Monday, December 26, 2011

Saint Basil: The Santa Claus of the Greeks

Saint Basil the Santa of the Greeks.
In my previous post, it was explained who was saint Nicholas who has given his name to the Christmas father. The myth of Santa Claus as a pop figure has spread all-over the world even in non-christian countries. In Greece someone would expect him to be called saint Nicholas because of the Greek derivation of his name and because he is considered a saint also for the orthodox faith.

Paradoxically Santa Claus in Greek is Aghios Basilis(Saint Basil). Saint Nicholas is considered more of a protector of the sailors and less as a protector of kids. He has become something like a christian equivalent of Poseidon(Neptune). 

Let's see who Saint Basil was and why is he attested to possess the attributes of Santa Claus.
Saint Basil was born in Cappadocia a region of eastern Minor Asia(present day Turkey) in 330 AD.
His family were already pious Christians. He received Christian education at home but also attended lessons in the famous academy of Athens along with Gregory of Nazianzus an another great Christian father and Julian who would later become emperor and enemy of Christianity.
From left to right Saint Basil , Saint John Chrysostom and Saint Gregory of Nazianzus.
These three together are name as the Cappadokian fathers or as the three hierachs.
In 357 he travelled to Palestine, Syria and Egypt to study monasticism by living with other monks. He wrote books about what he learned there and these books are cosidered the basis for eastern monasticism.

He spent his years in Caesareia the capital of Cappadokia , trying to put down a spreading heresy called Arianism.In 370 he became a bishop and also an exarch of Pontus.From 370 and later there are many accounts about his charities and help of those who were in need. Previously he had already distributed all his wealth to the poor and as a bishop he founded an institution called Basileiada. This institution functioned as a hospital, orphanage and hotel for the homeless. The staff was composed of people who were volunteering.
Saint Basil finally died in 379 AD.

Saint Basil's deed to distribute his wealthy fortune to the poor children and later the foundation of the orphanage and constant help of underprivileged children made him the first Christmas father.

Saint Basil in Catholic vestments .
From a church of Prague.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Who really was Santa Claus?

Saint Nicholas(Nikolaos). His name meant in Greek: People's victory.
Nike=victory   laos=people

Santa Claus is the result of the merging of nordic traditions with christian traditions and in the recent years with the Coca cola promotion. The merging ingredients were to take the name of a christian saint associated with children and the mythological figure.But who really was (Ni)C(o)laus and why did he become a Saint?
The guy who wears the coca cola made outfit  possesses the attributes perhaps of Odin or an another mythical figure and bears the name of a christian saint.

Saint Nicolas was born in the 3rd century AD in a city called Patara in the region of Lycia in the hellenised Roman Minor Asia. His parents were christians and for many years childless. They considered Nicolaos' birth a miracle. From a little child he was already interested on anything that had to do with the christian religion.

Lycia was a region in the south west of Minor Asia. Myra was the city where Saint Nicholas became a bishop.

In a relatively young age he became a priest. He dedicated his life to praying ,virtue and advent. After the death of his parents he gave all his possessions to the poor.His compassion and help on anyone who needed it was one of the main activities of the saint.One of his deeds which is recorded is that he helped three girls to marry and have a proper life before being compelled by their father to work as prostitutes.
The Byzantine church of Saint Nicholas in Demre in Turkey. Nowadays it is a popular  destination for religious tourists.

During emperor Diocletian's reign the Anti-christian sentiment was strong. Saint Nicolas was imprisoned because he preached for christianity.During Emperor Constantine's reign Saint Nicolas became again a bishop. But he was later imprisoned again for assaulting a heretic priest during a religious synod.Later he was set free again by order of the emperor Constantine himself.

Diocletian was the last Roman emperor who persecuted Christians unsuccessfully.

Saint Nicolas was attested to have commited many miracles. He saved his city from starvation and that's maybe the reason that the Russians consider him the patron saint of agriculture ,  many times he saved ships from being sunk. This has also made him today as the patron saint of all sailors for the Greeks. For the Catholics as it is aforementioned he is considered the protector of children. His bones were located in Myra of Minor Asia during the Byzantine times until they were transferred  to the Italian city of Bari by the crusaders(They still remain there today). 

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Pythagoras: the philosopher who conveyed the wisdom of the East to the West.


When Pythagoras arrived in Croton, a city of Magna Grecia around 532 BC he found a society deeply hurt and dissappointed. The defeat of Kroton by an another city state the Epizephyrian Locris, represented the dismay in political and social level. The influence of Pythagoras and his impressive rhetoric which was addressing to the youth, were two factors that contributed in the increase of his prestige, making him one of the most important personalities of the city and of the ancient world.

In Kroton Pythagoras founded a philosophical school in order to ideally shape the society of Kroton as he wanted. Pythagoras was interacting mainly with aristocrats of the city and he became a spiritual and philosophical leader. Soon his disciples  would assume the leadership of the city. The influence of Pythagoras and his disciples on the matter of city administration would continue affecting later generations of leaders of Kroton and would render the city once again powerful.

The southern Italy was called Magna grecia(greater Greece) in the antiquity because of  the numerous colonies of the Greeks in the area.
The heresy as his school was characterized, because of what it was taught there it was converted into a new moral, religious ,political and scientific movement. The influence of the Pythagorean teaching and philosophy influenced also the fate and events of neighbouring cities of Kroton.One example was the utter destruction of the city of Sybaris(511BC) one of the wealthiest cities of the ancient world after a suggestion by Pythagoras to the leaders of Kroton. Nevertheless because of this suggestion Pythagoras and his students were highly criticized resulting his departure from the city. Pythagoras settled in an another Italian colony called Metapontion until the end of his life(480 BC)

Pythagoras was lucky to be born in Samos at the height of its power under the leadership of the tyrrant Polycrates. He was also even luckier his island to be near the city of Miletus where at the time lived two of the greatest pre-Socratic philosophers Thales and Anaximader.

Pythagoras was born in Samos a Greek island, between 580-570 BC . His father Mnesarchos was a successful and wealthy merchant was descended from one of the aristocratic families which formed the court of the famous tyrrant of Samos Polycrates. Pythagoras was accompanying his father in his mercantile trips having thus the opportunity to meet and learn about new cultures like the Phoenician and the Egyptian. In Tyrinth he attended astronomy  lessons by Babylonian priests. Later he was taught Geometry and Astrology by Thales and Anaximader. However the biggest influence in Pythagoras' education was Pherecydes. Pherecydes was the first Greek to adopt the eastern views of immortality of soul and second life which he conveyed to his student Pythagoras.Although some historians claim that Pythagoras' views on the immortality of soul were influenced by Egyptian priests.

The ahmes papyrus 
After the death of Pherecydes Pythagoras was impelled by Thales to turn towards the mystical Egyptian priests.Carrying with him a written recommendation by Polycrates to Pharaoh Amasis, Pythagoras achieved to be accepted as a student of the priests in Thebes. There he was initiated in all the Egyptian rituals and learned the Egyptian views about life and death. The Egyptians believed that many animals were sacred and their diet was as we would call it nowadays a vegeterian's diet.According to some historians Pythagoras had the chance to study the Achmes papyrus which dated back to the second millenium BC. This papyrus revealed through a mystical language some complex and perfectly developed mathematical theories which were unknown for the rest of the world.
After finishing his studies in Egypt he wandered all around the known world.At some point he became a student of Chaldean priests of Babylon who were masters of mysticism and astronomy. 
Carrying knowledge from all around the known world Pythagoras returned to Samos and became the teacher of Polycrates' son. However very soon their relations were worsened and Pythagoras left for Italy.

Pythagorean lifestyle

The registration of students in his school in Kroton was like a process of initiation into a secret society.The wannabe students were beginning their initiation process in the gym where they had to accomplish some tasks. Later they would participate in a symposium to answer some questions.Pythagoras was judging the candidate's appropriacy to enter the school not by the answers he was giving but by the physical reactions he had when the questions were posed to him.If the student was admitted  he would attend five years of lessons to complete the first grade of education(there were three grades). The students before entering the school were giving all their fortune to a group of students where they belonged. During the first grade of studies they were only allowed to listen what Pythagoras taught. 

A student's program began with gymnastics in the morning  and Pythagorean teaching in the afternoon.heir diet was strict. For lunch they were eating bread and honey and for dinner bread and vegetables. Before going to sleep every student had to consider what were his deeds of the day and what conclusion could he make.Only the third grade students were allowed to teach and tell about what they had learned.

Pythagorean teaching

The central doctrine of Pythagoras philosophy is based on the idea that "the number" is the essence of the beings. This philosophy derived from the interest of the Pythagoreans in music. They believed that the harmony of music was related to mathematical analogies. The "number" was the beginning of everything for the Pythagoreans. Some numbers were considered sacred for the Pythagoreans. One example was the geometrical construction of 10. (1+2+3+4=10). Another famous theory was the Pythagorean theorem

The Pythagorean moral theory was the effort of the human transition to modesty and harmony. This required that the human would maintain some characteristics like prudence,confidentiality,quietness, respect,patriotism, denial of wealth , justice and valour.Friendship had an important position in moral teaching.This was proved by an incident where someone asked Pythagoras "What is a friend" and Pythagoras answered "It's the other me"
The famous Pythagorean theorem
According to Pythagoras the soul is immortal an is located somewhere between the brain and the heart.As it is aforementioned he also believed in life after death.According to Pythagoras' reincarnation theory the soul of the body that had a pure life would go to heaven and unite with god but if the soul was impure, it had to re enter to a body until it would be cleansed  from sin.
Pythagoras honoured only Apollo among the Greek gods. He was often referring to him as father. He believed in demons whom he thought to be pure souls that wandered on the skies. The strongest being for Pythagoras was god and he was represented by the number 1.

The teachings of Pythagoras included mathematical philosophical and geometrical theories that made him notorious in the ancient world influencing the Greek science and philosophy. Besides, every time he was asked "What are you?"  he responded "I am a philosopher". His philosophy was the way of life would determine the salvation of someone's soul.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Celts and Greeks. The acquaintance of two cultures. (Part 2)

The invasion of Macedon
A fifteenth century French depiction of the death of Ptolemy Keraunos while fighting the Celts. Note how the artist has portrayed all the combatants as if they were contemporary French knights, right down to the plate armor.

The collapse of the kingdom of Lysimachos(one of the successor states of Alexander's empire), the military weakness of the kingdom of Macedon after many wars against other successor kingdoms and  the campaign of  Pyrrhus' army to Italy(Pyrrhus and the Epirotes were the only allies who could provide assistance to Macedon) were favourable factors for a Gaulish invasion in Macedon. Thus during the winter of 280 BC three armies of Gauls followed by their families, invaded the Southern Balkans.The first army moved towards Thrace. The central army under the leadership of Brennos and Acichorius invaded Paionia. The western group under the leadership of Belgius invaded Dardania and later Macedonia.

The Macedonian king Ptolemaios Keraunos treated the ambassadors of the Celts with contempt. He underestimated the strength of the Gauls and attacked them with a small army that he had available as he had previously let the rest of his army spend the winter with their families. The battle resulted as a  tragedy. The Macedonian army was annihilated and the king himself fell dead in the battlefield.

The road was now clear for the Gauls to loot Macedon. Luckily for the people of Macedon the Celts didn't have siege knowledge and they were all protected behind the walled cities.However the countryside was ravaged by the Celts. 

Finally an old Macedonian general called Sosthenis achieved to make Belgios withdraw to the north.Although Belgios' army left Macedon  Greece was not relieved from the Celts as the central army hearing about the riches of Macedon(probably from the withdrawing army) gave it a try and invaded Macedon too. Sosthenis once again took the responsibility to deal with the new invaders. He adopted skirmishing tactics which proved to be disastrous for the Gauls thus making them leave Macedon.

The invasion of Southern Greece 
The area where the Celts invaded in Greece. The Aetolian territories on the left. You can also see Thermopylae . Exactly south of Thermopylae was located the  oracle of Delphi which was the primary target of Brennus.

The central army of Gauls under Brennus and Antichorus instead of retreating towards the north as Belgius did, they moved towards southern Greece.The Thessalians reached an agreement with Brennus that they would let him pass through their land unless he wouldn't damage their farms and fields. The rest of the Greeks formed an alliance to confront this threat with the exception of the Peloponnesians who were feeling safe under the Corinth channel.

The Greek army was consisted of 30.000 of whom 11.000 were Aetolians ,10.500 were Thebans(Boeotians) ,3.500 were Phokeis ,1.500 were Athenians,700 were Lokrians and 400 Megareans.In addition Antiochus the Seleucid king and Antigonus Gonatas(grandchild of Antigonus the general of Alexander the Great) sent each 1.000 mercenaries in their efforts to assume the role of protector of Greece.

Although the Greek army was strong in numbers they were divided on the matter of leadership.The Aetolians and the Boeotians who had contributed the most(in numbers) in this army were debating over the leadership. Eventually a  compromising solution was achieved by giving the leadership of the army to the Athenian general Kallippos. 

Kallippos put the Greek army behind the river Spercheios thinking that the Celts wouldn't be able to cross the it because of the strong current.However the Celts found calm water and achieved to get across. The Greeks regrouped in Thermopylae.The Celts who numbered 40.000 men were not able to use the strength of their cavalry as the battlefield was so narrow. Their infantry attacks were all easily repelled. 

Brennus cleverly sent a part of his army to invade Aetolia to force the Aetolians withdraw and weaken the Greek army.Brennus' plan was successful as the Aetolians left Thermopylae.Then he sent another contingent of his army through the mountains to hit the Greeks from the rear. This was exactly the same tactic that Xerxes used 200 years earlier against the 300 Spartans of Leonidas who held the narrow pass of Thermopylae.The Greek army was saved by the Athenian ships who transferred them to a safe ground. 

In the same time the Aetolians achieved to repel the Gauls from Aetolia with the assistance of the Achaeans(north western Peloponesians). Brennus set as his target the Oracle of Delphi which was rumored to contain many riches. The oracle was a vulnerable target as it was defended only by 4.000 Aetolians ,Phokians and Magnites. Miraculously the defenders were able to stop the 40.000 strong Gaulish army. Both sides suffered heavy casualties. Brennus died either from serious injuries or because he commited suicide. The Gauls pursued by the Greek counter attacks suffering from the bad weather went to the north where they were divided again in two groups.The first one under Acichorius returned back to the Danube region and the second under Comodoris went eastwards towards Thrace.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Celts and Greeks. The acquaintance of two cultures. (Part 1)

Areas of exapnsion of the Celtic Greek and Phoenician language

The ancient Greeks knew about the existence of Celts since the 6th century BC. It was the time of the second Greek colonization during which the ancient Greeks founded colonies in the Western Mediterranean.

Massilia(Nowadays Marseilles in France) was the first Greek colony which developed contacts and diplomatic relationships with the Celts in Gaul. These relations were from time to time either peaceful or hostile. The ancient Greeks considered the Celts among the nations with the largest population in the world. They also created myths about the origins of the Celts. According to one tradition, the Cyclops Polyphemus and the Nereid Galateia were the parents of Galatis(meaning Gaul the ancestor of Gauls) while in an alternative version Hercules who wandered in Western Europe was the father of Galatis.

The ancient Greeks were using two names for the Celts: Keltai and Galatae. The names derive from the Celtic language meaning probably strong, valiant or prominent.

The place where the Celts originated from, was Southern Germany. From there , they expanded and until the 5th century BC they had settled allover the western Europe. During the 5th century they invaded  the Po valley in Northern Italy and drove back the Etruscans. In the beginning of the 4rth century they invaded further into the Italian peninsula and sacked Rome(390 BC). The Romans never forgot this and when they rose to power and conquered the Gaulish lands they treated the Celts with ferocity. The Celts also expanded towards the East reaching even the Northern shores of the Black sea.

The founding of Massalia

Gyptis the daughter of a local Celt chieftain chose Protis as her husband giving him the right to establish a new Greek colony. 

Protis a leader of Greek colonists , while exploring for a new trading outpost or emporion for Phocaea, discovered the Mediterranean cove of the Lacydon, fed by a freshwater stream and protected by two rocky promontories. Protis was invited inland to a banquet held by the chief of the local Ligurian tribe for suitors seeking the hand of his daughter Gyptis in marriage. At the end of the banquet, Gyptis presented the ceremonial cup of wine to Protis, indicating her unequivocal choice. Following their marriage, they moved to the hill just to the north of the Lacydon; and from this settlement grew Massalia.

Celtic mercenaries in Greece

The physical appearance of the Celtic warriors was intimidating for the Ancient Greeks  whose average height was shorter comparing to the Celts.

In 369 BC during a war between the Thebans(Boeotian alliance) and the Spartans, Celtic mercenaries appeared for a first time in the Greek battlegrounds. They were hired and sent by the ally of Sparta the tyrrant Dionysos ruler of the Sicilian city of Syracuse. The Celts numbered 2.000 warriors including horsemen. They proved to be exceptionally brave and caused many casualties on their enemies. In 368 BC Dionysos sent again a new army of Celts from Gaul  whose help was crucial for the Spartans to achieve many victorious battles .

Alexander the Great and the Celts

In 335 BC  Alexander the Great campaigned to the areas around Danube in order to secure his northern western border before invading the Persian empire. After he defeated many of the strongest tribes of the region most of the rest of the weaker tribes sent emissaries to offer alliances and peace treaties. Among them there were also representatives of Celts from the Adriatic. During the meeting with the Celts Alexander asked them what is the thing they were most afraid of . They answered that they fear the possibility of the sky falling on their heads. Alexander misunderstood this phrase, but for the Celts it was a symbolic ceremonial phrase by which they were expressing their commitment to the agreement with Alexander. This tradition is continued until nowadays when it comes to Celtic oaths.

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