Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Aphrodite Inheritance now finally out on DVD

I will freely admit that my parents hadn't even considered having me when this show was first aired, all the way back in 1979. Still, there is no reason not to add a little bit of a Hellenic twist to your holiday wish list. The Aphrodite Inheritance is an eight-part serial, written by Michael J. Bird. It was filmed on Cyprus and was a massive hit when it first came out.

When British engineer Barry Collier is injured in an accident in Cyprus, his brother David (Peter McEnery) immediately flies out to be at his side... but it is too late. After the funeral David is approached by the beautiful Helene (Alexandra Bastedo), eager to inform him that the death was no accident. And her mysterious companions Basileos (Brian Blessed) and Charalambos (Stefan Gryff) seem to know a great deal more. But can he trust them? Collier finds himself drawn into a complex conspiracy filled with intriguing characters and increasingly strange experiences as he tries to unravel the truth behind his brother's death.

Needless to say (or else I wouldn't feature it on my blog) there is a mythological twist to the story and although the series is a bit... dated, it'll still keep you on the edge of your seat.

The Aphrodite Inheritance was a follow-up to the success of his previous two Mediterranean-set series 'The Lotus Eaters' and 'Who Pays the Ferryman?', both now also out on DVD.

'The Lotus Eaters' is the first of an unofficial quartet of serials written by Bird and set in the Mediterranean. The series dealt with the lives of various British expats living on the island of Crete and their reasons for being there. The central characters were a married couple, Erik (Ian Hendry) and Ann Shepherd (Wanda Ventham) who ran a tavern called "Shepherd's Bar". The official description goes as follows:

"To eat the fruit of the lotus is to lose the desire to return home. But everyone who does has a reason. Shepherd's Bar is a focal point for a group of expatriates living in and around a small town on the island of Crete. The bar is owned and run by reformed alcoholic Erik Shepherd (Ian Hendry). For Erik temptation is never far away, and his faltering marriage to Ann (Wanda Ventham) provides solace. The arrival of Englishman Donald Culley (James Kerry) causes something of a stir. Culley is charming, handsome and by his generosity he quickly wins over other members of the little community. But Culley knows that the long-suffering Ann has a secret of her own, a secret that could prove far more destructive than Erik's drinking... Never before available on DVD, this classic series is a collection of nine self-contained plays, each telling the story of a different member of the community. Each story is skilfully woven into the continuing sub-plot about the deteriorating relationship between the mysterious Erik and Ann Shepherd."

The second part of the 'series', 'Who Pays the Ferryman?' was produced by the BBC in 1977. The title of the series refers to the ancient religious belief and mythology of Kharon the ferryman to Hades. In the series, Jack Hedley stars as Alan Haldane an ex-soldier who returns to Crete, thirty years after fighting alongside the local resistance during the Second World War. Alan is wanting to take stock of his life following the sale of his boat-building business. He wants to look for his beloved Melina, from whom he has heard nothing from in his years away from the island. When he arrives in Crete he finds the ghosts of the past waiting for him, along with those who wish to do him harm. The shadows of his past interrupt and threaten his present happiness. When an old friend tells him Melina passed away and left a daughter, his daughter, Alan decides to stay on the island to be close to his new family. When he meets Annika (Betty Arvaniti), Melina's sister he falls in love with her. However, he does not take into account the hatred of the elderly Katerina (Patience Collier) who breathes new life into an old feud, and puts his life at serious risk. Torn between fear and desire Alan is slowly but surely separated from the past.

As far as I am aware, the fourth part of the series has not yet come out on DVD. It's titled 'The Dark Side of the Sun'. The series takes place on the Greek island of Rhodes. The story combines elements of supernatural Gothic romance with the contemporary conspiracy thriller. There are themes of telepathy and hypnosis, and a secret society, descended from the Knights Templar, holding clandestine meetings on the island.

The Aphrodite Inheritance is the only one in the series with overt mythological themes, but every single one of the series caused an explosion of tourism and interest in the filming locations. They all paint a beautiful picture of modern Greece. If you have trouble coming up with ideas for your wish list, I've got you covered with these.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Constellation Scorpio: the scorpion

Today I'd like to present you with another constellation as part of my Constellation Series. We have gotten to the constellation Scorpio, the scorpion.



In Hellenic Mythology the myths associated with Scorpio almost invariably also contain a reference to Orion. Orion (Ὠρίων) was a famed hunter who has a lot of mythology to his name. He is the son of Poseidon and has the ability to walk on water. It is said that he once, when drunk, tried to force himself upon Merope, the daughter of Oenopion and was blinded and exiled because of it. Hēlios eventually healed his injury and restored his eyesight. After a failed vengeance attempt, Orion came to Krete and begun  to hunt with Artemis. According to Hyginus' Astromomica, this eventually lead to his downfall:

"Orion since he used to hunt, [...] felt confident that he was most skilled of all in that pursuit, said even to Diana [Artemis] and Latona that he was able to kill anything the produced. Earth [Gaea], angered at this, sent the scorpion which is said to have killed him. Jove [Zeus], however, admiring the courage of both, put the scorpion among the stars, as a lesson to men not to be too self-confident. Diana, then, because of her affection for Orion, asked Jove to show to her request the same favour he had given of his own accord to Earth. And so the constellation was established in such a way that when Scorpion rises, Orion sets." [2.26]

In this scenario, the Scorpion was admitted into the heavens as well, along with his hunting pack and his greatest hunt: the Lepus the hare. In some old descriptions the constellation of Libra is treated as the Scorpion's claws. Libra was known as the Claws of the Scorpion. Hyginus makes the connection between the scorpion and the scales best:

"This sign is divided into two parts on account of the great spread of the claws. One part of it our writers have called the Balance." [II. 26]
 
The constellation Scorpio is visible at latitudes between +40° and −90° and best visible at 21:00 (9 p.m.) during the month of July.


Friday, December 19, 2014

Reminder: Haloa festival

Yesterday at dusk, the Haloa (῾Αλῶα) festival started. This ancient Hellenic festival was held in honor of Demeter, Dionysos and a little bit in honor of Persephone. Like all festivals of Demeter and Persephone's 'Kore' persona, women were the only ones who were allowed to handle the religious and sacrificial side of it.

The Haloa is part of the Mysteries and is assumed to be a celebration of the pruning of the vines and the tasting of the wine after its first fermentation, or it may be to encourage the growth of corn from the seed. Some time during the festival, the entire population was invited by the priests of Dionysos and the priestesses of Demeter and Kore to give sacrifice to these Theos; to Demeter and Kore for the fertility of the earth in which the grapevines grew, and to Dionysos in remembrance of Ikários, who was such a fine winemaker that he could produce wine so strong, those who drank it appeared to be poisoned.

Read more here.

Thessaloniki metro dig in more trouble

In what has become an ongoing saga on this blog, I bring you news about the Thessaloniki metro dig.


In March of last year, I blogged about an excavation conducted at the Venizelos metro station which brought to light a very well preserved 70-meter section of a marble-paved road, the remains of buildings dating back to the sixth to ninth centuries AD, as well as big public buildings of the 7th century; a rarity for the Byzantine world. Trouble was (and is) that the site of the find is part of a new subway tunnel and platform which are being built to transport 250,000 passengers daily, and thus decrease traffic congestion and air pollution in the city. The entire subway project has a price-tag of 3.5 billion euros (4.6 billion dollars), and was co-financed by the European Union. To keep the road, the entire subway project would have to be abandoned. To save the subway project, the road would need to be moved, or destroyed--the same thing, according to archaeologists.

By April it looked like Thessaloniki's government and archaeological institutions had found a solution to the problem: they were going to temporarily remove the finds during the station's construction and then restore about 85 percent to 95 percent after the station was completed. The solution proposed had a low cost--0,6 percent to 0.8 percent of the budget--with zero or only a few months delay to the works’ completion. Only a 45 square meter space (out of the area’s 1.600 square meters) would not be restored, due to the placement of vents and escalators.

By February of this year, word got out that the removal of the antiquities from the construction site was suspended in July of last year following a decision reached by the Council of State. In the beginning of April I blogged about the estimation that it will take at least another three years and some 40 million euros for the excavation of ancient ruins to be completed. Well, it seems that that was a careful estimate: the new numbers weren't pretty. the new completion date was somehwere in 2020 and it might cost another 42 million euros in funding for the archaeological work it has lined up to complete the digs, on top of 92 million already spent.

The troubled project could be set for another blow as the consortium building the underground transport system asked for its contract to be torn up. The consortium, made up of Greek and Italian companies (AEGEK-Impregilo-Ansaldo-Seli-Ansaldobreda), made the move after a court of arbitration ruled earlier this year that it had the right to ask for the contract to be scrapped. The government had extended the agreement with the consortium to November 2016 after a series of obstacles, including archaeological fines, held up the project. However, the consortium argued that it had not agreed to the extension and that it should be allowed to walk away without having to pay compensation. The court ruled in the contractor’s favour.

Attiko Metro, which manages the project, is left with two options. One is to accept the consortium’s request, pay up for the work that has been carried out and launch a new tender. The other option is to reject the consortium’s request and attempt to find a way to continue their relationship. Christos Tsitouras, president of Attiko Metro:

“Attiko Metro wants the project to continue through a lawful process. We will not accept a discussion on issues that have already been referred to arbitration. We can discuss with the consortium possible changes to the remaining project, which could be recorded in a supplementary contract.”

The original contract for the construction of the Thessaloniki metro was signed in April 2006 but less than 40 percent of the project has been completed so far.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Classical classics

Lovely readers, are you fans of classical music? I quite enjoy many classical pieces although I am definitely not well versed. I have found though that the subject matter matters a great deal, so how about some classical pieces with Hellenic influences?

Carl Nielsen - Helios Overture



Carl Nielsen's Helios Overture, Opus 17, was first performed by the Royal Orchestra, conducted by Johan Svendsen, on 8 October 1903 in the large hall of the Odd Fellows Mansion in Copenhagen. In 1902, Nielsen signed a contract with the publisher Wilhelm Hansen, which allowed him to go to Athens, Greece, to join his wife Anne Marie Carl-Nielsen, who was one of the first sculptors allowed to make copies of the bas-reliefs and statues in the Acropolis Museum. Nielsen's stay in Athens gave him the inspiration of a work depicting the sun rising and setting over the Aegean Sea, an overture which he called Helios. He began work on it in March 1903, and finished it on April 23 the same year. The score is written for three flutes, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, four horns, three trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani, and strings.

The work begins as the sun ascends over the Aegean Sea, while strings, divided horns and woodwind sound a melody. This rises out of the darkness to a full orchestra, where fanfaring trumpets begin a striding theme, which returns later in the piece. From there woodwinds begin a graceful tune, from which brass sound. Strings begin to play, which draws the orchestra into a reprise of the striding theme and its fanfare. In the final measures, the music subsides as the sun sinks over the horizon of the sea. The average playing time is between ten and twelve minutes.


Gluck - Orpheus and Euridice



Orfeo ed Euridice is an opera composed by Christoph Willibald Gluck based on the myth of Orpheus, set to a libretto by Ranieri de' Calzabigi. The piece was first performed in Vienna on 5 October 1762. The two hour opera is split into three acts. In the first a grieving Orpheus--Orfeo--Amore appears, telling Orfeo that he may go to the Underworld and return with his wife on the condition that he not look at her until they are back on earth. In the second act, Orfeo visits the underworld and is reunited with Euridice, and in the third, they head out and he looses her again when he looks back to check if she is really there.


Karl Goldmark - Prometheus Unbound Overture



 Karl Goldmark, also known originally as Károly Goldmark and later sometimes as Carl Goldmark was a Hungarian composer who lived from May 18, 1830, to January 2, 1915. The Op. 36, the Prometheus Bound Overture, features Prometheus and is concerned with the torments of the Hellenic mythological figure Prometheus who defies the Gods and gives fire to humanity, for which he is subjected to eternal punishment and suffering at the hands of Zeus.


Carl Ditters von Dittersdorf - Symphonies after Ovid’s 'Metamorphoses' No. 1 to No. 6



Carl Ditters von Dittersdorf was an Austrian composer, violinist and silvologist who lived from 2 November 1739 to 24 October 1799. Among his 120-or-so symphonies are twelve programmatic ones based on Ovid's Metamorphoses, although only six have survived (and have also been recorded). They are entitled: 'The Four Ages of the World', 'The Fall of Phaeton', 'The Metamorphosis of Acteon Into a Stag', 'The Rescue of Andromeda by Perseus', 'The Transformation of the Lycian Peasants into Frogs', and a sixth untitled one.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Temple of Artemis in Vavrona flooded

To anyone who lives in Greece or who has kept an eye on the happenings there, it can't come as a surprise but Greece is experiencing a bout of very, very bad weather. Huge storms and floods are wreaking havoc and destruction. The most recent victim: the temple of Artemis in Vavrona.


This temple was sacred to the Goddess Artemis in her manifestation as protectress of mothers, mothers to be, and those seeking to become mothers. Supplicants dedicated offerings to the goddess such as clothing, mirrors and jewellery hoping to become pregnant and gain easy births or votive offerings of thanks. The site is also associated with Iphigeneia, daughter of Agamemnon, a priestess of Artemis. Legend recounts that Iphigenia introduced the worship of Artemis to Greece upon her return from Tauris with her brother Orestes. They carried with them a xoanon, a sacred image of Artemis, which they had stolen from the local Temple in Tauris.

After several hours of non stop torrential rain and within a few hours, the temple, dedicated to goddess Artemis, was turned into a lake as the muddy water covered the entire area. Mud and water covered the ancient temple’s marble columns, while indicative of the amount of water that fell during the last 24 hours in the Attica region is that, based on meteorological data, almost 1/7 of the entire year’s rainfall occurred in the last few days. Four stations of the National Observatory in Euboea (Zarakes, Setta, Steni and Styra) recorded more than 80mm of rain each, meaning that some 80 tons of water fell within an acre.

It should be noted that the extreme rainfall throughout the country and especially in northern Greece, and particularly in Thrace, has caused the flooding of Evros river. The residents of Ormenio village were in danger after a nearby Evros river levee broke and the village has been evacuated.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

"Why does Hera never punish Zeus for his infidelity?"


"Hi Elani, I have been wondering about something... I can't figure out the answer and maybe you can help. Why is it that Hera in the myths never punishes Zeus for his infidelity but always the humans he cheats with, or the children? Thank you in advance! I love your blog!"


Well, Hera did try to overthrow Her husband once, in the beginning of their reign. The reasons are never made entirely clear--nor for Her, nor for the others who joined her (most notably Poseidon and Athena). His adultry was most likely a factor, though, and at that time he also wasn't a very good leader to the Gods, nor a ruler over mankind. Especially Poseidon and Athena took offense to the latter tow. From Hómēros' 'Iliad':

"Help your brave son, therefore, if you [Thetis] are able. Go to Olympus, and if you have ever done him service in word or deed, implore the aid of Jove. Ofttimes in my father's house have I heard you glory in that you alone of the immortals saved the son of Saturn from ruin, when the others, with Juno, Neptune, and Pallas Minerva would have put him in bonds. It was you, goddess, who delivered him by calling to Olympus the hundred-handed monster whom gods call Briareus, but men Aegaeon, for he is stronger even than his father; when therefore he took his seat all-glorious beside the son of Saturn, the other gods were afraid, and did not bind him." [1. 397]

This specific example illustrates a point: Hera (women) cannot and should not punish or resent Zeus (men) for their infidelity. In fact, as long as a husband takes good care of his wife (both financially and sexually), he should be free to pursue any woman he is societally allowed to sleep with.

Because much of what has remained from ancient Hellas was written, created, or otherwise preserved by men, it's easy to get a lasting negative impression of women in the ancient Hellenic society. In fact, until a couple of decades ago, that was the prevalent notion in the scholarly community. So, let's look at the role of women in ancient Hellas before I can get back to the question at hand. Trigger warning: we have to get into the topic of sexual assault and rape for a moment here.

Marriage in ancient Hellas was a family affair. The father of the son--who was often in his thirties by the time he got married--opened negotiations with the family of a bride in her teens. The two families came to an agreement about dowry, a contract was signed by the father of the groom and the father of the bride in front of witnesses, and the groom met his new wife--often for the first time--before taking her to bed. Prostitution was common, and men tended to have concubines. Some even lived at the house. Demosthenes, a Hellenic writer from ancient Athens, was recorded as saying: 'we have courtesans for pleasure, concubines to provide for our daily needs, and our spouses to give us legitimate children and to be the faithful guardians of our homes'. In ancient Hellas, women were almost solely in charge of raising children. Their lives consisted of taking care of the hearth, her husband and her children. Any status a woman had, was tied in with her husband. Women were groomed to function in pairs. It was because of this that a widow was passed on to another male as soon as possible.

In ancient Hellenic society, free women lived separate from men. They rarely had interactions with men not from their oikos. Still, there are accounts of women being sexually assaulted, and monetary fines that were issued to the perpetrator. From this, we know that sexual assault and rape were criminal, and shameful acts. Ancient sources also tell us that men were only punishable for sexual assault or rape if they raped a woman--or possibly a man--above their own rank. No one was punished for raping a slave, for example, and the practice was common.

So then, what of Gods? It stands to reason that hierarchical rules also apply here, as myths are formed by the men who tell them. Who is higher in rank than a God? And, above all, who is higher in rank than Zeus? If Zeus desires a woman (or man), He is free to take her (or him) under ancient Hellenic law. It also stands to reason that a God lower in standing, say Apollon, would be punished severely for raping a Goddess above his standing. If Zeus had not claimed Hera, and He had laid claim to Her, I am sure He would have been unsuccessful, and perhaps would even have been punished.

Looking at mortals, nymphs and 'lesser' Immortals, nearly all Gods outrank them, so the ancient Hellens would have seen no problem in a sexual act between a God and these women. An exception to the rules and regulations applied to mortal adulterous men, would most likely have been made for the Gods as well. Their Divinity would allow Them to 'overrule' the mortal marriage without bringing shame to the husband, although there seems to be a threat stemming from a demi-God son (as can be seen in the myth of Perseus).

So, short answer after all of that: Hera doesn't punish Her husband for sleeping around (something He allegedly did far less after Her revolt) because it is not Her place, just as it was not the place of women in ancient Hellenic society to punish their husbands. Ancient Hellenic society, however, says nothing about women not punishing or resenting the women her husband engaged. Hera may not have been allowed or capable of punishing Her husband, but She could definitely take it out on His conquests and the children that came from those unions. That said, make sure to distinguish between Hellenic and Roman myth! The Roman Goddess Juno was far more vengeful than Hera was ever made out to be.

We might not agree with these views in modern times but I encourage placing the myths into their proper framework, a frame where the myths meet the society they were written down in, and are explained that way. These were the views of the people who wrote down the myths and they should be understood in those views. Who knows how the relationship between Zeus and Hera is these days and if they have or haven't had a bit of a sit down about this? I most certainly don't. Looking at ancient Hellenic myth, though, this is my explanation. I hope it makes things a bit clearer for you as well.