Steven Fry is a lover of Hellenic mythology and ancient Hellas in general. I've featured his words before on this blog, abide in an entirely different context and I will gladly do so again now. Fry has narrated a selection of Hellenic myths in "Mythos."

Fry has selected a small group of stories. They derive mostly from Hesiod’s Theogony (the birth of the gods and the creation of the first few generations of humans), Apuleius’s Latin novel The Golden Ass (Cupid and Psyche), and Ovid’s Metamorphoses (Arachne, Midas, Echo and Narcissus), as well as Homeric Hymns to Demeter and Hermes. They deal respectively with the abduction of Persephone and the theft by the newborn Hermes of his big brother Apollon’s cattle. There is no index, so there are more I have not yet listened to.

So far, I am greatly enjoying the audio book version of Mythos. Harry Potter fans on this side of the globe know very well that Fry does very well with audio books and he brings both a distinguished and humorous feel to the myths with which I am very familiar. I don't like all of his interpretations as he falls victim to stereotypes sometimes (Hera "hurling china ornaments at feckless minions," Ares "was unintelligent of course, monumentally dense"), but on the whole, it's a good, entertaining read. Official blub:

"rom the birth of the universe to the creation of humankind, Stephen Fry - who fell in love with these stories as a child - retells these myths for our tragic, comic, fateful age. Witness Athena born from the cracking open of Zeus's great head and follow Persephone down into the dark realm of Hades. Experience the terrible and endless fate of Prometheus after his betrayal of Zeus and shiver as Pandora opens her jar of evil torments. The Greek gods are the best and worst of us, and in Stephen Fry's hands they tell us who we are. Mythos - smart, funny, and above all great fun - is the retelling we deserve by a man who has been entertaining the nation for over four decades."

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Do you remember me telling you about Greece's "dragon houses"? Did you know Greece also boasts "dragon lakes"? They're known as a Drakolimni (Δρακολίμνη) and are most likely an Ice Age remnant, but of course the local lore is much more interesting.

The alpine or sub-alpine lakes are located in northwestern Greece, in the Epirus region. The ones in mountain Tymfi and Smolikas are the most widely known. Lake Drakolimni is located on Mt. Tymphi, under the peak Ploskos, at an altitude of 2,050 meters. It covers an area of about 5,000 square meters. Mt. Smolikas' dragon lake (Lygas) is located on a 2,200 meter elevation on Greece’s second highest mountain, Smolikas. It occupies an area of approx. 3,000-4,000 square meters.

Local legends claim that two large dragons living here. One lived on Mt. Tymphi and the other one on Mt. Smolikas. Every day they quarreled and threw massive rocks at each other, which fell into the lakes and were transformed into white rams and black sheep. The lake on Mt. Tymphi is inhabited by a species of alpine newt (Ichthyosaura alpestris) called drakakia by the locals (Δρακάκια) and resembles a small dragon, giving the lake its distinctive name.

I should mention that the dragons of ancient Hellas had very little--if anything--to do with the fantasy dragons we are so accustomed to now. The ancient Hellenes knew four types of dragon: the Drakones, the Ketea, the Khimaira and the Drakaenae. For more information and images of these lakes, go here.
The first English translation of The Odysseia (or Odyssey) appeared around the year 1615. After several centuries and 60-odd English translations of the ancient Hellenic epic, Emily Wilson has made history as the first woman to ever tell the story of Odysseus and his arduous journey home in the English language. Her translation is apparently "lyrical, radically readable, and as politically relevant as ever."

Composed around the 8th century BC, the Odysseia is one of the oldest works of literature and tells the story of Odysseus, the king of Ithaca, as he tries to make his way home from the battlefields of the Trojan war. As a woman, Wilson believes she comes to the Odyssey with a different perspective than translators who have gone before her. In a recent essay at the Guardian she said:

"Female translators often stand at a critical distance when approaching authors who are not only male, but also deeply embedded in a canon that has for many centuries been imagined as belonging to men."

She called translating Homer as a woman an experience of “intimate alienation.” She calls herself uncomfortable with the text and part of her goal with the translation was to make readers uncomfortable too — with the fact that Odysseus owns slaves, and with the inequities in his marriage to Penelope. Making these aspects of the poem visible, rather than glossing over them makes it a more interesting text, according to Wilson. Wilson chose to use plain, relatively contemporary language in part to invite readers to respond more actively with the text.

"Impressive displays of rhetoric and linguistic force are a good way to seem important and invite a particular kind of admiration, but they tend to silence dissent and discourage deeper modes of engagement. There’s an idea that Homer has to sound heroic and ancient, but that idea comes with a value system attached, one that includes endorsing this very hierarchical kind of society as if that’s what heroism is."

While Wilson’s language is often plain, it’s also carefully chosen. The slaves in older translations of the Odysseia are often not identified as slaves at all. Wilson, by contrast, uses the word “slave.”

“It sort of stuns me when I look at other translations how much work seems to go into making slavery invisible. The need to acknowledge the fact and the horror of slavery, and to mark the fact that the idealized society depicted in the poem is one where slavery is shockingly taken for granted, seems to me to outweigh the need to specify, in every instance, the type of slave.”

Recent events have led to a widespread debate over how audiences should consume the work of people we know to be abusers of women. This is intertwined with the question of how we should consume art that has racist, sexist, or otherwise bigoted elements. Wilson’s translation is not a feminist version of the Odysseia. It is a version of the Odysseia that lays bare the morals of its time and place, and invites us to consider how different they are from our own, and how similar.

"Part of fighting misogyny in the current world is having a really clear sense of what the structures of thought and the structures of society are that have enabled androcentrism in different cultures, including our own. The Odyssey, looked at in the right way, can help readers understand those structures more clearly. It offers a defense of a male dominant society, a defense of its own hero and his triumph over everybody else, but it also seems to provide these avenues for realizing what’s so horrible about this narrative, what’s missing about this narrative."

Wilson, a professor of classical studies at the University of Pennsylvania, has also translated plays by the ancient Greek playwright Euripides and the Roman philosopher Seneca. An excerpt ran in the summer 2017 issue of the Paris Review.

I have not read the translation yet. I plan to, if only to see if my initial dislike after reading the full article will lessen if I do. Wilson is a professor of classical studies. I have to assume she isn't as clueless as to regard slavery in ancient Hellas in the same light as, say, slavery in the 18th and 19th century. I have written a long blog post about this and I won't go into it again, but her words irk me. The same is true when she speaks of Penelope, Odysseus' wife. The article states:

"Penelope is a frustrating character — it’s not entirely clear why she doesn’t simply send the suitors away or marry one of them, and the poem offers limited access to her thoughts and feelings. Wilson didn’t try to make Penelope easier to understand — “the opacity of Penelope,” as she puts it, is one of the aspects of the poem she wants to trouble readers and make them uncomfortable."

I have also written a long blog post about marriage in ancient Hellas and the roll of women in it. Penelope belongs to Odysseus. Until he either comes back or is confirmed dead, she is stuck in the limbo of a marriage to a missing husband. She cannot marry another man and as a woman in her husband's house, she cannot send these men away because of the commitment of xenia. This is basic understanding of the ancient Hellenic culture and I can't imagine Wilson doesn't know this. So why is Penelope's behavior uncomfortable to her (and why should it be to anyone else)?

I will withhold judgement until after I have read the translation. Has anyone read it? If so, could they tell me their thoughts? I'd be very interested in hearing it!
A team of archaeologists led by Francesco D' Andria has discovered the altar of the temple of Athena in the town of Castro in the province of Lecce in the Apulia (Puglia) region of south-eastern Italy. The Castro altar is similar to those found in Metaponto, a Lucanian city which has been the subject of systematic excavation campaigns which revealed the famous Hellenic temples and their altars in front of them. However, the Messapic altars were simple pits dug in the earth where the libations were burned and offered, whereas the one at Castro is a built altar not unlike like those of the Hellenistic (eg. Altar of Pergamon) and Roman (eg. Ara Pacis) periods.

Credit: Quotidiano di Puglia

The structure consists of well worked square blocks at least 6 metres long and two and a half metres wide and has yielded an impressive series of finds linked to the ritual sacrifices made to the goddess: bones of sacrificed animals and other objects which bear witness to the daily life in the sanctuary.
The castle of the Adriatic town has been the focus of successive excavation campaigns since the year 2000, which, in addition to the Messapic fortifications dating back to the fourth century, have now also identified the Sanctuary of Athena (Minerva) from which the ancient city received its name, Castrum Minervae.

The temple was said to have been founded by Idomeneus, who formed the tribe of the Sallentini from a mixture of Cretans, Illyrians and Italian Locrians (Central Hellenic tribe). It is known that this is the same temple dedicated to Athena Iliaca, the Trojan Athena, which Virgil mentions in the 3rd Book of the Aeneid when he talks about the arrival of Aeneas and his ships on the coasts of Italy.

The altar dates back to the second half of the fourth century BC and is contemporaneous to the cult statue of the goddess, found in 2015, and another small bronze statue found a few years earlier, both of which depict Trojan Athena, who wears a Phrygian helmet, as further proof of the connections of Castrum Minervae with the Aeneas myth.

The collection of finds, preserved in the Museum inaugurated in 2016 and housed inside the Castle, is now enriched with other important elements found in this season's excavations, including a beautiful bronze mask, of Tarentine style, also from the fourth century BC, which is perhaps a female figure with some sort of knot in her hair. It was probably a votive offering made to the divinity, as were also two terracotta heads, probably belonging to two female divinities, which were found just yesterday.
Only two of the six metres long altar have been excavated because the most of it is located under the road surface and in an adjacent plot of land, where - D' Andria is sure - lies the temple itself, which, in Greek worship, stood behind the enclosure where sacrifices were made.

D' Andria now faces the challenge of raising funds for the expropriation or purchase of those 300 square metres of private property, so that another excavation campaign can be carried out to unearth the foundations, perimeter and other elements of the sanctuary.
On the day of the Hene kai Nea, I post a monthly update about things that happened on the blog and in projects and organizations related to it. I will also announce Elaion's coming PAT rituals.

Changes to the blog:
  • Okay, I have to squeal a bit: I've hit a million views, which is pretty cool!
PAT rituals for Poseideon:
Anything else?
Are you looking for an online shop to buy incenses and other Hellenistic basics from? Try The Hellenic Handmaid on Etsy.

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A joint team of German and Egyptian archaeologists working at the Watfa site in Egypt's Fayoum province discovered an ancient gym that dates back to the Hellenistic period. According to Ayman Ashmawi, the head of the Ancient Egyptian Antiquities Sector, the gymnasium has a large hall for meetings that was once decorated with statues, a dining hall and a courtyard. Next to the gym is a 200-meter track. Researchers also found out that gardens had surrounded the building to complete an ideal layout of a center of Hellenic learning.

The site dates to a time when Egypt was ruled by Greeks after being conquered by Alexander the Great in the 4th century BC. Per Cornelia Römer, the leader of the team from the German Archaeological Institute, ancient Hellenic gyms such as the newly discovered gymnasium were typically private foundations by rich people who wanted their villages to become even more Hellenic in aspect.

​"The young men of the Greek-speaking upper class were trained in sports, learned to read and to write, and to enjoy philosophical discussions. All big cities of the Hellenistic world like Athens in Greece, Pergamon and Miletus in Asia Minor, and Pompei in Italy had such gymnasia. The gymnasia in the Egyptian countryside were built after their pattern; although much smaller, the gymnasion of Watfa clearly shows the impact of Hellenic life in Egypt, not only in Alexandria, but also in the countryside."

The experts estimate that when the village was first built all those years ago it housed a total of 1,200 inhabitants. Two-thirds are thought to have been Egyptian while the other third were Greek-speaking settlers. The gymnasium, roughly 50 miles from Cairo, sits inside the ancient village of Philoteris, according to a Facebook post from Egypt's Ministry of Antiquities. The post also indicates that the village, founded by King Ptolemy II in the third century BC, was named after his second sister Philotera.

This find is just the latest in a series of discoveries made by archaeologists in Egypt. Just last week another international team of researchers announced they'd discovered a "big void" inside Egypt's Great Pyramid of Giza. The German team, surveying and excavating at the Watfa site since 2010, has been working alongside the Ain Shams University.
"Khaire Elani, what are some of the ways you've explored your faith? I'm not adverse to academia, but from what you have shared, I feel that there is something inward informing your everyday experience.  A personal gnosis?"

I put a lot of stock in the Hellenic ancient sources, scattered as they may be, because while these were the accounts of one man or one woman, they were copied repeatedly, used in religious settings by many, and traveled the whole of Hellas. These weren't documents stuffed away in some guy's drawer that happened to be preserved for 2000 years; these were copied, copied, and copied again, and one of these many copies has survived to the present day (generalizing, of course). Luck of the draw. As such, we can assume that some of the documents (say, for example, the Orphic hymns) were read and repeated by many, and that is what makes them valuable. Homeros was a best-seller of his time, and that is why we still have access to his writings. People must have identified with what they read, or they would not have read it and carried it on. These sources are our primary resource for information about the Theoi and how to worship Them, but sometimes we also learn about Them through our own experiences. This is called 'Unverified Personal Gnosis' (or UPG, for short).

Ideally the term is used to label one's own experience as a new and untested hypothesis, although further verification from other practitioners or ancient sources may lead to a certain degree of verifiability. Personally, I try to go from Unverified Personal Gnosis to Shared Personal Gnosis to Confirmed (Personal) Gnosis. This is why the Hellenistic community in general is open to the sharing of UPG--generalizing here--because others may have had the same experience (which lends credibility to the experience) or references to source material with which the UPG can be confirmed. There is a certain degree of science about it, when viewed like this, but it requires the receiver of the UPG to be open about his or her experiences and accept the fact that this hypothesis may be false, or at the very least unverifiable. If this is the case, using the UPG for your personal practice is fine, but doling it out as the Holy Word and Ultimate Truth will not get you far.

I have a love/hate relationship with Unverified Personal Gnosis. On the one hand, I believe, with every fiber of my being, in the knowledge I have been made privy to by the Gods. I believe in my experiences and they are sacred to me. They run anywhere from synchronicious events to detailed biographies and some of them I will never share with anyone, they were that special. Throughout my practice, I have allowed UGP to push me forward in my path. Much of what I know, have done, or now practice is directly related to a UPG event, this blog included.

Without my UPG experiences, I feel I might have doubted the existence of the Gods much more than I do. I know They exist, because They have influenced my life and that of those I love on many occasions. The experiences I have had have been extremely humbling and they have shaped me. I don't actively seek out this type of gnosis--my practice relies almost solely on academic sources, which is how I like it. My UPG experience are only part of my practice in so far that they have instilled in me a deep love and respect for the Gods that is unwavering and life-long.