Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Introducing: Eirênê

In my introduction series, I try to put a spotlight on Gods and Goddesses who may be easy to overlook, but who hold posts very important to our lives. Recently I was asked to write a little about Eirênê (Ειρηνη), Goddess of Peace, and representative of the season of spring.

"I've been searching for prayers/rituals to Eirene, but I haven't been able to find much, besides new-age/wicca stuff which is not what I'm interested in. If you have anything on Eirene, would you post something about her on your blog?"

The ancient Hellenes were aware of only three seasons: Spring, Summer and Winter, and only these had deities presiding over them--the Hôrai: Eunomia (Good Order, Good Pasture), Eirene (Peace, Spring), and Dike (Justice). They were originally the personifications of nature in its different seasonal aspects, but in later times they were regarded as Goddesses of order in general and natural justice, because these were required for farming prosperity. The association of agriculture with law and order can also be found in the divinities of Zeus and Demeter, for example. She had three more sisters: the Moirai, the Goddesses of fate. Their names are Kloto (Κλωθώ, spinner), Atropos (Ἄτροπος, unturnable), and Lakhesis (Λάχεσις, Alotter).

Eirênê and Her sisters are old Goddesses, being born of Themis and Zeus. Themis is the Titan goddess of divine law and order--the traditional rules of conduct first established by the Gods. She was an early bride of Zeus and his first counsellor and was often represented seated beside His throne advising Him on the precepts of divine law and the rules of fate. Zeus hardly requires an introduction, does he? According to Hesiod in his 'Theogony':

"Next he married bright Themis who bare the Horae (Hours), and Eunomia (Order), Dike (Justice), and blooming Eirene (Peace), who mind the works of mortal men, and the Moerae (Fates) to whom wise Zeus gave the greatest honour, Clotho, and Lachesis, and Atropos who give mortal men evil and good to have." [ll. 901-906]

The Horai, Eirênê, Eunomia, and Dikē

Eirênê was born to Zeus and Themis in a coupling before He took Hera as his wife and queen. Her family tree would look as follows:
  Chaos ------------ Gaea
             |                |
      Ouranos   ---   |
              Themis -- Kronos --- Rhea 
                 |              |
                      |            Zeus
                  |     ---     |

Eirênê was particularly well regarded by the citizens of Athens. After a naval victory over Sparta in 375 BC, the Athenians established a cult, erecting altars to her. They held an annual state sacrifice to her after 371 BC to commemorate the Common Peace of that year and set up a votive statue in her honour in the Agora of Athens.

As for prayers to her; there are actually hymns to her, and a few beautiful prayers that have survived to now. The Orphic Hymn to her is well known and prescribes fumigation from Aromatics.

"Daughters of Jove [Zeus] and Themis, seasons bright, Justice [Dike], and blessed Peace [Eirene], and lawful Right [Eunomia], Vernal and grassy, vivid, holy pow'rs, whose balmy breath exhales in lovely flow'rs. All-colour'd seasons, rich increase your care, circling, for ever flourishing and fair: Invested with a veil of shining dew, a flow'ry veil delightful to the view: Attending Proserpine [Persephone], when back from night, the Fates [Moirai] and Graces [Kharites] lead her up to light; When in a band-harmonious they advance, and joyful round her, form the solemn dance: With Ceres [Meter] triumphing, and Jove [Zeus] divine; propitious come, and on our incense shine; Give earth a blameless store of fruits to bear, and make a novel mystic's life your care."

Another one of my favourites is from Euripides, from his play 'The Suppliant Women' (or 'The Suppliants'):

"How far peace outweighs war in benefits to man; Eirene, the chief friend and cherisher of the Mousai; Eirene, the enemy of revenge, lover of families and children, patroness of wealth. Yet these blessings we viciously neglect, embrace wars; man with man, city with city fights, the strong enslaves the weak." [484]

In Hómēros' Epigrams we find another line which always moves me:

"Open of yourselves, you doors, for mightly Ploutos (Plutus, Wealth) will enter in, and with Ploutos comes jolly Euphrosyne (Mirth) and gentle Eirene (Irene, Peace). May all the corn-bins be full and the mass of dough always overflow the kneading-trough." [XV]

The link between Eirênê and Ploutos (Πλουτος, 'Wealth') was well-established, and the image to the side depicts both. Ploutos is a son of Demeter, the Goddess of agriculture, who bore him after lying with the hero Iasion in a thrice-ploughed field. He was blinded by Zeus so he would distribute wealth indiscriminately and without favour towards the good or the virtuous. He was almost always depicted as a boy or baby, and was often carried by either Eirênê or Tykhe, the Goddess of fortune. Ploutos was identified with Plouton, the God Haides (Hades) in His role as the deity of the earth's hidden stores of wealth.
In art, She was depicted as a beautiful young woman carrying a cornucopia, the staff of Hermes and a torch or rhyton--a container from which fluids were intended to be drunk or to be poured in some ceremony such as libation.

I hope this is enough to satisfy your curiosity about Her, dear reader, and give you a good start to Her worship.

Monday, July 21, 2014

How prevalent was the concept of kharis?

There are very few things more important than the basic pillars of Hellenismos. There are also few things harder to grasp. As such, getting questions about katharmos or, as in this case, kharis is not odd to me. This question came through Tumblr. I am going to recycle bits and pieces from older post for this reply.

"Helloo! I haven't been able to find the answer to this question and i really really would like that someone answer..! Did everyone believe in/practice kharis in ancient greece? Like was it common knowledge that a reciprocal relationship with the gods was the right kind or something? Thank you!!"

One of the most important practices within Hellenismos and ancient Hellenic orthopraxy is kharis (xάρις). Kharis is--to give an incredibly limited definition--the act of giving to the Gods so They might give something in return. It's religious reciprocity. It's also so much more.

Kharis is an important word. It means everything from beauty to joy, delight, kindness, good will, grace, favor, benefit, boon, charm, attraction, appeal, elegance, gracefulness, pleasure, cheerfulness, wit, gratitude, thankfulness and gratification. It's the name of a Goddess as well; the Goddess of Grace and Beauty. This seems to complicate matters, but it actually ties in pretty well.

When we, in Hellenismos, petition the Gods for aid, we always do so with an offering. This offering can be incense, a libation, a food offering or anything else. It must be something tangible. Good thoughts and intentions don't count. This offering is given freely, joyfully, with pleasure, out of respect and love for the Gods. We ask what we feel we need--sometimes that's a new job, sometimes just a vague sentiment like honour and prosperity to the household--and never expect to be granted this request. Petitions aren't bribery. We give to the Gods and should They feel inclined to grand us our request, we thank Them by offering to Them again, to which the Gods might respond, to which we will sacrifice, and so on. This circular practice of voluntary giving is called kharis.

Kharis is one of the pillars of Hellenismos, together with xenia and katharmos. Those who practiced kharis properly in ancient Hellas were seen as humble, grateful and good people in general. Kharis is the base of a good few words we use to describe related acts and characteristics to this day; charisma, for instance, and charity. To word it differently; kharis represents your reputation with a specific Deity.

Building a relationship with the Theoi was vital for the ancient Hellenes and it's vital in Hellenismos today. It's the foundation of daily practice, of the large-scale festivals of old, of Xenia, katharmos and the whole of Hellenismos. You can't practice Hellenismos without striving for a reciprocal relationship with the Gods.

Did everyone believe in the practice of kharis...? Well, no one will ever be able to answer that question, but I can tell you that from what we have found out about their society, the huge majority of the ancient Hellenes did, in fact, practice their religion this way. The Theoi were seen as people, as powerful persons who could interfere in your life either positively or negatively. Keeping Them happy was of major importance. It was not just the right thing to do, it was the vital thing to do; it was an extension of xenia--ritual hospitality--linked to Theoxenia. It was a way of living that extended to the Gods, and in reverse, extended from the Gods to humanity.

One of my favourite Hellenic myths shows the link between kharis and xenia in great detail, and also shows that the ancient Hellenes were very aware of the way they related to the Theoi; it's the story of how Baucis and Philemon received some unexpected visitors. You can read a long version of the myth here but it comes down to this: 

"Zeus and His son Hermes descended to earth to test the hospitality of the little town that is home to the elderly couple of Baucis and Philemon, who live in a run down hut a little ways away from the small, rural village. The Gods are dressed as simple travellers, weary from their long journey on foot. They knock on the doors of all of the houses in the village but find no one willing to open the door and take them in. With every house the Gods pass, the anger of the Gods rises, but before They punish this town for their despicable ways, They decide to test the last house in the village as well; the house of Baucis and Philemon. 

It is Philemon who opens the door after the first knock and begs the travellers to enter. The hut is tiny and the two, who have been together for almost all of their long years, have not much to give. Still, the two bustle around the hut to repair enough stools for all to sit, to find enough food for all to eat and, as the night progresses, enough places for all to sleep. Neither Baucis nor Philemon realizes the true nature of their guests until they realize the small jug of wine has not run out, betraying the divinity of their guests.

Both Baucis and Philemon throw themselves down in front of the Gods, begging for forgiveness for such a sorry welcome but the Gods, who have not been offended in the least, beg them to rise and walk out with Them, to the top of the hill. There, Zeus turns to the village and floods the valley completely, killing all residents. He spares the hut that belongs to Baucis and Philemon and even transforms it into a temple. He then asks what favour the pair would want from the Gods, as they have truly deserved one. The pair asks to honour the Gods for their remaining years in the temple created below and ask that, when their dying day comes, that they may go together so they will never be without the other. This, the Gods grant happily."
This is how the ancient Hellenes saw religious reciprocity, and their relation to the Gods; it mattered greatly, and truly was a cornerstone of their life--and it should be ours as well.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Extensive remains of vast Mycenaean citadel revealed

We are currently in the middle of a heat wave and I am hot, I haven't slept too great, and I'm a little miserable because I'm not exactly made for heat so I'm going to keep this short, take a shower and find a way to get through another day of hot weather. Sorry.

The Archaeology News Network reports that a team of archaeologists is excavating the remains of a vast ancient Mycenaean citadel, known as Glas or Kastro (castle). Under the leadership of Associate Professor Christofilis Maggidis of Dickinson College and the auspices of the Athens Archaeological Society, teams of specialists have been systematically surveying the imposing, island-like, flat-topped bedrock outcrop that rises 20-40 meters above a surrounding plain with a summit area stretching 49.5 acres at the northeastern edge of the Kopais basin in southeastern Greece. The area is estimated to measure ten times the size of the ancient citadel of Mycenaean Tiryns and seven times that of Mycenae.
Extensive remains of vast Mycenaean citadel revealed
Aerial view of Glas showing the massive cyclopean walls enclosing and defining
the site of the ancient remains [Credit: C. Maggidis]

 Glas was apparently the regional storage center of production and fortified administrative seat and residence of two local rulers who were probably appointed by the palaces of Thebes and Orchomenos to supervise and maintain the complex draining system, organize and regulate the agricultural production, manage taxation, central storage and redistribution of products (crops and wine), control and defend the satellite peripheral settlements and populations.

Beginning in 2010, Maggidis and his colleagues conducted a systematic geophysical survey of the citadel using ground penetrating radar (GPR), a Fluxgate gradiometer, electrical resistivity, and satellite imagery. The team focused primarily on unexplored areas and some already excavated sectors.

The results were illuminating; the citadel of Glas was not left void of structures outside the central enclosures after all, but was apparently covered with many buildings of various uses, including at least five large and well-built complexes, extensive residential quarters and clusters of buildings stretching between these complexes, (semi)circular structures (silos?), a cistern, staircases, retaining walls and terraces. The systematic investigation of the Mycenaean citadel of Glas will continue and intensify in the next decade

Please read the entire article, because it is incredibly illuminating, and well worth the time.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

The Palaikastro Hymn to Cretan Zeus

I feel a little like the white rabbit from Alice in Wonderland today, so I fear I must keep this short. Today, I would like to share with you the The Palaikastro Hymn to Cretan Zeus. At the end of May in 1904 a fragmentary inscription bearing a Hymn to Zeus was discovered at Palaikastro in East Crete, during the excavation of the sanctuary of Dictaean Zeus, on top of the ruins of a Minoan harbour town which contained this hymn. From the very informative, and very well researched paper by Mark Alonge on the subject:

"The Palaikastro Hymn—better known as the Hymn of the Kouretes—does not celebrate a god of pre-Hellenic pedigree, who is Zeus in name only, as scholars have believed with virtual unanimity. Rather, an understanding of the conventions of Greek hymnic performance in its ritual context goes far to elucidating many of the ostensibly peculiar features of the Hymn. Moving out from Palaikastro, in eastern Crete, to survey the island as a whole, I show that the Cretan iconographic and epigraphic records contradict the widely accepted theory of a special, Minoan 'Cretan Zeus.' "

 The hymn goes as follows:

"O supreme son of Kronos, salutations! All-powerful over refreshment, you stand at the head of the gods. Come to Dicte at the turn of the year and take pleasure in our song. We weave it for you with lyres, having blended it with pipes, and we sing having taken our places around your well-walled altar.
O supreme son of Kronos, salutations! All-powerful over refreshment, you stand at the head of the gods. Come to Dicte at the turn of the year and take pleasure in our song. For on this very spot, your shield-bearing guardians received you, an immortal child, from Rhea and beating their foot, kept you hidden.
O supreme son of Kronos, salutations! All-powerful over refreshment, you stand at the head of the gods. Come to Dicte at the turn of the year and take pleasure in our song. [two verses missing]…of the beautiful dawn.
O supreme son of Kronos, salutations! All-powerful over refreshment, you stand at the head of the gods. Come to Dicte at the turn of the year and take pleasure in our song. The Seasons teemed year by year and Justice held mortals in her power, and Peace, who loves prosperity, governed all creatures.
O supreme son of Kronos, salutations! All-powerful over refreshment, you stand at the head of the gods. Come to Dicte at the turn of the year and take pleasure in our song. But, lord, leap to our wine jars, and leap to our fleecy flocks, and to our fields of fruit leap, and to our homes made thereby productive.
O supreme son of Kronos, salutations! All-powerful over refreshment, you stand at the head of the gods. Come to Dicte at the turn of the year and take pleasure in our song. And leap to our cities and leap to our seafaring ships, and leap to our new citizens and leap to fair Themis.
O supreme son of Kronos, salutations! All-powerful over refreshment, you stand at the head of the gods. Come to Dicte at the turn of the year and take pleasure in our song."

Friday, July 18, 2014

A Hellenic Cindarella story

Ancient Hellas was the birthplace of a lot of things, but did you know that the story of Cinderella also has its foundations in Hellenic mythology?

Cinderella, or 'The Little Glass Slipper', is a European folk tale. The best known version of it was written by the Brothers Grimm in their folk tale collection Grimms' Fairy Tales, although most of us will know it best from the Disney movie of the same name. It's the tale of a kind-hearted young woman whose father marries a woman with two daughters of her own. Cinderella's stepmother and stepsisters are wicked and treat her like a slave, yet they cannot stop her from attending the King's ball. During the ball, Cinderella loses her (glass) slipper as she hurried to make it out of the palace by the midnight curfew, and the prince finds her slipper, scouring the land for the woman it fits because he fell for her right away. Once he finds Cinderella, they marry and live happy ever after. The end.

Now, back to ancient Hellas where the first Cinderella and her slipper: the Hellenic geographer Strabo first recorded the tale of the Greco-Egyptian girl Rhodopis (Ροδώπις) in his Geographica. The story goes as follows: Rhodopis, a courtesan, was bathing. An eagle snatched one of her shoes from her maid, carried it to Memphis, and dropped it into the lap of the king (named Psammetichus in Aelian's account written in his 'Various History', book 13, chapter 33). The king searched for the owner of the shoe. He found Rhodopis in Naukratis (Ναύκρατις), and married her.

"High up, approximately midway between the sides, it has a movable stone, and when this is raised up there is a sloping passage to the vault. Now these pyramids are near one another and on the same level; but farther on, at a greater height of the hill, is the third, which is much smaller than the two, though constructed at much greater expense; for from the foundations almost to the middle it is made of black stone, the stone from which mortars are made, being brought from a great distance, for it is brought from the mountains of Aethiopia; and because of its being hard and difficult to work into shape it rendered the undertaking very expensive. It is called "Tomb of the Courtesan," having been built by her lovers — the courtesan whom Sappho the Melic poetess calls Doricha, the beloved of Sappho's brother Charaxus, who was engaged in transporting Lesbian wine to Naucratis for sale, but others give her the name Rhodopis.
They tell the fabulous story that, when she was bathing, an eagle snatched one of her sandals from her maid and carried it to Memphis; and while the king was administering justice in the open air, the eagle, when it arrived above his head, flung the sandal into p95his lap; and the king, stirred both by the beautiful shape of the sandal and by the strangeness of the occurrence, sent men in all directions into the country in quest of the woman who wore the sandal; and when she was found in the city of Naucratis, she was brought up to Memphis, became the wife of the king, and when she died was honoured with the above-mentioned tomb." [33]

Naukratis, loosely translated as '(the city that wields) power over ships', was a city of Ancient Egypt, on the Canopic branch of the Nile river and the later capital of Ptolemaic Egypt, Alexandria. It was the first and, for much of its early history, the only permanent Hellenic colony in Egypt.

Herodotos told the story of the slave Rhodopis in his 'Histories' almost five centuries before Strabo, without referring to any element of the Cinderella tale. He wrote that she was a beautiful Thracian courtesan, acquainted with the ancient story-teller Aesop. Later on, she was taken to Egypt during the reign of Pharaoh Amasis (570–536 BC), and freed there for a large sum by Charaxus of Mytilene, brother of Sappho, the lyric poet.

"[F]or very many years later than these kings who left the pyramids came Rhodopis, who was Thracian by birth, and a slave of Iadmon son of Hephaestopolis the Samian, and a fellow-slave of Aesop the story-writer. For he was owned by Iadmon, too, as the following made crystal clear: when the Delphians, obeying an oracle, issued many proclamations summoning anyone who wanted it to accept compensation for the killing of Aesop, no one accepted it except the son of Iadmon's son, another Iadmon; hence Aesop, too, was Iadmon's. Rhodopis came to Egypt to work, brought by Xanthes of Samos, but upon her arrival was freed for a lot of money by Kharaxus of Mytilene, son of Scamandronymus and brother of Sappho the poetess. Thus Rhodopis lived as a free woman in Egypt, where, as she was very alluring, she acquired a lot of money—sufficient for such a Rhodopis, so to speak, but not for such a pyramid. Seeing that to this day anyone who likes can calculate what one tenth of her worth was, she cannot be credited with great wealth.

For Rhodopis desired to leave a memorial of herself in Greece, by having something made which no one else had thought of or dedicated in a temple and presenting this at Delphi to preserve her memory; so she spent one tenth of her substance on the manufacture of a great number of iron beef spits, as many as the tenth would pay for, and sent them to Delphi; these lie in a heap to this day, behind the altar set up by the Chians and in front of the shrine itself. The courtesans of Naucratis seem to be peculiarly alluring, for the woman of whom this story is told became so famous that every Greek knew the name of Rhodopis, and later on a certain Archidice was the theme of song throughout Greece, although less celebrated than the other." [2.134.3 - 2.135.5]

So, there you go, another mythological and historical titbit to share at birthday parties and impress your friends. I bet you are looking at Cinderella different now.

Image source: Wikipedia.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

More on researchers to use exosuit to search Antikythera wreck

I am currently swamped with work, and seeing as there are only so many hours in the day, I wanted to quickly share some news with you guys before I rush off. Remember me geeking out about researchers who were going to use an exosuit to search the wreck of the 2000 year old shipwreck which yielded the Antikythera mechanism? Well, it hasn't happened yet, but it's still news worthy.

That is a video of the exosuit and its diver, Dr. Brendan Foley. He is the head of the American section of the international underwater expedition which boasts members of a variety of different ethnicities and disciplines which has spent the last two years preparing for the challenges ahead. The biggest of these, he says, is whether they will be able to get below the wreck and dig underneath, adding to previous searches of the surface of the shipwreck conducted by the sponge divers who discovered it in 1900 and Jacques-Yves Cousteau in 1976.

"The ship was used for commercial purposes and we can speculate that there are more items to be found from its valuable cargo, which will most likely be very well preserved. We are also certain of the existence of a second wreck near the one where sculpture, amphorae and the mechanism were discovered. It is 250 meters away and was carrying similar ceramic objects. We discovered it about two years ago. It was obviously following the same route and may have been traveling with the ship carrying the [Antikythera] mechanism."

The exhibition in Athens on the finds of the wreck that went down in the second quarter of the 1st century BC--'The Shipwreck of Antikythera: The Ship – the Treasures – the Mechanism'--has recently ended, and is now on its way to Switzerland, where it will go on display in 2015. The dive for more treasure is scheduled to take place in September 2014, and will last a month.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Nike of Samothrake is back in the Louvre

Look who has returned back 'home'! Right on schedule, the Nike of Samothrake is back on its pedestal in the Louvre Museum in Paris.

Winged Nike of Samothrace back in Louvre

Winged Nike of Samothrace back in Louvre
The Winged Victory of Samothrace is back on its pedestal in the Louvre Museum
in Paris following restoration wok [AP/Remy de la Mauviniere]
A little less than a year ago, it was announced that the statue--which had last been restored between 1880 and 1884, when the right wing and left breast were rebuilt with plaster and a metal structure was created to keep together the garments of the left wing--would get a new make-over. The goal was to clean the marble which had become darker with time and ascertain the state of conservation of the artwork and the assembling of various pieces as well as reintegrate fragments found over the past century. A block of cement at the statue's feet that was added in 1934 to highlight the leaping effect was removed.

Of the four million dollar project, three million was raised from sponsors and private donations. The effort was coordinated by the Anna Lindh Foundation, and personally, I would say they did an amazing job. From the sooth-stained marble to the beauty above, I would say it was four million well spent!