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World's largest solar boat on odyssey to find ancient inhabited site in Greece

Scientists on catamaran PlanetSolar will search for village built by Neothlithic
The world's largest solar-powered boat, the PlanetSolar catamaran, passes the Corinth Canal in central Greece on its way to hunt for a Neolithic village. Photograph: Vasilis Psomas/EPA
The world's largest solar boat, the catamaran PlanetSolar, is to embark on a Greek mission to find one of the oldest sites inhabited by man in Europe, an organiser said on Monday.
Starting on 11 August, a team of Swiss and Greek scientists will seek a "prehistoric countryside" in the south-eastern Peloponnese peninsula, University of Geneva researcher Julien Beck told AFP. The month-long mission, jointly organised with the Swiss school of archaeology and the Greek culture ministry, will search around the Franchthi cave in the Argolic gulf, where early Europeans lived between the Palaeolithic and Neolithic periods.
The cave was eventually abandoned around 3,000 BC but scientists assume the inhabitants must have built a village nearby.
"This cave was inhabited continuously for around 35,000 years... and we have reason to believe that towards the end of the Neolithic era, the inhabitants moved to a neighbouring site that is now underwater," Beck said.
"If we could find this village, it would be among the oldest in Greece and Europe," he said.
PlanetSolar, built in Germany, is 31 metres (100 feet) long and is powered by over 500 square metres of solar panels.
In 2012, the catamaran became the first vessel to circumnavigate the globe purely on solar energy. It has an average speed of 7.5 knots, or 14 kilometres (8.6 miles) per hour.
Whilst in Greece it will also conduct geophysical research and assist underwater archaeologists in Aegean Sea surveys.

The Greek myths that could be box-office hits

With 'Hercules’ thundering into cinemas, historian Bettany Hughes suggests directors try a subtler approach to ancient Greece

By Bettany Hughes

 The Greeks are back. Medea – incarnated by Helen McCrory – is playing to standing ovations at the National Theatre. In Lebanese refugee camps, a British team is working with Syrian women to mount a production of Sophocles’ Antigone – following the success of Euripides’ Trojan Women in the camps of Jordan last year. And this summer’s movie blockbuster is Brett Ratner’s version of the life of the Greek demi-god Herakles.
Hercules is daft, frankly; all pumped action (led by ex-wrestler Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) and laconic gags from English character actors (Ian McShane, Rufus Sewell and John Hurt) with a couple of ancient-ish aphorisms thrown in for good measure.
From the earliest feature-length ancient epic, The Last Days of Pompeii (1908), it is the Romans who have had the best box office. Their cultural ancestors, the Greeks, bring more challenges.
The first is that Greece was never as triumphalist as Rome. An empire that came to control one fifth of the world’s population needed a PR machine to match. Gladiatorial games in the Colosseum, victorious processions, imperial pleasure-cruises, even the multi-ethnic orgies mentioned in Suetonius – all these make for hot film action.
To find the Greek equivalent, you have to dig deeper. What is Hollywood to do with a world of 1,000 competing city-states, where homoeroticism was institutionalised and philosophers were more interested in the rationale for Platonic love than for war?
Equally difficult for 21st-century film-makers has been working out how to represent the 600 or so Greek gods. In ancient Greece there was no separate word for religion; gods and goddesses were everywhere and in everything. To remove them from the narrative drama – as Wolfgang Petersen did in his disastrous 2004 film Troy, which starred Brad Pitt as Achilles – makes a nonsense of the febrile world their acolytes inhabited.
Greek tales would be better treated as supernatural thrillers. Imagine the real, lived historical experience for the ancient Greeks: the day-to-day jeopardy of knowing there was a fickle spirit in every breath of wind and ear of grain; that malicious deities might be lurking around the corner, shape-shifting to have their way with you. Stop-motion animation, pioneered by Ray Harryhausen in films such as Jason and the Argonauts, gave us loveable but clunky Olympians. Today, with computer-generated imagery and green-screen technology, the Greek gods on screen should be sublime.
Admittedly, in practical terms, source material is tricky. The Greeks operated for many centuries without writing; arguably the most exciting of Greek epochs – the Bronze Age and the “Age of Heroes” (when household-name characters such as Helen of Troy, Achilles, Odysseus and Jason and the Argonauts originate) graze with pre-history. There is no set text, no canonical version from which to develop a script. In some tellings, Helen of Troy’s mother is Leda, but in others she is the goddess of fate, Nemesis; in most accounts Medea kills her children but in a few she protects them with her life.
“Every legend starts with a true story,” blares director Brett Ratner on the press release for Hercules. Socrates, I suspect, would have asked “whose truth?” The Greek past is slippery, so directors tend to project what they want on to the void. Ancient history becomes contemporary polemic. Alexander the Great, directed by Robert Rossen in 1956, charts two Fifties American obsessions: juvenile delinquency (amplifying stories of Alexander’s dysfunctional family) and the corruption of idealism by power. The 300 Spartans, Rudolph Maté’s 1962 version of the Battle of Thermopylae of 480BC, had Spartans and their Greek allies (for which read America and Britain) as freedom fighters standing up to a monolithic (in other words, Communist) threat. By 2007, and Zack Snyder’s 300, which dealt with the same battle, it was the diabolical Middle East that was presented as the enemy.
Interestingly, although Petersen’s Troy was lambasted for implying that Agamemnon was a modern-day imperialist who used honour as an excuse for territorial invasion, we now know this mirrors the history of the eastern Mediterranean. In Turkey there is a Hittite cuneiform tablet from 1260BC, the most likely time for a “Trojan War”. This tablet is an office copy of legal proceedings and it explicitly tells us that the infidelity of a princess, in a foreign court as part of a diplomatic marriage alliance, is excuse enough for the two power-players of the day – the kingdoms of Ugarit and Amurru – to declare war on one another.
The Greeks were working out how to live in the world. In Homer’s Iliad we hear of a diplomatic resolution blown to smithereens by the hot-headed aggression of a single rogue archer. Aeschylus’ Antigone and Euripides’ retelling of Iphigenia in Tauris (set in modern-day Crimea) debate the validity of might declaring itself right, and remind us how war affects the most vulnerable in society – in both cases here, girls of 13 or so.
Some of the wildest of Greek tales are now evidenced by the findings of archaeological digs, and there should be rich pickings from them. The golden spindles, the rock-crystal thrones, the boars’ tusk helmets vividly described in the lines of the epic poets have now emerged from the earth. And when history and archaeology runs out, the Greeks still offer us the marvel of myth.
Myths exist to make sense of the world; they identify the universal constants that give the maelstrom of our lives stability. For the Greeks, it was deep in the collective memory that answers and security could be found. Through myth-sharing, the long-dead men and women of Greece debated the same issues we do today: how to achieve a beautiful death, the prevalence of rape in war, the nature of suffering, of ambition and of virtue.
The possibilities here are almost limitless. Now that we understand the psychological horror of earthquakes and tsunamis, the myth of Atlantis could be revisited. Daedalus and Icarus – the father and son whose ambitions led to tragedy – would make for a brilliant study of our species’ desire to always want more. Persephone – kidnapped by Hades and forced to live half the year in the underworld – forced the ancients to deal with the cycle of life and mortality.
Ancient Greek society was a juvenile one – most men were fathers at 12, grandfathers at 24, dead by 35. Many of the myth-cycles chart a youthful journey of self-discovery; it is perhaps why, coincidentally, the Percy Jackson films (a retelling of the Perseus myth) have been among the most successful Greek flicks at the box office.

Muthoi in Ancient Greece were never just fairy tales; they are a mixture of memories, histories, imagination and vital points of information. Movie moguls should consider themselves the privileged descendants of those first myth-makers. Contemporary sword-and-sandal epics can have all the adventure and gore and whizz-bang they want – but at their core there should be a critical question, satisfyingly answered. We should never say “It’s just a myth”, but instead: “This is a myth, and it might be the most important thing you will ever hear.” 

Hamblin & Peterson: Constantine's influence can scarcely be measured

By William Hamblin and Daniel Peterson,

The Roman emperor Constantine the Great was baptized on his deathbed. But his influence on the doctrines, art, architecture, spread and practice of Christianity has been incalculable.
Vignette V6 034ca24309c8fba44d3969b8c29674fa7fadc27f Thu Jul 31 06:29:31 2014 Vignette V6 4254c99afc219cffad4162d002b30aac3ba77d0d Thu Jul 31 06:29:31 2014
Relatively unknown to many, the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great (r. A.D. 306-337) is arguably one of the most influential people in Christian history. A great conqueror and skilled administrator, he was also a pious Christian visionary who attributed his military victories to divine intervention. In practical terms, he was the head of the Christian church within the Roman Empire for three decades, but he waited to be baptized until his deathbed so that the numerous sins and crimes he had committed as emperor could be forgiven.
Although his mother, Helena, was Christian, Constantine was raised a pagan. His famous conversion occurred on the eve of a battle with Maxentius, his rival for the imperial throne. Constantine saw a sign in the heavens bearing the Greek words “touto nika” (“through this, conquer”).
The sign he saw was not the cross; it had not yet become the symbol of Christianity. The Greek chi-rho monogram (often called the “labarum”) consists of the superimposed Greek letters chi (X) and rho (P), forming the first two letters of the Greek title “Christos,” or “Christ.” Constantine attributed his subsequent victory at the Battle of Milvian Bridge (A.D. 312) to the divine intervention of Christ, who thereby became the patron deity of the Roman Empire.
Constantine thus raised Christianity from a minority faith to a world religion. Previous emperors had sponsored the worship of particular patron gods, so such things weren’t new. However, although Constantine didn’t persecute the pagan religions of his day, he undercut both their authority and their financial foundations by removing state sponsorship from pagan temples and devoting all state religious revenues to Christian clergy and churches. He transformed the nature of Christianity by creating a state-sponsored “Imperial Church.”
Constantine also built three new Christian cities: Jerusalem, Constantinople (“the City of Constantine”) and Rome. Although Constantinople was eventually conquered by the Turks in 1453 and is now the Muslim city of Istanbul in Turkey, it remained the most important center of Christian thought and culture for a thousand years. And Jerusalem and Rome are arguably the two most important Christian cities and pilgrimage destinations today.
Constantine was also indirectly instrumental in creating Christian art, architecture and symbolism. There had been a few Christian symbols associated with believers’ burials, but before Constantine there was no formal Christian art or architecture. When he ordered construction of a number of monumental churches, such as the original St. Peter’s in Rome and the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, he borrowed imperial Roman artistic and architectural forms (e.g., mosaics, statues and basilicas) for his new buildings. Constantine created Christian art forms that persist even today.
Many popular Christian beliefs and practices were institutionalized under Constantine’s supervision. Most important was the cult of the martyrs — the belief that sacred power resided in the tombs and relics of those who had died for the faith.
Though such beliefs had existed among Christians in various forms for over two centuries, by building grand shrines for the veneration of martyrs, Constantine created an official following with pilgrimage and liturgy. Thus, the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem, the martyr shrine at the tomb of Jesus, became and remains the greatest pilgrimage site for Christianity, closely followed by the monumental basilicas built by Constantine on the ancient tombs of Peter and Paul in Rome.
Although rebuilt in the 16th century, St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome was originally founded as a martyrium for the bones and relics of Peter, who was martyred there.
Doctrinally, Constantine’s impact on Christianity was equally significant. Although not a theologian of any sort himself, he was an efficient manager and politician who wanted his new state religion properly organized. Thus, he made bishops into state employees and church buildings into state property.
He also realized that theological unity was an important part of political unity and control. Accordingly, he ordered all the bishops of the Empire to convene an assembly at Nicaea (near his new capital at Constantinople) in order to resolve numerous outstanding theological disputes. The result was the ambiguous compromise between Hellenistic philosophy and scripture known as the Nicene Creed (A.D. 325), which has remained a fundamental part of mainstream Christian theology and liturgy ever since.
Constantine facilitated the faith’s transformation into a world religion while, in the process, radically altering its fundamental form and characteristics.

Daniel Peterson founded BYU's Middle Eastern Texts Initiative, chairs The Interpreter Foundation and blogs on Patheos. William Hamblin is the author of several books on premodern history. They speak only for themselves.

Excavation sheds more light on life in Roman Maryport (England)

A view has emerged this summer of how the Roman frontier along the edge of the Solway Firth may have looked.
A picture of life on the outer reaches of the Roman Empire has been pieced together following an archaeological dig at the site of a former fort in Maryport.
Academics, volunteers and students have spent the summer in muddy holes working with shovels and trowels looking for artefacts.
The Maryport Roman Temples Dig has taken place on fields near the Senhouse Roman Museum, led by staff from Newcastle University.
In the past three years they have uncovered evidence of a temple to the gods as well as artefacts revealing a civilian settlement around the fort.
Tony Wilmott, site director, explained that a typical day began with the students and volunteers watching TV.
He said: “Usually it starts with us all watching the BBC weather forecast and getting grim faces when they say it is going to be dry.”
The reason is that the temples are buried in clay soil, which becomes extremely hard when dry, making it difficult to dig through.
Dry weather also means every layer of the soil becomes the same colour, making it very difficult to see just where the team should be digging.
The site was discovered in the 19th century but was not excavated again until the beginning of the current partnership between the museum, university and the Hadrian’s Wall Trust.
Mr Wilmott said the most interesting moment came when he found evidence that the temple had been built with pillars in a ‘classical’ style.
Ian Haynes, professor of archaeology and leader of the project, explained: “The excitement for me comes in the work afterwards, rather than in the moment of discovery.”
Analysis of what is found helps to explain things like the dimensions of buildings and what it may have looked like.
He added: “You end up sitting in front of a computer saying ‘if you take that plus that plus that then bang!
“Something might look like a bit of charcoal but it may actually turn out to be a cremated sheep or boar bone, which then gives you evidence that they carried out particular slaughter rituals here.”
The temple is thought to have been the most northerly of its kind in the Roman Empire and built around 150 AD, with other evidence suggesting there was a Roman presence in the area until the empire fell almost 300 years later.
Artefacts found on the site have indicated that Jupiter was worshipped at the temple
The project is helping to shed new light on how the Romans lived in Maryport.
Prof Haynes is convinced of the dig’s benefits to investigating local history and to the area’s tourism economy.
He added: “We are bringing more people to visit this part of Cumbria.”
Around 10,000 people have visited the museum since the excavation started in 2011.
Rachel Newman, archaeologist and museum trustee, joked: “It is a little bit of Rome in the North West.”


Excavations at a Roman site have revealed the "Pompeii of the north", delighted archaeologists said.
The spectacular discoveries at Binchester Roman Fort near Bishop Auckland, County Durham, date back some 1,800 years and include one of the earliest pieces of evidence for Christianity in Roman Britain in the shape of a silver ring.
The archaeologists have discovered a bath house with seven-foot high walls, which were once covered with brightly-painted designs, and the original floor, doorways and window openings.
An inscribed altar dedicated to the Roman Goddess Fortune the Home-bringer, has also been unearthed.
Dr David Mason, principal archaeologist for Durham County Council, said: "These findings are hugely significant as they are virtually intact and present a graphic illustration of life under the Roman Empire.
"They are so stunning and spectacular that we can claim we have our very own 'Pompeii of the north' right on our doorstep."
A joint project to explore the site between the county council, Durham University, local enthusiasts and Amercian university students, is now in its sixth year.
Last year Alex Kirton, 20, from Hertfordshire, discovered a carved sandstone head at Binchester, which was believed to be a Geordie Roman god that probably was worshipped locally.
Project coordinator, Dr David Petts, lecturer in archaeology at Durham University, said: "Our excavations have uncovered parts of one of the best preserved Roman buildings in Britain.
"The building itself and the wonderful array of artefacts we have recovered from Binchester give us an unparalleled opportunity to better understand life on the northern frontier in the Roman period.
"For example, the altar is a reminder that bath houses were about more than keeping clean and exercising and were actually social centres - a bit like our modern day leisure centres.
"The most unique feature of these remains is the sheer scale of their preservation.
"It is possible to walk through a series of Roman rooms with walls all above head height; this is pretty exceptional for Roman Britain."
The altar has been inscribed by a retired trooper who served with a unit of the Spanish cavalry based at Binchester.
The trooper described his rank as "architectus" and this is the only example from the whole of the Roman Empire, outside of Rome itself, which shows that architects were on the staff of auxiliary cavalry units and not just the legions of the Emperor's personal protection unit, the Praetorian Guard.
The findings coincide with the Binchester Roman Festival this weekend featuring guided tours of the recent excavations.
The festival also features several re-enactment groups.
Binchester, which stands near the River Wear, was known to the Romans as Vinovia and commanded the main road that ran from the legionary headquarters at York north to Hadrian's Wall.
It formed a key element of the complex frontier system that lay both sides of the Wall which marked the northern-most edge of the Roman Empire for nearly 400 years.

The Romans had potholes too. 2,000-year-old road repairs unearthed in Devon England

•           Wheel ruts were found during excavation of a road surface in Devon
•           They are thought to have been caused by carts driven over the surface
•           Small pieces of clay and rocks were found among the larger, flat rocks
•           This suggests they were laid after the original rocks had been placed
•           Experts believe they are signs of repairs made by the Romans to fill the gaps and make the road smoother
By Victoria Woollaston
Potholes are the bug bane of every driver, but it seems that they're not a modern affliction.
Archaeologists have discovered that as far back as the Roman Empire, drivers were forced to deal with faulty and uneven road surfaces.
Wheel ruts found in a newly excavated road surface in Devon are thought to be similar to those at Pompeii, and were caused by carts being driven over them.
Clay and rocks found in these ruts, that appear to have been laid after the original rocks had been placed, suggest the Romans attempted to fill them to make the road smoother.
Archaeologist Danielle Wootton, the Devon Finds Liaison Officer for the Portable Antiquities Scheme said: ‘The road must have been extensively used, it’s intriguing to think what the horse-drawn carts may have been carrying and who was driving them.
'This is a fantastic opportunity to see a snapshot of life 2,000 years ago.’
The excavation at Ipplepen began following the discovery of a complex series of archaeological features thought to be part of the largest Romano-British settlement in Devon outside of Exeter.
In Roman times, people travelled on land on horseback, in carts pulled by oxen, or walking on roads they created, known as viae.
During Roman times, people travelled on land on horseback, in carts pulled by oxen, or walking on roads they created, known as viae.   Before the Romans arrived, the region had no proper roads and while the majority they built were straight and designed to be the shortest route possible, roads were known to zigzag to make going uphill easier.
Straight roads also saved construction time and material costs.
When they built a road across boggy ground, for example, Roman engineers placed sticks and sheepskins as foundations, to stop the road sinking.
The Romans then built their roads on foundations of clay, chalk and gravel, with larger, flat stones on top.
The road sloped from the middle to ditches either side, to help water drain off the surface.   
The laws of the Twelve Tables - Roman legislation written in approximately 450 BC - specified a road should be 8 ft (2.45 m) wide when straight, and 16 ft (4.90 m) where curved.
The Tables added Romans should give wayfarers the right to pass over private land where the road is in disrepair.
The Romans therefore aimed to make roads that didn’t need constant repair, but the evidence found in Ipplepen suggests their techniques weren't foolproof.
Before the Romans arrived, the region had no proper roads and while the majority they built were straight and designed to be the shortest route possible, roads were known to zigzag to make going uphill easier.
When they built a road across boggy ground, for example, Roman engineers placed sticks and sheepskins as foundations, to stop the road sinking.
The Romans then built their roads on foundations of clay, chalk and gravel, with larger, flat stones on top. The road sloped from the middle to ditches either side, to help water drain off the surface.   
The laws of the Twelve Tables - Roman legislation written in approximately 450 BC - specified a road should be 8 ft (2.45 m) wide when straight, and 16 ft (4.90 m) where curved.
The Tables added Romans should give wayfarers the right to pass over private land in places where the road is in disrepair.
The Romans therefore aimed to make roads that didn’t need constant repair, but the evidence found in Ipplepen suggests their techniques weren't fool proof.
Roman law and tradition forbid the use of vehicles in urban areas, except in certain cases.
University of Exeter archaeologist, Dr Ioana Oltean added: ’This season’s excavations are proving to be a real success.
‘We are beginning to demonstrate the importance of this site in the Roman period when the road going through the settlement connected Ipplepen with the Roman world and brought here not only coins, but also pottery and personal goods used in everyday life.’
The dig is funded by the University of Exeter, Portable Antiquities Scheme, British Museum and Devon County Council.

How many Greek legends were really true?

By Armand d'Angour University of Oxford

The culture and legends of ancient Greece have a remarkably long legacy in the modern language of education, politics, philosophy, art and science. Classical references from thousands of years ago continue to appear. But what was the origin of some of these ideas?
1. Was there ever really a Trojan Horse?
The story of the Trojan Horse is first mentioned in Homer's Odyssey, an epic song committed to writing around 750BC, describing the aftermath of a war at Troy that purportedly took place around 500 years earlier.
After besieging Troy (modern-day Hisarlik in Turkey) for 10 years without success, the Greek army encamped outside the city walls made as if to sail home, leaving behind them a giant wooden horse as an offering to the goddess Athena.
The Trojans triumphantly dragged the horse within Troy, and when night fell the Greek warriors concealed inside it climbed out and destroyed the city. Archaeological evidence shows that Troy was indeed burned down; but the wooden horse is an imaginative fable, perhaps inspired by the way ancient siege-engines were clothed with damp horse-hides to stop them being set alight by fire-arrows.

2. Homer is one of the great poets of ancient Greek legends. Did he actually exist?
Not only is the Trojan Horse a colourful fiction, the existence of Homer himself has sometimes been doubted. It's generally supposed that the great epics which go under Homer's name, the Iliad and Odyssey, were composed orally, without the aid of writing, some time in the 8th Century BC, the fruit of a tradition of oral minstrelsy stretching back for centuries.
While the ancients had no doubt that Homer was a real bard who composed the monumental epics, nothing certain is known about him. All we do know is that, even if the poems were composed without writing and orally transmitted, at some stage they were written down in Greek, because that is how they have survived.

3. Was there an individual inventor of the alphabet?
The date attributed to the writing down of the Homeric epics is connected to the earliest evidence for the existence of Greek script in the 8th Century BC.
The Greeks knew that their alphabet (later borrowed by the Romans to become the western alphabet) was adapted from that of the Phoenicians, a near-eastern nation whose letter-sequence began "aleph bet".
 The fact that the adaptation was uniform throughout Greece has suggested that there was a single adapter rather than many. Greek tradition named the adapter Palamedes, which may just mean "clever man of old". Palamedes was also said to have invented counting, currency, and board games.
The Greek letter-shapes came to differ visually from their Phoenician progenitors - with the current geometrical letter-shapes credited to the 6th Century mathematician Pythagoras.

4. Did Pythagoras invent Pythagoras' theorem? Or did he copy his homework from someone else?
It is doubtful whether Pythagoras (c. 570-495BC) was really a mathematician as we understand the word. Schoolchildren still learn his so-called theorem about the square on the hypotenuse (a2+b2 =c2). But the Babylonians knew this equation centuries earlier, and there is no evidence that Pythagoras either discovered or proved it.
 In fact, although genuine mathematical investigations were undertaken by later Pythagoreans, the evidence suggests that Pythagoras was a mystic who believed that numbers underlie everything. He worked out, for instance, that perfect musical intervals could be expressed by simple ratios.

5. What made the Greeks begin using money? Was it trade or their "psyche"?
It may seem obvious to us that commercial imperatives would have driven the invention of money. But human beings conducted trade for millennia without coinage, and it's not certain that the first monetised economy in the world arose in ancient Greece simply in order to facilitate such transactions.
The classicist Richard Seaford has argued that the invention of money emerged from deep in the Greek psyche. It is tied to notions of reciprocal exchange and obligation which pervaded their societies; it reflects philosophical distinctions between face-value and intrinsic value; and it is a political instrument, since the state is required to act as guarantor of monetary value.
Financial instruments and institutions - coinage, mints, contracts, banking, credit and debt - were being developed in many Greek cities by the 5th Century BC, with Athens at the forefront. But one ancient state held the notion of money in deep suspicion and resisted its introduction: Sparta.

6. How spartan were the Spartans?
The legendary Spartan lawgiver Lycurgus decreed that the Spartans should use only iron as currency, making it so cumbersome that even a small amount would have to be carried by a yoke of oxen.
This story may be part of the idealisation of the ancient Spartans as a warrior society dedicated to military pre-eminence. While classical Sparta did not mint its own coins, it used foreign silver, and some Spartan leaders were notoriously prone to bribery.
 However, laws may have been passed to prevent Spartans importing luxuries that might threaten to undermine their hardiness. When the Athenian playboy general Alcibiades defected to Sparta during its war with Athens in the late 5th Century, he adopted their meagre diet, tough training routines, coarse clothing, and Laconic expressions.
But eventually his passion for all things Spartan extended to the king's wife Timaea, who became pregnant. Alcibiades returned to Athens, whence he had fled eight years earlier to avoid charges of shocking sacrilege, one of which was that he had subjected Athens' holy Mysteries to mockery.

7. What were the secrets of the Greek Mystery Cults?
If I told you, I'd have to kill you. The secrets were fiercely guarded, and severe penalties were prescribed for anyone who divulged them or who, like Alcibiades, were thought to have profaned them. Initiates were required to undergo initiation rites which may have included transvestism and centred on secret objects (perhaps phalluses) and passwords being revealed.
The aim was to give devotees a glimpse of the "other side", so that they could return to their lives blessed in the knowledge that when their turn came to die they could ensure the survival of their soul in the Underworld.
Excavations have uncovered tombs containing passwords and instructions written on thin gold sheets as an aide-memoire for deceased devotees. The principal Greek Mystery Cults were those of Demeter, goddess of agriculture, and of Dionysus (also known as Bacchus), god of wine, ecstasy - and of theatre.

8. Who first made a drama out of a crisis? How did theatres begin?
In 5th Century Athens, theatre was closely connected to the cult of Dionysus, in whose theatre on the southern slopes of the Acropolis tragedies and comedies were staged at an annual festival.
But the origin of theatre is a much-debated issue. One tradition tells of the actor Thespis (hence "thespian") standing on a cart and playing a dramatic role for the first time around 532BC; another claims that drama began with ritual choruses and gradually introduced actors' parts.
 Aristotle (384-322BC) supposed that the choruses of tragedy were originally ritual songs (dithyrambs) sung and danced in Dionysus' honour, while comedy emerged out of ribald performances involving model phalluses.
As a god associated with shifting roles and appearances, Dionysus seems an apt choice of god to give rise to drama. But from the earliest extant tragedy, Aeschylus' Persians of 472BC, few surviving tragedies have anything to do with Dionysus.
Comic drama was largely devoted to making fun of contemporary figures - including in several plays (most famously in Aristophanes' Clouds) the philosopher Socrates.

9. What made Socrates think about becoming a philosopher?
Socrates (469-399BC) may have had his head in the clouds, and was portrayed in Aristophanes' comedy as entertaining ideas ranging from the scientifically absurd ("How do you measure a flea's jump?") to the socially subversive ("I can teach anyone to win any argument, even if they're in the wrong").
 This picture is at odds with the main sources of biographical data on Socrates, the writings of his pupils Plato and Xenophon. Both the latter treat him with great respect as a moral questioner and guide, but they say almost nothing of Socrates' earlier activities.
In fact our first description of Socrates, dating to his thirties, show him as a man of action. He served in a military campaign in northern Greece in 432BC, and during a brutal battle he saved the life of his beloved young friend Alcibiades. Subsequently he never left Athens, and spent his time trying to get his fellow Athenians to examine their own lives and thoughts.
We might speculate that Socrates had toyed with science and politics in his youth, until a life-and-death experience in battle turned him to devoting the remainder of his life to the search for wisdom and truth.
As he wrote nothing himself, our strongest image of Socrates as a philosopher comes from the dialogues of his devoted pupil Plato, whose own pupil Aristotle was tutor of Alexander, prince of Macedon.

10. Was Alexander the Great really that great?
Alexander (356-323BC) was to become one the greatest soldier-generals the world had ever seen.
According to ancient sources, however, he was physically unprepossessing. Short and stocky, he was a hard drinker with a ruddy complexion, a rasping voice, and an impulsive temper which on one occasion led him to kill his companion Cleitus in a violent rage.
 As his years progressed he became paranoid and megalomaniacal. However, in 10 short years from the age of 20 he forged a vast empire stretching from Egypt to India. Never defeated in battle, he made use of innovative siege engines every bit as as effective as the fabled Trojan Horse, and founded 20 cities that bore his name, including Alexandria in Egypt.
His military success was little short of miraculous, and in the eyes of an ancient world devoted to warfare and conquest it was only right to accord him the title of "Great".
Dr Armand D'Angour is associate professor of classics at the University of Oxford

A look at the ancient roots of the olive tree, from Adam to Zeus

By Matthew Wilson

There is a deep and diverse mythology surrounding ‘the first of all trees’

A few weeks ago a business trip took me to the large, modern and mechanised packing barn of a commercial plant nursery near Eindhoven in the Netherlands. Inside the barn, six-metre-high trees and voluminous shrubs were being manoeuvred by forklift, their root balls machine-wrapped in hessian and top growth neatly bound with twine before being lifted to the backs of waiting trucks. Amid the automated ballet of high-tech machines, a gnarled, contorted olive tree sat in one corner of the barn, its root system encased in a hefty timber box at least a metre tall and four-metres square. “That,” declared the nursery manager, “is 1,000 years old – probably more.”
The use of mature trees and shrubs in garden and landscape design is nothing new. Capability Brown shifted mature trees on the estates he worked on, while John Jacob Astor built an extension to the local railway line to his estate at Hever Castle in Kent, southeast England, to bring in mature trees transplanted from Ashdown Forest. In general, though, commercially grown mature trees are rarely more than 50 years old; above that age the logistics of shipping large, heavy plants make it financially unviable. Yet the idea of 1,000 years or more of history, boxed up in a modern warehouse, is a very different proposition to a commercially grown nursery tree that has always been destined to be shifted and planted.
The wild olive (Olea europaea) has been around for at least 50,000 years, and there are groves of wild trees from Anatolia through the Aegean and Mediterranean. The Roman agricultural writer and theorist Lucius Junius Moderatus Columella (AD4-c.AD70) described the olive tree as “Olea prima omnium arborum est” (the olive is the first of all trees) in his agricultural treatise De Re Rustica. By the time of his observation, the olive had been in commercial cultivation for several thousand years. Archaeologists have excavated olive pits at sites that are 8,000 years old. The first evidence of olive oil production was found at a 6,000-year-old site at Carmel in Israel.
The exact origins of the domesticated olive, which has noticeably larger and juicier fruit than its wild ancestors, has long been the source of scientific debate. The general consensus for many years was that they were probably first cultivated in the Levant region. Recent analysis by the National Centre for Scientific Research in France has narrowed the origins even further.
The olive was one of three trees (the others being the cypress and cedar) that sprang from seeds from the Tree of Knowledge
The research team took samples from 1,263 wild olives and 534 cultivated plants from across the Mediterranean, and studied the genetic material from the chloroplast (the structures where photosynthesis happens). Chloroplast DNA is passed on to descendent trees, so the team were able to track variations in the lineage of trees, pinning down the change from the bitter, small and hard wild olive fruit to larger oil-rich olives to Anatolia and the borderland between Turkey and Syria. From there, domesticated olive varieties were developed further in three key geographical areas – either side of the Strait of Gibraltar, the near east and the area around the Aegean.
The economic and cultural importance of olives has ensured that the mythology surrounding the tree is deep, varied and entirely without regard for social or religious boundaries. The olive was one of three trees (the others being the cypress and cedar) that sprang from seeds from the Tree of Knowledge sown by Adam’s son. An olive branch in the beak of a dove marked the end of the biblical flood, and has for centuries been a symbol of peace.
There are depictions of olive oil production in ancient Egyptian art, and a tool for pressing oil found among grave goods. Tutankhamun wore a crown woven with olive leaves, and Ramses III presented olive branches to Ra, the sun god, as a symbol of enlightenment.
The olive reached its mythological zenith during the time of the ancient Greeks. Zeus offered Athena the guardianship of the city of Atikka in return for the gift of a grafted olive tree, which he deemed more valuable than Poseidon’s offering of a powerful war horse.
Athena’s tree was reputedly planted in the Acropolis but was burnt to the ground during the Persian invasion of 480BC. The blackened tree was abandoned to the smouldering ruins but began to produce new shoots, from which, legend has it, every olive in Greece is propagated. Such a high value was placed on the olive that the Constitution of Athens was amended during the time of Solon (638BC-558BC) to include a law covering the cutting of olive trees. Regardless of whether the tree was on public land or in private ownership, a guilty verdict meant the death penalty for the culprit.
As much as Solon’s law was recognition of the religious and cultural significance of the olive tree, it would have surely been aimed also at protecting the economic advantage gained from a vibrant olive oil industry. The Cretans and Phoenicians were the great oil salesmen of their day, trading throughout the Mediterranean. By the time of the Romans, olive oil production was codified and classified into 10 different grades. As ever, the slaves had the worst of it – their oil, known as “cibbarim”, was made from diseased fruit.
The appreciation of the olive as an ornamental plant is more recent. Its silvery grey foliage is handsome but unremarkable – though it can be cut to a variety of topiary shapes. Flowers are inconspicuous, fruit never guaranteed in cooler climes. Drought tolerance makes them suitable for locations where heat and light exposure pose problems, such as roof terraces. Smaller plants can be arranged and clipped into hedges, creating a drought-proof alternative to buxus.
The real interest and aesthetic value lies, however, in the trunks of old trees. The combination of a hard life and repeated pruning (aimed at maintaining a manageable crown for easier harvesting) results in trunks that are squat, contorted and fissured, their history worn in craggy glory. There are notable examples throughout the Mediterranean and beyond.
Outside the church of Santo Domingo in the medieval town of Pollensa, Mallorca, is a tree that seems to be clinging on to life by divine providence alone. The canopy is thin and wispy but the trunk is vast and squat, the top part of the stem having decided at some point to grow around itself, like a giant timber scarf.
Even as far north as Britain there are elderly olives to be admired. The largest is at Chelsea Physic Garden on the Embankment in London. Great uncertainty exists over the age of this tree (it is certainly more than 100 years old) but, remarkably, it often produces viable fruit in the comparatively balmy microclimate of the garden. Enough, in a good year, to make one whole jam jar full of oil.
The large, aged olive trees that can now be obtained at nurseries and garden centres are often a consequence of commercial imperative. As soon as the productivity of an individual tree declines, its number is up. In the past, trees would often be cut down and burnt but now the emergence of a market hungry for old trees with character has offered them a reprieve. A naturally shallow root system makes them relatively easy to lift and transport too. So a tree born on a Greek hillside in the years before the Battle of Hastings could conceivably end its days actually in Hastings.

Matthew Wilson is managing director of Clifton Nurseries in London 

                                              Three Muses - Edwin H. Blashfield

Who, in Greek mythology, wandered around looking for an honest man?

Q.    Who was the guy in Greek mythology who wandered around with a lantern looking for an honest man?

A.     You’re probably thinking of Diogenes, a Greek philosopher who lived from about 412 to 323 B.C.  According to legend, Diogenes walked barefoot through the streets, carrying a lamp in broad daylight, proclaiming himself in search of an honest man. The legend provides no answer to the question of whether Diogenes ever found what he was looking for, but since he belonged to the Cynic school of Greek philosophy, the odds are not good. Diogenes taught that wealth and high position did not help a person lead a good life.  He preferred to take his ethical models from the animal kingdom. The word Cynic, in fact, comes from the Greek word for “dog.”
(World Book Encyclopedia and Internet resources.)

Ancient graffiti to street art: Rome walls tell a story

Scribbling emotions on walls has been a tradition in Rome going back thousands of years and even the word "graffiti" was first used for markings found in the ruins of Pompeii.
The modern version could be the scrawls seen in maternity wards in the Italian capital: "Get a move on, auntie's waiting!", "Chiara is born!", "Welcome little Mattia!".
From wealthy neighbourhoods in the city's north to working class suburbs in the south, Romans are not shy about scrawling on walls -- often with phrases in local dialect.
Anti-government satire, celebrations of football success and declarations of love -- poetic or crude -- can all be found alongside racist insults and fascist imagery.
And that kind of variety is nothing new, according to epigraphist Angela Donati, an expert in ancient Roman inscriptions who teaches at the University of Bologna.
"Most of the messages on the streets of ancient Rome were adverts. But there were also odes to the glory of gladiators or boasts of supposed sexual exploits like the ones found on the walls of brothels," Donati told AFP.
"Unfortunately the examples of inscriptions discovered on ancient Roman walls are rare but we can suppose that what was true for Pompeii was true for Rome as well," she said.
Donati said that contrary to modern conceptions about Romans, the graffiti "reveal the high literacy at the time".
- 'Graffiti that make me smile' -
Modern-day graffiti can range from spray tags in the Prati neighbourhood to the veritable frescoes on Tiburtina Street and local residents are divided between some who see acts of vandalism and others who appreciate them as raw art.
Agostino Iacurci, a young street artist, said he went through a "tag" phase but now does "murals" -- often as part of the renovation of working class neighbourhoods.
"Before I couldn't care less about what people thought but now I like expressing myself and getting a reaction as a person and an artist. The street offers this type of judgement every time pedestrians walk by," he said.
A work of street art entitled "superpope" captured the imagination of Romans earlier this year -- a picture of popular Pope Francis in his white cassock as superman.
The artist, MauPal, said he sees street art as social.
"Urban art does not talk about itself or about the artist but about people, what surrounds it, what's in the news and what is aesthetic," he said.
That view is shared by the "Poeti der Trullo" -- a collective of young poets based in a poor suburb of the city who write their verses on the walls.
"Our aim is to respect Rome by giving it something more, without disfiguring it. Maybe we can get a smile or a tear from a passer-by," they said in a statement.
Rome's waste collection agency AMA said it is forced to clean up the mess -- with hundreds of interventions on a total of 700,000 square metres of walls, or twice the surface area of the Vatican.
"If you include the number of people and vehicles deployed and the cleaning products used to wash off the graffiti, the annual cost for cleaning is between 1.2 and 1.5 million euros," said Anselmo Ricci, head of the municipal police corps in charge of preserving Rome's historic centre.
It is a heavy cost for a city administration that in February announced a budget deficit of 816 million euros.
"It's not enough," said Massimiliano Tonelli, founder of the website Romafaschifo.com (Romeisdisgusting.com).
"The dirtier the walls, the more people are inclined to dirty them. It's the scratched car theory," he said.
Ricci is critical too but his reaction is more tempered.
"It is a serious violation but it's true that sometimes I see graffiti that make me smile. They show up the jolly character of Romans."