Jo Baer Revisioning the Parthenon Compressed version of a work in progress Appendix to Jo Baer. Broadsides & Belles Lettres. Selected Writings and Interviews 1965-2010
Table of Contents 5 7 12 18 38 51 55 60
Preface Introduction (Summary of a Work in Progress) Athena (précis) Ensembles Horsemanship Amazons (précis) Centaurs (précis) Epilogue
This undertaking began more than twenty years ago when I saw the Elgin Marbles for the first time and was appalled to discover I didn’t much care for them. Moreover (and regrettably), I also found I dared not speak of this faux pas to the three close friends with me, afraid they would mock my solecism. A cowardly reticence, then, one I hid and carefully tucked away. The enormous prestige of all particulars of ancient Greek pedigree only became a debatable matter for me about ten years later, after I had an accidental encounter with some modern structuralist and scholarly analyses of Amazons, et al., when, as they say, the scales dropped from my eyes. I discovered – not that the Greeks themselves were so terrible, but rather that the very fabric and edifice of the Classics often were, if not exactly fraudulent, at least compromised by centuries of their perpetuators’ hagiographic propaganda desiderata. And so this ‘Work in Progress’ began as a project to retaliate and allay, if possible, my past and rather base silence. It developed, however, into a revealing and rewarding journey that took me into nearly every corner of some of today’s most pressing concerns. There is not a single figure nor slab of the Parthenon Frieze which can compare in elegance or feeling to – say – the ‘Dying Lioness’ carved on an Assyrian Frieze. The Greek figures appeared to me as fussy, clumsy, busy, inelegant and literal in the worst sense, where, for instance, exactly carved veins on horses’ legs disguised the stiffness of their represented actions. This kind of portrayal where details, content, and story are preferred over form and beauty, is still popular (if vulgar) today. As a committed artist myself, I have my [necessary] visual prejudices, but both styles of art are endemic to humankind: in the caves’ dots and dashes, rumps, cocks and auroch-hunts, story and sign – both are there from our very beginnings, old as our genes. In effect Ancient Greek art, in the spirit of the cave wall’s painted bison-likeness, developed as a partiality for portraiture, a corollary of their budding individualism. Carved from the very structure of the Hellenic world, Greek art, such as the much replicated ‘Smiling Apollo,’ traversed and took the ancient world by storm: its natural heirs – most portraiture abjures the spiritual for the ideal – Rome and the developing western world. It is not surprising, along side of their art and because vision is the primary sensory faculty of humans, that Hellas’ pragmatic and intrepid savants had a romance with the eye itself. (Greeks still do in a small way: the ‘evil-eye’ survives and still counts for something in the eastern Mediterranean). However, for the Classical Greek the eye was far more than a malevolent possibility: the living
gaze was ‘empowered’ with a force that transmitted feelings and passions to any object of its contemplation, a transfer of experiences that was deemed to come from ‘a luminous, fiery substance cast from the eye just as one might throw a projectile’. Other descriptions speak of rays of fire emanating from the viewing eye, ancillary tokens of which were the painted red pupils on the eyes of many statues. (But then, pubic hair was also made red on marbles. Seats of presumed force such as genitalia and eyes were never far from Greek attentions to power). In Greek physiology even love and beauty were thought to ‘breathe forth’ from the eyes, while Aristotle went so far as to claim that as sight was affected by its object, so too does a brilliant object ‘act upon it in a certain way’: menstruating women who peer in a mirror cause the mirror surface “to become covered with a sort of haze the color of blood; this blemish stains the mirror so deeply that it can not be easily removed” (De insomniis 2.459b, 25–31). Aristotle’s assertion was most likely an adaptation of an old superstition (as well as a commentary on the mysteries of tarnish). However, the author of this bit of deductive science assuredly had a long acquaintance with the menses of women. Married for ten years, he had a daughter and after his wife died, had a mistress who bore him a son. In all those conjugal years surely an observation or report (if requested), should have shed light on the above magical contention; the absence of such a factual interest, however, in fact highlights the deep gulf and lack of everyday familiarity separating men and women, even those living in close proximity and intimacy. An alternative possibility is that the world of women was simply deemed unworthy of that close observation of phenomena that Aristotle urged on so many occasions. The Greek ‘gaze’, in those ingenuous conjectures, proposed a fulsome reciprocity between a viewer and objects in the world, a subliminal, felt connection that was paramount to those still living in intimate community with the animate universe. In a related example, their language used a grammatical voice that embodied a similar reciprocity, that of a built-in mutuality of actions. Almost uniquely in the world, the Classical Greek of 5th century Athens (unlike even the other Greek dialects), retained the archaic ProtoIndo–European, Middle Voice in its lexicon, using a conjugated suffix that expressed transactions existing in-between the active and passive voices. Here, a bundled feed-back – rebounding from the object and situation acted upon – often shifted the meaning of the verb to demonstrate an essential and incumbent singularity between the action and its circumstances. For instance, to ‘persuade,’ in the middle voice became to ‘obey’ [he acted on himself: he did not obey his brother]; to ‘seize,’ became to ‘chose’ [he acted for himself: he preferred the friendship of Persians]; and to ‘loose’[n], became to ‘ransom’ [he acted on something belonging 5
to himself: he causes his son to be set free]. Such speech cultivated and linked that which belonged both to oneself and to the physical world. It would seem that in action, speech and thought the Greeks were a people who bestrode a time-worn and animist, rural mindscape alongside a modern urban collective. In so doing, these ancient Greeks often afford us a dual view, that of a society in transition where objects were still empowered, fables still lived and the quasi-tribe still reigned, all intermingling with developing cosmopolitan thought and deeds. One wonders if the glimpses of this process – the deep, doubled look-backwards offered – is perhaps what intrigues us most. Seeing has many forms; these pages view a mind’s-eye Parthenon, rather than that much-visited shell of a building standing today in Athens. Marks made on paper – scholarly theories of content and meaning, in situ drawings made in the 16th and 17th centuries, expositions of archeological reconstruction and ancient travelers’ reports – all render a more constituïtive temple than does the present Parthenon’s crumbled, defaced, erased, or stolen stones. With most of the metopes blank, her pediments emptied, its myriad
treasures vanished and the great elephantine statue of Athena long melted down, only the building’s architectural frame and its de facto Frieze* are available for viewing. An intellectual construct, then, from which to proceed: this book, Re-visioning the Parthenon, exploits the Parthenon’s designated, many-storied embellishments as a stratagem to explore the Periclean world and its ancient heritage. Reports and stories of its assiduously chosen tableaux would seem to offer a good vantage from which to look at Athens’ ‘bestfoot- forward’ policies and perspectives. In this light, I hope the ensuing pages will elucidate and serve to popularize a more thorough and realistic sense as to who those Ancient Greeks were and, more importantly, what they should mean to us today. Amsterdam 2006. *N.B. Notwithstanding, interesting new research finds there was also a second frieze – only faintly visible – which continued the carved procession, its figures certain to challenge the current explication(s) of the pre-supposed, Panathenaic celebration.
North Frieze, Parthenon: Slabs II 3, 4, 5 – III 6, 7, 8 – IV 9, 10, 11. Animals being led to slaughter.
Introduction (Summary of a Work in Progress) Athenian totalitarianism had its effect on the way in which citizens were presented, producing a classical idealism... A “book a devil’s chaplain might write,” this text takes a sideways look at classical Greek life through a broad scrutiny of Athens’ greatest monument, the Parthenon of Pericles. Even as today’s bookshelves sag under the weight of publications on Ancient Greece, “the cradle of Western civilization,” a closer look at Greek culture is still useful by reason of its many unsung negative qualities, which have been pardoned, glossed over, or rationalized away. Such dereliction is due, no doubt, to the offsetting impact of her great Greek dramas, the inventive philosophies, and power’s favorite visual template: a Greek imperial architecture that continues to be useful after 2,500 years. Yet academia’s customary justification and soft pedaling of unbecoming Hellenic attributes, along with the concomitant absence of critique and lack of impartiality by its translators and commentators, serves to both muddy and glorify that venerated, though perhaps inapt nomination “the birthplace of democracy.” Now might be a good time to reflect on this. Like other Greek temples, the Parthenon was an efficient myth machine, a structure designed to voice its builders’ highest ideals. As such, many of classical Athens’ issues, rationales and agendas are revealed through her choice of preferred narratives as the edifice renders in discernable form its citizens’ primary concerns. A visual assay thus opens to coherent investigation the material’s many extended meanings and ramifications. Ostentatious in the extreme, the high-classical, 5th century Parthenon was first and foremost a temple erected to flaunt a vaunting imperial Athens: her power and victories, her alleged heroic origins, her righteous citizens’ riches and her privileges and prerogatives. Financed with monies illegally confiscated from the war chest of her Delian League allies (fittingly, for a building which is in the modern sense more treasury than temple), the Parthenon is a gigantic house dedicated and sacred to the goddess Athena Parthenos – martial virgin protector of Athens – wherein her stories and those of the city are carved in decorative marbles above, below, and on all sides of this, her hill top sanctum. The Parthenon’s architectural plan, as well as those of other contemporary temples, was a wholly Greek invention first assured in the 8th century B.C., when rectangular walls, columns and apsoidal ends gradually replaced the Dark Ages’ oval, mud brick domiciles that housed the earliest Greek temples. (Chapter 1, Athena, précis). These converted dwelling houses or dining halls provided the setting, i.e. the altars or hearths, for sacrifices and sacred meals,
(and coexisted with natural sanctuaries and shrines, whose caves, rivers and mountains continued as standing places of worship, sacrifice and power).The temples also served as repositories of civic religion: strong box “houses of the gods,” that were built to hold the valuable donations from citizens seeking wishes for the future or a divine propitiation of guilt. Unlike other temples of the time, however, in an exclusive expression of municipal power, supplicants never entered the Parthenon. It was also never used as a cult site: there was no altar nor sacrifices, although the sacramental function existed broadly as a conspicuous civic undertaking throughout pagan antiquity. Each year 5th century Athens celebrated more than one hundred feast days involving sacrificial rites where citizens could fulfill their protein requirements while supping with the gods, (who dined on the bones and smoke). The official 12-member Olympic Pantheon was also initiated in the 8th century B.C., when the Greeks once again became literate after a 400 year hiatus. With the introduction of Semitic alphabetic writing, enduring oral poetries were winnowed and culled by Homer and Hesiod, who assembled from the most popular adventures and myths those seminal writings the Iliad, Odyssey and Theogony, which subsequently became Hellas’ religious canon wherever Greek was spoken. In an oblivious renaissance lacking a tradition of priests, procedures, or kings, their published Bronze Age tales of heroes, kings, and gods became remembrances rather than fictions, framing a novel theology of myth that the emerging Panhellenic city states scrambled to use, each for its own justifying and developing histories. Athens, naturally, claimed Athena. Although the colossal ivory and gold statue of Athena standing in the midst of her temple behind a reflecting pool served as the Parthenon’s focal point, the goddess’ doings and deeds were also to be seen flourishing in every other part of the structure, on metope, frieze, and pediment. Originally a Minoan household goddess, her divine hegemony proceeded as the protectress of Mycenaean palaces (which were large households) and finally arrived, after the Dark Ages, as the martial guardian of the emerging Greek city states. Since in myth and site Athena’s numerous and diverse powers extended throughout Greece and well back into the Bronze Age past, Athens’ declared entitlements to the goddess’ dominions and attributes inflated in step with its increasing wealth and imperium. For instance, it is likely that the designers of the Parthenon took pains, on the East Frieze and on the West Pediment, to reinforce an evocation of their chaste, warrior goddess as the virgin birth mother of Erechtheus, Athens’ first king – thus proclaiming Athens’ right to rule all Greece – while simultaneously commemorating her as the birth child of Father Zeus, and hence, affirming the father as the true parent of any child. (Athena was also progressively masculinized by her phallocratic, eponymous clients who were, perhaps, not that comfortable with a female guardian). “Taken together, the 7
athens’ city hall Figure 1. The Parthenon’s west elevation facing the Propylaia entrance to the Acropolis. After climbing the hill, people had to walk around the entire length of the building to arrive at its eastern front entrance (although none but the priestly
staff actually ever entered the building). Overcome “by something too great [for words] to grasp,” according to Virginia Wolfe writing in the early 20th century, the 5th c. B.C. Parthenon “appears likely to outlast the entire world..”
athena on hormones Figure 3. A butch Athena oversees her protégé Heracles slaying the Nemean lion. Scene from a neck-amphora ca. 515–510 B.C. A time that saw Athena’s gender-ambiguity made blatant, when Athens hyped her dual
Figure 2. Such a miraculous fait accomlpi not-withstanding, modern archeology has at the least supplied an architectural lineage for this modern icon. Left: oval mud huts – ubiquitous and thatched – 900 B.C., Old Smyrna. Right: terracotta model of rectangular temple from the Argos, 700 B.C.
after a fashion roles as both female patron/mother and masculine warrior results in a quite reasonable gender-confusion in the artist, who has elected to portray her with enhanced manliness.
Figure 4. The pair of Athenas span a fashion history of some 200 years: on the right, from the Late Archaic period where she is seen wearing the old Doric peplos/storycloth to – on the left – the Late Classic period where the full, softly gathered Ionic chiton replaces her simple heavy, embroidered and folded woolen rectangle. The drawing
is taken from the first (and nearly only) work on “Ancient Greek Female Costume,” by J. Moye Smith, 1882. Athena’s snaky aegis also changes accordingly. Her helmet, however, remains essentially unchanged. Similar to the Greek male warrior’s headdress, it is on occasion also worn by Amazons or other goddesses as well.
myths… reinforce the principal reality of Athenian society and its principal boast. The reality was patriarchy, the boast was autochthony (the claim that the Athenians were indigenous to Attica, sprung from the very soil they inhabited).”1 High up at the top of her temple, almost hidden under its outer portico ceiling and encircling the entire building, the carved and painted marble frieze – a cavalcade – is (arguably) thought to portray Athens’ annual Panathenaic Procession and includes a pictured presentation, at journey’s end, of a new birthday robe for Athena. (Chapter 2, Ensembles, complete.) A nod to cloths and the female craft of weaving (only a scant 32 females to 337 males populate the frieze), the gift brought annually to Athena was an archaic Dorian peplos: a five-foot by six-foot woven woolen rectangle whose long upper edge folded over to make the pinned and belted peplos/ chiton. The goddess’ robe was saffron-colored and richly embroidered with scenes of the Battle of the Gods and Giants, and Athena’s role therein. That all Greek women wore some form of this blowzy, unfitted, unstitched chiton for hundreds of years perhaps reflects the noteworthy disdain held of females by Greek men, who legislated such a plain and unbecoming garment that was so unlike its idealized illustrations. The chiton served most other Mediterranean women as underwear, while in Greek brothels prostitutes wore the transparent model. The peplos and its long pins were superseded by the similar, though stitched, Ionic chiton, which remained in fashion for several centuries. The 337 males of the frieze also wear various à la mode forms of the chiton, as well as the draped himation or cloak. But some of the young adults also sport an artistic nudity never actually seen outside of the gymnasium or certain games, where women were never present. Although a long line of academic commentators have fantasized a golden age of a male brotherhood of the publiclynaked, loin cloths and even underpants were nonetheless the order of the day. Clothes for the older man on the frieze featured the simple draped look, where magistrates and marshals leaned on their sticks and gossiped while holding their bunched-up himations. A gentry fashion, the wearing of its swathes of linen was contingent on the enormous number of slaves available to do all the work at a time when Athens enjoyed four slaves for every citizen. Mundane daily or business duties require hands freed from the holding of errant fabric, where shifting and slippery dress becomes impractical for all but the most sedate occupations. A second celebrated subject of the frieze consists of the animals and, in particular, of the 231 fêted and open-mouthed horses featured on three sides of the sculpted parade. (Chapter 3, Horsemanship, complete). These marble horses, like almost all those found on Greek artifacts, have opened their mouths to avoid or at least to mitigate the pain inflicted on them by the long, sharp
spikes and cutting blades that were incorporated into their idiosyncratic Greek bits. Cheek pieces and reins in bronze were added to the horses’ heads on the bas reliefs to highlight the presumed control of these “fierce” animals. Actual iron examples of these vicious bits have been excavated including one from the Acropolis itself. They are also lovingly prescribed in detail by Xenophon in the 4th century B.C. In a brief survey of ancient bitting, horse breeds, and chariots, these bizarre Greek bits present a singular invention found nowhere else. Greeks were never great horsemen. How could they be with animals intent on rearing, “star gazing” or desperately trying to move in reverse to escape their cruel hardware? Ancient motives may have been obscured by time, but how should we explain our latterday generations’ fulsome praise of the “charm” and (non)“flowing” movement of these images of suffering beasts? The hoi -polloi of Athens were the subject of the shadowy and slender frieze wrapped high up abutting the ceiling of the portico, on the Parthenon’s walls. However, above and on the outside of the building, battle was the subject of the more visible metopes, the run of carved marble tabletures below the roof that surmount the columns surrounding the building. The temple’s North and East Metopes depicted Athena’s fights: the Trojan War, a struggle in which Athena was prominent, is represented on the north side; the celebrated Battle of the Gods and Giants, a war in which Athena and her Olympic family overthrew the earlier cosmic order is depicted on the east side, while the South and West Metopes were given over to more parochial battles. Above the West Walls, Greeks are seen fighting Amazons, repelling their fictitious “invasion of Athens.” Known as an Amazonomachy, this was an adored classical subject often repeated on other monuments and large paintings, and was frequently seen on smaller artifacts as well. In fact, the fabled Amazon was a Greek invention, and was to become the favorite visual theme of classical Athens. (Chapter 4, Amazons, précis, to be expanded and illustrated). Her evolving myth, in story and scene, served in a negative way to define, differentiate and reinforce deep Greek concerns: marriage (she was a committed virgin and thus against marriage and motherhood); the importance of ethnos (she was a foreigner and always came from abroad); and proper conduct (she unnaturally assumed the male role as a warrior). The many exotic characteristics of Amazons can be reduced to simple gender reversals. Amazon females were able to do in myth all the things that Greek males did but Greek females were unable to do: from male infanticide to pre-emptive strikes of war. Since Athenian society at the time of Pericles functioned as an unusually strict patriarchy where males were extremely dominant and harsh, the idea of females usurping or having access to such cherished masculine activities must have seemed monstrous to Athens’ men. 9
Theirs was an extreme patriarchy, unusual in the civilized ancient world, although unexceptional in today’s Non Western societies. That being so, and from the perspective of our present times, the main strangeness of Athenian social organization rests in the coupling of such a mean body of laws and privileges with the word “democracy.” Conceived fundamentally to satisfy the profound gynophobia running through the antique Greek male psyche, Amazon legends were also used to justify and amplify Athenian political claims. The Amazon’s continuing utility across the ages, including a programmatics for all sorts of interest groups including even feminists, is almost as legendary as her actual existence. Amazonomachies were often coupled with centauromachies. The latter appeared on the Parthenon’s South Metopes, which showed a battle between Greek Lapiths and a drunken gang of rapacious centaurs. (Chapter 5, Centaurs, précis, to be expanded and illustrated). Pairings of Amazon and centaur were based on a shared schema. Both races were barbarian/not Greek, both were (therefore) uncivilized, and both were monstrous: he, a shaggy half beast, she, a virgin female warrior. The centaurs’ presence as subject on the metopes is also one more instance of victorious Athenian advertising: encore, her founding hero Theseus’ pre eminence, this time in the purging expulsion of undesirables – the uncouth and rampaging centaurs. The imperium felt the need of yet another reminder of her rightful place as defender of all Greece. The centaur began life as just one of many Middle Eastern chimerae. In its ages-old original locale, the centaur served essentially as an apotropaic figure, a composite creature who was malignant yet beneficial to humans. Later, Archaic Greeks took over the bestial image creating the humanized legend of wild, uncivilized barbarians to be guarded against, a mirrored reverse image of themselves as integral, highly polished and civilized Hellenes. But the undersides of mirrors are necessarily dark, casting a metaphoric underworld in which forebodings can loom large, as perhaps in Athens. One such circumstance – an unfortunate prerequisite for Athens’ “civilized” situation – obliged others to do all her dirty work for her (excepting, of course, war), so that much of that cultivated society depended on its slaves, who were, after wood and grain, the city’s most important import and constituted one third of its population. Besides performing deadly labor in the silver mines and back-breaking work on the farms, Athens’ slaves served in the city as domestic workers, craftsmen, sexual captives, and prostitutes. Never a nice institution, Ancient Greek slavery in particular permitted – beyond the beatings, rapes, and sodomies – random executions, sales of slaves and any of their kin to anyone at any time, routine torture (required, in fact, if a slave had to give testimony), and dehumanizing humiliations such as the “gulp
preventer” [pausikape], a wooden collar closing the jaws of those slaves who handled food to keep them from eating it. Seldom openly reflected on, many dark and dangerous aspects of a society may be denied or unconsciously buried, perhaps to reappear elsewhere in projected form. Although Aristotle characterized all barbarians as slaves by nature, both forgiving and reflecting any feelings of guilt for the practice, fear of those “base”, “unpolished” and possibly “savage” creatures in its very heartland, would be hardly surprising. Art is an expedient mechanism for forging fruitful projections. Its essence, prior to its deeds, is a mental activity in which repressed fears can easily meet and mingle with mythological traces. Within art’s purview, slave and centaur might well converge and link. “Wild,” “barbaric,” “rude” centaur portrayals in stone and story could present and reinforce disturbing, real life cautions of a foreign, proliferating under-society where, problematically, the proposition “if a slave is a property with a soul, a non-person and yet indubitably a biological human being…”2 remains a dangerous conundrum. Back on Athens’ Acropolis, in classical days the Parthenon was only one of the many buildings that ministered to its population. By far the grandest on the hill, its presence regularly served the state and its many successive masters. Over the ages it was invariably a “jewel in the crown” of autocrats. Today’s Parthenon – now a must-see modern icon – entertains a public that (ironically) regards the structure as a symbol of democracy. The innovative politics of its builders, however, remains firmly in their past, in a dead-end coulisse of nearly everything but its words. The Greeks famed first experiment in popular government consisted of the rule by lot of an elite assembly of ca. 50,000 ethnically and culturally homogeneous citizens. Never a democratic consensus but rather a suffrage of modified aristocracy, it was bitterly contested in its own time and was never far away from oligarchy or the specter of mob rule, dictator, or tyrant, instances of which indeed ended its short reign. As has long been clear, the modern democratic heritage stems instead from the Roman cradle and its republican legacy; the Greek model was ultimately too tribal even to serve its own small city states well. Nearly all the fore going critique of classical Athens and its Parthenon speaks of power: of religion, where the sacred was experienced as the powers of gods and fate; of costume and cavalry, where control equated mastery over beings; and of war, where victory by hero sanctioned dominion by imperium. Even her short-lived form of government speaks of power: in the West, Athens’ example has survived over the past 2,500 years as a political fantasy for both Left and Right. In itself, this is no small achievement, albeit a mistaken identity. As a polemic (indeed, as a negative text attacking negative quali10
still in harness Figure 5. Conversely, horses today do not significantly differ from those of the Classical period or even from those of a thousand years earlier. A winner on the flat in Ireland, Friday – the lovely thoroughbred on the left – appears much the same breed as the Parthenon horses but for his much greater height, while both his size and style look to be the same as some Scythian steppe horses, in accordance with horse burials found there. Equally, on the right
Black Bess – an Irish draft – appears to be almost identical to Persia’s famous Nesaean war-horses. Short powerful beasts, like them she stood ca.14 hands high with hairy feet, a long back, hefty neck and a Roman nose. Very talented, she was distinguished by her ability to eat grass as she trotted along, and she could even snatch leaves from trees overhead while jumping fences. More importantly, she was also good across country for 9 hours straight in the saddle.
pinnacle of power
Figure 7. His upraised boulder alludes to the drunken attack centaurs made on a sojurning Heracles and Pholos. Tondo from an Attica drinking cup, ca. 520 B.C. Except for Nessos and Pholos, centaurs are always shown as a race, in groups or en masse. This unnamed exception by the Salis Painter – who only painted single figures, is inscribed “O PAIS KALOS” (the boy is beautiful), and would have served as a bespoke caution to the young symposist (on draining his cup of wine), against drunkenness and lewd behavior.
Figure 6. She stands tip-toe on a diving platform. In the full composition she is joined by fish and a nude companion in the water, along with two other girls on land – one oiling herself, the other dressed and departing. From an amphora ca. 520 B.C. The scene on the reverse is of Amazons arming. The total leimotif might well be that of social-bonding before battle. Such charming reminders of Amazon humanity, however, would also seem to augment the piquancy of their guaranteed future defeats or deaths.
Figure 8. From the 7th century B.C. onwards Heracles was the Ancient Greek Ur-figure of power. Beyond associating Athena to his deeds, however, Athens never leaned heavily on his cult since he was a hero of Dorian origin. Center: the statue (Roman copy), is known as the Farnese (Weary) Hercules, a marble said to be the work of Alexander the Great’s favorite sculptor, Lusippas. It was widely imitated across the Hellenistic and Roman worlds. Left: some things never change. A colossal (Herculian) replica in copper crowns The Oktogon, a faux hilltop castle complete with waterworks. This vast spectacle, built in 1713–17, stands in a park and is known as Herkules the Landmark of Kassel. Kassel, a city in Westphalia Germany, is nowadays the place where Documenta, the first great international modern art biennial began 50 years ago,
continuing to the present. For implications here, readers are invited to supply their own concluding sentence: choose from art, power, gender, themeparks, irony, authenticity, patronage, imperialism, fascism, etc. Right: close-up of pyramidal spire atop which our hero stands (leaning on his club draped with lion-skin cloak). Much of our cardinal Ancient Greek literary and historical research was done around the same time as this grandiose hero was installed on his Disney-World perch. With such a bid to rival the Ancients – i.e. the Colossus of Rhodes and Nero’s Roman Giant, a tie sanctioning the ways of those days must also have existed. At this moment in time, however, although it still stands, we eschew its “power” to find it merely “kitch”: logos now save the day and clean the stables.
ties), this survey has queried a debatable, if highly prestigious “glory that was Greece”. Perhaps by its fleshing out of obscured realities in that monument of romantic scholarship, the more important questions raised by those extraordinary years of Greek endeavor will have been illuminated and clarified. (See Epilogue). Notes 1. Hurwit, Jeffrey M, The Athenian Acropolis, Cambridge, 1999, p. 34. 2. Finley, M.I., Ancient Slavery and Modern Ideology, London, 1980, p. 95. Figures 1. Getty Images. 2. Snodgrass, A.M., The Dark Age of Greece, p. 370, p. 422. 3. Cleveland Museum of Art, 1970.16. 4. Smith, J. Moye, Ancient Greek Female Costume, 1882. 5. Author’s animals. 6. Louvre, 203, Side B. 7. Toledo Art Museum, 1963.28 8. Beard/Henderson, Classical Art, pp. 146, 200–01. References Anderson, J.K., Ancient Greek Horsemanship, Berkeley, 1962. Barber, Elizabeth Wayland, Women’s Work, London, 1994. Beard, Mary, The Parthenon, Oxford, 2001. Beard, Mary and Henderson, John, Classical Art, Oxford, 2001. Ibid., Classics, Oxford 2000. Blok, J.H., “The Early Amazons,” Leiden, 1995. Boardman, John, Greek Sculpture, The Archaic Period, London, 1970. Ibid., Greek Sculpture, The Classical Period, London, 1985. Bonfante, Larissa, Etruscan Dress, London, 1975. Davidson, James, Courtesans and Fishcakes, London, 1997. duBois, Page, Centaurs and Amazons, Ann Arbor, 1991. Dickinson, Oliver, The Aegean Bronze Age, Cambridge, 1995. Finley, M.I., The Ancient Greeks, London, 1997. Ibid., The World of Odysseus, London, 2002. Ibid., Ancient Slavery and Modern Ideology, London, 1980. Goodison, Lucy and Morris, Christine, Ancient Gooddesses, London, 1998. Hurwit, Jeffrey M, The Athenian Acropolis, Cambridge, 1999. Jenkins, Ian, The Parthenon Frieze, London, 1994. Keuls, Eva C. The Reign of the Phallus, Berkley, 1985. Lerner, Gerda, The Creation of Patriarchy, NYC, 1986. Mayor, Adrienne, The First Fossil Hunters, Princeton and Oxford, 2000. Morgan, M.H., Xenophon The Art of Horsemanship, 1894, Lewis reprint, London,1979. Osborne, Robiin, Archaic and Classical Greek Art, Oxford New York 1998. Padgett, J. Michael (editor), The Centaur’s Smile, New Haven and London, 2003. Pomeroy, Sarah B, Goddesses, Whores, Wives and Slaves, London, 1975. Robertson, Martin, The Art of Vase-Painting in Ancient Athens, Cambridge, 1992. Schefold, K, Gods and Heroes in Late Archaic Greek Art, Cambridge, 1985. Snodgrass, A.M., The Dark Age of Greece, Edinburgh, 2000. Snodgrass, A.M., Homer and the Artists, Cambridge, 1998. Tyrrell, Wm, Blake, Amazons, Baltimore and London, 1989. Vernant, Jean-Pierre, (editor) The Greeks, Chicago, 1995. Vernant, Jean-Pierre, The Universe, the Gods, and Men, NYC, 2002. Quotations “... producing a classical idealism to which later revolutionary and totalitarian regimes, from the Roman Emporer Augustus to Hitler, have found it useful to have recourse.”, Osborne, R, Archaic and Classical Greek Art, pp. 158–9. “ ...a book a devil’s chaplain might write,” Darwin, C, Letter to J.D. Hooke, July, 1856. “...outlast the entire world.” Woolf, Virginia, Jacob’s Room, Penguin, 1998, p?
Athena (précis) ... the culmination of all Greek religious art. The birth of Hellas’ historical Olympic Pantheon partook of both the advantages and delinquencies of its illiterate conception. Iron Age Greece found it had no past to read. Actually, the words were there but the Greeks no longer knew how to read them. It was only after Semitic alphabetic writing was adopted at the beginning of the historical period, ca. 750 B.C., that the word would once again be useful as a tender of Greek religious practice. Her former world of letters altogether vanished, newly literate Greece was a cultural backwater unlike her neighbors and contemporaries: worldly Mesopotamian and Akkadian literary compositions were known from as early as 2,400 B.C., and Egypt and China had continuous written records descending from the Bronze Age. 8th century Greeks however, having no memory of a Bronze Age Mycenaean civilization qualitatively different from their own and divided from it by a Dark Age break with only oral poetry to attest their antiquity and alleged “heroic” ancestors, never doubted that their fairytales were real history rather than poetic fiction. This charming fallacy continued even up through classical times. With pens in hand, a modernized Olympic ménage – complete with a past and present, i.e, a history and programmatics – was cobbled together from ancient legends, epithets and godly aspects which were contrived and shaped in a longingly backwards look at that bygone legendary yet illegible epoch. The broad oral compendium of the centuries’ winners and losers of local myths, stories and songs – chanted down the 400 dark and uncharted years following the destruction of the earlier Mycenaean civilization – formed the new religion’s official substance and pantheon as made fast by two storytellers. First and foremost Homer – the “blind bard” of 7th century B.C. Iona – addressed both muse and goddess, and composed the Iliad and Odyssey, thereby satisfying a literary agenda with brilliant stories of kings, heroes, gods and goddesses, war, nobles, and journeys. Hugely popular, his glamorous epics became the first written canon from which an “authorized” Greek religion would be drawn. A little later Hesiod, a mainland Boeitian farmer/ writer, gathered up and (necessarily) embraced much of the same material to compose his Theogony, chronicling the divine and its genealogies. Although other early written sagas appear to have existed, along with a developing body of labeled, painted imagery on vases that bore witness to different stories, within a hundred years – by Archaic times – the Greek commonality had resoundingly chosen these two literary, very human parcels of “scripture” to source and establish its ritual, spiritual self. Regarding this undertaking Herodotus1 writing in classical times, pointed out: 12
“Where specific gods came from, or whether they were always there, or what kind of form they took – these things they learned just the day before yesterday, as it were. For Homer and Hesiod first gave them an account of the gods, distinguishing their titles, prerogatives, and special powers.” During the long span of its earlier, unfathomable days, Greece had mislaid not only its literacy but also its ruling elites, prosperity, art, and trading skills so that a prime singularity of all Hellenes became the strong premium they placed on that bottom line of social salvation: the family unit. All occasions were looked at with an eye to their effect on the line of kin, so much so that born-again Greece remained throughout antiquity a paragon of family and tribe, i.e, a locus of aristocratic power. In a situation where kings, creed and records had ceased to exist, a landed family’s recounted genealogy became a vehicle of chartered rights. If a clan could “trace” descent from a hero’s line or could even declare a divine or semi-divine “root,” its claims to local land ownership and perquisites could be asserted and maintained. Such a particular goes a long way towards explaining the “religious” preference for Homer and Hesiod’s endless litanies of intertwining mortal and Olympic family trees: apotheoses that then regulated gentry-sponsored, sacramental duties and religious beliefs for all of Hellas, wherever Greek was spoken. In the new-born religion, myth had usurped theology. Not everyone, however, found the doctrine’s newly distilled conceptions a blessing. With the whole of a fabled Bronze Age “heroic” society suddenly reproduced in sacred Olympus, Xenophanes2, writing in the 6th century B.C., protested that “Homer and Hesiod have attributed to the gods everything that is disgraceful and blameworthy among men: theft, adultery, and deceit.” (Several hundred years later Plato was to ban poets from his utopian Republic for much the same reason). Eschewing the old nature religions with their shamanistic traditions of magic and terror – including a noteworthy shunning of Demeter, the goddess of fertility – the new Olympic gods were stunningly devoid of any ethical quality whatsoever, hence their indifference could offer no moral guidance to their worshippers, howsoever. Reflecting this omission, neither merit nor good works but only chance and piety appointed a life. Moreover and unusually, people felt no reverence or fear of the gods, only the dread of retribution for taking false oaths or for failing to make proper sacrificial gifts. (Concerns with justice and pollution, i.e. sin, had to wait for the great classical playwrights to address them). The afterlife was also of small importance (except to “heroes”). All in all, and original by necessity, this sanctioned, scriptural doctrine could hardly be further from the sensibilities of other religions, ancient or modern.
The lineaments of the newly fabricated dispensation, however, were perfectly suited to the parallel rise throughout Greece and its diaspora of the city-states with their civil laws and tasks in which dignitaries, often assigned by election or by lot, also functioned as priests. As rich landowners, these sacerdotal officials furnished the money for state sponsored feasts – sacred celebrations where food was used as the cardinal agency for bonding men and gods. (Sacrifice as sacrament still survives in the consecrated blood and body of Christ, of course, but it is a private communion and a rite of wafer and wine rather than a butchering and roasting of cattle to satisfy the protein requirements of a population). Dedicated burnt offerings – construed as the sharing of food between humans and immortals, where the gods got the bones and “perfume”, (i.e. smoke), and men got the meat – were a frequent event. Each year Athens devoted around one hundred days to daytime festivals that were accompanied by sacrificial rites. This meant that each citizen consumed animal protein at least twice a week, although this does not take into account the nutritional habits of slaves, foreigners and, generally, women, none of whom were invited. Interestingly, there were laws to enforce men to eat the city food that at first glance may seem odd but for the way in which the meat was distributed. The roasted animals were ritually cut up into equal pieces which were then handed out by lot – excepting the best pieces, which went to magistrates, priests and the most eminent citizens. Contrary to idealistic accounts of commensal egalitarianism, “…the divisions of the meat legitimizes and sanctions the hierarchical ordering of society.”3 So, much of the time, unless rich or famous, one’s lot could be a fistful of gristle. Unsurprisingly, by the classical period citizen Greeks were fish-mad and preoccupied with profane, “aphrodisiacal” seafood. Human requisites were also divided up so that things and ascendancies were placed in the power of designated deities. Analytic to the bone, separate domains for the gods were also handed out, such as the cultivated spaces for Demeter, Hestia’s hearths, the mountains, meadows and woods for Artemis and Pan, the citadels of Athena, and Hermes’ footpaths and ways. The citadel, i.e. a palace or city hill top fortification, had been common in Greece since at least Mycenaean times, and Athens’ citadel – her Acropolis, or “high city” – had a cultural history spanning some 6000 years as a dwelling place, fortress, sanctuary and symbol. In the classical period it was furnished with a number of effigies of its eponymous protectress, along with a jumble of other statues, idols, temples, shrines, altars and treasuries. However, the Greek custom of chaining divine statues to their thrones to prevent their “escape”, which would have forfeited the city’s divine protection, would not have been imperative in the days of Pericles’ Parthenon. Hardly portable, Pheidias’ huge and imposing gold 13
birthrights Figure 1. Pheidias’ colossal chrys-elephantine Athena stood behind a long reflecting pool deep inside the Parthenon’s front porch where the water provided the daylight with which to regard her shimmering presence and her detailed ornamentations. At approximately eye-level and most prominent was a panel across the base of the statue showing some 20 gods and goddesses gathered to celebrate the birth of the first woman, Pandora, who, like Eve, unleashed all evil into the World. Via Hephaestus’ craft, her creator, Zeus, specified that she should be made of mud and be “of doglike mind and thievish character,” (‘woman personified’), as a punishment against mankind to retaliate Prometheus’ gift of fire to humans. A clear and yet another iteration of Athenian misogyny, a different view sees the
panel and Pandora’s spotlighted appointment and placement as a prime focal point from which to emphasize, perhaps, the gift of weaving skills which Athena brings to the proceeding. William Golding, famous ‘Parthenophobe,’ posits the spectacle of Athena’s perceived parts in part disproportionately gross, the whole image the work of “..the sedulous scurrying of the ants who put her together.” The gold carapace covering her peplos and equipment was made of removable gold plates that, along with the ivory which covered all flesh, weighed nearly a ton. Pheidias’ design ensured the gold panels were easily detachable in case of need, but they remained essentially in place until the start of the 3rd century B.C. when they were finally used to pay troops during a civil war. birthplaces Figure 2. Athena’s birth – a male cerebral pregnancy and parturition – took place when, at term, uncle Hephaestus took an axe and split father Zeus’ head open: out she sprang, fully armed and armored. A more interesting birthplace for her is given by Plato (Timaeus 5) who placed her origin (as Neith) in Libya as early as 4000 B.C. From there she proceeded via a Libyan
immigration to Crete, ca. 3000 B.C., a date that inaugurates the First Minoan Age. Cretan culture subsequently spread to Thrace and Early Helladic Greece during the 3rd and 2nd millenniums B.C. Seen in this latter context, the Olympic myth of her creation would seem an obvious and phallocratic male fantasy.
here be giants
Pseudo-Pheidias (Alan LeQuire) leans against the right leg of his Scale Replica Athena Parthenos in Nashville, Tennesee.
Figure 3. The Greeks really believed that giants once walked the Earth and for good reason, too. Much of the Mediterranean basin suffers enormous earth fractures and upheavals that, then as now, often revealed the bones of prehistoric Mammoth, Rhinocerus – even giant Giraffe and Hippopotamus. Single finds of their tibias, scapulas, femors, etc, scattered and disconnected from complete mammalian remains, closely resembled the bones of humans. ‘Pelops’ Shoulder Blade,’ a gigantic ivory bone enshrined in a bronze chest in the temple of Artemis in 7th century B.C. Olympia, is the first such recorded ‘Giant’s’ relic. Bones of heroic size (this one probably Mammoth), held a prominent place in myth and oracle, including the giant Pelops’ eponymous gift of his place of discovery – the mountainous Peloponnese, an area rich in ancient huge bone finds. To scale here, a human-sized Athena confronts a ‘real’ giant. Greek art, however, in its vase paintings usually portrayed its humanesque giants as human-sized as well, although its deities are sometimes portrayed as larger than mortals. Art consists of liberties.
and ivory Athena Parthenos (virgin) stood some ten meters tall. The Parthenon itself, inside which she stood, was a gigantic “strong box”, an iron-barred cave of treasure and junk. Other large Athenas would have been more mobile (the later Romans made a practice of “enticing” thousands of gods to Rome), excepting one other colossal bronze Athena Promakhos (champion) who stood in the open on the Acropolis. She was probably ca. nine meters tall (and may have measured as much as 16 or 17 meters), In any case, her shining helmet was visible at sea to greet incoming sailors.4 At the top of the stairs leading up the hillside, just beyond and to the side of the Acropolis’ gateway, was another large idol: the Archaic cult statue Athena Nike (victory), who stood in her own small Ionic temple holding a pomegranate (of peace) in her right hand, her helmet in her left. On the other side, also adjoining the gateway, an Athena Hygieia (goddess of health) had her own little shrine. Elsewhere still, the eastern room of the centrally located Erechtheion was home to Athens’ most sacred cult statue, Athena Polias (guardian). A time worn, olivewood stick talisman, it was robed, jeweled and brought out on Athena’s annual birthday, the celebrated Panathenianic Festival. Its attempted kidnap would have been solely regarded as a political act, since a wooden head on a stick has little glamorous value. Her coffers, however, were entirely desirable: a treasure house including gifts of jewels, textiles, coppers and bronzes. One other large Athena of note, the Palladion, stood not on the Acropolis but in the southeastern part of the city, in the law court of the same name (which was taken from Pallas Athena, etymological meaning unknown). The Palladian was purportedly the Trojan cult image of Athena, filched by the Athenians in the Trojan war. As indicated, Athena was a goddess of many parts. In addition to the above, she was, for example, Athena Chalkiokos, (of the [Spartan] bronze house), Athena Polioukhos (protector of the city), Athena Arkhegetis (founder or leader), Athena Ergane (the work woman), and Athena Hippia (tamer of horses). This last dominion was of particular significance for the Parthenon and its decoration: the horse constitutes a major scheme in its plan, and is frequently embodied on almost all the temple’s metopes, pediments and frieze as an homage to aristocratic elitism, if not to the goddess herself.5 Images aside, Athena’s various epithets and titles are vast, yet her working roles can be gathered roughly into two general categories: that of a goddess of wiles and artifice, who utilizes her intelligence, ingenuity and craftiness in the service of cities and heroes (see Homer), and that of the goddess of skill and craft, of invention and technology. In this second capacity she is the inventor of the yoke and plow, the domesticated olive and the earthenware pot, the designer of the first ship and a guide to seafarers, the inventor of the bit, bridle and chariot, and as Athena Ergane, she is patron of both professional artisans and women: of blacksmiths, sculptors, weavers, potters and cooks, of musicians, too, since she also
invented the flute and trumpet. All of these nominal powers are evinced by numbers of bespoke votive offerings found throughout Greece at her cult sites and in her sanctuaries and temples. “If horses could draw, their gods would be horses.”6 Except for their powers, Xenophanes’ wry adage speaks for the attributes of nearly all the Panhellenic pantheon, bar Athena: over time her nature was hostage to Athenian propaganda and became increasingly contradictory and too unbalanced to echo the human female. One of a quartet of recorded and venerated Mycenaean “nurturing” divinities (the others being Apollo, Artemis, and Hera), Athena’s origin is in all likelihood Cycladic and earlier. Well before a small collection of Attican villages became Athens (Athenai, a plural noun), pre-Mycenaean, Minoan Crete worshipped a goddess with snakes, traditionally termed a “household” goddess. As protectress of the household her role credibly extended to her later duties, first in Mycenaean palaces and then as protectress of the city: Athena Polias. (Minoan depictions of her with birds and snakes parallel portrayals of the later Athena with her emblematic owls and snakes, all well-known, voracious mice-eaters and, therefore, vital for the protecting of homes and cities.) Some thousand years later, however, Athena the Protectress, with her huge repertory of myths, rituals and pictorial attributes, had evolved to embody virtually all Attic social values including behavioral, gendered comportments. In this orchestrationshe was a masculine warrior and a feminine weaver, chaste birth mother of Athens’ “founding father” as well as birth child of Zeus and so, born of man, affirming the father as the true parent of any child. The classical Parthenon expressed and fixed that society’s rules of marriage and gender roles under its divine Olympic protection. In this, however, “…the goddesses of Olympus appear never to have had more than narrowly restricted functions, even though their cults were of major importance in Greek cities,”7 whereas the Olympic gods were able to engage in any experience available to mortal males, and were altogether superior to the goddesses. Athena, however, became the exception: her masculine traits were increasingly emphasized during Athens’ classical period, perhaps to rectify the (despised) female as the city’s paramount deity. The exigencies of marriage were the well spring of much of Periclean male chauvinism. Exacerbated by city laws, the egregious patriarchs of Athenian households had to (psychologically) justify and (in fact) maintain the “true” male line on behalf of their own citizenship rights. This resulted in the obsession with spousal virginity, a condition only guaranteed by the extreme youthfulness of their brides. “Tribal” households are notoriously jealous of their own independence and control of kindred, while famously truculent to others. But for a line to continue, daughters must be exchanged – the newcomer brought in, the familiar taken away – a perceived 15
athena the giant crusher Figure 4. Because no god could slay a giant, 1/2 mortal Heracles (under Athena’s guidance) was needed to deliver their death blows in the Wars of the Gods and Giants. In one battle, however, the giants assaulted Olympus hurling rocks and firebrands upwards from their mountain tops, and, in retaliation, Athena threw a vast missile at Encelades which crushed him flat so that he
became the island of Sicily. After much combat, Zeus decisively ended the era of giants with his cosmic lightening, and Athena’s part in the doings (seen here subduing Encelades), was commemorated in Athens’ Panathenaean Festivals where her annual new dress included embroidered scenes of her encounters in the conflict.
goat skins Figure 6. Athena’s aegis, originally perhaps a goat-skin bag containing a serpent and protected by a Gorgon mask, had many mythical and literary glosses. Some say it was made of the skin of her goatish father, the giant Pallas, whom Athena flayed; others say it was Medusa’s skin. Athena’s presumptive Libyan origin supplies other derivations as well, such as the goat-skin aprons which were the habitual costume of Libyan girls (and Ethiopian ones, who
still wear them). “Aegis” is elsewhere translated as a Libyan chastity-tunic. Some modern scholars attribute Athena’s later effigies, who wear a corselet bristling with snakes, as an expression of the vagina dentata. In addition, the snakes surrounding the open-mouthed Medusas in the aegis’ center suggest pubic hair, a fact offered to help explain why Athenian women practiced depilation of the genital zone.
grim ones Figure 5. The sister Gorgons Stheino, Euryale and Medusa were Giant daughters of Mother Earth. They dwelt in Lybia and all were once beautiful. But Medusa offended Athena, who changed her into a winged monster with glaring eyes, huge teeth, brazen claws and serpent locks whose gaze turned men to stone. When Perseus
finally decapitated Medusa, Athena fastened the head to her aegis. Gorgons are also seen on shields, plates and tondos, often along with attendant large-eye imagery. Like modern Maori, their grimacing faces with out-stuck tongue serve a dual purpose as defensive atropropaic and offensive intimidation.
hardship for those who hate all strangers and who possessively guard all kin. Women, as the necessary “grow bags” of prenatal children formed solely by fathers, were blamed for this wrenching ordeal, and were thus a plague on all houses. Phallocratic, gynophobic and misogynistic in spirit and law (see later chapters), Athena’s aberrant sexual roles are blithe carriers of dysfunctional Athenian sentiment. But just as all religions underwrite their arts, cosmologies, and their codes of conduct, so too, their legacies: Christianity admonishes Eve, but she is not contemptible, while in vivo Islam may maltreat its women, woman, herself, is cherished. It is fortunate and quite believable that the elitist and extreme patriarchy of pagan Greece never survived, above ground at least. Excluding, all male societies have their virtues, of course in their developed body-beautifuls, purity of abstract thought and the (not inconsequential) shallow-pleasured gossips and titillations of private male bondings. These societies, however, in denying half their population’s subjecthood, forego the leveling and sustaining messiness of differences met head on. What a poor and melancholy patrimony left to those who have subscribed fully to the siren of Hellas’ genius.
Finley, M.I., The Ancient Greeks, London, 1987. Finley, M.I., The World of Odysseus, London, 2002. Goodison, Lucy and Morris, Christine, Ancient Goddesses, Lodon, 1998. Graves, Robert, The Greek Myths, London, 1992. Hurwit, Jeffrey M., The Athenian Acropolis, Cambridge, 1999. Keuls, Eva C., The Reign of the Phallus, Berkley, 1985. Mayor, Adrienne, The First Fossil Hunters, Princeton and Oxford, 2000. Pomeroy, Sarah B., Goddesses, Whores, Wives and Slaves, London, 1975. Snodgrass, A.M, The Dark Ages of Greece, Edinburgh, 2000. Snodgrass, A.M., Homer and the Artists, Cambridge, 1998. Vernant, Jean-Pierre, The Universe, the Gods, and Men, NYC, 2002. Vernant, Jean-Pierre, The Greeks, Chicago, 1995. Quotation “...the culmination....” Greek Religion, Walter Burket, Harvard, 1989.
Notes 1. Herodotus (2.53), ca. 440 B.C. 2. Xenophanes Frag 11, Diels-Kranz edition, 570–478 B.C. 3. Vegetti, Mario, The Greeks and Their Gods, in The Greeks, Chicago, 1995, p. 270. 4. Hurwit, Jeffrey M., The Athenian Acropolis, Cambridge, 1999, p. 25. 5. Snodgrass, A. M., The Dark Age of Greece, Edinburgh, 2000, p. 414. “We may briefly digress to consider that partly symbolic standby of aristocratic societies everywhere, the horse. A horse was not only valuable as a vehicle that would multiply a man’s speed in travel and in battle, and as a pedestal that would literally raise him above his fellow men; the intricacies of its breeding also reflected the almost mystical quality that aristocrats find in human breeding.” 6. Xenophanes Frag B14, B-15, Diels-Kranz, 570–478 B.C. “Men think that the gods are born as they are, and dress as they do, and speak and look the same”…. “but if oxen, horses, and lions had hands or could draw with their hands or create works of art like men, the horses would make pictures and statues of gods like horses, and oxen like oxen.” 7. Finley, M.I., The World of Odysseus, London, 2002, p. 122. Figures 1. The Acropolis in the Age of Pericles, J. Hurwit, Cambridge, 2004, p. 22. 2. Bronze relief, shield band panel, ca. 550 B.C., Olympia Museum. 3. right: Athena Promakos, The Athenian Acropolis, J. Hurwit, Cambridge 1999, p. 24. left: mammouth, The First Fossil Hunters, A. Mayor, Princeton & Oxford, 2000, p. 82. 4. Athena killing a Giant, Beazley Archive, Musee du Louvre, 220.127.116.115. 5. Gorgoneion, top: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 01.805.57; middle: Tampa Museum of Art, 86.51; bottom: Museum of Art, Harvard, 1925.30.19. 6. top: Gods and Heroes in Late Archaic Greek Art, K. Schefold, Cambridge, 1992, p. 37; left: Beazley Archive, Hertzog Anton Ulrich Museum, Braunschweig, 18.104.22.168; bottom: The Reign of the Phallus, E.C. Keuls, 1985, p. 39. References Barber, Elizabeth Wayland, Women’s Work, London, 1994. Beard, Mary and Henderson, John, Classical Art, Oxford, 2001. Beard, Mary, The Parthenon, Oxford, 2001. Davidson, James, Courtesans and Fishcakes, London, 1997. Dickinson, Oliver, The Aegean Bronze Age, Cambridge, 1995.
Ensembles ... girls walking in single file, the delicate folds of their draperies falling... Athena, in common with most other Greek gods and goddesses, was a deity of multiple powers, enjoying numerous diverse roles and appearances. One of her notable embodiments was an antediluvian stick with a head, which stood for aeons above Athens. This olivewood cult-image of Athena Polias [of the city] served not only as the city’s guardian, but was also the focus and destination of a yearly religious parade, the “Panathenaic Procession,” a cavalcade which wound its way up the Acropolis every August to present and dress the ancient effigy with a new birthday robe, (the peplos). High up on the outer walls of Pericles’ new, mid 5th-century Parthenon the procession and its ceremony were commemorated with a sculpted marble frieze. In this carved portrayal we are shown the cortège of contemporary citizenry progressing via chariots, cavalry, stewards and elders to its journey’s end, the ritual “peplos presentation.”1 Despite being a venerable occasion honoring the invaluable agency and offerings of women, however, the only human females carved on this vast and busy low-relief were the mere 32 women and girls – pictured on the short east frieze above the main entrance – as they made their way to the cloth-handling tableaux. This was the first and only human female appearance in the parade, otherwise populated by 337 human males, 14 deities and 214 animals thronging the north, south, and west walls’ encircling cavalcade. Two modern descriptions, claiming such an “... abundance of female figures in the procession...” wherein “... women are prominent,”2 give one pause and some idea of the routine paucity of women represented in other public works of the time, a reflection of the very real lack of status and public importance of all females in the Greek city-state. “Respectable” females in ancient Athens were singularly secluded and obscured, as they were preferably neither to be seen nor heard. An irony, then, that both a colossal elephantine statue and the classical Parthenon to house it were built to expressly honor one: Athena Parthenos [the virgin], inviolable patronymic [sic] of Athens. But being, in the main, a martial goddess as well as born from the head of a father and neutered (i.e.virgina), Athena as Parthenos’ womanly attributes were about as diminished and limited as were a mortal woman’s fortunes in her eponymous city. For classical Athens, (unlike some other Greek cities), totally excluded women from the mainstream of her civic society. An Athenian citizen-woman was unrecorded in her phratry or tribe when born (unlike a boy child) and unnamed in public records during her lifetime, her only public “named” identity being that occasionally written on her tomb-stone. A woman was not even listed in the
city’s records as a birthing mother, since by Athenian law parenthood did not include females. In a lash of sexist cynicism, mothers were construed as mere brood-mares, because Greek theory and its writers held that a child was created entirely by the father and only transferred by intercourse to the mother’s womb for growth. Phallocratic in the extreme, “... the bad faith of the Greek authors [Aristotle among others] is patent...surely they must have observed that some children look like their mothers, or that dark and fairskinned parents tend to produce in-between offspring...” while, “At least one Athenian institution belies the notion of exclusive male parenthood: under Attic law paternal half-brothers and sisters could marry, maternal ones could not.”3 (Transposed, but in equal contempt, another Greek author casually epitomized: “Cleomenes died childless, leaving only a daughter).”4 Not surprisingly, such institutionalized and egregious disdain was reflected in much of the iconography of Pericles’ newly built Parthenon. From the depicted birth of the first mortal woman, Pandora, putative source of all evil in the world (portrayed prominently at spectator level on the huge statue of Athena inside the temple), to the glorification of female (Amazon) deaths at the hands of male heroes (on the long west metopes), women were belittled. Nonetheless, the central scene of the Parthenon’s frieze manifestly honors that most womanly of acts, the weaving of cloth, even though the Panathenaic Festival, which lasted several days, afforded many alternate occasions which might well have been glorified instead. Perhaps, as the frieze itself is now known to have been a late, politically-motivated addition to the temple, the choice of Athena Polias’ ancient robing ceremony was a necessary sop to religion – Athena Parthenos was never worshipped. Or perhaps her ceremonies were only chosen for superstitious reasons, that is, for fear of offending a goddess who, still numinous – though stemming from a linguistic layer partial to women – was far older than even the earliest of Greeks. Be that as it may, and more gynophobic than misogynistic one suspects, the immoderate gender asymmetries practiced during Athens’ Classical period were surely perverse (if not one of the driving forces of her short but remarkable flowering). For overall in the stated Greek ethos, “moderation” in everything was paramount. How paradoxical that this averred intention depended, in part, on such an inapposite juridical discrimination between the sexes. To modern eyes, where many of today’s religious images are still clothed and paraded in all their material finery, the only exceptional aspect of ancient Athens’ clothing ritual is the yearly offering of a completely new robe to the idol. In classical times it was a gift of great honor and worth, where people traveled long distances to catch a glimpse of the new dress. Since the 19th century, however, the innovative manufacture of cheap cloth and clothing has made it difficult for us to imagine the amount of work (and hence of 18
“phallocratic in the extreme…”
Figure 1. Most of the infamous Elgin Marbles are from the Parthenon’s Frieze. The tiny dark strip seen above the left columns – next to the ceiling – shows its original size, location and salience. A late edition to Pericles’ plans, the Frieze was a continuous bas-relief carving wrapped around the temple’s four outer walls. Some 40 feet from the ground, it was sited well above eye-level.
Figure 2. Disrobing (or perhaps robing) of Athena Polias – the olive wood stick with a head – in anticipation of the presentation of a new dress. The drawing was made by a Frenchman before the Turkish arms depot in the Parthenon was shelled by the Venetians in 1687. It was one of the South Metopes, which portrayed the battle of the Lapiths against the Centaurs.
Figures 4, 6. Rectangular stone slabs carved only with the head of Hermes and his erect genitalia graced all of Athens’ streets. These “herms” stood outside both private houses and public spaces, where their display served as a symbol and iteration of male power. One summer night in 415 B.C. almost all these herms had their penises
knocked off. The vandals and their motives were never discovered, despite intense investigations. A herm in profile shows itself as a vulnerable (if not irrepressible) target for vandalism. Modern (circumcised) ‘herms’ line sin-city Amsterdam’s streets. Often stolen, they also adorn the odd livingspace.
Figure 3. The central “Peplos Scene” of priest and acolyte with folded robe for Athena Polias. There is much bickering among scholars as to whether the acolyte is a girl or a boy. However, the display of prominent nude buttocks pre-disposes opinion to that of its being a male.
The East Frieze, Slab VIII, Parthenon, Athens. ‘Girls near the head of the processions.’
pins and stitches
a potted history: 3000 b.c. – 1500 b.c.
Figure 5. Above: A martial Athena wears a story-cloth peplos. Below: scraps of a real narrative frieze which embellished a shroudexcavated near Kertch, a Greek Colony in the Crimea, ca. 415 B.C.
Figure 7. The figure on the right, known as the ‘Peplos Kore,’ wears her archaic Doric robe over a pleated chiton. She was garishly colored. (See later illustration). On her left is an Ionian marble displaying an (eponymous) Ionic chiton. Below are the dress-making details of both forms of costume.
Figure 8. On the bottom left – from Egypt’s 1st Dynasty, ca. 3000 B.C. – is a linen shirt, woven and stitched together from 3 rectangles.The shoulders and sleeves have been finely ironed into pleats for trimness and freedom of movement. Elegant in design, this shirt is the oldest complete piece of clothing in the world. Above and diagonal to it, a woman servant (6th Dynasty, ca. 2500 B.C.) wears the ubiquitous (and sexy) transparent linen tube with straps. Egyptian ground looms by this time could weave fabrics as fine and gossamery as our modern cambric handkerchiefs. In fact, some linens have been found woven with up to 200 threads per inch, finer than the finest ones you can buy today. Spanning this same 3rd millennium B.C., Mesopotamia’s clothing had 2 strings to its bow: it tended flocks as well as flax. The small figure on the bottom right, from Sumer, ca. 2900 B.C., was liturgically dressed in a fleece skin skirt with a tiny skin capelet over one shoulder. The later, left figure diagonally above (ca. 2000 B.C.) shows a minor goddess wearing a ruffled skirt and shawl whose woolen flounces are woven in imitation of the ancient tufted fleece skins.
Figure 9. Much less sophisticated, mid-2nd millennial burials of women in southern Germany display a new influence from the Levant on dress style which replaced the earlier tailored and buttoned fitted skins with draped fabrics, their elaborate metal
dress-pins for (burial?) fastening still in place. A birthright of the later Greeks, the pinned and belted fabric rectangle was to endure over most of second and first millennium Europe.
value) that cloth and such a tribute would have held. By report, the precious robe delivered to the goddess was a highly decorated “story-cloth” – a woven part-tapestry, depicting the battle of the Gods and Giants and Athena’s role therein. Made by several priestesses, along with a few chosen younger daughters of Athenian noblemen over a 9 month “gestation period”, the annual story-cloth was a saffron-colored woolen rectangle measuring some 5’ x 6’, whose long upper edge folded over to make the pinned and belted peplos, Athena’s archaic Doric chiton. Each year’s dress retold the story in a new way and was worn by the image for the entire year, before being put away with the cloths of former years and saved. This collection thus provided a stored treasure trove of textiles, amassing tenders of possible good fortune in the goddess’s power.5 A linen chiton was often worn under the woolen peplos in both fact and art, but after the 5th century B.C., the dedicatory standing ‘peplophoros figures’ (korai) and Athena, herself, were the only Attic females to be seen wearing the Doric pinned tunic. In Athens, the old-fashioned, narrow peplos was replaced by the wide sewn Ionic chiton. Herodotus, in the 5th century, tells us why.6 It seems that at one time all Greek women wore the plain peplos, but it was outlawed when some Athenian women used its long, straight fastening pins against a messenger bringing bad news. As punishment, women from that time on were required to dress in the Ionic chiton which, being stitched, did not require such ‘deadly’ devices. Although deemed the ‘Father of History,’ Herodotus was not always the most accurate of parents. Yet if to modern eyes his tale seems unlikely, one has only to consider some of today’s Islamic mandates on women’s dress to realize its possible, if not probable truth. (More likely, the women dispensed with their long pins for greater ease and comfort). A civilization’s dress-codes are determined by many factors including climate and terrain, the availability of materials and time, and the extent and nature of its wealth and social preoccupations. A close look at a culture’s preferred clothing can, therefore, offer invaluable insights into its very being. A comparative and broad history of dress is also useful, for if fashion be the most ephemeral of modes, local manners of dress remain the most conservative and lasting. For instance, some form of kimono (or p’ao) has served the Japanese and Chinese for over 2,000 years. Or one can look even further back to Egypt’s first (Badarian) settlers of the Nile Valley, ca. 4500 B.C., where most women wore only a fringe around their loins, a style which has endured almost up to the present day in other parts of Africa. In fact, a cotton version of the later Dynastic Egypt’s straight linen tube, beginning under the breasts, sometimes with breast-covering straps and descending to the ankle, is still worn by many African women today. Elsewhere, in the western world, the white linen undergarment, or soft chemise, has persisted since the
Bronze Age. Modern Europeans continue – like the Celts, Mycenaeans and Hellenes before them – to wear their white plant-fiber undergarments such as T-shirts, blouses, slips, vests, shirts, shorts, knickers and chemises beneath their warm but scratchy woolen suits, jackets, trousers, dresses, jumpers, capes, coats and other outer coverings. Linen robes and undergarments have an ancient pedigree in Europe – long-sleeved in the more northerly parts of the continent, both long and short-sleeved in Mycenaean palace murals (ca.1650–1500 B.C. and then 1400–1200 B.C.), and altogether sleeveless when brought in to Greece from the North by the less sophisticated Iron Age Dorian invaders after 1200 B.C. The earliest find of actual Greek clothing (discovered wrapped inside a funerary urn in Euboea and dated to circa 1000 B.C.) is a shaggy white linen chiton (tunic), with a red pattern-woven sash. “The cloth ...appears to be a robe of ankle length, made of two sheets of linen sewn up the sides. The borders and bottom half are plain, but the upper part is of a shaggy weave.”7 The history of a Greek peplos, however, is everything but Greek. Its northern (ie. Illyrian or Thracian?) provenance is well predicated by numerous burials from the second millennium, where the long dress pins, used to suspend the chiton or peplos at the shoulders, are commonplace in graves found further north in Germany and elsewhere in Europe8 Even its Greek name was derived from the PhoenicianKhiton probably between 825 and 750 B.C. at around the same time as the Greeks adopted their alphabetic way of writing.9 Chiton, peplos or tunic, however, greatly antedated such Dark Age Hellenic exhibits, and by a very long time, indeed. The earliest complete piece of material clothing ever found by archeologists is a highly sophisticated Egyptian pleated linen shirt from the first Dynasty, ca. 3000 B.C. According to one authority, a simplified version of it embodying “a plain linen tubular body wrapper with places for head and arms ... may well have been adopted by western Semites in the next centuries and passed on up the coast to Syria and then Anatolia ... There we find a long sort in use when we begin to get depictions of clothing in that area in the second millennium B.C., and from there it passed westward with Mycenaen Greeks...”10 Before that, and even previous to Egyptian expertise, artifacts from the late 4th millennium B.C. show Sumerian women in Mesopotamia wearing simple long tunics wrapped in a spiral fashion. In a manner paralleling the western sequence, The Akkadians – Semites in the east – also borrowed from their advanced Sumerian neighbors the names, as well as perhaps, the ways and means of linen and flax. Analogous to this double dispersion from Egypt and Sumer, it seems the rudimentary tunic also developed along two different paths. On the one hand, there was the simple large rectangle of cloth which the wearer draped or pinned, and tied or belted according to taste. This had little or no sewing required as it came off the loom. And 21
bronze age overlaps and interweaves Figure 10. Above, on the right, from a carving on an alabaster vase, ca. 3250 B.C., a woman wears the ‘Ur’ chiton, from Uruk in Sumer. Facing her is a Hittite priestess from Hatti who also wears the sleeved tunic beneath her cloak ca. 1370-700 B.C. (Hittite religion and customs persisted in Syria long after they disappeared in Anatolia). The name for this garment persisted for 5 plus millennia as well. Our present day “tunic,” from Latin tunica, came from a West Semitic language *ktuni-ka. The Greeks made khiton out of it. These Semites had borrowed their word from Semitic Akkadians further east, who had kitinnu, meaning “linen,” and kitu, “flax,” all from the Sumerian gada, “linen.” Bottom: two dieties in ritual “skin”- dress bracket a supplicant woman wearing the sleeveless, archaic spiral chiton. (Babylonia, ca. 2000 B.C.).
over the top Figure 11. A Syrian wearing the archaic chiton visits Egypt, ca. 1450 B.C. From a wall painting in Thebes. An almost identical garment is worn by a Tunisian walking a baby elephant on the same walls. Below, the form and weaving of the archaic chiton. Outside of Egypt, it was the most common form of civilized dress for both men and women from the Mediterranean to Mesopotamia.
Figure 12. Even in stylish Crete the very ancient styles of dress were retained for religious purposes. Mesopotamia’s immemorial fleece skirt appears at least two and a half thousand years later on a Cretan sarcophagus, ca. 1400 B.C. (above left), where in a ritual offering a girl empties her basket of crocus blossoms for dyes. She wears the à la mode breast-baring bodice above it. Men are seen wearing the fleece and even flounced, ‘kaunake’ skirts, too. As well, in the same painting both men and women also wear the sleeved archaic chiton, the ‘Mainland’ tunic, from Mycenae (boy with lyre, above right). The mourning women, below, decorate a Minoan style sarcophagus found in Tanagra Greece, just north of Athens. Dated to 1200 B.C., they still wear the chic bodices and famous full skirts of former Cretan glory, some 200 years later.
Figure 13. Mixing the old and the new, both of the famous Minoan faience figurines, found in 2 stone lined cists in the palace at Knossos, Crete (ca. 1600 B.C.), wear innovative push-up corsetry under their breasts as well as time-honored front aprons over their skirts. The aprons were perhaps ritual garments, the rest of their outfits not, being the usual dress of palatial Minoan women (bar the cat on the hat of the right figure and the sleeves, hat-dressing and knotted girdle of snakes on the left).
then there was the more complicated way, which took several rectangles and sewed them into tubes – one for the torso, the other two smaller ones inserted and sewn on for the arms. Stepping even further back in time, all of this Egyptian and Mesopotamian expertise differed from the very earliest clothing practices, where cut and sewn leather and skins preceded fabric tunics. In the European north, furs and hides held to the body by thong belts and by pins at the shoulder were worn. However, in the very earliest, most archaic times, neither pins nor buttons were used; instead, sewn, short-sleeved jerkins were cut in shapes and sizes congruent with a deer’s half-hide. Northern European Bronze Age people also used grass and fiber extensively, as the tied and layered grass cloak and shoes of Ötzi the Ice Man demonstrate. In warmer climates, people wore belted fleece skirts, leather loincloths or sheaths, cloaked with animal skin capes on top, according to the weather. Indeed, from both north and south, there is also ancient evidence of looms, and so, of woven cloths. These date from as early as the 7th millennium B.C. in Iraq at Jarmo, and in Hungary, at Tisza, around 5500 B.C. Finds of wooden spinning and loom utensils, as well as decorated, loosely woven fabric, show that linen was also woven in Neolithic Switzerland from 3000 B.C., So some form of textile manufacturing is evinced everywhere in the Old World starting from 7000 B.C. onwards. Cloth of wool, however, only became feasible several thousand years later, around 4000 B.C., first in Mesopotamia. Here, sheep were developed with long, wooly fleece in place of “kempy” hair. Rather quickly after that (in about 500 years), wool was introduced into the Balkans from the Near East. Then, by 2300 B.C., wool flocks – along with their crafts – were prospering, for instance, in a Crete first seriously settled in 3000 B.C. by large numbers of immigrants coming mostly from Turkey.11 In Crete the unrivalled qualities of wool were developed to their highest, and still unsurpassed, potential. Dress in Minoan Crete has been unique in costume history, and archeologists include it as one example in their catalogue of “Island Fevers” said to characterize those civilizations that grew wealthy from a lack of hostile neighbors – like the builders of Malta’s temples or Egypt’s pyramids, cultures which turned all their wealth and energies inwards. Just so, since from at least the time of Crete’s Palace culture until ca. 1400 B.C., no defensive structures or battlements have been found. Later invaders put an end to this idyll and, although the king of Crete took part in Homer’s Trojan War and the language tablets famously found in Knossos are now known to be in a form of early Greek, these particulars are also known to have occurred after the Mycenaean Greeks conquered Crete, and are not Cycladian. Cretan culture and dress, although Aegean, had little or nothing to do with the later Hellenes. And, as is also common knowledge, Cretan dress, like cheese to chalk, notoriously embraced
neither form of chiton, complicated or simple, nor, indeed, simplicity itself. Wool had changed everything. By middle Minoan times, around 1600–1500 B.C., Cretan women were wearing sexy fitted bustiers and gorgeous, full flounced gored skirts, the fabrics of which were woven with pictures of animals, birds, and musical instruments. The invention and development of such an elaborate and singular dressmaking style has perplexed authorities. One dress expert theorizes that: “The Mesopotamian ‘kaunakes’ [fleece skirt] costume from imported seals gives an answer to why these flounced skirts appeared, and possibly the answer to how the bodices were fitted with such success lies in the suggestion that the first material dealt with by these workers was leather, not woven material; then, when the style was developed, the effects achieved by the use of a medium easy to cut, and lending itself to molding the figure, such as leather undoubtedly is, give the answer as to how the style was formed in the first place”12 Be that as it may, recent excavations and restorations of wall paintings in nearby (Minoan) Thera vividly illustrate the rich and sensuous delight the Cycladian people took in color, pattern, texture and form. Nevertheless, their marvelous designs did not survive. For a little under a thousand years a civilization had husbanded, carded, spun, wove, dyed, cut, sewed, tailored, designed, worn and pictured a truly beautiful and elegant range of clothing, only to disappear, apparel, life-style and all, their look and flair not to reappear until the European 18th and 19th centuries A.D. These Bronze Age Cycladic people, in common with a broad band of other highly sophisticated civilizations – from Etruria and Mycenae in the west, to Harappa and Mohenjo-Dara in the Indus valley in the east – all more or less vanished at the commencement, around the same time, of the weapons-enhanced blossoming of the Iron Age. Lost as well, was an actuality wherein women are depicted side by side with men, taking part in all the activities of life and not yet relegated solely to the domestic background. A poignant postscript: in Dark-Age, post-Mycenaean times [ca.1200 B.C.] “... the people at Tanagra (four miles from the Aegean coast and twenty-five miles north of Athens) were still burying their dead in Cretan-style clay coffins painted with ...mourning scenes of women in Minoanlooking flounced skirts at a time when all others in Greece were burying their dead coffinless and wearing baggy chemises and tunics.” 13 Clearly, some did not abandon the fabled style precipitously. Baggy chemises and tunics certainly describe the clothing women actually wore in Greece as distinct from the elegantly sleek, floating or draped look of women’s dress as it appears on those remaindered cups, amphorai, or statues which have come down to us today. Attic artists took liberties by greatly idealizing both bodies and garments, and depicted real fashions according only to one or another of several stylized, conventional renderings. And as these 23
artists were always men whose vase-paintings were destined for male consumers, there was also often a healthy dash of either soft or even hard pornography in their renditions of women and their clothing. The painting of transparent, thin or gossamer fabrics and “wet” draperies, for instance, was commonplace and allowed for voyeuristic views of the female breast and nipple and thigh, sights only otherwise titillating via courtesans and prostitutes, who sometimes wore, in fact, such thin, gauzelike clothing as part of their trade. “...Other fragments provide confirmation of Xenarchus’ picture of the fourth-century brothel. The girls seem to have stood half-naked or clad only in diaphanous fabrics arranged in a semi-circle for the clients to make their selection.”14 In the heavier fabrics of respectable everyday use, however, whether linen or wool, the wearing of shifting, belted, baggy, wrinkled and bunching cloth must have been diabolic. For just as today’s clothes-hanger fashion models could make what is essentially a sack with a sash look chic and stream-lined on them, so too, the ancient painted and sculpted figures pare down this most homely and unbecoming garment: photos of women modeling careful modern reconstructions of chiton and peplos expose the design’s blowzy dowdy reality, albeit, in the exclusive intimacy of Athenian women’s quarters; at home, a casual form of this attire might well have been comfortable. Today, western women wear something like it as a nightgown. Primitive and unattractive compared with the dress fashions in neighboring parts of the world, the deprivation was probably cultivated, a male desideratum to insure modesty in the good citizen-wife. Yet if the idea of such a sanction on feminine vanity seems unlikely, the fact that Athens did have laws governing women’s dress should be noted. A new bride, for example, was allowed to bring only three dresses to her marriage.15 (The city’s law-makers also authorized a “Women’s Police” to enforce virtuous female behavior, limit the number of female mourners allowed at funerals, as well as legally to regulate the walks, feasts, and food and drink permitted to citizenwomen).16 The tiny flock of mortal women seen on the Parthenon’s East frieze all wear long full cloaks, called himations, over their chitons. While slaves, female wine-sellers and market traders, flute girls, prostitutes and foreign women (metics) can all be seen portrayed without concealing cloaks, going about their daily errands in the streets or to the wells for water, respectable women – matrons and girls – decently covered their linen draperies and themselves with thick outer garments whenever they were called upon to travel outdoors for festivals and funerals. All Greek cloaks were always rectangular and had square corners even though other peoples fashioned theirs on ellipses or curves, like those worn in Etruria and Latium. The rounded Etruscan mantle hung far more elegantly than the Greek right-angled cloak, while the semi-circular woolen Roman robe
(the toga) had been a common garment of both men and women since the 7th and 6th centuries B.C. (And earlier, with an ancestry in leather going back to the 2nd millennium in northern Europe where it pleased sufficiently to evolve, in Imperial times, into a male insignia of office and rank via its varied stripings and forms of wrapping). Greek women, of course, also draped their 4-square cubistic shawls in many ways, often using them as hoods to cover their heads. However draped, the resulting thick bunch of swaddling wool must have been rather uncomfortable to wear in the Aegean heat. Still, the laws of propriety required a citizen-woman to be well covered whenever she appeared outside of her house. Her attire might also include a veil. Most images that incorporate one show it depending from a crown-like structure or fastened to a band worn across the head and falling free to shoulder level, waist or floor. Greek women used veils judiciously to show their mortification, modesty, grief, anger, despair and even, occasionally, eroticism. As a bride, the girl was also completely veiled until the end of the marriage ceremony when, unveiled, her new husband saw her face for the first time. The fundamental veiling of women, however, has a very old pedigree. Where women are considered chattel (i.e., in severe patriarchal societies, both ancient and modern) the wearing of a veil pledges protection to the woman by the man who “owns” her. The rationale asserts that other men, having no control over their passions and on perceiving the beauty of the owner’s property, would try to ravish or kidnap her if allowed to view the revealed woman’s great desirability. It was around 1250 B.C. that the Assyrians first codified the wearing of the veil. However, unlike present day mullahs, not only did they not require it, they legislatively restricted its use, instead, to respectable women only. This law, (Middle Assyrian Law ß 40), must have followed a considerable time after the advent of veiling, since it concerned itself with the practice of those women – slaves and prostitutes – who illicitly veiled themselves in public to disguise themselves as married women, already “protected” by the veil.17 So it would seem that in a motion backwards, in somewhat over 3,000 years, a custom transferred its function from serving as a benefit for a few privileged women in its beginnings, to become the present ostentatious display of power over subjected multitudes, thereby mutating, as it were, from attending to the good of the woman, to that higher goal, “for the good of society.” Although Greek women were not required to cover their faces, their strict domestic seclusion bears some resemblance to the Muslim harem. Essentially sequestered, if women were uncomfortable outside of their houses, inside it was little better. Athens’ households had separate quarters for men and women where the segregation of the sexes was mainly, it was said, to keep the household slaves from breeding without the permission of the master of the 24
Figure 14. Two gorgeous “painted ladies” from the wall murals of the Cycladic island of Thera further illustrate the Minoan costume. The frescos cannot be dated later than before the eruption of Thera’s volcano ca. 1640 B.C. The figure on the left wears a transparent bodice decorated with the woven or perhaps tapestry images of crocus stamens – saffron was probably bigtrading business – and the fabric appears as sophisticated as Egypt’s linen. The figure on the right, with the inordinately large breast escaped from her décolletage, is
thought to be taking part in a female’s rite of passage ritual. Colorful in the extreme, while blues and yellows (and reds and browns) abound in the wall-paintings, the color green is never seen, although both Crete and Tiryns are known to have used it. The technological lack may be due to either an early date or to Thera’s marginal or provincial position. Nevertheless, these paintings do settle the culottes vs flounced skirts question, where skirts most definitely win, the familiar trousered effect now clearly seen as the result of artistic convention.
exposures Figure 15. Sculpture also partook in the ‘wet’ draperies look. The hard carved marble effected an even greater prurience than the painted gossamer and peek-aboo draperies on pots while on its way to eventually portraying what is considered the first true female nude: Praxiteles’ Aphrodite of Cnidus, ca. 350 B.C. (above, right). A seminal and notorious piece, James Davidson writes of it: “There are stories of men crying over it, having sex with it and staining it with semen. Pornographic pictures were sold to tourists nearby.” She is slightly bent at the waist in the diffident way of a woman uncomfortable and vulnerable in her lack of clothing, where from the uncustomary sideview photo (and her
extraordinary hand position) one can see she is in fact a portrait and naked, not “nude”. Next to her, on her left, stands a bona-fide demi-nude, the Aphrodite of Frejus, ca. 410 B.C., about which John Boardman writes: “An early exploitation of clinging dress for mainly erotic effect.” Much earlier (bottom), the wet-draped Birth of Aphrodite is portrayed on the central panel of the “Ludovisi Throne” (shrine), ca. 460 B.C., which attests to the first hesitant appearance of the Greek female nude. On the piece, as well, one side panel shows a naked pipes-girl, on its other (Figure 16), a himation-wrapped matron placing incense on a burner. Note her almost complete (thus respectable) concealment.
what the others wore Figure 17. Wicked Medea from Colchis, at the far eastern end of the Black Sea, has a fitted Scythian/Persian jacket slung over her shoulders to reinforce her evil “outsider” image. (ca. 420-410 B.C.).
Figure 18. The Thracian (Bulgarian) woman feeding the 3-headed serpent wears an apron over her skirt, just as they did for eons past and still do today in “peasant” costume. The long-sleeved “chemise” under her skirt and apron is also an immemorial local style. (ca. mid-4th century B.C).
Figure 19. Iberian women wore clothes much influenced by their Phoenician and later Cartaginian colonizers (although the Greeks also had colonies in Spain). This woman with her offering is decked with jewelry like other famous Spanish statues, while her highly decorated dress and cloak covers the omni-present chiton. (4th to 3rd centuries B.C.).
Figure 20. A 7th century B.C. cult image of Astarte/Tanit from Granada, although early, shows the abiding Phoenician penchant for rich embroideries and jewelry. In a passage by the prophet Isaiah (chap 3, 18–23) castigating the haughty daughters of Zion for their Phoenician-derived manner of dress, he describes their “tinkling ornaments about their feet, and their cauls, and their round tires like the moon, the chains, and the bracelets, and the mufflers, the bonnets, and the ornaments of the legs, and the headbands, and the tablets, and the earrings, the rings, and nose jewels, the changeable suits of apparel, and the mantles and the wimples, and the crisping pins, the glasses, and the fine linen, and the hoods, and the veils.” The catalogue is timeless.
Figure 22. Etruscan women, since at least the 7th century B.C., when Greeks entered into heavy trading with their coastal cities, also dressed much as Greek women did excepting for generous curves worked into their apparel.
Figure 23. The Persian lady sits her horse side-saddle wearing the ageless eastern outfit of spiral-wrapped cloak over a tunic or two (ca. 5th century B.C.). The same costume could also be seen in Egypt after the Assyrian conquest in the 7th century B.C., when the intricate folds and pleated garments of the New Empire were replaced in part by the oriental styles of her conquerors. In classical times Egypt was a province of the Persian Empire, a satrap, but the regal Persian robe and Indian sari had already been worn there as early as 2000 B.C.
veiled intentions Figure 21. Carthage was also Phoenician, but by classical times their costume was sometimes influenced by the Greeks, who had become trading associates on the island of Syracuse. Here a priestess wears the Ionic chiton, but over it she sports wings for a skirt, a most un-Greek conceit.
Figure 24. Ulysses’ Penelope ponders her situation wearing her oft-mentioned veil draped over her head and onto the lap of her chiton. Five times in the Odyssey she looked-in on her suitors where “...she stood by the doorpost of the well-built hall,
holding before her face her shining veil...” A popular subject, the image was often rendered in antiquity (original ca. 450 B.C.), although this copy has been restored with the wrong head; the chin should be resting on her right hand.
house. Thus controlled, the master could lock all the women in to either punish them or to try to forestall any questions of paternity, or even to prevent thefts, as Isomachus hypocritically says in Xenophon’s Oeconomicus18. Dark, unsanitary and lacking fresh air, the self-contained women’s quarters were either upstairs or else kept well away from the atrium, the public rooms of the house and the street. In these rooms, where wife, young children and the female slaves all lived, the mistress of the house ate her meals alone and spent her days spinning and weaving in the loom room where she also supervised her slaves in their weaving and other domestic chores. But even in her hot stuffy quarters a respectable wife wore floor-length robes. When her husband joined her to cohabit, neither he nor she disrobed and he did not sleep with her nor did they spend the night together (as ...“no sleeping arrangements large enough for two are represented on vases”).19 It appears she did not disrobe completely even for the bath; her “bathing fleece” – a sort of furry apron – has been described by one Pherekrates of Athens, a 5th-century writer of comedies.20 The ever prudish and extreme concealment afforded her by her required garments contrasts sharply with the flaunting exhibitionism of 5th-century male society, which reinforced the mantra: men are precious; she is not. But as free women can never be really objects, lacking in free will, how did these overbearing men of imperial Athens persuade that other half of their community – their women – to feel such an innate and deepseated unworthiness in themselves? One answer lies in the marital customs that were practiced. Athenian men did not marry until they were in their 30s, and then they married children, their brides commonly between thirteen and fifteen years old. This custom of premature marriage assures subservience and a swift accommodation to adult desiderata, along with an attendant molding of the young psyche in which high dependency will always ensure low self-esteem and confidence. The procedure does not differ greatly from the way in which pliable adolescent animals have been manipulated for domestication. Pig, ox, sheep and horse were all, over many millennia, selected for a prolonged adolescence, a sort of frozen development in which they became more tractable for keeping and breeding (albeit, in a selection less than perfect, mature pigs are still feared for their intelligent and aggressive behavior, so most pigs die young). As did many Greek brides, large numbers of whom perished in their first pregnancies, their bodies too immature to cope with the increased demands of child-bearing and birthing. Their number was further compounded by the deleterious effect of their limited food rations: far less than that for boys, theirs a miserly allotment which was grossly undercalculated for young pregnant females. But these brides, whose dowries were returned to their birthing families on their deaths – so no loss there either – were expendable, just as many of their baby sisters had been who were often “exposed,” left in ceramic pots on
some distant site to either die or be picked up and raised for a life of prostitution or slavery, if a finder so desired. In later classical times, after imperial Athens had lost her empire of the “Great Fifty Years” – the Periclean Age, 480–430 B.C., [pentekontaetia] – Athen’s crass male supremacy with its cult of aggressive power also began to decline. The beginnings of a comfortable middle-class society took its place, so that by the end of the 5th century, Lysias the Orator, in a famous court-room speech, describes a married couple actually having dinner together. (Their meal was interrupted, however, by some contrived incidents enabling the wife’s assignation and adultery in the women’s quarters above, which in turn occasioned the subsequent murder, in flagrante, of her lover Eratosthenes, by her husband, Euphiletus). In the whole of Lysias’ long speech defending the husband, the wife is never named.21 Love affairs and trysts would have been avoided and put well out of mind by most Athenian wives, since the penalty for a caught-out wife was obligatory divorce sans dowry and so the impossibility of remarriage, along with a lifelong legal ostracism for her from all public rituals. The discovered adulterous male lover, however, was more harshly treated, as he faced either death on the spot or else the more common bankrupting, huge payment of money to the cuckolded husband for his sins. As the licit family was paramount for Athenian democracy – for its closely held voting rights – the City’s remit required a husband to consort with his wife 3 times (but only 3 times) a monthby law, a schedule judged best by authority to stock the old propertied clans with legitimate citizen-sons, (a rota which allowed little sexual outlet, however, for hormonally-rich young wives). In love, courtesans faired a little better than wives. Yet, although they could take lovers, life was no bowl of cherries for them, either. Hired out, as a rule, as companions for symposia, a hetaera could be gang-raped there if her sponsor so desired. Or, both within that framework or outside it, in her house, she could be physically beaten and forced to perform fellatio or humiliated with anal penetration (perhaps not unlike many modern wives). Constantly exposed to disease and unwanted pregnancies, she was required to do a great deal of lying, i.e. simulation of feelings. She also needed a male patron or pimp, as she was legally, as a female, unable to handle her own money or property. Street-walkers and brothel prostitutes fared far worse, of course, since, as well as being abused, they could be randomly executed, tortured by their masters or sold at any time to the highest bidder.22 Since courtesans provided a female link between private and public zones of intimate conduct, however, they were held in some esteem: they were even allowed to celebrate a festival of their own. “The Adonia, an exotic festival tolerated by the Athenian city on the periphery of the official cults and public ceremonies, were a private 27
ladder of love Figure 25. Winged Eros helps with the ritual preparations for the “Adonia,” where the ladder to the roof, plants and offerings for the “Gardens of Adonis” stand ready.
before and after
structural apartheid Figure 26. A fifth century B.C. house in Athens. The women and slaves commonly lived and worked upstairs well away from the street, the atrium and the men’s tiledfloor dining and reception rooms. (Artist’s reconstruction).
Figure 27. Much as today’s Virgin Marys in shrines from Ireland to Mexico are cloaked in color, so too were many of the Greek marbles. On the left, the richly colored and famous “Peplos kore,” ca. 530. Dedicated marble or bronze statues of girls, these votive “korai” were opulent and expensive displays of statues commissioned by the state, by aristocrats, by nouveau-riche, and even by some working class potters and painters who produced them as “advertising” for their skills. Here, a “restored” cast by Cambridge University archeologists, which was rehabilitated from remnants of color still present on the original found on the Acropolis. The figure was buried soon after it was made, so that its colors were still intense. One of several like renditions of appropriate finds, such reconstructions give the lie to our modern notion of the simple austerity of Greek taste. Which is not to say that the painted statues give an accurate account of the colors Greek women actually wore, since the figures will have partaken in their own artistic conventions. Their appearance merely indicates that multi-colored garments would have been feasible in the Greek female wardrobe.
Figure 28. Some “before” black and white photos as we are used to seeing the figures (which are really “after”). Today’s taste for “bleached marbles” was inaugurated by the Victorians, while the enchantment has been successively enhanced by the large and familiar cache of vase-paintings which are also almost exclusively in black, red, or white (further increasing our misapprehension of actual Greek clothing as restricted and severe in palette). According to John Boardman, most clothing on archaic statues was painted. The later ones may have had only patterns added to the marble. On the early male figures, flesh was probably painted red or brown, while on later ones, it was tinted. Besides this, there was also the obvious painting of hair, eyebrows, eyes, lips, nipples and pubic hair. All of these colors would have faded and weathered as they stood outside.
Figure 29. Painted and computer-colored photos give some idea of how the originals may have appeared. On the right this six-foot statue of Croesus, found in Attica and dated to ca. 540–520, had traces of red paint on the hair, headband, pupils and pubic hair. On the bottom left, the “Blond boy,” a statue of a youth found on the Acropolis whose head wore traces of yellow-brown paint on the hair, ringlets, and side-whiskers (ca. 550– 540). Sometimes statues’ eyes were of inlaid bone or metal but more often the pupils, as Plato remarked, were painted red. To the Greeks, vision was of the utmost importance. The gaze literally made one part of the world for it transmitted to the viewed object what the viewer, upon seeing it, experienced. As both object and the gazing subject’s eyes each projected rays of pure fire, i.e. light, their reciprocal blending, according to Plato, formed a single body (soma) which belonged to both oneself and to the physical world: immanence in the blink of an eye. On the bottom middle, a painted photo of the “Sabouroff head” from Athens or Aegina, ca. 550–540. Moustached and bearded, his colored-in hairy accoutrements make him look as modern as any Zorba today.
affair. ...they took place in the house of a private individual and not in a sanctuary or other public place, and ...those who took part, whether men or women, were lovers, courtesans and those who frequented them.”23 During this festival the participants sang dirges and mourned the death of the Goddess Aphrodite’s lover, Adonis, and for one night (and one night only), women were allowed to go up onto the rooftops where, on this one occasion, they could spend the night amid broken flower-pots containing plants specially cultivated for their rituals, the famous “Gardens of Adonis.” A Middle Eastern cult – Adonis is an Oriental, whether Semitic, Syrian, Phoenician or Cypriot – the rooftop sojourn was a nod to the age-old, oriental province of females, where women could (and still can) work, talk, and signal one another, safe from the street’s prying eyes, a solace routinely forbidden the women of Athens. It appears we have been the sentimental victims of an immature archaeology of dress, where scholars, until recently, have given the artifacts of art full credence as recordings of a lived-reality. That a Greek woman’s garments would be any better than the rest of her daily living conditions is hardly credible. Simplistic and homely rather than “simple,” her clothing was garishly colored and clumsy. The romance of bleached marbles and exquisitely drawn draperies on pots should be placed firmly back into the context of art where it belongs, for compared with her sisters in the rest of the Ancient World, most of the women of Classical, Golden Age Athens lived a life little better than that of their animals and slaves. Some scholars say that this unpalatable distinction – this defect – might have been a necessary price to pay for the remarkable Greek heritage bequeathed through Rome and then on to us in the modern West. But was it really necessary? Or was that extraordinary ill-will towards women in Periclean times just an accidental by-product, an adventitious bit of swagger, pursued by an embezzling generation of bullies? And what subliminal meaning might such a chance flotsam have hidden in the ongoing fabric of our modern thought and practice? The most remarkable feature of male clothing in Ancient Greece is, of course, its apparent absence – missing in the mass of nude marbles which so engaged both the Romans and their Italian Renaissance heirs, and forsaken also in the nakedness of nearly all the males portrayed on the classical pottery still extant. In small part still an unsettled issue, the Greek Nude, according to pre-eminent evidence, does not illustrate actual, everyday ancient conduct and dress but is rather an artistic convention, where even its present name is a euphemism (‘nude’ and ‘nudity’ having first been employed by genteel eighteenth and nineteenth century English scholars, from the French nu, naked). As nakedness for all humans has always been a somewhat
singular condition – sexy or sacred or both – a verbal mitigation of genital exposure is hardly surprising and “nude” is now merely the universal polite form of “naked.” This modern locution has evolved even further in specialist circles whereby, in a ripening frisson, nearly all contemporary Greek classicists now speak of “heroic nudity” – a catch-word term which itself has spread out into three discrete meanings. Defined in the strictest sense, art historians use “heroic nudity” to describe Greek heroes who are portrayed naked, i.e. with exposed genitals (even though they are otherwise caped or helmeted). Other less exacting writers seem to think any Greek warrior or hoplite so clad warrants the epithet. Least literally, however, there are scholars who restrict “heroic nudity” to refer to the Greek custom of naked exercise and competition in the Great Games (after 720 B.C.). This last, general construction replicates in part the Greeks’ own view of themselves, of their pride in one of the practices which they felt distinguished them from all other races. In this conceit, however, they were wrong. Naked sports competitions go back thousands of years before the Greeks to both Egypt and Mesopotamia. These earlier examples are attested to in both image and text, where literary and iconographic sources from about 3000 B.C. on refer to athletic competitions. Reliefs with scenes of naked wrestlers, dated to 2400 B.C., decorate the tombs of several Pharaohs. Additionally, a later (2000 B.C.) trove of more than 4000 different scenes showing pairs of naked athletes, some wearing belts, have been found in the tombs at Egyptian Beni Hasan. Naked wrestling scenes were also common on seals, reliefs and in Cuneiform texts in Mesopotamia, where naked “belt-wrestling” was an essential part of the hero’s or warrior’s life. Moreover, both ancient civilizations held regular sports meets millennia before the Great Games in Archaic Greece became a Pan-Hellenic institution, while painted images of nude fishermen and boxing boys on Thera’s 17th-century B.C. walls, along with naked wrestlers portrayed in early Etruscan murals, make it clear that nudity in both sport and art was not so remarkable either in the pre-Hellenic Cyclades nor in Italy. Nevertheless, the practice of nude athletics – beginning in the Olympiad of 720 B.C. as a custom which distinguished Greeks from barbarians, was proudly recorded by the historian Thucydides in the 5th century B.C.24 The date of this change from clothed to nude in the competitions coincides as well with an approximate date for the beginning of the series of naked, dedicatory statues, the male Greek ‘kouroi’. Be that as it may, half a millennium later, in the 2nd century A.D. Pausanias, a Greek geographer, wrote of Greek nudity’s putative originator: “Orsippus of Megara won the footraces at Olympia by running naked when all his competitors wore the loincloth according to ancient custom.”25 Intriguingly, a primordial, IndoEuropean taboo against public exposure of the genitals was still effectual for the Greeks as late as this same time, in the 8th century 29
Thou art noble and nude and antique
heroic nudity Figure 30. The interpretation of this vase at first glance (and the chosen reading of its publisher, Schauenberg, 1975), seems obvious – a victor’s revenge on a defeated Persian soldier. However, this early-classical oinochoe known as the “Eurymedon vase,” is unique and has occasioned much disagreement among scholars: for one thing, the pursuing Greek holding his penis as a weapon is not dressed as a soldier. Another problem is the space between the two figures. Greek artists were not shy about portraying scenes of figures going about entry-from-behind. Furthermore, in that conspicuous intervening space between the figures the curious words “I am Eurymedon I stand bent over” are inscribed under the pitcher’s spout. Eurymedon, among other usages, was the name given the squires of both Nestor and Agamemnon, and
stripping down according to James Davidson “the vase looks like a spoof of the common scene of a hero and his Scythian squire.” He further theorizes that the vase is about lewdness rather than about penetration as power – the ultra-modern concern so richly explored by both feminists and French philosophers (e.g. Foucault), who present anal penetration as a domination/submission instance of a particularly humiliating and demeaning nature. Notwithstanding, the theory most widely accepted by classicists – bar the above objections – finds in the iconography of the vase a celebration of the battle of Eurymedon in the early 460’s where the Athenians won a victory over the Persians. If so, it would seem that only the “heroic nude” can picture this kind of a victory celebration.
Figure 31. (Top) Boys boxing, from a mural at Thera (before 1640 B.C.). They wear only belts (although one also wears jewelry), but since naked boys – but not men – were common, it is hard to know whether these belts were analogous to the athletic gear of the much earlier Mesopotamian and Egyptian warriors and wrestlers. Each boy wears a [boxing] mitt on his right hand and, as with other adolescents and children portrayed on Thera’s walls, their heads are shaved for lice between clumps of long and curled-up hair. (Below) Ground wrestling scenes. Athletic wall-paintings were found in tombs 15 and 17 at Beni Hasan, Egypt (ca. 2000 B.C.), where there are some 4000 such painted portrayals of naked athletes in action. Several of the figures can be seen sporting the wrestling belt.
Figure 32. Made mad by Hera, perhaps, the girl on the left is undoing her girdle while, her cloak slipping from her, the other girl bares herself (ca 630). Female nudes existed in archaic times only to disappear in favor of the male forms during the classical era. However, girls did exercise in the nude in classical antiquity and may even have celebrated games, i.e. at Sparta, but never in the sight of men, and never in Athens at all.
“and not in utter nakedness...” Figure 33. Slab VI from the Parthenon’s West Frieze shows a rider clothed in under-chiton and war gear. He probably would have also worn some form of loin cloth, as horse-hairs working their way up the sphincter would never have been pleasant. J.K. Anderson’s assertion, that “Certainly many young men did ride naked, especially when racing their horses
athletic supports or schooling them...”seems dubious in the extreme. One look at Figure 34, of E. Muybridge in one of his famous “Animal Locomotions”photographs confirms this. He precludes the problem by sitting way back on his tail-bone, well behind the horse’s movement, and sits this way through the whole series.
Figure 36. Practised only in Attica, infibulation was a procedure in which the foreskin of the penis was tied down over the glans with a leather string (sometimes tucking-up the penis as well). Thought to protect young athletes exercising in the nude, this antique “jock-strap” – in Greek literally “dog tie” – was perhaps more cosmetic than useful.
Figure 37. (Above) The Greeks admired dainty, pointed penises in men. Here Heracles, he of the small “elegant” parts and all dressed-up in lion-skin and bow, kills an attendant of the Egyptian king Bursiris. Note the contrasting large, “barbarian” genitalia of his Nubian (negroid) victim. Plus ça change?(Below) Close-up of the tidy “dog-knot” bundle.
Figure 35. Etruscan wrestlers, ca. 530 B.C. Current Olympics still feature “Greek style” wrestling albeit hardly authentically, as the participants no longer compete in the nude.
B.C., when in Homer’s Iliad Thersites could be threatened by Odysseus with the public humiliation of being run naked through the camp.26 Nevertheless, within a few hundred years that strong and antipathetic barrier must have been aggressively breached in sport and art. Lissa Bonfante, a scholar whose works include a journal article entitled “Nudity as a Costume in Classical Art,” gives perhaps the best explanation: “The original reason for which the Greeks first started to practice public or ‘heroic’ nudity is discussed by ancient authors....the explanation given, however, is a rationalization which cannot be taken seriously. Athletes could not really run that much faster without a perizoma [loincloth], and even if they had run faster and won, such a practical advantage would not have been important enough to change an immemorial tradition, whose religious connotations would outweigh any practical considerations. Nor could it have been an ‘accident.’ More probably, the Greeks felt so strongly about nudity that it was thought to have a magical effect (cf. the apotropaic use of the phallos, gestures against the evil eye, etc.). Their athletes were thought to be protected in some way by their nudity. Then too, when they competed in games, in the holy sanctuaries of the gods, they were in some way sanctified (in the Near East, priests appear naked before the god).”27 Conflation of the depicted and the real has produced a bit of dissension as to whether illustrated nakedness reflected the actual ways of everyday life. There are a few scholars who like to believe that men really did walk around in public streets and markets unclothed. One historian, for instance, rhapsodizes on the city’s “cult of male nakedness”: “Athenian democracy placed great emphasis on its male citizens exposing their bodies to one another, just as they were supposed to expose their thoughts...[which] were meant to draw the knot between citizens ever tighter.”28 In the main, however, best and most trustworthy authority confines actual male nudity to the gymnasium and to some events in the athletic Games.29 Notwithstanding, the wish can be father to the thought. The basis for such conflicting opinion rests in part on the paucity of ancient textual references on the subject, but may equally be ascribed to a lingering climate of romantic (Rousseauian) ideals, still present and operative in a generation of scholars who even now yearn for a past golden time of unfettered (male) freedoms and “bonding.” Feminists also like to exaggerate a physically phallocentric aspect in Athenian life. However, apart from the above citations on athletic nudity (and in addition to some thoughts of Socrates in a précis and justification of nudity in the Great Games in Plato’s Republic, Book 5), the fantasy of a society of everyday exposed male genitalia is not upheld by the few texts which move to make mention of nakedness at all. On the contrary, the argument for clothed public appearance is strongly made. For instance, in a speech “Against Timarchus” (a political figure of Athens accused of common male prostitution and profligacy), Aeschines, an Athe-
nian orator, in 346/5 B.C., contrasts the behavior of earlier public men such as Solon, “too modest to even speak with the arm outside the cloak” and Pericles, with Timarchus who “...in an assembly of the people threw off his cloak and leaped about like a gymnast, half naked...so that right-minded men covered their eyes, being ashamed for the city, that we let such men be our advisers.” In like fashion and at around the same time, Aristotle, writing a political history of Athens, says of the vulgar Cleon, early 5th-century B.C. demagogue: “He was the first to use unseemly shouting and coarse abuse on the Bema [the speaking platform in the Pnx, the city’s meeting place], and to harangue the people with his cloak girt up short about him...” These descriptions of conduct are meant to condemn, suggesting that their opposite in demeanor would seem to be the proper common practice. Genital exposure, outside of the gymnasium and Games, was considered lewd and disgraceful. In fact, by Hellenic times, ‘gumneteia’’ – nakedness, going unclothed – was a symptom of insanity. One last reference, in another direction and significance: there is a fragment, also by Aristotle, which refers to the ‘gumnosophistai,’ the naked philosophers of India, (the Jain), ascetics who, shunning all possesions, never wear clothes at all. Although shocking conduct, then as now, this was understood as a very special condition of nakedness, where philosophy and property were the operative terms. Aristotle appears to be very early in his knowledge of these far-off people, but Jainism must have fascinated the ancients, as there are many references to them over the next 500 years (viz. Philo, Strabo, Plutarchus, Lucianus, and Porphyrius Tyrius).30 So the above form, by and large, the matter’s sum total of textual references. And due to this dearth of sources, it would appear that confabulating, latter-day Mitre and Gown have been able to unsoundly, if skillfully, render the ancient Greeks as naturist exotics. Yet, it has most probably been those antique, “realistically” rendered yet idealized naked figures – objects of desire – which have actually wooed, excited and flustered these men of wisdom for the past 700 years. Greek comportment itself, in regard to genital exposure, was little stranger than conduct today in a Turkish bath in the East, or in that of the showers and saunas of sports-clubs and school gyms here in the West. Art as unquestioned literal truth has much to answer for. The particulars of real Greek male costume are pretty simple. A survey of the clothing worn by the men carved on the Parthenon’s frieze will give examples of most of the actual garments known to have been worn at that time (with the exception of the unportrayed “perizoma,” or underwear). On the Frieze the chiton or tunic appears most often, worn knee-length by men and occasionally fastened on one shoulder, only, to facilitate work or to accommodate the sword-arm. 32
greek gear Figure 38. On the left the god Hermes models the traveler’s characteristic short chiton, hat, boots and himation (ca. 6th century B.C.). On his right, a Thracian (Bulgarian) soldier leans dreamily on his spear listening to Orpheus sing. His outfit includes a close-fitting cap of fox ears and tail along with a long decorated cloak. The cloak and hat style was affected by Athen’s young aristocratic cavalrymen, who adopted the short Thracian boot as well.
”then up he rose, and donn’d his clothes.” Figure 39. The “horse-trainer,” Slab VIII, on the Parthenon’s West Frieze also wears the Thracian tailed cap in addition to his chiton pinned by a brooch on one shoulder, and a flowing chlamys fastened around his neck.
Figure 40. The Egyptian priest models a pleated loin-cloth, the front starched, stiffened and over-hanging his transparent linen skirt, (ca. 1305–1290 B.C.). From a tomb painting at Abydos.
Figure 42. The “Prince of the Lilies” a fresco in the palace at Knossos (ca.1500 B.C.). A Mycenaean/Minoan mix, his tight belt, short pants and separate cod-piece sheath make up his costume. Very early Minoan artifacts show men’s dress that consists of a belt and front pouch, graced only by a sheathed dagger worn across it, but later adult males are generally shown wrapped in the hallmark swallow-tailed loincloth which was cinched tightly at the waist and cut high on the sides.
Figure 41. Two Sumerians holding cups at a royal family feast. They both wear the long fleece skirts, as do most of the rest of the men seen in this inlaid panel from the “standard of Ur” found in one of the royal tombs, ca.3500 B.C.
gents apparel Figure 43. Across the Aegean Sea, in mainland Mycenae, Minoan loin-cloths, kilts and double-aprons were eschewed in favor of short drawers (ca. 1400–1200). And long after Mycenae vanished, classical Greeks in daily life – bar particular sports and exercise – often used a kind of loincloth or perizoma.
Figure 44. Meanwhile, in the mountainous regions north of Greece and contemporary with the royal Sumerian diners of some 5,300 years ago, Ötzi the ‘Ice Man’ sports loin-cloth, leather hose and a garter on his loin-cloth belt. It is difficult to know from the illustration whether the sewn patches on his leggings are of his doing or that of his restorers.
Figure 45. In this carved relief from the South Frieze of the Temple of Athena Nike on the Acropolis, a Greek horseman wears trousers under his chiton. We know he’s a Greek because at his feet lies a dead Persian whom he’s slain. The frieze is thought to celebrate the Battle of Marathon.
Figure 46. Top: a Mede (Persian adjunct) official wears his fitted great-coat draped over his shoulders. Under it he wears a belted tunic over trousers.Below: on the left, the classical hoplite (Greek infantryman) with his tidy greaves and helmet, shield and dagger. His breast-plate – made earlier in molded bronze, later in padded linen or leather – is worn over a chiton. On his right and contemporary with him is a trousered Scythian archer in full regalia, presumably a horseman.
Figure 47. Bunched-up himations in hand, magistrates (or perhaps heroes) on the Parthenon’s Slab VI East Frieze lean on their sticks and have a gossip, (their garments, perhaps, only suitable for that function).
Men’s cloaks are also plentiful. The chlamys, short and sometimes also fastened on one shoulder only, was often an accessory of the young. The himations, long, intricately draped cloaks worn most often over nothing or occasionally over long chitons, were a costume seen usually on important or old men. In life, those draped “nude” gentlemen would have worn a perizoma underneath, age and hygiene being facts of life for all mortals. Such conjectural, yet certain Attic drawers would be an instance of one of humankind’s most basic and ancient articles, first embodied by the skirt or kilt, their earliest evidence, once again, being found in both Egypt and Mesopotamia. (Although, if primogeniture is preferred, one can follow instead the biblical account where at the very beginning of times an Ur-garment to cover the sexual parts was invented by Adam and Eve “who, after eating of the fruit of the tree of knowledge, opened their eyes, and they knew they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons.” [Gen. 3:7]). Leaves are a nice notion and, whilst lacking animals and craft, were the best A and E could hope for. Their successors were happily more fortunate in their options. The earliest known residents of the Nile and of the Tigris and Euphrates valleys, ca. 4500 B.C., could make their skirts from leather. In Sumer they wore their sheep skins wrapped with the fleece-side out, where the wool was combed into decorative vertical rows and tufts. It is these which gave the appearance of the ruffles (Gr. kaunakes) seen on all their seals, mosaics, and sculptures. After about 2500 B.C., woven wool replaced the skins but the Mesopotamians kept the skirts’ tufted effects by either weaving loops in the fabric or sewing tufts onto the garment. In this valley, the longer the skirt the more important the personage. It was only in Babylonian times, from 2105 B.C. onwards, that the skirt was replaced by the loincloth which was worn under the tunic and shawl. In Egypt, skirts appeared, disappeared, and reappeared throughout the dynasties, alternating with kilts and aprons and, most especially, with loincloths. This garment, the phallus sheath, schenti, became exemplary. It was usually constructed from two right-angled triangles, the long sides stitched together in a center seam, with the wide end of the joined fabric wrapped across the buttocks where, using strings attached to both corners, it could be fastened in front around the waist. The cloth was then drawn between the legs to the front and brought up and under its ties, with the hypotenuse diagonals falling around the outside of the legs. The garment’s stitched and pointed hypotenuse ends hung loose in front and so occasioned many stylistic forms: pleated, starched and stiffened, gilt and so forth. Sometimes one or more skirts or aprons were worn over it, or sometimes kilts (when the fabric was bunched and bellted. “Kilt” equals tucked-up, plaited). Laborers, however, are often shown wearing only a simple sarong. In the Aegean, Cretans and other Minoans also wore the loin-
cloth. Tightly belted and rising high up the sides of the leg, it could include larger or smaller codpieces such as seen on the Knossos frescos. However, in later Mycenaean Greece and in Etruria and Cyprus, the loincloth was replaced when more northerly people brought in fitted and sewn short pants which varied in length from the very brief to knee-length. Later still, in the 7th century B.C., Orientalizing Period in mainland Greece, besides the loincloth, underpants which were fastened with fibulae (safety pins) in a “diaper” type of perizoma were worn for a brief time. Yet a useful covering and vintage garment, simple loincloths, in some circumstances and in several parts of the world are still worn today. (Japanese Sumo wrestlers most vividly come to mind). In Europe north of Greece the Ice Man, Ötzi, some 5,500 years ago, also modeled the loincloth but due to the inclemency of the Alps he covered his legs as well with sewn leather hose attached by garters to his loincloth’s belt. The invention of real trousers as opposed to hose, however, is usually attributed to the horse-riding Scythians and other nomad herdsmen of the Western and Central Asiatic plains. Their distant kin, the later horse-masterly Persians and Medes wore a similar functional costume of fitted coats and sewn and belted loose long pants, an ensemble still current in much of the Middle East today. The hallmark of ancient Greek attire, however, was the draped not the stitched. In Athens, men going about their business wrapped in what appear to be large bed sheets, clutching their loose ends, or sitting in semi-deshabile like men in a Turkish bath, leave much in the way of panache to be desired. In war time, more happily, Greek men were far better dressed since hoplite gear was both extremely functional and unworrying: everything was neatly strapped into place with no loose ends to hang onto or lose. Along with corselets, greaves and other military paraphenalia, their customary woolen cloaks were also highly useful. The himations of Greek foot-soldiers served the same function as togas, kilts, etc. did for most infantries, where throughout history, men have undone their belts, pins and buckles to roll themselves up in these cloths for the night, their daytime cloaks become blankets. In relatively modern times Scottish soldiers still performed this routine, the nighttime yards of plaid later belted and bunched into daytime kilts, their unfixed ends thrown over one shoulder. (Innovating on an anachronism, where such blankets had been usually worn as capes not as skirts, the practice was otherwise no more a Scottish invention than that of the plaid. Scraps of Proto-Celtic “tartans” – from a French word – have been found from Austria and Sweden which date back to at least 1200 B.C. Similarly, a host of diverse archeological figures can be seen to wear plaid or checkered designs, which, being easy to weave, are in fact a universal fashion). As with types of war-time gear, however, citizen Greeks, in common with other ancients, at least those before the Romans, were 35
only part-time soldiers: off to war in the winter after the harvests had been brought in, and back home, hopefully, in time for the spring planting. Once home they reverted to their drooping linen draperies, or at least those who were officers did so, since “...until the end of the classical period, military leaders were for the most part rich nobles...”31 Landowning men – administrators, “students,” or idlers by day in peacetime, these swathed gentlemen filled their nights with the symposia (drinking and dining parties enjoyed in the company of each other and with slave boy and girl musicians and attendant courtesans). However, only men not engaged in physical work could afford such shifting, slippery dress, since mundane daily or business duties require hands freed from holding or grasping errant fabric. This draped life was a particularly indolent one, but after certain reforms by Solon in the 6th century B.C. allowed largescale employment of slave labor in both the country-side and the cities, all of Athens’ citizens, rich or poor, had chattel-slaves aplenty to fulfill any or all of a work-a-day’s boring demands. Athenians numbered some 250,000–275,000 persons at the end of the 5th century B.C., of which there were between 60,00 to 80,000 slaves. This made up more than 30% of the population, providing approximately 4 slaves for every citizen, to do any or all of the work.32 In this first of the world’s genuine (but rare) slave societies, citizen hands had little more to do than cling to their ensembles while gesturing and opining on all matters of importance, political or pensive. Perhaps style is indeed the dress of thought.
19. 20. 21. 22. 23. 24. 25. 26. 27. 28.
30. Notes 1. Barber, E.W., The Panathenaic Festival in Ancient Athens, ed. J. Neils, Princeton, 1992, p. 206 for the argument for the depiction on the frieze of the Annual Procession as opposed to the Quadrennial one, where the peplos is described as being the size of a ship’s mast and was probably destined for Athena Parthenos. 2. SYMPOSIUM on “Parthenon and Panathenia”, Princeton U., Sept, 1993 a) Joan Connelly in “Parthenon and Parthenoi: Myth Religion, and the Parthenon Frieze” b) Evelyn Harrison, in “The Web of History: A Conservative Reading of the Parthenon Frieze.” 3. Keuls, Eva. The Reign of the Phallus, Berkley, L.A, London, 1985, p.146. 4. Herodotus 5.7. 5. Barber, E.W., ibid., pp. 109–116. 6. Herodotus, ibid. 7. Popham, M. Touloupa, E. Sackett, Lh, The Hero of Lefkandi, Antiquity 56, 1982, pp. 172–173. 8. Piggott, Stuart, Ancient Europe, Edinburgh, 1965, p.156. 9. Mallory, J.P., In Search of Indo-Europeans, London, 1989, p.66. 10. Barber, E.W., Women’s Work: The First 20,000 Years, New York, London, 1994, pp. 133,136. 11. Ibid. 12. Houston, Mary G., Ancient Greek, Roman and Byzantine Costume and Decoration, London, 1977, p. ? 13. Barber, E.W., ibid., p. 125. 14. Davidson, James, Courtesans and Fishcakes, London, 1997, p. 84. 15. Pomeroy, Sarah B., Godesses, Whores, Wives, & Slaves, London, 1994, p. 63. 16 Cohen, D., Law, Sexuality. The Enforcement of Morals in Classical Athens, Cambridge, 1994. 17. Lerner, Gerda, The Creation of Patriarchy, N.Y., Oxford, 1986, pp. 134–135. 18. Xenophon, Oeconomicus, 9,5.
Keuls, Eva C., ibid., p. 212. Pherekrates, Frag. 62K15. Keuls, Eva C., ibid., p. 91. Keuls, Eva C., ibid., p. 206. Detienne, Marcel, The Gardens of Adonis, Princeton, 1994, p. 65. Thucydides (1.6.5) Pausanias (1.44) Homer, Illiad, (2.26–264) Bonfante, Larrissa, Etruscan Dress, Baltimore and London, 1995, p. 102 Sennett, Richard, Flesh and Stone: The Body and the City in Western Civilization, NYC, 1994. Others who think public nakedness was usual outside the gymnasium and Games, for instance, are John Boardman, Greek Sculpture: the Classical Period, 1992, p. 238; and Seton Lloyd, Ancient Turkey: a Travelers History of Anatolia, London, 1989, pp. 209–210. In his note on the Myra tombs Lloyd says “One is struck by the elegance of their carriage, by the vitality of their physique, and also, most abruptly, by their nakedness....For the average mind, it has become a mere artistic convention, as unrelated to reality as the impersonal monochrome of the stone on which it is generally depicted. In accepting the convention, one has forgotten the reality; the implication that, here in the Aegean, for a period of some centuries, a race of cultured individuals often went naked by deliberate choice...” Contrast this with the clear statement by Jeffrey M. Hurwit, The Athenian Acropolis, Cambridge, 1999, pp. 102–103, speaking of the ca. 560’s Moschophoros: “... the clinging mantle is a small concession to reality, a sign that mature men did not normally walk stark naked down the streets of Archaic Athens (they did not leave themselves frontally exposed, either).” Blok, J.H., personal communication, translation from the Dutch mine: “Only men and boys were naked at sports: gymnastics means running naked! Exception: Sparta, where not only did the women also do sports, but they also did them naked (not under the eyes of the men of course). Everywhere else the women never went naked. The male athletes were also naked at the Great Games, such as the Olympic Games (there were also other Games), at least in those sports where it was fitting, such as wrestling and the discus throw, not in the horse races.The onlookers, on the other hand, were customarily clothed. The gymnasium equaled a sports-school, with associated baths and was thus also a place where inside men were naked, but leaving there they clothed themselves again...” June 14, 1996. Aeschines, Against Timarchus, [25, 26]; Aristotle, Const. Ath. 28.3; ‘gumneteia,’ Ptolemaeus, Tetrabiblos, 170; ‘gumnosophistai,’ Aristotle, Frag. 35. Garlon, Yvon. War and Peace, in The Greeks, edited by J.P. Vernant, Chicago & London, 1995, p. 76. Finley, M.I. Ancient Slavery and Modern Ideology, London, 1992.
Figures 1. The Athenian Acropolis, Hurwit, Fig 148, p. 180. 2. Greek Sculpture, The Classical Period, Boardman, Fig 90, Parthenon South Metopes, drawing 21. 3. The Elgin Marbles, Cook, p. 36. 4. Scientific American, Giraudon/Art Resource, Aug. 2000, p. 57. 5. Top: The Parthenon Frieze, Jenkins, Fig 13, p. 24. Bottom: Women’s Work, Barber, Fig 9.6, p. 230. 6. The Reign of the Phallus, Keuls, fig 328, p. 386. 7. Top right: Greek Sculpture, The Archaic Period, Boardman, Fig 115, p. 111. Top left: ibid., Fig 92, p. 95. Bottom: ibid., p. 68. 8. Top right: Women in Ancient Egypt, Watterson, p. 36. Top left: Ancient Egyptian, Mesopotamian and Persian Costume, Houston, Fig 2, p. 3. Bottom right: ibid., fig 1, p. 3. Bottom left: Women’s Work, Barber, Fig 5.3, p. 135. 9. Ancient Europe, Piggott, Fig 58, p. 105. 10. Top left: Encyclopedia of World Mythology, p. 111. Top right: The Creation of Patriarchy, Lerner, plate 7. Bottom: ibid., plate 9. 11. Etruscan Dress, Bonfante, p. 173. 12. Top: Sarcophagus from Haghia Triadha, Museum of Herkaleion, Crete. Bottom: Women’s Work, Barber, Fig, 4.8, p. 125. 13. Left: Ancient Goddesses, Goodison & Morris, Fig 55, p. 124. Right: Archaeology of the World, p. 120.
14. 15. 16. 17. 18. 19. 20. 21. 22. 23. 24. 25. 26. 27. 28. 29.
30. 31. 32. 33. 34. 35. 36. 37. 38. 39. 40. 41. 42. 43. 44. 45. 46.
Left: The Wall-Paintings of Thera, Doumas, fig 101, p.138. Right: ibid, Fig 7, p. 38. Top left: Greek Sculpture, The Classical Period, Boardman, Plate 197, p. 219. Top right: Goddesses, Whores, Wives and Slaves, Pomeroy, Plate 16. Bottom: Greek Sculpture, The Classical Period, Boardman, Plate 46. Ibid. Ibid., Plate 239.2, p. 235. In Search of the Indo-Europeans, Mallory, Plate 12, p. 102. Spain at the Dawn of History, Harrison, Plate 84, p. 131. Ibid., Plate 89. p. 138. From a marble sarcophagus, Museum St. Louis, Carthage. The Etruscans, Massa, p. 30. Ancient Egyptian, Mesopotamian and Persian Costume, Houston, Fig 156, p. 165. Greek Sculpture, The Classical Period, Boardman, Plate 25, p. 55. The Reign of the Phallus, Keuls, Fig 4, p. 27. Ibid., Fig 87, p. 96. Photo of painted cast, courtesy of Cambridge, Museum of Classical Archeology. Photos courtesy of: top left, “Peplos korai,” Athens, Acropolis Museum, #67; bottom left and center right: “Sabouroff head,” Berlin, Staatliche Museum, #608; center left and far right: “Blond boy,” Athens, Acropolis Museum, # 689. Top: Kouros from Anavysos, photo courtesy of Athens National Museum, #3851. Left: computer-colored “Blond boy,” author. Right: photo of painted cast, Greek Sculpture, The Archaic Period, Boardman, Fig 133, p. 119. Courtesans and Fishcakes, Davidson, Plate 12. Top: The Wall-Paintings of Thera, Doumas, Fig 79, p. 112. Bottom: Combat Sports in the Ancient World, Poliakoff, Figs 7 & 11. Greek Sculpture, The Archaic Period, Boardman, plate 39, p. 41. The Parthenon Frieze, Jenkins, Slab VI, p. 106. Animal Locomotion, Muybridge, Plate 617. The Etruscans, Massa, p. 55. The Reign of the Phallus, Keuls, Fig 50, p. 69. Top: ibid., Fig 49, p. 69. Bottom: ibid,Fig 56, p. 73. Left: Ancient Greek, Roman and Byzantine Costume and Decoration, Houston, Fig 69a, p. 68. Center: The Art of Vase Painting in Classical Athens, Robertson, Fig 225, p. 217. The Parthenon Frieze, Jenkins, Plate II. Archaeology of the World, Canby, p. 98. The Babylonians, Saggs, p. ix. Archaeology of the World, Canby, p. 118. Ancient Greek, Roman and Byzantine Costume, Houston, Fig 28, p. 25. Iceman, Fowler, after Scientific American, July, 2000, p. 95. The Athenian Acropolis, Hurwitt, Fig 184, p. 212. Bottom left: The First Greek Book, White, No 12, p. 45. Bottom right: ibid, No 57, p. 219 Center: Ancient Egyptian, Mesopotamian and Persian Costume, Houston, Fig 158a, p. 166. The Parthenon Frieze, Jenkins, Plate I.
Fowler, Brenda, Iceman: Uncovering the Life and Times of a Prehistoric Man Found in an Alpine Glacier, New York, 2000. Ibid., Ancient Slavery and Modern Ideology, London, 1980. Goodison, Lucy and Morris, Christine, Ancient Gooddesses, London, 1998. Harrison, Richard J, Spain at the Dawn of History, London, 1988. Herodotus, Book I. Houston, Mary G., Ancient Greek, Roman and Byzantine Costume and Decoration, London,1977. Ibid., Ancient Egyptian, Mesopotamian and Persian Costume, London, 1972. Homer, The Odyssey, Vol.II, Loeb Classical Library, Cambridge. Hurwit, Jeffrey M, The Athenian Acropolis, Cambridge, 1999. James, King, The Holy Bible, Cleveland. Jenkins, Ian, The Parthenon Frieze, London, 1994. Keuls, Eva C., The Reign of the Phallus, Berkley, 1985. Lerner, Gerda, The Creation of Patriarchy, NYC, 1986. Lloyd, Seton, Ancient Turkey, A Travelers History of Anatolia, London, 1989. Massa, Aldo, The Etruscans, Geneva, 1980. Mallory, J.F., In Search of the Indo-Europeans, London, 1998. Muybridge, Eadweard, Animal Locomotion. Poliakoff, Combat Sports in the Ancient World, Hartford, 1987. Piggott, Stuart, Ancient Europe, Edinburgh, 1965. Pomeroy, Sarah B, Goddesses, Whores, Wives and Slaves, London, 1975. Popham, M, Touloupa, E, Sackett, L.H, The Hero of Lefkandi, Antiquity 56, 1982. Robertson, Martin, The Art of Vase-Painting in Ancient Athens, Cambridge, 1992. Saggs, H.W.F, The Babylonians, London, 2000. Sebasta, Judith Lynn & Bonfante, Larissa, The World of Roman Costume, Madison, 1994. Vernant, Jean-Pierre, (editor) The Greeks, Chicago, 1995. Warner, Rex, Encyclopedia of World Mythology, London, 1975. Watterson, Barbara, Women in Ancient Egypt, NYC, 1991. Wilson, D.M, The British Museum and Its Collections, London, 1988. White, John Williams, The First Greek Book, Boston, 1937. Quotations “...girls walking...” Ian Jenkins, The Parthenon Frieze, p. 82. “Thou art noble...” Algernon Charles Swinburne, Dolores, p. vii. “And not in utter...” William Wordsworth, Ode to Duty, p. ix. “Then up he rose...” William Shakespeare, Hamlet, v.53.
References Anderson, J.K., Ancient Greek Horsemanship, Berkley, 1962. Barber, E.W., Goddess and Polis: The Panathenaic Festivalin Ancient Athens, ed. J.Neils, Princeton, 1992. Barber, Elizabeth Wayland, Women’s Work, NYC, 1994. Boardman, John, Greek Sculpture, The Archaic Period, London, 1970. Ibid., Greek Sculpture, The Classical Period, London, 1985. Bonfante, Larissa, Etruscan Dress, London, 1975. Canby, Courtlandt, Archaeology of the World, London, 1980. Cook, B.F., The Elgin Marbles, London, 1984. Davidson, James, Courtesans and Fishcakes, London, 1997. Detienne, Marcel, The Gardens of Adonis, Princeton, 1994. Doumas, Christos, The Wall-Paintings of Thera, Athens, 1992. Finley, M.I., The Ancient Greeks, London, 1997.
Horsemanship Nothing can exceed... the expression of lively impatience in the muscles and position of the head and neck. Nearly all of the 223 carved marble, bas-relief horses which can be seen gracing the frieze of the Parthenon depict brutalized animals displaying pain. One realizes their distress by their consistently opened mouths and by the dislocated positions of their heads, thrown back as far as the overdeveloped front muscles of the neck can push them, or bent as low and close to the body as possible. Recognition of this sculpted abuse has been remarked upon – if less bluntly – by others. For instance “Stonehenge,” in his book on the horse writes: “here [in Xenophon’s “The Art of Horsemanship” ] we have described a cobby but spirited and corky horse, with a light and peculiar carriage of the head and neck, just as we see represented on the Elgin Marbles,” (i.e. the Parthenon).1 The agency of this wretched “peculiar carriage” was not artistic convention but rather vulgar vanity, its prime instrument the distasteful yet verifiable Greek custom of fitting horses with butchering bits – singular apparatus which are documented as well as objectified. A detailed description of these bits by Xenophon, an ex-army officer and country squire writing in classical times in his dissertation on horsemanship, counsuls the complete horseman to own, inter alia, at least two sorts of bits, one “rough,” the other “smooth.” The “rough” bit, recommended for the young horse, was to be a jointed snaffle with a mouth-piece covered with sharp spikes which would press on the horse’s bars – the long empty gums separating the front incisors from the back molars of the animal’s mouth. In addition, this bit’s arms were meant to carry two broad, heavy sharp-edged discs sited between the bars and tongue. The other proposed bit, the “smooth” one, also a jointed snaffle but prescribed for the older horse already “familiar with,” (i.e.brutalized) by the rougher version, was to have rounded, duller spikes or else be happily plain, except that it should additionally incorporate large, sharp, high-standing discs on each of its arms lying next to the tongue. These discs, to quote Dr. M.H. Morgan, a nineteenth century translator of Xenophon, were used “to make him keep his jaws apart and drop the bit...we see why the horse is represented with his mouth open in nearly all Greek works of art.”2 (See Figures 1 and 2 for illustrations of actual bits). Modern evidence, by way of its corroborating archeological finds, invites the contemporary classicist to both address and evaluate Xenophon’s specifications. In a comprehensive work on Greek horsemanship, J.K. Anderson ends a long and tortuous discussion of such bits:3 “Unfortunately it cannot be doubted that the ancient Greeks did use bits that cut their horses’ mouths. Dio Chrisostom has a story
of how Apelles, the famous painter, was baffled in his attempts to portray realistically a horse’s mouth covered with blood and foam. Eventually he lost his temper and threw a sponge at the picture, thus achieving the desired result by accident.”4 Unfortunate too that the tone of the above authority’s work downplays and mitigates his unfortunate certainty. However, outside of some very nasty Gaulish curb bits almost contemporary with the classical Greek horrors, the history of bitting must wait another 1,800 years until Tudor times and the Spanish curb for devices of such cruelty to appear once again. Any thing that passes through the horse’s mouth to reins is a bit, and any bit that is not a curb is usually called a snaffle. Unjointed and straight, such as a piece of bone or rawhide, or slightly curved like a crescent moon, or divided in the center by a ring or interlocking rings, or chains, all are snaffles because all act mostly through pressure on the corners of the horse’s mouth. The curb, on the other hand, unknown to the ancients outside of late Celtic Europe, has a raised ‘port’ over the tongue with long cheekpieces attached to the reins and a chain or bar under the lower jaw. It is far more severe in principal because its levering action is mainly on the lower jaw. Such clarifications aside, metal bits, although standard and in use everywhere today, are not really necessary in order to ride horses. They were developed for driving and then only after the light chariot became a reality. In fact nose-bands, halters, nose-rings, muzzles, goads, antlers, burrs and thorns, bones, rope, wood, sinews and the leg, handpats, seat and voice all seem, one way or another, to have served the rider effectively for several millennia prior to the bit’s bronze appearance. (Subsequently, as well. American Plains Indians were consummate light cavalry riders, saddleless, with only raw-hide strips for control). Even so, the development of the spoked wheel, which allowed a chariot that was light enough to capitalize on the horse’s speed, changed all that; it became all but impossible to solicit the turns and checks of galloping animals without the driver having some quick and effective line of communication at a distance. So the bronze bit came into use, more as an innovation than as an invention. Early versions used twisted-arm mouthpieces mimicking rope, their reins attached to the ends of the freely moving mouthpiece of the bit before going to the driver’s hands. Studded bronze discs or cheeks were added outside the mouth which were fastened to the bridle. As every school history book tells, the wheel was probably invented in Mesopotamian Sumer at least 3,000 years before the classical Greeks carved their procession of horses and chariots on the uppermost part of the walls of the Parthenon. The ensuing development of primitive wheeledvehicles into exotic, two-wheeled carts and “prestige” chariots (for rulers intent on displaying wealth and power) occurred not only some time later, but also in the 38
comparison of classical greek bits with other coeval styles Figure 1. On the left, a spiked bronze jointed snaffle from Boetian Greece, 4th c. B.C., showing, in addition to its spicules, the sharp discs which would have acted
on either side of the tongue in the horse’s mouth. Next to this bit, on the right, 2 Schythian 5th c. B.C. bits from the Altai with simple jointed-snaffle mouthpieces. The cheeks are carved wooden swan.
for more than 1,500 years, from pharAoh’s egypt and the levant to imperial rome, one type of horse prevailed. Figure 3. Below: Rameses III ca. 1204–1172 B.C., hunts bulls with a horse and rig almost the same as that of Ashur-Nasirpal of Assyrioa, ca. 885–860 B.C., nearly 200 years later (top), who hunts bulls from his chariot as well. The same type of animal also persists.
Figure 2. On the left a Greek 4th c. B.C. bronze jointed-snaffle made up of spiked rollers plus two high-standing cutting discs next to the tongue. On the right, a Persian jointed-snaffle with a knobbed mouth
Figure 4. Later still, ca. 645 B.C., one of Ashurbamipal’s Assyrian cavalry pursues Arab cameleers on the same type of horse (top). Below, from the 1st–3rd c. A.D., one of the great number of ‘Thracian Riders’ found on monuments throughout Bulgaria. Apparently, (and mysteriously) celebrating a god called “Hero,” the rider’s horse conserves the same old, light, dish-faced line similar, perhaps, to the modern trotting horse.
piece found on Athens’ Acropolis, from ca. 5th c. B.C. The side view shows the phallic and hoof-tipped cheeks characterizing its Persian provenance.
Horses in the procession. The North Frieze; slabs 36, 37, 38, 39; Parthenon, Athens.
Figure 6. A detail of a wall painting from Thebes, tomb of Rekhmire ca. 1400 B.C., that shows the remarkable lightness, (about 35 K), and portability of the chariot.
rare but crucial bronze age finds Figures 5 and 8. Front and side views from photographs of the only surviving BronzeAge chariot, a vehicle that was ubiquitous throughout the Mediterranean, Near East and India. Displayed in a Florentine
Museum, the chariot is made of bent woods and once had a leather-strapping floor and front. It was excavated from the tomb of Tut “Ankhamun” who reigned from 1361 B.C. to 1352 B.C.
Figure 7. Two very early bronze bits. Top, the “Hyksos” bit found in ancient Gaza, said to date from ca. 1650 B.C. when the “Great Hyksos” confederation of Levantine princes ruled Egypt from their capital city, Avaris, at the mouth of the Nile. Below it, a 14th
c. B.C. bit from Tel el Amarna, Egypt. Both bits sport the cheek-spikes outside of the mouth, which were necessary to direct a galloping team of horses – posthaste – to turn either left or right.
general region of the Middle East. Most vehicles in those times, however, were ox-drawn rather than horse-drawn because the carts were still very heavy and horses were considerably rarer as well as weaker than oxen, or even other available draft animals. Horses were also extremely costly to buy and to maintain.5 Nevertheless, the horse-drawn two-wheeled cart became important when, after newly devised spoked wheels replaced the solid wooden disc wheels, the horse-drawn chariot appeared in history as an instrument of war. This new, ultra-light (35kg) war chariot originated around 1800 B.C. in the wooded highlands of Eastern Anatolia, in particular in Armenia and Transcaucasia, according to some hippologists and archeologists.6 Its use rapidly expanded, from the Danube to the Urals and from the headwaters of the Volga to the Persian Gulf. With it went the new bronze bits. As with most theories of beginnings by prehistorians, this one has had its detractors, but a more certain provenance for the origin of these military chariots was made possible by an important recent discovery in a newly drained marsh in Lchashen near Lake Sevan in Armenia. This find yielded a number of “heads-and-hoofs” horse burials, 21 ox carts, a quantity of bronze bits dating from ca. 1500 B.C. (±100 years), and two full-sized vehicles certain to have been made in Armenia because of the particular woods employed, the combination of which could not have come from elsewhere. Outside of wall-painted war-chariots in Egyptian tombs, only one other coeval chariot actually exists. It is housed in a Florentine Museum, and it shows woods possibly originating in Armenia.7 These spoked-wheeled chariots effectively gave rise to an improved and highly successful form of warfare. For ca. 500 years during the middle and late Bronze Age, this single type of military chariot was employed from Greece to India by Hittites in Asia-Minor, Hyksos in Egypt, Mycenaeans around the Aegean, “Indo-Aryans” descending on India, and by the many contesting kings and war-lords throughout the Near East and Fertile Crescent. The evidence for use of chariots in warfare is chiefly textual, translated from papyrus annals, various caches of tablets or from wall paintings. Excavated data for the time are relatively sparse, but the earliest known bronze bits were unearthed in the Levant, at Tell el Ajjul (ancient Gaza) and are said to date to the middle Bronze Age, ca.1650 B.C. by Gertrud Hermes.8 Described by Hermes in Anderson’s book they “consisted of a straight or slightly bent one-piece [bronze] mouthpiece guarded at each end by a circular disk, like a spoked wheel, studded on the inside with short spikes. These discs would stop the mouthpiece from being pulled sideways through the horse’s mouth, and with their spikes would reinforce the action of the noseband to which they were attached.”9 She calls these “Hyksos bits,” since the horse was a stranger to Egypt prior to the period of Hyksos domination where there is no evidence of equine presence before their presence in 1700 B.C.These Hyksos had come from the Levant and used the new
horse-drawn war chariots plus an armory of the very latest in advanced weapons, such as the composite bow. Known as the “Great Hyksos’, they took over and ruled most of Egypt for more than one hundred years from their capital, Avaris, in the Nile delta. Around the same time that the “Great Hyksos” ruled in Egypt, the Helladic civilization of “Mycenaean” warriors first made its mark on the Greek mainland. The new tombstyles, including the famous “Schliemann” hoard found in the Grave Circle at the citadel of Mycenae which consisted of prodigal gold and artifacts from all points of the compass, the monumental architecture, and the large-sized skeletal remains all proclaim a novel presence in central Greece. Helladic civilization lasted some 400–500 years, up to the time of Homer’s Battle of Troy around 1200 B.C., when chariot-warfare, like that society and Troy itself disappeared from history.10 Still, these Mycenaeans were the warriors whose existence and exploits served as the royal heroes of the later Greeks’ myths and epics, and from whom their latter-day founding myths and preferred lineages were chosen. However, the time which elapsed between those large, marauding, Helladic role-models (ca.1700– 1100 B.C.) and that of the more abbreviated, Parthenon-building Greeks (ca. 450 B.C.) is as great as that time which includes – at one end – Constantine’s establishment of the Christian Church in A.D. 330, or – at the outside measure – A.D. 800, when Charlemagne was crowned Holy Roman Emperor. From this perspective one can see that the archaic and classical Greeks of history and their settings would bear as little resemblance to their land’s past Mycenaean actuality as we effect a likeness to Chaucer’s time and its peoples. As one archeologist put it: “On the evidence available, the Dark Age [1100–900 B.C.] and not any earlier time saw the true birth of ‘the Greeks’.”11 And of course, as the earlier Mycenaean ways, means, and culture differed, so too did their equipment including that for their horses. Mycenaean bits, true to their time-frame, were temperate driving bits analogous to those of the Near Eastern and Egyptian pattern. The earliest bits found in Greece are Mycenaean and date to the 14th–13th century B.C., a bit later than those of the Levant and Egypt. Of the eight so far authenticated, the earliest one, which followed the function of the eastern bits but was newly arranged, is also studded outside the mouth. Excavated from the citadel at Mycenae, it is bronze with twisted arms and is jointed in the center. It has straight metal cheeks on each side outside of the mouth, each with low spikes – 4 in all – projecting from the inner face above and below the holes through which the mouthpiece, with its rings for reins, extends. There is a similar bit from Thebes, while two others, dated slightly later and found in Miletus in a chamber tomb, resemble a really smooth version of the above. These two bear no spikes, have plain jointed arms, and have twists only at the 41
size matters Figure 9. An Assyrian cavalry horse from several hundred years earlier (reign of Sennacherib), 705–681 B.C. Unlike the others on the following page, this horse is dish-faced, tall and light in a continuing line from the Bronze-Age horses of Egypt, Mycenae, Anatolia, the Levant, and Assyria. The later, classical Greek animals seen on the Parthenon are probably an interbreed between these fine light horses and the smaller heavier animals from the western steppes.
early bits in use north of the caucasus and on the steppes Figures 10 to 13. From left to right: the Attic horse from the Parthenon’s frieze looks puny, indeed, seen next to a contemporary Ionian animal from Lycia that must have stood about 17 hands high (if his groom’s size is correct). The Parthenon horse appears even slighter than the 13-hand Cappadocian tribute animal seen being led behind one of the Persian king’s Romannosed, “Nesaeans”, horses famous for their brute power, but standing only 14-hands high. (The smaller Cappadocian [Anatolian] animal is the same breed as the Persian, but was probably raised on inferior pasture).
Figure 14. From ca. 800 B.C. up to Classical Greek times around 400 B.C., none of the bits used in that huge horse-riding territory stretching from the Ukraine and south Russia across Asia, to bordering Mongolia and China at the Altai Mountains depended on brutalizing mouth-mechanisms for the control of animal. None of the mouthpieces found by archeologists from that time employed anything more severe than roughened or twisted bit arms: no spikes, spicules, sharpened or cutting discs disgraced the steppe horse’s mouth. On the contrary, the regional urge for fabricated apparatus was nobly displaced onto the manufacture of highly decorated horsebridles and cheek-pieces in combinations of wood, gold, leather and bronze.
On the right, from the 5th c. B.C., carved wooden eagle-griffin cheek-pieces stabilize a twisted jointed-snaffle including, in partial view, a rein attached to the ring of the mouth-piece and the decorated splitends of the wooden bridle fastened to the cheeks. This bit and head-piece is one of several found in the frozen-tundra mounds (kurgans) of Pazyryk, high on the Altai. The exhumations also included sacrificed horses, primitive saddlery and saddlecloths, a wooden wagon, silk and woolen fabrics and tattooed humans. Nomadic people, these far-eastern ‘Scythians,’ although contemporary with the Periclean Greeks, were the most distant from their mutual cultural conjunction at the Black Sea, where Athens had grain-shipping ports and colonies. The seven bronze bits seen on the left date from 800–550 B.C. The top, 4th, and 5th ones down are “Scythian type bits” from the Altai, ca. 700–600 B.C. The others – 2nd, 3rd, 6th and 7th – come from the north Caucasus and are described as belonging to the “pre-Scythian epoch” of 800–550 B.C.
ends outside the cheekpieces. A comparable Egyptian bit, a jointed twisted snaffle with 4 face studs, predates all of these, and has been found at Tel el Amarna from the 14th century B.C. There are as well large numbers of similar bits differing only in their unjointed mouthpieces and cheekpieces. Formed of animals and fantastic winged monsters, these later cheekpieces are found on bits from eighth and seventh century B.C. Luristan, a wild mountainous district of western Persia. All of these mouthpieces with spikes on each side of the face outside of the mouth are plainly designed for expeditious communiqués to chariot horses: i.e. a pull on the right reins would slide bits across their mouths so that the spikes would press with some emphasis on the left jaws causing the animals’ heads to shift to the right, signaling immediately the command to so turn. Rapid and precise control of a team of horses at that time was especially important in warfare, (in pursuit or in retreat,) where archers, shield-bearers, javelin throwers or spearmen bounced along uneven ground standing on the unsprung chariot platforms alongside their drivers. The fast, light war-chariot was of little use on the rough-going of the steppes, so that long-distance directional signals to animals were also of little use. It is therefore no surprise that in the north Caucasus, i.e. the Kuban region of Russia and on to the north and east into Scythian territory, one finds that all bits, though bronze, lack spikes. Anderson12 alleges that the steppe and Scythian animals – he calls them “patient, enduring central Asian ponies” – were too docile to need any such aids for control. But more likely, since these animals were the mounts of archers and were never driven, they required nothing more severe. Whatever the case, in Northern Caucasia numbers of cheekless jointed snaffles are found having all manner of shaped rein rings and all sorts of handlings of the bit arms – from large rope-like spirals to incised circular roughenings, from scratched marks on the outer halves of the arms to plain smooth arms – but none with spikes or with sharp discs to face or bars. All these bits are attributed to the years 800–550 B.C. Further north and east, Scythian bits of 700–600 B.C. have similar characteristics. All such bits may have graced animals more common than the high-stepping Greek variety so appreciated by Anderson, but such hardy “ponies” triumphantly carried a horde of Scythians into the Cimmerian pasture lands north of the Caucasus, displacing those fearsome peoples onwards to famous Phrygian conquests. Subsequently, in the late 7th century B.C., they then carried their riders south across the high mountains to ravage and dominate the whole of Transcaucasia and what is now Azerbaijan – even raiding the borders of Egypt and sacking Assyrian Nineveh – until they were finally driven out by another great cavalry nation, the Medes. Mechanical aids should not be confused with superior horsemanship. Scythian cavalry rode, fought and won with their bows and arrows on the backs of animals good enough to do what Greek
cavalry would never accomplish, however “spirited” their animals and bloody their bits. A related find in Transcaucasian Armenia dating to about 1000 B.C. yields a plain jointed snaffle also sans spikes, forged so early it still uses antler bone for its cheekpieces, while yet another early, 9th century B.C. example found much further south in Ashur, Assyria, also has a twisted jointed snaffle with unspiked straight metal cheeks, quite unexceptional except for its bearing a mouthpiece made for a horse which has a 10-inch (26cm) wide mouth. As no one has ever seen a horse with such a sizeable orifice, it must be presumed to be a ceremonial or ritual piece. Some of the cavalry horses portrayed in the Assyrian reliefs on the bronze gates of King Shalmaneser, 860–825 B.C., probably wear the same sorts of bits (albeit proper-sized) due to borrowings from early, infiltrating nomads from the steppes. The abominable Greek bits of classical times derive from and elaborate on Persian and Assyrian models rather than on the Mycenaean types found in the Greece of some 800 years earlier. As oriental imports, such hardware probably made its first appearance on the mainland in 7th century B.C. Corinth, (since it was the Corinthian’s claim to have invented the bit). However these paradigmatic, middle eastern bits descended, in turn, from predecessors found to the northwest of Persia, in the Transcaucasus, with dates from 800–500 B.C. These were important prototypes which would remain almost constant in design and in use from their beginnings in 9th century B.C. Armenia until after Alexander and his Hellenistic influences abated some 800 years later. Jointed snaffles, their arms carried rough knobs, spikes or low sharpish rings, and ended in half-moon curved side-bars, the tops of which often terminated in phalli. The bottoms of the side-bars realistically rendered horses’ hooves. Echoing the importance of horse-tack talismans seen in the Assyrian mouthpiece, sympathetic magic presumably embellished the cheek-pieces this way in order to make the wearer fleet footed and a potent sire. Magic aside, the harsher, severe bits of the Transcaucasus arose due to the larger, more powerful animals which were produced during the region’s long, intertwining cultivation of horsemanship, husbandry, transport and metallurgy. This praxis evolved over ca. 800 years and reached from the middle Bronze Age kingdom of Mitanni on the northern frontiers of Mesopotamia to the later Iron Age kingdom of Urartu in Armenia.13 The Mitanni were a society who enjoyed a unique caste of Indo-Aryan professionals specializing in all aspects of the horse. They were the horse-experts of the Bronze Age charioteering world according to the tablets and correspondence of the Hittite, Egyptian and Syrian kings. Among a number of “horse text” tablets discovered in the ancient Hittite capital of Boghazköy in Turkey, is the now 43
famous, 14th century B.C. treatise which spells out a 7 month, day-by-day regimen for training chariot horses. Dictated to a scribe by one Kikkuli, the Mitanni expert in charge of acclimatizing, conditioning and training the horses of the Hittite King Supiluliumas, the tablets specify a program which includes swimming the horse, an interval-training schedule worthy of an East German athletics coach, feeding and watering routines much like those for the present-day race horse, and a most Indic, aristocratic direction for rubdowns with butter. Subsequent written material about kindred Urartian Armenia as an on-going, prime horse country is also plentiful: from the Neo-Assyrian gazetteer who describes Armenia as “the mountain of horses,”14 to the 1st-century Greek geographer Strabo who characterized it as the superlative “horsepasturing” country. It was the land from whence the Persian kings used to obtain their famous “Nesaean” horses, 20,000 colts a year, animals which Herodotus (7.40) reported as being the biggest, and Aristotle (Hist.Anim. 9.48), as being the fastest horses known. As portrayed on the friezes of Persepolis, these Nesaeans were massive, Roman-nosed cold-type horses (i.e. brewery-dray sorts), though they stood only 14 hands high. High enough. In antiquity these animals, 8 strong and yoked to war-chariots which incorporated mowers with blades attached to the rotating wheels that literally slashed to shreds opposing foot-soldiers, struck terror in all who met them galloping through the fields of human infantry. The Nesaeans also served as chargers carrying heavily armored cavalry men. As with today’s immensely strong but slow-witted German dressage and show-jumping horses who need teams of men to train them, such heavy strong-necked beasts also demanded strong bits to inform them. The development of such bits in the same region as the breeding of their wearers will not cause wonder. A much lighter type of horse must have been current at the time of the Mitanni (a thousand years previous to the Nesaean heavyweights), since the wall art and artifacts of the Mediterranean and Near East of that earlier era show, everywhere, similar animals who more closely resemble the modern race-horse. Such uniformity makes sense if, stemming from one central area, one considers that the Bronze Age war-chariots were neither exported nor imported simply, like DIY packages to be unwrapped and assembled. As R. Drews, a classical specialist points out, with them go “teams of trained chariot horses, but even good horses and good chariots would by themselves have been useless. The most important ingredients would have been the men who knew how to repair the vehicles, to care for the horses, to drive them in battle, and to fight from a fast-moving chariot.”15 Drews maintains that in time, having worked for others in what came to be seen as easy conquests, the “penny dropped” and from
the lands south of the Caucasus ambitious “Proto-Indo-European” speaking “war-lords,” complete with entourages, embarked by sea from the coasts of the Pontus (in one of the several directions of their probable dispersions). Those invasions by charioteers took the form of take-overs, which subjugated societies far more advanced but more vulnerable than those of the adventurers. A seductive thesis in which, if the sea-faring of horses appears peculiar, he reminds readers that horses and chariots were used on the islands of the Mediterranean in the Late Bronze Age where no horses had been before, and there is a Late Minoan seal which shows a horse standing in a ship. As for the Greek mainland,16 he theorizes that around 1600 B.C. invading charioteers first established themselves in mainly coastal places: at Mycenae in the Argolid, on the Messenian coast, a bit inland at Thebes on the Boeotian plain, at Marathon in Attica, and perhaps earliest and most strongly in Thessaly, the Thessalian plain being the largest and most fertile in Greece and therefore most hospitable to horse-breeding.17 Whether fiction or fact, antique tradition considered Thessalian horses “chief among the breeds for beauty, courage and endurance.”18 Broadly speaking, this light, fine, imported type of animal would persist in Greece up through classical times except that over the dark Doric centuries a likely mixing with stockier, central Asiatic animals19 would give the Parthenon horses their longer stouter bodies, conserving only the fine legs, smooth coats, and small heads. If we refer once again to Xenophon, it appears the Attic animal heirs were also very small relative to the still fabulous Thessalians or to the horses of Ionia of that time. A testimony to their meager size occurs in a passage at the beginning of Xenophon’s 7th chapter, where his approved method of vault-mounting was to “lay hold of the mane about the ears.”20 Moreover, one has only to look at how far the riders’ feet hang below the bellies of the cavalry horses on the Parthenon to have this reading’s determination of size reinforced. Because the legendary endurance of the line had been compromised as well, Xenophon advised councils to require horsemen to make more than one circuit of an arena before choosing cavalry candidates: a lack of stamina in their horses was known to be a problem, too. In fact, due to the often mountainous and rocky terrain, trained human runners were generally preferred to horsemen in Greece for carrying messages over long distances. Not all Greeks agreed with Xenophon’s taste in torturous equine hardware, as a cache of bits excavated from Olympia, in the Peloponnese, reveals. Dated ca. 490 B.C., one has an inoffensive, straightbar mouthpiece with a bronze roller, while others are simple iron, jointed or ringed snaffles. Perhaps, being earlier by 150–200 years, the prevailing style had yet to be set in text, metal, stone, and flesh. Or perhaps these were just mouthpieces meant for Spartan girls’ ponies. In any case, the horse in archaic and classical Greece had other uses besides war, although most of Greece with its moun44
The horses appear to gallop in place or to rear gracefully.
early bits in use south of the caucasus in uratu, assyria and persia Figure 15. A late Bronze-Age (ca. 1000 B.C.) jointed-snaffle, bronze with bone cheek-pieces is illustrated on the left. It is a mongrel device, however, since cheeks of bone or antler antedate the use of metal bits by at least 3,000 years (when bones served as toggles to keep soft mouthpieces such as rope or rawhide from sliding through the ridden horse’s mouth). Archeologists have found such bone implements at the earliest (ca. 4000 B.C.) domesticated horse sites on the steppes north of the Black Sea and, continuing more latterly, in many parts of central Europe, especially Hungary and other late Urnfield burial sites. The bit depicted here is of some interest since it was found at Kilizi (close to later Assyrian Ashur), in a region that, at its time of manufacture, was included in the Mitannian sphere of interest. An invading group of master charioteers who gained a political center on the northernn Mesopotamian steppe, the immigrant horse-men of Mitanni, perhaps brought such anteceding Indo-European horse-tack with them to western Asia. However, this bit, being unspiked, smooth and therefore of little use to charioteers, might have as easily been a vagrant northern steppe introduction instead.
Three of the four bronze bits seen on the right – those with the flared cheek-pieces – are of the “Uratian” type (a metal-working kingdom in Armenia), and have dates ranging from 800–500 B.C. They are cast in two pieces – knobs, discs and all – and this design enjoyed a long life lasting up until the sack of Persepolis by Alexander. Persian examples worn by the horses in the reliefs of Persepolis (carved about 500 B.C.), can be seen that illustrate their subsequent, distinctive phallus and hoof-tipped sidebars (see preceeding pages). The three piece bit shown in the center is also cast, but a large ring serves as a connecting link and all the parts of the mouthpiece are covered with rough studs. Historically of an Assyrian type (although found at Persepolis and dated to perhaps the 4th c. B.C.), there are many similar smooth two- and three-piece bits, that have been found from Hungary to Kurdistan, dated from as early as ca. 1000 B.C. in the late Bronze-Age.
balancing on its hind legs, the mounted rearing horse is a hallowed pose employed to display harnessed power or suspended motion of horse and rider. Figure 16. Probably half of all commemorative military portrayals have placed their subjects on a rampant horse. (Consider all those metal and stone generals in the parks and plazas of the world, rearing up overhead on their pedestalled mounts). Uccello’s painted 15th-century knight, elucidating the essence of the genre, depicts, perhaps, a preparatory lancelunging maneuver in “The Route of San Romano.”
Figure 17. Much of today’s Haute Ecole dressage, especially the “School above the Ground,” derives its drills and motions from earlier military practices. The Levade, seen here from a modern photo, presumably served to crush any fallen enemy thorax when the horse’s front legs descended to earth. Other situations utilized the “Croupade,” the “Corbette.” the “Ballotade,” or the ‘Capriole.’
Figure 18. The hunt, closely related to the martial fray, may be as ancient as the riding of horses but has only been attested to since the 18th or 17th c. B.C., where a Syrian cylinder shows an archer driving a chariot of bitted horses, his reins tied about his hips. Stubb’s portraits of the 18th c. A.D.
English hunting gentry Baron de Robeck on a crop-eared hunter and Laetitia, Lady Lade (a foul mouthed but notoriously fearless rider to hounds) recalls the kinship of military pose and stance, if not its thrust and quarry.
Figure 19. Contrary to Beulé’s observation, the horses of the Parthenon Frieze do not “appear to gallop in place or to rear gracefully.” They look instead as if they’re moving
Figure 20.Western Scythian animals. On the left, a golden horse and Scythian on a (horse?) comb, made to order in a Greek workshop and found in a kurgan in Melitopol, southern Russia. Contemporary with the Parthenon, the horse looks very like one
of the Greek animals seen on the Frieze. On the right, a Scythian hobbles his “useful, strong pony, with coarse neck and shoulders; very low withers; coarse head, etc.” From a 4th c. B.C. vase of Greek workmanship found in the Kuban (Georgia).
Figure 21. A 5th c. B.C. horse found and reconstructed from bones and tackle in kurgan 3, Pazyrk, in the Altai mountains. On its right, a gold belt-buckle from 5th– 4th c. B.C. Siberia incorporating the domestic Scythian saddle.
backwards. Their small size is also made apparent by the proportion to their riders in comparison to that of the more modern figures.
tainous terrain was not well-suited to soft-hooved, unshod transport animals or to horse-keeping itself. Then as now horses were a luxury and very costly to own. In Athens those who were rich enough to afford them kept them stabled at their town-houses in order to ride out each day to oversee their farming properties. (Not distant, they might even return in the afternoons on foot leading their animals). Surrounded by estates, Athens, with a relatively small urban center, mandated property as one requisite of citizenship. Those citizens who lived in town were by and large the wealthiest of the rural population making up the majority of her citizens. Such rich squires, or at any rate the more elderly ones, might have had occasion to ride the odd tractable horse bitted differently than those animals celebrated on the marble friezes. Athenian citizen women had nothing to do with horses, riding mostly in mule-carts. On her wedding-day a bride was driven by a pair of mules from her father’s house to her new husband’s home, where her mother-in-law was waiting menacingly at the door as she climbed down. If later she had to be transported elsewhere (and she was still young) this remained her mode of transport. If she was old, she rode a mule, sideways, sitting on a sort of strapped-on chair contraption. In contrast, Spartan girls drove light, horse-drawn carts at certain festivals, and some raced chariots and may even have hunted riding astride. But Athens’ horses were for men only, except for the rare occasions when ladies of rank – as necessary participants in particular festivals – rode out in smart chariots driven by their husbands. (At one time such was the festival at Eleusis. But because some showy rigs occasioned envy, a law was passed, latterly, forbidding any woman to ride to Eleusis in a chariot). Road-travelling chariot horses may well have been bitted in the very old-fashioned style where bridles incorporated studded, bronze plates outside the mouth, an arrangement still shown on many of the vase paintings. And perhaps such bridles and bits were also fitted on some of the chariot horses trotted out for parades and processions or raced at annual games. The chief justification for the use of severe metal bits is found for an army’s cavalry, where powerful horses carrying heavily armed and armored men must stay in close ranks and move in unison. Here swift and precise control of mounts, though encumbered and made stiff and clumsy by their necessary gear, was a matter of life or death for equestrian soldiers in the face of an enemy. The first true cavalry was mounted by Philip II of Macedon around 338 B.C. which was further developed into a fearful fighting machine by Alexander, his son. Mounted troops however, with disciplined horses trained to function with their riders in formation – quasi-cavalry, as it were – developed in Asia Minor around the year 1000 B.C. In the Aegean it replaced the war-chariot which had had its day. Even by the time of the Iliad and the battle of Troy, around 1200 B.C., outside
of the Near East charioteering was no longer a combat option. While Homer occasionally describes chariots, they are invariably used to transport the heroes to and from the battlefields where they then fight on foot. At a somewhat later date, the Assyrians, who had developed a larger, heavier horse through repeated raidings on the studs of the Medes, triumphed everywhere, from 950 B.C. to 600 B.C., from Ur through the Levant, employing an effective chariot and sort of cavalry which made use of some rather abusive bits. One such recovered contrivance boasts a three-part mouthpiece – two arms plus a central interlocking ring – covered all over with rough studs, cruel but not nearly as nasty as the later Greek devices. At that, at least the Assyrian cavalries were militarily important and useful.. Reflecting a passing parochialism, Athens had no cavalry at all to field against the Persians at Marathon in 490 B.C., although Aristotle implies an earlier possible presence for it in the 7th century B.C., when according to him, “cavalry was the favorite weapon of the first aristocratic cities.”21 In other traces early 6th century B.C. Greek vases also picture a sort of light-horse of mounted youths with short javelins in skirmishes with barbarian archers, Thracian auxiliary cavalry was said to have been present during the century,22 and in 510 B.C., Thessalian cavalry was hired by Athens to defend its walls (unsuccessfully) against Spartan infantry. But a proper body of Athenian cavalry, consisting of a mere 1000 men from the first two richest census classes was only created on the advice of Pericles after the Persian wars around 455 B.C. A corps d’élite, these cavaliers were selected in order of their wealth and each man was required to furnish his own charger and equipment, although state subsidies for maintenance were also granted. Sons of rich men, though not necessarily craven, are seldom heroes having more to lose than most; the parading horsemen portrayed on the Parthenon would never have come closer to an enemy than the distance required to harry it from behind. In the main, Athens’ cavalry was used only for exploration, harassment or to follow up and complete a victory already won. However Pericles must still have held it in high hopes, for 15 years later, in 440 B.C. when the Parthenon was built, these cavaliers were the most prominent, numerous, and in fact only military citizenry honored on its processional frieze. Remarkably, Athens’ real heroes – hoplite infantry and sailors – are slighted or absent from the frieze’s cavalcade. Hoplite infantry appears nowhere in the crowd of vaunting charioteers, grooms, race horses, and riders although there are 20 carved young blades in hoplite armor who stand alongside the drivers of each of the parading chariots. Anachronistic passengers, these men would have entertained onlookers by vaulting on and off the moving vehicles in the “apobates-game,” a venerable sport which harkened back to Trojan times when chariots were used primarily as taxis to the battlefields by heavily armored warriors.23 A force known more, then, for civilian swagger than for martial might – dressed in its chic 5th century 47
diffusion of a depraved praxis
à la mode Figure 22. A horse that carries itself like the Greek one above is known as a “star-gazer,” a ruined kind of animal to be avoided whenever possible. Due to its over-developed front neck muscles and its “peculiar
Figure 23. Below, a 5th c. B.C. Scythian horse and rider from a wall-hanging textile. They look perfectly easy in their going. The very mild bit on the left contributes to this state.
head carriage,” it is “above the bit” and so is able to bolt at will. Worse, it will do so blindly, being unable to see anything but the sky over-head. On their left, the uniquely Greek causative agent.
Figure 24. These horses show the influence of trading spheres on the portrayal (if not the actualities) of pictorial conventions. The large animal on the left is drawn from an Etruscan wall-painting (Tomb of the Bulls, Tarquinii, ca. mid-6th c. B.C.), when Etruscan art was still one with the archaic Mediterranean model of eclectic currents with the East. The horse’s stance is traditional and easy (even if the neck and
head are too small). Fifty years later – years during which Tarquinii became a thriving trading center as a favored market for Greek merchandise and works of art, especially the painted wares of Athens – one sees the stance of the race-horse on the right (from the Tomb of the Baron, ca. 500 B.C.) begin to emulate the Athenian ideal as seen on the next page, lower right, Parthenon horses.
When is a horse a pony? According to Professor Anderson always, when it is “Scythian.” For example, “The Scythian ponies may be the result of cross-breeding between the horses of the western and central Asiatic steppes.”
Thracian cloaks and boots – if Attic cavalry began as an inconsequential military asset, it declined ever further in function and reputation, steadily deteriorating so far that by the 4th century B.C. at the time when Xenophon was writing, “a young aristocrat who tried to push his way into the cavalry was prosecuted for desertion.” (Lysias, XIV 5–6). A mystery remains. If not an essential aid to a dysfunctional Greek cavalry useless in both defense and confrontation, to what end, then, were horse-bits of such uniquely sharp and mutilating effect used? A first glance favors simple assault by cowards fearful of honest beasts, but on reflection, this is inapt. For clearly the Greeks were not cowards. The faint-of-heart were seldom even envisaged in that bellicose society where war was the natural state and shortlived peace the exception. Greek infantries marched with open eyes straight on at an enemy’s line and Greek sailors resolutely rowed straight into enemy ships. Great numbers of Greek men served as valued mercenary soldiers all over the known world. Warfare, cost what it may, was antiquity’s prime engine of economic growth and was constantly engaged in the hope of increasing the goods and good things of life such as slaves, women, exotic foodstuffs, prosaic harvests, precious objects, ransoms and tributes. To lose was not only to forego all of the above, but also to lose one’s own women and children, to end up a slave oneself, to be raped or even to be dead. As such, cowardice from either high born or low had no place in this part-time endeavor. The Greeks, however, considered others, especially Scythians, to be cowards because Scythians fought “running away,” i.e. they used their bows to shoot over the croups of their horses. (None the less, Athens retained a troop of 200 “cowardly” archers in her fighting forces). In sum, for one to imagine in such men a vindictive fear of horses, especially of the small breed these men rode, would be ludicrous indeed. Other less simple reasons must prevail. Vanity should perhaps be seen as the primary cause: Professor Anderson seems to think that an ideal of equine beauty was at root. He cites the action of a good warhorse, described by Xenophon, as the essence of the model to which Greek efforts (and their extraordinary bits) were applied. Here is what Xenophon says: “...when a horse is turned loose and runs off to join mares, then he holds his head up as high as he can, arches his neck in the most spirited style, lifts his legs with free action, and raises his tail. So when he is induced by a man to assume all the airs and graces which he puts on himself when he is showing off voluntarily, the result is a horse that likes to be ridden, that presents a magnificent sight, that looks alert, that is the observed of all observers.”24 This is an elegant rationale and portrayal of a style of horsemanship that one can still see even today. In the purlieus of Dublin, for instance, young tinkers and numbers of “cowboy-kids” from Dublin’s housing estates race
around astride high-stepping, head-tossing, bolting mounts, their piebald animals every bit as ewe-necked, hollow-backed and stargazing as any Greek paradigm. As the author of a definitive, modern book on ancient Greek horsemanship, Professor Anderson has the grace to note that styles do change. Such an extreme induced choice for a horse’s action (a conceit in fact) could not have happened through ignorance in as much as other more reasonable examples of horsemanship – Persian, Ionian and Scythian – were certainly near to hand. Instead, it must surely have been a conduct designed to distinguish Greek horsemen from all others. This intention was perhaps mixed with a small portion of that overarching Greek desire for control, its practice a delusion in this case. And while the implements for such a vainglorious display of abused horse-flesh go against the modern sensibility, it is still not so difficult to understand why the Greeks, who in their little corner of the Aegean – squeezed as they were between the might of oriental empires, the big-time trade of the Phoenicians and the heavy-weight traditions of Egypt – prided themselves on being different and made such self-conscious efforts to construct and flaunt their differences in the face of the rest of antiquity. This competitive preoccupation with themselves versus “others” is deeply ingrained in their art as well, most famously in what art historians characterize as classical Greek “realism”.25 Undeniably, the pains-taking carving of every sinew of a horse’s leg, the carefully wrought flair of marble nostril, the delineation of pulsing veins across an animal’s belly were original with these Hellenes. Such facsimile figures, once polychromed as well as adorned with metal trappings but aesthetically aided now by the bleachings of time, will always delight the more literal (if less visual) amongst us. How much more difficult it is though to understand or sympathize with long generations of adoring scholars acclaiming the glory of a Parthenon’s chiseled deformities as the height and acme of equine style and grace. Notes 1. Quoted in M.H.Morgan, Xenophon The Art of Horsemanship, 1894, Lewis reprint, London,1979, p. 89 (italics mine). 2. Ibid. 3. Ancient Greek Horsemanship, J.K. Anderson, Berkley, 1962, p. 62. 4. Dio Chrysostom, lxiii5. 5. J. Spruytte, Early Harness Systems, London, 1983; (M.A. Littauer, translation). Ubiquitous sources – until recently – overlooked the nature and the uncommonness of the horse in the Near East, precluding its use as a draft animal. Instead, a theory of primitive cart hitchings for draft were posited which were thought to impinge on a horse’s windpipe, interfering thereby with its breathing and choking the pulling animal. Careful, hands-on modern models have disproved this old canard. 6. F. Hançar, Das Pferd, Vienna, 1956, pp. 472–535; R, Drews, The Coming of the Greeks, Princeton, 1989. 7. Other authorities consider the two Lake Sevan vehicles to be more cart than chariot, suggesting the existence of two separate wheel-wright traditions and origins. The fact that elm and tamarisk trees, two of the woods used in chariot manufacture, were available in Palestine and Anatolia, while the birch-bark used for water-proofing
8. 9. 10. 11. 12. 13.
14. 15. 16.
18. 19. 20. 21. 22. 23. 24. 25.
could easily be trans-shipped from elsewhere supports their argument. Littauer & Crouwel, Wheeled Vehicles and Ridden Animals in the Ancient Near East, Leiden, and Keulen, 1979, p. 78. G. Hermes, Das Gezahmte Pferd im Altern Orient, Anthropos 31, 1936. pp. 364–94. J.K.Anderson, p. 46. Assyria and much of the Levant continued a considerable usage of the war chariot up to the 7th century B.C. ibid, Littauer & Crouwel, pp. 140–141. O. Dickinson, The Aegean Bronze Age, Cambridge, 1994, p. 309. J.K. Anderson, p. 36 & p. 77. In fact in that area now covered by northeastern Turkey, the northwestern tip of Iran, and the former Soviet republics of Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia, this ancient primacy in breeding, tack and wheelwright technology, along with its subsumed, technical language, is one argument for some recent theories which locate the original homeland of the Proto-Indo-European speakers somewhere in this region. T.V. Gamkrelidze & V.V. Ivanov, The Indo-European Language and the Indo-Europeans, 2 vols, Tiblisi, 1985. E. Weidner, Weisse Pferde im Alte Orient, Bibliotheca orientalis 9. 1952, p. 158. R.Drews, The Coming of the Greeks, Princeton, 1989, p. 176. For the wide range of conflicting theories and dates for the arrival of the Greek-speaking ‘Mycenaeans’ in Greece see: 6500 B.C., Indigenous farmers, C. Renfrew, Archeology and Language: The Puzzle of Indo-European Origins, Cambridge, 1988; 2800 B.C., Massive Vökswanderung, M. Gimbutas, The Beginning of the Bronze Age in Europe and the IndoEuropeans: 3500–2500 B.C., JIES1(1973): 163–214; 3,000–2,000 B.C., Immigration from the Balkans, J.P. Mallory, In Search of the Indo-Europeans: Language, Archeology and Myth, London, 1989; 3000 B.C.–2000 B.C., Pottery Analysis, J.B. Haley & C. Blegen, The Coming of the Greeks, AJA32(1928): 141–54; 2,100 B.C., Calamity in Anatolia, J. Mellaart, The End of the Early Bronze Age in Anatolia and the Aegean, AJA 62 (1958): 1–31; 1800 B.C., Soldiers of Fortune from Egypt, F.Schachermeyr, Streitwagen und Streitwegenbild im Alten Orient und bei den Mykenischen Griechen, Anthrops 46 (1951), 705–53; 1600 B.C., Linguistic Analysis of Greek Dialects, F. Wyatt, The Indo-Europeanization of Greece, IndoEuropean and Indo-Europeans, ed Cardona et. al. Philadelphia, 1970; 1600 B.C., Dating of the Linear B Tablets, L.R. Palmer, Mycenaeans and Minoans, London, 1961. One expert demurral: Dr. Crouwel finds the above thesis improbable, pointing out that most of the rocky Greek coasts – lacking large level plains – are remarkably unsuitable for disembarking and successful charioteering invasions; oral communication J.H. Crouwel. M.H. Morgan, p. 78. J.K. Anderson, pp. 15–16. M.H. Morgan, p. 39. The Greeks” Yvon Garlon, Chicago, 1995, p. 65. The Early Amazons. J.H. Blok, Leiden, 1995, p. 393. oral communication from Dr. J. Crouwel. Morgan, p. 56. Greek Sculpture, the Classical Period, J. Boardman, 1992, London, p. 7.
16. 17. 18. 19. 20. 21. 22. 23. 24.
Detail: Lassaigne, J. & Argan, G. XV Century, Skira, NY, 1955, p. 110. Oliveira, Nuno, Reflections on Equestrian Art, London, 1976, Plate 16. Parker, C.A., Mr Stubbs the Horse Painter, London, 1971, p. 177, p. 171. Jenkins, Ian, ibid., Plate VI. Left: Catalogus, ibid., p. 51. Right: Anderson, J.K. ibid., plate 12. Catalogus, ibid., p. 93, p. 68. Left: Morgan, M.H. ibid., p. 60. Right: Anderson, J.K., ibid., Plate 18b. Left: Catalogus, ibid., p. 85. Right: Atlas, Past Worlds: The Times Atlas of Archeology, London, 1989, p. 183. Pallotino, M. Etruscan Painting, Geneva, 1952, p. 31, p. 58.
Bibliography Anderson, J.K., Ancient Greek Horsemanship, Berkeley, 1962. Blok, J.H., The Early Amazons, Leiden, 1995. Boardman, J., Greek Sculpture, the Classical Period, London, 1992. Dickinson, O., The Aegean Bronze Age, Cambridge, 1994. Drews, R., The Coming of the Greeks, Princeton, 1989. Finley, M.I., The Ancient Greeks” London, 1977. Garlon, Yvon, The Greeks, Chicago, 1995. Herodotus II, Loeb Classical Library, Cambridge, 1982. Jenkins, Ian, The Parthenon Frieze, London, 1994. Keuls, Eva C., The Reign of the Phallus”, Berkley, 1985. Littauer, M.A. & Crouwel, J.H., Wheeled Vehicles and Ridden Animals in the Ancient Near East, Leiden-Keulen, 1979. Littauer, M.A. & Crouwel, J.H., Chariots and Related Equipment from the Tomb of Tut ‘Ankhamun, Oxford, 1985. Lloyd, Seton, Ancient Turkey, A Traveller’s History of Anatolia, London, 1989. Mallory, J.P., In Search of the Indo-Europeans, London, 1988. Morgan, M.H., Xenophon The Art of Horsemanship, 1894, Lewis reprint, London, 1979. Yurco, Frank J., Black Athena Revisited, London, 1996. Quotations “The Horses Appear to Gallop...” (Les chevaux semblent galoper sur place, ou plûtôt se cabrer gracieusement), Beulé, L’Acropole d’Athènes, 2. M.H. Morgan, Xenophon, the Art of Horsemanship, London, 1894, p. 150. “Nothing can exceed the expression of...”, Morgan, M.H., ibid., Hawkins, Ancient Marbles in the British Museum, p. 165.
Figures Frontispiece and p. 19. Cook, B.F. The Elgin Marbles, London, 1984, pp. 28–29. 1. Left: Morgan, M.H., Xenophon The Art of Horsemanship, London, 1894, p. 60 Right: Catalogus, Het Rijk Der Scythen, Zwolle, 1993, p. 85. 2. Anderson, J.K, Ancient Greek Horsemanship, Berkley, 1962, Plate 35 c and a. 3. Anderson, J.H, ibid., Plates, 1, 6a. 4. Top: Anderson, J.K., ibid. Bottom: Encyclopedia of World Mythology, London, 1975, p. 24. 5, 8. Littauer, M.A. & Crouwel, J.H, Chariots and Related Equipment from the Tomb of Tut’Ankhamun, Oxford, 1985, Plate LXXXII. 6. Littauer, M.A. & Crouwel, J.H, Wheeled Vehicles and Ridden Animals in the Ancient Near East, Leiden-Keulen, 1979, p. 26 (43). 7. Ibid., p. 26 (48, 49). 9. Anderson, J.K., ibid., Plate 5a. 10. Jenkins, Ian, The Parthenon Frieze, London, 1994, p. 104, Slab III. 11, 12, 13. Anderson J.K, ibid., Plates 13b, 9b, 8. 14. Left: Hançar, F. Das Pferd, Vienna, 1956, p. 134 Right: Catalogus, ibid., p. 94. 15. Left: Hançar, F. Das Pferd, ibid., Table VII Right: Anderson, J.K ,ibid., Plate 35b and c.
Amazons (précis) The Amazon is a figment of Greek, and particularly Athenian, mythmaking… Amazons were a Greek invention. Not that the world has not known women who fight: our histories are peppered with singular female warriors, combatant queens, and groups of women soldiers. But it is the Amazon of that female race of pure militants, sans males, who claims our attention always and titillates still. Unremittingly, during the past 2,500 years, commentators have tried to actualize her, to recover her homeland, her genesis, her customs – that is, proof of her existence – but all to no avail. Never real, she is myth, an ultimate product of classical Greek propaganda, though even now serious moderns have tried to historicize her, to place her as, for instance, “…a beardless small-statured race of bow-toting mongoloids, as Hittites, as female defenders of the shrines of the Great Mother against patriarchal invaders from the North, as priestesses of the moon goddess or as primitive communists who threw off the yoke of male slavery..”1 As is common in myth, separate and different disconnected sets of Amazon legends exist. Cardinal are the heroic combat stories of an exclusively female people who fight, pitted against Greeks, but there are also eponymous stories recounting how “Amazons” founded Ephesus, Smyrna, Cyrene, Myrine and other Greek cities of Asia Minor, at sites that were probably earlier shrines of the goddess Artemis. The story carved on the Parthenon’s west metopes opposes Amazon against Greek, female against male. Naked Greek warriors clash with women dressed in oriental war garb, some of whom were on foot, others mounted. “The Greeks are (expectedly) defeated on the rider metopes, victorious or undetermined on the rest.”2 Formulated to remind, validate and reinforce a newly puissant Athens’ primogenitorial claims, the temple’s deeply carved stones glorify the Greek (immigrant) hero Theseus’ victory over a putative Amazon invasion. Although a mythical event, this incursion and its battle were widely celebrated, commemorated on large paintings, on vases and in other reliefs and carvings which are known collectively as “Amazonomachies.” Athens adored the Amazon as subject matter: more than 800 portrayals of her have survived from antiquity, the majority of them Attic. While hers was the single theme most often represented on classical Attic monuments, the full development of the Amazon myth has a history and is a creation of Greek culture itself.3 Defiant, dead, or dying – departing or defeated, her stories began in the oral tradition of the Dark Age, before Greek literacy. Later, she was introduced in writing by Homer in the Iiad, and by Arctinus of Miletus in the lost epic Aithiopsis, which is perhaps
the earliest of the Troy accounts. In these first textual appearances, the Amazon was merely a female warrior – opponent only, albeit always and carefully styled “equivalent of men” – one whose society did not preclude the presence of men. Homer’s two mentions of her (they occur in Priam’s history of Troy speech and in the history of Bellerophontes) are perfunctory. However, in the Aithiopsis, the Amazon Penthesileia is given a strong starring role as a rather later ally of the Trojans and an adversary of Achilles. They fight, and as he kills her, he “falls in love” with her. In some ancient texts he then commits necrophilia on her corpse, which scurrilous behavior possibly launches the Amazons’ increasingly scandalous reputation. The initial visual representations of Amazons occur at roughly the same time as the written ones, around 700 B.C. The earliest find is a terra-cotta shard of a votive shield from Tyrns. On one side is a probable representation of Achilles’ duel with Penthesileia; its reverse tantalizingly shows a centaur. (See chapter on Centaurs for the frequent visual coupling of their stories.) During the following several hundred years, the hero Heracles, fighting and dispatching Amazons in either his Ninth Labor or on an Argonautic excursion, adds to the canon, mainly on black-figure vases. Tellingly, none of these early, pre-classical Amazon artifacts (before 575–550 B.C.) have an Attic provenance. Abruptly, around the mid 6th century B.C., Amazons appear on vases with no battle scenes or male antagonists, perhaps indicating the myth’s newly exclusive female society. The women are shown engaging in the same activities as male warriors (suiting up, bringing home their dead, riding horses or chariots). Not much later, around 525 B.C., on vases, Theseus, charter hero of Athens, replaces Heracles in the clashes with the women. An Athenian desideratum, his story begins with his rape of the Amazon queen Antiope and her abduction back to Attica, a motif which “explained” the Amazons’ subsequent fictitious invasion of Athens ca. 10th century B.C. However, this archaic, Amazonian spur for vengance of the rape and rescue by the queen’s subjects was buried in classical times. The focus of story and picture was shifted onto the supposed might of the invading Amazon army and its greed for Athenian booty and territory. In analogy to the latter-day Persian invasion and its defeat, this emphasis intentionally echoed the great (if surprising) past triumph in 490 B.C. at Marathon of the Greeks over the invading Persians. Under full Athenian influence now, the Amazon myth blossoms. Herodotus, Aeschylus, (explicitly referring to Amazons now as women without men), Euripedes, Pindar, Aristophanes, even Plato write of or report on her proceedings. Illustrated Amazon red-figure ceramics for both the home market and abroad also proliferate. By Hellenistic times Amazon tales, as much else, had grown wildly exotic. Live Amazons make an astonishing re-emergence from their 51
Amazonomachy carved on the Parthenon’s west metopes numbers 1 and 2, in situ, the only figures still visible on the elevation. The “Strangford shield,” an incomplete 2nd c. A.D. Roman version of the Amazonomachy embossed on the outside of Athena Parthenos’ copper shield.
most popular prospects Figure 1. Black figure vases from Attica account for most of the Amazon images that have come down to us, and Heracles in battle with them – Amazonomachies – are by far the most numerous: 409 by one count. Here, (570 B.C.), Heracles takes the [labeled] Amazon queen Andromache captive, although in all the textual traditions his opponent is only ever styled “Hippolyte” or “Antiope”. The anomaly – whereby on all the vases with Heracles she is inscribed as either “Andromache,”
Trojan Hector’s widow, or “Andromeda”, namesake of the constellation bestowed by Athena in the Perseus cycle – refers to the more ancient cultic practice in which each of these queens originally underwent sacrificial death. The neck and the breast, where Amazon queens are wounded, are the same as those of women who underwent violent death, so that with “...names like Andromache and Andromeda, we may cautiously infer that the Amazons present us with ‘Epic Ways of Killing a Woman.’” [J.H.Blok].
Figure 2. By 460 B.C, Heracles disappears completely on the vases to be replaced by Theseus, the Athenian hero, while Amazons are increasingly seen on their own on about 300 vases, both black and red figured. Often named, they are usually the “Thermodon” Amazons, daughters of Ares and Harmonia. Below, Amazons arming: Antiope is in the center blowing the war trumpet, Hypsipyle (the leader of the women of Lemnos who temporarily behaved like Amazons) is on the right, gazing back: Theseus’ lover, she
is made prominent. Looking slight and on the left of center is Heracles’ aforementioned Andromache, who loses pride of place to the new hero’s imperial spin. Late black-figure, around 500 B.C. Their chitons have become transparent and breasts have become noticeable. The Greeks were particularly titillated by buttocks, child and man. This thrill was apparently transferred over even to “manly” female Amazons, “equivalent of men.”
1.000 year old graves, as even Alexander the Great is approached by an “Amazon Queen with her army,” desirous of off-spring by him. According to 3 different sources, she was said to have enjoyed their 13 nights of love (no issue, however, were recorded). Most of the Amazon attributes in classical Athenian myth appear as simple gender reversals: i.e., the women used weapons, lived by plundering, and they also raised horses, hunted, ploughed and planted. They demanded dowries and refused to move to their husbands’ households. In fact, they refused all domestic chores and had an antipathy to male babies. They controlled the public space of war and politics, the magistracies and affairs of state, etc. All of these traits of the mythical female figure amount to a check-list of actual male Greek interests and duties. Geo-economic areas of developing Greek interests can be partially mapped from the alleged mother-lands of the Amazons. Trade (in exports of wine, oil, marble, and coined money; imports of iron, tin, wood, grain and slaves), and shipping routes parallel the successive shifts in storybook Amazon origins. In the 7th century B.C. foreign parts and peoples had become visually fascinating, although in texts the early backward-looking epics place Amazons closer to home: beyond the Troad in the Iliad, and to Thrace, homeland of Pentheseleia in the other Trojan epic. Heracles and the Argonauts in the 7th and 6th centuries B.C. perform their Amazon deeds farther away, on the north side of the Black Sea. This is south Russian, Scythian territory where there were early Greek entrepots. By the early 5th century B.C. Theseus replaces Heracles and the exploits shift to the Black Sea’s south, far eastern side, to Themiskyra, first a plain, later a city on the Thermodon river. Later still, Hellenstic writers, out of ancient race-memories perhaps, or vivid imaginations, report on Amazon neighbors of a Libyan Atlantis who had emigrated to Asia-Minor where they founded the eponymous cities… Other writers reckoned the goddess Artemis’ southern Italian acolytes as Amazons. North, east, south, and west, the Amazon always originated from what was perceived as the (expanding) edges of the known world. The Classical Athenian appropriation and restructuring of the earlier Amazon myth is not altogether surprising: Theseus’ formulaic repulsion of the fabled invasion of Attica was used not only to glorify victorious Athens, but Athenian orators who regularly celebrated this imaginary battle as real went on to claim that Athenian victory saved all of Greece from the Amazon aggressors, further justifying themselves in a reckoning sop to those critics who complained of gross Athenian imperialism against other Greeks. Beyond such political benefits, however, and perhaps more importantly, the deeper thrust and essence of the mythical Amazon structure served Athens as a timely and cautionary tale concerning
marriage. At that time, since Pericles had inaugurated a new ruling in which only those born of two citizen parents could now be citizens of the city, the dramatists had endogamy – marriage rules – very much on their minds. Amazons are seen by all writers of the time to be very bad role-models as marriage partners: as virgins, they are committed against marriage and motherhood; as warriors, they are monstrous and bestial since they assume male not female roles; and as barbarians from outside the city, they are, of course, foreign and exogamous. All of these attributes were despicable and opposite reflections of the ideal daughter and bride… Amazons always lost their battles but sometimes survived their skirmishes. Although “the equivalent of men” and legitimate killing-fodder for Greek heroes, they were held “equivalent,” too, to other male enemies of the Greeks. When the women were mounted on horses and armed with bows and arrows, they were then likened to Scythian riders, “cowards” who could run away (shooting and wounding over their shoulders). In contrast, Greek “hoplites” were fundamentally an infantry whose prowess existed in their strong social cohesion: they always stood their ground. Greek bravery was here meant to contrast against foreign cowardice. For all its prosaic utility, though, there is still something peculiar about this myth. Whereas islands or races of a people consisting entirely of females occur as a universal, and usually erotic fairy-tale, there is very little Eros and a great deal of Ares to be found in the Greek fantasy (excepting, perhaps a kind of displaced sexual sadism). From its very beginning, intense gender antagonism is structured into the unnatural Amazon attribute, “equivalent of men,” a trait which, once created, must then be destroyed. Amazons were not fashioned as the lone females of succubus or night-mare, to be faced, but as unified fearsome races and nations of dangerous women who must be exterminated. They were “strawmen”, then, though that was not an adventitious nor casual device. A programmatic gynophobia, it was first made explicit in the works of the misogynistic Hesiod [ca. 8th century B.C.] who wrote longingly of a past golden age when gods and men lived in harmony, and there were no women. Almost 300 years later, the same estranged sentiment was prominently alluded to in a representation of the birth of Pandora – like Eve, the first female and subsequent cause of man’s mortality and all evil in the world. The image was carved at eye-level on the base of the gigantic statue of female (sic) Athena which stood in the center of the Parthenon. Not a genuine myth, her’s was rather the original “bad-wife” fable invented by Hesiod himself. Her crime – curiosity – expressed another gender [a]symmetry: looking into things, (the fundamental mechanism of learning, was considered a prime virtue in Greek men). Sadly, men need women in order to father sons. The Amazon existed on cup and jug to repair for a moment this bitter irony. 53
no one’s fantasy
Figure 3. Sumerian Ishtar , ca. 2000–1500 B.C., wears the female warrior’s ur-armor, a fantasy livery that has persisted some 4,000 years. Modern Valkyries, Brunhilde, Wonder Woman and Flash Gordon’s Dale all wear variations of it. Drawn from a cyliander seal, her outfit is described in detail by the porter of the “Gate of No Return” as she disrobes to enter.
Figure 4. From a book Picturing the Modern Amazon.
Figure 6. The Greeks, when they came to think about it derived the name “Amazon” from the syllables [a] “no” and [mazos] “breast,” specifically [a-mazoon], “breastless.” Stories of the mutilation of one or both breasts were wide-spread among the Greeks, who would have the ladies cauterizing or otherwise removing (usually) the right breast in order to facilitate their use of the bow or spear. The first descriptions descend from the medical Hippocrates (he of the oath), the mythographer Hellanikos and the historian Herodotos, all in the mid 5th c. B.C. Xenophon, in the 4th c. B.C., fleshes out the plot whereupon “..they seared the right breast of the female infants in order to prevent it from swelling out and being in the way when their bodies
matured.”[Oec.7.30]. Although a much repeated fable throughout Hellenistic times, the practice is never shown graphically. Just as dead Amazons are never shown without their weapons or armor where they become merely women whom the heroes have slain, so too, monomastia violated the prohibition of mutilation of the canonical ideal human form. (Amazons were expressly human.) Popular sculptures of wounded Amazons (featuring both breasts) appear at the same time as the descriptive texts, ca. 440–430 B.C. They occur in three types: left, Sciarra, wounded below the left breast; center, Capitoline, wounded beneath the right arm-pit beside the breast; and right, Mattei, wounded on the left thigh.
fantasy update Figure 5. Warrior to bedroom gymnast in only 2,500 years.
Somewhere buried deep within the antique Greek male ethos there is a very timid man. Could a Bronze-Age, folk-tale heritage of strong and independent heroines have put such a strong wind up their latter-day souls? For, what kind of a [democratic] society wishes for one-half of its kind not to (nor even never) to have existed, and via its laws, manners, morality and rationales, can be seen to truly mean this? Notes 1. Tyrell, W.M. Blake, Amazons, Baltimore, 1984, p. 129. 2. Boardman, John, Greek Sculpture, The Classical Period, London, 1992, Fig 85. Figures 1. Boston Museum, 9816. 2. Munich Museum 2423. 3. Miller, O.B. A Picturesque Tale of Progress, Vol 2, Chicago, 1935, pp. 34, 36. 4. Picturing the Modern Amazon, NYC, 2000, p. 74 (Sharon Mavel). 5. Mississippi Museum, 1977.3.57, rt: photo, Tim Bret-Day. 6. Boardman, John, London ‘92, Fig 195. References Blok, J.H., The Early Amazons, Leiden, 1995. Boardman, John, Greek Sculpture, The Archaic Period, London, 1970. Ibid., Greek Sculpture, The Classical Period, London, 1985. Ibid., Greek Sculpture, The Classical Period, London, 1992. duBois, Page, Ceintaurs and Amazons, Ann Arbor, 1991. Fierstein, L, Frueh, Stein, J., Picturing the Modern Amazon, NYC, 2000. Graves, Robert, The Greek Myths, London, 1992. Herodotus II, (trans A.D. Godley), Books III-IV, Cambridge, 1982. Keuls, Eva C, The Reign of the Phallus, Berkley, 1985. Kleinbaum, Abby Wettan, The War Against the Amazons, NYC, 1983. Lerner, Gerda, The Creation of Patriarchy, NYC, 1986. Robertson, Martin, The Art of Vase Painting in Ancient Athens, Cambridge, 1992. Salmonson, J.A., Encyclopedia of Amazons, NYC, 1991. Schefold, K, Gods and Heroes in Late Archaic Greek Art, Cambridge, 1985. Snodgrass, A.M, Homer and the Artists, Cambridge, 1998. Tyrell, Wm. Blake, Amazons, Baltimore and London, 1989. Quotation “The Amazon is a ...” Tyrell, W. Blake, The Amazons, p. 128.
Centaurs (précis) … liminal characters, the Centaurs are hybrid monsters whose existence in myth permitted speculation about boundaries and kinds… When it comes to Centaurs, Walt Disney’s well-loved high-steppers are a ludicrous travesty of the ancient Greek mythos: a more perverse rendering hardly seems possible. Contrary to the flirtatious courting couples of “Fantasia’s” pastoral scenes, the hybrid beasts of fable were originally construed – for the most part – as lewd, uncivilized, rapacious, barren, marauding, drunken, bachelor males. (Beethoven’s Fifth surely betokened a different Golden Age). But these barbarous, half-mortal half-gods were highly meaningful to the Greek psyche: their stories were celebrated by Centauromachies and objects throughout the Hellenic worlds. The earliest known Centaur images were Bronze Age, MiddleEastern Kassite boundary stones. Carved men with the backs and hind quarters of a horse stood to mark the frontiers of a horsy kingdom in southern Mesopotamia, and throughout the ensuing centuries similar images continued to be made in the Levant. An eastern propensity for imaging miscellaneous chimeras – griffins, sirens, sphinxes, lion-centaurs, human-headed bulls, as well as horse-centaurs, is well-known so that tradition, and most experts, assign the Greek centaur an oriental pedigree. Wholly Greek centaur artifacts appear only in the late eighth and early seventh centuries B.C. (sans oriental bows and arrows, wings, and scorpion tails – the astrological Sagittarius. Over the millennia, Greek mariners plotting their paths through the Mediterranean, however, would have been familiar with the constellation’s oriental sign). Early centaur depictions have human forelegs and genitals and even, though rarely, admit female forms. By Archaic and Classical Greek times Centaur legend had formed itself into tales of either all male bands of aggressive, drunken, human-animal composites brandishing trees, or into those of a few exceptional Centaurs such as Cheiron and Pholos, friends of humankind. The former “rude, lawless, savage, unapproachable, unmatched in might,” [Soph. Trach. 1096–97] are those carved on the metopes of Pericles’ Parthenon, where Greek Lapith warriors battle the drunken and rapacious Centaur pack. On the stone monuments the Greeks always win. The Parthenon’s designers are thought to have furnished a Centauromachy on its metopes as one more illustration of Athens’ rightful hegemony over the rest of Greece, a rationale based on the Athenian founder Theseus’ lion-skin clad presence and victory over the Centaurs at an ill-fated Lapith wedding feast. According to the mythographers, Lapiths and Centaurs were neighboring tribes (in fact, cousins) in Thessaly’s mountains. At the Lapith wedding 55
of King Peirithous, an invited guest Centaur, Eurytion, becomes very drunk and attempts to carry off Hippodamia, the new bride. Lascivious and inebriate, fellow Centaurs empathize, go beserk, and a battle ensues. Consequently enemies, a subsequent battle occurs wherein the now twice-defeated Centaurs are expelled from Thessaly to Arcadia. Some modern commentators gloss this story with a rivalry between two primitive promiscuous mountain tribes who had a horse-cult in common; the Greeks took advantage and allied themselves first with one, then the other. Pushed high up in the mountains the routed “…survived until Classical times, and vestiges of their pre-Hellenic language are to be found in modern Albania.”1 “…this half-human visitor to our age…” Centaurs were thought to be and intermediate race from an earlier time. [According to Empedocles, the Centaurs – part horse, part man – were a remnant of prehistory, one species, amongst others, from the time before complete species differentiation]. Hoax centaur-bone burials as well as alleged sightings of relict centaur herds have been recorded from Roman to modern times. The inventory includes an even greater number of purported satyrs, another horse-demon closely related by blood-paternity to centaur origins. The desire to actualize ancient or bizarre creatures is a constant of the human psyche. Accordingly, another possible (if highly improbable) corporeal basis for such legends of loosely conflated “horse-men” involves a medical condition which generates a number of physical and behavioral parallels, correspondences which also apply to a whole host of other European folk figures. Williams Syndrome, a genetic mutation which causes aberrant elastin deficiencies results in both the facial traits and subjective ways common to centaur and satyr alike, as well as to trolls, elves, sprites, pixies, gnomes, banshees, leprechauns, fairies and fauns – all storied archaics inhabiting the edges of their “civilized” worlds. With genetic anomalies, Williams persons’ great emotional lability (when enhanced by drink, the Centaurs’ curse); their exceptional musical talents (hallmark of Pan’s genius); and their heightened empathetic powers (trademark of superb horsemen), all mirror the legends’ behavioral abnormalities, while their “‘small, up-turned noses, depressed nasal bridge, “puffy” eyes, oval ears and broad mouths with full lips accented by a small chin,’”2 accurately describe the whole physical panorama of Greek Art’s centaur and satyr faces. Add to this coincidence of resemblances a locale: the wide grassy plains of Thessaly – nursery of the horses of Greek aristocracy; append Thessaly’s encircling mountains – wild early homeland of Greek centaurs, and the sum could promote a “remembered” race of monstrous half-breeds. Individuals with Williams Syndrome display different degrees of the condition’s severity. Suggestively, they can couple and reproduce.
Asides aside, ancient Greek enthusiasms for centaur stories rest mainly on the characters’ “otherness” and “outsider barbarity”. The evolution of the bestial centaur as a Greek favorite differs from that of other monsters, however : it is the only composite beast the Greeks “humanized” in their mythologizing and stories. The Centaur, like the host of other hybrids – Gorgons, Sphinxes, Sirens etc, began as an apotropaic genie or demon. The earliest known Greek centaur object discovered in Greece, a ceramic figure from roughly the 10th Century B.C. was found split into two parts and divided between two tombs in Lefkandi, Euboia. It is thought its division would have served in some mysterious fashion as a guardian of the tombs. As genies “of the wild,” such apotropaic icons would have had the power to avert evil influence or bad-luck even if, in themselves, they were terrifying or malignant beings. Later, Greek Centaurs become mythical figures formulated to manifest the difference between order and chaos. While most modern authors link this passage from one state to another – from superstitious protectors against the evil eye to the more sophisticated subjects of Greek speculations on boundaries, masculinity, marriage and the limits of unbridled desire, one might also add another concern so far seldom tendered by academics: the unconscious apprehension (at least in Athens) that over one third of her population – her slaves – were not only “barbarians,” but that a great proportion of these “outsiders,” lived right inside their homes with them. The husbandry of slaves with their ‘unbridled animal desires’ – on the enormous scale of the institutional slavery practiced in Athens – would necessarily occasion certain displaced, domestic anxieties, in fact one in which Euripides touches on in the prominence of female slaves in his plays. Slavery is a primordial fact and endemic to humankind. However, slavery in a major way, both urban and rural as well as institutionalized, i.e. slavery as “the” form of labour for others, was a radically new idea – another seldom mentioned Greek invention. Ancient Greece was the world’s first genuine slave society (as distinct from a society in which there were slaves), a rarity only realized in history by four others: by Rome, Brazil, the Caribbean, and the USA. All five of these were societies where slaves were the main source of large-scale production in both country-side and city, providing the bulk of immediate revenues from property, the source of elite income. Themselves property as well, slaves were in law non-persons and yet were undeniably biological human beings and therefore ultimately problematic. Aristotle sensed the connection and rationalized the very real slave – like the mythical Centaur – as half human, half animal (famously, “man-footed,” after tetrapoda.). Perhaps Centauromachies and the body of legends provided Greek society with domestic, cautionary reminders in their half-way house to modernity. 56
Parthenon, South Metopes, Slabs 7, 26, 31 and 32. Centaurs fighting Greek Lapiths – their drunken behavior disrupting the wedding of their king, Peirithoos – are the Parthenon’s best preserved metopes (now in London, at the British Museum). In situ they were also the least seen marbles, being on a seldom traversed side of the temple and were, as such perhaps, a least important subject as well.
hoof-prints in the sands of time Figure 1. Top: 13th century Assyrian cylinder seal has a winged (and bearded) centaur hunting gazelles. Eventually the astrological Sagittarius, he is still known today as the archer. He has no direct link to early Greek centaurs: never archers, they were usually seen on the receiving end of arrows. Center: Until recently mistaken for a female centaur, modern scholars now assign this Gorgon’s latter-end horse-parts as a visible sign of her general beastliness (although Poseidon, a horse-god, was her father). From an early, 7th century B.C., Cycladic relief ceramic showing Perseus decapitating Medusa, she of the killing gaze. At that time there were others who appear to be centaurs, but whose appearance was, in fact, a device depicting Giants: four-footedness was used as an indicator of the generally monstrous (vide also scenes with the Minotaur, a bull with a man’s head, etc.). Bottom: An archaic Cheiron, 530 B.C. A bonny creature, he sports two sets of genitalia, fore and aft, (which doesn’t bear thinking on), and carries a tree, the centaur’s weapon-of-choice. Later images show him human-footed, clothed and chastely draped when he is seen as Achilles’ tutor. It was the Greek love of aristocrats (who loved horses), that excepted Cheiron and Pholos from centaurian brutishness.
fables and fantasia Figure 2. A conventional Greek centaur scene, ca. 430–420 B.C. Centaurs never use their one great horsey advantage, to or fro speed, but only sticks and stones as weapons. However their battles are not a guaranteed route, either: sometimes some centaurs win to fight another day. Their fable’s continuing usefulness was particularly important to the Greeks in association with the negation of marriage.
Figure 3. Disney’s cute version of the centaur in the film Fantasia, ca. 1930’s, reinforces a modern reading of the race. According to Bullfinch’s Modern Myths of Greece and Rome, “The ancients were too fond of a horse to consider the union of his nature with man’s as forming a very degraded compound, and accordingly, the Centaur is the only one of the fancied monsters of antiquity to which any good
traits are assigned.” [This union was never, ever considered: in the centaur, man and horse natures were never, ever combined]. The popular modern appropriation of the fables beg to differ with Sophocles’ delineation of centaurs as incorrigble brutes and Homer’s “shaggy wild beasts.” Only a handful of the entire race were granted positive qualities.
power structures (only half as old as time)
folk memories and fables Figure 4. The antithesis that exists between the civilized and the barbarian peoples is probably as ancient as hominids themselves. Up until the Industrial Revolution, the distinction between them was broadly those that were literate and those that were not, although their real difference lay in the complexity and stability of the affairs of state of the one, as opposed to the impermanence and emotion-charged unpredictability of the clan or tribe of the other. It is the extreme lability of barbaric character that makes the Williams Syndrome, as folk-memory candidate, such a tempting, speculative carrier of the mythologized savage centaur or satyr, of their clear “otherness”. “Williams” children; top: Sam; bottom: Katie; center: how a young “Pan” might look.
Figure. 5. Top: Pan, an early Arcadian nature god, was mentioned by Hesiod in the 7th c. B.C., but never appeared in images until the 5th c. B.C. after he assisted Athens with his appearance at Marathon, causing “panic” in the invading Persian forces. Having thus become a vintage media personality, he then is seen in many Dionysiac proceedings with Maenads and other satyrs. Originally goat-headed, human-torsoed and goatlegged, he stands in that most ancient line of “therianthropes,” animal-headed hybrids (who commence in the 32,000 year old caves of Europe with bird and feline-headed humans), and continue to materialize, especially in Australia and S. Africa up to the present day. Pan invented the “Pan-pipes,” and in myth attacked any being within his grasp (boy/girl/animal). Bottom: Disney’s Pan. Even given his musical patrimony, the god’s hyper-sexuality makes him somewhat suspect for a children’s film. But the studio didn’t get it completely wrong: although goat-by-heritage, Pan and the (horse) satyr became conflated and youths known as ‘paniskoi’, beardless young Pans, were common in Satyr plays. As well, tiny wine drinking vessels for children showing boys dressed in satyr costume with tails and bald-pate masks have been found, relics of the Anthesteria, the Festival of Pitchers, which taught boys to get drunk and to revel (the komos), i.e., the art of becoming a Greek man.
Figure 6. As Moses Finley put it: “We condemn slavery, and we are embarrassed for the Greeks, whom we admire so much; therefore we tend either to underestimate its role in their life, or we ignore it altogether, hoping that somehow it will quietly go away.” Two slaves –one young, one old,
bracket a funerary family meal. In images slaves are always scaled down relative to their masters. An additional artistic convention often has young male slaves shown nude as objects of sexual value, although in fact said young men were clothed for daily street life.
Figure 7. In like fashion, in pictorial scenes gods, heroes and monsters are all seen to be of equal size, but humans are shown smaller. In slabs 34 through 37, from the Parthenon’s East Frieze, a seated Athena
and Hephaestus turn their backs on the tableau of mortal priestess, chief magistrate and young boy (girl?) holding-up Athena’s new peplos. The scale immediately establishes the presence of deity among them.
Notes 1. Graves, Robert, The Greek Myths, London, 1992, pp. 361–362. 2. Lenhoff, H.M.L, Wang, Paul P, Greenberg, Frank, Bellugi, Ursala, Williams Syndrome and the Brain, Scientific American, Dec 1997, p. 47. Figures Frontispiece: Parthenon Slabs, J. Boardman, Classic Sculpture, London, 1992, pp. 123, 126. 1. Top: private coll. The Centaur’s Smile, p. 130. Center: Louvre, Paris, (CA 795). Bottom: Metropolitan Museum NYC 55.11.4. 2. Rhode Island School of Design (22.215). 3. Walt Disney productions, Fantasia, 1940. 4. Top: H. Bower, IOC, 11 May, 1997, London, p. 48. Bottom: Radio Times, 29 Nov – 5 Dec, 1997, London. 5. Top: Museo Archiologica, Naples (126056). Bottom: Fantasia, 1940. 6. Athens 1501. 7. I. Jenkins, The Parthenon Frieze, p. 79. References As per References/Introduction, excepting #s 1, 2, 10, 11, 13, 15, 17, 21, 23, 24, 29. A[ltinomous], Equinox, Channel 4, Radio Times, 29 Nov–5 Dec, 1997. Bower, Hilary, Independent on Sunday, London, 11 May, 1997. Disney, Walt, Fantasia, Hollywood, 1940. Lenhoff, H.M.L, Wang, Paul, Greenberg, Frank, Bellugi, Ursala, Williams Syndrome and the Brain. Scientific American, Dec 1997. Quotation “…luminal characters...” Centaurs and Amazons, P. duBois, p. 31.
A great contrast in sophistication exists between the Olympic superstitions and the teachings of Gautama Siddharthana, 563–483 B.C., the Buddha, some fifty years prior to Pericles’ Parthenon.
Writing a synopsis of a large project like this has one huge liability: the omission of things of much relevance, a lack that can be only ameliorated at this time in draft form.
3. Hellenism: Ancient Greece was less a country or place than a folk and a language. Its homeland, Peninsular Greece, was a mountainous stretch of small valleys sporting numerous communities of subsistence farmers and coastal villages, whose expanding numbers in good times – progressively overcrowded and underfed – led to heavy colonial expansions. By the Classical era, an uprooted Hellenic diaspora stretched from the western Mediterranean, Italy, Africa, and Syria to the farthest shores of the Black Sea. These entre-pot colonies all spoke some form of Greek and all carried with them the shared customs and mores of their former home. By Alexander’s time this heritage – now “Hellenism” – was famously spread over the antique world implementing Roman evolution and its later legacies.
Additions (and Subtractions)
introduction 1. Society: Ancient Greece, like Rome, was a warrior society and all its citizens served in the military. Unlike her Bronze Age antecedents however, where Homeric heroes were concerned with trophies, glory, and honor, the classical Greeks were interested in power and booty: as Plato put it, war was caused by the desire “to have more,” to acquire wealth and possibly slaves. In fact war was the normal state of affairs and Greek often fought Greek as they were combative and highly competitive in almost everything, from athletics to poetry, from politics to song. The Symposium of classical time, an institutionalized feasting activity, developed from competitive and exclusive interests. As with other military cohorts, it was an expression of aristocratic rivalry and bonding: elite groups employed it to consolidate their shared power and to assert their superiority over other groups and the population as a whole. Dining, drinking, and entertainments, along with much adversarial talk, song, poetry, and recitations – sometimes from dusk to dawn – reinforced an esprit de corps that embodied a coeval homoeroticism. In Athens, it famously bonded those with shared political programs. 2. Religion: Since the authorized state religion – the Panhellenic Olympic pantheon – existed side by side with the old nature religions and mystical sects, a long look at Paganism would not be amiss, including the story of the tyrant Peisistratus’ promenade by chariot through the streets of 6th century Athens with a girl dressed as Athena to support his bid to return to power. The false “epiphany” worked. Most ancient Greeks believed in an active, corporeal divine, although Herodotus was astonished by this past Athenian credulity.
4. Sources: What kind of men were the first modern translators from the Greek literary corpus? How much trust should we place in their works? (See Outlines, Dr . Bentley, in Virginia Woolf, The Common Reader). Not the only ones to mistrust authors, classical Greeks refused to believe Herodotus’ assertion that the hated Persians had discussed, contemplated and discarded democracy as a form of government. Vanity and pride in their “uniqueness” was endemic to the Hellenes: in their modern translators, too?
athena 1. Deity and Humanism: A geography of folding mountains as opposed to one of flat riverbeds forms very different social systems for its occupants. The great ancient, riverine societies of Mesopotamia and Egypt were highly stable: things didn’t change often or abruptly with watercourses that rose and fell with the eternal circuit of the seasons. Antique Greece and Iona, on the other hand, were otherwise and highly unstable. Earthquake had plagued the northeastern Mediterranean for aeons along with volcanoes, tsunamis, shifting coast lines, emerging land masses, and islands which appeared and disappeared at will. In the hands of such chthonic powers, Fate features largely and Flux would have seemed close and personal. Hellas, accordingly, fashioned her new pantheon of gods in forms both as unpredictable as her environs and as temperamental as their venerators: instead of Egypt’s gigantic statues proclaiming a oneness with eternity or Babylon’s monstrous and aloof Lords of Creation, marble Apollo even smiles. 60
Much has been made of a Grecian, inaugurating Humanism, an individualization which might well have sprung from Greek encounters with capricious power where a quixotic Chance recalled a prickly “human nature,” (Zeus or Poseidon having a temper tantrum, for instance). Place and context have invented more than any gens ever could. 2. Patriarchy: In her book The Creation of Patriarchy, (Oxford, 1986, p.9) Gerda Lerner writes: “Men learned to institute dominance and hierarchy over other people by their earlier practice of dominance over the women of their own group. This found expression in the institutionalization of slavery, which began with the enslavement of women of conquered groups.” It is only in the past twenty-five years that the legal definition of rape in New York Law has included a wife – or a man, in a “perpetration of an act of sexual intercourse…against [her or his] will and consent.” Once again, according to Lerner (ibid, p.8): “The period of ‘the establishment of patriarchy,’ was not one ‘event’ but a process developing over a period of nearly 2,500 years, from approximately 3100 to 600 B.C.” Has western society finally reached an apogee in its divestment of patriarchy’s shackles? Or – merely an evanescent watershed – will the gathering storms of “Right to Lifer” laws begin the descent back to a parochial and hobbled humanity once again? Women’s rights, in particular their sexual and economic liberties, have always been the key-stone of advanced human civilization.
horsemanship 1. Editing cuts: Although the chapter is probably complete, it is too full of bitting and bridle detail too long. Some judicious cutting should take place.
ensembles 1. Veiling: We have few avenues to an understanding of the Greek woman’s handling of her subjugated status in that antique, patriarchal society: the veil and how she used it to her own advantage is one
such window. Even in the most denigrating and misogynistic worlds women are subjects – not powerless objects – who will take steps to try to better their lot. The act of veiling, although required, not only protected a woman when she left the safety of her house to venture outside into “male space,” it could also be used to express emotions such as anger or grief or to accentuate her own sexuality. Of further service, under this male cloak of respectability she could also assert her high social status, advertise her modesty and even (slyly) manipulate her sexual allure.
amazons 1. Military Women: Female warriors have been with us for time out of mind. As gladiators, martial nuns, warrior queens, pirates, and guerrillas they have marched through the ages armed with swords, axes, bows, guns and bombs. They have existed in many societies. Some defended their homes during sieges, others fought beside their husbands. Singular women all – they are rare and, outside of fable, act mostly in their own capacity. Recent excavations in Siberia have titillated with a small number of graves of weapons-bearing women – some buried with much high-status grave goods – that seem to indicate a higher percentage of battle-active women than is common. It is well-known that nomad Scythian and Sarmatian women hunted and went to war with the men, and they enjoyed somewhat equal status with them. But none of these women can be claimed as Amazon exemplars since there has never been a continuing (i.e. reproducing) group of women documented, living either without or as undisputed overlords of men. The race was a Greek fantasy. 2. Armor: Sometimes Amazons are portrayed wearing armor. Theirs has the same form as the men’s, but is usually Persian or oriental in appearance. Chain-mail and leather leggings are common and they wear the armor over short flowing chitons. Heroes who fight them are, of course, naked except for their cloaks and helmets, but hoplites (infantry) also wore leather corselets over their chitons. The sorts of ancient armor are not without interest. For example, Isis, a goddess of 2500 B.C. Mesopotamia, wore a form of battle-dress still in fashion for 19th century Valkyries and 1930s comic strip figures of the Wonder Woman type. A bit of soft porn, the slim goddess stands with her snaked-sword and dagger in hand, one foot on a roaring lion’s neck: her helmet, ascending multiple peaks and horns; her girdled skirt, a narrow panel of pleats fore and aft; her bra, pointy metal discs dependent on criss-crossed strappings. Some things never change. 61
centaurs 1. Rape: The modern English (or French or German) word for rape is nonexistent in ancient Greek or Latin. Instead, other broader words were employed to refer to acts of sexual violence, terms used for prosecutions and indictments such as hybris, which was a “disposition to having energy or power and using it self-indulgently,” or moicheia, “adultery.” This is not to say the act didn’t exist: rape as a subject of divine abduction is popular on vase paintings (that, curiously, normally depict only the pursuit). On the erotic vases that do portray the act, the painters show little interest in the emotions or reactions of the partners. In literature, for the playwrights rape is just an incidental occurrence – a petty insult, or a convenient plot device where there is no interest in the feelings of the women or girls. In a nutshell, where all women were chattel and many men were slaves, the modern “absence of consent” could hardly exist. Rape was held to be merely a sexual act dishonoring a master (husband or father), or an infringement of property rights against a proprietor. 2. The Beast in Arcadia: The centaur served as the Greek establishment’s emblem of the wild, but outside of this state sponsorship the satyr – a kissing cousin – performed the role in drama, rite and cup. Although both figures were “horse devils,” the two are never shown together because they inhabit different conceptual spheres. The centaur, due to aristocracy’s ongoing romance with the horse, is ultimately a monumental and heroic, if somewhat excitable and sensuous creature. He retains many of the noble qualities of both horse and man, an entity literally split between his aspects, (neatly divided in two, in fact), the equine portion unmixed with the human. The satyr, on the other hand, exhibits the worst traits of his mix being cowardly, inclined to whine, worthless and ignoble. More human in form than the centaur, with only the long ears and tail of a horse, he is yet a hybrid brute, a mingling of animal and human throughout, and therefore as contemptible to the Greeks – in his homogenized, miscegenated state – as a mule. In character he is thieving, mischievous, and sexually frustrated, an anti-hero representing anti-social irresponsibility. He plays an obstreperous role in Maenadism and Dionysiac cult and ritual. Maenads in Greek legend were “wild” women gone completely out of control (literally “madwomen”), who sojourned in the country-side where they played with snakes and tore up live animals with their bare hands. Devoted followers of Dionysus, the god also sported an entourage of satyrs that constantly lusted after his young and beautifully dressed Maenads. It has never been ascertained – either in antiquity or in modernity – whether men and women ever actually acted out the
Dionysic rituals of violence and lust so celebrated in costume and priapus, on vase and stage. Far more certain were the taming rituals practiced in sundry Greek puberty rites with adolescent girls identified with an animal. For instance in the festival of Artemis Brauronia, held in the goddess’ sanctuary outside Athens, girls known as bears enacted the killing of the sacred she-bear in order to free themselves from the “wild state” in preparation for marriage. Greek concern with the “wild” is explicable. The citizens of the Greek polis were mandated land owners of estates or even smallholdings and like farmers everywhere, their transactions with and against nature were unceasing, consequential, and considered. Distinguishing between culture and nature has almost always and everywhere mattered: for instance, what animals do in contrast to how humans should behave has perpetually influenced human moralities and etiquettes. In a more corporeal binary, a change from tomb burial to cremation – that is, from earth’s natural decomposition to fire, man’s doing – marked a Helladic social stratification (hero above peasant) , that took place well back in the Bronze Age. A later variation on raw vs. cooked food, (an even older preoccupation), resurfaced in the post-Mycenaean, Greek delineation of the “barbarian” nomad, who eats flesh (usually raw) and drinks milk as opposed to the “civilized” sedentary agriculturalist, who eats grain and drinks wine. Mountainous regions were always the wildest quarters of all, and Arcadia, the center of the Peloponnese, was considered by Greeks as wilderness non-pareil, where nature ruled. As well as a centaur homeland, it was the haunt of (classical) Pan, a latter-day, goatfooted satyr who in myth sexually attacked girls, nymphs, even animals. Feared by all, (panicked, in fact), in his domain the land itself was so bleak and barren that song and the music of “Pan’s pipes” were all that kept its people “from a life beyond endurance.” [Polybius, 205–120 B.C., a native]. Besides the weather and nature’s unremitting little surprises, rural folk must reckon with the brute animal, whether feral or fierce root of the domestic beast, or even with the savage within humans whose isolation or loneliness casts up unsavory or uncivilized behaviors: “High on a mountainside in a rugged and lonely part of Arcadia stands a remote shrine to Zeus Lykaios, Wolf Zeus. Plato alludes to a legend that human sacrifice was regularly practiced there and the celebrant who partook of the flesh turned into a wolf.” (C. Segal, Tragedy and Civilization, 1981, p. 1) An unthinkable occasion in any urban setting, yet the were-wolf is still a recent living legend in parts of the Balkans, and an Arcadian Greek is still spoken in the mountains of Albania today. The rites and customs of remote countrysides die hard. 62
Jo Baer — Revisioning the Parthenon
Appendix to Jo Baer. Broadsides & Belles Lettres. Selected Writings and Interviews 1965-2010, edited by Roel Arkesteijn
Pictured on p. 168 of Jo Baer. Broadsides & Belles Lettres. Selected Writings and Interviews 1965-2010:
Text by Jo Baer Proofreading Kate Delaney, Nora Delaney Illustrations Jo Baer Printing Die Keure, Bruges Publisher Roma Publications, Amsterdam International distribution Idea Books, Amsterdam www.ideabooks.nl Individual Orders www.romapublications.org Special thanks to Sil Visser, Louis Lüthi Roma Publication 142b (appendix to Roma Publication 142) isbn 978-90-77459-49-2 © 2010 Jo Baer, Roma Publications No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photography, recording or any other storage and retrieval system, without prior permission in writing from the publisher.
Memorial from an Art World Body (Nevermore), 2009 oil on canvas, 183 x 153 cm / 72.1 x 60.3 inch collection of the artist
Revisioning the Parthenon, 1996- (work in progress) Revisioning the Parthenon is undoubtedly Jo Baer’s most extensive writing. This book of essays and drawings questions conventional interpretations of the ancient Greek monument’s frieze, metopes, architecture and sculpture. The tractatus is intended as an augmenting re-appraisal of Pericles’ Parthenon as a vehicle for Athenian imperial propaganda. Baer started the text in 1996 and considers the version, published here for the first time, a “work in progress.” Baer does consider the chapters “Ensembles” and “Horesemanship” finished; she views the remaining chapters as incomplete at the moment. The extensive piece Revisioning the Parthenon would have taken up a significant part of the publication Jo Baer. Broadsides & Belles Lettres. Selected Writings and Interviews 1965-2010 – a book within a book. In order to keep Broadsides & Belles Lettres balanced, the decision was made to publish this piece separately as a supplement to this collection. The document published here is a compressed version of the unpublished document that the artist designed and is a total of 82 pages measuring 26.7 x 35.5 cm (10.5 x 14.0 inch).
Roma Publication 142 + 142b isbn 978-90-77459-49-2