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

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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

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olympia statue of zeus

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.

AMNISOS
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

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VATHYPETRO
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: Delphi and Thebes

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

CROSSROADS OF THEBES
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!

DELPHI & THE CASTALIAN SPRING
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

THE AGORA AT ATHENS
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 Marathon.photo 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 victory.man-runs-first-marathon-to-bring-news-of-greek-victory-over-persia

MARATHON
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.

SOUNION
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 sherds.photo (5)

Ancient World Now: Athens II

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

THE ACROPOLIS IN ATHENS
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 Museum.photo

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.

 

Ancient World Now:Death & the Underworld in Ancient Greece Redux

Click here for direct link to audio Episode #28.

Click here for previous episodes.

Redux: brought back or restored; from the Latin “reducere”, meaning to “bring back”. This episode is our final installment of the five-part series on Odysseus in the Underworld. Tech difficulties required a “re-broadcast”. So—enjoy! And please make time for a little Gilbert Murray in your life. You will not regret it. I am waiting for one of his books, The Five Stages of Greek Religion, to arrive in the post. Can’t wait!

Next week begins a series on the periods of Greek history.

The Rise of the Greek Epic, by Oxford’s famous classicist Gilbert Murray, was first published in 1907. It is one of the smoothest reads I have ever encountered and Murray’s erudition is tempered with the charm of the everyday. He is genuine. I wish I could have known him. This Australian-born Oxford scholar once taught Greek at the University of Glasgow. He refused a knighthood in 1912, and was a friend to one of my all-time favorite rebels, George Bernard Shaw. Murray’s daughter, Rosalind, was a writer and married Arnold Toynbee, the famous historian. Ah, the good old days, when the mind was more important than the toys you had….

On the right is a photo of Gilbert Murray taking a break from reading, by Alfred Eisenstaedt (whose birthday is the same as mine: December 6).

From The Rise of the Greek Epic:

“Among the pre-Greek populations the most prevailing and important worship was that of the dead….But the men of the Migrations had left their father’s graves behind them….At times like these of the Migrations it was best not to bury your dead, unless indeed you could be sure of defending their graves….(the enemy) can dig up some of your fallen comrades from their graves….There is hardly anything in Greek antiquity which is so surrounded with intense feeling as this matter of the mutilation of the dead….There was one perfect way of saving your dead from all outrage. You could burn them into ultimate dust.”

This, then, is why you have burial practices and funereal burning existing side by side in ancient Greece. This also puts into perspective the horror with which both Greeks and Trojans looked upon Achilles’s treatment of Hector’s dead body. And, gives me more reason to hold Odysseus in contempt for leaving Elpenor’s body unburied on Circe’s island! This is an outrage!

Today’s episode is all about death and the underworld in ancient Greece. Fascinating and useful info for all you ancient world groupies out there, as death abounds in Homeric epic and Athenian tragedy. Enjoy! And check out Gilbert Murray!

Ancient World Now: Death & the Underworld in Ancient Greece

See January 9, 2011 for corresponding audio podcast.

Click here for previous episodes.

The Rise of the Greek Epic, by Oxford’s famous classicist Gilbert Murray, was first published in 1907. It is one of the smoothest reads I have ever encountered and Murray’s erudition is tempered with the charm of the everyday. He is genuine. I wish I could have known him. This Australian-born Oxford scholar once taught Greek at the University of Glasgow. He refused a knighthood in 1912, and was a friend to one of my all-time favorite rebels, George Bernard Shaw. Murray’s daughter, Rosalind, was a writer and married Arnold Toynbee, the famous historian. Ah, the good old days, when the mind was more important than the toys you had….

On the right is a photo of Gilbert Murray taking a break from reading, by Alfred Eisenstaedt (whose birthday is the same as mine: December 6).

From The Rise of the Greek Epic:

“Among the pre-Greek populations the most prevailing and important worship was that of the dead….But the men of the Migrations had left their father’s graves behind them….At times like these of the Migrations it was best not to bury your dead, unless indeed you could be sure of defending their graves….(the enemy) can dig up some of your fallen comrades from their graves….There is hardly anything in Greek antiquity which is so surrounded with intense feeling as this matter of the mutilation of the dead….There was one perfect way of saving your dead from all outrage. You could burn them into ultimate dust.”

This, then, is why you have burial practices and funereal burning existing side by side in ancient Greece. This also puts into perspective the horror with which both Greeks and Trojans looked upon Achilles’s treatment of Hector’s dead body. And, gives me more reason to hold Odysseus in contempt for leaving Elpenor’s body unburied on Circe’s island! This is an outrage!

Today’s episode is all about death and the underworld in ancient Greece. Fascinating and useful info for all you ancient world groupies out there, as death abounds in Homeric epic and Athenian tragedy. Enjoy! And check out Gilbert Murray! EPISODE WILL BROADCAST ON MONDAY, JANUARY 10TH.

Ancient World Now:Odysseus in the Underworld

Click here for direct link to audio Episode #24.

Click here for previous episodes.

Today I begin our reading of Book XI of The Odyssey, wherein Odysseus travels to the Underworld. He is one of a number of mortals to complete a round-trip to Hades and live to buy a round of drinks in celebration-Orpheus and Aeneas being a couple of others.

Over the next five weeks we will be studying this, one of the most famous books, of the most famous adventure story ever told.

Week 1: I read from Richmond Lattimore’s translation, lines 1-384.

Week 2: commentary on the reading

Week 3: I read from Richmond Lattimore’s translation, lines 385-640.

Week 4: commentary on the reading

Week 5: Death & The Underworld in Ancient Greece

Part of my commentary will be aimed at teaching you how to approach reading and analyzing a book in any ancient epic, such as The Iliad, The Odyssey, or The Aeneid.

So, sit back and enjoy!

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