“The soul is no traveler; the wise man stays at home.”–Emerson, “Self Reliance”
true, I went as far as the land of Sicily once,
and I went to the vine-covered plain of Euboea,
and Sparta, that splendid city on the reed-sprouting Eurotas,
and they welcomed me graciously, every place I visited—
yet not one pleasure came to my heart from them.
and so, this truth: nothing is more dear than one’s own country.
LarryBenn has a B.A. in English Literature from Harvard College, an M.Phil in English Literature from Oxford University, and a J.D. from Yale Law School. Making amends for a working life misspent in finance, he’s now a hobbyist in ancient languages and blogs at featsofgreek.blogspot.com.
Release his hands, for caught in the nets he is not swift enough to escape me. But your body is not ill-formed, stranger, for women’s purposes, the very reason you have come to Thebes. For your hair is long, you’re not a wrestler, scattered all over your cheeks, full of desire; and you keep your skin white, protected from the sun, by hunting after Aphrodite beneath the shade. First then tell me who your family is.
I can tell you this easily, without boasting. I suppose you are familiar with flowery Tmolus.
I know of it; it surrounds the city of Sardis.
I am from there, and Lydia is my fatherland.
From the road alone, it is difficult to grasp the extension of the Boz Dağ, a mountain range known in antiquity as the Tmolus. It runs from east to Izmir all the way to Turkey’s western Anatolian Plateau, with a summit at around 2200-2400 m. Now it’s tucked somewhere between the modern Turkish provinces of Izmir, Manisa and Uşak, hiding its lush valleys, irregular elevations, and largely abandoned villages. At present, the area is a destination for hikers and bikers, who spend time in between the mountains (see The Figs and Mountains of Izmir: Travel horizontally in any direction and you see no change in landscape, by Smithsonian journalist Alastair Bland who biked in the area in 2011) and mostly local tourists, who visit the area around Lake Gölcük and the Ottoman-era town of Birgi (the distance between them is around 21 km), both located at the easternmost end of the mountain range. The real attraction though is Mount Bozdağ itself, and its short skiing season. But during the journey, we traveled only in a triangle between the regional capital, modern-day Ödemiş (a former capital of the Aydınoğlu Sultanate in the 13th and 14th century), the historical Birgi and the more remote settlement of Lübbey.
Even though the Tmolus is flanked by the valleys of very important fluvial channels in antiquity, and in the neighborhood of the Aegean Coast, one of the best known parts of the ancient world – Aeolis, Ionia, Lydia – little is known about the mountains. This remoteness has contributed to their mythological status as a home of the gods: Euripides tells us in his posthumous masterpiece that Dionysus was born there (and already in the opening lines, the God informs us that he has arrived in Thebes, taking a mortal form, after leaving behind many riches in Lydia and Phrygia; Eur. Ba. 13-22). The first appearance of the mythological Tmolus, goes back to Theognis, a 6th century lyric poet from Megara, <Οὔποτε τοῖσ’ ἐχθροῖσιν ὑπὸ ζυγὸν αὐχένα θήσω / δύσλοφον, οὐδ’ εἴ μοι Τμῶλος ἔπεστι κάρηι.> ( Never will I set my neck under the galling yoke of mine enemies, nay, not though Tmolus be upon my head); according to myth Tmolus is a mountain-god, son of Ares and Theogone and he judged the musical contest between Pan and Apollo (Ov. Met. 11.146-194). Mount Tmolus is named after him, a king of Lydia, with the capital Sardis at its foot and Hypaepa on the southern slope.
The historical Lydia, however, is an Iron Age kingdom, named after 2nd millennium king Lydus (Hdt. 1.7) from the dynasty of the Maeonian kings, and which occupied, in its pre-Greek setting, large swathes of Western Anatolia. It was reduced after the Persian contest roughly to its Hellenistic border with Ionia and Phrygia, especially after Cyrus conquered Sardis. But for all the importance of Lydia, the mythical Mt. Tmolus remained a place of isolation, shepherds and woodcutters.
The myth of its seclusion continued into the Christian era with monastic foundations but once again sources are hard to come by. Yet the importance of Mt. Tmolus had always to do with its privileged location between the Anatolian Plateau and the Aegean Coast, except that as Western explorers found out in the 19th century (especially the Swiss botanist Edmond Boissier in 1842), it cannot be crossed from east to west in modern times; “the fertile valleys are separated from each other by large and complex ranges of mountains where communication is difficult and agricultural resources are inadequate to support a large population” (Foss, 1978).
However the Tmolus is not impassable: “Most of the range consists of smaller chains of peaks which run north and south and enclose long, narrow valleys, called yayla, ‘summer pasture’, in Turkish” (Foss, 1978). Ancient roads led from Sardis to Hypaepa (an ancient city at the southern slope of the the Tmolus), a convenient route that connected the plateau and the coast, and that existed since Hittite times. It bypassed the Tmolus altogether along the Hermus, following parallel mountain ranges with lower elevations.
Other parallel roads were carved by political events: the Persian conquest of the Asia Minor in 546 BCE and the subsequent Athenian take over in 499 BCE. From the perspective of a contemporary visitor, the unspoiled nature is breathtaking and inviting, but under the dense vegetation of the valleys or the barren slopes, lurk long centuries of seasonal migrations, archaeological remains, agricultural landscaping, population exchange and massive public works. Since the departure of the man-god Dionysus for Thebes, the mysterious land of the gods has been hotly contested, often in battle, but ultimately abandoned to overgrown nature.
II. One City, Many Names
Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War, 8.19.2-3
A message, however, reaching them from Chalcideus to tell them to go back again, and that Amorges was at hand with an army by land. They sailed to Dios Hieron and there saw ten more ships sailing up with which Diomedon had started from Athens after Thrasycles, They were fleeing with one ship to Ephesus, the rest to Teos.”
Finally, summing up everything, he judged it wise to arrest Nicephorus. The latter was preparing his meditated escape and, wishing the start on his way to Christopolis during the night, sent to Constantine Porphyrogenitus in the evening and begged him to lend him the swift steed the Emperor had given him. However, Constantine refused, saying it was impossible to give away a gift from the Emperor of such value to another the very same day.
The historical center of Birgi is our base camp for exploration and one of the arteries in a 500 km long walking path, the Efeler Yolu (roughly translated as the Bandit’s Route, explanation forthcoming); a path connecting partly abandoned villages and valleys that were once inhabited by the so-called bandits of the area. Unlike the famous Lycian Way, extending from Fethiye to Antalya, designed and marked by amateur historian Kate Clow (and Turkey’s most famous footpath), however Efeler Yolu is a coordinated effort of Ege University in Izmir, under the direction of Dr. Özgür Özkaya, involving key stakeholders in the region, such as municipalities and development agencies.
The newly established footpath, overlaid on ancient and modern roads, seeks to reactivate the region through different strategies of sustainable tourism. Already in the 19th century (Wagner, 1892) the Ottoman Birgi was largely abandoned as population displaced towards the regional capital Ödemiş, but it is now a heritage tourism destination, with its Ottoman period houses and artisanal production, from which traces of its antiquity are rather absent and have to be carefully carved out through obscure sources.
Its ancient name of Dios Hieron – Sanctuary of Zeus – is very poorly attested and there’s a confusion in the sources given that there’s another Dios Hieron on the Ionian coast that figures prominently in Greek sources as a city in the Delian League (Thuc. 8.19.2), and Thucydides, Stefan of Byzantium, Pliny the Elder, Strabo and Herodotus provide confusing, often conflicting accounts. The only reliable source is merely the name of the city listed by Ptolemy, and there’s doubt whether we are talking about the same exact settlement, or somewhere nearby. Many coins were minted here in antiquity with the inscription “Διοσιερειτων” or different variants thereof.
Its name changed to Diopolis and Christians called it Christopolis (see Anna Komnene), but it was known as Pyrgion by the end of the Byzantine era – a place mentioned in many sources but without much detail. When Pyrgion fell to the Turks in 1307, its name changed to Birgi and became the capital of a sultanate. By the time Ibn Battuta visited in the 14th century he described the hospitality of Muslim institutions, but little is known about Christian life through the centuries, except that a number of Greeks and Armenians were also settled in the area.
The great mosque of Birgi (Ulu Cami), was erected in 1312, by Mehmed Bey of the Aydınoğlu Emirate, and the builder integrated into the construction a fascinating piece of spolia: A Lydian lion, bearing witness to the pre-Greek past of the region (a Lydian tomb was excavated in the region as a part of the Sardis expeditions in the 20th century). After Turks settled in the surrounding area, nomadism became the established way of life, and whole tribes would move great distances between the summer and winter pastures, called yayla and kışlak in Turkish (Foss, 1978),]. Mt Tmolus or the Boz Dağ, was known through the Ottoman period as a refugee for bandits (hence the name Efeler Yolu), but its reputation for banditry is also ancient: In the Novellae Constitutiones, a code of Roman law initiated by Roman Emperor Justinian I, there was a discussion of Pisidian banditry and the punishments meted out to thieves and bandits. It is also thought that the lack of Christian sources is perhaps due to heretic sects living in this remote highland. But during the Ottoman era, the authorities found it extremely difficult to impose law and order in these valleys.
Several kilometers from Birgi, we arrive at the kışlak of Lübbey, a semi abandoned winter village where only a handful of inhabitants, ruined houses and a mosque remain. Interestingly enough, the archaeological knowledge of the area is very poor, and most of the descriptive work of Clive Foss is based on the yayla, not on the kışlak. Visiting the kışlak with the Izmir Vakfı (a non-profit organization), we are led by Emin Başaranbilek, an archaeologist from Birgi, who completes the picture of this settlement on the Cayster valley, called Küçük Menderes in Turkish, largely against the background of the work of Foss and the Sardis expeditions (he’s also written about the mosque of Lübbey in Turkish). Information about this settlement, populated by Turkmen in the modern era, is very scarce, mostly limited to the late Ottoman period and cadastral records. The history of Lübbey is completely unknown, as the word has no meaning in Turkish (toponyms that begin with L are foreign to Turkish), and could be perhaps related to Datbey (a place famous for kiln firing), around Hypaepa, an important Greek city on the southern slope of the Tmolus that loses importance to Birgi/Pyrgion.
III. Wine from Tmolus
Euripides, Bacchae, 135-167
He is sweet in the mountains, whenever, after the running dance, he falls on the ground, wearing the sacred garment of fawn skin, hunting the blood of the slain goat, a raw-eaten delight, rushing to the Phrygian, the Lydian mountains, and the leader of the dance is Bromius, evoe!
The plain flows with milk, it flows with wine, it flows with the nectar of bees. The Bacchic one, raising the flaming torch of pine and his thyrsos darts about, like the smoke of Syrian incense, arousing the wanderers with his racing and dancing, agitating them with his shouts, casting his rich locks into the air.
And among the Maenads his voice cries deep: “Go, Bacchae, go, Bacchae, with the luxury of Tmolus that flows with gold, sing of Dionysus, beneath the heavy beat of drums, celebrating in delight the god of delight with Phrygian shouts and cries, when the sweet-sounding sacred pipe sounds a sacred playful tune suited to the wanderers, to the mountain, to the mountain!”
And the Bacchantes, rejoicing like a foal with its grazing mother, rouses her swift foot in a gamboling dance.
In Euripides’ Bacchae, the god Dionysus is constantly bragging about the quality of wines from Lydia and the Tmolus, fact that has been corroborated by Strabo, “And indeed the Ephesian and Metropolitan wines are good; and Mt. Mesogis and Mt. Tmolus and the Catacecaumene country and Cnidos and Smyrna and other less significant places produce exceptionally good wine, whether for enjoyment or medicinal purposes” (Strab. 14.1).
The Aegean coast has always been famous for its wine culture (Hom. Il. 13.673) but in the historical agriculture presented in Foss’ description, vineyards are quite absent: Fruit and nut trees of all kinds, wheat, potatoes, hazelnuts, chestnuts, grapes, apples, and pomegranates. In modern times, the vineyards are located on the lower slopes of the Boz Dağ, though of course wine culture has been affected by population exchanges that drove away from Anatolia Christian minorities traditionally concerned with wine-making. But Turkey’s Aegean region, nevertheless, has experienced a mild rebirth of its wine culture in recent years, paradoxically as the currency has slipped and freedom of expression became very restricted.
Part of the appeal for Efeler Yolu is actually the return to small scale agriculture that can serve other purpose than survival: The region’s archaeology of food, for which we have no good sources, indicates that not only is the agricultural panorama radically different from antiquity (unlike Greece for example), but it has profoundly transformed the environment as well. For a country whose modernization has always emphasized large-scale industrial production, massive dependence on imports – a dangerous situation as the currency has lost so much of its value – and a move away from traditional craftsmanship, there’s a lack of much needed incentives for local, regional agriculture. As Alastair Bland mentions in his article from the experience of biking through the ancient roads of the Tmolus in 2011, there was plenty of local produce on offer, olives, figs, oil, and a limited quantity of fruits. Would it be possible to transform back the environment through a gesture as simple as a footpath? Perhaps not, but it creates a different, deeper historical space, where such ideas are possible.
The cultural history of nomadism and the role of traditional religion and the progressive abandonment of villages have not only transformed the environment, but brought gigantic rings of poverty to capital cities that can no longer sustain a growing young population with high employment rates. By the end of the Ottoman era and definitely in the beginning of the Turkish republic, nomadism was largely eradicated and a degree of law and order was established, but with its departure came also the abandonment of the Tmolus.
It might seem strange to casual observers today, but classical and Byzantine settlements have been found throughout the area, and while significant remains of antiquity have not been found, it is also suspected that the banditry culture contributed to massive looting and that antiquities were unearthed before heritage laws were passed. According to Clive Foss, who documented a number of inscriptions in the 1970s, inscriptions were broken up for stone and carried off for roadworks, without much oversight. That this happens is no surprise to observers in Turkey, where archaeological sites are covered by roadworks and botched restorations are a matter of course.
Chris Roosevelt, an archaeologist specializing in the Lydia region, has also documented testimonies from other archaeologists in the same period and as late as the early 2000s, about mysterious shepherds, overnight digs, weak law enforcement and unreported antiquities, including looting and destruction of remains. He even theorizes that in the absence of the state (in the remains-rich Bin Tepe, north of Mt. Tmolus), archaeological excavations in fact encourage more plunder and looting. It is perhaps possible, to think, that a multidirectional project such as Efeler Yolu, a coordinated effort across different state and private actors and agencies, could in fact serve to magnify efforts in heritage (preventive) preservation. Through its engagement with nature and the built environment (an artificial construct with political implications), a contemporary archaeological practice (of the kind espoused by archaeologists such as Dan Hicks and his project “Lande: The Calais Jungle” or Yannis Hamilakis’ “Transient Matter”) could arise, reversing the socio-cultural damage that survival agriculture and decades of poor planning have inflicted on the Lydian mountains.
IV. The Other Town
Anna Komnene, The Alexiad, 14.1.2
The Emperor was detained for some time by his care for the Franks; and when he had arranged everything satisfactorily for them, he took the road home to Byzantium. But after his return he did not give himself entirely to rest and repose, for, when he reflected how the barbarians had laid the whole sea-coast of Smyrna in ruins up to Attalia, he thought it would be a disgrace if he could not restore the cities to their pristine state, bring back their former prosperity, and re-people them with the inhabitants who were now scattered far and wide.
Constantine P. Cavafy, “Anna Komnena”, Poems 1919-1933
In the prologue to her Alexiad,
Anna Komnena laments her widowhood.
Her soul is all vertigo.
“And I bathe my eyes,” she tells us,
“in rivers of tears… Alas, for the waves” of her life,
“alas for the revolutions.” Sorrow burns her
“to the bones and the marrow of the splitting” of her soul.
But the truth seems to be this power-hungry woman
knew only one sorrow that really mattered;
even if she doesn’t admit it, this arrogant Greek woman
had only one consuming pain:
that with all her dexterity,
she never managed to gain the throne,
virtually snatched out of her hands by impudent John.
Στον πρόλογο της Aλεξιάδος της θρηνεί,
για την χηρεία της η Άννα Κομνηνή.
Εις ίλιγγον είν’ η ψυχή της. «Και
ρείθροις δακρύων», μας λέγει, «περιτέγγω
τους οφθαλμούς….. Φευ των κυμάτων» της ζωής της,
«φευ των επαναστάσεων». Την καίει η οδύνη
«μέχρις οστέων και μυελών και μερισμού ψυχής».
Όμως η αλήθεια μοιάζει που μια λύπη μόνην
καιρίαν εγνώρισεν η φίλαρχη γυναίκα·
έναν καϋμό βαθύ μονάχα είχε
(κι ας μην τ’ ομολογεί) η αγέρωχη αυτή Γραικιά,
που δεν κατάφερε, μ’ όλην την δεξιότητά της,
την Βασιλείαν ν’ αποκτήσει· μα την πήρε
σχεδόν μέσ’ απ’ τα χέρια της ο προπετής Ιωάννης.
The presence of the Ottoman minorities along the footpath of Efeler Yolu is as weak as the evidence for its classical past, and often apocryphal – mostly accounts of Western travelers. Although in the case of Birgi hardly avoidable, given the status of Christopolis, and especially Pyrgion, as a borderline in the mountains of a receding empire as the Seljuk presence closed in on the Byzantines. In a way, Turks and Greeks first encountered each other in these mountains, and continued to do so for centuries. The erasure of the Greek presence is today near absolute, to the extent that a number of Roman and Byzantine tombs (even inside of Birgi) are mistakenly attributed to the Ottoman Seljuks, and incorrectly dated. The Fall of Constantinople, thanks not to the Turks but to Latins on August 12, 1204, thus moving the Byzantine Empire out of Constantinople and to Nicaea, created a wave of refugees from the city to the Aegean region and a new dynamic in the area (Anna Komnene writes bitterly about the first Italo-Norman invasions). This situation surprisingly empowered the Byzantine presence versus the new Seljuk arrivals from the East.
But the nomadic nature of the Turks put the long-settled Greek and Armenian population at terrible disadvantage, and since then, imperial power became increasingly fragmented around this region. Many Byzantines converted to Islam, sometimes for practical reasons but often also forced; other populations welcomed the Ottomans in protest of the oppressive Byzantine taxation and even fought alongside them, and since then both Muslims and Christians (and a minor Jewish population) lived in a complex archipelago of settlements, in which facing each other was unavoidable.
The highland gave advantage to the Turkish bandits in terms of inaccessible geography, but in terms of battle it is a place where scarce resources and water make it impossible to remain hidden for long, therefore mobility between the valleys was a necessity. Birgi fell (1307) long before Constantinople and the Aydın sultanate was established rapidly, but it wasn’t going to be the last time Turks and Greeks would be facing it off in battle: On May 15, 1919 the Greek forces advanced as far as Birgi during the independence war and not unlike other battles in the Anatolian Aegean, Greeks were defeated with devastating consequences.
An online application, created by Anastasios Stavrakoudis, at the University of Ioannina, maps out all the locations from which Greeks were expelled on the aftermath of the Greek-Turkish war in 1922, when Greece and Turkey exchanged their entire minority populations (after hundreds of thousands were massacred, the vast majority in Turkey), with the exception of Istanbul. You easily can find Birgi and Ödemiş in this map. A documentary film by Turkish filmmaker Nefin Dinç and Herkül Millas, a Greek writer from the minorities of Anatolia, “The Other Town” (2011), takes place in two towns, one in Turkey (Birgi) and one in Greece (Dimitsana), on the mountains of Peloponnese, a place very similar to Mt. Tmolus, and a borderland with the Ottomans that played a role in the Greek independence in 1821. In both towns, Millas discusses the ‘other’, with both the young and the elderly, in places where people have learnt about each other only through the history textbooks that present only one version of events, being both versions quite symmetrically based on the similar events and nationalistic discourse that has led to multigenerational ethnic hatred.
The Greek presence on the Aegean coast and the Tmolus is something that cannot be expunged from memory, the play of Euripides tells us. In the vicinity of Lübbey, the remote yayla we just visited, a Hellenistic inscription was found by Foss, bearing the uncommon name Nicopolis, attested only in Hypaepa, but all of this disappeared from public memory in Turkey, and traces are difficult to pin down without specialized archaeological knowledge, how is this process possible? The 500 km path of Efeler Yolu, almost unknowingly, on its twenty-something village stops – chosen for a number of strategic reasons, highlights not only the history of ancient roads in a remote and importantly connected region of historical Lydia, but also uncovers an unfinished, multilayered, historical memory, both recent and in the far past, rich in archaeological implications and made invisible not only by the overgrown nature but also by the political maneuvers of modern nation states. According to Millas, myths mean more than they narrate, “Nations believe in myths even if the myths are not sensible and rational, they are not documented, they are full of contradictions, even if they are proven fake.”
Whether a project so ambitious (it’s still not fully operational, and I suspect, much work remains to be done), and so deeply embedded in institutions of the state at a time of turmoil will be capable of independently achieving aims other than presenting a neutral (or neutralized) image of the past/present, remains to be seen. As we know from the struggles of indigenous peoples in many countries at present, the environment is never neutral, and represents a key factor in the frontline of decolonization, especially against the background of redrawing historical borders and questions of belonging. In a country that has historically struggled with complexity and cultural memory, and where the history of minorities has been largely erased and archaeology is a contentious point in the construction of national identity, it is not possible to turn the clock back. Nevertheless, the hope remains that a vision of sustainable development comes not at the expense of a serious consideration of the value of material culture that might problematize the past not as myth, but as shared heritage. So much remains to be seen insofar as what lies ahead in the rest of the month-long trail.
George Seferis, “Mythistorima”, XIX, 1935
Even if the wind does blow it brings us no relief
the shade cast by the cypress-tree is tight and narrow
and all around are steep paths leading to the mountains;
they weight upon us
those friends who no longer know how to die.
Κι αν ο αγέρας φυσά δε μας δροσίζει
κι ο ίσκιος μένει στενός κάτω απ’ τα κυπαρίσσιακι
όλο τριγύρω ανήφοροι στα βουνά·
οι φίλοι που δεν ξέρουν πια πώς να πεθάνουν.
*In the course of the coming year, I will visit a number of points in the trail of Efeler Yolu, seeking the map out details and stories from classical antiquity, Byzantine and pre-modern past of the region. Efeler Yolu is on Instagram, only in Turkish.
Dimiter Angelov, The Byzantine Hellene: The Life of Emperor Theodore Laskaris and Byzantium in the Thirteenth Century, Harvard University Press, 2019
Emin Başaranbilek, Lübbey Kışlağı ve Lübbey Camisi, 2015
Clive Foss, Explorations in Mount Tmolus, California Studies in Classical Antiquity, Vol. 11 (1978), pp. 21-60
Dimitri Korobeinikov, Byzantium and the Turks in the Thirteenth Century, Oxford Studies in Byzantium, Oxford University Press, 2014
George Ramsay, The Historical Geography of Asia Minor, Royal Geographical Society, Supplementary Papers, Vol. 4, John Murray, 1890
Alexandros Rizos Rankabes, Antiquités Helléniques ou répertoire d’inscriptions et d’autres antiquités, Athens Archaeological Society, 1842
Louis Robert, Monnaies grecques de l’époque impériale, Revue Numismatique, Vol. 18 (1976), pp. 25-56
Christopher Roosevelt, The Archaeology of Lydia, Cambridge University Press, 2014
Christopher H. Roosevelt, Christina Luke, Mysterious Shepherds and Hidden Treasures: The Culture of Looting in Lydia, Western Turkey, Journal of Field Archaeology, 31-2 (2016), pp. 185-198
Speros Vryonis, The Decline of Medieval Hellenism in Asia Minor and the Process of Islamization from the Eleventh through the Fifteenth Century, Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, University of California Press, 1971
G. Weber, Hypaepa, le Kaleh d’Aïasourat, Birghi et Oedémich, Revue des Études Grecques, Vol. 5-17 (1892), pp. 7-21
Arie Amaya-Akkermans is a writer and art critic based in Istanbul. He is interested in the Greek heritage of the Asia Minor and the relationship between (pseudo)archaeology and nationalism in the Eastern Mediterranean. He’s also tweeting about Classics, Byzantium, contemporary art and Turkey/Greece.
“Greece is the witness to this because it was set aflame with a desire for eloquence and has surpassed in it and exceeded other places But Greece also has greater antiquity in all arts which it not only discovered but perfected because the power and abundance of speaking was developed by the Greeks. When I consider Greece, Atticus, your Athens occurs to me especially and shines out like a lighthouse. It is here that an orator first showed himself and here that oratory began to be entrusted to monuments and writings.”
vii. Testis est Graecia, quae cum eloquentiae studio sit incensa iamdiuque excellat in ea praestetque ceteris, tamen omnis artis vetustiores habet et multo ante non inventas solum sed etiam perfectas, quam haec est a Graecis elaborata dicendi vis atque copia. In quam cum intueor, maxime mihi occurrunt, Attice, et quasi lucent Athenae tuae, qua in urbe primum se orator extulit primumque etiam monumentis et litteris oratio est coepta mandari.
“What else besides? Nothing really except for this. Athens has been a delight to me, when it comes to the city and its decoration and the love that its people show you, a certain kind of goodwill they have for us. But many things have been changed and philosophy is disordered this way and that. If there is anything left, it is Aristos’ and I am staying with him.
I left your, or rather ‘our’, friend Zeno to Quintus even though he is close enough that we are together the whole day. I wish that you will write me of your plans as soon as you can so I may know what you are doing and where you will be at which time and, especially, when you will be in Rome.
Quid est praeterea? nihil sane nisi illud: valde me Athenae delectarunt, urbe dumtaxat et urbis ornamento et hominum amore in te, in nos quadam benevolentia; sed mu<tata mu>lta.6 philosophia sursum deorsum. si quid est, est in Aristo, apud quem eram; nam Xenonem tuum vel nostrum potius Quinto concesseram, et tamen propter vicinitatem totos dies simul eramus. tu velim cum primum poteris tua consilia ad me scribas, ut sciam quid agas, ubi quoque tempore, maxime quando Romae futurus sis.
“I wish you’d think about one thing also. I am hearing that Appius is building a gateway at Eleusis. Would we be fools if we made one at the Academia too? “I think so” you will answer. But, still, then—write this to me. I really do love Athens itself. I want there to be some memento in the city and I hate lying inscriptions on other’s statues. But do what pleases you. And let me know what day the Roman mysteries indicate and how the winter has been. Take care of yourself.”
Unum etiam velim cogites. audio Appium πρόπυλον Eleusine facere; num inepti fuerimus si nos quoque Aca<de>miae fecerimus? ‘puto’ inquies. ergo id ipsum scribes ad me. equidem valde ipsas Athenas amo; volo esse aliquod monumentum, odi falsas inscriptiones statuarum alienarum, sed ut tibi placebit, faciesque me in quem diem Romana incidant mysteria certiorem et quo modo hiemaris. cura ut valeas.
The site of Delphi, famous for the Oracle of Pythian Apollo, is impossible to show in one image. Far from any major city, it sits on the side of Mt. Parnassus and includes ruins of the sacred way, many dedicatory treasuries, a temple to Apollo, a theater, and, higher up, as stadium. Below the modern road, there is also an athletic training ground and a temple complex dedicated to Athena.
Here’s the view of the mountain peak from the museum:
The remains of the temple to Apollo:
A site model in the museum:
One site plan:
A view of the gymnasium below the sacred way and the valley:
The theater (which seats around 5000)
A drawing of the site plan:
An image of the theater from above:
The stadium above the theater (not my image):
The temple of Athena Pronaia:
The modern Museum:
The second post will highlight some of my favorite pieces in this museum
“Athens, that famous name, first gave to sickly man
Fruit bearing crops long ago and with them
Created life anew and called for laws
And first offered the sweet comforts of life
When she produced a man with such a soul
That he once divulged everything from his truth-telling tongue.
Though his life has ended, thanks to his divine discoveries,
His glory has been carried abroad and now nears the heavens.
For he saw then that everything which is needed for life
Has already been set aside for mortal man and that
As far as they were able, their life was already safe…”
Primae frugiparos fetus mortalibus aegris
dididerunt quondam praeclaro nomine Athenae
et recreaverunt vitam legesque rogarunt
et primae dederunt solacia dulcia vitae,
cum genuere virum tali cum corde repertum,
omnia veridico qui quondam ex ore profudit;
cuius et extincti propter divina reperta
divolgata vetus iam ad caelum gloria fertur.
nam cum vidit hic ad victum quae flagitat usus
omnia iam ferme mortalibus esse parata
et, pro quam possent, vitam consistere tutam…
The man at Athens? Epicurus, of course.
Sallust, Bellum Catilinae 8
“The achievements of the Athenians were, as I see it, great and magnificent enough, but perhaps a little less so than is commonly believed. But, because the most talented writers happened to go there, the achievements of the Athenians are celebrated throughout the world as the greatest ever.”
Atheniensium res gestae, sicuti ego aestumo, satis amplae magnificaeque fuere, verum aliquanto minores tamen, quam fama feruntur. Sed quia provenere ibi scriptorum magna ingenia, per terrarum orbem Atheniensium facta pro maxumis celebrantur.
Velleius Paterculus has his own take on this:
“My wonder passes from clustering in certain times to cities. A solitary Attic city bloomed with more works of every kind of eloquence than the rest of Greece together, to the point that you might believe that the bodies of that race were separated into different cities, but that the geniuses were enclosed only within the walls of Athens. I find this no more surprising than the fact that no Argive, Theban or Spartan was considered worthy of note while he was alive or after he died. These cities, though preeminent for other things, were intellectually infertile, except for Pindar’s single voice which graced Thebes—for the Laconians mark Alcman as their own wrongly.”
 Transit admiratio ab conditione temporum et ad urbium. Una urbs Attica pluribus omnis eloquentiae quam universa Graecia operibus usque floruit adeo ut corpora gentis illius separata sint in alias civitates, ingenia vero solis Atheniensium muris clausa existimes. 2 Neque hoc ego magis miratus sim quam neminem Argivum Thebanum Lacedaemonium oratorem aut dum vixit auctoritate aut post mortem memoria dignum existimatum. 3 Quae urbes eximiae alias talium studiorum fuere steriles, nisi Thebas unum os Pindari inluminaret: nam Alcmana Lacones falso sibi vindicant.
Here Velleius moves from the clustering of intellects in time to their clustering in space. Although, to be fair, it seems that one would be impossible without the other…
For the past two weeks I have been traveling in India for a family wedding. It has been busy, but jetlag and odd hours didn’t keep me from reading about India in Greek sources. There is a surprising amount of material–most of it positioning India as ‘exotic’ and ‘mystic’ the way many Western stereotypes do. I barely touched the fragments of Megasthenes; I didn’t cite much from Strabo; and I didn’t even begin to introduce Roman sources (Pliny the Elder has a lot to say).
To be honest, there is a lot more material on India from the ancient world than I expected even without Roman accounts and the fantastic Alexander romance. I am surprised that there isn’t a monograph already published on the subject! But I suspect that other than being chock-full of titillating details, a monograph couldn’t say much more than India is the exotic other in the Greco-Roman mind: a binary, rather than polar, opposite, occupying a space between the fantasy and reality, between history and fiction. In a way, ‘India’ in the Greco-Roman mind might not be qualitatively different from ‘India’ in Western pop-culture today.
Here’s another dose:
Photius, Bilbiotheca, 72. 46b (=Ctesias of Cnidos)
“[Ctesias says that] in the middle of India there are black men who are called Pygmies and have the same language as other Indians, but they are really small. The tallest of them are only two cubits, but most of them only one and a half. They have extremely long hair, down to their knees and lower, and the largest beards of all men. When they grow their beards long, they don’t wear clothing anymore, but they wrap their hair around them from their head and fasten it below their knees and arrange their beard in the front down near their feet, essentially using their hair to cover their bodies instead of clothing.”
“Ctesias records these details and tells these stories and claims that he is writing the truest accounts, insisting that he saw some of the things himself and learned some of the them from others who witnessed them. He says that he left out many other more amazing details because those who had not witnessed them might consider the rest of what wrote incredible.”
“[Ctesias] spends much time on the justice of the Indians, their dedication to their king, and their contempt for death. He also says that there is a spring and when someone draws water from it, it becomes thick like cheese. If an amount of this ‘cheese’ as thick as three obols is crushed and mixed for drinking with water, whoever drinks it will announce everything he has ever done—for he will be out of his mind and crazy for an entire day. The king uses this mixture whenever he wishes to uncover the truth from accused men. If a man admits it, he is ordered to starve to death. If he reveals nothing, he is released.
He also says that no Indian has headaches, eye-disease, toothaches or ulcers in the mouth or anywhere on his body. Indians live 120, 130, 150 and even two hundred years.”
“The story also circulates that the Indians do not make memorials for their dead but instead believe the virtues of the men as sufficient markers for those who have passed and sing odes in their honor. It is not possible to write an accurate count of their cities because of the number of Indians. Cities alongside rivers or the sea are made of wood, since if they were made from brick they would not persist for much time because the water from the sky and the rivers overflowing their banks would fill them with water. The cities, however, which were built in powerful positions and in high places and above the rest of the land, are all made from brick and mud. The Indians’ greatest city is *Palimbothra in the land of the Prasians where the river Erannoboas meets the Ganges, the greatest of the rivers. The Erannoboas could be the third of the Indian rivers, and it is greater than them in some places, but it yields to the Ganges and adds its water to it. Megasthenes claims that on the side where the city is longest it is eighty stades in length and its breadth is 15 stades. It has a ditch built around it the full circumference of the city, about thirty cubits deep. The city has 570 towers on its ways and 64 gates. Every Indian is free, no Indian is a slave. In this, the Spartans are similar to the Indians, although the helots are enslaved by the Spartans and do the work of slaves. There are no slaves among the Indians, or at least no Indian is a slave.”
“When Dionysus was leaving India because he had put everything in good order, he set up Spatembas as king of the land, one of his companions who was the most Bacchic. When he died, he left the kingdom to his son Bouduas—the first ruled the Indians for 52 years, the second for 20. His son Kraduas inherited the kingship. For the most part thereafter the rule passed from father to son. If a blood-heir was absent, the Indians selected kings according to who was best. Then Herakles—as the story goes he came to India and the Indians claim he was born from the earth. This Heracles is especially worshiped by the Sourasênians, an Indian people who have two great cities, Methora and Kleisobora. The passable river Iômanês flows through their land. Megasthenes claims that this Herakles wore a similar apparel to the Theban Herakles, as the Indian themselves claim. This Herakles had many male children born to him in India (for he took many wives, this Herakles) but he only had one daughter. This child’s name was Pandaia and the land in which she was born and over which Herakles gave her authority was named after her. From her father she received five hundred elephants, 4000 cavalry, and 132,000 infantrymen.
A rather select group of Indians tell this story about Herakles, that once he had crossed the whole earth and the sea destroying whatever was evil, he uncovered in the sea a new kind of female jewelry, the type which even today those merchants who come here buying and selling goods acquire eagerly, which Romans and Greeks who were very wealthy bought with even greater excitement, which they call the ocean pearl in the Indian tongue. Herakles, because he thought it was a great possession, gathered pearls from every sea and brought them to India to be jewelry for his own daughter.
Megasthenes also says that the mussel-shell is caught in nets, that they often find many shells together in the sea in the same place, just like bees. And that pearl-mussels have a king or queen just like bees. Whoever is lucky enough to catch the king, gathers together the rest of the swarm easily. If the king gets away, then it is not possible to catch the rest. Fishermen allow the flesh of the mussel to rot, but they use the shells for decoration. Among the Indians, the pearl is worth three times its weight in gold, which is also mined in India.”