Friday, May 29, 2015

Constellations Ursa Major & Ursa Minor: the two bears

There are only three more constellations in the constellation series, and we will be talking about two of them today. But don't worry, I have a few bonus posts lined up around the theme. Today, we'll be talking about Ursa Major and Ursa Minor: the big and little bear.

Ursa Major (from the Latin: 'Larger She-Bear') is also known as the Great Bear and Charles' Wain. It is visible throughout the year in most of the northern hemisphere. Ursa Minor (from the Latin 'Smaller She-Bear') is also known as the Little Bear. Like Ursa Major, the tail of the Little Bear may also be seen as the handle of a ladle, hence the name Little Dipper. Both are amongst the 48 constellations listed by the 2nd century astronomer Ptolemy, and remain two of the 88 modern constellations. Ursa Minor is notable as the location of the north celestial pole, although this will change after some centuries due to the precession of the equinoxes.

The first mention of Ursa Minor in ancient Hellenic texts was by 6th century BC philosopher Thales of Miletus, who pointed out that it was a more accurate guide to finding true north than Ursa Major. This knowledge had reportedly come from the Phoenicians in the eastern Mediterranean, and the constellation bore the term Phoenikē. Homer had previously only referred to one 'bear', leading to speculation over what he saw the stars of Ursa Minor as, or whether they were recognised at all. From Hyginus' 'Astronomica':

"There is a great diversity of opinion, too, as to why the Lesser Bear is called Phoenice, and why those who observe her are said to navigate more exactly and carefully; why, also, if she is more reliable than the Great Bear, al do not watch her. These people do not seem to realize the reason for her being called Phoenice. Thales of Miletus, who searched into these matters carefully, and first called her Bear, was by birth a Phoenician, as Herodotus says. Therefore all those in the Peloponnesus use the first Arctos; the Phoenicians, however, observe the one they received from her discoverer, and by watching her carefully, are thought to navigate more exactly, and suitably call her Phoenice from the race of her discoverer." (II.2)

The ancient Hellenes linked Ursa Minor and Ursa Major to the myth of Kallistô and her son Arcas, both placed in the sky by Zeus. In this myth, Zeus and Kallistô had a son together: Arcas. 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. 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. In this interpretation, Kallistô became Ursa Major and Arcas either Ursa Minor or Boötes. A furious Hera asked Tethys to chain the two to the night's sky, so that the constellations would never sink below the horizon and receive water. An alternate myth tells of two bears that saved Zeus from his murderous father Kronus by hiding him on Mount Ida. Later Zeus set them in the sky, but their tails grew long from being swung by the God. Hyginus describes all of this in the following way:

"We begin, then as we said above, with the Great Bear. Hesiod says she is named Callisto [Kallistô], daughter of Lycaon, who ruled in Arcadia. Out of her zeal for hunting she joined Diana [Artemis], and was greatly loved by the goddess because of their similar temperaments. Later, when made pregnant by Jove [Zeus], she feared to tell the truth to Diana. But she couldn’t conceal it long, for as her womb grew heavier near the time of her delivery, when she was refreshing her tired body in a stream, Diana realized she had not preserved her virginity. In keeping with her deep distrust, the goddess inflicted no light punishment. Taking away her maiden features, she changed her into the form of a bear, called arktos in Greek . In this form she bore Arcas.
But as Amphis, writer of comedies, says, Jupiter, assuming the form of Diana, followed the girl as if to aid her in hunting, and embraced her when out of sight of the rest. Questioned by Diana as to the reason for her swollen form, she replied that it was the goddess’ fault, and because of this reply, Diana changed her into the shape we mentioned above. When wandering like a wild beast in the forest, she was caught by certain Aetolians and brought into Arcadia to King Lycaon along with her son as a gift, and there, in ignorance of the law, she is said to have rushed into the temple of Jove Lycaeus. Her son at once followed her, and the Arcadians in pursuit were trying to kill them, when Jupiter, mindful of his indiscretion, rescued her and placed her and her son among the constellations. He named her Arctos, and her son Arctophylax. About him we shall speak later.
Some, too, have said that when Callisto was embraced by Jove, Juno in anger turned her into a bear; then, when she met Diana hunting, she was killed by her, and later, on being recognized, was placed among the stars.
But others say that when Jupiter was pursuing Callisto in the woods, Juno, suspecting what had happened, hurried there so that she could say she had caught him openly. But Jove, the more easily to conceal his fault, left her changed to bear form. Juno, then, finding a bear instead of a girl in that place, pointed her out for Diana, who was hunting, to kill. Jove was distressed to see this, and put in the sky the likeness of a bear represented with stars.
This constellation, as many have stated, does not set, and those who desire some reason for this fact say that Tethys, wife of Ocean, refuses to receive her when the other stars come there to their setting, because Tethys was the nurse of Juno, in whose bed Callisto was a concubine.

 Araethus of Tegea, however, writer of histories, says that she wasn’t Callisto, but Megisto, and wasn’t the daughter of Lycaon, but of Ceteus, and so granddaughter of Lycaon. He says, too, that Ceteus himself was called the Kneeler. The other details agree with what has been said above. All this is shown to have taken place on the Arcadian mountain Nonacris.
Aglaosthenes, who wrote the Naxica, says that she is Cynosura, one of the nurses of Jove from the number of the Idaean nymphs. He says, too, that in the city called Histoe, founded by Nicostratus and his friends, both the harbour and the greater part of the land are called Cynosura from her name. She, too, was among the Curetes who were attendants of Jove. Some say that the nymphs Helice and Cynosura were nurses of Jove, and so for gratitude were placed in the sky, both being called Bears. We call them Septentriones." (II.1, II.2)

Because Ursa Minor consists of seven stars, the Latin word for "North" (i.e. where Polaris points) is septentrio, from septem (seven) and triones (oxen), from seven oxen driving a plow, which the seven stars also resemble. This name has also been attached to the main stars of Ursa Major. About this, Hyginus also has something to say:

"But many have said that the Great Bear is like a wagon, and the Greeks do call it amaza. This reason has been handed down: Those who, at the beginning, observed the stars and supposed the number of stars into the several constellations, called this group no “Bear” but “Wain,” because two of the seven stars which seemed of equal size and closest together were considered oxen, and the other five were like the figure of a wagon. And so the sign which is nearest to this they wished to be called Boötes. We shall speak of him later on. Aratus, indeed, says that neither Boötes nor the Wain has these names for the reason above, but because the Bear seems, wagon-like, to wheel around the pole which is called North, and Boötes, is said to drive her. In this he seems to be considerably in error, for later, in connection with the seven stars, as Parmeniscus says, twenty-five were grouped by certain astronomers to complete the form of the Bear, not seven. And so the one that followed the wagon and was formerly called Boötes, was now called Arctophylax [Bear Watchter], and she, at the same time that Homer lived, was called Bear. About the Septentriones Homer says that she was called both Bear and Wain; nowhere does he mention that Boötes was called Arctophylax." (II.2)
In a variant of the story, in which it is Boötes that represents Arcas, Ursa Minor represents a dog. This is the older tradition, which explains both the length of the tail and the obsolete alternate name of Cynosura (the dog's tail) for Polaris, the North Star. Cynosura is also described as a nurse of Zeus, honoured by the God with a place in the sky.
Ursa Major is visible at latitudes between +90° and −30°, and best visible at 21:00 (9 p.m.) during the month of April. Ursa Minor is visible at latitudes between +90° and −10°, and best visible at 21:00 (9 p.m.) during the month of June.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Ancient amphora broken to pieces by tourist and British Museum to Air 30-Minute Greek Art Presentation

A bit of museum news today, in the hope I can find time to write an actual post tomorrow. Sorry for having to put you all on the backburner a little bit, wonderful readers. Deadlines, deadlines, deadlines.

Ancient amphora broken to pieces by tourist
An ancient amphora on display at the Archeological Museum of Heraklion managed to survive through the centuries until a tourist shattered it to pieces.

The tourist, aged 60, stood beside the ill-fated amphora when she began to feel dizzy. She fainted, falling on the ancient treasure of Crete that smashed to pieces. The guards did not know who to attend to first – the priceless treasure of Minoan Civilization or the tourist who was rushed to hospital. The tourist did not suffer from serious injuries.

A ministry statement says the prehistoric, Minoan-era vase, which had been broken in antiquity and restored after excavation, is being repaired and should be back on display on Friday.

British Museum to Air 30-Minute Greek Art Presentation
The British Museum in London has organized a live-streaming presentation of its hit exhibition 'Defining beauty: the body in ancient Greek art', set to air on Thursday, May 28, at 6:30 pm (local time). The 30-minute live broadcast, sponsored by Julius Baer, will be live-streamed through the Periscope mobile app, revealing to the world the secrets behind the remarkable works of Greek art.

British TV historian Dan Snow will provide a guided tour of the exhibition through the Periscope broadcast to be titled 'Discover the naked truth behind Greek art with Dan Snow in this exclusive live tour'. After the museum’s closing hours, Snow will be able to freely roam through the exhibits and provide a close up tour of the ancient Greek white marble, bronze and terracotta statues. Furthermore, viewers will be able to submit their questions regarding the exhibition via Twitter and the Periscope app. The questions will be answered by museum curator Ian Jenkins in an interactive Q&A hosted by Snow.

The link for the live broadcast will be shared by the museum’s Twitter account, using #DefiningBeauty. A recording of the guided tour will be available on the British Museum’s Facebook page, YouTube channel and official webpage.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Pandora's Kharis raised $1300,- for CARE

On 25 April, and earthquake with a moment magnitude of 7.8 or 8.1Ms. Its epicenter was approximately 34 km (21 mi) east-southeast of Lamjung, Nepal. As of 30 April, it's taken the lives of over 6000 people. It was the most powerful disaster to strike Nepal since the 1934 Nepal–Bihar earthquake. Little more than two weeks after Nepal’s worst earthquake in more than 80 years, the country was traumatized by a second deadly earthquake on May 12. In order to help the survivors of this horrible tragedy, the members of Pandora's Kharis selected CARE as Mounukhion 2015 cause, and you have stepped up en mass. You have collected $1300,- to donate, and it fills us with pride to make that announcement.

According to the Government of Nepal, over 130,000 homes were destroyed and more than 85,000 partially damaged. In some villages in remote areas, over 90 percent of the houses have been destroyed or damaged. With monsoon season less than month away, it’s a race against time to get emergency shelter to people.

Over the next month, CARE plans to reach 30,000 people with emergency shelter kits that include weather-resistant tarps, rope and a toolkit that will help protect them from the rains as they begin to rebuild their homes. As people more towards recovery, CARE will provide the support to help people make changes to the way they build, so their homes are safer and more resilient when the next earthquake strikes. In some cases, CARE will provide livelihood support or cash vouchers to help accelerate their own rebuilding process. Your donation will help them reach these goals.

From this moment on, the Pandora's Kharis Facebook page is open to pitches. If you do not have Facebook, feel free to pitch your cause in the comments. We will relay the message to the community. On to another month of pitching, voting, and giving. Thank you for your generosity, especially with this cause where lives are at stake.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Female poets of ancient Hellas

We have all heard of Sappho, but did you know there were many other female poets whose work survives to this day? I'd like to share some of them with you today--and about the women who wrote them.

Anyte of Tegea
Anyte of Tegea (Ἀνύτη Τεγεᾶτις) was an early 3rd century BC Arcadian poet, was the leader of a school of poetry and literature on Peloponnesus, which also included the poet Leonidas of Tarentum. Antipater of Thessalonica listed her as one of the nine earthly muses. At least 18 of her epigrams, written in the Doric dialect, survive in the Greek Anthology; an additional six are doubtfully attributed to her.
"To Pan the bristly-haired, and the Nymphs of the farm-yard, Theodotus
the shepherd laid this gift under the crag, because they stayed him
when very weary under the parching summer, stretching out to him
honey-sweet water in their hands." -- Anyte, to Pan and the Nymphs

Erinna (Ἤριννα) was a Hellenic poet, a contemporary and friend of Sappho, a native of Rhodes or the adjacent island of Telos or even possibly Tenos, who flourished about 600 BC. She wrote in a mixture of Aeolic and Doric Greek. Three epigrams ascribed to her in the Palatine anthology probably belong to a later date, though some debate on the first epigram exists.

"I am of Baucis the bride; and passing by my oft-wept pillar thou
mayest say this to Death that dwells under ground, "Thou art envious,
O Death"; and the coloured monument tells to him who sees it the most
bitter fortune of Bauco, how her father-in-law burned the girl on the
funeral pyre with those torches by whose light the marriage train was
to be led home; and thou, O Hymenaeus, didst change the tuneable
bridal song into a voice of wailing dirges." -- Errina, On a Betrothed Girl

Moero (Μοιρώ) or Myro (Μυρώ) was a 3rd century BCE from the city of Byzantium. She was the wife of Andromachus Philologus and the mother (according to other sources, a daughter) of Homerus of Byzantium, the tragedian. Antipater of Thessalonica includes Moero in his list of famous poetesses. She wrote epic, elegiac, and lyric poetry, but little has survived. Athenaeus quotes from her epic poem, Mnemosyne (Μνημοσύνη), and two dedicatory epigrams of hers are included in the Greek Anthology. She also wrote a hymn to Poseidon and a collection of poems called Arai (Ἀραί).

"Thou liest in the golden portico of Aphrodite, O grape-cluster filled
full of Dionysus' juice, nor ever more shall thy mother twine round
thee her lovely tendril or above thine head put forth her honeyed
leaf." -- Moero, To Aphrodite of the Golden House

Nossis (Νοσσίς) was an ancient Greek woman epigrammist and poet, c. 300 BCE, who lived in southern Italy, at Locri. Her epigrams were inspired by Sappho, whom she claims to rival. Twelve epigrams of hers (one of which is perhaps spurious) survive in the Greek Anthology. Antipater of Thessalonica ranks her among the nine poets who deserved the honour to compete with the Muses.
"Nothing is sweeter than love, and all delicious things are second to
it; yes, even honey I spit out of my mouth. Thus saith Nossis; but he
whom the Cyprian loves not, knows not what roses her flowers are." -- Nossis, Love's Sweetness

Monday, May 25, 2015

Greece, interactive

Many of us will not be able to visit Greece. Either not in the near future or not at all. That much spare income in this economic climate is hard to cough up. It is for me, at least. That is why I like initiatives that digitalize the experience. It's not the same but it's something. That's why I would like to share two online experiences with you today.

360 video of Athens
We’ve seen many a video of Athens, presenting the Greek capital’s unique selling points and beautiful vistas. But Experience Greece, a company developing applications and taking advantage of new tech to promote tourism has started a series of videos with 360 degree cameras to explore the city. The first is a walk around the Acropolis of Athens, across Dionysou Aeropagitou street and through Thission and the Monastiraki area. Stay tuned for more to come.

Interactive Krete
Crete 3D provides unique multi-dimensional imaging of the most important monuments of Crete that are now accessible around the clock. The project is the result of a three-year study by the Digital Design Workshop of the National Technical University of Crete and is funded by Cyta. One point of minor frustration: I can't get it to work on most devices... But it looks pretty!

Sunday, May 24, 2015

'The Odyssey' to be brought to film by 'Hunger Games' team

In news that I am actually excited about, Lionsgate is planning to develop at least two movies from Hómēros' 'Odysseia'. At the helm are 'Hunger Games' director Francis Lawrence and producer Nina Jacobson. Peter Craig, who co-wrote the two 'Mockingjay' films (the two final movies in the Hung Games franchise), is penning the script for 'The Odyssey'.

Lionsgate CEO Jon Feltheimer made the disclosure Friday in response to a question during the company’s conference call with analysts to discuss quarterly earnings. The deal with Lawrence contemplates more than one movie, according to Feltheimer. Judging by the words of Motion Picture Group co-chairman Rob Friedman, the endeavour will be a big budget one, and so far there is no mention of an intended audience of young adults.

Lionsgate has put this on a fast track. The plan is to begin production early next year, right after the filmmakers complete promotion of Mockingjay – Part 2, which will be released November 20. Motion Picture Group co-president Erik Feig is overseeing this with executive production veep Jim Miller and development director James Myers. The project took root when Feig pitched it to Lawrence in Paris while they worked on the Hunger Games finale.

What remains to ponder about is how true-to-book the adaption will be. To date, the Hunger Games stand as a very good book to movie adaption, so I have hope. I would love to see a trilogy of an Iliad/Odysseia mix, where the first movie focusses more on setting the stage and showing the Trojan war (or its conclusion) and then the following two movies focussing on Odysseus' journey back to Ithaca.

Are you excited about the news? Would you like to see this team helm an adaption of the classic of all classics? Let me know!

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Question Collections post 18

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.

"Is the agathos daimon a ouranic or chthonic being?"

I would say it's complicated? If I had to make a choice, I would say Ouranic, but like heroes, His worship has a link with, and a touch of, death. I wrote a detailed piece about Him long ago that might help?

"What power over mortals do heroes have? It is, of course, important to honor them because of the things they did in their lifetime, but what about now, when they're dead? How can they influence mortals?"

Heroes are complicated. Hero worship was very specific and it's a concept that translates with more difficulty than straight-up deity worship. In essence, heroes are the bridge between mortals and Gods. They were born  mortal (although often with a bloodline to the Gods) but through their deeds, they were rewarded with immortality themselves. They became Gods. Still, the lessons they teach us are all mortal lessons. Heroes were honoured more than worshipped, and we do that today as well. So heroes, like Gods, can be called on for counsel and aid, and like the Gods, you can establish kharis with them. But they don't judge us, not like the Gods anyway, because they were all just like us once.
"Tomorrow is Hekate's Deipnon. I've seen some posts about the calendar on your blog so... We should pray to Hekate tonight and not tomorrow's according to the Hellenic way, right? It's a bit confusing..."

I got this e-mail on the 17th, and yes, that was the evening of the Deipnon. For those of you confused by the placement of the Deipnon in relation to the moon, perhaps this post will help make the schedule clearer. I think it boils down to the fact that Hekate is a Khthonic deity and is thus worshipped at night, after dusk. Since the Hellenic day spreads from dusk on day one to dusk on day two, rituals for Kthonic deities need to be held in the night of day one, and ritual for the Ouranic deities during the daylight hours on the second day. 

"During my Hecate's Deipnon ritual, do I kneel when worshiping Hecate (she is, after all, a chthonic goddess, though I've heard she can be 'interpreted' in more than one way)?"

I tend to kneel for Hekate, yes. Her worship has gone through many stages of evolution, however, so a case can be made for either. She most certainly started out as an Ouranic deity, but with the introduction of the Homeric Hymn to Demeter--composed somewhere in the late seventh century BC or the sixth century BC--she becomes an Underworld Goddess, and She receives a Khthonius character. By the fifth century BC, as the Eleusian Mysteries are in full swing, Hekate's association with the crossroads emerges and by that time, she becomes an appropriation Goddess, associated with the cleansing of the home and whole-animal sacrifices. As this version of Her is associated mostly with the Deipnon, I tend to kneel, and I keep Her worship away from my main shrine, choosing a low altar instead to make the sacrifices.

"I would have a question, which is more to do with theology, than with worship and religious practice. Why do you think our gods are not perfect and can change, not just in character, but also in their domains, like Hecate?"

Hekate is an extreme example, of course, but many Theoi, indeed, change(d) throughout the years. I would not say this means They are not 'perfect' (what is perfect anyway?), simply that the Gods adapt with Their people. Life becomes more complicated, the wishes of worshippers change. Domains are divided between existing Gods and those added to the pantheon, imported from other places around the world. To quote Malcolm Reynolds: 'It's getting awfully crowded in my sky' ;-)
The Theoi adapt because we need Them to adapt. Look at modern worship: who do we pray to when we need a new job? Or when our computer breaks down? Who do we pray to we travel by airplane? Based on the domains we know the Theoi had in ancient times, we make assumptions and guesses, and eventually, domains shift and evolve to include our modern lifestyle: Zeus to guide us towards a new job, Hephaestos to help us with our computer issues, and Hermes to watch over our journey by plane, for example. And the Gods tend to be willing to adapt to the change out of Kharis with their worshippers.