Ancient World Now:The Age of Tyrants

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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:Mycenaean World

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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

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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:Death & the Underworld in Ancient Greece Redux

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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:Joseph Campbell and Myth

Podcast Episodes On Vacation…..

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Happy New Year, everyone! Here’s to another great year of Ancient World Now!

Next week I’ll rebroadcast Episode #28 which gives a general background to death & the underworld in Ancient Greece.

Joseph Campbell transformed our lives in the Bill Moyers PBS series The Power of Myth. Campbell’s  The Hero with a Thousand Faces demonstrates that the stories we tell each other in print, in song, in speech, and in memory, are richly varied, yet can be reduced to the same basic tale called the monomyth. If you’ve never heard of Joseph Campbell, rush out and get any of his books, lectures, or videos and watch your world burst wide open! YouTube has some cool stuff. Check out the Joseph Campbell Foundation for an in-depth appreciation. Enjoy!

Ancient World Now:Daughter of Son of Bride of Odysseus in the Underworld

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The towering figure of Clytemnestra dwarfs all other infamous gals from the ancient world. Here she is standing over Agamemnon’s body. What was her beef? She got steamed when Agamemnon sacrificed their daughter so the guys could get a fair wind for Troy all those years ago. Clytemnestra’s skills with the battle-axe were also the death of the prophetess slave and princess of Troy, Cassandra, as shown below on this piece of pottery.

Go back to the ancient tragedians to see the full-on misery of the house of Atreus unfold, or check out the powerful trilogy of films by Michael Cacoyannis, starring the spellbinding Irene Pappas as Electra.  Electra (1962) by Michael Cacoyannis. Not to spoil the story or anything, but Electra finally gets hers when she convinces her long-lost brother Orestes to assist her in the plot to avenge their father’s death and murder Agamemnon’s killers!

Clytemnestra tries to defend Aegisthus from Orestes, while on the right of this vase Electra’s happy arms welcome the act! In desperation, Clytemnestra even bares her breast to her son, hoping to dissuade him from killing his own mother. Alas! Puts our modern tabloids to shame.

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:Bride of Odysseus in the Underworld

Click here for direct link to audio Episode #25.

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Today’s episode is dedicated to my loyal listeners in Michigan! Turns out the Detroit area is home to a slew of ancient world groupies! A free autographed copy of my book to the first 5 fans from Michigan to give me a shout-out at gwen@gwenminor.com. Thanks for listening!

Today I show you how to read an epic. You’ll learn how to break it down so you can analyze it in chunks, be it for fame, fortune, or fun! Impress your friends with your newfound ability to distinguish between an aristeia and a prolegomena! Actually, these two topoi are more readily found in The Iliad, than The Odyssey, which is our epic du jour.

The “sacrifice & prayers” topoi is one of the most common of topoi, along with the “catalogue or parade” of something or other. Book XI of The Odyssey begins with both. To the right you can see Odysseus with sword in hand, the blood gushing from the sacrificial animal, and Teiresias, the famous seer, getting ready to tell Odysseus “what it is”.

And like the sweet segments of an orange, whose nectar prevents scurvy, so too, Gwen Minor will separate out the various epic segments. Let’s roll!

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: Introspection in the Character of Odysseus

Click here for direct link to audio Episode #12.

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Now that I have told you the three most important tales of the ancient world, The Iliad, The Odyssey, and The Aeneid, we can turn our attention to going deeper into the characters and familiarizing ourselves with the cycle of stories surrounding each epic.

Ever since I was a little girl, I had the distinct feeling that Odysseus was really a scoundrel. In all the stories I knew, he was dishonest. He lied, he stole, and he got away with things. That was how I saw it. It just wasn’t fair. It didn’t matter to me that he triumphed over divine obstacles, was revered by his fellow soldiers, or that his wife Penelope thought he was worth waiting for (although I did so love the story of the bed he carved from the olive tree). What mattered to me was his truthfulness. Are there degrees of honesty? Or is honesty like pregnancy, you either are or you are not? Consider these questions and ask someone else what they think. Let’s create a dialogue of issues of great import—we seem to have less and less of that in our daily lives these days! To me, honor and truth were all. If I worked hard and told the truth, why should a man like Odysseus, who lies, runs and hides, and looks out for his own best interests to the peril of others, be held in high regard. Indeed, he is called “hero”. In today’s podcast, I delve deeper into the character of Odysseus, trying to get at the qualities others admire, while honoring my own personal biases against him.

In fact, one of the many benefits of the process of writing is that it brings clarity of thought. After much meditation, and revision after revision, I have come to an understanding with myself on the matter of Odysseus. I had to address the question as to why truth and honesty matter so much to me. I find it impossible to lie. To me, there are no little lies, and telling an untruth about something insignificant is as despicable as telling an untruth about something significant. Why does it matter so much to me, when people all around lie in their everyday lives and see no harm in it? Some of my very biases against Odysseus have to do with my own personal life struggles. The mark of good literature raises good questions, and this question, like all things worthwhile, made me face myself and who I am. For this new insight into my understanding of myself, I thank Homer and his wily hero, Odysseus, and hope you, too, find wisdom through these ancient tales.

I would be very interested in hearing what comes out of your discussions. Please leave a comment or write to me at the website by clicking on the “Contact” button above. I’ll post your comments in all their various hues. Oh yes, and be sure your little talk about honesty doesn’t “come to blows”, as there are many ways of seeing it! Have fun and see you next week!

Reference books used in today’s podcast: The Dictionary of Classical Mythology, Religion, Literature, and Art by Oskar Seyffert and The Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Classical World by Michael Avi Yonah & Israel Shatzman.

Enjoy!

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