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 Medea-Die Kindermorderin

Click here for direct link to audio Episode #22.

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The Medea—why does Euripides add the article “The” to his play about Medea? A play called “Medea” would simply be about the character Medea, like Euripides’s play Alcestis or Hippolytus. But a play titled The Medea elevates the story from the personal to the universal. The Medea is about the rage of woman. If you have not experienced it, consider yourself lucky! Notice I did not say “a woman”. I left out the article—and what a difference it makes, n’est pas?

Medea was a princess of the Black Sea area called Colchis. But more than that, she was a powerful sorceress and granddaughter of Helios. One day a ship called the Argo came to Colchis and its captain was a man named Jason. The Argonauts included such well-known heroes as Orpheus, Castor and Polydeuces, Peleus, and the great Herakles (Hercules). Long story short: Medea helps Jason get the fabulous Golden Fleece, runs away with him, settles down and bears his children—and when Jason dumps her and sets himself up to marry a young princess, Medea exacts vengeance. Virgil had Medea in mind when he was writing of Queen Dido in The Aeneid, but Dido turned her rage inward and destroyed herself, while Medea gave new meaning to the phrase “Come to momma”! What was that song that came out a few years ago…Carrie Underwood’s Before He Cheats: “I took a Louisville slugger to both head lights. Slashed a hole in all 4 tires. And maybe next time he’ll think before he cheats…” That guy got off lucky!

The story of Jason and the Argonauts is older than The Iliad and in Homer’s time, it was universally known. Like all these great tales, there are numerous versions and side-stories. Thanks to Apollonios Rhodios, we get the many strands woven together. Today I will read to you from the 1898 edition of Bulfinch’s Age of Fable or Beauties of Mythology, which will set us up for next week’s Episode which delves into the Euripides’s play The Medea. Bulfinch merely glosses over the revenge sequence, but Euripides takes a magnifying glass and makes us look at the dark side of humanity until it bursts into flames! Euripides is the go-to man if you want to understand the noir ways of your fellow humans. It’s all about suffering with him! Just check out the daily news stories to see how what it is is what it was.

Ancient World Now:The Aeneid

Click here for direct link to audio Episode #10.

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Queen Dido of Carthage. Dead. Built her own funeral pyre and as the flames whipped around her, plunged a dagger into her heart. So thoroughly had she humiliated herself for love of Aeneas, that she could no longer bear to go on. She cursed Aeneas and all of his descendants as she lay dying. Legend has it that her curse was the seed of hatred between Rome and Carthage that lead to the Punic Wars (264-146 B.C.E). Children in Rome were taught from an early age to hate the powerful north African state and all Roman children knew the Latin phrase “Carthago delenda est” or “Carthage must be destroyed”. When Rome finally did destroy Carthage, Roman soldiers were instructed to sow the land with salt so that nothing could grow there. Carthage was abandoned. Later, however, she was rebuilt and became a glorious and influential Roman colony. Some of the best preserved Roman mosaics and ruins are found in Carthage. And to think it all began with a mighty and righteous queen who had her heart broken by a no-good two-timing transient!

Another amazing story of Carthage might is that of Hannibal (no, not the psychopath) and his war elephants, but you have to listen to the podcast to find out! Enjoy!

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