A sacrifice to Menedeios was performed by the Attic deme Erkhia on the 19th day of the month Thargelion. Menedeios was an entirely local deitified hero and sacrifices to him seems to have been performed only at Erkhia. Because he was most likely a war hero, however, we will honour Him with the Theoi he would have prayed to for guidance and strength: Athena, Ares and Niké. Will you join us in honouring these Theoi and this hero on the 28th of May, 10 am EDT?


Heroes and heroines have a special place in Hellenismos, as they had in ancient Hellas. These were humans--most with at least a part divine heritage--who were considered so brave, so skillful, so extraordinary in their lifetime that they became revered. Some were priests or priestesses of a temple, some excelled in battle, others were skilled healers or good rulers. Once they passed to the realm of Hades, their names were remembered at least once a year on a special ocassion, because the ancient Hellenes believed that if the name and deeds of a person were remembered, they would live forever and potentially look out for those they had looked out for before.

We, unfortunately, know very little about Menedeios. We know he must have been local to the Erkhian area. He recieved a ram that was to be consumed on site. His name means 'the One who Stands his Ground' and as such, he was most likely a war hero, famed for bravery, skill and his ability to protect his home town. For us, this is enough to honour him with sacrifices.

You can find the ritual for the event here and join the community page here. As a note, the ritual calls for an offering of barley cake (shaped like a sheep) with ash placed into a pit in the ground. If you don't have the time or means to make a barey cake, try to at least give sacrifice in an offering pit or on an altar lower than your usual one.
On the 19th of Thargelion, an Athenian festival for the Thrakian Goddess Bendis (Βενδις) was held. This festival, which went on into the night of the 20th of the month, was designed especially for Bendis, who was introduced to Attika by Thrakian métoikoi who took the opportunity to introduce their Goddess into the Athenian pantheon after the Oracle of Dodona decreed that Thrakian worshippers should be granted the right for ground to build a sanctuary on. Their shrine to Her was built on the hill Mounykhia, near to the temple of Artemis Mounikhia, with whom She was identified. The temenos was completed somewhere before 429 BC, and at least one Thrakian festival to the Goddess was held before the Athenians got involved. Would you like to involve yourself with Her worship as well? Elaion is hosting a PAT ritual for Her, Artemis and Hekate on the 28th of May at the usual 10 am EDT.

 
The Goddess Bendis originated in Thrake, to the north of Hellas. Her cult was imported into Athens around 432 BC, at the outbreak of the Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta. Athens had always had close ties with Thrake, but besides the oracle's decree, it seems that the acceptance of the foreign cult into the city at this time was probably connected with Athens' military alliance with the Odrysian Thrakians, who supplied mercenaries throughout the war.
 
The Bendideia (Βενδίδεια) itself was celebrated in the port town of Peiraeeus. At first, only the Thrakians honored Her, but within a few years, the Athenians held their own procession alongside the Thrakians, theirs winding down from the Prataneion (Πρυτανεῖον)--the seat of government in ancient Hellas--in the morning  to the sanctuary of the Goddess in the Peiraios, while the Thrakian procession was entirely within the port town. The six-mile procession of the Athenians was so unusual, that a decree called for basins, water and sponges to bathe after it, and garlands. It seems obvious to place a meal here in the timeframe, followed by a period of rest until it became dark enough to perform the most telling of cult worship to the Goddess: an evening torch race on horseback; a true novelty. Plato, in his 'Republic' tells us a little it about this race:
 
"Polemarchus said to me: I perceive, Socrates, that you and our companion are already on your way to the city.
You are not far wrong, I said.
But do you see, he rejoined, how many we are?
Of course.
And are you stronger than all these? for if not, you will have to remain where you are.
May there not be the alternative, I said, that we may persuade you to let us go?
But can you persuade us, if we refuse to listen to you? he said.
Certainly not, replied Glaucon.
Then we are not going to listen; of that you may be assured.
Adeimantus added: Has no one told you of the torch-race on horseback in honour of the goddess which will take place in the evening?
With horses! I replied: That is a novelty. Will horsemen carry torches and pass them one to another during the race?
Yes, said Polemarchus, and not only so, but a festival will he celebrated at night, which you certainly ought to see. Let us rise soon after supper and see this festival; there will be a gathering of young men, and we will have a good talk. Stay then, and do not be perverse.
Glaucon said: I suppose, since you insist, that we must.
Very good, I replied."
 
What, exactly, Bendis presided over to either the Thrakians or the Athenians is unclear. She was identified mostly with Artemis, but not equated with Her, as She received a temple of Her own. Due to a connection with grain and the growth cycle of plants, she was identified with Demeter, and sometimes Persephone and/or Hekate. She was thus also associated with Selene.  Mostly, however, she was equated with Artemis Mounikhia.
 
In the Classical literature and in later traditions, Artemis was portrayed as a huntress; a savage and wild deity of nature, and a virgin maiden. Artemis Mounikhia, however, differed from this Classical image. The characteristics of this particular epithet of Artemis were in fact more similar to the cult of the moon Goddess Hekate. In Classical tradition, the holy day of Artemis was on the 6th day of the month, but the Mounikhia festival was instead held on the 16th day of Mounychion, under the full moon, an element of the cult of Hekate. During the Mounikhia procession, round cakes with little torches were offered to the Goddess, corresponding directly to the torch races of the neighbouring cult of Bendis.
 
It appears that Artemis Mounychia was seen as a deity of protection, one connecting women with the moon cycle, and one which represents marriage, fertility and the protection of human life and nature. The physical proximity of the Bendis temple to that of Artemis Mounikhia, and the similarity of festival activities (such as the torch use in relation to the moon cycle) suggests their cults were similar and prehaps even linked. And through Artemis, Bendis is also linked to Hekate.
 
The worship of Bendis outside of Thrake and Athens never caught on; she was revered almost solely at these places. Yet, the Athenians seemed to have held Her in high regard for a Goddess not of their pantheon.

Will you be honoouring Bendis with us on the 28th of May, at 10 am EDT? You cn find the ritual here and the community page here.
In 1985–1987 a shipbuilder in Piraeus, financed by Frank Welsh (an author, Suffolk banker, writer and trireme enthusiast), advised by historian J. S. Morrison and naval architect John F. Coates (who with Welsh founded the Trireme Trust that initiated and managed the project), and informed by evidence from underwater archaeology, built a reconstructed Athenian trireme, 'Olympias'. Crewed by 170 volunteer oarsmen, Olympias in 1988 achieved 9 knots (17 km/h or 10.5 mph). Additional sea trials took place in 1987, 1990, 1992 and 1994. In 2004 Olympias was used ceremonially to transport the Olympic Flame from the port of Keratsini to the main port of Piraeus as the 2004 Olympic Torch Relay entered its final stages in the run-up to the 2004 Summer Olympics opening ceremony. Due to high maintenance costs, was subsequently put in dry dock at the Naval Tradition Park in Faliro, Athens, on November 25, 2005, where it has remained ever since. Until now.


For several days now, the wooden trireme is decorating the grove of the Greek Navy Tradition in Faliro, Greece, this reports the Archaeological News Network and many other news outlets with it. Ten years of disuse had taken its tole and it has undergone extensive maintenance works, but now it sails again, currently without purpose but hopefully to be put to work once more--in a ceremonial fashion, of course. While it is a commissioned ship in the Greek Navy, the only commissioned vessel of its kind in any of the world's navies, it would be outdone by today's warships. In ancient Hellenic times, this was the gold standard, however.

The trireme was a fast attack, light displacement vessel. It was rowed by 170 oarsmen, three rows per side, who were either poor citizens or dolos--slaves. A trireme would try to sink an enemy ship by ramming it from the side with its bronze nose. Alternative, they would sail past and allow the soldiers to throw spears at their enemy. Sometimes, however, they threw pots filled with burning liquids, or even poisenous snakes.

It was estimated that a trireme's ramming speed should have been in excess of 16 kilo Newtons, something the present reconstruction could not achieve, possibly because it was overweight. Crewed by 170 volunteer oarsmen, Olympias in 1988 achieved 9 knots (17 km/h or 10.5 mph). These results, achieved with inexperienced crew, suggest that the ancient writers were not exaggerating about straight-line performance. However, since modern humans are on average approximately 6 cm (2 inches) taller than Ancient Hellenes, the construction of a craft which followed the precise dimensions of the ancient vessel led to cramped rowing conditions and consequent restrictions on the modern crew's ability to propel the vessel with full efficiency, which perhaps explains why the ancient speed records stand unbroken.

While much attention was placed on achieving a copy of the ancient ship--the bronze Olimpias' ram is a copy of the original ram now in the Piraeus archaeological museum and weights 200 kg--some liberties had to be taken. This ship was built from Oregon pine and Virginia oak. The keel is of iroko. The ancient Hellenes would, of course, have used local wood. The bracing ropes, called hypozomata', had to be replaced by a steel rope because no natural fibre or synthetic fibre ropes with about the same elastic modulus as hemp could be obtained. The steel cables tension varied as the hull bent on the waves, rather than exerting constant tension like a natural fibre rope. This caused the alarming possibility of the rope breaking and endangering the crew, so protective measures had to be taken.

The trireme was a true engineering marvel of its time and it used a lot of manpower to get around. A trireme of the classical period would have had a crew of 200, including five officers. This would be made up of:

- the trierarchos (τριήραρχος, 'commander of trireme') — the commanding officer, responsible for supporting the ship
- the kybernetes (κυβερνήτης, 'steer') — executive officer, responsible for the cruising safety
- the keleustes (κελευστής, 'command') — responsible for the training and morale of the crew
- the pentekontarchos (πεντηκόνταρχος, 'commander of fifty') — administration officer
- the prorates (πρῳράτης, 'prow') — bow officer, responsible for keeping a sharp lookout
- the auletes (αὐλητής, 'flute') — a musician supplying the oar timing with his flute
- 170 eretai (ἐρέται, 'oarsmen'), positioned in three banks  of which 62 were thranitai (θρανῖται, 'bench'), located on the upper bank, 54 zygitai (ζυγῖται, 'yoke'), those sitting on the middle bank and 54 thalamitai (θαλαμῖται, 'inner chamber'), those sitting on the lower bank
- 10 sailors for handling the sails
- 14 epibatai (ἐπιβάται, marines, literally 'passengers') - 10 spearmen and 4 archers for protection and battle.
May we soon see the Olympias' sails on the horizon, because it is a true beauty to behold!

Many people--myself included--sometimes forget how extensive the ancient Hellenic empire was. It wasn't just what is now modern Greece. It extended all the way to, for example, Italy. Today: Akragas.


The ancient Hellenic city of Akragas (Ἀκράγας)  was one of the leading cities of Magna Graecia during the golden age of Ancient Hellas. It was founded on a plateau overlooking the sea, with two nearby rivers, the Hypsas and the Akragas, and a ridge to the north offering a degree of natural fortification. Its establishment took place around 582-580 BC and is attributed to Hellenic colonists from Gela, who named it. Gela (Γέλα), was and is a town and comune on the south coast of Sicily, Italy. It, in turn, was founded by Hellenic colonists from Rhodes and Krete in 689 BC. Aeschylus lived here and died here as well, in 456 BC.

After its establishment, Akragas grew rapidly. It became one of the richest and most famous of the Hellenic colonies of Magna Graecia, the name of the coastal areas of Southern Italy on the Tarentine Gulf that were extensively populated by Hellenic settlers. It came to prominence under the 6th century tyrants Phalaris and Theron and became a democracy after the overthrow of Theron's son Thrasydaeus. At this point the city could have been as large as 100,000 - 200,000 inhabitants.

Although the city remained neutral in the conflict between Athens and Syracuse, its democracy was overthrown when the city was sacked by the Carthaginians in 406 BC. Akragas never fully recovered its former status, though it revived to some extent under Timoleon in the latter part of the 4th century.
The Romans laid siege to the city in 262 BC and captured it after defeating a Carthaginian relief force in 261 BC and sold the population into slavery.

Although the Carthaginians recaptured the city in 255 BC, the final peace settlement gave Punic Sicily and with it Akragas to Rome. It suffered badly during the Second Punic War (218-201 BC) when both Rome and Carthage fought to control it. The Romans eventually captured Akragas in 210 BC and renamed it Agrigentum, although it remained a largely Greek-speaking community for centuries thereafter. It became prosperous again under Roman rule and its inhabitants received full Roman citizenship following the death of Julius Caesar in 44 BC.

Currently it's named 'Agrigento' and it's a major tourist centre due to its extraordinarily rich archaeological legacy. Ancient Akragas covers a huge area, much of which is still unexcavated today. The archaeological focus is on the famous 'Valle dei Templi' (Valley of the Temples:, which is not a valley at all but a ridge. It's comprised of a large sacred area on the south side of the ancient city where seven monumental Hellenic temples in the Doric style were constructed during the 6th and 5th centuries BC. Now excavated and partially restored, they constitute some of the largest and best-preserved ancient Hellenic buildings outside of Greece itself. They are listed as a World Heritage Site.

The Valley includes remains of seven temples. All were namedn of the named in Renaissance times, apart from the the Olympeion. The temples are:
- the Temple of Concordia, whose name comes from a Latin inscription found nearby, and which was built in the 5th century BC. It was turned into a church in the 6th century AD and is now one of the best preserved in the Valley.
- the Temple of Juno, also built in the 5th century BC. It was burnt in 406 BC by the Carthaginians.
- the Temple of Herakles, who was one of the most venerated deities in ancient Akragas. It is the most ancient in the Valley. It was destroyed by an earthquake and today it consists of only eight columns.
- the Temple of Olympian Zeus, built in 480 BC to celebrate the city-state's victory over Carthage.
- Temple of Kastor and Pollux of which only four columns (famously) remain
- the Temple of Vulcan, also dating from the 5th century BC. It is thought to have been one of the most imposing constructions in the valley; it is now however one of the most eroded.
- the Temple of Asklepius, located far from the ancient town's walls.

For images of these ancient sites, go here.
It seems like one of the absolute hardest things about Hellenismos to truly understand for new (and experienced) practitioners is miasma. As I have said many times before: within Hellenic practice, miasma describes the lingering aura of uncleanliness in regards to a person or space through which contact is made with the Gods.

Miasma occurs whenever the space or person comes into contact with death, sickness, birth, sex, excessive negative emotions and bodily fluids. It also comes from a lack of contact with the Hellenic Gods. Not the actual acts of dying, sex and birth cause miasma but the opening up of the way to the Underworld (with births and deaths) as well as contact with sweat, blood, semen, menstrual blood and urine pollutes us. Miasma is an incredibly complicated and involved practice and it's often misunderstood. The most important things to remember about miasma is that it holds no judgment from the Gods, and that everyone attracts miasma. It's a mortal, human, thing. The ancient Hellenes washed their hands as a precaution before ritual and then attended rites every single day.

After a lot of research into the workings of miasma, I have come to the conclusion that true, practice stopping, miasma is linked to distraction. Anything that takes your mind off of the Gods during ritual can be considered miasmic. For example, the ancient Hellenes agreed that murder causes miasma (when not committed as part of a war, soldiers were not tainted with miasma for killing their enemies), but only once other people became aware of the fact that you had committed an act of murder. As such, if you were exiled and you travelled to another town where no one knew what you had done, in essence, you were not miamic to the rites and people around you.

Many people seem to read and consider this valid but find the translation into their own lives and hard to make. So I am going to give you a rule of thumb that you can go by in whatever situation you find yourself concerned about practicing because of miasma. The rule of thumb is as follows:

“If you were practicing in a large group of people, would either they or you be distracted by your perceived source of miasma to the point where practicing with full concentration becomes impossible?”

If the answer is ‘no’, you’re most likely not miasmic. If they answer is ‘yes’, you might be. And by ‘distracted’ I don’t mean a glance and move on, I mean the full on high school awkward hushed whispers, secret glances, moving away from you, paying more attention to you than the rite treatment. I mean distraction to the point where you would be very uncomfortable attending. If whatever you think is miasmic would cause that feeling, then don’t do ritual.

Some ancient examples that you will see hold true to this day. Picture the scene: a large temple square, a lit sacred fire, oxen moo in the distance, ready to be slaughtered and then a person comes into the square who has/has committed this:

- murder: naturally everyone who knows becomes uncomfortable—you wouldn’t feel safe, you would want to get away. This fear is miasma.
- given birth very recently: the first few days after giving birth, every mom looks run over by a donkey cart. It’s a reminder that the baby might still die (newborns often did in ancient Hellas). On the other hand, everyone would want to congratulate the new mom and see/touch the baby. This fear as well as the joy is miasma. Both distract from the ritual at hand.
- a close relation that has passed: everyone is aware they are grieving. They probably haven’t seen them yet and want to console them. This sympathy is miasma.
- just had sex: unless they were really loud in the next alleyway or are wearing stained and crumpled clothing, no one would know and as such, sex is not miasmic. But the lovers would know. And they might be more interested in enjoying the afterglow together than attending the ritual. This personal distraction means they are miasmic and they might cause distraction (miasma) for others by giggling, touching and generally being in their own private world.
- a (mental) illness that is currently actively present: being sick is not miasmic. Coughing all over the place, ranting about being Zeus or having recently tried to (publicly) commit suicide are. Now, a broken leg that everyone knows about is not miasmic, a chronic illness that everyone knows about is not miasmic, even a mental illness that everyone knows about is not miasmic—unless they manifest in a way that causes the high school reaction described above. Someone in a deep depression or a psychosis might find it hard to impossible to experience the rites, for example. I mean absolutely no disrespect to anyone struggling with a chronic illness or who is struggling psychologically when I write this. This is why I say miasma is human, it holds no judgement and it is part of daily life: it happens. It could happen to anyone.
- their period: cis ladies only, of course, but because of the men. Men in ancient Hellas were scared of women. They considered them wild and unpredictable and the whole ‘should-not-leave-the-house’-thing was a direct attempt to ‘tame’ women and make sure they did not run off with their kids. Nothing screams ‘wild’ and ‘dangerous’ more than someone who once a month loses the inner linings of their uterus during a bloody, messy, smelly week long (on average) affair that causes her great discomfort. Men in ancient Hellas (and, admit it, modern culture) were scared absolutely shitless by a woman’s menstrual cycle. So if anyone knew a woman was on her period and she attended ritual, there was no way they would be able to keep their attention on the rite. None. Today, it’s easy to make sure no one knows a woman is on her period and the act as such is not miasmic anymore, but the discomfort of the whole affair might be a distraction to the women themselves and as such, they can be miasmic for themselves and a distraction to others.

I could go on and on and on with examples, but I think the gist of it should be clear now: does whatever it is put the attention on you instead of the Gods? Miasmic. Does it distract you to the point where you can’t fully participate? Miasmic. Doesn’t it do either? Not miasmic. Wash your hands, maybe wash your face, get in the spirit of things and enjoy.

In the cases where a person was/is miasmic to the point where they should not be participating in the rite, there were two things that could be done and it depended greatly upon the circumstances. For anything but committing murder (or any other type of crime, I suspect), time is the healer. Sit this rite out, wait a week, re-evaluate.

A new mother was considered miasmic for ten days, by that time the baby would probably live and her wounds would have recovered to the point of being able to function again. Everyone will have seen the baby. Life has returned to normal. The miasma on grief over a close family member like a mother, son, or grandparent was considered to lift in a month. A woman’s period passes. Illnesses can be treated or will go in remission/become manageable. People will get used to chronic illnesses. Just give it time. And when the person whose waiting period was up got ready to practice again, a thorough cleansing by means of a bath and a small ceremony was held privately prior to it, I suspect mostly for the person themselves, to get in the right mindset again.

Murder and crime, by the way, had specialized midnight rites which cleansed the person of their act. Truthfully, I think it was more helpful to the public when the person’d had their day in court and I suspect the cleansing rite took place after the trial and punishment were over, just like with all other instances of miasma. It closed a chapter and put everyone at ease.

Miasma is not a bad thing, it is a human thing. We live, things happen, we move on. Miasma is not something that should stop you from practicing. What is does is ask of you to be mindful of when you should and should not be practicing. Practice when you are your best, when you can practice arête: the act of living up to one's full potential. Practice when you can give full attention to the rites despite of your distractions. What matters is that you practice, because the Theoi want you to. Stop only when you feel what you can give is not up to par to the Gods. Only then. Those instances are very, very rare and you will know it when they happen.
On the 23th of May, which coincides with 16 Thargelion in 2016, Elaion will hold a PAT ritual to Zeus Epakrios as was done on this day in ancient Erkhia. Will you be joining us at the usual 10 AM EDT?


Zeus Epakrios (Ἐπάκριος) is an epithet of Zeus derived from 'epi akrios', literally 'on the height' or 'upon the high place'. Zeus Epakrios had an altar on Mount Hymettos (Υμηττός), along with an altar to Zeus Hymettios (overseer) and Zeus Ombrios (of the rain). The cult to Zeus Epakrios seems to have been separate from the cults of Zeus Hymettios and Zeus Ombrios, with the altars of Zeus Epakrios and Ombrios located on the very summit of the mountain and the altar to Zeus Hyettios further down the slope. The altar of Zeus Epakrios lay unused for a while, even though the altar of Zeus Hymettios remained in use. The altar to Zeus Ombrios remained in use well into the 8th-7th centuries BC. All ancient remains of the altar to Zeus Epakrios have been obliterated by recent military building operations.

The Princeton Encyclopedia of Classical Sites tells us about Mt. Hymettos:

"Separating the southern end of the plain of Athens from that of the Mesogaia to the east is the mountain range of Hymettos. In antiquity Hymettos was famous for honey and marble, and the scars of the worked-out quarries can be seen concentrated for the most part on the western slopes for a distance of 3 km south from Kaisariani. The bare summit performed a different function: even as today, it gave the Athenians a reliable indication of weather by the presence, or absence, of threatening clouds."

We are not entirely certain of the funtion of the sacrifice or the epithet. 'On the height' speaks for itself when taken together with the location of the altar, but it says nothing of its function. We do know that the altar was only visited once a year, for this sacrifice. It stands to reason that Zeus Epakrios oversaw the weather, as did Zeus Ombrios and Zeus Hymettios. In this time of year, sacrifices would have called for good weather for the continuation of the agricultural cycle and perhaps the herding of sheep and other grazers on the mountain who were presumably used to keep the area open for herbs and flowers for the honey creating bees to feast on.

The sacrifice was nephalios (wineless) and au phora (not carried – totally consumed (on site)).

The ritual for the event can be found here and you can join the community page on Facebook here.
A group of British, American and French scholars is calling for the immediate resumption of excavations at the Villa of the Papyri at Herculaneum, reports The Art Newspaper. The Herculaneum was buried by the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD. The villa, which is near Pompeii, was first explored in the 1750's when archaeologists discovered the only intact library of texts from the Classical era. The papyri found so far are Greek works of philosophy; the hope is that other Greek texts as well as Latin ones by some of the greatest writers of Antiquity may still be underground. The Art Newspaper invited the lead signatory to the Times letter, Robert Fowler, to make the case for excavation while Andrew Wallace-Hadrill, the scientific director of the Herculaneum Conservation Project, sounds a note of caution.


Some background first: in a letter to the Times newspaper in late March, academics lamented the fact that 'there has been no new [excavation] work since 2009'. 'The excavation must be finished', they wrote.  In their letter to the Times in London calling for further excavation of the Villa of the Papyri at Herculaneum, the academics warned that 'another eruption of Vesuvius may put the villa beyond reach forever'. Vesuvius is closely monitored and an updated plan for the evacuation of the population in the 'red zone' (increased from 18 communities to the 25 in the red ring above) was issued in 2014 and has been revised again this year.

Scientists expect that there will be a period of increased seismic activity before any major eruption, giving enough warning to evacuate the population of more than 600,000. However, there is a 95% certainty that, in the event of a major eruption, the red zone would have a radius of 10 km to 12 km around the central crater, encompassing Herculaneum and Pompeii. This whole area would be covered in deadly pyroclastic flows of molten rock and gas, which can reach temperatures of 1,000°C and advance at speeds of up to 450 miles per hour.

 Robert Fowler, professor of Greek at the University of Bristol is in favour of further excavations. He explains his standpoint as follows:

"The Villa of the Papyri at Herculaneum contains the only library to have survived intact from the ancient Greco-Roman world. In the eruption of Vesuvius in AD79, the scrolls were first carbonised, then miraculously preserved in a flood of airless volcanic mud. Some 1,800 fragments representing perhaps 800 original books were recovered in the 18th century. The hundreds so far identified present a lopsided profile: overwhelmingly, they are books of Epicurean Greek philosophy.
 
This appears to be the personal library of Philodemus, the leading Epicurean of the first century BC, whose patron was Lucius Calpurnius Piso Caesoninus, the father-in-law of Julius Caesar and owner, in all probability, of this villa. Cultivated Romans kept sumptuous libraries in their country homes, where philosophers and artists gathered to discuss literature and ideas. Virgil and Horace were members of Piso’s circle. Philodemus too was a poet. The library would have contained many other books both Greek and Latin. The rest of it is most probably in the southeast corner of the villa, which the early tunnelers failed to reach. The lost works waiting to be found there stagger the imagination.
 
The villa was rediscovered and partially excavated in the 1990s. The excavation must be finished. Counter-arguments are familiar. Resources are desperately scarce, people say, and should be used for pressing emergencies (Pompeii is falling down), not for digging up new things that only add to the burden of conservation. The trouble is, this argument will always be advanced. It amounts to an argument for never excavating.
 
Meanwhile, the volcano may erupt again and put the villa effectively beyond reach. It has erupted on average every 20 years since 1631. The last eruption was in 1944.
 
People say archaeology is not about treasure hunting (highly disputable: define “treasure”). Of course it must be a responsible excavation, not a grab and run. One need not exhume the whole building. The long peristyle can be left to sleep, minimising the disruption to the town above.
 
The 1990s revealed previously unknown lower levels, offering good reason in themselves for further exploration. But the library makes this building unique. We shall soon have the technology to scan and read the rolls without even touching them. They will not lie around neglected and deteriorating, as has sometimes been charged.
 
 Posterity will not forgive us if we squander this chance. The excavation must proceed."


Andrew Wallace-Hadrill, director of research, faculty of Classics, Cambridge University; scientific director of the Herculaneum Conservation Project, is against further excavation and explains his standpoints as follows:

"It is hard not to share the enthusiasm of the group of specialists who have renewed their pleas to resume excavation of the Villa of the Papyri at Herculaneum. An initial attempt at full excavation was made in the 1990s, though this only reached one corner of the building and demonstrated not only how fraught with difficulties such an excavation is, but how easy it is to cause damage in the process, and how difficult to conserve what is exposed.

Fourteen years ago, I argued in this newspaper that continued excavation was not a priority compared with conservation. Is the time right now? A decade’s heroic work by the Packard Humanities Institute has addressed many of the existing problems of conservation on the main site at Herculaneum, but the villa may be regarded as a case apart.

Is there an imminent threat to the site of the villa? Volcanic eruption can scarcely do more damage to what lies buried: it is the parts exposed that are most at risk. And the problem is precisely that by exposing them in part, the risks have been greatly increased. The steep embankment around the trench is not stable: the edges constantly crumble and do damage to the protective shelter. This can be addressed by stepping the embankment back, but simply increasing the size of the excavation only moves the problem on.

The gravest risk is from water. The consequence of creating a trench 30m below the ground level of the present city is to release a flow of water. This cascades out of the edge of the excavated area, passing through the lower floors of the villa, precisely those which were not explored by Karl Weber [in the 1750s] and have the most potential interest. One room of this lower floor has been partially excavated, and its rich decoration only underlines the potential interest of this area.

There is a strong case for urgent work to stop the embankment crumbling and the flow of water further damaging the lower floors. This might reveal further papyri. It would certainly reveal finds of great interest. But the logic that drives any modern excavation must be preservation, not the pursuit of a dream."

Personally, I think we have time to work up to a new excavation and do it right, but I do wish for another dig. Herculaneum has yeilded some of the greatest Hellenic finds there are and simply the thought of there being more in the ground is tantalising.

The Herculaneum papyri are a treasure. The official list amounts to 1,814 rolls and fragments, of which 1,756 had been discovered by 1855. The inventory now comprises 1826 papyri. More than 340 are almost complete, about 970 are partly decayed and partly decipherable, and more than 500 are merely charred fragments.

Among the recovered scrolls are large parts of Books XIV, XV, XXV, and XXVIII of the magnum opus of Epicurus, 'On Nature'. Works by early followers of Epicurus are also represented among the papyri. 44 of the rolls have been identified as the work of Philodemus of Gadara, an Epicurean philosopher and poet. The manuscript 'PHerc.Paris.2' contains part of Philodemus' On Vices and Virtues. The Stoic philosopher Chrysippus is attested to have written over 700 works, all of them lost, with the exception of a few fragments quoted by other authors. Segments of his works 'On Providence' and 'Logical Questions' were found among the papyri; a third work of his may have been recovered from the charred rolls.

Who knows what more is to be found? I am in favour of at least trying--or at the bare minimum preserving the site as best we can until funds can be found for another dig. Prosterity should have the option and possibility to dig, I feel.