Ancient, Byzantine or 70s domestic fallout

Artefacts can pop up anywhere in Greece – sometimes even digging up the back garden or snagged on a fishing line. I imagine the same can be said of many countries bordering the Mediterranean. Their earth has experienced the ebb and flow of successive civilisations. Discarded or lost, daily indispensables of yesteryear when resurfaced become mementos of a disconnected past.

Catching up with my widowed grand-aunt many, many years ago she gifted me with the fragment remains of a broken bowl. To remember my grand-uncle by, she had said. It came to him on the bank of the ancient canal in Potidea. He had this great spot there where the fish could be relied on for a meal or two. Occasionally his line brought up curiosities that weren’t edible. Take this one, she said. I thanked her for her wonderful gift and took her word that the fragment was old – αρχαίο and precious.

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Top view of my artefact

But how far a throwback is it really? Snagged in a canal built by the Ancient Macedonian King, Cassander; fortified by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian (c.482-565CE); reinforced by the then Byzantine overlord of Thessaloniki, John VII Palaioligos in the early 15th Century CE; and finally redug in the 20th Century, my memento’s hiding place has experienced the traverse of many epochs and today graces a lovely beachside town but when is it from? Questions.

What can be gleaned from just looking at it?

So, I’m of the mind that any pre-existing style can be copied by later generations. I needed to find the earliest possible example of its style to limit how old it could be but not forgetting that its style could have been copied as lately as yesterday.

Fragment showing foot of the fragment.


Fragment showing foot of the fragment.

It’s made from a red clay. It has an incised design etched into its surface that is brown among larger planes of highly glazed ochre/mustard. The design is floral displaying rosettes/spirals and leaves arranged in a cross pattern with arcs opening away from the central motif. I suspect that it’s a repeating pattern but the entire motif is lost. Its most striking curiosity is that it’s glazed only on the inside. The outside of the bowl is both undecorated and unglazed.

Its earthy tones remind me of dinnerware from the 1970s – but they were glazed inside and out. The lack of an outside glaze would be frowned upon by a modern day housekeeper. Fine as an ornament for dusting, how many cycles in the dishwasher could it go without cracking or discolouring? And if not the dishwasher – how well would the outside of it clean after being stacked on top of other such bowls with the curried remains of dinner potently leaving their mark? With modern-day obsessions with hygiene and high standards of cleanliness, unless it was made for decoration I think it must be genuinely old.

Under side of my ceramic fragment. Red earthen ware with no glaze on the exterior of the bowl and no makers mark.
Under side of my ceramic fragment. Red earthen ware with no glaze on the exterior of the bowl and no makers mark.

Beneath the foot there is no,”Made in China” sticker attached with super adherent. Nor is there a country of origin, Greece, Hellas or anywhere else stamped and baked into the ceramic foot. Nor is there any monogram or maker’s mark as are on other byzantine ceramic fragments on display at the Istanbul Archaeology Museum.

It doesn’t look Ancient Greek and its patterning isn’t intricate nor colourful enough to bring Ottoman Iznik ceramics to mind.  So I targeted Byzantine ceramics for my search. The design looks like sgraffito, a technique used by Byzantine potters but its colour is baffling. The majority of sgraffito Byzantine bowls and plates I found on pinterest had a cream background with splashes of green and yellow pigment.

Finally something caught my eye. The reminiscent but unbroken bowl is owned by the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and is described thus on Pinterest:

Red earthenware covered with a white slip with incised decoration of five gyrating bands within a medallion under a yellow glaze.  Found in a tomb at Kertch in the Crimea. Byzantine (Probably Crimea) 12th – 13th Century. Museum Number 141-1908

How does a bowl from the Crimea turn up in Northern Greece? Could a trade vessel have gone down the Bosporus through the Dardanelles, the Thracian Sea and thence to Thessaloniki dropping its load or some of it in the canal? But why would a foreign vessel pass so close to the mainland? According to Wikipedia, Russian and Serbian Orthodox Monks/Scribes moved to the nearby holy mountain, Mt Athos, in the 1070s AD – a reason to be carrying Crimean crockery so close to Potidea?

The Victoria and Albert Museum have other examples of Byzanitine sgraffito worked bowls with this colouring that hail from Constantinople in the 12th – 14th centuries. They can be seen here (13th-14th C) and here (12th-13th C). Perhaps it isn’t so old and exotic as the Crimea, 1000 years ago. Perhaps it is only 800 years old and from Constantinople? Looking further across Pinterest I came across this look of ceramic made in Thessaloniki in the 14th century, pinned from the British Museum’s Byzantine Legacy collection.

Where and when and by whom was it made?

I’m satisfied that it’s style is probably Byzantine from sometime between and including the 12th-14th Centuries. Of course it may have been made anytime after that, copying the older style. It looks closest to the Crimean bowl in colour, texture and etching style so although Constantinople and Thessaloniki are closer in proximity to Potidea where it was found, I can’t help thinking of it as Crimean. The fact that it doesn’t bare a monogram hints that it may not have been thrown in a renowned ceramics workshop. It was made for daily use by the Byzantine everyman.

Whether it is just a 70s recreation or truly is a piece of medieval crockery I’m really pleased to have it. When next I’m in Greece, I might have to make the time to go fishing in Potidea. I may just snag myself another mystery – no crock.

My Pinterest enquiry:

https://www.pinterest.com.au/craftytheatre/ancientmedievalbyzantine-pottery/

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How ancient is αρχαιο ?

Aρχαιο is a word bandied about in Greece a lot. I don’t mean by historians or archaeologists but by the lay person  It’s a glamorous word. It’s impressive and esoteric and marks a place, statue or artefact as important. Technically it means ancient but does it always mean Ancient Greece?

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Tower ruin outside Olinthos – it’s ancient, or is it?

Greece has a very long history of habitation by people expressing different cultures: pagan, Christian, Muslim.  Wherever you visit, if you indulge the locals they will regale you with stories about their place’s monuments, topography, churches, ruins etc. Not all of the ruins are well documented. Their history may be filed away in an archive somewhere with nary a signpost to explain why a tumbled down tower has been allowed to stand. A local yarn may be as good as you’ll get.

Chalkidiki in northern Greece has many towers I’m told. On the road to the αρχαιο, yes-if-really-is ancient, archaeological site at Olinthos stands the recalcitrant ruins of a tower. I’m told that it’s αρχαιο.

I’m also told that once upon a time it was the lookout tower for Olinthos. Sentries would be posted atop to watch the sea for pirates or foreign invaders. Sounds convincing? Hmm… I found no mention of it in all of the information on display at the archaeological site. Maybe it’s not that much, αρχαιο?

I’m told that, once upon another time when a polis was being attacked, the queen was spirited away through a subterranean tunnel system that ran from the city to the coast via this tower. But which queen, in which era? And how long was the tunnel system? Was Olinthos the starting point or was a settlement further inland? And did the tunnel reach the tower all the way at Nea Fokeas?

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Tower overlooking Nea Fokeas, Chalkidiki – is it ancient? byzantine?

Did you know that it’s said that one αρχαιο king actually buried his treasure beneath one of the towers? Truly, what I’m telling you sounds a little far fetched even to me, especially when you consider that night, that summer, when Johnny was coming back from the club and came off his motorbike right through that lower window. Johnny said that the tower was full of hard dirt – his head can testify to that. No treasure, no tunnel. Local lore needs to satisfy the ever expectant tourist.

If the locals can speculate, why not I? So…if you were to light a beacon on the battlements of the tower at Nea Fokeas could a sentry atop the Olinthos Tower see it? And if not Olinthos what about that Byzantine ruin in the beach at Potidea? And from Olinthos could it be seen further inland by Galatista? Could these towers have been part of a beacon relay from Thessaloniki to Constantinople?

Leo the Mathematician (c.790-869CE) was said to have developed the beacon system that spanned Asia Minor from Constantinople to the Cilician Gates and warned the capital of an invasion within an hour of its sighting. Leo was the Metropolitan of Thessaloniki between 840-843 CE – why wouldn’t he instigate a warning system for his city, the second city of the Empire? Theassaloniki does have that old, dare I say αρχαιο, iconic White Tower – what more could it be appropriate for? Could all of these towers be that old? Where are the other towers in Chalkidiki?

When in doubt consult the internet.  The White Tower of Thessaloniki is an Ottoman construction over the site of a Byzantine tower mentioned in medieval literature. The tower at Olinthos is the Tower of Mariana and displays a cross in the configuration of its brickwork, on its far side. And it’s Byzantine. No mention of who Mariana was, if she was a queen, when she lived nor whether she had to escape a siege through a tunnel. As it stands it was built in 1374 – too late for Leo.

The tower at Nea Fokeas is also Byzantine, St Paul’s, after the monastery complex on which it stands . It also overlooks the sea. Did St Paul visit it? When was it built? Is it connected by subterranean passage or merely styling to Mariana’s Tower? Built originally in 1407, it too, is too late to be from Leo.

The ruins in the beach at Potidea may or may not be part of Byzantine fortifications built in 1407 by Ioannis VII Palaiologos – the same year as St Paul’s! The other tower further inland at Galatista is also Byzantine. Together, could they all have been part of a later warning system?

Speculation, hearsay and local lore – heart warming hearth stories feeding the need of history devouring holiday-makers! They should probably be taken with a draught of ale, mug of hot chocolate or dragged out slowly overlooking an Aegean beach with a bottomless frappe on the table.

Occasionally local traditions can inform history. Have you heard the one about baklava?

What’s in a name – Macedonia?

Macedonian Boules Masks

Macedonian Boules Masks, a longstanding cultural tradition with its roots in resistance, worn today in cultural festivities and I imagine during Apokries (Mardi Gras).

Recently, and again and again during the twentieth century, the people of one of Greece’s northern neighbours have been claiming Macedonian heritage, history and ultimately Greek coastline (the prized port city of Thessaloniki), when they insist on being called Macedonian. They claim identity with Alexander the Great, the Greek speaking Macedonian King who worshipped the Ancient Greek Gods and spread his Greek language and religion throughout the lands that he conquered. The Greek people are infuriated by this and rightly, threatened. By making these claims they are laying the ground work for a “taking back” of ancient pride and territory to give to their modern day selves.

Over two thousand years have elapsed since Alexander the Great lived. In that time there have been many waves of people through his birthplace – Romans, Bulgars, Slavs, Turks. The region has shifted from being centred around Ancient Pella and within the boundaries of modern day Greece further north to include not only Greece’s second largest city, Thessaloniki but further afield, encroaching upon Albania, Bulgaria and the former Yugoslavia. Can any of these nations justify expansionary dreams by claiming ancient custodianship? The Greeks claim the Macedonian name and history as their own via their custodianship of the Greek language over the millennia and belief that there have always been Greeks living in Macedonia. Why wouldn’t Alexander be Greek?

Do the people of FYROM (the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonian) have a leg to stand on? Did all of the Ancient Greek speaking, Greek god worshipping peoples identify themselves as Greeks (Hellenes)? What of the ancient Macedonians themselves? Alexander’s tutor was the philosopher, Aristotle, who despite being born in Northern Greece (Stagira) and writing in Greek is never referred to as a Macedonian. Did Aristotle consider himself to be a Macedonian?

Could the Ancient peoples of Macedonia have spoken and written in Greek but identified themselves with a different culture? If they did, how is it that it has escaped our notice? There were Greek speakers who may not have identified as Greeks. Was Cleopatra Greek – her first language – or Macedonian, by descent from Ptolemy, or was she an Egyptian queen, as she is remembered today? How about the Seleucid’s of Syria, who like Cleopatra were descended from one of Alexander’s generals and spoke Greek? Were they Macedonians? or Greeks? When the Jews celebrate Hanukkah are they commemorating a victory over the Seleucid Greeks or the Macedonians?

What of the Greek speakers of city states outside of the Greek peninsula that Alexander didn’t conquer? What of Syracuse and its most heralded citizen, Archimedes? What of the Ancient Greek speaking explorer from what is now France, Pytheas of Massalia?   Did they consider themselves Greek? Today, when we learn about them in school, we are told they were. Are we retrospectively giving them an identity they would find preposterous?

Can any group of people make claims on a modern nation by justifying ancient descent?

Even if the people of FYROM had a strong claim on ancient Macedonian culture, could having an Ancient Greek heritage give a foreign city or country or foreign group of people the right to make claims on the land and culture of the modern Greek nation? Alternatively, does this give the Greeks an excuse to claim Egypt, Syria, Israel or France as a part of Greece? The idea is ludicrous.

When it comes to language the people of FYROM need a strong argument (or more correctly apology) for they don’t speak Greek. But Alexander did. Their language is said to be related to Bulgarian. The coming of the Bulgarians into the Balkans is documented. It’s AD/CE. Greeks love to call them Slavs. The coming and settling of the Slavs in the area, down to Arcadia is also documented, its AD/CE. If only the Byzantine Empress Irene (752-803CE) could talk to us about the kids on her Athenian block when she was growing up. Or why and whether she incited her successor, Nikephoros I to re-Hellenise the Balkans in the 9th century CE as a consequence.

The problem with arguing for or against Macedonian descent is an ignorance on both sides of the history of the area and settlements and resettlements of ethnic groups in and out of it since ancient times. Early Roman, Byzantine, Ottoman and 20th Century political history should be taught in schools on either side of the debate. An ancient civilized race would have had to have existed in isolation to not have a blended heritage by now.

Today, the people of FYROM can express a much more modern culture that has similarities to their Greek Macedonian neighbours- their music (clarinet, gaeda-bagpipe and drum), dance (boosnitsa/sykathistos), wedding traditions, palette (burek/pita), religion (Orthodoxy) and resistance under the Ottoman regime. Relations could be incredibly warm if it weren’t for this obsessive fixation. But do they have any claim to the ancient name and the heritage, Macedonia?

Alternatively, if the Ancient Macedonians were Greeks, why did they call their nation Macedonia?

There is a problem with identity when applied to the Ancient Greeks. They were too fiercely independent to ever be regarded as a nation. They were always independent city states – no matter what part of Arcadia, the Aegean or Mediterranean coast they settled on. They were Athenians, Spartans, Corinthians, Delians, Ephesians, Thessalonians, Samians, Syracusans and Macedonians etc. They all revelled in the same kind of art, philosophy, science/mathematics, religion and language.

Ancient Greek culture has a parallel in modern cultural practice versus identity. If we were to consider the way an alien anthropologist would look at the world today and have to take back a clear understanding of Earthlings to her/his planet, how would s/he categorise who we call Australians, the British, Americans, New Zealanders etc? I mean the predominantly English speaking world? Could s/he call us all English and relate us back to the modern nation on the British Isles as her people? Do we not all share the same language? Yes, but … Language is not enough it seems to define a culture.

Could our alien anthropologist categorise us by looking at what we do with ourselves? Are we not majority consumerists? Does the majority not watch blockbuster American movies and video games? Do the majority receive our information on chiefly American designed/owned technology – phones, social media, news? Does the majority practice secularism over our stated religion – or lack thereof? Do American-styled-owned products dominate our households? Could our alien anthropologist then describe the English speaking world as American? We may baulk at this idea but the similarities are great.

Going back to the Ancient Greeks, after the death of Alexander and the dissection of his dominion, they would never see themselves as one Greek nation spread all over the known world. Their broad culture and language was Greek and they held this in common. They could easily trade, read Homer, worship and celebrate together. But their administration was different. And they would be able to tell each other apart. A Macedonian was as different from an Athenian as a Brit is from an American.

Moving forward in time a thousand or more years, wouldn’t an American feel threatened if Cuba changed its name to Florida? What if the Republic of Ireland changed its name to Cornwall, would the English object? And would what Aussies say if Papua New Guinea were to rename itself, Queensland or Kiwis’ if Australia decided to call itself New Zealand? I think they would all object as the Greeks do today over the attempts at stealing the name, Macedonia.

 

 

Recovering Palimpsests

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I’m thrilled! The future is here! The speculation of yesterday is the modus operandi of today!

Early on in my blogging life I pondered the loss of Menander’s comedies. How could the works of possibly the most influential comic writer in antiquity have all disappeared? They had for a thousand years or so. Then they were rediscovered on an Egyptian palimpsest early in the 20th Century. I mused whether a technique would ever be developed whereby ancient Christian texts could be examined for early writings hidden within without damaging the visible texts. What was the dilemma? Why Christian texts in particular? It has a lot to do with the censoring/destruction of pagan culture by the Byzantines when they embraced Christianity in the 4th Century AD. With papyrus being such a commodity, I speculated that it would be washed and reused.

Well, they’ve done it! A scientific technique has been employed. Archaeology (1) reports on archaeologists using modern technology to read ancient texts overwritten in the 8th Century AD at St Catherine’s monastery on Mt Sinai. Those Byzantine monks didn’t wash out the texts but scraped them off. Now there is a machine that can read what was there before. Ancient overwritten texts can now be recovered and transcribed for our edification.Who knows how many hitherto forgotten texts will reemerge. It’s very exiting.
Perhaps Menander’s work, his comic brilliance will reemerge in its original brilliance sooner than expected!!!!!

‪(1)  http://www.archaeology.org/issues/207-1603/features/4155-egypt-monastery-palimpsests‬

Coming up soon – Flaxen Stripes’n’Reedy Crowns, I begin to wind up my series of posts on making the Nemes Crown of the Pharaohs.

1. What Authorship Question: Homer, Who, Shakespeare?

In my previous post I posed the question, could a computer differentiate between episodes of Dr Who that were under the artisitic guidance of Russell T. Davies and those of his successor, Steven Moffat. Supposedly a computer can recognize the hand of Shakepeare in Early Modern Literature. Actually, faith in such programs is so fervent that they are being used to pinpoint exactly which bits of Shakespeare, Shakespeare actually wrote and which bits belong in the chops of a horse.

Now, if you were writing this post and I was reading it, my immediate reaction would be that TV and Early Modern Playscripts use different storytelling techniques. That TV guides the majority of the viewer’s responses to a text through its clever use of mise-en-scene, editing, casting, and special effects. A playscript is a raw thing, yet to be basted and baked on a stage. The theatre’s audience, more difficult to lead. Computers can count words, their forms and usage in early modern texts: what are they to measure in an episode of Dr Who? An impossible comparison.

What if the arena were to be circumscribed? Could an essential parameter box in the ring? Could we take this parameter to be the writer’s underlying world view? To my mind there is an issue with counting words and their usage: the writer as an artist. The writer may have a preferred style, but doesn’t it change at all over the course of their writing careers? Doesn’t style develop over time? over experimentation? over admiration of others’ works? over response to their own? What of vaulting a mindblock or orchestrating a conceit?

Shakespeare isn’t the earliest writer to have his penmanship questioned. Homer shares the stigma with him. Homer has left two great epics, The Illiad and The Odyssey. Like Shakespeare, there is little of his life on historical record. We dont know the year or circumstances of the creation of either of his works. They are so different in style and content that it is believed that they must have been written at the beginning and the end of his career if he were to have written both of them. This begs the question, where are his transitional works?

Statue of Homer in Munich

Statue of Homer in Munich

While The Illiad is a concentrated recount of the skirmishes of the last battle of the Trojan War, the Odyssey is a narrative of Oysseas (Ulysses) ten year-long journey home. Immediately we see a different approach to the treatment of the passage of time between the texts – one is broad ranging the other, very particular. In The Illiad, Homer identifies the players in the war through their families, allegiances, achievements and relationships to a particular god. The gods themselves are part of his narrative. No warrior is a statistic. No warrior fights alone. There is a sense that this history is told to honour the generals, the soldiers, their families, their communities and their gods. A pious reverence pervades the text. Those who will read him, will honour his gods and the gods will hear them.

The Odyssey is a different kind of yarn, spun and pulled out over the course of ten years. It could easily be retitled, Odysseas’ Seafaring Advenures. Unlike The Illiad, it focusses on one protagonist. This is Odysseas tale. It’s an ancient melodrama, romance, and thriller. But not a history. Odysseas is clearly the hero. The goddess Athena takes a personal interest in his domestic situation and his return home. She serves him. The goddess serves the mortal! Not to say she was a serving woman but this is not a war of nations.

There is a more light-hearted approach to The Odyssey. The family histories and relationships of the characters sailing with Odysseas are not given. The story is meant to move forward sprightly, and it does. It can be suspenceful and is engaging.The story of Odysseas’ journey is almost a story within a story. Yes, Calypso tells the tale but within the story of Telemachus and Penelope (his son and his wife respectively), the wanderings of our hero are a play within a play. There is a huge leap in innovation where storytelling is concerned.

Most importantly, the mindset, the attitude of the writer of The Illiad is very different to the attitude of the writer of The Odyssey, when it comes to the sanctity of life. There is a concern for the soldiers and a weight over their loss in one and a feeling that the sailors are mere pawns in the world of a good story in the other. In one, there is a sense of a battle veteran writing, in the other a good imagination. Were they from the same pen?

Statue of Homer, Munich

Photo credit: Source / CC BY-SA

2. Voila! Silenus Spoila?

He had the legs of a goat, the tail of a horse and a magnificent and outstanding phallus. Silenus the satyr, like Pan, has a very long association with the theatre, particularly comedy. He raised Dionysus, the god of wine and theatre and is best remembered for his love of indulgence and mischief.  Comedy is said to have arisen out of the hijinks of satyr-figures like him in villages and at harvest festivals(1). It’s not hard to imagine men dressed as satyrs running through crowds and processions with their horseplay. When St John Chrysostom (349-407 C.E.) wrote his homily on  I Corinthians (2) he was aghast at the goings-on at pagan weddings. He disparaged the night-time parade of bride and groom through the city streets with its requisite singing of licentious songs, dancing, music, carousing and laughter. Were his ministrations provoked by a myriad of merry-making Silenus’ bobbing through the streets? Did their glorious masculinity, ribaldly heralding the consummation of the marriage compact, offend him? It was a pagan world.

Satyr, Thasos Archaeological Museum

Satyr, Thasos Archaeological Museum

Silenus and his satyrs were institutionalized very early in theatre history.The first theatres were built on hillsides, where goats grazed freely and Dionysus was worshiped in adjacent sanctuaries. The earliest chorus leaders were said to have worn goat’s heads. Looking like goat-men, their ceremonial origins weren’t lost. Was it during a religious ceremony, revering the goat that both fed and clothed him, that Thespis broke away from the singing supplicants and addressed them? Becoming the first actor, he created the first audience.

When the dramatic festival, the Dionysia, was given in Athens, the competing playwrights had to give three tragedies and a satyr play as entry into three days of dramatic competition. A day of procession preceded. The only surviving, complete, satyr play, The Cyclops, was written by Euripides. It’s a satire poking fun at the mythology that was treated so seriously in the tragic plays. Its chorus is made up of satyrs and its chorus leader is Silenus. Menander’s comedy, O Dyskolos, also features a satyr, Pan. When you consider costuming in ancient comedies – the masks, the micro-mini tunics, the elevated footwear, and the ostentatious phalluses, the link to Silenus with his cloven feet, forthright phallus and sensuousness is obvious.

Archaeological Travel guides to Thasos

Archaeological Travel guides to Thasos. The Silenus Gate, featuring a 2.4m high relief statue of Silenus is featured on the left

On Thasos there was a stong cult of Silenus. Up on the hillside there remains ruins of a temple to Pan. In the oldest part of the archaeological site Silenus enters the city through large stone walls, the Silenus Gate. This is the best preserved section of the ancient city. Here successions of inhabitants built over and extended residences of previous ages. Their progress can be traced in the masonry. The brickwork became smaller and more refined as time progressed. The Ecole Francais D’Athens’, Directory of Thasos, pictured above, describes how single story dwellings became double, roads were added and the neighbourhood spread. Missing from the monumental gate is its overhead lintel stone. If it had survived we would walk beneath a massive stone. Would it have carried carvings? In Argos, a citadel of comparable masonry sports a pair of lions over its gateway.

The Lion Gate with its monumental lintel, from the Citadel at Argos, Greece.

The Lion Gate with its monumental lintel, from the Citadel at Argos, Greece.

Would the Selanus Gate have been adorned with goats?

Co-incidentally, in another part of the Island about 2 km inland from the Agora, a small Christian chapel can be found amidst tired, olive groves. It too, is built of stone bricks.

St Marina's Chapel, just a few kms north of te Ancient Agora of Thasos.

St Marina’s Chapel, just a few kms north of the Ancient Agora of Thasos.

It too, features a rather small creature with cloven hooves, horns and a tail. A  goat-man. He, too, has been associated with wanton desires and incontinence. He is not a pagan god, however. He is a Christian devil. He is bestial desire and wantonness. He is temptation. He is what St John Chrysostom preached against. Was he once a satyr? Selanus? Was this once his place? How old is it, St Marina’s Chapel? Is it old enough to be pagan? Was it his, before it was hers?

Icon stand, St Marina's chapel. The needlework cloth depicts St Marina holding a hammer that she used to pummel to death a devil who tormented her when she was in prison.

Icon stand, St Marina’s chapel. The needlework cloth depicts St Marina holding a hammer that she used to pummel to death a devil who tormented her when she was in prison. The devil has worn away in the icon in the chapel.

The fixtures inside the chapel are definitely not ancient, but then they aren’t as permanent as the building itself. St Marina’s lintel is a riddle. It looks ancient and out-of-place with the rest of the brickwork. Does being ancient preclude being Christian? Could those goats really be sheep, and so symbolic of Jesus flock? Early Christian archaeological features found on Thasos have included this capital:

Early Christian Capital found on Thasos

Early Christian Capital found on Thasos, Thasos Archaeological Museum

Could the chapel have been demolished and rebuilt? Was the lintel part of the original structure? It’s hard to tell for a layperson. Could the lintel be spoila from the archaeological site? If so, it isn’t the only Christian Church that’s taken pagan, architectural features and recycled them.

St Marina's Lintel. Notice the difference in the brickwork and the lintel. The goats too, seems to have been exposed to the elements more than the shelter of this chapel allows.

St Marina’s Lintel. Notice the difference in the brickwork and the lintel. The goats too, seem to have been exposed to the elements, more than the shelter of this chapel allows.

Another possibility is that the site was pagan. That the shepherd who guarded this flock revered Pan, the goat-man That the chapel was built to subsume the site into the Christian faith. That by dedicating it to St Marina, the satyr would now be re-imagined as a devil. The presence of the icon of St Marina killing the satyr, is a strong symbol of the tenacity of Christianity over the pagan worship of Olympian Gods. Were the early Christians trying to make a point? Did it always belong?  Or is it just spoila from the Temple of Pan? Or a vestige of what the chapel was earlier in its history, Christian or pagan?

One thing it definitely isn’t, is the lintel to the Silenus Gate.

 Traditional Icon of St Marina, from St Andrew’s, Constanta, Romania
the bubu / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

References / Further Reading

(1) Hartnoll, Phyllis, The Theatre: A Concise History, Thames and Hudson, 1985, The Greek and Roman Theatre.

(2) Clark, Elizabeth A., Women in the Early Church, Michael Glazier Inc., 1983, Volume 13:Message of the Father’s of the Church, p.71

Mc Gilchrist, Nigel, “McGilchrist’s Greek Islands”, Genius Locii Publications, London, Volume11: Thasos.

Ecole Francaise D’Athens, “Odigos tis Thasou”, Galliki Scholi Athinon, 2012, Vol 3: Sites et Monuments. There is no English translation of this book. The original is in French. I have referred to the Modern Greek translation.

1. Voila! Silenus Spoila?

When you have only read about ancient civilizations, you can only understand so much. Photos and footage will help you, tricking you into believing you have a good idea. Being there, walking through a town that was once inhabited is an experience of its own. Walking in and out of shops with their residences no longer on the floor above, or down a road defined today by its storm-water gutters, just like ours are, brings their daily lives into our sphere of understanding. What separates us from them? Is it merely technology? The realities of their lives are the realities of ours. But they’re dead. They’re anonymous. Their concerns have been silenced.

As you wander through the vestiges of their lives, their silence is palpable, oppressive, contained. It’s a directive, an order. Stop. Perceive. Smearing wheels over dirt roads are muffled and consumed. The mythic monster, Yesteryear, is a jealous, posturing tyrant. Engage only with it. Engage with the bustling noise of a city trying to penetrate through ether masquerading as air. Did you hear its hum? It’s in the breeze. Turn around fast enough and you may see them. Did you catch them? Did the sky steal them away? The sky belonged then as it does now. Time and the sky. Cronus and his father, Ouranos, fraternize, conspiring to keep us and their ancient supplicants in separate cells. Cells woven with silence, contained in the compression of tymbals. Any warp is perpetually mended with the laboured ticking of the cicadas. It’s a love song heard then and now.

The Kouros statue from the Sanctuary of Pythian Apollo, now in the Archaeological Museum of Thasos

On Thasos, the ancients daily interaction with their gods resounds through the archaeological site.  Nigel Mc Gilchrist, author of a series of books for travellers to the Greek Islands, describes Thasos thus:

“most valuable of all, is the vivid picture it gives of how the Ancients sensed that a network of divine presences with different areas of influence participated in, and watched over the daily life of their community. Dionysus caroused with the artists, performers and drinkers in the thick of the town; Apollo watched from the lofty height of his temple, way above the city; and Pan sometimes kept company with the lonely guardsmen on the highest look-out posts of the acropolis, when the autumn mists descended. This is the unusual gift of Thasos – that it presents not just a multitude of ruins, but the living texture of an ancient city and its whole imaginative world.” (1)

 

The ancient drain, to the right of which was the two story building.

The ancient drain, to the right of which was the two-storey building.

The ancient town of Thasos now at Limenas was walled. It stretched from the present day archaeological museum and up the hillside to the cliffs. It had two ports, a series of lighthouses leading to them, boat drying sheds, two theatres, jewellery workshops, a farmstead, potters workshop, an agora, shops, double storey residences, shrines and temples. Within the length of the walls are several gates, dedicated to various ancient deities. One of these is dedicated to Silenus.

Head of Silenus, in the Archaeological Museum of Thasos

Silenus, in the Archaeological Museum at Thasos

 

Reference

(1) Mc Gilchrist, Nigel, Mc Gilchrist’s Greek Islands, Volume 11. Thasos, Genius Loci Publications, London, pp 10-11.

 Photo Credit

The Kouros statue from the Sanctuary of Pythian Apollo, now in the Archaeological Museum of Thasos – Panegyrics of Granovetter / Foter / CC BY-SA

The “thing” I do in Greece

When I visit Greece I have this, “thing,” that I do. I can’t help myself, I have to do “it.” If circumstances prevent me from doing “it”, I sulk silently, within. It’s just a little peccadillo. I feel somehow robbed if I can’t. So, as often as possible I do, “it.” I find myself an ancient amphitheatre and I photograph it.

I’ve photographed one in Larissa, and one on Delos.

Amphitheatre on Delos

Amphitheatre on Delos

In Delphi …

Amphitheatre at the ancient oracle, Delphi

Amphitheatre at the ancient oracle, Delphi

In the Peloponnese . . .

Epidaurus

Epidaurus

And in Athens, the Theatre of Dionysus . . .

The Theatre of Dionysus, South Slope, Acropolis, Athens

The Theatre of Dionysus, South Slope, Acropolis, Athens

Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides and Aristophanes did not see their plays produced in this amphitheatre. Their time preceeded the stone stage. Their plays were produced on a wooden stage, perhaps at this very spot, but without the elaborate skene indicated by the row of decorative sculptures at the far end of this structure. Their protagonists would have shared the semi-circular performance space, the orchestra, with the chorus. This theatre is from a slightly later period when the actors treaded upon the front section of the skene (scene), the proscenio.

Theatre of Dioysus, the actor's view into the audience

Theatre of Dionysus, the actor’s view into the audience, featuring the “orchestra” ie the performance space

This theatre is situated on the southern slope of the Acropolis in Athens. It served the city of Athens, it’s said, for 1000 years. Below it, is the Temple of Dionysus, above it can be seen the fortifications that surround the Parthenon and Erechtheion. The much later (Roman), and still in use, Odeon of Herodotus Atticus, is a short way away on the walk to the summit. From the Orchestra, we see the koilon, the seating for the audience. It’s the seating of this theatre that bring the Ancient Greeks a little closer to us.

Proedria, reserved seating for officials and priests

Proedria, reserved seating for officials and priests

The best seats in the “house,” the proedria, were reserved for dignitaries. Some of their names can be still seen carved into the marble. They remind me of the patrons/sponsors plaques on the chairs of my former, high school auditorium.They are the ancient equivalent of the member’s stand or the royal box. These were, of course, the front row.

Farther up and along the path to the summit you will encounter a statue of Menander. He, the greatest writer of New Comedy, had his plays produced here. If you have the time, climbing the Acropolis from the Southern Slope, you will get a better sense of the value of drama and music to the Ancient Greeks and Romans, from the number of buildings dedicated to their appreciation there.

Further Reading

Greek Amphitheatres

http://www.greektheatre.gr/constr.html

Southern Slope of the Acropolis, Athens

http://www.greece-athens.com/place.php?place_id=30

2.To Thasos with Shakespeare to guide us!

Could Shakespeare have understood John Gower’s, “Tharse” to mean Thasos when he wrote, “Tharsus” into Pericles? In my previous posts, beginning with, Shakespeare’s Tharsus: Thasos or Tarsusthrough to my last post, I have reasoned why I think that Shakespeare had a particular time period (the Graeco-Roman world), Empire (the Seleucid) and settings in mind when he retold this much loved Medieval-Byzantine tale. Gower, in his translation of an earlier re-telling, perhaps French, uses different suffixes in his place settings than Shakespeare does e.g., ‘Pentapolis,’ in Shakespeare, is “Pentapolim,” in Gower. Shakespeare chose the Greek suffix over the Latin. Was he deliberately hellenising “Tharse?” With Shakespeare’s renowned biblical knowledge, he would have recognised the difference between biblical, “Tarsus” and Gower’s, “Tharse”.

If he meant, “Thasos,” how well did he know the island? Well enough to have gone there? Following Richard Roe’s lead, I looked for the details specific to the island that would answer this question. Richard Roe also provided a logical explanation for the presence of any Englishman in the North Aegean from the late 16th Century – there was an English Embassy and merchant – trading company in Constatinople from this time.(1)

Having previously compared Cleon’s description of the island, its wealth, the ancient marina and his imagined residence, with the present archaeological site on Thasos, I will now focus on Marina. After Dionyza has Marina’s maid killed, Marina goes to her grave with flowers.

“No. I will rob Tellus(2) of her weed.

To strew thy green with flowers: the yellows, blues,

The purple violets, and marigolds,

Shall as a carpet hang upon thy grave,

While Summer-days do last.”

Act IV Scene I, lines 13-17

Thasos - violets growing wildly in the archaeological site.

Thasos – violets growing wildly in the archaeological site.

Photographing violets in the archaeological site was easy, they were growing wildly in abundance. Being so small, I thought I’d include larger, wildly-growing violets from the neighbouring mainland, Macedonia, in Northern Greece. The island shares its geographical features.(3) Marigolds are a common feature in Aegean gardens.

Wild Violets of Macedonia

Violets growing wildly in Macedonia, Northern Greece

Although I didn't see any marigolds growing wildy on Thasos, they are a very popular flower in Greek gardens. These are Maro's marigolds, grown not too far away from Mytilene.

Marigolds growing in the garden of another North Aegean Island, Lesvos. Today, marigolds are a common feature in many Greek gardens.

 After Dionyza has ordered the death of Marina, she taunts her husband, Cleon, for his disapproval of her actions thus:

“…Be one of those, that think

The pretty wrens of Tharsus will fly hence,

And open this to Pericles. I do shame

To think of what a noble strain you are,

And of how coward a spirit.”

Act IV Scene IV, lines 21-25

From Wikipedia, we may guess that the type of wren that is being referred to is the eurasian wren. This rings true as the eurasian wren nests in coniferous forests and Thasos was named for just forests (4).Wrens are also mentioned by ancient writers such as Plutarch and Aesop. Shakespeare may be referring to Suetonius here in using the wren to forewarn Pericles of his daughter’s supposed death. Suetonius used a wren to forewarn Julius Caesar of his own. Shakespeare thus knits his work closer to the Graeco-Roman world.

Troglodyte mignon Troglodytes troglodytes - Eurasian Wren

Eurasian Wren

Although the specific details relating to Tharsus are few, they have a resonance with the island of Thasos. Noteably, they don’t exclude Thasos from being, “Tharsus.” There are probably wrens in Tarsus, and yes, there is an archaeolgical site there, and it is hard to imagine Thasos, or any ancient Graeco-Roman site, to have had towers, but the geography of Pericles’ voyage better fits Thasos. Shakespeare was accurate in his foreign details, just as Richard Roe said he was. Did he go there? The historical record has many gaps. Pericles is regarded by many as a collaborative text. Did his collaborator visit the island or the North Aegean? By looking closely at Shakespeare’s texts and regarding them from the point of view that the author(s) had travelled abroad, we may get a clearer picture as to whose hand(s) held his quill.

Photo Credits

Eurasian Wren

Footnotes

1. According to Wikipedia, the first English Ambassador to Turkey was William Harborne (c1542-1617). He served as Ambassador from 1583-1588. He was serving the interests of the Levant Company.

2. Tellus was an Ancient Roman earth-mother goddess.

3.”Something of the greenness and spaciousness of Macedonia is distilled in Thasos. Its effect is more intense for being concentrated within the circumference of an island.”

Mc Gilchrist, Nigel, McGilchrist’s Greek Islands: 11. Thasos,Genius Loci Publications, London, 2010, p.9.

4.Grandjean, Yves and Salviat, Francois, Odigos tis Thasou, Ecole Francaise D’Athenes, 3:Sites et Monuments, Sanidas, Yiorgos and Argyri Artemis (trans.), 2012, p.19.