Thursday, 2 January 2020

city on a hill

Via Language Hat, we receive a news brief that probably will leave one reeling—especially if one is disposed to reflect on how chickens are dinosaurs at least on a daily basis—in that the ruined temple of the Acropolis of Athens we refer to the Parthenon, the House of the Virgins sacred to the city’s patroness Athena is most likely not the Parthenon at all and rather what the original denizens called the Hekatompedon (the hundred foot, circa thirty metre-long, temple—though the structure spanned forty-six metres).
An impressive structure to be sure but perhaps not the centrally-enshrined personification of some attributed obsession with one definition of purity as a virtue that Moderns are perhaps too quick to ascribe to the Ancients and moreover suggests that the “House of the Virgins” is better placed at the south porch of the Erectheoin and the practical purpose—as a polling place—that the structure fulfilled was not supplanted when it was rebuilt after its destruction a decade after their victory in Marathon in 480 BC by Persians returning home after the war. What is most striking for me in this revelation is that the cartographic legend for the Acropolis is only a couple centuries old and the topography is wholly reconstructed, despite populations living with the ruins continuously. Folk-etymologies and explanations arise of course, like dragons from dinosaur fossils or Germany’s Schewedenschanze—ringworks and ramparts of early medieval to sometimes pre-historic Celtic origin but colloquially named after trenches hastily dug during the Thirty Years’ War, granted, but hopefully local, native knowledge is allowed to inform academic decisions.