Friday, July 3, 2015

Dver is looking for Hellenic festival experiences

Just a note today, from Dver, over at A forest Door. Dver, for those unfamiliar with her, is a spirit-worker on the margins of Hellenic polytheism and a fellow blogger who focusses mostly on Dionysos, Hermes, and Hekate withing the Hellenic pantheon. It seems she is in the middle of writing 'Komos: Celebrating Festivals in Contemporary Hellenic Polytheism', and it has occurred to her that she might like to include some experiences and/or ideas from other Hellenic polytheists to balance her own.

So, I am spreading the call: if you identify as Hellenic Polytheistic in any form and have either adapted an ancient festival or have created and entirely new one, and if you are willing to have it included in this book, please e-mail Dver a brief (one or two paragraphs) description of what it was about, why you did it, how you celebrated it, etc. She is looking for festivals that have actually been implemented, not just theoretical ideas.

Please note that at this point, this is just a preliminary possibility. She is not sure if she will definitely go ahead with it. It depends in large part on the submissions received and the way the book takes shape as a whole. And if she does, she is not sure if she wants to quote people in full or just incorporate the ideas. Either way, if she uses your submission, you will be given credit by whatever name you want.

So if you are interested, send her that e-mail, alright? And see you tomorrow!

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Pandora's Kharis nominees Skirophorion 2015

Another round of pitches has completed and once more, two worthy causes have been selected by the members of Pandora's Kharis.

Project Prentenboek (Project Picturebook)
Maaiek Kramer and Marjolein Witte, Dutch artists and art teachers, are working hard to crowdfund a new project. They are in the process of creating a picturebook for and by refugee children in The Netherlands (although the book will be translated into many languages after publishing (including English, Arabic, and French)). They came into contact with these kids after being asked by the local government to make a mural at the refugee centre and afterwards they just wanted to do... more. So they started teaching art classes at the kids' school and now they will use their stories and their drawing in a picture book that is meant to help non-refugee children (and adults) understand these kids, and for refugee children to see themselves reflected in the pages of a beautiful book.

Of course a project like that needs money. Books need to be printed, materials bought, and people paid to do the lay-out and translations. Total costs: about 6000,- euros. They have made about half so far and I would like to help them push their total even further.

The League Against Cruel Sports
The League Against Cruel Sports is the leading UK charity helping to prevent cruelty to animals associated with sports such as fox hunting, game bird shooting and wildlife crime. Over nine decades of campaigning, the League has developed effective ways to thwart such sports through calling form and bringing about, legislative change; educating the general public and gaining public support for the issues at hand; and causing difficulty for the people inflicting cruelty. All these actions help animals on a day-to-day basis. But there is always more to do.

They rely on public support to carry out their work, which includes campaigning to keep the Hunting Ban and preventing illegal hunting with dogs which, despite the Hunting Act, is still happening around the UK.

You may cast your vote here or in the comments until July 18, 2015. Thank you!

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

'Classics for the people – why we should all learn from the ancient Greeks'

The Guardian recently put up an interesting article on why modern man should invest time in the study of classical literature, especially in this socially and economically troubled climate. I would like to share a bit of that article and encourage you to write the rest over at the Guardian itself.

"The foundations of Greek culture were laid long before the arrival of Christianity, between 800 and 300BC. Greek-speakers lived in hundreds of different villages, towns and cities, from Spain to Libya and the Nile Delta, from the freezing river Don in the northeastern corner of the Black Sea to Trebizond. They were culturally elastic, and often freely intermarried with other peoples; they had no sense of ethnic inequality that was biologically determined, since the concepts of distinct world “races” had not been invented. They tolerated and even welcomed imported foreign gods. And what united them was never geopolitics. With the arguable exception of the short-lived Macedonian empire in the later 4th century BC, there never was a recognisable, independent, state run by Greek-speakers, centred in and including what we now know as Greece, until after the Greek war of independence in the early 19th century.
What bound the Greeks together was an enquiring cast of mind underpinned by a wonderful shared set of stories and poems and a restlessness that made them more likely to sail away and found a new city-state than tolerate starvation or oppression in a mainland metropolis. The diasporic, seafaring Greeks, while they invented new communities from scratch and were stimulated by interacting with other ethnic groups, made a rapid series of intellectual discoveries that raised the Mediterranean world to a new level of civilisation. This process of self-education was much admired by the Greeks and Romans of the centuries that followed. When the texts and artworks of classical Greece were rediscovered in the European Renaissance, they changed the world for a second time.
Yet over the last two decades the notion that the Greeks were exceptional has been questioned. It has been emphasised that they were just one of many ethnic and linguistic groups centred in the eastern end of the ancient Mediterranean world. [...] It has become a new orthodoxy that the Greeks were very similar to their Ancient Near Eastern neighbours, in Mesopotamia, Egypt, the Levant, Persia and Asia Minor. Some scholars have gone so far as to ask whether the Greeks came up with anything new at all, or whether they merely acted as a conduit through which the combined wisdom of all the civilisations of the eastern Mediterranean was disseminated across the territories conquered by Alexander the Great, before arriving at Rome and posterity.
I do not deny that the Greeks acted as a conduit for other ancient peoples’ achievements. But to function successfully as a conduit, channel or intermediary is in itself to perform an exceptional role. It requires a range of talents and resources. [...] The Greeks, more even than the Romans, show us how to question received opinion and authority. [...] To stay free also requires comparison of constitutions, utopian thinking, fearlessness about innovation, critical, lateral and relativist thinking, advanced epistemological skills in source criticism and the ability to argue cogently. All these skills can be learned from their succinct, entertaining, original formulations and applications in the works of the Greeks."

Read (much!) more here. When you do, I would encourage you to try to filter from it what a modern Hellenist could learn from the Classics. Which behaviour is inspired? Which political, social, financial and ethical behaviour is encouraged? What life's lesson can you learn? Feel free to debate or reply in the comments.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Signs of second shipwreck found at Antikythera, Kore of Thera to be on display, sixth anniversary exhibition of the Acropolis Museum

Let's do another news round-up, shall we, as much has happened in and concerning Greece--and no, I am nto talking about the current economic situation, which is of course horrible. Today on the agenda: signs of second shipwreck found at Antikythera, the Kore of Thera will be on display as of next year, and the Acropolis Museum celebrates its sixth anniversary with antiquities from Samothrace.

Signs of second shipwreck found at Antikythera

The Archaeology News Network reports that the Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities, in collaboration with the American Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, has completed the digital underwater surveying and dimensional precision display of the Shipwreck of Antikythera.

Last year’s imprinting pinpointed the exact shipwreck site of the vessel that carried the Antikythera Mechanism. However, the proximity of other findings such as anchors and amphorae from the same era made archaeologists consider the possibility that there was a second cargo vessel that accompanied the original ship. Therefore it became imperative to map a wider area of 350X45 meters approximately.

Archaeologists now can put all the findings together and draw conclusions about the possible relationship between the two wreck positions. The detailed mapping creates a clearer picture of the relationship between the two sites, while the placement of the findings in the now imprinted area enhances the understanding of all the findings in the two positions.

Resources for the investigation/excavation were provided by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, American, European and Greek organizations, to meet the needs in qualified technical and scientific personnel. The Catherine Laskaridis Foundation contributed greatly by offering the vessel that was used as the basis of the research team.

The Ephorate of Underwater Activities and its partners will continue research at the end of the summer season. The Antikythera shipwreck research is conducted on a five-year plan. The mapping was done by a specialized team of the University of Sydney using the autonomous underwater vehicle Sirius.

Kore of Thera will be on display as of next year
A 2.3-meter-high archaic-era statue dubbed the 'Kore of Thera', which was found during excavations on Santorini 15 ago will be exhibited on the renowned holiday island’s archaeological museum next year, the culture ministry announced. Additionally, an agreement between the ministry and the island’s municipal government will fund excavation in the area of Medieval Kastelia. Thera is the ancient name of the island.

Acropolis Museum celebrates its sixth anniversary with antiquities from Samothrace
The Acropolis Museum is celebrating its sixth anniversary on June 20 with the inauguration of the temporary exhibition 'Samothrace. The mysteries of the great gods'. The exhibition, a cooperation of the Acropolis Museum and the Antiquity Ephorates of the prefectures of Rodopi and Evros and the expert of Samothrace antiquities Dimitris Matsas, will open for the public on June 20 and will run until September 30. The museum’s Board of Directors President, Dimitris Pandermalis, stressed in a Press Conference about the exhibition that:

“In our country we have the advantage that most of the exhibitions presented in museums can be related to archaeological sites and excavations. Moreover, the history of the discovery and preservation of antiquities enriches our knowledge and allow for a better interpretation of the exhibits”

The relationship between the ancient Hellenes and their Gods was well known and existed publicly in daily life. However, from very early times, mystery cults began to emerge that were accessible only to those who had been accepted into the rites following certain trials. The most famous ‘Mysteries’ in antiquity were those of Eleusis and Samothrace. The strict prohibition against insiders ever divulging the contents of the sacraments has not allowed much information to be gleaned about the ancient mysteries. Archaeological excavations in the Sanctuary at Samothrace, however, have brought to light buildings and paraphernalia belonging to the cult that allow us to form an impression of events.

“Insiders believed that by invoking the Great Gods they would be saved from any serious dangers at sea and, as members of the Mysteries, they would become more just and pious people. The rituals were held at night, the Sanctuary illuminated with torches, during which initiates had to participate in a purification ceremony, to confess their greatest sins, to attend the sacred narrative speech that included mythological stories, to wear the wide, purple sash around their waists and to witness the unveiling of sacred symbols."

As an introduction to the Mysteries of Samothrace, an assortment of finds has been selected from the site of Mikro Vouni, located a few kilometers southwest of the sanctuary, where excavations have revealed a settlement with an organized social structure of the 2nd millennium BC. Of particular importance are the Minoan stamp seals and seal impressions with representations of a double ax and fish, which have counterparts at Knossos. Perhaps the ancient tradition that gave rise to the Mysteries originated in prehistoric Crete and from there spread to other places, where it became the basis for subsequent historical developments.

The arrangement of the exhibition within the gallery is inspired by two circular constructions in the sanctuary. The first is the Theatral Circle with tiers for standing spectators, an altar in the center and pedestals around the periphery for statues from which survive many examples of bronze eyelashes. In this place was also discovered the golden lion of Persian origin, which once adorned a garment or object. For the content of the exhibition, please visit this article on The Archaeological News Network.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Seven Sages Series: the wisdom of Thales of Miletus

Thales of Miletus (Θαλῆς ὁ Μιλήσιος) was a pre-Socratic Hellenic philosopher and mathematician from Miletus in Asia Minor. According to Herodotus, Thales predicted the solar eclipse of May 28, 585 BC. Diogenes Laërtius quotes the chronicle of Apollodorus of Athens as saying that Thales died at the age of 78 during the 58th Olympiad (548–545 BC) and attributes his death to heat stroke while watching the games.

Thales' parents were Examyes and Cleobuline, and his family traced their line back to Kadmus, the mythological Phoenician prince of Tyre. Many, most notably Aristotle, regard him as the first philosopher in the Hellenic tradition. Thales attempted to explain natural phenomena without reference to mythology, and almost all of the other Pre-Socratic philosophers follow him in attempting to provide an explanation of ultimate substance, change, and the existence of the world without reference to mythology. He was not only a philosopher but also a businessman, and he also became involved in politics in his lifetime--like many of the Sages.

If Thales wrote down any ethical guidelines or other works of prose (a treaty entitle 'On the Solstice' and one entitled 'On the Equinox' are mentioned by other ancient writers), they have sadly been lost to us. Proclus acknowledged Thales as the discoverer of a number of specific theorems, both mathematical, geometric, and philosophical, and he is recognised as one of the--if not the--first mathematician.

Thales was esteemed in his times as an original thinker, and one who broke with tradition and not as one who conveyed existing mythologies. He never attributed organization or control of the cosmos to the Gods. Thales hypothized that water had the potentiality to change the myriad of things of which the universe is made, the botanical, physiological, meteorological and geological states--in fact, he proposed that the primary principle is water. He believed that the disk of the earth rests on water. Thales did not mention any of the Gods who were traditionally associated with the simple bodies; we do not hear of Okeanos or Gaea: we read of water and earth.

Thales has been credited with the discovery of five geometric theorems: (1) that a circle is bisected by its diameter, (2) that angles in a triangle opposite two sides of equal length are equal, (3) that opposite angles formed by intersecting straight lines are equal, (4) that the angle inscribed inside a semicircle is a right angle, and (5) that a triangle is determined if its base and the two angles at the base are given. His mathematical achievements are difficult to assess, however, because of the ancient practice of crediting particular discoveries to men with a general reputation for wisdom.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

PAT ritual announcement: the Dipolieia

On the first of July, two days after the Skiraphoria, Elaion is organizing another PAT ritual. This time, the ritual is for the Dipolieia. The Dipolieia appears to have been a sacrifice on the altar of Zeuis Polieus on the Acropolis and not a public festival involving a procession or rites conducted in homes. It was for the administration of Athens. The Dipolieia, because of its association with the Bouphónia, has caused a great amount of ambiguity between scholars.

The Dipolieia (Διπολεῖα) has much contradictory evidence and differences of opinion on it's function and importance. It seems to have been primarily for Zeus. The Dipolieia appears not to be a festival involving the Polis as a whole but--like the Bouphónia that was held during it--purification was of great importance. I have written about the Bouphónia before; the post can be found here. In short, the odd ritual of the Bouphónia comes down to this:

"Every year on the fourteenth day of Skirophorion, from the time of Erechtheus (1397 - 1347 BC) to--at least--the second century AD, an odd ritual was reenacted. It was called the 'Bouphónia'  (βουφόνια), and was part of another festival; the 'Dipolieia', a feast in honor of Zeus Polieus (Zeus of the City).
On top of the Acropolis, oxen are released from the temple of Zeus Polieus. Outside lie cakes on a table, and the oxen are herded past them. Nearby, two women with bowls of water in their hands and a man who is sharpening an axe and knife watch. One of the oxen in line reaches for one of the cakes and devours it. One of the nearby men shouts at the ox, and rushes to the man who is sharpening his weapons. He grabs the double-bladed axe and with one big swing, ends the life of the ox. The Ox-Slayer drops the axe and flees the scene. The slain animal is sacrificed properly to Zeus Polieus. And a hunt begins for the murderer of Zeus' sacred ox. He is found and brought to trial. The blame is passed from the Ox-Slayer, to the man with the weapons, to the women with the water and eventually the weapons themselves. They are found guilt and tossed off of a cliff. The ox is stuffed and put out on the field, in front of a plough. 

[...] It seems to me that there is an underlying theme to this myth, and its subsequent festival: that an animal which is slaughtered by a man alone, is killed, yet an animal which is slaughtered by a group becomes a sacrifice. Everyone is 'to blame' for the death of the ox, simply by being there, and in order to break the circle, an inanimate object--which, obviously, cannot defend itself, thus the cycle cannot possibly continue--is chosen to bear the blame, thus taking it off of everyone else. "

The Bouphónia is an ancient ritual, archaic even in classical times. It's most likely best to simply celebrate the Dipolieia, and not the Bouphónia. So for this purpose, we inviteyou all to join us on 1 July at the regular 10 AM EDT to honour Zeus. The ritual can be found here and if you would like to discuss the PAT ritual with others, feel free to do so here.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Dionysos and the ancient hellenic theater

Bryan Hill of Ancient Origins recently put up a very interesting article on ancient Hellenic theater and the monumental amphitheaters in honor of Dionysos. For the entire article, please visit the website linked above, but I want to post parts of the post here to wet your appitite, so to speak.

To the ancient Hellenes, theater was a form of entertainment taken very seriously. People would come from all across the Hellenic world to attend the popular theaters held in open air amphitheaters. In their glory days, some amphitheaters could hold crowds of up to 15,000 people, and some were so acoustically precise that a coin dropped at the center of the performance circle could be heard perfectly in the back row. The theater was a place where politics, religion, the human condition, popular figures, and legends were all discussed and performed with great enthusiasm. The origin of the dramatic arts in Greece would come in the 6th century BC, when the tyrant Pisistratus, who, at the time, ruled the city of Athens, established a series of public festivals. In the 6th century B.C. a priest of Dionysos, named Thespis, introduced a new element that is considered to be the birth of theater.

For a stage, the Greeks used the existing landscape around them. They found hillsides with large open spaces to construct stone amphitheaters with open sides and staggered rows of seats. Theater buildings were called 'theatrons' or 'seeing places' and consisted of three main elements: the orchestra, the skene, and the audience. The centerpiece of the theater, called the orchestra, was a large circular or rectangular area where the play, dance, religious rites and acting took place. The orchestra was placed on a level terrace at the base of a hill.  Adjacent to it were doorways for actors and chorus members called paodio. These were tall arches that opened onto the orchestra in which the performers entered.

Situated behind the orchestra was the skene: a large rectangular building used as a backstage. In the beginning, the skene was a tent or hut but later it became a permanent stone structure. Here, actors would change their costumes and masks and these structures were sometimes painted to serve as backdrops.Rising from the circle of the orchestra was the audience. Because of the theater’s close connection with religion, they were often located in or near sanctuaries.  For example, the Theater of Dionysos in Athens was situated in the sacred precinct of Dionysos at the foot of the Acropolis. 

One particular theater, built to honor the god Dionysos, was called Epidaurus. It was the greatest theater in the western world and is considered a feat of engineering by today’s standards. Fifty five semi-circular rows of seats were built into the hillside with such precision that the theater has perfect acoustics. Two and a half thousand years later, it is still in use and is the largest of the surviving Hellenic theaters.