Saturday, August 27, 2011

Ptolemy Caesar(Caesarion) The son of Gaius Julius Caesar and Cleopatra

Alexandrian Kings
The Alexandrians turned out in force
to see Cleopatra’s children,
Kaisarion and his little brothers,
Alexander and Ptolemy, who for the first time
had been taken out to the Gymnasium,
to be proclaimed kings there
before a brilliant array of soldiers.

Alexander: they declared him
king of Armenia, Media, and the Parthians.
Ptolemy: they declared him
king of Cilicia, Syria, and Phoenicia.
Kaisarion was standing in front of the others,
dressed in pink silk,
on his chest a bunch of hyacinths,
his belt a double row of amethysts and sapphires,
his shoes tied with white ribbons
prinked with rose-colored pearls.
They declared him greater than his little brothers,they declared him King of Kings.

The Alexandrians knew of course
that this was all mere words, all theatre.
But the day was warm and poetic,
the sky a pale blue,
the Alexandrian Gymnasium
a complete artistic triumph,
the courtiers wonderfully sumptuous, Kaisarion all grace and beauty
(Cleopatra’s son, blood of the Lagids);
and the Alexandrians thronged to the festival
full of enthusiasm, and shouted acclamations
in Greek, and Egyptian, and some in Hebrew,
charmed by the lovely spectacle—
though they knew of course what all this was worth,what empty words they really were, these kingships
                                                            Kavafy's poem called Alexandrian kings.

Partly to throw light on a certain period,
partly to kill an hour or two,
last night I picked up and read
a volume of inscriptions about the Ptolemies.
The lavish praise and flattery are much the same
for each of them. All are brilliant,
glorious, mighty, benevolent;
everything they undertake is full of wisdom.
As for the women of their line, the Berenices and Cleopatras,
they too, all of them, are marvelous.

When I’d verified the facts I wanted
I would have put the book away had not a brief
insignificant mention of King Kaisarion
suddenly caught my eye...

And there you were with your indefinable charm.
Because we know
so little about you from history,
I could fashion you more freely in my mind.
I made you good-looking and sensitive.
My art gives your face
a dreamy, an appealing beauty.
And so completely did I imagine you
that late last night,
as my lamp went out—I let it go out on purpose—
it seemed you came into my room,
it seemed you stood there in front of me, looking just as you would have
in conquered Alexandria,
pale and weary, ideal in your grief,
still hoping they might take pity on you,
those scum who whispered: “Too many Caesars.”

                                                        Kavafy's poem called Kaisarion

Ptolemy Caesar

Just as Kavafy says in his poem Kaisarion(Caesarion) there are not many references about Caesarion and if there some, they are completely insignificant or they lack reliability.These sources are really so few for someone who was the  son of the Great Caesar the "ruler" of Rome and Cleopatra the Queen of the strongest of the Hellenistic kingdoms in the east  and for someone who bore the two strongest and most prestigious names in the world during his time.Ultimately this deadly combination of names was Caesarion's doom...

Caesarion was born in 47 BC and according to Cleopatra he was Caesar's son. Cleopatra aimed at making him the successor of her kingdom and heir of Caesar as head of the Roman republic. Mainly because of pressure from the Romans Caesar didn't officially recognise Caesarion . However he was brought to Rome for two years from 46 BC to 44 BC when Cleopatra was invited by Caesar to Rome. In 44 BC when Caesar was assaninated Caesarion was declared as co-ruler at the age of three by his mother. This action was part of Cleopatra's policies with Rome but also a part of her ambitious plans about her son's future and part of her attempt to present to her subjects her realtionship to her son similar to the relationship of the Egyptian goddess Isis and Horus. It was very important to present a religious legitimacy for her son in order to preserve the loyalty of the Egyptians to her and Caesarion. Apparently Caesar found the "chosen by the gods" tactic very effective and along with his megalomania he tried to implement it in the Roman world by presenting himself as a god but he ultimately failed.

Cleopatra's charm was very effective to an another Roman general Marcus Antonius.In 34 BC Mark Antony seduced by Cleopatra granted to Caesarion many Eastern lands of the Roman republic making the Egyptian kingdom almost equal in power to Rome and a potential threat for the Romans.

The lands given to Ptolemy Caesar by Mark Antony. This act caused the final breach in  his relations with Octavian.

The battle of Actium canceled all the plans of Cleopatra and Mark Antony for the creation of a strong Eastern empire. Caesarion who was 17 at this time was sent at the port of Verenice for safety and in case that Romans invaded in Egypt he would sail for India. From this point the historical sources are a bit unclear about Caesarion's fate.Plutarch says:

"Caesarion, who was said to be Cleopatra's son by Julius Caesar, was sent by his mother, with much treasure, into India, by way of Ethiopia. There Rhodon, another tutor like Theodorus, persuaded him to go back, on the ground that [Octavian] Caesar invited him to take the kingdom"

Plutarch assumes that Octavian  presuaded by a Greek philosopher of Alexandria decided to execute Caesarion. The Philosopher called Arius Didymus  said  to Octavian: "Too many Caesars is not good"

But was actually Caesarion a Caesar or was he just his mother's chess piece? All these titles that he received and the really heavy name that he had to carry as a burden  weren't really mirroring the reality around him. Egypt during Cleopatra's reign was already a client kingdom of Rome and its independence was only guaranteed by Caesar and later by Mark Antony. 

When Caesar died Cleopatra persuaded Mark Antony to adopt Caesarion as his own child and even though he had two other children with Cleopatra Caesarion was the first in line of succession. Therefore only if Caesar(if he had lived) or Mark Antony wanted it, Caesarion would have been all that he was promised that he was destined to become.Technically we could say that since he was nominated co-ruler by Cleopatra Caesarion was the last male Pharaoh of Egypt.

Cleopatra and Caesarion depicted as Isis and Horus(their mythological equivalents)

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Lucian: The ancient Greek Steven Spielberg

A Syrian-Greek writer responsible for the first fictional accounts of extraterrestrial life. Lucian, whose parents had hoped he might become a sculptor, made a fortune by traveling around Asia Minor, Greece, Italy and other lands giving entertaining speeches, before settling down in Athens to study philosophy. This was a time – the second centuryAD – when faith in the old gods had all but evaporated, Greek culture and thought was in decay, and the great literature of Greece at its height had given way to shallow novels of adventure or romance. All this was grist to Lucian's satirical mill and in his two extraterrestrial stories – precursors of science fiction – he parodies the kind of feeble fantasy that had become popular.

 The concluding sentence of the preface to his True History reads: "I give my readers warning, therefore, not to believe me." And with that he launches into a tale of a group of adventurers who, while sailing through the Pillars of Hercules (the Strait of Gibraltar), are lifted up by a giant waterspout and deposited on the Moon. There they find themselves embroiled in a full-scale interplanetary war between the king of the Moon and the king of the Sun over colonization rights to Jupiter, involving armies which boast such exotica as stalk-and-mushroom men, acorn-dogs, and cloud-centaurs. 

«...τυφὼν ἐπιγενόμενος καὶ περιδινήσας τὴν ναῦν καὶ μετεωρίσας ὅσον ἐπὶ σταδίους τριακοσίους οὐκέτι καθῆκεν εἰς τὸ πέλαγος, ἀλλ᾿ ἄνω μετέωρον» 
 A watersprout typhoon made the ship ascend to the skies  300 stadiums high without afterwards falling down to the sea, it remained on the air.
A passage from Lucian's(Lucianos in Greek) Αληθής Ιστορία(Alithis Istoria)=True story. 

Before you read below and acquire the wrong impression about Lucian. I recommend you to read his biography in wikipedia in order to understand what kind of a person he was.

Lucian of Samosata. A Syrian sophist/author who was writting in Greek.

Jules Verne wrote his science fiction works and foresaw the creation of submarine in the 19th century. In the 60's the U.S.A achieved to send humans on the moon.However before all this in 160 A.D Lucian wrote about a journey to the moon using an air-ship  and about a moon base called Lychnopolis. With an imagination that even Steven Spielberg and George Lucas would envy Lucian an author of the late antiquity with an excellent potential on written discourse takes us to to worlds to which even now many centuries later we can only travel  with our imagination.

In his book he says that he decided to make this trip because of curiosity and to learn what nations are living on the other side of the  Great Ocean. After 80 days of travelling across the unknown ocean they reached a strange island.There they found an inscription written in Greek an mentioned that Hercules and Dionysus had been there.(Stories about voyages of Hercules beyond the Atlantic and campaigns of Dionysus as far as India were very common in the ancient Greek world) 
When they landed on the island they saw a big river but instead of water there was wine coming from the roots of the vineyards. There were also some strange fish around there and once you ate them you would get drunk.

They left the island behind and when they went in the middle of the Ocean suddenly a tornado made their ship to fly above the water but didn't let it to fall down. For 7 days they were travelling on the skies and in the 8th day they saw in front of them a new earth on the air which seemed like a shining island in a shape of a circle. They achieved to land on it and when they took a look around they found out that the land was inhabited and fertile.

Lucianos mentions that this new earth was inhabited by monstrous looking beings.One of those beings arrested them and took them in front of their king who was called Endymion. The king realised that they were Greeks from their outfit and asked them how did they achieve to fly through the skies until his land. He also explained to them that they were on the moon which they are able to see every night from their

Moreover he revealed that there were also many other kingdoms. Lucianos mentions the Selenites and Heliotes who had a common colony in Eosphoros and a peace treaty. Here there's a really impressive show of Lucianos' imagination. He mentions that the treaty was written on an electric column and they left it in the middle of the air standing between the borders of the two kingdoms.

Lucianos mentions many other paradoxical habits and facts about the "moon-people" . One of them was that men were giving birth to children and that there were no women. Men were marrying men. Except the sexual paradox Lucian says that when that moon people get old they don't die but they just vanish like  smoke.

The really extraordinary mind of Lucian has many other oddities to narrate.He says that the moon-people were coming into contact with the people on earth by using a large mirror which was over a big hole on the ground. If somebody entered that hole, he could hear everything that the people of earth were saying. Lucian mentions that he used it himself and that he was able to see his home. He also added that if somebody doesn't believe that this exists he should travel to the moon to see by himself!!!!

After staying on the moon Lucian travelled between the star clusters of Pleiades and the Hyades to a place called Lychnopolis. It was called like that because there were only lamps there(lychnos=lamp polis=city)

This was the space travel of Lucian in his work called "The true story". Later he mentions how he returned to earth and was eaten by a sea monster in which he lived until it died.

No Lucian was not a crazy person. The true story was a parody of some fantasy stories by contemporary or ancient sources that were considered true by the majority of the people.However there is also an alternative opinion that it was purely a science fiction work containing the following elements that prove it

  • travel to outer space
  • encounter with alien life-forms, including the experience of a first encounter event
  • interplanetary warfare and imperialism
  • colonization of planets
  • artificial atmosphere
  • liquid air
  • reflecting telescope
  • motif of giganticism
  • creatures as products of human technology (robot theme)
  • worlds working by a set of alternate 'physical' laws
  • explicit desire of the protagonist for exploration and adventure

sources: Greek), translation made by me

Friday, August 19, 2011

The modern Isthmus of Corinth and the ancient Diolkos

The Isthmus of Corinth

An Isthmus is defined as  a narrow strip of land connecting two larger land areas usually with waterforms on either side.The Isthmus of Corinth was an important crossroad of the ancient world. It was the land bridge that connected Peloponnese with mainland Greece. 

The ancient Greeks and later the Romans and Byzantines attempted numerous times to fortify this narrow strip.During the Persian wars there was a plan for the Greeks to build wooden walls along the Isthmus and wait for the Persians there.

Herodotus argued that a wall on Isthmus was useless if the defender couldn't control the seas. Likely he took the historic example of the Dorian invasion in the Mycenean Peloponnese in which the Dorians didn't invade through Isthmus but instead they used sea transports.

Remains of the examilion wall

In the 5th century, the Eastern Roman empire built a wall in Isthmus to stop the invading Visigoths. The wall had two gates and it was considered the biggest building in Greece at its time. It was called examilion(six miles) maybe because its length was 6 miles. The material used for the buiding were marbles from the nearby temples of Poseidon and Hera in Isthmus and Perahora.

During emperor Justinian more towers were added to increase the effectiveness of the defences.
Herodotus seemed to be right about his opinions on the wall cause during the Slavic invasions the Slavs just went around the wall through the sea and invaded Peloponnese.

Later many other Byzantine emperors tried to repair the walls but all these attempts were futile when the gunpowder technology was mastered by the Ottoman armies.

The canal of Corinth

The concept of cutting a canal through the Corinth Isthmus to link the Ionian and Aegean seas was first proposed by Periander tyrrant of Corinth at the end of the 7th century BC. The magnitude of the task defeated him so he opted instead to build a diolkos across which sailors dragged ships from the Ionian port of ancient Corinth called Lechaion to Cenchreai the Aegean port( and vice versa.

Later many great persons like Alexander the Great and Caligula had the "canal idea" but it was during Nero in 67 AD that diggings started for the opening of the canal.  6000 Jewish prisoners were working on this project  but unfortunately for Nero it was halted because of Gaulish invasions.

The canal was ultimately completed some decades after the creation of the modern Greek state in the 19th century by a French company(1883-1893). The architects were Istvan Turr and Bela Gerster, both of them Hungarians. This made Peloponnese officially an island(the ancient Greeks mistakenly thought it was already an island Peloponnesos  Pelops= an ancient Greek King  and  nesos=island

The canal is 6 kilometers long and 23 meters wide(79 feet).The land sides rise 90 meters above the water.

 An estimated 11,000 ships per year travel through the waterway, most of them full of tourists. When the canal was originally built it was meant to allow all boats to pass through, but unfortunately due to its narrow width of 24 metres it is too narrow for modern day ships that are built too large to pass through. One main bridge crosses overhead while at both ends seashore roads cross using submersible bridges that are lowered to allow ships to pass through. Sometimes, when the bridge rises, fish are caught and come up with the bridge as kids run to collect them.

The first strike in the modern Greek history

The workers in the Corinth canal opening were the first ones to organise a strike.

90 years after the creation of a modern Greek state in 1888 the workers in the Isthmus of Corinth declared a strike demanding a fair way of calculating their working time.This resulted a new agreement between the workers and the contractors about estimating the salaries and working times in order to avoid exploitation and fraud.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

August full moon and ancient Greece

Every year each August when it's full moon the archaeological sites remain open all night for visitors. The whole full moon atmosphere along with the energy that the these ancient sites are transmitting , attract thousands of people every year for a free night visit . The municipal authorities often organise events like theatrical festivals , concerts and anything related to culture that wouldn't be insulting for the archaeological site.This year nearly 70 archaeological sites remained open for this event.

The temple of Poseidon in Sunion during August full moon

What's so important about the August full moon? There is a  modern Greek proverb that says Του Αυγούστου το φεγγάρι, παραλίγο μέρα μοιάζει(tou avgoustou to feggari paraligo mera moiazei) which means: The night of the fullmoon of August is almost like morning. This proverb is not far from reality cause the in August the full moon in the northern hemisphere is very low on the horizon and this makes it seem to be very close to earth so close that some people by instict stretch their hands to touch it. The proximity of moon to earth increases the light and makes the moon look like a sun. The whole night is like an endless dusk or twilight.

The ancient Greek calendar like many other calendars of the ancient world was lunisolar and therefore the moon phases were important for counting time.

Greek mythology has associated many deities with the moon.

A very known myth is  the  myth of Endymion and Selene, the moon (Selene) fell in love with a handsome young king named Endymion and bore him 50 daughters. One version of the story says that Selene placed Endymion in eternal sleep to prevent him from dying and to keep him forever beautiful.
This myth inspired John Keats to write his homonymous poem.

Another pre-Olympian deity associated with the moon was Hecate. Hecate was a cthonian goddess related with the darkness and the underworld(not with bad connotation).


Pasiphae was called the moon goddess of the Cretans.Pasiphae was an immortal daughter of the sun-god Helios. Like her two siblings, Aeetes and Kirke, she possessed the powers of witchcraft (pharmakeia). Pasiphae wed King Minos of Krete, and bore him a number of sons and daughters. However, as punishment for some offence against the gods committed either by herself or her husband, she was cursed with the desire to be coupled with the king's finest bull. The Queen conscripted the great artisan Daidalos to assist her in the endeavour, and he built for her a hollow wooden cow, wrapped in a bovine skin and endowed with mechanical life. Hiding herself inside this contraption she conceived and bore a hybrid child, the bull-headed Minotauros. Pasiphae's husband Minos also proved unfaithful. When the Queen learned of his indiscretions she cast a spell on him which caused him to ejaculate poisoned creatures and so destroy his lovers. Pasiphae herself, being an immortal, was alone immune. Minos was eventually cured by the Athenian girl Prokris who devised a remedy for his strange afflication.


Among the Olympians Artemis/Diana symbolised the moon. She was a twin sister of Apollo who was the god that symbolized the sun. Artemis' cult probably was imported from Minor Asia. She was the goddess of moon and hunting and patron goddess of the mythical Amazons.
Artemis. Notice the moon crescent on her forehead
There is not, perhaps any spectacle more enchanting than that of a clear night, when the moon shines in all her splendour and advances in silent majesty through the stars.Nature has at that time resigned the variety of her colours , and their shades have disappeared ,but the placid light shed on every object is perhaps not less attractive,whether it is reflected from the bottom of the smooth wave or illuminates the contour of the objects around.The summits of the mountains exhibit a splendid amphitheatre, while the woods below form a darker shade.The general calm that reigns the nature the solemn silence , so propitious to thought and solitary meditation, and which is only disturbed by the plaintive sounds of sorrow, or the tender accents of love, adapt the mind to every soft impression.
diodorus sicelus

sources: ,, ://

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