O Muse, grant me the eloquence to explain what I feel, think, and decide in my journey. And grant others the ability to make sense of the rambling.

Friday 21 September 2012

PBP: S - Symposia

Not exactly a religious thing but Ancient Greek related none the less.

The Symposion, or the Symposium, is an artistic and intellectual gathering of influential citizens, artists and philosophers  usually all male, though several exceptional female guests may be present along with the hired flute girls and serving slaves. Although the conversation at the beginning of the evening may be elevated and refined, as the guests imbibe greater quantities of wine, the event becomes ever more riotous and bawdier, and it usually ends in the most licentious behaviour.

Symposia are often held in the official dining room of temples and public buildings, but if you wanted to see the event at its most typical , you would have to attend one in the andron (men's quarters) of a private house.

The host of the symposion, the symposiarch , acts as the master of ceremonies. He decides how much water to ass to the wine, and thereby how quickly his fellow symposiasts will become drunk. He sets the tone for the proceedings, which could be intellectual and elevated, or bawdy and licentious from the start.

Symposia are given for a variety of reasons such as to celebrate a victory in an athletic or dramatic contest or to introduce a young man into high society. The guests, as a rule, are all male, but notable women such as hetaira (high class courtesans) attend the symposia and discuss matters of state and philosophy with the men. Even when women guests are not present, female company is provided by 'flute girls', who, in addition to providing the musical accompaniments to songs and poems on the aulos, are also paid prostitutes.

Once the guests have assembled, the symposiarch offers a libation to the gods, and to Dionysos, god of wine, in particular. The guests recline singly or in pairs on couches arranged around the walls of the andron; though youths do not recline, but sit.

Naked boy slaves chosen for their looks mix the wine with water in the large central krater (mixing bowl) and serve it to each guest in a large, shallow cup known as a kylix, serve food - though the fare, as ever, is not always luxurious, consisting of bread and opson (all solid food served as an accompaniment to bread), and figs and sweet cakes for dessert.

The symposiarch suggests the topic of conversation and invites contributions from the guests; or,  if he has a more diverting evening planned, he may opt for party games instead. One of the popular is kottabos, in which players swish the dregs of their kylixes at a target on a small bronze statuette. Other games include singing and drinking contests, the aim of which is to get the guests as drunk as possible.

Source - Traveller's Guide to the Ancient World. Greece in the year 415BCE.

Hymns to Aphrodite

5. Moisa, tell me the deeds of golden Aphrodite Kypria, who stirs up sweet passion in the gods and subdues the tribes of mortal men and birds that fly in air and all the many creatures that the dry land rears, and all the sea: all these love the deeds of rich-crowned Kythereia…

Hail, goddess, queen of well-builded Kypros! With you have I begun; now I will turn me to another hymn.

6. I will sing of stately Aphrodite, gold-crowned and beautiful, whose dominion is the walled cities of all sea-set Kypros. There the moist breath of Zephyros the western wind wafted her over the waves of the loud-moaning sea in soft foam, ad there the gold-filleted Horai welcomed her joyously…

Hail, sweetly-winning, coy-eyed goddess! Grant that I may gain the victory in this contest, and order you my song. And now I will remember you and another song also.

10. Of Kythereia, born in Kypros, I will sing. She gives kindly gifts to men: smiles are ever on her lovely face, and lovely is the brightness that plays over it. Hail, goddess, queen of well-built Salamis and sea-girt Kypros; grant me a cheerful song. And now I will remember you and another song also.

Saturday 15 September 2012

PBP: S - Sex in Ancient Greece

A brief overview.

Aphrodite and Eros were key deities of love and sexual delight, both gifting mortals and gods alike with desire as well as cursing them with burning passion. The ancient myths are filled with tales of nymphs and mortals being ravished by the gods and more beastly creatures such as Satyrs. (The subject of rape is a larger topic that I might address at some point.)

Sex and sexuality in Ancient Greece were more liberal than today in some ways and more strict in others. A male citizen could partake of a multitude of sexual acts, with both males and females, though female citizens were more restricted.

Women were the guardians of citizenship. An Athenian citizen had to make sure all his wife's children were his. To keep her away from temptation, she was locked away in the women's quarter and accompanied by a male when she went outside. If she were caught with another man in flagrante delicto, the man could be killed or brought to court. When the woman married she was a piece of property transferred from her father (or other male guardian) to her husband. In Sparta, the need for Spartan citizens was strong, but women were encouraged to bear children to a citizen who would sire well if her own husband proved inadequate. There she wasn't so much her spouse's property as the state's -- as were her children and her husband.

Prostitutes were despised then as they are today, although for slightly different reasons. They might have been looked upon as victims (of pimps), but they were also greedy and deceitful. Even if they were honest financially, they used makeup and other artifices to make themselves more attractive.

Sex between wife and husband was just one of many choices available -- at least to the male. There were slaves of both sexes, concubines, and hetairai, all of whom were available, if only for a fee. Men could also try to entice a young man just past puberty. These relationships were the ones celebrated on vases and in much of Athenian literature.

In Plato's Symposium (a treatise on Athenian eroticism) Aristophanes offers a colorful explanation for why all these sexual options existed. In the beginning there were three types of double-headed humans, varying according to sex: male/male, female/female, and male/female. Zeus, angered at the humans, punished them by splitting them in half. From then on, each half has forever sought out his other half.

Homosexuality was also more common, especially in Sparta where homosexual relationships were even encouraged to help form comradeship between soldiers. Pederasty was also practises, where a more middle aged man cultivated a relationship with a teenage boy in order to teach him the ways of men, usually philosophy, sex and war.

Saturday 8 September 2012

Patron Deities, uh oh.

Disclaimer - Personal opinion below, not fact.

Something I've seen discussed a lot lately and not just in relation to Hellenic deities. There seems to be a lot of interest in Loki as far as Tumblr is concerned and I'm not going to go into his influence in this post.

Patron Deities: Are they a form of objectional devotion? is a small post written by Timothy Alexander that I found interesting, but not exclusively correct. Having started out with Wicca and Neo-paganism myself, I know where this focus on having a relationship with the gods comes from. In most of the books on the subject, you're told to pick a god and a goddess and venerate them. Which works if you're a soft polytheist in some regards, but if you approach this from a harder polytheistic attitude then you start to run into problems. Do you pick and choose one god and one goddess from the same, or differing pantheons? What if you don't identify with either or both gender aspects? As much as I once belonged to the eclectic ball park, this sort of blasé cherry picking annoys me a little. Sure, if a certain deity calls to you, then I can't argue with that but that's personal UPG.

But that is not the core of the issue, that would be the nature of this relationship with a 'patron' deity. Personally, I don't believe that I will be picked by some higher force in the universe and treated like a special snowflake, I just won't, because I'm mortal and there are a lot of us on this planet. Nor do I think it's especially polite to try and force that sort of relationship on a deity by trying to jump on the bandwagon.

From a Hellenic stand point, the gods historically gave their patronage to skills and trades, cities and heroes, and seeing as the Heroic Age is long over, then that last one I think would be extremely rare. As a writer/administrator technically my patrons could be either Apollo, Hermes or the Muses but they're not singular in their honours, so it would be hard to pin down one in particular. Plus, I don't feel particularly drawn to any. There's no muse of fiction, so it could be any, including Kalliope (epic poetry), Thaleia (comedy), Melpomene (tragedy) or Erato (erotic poetry).

Also not to say that there weren't select groups of people who focused on one deity in particular, there were hundreds of cults all over the period and Hellenic area. But cult worship takes a hell of a lot of time and dedication and a singular person cannot make up a cult.

I think that those of us who get the choice of what pantheon to worship have one picky decision to make and that's it. Who are we to narrow the field and only choose one or a few deities to offer worship to? Like I've mentioned before I don't think the rest of the pantheon would be particularly pleased with that and if one day you suddenly need help with your marriage, why would Hera choose to help you just out of the blue?

Many other people have said it before me but the gods are not your friends, they're not buddies to call up and chat with or to ask idle favours of. They deserve respect and I think it is disrespectful to pick and choose one deity you like the look of, but shun the rest of the family.

But to reiterate again, this is personal opinion and in no way do I blow off anyone who does have a so called patron/personal relationship with a deity. I'm not shoving my opinion down anyone's throat and how they can and cannot worship.


Things relating to Ancient Greece that begin with R.

Rhymma - A cleanser used in bathing.

Rhamnous - A fortified Attic deme (a subdivision of land belonging to Athens). Home to ancient cults of Nemesis (indignation and retribution for Hubris) and Themis (Titan goddess of Divine Law).

'Round ships' - Merchant vessels so called because of their much rounder form than military ships.

Rural Dionysia - The second Dionysia festival celebrated in the winter month of Poseideion. Usually celebrated with procession with a statue of the god Dionysis as well as theatre performances and poetry.

Rhea - Titan goddess of female fertility and the mountain wilderness. Her husband, Cronos, swallowed every one of their children before she could hide their youngest, Zeus, who eventually overthrew his father and became king of the Olympians.

Friday 31 August 2012

PBP: R - Reincarnation

The idea of which didn't originate in Ancient Greece but the topic was brought into a better light by some of its most famous philosophers. The earliest Greek who mused on the topic of 'metempsychosis' was Pherecydes, the purported teacher of Pythagoras.

The idea of reincarnation is explored in the Orphic tradition which appeared around 6th century BC in which the mythic figure of Orpheus claims that the soul is divine and unfairly tethered to the prison of the body. After death, the soul and the body are separated but not for long, and it is once again joined with mortal flesh. The soul must live several lives in other to become enlightened and truly divine until it can exist free of the body.

Plato was another famous philosopher who believed this to be true, using one of his works, The Republic, to retell this idea in the guise of an experience/myth. Er, the son of Armenius returned from the dead after twelve days and retells what he saw of the death realm. He tells that he went to the place of judgement and saw other souls there choosing another body, another reincarnation for their soul in order to return to the world of the living, both human and animal. Orpheus, Thamyra and Antalanta were supposedly some of the souls amongst these. They chose there next form and then drank from the river Lethe (oblivion, forgetfulness) and shot away to be reborn.

Plato also believed that the number of souls was finite, so that new ones were not created, every one transmigrated from one body to the next.