Monday, April 30, 2012

The ancient Guiness records

Extraordinary facts or deeds were always fascinating.Today all of them are recorded in the Guinness book of records. The ancients had also an interest over such deeds and some of them mentioned by ancient authors survived until today.

Highest price for a book
Aristotle bought Speusippos' books in exchange for three talents which corresponded to 77 kgs of silver.

The most expensive soap
Demetrius Poliorcetes spent 6.500 kgs of silver to buy soap for his mistresses
Giulio Romano "Meleager and Atalanta"

The most immoral work of art
The great ancient painter Parasius had painted a very realistic scene where Atalanta was having oral sex with prince Meleager.
Ancient Long Jump

The long jump record
The Spartan Kiones reached 17 meters

The most expensive fabric
The glowing flax was imported from abroad as it was originated from India. Its cost was similar as a pearl. It was so expensive because it was fireproof

The most luxurious deserts
It was those that Alexander the Great offered to his friends.They were little pieces of nuts, figs and other delights wrapped by golden leaves.The guests were eating the deserts and threw the gold away as if it was common garbarge.

The most tasty food
It was considered that the Ostrich brains and the skylark's tongue were delicious

The most severe punishment for a theatrical play
Frynichos presented in Athens a tragedy called The fall of Miletus(in 492 BC by the Persians). The play was so touching that everyone in the crowd burst into tears.However instead of being honoured Frynichos was punished to pay 1000 drachmas(equal to many salaries of a worker) for reminding the Athenians about this disaster.

The most precious mummy
It was Alexander the Great. After his death his corpse would be transferred from Babylon back to Macedon but one of his generals and later King of Egypt called Ptolemy stole Alexander's corpse mummified it and put it in a golden sarcophagus.

The best art model
Aphrodite the goddess of love was the most beloved theme of painters sculptors and potters.

The biggest reward for writting a judicial defence.
In the ancient courts the people who were judged weren't allowed to have lawyers so they hired rhetors to write their defence.The most expensive was a defensive rhetoric that Isocrates wrote in exchange for 20 talents which corresponded to half a ton of silver

The most expensive doctor
Cleombrotos from Kea received 100 talents for saving the life of the Seleucid king Antiochus Soter .

The most expensive dog
Alcibiades paid 700 drachmas for a large dog.(1 drachma was the daily salary of a skilled labourer)


The most expensive prostitute
The notorious Lais from Corinth demanded from the famous rhetor Demosthenes 10.000 drachmas for one night.Demosthenes shocked by the demands replied:With this price i am not buying nobody's guilts.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Cataclysm in the Greek mythology and the truth that it conveys.

Most of the ancient nations and mainly those of the middle East  have incorporated in their mythologies an account about a  global cataclysm.From the Sumerian epic of Gilgamesh to the Hindu puranic texts we see a common theme that suggests perhaps a historical reality of catastrophic regional floods which the people connected with divine rage or retribution.

The most famous of these stories is the Old testament story of Noah which i am sure most of the people know as all the three Abrahamic religions acknowledge it. In this post though, i am going to focus on the Greek myth about the cataclysm.

In all these cataclysmic stories there is a hero who is being favoured by the gods and survives in order to make a new start.The protagonists of the  Greek story are Deucalion and Pyrra who according to the myths later became the parents of Hellen(Greek). In some way we can say that Deucalion and Pyrra were cousins as their ancestors were the brothers Epimetheas and Prometheus with the latter being more known from the story where he stole the fire from the gods giving it to humanity and as a consequence he was punished to be bound eternally.
Deucalion and Pyrrha throwing stones behind them according to Zeus' orders.

In most of these stories the cataclysm is incited by the gods in order to punish humanity. In the Greek version Zeus the king of the gods was upset because during the time that Deucalion and Pyrra lived(according to those who tried to estimate the time it was near 1796 BC), everyone was disrespectful towards the gods.Thus one day it started raining unstoppably and the whole world was covered by water except some mountain peaks.

In the story of Noah we know that god ordered him to build an ark. In the Greek version we have Prometheus who was Titan consulting his son Deucalion to build an ark for him and his wife. Deucalion's ark wandered around the seas for only 9 days until he disembarked on the peak of mount Parnassus.While in Noah's story God doesn't interfere anymore after the beginning of the new life of Noah and his family in Deucalion's story Zeus send Hermes to ask whether Deucalion had any wish to make.Deucalion wanted more people cause he was feeling alone in the world.Then Zeus ordered Deucalion and Pyrra to start walking forward and throw stones behind them.The stones behind Pyrra became women and those behind Deucalion became men.

In the book "Noah's Cataclysm" the two geologists and authors of the book Walter Pitman and William Ryan supported a theory that the Cataclysm stories derive from a real massive flood in the Black sea.In 1999 Bob Ballard the person who discovered the wreck of Titanic explored the coastal areas of the Black sea and he ended up with the same conclusion that Pitman and Ryan made.
The Black sea was a lake before the alleged cataclysm.

According to the theory until before 7.500 years ago the Black sea was a lake. This is based on the discovery of shells that grew only in lakes and the geological analysis that showed an abrupt change in the geomorphology of the region that was caused by a huge event.According to Pitman and Ryan 12.000 years ago the ices started to melt and the sea levels started to become higher and higher ,this caused the sea of Marmara to put pressure and break the natural dam of Bosporus flooding the lake with sea water.

It was the Sumerians

Some theories suggest that the story of the flood of Noah is loaned from the Sumerian flood story. Therefore the Greek legend due to its similarity with the other stories was also taken from the East.Continuing with these theories it is suggested that the initial homelands of the Sumerians were around the pre cataclysmic Black sea. We don't know if the cataclysm was so abrupt and catastrophic as it is mentioned in most of the stories but it's sure that many people survived and went south towards Mesopotamia where they created the first urban civilization in history.

The Aegiis question

The Greek flood myth wasn't only one. There were two more floods that caused migrations of alledgedly pre-Greek populations. Plato states in Timaeus and Critias:
"Many great deluges have taken place during the nine thousand years, for that is the number of years which have elapsed since the time of which I am speaking; and during all this time and through so many changes, there has never been any considerable accumulation of the soil coming down from the mountains, as in other places, but the earth has fallen away all round and sunk out of sight. The consequence is, that in comparison of what then was, there are remaining only the bones of the wasted body, as they may be called, as in the case of small islands, all the richer and softer parts of the soil having fallen away, and the mere skeleton of the land being left."

As we see Plato mentions only islands remaining after a great flood that occured 9.000 years before his time.This may be another one of his "Atlantis" myths but it may also be based on historical reality.So here we come in a separate cataclysmic event from the Black sea. This flood occured somewhere between 12.000 and 11.500 BC a proximate date to the one that Plato suggests and was cause by the melting of the ice and the rise of the sea level.
the eastern mediterranean in 12.000 BCE. Notice the Aegean islands being connected in one and the Marmara and Black sea being lakes.

The flood of Dardanus

Dardanus was a mythical person who descended from the present day Arcadia in Greece. According to the myth he migrated with his family and settled in the north western Aegean. After a great flood only himself and his family survived by staying on a piece of land that would later be known as the island of Samothrace.
Samothrace on the top left was connected to the mainland according to the Dardanus myth.

My conclusion is that the theme of a universal flood exists only as an exaggeration by the storytellers. The historical evidence shows that indeed there were a series of regional floods in really distant times where writting was not still invented and all the populations were religiously biased.This resulted the creation of stories that included divine wrath and because they mentioned divine wrath it should be something big and intimidating in the fantasy of the listener. 

Paparigopoulos Istoria tou Ellinikou ethnous

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

hypnos: The god of sleeping

Hypnos and Thanatos the twin brothers

"Και γαρ τ' όναρ εκ Διός εστίν""But come, let us ask some seer or priest, or some reader of dreams—for a dream too is from Zeus"Homer,Iliad,A 63  

The God Hypnos(Sleep) ,according to the ancient Greeks was the twin brother of Thanatos(Death), the son of the Goddess Nychta(night) and Herebos.They imagined him as young, handsome with wings on his shoulders, making tired people fall asleep by sprinkling them with a branch drenched with oblivion or by watering them with a horn full of hypnotic essences.
Hypnos was really powerful.He was able to make all the people fall asleep and the gods too. He once made  Zeus the king of the gods to fall asleep after urges by Hera who wanted to intervene in the Trojan war.According to the story Hera visited the Greek island of Lemnos where Hypnos dwelled and pronounced him Archon(lord) of Gods and mortals in order to persuade him .Hypnos was doubtful about dealing with Zeus but finally he was persuaded by an offering to marry one of the three Charites(Graces), particularly Pasithei with whom he had fallen in love. Pasithei symbolized relaxation and rest, that's why she was desired by Hypnos.The plan went well for Hera.While she was seducing Zeus, hypnos appeared transformed as a bird and hypnotized him.

In Iliad (book 14,224-291)
There she met Sleep, the brother of Death; and she clasped him by the hand, and spake and addressed him: “Sleep, lord of all gods and of all men, if ever thou didst hearken to word of mine, so do thou even now obey, [235] and I will owe thee thanks all my days. Lull me to sleep the bright eyes of Zeus beneath his brows, so soon as I shall have lain me by his side in love. And gifts will I give thee, a fair throne, ever imperishable, wrought of gold, that Hephaestus, mine own son, [240] the god of the two strong arms, shall fashion thee with skill, and beneath it shall he set a foot-stool for the feet, whereon thou mayest rest thy shining feet when thou quaffest thy wine.”

Hypnos and Pasithei had children that were called Oneiroi(Dreams). The oneiroi were four brothers: Morpheus, Ikelus, Phobetor and Fantasus. The Oneiroi lived at the shores of the ocean(the ancient greeks believed that there was a single ocean surrounding the world). The Oneiroi were sending dreams to the mortals  via two gates. The one gate was made by Keratos and through it they were sending real dreams as warnings for real life conditions while through the second gate which was made of ivory they were sending fake dreams.

In Homer's Odyssey Penelope  says: (Τ 559-566 )

 “Stranger, dreams verily are baffling and unclear of meaning, and in no wise do they find fulfillment in all things for men. For two are the gates of shadowy dreams, and one is fashioned of horn and one of ivory. Those dreams that pass through the gate of sawn ivory deceive men, bringing words that find no fulfillment. But those that come forth through the gate of polished horn bring true issues to pass, when any mortal sees them .
Selene persuaded Zeus to make Endymion stay eternally young. So Zeus ordered hypnos to put Endymion in eternal sleep.

Hypnos features also in the story of Endymion. Endymion was sentenced by Zeus to eternal sleep and received the power to sleep with his eyes open. He was granted this trait by Hypnos in order to be able to constantly watch his beloved Selene(moon), according to the poet, Licymnius of Chios.

Morpheus: The name derives from the word Morphe(shape). His ability was to appear in dreams with any human shape.He was the only god who could intervene in dreams of kings and heroes and the only one who conveyed messages of gods to mortals through dreams.

Phobetor:His name derives from the word phobos(fear). He was the personification of nightmare and he could take the shape of monsters and scary animals.

Fantasus:His name derives from the word fantasia(Fantasy). He produced unexplainable and abstract dreams. He was the personification of fantasy and could take no living form.

Ikelus: He was adjusting the parts of dreams that depicted reality to make them more realistic

Monday, April 23, 2012

Who was Saint George

Today on April the 23rd all the christian churches honour the memory of one of the most popular saints of christendom . St. George was born and raised in the eastern part of the Roman empire during the reign of the Roman emperor Diocletian.

It was a time that christian persecutions had reached their climax as the imperial authority aknowledged only the pagan religion as the only acceptable religion in the empire. Saint George was a son to a Roman officer from Cappadokia and to a woman from Palestine.From their names(Polychronia, Gerontius) we conclude that they were both Hellenised.Besides the name that they gave to their son(Georgius) which means farmer in Greek.

Saint George served as an imperial guard of the emperor in Nikomedia.The emperor knew his father so he was glad to have his son serve him too. As we said above Diocletian was a sworn enemy of christianity and one day he issued an edict by which all the imperial guards who were christians would be executed and the rest of them would offer a sacrifice to a pagan god.

Saint George didn't hide his faith and in front of the emperor he renounced his edict and declared himself a christian. Diocletian who as we mentioned knew Saint George's father didn't want to kill one of his best soldiers and instead he attempted to convert him by trying to bribe him. However Saint George remained relentless.

As a result of all this Saint George suffered a martyric death from decapitation. His body was buried back in his hometown in Palestine.


The most famous legend of Saint George is the slaying of the dragon.According to the story the inhabitants of a city were threatened by a dragon that made its nest near the water source. So every time they had to take water they also had to sacrifice an animal or a maiden to lure the dragon out of its nest.Saint George stopped this by killing the dragon.As a sign of gratitude the whole city converted to christianity.

Saint George's veneration was widespread in the Roman and later the Byzantine East. His name and legends spread to the west with the return of the crusaders from the Holy lands. Nowadays he is patron saint of mant countries like England and Georgia but also of extinct countries like Genoa, Aragon and Catalonia.

                                                              Saint George in Western Art

                                          Saint George in Eastern art

Saint George statue in Georgia
Some eastern icons depict Saint George unmounted

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Images from the Ottoman Greek world of the early 19th century by Louis Dupre

Louis Dupre was a French painter, especially noted for his travels in Greece and the Ottoman Empire and his numerous paintings with Orientalist and Philhellene themes.
He often traveled and changed his work location, including Paris, Kassel, Naples, Rome, , Naples , Istanbul, Greece , Paris, and Vienna.

His visit to Greece was on the very eve of the Greek War of Independence.

Acropolis was inhabited during the ottoman times. The parthenon operated as a mosque

An Albanian of the early 19th century

A view of Ottoman Athens. Athens at this time was no bigger than a village.

An Athenian girl. Obviously from a wealthy Athenian family

the begining of the Greek revolution in Salona. Mitropoulos is depicted holding the revolutionary flag over the corpses of Ottoman soldiers.

A man from Ottoman Thessaly

A wealthy Armenian. Armenians were all spread allover the ottoman empire working mainly as merchants.

The grandchildren of the Vizier of Ottoman Janina(Ioannina)

Ioannes Logothetis. Prokritos(governor of Greeks) of Livadeia. After Greece was liberated he became governor of the island  Aigina

Ali Pasha was the Pasha(governor) of Epirus(western Rumelia).Greeks showed a sympathy towards him  cause as a native Albanian he used the languages(Greek and Albanian) of the native peoples of the area to interact with them.
During his rule a greek educational enlighment took place.At some point he turned his pashalik independent from Istanbul. This eventually cost him his life.

An Armenian of the Ottoman empire and his wife.

This was the most common outfit of the Greek revolutionaries during the Greek independence war. it was called foustanella.

Another one Ottoman Greek posing for Dupre

A Greek Orthodox priest on the left and a Turkish muslim priest on the right.

A Greek woman from Leivadia

An Ottoman Greek merchant

A Greek bride in Athens dressed for her wedding.

A Janissary who is part of the imperial palace guard in Istanbul and the gardener of the palace on the right.

A Mameluk sitting

Michael Soutzos member of a prominent Greek family from Constantinople. He became prince(governor) of Moldavia in 1819.

Princess Helena Soutsou

On the left a woman from Theba and on the right a woman from the outskirts of Athens

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The eighth archbishop of Canterbury

Theodore was born in 602 AD in Tarsus of Cilicia, a region of Byzantine Asia to a Byzantine Greek family.There are also other theories that suggest he was of Syrian descent or possibly from a Hellenized Syrian family.The wars between the Byzantines with the Sassanids and later with the Arabs made him flee from his homeland which was turned into a battlefield numerous times.

Theodore received high quality education in Athens. It is there that he was initiated in monachism.Again there are controversies about this part of his life as it is also suggested that he received education in Constantinople.To sum up he became familiar with Astronomy, Astrology, Roman law ,rhetoric and of course with religious studies.

In 662 he went to Rome.He became a monk in a monastery called "Ad aquas salvias". There he mastered Latin language and literature.In 668 pope Vitalian chose Theodore to fill the vacant position of the bishop of Canterbury.He was consecrated Archbishop on 26 March 668.

He became known with two names. First was St. Theodore of Canterbury.
 He arrived in England one year later escorted by Hadrian of Canterbury.During his trip he met with the former bishop of Wessex who was by then the bishop of Paris the situation of the church in England.His first actions as an Archbishop he appointed bishops and priests to fill many vacant positions caused by a plague that hit England which also caused the return to paganism of a large proportion of the population.He reorganised the territories of each diocese for better administration and he called the synod of Hertford in 664 by which some religious issues were confirmed like the proper celebration of Easter according to the Roman way and not with Celtic influences and the definition of the duties and authority of the clergy.

In 679 Theodore mediated to stop a war between Northumbria and the Mercians thus preventing further bloodshed.The same year he called the synod of Hatfield to confirm the decisions of the synod of Lateran(649) in which monothelitism was condemned.
He was also known as St. Theodore of Tarsus to indicate his birthplace

Among his reforms of the British church was a proposal of the division of the the large diocese of Northumbria.This brought him into conflict with Wilfrid the bishop of Northumbria. Wilfrid was deposed and  his diocese was divided. This conflict was not settled until some years before Theodore's death.

Undoubtedly one of Theodore's most important deeds as an archbishop was the opening of the school of Canterbury under the management of Hadrian.Theodore introduced a mix of GrecoRoman and ecclesiastical lessons for the education of the students.He also encouraged the monasteries and the dioceses outside of Kent.
St Theodore's grave in Saint Peter's cathedral of Canterbury

Theodore died in 690 at 88 years old, very very old if we consider the average life expectancy in the 7th century.

put your country on top

free counters