IN the trilingual MOOC (English, French, German) “Disovering Greek & Roman Cities”, an international team of experts from six different universities will explore the many facets of Greek and Roman cities. They will discuss mega cities like Rome, centres of international commerce like the Greek city of Delos and Palmyra in the Syrian Desert, regional centres of production like Pompeii, and frontier towns like Dura Europos on the Euphrates.
Athletes in ancient Greece smeared olive oil on their bodies before a competition. The oil made their skin more supple and made them appear, as classical writers described, “like gleaming statues of the gods.”
Historians generally believe that ancient Greek girls did not have as much access to education as ancient Greek boys. But they must have had some, sometimes, because we know of a number of educated women such as Sappho of Lesbos and Diotima, a philosopher and contemporary of Socrates. The lack of documentation on women’s lives in classical Greece makes it difficult to determine exactly how much education girls received, however.
Evidence comes from those women who are mentioned in the records, and from art historians. A handful of artworks depict females studying! A kylix from the 400s BCE depict a female student carrying a tablet and stylus, used to write notes during a teacher’s lectures. A vase from the same century shows a woman reading from a papyrus (above), meaning she had been taught how to read. A water vessel from the 500s BCE show two young girls being taught to dance by a female teacher. Such limited and fragmentary evidence is all historians have to attempt to understand how girls and women were educated in ancient Greece.
THERE are at least a thousand reasons to visit Sicily, the great island – indeed the largest in the Mediterranean – that forms the triangular football to the boot that is the Italian peninsula. They are all very good reasons, including amazing landscapes, a uniquely complex and delicious cuisine, a history that is diverse and multifaceted beyond belief, excellent wines, a vast array of archaeological sites, an even vaster one of historical towns and villages. But one key reason to visit the island is missing from the list above: Greek temples!
Greek temples are one of the earliest well-defined expressions of what we now recognise as the Western tradition in architecture, and one of the most influential ones by a vast margin to this day. They go back to the 8th or 7th centuries BCE, and, as the name entails, they are indeed a key achievement of the Archaic Greeks. They originated in what is the south of modern Greece, namely the Peloponnese and Central Greece, where Greek temple architecture appears to have its main roots, probably derived from local wooden predecessors.
The Greek mainland’s architectural style is the Doric one, considered to be the most austere and ‘male’ in character. The eastern Aegean and Asia Minor were famous for their own development, the more elegant and ‘female’ Ionic style, conceived about a century after the Doric one. Its most prominent examples at Samos, Ephesus, and Didyma (much better preserved than the other two) are also marked by their vast monumental size. What is so remarkable about the Greek temples of Sicily then?
A clay tablet, found near the ruined Temple of Zeus in the ancient city of Olympia, Greece, could be the oldest written record of The Odyssey. The tablet was uncovered by archaeologists and tentatively dated to the Roman-era 200s CE.
It is engraved with 13 verses from the Odyssey’s fourteenth book,
in which Odysseus speaks to his lifelong friend Eumaeus, the first person he sees on his return from his decade away from home.
Electra is a play written by the 5th-century BCE Greek tragedian Sophocles. Similar to Aeschylus’ Libation Bearers, Electra focuses on the return of Electra’s brother Orestes from exile and the plot to murder their mother. Years earlier, their mother Clytemnestra and her lover Aegisthus killed their father Agamemnon upon his return from the Trojan War. In this version of the story, Electra has been treated as a slave since the death of her father. She tries to procure the assistance of her sister Chrysothemus in her plot but fails. With the return of Orestes and his friend Plyades, Electra is able to successfully avenge her father’s murder.
The play begins with Orestes, son of Agamemnon and brother of Electra, returning to Mycenae and plotting his revenge against his mother. He tells his old slave to go to the palace and announce to Clytemnestra that Orestes is dead. He and Plyades will use the urn containing his supposed ashes to gain access to the palace. Meanwhile, Electra is pacing before the palace, bemoaning her plight in life and ranting against her mother and her lover, Aegisthus. The years have not quelled her intense hatred. Her sister, Chrysothemis, exits the palace and is confronted by Electra. Over the years, Chrysothemis has become complacent and somewhat accepting of her mother’s role in her father’s death. Later, when asked to join in a plot to kill their mother and Aegisthus, she will refuse.
When Clytemnestra and Electra meet outside the palace, they argue; Electra is even threatened with exile. The old slave arrives and speaks to Clytemnestra, telling her of her son’s valiant death in a chariot race. Electra is heartbroken. When Chrysothemis returns from offering libations at their father’s grave, she tells her sister that she believes Orestes is still alive and in Argos. Electra informs her of the news of Orestes death. Shortly, Orestes and his friend Plyades arrive with the urn, and, after convincing Electra of his identity, they enter the palace, killing Clytemnestra. Later, when Aegisthus returns, he, too, is killed.
Italian authorities announced in 2018 that the first-ever Etruscan settlement has been discovered in Sardinia. The site dates to the 800s BCE and was strategically situated on the small island of Tavolara. It was likely intended to facilitate trade between Early Iron Age Sardinian Nuraghic communities, known to have inhabited Sardinia at the time, and Etruscan cities nearby on the Italian mainland. There had been extensive archaeological evidence of Etruscan-Nurghic exchanges, but this is the first evidence of an expatriate Etruscan community in Sardinia.
The Etruscans are famous for adopting many Greek cultural aspects and blending them with their own native culture. The resulting mélange in turn influenced Roman culture, which was initially a small backwater to the mighty Etruscans. One potential reason for the Etruscans’ strength? Extensive trading ties with southern Italy, Greece, and Sardinia.
ARISTOTLE of Stagira (l. 384-322 BCE) was a Greek philosopher who pioneered systematic, scientific examination in literally every area of human knowledge and was known, in his time, as “the man who knew everything” and later simply as “The Philosopher”, needing no further qualification as his fame was so widespread. He literally invented the concept of metaphysics single-handedly when he (or one of his scribes) placed his book on abstract philosophical speculation after his book on physics (metaphysics literally means “after physics”) and standardized in learning – how information is collected, assimilated and interpreted, and then communicated – across numerous disciplines.
During the later Middle Ages (c. 1300-1500 CE), he was referred to as "The Master”, most notably in Dante’s Inferno where the author did not need to even identify Aristotle by name for him to be recognized. This particular epithet is apt in that Aristotle wrote on, and was considered a master in, disciplines as diverse as biology, politics, metaphysics, agriculture, literature, botany, medicine, mathematics, physics, ethics, logic, and the theatre. He is traditionally linked in sequence with Socrates and Plato in the triad of the three greatest Greek philosophers.
He was hired by Philip II, King of Macedon (r. 359-336 BCE) as tutor for his son Alexander the Great (l. 356-323 BCE) and made such an impression on the youth that Alexander carried Aristotle’s works with him on campaign and introduced his philosophy to the east when he conquered the Persian Empire. Through Alexander, Aristotle’s works were spread throughout the known world of the time, influencing other philosophies and providing a foundation for the development of Jewish, Christian, and Muslim theology.
The earliest known alternative history was written by the Roman historian Livy. In his grand history of the world, Livy makes a digression in book 9, and imagines that if Alexander the Great had lived longer, he may have turned west and attacked Italy, and the Romans would have defeated him.
IN ’Ancient Cultures and Civilizations: The Culture of Athens’, Vic Kovacs provides a clear and helpful overview of the political structure in Athens, religion in Athens, and the major political and military conflicts between Athens and other polities and cities. Though a long period of history is unaddressed in the volume, I nonetheless recommend the volume for public and private libraries.
Previously, I reviewed Vic Kovacs’ Ancient Cultures and Civilizations, The Culture of Sparta. In this volume, Kovacs shifts from Sparta to Athens: Ancient Cultures and Civilizations: The Culture of Athens. Divided into five chapters, the volume details various aspects of Athenian culture and history: a broad overview of ancient Athens, Athens as it is concerned with democracy, the military in Athens, daily life in Athens, and the downfall of Athens.
Overall, the book provides a clear and helpful overview of the political structure in Athens, religion in Athens, and the major political and military conflicts between Athens and other polities and cities. With its simple language and clear communication, the book is oriented towards elementary school students and middle school students. As such, teachers would benefit from having this book in their private or classroom libraries, just as it would be an excellent addition to a school library.