Ancient World Now: Santorini (ancient Thera)

Our last stop on this magical tour of Greece is the island of Santorini, or as it was known in ancient times, Thera. We hiked to the top of a mountain peak and found an ancient settlement for the elite, where slaves delivered water and food because the rugged landscape could not be farmed. At the peak was a temple. We ended the day at Akrotiri, the town that was preserved under thick layers of ash after the volcanic eruption in 1628 B.C. Like Pompeii, it is as it was left nearly 4,000 years ago! Our hotel looks out on the caldera,
which was the top of the volcano that blew off to create the crater.imageimageimage


Ancient World Now: Nemea

Nemean LionOur next stop on the tour was Nemea, the place where Hercules (Heracles) wrestled the lion. You always see Hercules with his club and lionskin. Stephen Miller, former director of the American School of Classical Studies in Athens and director of the excavations, gave us a tour of the site. It has been his life’s passion to re-establish the Nemean games, one of the four Panhellenic games held in ancient Greece. This summer will be the sixth annual games since they were ended at the site in the 3rd century B.C.! Miller is a graduate of U.C. Berkeley, and much help has been given by his alma mater and her graduates. imageIf you would like to run in the games or help support them, go to The Society for the Revival of the Nemean Games website. image

Ancient World Now: Olympia

Hello everyone! We will be studying Olympia this spring, because our school is having its very own Olympic games! Yesterday we visited the place where it all began in 776 B.C. This is where the Olympic torch is officially lit and handed to the first torch-bearer in the relay to the games destination. One of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World was here, the giant statue of Zeus. The Temple lies in ruins and the “wonder” long gone.
Ancient-Olympics5 imageActress Ino Menegaki, acting as high priestess, lights the Olympic torch on May 9, 2012 during the lighting ceremony in ancient Olympia



olympia statue of zeus

Ancient World Now: Mycenae, Tiryns, and Epidaurus

Listen to my podcast on Mycenae: Episode #36: The Mycenaean World
After all these years of reading Homer, Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides, and marveling at Heinrich Schliemann’s fabulous discoveries, I finally made it to the Lion Gate at Mycenae! This place holds special meaning for me because the story of the Trojan War is my life’s focus, and its richness and depth continue to lead me in new directions.


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The Lion Gate is the main entrance to the citadel of Mycenae, which is on the hilltop behind me in this photo. This is where Agamemnon, Menelaus, Achilles, Odysseus, Ajax, and the rest of the Greek warriors met to discuss their plan to get Helen back from the Trojans, and where Clytemnestra watched for the signal fires for her husband’s return from the war.
Agamemnon had no idea what awaited him, but Cassandra, princess of Troy and war prize to the king, wailed unabated as she was brought in to the palace.

Shown below is the Tomb of Agamemnon, or the Treasury of Atreus, a beehive tholos built around 1250 B.C.: a massive structure. Bees actually inhabit the tomb and you can hear their buzzing hum when you walk inside.  This land is layered in myth and metaphor; every hill and valley, stream and copse tells a story. I still can’t believe I am 1 (1)
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Before our visit to Mycenae we stopped to tour the fortress ruins of Tiryns. This site is where the term “cyclopean walls” originated, and in Homer’s Iliad, its epithet was “mighty-walled Tiryns.” Legend claims Hercules ruled here and that the walls were built by the cyclopes. Mycenae controlled the mountain pass into the plain, while Tiryns controlled access by sea.
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At the 4th century Theatre at Epidaurus, the first 2 scenes from my Iliad play were performed by some members of our tour group. Considered by scholars to be the best preserved theatre from the ancient world, it is a masterpiece of acoustical engineering and architectural proportions.  Erika, from the audience, receives a copy of the play.

Ancient World Now: Corinth

corinthI’ve always known about the great rivalry between Corinth and Athens, but I never fully understood why. After visiting the site yesterday, I understand. Corinth was a rich trading center with easy access to the sea. Its merchants travelled far and wide, and its craftsmen and artisans made some of the most beautiful pottery in the ancient world. In the photo, Joulia Tzonou-Herbst, Assistant Director of the excavations at Corinth, who gave us our tour, shows us a curse tablet made of a wafer-thin piece of lead dated to 72 A.D. Curses were written down and placed inside sanctuaries to elicit the aid of a god or goddess to do horrible things to enemies. This curse tablet has the worst curse I’ve ever heard!  photo 2

And, of course, Corinth is most famous for Pegasus, the winged horse! I am standing in front of the very spot where Pegasus was bridled by Bellerophon (Perseus, in a variation of the story )with help from Athena. In his anxiousness, Pegasus struck his hoof onto the ground and spouted a spring they call the Peirene Fountain. Peirene FountainStanding

next to it you can hear the water rushing through the channels and cisterns and subterranean stone ducts, as if a rushing river were coursing through. In the painting above, you can see the fountain and a statue of Pegasus.On the slip of paper I hold is an image of Pegasus, whom I’ve loved since I was a child. I became a fan of the Steve Miller Band when his Book of Dreams album featured Pegasus. photo (4)220px-Bookofdreamsalbum





The dog is posing in front of the lovely Doric temple of Apollo here in Corinth. There are dogs and cats living at all of these archaeological sites, and they are very popular with the visitors! 

HELLO ROOM 5! This section is addressed to you!

Food I Ate Today: Grilled sardines—amazing!!! Not at all like the sardines in a can!

I Wonder: I wonder what it is like to ride a horse that flies.

Lesson and Activity: Draw Pegasus! Notice how the feathers of his wings are arranged.

Ancient World Now: Crete II

CAVE OF ZEUS peak with snow
Yesterday we hiked five miles to the top of Mount Ida, the highest peak on Crete, where Zeus, in some stories, was born, and in other stories, was raised. It was also called the Philosophers Cave & it is said to have inspired Plato to write his Allegory of the Cave. We carried a couple of oak branches up the mountain because the oak is a symbol of Zeus. Our professor read from the ancient historians and told us the Seven Sages of Greece, Pythagoras, Plato, Epimenides (who, while tending his father’s sheep, fell asleep in the cave for 57 years!), and many other ancient seekers of wisdom were said to have visited the cave. photo 7 thecaveI saw a goat up in a tree browsing on the leaves, and the sky was dramatic with heavy black clouds, shafts of light, and fluffy cumulus. There was snow in patches close to the peak, and hail fell from the sky when we stood at the mouth of the cave. Earlier in the day after a stop along the road, we met a Greek Orthodox priest of a village church who said, “The place where you are going is sacred.” The gate was locked, so we couldn’t go into the cave, but this image is what I imagine it looks like inside.

At day’s end we visited the Minoan port of Amnisos. The Karteros River, which begins on Mt. Ida, meets the sea here. The volcanic eruption of Thera in 1620/8 B.C. sent a 50-foot tidal wave to Crete and destroyed the Minoan fleet, the compression force from the wave being so great it left the imprint of each ship in the sand. Finally, just before leaving the site, I got to dip my feet into the same water in which the Greek ships sailed on their way to Troy—and the same waves that tossed Odysseus up onto Nausicaa’s beach. Another magical day in this enchanted land. question


Today, we visited a Minoan site called Vathypetro that holds the distinction of having one of the oldest vineyards, olive orchards, and winepresses in the world. siteThe site dates back to at least 3,500 years ago. Later, we visited a Greek Orthodox monastery where I met a new friend I wanted to bring home to California. view of kingsphoto 1photo 2photo 1a

Ancient World Now: Crete I

photo 2(1)photo(5)photo(4)Listen to my podcast on the
Minoan world:
Episode #35: Minoan Crete

Yesterday we flew into Crete, the island of the Palace of King Minos and his Labyrinth. After dropping our luggage off at the hotel, which looks out over the sea, we visited Anemospilia (“cave of the winds”) on Mt. Juktas, the site of a temple, thought to have been destroyed by the volcanic eruption on Thera in 1620/8 B.C. At the Heraklion Archaeological Museum, we saw the finds that were found on the site and the famous frescoes and objects from the palace at Knossos. And finally, this morning we went to King Minos’s palace, discovered and excavated by Sir Arthur Evans, The “Throne Room” with its griffin fresco is one of the most well-known images in archaeology. What an “amazing” experience to walk through the halls and across the courtyard of this iconic palace. Strangely enough, the site was closed suddenly when gale-force winds of 50 miles per hour caused injuries to visitors. We lunched at a new restaurant called Pasiphae, named after the queen of Knossos and wife of King Minos. Professor Hunt & his team had arranged for a Minoan feast with foods from the ancient island. The food was delicious and fresh, with island ingredients such as dill, barley, coriander, olives, sesame seeds, honey, and mint. The pottery from which we ate and drank had Linear B inscriptions (Linear A and Cretan Hieroglyphs haven’t been deciphered yet!) and was especially made for us. imagePainted on the chairs were Linear B words for various occupations like goatherd, charioteer, and assistant to the temple. The beautiful placemats had the family tree of King Minos and the Linear B translations for the occupations.image My chair inscription read “local leader.” The crowning glory of this extraordinary experience was a translation of all of our names into Linear B by a professor who joined us just for the occasion! Our day ended with wine tasting and a tour at Boutari, for wine-making on Crete dates back nearly five thousand years!

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ariadne and theseusphoto(7)HELLO ROOM 5! This section is addressed to you!
The Labyrinth, where King Minos kept the the half-man, half-bull Minotaur, was built by the great craftsman Daedalus, who was also famous for making a pair of wings for himself and his young son, Icarus. Icarus, in his excitement, disregarded his father’s instructions, flew close enough to the sun to melt the wax that held the feathers together, and plummeted into the sea.

1936 --- A book illustration from Trails of Adventure. --- Image by © Blue Lantern Studio/Corbis

Food I Ate Today:
A garbanzo bean salad with barley, sesame seeds, coriander, tomatoes, feta, and sardines.

I Wonder: I wonder what the sesame plant looks like.

Lesson and Activity: Do you see the street sign? It has the hero’s name on it: Theseus. What do the street signs in your neighborhood say? Talk to your family about what they mean?








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Ancient World Now: Delphi and Thebes

Listen to my podcast on Delphi: Episode #19: The Oracle at Delphi

On the way to Delphi today we stopped at the place where Oedipus and Laius met on the road.  photo(3)It was amazing to stand where such an important event in mythology occurred.

1Here is my Achilles helping me write a section of my book that never made it to print. It was about the oracle at Delphi . To honor my dear old friend today, I took one of his whiskers and left it at the Temple of Apollo. I picked the spot because there were a couple of kitties sunning themselves on the marble and I knew Achilles would have loved to join them there.


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 HELLO ROOM 5! This section is addressed to you!

The mountain in the photo is Mount Helikon and was where Pegasus lived for a long time. He struck his hoof on the ground there and a freshwater spring gushed from the earth!

Today I went up into the mountains and visited Delphi. This is where Zeus’s two eagles met and so it was said to be the center of the world. People in ancient times would visit this place to get their fortunes told. The lady sitting on the stool was a priestess of Apollo and would answer a question for a visitor. It was very religious to them and she was greatly respected. Famous leaders and warriors visited her. The photo to the left was where the priestesses and visitors would wash up before going into the sanctuary of Apollo. Fresh spring water comes down from the top of the mountains here and this was also where the Muses lived. The Muses are the goddesses who give people inspiration in music, literature, and all the arts. I drank water from the spring and washed my hands in it, hoping the Muses would help me be a better writer!

photofront1Food I Ate Today: Hand-picked wild mountain greens and Parnassian cheese

I Wonder: I wonder who feeds the kitties at these ancient ruins.

Ancient World Now: Marathon

Listen to my podcast on Marathon: Episode #41: Marathon

Today started with Athens cordoned off for the annual half Marathon, with the starting and finish line right outside the hotel. So fitting for the day when we were to visit Marathon, I thought!

1But everything, I have discovered, on this magical trip has been planned intentionally, down to the breathtaking Vernal Equinox sunset at the Temple of Poseidon at day’s end. Our first stop was the ancient Agora, where law courts, temples, shrines, shops, a library, and performance spaces were built to accommodate the lively daily business of Athens. Most important of all citizen activities was voting, for it was here, in the Bouleuterion, where we find the very birthplace of democracy.The Bouleuterion Here, the great orators spoke to the people in support of various issues of concern to the community. Here, at the Bouleuterion, Miltiades proposed his plan to head off the Persians at Citizens voted in favor and headed over to the arsenal where officials distributed the weapons the citizen soldiers carried through the mountains to the coast at Marathon. Later, at this very spot, Pheidippides collapsed in front of the people, gasping in his last breath the message of

Our tour continued over to the battlefield where the 192 who fell defending their cultural and community lie beneath the soros (burial mound) at Marathon. Why was this battle so important?

Burial Mound at Marathon

Because if those brave citizen soldiers had failed in their endeavor, democracy, that unique experiment in community governance, would have been extinguished under Persian subjugation and Western civilization as we know it would have a very different shape.

We ended our day at the Temple of Poseidon at Sounion, high on the cliffs above the Aegean. Professor Patrick Hunt, our leader, poured a libation (from bottled water!) to the god of the sea as the last rays of sun shot through the clouds on this first day of spring. Greece March 2016 436Menelaus, on his way home from the Trojan War, stopped here, and King Aegeus, the father of Theseus, waited here for news of his son’s quest to slay the Minotaur. A truly mythical end to a significant day!photo (2)

HELLO ROOM 5! This section is addressed to you!

Food I Ate Today: Baked feta (sheep’s cheese) with tomatoes and onion.

I Wonder: I wonder how cheese is made.

Lesson and Activity: Voting in America is a very important duty. Find out how we vote and what it takes to cast an informed vote. Here is a photo of ancient Greek ballots: they scratched their choice onto pot (5)

Ancient World Now: Athens II

Listen to my podcast on the ancient Athenian: Episode #40: The Rise of the Warrior Citizen

Today we went to the acropolis, which is the rocky outcrop upon which the Athenians built their most important temples. The structure in the center of this great old postcard is the entryway to the sanctuary and is called the Propylaea. It has always been the only way to get into the sanctuary, so everyone in history who has visited the Parthenon has walked through this monumental gateway. The walkway is marble and has been polished by thousands of years of foot traffic. How humbled it makes you to walk in the footsteps of the great philosophers, writers, orators, and statesmen! This is truly sacred ground. The photos show the Erechtheion with the famous Caryatid porch. You can see the same building on the postcard at the elbow of the giant statue of Athena. This building is the site of the mythical contest between Athena and Poseidon. The two gods were charged with giving a valuable gift to the city in return for the devotion of the people. Poseidon struck his trident in the ground and caused a salt-water spring to appear, while Athena struck the ground with her sword and sprouted an olive tree. Athena won the contest because the olive tree is valuable in so many ways. It is said that there has always been an olive tree on the very spot, and as you can see in the photo, an olive tree graces the edge of the porch.ErechtheionAcropolis_artwork

There were originally six Caryatids on the “maiden porch,” but one of them was removed by Lord Elgin and is in the British Museum. It is said that the maidens cry out at night at the loss of their sister, and tears streak their faces in the rain. The maidens in the photo to the right are copies. I am standing with the real Caryatids in the photo below, which was taken this afternoon at the new Acropolis

photo (1)Finally, I had a photo taken in front of the Parthenon holding my book, which has been such a central part of my life and continues to direct me in new ways.

HELLO ROOM 5! This section is addressed to you!

Trip Notes: Today we visited the big buildings in the picture. Do you recognize the maiden columns called the Caryatids?

Food I Ate Today: A special Greek confection made with sesame seeds and “mastic,” which is a type of pistachio tree. It grows around the Mediterranean and was mentioned in the Bible. Mastic has been used as a chewing gum for several thousand years. On the island of Chios, the Greeks make cuts into the bark of the tree and cause it to “weep” a sticky resin, which they harden and make into yummy treats.

I Wonder: I wonder what chewing gum is made from today.

Lesson and Activity: To help find our way around the world, we use lines of longitude and latitude. You can imagine the lines like a net thrown over the globe. Half the lines run up, or north to south, and we call them longitude—and half the lines run around, or east to west, and we call them latitude. If you know the latitude and longitude of any location, you can pinpoint it exactly on a map. The coordinates for Redwood City are: latitude 37 degrees North, and longitude 122 degrees West. If you have a globe or atlas at your house, find the lines of latitude and longitude. You can also look at our globe in the classroom.


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