Ancient World Now:From Earth’s Beginning to Early Hominids

Click here for direct link to audio Episode #29.

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Yes. I’ve gone right back to the beginning. In my quest to understand the origins of democracy from ancient Athens and the spread of Hellenism after Alexander the Great, I had to go right back to Neolithic times. And to understand Neolithic times, I had to understand Paleolithic times, and on and on, until finally, I was back at the beginning of life on Earth itself. That’s what I call a top-notch three-day weekend! So hunker down and let’s take a look at those oh, so early days.

Thanks to the efforts of the International Commission on Stratigraphy, we have these mostly-standardized chronological divisions:

The 3 Pre-Cambrian eons:
Hadean Eon
Archean Eon (Eo era, Paleo era, Meso era, & Neo era)
Proterozoic Eon (Paleo era, Meso era, & Neo era)

The 1 Cambrian (multi-celled plants & animals) eon:
Paleozoic era
Mesozoic era (Triassic period, Jurassic period, & Cretaceous period)
Cenozoic era-current era, divided thus:
Paleogene period (Paleocene epoch, Eocene epoch, & Oligocene epoch)
Neogene period (Miocene epoch & Pliocene epoch)
Quaternary period (Pleistocene epoch & Holocene epoch YOU ARE HERE!)

And look at all those Greek affixes! My students would have a field day! And the very first eon is named after the Greek underworld, Hades! I did not include the dates, as they do not concern me much. I mean, really, who can comprehend 4.6 billion years?

This week’s podcast will walk you through the Pre-Cambrian eons and give you a brief overview of the Phanerozoic eon in order to prepare you for next week’s look at Stone Age humankind. Enjoy!

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

Click here for direct link to audio Episode #28.

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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: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:Odysseus in the Underworld

Click here for direct link to audio Episode #24.

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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!

Ancient World Now: The Eleusinian Mysteries

Click here for direct link to audio podcast Episode #14.

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Part II in a five-part series on religions of the ancient world.

This ancient tale is the basis of the Eleusinian Mysteries honoring the grain goddess Demeter and her daughter, Persephone.

One bright spring morning, when the dew was still clinging to the flower petals and the green blades of grass, the lovely Persephone, daughter of Demeter, was making her rounds of the fields. Persephone had a special duty as the daughter of Demeter. It was her job to paint the flowers in the springtime. So, with her paintpot she wandered from blossom to blossom, choosing the colors that were most pleasing to her.

Her mother, Demeter, was busy making things grow, and did not notice that her daughter had wandered away from her side. With great delight, Persephone mixed the colors of the sky with the colors of the grape to get just the right shade of lavender, when suddenly, the Earth ripped open a chasm right at her feet and from the depths charged a great chariot pulled by two black stallions. Driving the chariot was Hades, King of the Underworld, and he snatched Persephone up in his arms and dove back down to the depths of his dark kingdom.

Demeter heard the cries of her beloved daughter, and raced to the sounds of the fading voice. By the time she reached the spot, there was no trace of what had happened there. Demeter cried aloud for her girl, but there was silence. She searched field and forest day and night, carrying a flaming torch to light her way. But Persephone was nowhere to be found.

This famous painting by Dante Gabriel Rossetti of our girl gives a clue to her tale in the red pomegranate she is holding.  Listen to this week’s podcast to find out what happens to Persephone! Enjoy!

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