Being an epigrapher – someone who studies inscriptions – definitely means that I pay a lot more attention to the different kinds of writing that I see as I walk around a city, and that happens even more when I’m learning a language and so trying to practice reading as much as possible. While walking around Athens during my recent stay there, I found myself thinking a lot about the similarities between the kinds of inscriptions I was seeing and classical Greek and Roman inscriptions — particularly when it came to graffiti, which is something that Athens has a LOT of, and of which quite a lot of ancient examples also survive, mainly from the Roman cities of Pompeii, Herculaneum, and Ostia. Here’s one of the nicest (most optimistic) graffiti messages I saw in Athens, which reads “Αθήνα η πόλη της τέχνης και της ελπίδας!!” (Athina i poli tis tehnis ke tis elpithas) — “Athens, the city of art and of hope!!”
Last weekend I encountered a fascinating piece of (relatively recent) Athenian history – the tiny area of Anafiotika. Perched above the tourist shops and restaurants of Plaka, just beneath the Acropolis, this cluster of houses dates back to the mid-19th century, when King Otto I of Greece brought builders from the Cycladic island of Anafi to build his palace (now the Greek parliament building on Syntagma Square). These people built themselves a village on the slopes of the Acropolis in the style of the architecture from their own island, after which they named it Anafiotika. Only a small cluster of houses now remains, but wandering through the area is still like walking around a Cycladic island, past houses with whitewashed walls and brightly coloured doors and shutters – if it weren’t for the occasional view of the city or the Acropolis above, it would be easy to forget you were in Athens at all.
Athens’ Acropolis Museum is, naturally, best known for its display of sculptures from the Parthenon (in a mixture of originals and casts, many of the originals being, controversially, in the British Museum). Stunning though this top-floor display is, with views straight across to the Parthenon from the galley (see photo, unfortunately taken on a rather cloudy day), it’s not actually my favourite part of the museum – that prize goes to the first-floor display of the older archaic sculptures, dating from the 7th century to the early 5th century BCE (the Parthenon was built in the mid-5th century). Some of these sculptures are from the pediments of earliertemples on the Acropolis, destroyed during the Persian invasion of 480/479 BCE; others are freestanding statues set up on the Acropolis as dedications to the goddess Athena. (I can’t post photos here as you’re not allowed to take photos of the collections, but there is a nice selection of pictures available on the museum’s website). Continue reading “Archaic statues and Eleusinian mysteries at the Acropolis Museum”
I’ve written before about starting to learn to speak (modern) Greek, and how that’s not as easy to do when you know ancient Greek as people think. I’m pleased to say my Greek has improved quite a lot since that post – in fact a lot of that improvement has happened in the last week or so, since I’m currently in Athens taking an intensive language course at the Athens Centre.
Archaeologists working on a rescue excavation in Athens city centre have just announced the discovery of a series of clay tablets inscribed in the Linear B script, the first to be found in the city. The tablets date from the end of the Bronze Age, c.1200 BCE, and provide exciting new evidence for ritual practices in Mycenaean Greece. According to the excavation director, Professor Ilithios Apriliou, the texts refer to a ritual taking place on the first day of the month Apate, tentatively identified as the fourth month of the Mycenaean year. Participants in the ritual are recorded as receiving varying quantities of barley, while other tablets list offerings of wine and olive oil to the god Hermes (Hermahas in Mycenaean Greek). The most enigmatic of the tablets appears to act as an introduction to the whole series; while much of its text is currently obscure, Prof. Apriliou believes it describes a part of the ritual in which participants compete to tell the most outrageous stories in honour of the trickster god Hermes. The tablet is, however, badly damaged, and this interpretation relies heavily on Prof. Apriliou’s suggested restorations; an alternative reading, in which the festival is simply opened by a council of elders, is equally possible, and only close further study – and, it is to be hoped, further discoveries of tablets – will reveal the true nature of this mysterious ancient celebration.
Update: some helpful explanations (and a few more classical news items from April 1st) here!
Just before Christmas I was lucky enough to go on a research trip to Greece, where I spent a happy couple of weeks in various museum workrooms. Naturally I also managed to get in some sightseeing around Athens (helped by the fact that Greek museums are only open for work until 3pm), so I thought I would share a few tips of things to do/see for any RG readers who may be visiting in future.