Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Excavations at Azoria concluded for 2014

Archaeologists and students from North Carolina and across the US, as well as local Cretan workers, are studying the findings of Azoria, a city destroyed by fire about 2,500 years ago. The Azoria Project is the excavation of an Early Iron Age and Archaic site (ca. 1200-500 B.C.) on the island of Crete in the Greek Aegean. The project is spearheaded by Donald Haggis, an archaeology professor at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. Haggis and his team have been working on the project since 2002. Greek officials monitor the excavation as all antiquities found must remain in Greece.

2014 excavations at Azoria concluded
Monumental Civic Building excavated at Azoria in 2006 [Credit: Azoria Project/
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill]
The Archaeology News Network reports that the team is currently working on gathering historical clues from the remnants of buildings, personal items, implements and food. In the past, the Azoria Project excavations have recovered evidence of an Archaic Greek city, established c. 600 BC, following a long period of continuous occupation throughout the Early Iron Age or Greek Dark Age (1200-700 BC) and Early Archaic (700-600 BC) (or Orientalizing) periods. The city was destroyed by fire early in the 5th century BC, to be subsequently reoccupied on a limited scale c. 200 BC—probably a single tower constructed on the peak of the South Acropolis.

Although the site has a long history of use, the most visible remains are the houses and communal buildings of Archaic date (600-500 BC). The Archaic rebuilding expanded the settlement to its maximum size (c. 15 hectares), created a zone of communal buildings—discovered have been a  communal dining building, a monumental civic building, and an Archaic shrine.

The Azoria project excavations took place between 2002 and 2006 and there was a hiatus from 2007 until 2012, when conservation work was done. Excavations resumed last year and they are scheduled to continue through 2017, followed by additional years of study.

Fieldwork is conducted by permission of the Greek Ministry of Culture under the auspices of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens and the Archaeological Service of Eastern Crete (24th Ephorate of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities). The main supporting institutions are the Department of Classics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the Classical Studies Program at Iowa State University, the Curriculum in Archaeology and the Research Laboratories of Archaeology at UNC, the Institute for Aegean Prehistory Study Center for East Crete (INSTAP-SCEC), and the Duke-UNC Consortium for Classical and Mediterranean Archaeology (CCMA).

Monday, August 18, 2014

Cara Schulz and politics

In very happy news, The Wild Hunt reports that Cara Schulz has decided to run for one of the two open seats on the local Burnsville City Council. The regular reader might be familiar with Schulz' name: she is a well known Hellenic Pagan, and a member of Hellenion. As such, her name has popped up on Baring the Aegis before.

As The Wild Hunt explains, the election is non-partisan, meaning the primaries coming up later this month will simply winnow the field down to four candidates from the current seven, regardless of each candidate’s personal party affiliation. The public will then vote two candidates into office this November. Schulz has also been active in politics for a long time, most notably, she was an active volunteer for Libertarian Presidential candidate Gov. Gary Johnson in 2012. Like Governor Johnson, Schulz is liberal on social issues, and conservative on fiscal policy.

The Burnsville city counsel is--obviously--no concern of mine, but Cara is a well known figure in our community, and I'm using her political step as something to hang a note on. We are discussing politics, but as anyone who has ever been involved in politics (or has seen any fictional character in a series or movie run for anything political) knows, politics are personal. It's not just the political views of the candidate that matter in getting elected: it's the person. Religion--especially in America--is a huge part of why a candidate gets elected for anything.

Every step into the public's eye a member of a minority religion makes brings with it consequences for other members of said minority. People will always hold that person up as an example. This works for everything, gay people, black people, etc. I've been friends with people who have always been uncomfortable around homosexuals but who, through knowing me, have come around. They think positive of homosexuals now, and that is because they like me. 

Schulz is not the first Pagan to make the news by running for something political. We are fresh off the very painful affair that was Theodsman Dan Halloran's stint as a former New York City Councilman. Just a few days ago, Halloran was convicted on corruption and bribery charges, after a long investigation. Because his religion became a major focus during his election process, it will undoubtedly leave a taint upon Theodism now Halloran has been convicted.

I doubt there are any skeletons in Schulz' closet. She is an eloquent, thoughtful, and very smart woman. I have no doubt that Schulz would/will do a fantastic job on the city counsel, and I know that she is well aware of the visibility she takes upon herself and Hellenismos. Every time someone from our little community takes a step outside of it, though, I find myself holding my breath just a little. Just enough to realize how close Hellenismos and its reputation is to my heart.

The primary election was held on August 12th, and I have no idea how Schulz did. I hope she made it through (and I will let you know if she did). I hope she makes it onto the counsel and has a profound impact on Burnsville. I hope she makes it better, and that she does it with the Hellenic ethics in mind. I hope she will remain to be an addition to our community--both inside of it and out of it. Overall, I simply wish her the best, and good things on her and the religion she represents.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

'Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent.'

Through Tumblr, I was asked my opinion about a quote allegedly by Euripides, which reads:

"Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?"

Euripides (Εὐριπίδης) was alive from about 480 to 406 BC, and in his lifetime, he wrote about 95 plays, 18 of which have survived completely and many more as fragments. His most known works are Alcestis, Medea and The Bacchus. He is known for his representation of traditional, mythical heroes as ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances--which is a story told many times over in modern day writing.

It's a disputed quote, mostly because it's not at all clear if it was written by Euripides or not. Charles Bray, in his 1863 'The Philosophy of Necessity: Or, Natural Law as Applicable to Moral, Mental, and Social Science' quotes it first, without a source. Afterwards, it got picked up and appeared in many more books on philosophy and ancient Hellenic culture. That said, let's look at the statement itself. Bray's quote is a little different. It reads:

"Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Whence then is evil?"

He says about the quote:

"It is probable that what we call evil is the best, if not only means of producing and preserving the good. Is our calling it evil then merely a misnomer, or must we not rather admit that we are obligated to limit the power of God, and that He cannot produce the good in its full amount without the evil, an that one is absolutely necessary to the production of the other?"

Evil is such a subjective term. As Brey says, evil is defined by good, and good by evil. You can't have one without the other. Defining both good and evil in relation to humanity is different than defining good and evil in relation to a God. Because there are ethics involved, it means you need to have a grasp of not only the way the subject thinks, but of their ability to understand the consequences of their actions.

I don't think we can understand the way the Gods think or act, and I am very sure that we cannot comprehend life as They do. The Gods are immortal; Their plans span many mortal lifetimes, and what we might consider evil, to Them may be just a link in a chain. Can we judge the Gods by our limited ethics? Personally, I don't think we can--or well, we can, but I don't think it's useful to do so.

I don't think the quote which is allegedly by Euripides is useful in the Hellenic context. It is a human way of looking at the divine, and as such, it will always fall short--in relation to Hellenism or any other religion. I think it's a beautiful quote, but in Hellenism, where very few--if any--actions of the Gods can even be called 'evil' even by human standards, it's meaningless.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Alkaios' hymn for a safe voyage

Good morning lovelies! I've just gotten back from vacation (nothing major, a week of sailing, much fun!) and I need to catch up with work and lots of laundry. As such, I hope you will forgive me for leaving you with a rather fitting poem from the hand of ancient Hellenic lyrical poet Alkaios (Ἀλκαῖος, Alcaeus).

Alkaios hailed from the island of Lesbos and was an alleged lover of Sappho. He is credited for inventing the Alcaic Stanza, a Hellenic lyrical meter, used by both Sappho and Alcaeus. Alkaios was probably born around 620 BC, and wrote poetry not so much to honour the Gods, but to perform amid a circle of friends and associates. As all of the ancient Hellenes, he lived every day with the Gods, however, so They frequent his words. A huge number of poems by Alkaios' hand have been lost, but we have fragments. The poem below is one of the most complete ones we still have.

The hymn, fragment 34, was probably at least three stanza's longer, but what remains is worth sharing on its own. The island of Pelops the Peloponnesos, the southern portion of the Greek mainland, where Sparta, the home of Kastor and Polydeukes, was located. The 'shining afar' (Πήλοθεν λάμπροι) is a reference to St Elmo's Fire, an electrical discharge supposed by ancient Hellenic mariners to be an epiphany of the Dioscuri. The poem may have been used as a prayer for a safe voyage.
"Come to me here, leaving the island of Pelops,
you mighty sons of Zeus and Leda;
appear with kindly hearts, Kastor 
and Polydeukes,
you who travel across the broad earth
and all the sea on swift-footed horses,
and easily rescue men from death's
deep chill,
springing upon the tops of well-benched ships,
shining afar as you run up the forestays,
in the threatening darkness bringing light
to the black ship. . ."

An alternate translation is the following, which I also quite enjoy:

"Hither now to me from your isle of Pelops,
You powerful children of Zeus and Leda,
Showing youselves kindly by nature, Castor
And Polydeuces!
Travelling abroad on swift-footed horses,
Over the wide earth, over all the ocean,
How easily you bring deliverance from
Death's gelid rigor,
Landing on tall ships with a sudden, great bound,
A far-away light up the forestays running,
Bringing radiance to a ship in trouble,
Sailed in the darkness!"

Friday, August 15, 2014

Excavations to restart at Temple of Artemis in Ephesus

In the spirit of things that make me happy: the news just broke that excavations are set to restart on the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, one of the most important monumental structures of the ancient age and widely considered one of the seven wonders of the world.

Excavations to restart at Temple of Artemis in Ephesus
Remains of temple of Artemis at Ephesus [Credit: Hurriyet]
Sabine Ladstatter is the head of the excavations for the excavations, which will focus on four areas in the ancient city as well as the temple, a Turkish bath, and the Çukuriçi tumulus, a settlement area at the southern part of the Virgin Mary Church.

It's been twenty years since the last excavations, and there are many layers of construction that have prevented the original temple to become fully exposed. There is another issue: high water in the area. They have been lucky, this year:

"[...] the ground water withdrew. We normally do it with pumps. Now we will progress faster. We are planning to work until the rainy season. Our goal is to reach the remains of the Roman era in the temple."

Ladstatter said Ephesus was one of the best-known excavation areas in the world, adding that the Temple of Artemis had failed to draw many visitors.

"An arrangement for visitors could be made in collaboration with the Ephesus Museum Directorate. There are not too many visible remains of the temple in the area. This is why information boards and visuals could be erected for visitors."

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Question collections post 6

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.

"In a video about Khernipd you talked about that you're supposed to have a shelf. Can i ask you why that is? I'm new to Hellenismos :)"

Ah, yes, the famous shelve. As far as I can tell, the shelve is a much-used item in Hellenismos. In 'Oh My Gods!', a recent documentary on Hellenismos, the shelve makes an appearance, for example. It's reminiscent of the niche in the wall that was used in ancient Hellas and serves to elevate the worship of the Theoi from the ground.

In ancient Hellas, an altar was called a 'bômos' (βωμός)--properly signifying any elevation--with an 'epipuron' (ἐπίπυρον)--a movable pan or brazier--used on top of the bômos so it could serve as an altar for burnt-offerings. The household hearth was used to make sacrifices as well, and thus served as an altar of sorts.

These altars were used for sacrifices to the Ouranic Theoi, but were rarely--if ever--used for sacrifices for the Khthonic Theoi. An 'eschára' (ἐσχάρα) is the term for a low-lying altar used in burnt-offerings for heroes, demi-Gods and (nature) spirits. It was sometimes located under the bômos. For Khthonic Theoi, an offering pit--'bothros' (βόθρος) in Greek texts--sufficed, although They were sometimes worshipped at an eschára as well.

Personally, I think a shelve works fine to worship to the Olympic Gods, but so does a table, chest, or anything else that you have handy. There is traditional and there is practical, and unfortunately when it comes to altars these days, what is practical is not traditional.

So, short answer: you use a shelve to elevate your worship off of the ground. Can you elevate your worship any number of other ways? Yes. This depends on personal preference.

"Would you say the orphic and eleusinian mysteries are a necessary part of hellenic polytheism? Im scared that I dont know anything much about them."

Let me start off by linking you to a very extensive introduction on the Eleusinian Mysteries I wrote a while ago. You can find it here. Orphism--a mystery cult or religious philosophy which claimed descent from the teachings of the mythical hero Orpheus--was mostly connected to Demeter, Persephone, Dionysos, life after death, and reincarnation.

As with all mystery cults, participation was optional. Many people took part because it assured some semblance of safety surrounding the afterlife, but definitely not everyone was initiated in the Eleusinian Mysteries, and while Orphism was widespread as well, it most certainly was not universal.

Personally, I am hesitant about engaging in mystery cults. The whole idea of them was to follow a very strict set of guidelines to achieve a very particular goal. Since huge portions of these guidelines were lost to us, it seems futile to engage in the practice. That said, these cults have brought forth beautiful works of poetry, have introduced concepts that resonate easily with me and many others today, and there is certainly wisdom in them.

You do not have to follow mystery traditions to be a Hellenist. I know people, however, who try to reconstruct them. They do this because they feel drawn to this way of worshipping, and that's wonderful. Personally I believe everyone should feel free to worship in the way they want, and if that includes mystery traditions, then so be it. It's not for me, however, and it doesn't have to be for you either, if you don't want to.

"I'm interested to hear your feelings on using wine in ritual when you or someone in your group has issues with substance abuse. What would you use as a replacement?"

I grew up in a household where substance abuse was a big issue and I have always refused to drink alcohol, do drugs, smoke, or even drink coffee. Wine is the traditional libation liquid; as drinking water was often stagnant, wine was used to purify it, and mask the taste. All men, women and children drank water which had some wine added to it. Wine was believed to be a healer--and it is--so everyone drank it, sometimes more when they were sick. Now, that is the Traditional side of it; what you do as a modern Hellenist is allowed to differ due to the complications of our current society. One part of that is finding substitutes if wine is not something you want to consume--or can't consume.

I would never force anyone to drink wine if they have addiction issues. As wine pretty much was the ancient Hellenic equivalent of water, water is a good replacement. That said, it may feel a little to plain and personally I enjoy the fact that I libate wine because it has ties to the grape vine and Dionysos. So, as a replacement, I would suggest plain grape juice--as pure and sugarless as you can find it. It still has the same ties to the Gods, but without the alcohol. This is also what I used to do in my Eclectic Religious Witchcraft rituals when minors were around, or recovering alcoholics.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

News update on the Thessaloniki metro dig and the Asopos river project

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 are in and it isn't pretty.

Haris Kyprianidis, speaking on behalf of the metro workers, told journalists that numerous archaeological finds, problems with land appropriations and a lack of funding means that the project will not be completed before 2020. Another union representative, Dimitris Pappas, who is also an archaeologist, added that the government might need to find more than the 42 million euros in funding for the archaeological work it has lined up to complete the digs, on top of 92 million already spent. He also said that 28 percent of the digs for ancient artefacts have yet to be completed.

In other news, Ekathimerini reports that plans are in the final stage for the ecological restoration of the Asopos river in Central Greece following a deal to install an integrated water resources management system.

The levels of a potentially carcinogenic form of chromium in the Asopos River in central Greece are 100 times higher than the maximum safety standard. Asopos has been troubled for many years by the presence of hexavalent chromium in its water as a result of firms dumping or burying toxic waste in the river.

The Asopos river is a well-known feature in Hellenic mythology, being guarded by the river-God Asopos. He is most often considered a son of Okeanos and Tethys, or according to others, of Poseidon and Pero, of Zeus and Eurynome, or lastly of Poseidon and Cegluse. He was married to Metope, the daughter of the river god Ladon, by whom he had two sons and twelve, or, according to others, twenty daughters. Diodorus Siculus, in his 'Library of History', speaks of them, for example:

"We shall now recount the story of the daughters of Asopus and of the sons who were born to Aeacus. According to the myths there were born to Oceanus and Tethys a number of children who gave their names to rivers, and among their number were Peneius and Asopus. Now Peneius made his home in what is now Thessaly and called after himself the river which bears his name; but Asopus made his home in Phlius, where he married Metopê, the daughter of Ladon, to whom were born two sons, Pelagus and Ismenus, and twelve daughters, Corcyra and Salamis, also Aegina, Peirenê, and Cleonê, then Thebê, Tanagra, Thespeia, and Asopis, also Sinopê, and finally Ornia and Chalcis.
One of his sons, Ismenus, came to Boeotia and settled near the river which received its name from him; but as for the daughters, Sinopê was seized by Apollo and carried off to the place where now stands the city of Sinopê, which was named after her, and to her and Apollo was born a son Syrus, who became king of the Syrians, who were named after him. Corcyra was carried off by Poseidon to the island which was named Corcyra after her; and to her and Poseidon was born Phaeax, from whom the Phaeacians afterwards received the name they bear. To Phaeax was born Alcinoüs, who brought about the return of Odysseus to Ithaca. Salamis was seized by Poseidon and taken to the island which was named Salamis after her; and she lay with Poseidon and bore Cychreus, who became king of this island and acquired fame by reason of his slaying a snake of huge size which was destroying the inhabitants of the island. Aegina was seized by Zeus and taken off by him from Phlius to the island which was named Aegina after her, and lying with Zeus on this island she gave birth to Aeacus, who became its king. " [72]

The 37.6-million-euro deal to clean the river was signed by Alternate Environment Minister Nikos Tagaras, Athens water company (EYDAP) CEO Antonis Vartholomaios and Tanagra Mayor Evangelos Georgiou. It foresees the construction of a water treatment plant, a network connecting the unit to local reservoirs and a supply line to industrial and agricultural areas in northern Attica. It will be funded by Public Investments Program and the National Strategic Reference.