Friday, February 22, 2013

Spartan Myths

On 26 July 2008, at the Golden Dawn’s annual gathering at Thermopylae, one of the speakers said:
We look forward to the moment of great counter-attack, walking on the footsteps of ancient krypteia, which involved silent strikes, in the darkness and quietness of the night, against the city’s internal enemies.
Krypteia was the ancient Spartan rite of passage that supposedly involved going out at night armed with nothing but a knife and killing helots. The perceived militarism of ancient Spartan society has an obvious appeal for the Golden Dawn, as it did for the Third Reich and for Ioannis Metaxas, one of their heroes. . . .Read more of this piece by Yannis Hamilakis on the LRB Blog

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

On first looking into Whitaker's Homer

so Akhilleus raged with his assegai,
chasing, killing men; the earth ran black with blood.

Richard Whitaker has translated the Iliad into English with a South African inflection and given it a new kind of life. Translation the can be foundation of tradition. Is this the cornerstone of some splendid, new  Southern Edifice?

More to follow . . .


CULTURES OF EMPIRE: GREECE AND ROME by Robin Osborne in the New Left Review

The roman empire has long provided both a model for modern imperialism and a framework within which to think about it. Not only, as the Greek historian Polybius already observed in the second century bc, did the Romans take care to find reasons why every war of conquest was necessary to their national security; they also came to see themselves as a civilizing power, and to realize the power of civilization. [1] This makes it easy for scholars to write critiques or defences of modern imperialism into accounts of the Roman empire; in retrospect, it is hard to read any of the twentieth-century analyses—that it was defensive and non-annexationist, that it was motivated by greed, or that the Greeks got what they asked for—without reference to the authors’ attitudes to modern Western imperialism. [2] This makes it all the more important to find firm ancient evidence on which to ground contemporary historical analysis.. . .

"maniacal Roman perfection and incredible hydraulic technology"

Restoration of Roman tunnels gives a slave's eye view of Caracalla baths

In the middle of a patch of grass amid the ruins of the Caracalla baths in Rome, there is a staircase that takes visitors deep into the ground to a world resembling the lair of a James Bond villain.
"This is our glimpse at maniacal Roman perfection, at incredible hydraulic technology," said archaeologist Marina Piranomonte, as she descended and waved at a network of high and wide tunnels, each measuring six metres (20ft) high and wide, snaking off into the darkness.
The baths, on a sprawling site slightly off the beaten track in a city crowded by monumental attractions, hold their own against the nearby Circus Maximus, its shattered walls standing 37 metres high, recalling its second century heyday when it pulled in 5,000 bathers a day.
But for Piranomonte, it is the three kilometre, triple-tiered grid of tunnels that lies under the site – the first tract of which will open for visits this month – which really shows off how seriously the Romans took their sauna time.
An army of hundreds of slaves kept firmly out of sight of bathers scurried along the tunnels feeding 50 ovens with tonnes of wood a day to heat water surging through a network of underground channels that arrived via aqueduct from a source 100km away. Below that, massive sewers, which are now being explored by speleologists, flowed towards the Tiber.
"It's the dimension and the organisation that amazes – there is no spa as big as this anywhere in the world today," said Piranomonte.
Upstairs, Romans would kick off a visit with a session in one of two gyms, then enjoy a sauna and a spell in a hot tub in the 36 metre (120ft) wide, domed caldarium – slightly smaller than Rome's Pantheon. The tepidarium then beckoned, before a cool down in the frigidarium, a space so elegant its design and dimensions were copied at Union station in Chicago.
"The side room at the station where the shoot-out on the stairs is set in The Untouchables actually contained a large cold bath here," said Piranomonte.
To complete the experience, a pool 50 metres long and a garden complete with lending library flanked the baths. "The emperor Caracalla was cruel, but he built beautiful things," said Piranomonte, who is charged with the site's upkeep.
A thousand years after it was built, the ghostly ruins of the massive buildings were overgrown and abandoned. "Because it was on the outskirts of Rome, no one built on top of it and the tunnels were simply forgotten, probably sealed by undergrowth," she added.
Following their rediscovery at the end of the 19th century, Mussolini strengthened the tunnels when he decided to stage operas amid the ruins overhead, but Piranomonte was less than impressed with his handiwork.
"Look at the rain water trickling through; that's Mussolini's bricks leaking while ours are fine," she said, pointing to the perfect Roman brick arches disappearing into the gloom.
The reopening of a short stretch of the tunnels on 21 December caps a clean-up of the baths. The opera, which used the remains of the caldarium for a stage and kept a stage-set workshop in one of the saunas, has been shunted back into the gardens.
A €450,000 (£360,000) restoration programme also resulted in the reopening this month of an underground temple at the baths, linked to the tunnel network and dedicated to Mithras, the deity whose popularity soared just before Christianity took hold in the Roman empire. Entering the temple, which boasts black-and-white floor mosaic and is the biggest of its kind in the Roman empire, Piranomonte points to a frieze of Mithras holding a globe but missing his head. "Probably taken off by the Christians," she said.
A chamber flanked by space for spreading out on during banquets centres on a large pit where a drugged bull was placed on a metal grill and butchered. Below the grill is a small niche where an initiate to the cult would crawl to be drenched with litres of bull's blood. "It was a cruel cult, for men only, so you understand why Christianity got the upper hand," said Piranomonte.
Emerging from the temple, the archaeologist turns left and pauses before what she describes as her favourite part of the baths – an authentic Roman roundabout. A large arch leads to the entrance of the tunnel network, where carts carrying tonnes of logs would queue to enter to feed the ovens. Now fully excavated and restored, the tunnel starts with a roundabout that circles a guard's kiosk to stop traffic jam.
"A Roman spa with a roundabout," said Piranamonte, "That I find really fascinating."

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Lethal weapons may have given early humans edge over Neanderthals

Early humans wandered out of Africa armed with darts and arrows that made them formidable hunters and deadly competitors for any Neanderthals that stood in their way.
The revised version of the human story follows the discovery in South Africa of a haul of small stone blades or "bladelets" that formed lethal weapon tips, either for arrows fired from bows, or spears propelled from wooden throwers called atlatls.

Discovery of sharpened stone blades up to 71,000 years old suggests humans leaving Africa were armed to the teeth 

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The history of life, the universe and everything - visualised

This is a great visual tool . . .

How do you show everything that has ever happened? Everything. This visualisation from the Chronozoom project takes the biggest of big data - the universe itself - and makes it manageable, bringing videos, graphics and words together to picture the globe. If you roll over the scale at the top of the chart, click on origins of the modern world, jump to threshold and see just how we fit in.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Ancient History to Radiohead

I'm from Crete, I'm Minoan . . .

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Minoans in Western Asia?

While it has been generally accepted that the Philistines originated in the Aegean, new archaeological research from the Levant shows that they were not the first Aegean peoples to influence the area of Canaan. How strange that we've gone from a "legendary" Minos, to the excavation of the Bronze Age Minoan civilization, to a gradual confirmation of its thalassocracy, as described by the ancient authors . . .

Minoan Language Blog

Take a look at this very well composed blog on Minoan and other languages of the Early Mediterranean

Minoan Bull Leaper at the British Museum

A difficult and dangerous acrobatic feat, bull-leaping is frequently shown in Minoan art, and probably formed a part of ritual activity. The strength and potency of bulls perhaps lay behind their religious importance to the Minoans . . .

The Minoan Web of Mirrors & Scripts

The worship of solar deities was wide-spread among the cultures of the eastern Mediterranean during the Bronze Age (Marinatos, 2010). This was especially true for the Egyptians. After its first appearance in the archaeology on Crete some scholars noticed that the “horned appearing” Minoan symbol shown above was also the Egyptian hieroglyphic sign for mountain (djew). In the context of Egyptian cosmology this symbol stood for much more. It depicted the twin peaks set at either edge (horizon) of the world that supported the heavens allowing the sun to voyage across the sky from sunrise to sunset. . . .

Thursday, October 20, 2011

After nearly 3,000 years, does the “Iliad” really need translating again?

BLOODY but beautiful, is there a greater poem than the “Iliad”? Depicting a few weeks in the final year of the Greek siege of Troy, Homer’s epic glitters with bronze spears and the blazing sun. Rich with his famous similes and repeated expressions, it describes a war in which men can pause from fighting in order to speak of their family lineage in terms of “As is the generation of leaves, so is that of humanity”; in which Gods can yank warriors back by their hair or cover them in a cloud of mist if it is not yet their turn to die. It is both brutally realistic (once you have heard how Phereclus died by a spear through his right buttock into his bladder, you won’t forget it) and belonging to another world—as the Greek epithet for Homer, theois aoidos or “divine singer” suggests. It is no wonder that the “Iliad” is a text that people constantly turn back to, and continually translate. . .

 Read on

Alexander: How Great?

In 51 BC, Marcus Tullius Cicero, who had reluctantly left his desk in Rome to become military governor of the province of Cilicia in southern Turkey, scored a minor victory against some local insurgents. As we know from his surviving letters, he was conscious that he was treading in the footsteps of a famous predecessor: “For a few days,” he wrote to his friend Atticus, “we were encamped in exactly the same place that Alexander occupied when he was fighting Darius at Issus”—hastily conceding that Alexander was in fact “a rather better general that you or I.” . . .
Read on

Friday, October 14, 2011

Libyans battle to protect ancient treasures from looting

Walking along the tree-lined gravel track towards one of the Roman Empire's greatest architectural legacies, little can prepare you for what you are about to experience.
As you emerge from the shade of the tall poplars the towering stone edifice that guards Leptis Magna's approaches appears. It is simultaneously stunning and evocative. Like a blow to the sternum, it quickens the heart.
Septimus Severus's gate, a tribute to the Roman emperor responsible for much of what remains today, stands astride great Roman roadways. . .
Severus, like the country's most recent modern day ruler Moammar Gadhafi, spent lavishly on his hometown transforming it reputedly into the third greatest city in Africa, rivaling Carthage and Alexandria.

Read on 

Stone Age painting kits found in cave

The oldest known painting kits, used 100,000 years ago in the stone age, have been unearthed in a cave in South Africa.
Two sets of implements for preparing red and yellow ochres to decorate animal skins, body parts or perhaps cave walls were excavated at the Blombos cave on the Southern Cape near the Indian Ocean.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Alice Oswald: haunted by Homer

Alice Oswald thinks The Iliad has been turned into a public school poem that glamorises war. So she has rewritten it – with the footsoldiers as heroes. The poet explains herself to Sarah Crown . . .

Friday, September 23, 2011

Pompeii shows its true colours

When word spread to Britain of the sensational discovery of the Roman towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum in the 18th century, "Pompeiian red" became the favoured colour for smart dining-rooms – as it remains today.
But, it seems, it may be time to get out the paint chart. According to new research presented to Sapienza University in Rome last week, large swaths of the vivid "Pompeiian red" frescoes in the town actually began life as yellow – and were turned red by the gases emitted from Vesuvius as it erupted in AD 79.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

See this interesting blog on Minoan Culture

They could be the earliest Christian writing in existence, surviving almost 2,000 years in a Jordanian cave

A group of 70 or so "books", each with between five and 15 lead leaves bound by lead rings, was apparently discovered in a remote arid valley in northern Jordan somewhere between 2005 and 2007.
A flash flood had exposed two niches inside the cave, one of them marked with a menorah or candlestick, the ancient Jewish religious symbol.
A Jordanian Bedouin opened these plugs, and what he found inside might constitute extremely rare relics of early Christianity.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Cave of Forgotten Dreams

. . . a film that takes us on an eerie descent into an ancient cave to discover something strange, awe-inspiring and scary … Werner Herzog.This director has scored another remarkable success with this documentary, using 3D to accentuate the massive, sculptural forms revealed to his camera. He and a minimal crew were allowed into the extraordinary Chauvet cave in the south of France, named after Jean-Marie Chauvet, the explorer who in 1994 made a Tutankhamun-level discovery: hundreds of pictures of animals drawn with flair, sophistication and detail by Neanderthal (sic) man around 32,000 years ago.

Stone tools 'demand new American story'

The long-held theory of how humans first populated the Americas may have been well and truly broken.