift the stone by his own strength and bring the sword to his father. And so he seems to try to lift the stone as high as he can. In this connection, too, some have said that the Lyre, placed nearest this sign, is the lyre of Theseus, for he was skillful in all the arts and seems to have learned the lyre as well. This, too, Anacreon says: Near Theseus, son of Aegeus, is the Lyre." [II.6]

    Theseus was fathered by Aegeus and Poseidon, whom had both slept with his mother Aethra, and was thus destined to become a hero. In order to claim his rightful place as ruler over Athens, he had to uncover his father's sandals and sword from under a stone in his mother's birth land where Theseus grew up, and bring it to his mortal father. Theseus lifting the stone at Troezene would have been his first heroic act, and thus worthy of immortalization in the stars.

    Hyginus offers a few more options:

    "Others call him Thamyris, blinded by the Muses, kneeling as a suppliant; others, Orpheus, killed by the Thacian women because he looked on the rites of Father Liber. Again, some have said that he is Ixion with his arms bound, because he tried to attack Juno. Others say he is Prometheus, bound on Mt. Caucasus." [II.6]
     
    I have written about the affairs with Ixion and Prometheus, so for reference, please visit those posts. I have also written about Orpheus, but with a different constellation: Cygnus: the swan. In it I describe how Orpheus wanders the world after loosing his wife for good, and stumbles upon revelers who rip him apart. His lyre is placed into the sky and Plato describes that Orpheus is turned into the constellation Cygnus because he does not want to be reincarnated as a woman, a risk he would run if he stayed in human form. It seems others thought he was put into the sky as a man regardless, and near his lyre at that.

    Thamyris  (Θάμυρις) is new to this blog. He was the son of Philammon and the nymph Argiope, and a Thracian singer who was so proud of his skill that he boasted he could outsing the Muses. He competed against them and lost. As punishment for his presumption they blinded him, and took away his ability to make poetry and to play the lyre. Hómēros outlines the tale in the Iliad:

    "From Pylos, and lovely Arene; from the ford of the Alpheius at Thryum, from well-built Aepy, from Cyparisseis, and Amphigeneia, Pteleos, Helos, and Dorium, where Thamyris the Thracian met the Muses, as he came from Eurytus’ house in Oechalia, and they put an end to all his singing: he who had boasted he would win his contest with those aegis-bearing daughters of Zeus, they blinding him in anger, robbing him of his sweet gift of song, so he forgot the cunning of his harp; in their fleet of ninety hollow ships the warriors came, led by Nestor the Gerenian charioteer." [II: 581-644]

    It seems there is great variety in the interpretation of the person the constellation depicts, but whomever it is, they are visible at latitudes between +90° and −50°, and best visible at 21:00 (9 p.m.) during the month of July.