Renovated Archaeological Museum Is A Must-See on Kos


After being closed for 4 years for renovations, the recently re-opened Archaeological Museum on Kos provides a spectacular look at the island’s rich history.

For insight into the rich history and impressive artistic legacy of ancient Kos, the first stop for sightseers should be the Kos Archaeological Museum. Originally founded in 1936 by the Italians, the island’s rulers at the time, the museum is among the most recent of Kos’ archaeological monuments and infrastructure to be refreshed, restored and made more “visitor-friendly.” After a series of largely EU-funded improvements to local archaeological sites and facilities stretching back over a decade (including improved signage, re-erection of fallen columns and the opening of new exhibitions at the Casa Romana and the small Epigraphical Museum beside the Asclepieion), the Archaeological Museum of Kos (AMK) has had its turn. Closed for more than four years while undergoing major works, the distinctively styled museum officially reopened its doors in September 2016.

The AMK’s pre-WWII architecture is in itself one of the museum’s most historically evocative exhibits. Its façade, with three tall, attenuated arches, bears a unifying resemblance to other historic buildings in Kos Town (e.g., Aghios Nikolaos Church) and brings to mind that period of great archaeological activity when Italian authorities undertook large-scale excavations in the center of the modern town, which had recently been reduced to complete ruin by the devastating 1933 earthquake. Although a disaster for the people of Kos, that earthquake also represented an opportunity for the island’s ancient heritage to be brought to light. Today, for the first time, as archaeologist Stamatia Marketou of Greece’s 22nd Ephorate of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities points out, artifacts previously out of sight in storerooms, together with information gleaned from the investigations of the Italian excavators into Kos’ numerous sanctuaries, are being presented publicly among the AMK’s newly organized permanent displays.

It cannot be forgotten, however, that Italian authorities in the late 1930s were also responsible for what locals still consider a cultural tragedy for the island, when many exquisite ancient mosaics and statues from Kos were removed and installed as decorations in the Italian governor’s palace in Rhodes – an action reminiscent of ancient Greece and the wealthy Roman collectors who similarly shipped Greek works of art back to Italy to adorn their country villas.

On entering the AMK, the visitor is immediately struck by its charm. Just beyond the foyer, a small atrium (illuminated from above with natural light) is the setting for a magnificent polychrome mosaic (2nd-3rd c. AD). This pleasant space is lined with elegantly carved statues of mythical figures standing on a low socle framed between decorative pillars. At each side, two Roman-era ladies in flowing drapery stand beside the mosaic, as if they have just entered the atrium through the rectangular arches behind them. In another doorway, the god Hermes, seated on a rock and wearing a petasos (a distinctive cap) and winged sandals, presides over the entire scene, a small ram beside him looking up inquisitively. Here we also find Dionysus (with Pan and a satyr), Artemis, Asclepius, and his daughter Hygeia.

All seven of these statues originate from a long-inhabited city villa (House of the “Rape of Europa,” 3rd c. BC – 3rd c. AD) in Kos Town. The unusually fine condition of the figures’ sculpted details is worth appreciating; one of the Roman ladies (1st – 2nd c. AD) wears two rings, while Hygeia carries an egg in her left hand with which she tempts a large, writhing serpent gripped in her right. The mosaic, brought from another nearby villa (House of Asclepius), depicts the healing god first arriving on the island, greeted by a standing Koan who gestures in welcome. Hippocrates, an anachronistic onlooker seated opposite, may represent a harbinger of the great medical achievements and tradition of healthcare soon to be established on Kos by the pioneering physician and his followers (the Asclepiades).

To the left of the atrium, a long gallery holds more sculptural works; these highlight the women of ancient Kos and the island’s close connections with Egypt. These objects, along with an oversize standing figure of a bearded Asclepiadic physician (“Hippocrates,” ca. 330-300 BC), were recovered from the town’s Roman Odeon. The opposite, eastern wing is devoted to displays concerning the urban and rural sanctuaries of Heracles, Asclepius, Athena, Demeter, Aphrodite, the Nymphs and Pan. Votive human and animal figurines, sculpted goddesses, lamps, small vessels and protomae (molded busts) are all displayed here, as are medical instruments and potion bottles.

“In the mosaic from the House of Asclepius, Hippocrates may represent a harbinger of the medical achievements and tradition soon to be established on Kos by the pioneering physician.”

On the museum’s upper floor, thematic exhibits detail the geology of Kos and illustrate the span of Koan history and archaeology, from Neolithic through Roman times (4th millennium BC – 1st c. AD). Minoan, Mycenaean and local artifacts from rescue excavations of the Bronze Age settlement of Serayia near the port of Kos are innovatively presented, some against a backdrop of the archaeologists’ hand-drawn stratigraphic profiles from their excavations. Aspects of the life and death of ancient Koans are reflected in cooking and table wares, children’s toys, boudoir items, loom weights, carved grave steles and a range of grave goods. Transport amphorae and an array of Eastern Mediterranean coins recall the major commercial role and economic prosperity of wine-rich Kos in Hellenistic-Roman times. Other trade goods include a large cache of carbonized figs, while local industry is stunningly represented by balls of brilliant blue pigment discovered in a workshop in Kos’ Agora (marketplace). The vitality of life in ancient Kos is demonstrated by an abundance of evidence for symposia (feasts, drinking parties), including plates, wine pitchers, large two-handled cups and — in one of the museum’s most extraordinary artifacts — a party scene of wild abandon carved on a grave stele that depicts an aulos (flute) player, a nude courtesan lying on a couch with a lyre player behind her, and an ithyphallic male figure on the floor, attended by a young servant boy.


Greece rejects Gucci request for Parthenon runway show


Greece’s Central Archaeological Council (KAS), which has oversight over all of the country’s ancient sites, has rejected a request by international fashion house Gucci to hold a runway show on the Acropolis this summer.

“The unique cultural character of the Acropolis monuments is inconsistent with this sort of event,” KAS said in a statement reminding their status as world heritage monuments.

Representatives of the prominent luxury brand were reportedly interested in setting up a catwalk between the Parthenon and the Erechtheion for a 15-minute fashion event in June that would draw about 300 guests. In exchange, they vowed to offer a 2-million-euro subsidy for restoration works over 5 years on the ancient citadel, or to fund any similar project designated by the Greek authorities.

In comments made Tuesday, Culture Minister Lydia Koniordou threw her weight behind the KAS ruling.

“The Parthenon is an important monument and a universal symbol for us Greeks to protect, particularly in light of our ongoing efforts to reunite the Parthenon Marbles,” she said.

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Svenska arkeologer upptäcker okänd stad i Grekland


AV: Cecilia Köljing

En internationell forskargrupp vid Institutionen för historiska studier, Göteborgs universitet, undersöker lämningarna av en antik stad i centrala Grekland. Resultaten kan ge upprättelse åt ett område som tidigare setts som ett av antikens bakvatten.

Arkeologer från Göteborgs universitet har inlett undersökningar av en tidigare okänd antik stad vid byn Vlochós, fem timmar norr om Athen. De arkeologiska lämningarna är utspridda på och kring den höga kullen Strongilovoúni vid den stora Thessaliska slätten och kan dateras till flera olika historiska tidsperioder.

– Det som tidigare ansetts vara lämningarna av en obetydlig boplats på en kulle kan redan efter en säsongs fältarbete uppgraderas till en Forskarteamet som gräver ut antik lämning inom ramen för VLAPregelrätt stadslämning, säger Robin Rönnlund, doktorand i Antikens kultur och samhällsliv vid Göteborgs universitet som leder fältarbetet.

– Jag och en kollega råkade på den här platsen i samband med en annan undersökning förra året och vi insåg genast att här fanns det stor potential. Att ingen undersökt kullens lämningar förut är ett mysterium.

I samarbete med Svenska Institutet i Athen och den lokala arkeologiska myndigheten i Karditsa startades projektet The Vlochós Archaeological Project (VLAP) för att undersöka lämningarna. Under två veckor i september 2016 genomförde projektets forskargrupp den första fältsäsongen.

Keramikkärva från 500 f.Kr. som hittats i undersökningenRobin Rönnlund konstaterar att kullen döljer många hemligheter. På kullens topp och sluttningar finns höga rester av murar, torn och stadsportar, men på marken nedanför syns nästan inget ovan markytan.

Ett av projektets mål är att undvika att gräva ut lämningarna och istället fokusera på undersökningsmetoder som till exempel markradar, vilket gör att man kan lämna platsen som den var när man kom. Att denna filosofi fungerar märks av resultaten från den första fältsäsongen:

– Vi hittade ett torg och ett gatunät som visade att vi hade att göra med en rätt stor stad. Området innanför stadsmuren är på drygt 40 hektar. Vi hittade även antika krukskärvor och mynt som kan användas för att datera staden. Våra äldsta fynd är från runt 500 f.Kr. men staden verkar ha blomstrat främst på 300- till 200-talet f.Kr. innan den av någon anledning övergavs, kanske i samband med att Romarriket erövrade området.

Bild på stadsmuren tagen från luftenRobin Rönnlund tror att det svensk-grekiska projektet kan ge viktiga ledtrådar till vad som hände under denna stormiga period i Greklands historia.

– Man vet än så länge väldigt lite om antika städer i regionen, och många forskare har tidigare trott att västra Thessalien var något av ett bakvatten under antiken. Vårt projekt fyller därför en viktig lucka i kunskapen kring området och visar att det fortfarande finns mycket att upptäcka i Greklands jord.

The Vlochós Archaeological Projekt (VLAP):

VLAP är ett samarbetsprojekt mellan Eforatet för Antikviteter i Karditsa och Svenska Institutet i Athen. Under 2016-2017 undersöker en forskargrupp stadslämningen i Vlochós inom ramen för projektet.


BILD 1: Stadens akropolis skymtar fram under en molnig dag på den Thessaliska slätten.

BILD 2: Deltagarna i den första arkeologiska fältsäsongen i Vlochós.

BILD 3: Skärva av rödfigurig keramik från slutet av 500-talet f.Kr., antagligen av den attiske målaren Paseas.

BILD 4: Försvarsmurar, torn och stadsportar syns tydligt från luften.



Ancient Roman-style meal to be served at Pompeii


(ANSA) – Naples, November 2 – Food in the style of the ancient Romans will be served up for the first time to visitors at the Pompeii archaeological site on Saturday, November 5, in an initiative by Coldiretti farmers’ association to link Italy’s history to its culinary heritage.
The inaugural event, to be held at Pompeii’s Quadriportico Theatre, will be attended by Luigi Curatoli, general director of the Great Pompeii Project; Massimo Osanna, special superintendent for archaeological heritage of Pompeii, Ercolano and Stabia; Italian Cultural Minister Dario Franceschini; and Coldiretti President Roberto Moncalvo.
The Pompeiian menu – gustum, primae mensae e secundae mensae – will be prepared according to original recipes and eaten in the traditionally historical ways in the original context.
The event, titled «EATSTORY – Here Food Has a History», will allow visitors to learn about and participate directly in activities surrounding cultivation, transformation and conservation of local products, Coldiretti said.
Food products prepared according to techniques in use at the time of the eruption of Vesuvius will also be available for purchase.


Secrets of Greek artists revealed: X-rays show hidden layers of paint on a stunning 2,500-year-old vase


  • X-ray scanning was used on an Athenian oil-flask from around 500 BC
  • The results showed that a calcium colour additive was used for white
  • This is an additional step that was previously unknown  
Researchers have used a new x-ray scanning technique on an ancient Greek vase to reveal layers of hidden paint beneath the surface.

The results raise questions about how ancient pottery was produced, and whether previously unknown additional steps were involved.

The researchers now hope to use the x-ray scanning method on other materials that could be used in batteries or electronics.

The chemical map shows calcium matching the white areas in the driver’s tunic and dot accents, and iron (red) and potassium (blue) matching the black of the horse and figure silhouettes.

The findings come as a result of a growing collaboration between the Cantor Arts Centre and Stanford University, both in California.

About two years ago, the Arts Centre introduced a fellowship for science students interested in studying art conservation.

Susan Roberts-Manganelli, director of the Learning Lab said: ‘We can do a lot of testing here at the Cantor.

‘But some studies need more robust collaboration and more powerful X-rays to actually get answers to our questions.’

One such study, done by student Kevin Chow, took a deeper look at the techniques of the ancient Greek potters, which are difficult to reproduce and not entirely understood.

The study focused on an Athenian oil-flask, called a lekythos, from 500-480 BC.

Using a technique called synchrotron X-ray fluorescence, the team was able to uncover surprising steps in the production process that challenge the conventional understanding.

3960283F00000578-3837808-image-a-11_1476436342282.jpgThe scan produced a chemical map, which showed that a calcium-based colour additive was used for white, which would have added an additional step

Jody Maxim, who supervised Mr Chow’s study, said: ‘Under what they thought was a single coat, they found other instances of painting that the naked eye could not see.

The study focused on an Athenian oil-flask, called a lekythos from 500-480 BC

‘It was thrilling to learn that a very humble vase – hundreds of these were produced for the Festival of Athena every four years – shows certain standards of aesthetic excellence.’

The scan produced a chemical map, which showed that a calcium-based colour additive was used for white, which would have added an additional step.

It also raised questions about the firing process, due to the absence of zinc – which was presumed to be key in achieving black colours in the heating process.

The researchers now hope to use the same scanning technique on other materials.

Apurva Mehta, a scientist from Stanford, said: ‘We had to find a way to see all layers of the Greek pot in detail, which is something we want to do for other materials that might be used in batteries or electronics.’

A custom-made mount held the delicate pot during a rotational scan using synchrotron X-ray fluorescence

A custom-made mount held the delicate pot during a rotational scan using synchrotron X-ray fluorescence

By Shivali Best For Mailonline

Western contact with China began long before Marco Polo, experts say


_91770731_soldiers_getty624Greek artisans may have trained those who made the Terracotta Warriors(Getty Images)

China and the West were in contact more than 1,500 years before European explorer Marco Polo arrived in China, new findings suggest.

Archaeologists say inspiration for the Terracotta Warriors, found at the Tomb of the First Emperor near today’s Xian, may have come from Ancient Greece.

They also say ancient Greek artisans could have been training locals there in the Third Century BC.

Polo’s 13th Century journey to China was the first to be well-documented.

However, Chinese historians recorded much earlier visits by people thought by some to have been emissaries from the Roman Empire during the Second and Third Centuries AD.

«We now have evidence that close contact existed between the First Emperor’s China and the West before the formal opening of the Silk Road. This is far earlier than we formerly thought,» said Senior Archaeologist Li Xiuzhen, from the Emperor Qin Shi Huang’s Mausoleum Site Museum.

A separate study shows European-specific mitochondrial DNA has been found at sites in China’s western-most Xinjiang Province, suggesting that Westerners may have settled, lived and died there before and during the time of the First Emperor.

Qin Shi Huang lived between 259-210BC and became the first emperor of a unified China

Farmers first discovered the 8,000 terracotta figures buried less than a mile from the tomb of China’s first emperor Qin Shi Huang in 1974.

However there was no tradition of building life-sized human statues in China before the tomb was created. Earlier statues were simple figurines about 20cm (7.9ins) in height.

To explain how such an enormous change in skill and style could have happened, Dr Xiuzhen believes that influences must have come from outside China.

«We now think the Terracotta Army, the Acrobats and the bronze sculptures found on site have been inspired by ancient Greek sculptures and art,» she said.

Prof Lukas Nickel from the University of Vienna says statues of circus acrobats recently found at the First Emperor’s tomb support this theory.

 The findings feature in a new BBC documentary

He believes the First Emperor was influenced by the arrival of Greek statues in Central Asia in the century following Alexander the Great, who died in 323BC.

«I imagine that a Greek sculptor may have been at the site to train the locals,» he said.

Other discoveries include new evidence that the First Emperor’s tomb complex is much bigger than first thought and 200 times bigger than Egypt’s Valley of the Kings.

They also include the mutilated remains of women, believed to have been high-ranking concubines of the First Emperor, and the skull of a man with a crossbow bolt embedded in it.

The skull is believed to have belonged to the First Emperor’s eldest son, thought to have been killed along with others during a power struggle after the emperor’s death.


Human Skeleton Found on Famed Antikythera Shipwreck


Two-thousand-year-old bones could yield first DNA from an ancient shipwreck victim

Jo Marchant
19 September 2016

Divers examine human bones excavated from the Antikythera shipwreck (Brett Seymour, EUA/WHOI/ARGO).

Hannes Schroeder snaps on two pairs of blue latex gloves, then wipes his hands with a solution of bleach. In front of him is a large Tupperware box full of plastic bags that each contain sea water and a piece of red-stained bone. He lifts one out and inspects its contents as several archaeologists hover behind, waiting for his verdict. They’re hoping he can pull off a feat never attempted before — DNA analysis on someone who has been under the sea for 2,000 years.

Through the window, sunlight sparkles on cobalt water. The researchers are on the tiny Greek island of Antikythera, a 10-minute boat ride from the wreckage of a 2,000-year-old merchant ship. Discovered by sponge divers in 1900, the wreck was the first ever investigated by archaeologists. Its most famous bounty to date has been a surprisingly sophisticated clockwork device that modelled the motions of the Sun, Moon and planets in the sky — dubbed1 the ‘Antikythera mechanism’.

But on 31 August this year, investigators made another groundbreaking discovery: a human skeleton, buried under around half a metre of pottery sherds and sand. “We’re thrilled,” says Brendan Foley, an underwater archaeologist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, and co-director of the excavations team. “We don’t know of anything else like it.”

A partial skull, with three teeth, is among the human remains found at the Antikythera wreck (Brett Seymour, EUA/WHOI/ARGO).

Within days of the find, Foley invited Schroeder, an expert in ancient-DNA analysis from the Natural History Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen, to assess whether genetic material might be extracted from the bones. On his way to Antikythera, Schroeder was doubtful. But as he removes the bones from their bags he is pleasantly surprised. The material is a little chalky, but overall looks well preserved. “It doesn’t look like bone that’s 2,000 years old,” he says. Then, sifting through several large pieces of skull, he finds both petrous bones — dense nuggets behind the ear that preserve DNA better than other parts of the skeleton or the teeth. “It’s amazing you guys found that,” Schroeder says. “If there’s any DNA, then from what we know, it’ll be there.”

Schroeder agrees to go ahead with DNA extraction when permission is granted by the Greek authorities. It would take about a week to find out whether the sample contains any DNA, he says: then perhaps a couple of months to sequence it and analyse the results.

For Schroeder, the discovery gives him the chance to push the boundaries of ancient-DNA studies. So far, most have been conducted on samples from cold climates such as northern Europe. “I’ve been trying to push the application of ancient DNA into environments where people don’t usually look for DNA,” he says. (He was part of a team that last year published the first Mediterranean ancient genome, of a Neolithic individual from Spain.)

Foley and the archaeologists, meanwhile, are elated by the chance to learn more about the people on board the first-century bc ship, which carried luxury items from the eastern Mediterranean, probably intended for wealthy buyers in Rome.

Rare discovery

The skeleton discovery is a rare find, agrees Mark Dunkley, an underwater archaeologist from the London-based heritage organization Historic England. Unless covered by sediment or otherwise protected, the bodies of shipwreck victims are usually swept away and decay, or are eaten by fish. Complete skeletons have been recovered from younger ships, such as the sixteenth-century English warship the Mary Rose and the seventeenth-century Vasa in Sweden. Both sank in mud, close to port. But “the farther you go back, the rarer it is”, says Dunkley.

Only a handful of examples of human remains have been found on ancient wrecks, says archaeologist Dimitris Kourkoumelis of the Greek Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities, who collaborates with Foley. They include a skull found inside a Roman soldier’s helmet near Sardinia, and a skeleton reportedly discovered inside a sunken sarcophagus near the Greek island of Syrna (although the bones disappeared before the find could be confirmed).

Hannes Schroeder (left), project co-director Theotokis Theodoulou (centre) and Brendan Foley inspect the bones (Michael Tsimperopoulos, EUA/WHOI/ARGO).

In fact, the best-documented example is the Antikythera wreck itself: scattered bones were found by the French marine explorer Jacques Cousteau, who excavated here in 1976. Argyro Nafplioti, an osteoarchaeologist at the University of Cambridge, UK, concluded that the remains came from at least four individuals, including a young man, a woman and a teenager of unknown sex.

At the wreck site, only broken pots now remain on the sea floor — the sponge divers recovered all artefacts visible on the seabed in 1900–01. But Foley thinks that much of the ship’s cargo may be buried under the sediment. His team, including expert technical divers and members of the Greek archaeological service, relocated and mapped the 50-metre-deep site before beginning their own excavations in 2014. They have found items such as wine jars, glassware, two bronze spears from statues, gold jewellery and table jugs used by the crew (see ‘Ancient bounty’). The divers have also recovered ship components including enormous anchors and a teardrop-shaped lead weight, found in June, that may be the first known example of what ancient texts describe as a ‘war dolphin’ — a defensive weapon carried by merchant vessels to smash hostile ships.

Source: Stefan Williams, Australian Centre for Field Robotics; Alex Tourtas, EUA/WHOI/ARGO

The skeleton uncovered in August consists of a partial skull with three teeth, two arm bones, several rib pieces and two femurs, all apparently from the same person. Foley’s team plans further excavations to see whether more bones are still under the sand.

That so many individuals have been found at Antikythera — when most wrecks yield none — may be partly because few other wrecks have been as exhaustively investigated. But the researchers think it also reveals something about how the ship sank. This was a huge vessel for its time, perhaps more than 40 metres long, says Foley, with multiple decks and many people on board. The wreck is close to shore, at the foot of the island’s steep cliffs. He concludes that a storm smashed the ship against the rocks so that it broke up and sank before people had a chance to react. “We think it was such a violent wrecking event, people got trapped below decks.”

Mediterranean mystery

Diver Gemma Smith brings up bones from the Antikythera wreck. (Michael Tsimperopoulos, EUA/WHOI/ARGO)

The individuals found at Antikythera could be from the crew, which would probably have consisted of 15–20 people on a ship this size. Greek and Roman merchant ships also commonly carried passengers, and sometimes slaves. One reason people get trapped inside shipwrecks is if they are chained, points out Dunkley. “The crew would be able to get off relatively fast. Those shackled would have no opportunity to escape.” Intriguingly, the recently discovered bones were surrounded by corroded iron objects, so far unidentified; the iron oxide has stained the bones amber red.

Schroeder says that because ancient underwater remains are so rare, DNA analysis on such samples using state-of-the-art techniques has barely been tried. (Analyses were conducted on skeletons from the Mary Rose and the Vasa, but specialists no longer see those methods — based on amplifying DNA using a method called PCR — as reliable, because it is too difficult to distinguish ancient DNA from modern contamination.) Exceptions include analyses on 8,000-year-old wheat from a submerged site off the English coast (although these results have been questioned because the DNA did not show the expected age-related damage), and mitochondrial DNA from a 12,000-year-old skeleton found in a freshwater sinkhole in Mexico.

The surprisingly complex Antikythera mechanism modelled the motions of the Sun, Moon and planets (Anthony Ayiomamitis).

Finding undisturbed remains such as those at Antikythera is crucial because it offers the opportunity to extract any DNA in the best possible condition. Previously salvaged bones are not ideal for analysis because they have often been washed, treated with conservation mater­ials or kept in warm conditions (all of which can destroy fragile DNA), or handled in a way that contaminates them.

Schroeder guesses from the skeleton’s fairly robust femur and unworn teeth that the individual was a young man. As well as confirming the person’s gender, DNA from the Antikythera bones could provide information about characteristics from hair and eye colour to ancestry and geographic origin. In the past few years, modern genome sequences have revealed that genetic variation in populations mirrors geography, says Schroeder. He and others are now starting to look at how ancient individuals fit on that map, to reconstruct past population movements. Would the shipwreck victim look more Greek-Italian or Near Eastern, he wonders?

Over dinner, the researchers decide to nickname the bones’ owner Pamphilos, after a name found neatly scratched on a wine cup from the wreck. “Your mind starts spinning,” says Schroeder. “Who were those people who crossed the Mediterranean 2,000 years ago? Maybe one of them was the astronomer who owned the mechanism.”




On Not Knowing (Modern) Greek


Johanna Hanink

Virginia Woolf’s essay “On Not Knowing Greek” was published in 1925, the same year as Mrs Dalloway. The title gestures not to Woolf’s (nor to anyone’s) ignorance of Ancient Greek syntax, morphology and vocabulary, but to the impossibility of knowing today “how the words sounded, or where precisely we ought to laugh, or how the actors acted.” The essay is nevertheless an encomium of ancient Greek thought and literature, and, ironically, a testament to Woolf’s own fine command of the ancient language.

I think of it sometimes when I reflect on two frustrations I have about “not knowing” Modern Greek: a version of Greek in which you can, in fact, hear words, laugh on cue, and watch actors act. The first is with myself, because I wish I knew the language better. The second is with the field of Classics, for not institutionally valuing — and for even dismissing — any aspiring classicist’s efforts to learn it. After all, the thinking goes, those hours would be better spent on Homer and Thucydides (or even “German for Reading”: leave it to us to kill off a living language).

Classicists like equally to brag and complain that they have to learn a lot of languages. Most American PhD programs require exams in Ancient Greek, Latin, German, and either French or Italian: if you know either French or Italian, the thinking goes, you can fake your way through the other.

These languages are the tools of the trade, but they are also metonyms for the philological traditions that we are expected to put on a convincing show of knowing — with, say, the occasional name-check of Wilamowitz. Once you decide to get serious about the field, you learn to take these traditions for granted as the most inherently valuable. The history of European classical scholarship is entangled with the esteem that Greek and Latin have enjoyed in countries where German, French, Italian, or English is spoken. Many scholars who identify with the European classical tradition assume that any scholarship worth reading, or at least citing, will be in one of those four languages.

On the one hand, the modern language requirements of Classics PhD programs should really start to reflect that interesting and important things have been said and are being said about Greco-Roman antiquity in countless languages other than English, German, French, and Italian (why not accept Turkish or Arabic or Chinese — isn’t, after all, scholarship really just a form of “reception”?). On the other, the absence of Modern Greek from the list of discipline-approved languages is itself curious, and stranger still if you consider how classicists love to spend time, and to talk about spending time, in Greece.

Like fourteen European countries and two other former British colonies (Canada and Australia), the United States has a home base for its archeologists and classicists in Athens, at the American School of Classical Studies. It should go without saying that plenty of scholarship has been and continues to be written in Greek; Greek universities often have enormous Classics departments. There is simply more information in Greek about Greek archeological sites, both at the sites and in print. And for better or for worse Greek antiquity is more urgently present in national conversations (and at bookstores and on social media) in Greece than anywhere else.

So why does Modern Greek still not have a seat at the classicists’ table?

This is, bluntly put, largely because our discipline continues to take a colonialist view of, among other things, Greece, Greeks, and (Modern) Greek. Historians and anthropologists who work on Greece have been much more willing than classicists to acknowledge the country’s legacy of metaphorical colonization: not by the Ottomans, but by the early European antiquaries and travelers who planted their flags in the ruins of Greek antiquity.

At a time when European powers were scrambling to expand their empires, the travelers’ influential approach to the Ottoman-held “Classical Lands” was, as historian K.E. Fleming points out, “representative of a different form of colonialism, in which the history and ideology, rather than territory, of another country” is “claimed, invaded, and annexed.” Viewed through the lens of the present, the people who undertook this more “symbolic” colonization of Greece look a great deal like early versions of classicists.

Thanks to their proprietary attitude toward antiquity, they largely discounted local knowledge and described local people as apathetic to the ancient past whose ruins they seemed to live so blithely among (see here for evidence to the contrary). This kind of thinking was in turn used to justify, among other things, the removal of antiquities from Greece to countries where, supposedly, they would be better appreciated and cared for. All of this makes for a very long and complex story — one in which Greeks were hardly passive participants.

One of the story’s many legacies is that classicists trained in the “Western” classical tradition tend to disregard Modern Greek as a scholarly language, while Greeks who want to participate in the tradition — to have their voices and ideas heard abroad— earn degrees in other countries and publish their research in English, German, or French. Granting Modern Greek a more valued place in the professional conversation would be a positive step for a field that, on the point of colonialism, has a lot to answer for.

Beyond the political argument — and on the more personal, spiritual level that Woolf evokes in her own essay — the struggle to learn Modern Greek can bring a special kind of joy to those of us who first came to the language in its ancient form. That joy is the main reason I recommend that classicists spend at least a little time on Modern Greek, and ignore the gnawing voice that will say it’s a waste of time.

In a recent blog post (“What does the Latin actually say?”), Mary Beard makes an important point: for a lot of people it is hard for people to learn dead languages because we learn them passively. “It is both the plus and the minus of Latin,” she writes, “that we never have to ask for a pizza, or the way to the swimming pool, in it.”

My own learning style is certainly more “verbal” than “logical.” I like to talk, so I make much slower progress at learning dead languages passively than at learning living languages actively (my German is bad, but I could think of no greater waste of my own time than a “German for Reading” class). Modern Greek, of course, is not Ancient Greek: the linguistic politics here are particularly delicate and complex for historical reasons. The pronunciation can be a psychological barrier, and the language has changed since antiquity: classicists are often especially surprised to learn that infinitives have long since passed out of use. Greek also brims with borrowings from Turkish, Albanian, Italian, French, English…. But so what? Classicists’ own modern language requirements count Italian and French as substitutes for each other.

There’s no denying that having to decline Greek nouns when I order a pizza, or manipulate Greek verbs when I ask the way to the swimming pool, has brought even the ancient language to life for me. After years of studying Modern Greek, I have a far better recall for vocabulary, handle on verb forms, and instinctive sense for accentuation. The time I have dedicated to Modern Greek is some of the best I have spent as a classicist, since it has given me a sounder, more internalized sense of the ancient language (a better Sprachgefühl, as a more responsible classicist might say).

It’s fun, too, to learn how meanings of words have changed over time. For years ὁ φόρος was, in my mind, the tribute paid to Athens by its Delian League allies. Now the word just means “tax” (inasmuch as tax ever “just” means tax). Being αγαθός nowadays is not usually such a good thing. A στήλη can be a “column” in a newspaper (or on Eidolon). In chapter 4 of the Poetics, Aristotle observes just how much pleasure people take in learning and inferring: in looking at an image of someone and recognizing, “Oh, that’s him” (οὗτος ἐκεῖνος, 1448b). Making connections between two things — hearing a new word and realizing you already know it, just differently — sends a spark of joy through the brain. And anyway there is something to be said for a language that allows you to describe a tall, fit guy as a kouros in everyday conversation.

The twists and turns of Greek linguistic history also mean you can play specifically with avoiding Ancient Greek. Oftentimes there is a choice between describing something with a “high-register” word with ancient roots or a “low-register” vernacular or foreign word. Liver, for example, is συκώτι (derived, like Italian fegato and French foie, from a word for “fig”), but when the matter is a disease of the liver the more classicist-friendly ήπαρ is common. Speaking of liver, who would you buy it from: the κρεοπώλης or the χασάπης? The one features in beginning Ancient Greek textbooks; the other comes from Turkish. A Greek professor of Latin once told me that he revels in speaking English precisely because it offers similar opportunities to play with the nuance of register: between Anglo-Saxon, French and Latinate diction (to use a classic example, does Elizabeth II strike you as queenly, royal, or regal?).

The Facebook page Ancient Memes exploits the space between these levels by captioning “high-register” artworks with dialogue in very modern, “low-register” Greek. Reading things like Ancient Memes, or my few copies of “Aristophanes in Comics,” has introduced new playfulness into my approach to Ancient Greek. And play, of course, is one of ways we learn best.

So what is still keeping many classicists (again, leaving the more political argument aside) from seizing the real practical benefits that Modern Greek has to offer: the opportunity to spend time in Greece more comfortably, the chance to collaborate with Greek colleagues more substantively, the opportunity to bolster our grasp of the language and its extremely longue durée, and to procrastinate by laughing at Ancient Memes?

When I posed a version of the question to a professor in Thessaloniki, he had a good answer. Classicists, he suggested, are easily embarrassed and afraid to make mistakes. Making mistakes is crucial for language acquisition, and sometimes the mistakes will be horribly embarrassing ones (I have, in polite conversation, said τσιμπούκι when I meant τσιμπούρι). Once, after I paid for books at a bookstore in Greece, I overheard the woman who had just rung me out ask a colleague with genuine bewilderment: “What does she want with an Ancient Greek book if she can’t even speak Greek?” In a field that already demands so much posturing, so much pretense of knowing Greek and Latin, risking mistakes and “not knowing” means risking a lot of your ego.

But it’s worth it. Learning Modern Greek, at least to the extent that I have managed to learn it, has made both my life and my relationship with my work all the richer. I haven’t even mentioned the unique pleasure that modern Greek literature offers the classicist. That sheer enjoyment aside, few people have been more influential in shaping modern views of Greek antiquity than George Seferis, or have problematized the periodization of Greek poetry more than Constantine Cavafy (translated into English most recently by critic and classicist Daniel Mendelsohn). I first came to Modern Greek after reading Seferis’ essay “Delphi” (Greek here), but since then have actually come to prefer paddling around in Greek literature’s less classical waters.

Nevertheless, since I’m teaching ancient Greek mythology again this semester, the text I’m most excited about right now is Auguste Corteau’s Νεολληνική Μυθολογία. It is a parodic re-imagining of ancient Greek myths: on one page, Erebus makes a move on his sister Nyx: “Hush you idiot,” she replies, “Mom’ll hear and call Social Services.” Later, Kronos appears on the beach and informs his father he’s come to play paddle ball. “But I don’t see any balls,” says Ouranos. “Nor will you ever again,” says Kronos.

Now, with the prospect of a long plane ride ahead of me, I’m looking forward to having a few quiet hours with the book — no matter how much of it I manage to understand, or how often I know when I ought to laugh.

Interested in learning Modern Greek? The homepage of the Modern Greek Studies Association has plenty of information and resources.

This article is part of a bimonthly column, Disciplinary Action, in which Johanna Hanink will address the politics of the Classics field.

Johanna Hanink is Associate Professor of Classics at Brown University. Her new book The Classical Debt: Greek Antiquity in an Era of Austerity is forthcoming from Harvard University Press in spring (it began life as this Eidolon article last summer). You can hear her chat about ancient Athens and the concept of cultural decline on Richard Flower’s Distant Pasts podcast.

Special thanks to Yung In Chae, Konstantinos Poulis, and Donna Zuckerberg.




Philippi hoping for UNESCO listing



The site is the location of the oldest Neolithic settlement in Eastern Macedonia and Thrace, and one of the largest in the Balkans.

Still licking its wounds after last week’s airport attack, Istanbul will this month host the 40th session of the World Heritage Committee at the city’s Congress Center from July 10 to 20. Among the issues on the agenda of the 10-day meeting is Greece’s request for the archaeological site of Philippi, in northern Greece, to be listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

On the sidelines of the summit, the Greek Consulate is supporting a related photo exhibition at the Sismanoglio Megaro, in the same city. The exhibition, which will be launched on July 18 under the title “Philippi: A Century of Archaeological Discoveries,” is organized by the Ephorate of Antiquities of Kavala-Thasos and the French School of Archaeology in Athens. The exhibition, which first went on display in Thessaloniki two years ago, aims to showcase the multifaceted research on the site, the team behind the dig, the significance of the artifacts unearthed by archaeologists, and the importance of international collaborations.

The bid to include Philippi on the list of World Heritage monuments is backed by the Regional Authority of Eastern Macedonia and Thrace, the Municipality of Kavala, the local archbishopric, and the local community. Meanwhile, the municipality is organizing a tourism campaign for the region.

There is nevertheless a feeling of dismay on the Greek side following the decision by Turkish authorities which allowed a daily reading from the Quran to be broadcast from Hagia Sophia during the holy Muslim month of Ramadan.

17 monuments

Greece has been a signatory to the Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage since 1981. A total 17 monuments from the prehistoric, Classical, Byzantine and post-Byzantine period have since been included on the list. Another 15 sites are on the tentative list. The first Greek entry was the Temple of Apollo Epicurius at Bassae. The Old Town of Corfu, one of the main attractions of the Ionian island, was the last Greek site to be listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2007.

“Officials at the Culture Ministry, with help from the Kavala Municipality, have carried out extremely important work. We have successfully completed a demanding evaluation process, we have a positive recommendation by the competent advisory body and we are looking forward to a positive result for the site as well as the country,” said Dr Eugenia Gerousi, head of the Directorate of Byzantine and Post-Byzantine Antiquities at the ministry.

“The nomination of Philippi, already on Greece’s tentative list since 2003, is the first nomination in many years and, what is more, it complies with the new – and much stricter – operational guidelines imposed by the international organization,” Gerousi said.

What does it mean to be on UNESCO’s list?

“After a monument is included on the list, it gains international recognition,” says Stavroula Dadaki, head of the Ephorate of Antiquities in Kavala. This means more visitors and need for better infrastructure.

“There is an ongoing effort to include works that will upgrade the archaeological site (such as entrances, footpaths, guard booths, toilets and so on). Being on the list does not just mean glory and glamour; it also means extra obligations,” Dadaki said.

The archaeological site of Philippi is a magnet for visitors to northern Greece. The site is the location of the oldest Neolithic settlement in Eastern Macedonia and Thrace, and one of the largest in the Balkans. Saint Paul founded the first Christian Church on European soil at Philippi in AD 49/50.

Dating back to 1957, the festival at the ancient theater of Philippi is Greece’s second oldest festival after that at Epidaurus. A “virtual trial” competition involving university students from eight institutions is held at the Forum every spring.

Stikkord: ,

Athletes from around the world re-enact ancient games in Nemea



Fifty-five days before the Games begin in Rio de Janeiro, athletes from around the world are taking part in very different kind of sporting tournament in southern Greece.

Think of it as the no-frills Olympics: No national teams. No medals. No shoes.

Wearing only white tunics and running barefoot, athletes competed Saturday in the Sixth Modern Nemean Games, a partial revival of ancient Greek games which draws enthusiastic participants aged from 5 to 89.

The races, run in age categories, only include a 90-meter sprint on a straight dirt course at a 2,300-year-old stadium and 7.5-kilometer run through fabled olive groves and vineyards in the area, where in ancient Greek mythology Hercules – god of strength, sport and fertility – slayed a fearsome lion.

Runners take an oath before competing, and pass through an ancient tunnel to reach the track. A teenage boy, with a red cloak and laurel branch crown on his head, sounds a long horn before each race.

Overnight rain delayed the games for 90 minutes and caused some runners to slip in the mud during races.

Irish runner Andrew Fortune stayed on his feet to win the print in his age group. A white ribbon was tied behind his head and his feet were cooled in a copper basin.

«It was amazing to come into these games. The tunnel was phenomenal,» the 42-year-old said, still slightly out of breath. «The track was very muddy today.

One guy tripped beside me but the feet are good and the race is won. It was a great experience — the right way to run Instead of a starting gun, track officials used a mechanism copied from antiquity: a wood-and-rope starting gate that drops to the ground when the race begins. Runners pick numbered blocks of marble out of a metal drum at random to be assigned their lane.

The Nemean Games were revived by an American archaeologist who first came to Nemea in southern Greece in 1973.

Stephen G. Miller, professor emeritus of classical archaeology at the University of California, Berkeley, led the excavation when the ancient site still lay buried beneath a highway and vineyards used by raisin farmers.

Near the southern city of Corinth, Nemea is steeped in ancient history. The 2,300-year-old Temple of Zeus stands next to the track and a museum built at the site.

Miller and his team unearthed the temple and stadium, one of the four major sites where Ancient Greek games were held: Olympia, Delphi, Isthmia and Nemea.

The 74-year-old has led the games at Nemea since 1996, a lower-key, more egalitarian affair than the Olympics, in which athletes engage in the no-prize competition with a relatively small but dedicated following.

The games attract a mix of Greek and overseas travelers and tourists, history lovers, fitness enthusiasts and school trips. The tunics, held tight with a piece of rope, could be mistaken for hospital gowns and are color-coded: White for athletes, black for track officials, and yellow, green or light blue for other organizers.

Miller, in yellow, manned the entrance, checking the names of athletes as they entered the games area.

Giving an ancient site a little modern significance, he says, encourages people to learn.

«Im an archaeologist. And what I do is greatly satisfying – to be the first person to see what was made by an ancient Greek 2,300 years ago. But that’s self-satisfaction. What does that mean for our society? Nothing,» he told the AP in an interview during an interval at the games.

«I think here with our games, [people] will learn with physical contact – with the same stones and the same earth that the ancient Greeks touched. I hope they will be inspired to read a little history, to learn something about ancient Greek athletics and through ancient Greek athletics to learn about ancient Greece.»

Ancient games, held over roughly 1,000 years, were of major significance in Greece, pausing wars between rival city states so that hostilities would not interfere with the competition.

Unlike the ancient games and the Aug. 5-21 Rio Olympics, Miller said, Nemea is open to everybody.

«We don’t rival the Olympic games. We supplement the Olympic games. Weextend the experience of the Olympic spirit to everybody,» he said.

«You don’t have to be a great athlete as you do in the Olympics. You can be a common person. You can walk down the track instead of running. But you are part of ancient history.»