Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Moral Values

Pederastic couples at a symposium;
from a wall-painting in Paestum, Italy

This post in indebted to the Joint Association of Classical Teachers’ The World of Athens, 1st edn. (Cambridge University Press, 1984), to Robin Lane Fox’s The Classical World: An Epic History of Greece and Rome (Penguin, 2006), and to John Dillon’s, Salt and Olives: Morality and Custom in Ancient Greece (Edinburgh University Press, 2004).

Virtue

The term aretē is usually translated virtue but it may more accurately be rendered human excellence. It denotes the sum total of the moral, social, and even physical excellence proper to a human being. It is conventionally divided into four particular virtues, wisdom, courage, self-control, and justice. The virtues of men and women were thought to be quite distinct. Courage was inappropriate for a woman, timidity for a man.

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Greek Religion

The Greek pantheon

Zeus, King of the gods,
identified by the Romans as their god, Jupiter
Athenian religion was polytheistic. In polytheism there are many gods, each with a defined sphere of influence.  The worshipper does not pick and choose between them but pays respect to all: failure to do this means the neglect of an area of human experience.  The Greek gods had human form, they were born and might have sexual contacts: but they did not eat human food and they would not age or die. They are frequently described as the 'blessed gods’, not subject to the infirmities of the human condition.

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

The Rebuilding of Athens



The Parthenon today
A great deal of this post is indebted to Mary Beard's excellent The Parthenon (Profile Books, 2007), a book that explodes many myths and romantic stories. I have also used the British Museum's booklet The Elgin Marbles and the Short Guide to the Acropolis Museum.


Before the Persians came

The Acropolis 

The Acropolis is a limestone rock 156 metres above sea level. All sides of the hill are precipitous and the only feasible approach is from the west.  This confined space has been inhabited since the Neolithic period and by the end of the Mycenaean period it housed a palace and an ‘Old Temple’ dedicated to Poseidon and Athena. The tyrant Peisistratos reconstructed the ‘Old Temple’ and adorned it with marble sculptures. In 490 BC following the victory at Marathon the construction of a new marble temple to Athena began. This was the Older Parthenon, and its only mortal residents were the privileged few who served the goddess, the priestess of Athena, and the Arrephoroi, a group of girls whose duties included the setting up of the loom for the peplos, the goddess’s robe.   By the fifth century, therefore the Acropolis was a holy place dedicated to the cult of Athena and other divine patrons of Athens.  

Athens was a city of narrow streets and modest houses, but increasingly impressive public buildings. The tyrant Peisistratos had commissioned monumental public buildings and works. He and his sons enlarged the open space that became known as the agora and provided fountain houses and aqueducts. 



The agora


The Pnyx, as it is today
Athens was a city of narrow streets and modest houses, but increasingly impressive public buildings. Peisistratos and his sons enlarged the open space that became known as the agora and provided fountain houses and aqueducts. The democrat Cleisthenes made further additions. He set out boundary stones that staked out the public area as a religious precinct and made it closed to a certain type of criminal.