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.


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:Themistocles Part I

Click here for direct link to audio podcast Episode #46.

Click here for previous audio episodes.

“The Persians are coming! The Persians are coming!” Can’t you just hear the Athenians running through the streets in panic? The men of the city sent their wives, children, and parents to Troezen for safety and hustled down to the ships ready to sail to the island of Salamis. Athens was abandoned. Plutarch writes of the sad sight of the old and infirm left behind, and of the pet dogs running after their masters down to the shore. One dog jumped into the water and paddled next to the galley all the way to Salamis, where he struggled ashore, fell down exhausted, and died.

Abandoning the city of Athens was the course of action planned by their leader, Themistocles, one of the “base-born lads”, whose intelligence and ambition made up for the fact that he was not a full-blooded Athenian! Only in a democratic Athens was his rise possible. Popular with the “common” people, Themistocles was known to greet everyone in the city by name. Gaining their confidence, he convinced Athens to prepare to defend themselves, and with shrewd foresight, set about making Athens a great naval power.

Enjoy today’s podcast!

Ancient World Now:Marathon

Click here for direct link to audio podcast Episode #41.

Click here for previous episodes.

The sad death of Sammy Wanjiru, the Kenyan Olympic marathon champion and gold medalist casts its shadow over today’s podcast. May he rest in peace…

I remember I first heard the story of Marathon when I was in high school. It thrilled me to the core to know that the Greek underdogs had beaten back the Persian aggressors. But more thrilling to me was the story of Pheidippides, the messenger, who ran so faithfully to bring news of the victory to the people of Athens that he collapsed and died of exhaustion on the spot!

Later, I read different versions of the story. In reality, he ran 140 miles in one day from Athens to Sparta to beg assistance. The Spartans, being a cantankerous bunch, kept the Athenians waiting and arrived a day late & a dollar short! They missed the battle and never forgave themselves!

The victory at Marathon was a pivotal moment in history, galvanizing resolve in the fledgling democracies, and filling Greek spirits with the kind of triumph that makes nothing seem impossible. This spirit flourished and brought to fruition in later years the finest aspects of Western Civilization to which we lay claim. After Marathon, Persian King Darius began preparations for a second attack, but trouble in Egypt postponed his plans. He died 4 years after the Battle at Marathon, and it was another 6 years before his son Xerxes would carry out his father’s plans by returning for another try. This ten year respite gave the Greeks time to regroup. And thanks to a brilliant general by the name of Themistocles, those years were spent preparing for the next Persian invasion. But that, my friends, is another story…. Enjoy!

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