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.

Monday, 25 January 2021

collezionare capolavori

Though in stasis and awaiting visitors, the storied and seldom seen Torlonia Marbles from a private collection are gathered together for public viewing for the first time, resulting from an agreement four decades in negotiation and agreed upon four years before the exhibition was scheduled to open. Not only was the loan to Rome’s Capitoline Museum controversial and fraught with compromise and conciliation, there’s some intrigue associated with its collectors as well—the family once the bankers and economic advisors to the Vatican and master and model for the attainment of prestige and status through art collecting.

Saturday, 16 January 2021


First articulated out the Cyrillic script (see previously) in the Bulgarian Empire in the tenth century following a long established Greek, Ionian convention to differentiate numerals from letters when context was not exactly clear with spacers, dots and a diacritic over the glyphs called a titlo ҃ or as a prefix signalling a long string of numbers to follow ҂, like a tilde or macron. Still sometimes seen in Slavonic Church publications and in old monuments and coinage, the system was in use until the civil reforms (see also) of Peter the Great in the early seventeen hundreds when Hindu-Arabic representations were introduced and because of this centuries-long custom continued well into the early modern era, elaborate signs were developed to express powers of magnitude and in terms of both a long and short scale (lesser and greater count multiplier) for accounting and scientific purposes. Align with the Greek (rather than alphabetically), one through ten, correspond with the Cyrillic letters: А, В, Г, Д, Е, Ѕ, З, И, Ѳ and І. The pictured powers of ten using the older alpha form, with the Myriad (Тьма) encircled    ⃝   either ten-thousand or a million and Many Myriad   ꙲   either one billion or 10⁵⁰.

Monday, 28 December 2020


Previously we’ve covered this exciting find in the ruins of Pompeii suggesting a well-preserved snack bar, and appreciated the update regarding the excavation and research into this Roman fast food franchisee. Such stalls (from the Greek θερμοπώλιον for “a place where something hot is sold” but colloquially known also as popina, caupona or hospitium) were common all over the Empire but this discovery represents the first complete short-order diner uncovered and is yielding insights into the dining habits and diets of the patrons from two millennia ago. Preliminary analysis shows that pig, duck, fish and snail were among the menu items.

Monday, 7 December 2020


сара́тов-2:some urban spelunking leads to a Soviet computer graveyard (previously) with some early machines thought lost to the ages 

indented writing: this case of an invisible will recalls some more recent forensic intervention to retrieve the words of a blind novelist 

parallel dimensions: one-hundred twenty-five artists render different computer-generated environments on one basic template of a character walking towards a mountain  

starfleet bold extended: the typography created for Star Trek: The Motion Picture (see previously, premiering on this day in 1979)

 : the real-life Queen’s Gambit in Georgian chess champion Nona Gaprindashvili  

the panoply of digital phrenology: the coming subprime attention crisis and the bursting of the ad-serving bubble  

petroglyphs: more on the amazing expanse of pre-Columbian art discovered in the Amazon 

κουμπωμένο με κουμπιά: exploring an abandoned factory in Patisia Greece

Monday, 23 November 2020


First historically documented in a competition to find the best tragedy (τραγῳδία, literally goat song, suggesting that that was the top prize)—that is stagecraft with an actor portraying a character rather than themselves singly and distinct from the chorus, on this day in 534 BC performer and playwright, according to Aristotle, Thespis is credited in Western traditions with the invention of acting, performing short dithyrambs—that is, stories about gods and heroes with choric refrains, διθύραμβος or hymns to Dionysus and a way to frame enthusiastic speech—playing all the roles himself and differentiating each part by donning a different mask (persona). 

Building on his successful showing at the contest, Thespis then went on, according to Horace, to invent theatrical touring, transporting his masks and costumes in a horse-drawn carriage, Thespis’ wagon (Άρμα Θέσπιδος, Carro di Tespi) being a popular theme for the visual arts.

Sunday, 22 November 2020

alfabeti shqip

With the conclusion of the Congress of Manastir—now called Bitola, on this day in 1908 academicians from around the country met and achieved their goal of standardising the national language and script for the native population and the diaspora aboard and in neighbouring Kosovo and North Macedonia—who commemorate this Dita e Alfabetit—whereas prior to the democratic, deliberative and well-considered process the language was expressed in no fewer than six distinct scripts that drew from Greek, Cyrillic, Ottoman and Arabic. There was great potential for confusion between rho and pi, aitch and kha. The outcome was a variant of the Latin alphabet (see also) with thirty-six letters to best represent the phonology of Albanian with diagraphs including dh, gj and nj.

Wednesday, 18 November 2020

twinkle, twinkle

We are treated to an albeit abridged but nonetheless thoroughgoing history of the asterisk from Keith Houston’s Shady Characters, beginning with a frustrated librarian of Alexandria called Zenodotus who was determined to make a version of the epics of Homer as close to their original form as possible before centuries of editing, commentary and poetic license had turned the text into the unruly document that Zenodotus and colleagues were now heir to. In order to pare down the Iliad and the Odyssey, Zenodotus devised tracked-changes and version control, first introducing a range of proofreading or editor’s marks, to begin with a dash (—) in the margins to indicate a line to be excised, later named the obelos—that is, a roasting-spit. 

Having left us the literary legacy of dividing the poems into books, glosses of unusual words, a form of labelling and alphabetical indexing so scrolls did not need enrolling to know the contents, many duplicate verses obelised and a calculation of the time that passes in the course of the war and homecoming, a century later, grammarian Aristarchus of Samothrace took up the mantle of Homeric scholarship and stewardship and expanded the vocabulary of the critical symbols, with his asteriskos—little star and not to be confused with the asterism, to signal duplicate lines or something appearing elsewhere. With the conditional, footnoted sense developing over the millennia, the subtext was that for a a line with an * attached, there was more to the story. Other marks in the system which also indicated punctuation, breath and pronunciation, the sigma and antisigma (Ϲ, Ͻ) for what’s interchangeable, a dotted diple (>·) or an asteriskos/obelos combination to indicate an editorial disagreement and spurious authenticity. Our comic Gallic heroes are of course named in reference to these annotations. Much more to explore at the link up top.

Monday, 16 November 2020

goût grec

We rather enjoyed looking through these fantastical masquerade outfits informed by neoclassical Greek columns and other architectural elements from the imagination of Ennemond Alexandre Petitot—himself the court architect and influencer (railing against this particular style) of the Bourbon Dukes in Parma, printed in 1771, not as sketches for buildings nor actual fancy dress but rather gentle derision on the obsession for “Greek taste” that dominated French fashion and decorative arts with Ionic scrolls, key and fret work and similar patterns—sort of like the tiki aesthetic of its day. Much more to explore at Public Domain Review at the link up top.

Wednesday, 28 October 2020

ημέρα του όχι

Though the response of the Greek prime minister to the Italian ambassador regarding Mussolini’s ultimatum to allow the Axis armies to occupy strategic points in the Hellenic lands delivered on this day in 1940 was a bit more bellicose and francophone—“Alors, c’est la guerre!”—than the popular account that the prime minister answered with a simple and laconic No—όχι/ohi, it was the latter that resounded in the streets and shouted first by members of the resistance then by all. The refusal was met by Italian troops stationed at the Albanian border invading Greek territory, beginning the Balkan campaign of World War II. This act of defiance, rejection of fascism is commemorated annually in Greece, Cyprus and the diaspora as the “Anniversary of the No!”

Sunday, 25 October 2020



Drawn from Greek mythology, we enjoyed these sympathetic gods, heroes and monsters dealing with life under quarantine by artist and illustrator Jonathan Muroya. Interviewed by NPR for his series, Muroya admits that “Probably at my worst times I’m Jason on the couch in his Golden Fleece watching TV,” by contrast, “Probably at my best, maybe Persephone, just wanting to be outside.” We’re all doing our level best in these circumstances. At these times cooped up, isolated and anxious, what legendary figure can you most relate to? 



Monday, 5 October 2020

υπό κατασκευή

At the behest of the Hellenic Ministry of Infrastructure and Transport, we learn via Boing Boing, architectural photographer Pygmalion Karatzas has documented the expansion of the metro systems of Athens and Thessaloniki. Dating back to 1869 as a conventional steam railway before electrification at the turn of the century, Μετρό Αθήνας (see also) has been the only subway in Greece, now serving the Piraeus, until the expected completion of the Thessalonki network in 2023. Any sort of construction—never mind mega-projects like these, present particular challenges for ancient and venerable places (relatedly) and may yield more discoveries yet. See a whole gallery of Karatzas’ works at the links up top.

Tuesday, 1 September 2020

divinisation or pompatus of love

We enjoyed reading this short, collective hagiography that profiles several saints named Hyacinth, including one from Fara: “A martyr about whom nothing is known,” but we were more intrigued by the footnote for namesake flower (Giancinto, Jacinto, Hyakithos) and its mythological origins in a handsome Spartan prince and his fatal love-triangle.
Hyacinth was the lover of Apollo, but he had the attention and advances of a host of other suitors including the famous Thracian singer Thamyris, Zephyrus and Boreas—respectively the West and North Winds. Hyacinth preferred the company of Apollo and together in a chariot drawn by swans, they had adventures. While playing a round of frisbee (discus), Hyacinth was struck in the head and perished, the eponymous blossom rising up where his blood was spilled—a trope appropriated by Christianity as a symbol of renewal. Devastated Apollo blamed himself but there is strong suspicion that the winds conspired to punish the prince out of jealousy, and the god wanted himself to become mortal to join him after his healing powers failed him. The Spartan month that coincided with early summer when the flowers bloom was named in his honour and included three days of festivities. Hyacinth was eventually resurrected and joined the pantheon of the gods. This attainment of godhood is apotheosis and usually in Antiquity heroes were accorded local status alone, whereas in Imperial Rome, a deceased ruler was generally recognised by his success, decree of the senate and popular consent—though some ridiculed this practise as it also included the corrupt and inept—satirised by referring to the tradition with another Greek borrowing apocolocyntosis—that is, pumpkinification with accompanying lampoon that features Claudius and Caligula in the underworld.

Saturday, 15 August 2020

ars amatoria

From BBC Culture, we learn that classic art is not always just academic soft-core pornography, it can also be high-brow, heuristic potty humour, as exemplified in Titian’s masterpiece Bacchus and Ariadne (see previously)—capturing the moment of love-at-first-site when the god of revelry and his entourage chances on a freshly heartbroken maiden abandoned on the island of Naxos by her beloved Theseus rendered in a transfixing image that nonetheless has an underlying allegory that includes all the corporeal awkwardness that we’d otherwise choose to suspend.
In the foreground directly beneath Bacchus dismounting his chariot born by a pair of regal cheetahs, there is a child satyr and a caper flower, the twain representing the curse of excessive flatulence and the carminative remedy for it. Given that contemporaries also had truck with this patois, one needs to take this symbolism into account when appreciating the diorama and wonder what other mortal perils that even the body of a god might be prone to—especially one of perpetual drunkenness. Looking less relieved for being rescued the longer that one studies her, John Keats cites Ariadne in his poem “Ode to a Nightingale” written when the work was first acquired by the National Gallery—“Away! away! For I will fly to thee [the ship of Theseus still visible in the harbour], Not charioted by Bacchus and his pards!”

Saturday, 25 July 2020

theophrastan model or on character and caricature

Via Strange Company’s Weekend Link Dump (much more to explore here), we are given the opportunity to revisit our familiar and enduring cast of personality tropes, stock characters first put forward by Aristotle’s student Tyrtamus, given the honourific by his teacher Theophrastus “divine speaker” for his eloquent writing and lucid observation in the fourth century BC and resound still throughout the ages to this day.
Though specialising in botanical studies and dabbling a bit in all the liberal arts, Theophrastus is best known for his character sketches (Ἠθικοὶ χαρακτῆρες) that class virtually every fictional and real life protagonist, couched in termsone’s virtues, faults and hubris. Though ancient and fixed, inflexible, they are sustained not only throughout the arc of narrative that they’ve been dealt but also throughout the centuries because their dispositions, relatable though one dimensional they might be, give us the extras needed to limn a society—and we recognise others in them, the Grumbler, the Boaster, the Slanderer even if we fail to see ourselves.

Tuesday, 21 July 2020

artemision or the streisand effect

Though it was the restored temple financed by the citizens of Ephesus themselves, a version that post-dates its infamous destruction by arson on this day in 356 BC, that sealed its inclusion in Antipater of Sidon’s tourist guide, the Seven Wonders, that earlier loss bears more notoriety for the Temple of Artemis than the other must-see attractions.
Comparing it to his other sight-seeing excursions—none of which are extant excepting the oldest and most venerable Great Pyramid at Giza, the travel writer himself pronounced, “Lo—apart from Olympus, the Sun never looked on aught so grand.” The fate of the final temple is not well documented though it was the Christians that oversaw its slow dissolution, cannibalised for architectural elements and decorations including some of the columns of the Hagia Sophia—with archbishop of Constantinople John Chrysostom credited as “the overthrower of the temple of Diana, despoiling in Ephesus the art of Midas.” While this last boast sounds lofty, it is far less memorable than that of our damnable vandal, Herostratus.

Tuesday, 23 June 2020

an itch to scratch

An ancient and obscure word from the Greek κνῆστις for spinal column (and colourfully for a cheese-grater), the word saw a revival around a decade ago when rediscovered by a linguist who read the Oxford English Dictionary (see previously) cover-to-cover and echoed by many contemporary authors as a nominee for the favourite words, acnestis refers to the part of an animal’s hide that it cannot reach itself to relieve an itch—and by extension a blindspot or an Achilles’ Heel.
In a fashion similar to its more recent rediscovery and celebration, the word first appeared in print in the late eighteenth century in a compilation by a medical lexicographer: AcneÅ¿tis — that part of the Å¿pine of the back, which reaches from the metaphrenon (an obsolete term for the dorsal side of the body), which is betwixt the Å¿houlder blades, to the loins...this part Å¿eems to have been originally called Å¿o in quadrupeds only, beÅ¿ause they cannot reach to Å¿cratch it.