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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photo (9)photo (7)EPIDAURUS
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: Timoleon, Part II

Click here for direct link to audio podcast Episode #51.

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Setting: Ancient Syracuse in Sicily. Sacked and desolate. Deserted of Greek colonists. Streets overrun with deer and wild boar.

Enter: Timoleon, ready to restore the Greek colonies of Sicily to their former glory, sans tyrants.

And even more amazing than his many successes was that by the end of his long life he had managed to avoid “the insatiable pursuit of glory and power which has wrecked so many great men.” Plutarch, like so many thinkers before him and since, tried to identify the qualities that make a great leader. Plato, Aristotle, Homer, and the epics Gilgamesh, Beowulf, and the Persian Shahnameh, all address the question of how to deal with the incompetent, malevolent, or unworthy leader. In today’s world, it sometimes seems to be an old-fashioned expectation: ethical, just, and informed leadership with a focus on the long-term. We are living in revolutionary times, and we can only hope that our world leaders have read and learned from history. Where are those leaders of old? It’s time they step out of the shadows and give us all something to hope for.

Find out how Timoleon stacks up in today’s podcast reading 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!

Ancient World Now:Rise of the Warrior-Citizen

Click here for direct link to audio podcast Episode #40.

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An expensive undertaking, all-out warfare is to be avoided in any age. When Homer’s Bronze Age boys went at it, they did so as individuals: warrior-chief against warrior-chief. Warriors of the 8th century, however, fought as a unit. This concept is a visual indicator of the societal shift from oligarchy to polis. Shown here is the 12th century Mycenaean “Warrior Vase” in contrast to the earliest known representation of warriors in hoplite formation on the Chigi vase (650-640 BCE). Who was this new kind of warrior? And what did it mean to be a “citizen”? Find out in this week’s podcast.

My gosh, I’ve pulled us all the way from Earth’s beginning & prehistory, into the age of written historical accounts. Finally, something we can sink our teeth into!

Ancient World Now:The Age of Tyrants

Click here for direct link to audio podcast Episode #39.

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By chance, I happened to find myself in a crowd of Hellenes as I made my way through San Francisco’s Civic Center on the afternoon of April 10th. The annual Hellenic Cultural Parade was winding down and I got some colorful shots. Special thanks to the dancers and their families for letting me take the photos.

Our story of Greek history continues with the Age of Tyrants. The tyrants were one of a number of factors that allowed the idea of democracy to grow and develop. Today, I read from an old high school textbook from 1904! That’s one of the beauties of studying the ancient world, it’s ancient history! Enjoy!

Ancient World Now:Theories of Mycenaean Collapse

Click here for direct link to audio podcast Episode #38.

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Migration and movements of peoples has been a constant ever since Australopithecus set up camp in a more advantageous spot one day four million years ago. This photo by Christian Sinibaldi, posted on the Guardian U.K. website, shows the boat graveyard on the Italian island of Lampedusa, where North African migrants abandon their vessels on their flight to more advantageous spots in Europe. In my constant quest to see the ancient world in our everyday modern lives, I encourage you to consider the current explosive uprisings throughout North Africa & the Middle East as an overlay onto your understanding of the events that precipitated the Greek Dark Ages.

Award ceremony and podcast and taxes, oh my! An overwhelming number of factors contributed to my missing our last podcast. Hope you can forgive me! To make up for it, in today’s podcast I am trotting out a new theory on the destruction of Mycenaean civilization. Michael Shanks and Gary Devore, archaeology professors at Stanford University, discussed their own theory in last week’s Archaeology of Greece class.

For many years now I have been on the children’s book committee for the Northern California Book Awards. Each year for the past 30 years, committees have gathered together from October to April to review the year’s published books from Northern California’s authors. There are dozens and dozens of books to read for each category: fiction, general non-fiction, creative non-fiction, poetry, children’s literature, and translation for poetry & fiction. In the spring I do NCBA work and in the fall I do work for Litquake, the annual literary festival in San Francisco. I am honored to be a part of these organizations and my volunteer work is one of the many ways I contribute my creative energy to the Bay Area writer’s community. As I was writing this, we had a little earthquake! Felt like a truck hit the building. It disturbed the cats (including Achilles, my tuxedo warrior) and we all fled to different parts of the house! And today is the anniversary of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake! Yet another ancient world connection: ancient earthquakes. Think Crete, Delphi, Sicily, and Alexandria, to name a few.

Ancient World Now:The Greek Dark Ages

Click here for direct link to audio podcast Episode #37.

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How can writing disappear from a culture? Incredible! But that’s just what happened to the Greek world in their very own “Dark Age”. After doing some research, it made perfect sense. The only use for written language at that time was royal record-keeping by the Mycenaean rulers. So, when the palaces were destroyed across the Aegean world, the skill vanished.

The same goes for the potter’s skill. The whimsical octopus vase above is Minoan, while the representational drawing of a string of warriors is an example of Mycenaean pottery. Contrast those two vases, so full of character and charm, with this Dark Age’s Proto-geometric Style vase.

For a time, Greece was plunged into poverty and despair, and images to delight were not to reappear until a new structure for civilization emerged. Check out today’s podcast…

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:Technical Difficulties!

Some tech problems this week. Minoan Crete is on its way….

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!

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