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:Son of Bride of Odysseus in the Underworld

Click here for direct link to audio Episode #26.

Click here for previous episodes.

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: Mithras & Mithraism

Click here for direct link to audio Episode #15.

Click here for previous episodes.

Surely you’ve seen the statues. The Tauroctony. This one is from the British Museum. A good-looking guy with longish hair, wearing a short tunic, a flowing cape, and a Phrygian cap. He looks nice enough, but he’s plunging a dagger into the neck of a bull that appears to have been minding his own business! My word! What’s up with that? And then you’ve got this little dog and the scorpion and the crab and the snake all hanging out with the bull. Who can figure that out?

Well, as archaeology is a fairly young discipline, we’ve got some catching up to do. The deets about Mithraism are still being catalogued by our brothers & sisters “in the field”. To get a sense of the vastness of Mithraic worship, there are at least 190 known Mithraea around the Roman world and a mere 1/10th of them have been excavated. Fifteen Mithraea have been located beneath Catholic churches in Rome.

But there’s a lot that we may never know or understand, no matter how long or hard archaeologists work. A true “mystery religion”, believers were bound to secrecy on pain of death, so no written evidence exists at this time to describe their rituals and practices. One Mithraic practice we are certain of is that on occasion a real bull was slaughtered above the vaulted underground temple site and the blood of the animal showered down over a select individual. Egads! Let me outta here!  

We also know that it was primarily a religion of the Roman military. Over the centuries, Mithraism worked its way up from the lower classes into the Roman elite. Mithraism took hold in Imperial Rome around the 2nd century CE after the Emperor Commodus was initiated into its mysteries. Freed slaves achieved wealth and status, and veterans of the military retired to Rome itself or some province of the empire and lived out their days practicing their religion. Ultimately, pagan religions were outlawed by Theodosius at the end of the 5th century and Mithraism died out.

Enjoy today’s episode. Next week I detail some of the recent theories on the astronomy behind Mithraism.

Homework for this week: read an encyclopedic entry for astronomy to get the basic concepts down before next week’s episode.

Ancient World Now….ten days…..

Podcast launch date: Monday, June 14, 2010.

First episode: The Iliad 20-30 minute podcast.

This tiny Greek figure is from the British Museum’s collection.
The Nereid goddess Thetis, mother of Achilles, is riding a dolphin buoyed up on the crest of a wave. She carries the arms of Achilles, newly fashioned by Hephaestus, god of fire and metal.

W.H. Auden wrote “The Shield of Achilles” (1952) in response to this passage from The Iliad.

Why was new armor made for Achilles? What was so special about this armor? Find out in ten days on the maiden podcast of Ancient World Now….

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