Ancient World Now: Mycenae, Tiryns, and Epidaurus

Listen to my podcast on Mycenae: Episode #36: The Mycenaean World
MYCENAE
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 here.photo 1 (1)
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TIRYNS
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: Athens I

2011 265This once in a lifetime trip is dedicated to my writing partner of so many years, Achilles, who died four weeks ago. Named after the great Greek warrior, Achilles was my constant companion and bestie. Hail to thee, great warrior, Achilles!

After decades of writing and thinking about it, I finally made it to Greece! This once in a lifetime trip is being led by Stanford professor Patrick Hunt, who is a National Geographic fellow and the world expert on Hannibal’s crossing of the Alps. Hunt frequently appears on National Geographic, the Discovery channel, and the History channel. Every quarter I enroll in night classes at Stanford where they have amazing world-renowned classics scholars. I just finished a class on Thucydides and the Peloponnesian War and another on Ten Great Battles of Antiquity. I traveled through eight time zones yesterday, so I spent today resting up for the fast-paced tour that begins tomorrow (Saturday, here in Greece) and only ventured out for a taxi ride to Mt. Lycabettus with a 360-degree view of Athens, a quick look in the National Archaeological Museum, and a leisurely bookstore visit where I bought a dozen great ancient world books for the classroom. This famous statue, the Artimesion Jockey, which dates to around 150-140 B.C.  was found in 1926 in an ancient shipwreck. The boy appears to be nine or ten, and reminds me of the story I told Room 5 of how twelve-year old Alexander the Great tamed Bucephalus, the wild-spirited horse, who was HIS constant companion and bestie for many years!jockeyofartemision

HELLO ROOM 5! This section is addressed to you!

Trip Notes: This trip fits in perfectly with our Social Studies unit theme Then and Now. And in May, when our school hosts it’s own Olympic games, I will give a presentation at an assembly on my visit to Olympia next week, which was where the first Olympic games were held! I have planned this trip for a year now, and am extremely excited to finally be here. However….I do miss you all! Be good!

Food I Ate Today: an egg scramble with Greek Feta cheese atop a delicious bread slice. Scrumptious, but my body may take some getting used to these new foods. I also drank a glass of carrot juice, which I love!

I Wonder: I wonder if they had carrots in ancient Greece!

Lesson and Activity: Daylight comes at different times to different communities around the world. Time Zones were invented a little over a hundred years ago to help people when they wanted to travel by train, which was a new invention at the time. Here is a map of the world that shows the time zones. Have you ever traveled to a different time zone? Ask your family if they know anyone who lives in a different time zone.Standard_World_Time_Zones

 

Ancient World Now: Brutus, Part II

Click here for direct link to audio podcast Episode #69.

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Quite early one morning, a couple of months ago, our backyard was inundated with water from someone’s broken sprinkler system. I threw on my robe and drove up the hill to try to locate the neighbor whose house had the leak. I knocked on the door to a house that appeared to be awake, and a kind, calm gentleman opened the door and invited me in. As we were trying to figure out which yards backed up to mine, I noticed that his house had a full-on Greek theme going on! He determined that the leak was from his neighbor’s yard, and we very soon stood at the door again, saying farewell. I reached out to shake his hand in thanks, and asked his name. Imagine the shock when he said his name was “Achilles!” I nearly fell down to the ground in disbelief! Of all names on Earth, his name happened to be Achilles! I told him about my work with ancient world stuff and about my cat Achilles, and we decided to get the neighbors together for a party. So, on Saturday night, some neighbors gathered together here at our house and we all bonded over costumes and scripts. What a treat it was, to have Katerina invoke the muse in her native Greek language! Here are a couple of pics from the night. (above: Achilles and his family, with me on the right)

Today’s episode is our second installment on Brutus, from Plutarch’s Lives for Boys & Girls, retold by W.H. Weston, and illustrated by W. Rainey, published in London & Edinburgh in the early 1900′s. Enjoy!

(below left: Larry, Cathy, Katerina, David, Melina, Scott, Estelle, and Debra—thanks for being such good sports! and below right: my David!)

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Ancient World Now:Mycenaean World

Click here for direct link to audio podcast Episode #36.

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Once upon a time, Heinrich Schliemann married a girl named Sophia. For the rest of their lives they searched for Homer’s Troy and Agamemnon’s Mycenae. News that they had discovered both stunned the world. And they lived happily ever after! This image of Sophia draped in “Helen’s gold” set off a firestorm of excitement for ancient-style jewelry. Enrich your life by reading about Schliemann’s heroic search. And enjoy today’s podcast on the basic facts about the Mycenaean world.

Ancient World Now:Minoan Crete

Click here for direct link to audio Episode #35.

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Some tech difficulties after an “upgrade” made us miss last week! With this temporary fix we are back on track, and as promised, here is Minoan Crete.

Upon her discovery, this lovely lady was nicknamed “La Parisienne”, and she is a major icon of Minoan civilization.

Who were these amazingly artistic people? The jury is still out. Their civilization flourished between 2200 BC and 1450 BC, long before the Golden Age of Athens. In fact, that’s 1,000-2,000 years before Pericles and his fabulously enduring monument, the Parthenon. Consider the events and world changes that have happened within the past 2,000 years! The Knossos palace finds of Sir Arthur Evans in 1899 AD shook the archaeological world! This ancient Bronze Age civilization existed only in the dim distant memory of legends. They are referenced in Homer and the stories of the ancient heroes, but until Evans’ excavations between 1899 AD and 1935 AD, the magnitude of their power and prestige was unknown. This is the land of King Minos and the Labyrinth of Daedalus. Of Theseus, Ariadne, and the Minotaur. This is the land of the bull dancers and the snake goddesses. And their story is still unclear!

The Ashmolean Museum in Oxford houses the Sir Arthur Evans finds. I was there in 2006 and remarked to myself how antiquated it looked for such an important collection. Lo & behold, the museum was renovated in 2009. I will definitely visit in the future.

Enjoy the podcast! Next week, the Mycenaeans. Bring it on, Clytemnestra!

Ancient World Now:Son of Bride of Odysseus in the Underworld

Click here for direct link to audio Episode #26.

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Where is the justice for Ajax??? These images tell the story. To the right Odysseus and Ajax quarrel over the arms of Achilles, and to the left, on the vase, they get physical with each other. After Achilles’s death, his arms were to be awarded to “the best of the best”, but as you remember, Athena fixed the voting & Odysseus got  the goods. Ajax was  driven to suicide, as shown on this British Museum vase.

Here, finally, is Tecmessa, daughter of the Phrygian king Teuthras, covering the body of her beloved Ajax. This drinking cup is at the Getty Villa. Tears me apart just to look at it…..

And after all this, Odysseus thinks he can just stroll into Hades  and everything will be right between them. I don’t think so!

Ancient World Now:Andromache & Hector

Click here for direct link to audio Episode #21.

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The parting of Hector and Andromache ranks as one of the most touching scenes in literary history, if not the most. In Book 6 of The Iliad, before going on to the battlefield for the last time, Prince Hector says goodbye to his tearful wife, Andromache, and their son Astyanax. When Hector approaches, the baby screams with fear at the sight of the bronze helmet with its horsehair crest. Both mother and father burst into laughter at the sight. The deep tragedy of their situation is cut through with this stroke of humanity.

Homer is not on the side of the Greeks or on the side of the Trojans. Homer is on the side of humanity and wants us to feel the pain of war. Andromache, for thousands of years, has been the epitome of the loving wife. Her sad plea for Hector to remain with them is for naught. He must go out to fight. Though she has lost both parents and all of her brothers to war, Andromache has two more loved ones to lose. Hector, of course, is killed in a mad rage by Achilles, and Astyanax is ripped from his mother’s arms and thrown from the walls of Troy by the Greek soldiers.

The most touching moments in The Iliad bloom up from scenes involving the Trojan royal household. Walk with me through Book 6 & Book 22 of The Iliad to sample the literary techniques Homer uses to take us to the war inside the hearts and minds of the non-soldiers, from the dutiful maidservant to playboy Prince Paris. Have tissues handy!

Ancient World Now:Wolfgang Petersen’s Troy

Click here for direct link to audio Episode #20.

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So many of you have asked me: What do you think of Wolfgang Petersen’s film Troy?

Well, filmmakers always tamper with characters and situations from the original story, and Petersen is no exception. But I ask where,  in Homer’s name, is the real tale of the death of Ajax? And where, indeed, is Laocoon, the great seer, who with his sons was dragged to his watery death by a sea serpent when he tried to tell King Priam that the wooden horse would bring about the end of Troy?

The “greatness” of great story lies in the portrayal of the depth of human character. That a director has 180 minutes in which to show the scope of human triumph and tragedy is unrealistic. One must go to the source of these great stories in order to learn from them.

And how do we as humans display character? By the small things we do each day. In times of peace, it might be something as simple as nodding to the driver who yields their right of way. Or by patiently accepting the customer service routine from eager teen clerks because they are in training. And in times of crisis and war, we might reveal our character by resolving not to look at images of humiliation, or by remaining speechless in a time of sorrow and shame. These minor actions and inactions reveal the complexities of the human mind, heart, and spirit in ways, that in the rush of our lives, we often fail to see. It is precisely the lack of these simple human gestures that keeps modern film epics from attaining greatness. Wolfgang Petersen’s Troy is by its very nature crippled in its attempts. But, hey, using technology to create the image of the “launch of a thousand ships” was pretty cool! And then Brad Pitt as Achilles, well, what can I say?

Listen to this week’s podcast to find out how Petersen’s film differed from the original epic. Enjoy!

Ancient World Now: The Iliad

Click here for direct link to audio Episode #3.

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Diomedes was one of the most revered heroes of the ancient world. Though we don’t hear much about him nowadays, he had as many adventures as Achilles and Odysseus! He is quite overshadowed by those other characters. But a huge chunk of The Iliad is devoted to his “aristeia”, or glory day on the battlefield, during which, he wounds Aphrodite, goddess of love.

This dramatic painting is by Arthur Heinrich Wilhelm Fitger and shows the mad chaos of Aphrodite’s desperate move to save her wounded son, Aeneas. And if you are a good student of the ancient world, you know that, yes, of course she saves him. Virgil’s Aeneid is the tale of Aeneas’s trials and tribulations after the Trojan War. Stay with me and you will hear my version of The Aeneid, soon to come as a podcast.

Next week we begin The Odyssey!!!

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