Thursday, October 23, 2014

A possible function found for the Phaistos Disc

The Phaistos Disc is a disk of fired clay currently on display at the archaeological museum of Heraklion. It was found in the Minoan palace of Phaistos on the Greek island of Krete, possibly dating to the middle or late Minoan Bronze Age (2nd millennium BC). It is about 15 cm (5.9 in) in diameter and covered on both sides with a spiral of stamped symbols. Its purpose and meaning, and even its original geographical place of manufacture, remain disputed, making it one of the most famous mysteries of archaeology. The Archaeological News Network reports that we might be one step closer to figuring this mystery out.

New findings by Gareth Owens, Erasmus coordinator at the Technological Educational Institute (TEI) of Krete describe the disk as 'the first Minoan CD-ROM’ featuring a prayer to a mother. While speaking at the TEI of Western Macedonia on Monday, he said there is one complex of signs found in three parts of one side of the disk spelling I-QE-KU-RJA, with I-QE meaning 'great lady of importance' while a key word appears to be AKKA, or 'pregnant mother', according to the researcher. One side is devoted to a pregnant woman and the other to a woman giving birth.

The disc was discovered in 1908 by the Italian archaeologist Luigi Pernier in the Minoan palace-site of Phaistos, and features 241 tokens, comprising 45 unique signs, which were apparently made by pressing hieroglyphic 'seals' into a disc of soft clay, in a clockwise sequence spiralling toward the disc's centre. Many of these 45 signs represent easily identifiable every-day things, but the general meaning has remained unclear--until Gareth Owens, perhaps.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Most Britons want to see Parthenon Marbles back in Athens

If the international news mentions Greece these days, the chances are fair that it's about the Parthenon Marbles. International lawyers consulted the Greek government on the issue of requiring the Marbles over the past week, and that visit brought with it it's own controversy. It also brought the Marbles back in the forefront of the news. A recent poll by the YouGov international market research agency shows that Most Britons want to see Parthenon Marbles back in Athens.

International lawyers consulted by Greek government on Parthenon Marbles issue
The Parthenon Sculptures as seen on display at the British Museum
in London on June 5, 2000 [Credit: Reuters]

The Parthenon Marbles, also known as the Elgin Marbles, is a collection of classical Greek marble sculptures, inscriptions and architectural members that originally were part of the Parthenon and other buildings on the Acropolis of Athens. Thomas Bruce, the 7th Earl of Elgin obtained a controversial permit from the Ottoman authorities to remove pieces from the Parthenon while serving as the British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire from 1799 to 1803.

The Parthenon Marbles acquired by Elgin include seventeen figures from the statuary from the east and west pediments of the Parthenon, fifteen (of the original 92) of the metope panels depicting battles between the Lapiths and the Centaurs, as well as 247 feet (75 meters) of the original 524 feet (160 meters) of the Parthenon Frieze which decorated the horizontal course set above the interior architrave of the temple. As such, they represent more than half of what now remains of the surviving sculptural decoration of the Parthenon. Elgin's acquisitions also included objects from other buildings on the Athenian Acropolis: a Caryatid from Erechtheum; four slabs from the parapet frieze of the Temple of Athena Nike; and a number of other architectural fragments of the Parthenon, Propylaia, Erechtheum, the Temple of Athena Nike, and the Treasury of Atreus.

Ekathimerini reports that 37 percent of respondents said that the ancient sculptures should be given back to their country of origin. Twenty-three percent said the marbles should remain at the British Museum in London. Meanwhile, 32 percent said they were indifferent about the issue and 7 percent said they did not know. When asked about why Britain should give up the artefacts, most of those who argued for their return said that they 'are one work of art and they should be reunited along with the rest of the Parthenon sculptures in Greece.'

The results come in the wake of more heartfelt columns and testimonials in mainstream media outlets. The Guardian, for example, has posted an account by Helena Smith entitled 'As a Briton, I hang my head in shame. We must return the Parthenon marbles'. To quote from it:

"As a Briton, I hang my head in shame but take heart in what the poet Titos Patrikios, an old friend, calls Greece’s “unbeatable weapon”; the common sense of ordinary Britons who for almost two decades have overwhelmingly endorsed repatriation in successive opinion polls. It was another poet, Yannis Ritsos, who summed up the marbles’ predicament best. “These stones don’t feel at ease with less sky,” he wrote. They needed the luminosity of Attica to be appreciated most. More than anything, the argument for the marbles’ return is as much about scholarship as it is about aesthetics or ethics. To go on advocating that Phidias’s masterpieces are better off in London is, in essence, to argue that the finest carvings of classical times are better amputated and broken up."

It's a powerful statement, and as with most of the article, I fully agree. As the article mentions, it's not even about ownership anymore, it's about the fact that these stones belong home, in Attica, and to keep them away from there is unethical, and it needs to end. Thankfully, more an more people are starting to agree.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Kickstarter for the reboot of 'Olympia Heights'

Every now and again, I've been known to blog about kickstarters on projects that have to do with Hellenism or Hellenic mythology. Most often I get sent information on the project (please feel free to do so!) and if it appeals to me, I will post it for others to see and spread the word or back. Today, I'd like to do that again on a very awesome project: a kickstarter for a Hellenic mythology comic book! It's the reboot of 'Olympia Heights' and it's a project by Amy Leigh Strickland.

Olympia Heights was a four part novel series, consisting of 'The Pantheon', 'The Weight of the World', 'The Blood of Athens', and 'The Cult of Kronos' (to be purchased in e-book form here). The Olympia Heights saga tells the story of fourteen Florida teens and one biology teacher who discover strange powers and an ancient, immortal past. They are the Greek Gods, and they have been reborn as mortals after centuries locked away in an underworld prison. As they struggle with humanity and adolescence, the Gods must learn to control their powers and to fight off the Titans who locked them away so many years before.

After the completion of a the original 'Olympia Heights', Strickland now hopes to reboot it as a graphic novel with new villains, new monsters, and slightly modified back-stories. Where the novel series used a Neoclassical account of mythology, the comic will primarily draw from Classical Greek sources. You can pledge to get copies of the first volume; posters, shirts, and other swag; and even signed copies of the original novel series.

The first comic will be a 6" x 9," 200-page volume with full color covers and black and white interiors with halftone shading. Artist will render scenes from the gods' ancient pasts in a modified amphora style. The first volume of the comic spin-off, Olympia Heights: Lightning Rod, will follow Zach Jacobs, the modern Zeus, and feature a new villain never before seen in the novel series. Zach's adventure will include cameos from much beloved Olympia Heights characters.

This project will only be funded if at least $16,000 is pledged by

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Darius Vase

The 'Darius Vase' was discovered in 1851 near Canosa di Puglia. It was created by the Darius Painter, an Apulian vase painter and the most eminent representative at the end of the 'Ornate Style' in South Italian red-figure vase painting. His works were produced between 340 and 320 BC. Many of his works, mostly volute kraters, amphorae and loutrophoroi, are of large dimensions. He most frequently depicted theatrical scenes, especially ones from the Classical tragedies by Euripides, and mythological themes. A number of mythological motifs not represented in surviving literary texts are known exclusively from his vases. He also painted wedding scenes, erotes, women, and dionysiac motifs.

The Darius Vase is his most well-known work now on display at the Museo Archaeologico Nazionale, in Naples. From the website of the museum:

"On the neck of side A there is a painted scene of an Amazonomachia, with Amazons wearing oriental costumes and armed with battle axes engaged in duels - which take place on two levels - against naked Greek warriors wearing crested Corinthian helmets who are equipped with a circular shield and long spear. The figurative decoration of the body is organised into three registers, in each of which there is a seated figure in a central position. In the upper register is Zeus, with a winged Nike kneeling down; to the left are Aphrodite with a swan on her lap and Artemis on a deer, while on the other side are Athena, Hellas, Achates with two torches and Asia, seated on an altar with the image of a deity.
The central band shows Darius on his throne, behind whom stands figures who are presumably members of his bodyguard, carefully listening to a messenger standing erect in the king’s presence on a circular podium, surrounded by seated dignitaries and, it would seem, his pedagogue, who can be identified as the old man leaning on a stick. The last frieze shows five Orientals around a seated man, presumably the treasurer; three of them are kneeling, pleading for mercy. Side B, which has a similar structure, shows the myth of Bellerophon: in the upper part, Bellerophon rides Pegasus while a winged Nike crowns him with a laurel wreath; to the left, a naked young man clasps a laurel branch in his hands while in front of him Poseidon, holding his trident in his left hand, sits on a rocky spur. To the right Pan, holding a pyxis and laurel branch, stands opposite Athena, seated on a rock, with a long spear in his left hand. In the middle of the central frieze is Chimera, depicted as a two-headed monster with a leonine body, the head of a lion and a goat, and the tail of a snake, while on the right two Amazons are fleeing; on the left there are two more Amazons, one of whom is attacking.
The lowest register shows two fallen Amazons, armed with a spear and an axe respectively, and a marsh bird. On the neck of this side of the picture is a Dionysian scene with a group featuring a Maenad and Silenus on the left, a man and a woman on the sides of the fountain and lastly a second Maenad.
The main scene has been interpreted in various ways: the identification of the characters is certain since beside each figure appears the name. What has proven more difficult is contextualising it. Some scholars have argued that it shows a scene from Phrynicos’ tragedy in which Persia is about to declare war on Hellas; more recently, an analysis of the compositional structure has led to the conclusion that the space is used symbolically to allude to the actual space of the theatre with the chorus in the lower register, the proscenium in the centre and the tribune of the gods above. Alternatively, the entire decorative layout could refer to the revolt of the Greek cities of Asia and may re-echo the troubled period of the wars against the Lucanians and the Messapians in Magna Graecia, specifically during the period in which the Darius painter was working."
Pg.072_imatge 01 (original)

The vase conserved in Naples is apparently important because of its representation of a man counting on a board. This source mentions:
"The man of the picture is a tax collector counting on a special board in which we can read the letters M (= 10.000), Ψ (= 1.000), H (= 100) and Δ (= 10) and the former symbols used to represent the Greek coins (drachma, obol, half an obol and a quarter of obol). The collector has an opened book in which we can read the letters T A Λ and N. These letters correspond to another Greek coin named talent so we can suppose that this counting boards were used to make calculus with different kinds of coins."
The Darius Painter worked in a large factory-like workshop, probably at Taras. It is possible that he was the owner or foreman of his workshop. Many vase-paintings are so close to his style, though not by his hand, that they are attributed to his workshop, but of all the vases created, the Darius Vase is still the one that is best recognised.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Spectator on the Parthenon Marbles

Remember three days ago, when I told you a team of international lawyers is consulting Greece on how to go about regaining ownership of the Parthenon Marbles? One of the lawyers is Amal Alamuddin, a London-based British-Lebanese lawyer, activist, and author. She is a barrister at Doughty Street Chambers, specialising in international law, criminal law, human rights, and extradition. She often works for big name clientele like Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, and the former prime minister of Ukraine, Yulia Tymoshenko. She has been legally involved in many plights, including how to protect children and women in warzones, and ending sexual violence as a whole. She is a respected lawyer, who has a very successful career spanning nearly fifteen years. Since about a month, she is also George Clooney's wife, and that, it seems, has now become her defining feature. Excuse me a moment while I rant at you.

(Photo: Pierre Teyssot/AFP/Getty)
(Photo: Pierre Teyssot/AFP/Getty)
The Spectator, a weekly British conservative magazine, decided to publish one of the most offensive pieces of journalism I have read in a very long time, entitled: 'Tell you what Mrs Clooney. If Greece repays its $240 billion EU loan, we’ll return the Marbles'. Oh, where do I begin... how about at the fact that no person, but especially not a professional, working, woman, should ever be defined by the person she has married? How about at the fact that personal attacks are never justifiable? How about at the fact that it doesn't matter a single bit who this woman is married to in the first place?! And moving on from that topic... whoever wrote this needs a healthy reality check and long overdue history lesson. I'm going to quote from the article a moment:
"Hollywood has a reputation for creating trite storylines in which either a lawyer is cast as the hero or England as the villain. Its latest epic has both, and this one is reality. Little more than a week after her marriage to George Clooney, the world’s most photographed barrister, Amal Alamuddin -Clooney, has flown off to advise the Greek government on how to force the removal of the Elgin Marbles from the British Museum.

Given the rioting, economic meltdown and general chaos of recent years, it would be easy to think that Greece had more immediate worries than the whereabouts of a set of decorative stones rescued in the early 19th century — with permission from authorities in Athens — to save them from being chiselled away by peasants for -quicklime. But that misses the point. What would Greek politicians do if the marbles were returned? No longer would they have a patriotic issue to beat their chests about in order to distract from their failures.

In the name of European harmony, we would like to propose a compromise: we will return the Elgin Marbles once Greece has repaid the €240 billion of emergency loans made by EU states during the crisis, and honoured all its government bonds. Until then, we suggest Greece recognises the role Lord Elgin played in rescuing its deteriorating heritage and accepts that the British Museum has done an excellent job in preserving the marbles and displaying them to scholars and the public alike. To have a little bit of the glory of ancient Athens in London hardly seems out of line with the spirit of shared European culture."

First if all, how dare you? Second of all? What are you even trying to say? That Greece is overreacting? That they should just accept the theft of their cultural heritage and leave it at that? That Greece is an unstable, corrupt country that needs help from the big and bright Britain? Because none of those things are even remotely true or anywhere near okay to say. And, again, dragging Clooney-Alamuddin's marital status into this is just a low blow. There are three people on the team of lawyers, all uniquely qualified to traverse this minefield, and neither Clooney-Alamuddin's marital status or her looks have anything to do with that.

This article shows such a terrible disregard for not only the lawyers involved--Clooney-Alamuddin especially, who has been bombarded by paparazzi while in Greece--but also the marbles and Greece as a country. Statements like 'a set of decorative stones rescued in the early 19th century' show such ignorance and disdain that it makes my blood boil. Usually I don't let these things get to me, but sometimes something slips past my misogyny and entitlement-shield and I just... go off.

This issue won't be resolved any time soon, so we might as well gear up for the long haul, but if this is the level of 'journalism' that will cover it, I might end up hiding under a rock until it's over. Sometimes I just can't stand humanity.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Constellation Sagittarius: the archer

It's been a while since we have tackled a constellation, so let's look at the next one today: Sagittarius, the archer. It was named 'Toxotes' (Τοξότης) in Greek, and is one of the 48 constellations listed by the 2nd-century astronomer Ptolemy and remains one of the 88 modern constellations. It lies between Scorpius and Ophiuchus to the west and Capricornus to the east.

In Hellenic mythology, Sagittarius is usually identified as a centaur: half human, half horse. Who, exactly, Sagittarius is, exactly, is unclear. Kheiron (Chiron, Χείρων), the wise and educated Centaur who taught heroes like Achilles, Theseus, Iásōn, and Hēraklēs, is a very good candidate, mostly because he died a very tragic death.

Hēraklēs' fourth labour is to capture the Erymanthian Boar, which got his name from the mountainside and swamp it roamed on. It is a difficult task; a boar is a ferocious animal, and even modern day hunters take care when hunting boar. This labour became even harder to complete for Hēraklēs when he met the centaurs on his way to the boar. Our hero went the long way to visit Phontus, a kéntaur who dwelt in a cave on Mount Pholoe, who was the son of Seilenus and the nymph Melia.

Having heard of Hēraklēs, Phontus entertained him in his cave, and provided him with food. Hēraklēs, thirsty from the savory meat dish, asked for wine, but Phontus said he only had the wine that was communal to all the kéntauroi, and he did not dare touch it. Hēraklēs convinced him to do so, regardless, and the kéntauroi came galloping to the cave. Hēraklēs fought them, and many died. Phontus, inspecting one of Hēraklēs' arrows dipped in hydra poison, which the hero had used to kill one of the kéntauros, dropped it onto his foot and he died of the poison as well. Hēraklēs, grieving for the death of Phontus, buried him near his cave. Hyginus, in his 'Astronomica' writes:

"He is said to be Chiron, son of Saturn and Philyra, who surpassed not only the other Centauris but also men in justice, and is thought to have reared Aesculapius and Achilles. By his conscientiousness and diligence, therefore, he won inclusion among the stars. When Hercules was once visiting Chiron, and while sitting with him was examining his arrows, one of them is said to have fallen on the foot of Chiron, and thus brought about his death. Others say that when the Centaur wondered at his being able to kill such huge creatures as Centauri with such slight arrows, he himself tried to draw the bow, and the arrow, slipping from his hand, fell on his foot. For this reason Jupiter, pitying him, put him among the constellations with a victim which he seems to hold above the altar for sacrifice. Others have said that he is Pholus the Centaurus, who was more skilled in augury that the rest. Consequently, by the will of Jove, he was represented coming to the altar with a victim." [II.38]

It is important to note, though, that this could also relate to the constellation Centaurus--Hyginus seems to think so, although he also wonders if it's a Centaur at all...

"Many have called this sign the Centaurus; others deny the name, for the reason that no Centaurus makes use of arrows. The question is raised, too why he is formed with horse flanks but a Satyr’s tail." [II.27]

A competing mythological tradition, as espoused by Eratosthenes, identified the Archer not as a centaur but as the satyr Krotos (Κροτος), son of Pan, who the ancient Hellenes credited with the invention of archery. According to myth, Krotos often went hunting on horseback and lived among the Muses, who requested that Zeus place him in the sky, where he is seen demonstrating archery. Hyginus again, in his 'Fabulae' on mortals who were made immortal mentions Krotos:

"Crotos, son of Pan and Eupheme, foster-brother of the Muses, put into the constellation Sagittarius" [224]

The arrow of this constellation points towards the star Antares, the 'heart of the scorpion', and Sagittarius stands poised to attack should Scorpius ever attack the nearby Hēraklēs, or to avenge Scorpius' slaying of Orion. The constellation Sagittarius is visible at latitudes between +55° and −90°, and best visible at 21:00 (9 p.m.) during the month of August.

Friday, October 17, 2014

The 'Hellenic Alphabet Oracle'

I like the art of divination. While divination by individuals is always a little suspect to me, I do dabble in it myself on very rare occasion. Divination played a fairly large role in Hellenic every day life. Oracles given directly, like at Delphi, were rare and called chesmomancy. All other forms of divination practiced in ancient Hellas were performed by seers, not oracles. Seer staples were divination through the spotting of birds (ornithomancy and augury), dream interpretation (oneiromancy) and animal sacrifice (hieromancy, haruspicy, empyromancy and extispicy), but other forms of divination were definitely used, including cledonomancy (listening to words spoken by a crowd), oneiromancy (divination through the reading of birthmarks) and phyllorhodomancy, the reading of the sound rose petals make when slapping them together with your hands. The biggest difference between oracles and seers was that oracles gave long answers which usually needed some for of interpretation while seers usually answered yes-or-no questions.

I am currently investigating another type of divination: the 'Hellenic Alphabet Oracle'. I haven't been able to find much on it save a few websites, but the University of Tennessee Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science website has a version of it up for inspection. Please turn to that link for the full explanation, but let me give you the start:

The oracle works as follows: each letter of the alphabet has a corresponding oracle, and the first word of the oracle (in Greek) begins with that letter. There are at least three methods of consulting the alphabet oracle, according tot he article.

The first uses a set of twenty-four stones or potsherds, each inscribed or painted with a letter of the alphabet. When you want to consult the oracle, pick a stone without looking. According tot he article, one ancient method was to shake the stones in a bowl or frame drum until one jumped out. Stones used in this way would be called psêphoi in Ancient Greek.

A second method is to use, five knuckle bones, called astragaloi. Cast all five at once or one five times. Knucklebones have four 'sides', traditionally given the values 1 (Monas), 3 (Trias), 4 (Tetras), and 6 (Hexas), according tot he article. There are 24 possible total values from five knucklebones: 5 to 30, excepting 6 and 29, which are impossible. The highest cast would be associated with Alpha and the lowest with Omega (so Alpha = 30, Beta = 28, Gamma = 27, …, Psi = 7, Omega = 5). Say you throw 3, 6, 6, 4, and 1, your number is 20, which links to the letter 'K', Kappa.

In the third way, five dice (cuboi, tesserae) are cast. Like with the knuckle bones, there are twenty-six possible total values, 5 through 30, which are associated in decreasing order with the Greek letters, including the archaic Digamma (Wau) and Qoppa. There are no oracles for Digamma and Qoppa, however, and so these need to be recast. The sum is the same as with the knuckle bones as well, add the results of all dice together and you will get the corresponding letter.

The website goes on to list a chart with the number, the numerical value by knuckle bones or dice, and the oracular message that corresponds with the letter, as taken from an inscription allegedly in Olympos. They read anywhere from 'Gaia will give you the ripe fruit of your labors', to 'You will have a parting from the {Tôn} companions now around you', and 'You will have a difficult {Ômos} harvest season, not a useful one'.

Now, I am still researching this myself, but I like the idea of this. I'll probably get to back to this at a later date, once I get to confirm or disprove some of these points. If anyone has more information, I would love to hear of it. Personal experience with this system is also something I would love to hear about. Thank you in advance.