Ajax, Kassandra, and a Statue of Athena

athena kassandra

I saw this one at the Yale Art Gallery (it is a terracotta plate attributed to Paseas.Greek, Attic, ca. 5520-510 B.C. Picture taken with an iPAD), and I immediately thought of a painting I love by Solomon Joseph Solomon:

I wrote about the painting and the story in a previous post here.



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.
Continue reading

Yale University Art Gallery

Mesoamerican gold figure

The Yale University Art Gallery has expanded its collections considerably, and even though the “official” opening date for the new galleries is December 12, they are already open for the public (thoughn they are still working on them).

Continue reading


Image taken from http://phoenicia.org; I hope that was OK!

I have received a Versatile Award from the guys from eyelaugh, which is a blog I love. I did not have a clue what a Versatile Blogger Award was, but now that I know I will try to do my homework soon and pass it on. Meanwhile (choosing 15 blogs is the hard part) I will continue posting random stuff, until I get those 15 blogs sorted (I hope that is OK, not sure if the etiquette for this is to do it immediately).

This is the best way to do business I have ever heard of, and it was described by Herodotus (book IV, 196). The Phoenicians and Carthaginians would go to Africa and put the stuff they wanted to trade lying at the beach. They would just put it there, then they would make a fire for the locals to see the smoke, and after that they would leave. This was the signal for the Africans to bring their own products (gold for instance). Once the Africans had placed their gold at the beach they would also leave. Then the Phoenicians would come back from their hiding place, take a look at how much gold was lying there, and if it was not deemed enough they would not touch it, instead they would go back to their ships and wait again. The Africans would understand that it was not enough, so they would go back to get some more, put it with the rest and then leave again, until it was settled. No words were spoken. It cannot get any more awesome.

My cheesy song of the day:

And the non cheesy one:

Combing their hair

Marble copy of 4th century BCE portrait of Alexander the Great. Or Alexander looking like Jim Morrison – Picture taken from here, by Mary Harrsch.

I thought this story is pretty cool to continue a previous post on Greeks and Persians. This is taken from The Histories by Herodotus. Xerxes, during the Battle of Thermopylae, wanted to know what the Greeks were doing, so he send a guy to spy on them:

He saw some of the men exercising naked and others combing their hair. He marvelled at the sight and took note of their numbers. When he had observed it all carefully, he rode back in leisure, since no one pursued him or paid him any attention at all. So he returned and told Xerxes all that he had seen

Continue reading

The power of the naked body

Riace bronzes – The Greek Warriors. Image taken from Wikipedia

How do you tell your troops you shouldn’t be scared of a super power everybody is terrified of? You show them naked. That is what the Spartan King Agesilaus did. At Ephesus, while Persian prisoners were being sold as slaves (another way to finance his army) he gave the order to have their clothes taken off. The Persians used a lot of mercenaries (even Greeks) to fight their wars, and they were not as keen as the Greeks (and especially the Spartans) on exercising and training all the time. Once the Persian prisoners were naked, Agesilaus told his troops “Look at these people, they look like pale nerds that play videogames all day, and these are the people you are afraid of!” For the Greeks that was a revelation, they were like “wow, no kidding, check out those weak lousy wimps!”*

To the Persians did was humiliating to the next level as they did not have a tradition of showing themselves naked. The Greeks on the other hand would compete in wrestling and running events naked, and they would strip off their clothes on any occasion they deemed suitable, even at a gravestone(!): According to Plutarch, Alexander the Great ran naked  with his companions at the gravestone of Achilles, as it was customary to do.

*or in the words of Plutarch: “but their naked bodies, which were utterly white and delicate, owing to their effeminate habits, were ridiculed useless and worthless

Listening to women

Image taken from Wikipedia

This must be one of the first historical examples (if it isn’t it is still a great story) of why we men should listen to women.

This is the story of Queen Artemisia during the Battle of Salamis, of course. To put it very succinctly (more than I probably should): Xerxes, the King of Persia, had been successful at invading Athens (this happened after the battle of Thermopylae). The problem was that the Greek fleet was still alive, and Xerxes did not like this “unfinished” business. In a very clever move (typically Greek), Themistocles, an Athenian general, convinced his people not to go all the way back to Corinth, but to stay at the Island of Salamis. Here, he sent a message (through another guy) to Xerxes, letting him know that the Greeks were not united and that they were going to disband. Xerxes had a council meeting to decide whether they should go and get those Greeks before each parted on separate ways. Everybody said “let’s go crush them now that they are not united anymore!”. Everybody agreed except for Queen Artemisia, the only female commander in the whole Persian contingent. She told Xerxes “I don’t know man, this does not sound right… No offence but your fleet has not been that successful. Let’s call it a day!” Xerxes was happy that she had spoken her mind, but told her “None taken, but look pretty face, you worry too much, my fleet is humongous, so I will go with the guys on this one”.
She was right of course; the narrows of Salamis were perfect for the Greeks to hide and trap the Persian fleet, while preventing the other Persian ships to aid them (the Wikipedia image makes this clear). Xerxes was so confident he even had a throne placed on the top of a hill, expecting to watch from the “first row” how his fleet destroyed the Greeks. Herodotus recounts that at one point Artemisia crushed a Persian ship trying to escape from a Greek vessel, but Xerxes, thinking she had rammed a Greek ship, said “My men fight like women, and my women like men!”

Who knows, perhaps the myth of Cassandra – she can foresee the future (a gift given to her by Apollo) but then nobody believes her (Apollo also did this, after she rejected him) – is also about men not listening to women. That is just a cheesy interpretation I just made up; actually I prefer the Cassandra complex idea, where we prefer to disregard clear warnings of bad things to come so we can live in a much more comforting denial limbo. In any case, it is a sweet myth regardless of the interpretation!

One more thing, the phrase about women fighting like men brings to my mind a part of that fantastic play by Euripides, “Bacchae”: (This is said by Dionysus – or Bacchus-)

But if in anger the city of Thebes attempt to take the bacchants from the mountain with military force, I shall fight them, commanding my maenads. 

The Maenads are the women that follow Dionysus. He would have been the coolest God ever, if it were not of course for Pallas Athena.