People have wondered for a long time on what is beautiful and what isn’t. The Greeks certainly did, and even though they had set rules to define what the “right” proportions were for sculptures, buildings etc. they still had philosophers ready to challenge those ideals. Not sure if it was because they were dating someone ugly, but some of them decided that a bit of ugliness makes things prettier.
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British Museum

When I was at the British Museum a couple of weeks ago I did not have much time to look around, so I went straight to where I always go: The Parthenon sculptures. Here are a few pictures of my visit there (taken with an iPOD):

Figure of a guy that is probably Dionysus, or at least he certainly acts like him (east pediment of the Parthenon).
Figure of Dionysusfrom the east pediment of the Parthenon

The amazingly intense look on one of the horses from Selene’s chariot, ready to leave the scene as the day starts (east frieze of the Parthenon).

Selene horse

Pallas chatting to Hephaistos (east frieze of the Parthenon). I wonder if this represents the time she went to him to have some weapons built, but had to flee instead since he tried to rape her.

Athena and Hephaistos east frieze of the Parthenon

Dionysus (probably half drunk) reclining on Hermes. The hat that Hermes has on his left leg is incredible, looks like something you could buy today from any store (east pediment). When Dionysus was a baby Hermes took take care of him, since Hera would have probably killed him (Dionysus was the product of yet another one of Zeus’s extramarital adventures)

Hermes Dionysus east frieze of the Parthenon

A victorious Centaur holds a leopard skin, celebrating his victory over a Lapith (south methope).


Another Centaur, about to smash a jar against a Lapith (I believe this was on the south methope as well)


Not from the Parthenon anymore. My favorite rock-star, Alexander the Great


Last, a blurred image of a gold body chain from the Hoxne Hoard treasure. 1500 years ago the Roman Empire knew a thing or two about sensuality.


Warrior Women

Black-figured amphora (wine-jar) signed by Exekias as potter and attributed to him as painter. Image (and caption) taken from the British Museum website

In Greek Mythology the Amazons were probably the ultimate nightmare for Greek men. These tribes of warrior-women subverted every rule of life like no other group of people or God could. At least they turned upside down the one aspect of life that guys cared the most for during those days: gender roles. First of all the Amazons were barbarians (that just meant they were not Greek), then they were women who fought fiercely and were able to kill many men in battle. To make things worse they could not care less about marriage, so whenever they needed men to get pregnant they simply used one of the slaves they had acquired when raiding villages. Once they had the babies they would kill the male child and keep the female ones.

The myth obviously plays with a very basic male fear: women in power. If you disregard the issue of male anxiety though you may think these ladies were pretty cool, and I partly suspect that the Ancient Greeks, even when they would never say it, thought the same way. It is true that the big heroes fought against the Amazons (Achilles, Theseus and Heracles did, which could be seen as a way to “restore” order), but it is also true that these guys liked them. Theseus had Hippolytus with the Amazon Antiope for instance and nothing surpasses the intense tragedy of Achilles falling in love (*) with Penthesilea (and vice versa) as soon as he has fatally stabbed her (very bad timing on his part). The image at the beginning of the post (by one of my favorite vase painters from antiquity, Exequias) represents this scene. Many years ago I had the chance to see it at the British Museum, and it is sublime.

(*) We tend to think he and she fell in love at the same time, but maybe they just thought the other one was hot. It is like when people say that Aphrodite was the Goddess of love. Sort of… Maybe sometimes, but overall Aphrodite was not that much into being all sweet and romantic really.

Gods against Humans (Part I)

Actaeon Surprising Diana (Artemis) in the bath by Titian. Image taken from Wikipedia

I know the feeling. You feel so let down that you think you don’t have anything to lose, or on the contrary, you feel way too confident, perhaps unstoppable. Whatever the reason is, if you ever have the chance to annoy or outsmart a God, just don’t. The stats are massively against you (these are the examples I can think of right now, though I will add some more later):

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