FRED & BEV’S 2014 ODYSSEY PART 2
ATHENS, ACROPOLIS, PARTHENON AND THE GODS OF GREECE
ATHENS FROM 17th MARCH TO 25TH MARCH 2014
The name Acropolis was derived from the Greek Akro, high or extreme/extremity or edge, and Polis, city, translated as ‘High City’, ‘City on The Edge’ or ‘City in the Air’.
The day after we arrived in Athens from Thailand we visited the Acropolis. It was my first visit and Bev’s second. Bev visited it in the summer of 1972 before I met with her in Munich. When we were here together in 1972 we didn’t go up and I think it was because of the cost factor. Following is an extract from my diary for the 13th December 1972. We didn’t stay in Athens but a little way out and caught the train into the centre each day.
‘The bungalow is costing us fifty cents each per night and it includes access to a toilet and shower. There are no provisions for cooking so I have set up a cooking area in one corner of the bedroom. I have fashioned a table from a drawer from the wardrobe. I took the top drawer out and turned it upside down and pushed it halfway in. The gas stove sits there steady and there is still sufficient room for food preparation. We have stuck a map of Europe on the wall so we can see where we have been and where we are going. It seems a long way to Baghdad in Iraq but if we keep coasting as we have been I think we will make it.
We have decided to make the bungalow our camp for a week or so as it is conveniently located and there is music and dancing each night at the taverna nearby and joining in is rather fun’.
TUESDAY 18TH MARCH 2014. FORTY ONE YEARS AND THREE MONTHS LATER.
Both the Acropolis and the Parthenon are not included in the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Apparently they do not fit the criteria but after being there today I think they should be, the Parthenon especially, it really is an amazing construction. Gazing up at the towering columns got me to thinking how the ancient masons and workers actually got rock segments weighing tens of tonnes into position. The answer is simple…levers, pulley blocks, rollers and chains.
Parthenon’s history.Work began on the Parthenon in 447 BC to replace an older temple which historians call ‘Older Parthenon’. The Persians in 480BC destroyed the ‘Older Parthenon’. The Parthenon we see today began under the orders of Pericles who ruled Athens at the time, to show the wealth and exuberance of Athenian power to the world. It was dedicated in 438BC although work on sculptures and the pediments continued to completion for another six years. Three years after the Parthenon was completed Pericles died of the plague so he didn’t really get long to wallow in the glory of his work.
As would be expected, there were a number of architects working on the design of the Acropolis and Parthenon but sculptor Phidias (Pheidias) was in charge of the artistic matters and responsible for what we see today.
The modern graphical 3d image below is the work of Dimitrios Tsalkanis.
Thanks, Dimitrios, for allowing me to use your 3D image. Your web page is better than a hundred other pages I looked at. I recommend anyone going to Athens who intends exploring the ancient ruins to go to Dimitrios’ web page, shown on the image, in order to become informed and orientated.
The Parthenon, the Temple to the Goddess Athena, is quoted by some experts as being the epitome of what is called “the most perfect example ever achieved of architecture finding its fulfilment in bodily beauty”.
The Parthenon was at first used as a treasury by the Delian League which later became the Athenian Empire. In the 5th century AD it became a church and the Acropolis a centre of Christian devotion and, unfortunately in keeping with the church’s common practice, all pagan images were destroyed and modifications were made to the temples to bring them into alignment with Christian sensibilities. Muslim occupiers turned the Parthenon into a mosque and one of the associated temples was used as a harem. During the Turkish occupation of Greece the Parthenon was used as a garrison troop headquarters and a bunker for the storage of gunpowder. During that time a mortar from a Venetian battery lobbed into the Parthenon and ignited the gunpowder causing a massive blast that killed three hundred Turkish women and children taking refuge inside.
Following are some images of the Acropolis and Parthenon through the ages.
In modern times further damage was done when in 1816 the English Lord Elgin, with the Turks approval, removed a number of major figures and large chunks of the frieze of the Parthenon and sold them to the British Museum. It is well documented that the Greeks would like the sold items back, in fact there is an active movement intent of having them returned. All that the Greek folk have to see what was sold off is a plaster cast copy on display at the Acropolis Metro Railway station, a poor substitute.
An interesting occupation period occurred during World War 2. First the Italians invaded and then the Germans and because wartime symbolism was important, the victors raised their flag on high.
Soon after the German flag was raised it was taken down by a couple of patriotic Greeks as one of the first acts of resistance by Apostolos Santas and Manolis Glezos. The Germans sentenced Santas (1922-2011) and Glezos (born 1922) to death in absentia. Today at 92 Manolos Glezos is still protesting about government policy.
Today the tourists are the invading army but they do not bring death and destruction in their wake, they bring Euros, a much-appreciated item in times of economic difficulties.
In the ancient past the most talked about aspect of the Parthenon was associated with the statue of Athena, the work of renowned sculptor Phidias who was the instigator of the classical style of the 5th and 4th centuries BC. Of interest is that his workshop was discovered in the 1950s at Olympia and from what I understand it is open for viewing. If this is the case we might just go there and ‘hab a look’ as our three-year-old grandson Xavier might say. No matter what’s going on he always wants to ‘hab a look’.
The original Athena sculpture has been lost. The statue was, in technical terms, referred to as a Chryselephantine statue which means it was built around a wooden frame with thin carved slabs of ivory attached, representing the flesh and sheets of gold leaf representing the garments, armour, hair, and other details. A tyrannical general in 296 BC removed the gold sheets to pay his troops. This method of construction was nothing like a lump of inert masonry and that is why no traces of its material existence remain today. Fortunately there is a recreation made by Alan LeQuire whose work is shown in the photograph below and is on display in Nashville’s Centennial Park Parthenon in the USA.
Athena stands holding a Nike (Victory) on her right hand and her left hand supports a shield which shelters a snake. She is dressed in a rich outer robe and on her head she wears a richly decorated helmet with a sphinx at the apex and a horse head on each side. Her breastplate is adorned with snakes and the head of Medusa at the center. (If you want to know more about Nike, go to Odyssey Part 1, archives October 2012, Day 6 Samothraki).
The question now is, who was the revered Athena and why was she held in such high regard? The story goes that she was the goddess of wisdom, courage, inspiration, civilization, law and justice, just warfare, mathematics, strength, strategy, the arts and crafts. With a curriculum vitae such as this she had every right to be revered. Not only did she have an impressive CV but she was the victor over Poseidon in a competition in which the winner was declared the deity of Athens. They agreed each would give the Athenians one gift and the Athenians or the king would choose the gift they preferred. In the competition Poseidon struck the ground with his tridentand a saltwater spring appeared, not the best of gifts as Athenians would have preferred fresh water, I’m sure. Athena offered them something more tangible, the first domesticated olive tree, which was accepted as it brought wood, oil, and food.
On the annotated 1878 drawing at the beginning of this post I have highlighted the one and only tree shown. I assume it was the Athena Olive Tree.
With regards one of Athena’s attributes above: ‘just war’ got me to thinking what such a war is and I probed the web to find out. Convention dictates that certain conditions must be met for a war to be considered just and some of those conditions include: the war must be for a just cause; the war must be lawfully declared by a lawful authority; the intention behind the war must be good; all other ways of resolving the problem should have been tried first; there must be a reasonable chance of success; the means used must be in proportion to the end that the war seeks to achieve; a war that starts as Just may stop being Just if the means used to wage it are inappropriate. I suppose it depends whose side you are on as to whether a war is just or not!
In ancient times the oil from the olive was known as liquid gold and a country’s wealth was measured by the number of olive trees under cultivation. Winners of events at ancient Olympic games were given olive oil in lieu of a gold medal.
During my school days ancient history was not a subject I studied, so up until now I have been ignorant of Greek gods and their attributes but I think since arriving in the mythical land of Greece the saying ‘one is never too old to learn’ may well apply to me. This means there are some god stories coming up but first, how did the gods come into existence and were they real people?
The religion of Ancient Greece was a form of nature worship that grew out of the beliefs of earlier cultures. However, as Greek culture developed, man was no longer perceived as being threatened by nature, but as its sublime product. The natural elements were personified as gods in human form and behaviour. Some heroic individuals came along and claimed to be gods and were worshipped but from my understanding they were not fair dinkum gods. The home of the gods was thought to be at Olympia on the Peloponnese.
There were many Greek Gods. There was a god for the sky, marriage, wisdom, the sea, earth, sun, law, reason, music and poetry, hunt and the wilderness, love and war. The list goes on ad infinitum.
If I was going to worship Greek Gods I think I would choose Apollo, Dionysus and Aphrodite as they represent sun, music, poetry, wine, fruit-bearing plants and love; all these things are what makes living worthwhile. Below are images of the three Gods I would worship.
Ancient Greek worship, like many other activities, was done communally, in the open. However, by 600 BC, the gods were often being represented by large statues and it was necessary to provide buildings in which they could be housed. This led to the development of temples such as the Parthenon.
The Acropolis and Parthenon story is the story of Athena and it goes like this. The story of her birth comes in several versions but the one most commonly cited says: Zeus lay with Metis, the goddess of crafty thought and wisdom, but he immediately feared the consequences of his actions because it had been prophesied that Metis would bear children more powerful than the sire, even Zeus himself. In order to forestall these dire consequences Zeus “put her away inside his own belly”; he “swallowed her down all of a sudden.” He was too late, Metis had already conceived.
Eventually Zeus experienced an enormous headache so one of the gods cleaved Zeus’ head with a double-headed Minoan axe. Athena leapt from Zeus’ head, fully grown and armed. When I read this story to Bev she asked, ‘Who wrote these stories?’ I replied that I didn’t have a clue but it was a good story, it’s mythology at its best!
And now to some images that Bev and I took during our visit to the Acropolis,Parthenon and surrounds.
It‘s almost impossible to take a photograph of the Parthenon without scaffolding or cranes in the way. Restoration began back in the 1970s and has been ongoing ever since. There was no movement on the site the day we were there, perhaps it was because funding has been cut in light of the Greek financial crisis.
Mass tourism sites like the Parthenon are rather impersonal. There is no one to ask questions of so it is not possible for me to detail how the missing chunks of marble were replaced. I suspect that some sort of composite marble is laid into the areas where the original marble is missing then it is sculpted to conform to the original form. If any reader knows how it’s done please let me know.
Ancient Greeks did not use mortar in the Parthenon’s construction; lead-coated steel pins and bands were used to hold things in place. Today, restorers are using titanium pins and bands. Titanium is used because it does not corrode like ordinary carbon steel. It is interesting that the word titanium comes from the Greek Titan, the mythical ‘first son of earth’.
Some experts believe the designers of the Parthenon applied complex mathematical proportional formulae when making component parts for the structure and that what we see as straight lines are in fact curved. If this is so then there are no true verticals or horizontals in the building, and hence no right angles. On the other hand, other scholars say the above oft repeated assertion is not supported by actual measurements. In fact, the entire story about the Greeks and the golden ratio seems to be without foundation. Adding to the controversy is what Euclid had to say. In his famous textbook Elements, written around 300 BC he showed how to calculate the mathematical proportional value (golden rule) but accepted it as just an interestingirrational number in connection with the middle and extreme ratios.
I think that if we could get past the fence, installed to stop visitors from getting too close (Bev said there was no fence when she visited in 1972) and run a tape and level over the foundations, columns and architraves we would know for sure. In the meantime it’s a case of believe what you will.
Complicated mathematical formulae came to me as a child, not when studying maths but whilst browsing through my grandfather’s journal. Grandpa Johnson was a plasterer and he taught his trade at the Sydney Technical College. From his journal I have assumed he must have taught geometrical progression and mathematical proportion. As a child I was never able to fathom what it was all about but now after studying his journal closely I think I know what he was on about. As a matter of interest, his last entry was ‘have a cold, put garlic in my socks and going to bed’. Grandfather died in the night.
My grandfather’s jottings need an explanation: I’m not sure but I think the number 1.6180339887 is the number that Euclid called an ‘interesting irrational number’. The rectangle with a and b notations relate to the golden rectangle/golden ratio. The spiral shows what happens when the golden rectangle is superimposed within itself. I don’t know why Grandpa did a long hand multiplication of 1.6180339887, perhaps only the gods would know that. Seeing his long multiplication set me to wondering if school students would know how to do this these days.
If the Greeks did invent the golden ratio they can be pleased that their theory is still being applied today. Many artists have proportioned their works to appropriate the golden ratio and some sources claim that it is commonly used in everyday design, for example in the shapes that are most eye-pleasing of postcards, playing cards, posters, wide-screen televisions, photographs and light switch plates.
That’s the Acropolis. Our next posting will be ‘WHY KYTHERA’. The island of Kythera lies just off the most southern tip of the Peloponnese. I am furthering my research relating to a biographical video I am making about Alex, a Greek who migrated to Australia in 1948. After Kythera I will write more about Athens.
Fortunately for us, we now have two volunteer WordPress helpers, friend Steve living in Darwin and Adam who lives in Bolivia. How we became acquainted with Adam is an interesting story. I was seeking an adviser in our hometown of Tamworth and Adam was recommended to me. I telephoned the Tamworth number and unbeknown to me my call was Skyped to Bolivia South America. Adam offered to help us with any difficulties. I was curious as to why he was in Bolivia and when I asked his reply was to the effect that he met and married a girl there and he had also ridden a motorbike to Alaska from South America.
If you get bored with my ravings go to Adam’s web pages http:/bridginggaps.com.au and http:/fourstrokesofluck.com
Safe travelling to all those on the road, it’s a fantastic place to be!