CHATTER: Olympic Mascots
Over the next few days you'll probably read a pile of stuff about the Olympic mascots, Phevos and Athena, such as this (from Fox):
The pair were derided in various news articles, described as animated condoms and mutants from a nuclear meltdown. Their names were co-opted by anti-Olympic activists, who promptly firebombed two government vehicles in February.
Oh, my gods, where did things go wrong?
It's hard to say. The mascots were not the vision of a single artist, like the Spanish stoner who conjured Barcelona mascot Cobi (search) -- squiggled in about four seconds -- while in a state of drug-induced bliss.
Nearly 200 entries were submitted when Athens organizers put out the call for prospective mascots. The winning creatures were created by a team of six, including a philologist/historian. They were billed as two kids, brother and sister, "full of vitality and creativity, perhaps mischievous and hence lovable."
Their bloodlines were impeccable, too.
Phevos was named for Apollo (search), the Greek god of light and music. Athena, the host city's namesake, was the goddess of wisdom. Yet the result was less then heavenly.
How to describe the pair?
Their bodies are built like an inverted funnel: Narrow at the neck, extra-wide at the bottom, more Oliver Hardy than Mount Olympus.
Their feet are supersized Shaq-enormous, yet only hold four tiny toes. Their outfits -- his blue, hers orange -- resemble off-the-rack discount caftans. Or robes from a very weird order of monks.
Their hands, like their feet, feature four digits -- although the fingers never see the sun, since the mascots' outfits inexplicably stretch right to their fingertips. Creative director Spyros Gogos (search), who declined interview requests, has said their shape was inspired by a bell-shaped Greek doll from the seventh century B.C. [more]
Here's a photo to help you visualize better:
That image comes from an excellent webpage which actually includes photos of the sorts of things that inspired the little lumps. Personally, they remind me of Ed of Ed, Edd, and Eddy cartoon fame:
Tuesday, August 10, 2004 10:45:07 AM
Tuesday, August 10, 2004 10:11:54 AM
CHATTER: Thyestes Redux
News.com (Australia) tells us of a Thyestean happening in Manila:
FOUR members of a family have been arrested and charged with murder for allegedly killing and eating a relative during a wedding reception - and serving his flesh to unwitting party guests, police in the Philippines said today.
At the July 17 wedding of his daughter, Eladio Baule got angry with his cousin Benjie Ganay who tripped and accidentally touched the bride's bottom, said Senior Police Inspector Perla Bacuel, at Narra town in Palawan province, southwest of Manila.bride's bottom, said Senior Police Inspector Perla Bacuel, at Narra town in Palawan province, southwest of Manila. [more]
If you're not familiar with the incredibly soap opera-like tales revolving around Thyestes (and Atreus), here's a good summary.
Tuesday, August 10, 2004 10:09:28 AM
CHATTER: Another Ancient Olympics Piece
This one from the Cleveland Plain Dealer (I love the name of this newspaper for some reason) ... the usual history-of-the-Olympics piece with some interesting details/thoughts towards the end:
Tuesday, August 10, 2004 8:25:40 AM
Visitors to the ancient Olympics commented on the profusion of merchants peddling animals for food and sacrifice. There also were bronzesmiths, potters, and poets (for writing victory odes) for hire. If the souvenir T-shirt had been invented back then, the Greeks would have hawked it. It was kind of Atlanta without the grits.
The events themselves were similar to novelist George Orwell's description of professional football as "war minus the shooting."
Warfare had changed by the time the ancient Olympics began, from the individual combat of the Greek epic about the Trojan War, the Iliad, to a massed clash of arms. Historians say the submergence of the soldier in the Greek phalanx, where he became no more than a cog in the wheel of the war machine, meant individual glory could only be achieved in warlike pursuits, not in combat itself.
So the Greeks competed in testosterone-rich, belligerent sports like boxing, wrestling, spear throwing, and chariot racing, as well as foot races.
Chariot racing would have appealed to New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner. There was no salary cap, so it drew the richest competitors. Victory depended on natural ability, hard work, wealth and the willingness to use it. Alcibiades, a traitor who double-crossed Athens in the war against Sparta, once entered teams of horses that finished first, second, fourth, and seventh. Of course, he had slaves do the driving, rather than risk his own neck.
The pentathlon consisted of the stadion (from which we get the word "stadium,") which was a run of about 192 meters, as well as a long jump, wrestling, discus throwing and javelin throwing. Like the 100-meter dash today, the stadion was very prestigious.
There was also the pankration, a sort of kick boxing/Toughman free-for-all. "Everything but eye-gouging was legal in it," Haptonstall said.
The ancient Olympics were tailored to the elite. Competitors did not need to work for a living, and they saw themselves as the natural heirs to the glory won by their forefathers on the plains of Troy. This kept the ancient Olympics from being a competition for all comers. The Spartans, for all their bellicose reputation, often skipped the more violent events, because the stigma of defeat was so great in their militaristic society.
Alexander the Great of Macedonia, who conquered the known world in the fourth century B.C., was a fleet runner. But he was so concerned for his reputation that he said he would compete in the stadion "only if I had kings for my rivals."
All in all, the ancient Olympics were fairly well-administered. But when someone praised the efforts of the people of Elis in the presence of the Spartan King Agis, he sneered, "What great matter is it that the Eleans do something right every few years?" [the whole thing]
THIS DAY IN ANCIENT HISTORY
ante diem iv idus sextiles
- 30 B.C. -- Suicide of Cleopatra
- 7 A.D. -- dedication of the ara Cereris Matris et Opis Augustae and associated rites thereafter
- 70 A.D. -- Roman forces breach the walls of Jerusalem
- 1911 -- birth of A.N. Sherwin-White (The Roman Citizenship)
Tuesday, August 10, 2004 8:10:30 AM
CHATTER: Dining Ancient Greek Style
The Age has a very long article on the sorts of things on the Ancient Greek menu:
Tuesday, August 10, 2004 8:02:42 AM
In an astonishing feat of culinary endurance, the flavours and ingredients of Greek cuisine have survived - not entirely unscathed - for 3000 years. But in the past 100 years, I contend, it has had three veils drawn over it - veils that have softened and diluted the strong, sunlit flavours of the Greek cuisine that had emerged at the dawn of the 20th century.
In lifting these veils, I will tread on some toes. I will, as a mere Irish-Australian food writer, a student of the history of Greek food, relying on the research of others, make mistakes that Greeks would never make.
But as a foreigner, or to use the Greek word, a "barbarian", I can see through the doctrinaire attitude that proclaims rigidly "that's the way it is because that's the way it always has been".
This is not intended to be a definitive examination of all the influences on Greek food, the importations from other cultures, the influence of individuals, but an overview of the main events that have shaped what we call Greek food (and the very recent trends that are changing that familiar fare).
First, let's go back, way back to the Eleusinian Mysteries - the chief religious agricultural festival that celebrated the sowing, sprouting and reaping of grain around the 6th century BC. According to Colin Spencer, in his cranky but fascinating book The Heretic's Feast, a History of Vegetarianism, the Greek philosopher Pythagoras prepared a special dish for this festival, which he would probably have learnt in Babylon: "Poppy and sesame seeds were crushed with the flower stalks of the asphodel, the skin of the squill (an onion-like plant), leaves of mallow, barley and chickpeas, chopped in equal quantities with Hymettus honey."
Check the ingredients lists: Chickpeas, honey, cucumber, raisins, coriander, wild greens, cheese - we eat these foods in Greek restaurants 2000 years later. Continuity.
In her carefully researched book The Foods of Greece, Aglaia Kremezi points out that the descriptions of sweets written in Aristophanes' comedies in the 5th century BC are easily recognised today as diples and loukoumades, among others.
Going back even further, to about the 9th century BC, a reading of Homer's Iliad would have you believing that the ancients spent a lot of time around the barbie: "Automedon held the meats, and brilliant Achilleus carved them, and cut it well into pieces and spitted them, as meanwhile Menoitios' son, a man like a god, made the fire blaze greatly. But when the fire had burnt itself out, and the flames had died down, he scattered the embers apart, and extended the spits across them, lifting them to the andirons and sprinkled the meat with divine salt."
Who brought the tinnies?
This is still a useful description for the would-be Weber wielder today, but hardly typical of what the rest of the world was eating. As Athenaeus (the most important early source for the food of the ancient Greeks) pointed out, roasted meat was the food that everybody expected the heroes to eat.
What the real people were eating in classical Greece was a barley paste made from sprouted grain mixed with flax seeds, coriander seeds and salt, other spices and herbs, as well as a barley porridge, together with goat's milk and cheese, olives, vegetables, figs and other fruit and fish. Athenaeus lists 72 kinds of bread. He also gives some recipes from a prominent cook of the day by the name of Archestratus for tuna, parrot fish, mullet and eels. They would also have used a fish sauce called garos, the original of the Roman garum.
It's a pity that although Greek cooking at this time was extremely sophisticated, as one would expect of such an advanced civilisation, and as we know for certain, again from references in the comedies written between 400 and 300BC, no cookbooks have survived, although their names have: The Art of Cookery was one; Gastronomy another; Pickles and Vegetables and Sicilian Cooking two others. I wonder how the flavours of ancient Greece would have compared to today's? I suspect we would have recognised many of the dishes.
Sydney chef Peter Conistis (Omega) told me that on one of his many recipe-gathering trips to Greece in the 1990s, he found an unleavened barley bread still being made in the northern villages, and that in certain parts they drop this bread, dried, into a water-based soup called katsamaki, which sounds very similar to the Hellenic dish of barley gruel.
Another continuing thread is the olive. The olive was being grown on Crete in Minoan times, in 2500 BC. By 700 BC, olive groves were well established on the hills of Attica - the takeover of the olive tree in the hospitable calcareous soils of Greece being perhaps the first ever example of monoculture. In the 5th century BC, Herodotus described Athens as a vast centre of Greek olive culture. [more]
CHATTER: Interview with Tony Perrottet
National Geographic has an interview with Tony Perrottet, author of The Naked Olympics: The True Story of the Ancient Games. Here's a bit from the middle:
Tuesday, August 10, 2004 7:55:51 AM
Of course, women did not compete in the Olympics.
That's right. Married [women] weren't even allowed into the stands, though young women and virgins were allowed in. Fathers brought their daughters to the games hoping they would get married to one of the champions.
Prostitution was rampant. Women were brought in from all over the Mediterranean. It's been said that a prostitute could make as much as money in five days during the Olympics as she would in the rest of the year.
But there was a special sporting event for women.
Yes, it was kind of a second string of the festival. The [women's] games were held at Olympia and dedicated to Zeus's consort Hera. The young women ran in short tunics with their right breast exposed as an homage to the Amazon warrior women, a race of female super warriors that was believed to have cauterized their right breast so as not to impede their javelin throwing.
In Sparta there were women wrestling. There's a great story of a Roman senator traveling from afar to see these Spartan women, who were legendarily beautiful and muscular. He got so excited that he jumped in the ring. We don't have any records of whether he won or lost, but we have to assume that he enjoyed himself.
How popular were the male athletes?
They were as close as you could get to being a demigod in the mortal world. You would gain incredible prestige and wealth from an Olympic victory. You never had to work again.
Officially, the winner was given an olive wreath. But your home city would give you piles of money, honors like front seats at the theater, lifetime pensions, vats of olive oil, maybe even priesthood. Your name would be passed down from generation to generation. You became part of the very fabric of history.
Why did this sports mania take place in Greece and not elsewhere?
For two reasons, I think. First, Greece has this gorgeous environment. It was a land of the great outdoors, with beautiful Mediterranean weather. You could go swimming or hiking in the mountains. You have to have decent weather if you're going to be running around naked all day.
That converges with this incredible competitiveness that the Greeks have. For whatever reason, the Greeks would just compete about everything. There are hilarious stories of travelers meeting in inns and having eating races. It was inevitable that they would have these formal sporting events.
But sports were just one part of what you've called the Woodstock of antiquity. What was it like for the spectators?
To be a spectator at the Olympic Games was an incredibly uncomfortable experience. It makes modern sports fans seem like a pretty flaky bunch. First of all, if you came from Athens, you had to walk 210 miles [340 kilometers] to get to the site.
Olympia is in the middle of nowhere. It's a beautiful place, very idyllic. But it's basically a collection of three temples and a running track, with one inn reserved for the wealthy.
The organizers had it pretty easy in ancient times. They only had to chase a few sheep and cattle off the running track and temples. Everyone just turned up and had to look after himself. If you're rich, you put up a tent and you had servants. But the rank-and-file spectators plunked down anywhere.
In the high summer it was incredibly hot. The two rivers that converge at Olympia dried up. Nobody could wash. There was no drinking water, and people collapsed from heat stroke.
There was no sanitation, so the odors were quite pungent. Once you got into the stadium, there were no seats, only grassy banks. The word stadium comes from the Greek stadion, which means "a place to stand." But it was an incredible atmosphere with an amazing sense of tradition. People were standing on the very hill where Zeus wrestled his father [according to legend]. [the whole thing]
CHATTER: Temple of Zeus at Nemea
Stephen Miller and his work at Nemea is getting a pile of press of late (again, because of Olympics coverage) and in the latest press release are some interesting details about efforts to reconstruct the exterior of the Temple of Zeus at Nemea:
Tuesday, August 10, 2004 7:50:53 AM
Reconstructing it is not "an act of necessity, nor is its reconstruction forced upon us today," said Miller. "The ancient Greeks and we share a fundamental creativity that marks the human spirit at its best; we share an impulse toward a higher civilization that leaves a record of human accomplishment, and that serves as a beacon to future generations."
The 9,240-square-foot temple was built in 330 B.C. It had been assumed that earthquakes — the region is plagued with as many fault lines and temblors as California — were to blame for the fallen columns surrounding the temple.
But further investigation revealed that a basilica south of the temple had been constructed largely of material taken from the Temple of Zeus. Around 435 A.D., early Christians under the reign of Theodosios II had almost certainly demolished the 42-foot columns surrounding the temple to gain access to the interior square blocks and other material, according to Makris and Miller.
Unlike the monolithic columns of earlier Greek temples, the columns of the Temple of Zeus were each made up of 13 separate stones, called drums. The multi-drum column was typical of the Greek classical-style architecture of that era.
Each drum measured an average of 1.5 meters in diameter and 1 meter in height. Their large weight — each drum averaged 2.5 tons — probably saved them from being looted, the researchers said, as did the huge cylinders’ awkward shape, which was not conducive to building walls.
Because the interior of the temple had been robbed of so much building material, fully reconstructing the monument may not be possible. But the effort to re-erect the exterior columns continues. The first steps were taken in the early 1980s with Frederick Cooper, professor of architecture at the University of Minnesota, leading a team that catalogued 1,100 stone blocks scattered on the ground around the temple.
Once the researchers had the blueprint of where each drum should go, they set about the task of actually fitting them together. But replicating the precision of the ancient Greeks would prove to be an arduous and daunting task.
"Ancient Greek architects are known for being obsessed with perfectly fitting stones, positioning pieces together to within 1/32 of an inch," said Makris.
Miller noted that the switch to a multi-drum column design had long been considered a cost-saving measure, with the rationale that working with many smaller blocks was cheaper than dealing with a massive, single stone.
But the researchers found the preparation of two joint contact surfaces to be very time-consuming and expensive. Makris tested the stability of different column designs at his UC Berkeley lab and found a more compelling reason for the switch to the multi-drum design: seismic safety.
"The use of interlocking stones dissipates a lot of energy," said Makris. "A single stone or stones connected with mortar or cement would be rigid and less able to effectively absorb the energy induced by earthquakes."
A further linguistic clue supports the seismic stability theory: The word the ancient Greeks used for the column drum, spondylos, also means vertebra. The temple columns were abiding by the same shock-absorbing principles as the human spinal column.
Indeed, the three temple columns that had not been torn down by human hands have withstood numerous earthquakes over the past 23 centuries, including a massive 7.3 quake in 1861.
The mastery of fitting stones together leads to questions about the types of tools ancient Greek builders had, about what techniques they used to treat metals, and how they were able to achieve accuracy down to a fraction of a millimeter, said Makris.
He also added that the original craftsmen were working with limestone, a more fragile stone than marble, but locally abundant. "Building something good with poorer material is actually more challenging than building with the superior stone," he noted. "It has enormous merit that these people were able to build such a huge monument with less noble material."
With two columns reconstructed to join the three existing ones, work is now underway to reconstruct four more columns to fill out the northeast corner of the temple. [the whole thing]
CHATTER: Olympic Bonuses
As most folks know (hopefully), in ancient times victors at the Olympics were generally rewarded in their hometown with free dinners for life (or some other 'longterm' prize). The modern Olympics have generally tried to preserve the myth that 'winning for your country' was enough and I'm sure I wasn't the only kid who grew up not understanding the motivation of some athletes to spend so much time training etc. to get no financial return in the end (indeed, in Canada, Olympic level athletes who devote themselves entirely to their sport receive very little financial support from the government ... essentially the equivalent of 'Employment Insurance'). And so -- pardon the lengthy preamble -- I was mildly surprised to read the following in the New York Times among the myriad Olympics pieces crossing my desktop:
"We are starting from scratch," said Dr. Tiras Odisho, the director general of Iraq's National Olympic Committee. He announced that there would be prizes for Iraqi athletes who win a medal: $25,000 for gold; $15,000 for silver and $10,000 for bronze. (This is a noble gesture, but I am amazed that a country that has been ravaged by war is willing to spend so much money on Olympic medals.)
We all know of endorsement possibilities for victors (or potential victors) ... I wonder how many other countries provide such non-advertising financial incentives for medals.
Tuesday, August 10, 2004 7:43:52 AM
CHATTER: The Influence of Greek Philosophy
The upcoming Olympics provides Astrobiology Magazine with an opportunity to ponder the influence of ancient Greek thinkers on the development of ideas regarding a plurality of worlds in the universe. Here's a bit from near the beginning:
Tuesday, August 10, 2004 7:22:04 AM
The writings of Aristotle [384-322 B.C.) present an array of arguments against astrobiology and the modern picture of innumerable, Earth-like worlds. Foremost because our solar system's motions were directed by a Prime Mover on the outskirts of the farthest planet--at that time, Saturn--then multiple solar systems would require multiple Prime Movers--an idea that Aristotle rejected as philosophically and religiously unacceptable.
Aristotle's position did not go unchallenged. Like a battle of Olympic philosophers, the Epicureans and Pythogoreans all had their chance to enter the ring. Concerning the structure and evolution of the universe, the most influential Epicurean proponent was the Roman poet Lucretius (99-55 B.C.) who asserted:
"Granted, then, that empty space extends without limit in every direction and that seeds innumerable are rushing on countless courses through an unfathomable universe...it is in the highest degree unlikely that this earth and sky is the only one to have been created and that all those particles are accomplishing nothing."
This point of view was given new relief when the fifteenth century scientists, particularly Isaac Newton, rediscovered Lucretius's poem and the Epicureans world-view. Their response was to formulate the laws of physics by explicitly stating a defining reference frame. Motion was defined from a central axis that itself can move.
Echoing Lucretius, this same sentiment was revisited in the popular imagination in the film, Contact, based on Carl Sagan's novel, when the astronomer, Dr. Ellie Arroway, repeats the Epicurean question, " do you think there's people on other planets?" To this question, Arroway's father, Ted, replies, "I don't know, Sparks. But I guess I'd say if it is just us... seems like an awful waste of space."
The Epicureans did not have a simple view of these other worlds. Plurality of worlds can mean many planets-- or a succession of one planet over time. In Greek astronomy, the sky was a vault. A dome surrounded the farthest known planet in our solar system. The Epicurean worlds were plural, but these separate systems were unseen by humans. So stars, suns and planets could exist as conglomerates within the uncuttable atoms. As Metrodorus of Chios, a contemporary of Epicurus and his leading disciple, put it, "It would be strange if an ear of corn grew in a large plain or were there only one world in the infinite. And that worlds are infinite in number follows from the causes [i.e., atoms] being infinite." [more]
CHATTER: Matters Etymological
Tuesday, August 10, 2004 7:16:44 AM
The 24 letters of the Greek alphabet might look familiar at first glance. Thirteen of the letters look like clones of the English alphabet: A, B, E, Z, H, I, K, M, N, O, P, T and X. Two others look like an upside down V and L.
But nine letters are mysteriously different, including the Greek delta, which is shaped like a triangle. (The delta represents the "D" sound.)
Which alphabet came first? Greek or English? Definitely the Greek, whose first two letters, alpha and beta, were joined into alphabetos, which became the English word "alphabet."
"The Greeks got their alphabet from the ancient Phoenicians, who were great tradesmen and sailed all over the Mediterranean," said Benjamin Fortson, a professor of Greek and Latin at the University of Michigan.
"Then it made its way in fairly short order to Italy, where the Greeks had set up colonies. The early Romans got the alphabet from the Greeks and that's the alphabet that's ours -- many modifications later."
The oldest-known Greek writing was carved on some stone tablets about 3,500 years ago, in 1500 B.C., said Artemis Leontis, a University of Michigan professor of modern Greek.
Around 700 B.C., the famous Greek poet Homer wrote The Iliad and The Odyssey, two long narrative poems that are still read today. (The adventures of Odysseus, a mythical hero also known as Ulysses, have inspired many movies.)
The very words "poet" and "poetry" came from Greek. (So did the word "clone" as well as many old and new culture and computer words, including "muse," "music," "comedy," "tragedy," "cinema," "icon" and "morph.")
"A lot of science words came from Greek," Leontis said. The list includes words that start with "bio," which means life, or end with "logy," which means study of -- such as biology, the study of living things, and paleontology, the study of fossils.
Anything with "phil" came from Greek, including Philadelphia, known the City of Brotherly Love. "Phil" means love and "adelphos" means brother.
Philosophy is the love of "sophy," or "wisdom." The name Philippos -- Philip in English -- means lover of "hippos," or horses.
Speaking of animals, the names of three large mammals come from Greek: elephant, hippopotamus and rhinoceros. Hippopotamus is a pairing of "hippos" -- horse -- and "potamos," which means river. A hippopotamus is a horse of the river!
Rhinoceros comes from "rhino," which means nose, and "ceros," which means horn -- which brings us to a long list of medical words, including "rhinoplasty," or plastic surgery of the nose.
"Diagnosis" and "prognosis" are from "gnosis," which means to know, to find out. When a doctor figures out what's wrong with you, that's a diagnosis. When he or she tells you what may happen down the road, that's a prognosis. "Dia" has many meanings, but "pro" means forward, as in knowing forward.
Many political words end in "cracy," which means power, or "archy," which means rule.
"Demo" means people, so democracy means "people power."
About 20 percent of all the words in the English language came directly from Greek or from Greek through Latin, the language of the ancient Romans. [more]
CHATTER: Parthenon/Elgin Marbles Again
We've been flooded of late with articles on the Elgin Marbles, mostly with the same stuff we've read before. The Union Tribune has a piece, however with an interesting conclusion:
Tuesday, August 10, 2004 7:10:15 AM
"But I will say this. We Greeks are always optimistic."
For hope, they look no farther than the Parthenon. One of the most famous scenes meticulously carved in the great marble frieze was the mythological battle between the Centaurs and Lapiths. The Centaurs were half-men, half-horse beasts who lived in northern Greece and were embroiled in a land dispute with the neighboring Lapiths.
As a means of reconciliation, legend has it, the king of the Lapiths invited the Centaurs to his wedding – only for the notoriously rowdy Centaurs to get drunk and steal the Lapith women, including the king's bride. A battle ensued, and the Lapiths prevailed.
The Lapiths got their women back.
The Greeks retained a few Centaur and Lapith heads from the Parthenon marbles and will display them during the Olympics in a makeshift exhibition adjacent to the site of the New Acropolis Museum. To see the rest of the scene, you'll have to go to the British Museum. [the whole thing]
AWOTV: On TV Tonight
8.00 p.m. |HISTC| Gladiatrix Savage Sister
Tells the remarkable story of female gladiators for the first time.
As the story unfolds, key questions are answered which deepen our
understanding of Roman times and the role of women in a bloody, male-
dominated sport’and society.
9.00 p.m. |PBS| Amazon Warrior Women
Stories of beautiful, bloodthirsty female warrior women thundering
across arid battlefields have been told, re-told and speculated about
for thousands of years. Greek myths are filled with tales of the
Amazons and their exploits. But are they real or myth? New burial
mounds recently opened outside the town of Pokrovka in Russia
contained the 2,500-year-old remains of women, some likely to be
royalty. This program investigates whether any of these long-dead
women actually are the mythical Amazons of Greek legend.
Investigators follow a trail of artifacts to the remotest region of
modern Russia to find out if forensic experts can use DNA to locate
the descendants of these famous — and infamous — warrior women.
[check local listings]
Tuesday, August 10, 2004 6:59:56 AM