Friday, 17 December 2021

ante diem xvi kalendas ianuarias

First observed in the Roman Empire on this day in 497 BC and over the centuries expanded into a six-day feast ending on 23 December, Saturnalia was held in honour of the god Saturn with public banquets, role-

reversals, continual revelry and private gift-exchanges⁠—usually in the form of white elephant presents, wax or pottery statuettes (action figures, see also) of the divine called sigillaria. Theologically important for some Romans who saw the festive time as a revival of the Golden Age (just as some classicists and successor nations see the Romans), traditions heavily references its Athenian equivalent, called Kronia (Κρόνια—for Chronos), when the gods ruled the world and toil and class was unknown, though not anticipating the solstice and the gradual return of the sun after a break, dark winter, Kronia was held ahead of the first harvest in July, August during the first month of the Greek calendar beginning in the summer, Hekatombaiōn. Rumours of human sacrifice to appease Saturn were greatly exaggerated and like spread by Christian apologist (see above).

Sunday, 28 November 2021

what who called the ν variant? yes!

With WHO’s on First—JWZ brings us some comic-relief over the latest viral strain of concern, though to apparently avoid such hilarious confusion, went out of Greek alphabetical order, jumping ahead to Omicron (little o, as opposed to Omega, that’s big o) skipping nu and xi (ξ).

Sunday, 7 November 2021

facce di bronzo

Via the always superb Everlasting Blört, we are not only introduced to the sensational discovery of the so-called Riace bronzes in the early 1970s but how the Italian mayor of the namesake town is planning a museum and further excavations on the fiftieth anniversary of their recovery from the waves off the Calabrian coast to see if there are more Greek warrior statues yet to be uncovered. Made in the fifth century BCE using the lost wax casting technique are among the few surviving examples of Greek artistry, most being melted down, and were found by accident by a snooping chemist called Stefano Mariottini in 1972 and are conjectured to be either anonymous Delphic soldiers as part of an ensemble monument to the Battle of Marathon or possibly as depictions of Erechtheus, foster son of Athena and legendary king of Athens, and Eumolpus, son of Poseidon and inventor of viticulture.

Tuesday, 19 October 2021


anamorphosis: a sixteenth century optical illusion in a work by Hans Holbein the Younger 

💧: the first episode on the Weirdness of Water, presented by the Curious Cases of Rutherford & Fry  

uncharted: the region in Greece that was historically so inaccessible it was named Agrafa, literally off the maps—via Messy Messy Chic  

a people’s archive of sinking and melting: artefacts documenting the climate crisis  

odonym: a suite of applications to explore the toponymical decisions behind street names—see also 

fiat geld: origins of the trillion dollar coin  

spice like us: the geopolitics of nutmeg informed by its reputed efficacy against the plague

Sunday, 12 September 2021

from marathon to waterloo in order categorical

Though probably two separate epic long-distance races are being conflated, most scholars date the Battle of Marathon, a pivotal moment for Western civilisation in which the coalition of Greek armies defeated Persia and rebuffed their attempts at invasion, to this day in 490 BCE with the event preserved in the popular imagination by its feat of athletic endurance.
An Athenian scout called Pheidippides is dispatched from the city-state to Sparta to rally support for the battle—covering a distance on foot of over two-hundred-twenty-five kilometres in the span of a day, and then when the Greeks prevailed ran from the battlefield back to Athens to announce nenikēkamen, νενικήκαμεν, Joy to you—we’ve won and promptly dying of exhaustion before the city’s magistrates is probably a bit of romanticising and capitalising on the story for the reboot of the modern Olympics in 1896 that included such a long-distance run that matched the track from Marathon. Assailable as it was without a melodramatic death, the event was to become a staple for the games and controversially in 1908 London Games with the United Kingdom adding some three-hundred yards to the race in order to place the finish-line at Windsor Castle from the originating stadium. By the time of the 1924 Paris Olympics, the committee had declared this distance canon.

Monday, 6 September 2021

ālea iacta est

Via the ever excellent Everlasting Blört, we are directed to this pair of Roman anthropomorphic dice, silver squatting figurines weighted (equitably presumably) to fall in one of six (tesserae, though usually in games in the Empire tossed in threes) positions.

The above phrase attributed to Julius Caesar by the historian Suetonius when the general brought his provincial army into the capital is like other quotations a likely translation from the Greek borrowing from the humorist Menander, «Ἀνερρίφθω κύβος», let a die be cast in either form the phrase meaning metaphorically reaching a point of no return from whose juncture the decisions are irreversible.

Thursday, 2 September 2021

second triumvirate

Of course while the lurch towards despotism by the government and the governed did not go unnoticed, Rome never acknowledged that it shifted from being a republic to an imperial power and maintained the trappings of democracy amid tyranny and some aspects of the transformation were gradual and inuring but one pivot point is the Battle of Actium, which took place on this day in 31 BCE, with the fleets of Octavian, ambitious politicians and grand-nephew of Julius Caesar and adopted ‘son,’ and Cleopatra VII Philopator and Mark Anthony fighting in the Ionian sea. First allied (read more), Octavian had a falling out with Mark Antony after he abandoned his wife Octavia Minor, Octavian’s sister, to go to Egypt and foster a long-term liaison with Cleopatra, raising the son of Julius Caesar, Caesarion by the Pharaoh, as his own. Octavian convinced the Senate that the couple were a threat to Rome and were forming a separatist faction that would undermine Roman unity, installing a child king and moving the capital to Alexandria, and with this propaganda campaign and was able to gather his forces. With superior numbers, Octavian was able to claim victory, pursuing Antony and Cleopatra and their defeated ships for nearly a year back to the Egyptian capital where trapped they both dispatched themselves, and consolidated power ubi et orbi, adopting the title Princeps, Number One Citizen, and awarded the title of Revered One—Augustus—by the Senate for saving Rome.

Wednesday, 11 August 2021


united states of wildfire: as the climate emergency escalates, more North American residents are moving into the path of destruction unwittingly 

fitting in: Ze Frank (previously) reveals that even the coolest, calmest and most collected of us are all trying, coping  

d’oyly carte: an islet in the Thames with a derelict mansion built for an opera impresario will be restored to its former glory—via Things Magazine 

caped crusaders: Batman’s sidekick Robin finally comes out 

constrained systems: a tool-kit of alternative image editing effects—via Waxy  

matchi bō:a mesmerising stop-motion study of a magic match stick from Tomohiro Okazaki—via ibīdem

 bubblegum pop: the Osmonds 1968 song “Groove with what You Got”  

αποκάλυψη: Greek capital, archipelago beset by flames

Friday, 23 July 2021


The ancient Roman festival with games (ludi) honouring the god of the seas was held on this day as a propitious act in the middle of the hot summer and drought to coax back the waters and escape the oppressive heat of the city by repairing to the countryside and sheltering under umbræ for a shaded repast. At first not enjoying the universal acclaim of his Greek counterpart Poseidon, Neptune was not broadly regarded as the patron and protector of maritime affairs but rather as a guarantor of personal agricultural success, though was later held in more esteem as Rome developed as a naval power and the holiday came to be marked with the flooding of the Pantheon to return and tame the waters.

Saturday, 3 July 2021


Though the term is outdated and can be confusing and offensive if applied to an intersex individual, it had never occurred to us question where the construction hermaphrodite came from. It is rooted in Greek mythology as illustrated uncharitably anachronistically in this 1460 woodblock tableau from Guillaume Vrelant of the encounter between the naiad Salmacis and the youth Hermaphroditus, the son of the Olympian gods Hermes and Aphrodite, a portmanteau of the parental names. Sexual predation and objectification of course abounds in the classical but Salmacis is uniquely the only female perpetrator—subject of course to double-standards, being roundly shamed for it, the cougar nymph encountering, a popular theme for early Renaissance paintings as well, the fifteen-year-old bathing in the pristine pond (sacred to her and where she was wont to gaze at her reflection like Narcissus) and lusting after him grabbed him tightly, praying to the heavens that they never be parted as Hermaphroditus struggled to get away. For reasons not explained—especially given the teen-ager’s high birth—Salmacis’ wish was granted and their bodies were fused into one. Further unaccounted for was Hermaphroditus’ request to his parents that anyone else bathing in the pool would also be transformed, unclear whether their son was capable of thinking just as himself any longer or whether he thought this new nature to be a curse or a blessing.

phaistos disc

Discovered on this day in 1908 by archaeologist Luigi Pernier whilst excavating the eponymous Minoan palace on Crete, the purpose and provenance of this Bronze Age artefact remain a matter of mystery and dispute among scholars. Comprising forty-five distinct glyphs, some two-hundred forty impressed signs on the obverse and reverse of the circular tablet, the script defies attempts at deciphering. Typographically significant, the characters (ideograms) are not inscribed—whatever they may signify—and rather are stamped from seals into a clay medium, subsequently fired at high temperatures and represent a sort of movable type with reusable letters. By frequency, the highest count for the representational glyphs are the plumed head 𐇑 , the bell-shaped Helmet 𐇖 and the Shield 𐇛 Whilst other corroborating artefacts have emerged, there is not enough context to properly decode this syllabary.

Thursday, 1 July 2021

lectori benevolo

Writing for Public Domain Review, Alex Tadel imparts some insight on classical literary culture through the lens of the brilliantly illustrated rarity Vergilius Vaticanus, a fourth century anthology containing Virgil’s Georgics and The Æneid—itself one of the oldest sources of the text (see also), though we would still have that material without this deluxe, prestige bound folio crafted and bound at a time when most reading was circulated on papyrus scrolls but be denied the privilege of enjoying this one of a kind commission, acquired by the Vatican Library in 1600 and hence the latter part of the name. Much more on being well-read in Antiquity and the bookish set of the times at the link up top.

Sunday, 27 June 2021

our lady of perpetual help

The Marian aspect as represented in a fifteenth-century Byzantine icon, the Cretan artefact held in a Roman monastery since, is venerated with devotionals on this day as patron-protector of Haiti, parts of Valencia, the Philippines and the diocese of Leeds. Against a gold background representing the Kingdom of God and that there was no place not filled with the holy spirit, the Hodegetria (Greek for ‘She who points the Way’) presents her child, frightened (symbolised by his losing one sandal) and buffeted by tiny archangels that are bearing instruments of the Passion, on the left the lance and sponge of the Crucifixion and on the right, a cross and nails. All figures are captioned: MP-ΘΥ, Mother of God; ΟΑΜ and ΟΑΓ Michael and Gabriel (with hortative modifiers) and the christogram IC-XC for Jesus Christ. The ritual novena prayers recited before an image of the icon include thanksgiving, petitions, prayers for the sick and divine praise.

Saturday, 12 June 2021

so many women. he invents so many disguises to seduce them. sometimes a swan or a bull, sometimes a shower of gold. why, he once tried to ravish me as a cuttlefish.

In general release in US theatres (2 July for the UK) on this day in 1981, Desmond Davis’ Clash of the Titans is loosely based on the myth of Perseus (see previously) and features creature effects from Ray Harryhausen with an all-star ensemble cast including Laurence Olivier, Maggie Smith, Siân Phillips, Neil McCarthy and Pat Roach. To punish the Argon king after banishing Danaë and her infant son (see above), Zeus orders Poseidon to release the last of the Titans, the Kraken, to destroy Argos. On a quest to rescue Princess Andromeda, betrothed to the monstrous Calibos, Perseus is given a series of divine-crafted gifts to gain standing as a legitimate suitor to break the bond. 

Unable to exact revenge directly on Perseus as a demigod and favourite of Zeus, the maritime contingent of the Olympians plan to send the Kraken after Andromeda’s land, Joppa—to which the princess offers herself as sacrifice to save the city. Perseus embarks on a journey to save his fiancée, aided by more gifts from the gods including the mechanical owl Bubo that Athena commissioned from Hephaestus rather than give up her own favoured owl (which some considered a knock-off of R2D2 though the creators insist that the concept predated Star Wars), by deducing how to defeat the sea monster with the severed head of the gorgon Medusa.

Thursday, 6 May 2021

flash crash

Triggered by a combination of human error—so called fat-finger trades that if not invalidated within thirty minutes after execution are considered legitimate—automated trading protocols set on edge by the sovereign debt crisis in Greece, over the course of thirty-six minutes of the trading on this day in 2010, US stock indices collapsed, loosing over a trillion dollars in wealth. The markets for the most part recovered quickly and additional regulatory safeguards were put in place to prevent the same thing from happening again. It held the record for the most volatile day for American stocks with the largest intraday change in valuation until August of 2015 when global markets faltered over concerns about the viability of the Chinese economy, but both events were pushed way down in the rankings by the crashes of 2020 caused by the pandemic.

Tuesday, 6 April 2021


Courtesy of our faithful chronicler, we are reminded how on this day in 1896, Charles Pierre de Frédy, Baron of Coubertin revived the Olympic Games, held for the first time since they were banned by Roman Emperor Theodosius I upon his decree that pagan practises be eliminated.&Held every four years at the sanctuary of Zeus in Olympia, the festival (Ὀλυμπιακοί Ἀγῶνες, agony—that is, contest) was a religious and athletic event imbued with a mythological origin and significance held among all Greek city states. While untrue that there was a general secession in fighting whilst the Games were held, there was a truce and pilgrims were allowed free-passage through belligerent lands to attend. Legendarily, a race of ten spirit males called the Dactyls or Daktyloi were spontaneously generated when the Great Mother Rhea dug her fingers into the earth as she prepared to give birth to Zeus. These lesser gods who taught the arts of metal smithing and healing were also happy to help entertain the infant Olympian with sports competitions. Different traditions exist with multiples thereof but the hand of the Idaean Dactyls (see also) pitted Herakles, the thumb, against his brothers Aeonius (forefinger), Epimedes (middle finger), Iasus (ring finger) and Idas (little finger).

Tuesday, 23 March 2021

release the kraken

Though popular culture dictates that the head of Medusa was retrieved for one specific purpose, another variant myth has Perseus going through the ordeal as a sort of fool’s errand, with King Polydectes of the island of Seriphos wanting to rid himself of an over-protective son after he became enamoured with Danaë after she and Perseus were salvaged by the king’s brother the fisherman Dictys (this aprotonym means Mister Net), the king of Argos Acrisius having cast his daughter and the infant Perseus to sea in a wooden chest to avoid the prophesy that he would be killed by his grandson. Polydectes announced his betrothal to a certain Hippodamia and ordered everyone in his kingdom to supply him with suitable wedding gifts, mostly on the registry were horses but Perseus came late and was assigned by his presumptive step-dad the head of the gorgon after bragging he was fit for a task so demanding. Perseus departed on his quest and Polydectes proceded to woo Danaë who tried her best to reject his advances. Using his shield as a mirror to avoid the gorgon’s gaze, Perseus slew Medusa and returned to Seriphos. Disbelieving that Perseus accomplished this trial, Polydectes demanded to be shown the head, which Perseus produced at court, turning the king and his nobles into stone and rescuing his mother. As for Acrisius who banished mother and son and exiling them to the elements, the old king did eventually die at Perseus hand albeit an accident when he was hit in the head by a stray discus that Perseus threw during a tournament.

Monday, 15 March 2021

bewarned the ides of march

Though speculation and debate has continued for centuries, shifting from one camp to another with the present academic consensus rejecting the Shakespearian conceit that an unmitigated reaction to being assassinated would have been in Latin, scholarship has Julius Caesar (previously here and here) speaking Greek καὶ σύ, τέκνον; (And you child?) with a somewhat different landing than Et tu Brute? The latter is only attested to in the Middle Ages and in accordance with Roman custom, it would have been more honourable, in the case of the former with Caesar being a long-time romantic companion of Servilia—mother of Marcus Junius Brutus—to have him die silently as a soldier. Some academics say it was misheard and more likely Caesar said “Tu quoque, fili mi?”—which is closer to the Greek—or “Quæso te, non!” –Stop it, please! and even the playwright seems to acknowledge the debate or unknowable nature of it with the earlier idiom in the tragedy, It’s all Greek to me, said by Casca to Cassius on Cicero and the co-conspirators, “…but those that understood him smiled at one another and shook their heads; but, for mine own part it was Greek to me.” It is perhaps doubtful that even a great orator could summon the wherewithal to deliver some famous last words after being stabbed twenty-three times by a mob of mutinous senators. Despite the line’s purchase on popular culture, even within the framework of the play itself, the last utterance before expiring is “Then fall, Caesar.”

Monday, 1 February 2021


Fully cognizant and acknowledging that language changes and that linguistics are descriptive rather than prescriptive, the erosion of Greek, with a cultural continuum spanning some forty centuries is being exacerbated and accelerated by the jargon of the pandemic (naturally a Greek word) and the forms of transmission that lockdown (κλείδωμα από ) privileges. All of these terms would be receptive to translation, if not in an awkward fashion that’s possibly less expedient once these borrowings and neologisms take root but Greek has weathered diglossia (see here and here), plague and tumult before. One wonders what role that outbreaks have had on language and culture, assimilation and isolation in the past, and one can take solace in those new native equivalencies, like diadiktyo (Διαδίκτυο) for internet that do take hold and endure.

Friday, 29 January 2021


Brought to the stage in München in operatic form on this date in 1811 as the première work of Peter Josef von Lindpainter (*1791 – †1856) the figure associated with Demeter was a popular subject of the prior decades. Seeking her abducted daughter Persephone in the guise of an old woman, calling herself Doso, Demeter wanted to repay the hospitality she received from the by making the titular young prince into an immortal and being nursemaid to Demophöon (given the tough name, meaning “killer of men”), the king’s son by Metanira. To realise her plan to turn him into a god, Demeter anointed the infant with ambrosia and nightly placed him into the palace hearth to burn away his mortal spirit. His mother walked in one evening to witness this ritual and reacted like any mother would to the sight of her baby in the fireplace among the burning logs—which annoyed Demeter who had to abort the immortalisation process over the interruption. Though unscathed but still subject to decrepitude and death, Demophöon acquired immortality of a sorts through a hero cult and enduring fame. As a consolation to the family—having failed in her first act of kindness, Demeter taught his older brother Triptolemus (threefold-warrior) the art of agriculture, which he spread across the Greek world. Lindpainter’s most successful opera, Der Vampyr, was also another popular theme and debuted in Stuttgart two decades later.