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Three Millennia of Greek Literature

William Davis, A Day in Old Athens


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The Temples and Gods of Athens













Page 19


[1] No attempt is made in this discussion to enumerate the various gods and demigods of the conventional mythology, their regular attributes, etc. It is assumed the average history or manual of mythology gives sufficient information.

[2] It might be added that if Socrates had adopted a really worldly wise line of defense, he would probably have been acquitted, or subjected merely to a mild pecuniary penalty.

[3] Milman, Translator.

[4] Quoted in "Readings in Ancient History," vol. I, pp. 261-262, and in many works in Greek literature.

[5] A stone post about shoulder high, surmounted by a bearded head. Contrary to modern impression, the average Greek did not conceive of Hermes as a beautiful youth. He was a grave, bearded man. The youthful aspect came through the manipulation of the Hermes myths by the master sculptors—e.g. Praxiteles.

[6] Timaeus, p. 27 c.

[7] See Theophratus's character, "The Superstitious Man."

[8] The birds of clearest omen were the great birds of prey—hawks, "Apollo's swift messengers," and eagles, "the birds of Zeus." It was a good omen if the birds flew from left to right, a bad omen if in the reverse direction.

[9] A very convenient way,—for it was a good sign if the chickens ate eagerly and one could always get a fair omen by keeping the fowls hungry a few hours ere "putting the question"!

[10] There were almost no hereditary priesthoods in Attica (outside the Emolpidæ connected with the mystical cult of Eleusis). Almost anybody of good character could qualify as a priest with due training, and there was little of the sacrosanct about the usual priestly office.

[11] This temple, now called the "Theseum," is the only well preserved ancient temple in modern Athens.

[12] It is nearly 510 feet above the level of the sea.

[13] Recall the defense which the Acropolis was able to make against Xerxes's horde, when the garrison was small and probably ill organized, and had only a wooden barricade to eke out the natural defenses.

[14] The stone seats of this theater do not seem to have been built till about 340 B.C. Up to that time the surface of the ground sloping back to the Acropolis seems simply to have been smoothed off, and probably covered with temporary wooden seats on the days of the great dramatic festivals.

[15] That to the north was the larger and contained a kind of picture gallery.

[16] Athena Foremost in Battle.

[17] This, of course, is on the outside wall of the "cells," but inside the surrounding colonnade.

[18] It was an inability to discover and execute these concealed curves which give certain of the modern imitations of the Parthenon their unpleasant impressions of harness and rigidity.

[19] The most important function of these watchers seems to have been to prevent dogs from entering the Acropolis. Probably they were inefficient old men favored with sinecure offices.

[20] The Acropolis seems to have become a great "show place" for visitors to Athens soon after the completion of the famous temples.

[21] We know by an inscription of 169 oxen being needed for a single Athenian festival.

[22] This was a very proper creature to sacrifice to a great Olympian deity like Athena. Goats were not suitable for her, although desirable for most of the other gods. It was unlawful to sacrifice swine to Aphrodite. When propitiating the gods of the underworld,—Hades, Persephone, etc.,—a black victim was in order. Poor people could sacrifice doves, cocks, and other birds.

[23] If a larger animal—an ox—failed to bow its head auspiciously, the omen could be rectified by suddenly splashing a little water in the ears.

[24] As already suggested (section 159) a sacrifice (public, or, if on a large scale, private) was about the only occasion on which Athenians tasted beef, pork, or mutton.

[25] The original intention of this libation at the sacrifice was very clearly to provide the gods with wine to "wash down" their meat.

[26] The term "Wingless Victory" (Nikë Apteros) has reference to a special type and aspect of Athena, not to the goddess Nikë (Victory) pure and simple.

[27] There was still another aspect in which Athena was worshipped on the Acropolis. She had a sacred place ("temenos"), though without a temple, sacred to her as Athena Erganë—Athena Protectress of the Arts.

[28] This seems to be the most reasonable way to assume that the "cella" of the Parthenon was lighted, in view of the danger, in case of open skylights, of damage to the holy image by wind and rain.

[29] Of this statue no doubt there could be said what Dion Chrysostomos said of the equally famous "Zeus" erected by Phidias at Olympia. "The man most depressed with woes, forgot his ills whilst gazing on this statue, so much light and beauty had Phidias infused within it." Besides the descriptions in the ancient writers we get a clear idea of the general type of the Athena Parthenos from recently discovered statuettes, especially the "Varvakeion" model (401/2 inches high). This last is cold and lifeless as a work of art, but fairly accurate as to details. [Note from Brett: In 2001, this remains the best statue ever found representing Athena Parthenos .... The statuette itself is currently in the Athens Museum.]

[30] Cicero, "De Nat. Deor," ii. 36.

[31] In praying to a deity of the lower world the hands would be held down. A Greek almost never knelt, even in prayer. He would have counted it degrading.

[32] This formula would be put in, lest some favorite epithet of the divinity be omitted.

[33] Often a curse would become a real substitute for a prayer; e.g. at Athens, against a rascally and traitorous general, a solemn public curse would be pronounced at evening by all the priests and priestesses of the city, each shaking in the air a red cloth in token of the bloody death to which the offender was devoted.

[34] Xenophon, "The Economist," xi, p. 8.

[35] It was quoted later to us by the Emperor Marcus Aurelius, who adds, "In truth, we ought not to pray at all, or we ought to pray in this simple and noble fashion."

[36] Plutarch wrote this probably after 100 A.D., when the Parthenon had stood for about five and half centuries.

A Day in Old Athens

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