The Flight of Icarus

Stories told in Greek Mythology are just that: stories. They’re not parables. You can read it or hear it and then you draw your own conclusions. Maybe even change your mind later.  You may conclude that the moral of a myth applies well to your own concerns but this may not be the case for someone else. The reader / listener is never presented with a ‘moral lesson’ at the end. The story ends. Period. You understand and see the myth through your own eyes.

The story of Daedalus and Icarus is still super-famous because they were the first humans that managed to fly! Not by using magic or through the grace of God. They did it through their human ingenuity.

Pre-WW2 stamp issued to fund the Greek Air Force

Icarus is considered to be even more famous than his father today, even though it was Icarus that perished. This seems a bit odd… Well, people since the ancient times, interpreted Icarus’ death as caused entirely by his own hubris.

For most people the moral of this story can be summarized in just 3 words:

Obey the rules.

That’s it. Simple. If you don’t, this will lead to your demise.

The vast majority of people from Plutarch to the latest YouTube creator believe that the story of Icarus teaches us one or all of the following:

  • Listen to your parents or you will fail
  • Respect the Gods or you will be punished
  • Restrain yourself or you will perish
  • Hear the warnings or you will die

At first glance, this meaning seems to make sense.

Some others believe that’s just the surface of the myth.

Delving deeper, I see Icarus as a symbol for people of action… Adventurers dare,  they impulsively rush into the unknown. They go further and higher where everybody else thinks is foolish to do so. That is the spirit of great explorers.

Imagine if James Cook said… “Nah… I’d rather not do this. Sailing into the unknown is not such a good idea.” It wasn’t. But he sailed anyway! Roald Amundsen could have said “On second thoughts the Antarctic is way too cold. Humans can’t live there anyway, so screw this… I’m stayin’ home” Well guess what: he didn’t.

It’s this characteristic that only a tiny percentage of the population possesses. Not to heed warnings of danger and to follow temptation, even if you know that you may perish. To chase dreams and achieve the impossible. Yes, we can learn by the mistake of Icarus and at the same time be inspired by his daring legendary flight.

Athens’ Royal Gardens

Did you know that most ornamental plants of the National Gardens come from Genova, Italy?

King Ludwig I of Bavaria
King Ludwig I of Bavaria

When King Ludwig of Bavaria came to Athens to visit his son (King Otto), he was surprised by the complete lack of green areas in the little town of Athens!
Queen Amalia, consort of King Otto, worked tirelessly to lay out and complete the Royal Gardens. With the help of the great Bavarian architect Friedrich von Gartner, the gardens start to take shape. The aim was to find plants that could flourish on the ancient, relatively dry soil of Attica.

Friedrich von Gaertner
Friedrich von Gaertner

In autumn 1839, the Greek sail ship ‘Phoenix’ sailed from the port of Genova, heading straight to the port of Peiraeus. The ship carried 15,000 ornamental plants!Royal Gardens palm

Royal Gardens flowers Thousands of flowers, trees and seedlings from Genovese gardens were brought to Athens and the Bavarian gardener Schmarat, with the help of the Prussian gardener Friedrich Schmidt, gathered more local plants and flowers from the south part of Attica (Sounion). Their vision was to create the most beautiful gardens at the south of Europe.

Queen Amalia planted herself seeds of palm trees that in 1842 she brought from the United States (a genus of palms native to the southwestern US). Most of them still stand tall today!

Cicero’s end: why did he just ‘let go’?

HOW EMOTIONS CAN DECIDE THE COURSE OF HISTORICAL EVENTS

The inglorious end of Cicero had always been a stain in the pages of Roman political history. He met his end out in the Italian countryside (near modern-day Gaeta), slaughtered by Roman sword.  Marc Antony saw the return of the proscription as an opportunity to eliminate his most powerful enemy. In the end, he had Cicero’s hands cut off and nailed on the rostra (the speakers’ platform) at the Forum. A symbolic but utterly barbaric act. Such was the end of the last honest defender of the Roman Republic and her democratic principles.

Marcus Tullius Cicero
Marcus Tullius Cicero

Marcus Antonius
Marcus Antonius

Escape or surrender?

The tragic events of that winter of 43 BC have been discussed quite thoroughly over the centuries. But there’s one detail that is overlooked:

-Oddly enough, most scholars ignore the fact that Cicero had the option to escape but in the end he didn’t. He could actually have saved himself by resisting arrest. Still, it was his decision to stay, even though he was in the act of fleeing! He offered himself to be put to death. -Why?

This appears to have been a spur-of-the-moment decision… Cicero knew that Antony was coming after him and he planned his escape beforehand. So it’s easy to understand that his aim was to continue his political struggle, defending the Republic.

Arch of Septimus Severus
Part of the Roman Forum. On the right of the Arch of Septimus Severus, is where the Rostra was located.

Sadness and grief

What made him change his mind and decided to give up after he was tracked? The most obvious answer is that he felt (for different reasons) so disappointed that he decided to give up. His bad psychological state can only be explained if we take into account an -otherwise neglected detail of Roman history of the period: the unexpected death of Cicero’s daughter, Tullia. Just a year earlier, in the winter of 47–46 B.C.E. he went through a painful divorce with his wife, Terentia. He re-married but his new wife was pathologically jealous of Tullia, a reality that saddened Cicero even more. The loss of his daughter in the following summer, was an event too tragic for him to cope with.

He was so grief-stricken that he couldn’t find comfort in anything. His two most favorite things in the world- books and friends- failed to provide him with any consolation. He tried very hard. His friends were worried. They tried to help as best as they could. Cicero threw himself into a sea of philosophy and books. Yet, nothing could ease the pain in his heart. His childhood friend, Titus Pomponius Atticus, tried to comfort him the best he could by inviting Cicero to his estate that included a huge library. All was in vain. Cicero declared, “my sorrow defeats all consolation”.

Cicero - Palace of Justice, Rome
Cicero – Palace of Justice, Rome

A moment’s decision?

The loss of his only daughter, his dear Tulliola as he liked to call her, made him care less and less about all the other things that he was passionate in the past. It’s easy to understand why he decided to finally give up. His whole perception of life had changed. For him, it made no sense to resist being arrested and to survive. ‘What’s the point?’ he must have asked himself when Antony’s executioner found him. His life had little purpose now, that’s why he ordered his servants not to resist and he let himself to be put to death.

His life had recently lost all meaning. How do we know? Cicero himself tells us in one simple phrase. He wrote to Atticus: “I have lost the one thing that bound me to life”.

Maybe this explains everything.

G. Kokkos

The Olympian Gods

This month: let’s Meet The Gods !

ZEUSFather of Gods and Men, ruler of the universe. He was the supreme cultural embodiment of Graeco-Roman religious beliefs.  Symbols : thunderbolt, eagle, oak tree, lion, scepter, scales.

HERAHera was the queen of all the gods; also the goddess of marriage. She was Zeus’ sister but also his wife. Some symbols : the peacock, cuckoo, and cow

POSEIDONGod of the seas, water, storms, hurricanes, earthquakes and horses. He was moody, restless and powerful.. Symbols : the horse, bull, dolphin, and -of course- trident

DEMETERDemeter was super-important to humans as she was goddess of the harvest, fertility, agriculture, nature and the seasons. Symbols : the poppy, wheat, torch, cornucopia, and pig.

ARESGod of war and violence but also god of manly virtues. Favorite god  to the Spartans and the Romans, he was tall, good-looking, mean and self-centered. Symbols:  the boar, serpent, dog, vulture, spear, and shield.

GODS OF mt OLYMPUS
All Gods of mt.Olympus

ATHENAAthena was famous for representing wisdom, knowledge, reason, intelligent activity, literature, handicrafts, science, strategy and defense. Symbols: the owl, olive tree, aegis, snake, shield

APOLLOGod of light, the sun, prophecy, philosophy, truth, inspiration, poetry, music, arts, medicine, healing but also plague. Some symbols: the sun, lyre, swan, mouse, bow & arrows

ARTEMISGoddess of the hunt, the wilderness, virginity, the moon, archery and childbirth. She was both huntress and protectress of the living world. Some symbols: the moon, horse, deer, hound, she-bear, snake, cypress tree, bow & arrows

HERMESThe messenger of the gods. Also protector of commerce, patron of travelers (and thieves!) and god of eloquence and diplomacy. Symbols: the caduceus (staff entwined with two snakes), winged sandals and cap, stork, and tortoise (whose shell he used to invent the lyre)

APHRODITEGoddess of love, pleasure, passion, procreation, fertility, beauty and desire. She had a son named Eros (known as Cupid in Latin. Symbols: the dove, bird, apple, bee, swan, myrtle, and rose

HEPHAESTUS  – Master blacksmith and craftsman of the gods; god of the forge, craftsmanship, invention, fire and volcanoes Some symbols: fire, hammer & anvil, axe, donkey, tongs, quail

DIONYSUS (aka BACCHUS)God of wine. The youngest of the Olympians, he was patron god of the art of theater! He was also god of fertility, festivity, humor, ecstasy, madness and resurrection Symbols: the grapevine, ivy, cup, tiger, panther, leopard, dolphin, goat, and pinecone

HESTIA  – Hestia was a gentle goddess, with an important job of her own. She was the goddess of hearth , home, fire and of the right ordering of domesticity and the family. Some symbols: hearth, flame, fire, kettle, donkey, pig

HADES (aka PLUTO)Brother of Zeus and Poseidon, Hades ruled the Underworld, with which he was sometimes synonymous. Some symbols: a golden chariot (Helios being the previous owner), the three-headed guard dog, Cerberus.

Academy side
Demeter (detail at the Academy of Athens)

IMG_6093
Seat of a priestess (Theater of Dionysus, Athens)

Parian Marble

The Parian Chronicle is a chronology of events, inscribed on a marble stele, covering more than 12 centuries of Ancient Greek history. Focusing a lot on events linked with the city-state of Athens, this chronicle presents us with a timeline from the year 1582 BC to 299 BC.

It’s a unique timeline that, surprisingly enough, few scholars are familiar with. Most people don’t even know that a chronicle like that exists! Let’s see a few important events we all know:

1581 BC : Cecrops becomes king of Athens

The name of the city isn’t yet ‘Athens’ but instead ‘Cecropia’, named after king Cecrops. This obviously provides us with a ‘terminus post quem’ when it comes to the famous story of the contest of Poseidon and Athena! Note that this rivarly between the two gods, as they vied for control of the city of Cecrops and its surrounding territory, Attica, is NOT mentioned in the Parian Marble.

1528 BC : Great flood of Deucalion

There are, literally, dozens of cataclysms recorded by different civilizations all over the globe. A cataclysm is seen by different cultures as an act of divine retribution, sent by God or some other deity to destroy civilization and initiate a rebirth of a new, ‘improved’ breed of humans. The most famous of those flood myths (or deluge myths as they’re also known) is Noah’s Flood as narrated in the Bible, which can be placed about a thousand years earlier than Deucalion’s Flood.

HAMN0531
Paros, Archaeological Museum

1520 BC : Greeks renamed as ‘Hellenes’.

Hellen (Deucalion’s son) becomes king of Phthiotis. His kingdom is situated in the heart of the Greek peninsula. His people are now named after him, changing from ‘Greeks’ to ‘Hellenes’, giving their name to most other neighboring populations. The Romans however continue to use the ancient name (Graikos) instead of the later ‘Hellen’. Thanks to the Romans, the name ‘Greek’ is used up until today… but only in the western world.

 

1294 BC : King Minos rules in Crete. King Aegeas rules in Athens

1259 BC : Theseus assumes the throne of Athens

The young hero immediately introduces a constitution and sets the foundations for Democracy. It was obviously on that same year that his father, old king Aegeus, tragically perished.

1256 BC : The Amazons invade Athens!

Theseus at the last moment, manages to stop the Amazons at the Hill of the Muses and defeats them.

1218 BC : War of Troy starts

1209 BC : Troy is conquered

Section of the Parian Marble (3rd c. BC)
Paros, Archaeological Museum

907 BC : Homer appears

895 BC : Aegina mints silver coins.

From this date on, we have sound archaeological and historical evidence and we can be almost certain about the events recorded on the Parian Marble.
From this year on, all dates, events and names of people are spot on! It’s very tempting to assume that all previous dates and events are correct too. I wish…

r3

Best Tax-System ever?

Imagine a system of taxation where only the rich contribute, while middle and lower class citizens don’t have to pay any taxes. On top of that, imagine that in this system, the rich love to pay their taxes and they sometimes compete who’s going to pay more!

Lysicrates monument choragic
Choragic monument of Lysicrates (335-334 BCE)

Sounds crazy? The monument of Lysicratres in Athens, stands as a solid proof that this crazy idea was once a reality! It was erected by a very wealthy citizen of Athens (Lysicrates) 24 centuries ago and he was a sponsor of musical performances at the theater of Dionysus. One of those performances got him the award of first prize.

The way citizens were taxed in ancient Athens was genius! Whenever Athens was in need of cash, the state didn’t have to draw funds from the public treasury. The rich were called upon and they acted as sponsors. This is what the Athenians called ‘choregia’ or as we know it today: sponsorship.

This financial contribution rather than being enforced by the state it was seen as a voluntary gesture that showed that rich citizens did care about their fellow citizens. It showed that the rich were true citizens (polites) and not private citizens (idiotes). And that’s the level of awesomeness that the Athenian democracy reached.

Lysicrates mon 4

The owl of Athena

When in Athens, you know you’re in the favorite city of goddess Athena.
Athena is accompanied by an owl, which over time became her symbol and one of the symbols of Athens too.
The exact reason why the owl became a bird sacred to Athena is lost in time. No story survives that gives us a clear explanation but we can piece together bits from ancient sources to understand why Athena chose the owl as her favorite animal.owl 4
The owl was meant to reveal unseen truths to the goddess (having also the ability to light up Athena’s blind side) and it enabled her to see and speak the whole truth. This was fervently believed by the Romans too -who called her Minerva. Let’s not forget that Athena frequently appeared to mortals by night – giving them advice and guidance- which made the owl a fitting companion to have by her side. The Ancient Greeks saw the bird’s ability to see in the dark, representing watchfulness, wisdom and even omniscient!
Going further into Greek Mythology, Athena was also known as a storm and lightning goddess. In Homer’s poems she’s described as “the bright-eyed goddess” linking once again the owl to Athena, due to the owls’ eyes being so distinctively large and shiny that it instantly reflected Athena with her stare of knowledge that seemed to bore into you.

Athena_owl
There were large numbers of owls scattered all over Athens for centuries. There were so many, that the rest of the Greeks had a saying to tease the Athenians. When something was in abundance the saying was: ‘bring owls to Athens’ much like the English ‘carry coal to Newcastle’.
Surprisingly enough, there’s still a population of owls in the 21st century huge metropolis that modern Athens is nowadays!
The owl in flight was also a symbol of good luck: the sudden appearance of such an owl before the naval battle of Salamis, instantly boosted the morale of the Greek fleet.

History. Politics. Philosophy