Excitement mounts as remarkable statues are found at an ancient Greek tomb that may be linked to Alexander The Great.
TWO stunning caryatids have been unearthed holding up the entrance to the biggest ancient tomb ever found in Greece, archaeologists said.
The two female figures in long-sleeved tunics were found standing guard at the opening of the tomb of the mysterious Alexander The Great era near Amphipolis in the Macedonia region of northern Greece.
“The left arm of one and the right arm of the other are raised in a symbolic gesture to refuse entry to the tomb,” according to a statement from the Culture Ministry.
Speculation is mounting that the tomb, which dates back from Alexander's lifetime (356-323BC), may be untouched, with its treasures intact.
Previous evacuations of Macedonian tombs have uncovered amazing troves of gold jewellery and sculptures.
A 5m tall marble lion, currently standing on a nearby roadside, originally topped the 500m-long funeral mound, which is ringed by a marble wall.
Two headless stone Sphinx statues flanked the outer entrance, officials said, who added that “removing earth from the second entrance wall revealed the excellent marble caryatids”.
Photographs released by the ministry show the sculptures – which hold up a lintel – uncovered to mid-bust, their curly hair falling onto their shoulders.
Archaeologists have been digging at the site, which Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras called a “very important find”, since mid-August.
The ministry said the layout of “the second entrance with the caryatids gives us an important clue that it is a monument of particular importance”.
Expectation had already begun to build, given the quality of the sculpted column capitals and delicately coloured floor mosaic already discovered at the site.
Theories abound about who could be buried in the tumulus tomb, ranging from Alexander's Bactrian wife Roxane (or Roxana, as it is sometimes spelled), to his mother Olympias or one of his generals.
Experts say the chances of Alexander himself being buried there are small, however.
After his death at age 32 in Babylon, the most celebrated conqueror of the ancient world is believed to have been buried in Alexandria, the Egyptian city he founded – although no grave has ever been found there. – AFP Relaxnews
THESSAALONIKI, GREECE: An imposing mosaic uncovered in the largest antique tomb ever discovered in Greece depicts the myth of the abduction of Persephone, Zeus's daughter who became goddess of the underworld, the Greek culture ministry said on Thursday.
The 4.5 metre by three metre (15 foot by 10 foot) floor mosaic was discovered in a huge tomb that was discovered in August in Amphipolis, a northern Greek town. It dates back to the fourth century BC.
Other parts of the picture, made of tiny pieces of white, black, blue, red, yellow and grey, show a chariot driven by a bearded man and the Greek god Hermes on foot, looking back at the man.
The rest of the mosaic, uncovered only this week, shows a woman on the chariot, holding out one arm with a sorrowful expression on her face.
The figure "is that of a young woman with red tresses, wearing a white dress and jewels on her left wrist. It's obviously the abduction of Persephone by Pluto," the ministry said in a statement.
According to Greek mythology, Persephone was abducted by Hades, also known as Pluto, the god of the underworld, to be his wife.
Zeus, pressed by Persephone's grief-stricken mother Demeter, sent Hermes to bring her back. But Hades had her first taste red pomegranate seeds -- the fruit of life -- and thus secured her return to be with him for part of every year.
Katerina Peristeri, the chief archeologist at the dig, told a news conference on Thursday that the mosaic's theme was "purely to do with death".
"But the scene represented in the form of a mosaic is unique in Greece," stressed the secretary general of the culture ministry, Lina Mendoni.
There is widespread speculation over who was buried at the site: from Roxana, the Persian wife of Alexander the Great, to Olympias, the king's mother, to one of his generals.
"It's too early to say if this is a royal tomb," Peristeri said.
The burial site contains three chambers, two of which have been uncovered. The archeologists are to begin on the third chamber on Saturday.
The Amazons: Lives & Legends of Warrior Women Across the Ancient World by Adrienne Mayor, book review
This is the question which Adrienne Mayor seeks to answer in her hugely informative and entertaining Encyclopaedia Amazonica, which ranges across the ancient world from Greece to China, via the Russian steppes (whose nomadic women perhaps come closest to being real Amazons).
She's an excellent tour guide. She begins by dispelling one of the most basic myths about Amazons: that they cut off one breast to make it easier for them to use a bow and arrows. Not only does Mayor rubbish the idea that an archer would be remotely impeded by her breasts (with photographs of modern archers on horseback, all happily symmetrical), but she does so in a chapter entitled "Breasts: One or Two?"
She suggests a plausible origin for this peculiar myth. The Greeks loved etymology, no matter how spurious. And the word "Amazon", to an ancient Greek ear, sounds a lot like "a-" meaning "without", and "mastos" meaning "breast". But, as she points out, we have hundreds of images of Amazons on vases and drinking cups, and none of them is missing one of her breasts.
Amazons were an enormously popular subject for vase-painters in ancient Greece (only Heracles appears on more vases than these warrior-women). Their clothing is fascinating: here are women wearing patterned leggings, body-stockings and trousers. There's even a drinking cup showing Atalanta in a strophion – "a kind of sports bra", as Mayor helpfully translates. No wonder Greek men – accustomed to seeing their wives in floor-length tunics – viewed the Amazons with a horrified fascination. Here were women who not only didn't dress like nice ladies, but were also armed and dangerous.
But some men found them powerfully attractive, too. The Emperor Nero confiscated a bronze statue of one Amazon, and never travelled without it. Her name (one of the many delights of this book is its list of Amazon names) was Euknemon – "Lovely Legs". The ideal of an athletic woman who might kiss you or kill you has lost nothing over time. This is neatly illustrated with a wonderful picture of a 24-year-old Katharine Hepburn, dressed in full Amazon gear as Antiope (the Amazon who hooks up with Theseus) on Broadway in 1932.
Mayor is a magpie, who clearly delights in exploring the widest possible range of Amazonian material, no matter how tangential. She includes a short section on fermented mare's milk, drunk by Amazon infants (according to Philostratus). Not only does she explain that horse-milk needs to be fermented because of its high lactose content, she also includes a recipe for increasing the alcohol content "until the desired potency is reached".
The book is beautifully illustrated with photographs of vases, statues and coins. There's a fascinating section on terracotta Amazon dolls (now in the Louvre). The dolls were found in the graves of little girls, who would have dedicated them to Artemis, had they lived long enough to get married. It's easy to think of girls in the ancient world as cloistered and passive, but here is proof that they were given figurines of warrior women as toys, or ritual objects. The terracotta may be fragile, but these dolls could still kick the crap out of Barbie.
Perhaps the Greeks' complex lust-fear relationship with Amazons is best illustrated by a vase, which is now in the British Museum. It shows Achilles carrying the body of Penthesilea, the Amazon – an ally of the Trojan king, Priam – who he kills outside the walls of Troy. "Images of male warriors and Amazons carrying their dead companions are common," says Mayor, "but a Greek warrior bearing the body of an enemy is unique."
Ariadne was the daughter of Minos, King of Crete, and his queen Pasiphaë, daughter of Helios.
She is mostly associated with mazes and labyrinths, due to her involvement in the myths of the Minotaur and Theseus.
Her father put her in charge of the labyrinth where sacrifices were made as part of reparations (either to Poseidon or to Athena, depending on the version of the myth); however, she would later help Theseus in overcoming the Minotaur and saving the would-be sacrificial victims.
In other stories, she became the bride of the god Dionysus, with the question of her background as being either a mortal or a goddess varying in those accounts.
Dionysus the god of the grape harvest, winemaking and wine, of ritual madness, fertility, theatre and religious ecstasy. His name, thought to be a theonym in Linear B tablets as di-wo-nu-so shows that he may have been worshipped as early as c. 1500–1100 BC by Mycenean Greeks; other traces of the Dionysian-type cult have been found in ancient Minoan Crete.
His origins are uncertain, and his cults took many forms; some are described by ancient sources as Thracian, others as Greek. In some cults, he arrives from the east, as an Asiatic foreigner; in others, from Ethiopia in the South. He is a god of epiphany, "the god that comes", and his "foreignness" as an arriving outsider-god may be inherent and essential to his cults.
He is a major, popular figure of Greek mythology and religion, and is included in some lists of the twelve Olympians. Dionysus was the last god to be accepted into Mt. Olympus. He was the youngest and the only one to have a mortal mother. His festivals were the driving force behind the development of Greek theatre. He is an example of a dying god.
The earliest cult images of Dionysus show a mature male, bearded and robed. He holds a fennel staff, tipped with a pine-cone and known as a thyrsus. Later images show him as a beardless, sensuous, naked or half-naked androgynous youth: the literature describes him as womanly or "man-womanish".
In its fully developed form, his central cult imagery shows his triumphant, disorderly arrival or return, as if from some place beyond the borders of the known and civilized. His procession (thiasus) is made up of wild female followers (maenads) and bearded satyrs with erect penises. Some are armed with the thyrsus, some dance or play music.
The god himself is drawn in a chariot, usually by exotic beasts such as lions or tigers, and is sometimes attended by a bearded, drunken Silenus. This procession is presumed to be the cult model for the human followers of his Dionysian Mysteries. In his Thracian mysteries, he wears the bassaris or fox-skin, symbolizing a new life. Dionysus is represented by city religions as the protector of those who do not belong to conventional society and thus symbolizes everything which is chaotic, dangerous and unexpected, everything which escapes human reason and which can only be attributed to the unforeseeable action of the gods.
He was also known as Bacchus the name adopted by the Romans and the frenzy he induces, bakkheia. His thyrsus is sometimes wound with ivy and dripping with honey. It is a beneficent wand but also a weapon, and can be used to destroy those who oppose his cult and the freedoms he represents.
He is also called Eleutherios ("the liberator"), whose wine, music and ecstatic dance frees his followers from self-conscious fear and care, and subverts the oppressive restraints of the powerful. Those who partake of his mysteries are possessed and empowered by the god himself.
His cult is also a "cult of the souls"; his maenads feed the dead through blood-offerings, and he acts as a divine communicant between the living and the dead.
Hippocrates is considered the father of medicine, enemy of superstition, pioneer of rationality and fount of eternal wisdom. Statues and drawings show him with a furrowed brow, thinking hard about how to heal his patients.
And today, the internet is full of claims that if you follow a supposedly Hippocratic diet of raw organic foods or concentrate on one of his alleged favourite foods, such as watercress, you will be healed.
The most famous of the treatises linked to his name over time is the Hippocratic Oath, which has sometimes been taken by medics as they vow to uphold ethical standards in their profession. And what a model it offers: in the Oath doctors are to keep away from abortion and euthanasia. They must not blurt out their patients’ secrets. Nor should they have sex with patients – men or women, free or slave.
But in fact, the Hippocratic Oath has nothing to do with Hippocrates. So why has it been attached to his name?
The real Hippocrates
The reality is that not just the Oath, but the 60 or so other ancient Greek treatises on medicine that we call “the Hippocratic corpus”, are all anonymous. They were written over many centuries in different Greek dialects. They also have different ideas about the body and healing. So Classics scholars today are clear that they can’t all have been written by one man.
The philosopher Plato gave the only near-contemporary account of the real Hippocrates behind the myths. Hippocrates was known well enough as a physician in the ancient world that people would recognise him by name. From Plato we know that Hippocrates came from the island of Cos, close to the the coast of what is now Turkey, and taught medicine for a fee. He was an “Asclepiad” – which could mean one of a family claiming descent from the god of medicine, Asklepios, or just a “healer”. But it is not clear what beliefs he held about healing.
Anything else you read about the historical Hippocrates is made up. There are no recorded dates about his existence. Plato’s references would put him at around 430 BC, but if you read any firm birth and death dates, they are figments of someone’s imagination.
Making up a story
Hippocrates is an extreme example of our human desire to tell a story, and to establish founders. Different facets of the surviving medical treatises from ancient Greece were taken out and merged to create his personality and, later, a whole biography. People made up family trees for him and speculated, with no evidence, on his education and character.
So we imagine Hippocrates as a caring and attentive person simply because some ancient Greek treatises talk about observing patients very carefully. Because the treatise On the Sacred Disease talks about seizures as coming not from the gods but from an imbalance of phlegm in the body, we think of Hippocrates as someone who rejected anything superstitious. And because one surviving treatise is the Oath, Hippocrates is also linked to high moral standards.
What does the Oath really say?
Most of the lines in the Oath are not about treating patients at all. Instead, they are about physicians teaching each other’s sons without charge, and taking care of their old teachers. Whichever group of ancient physicians came up with this document, their first concern was with their identity as a group.
Even the famous lines about euthanasia and abortion are far less straightforward than we expect. There is actually no ban in the Oath on euthanasia in our modern sense of an option when a person is suffering from an incurable condition. The word is from the Greek, meaning “good death”, but for an ancient Greek a good death was that of a young man in his prime dying on the battlefield. Instead, the Oath suggests a much broader concern for keeping control of potentially fatal drugs rather than handing them out to those who could misuse them.
As for abortion, the Oath says: “I will not give an abortive pessary.” The wording here is the most common of the verbs “to give”, which means it is hard to know whether the sense is just “hand over” or a more technical “administer”. And it leaves open the possibility of an abortive drug taken by another route – by mouth – being administered by a physician. Maybe the real worry in the Oath here is about the pessary as a particularly potent mode of administration, or again about letting drugs pass out of the hands of the physician to those who may misuse them.
And as for the “no sex with patients of either sex” clause: this raises the possibility that the Oath was not a normal part of ancient medicine, but rather a very special document put together in some unusual local situation. Perhaps physicians had been doing precisely this, and the patients had completely lost faith in those who claimed that they could heal them.
Linking all these very different ancient Greek documents together and tying them to the name of Hippocrates has been common since just a few centuries after he lived. Perhaps it makes us feel better to see one, humane, person rather than a faceless committee at the origins of medicine and medical ethics. And not just any person, but this idealised figure, the perfect physician who is more knowledgeable and more caring than any living physician we are ever likely to meet.
Over the history of medicine, we have made up the character of Hippocrates to fit what we think physicians, or medicine itself, should be like. Even the Oath has been edited to fit different societies. But isn’t it time now to talk about medicine without always nodding to a shadowy figure of the past?