Saturday, 31 August 2013

The Artemision Jockey

A separate post for my favourite sculpture in the Archaeological Museum of Athens,

Horse and Young Jockey, known as the Artemision Jockey, 140 BC, Bronze.

Retrieved in pieces from the shipwreck off Cape Artemision in Evia.

Some parts are missing, such as the rider's whip and reins, and the horse's bridle. The horse and its rider are rendered realistically, as if captured as the horse springs away in mid-gallop with its rear feet on the ground and its front legs raised.

Strong sense of movement and urgency

The horse is approximately life-size and dwarfs its jockey, a boy only 84 centimetres tall and perhaps 10 years old. The boy rides bareback without a saddle. He wears sandals and a short chiton (a draped garment held on the shoulder)  and looks back over his left shoulder.

Friday, 30 August 2013

The Archaeological Museum


The Archaeological Museum in Athens.

We thoroughly enjoyed our visit last week.

Kouros, 600 BC, Naxian marble

The sculpture was found in Sounion and must have stood in front of the Temple as a votive offering to Poseidon.

Kore, Aristion, 550 -540 BC, Parian marble

An extremely well-preserved sculpture, retaining in many places its painted decoration of rosettes, swastikas, stars and meanders.

Dominating the space, sculpture of Zeus or Poseidon, 460 BC, bronze

This is one of the few preserved sculptures of the Severe Style, notable for the exquisite rendering of anatomy and motion.

Grave adornment, 4th c BC, Pendelic marble

A standing young woman supports herself on the head of her kneeling attendant who is helping her put on her sandal. In the background a woman is holding a chest containing the dead woman's jewellery.

Young Athlete, 340 - 330 BC, bronze

Associated with the school of Praxiteles.

Found in the ancient cemetery of Keramikos. The skeletons were in a fine state of preservation in the sarcophagi. The bodies were accompanied with numerous grave offerings.

Child's burial in a clay pipe of the type used for aquaducts. From Keramikos, 5th c BC.

Thursday, 29 August 2013

The Antikythera Mechanism

The Antikythera Mechanism at the Archaeological Museum in Athens.

The Fragments

Fragments of the Antikythera Mechanism were recovered from the ancient shipwreck in 1901. The Antikythera Mechanism is the earliest preserved portable astronomical calculator and the earliest known modular mechanism in the world. Its calculations are closely related to the social and religious institutions of ancient Greece. It was used for astronomical observations, for predicting solar and lunar eclipses, for keeping an accurate calendar of many years, for predicting the date of Pan-Hellenic celebrations, and much more.

Fragment A

When discovered, the Mechanism was a compact mass of copper, corroded and covered with marine concretions and remained unnoticed for approximately six months. On May 1902, when the pieces were already separated under unknown circumstances, the numismatist I. Svoronos described the fragments as 'an unusual find... a bronze device consisting of several bronze gears, some of them very fine which resemble those of a modern clock'.

Fragment C

Despite its fragmentary condition it bears 30 bronze gear-wheels with teeth which were operated manually by a handle attached onto one of the short sides, enabling the mechanism to make calculations based on two cycles of the Solar System, the Metonic cycle and the Soros cycle, both known to the ancient Babylonians and the Greeks. The mechanism was placed inside a wooden case.

The smaller fragments

The Mechanism's front and back metal plates were covered with densely incised inscriptions, which contained astronomical information and instructions on how to use the device.

Fragment B

A small part of two concentric annuli with subdivisions is retained on the front side of the Mechanism. The outer dial bears an Egyptian calendar containing 12 months of 30 days each and five extra days which add up to 365 days of the solar year. The inner dial corresponds to the Zodiac cycle. The upper back dial is arranged as a five-turn spiral which forms a 19-year calendar based on the Metonic cycle. Twelve months of the Corinthian calendar can be read on the Metonic disc: two smaller subsidiary dials are shown inside the Metonic dial, the Olympic dial, which is a four-year dial predicting the dates of the Pan-Hellenic games and the hypothetical Callippic dial, which is a 76-year cycle, an 18-year calendar, which predicts the solar and lunar eclipses. Inside the Saros dial there is a smaller subsidiary dial, the Exeligmos dial - this is a 54-year triple Soros dial.

(Another photograph of the fragments, with hologram suspended above. Seven large fragments and 75 of much smaller size are preserved).

The mechanism is an application of the teachings of Hipparchus who developed a theory to explain the irregularities of the moon's motion across the sky caused by its elliptic orbit.

A number of models have been designed and constructed in an attempt to fully understand how the Mechanism works. This is Price's model.

This is the Auth model - the front


The Auth model - the back.

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

The Shipwreck of Antikythera

The Shipwreck of Antikythera at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens.

Sponge fishermen found the shipwreck in 1900 off the northeast coast of the island of Antikythera. The investigation of the shipwreck inaugurated underwater archaeology. In 1976 the research continued by the Archaeological Service with the help of Jacques-Yves Cousteau and his oceanographic vessel Calypso.

The Antikythera wreck is dated ca 75-50 BC, when commercial shipping and maritime transport of works of art from the eastern Mediterranean to Late Republican Rome had intensified. The island of Delos seems to be the most probable port of embarkation, as the island enjoyed the status of a duty-free port for transit trade between 166 and 69 BC, despite the fact that the chief production centres for most of the items retrieved were northern Syria and Alexandria. The cargo was undoubtedly destined for the Roman market, most probably Rome, where the members of the upper class embellished their villas with Greek pieces of art in order to show off their wealth and social status.

The major part of the vessel and an unknown amount of the cargo still remain in the depth of 50 - 52m, or even deeper.

A large number of antiquities, bronze and marble sculptures, ceramic utensils, bronze and glass vases, gold jewellery, bronze couches, coins, parts of the hull, as well as human remains were recovered. Among the valuable cargo was the Mechanism, the first known calculating and astronomical instrument.


The Antikythera Youth, 340 - 330 BC, bronze

The young nude male is standing in a frontal pose, holding the right arm up, outstretched to the right. The head is also turned to the right, but the youth does not focus his gaze on the object held in the right hand. There are various interpretations as to who the youth represents, ranging from the Trojan hero Paris, holding the Apple of Discord in the extended right hand and in the left the bow with which he killed Achilles, to the Argive hero Perseus, displaying in the right hand the head of Medusa, grasping her by the hair, and in the other hand the sickle with which he beheaded her.

The Antikythera Philosopher, ca 230 BC, bronze

A portrait of an elderly, bearded man whose individual features are realistically depicted.

The hands, the feet and two fragments of clothing were also found - he held a staff in the left hand, while the right arm, bent at the elbow, was extended in a gesture characteristic of orators.

Boy, beginning of the 1st c. BC, Parian marble
The parts of this sculpture which are clear and bright are those that remained well buried in the sediment of the sea-bed; the others have been deeply eroded by stone-eating mechanisms and marine incrustations.

Hermes, early 1st c. BC, Parian marble (bronze original dates to 350 - 360 BC)

The right side of the head, together with the nose, the face and a large segment of the hair which were buried in the sediment of the sea-bed are preserved in exceptionally good condition.


As part of its cargo, the ship transported a quantity of fine tableware, mostly plates of various sizes and cups. The main characteristic of these is the bright orange slip and the interior stamped decoration consisting of concentric notched homocentric circles (the so-called rouletting).

This load of pottery was most probably destined to cover the needs of the Roman aristocratic class which had an inclination towards eastern luxury.

The most numerous group of vases (around 47) discovered were the lagynoi, one of the most popular vase of the Hellenic period. Most are unglazed, and some are covered with white slip. They were used for storing and transporting wine. They were part of the ship's cargo.


Pair of earrings with an Eros pendant, gold, 2-1 c. BC


Exceptionally rare and beautiful glass vessels were retrieved: twenty vases were found intact or partly preserved. There is no doubt that the glass vases were not part of the ship's equipment, but rather its cargo: they were luxury wares, which, like the other works of art the ship was transporting, were probably destined for the markets of Rome.

Glass lobed bowl, 100 - 50 BC

This is the largest of the glass vessels found. On its body sixteen leaves with central vein alternate with sixteen projecting lobes. On the rounded bottom, an eight-petalled rosette.

Glass bowl, 100 - 50 BC

Two multi-leaved olive branches emerge from the top of the bowl and extend over the whole surface to the back of the bowl where they meet, nearly touching each other. On the rounded bottom is an eight-petalled rosette.

Glass bowl, early 1st c BC

Glass mosaic bowl, 75 - 50 BC

Glass mosaic bowl, 75 - 50 BC.

Monday, 26 August 2013

Crimes of the State

The policies of the present Greek coalition government are reminiscent of what was happening in Weimar Germany in the 1930s, policies that contributed to the rise of fascism and the consequences that we all know of.

Minister for Law and Order, Mr Dendias, established the Xenios Zeus operation where under the name of 'hospitality' (the irony of this is staggering), thousands of people of colour are arrested, beaten and terrorised and taken to detention centres that have been condemned by human rights organisations throughout the world, but are called 'hospitality centres' in the warped rhetoric of this repressive government. In the name of this 'hospitality law' aimed at 'clearing' the country of illegal immigrants, even tourists are arrested and in some cases, beaten, because the colour of their skin is not white.

'Greece's failure to respect the rights of migrants and asylum-seekers is taking on the proportions of a humanitarian crisis... Greece is proving itself incapable of providing even the most basic requirements of safety and shelter to the thousands of asylum seekers and migrants arriving each year', said John Dalhuisen from Amnesty International in 2012.

There are now at least 5,000 people languishing in these internment camps which are being used for anyone who is 'different' as this policy has now been extended: the Greek government has just announced that the camp capacity is about to double.  The next victims were the drug users and now, it is the turn of transgender men and women who have been warned  to 'return to normal' , or else.....

The new Minister of Public Health's first 'achievement' is the re-establishing of a law that was scrapped earlier this year, law 39a/2012, which under the aegis of defending public health, states that anyone who is suspected of having the HIV virus can be arrested, tested without their permission and put under forced quarantine. The targets of this barbaric law are obvious: immigrants, gays, sex workers and anyone who is deemed to be 'different'. It is not unreasonable or far-fetched to compare what is happening in Greece at the moment with dictatorships where people are thrown in prisons or put in psychiatric hospitals for any kind of reason that the authorities deemed reasonable - sexual preference for instance.

Hundreds of sex workers were arrested last May in the name of this law that was condemned by the EU, repealed and has just been re-introduced. When dozens tested positive, the attack was swift and vindictive: photographs and the names of those who tested positive were posted online by the police. They were then charged with causing bodily harm and locked in jail. Some websites posted the photographs of the women and within days vigilante mobs assembled outside the homes of the women's families shouting abuse. 26 of the women who were arrested remain in jail. They insist that they did not know they were HIV positive but no one is listening and no one cares.

The list of people who are being targeted keeps growing:

The beating in police cells of four young anarchists who were suspected of robbing a bank in the North of Greece hit the headlines in February. Despite the fact that the photographs were digitally altered by the police, the suspects' injuries were clearly visible. When The Guardian published the photographs, Public Order Minister Mr Dendias threatened to sue the newspaper.

In December 2010, 29-year-old anarchist Kostas Sakkas was arrested in Athens and was held in prison without a trial. On 4 June 2013 he went on  hunger strike, demanding an end to his detention. According to Greek law, pre-trial detentions can extend to 18 months, or 30 in exceptional circumstances. On 4 June, having already reached his legal maximum time in pre-trial detention, it was extended by another six months by an Athens court of appeal. While clearly stating his own anarchist convictions, both Sakkas and the Conspiracy of Cells of Fire group have denied his active participation. But whether Sakkas was indeed a member or not, is no longer the issue. As is becoming altogether too common in these cases of a breach of legality, the government has not attempted to defend its actions, but has instead lashed out against Syriza, the Left opposition party,  for defending 'any sort of accused who are charged with anarchy and terrorism'. 

Sakkas was released on the 38th day of his hunger strike: a bail of 30,000 euros, a ban on meeting or communicating with his fellow defendants, confiscation of his passport and I.D. and compulsory residence at his parent's house were the terms of his release.

The irony of the whole situation should not escape us: here is a young anarchist who was making the simple demand that a law-breaking State should obey and uphold the law: he was making this demand by putting his life in danger.

Such stories of police violence, governmental injustice, intrusion into citizens' lives and a total rupture between state and society is not occurring in Greece alone: neo-liberalism has resulted in the rise of a corrupt, self-aggrandizing political class that does not care about anything but its own interests, resulting in austerity policies, impoverishment of large sections of society and the rise of a repressive state that will not tolerate any form of opposition or dialogue.  Unlike any other country in Europe however, the government in Greece is turning the clock back at such rapid pace that we are indeed nearing the state of the Weimar Republic in the 1930s.

For more on Xenios Zeus go to:


Sunday, 25 August 2013

Swimming in Hydra

Rather than swim in the town in Hydra, we took a boat from the harbour and went to beaches in deserted parts of the island that can only be reached by boat.

On our first day we went to Plakes, a five-minute boatride from the town. It's a nice, small beach even though the pebbles were a bit hard on the feet. This was our view.

For our second swim we went to Agios Nikolas, a 35-minute boat ride from the town and it was such fun. On the way we passed three small rocks in the middle of the sea that had churches perched on top. This was one of them.

and this was another.

This was the third. There is no separation between State and Church in Greece and the people are highly religious, so churches pop up everywhere

Agios Nikolaos is the largest and most popular beach in Hydra. Like all the others it has much-needed shade in the shape of umbrellas, but also, loungers and a bar, but I did not like it much and will not go there again. There was music, or muzak, I should say, blaring throughout the beach. I tried to ask them to turn it off, explaining that we had come to a beach in the middle of nowhere because we wanted to be able to listen to the cicadas and the waves lapping at the shore, rather than pretend we were in a supermarket, but the woman at the bar told me that the music was non-negotiable. We had to put up with it.

It's a wild, beautiful place though, and the views from the shore, as well as from the sea, are breathtaking.

The pebbles are beautiful and not so hard on the feet in Agios Nikolaos

The odd boat comes to visit

and for the first part of the day the beach is almost deserted

This is the boat that brought us here - they keep going back and forth, but we always take the 11:00 o'clock one, the first boat, and it's great having the beach relatively deserted for the first hour or so.

Bisti beach was our favourite, on the edge of a pine forest, it is tiny and the woman who runs it is doing an excellent job: the beach is very clean, and the Greek salad that she prepared for us for our lunch was delicious. This photograph was taken at 4:30 as we were waiting for our boat to arrive and the beach is at its busiest.

wild and beautiful,

relatively quiet for the first two hours

lots of butterflies around

the cicadas singing their song

the odd boat appearing in the horizon

the patterns created by water, light and pebble

people having quiet, intimate moments....

all very memorable

and of course, lots and lots of swimming. I particularly enjoyed swimming inside this cave.

The return journey was always very exhilarating as the boat was almost empty - most people seemed to stay until 6:00.

The pyramid-shaped mountain

houses perched on the rocks

houses framed by surrounding walls

looking closer

another enclosing wall

The wild beauty of Hydra.