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Friday, December 30, 2011


Travel Diaries: The Sanctuary of Zeus-Naios at Dodona
November, 2000

View of the temenos: Ruins of the Temple of Zeus-Naios and sacred oaks on the site

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Dodona is a religious sanctuary associated with the Dorian Greeks, situated in a valley in the northern Greek province of Epirus, south of Joannina. As is the case in many other Greek religious sites, there is a superimposition of cults in this sanctuary. Originally it was the site of an oracle devoted to a Mother Goddess, Rhea or Gaia, but called Dione in Epirus. Eventually, no doubt after the coming of the Dorians, it became a shrine to Zeus, here called Zeus Naios (Zeus of the Spring of Naiads). At this sanctuary, or temenos, the ancient Greeks built a temple to Zeus-Naios, a Stadion, a great theatre and various smaller temples. The great theatre of Pyrrhus, built in the third century BCE, has been reconstructed and the remains of the temple of Zeus-Naios and other ruins of the ancient temenos, or sacred site, are visible. Even some of the oaks of the sacred grove are standing.

Map showing the location of Dodona (Source: Wikipedia)

Photo of the valley of Mt. Tomaros taken in the 1920's. (Hanns Holdt)

Dodona is located just south-west of the city of Ioannina, in the valley of Mount Tomaros in Epirus, Northern Greece.

The Sanctuary

Map of the Sanctuary (Baedeker)

Until 650 BCE, Dodona was a religious and oracular centre mainly for northern tribes, which were variously known as Pelasgians, Thesprotians and Moulossians. It is only after 650 BCE that it became significant to the southern tribes, most likely because of its conquest by the Dorians who descended from the Balkans into Greece through the valleys of Epirus.
The site was identified in 1873 by Constantinos Karapanos, who discovered a number of bronze objects now in the Archaeological Museum in Athens. More scientific excavations have been undertaken by the Greek Archaelogical Service since 1952, and there has been some restoration, particularly of the Theater of Pyrrhus.

View of the temenos in Dodona

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Views of the temenos and surrounding areas

The Great Theater at Dodona.

Approach to the Theater of Pyrrhus

The Hellenistic Revival: The Theater of Pyrrhus.

The Great Theater of Pyrrhus as it was in the 1920's (Hanns Holdt)

The Great Theater of Pyrrhus today.

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"Wintry Dodona" (Iliad, 16: 234)

Bust of Pyrrhus, or Pyrros, King of Epirus (319/318 BCE–272 BCE)

In c. 290 BCE, King Pyrrhus of Epirus (“Another such victory over the Romans and we’re undone!”), made Dodona the religious capital of his domain and beautified it by implementing a series of fantastic construction projects, including the great Temple of Zeus and the great theater, designed to enact festivals of athletic and musical competition. A wall was built around the oracle itself and the holy tree, as well as temples to Herakles and Dione.

The temple and theater were burned in 219 BCE by the invading Aetolians and the site abandoned. But there was reconstruction in the late 200’s BCE by King Philip V of Macedonia. Destroyed by the Romans under Aemilius Paulus once again, the sanctuary at Dodona was later rebuilt by the Emperor Augustus in 31 BCE, after his victory over Anthony and Cleopatra at Actium that same year, but he turned the theater into an arena. In 362 A.D., the Emperor Julian consulted the oracle prior to his military adventure against the Persians, where he lost his life. When the Christian Emperor Theodosius closed all pagan temples in 391-92 A.D., it is said that he cut down one of the last remaining oaks.

The theater of Pyrrhus was unearthed in the 1950’s and restored in 1960-63.

The temenos

Aristotle believed that the region around Dodona was the place where the Hellenes originated (Meteorologica at 1.14), but this is to take the Dorians as the original Hellenes, which is dubious.

The custom of interpreting the rustling of the leaves of the oak or beech trees probably antedates the Dorian invasion, but the Dorian priesthood became famous thereafter in its competition with the Delphic oracle.

At Dodona, Zeus was worshipped as "Zeus Naios" or "Naos" (god of the spring, or of the Naiads — there was a spring below the oak in the temenos or sanctuary. Originally an oracle of the Mother Goddess, the oracle was shared by Dione (whose name, like "Zeus," simply means "deity") and Zeus. Many dedicatory inscriptions recovered from the site mention both "Dione" and "Zeus Naios".

In the Iliad, Achilles prays to "High Zeus, Lord of Dodona, Pelasgian.” There is no mention of the temple or the theater in Homer, but there is mention of the high priests of the sanctuary, the Selloi.

“High Zeus, Lord of Dodona, Pelasgian, living afar off,
Brooding over wintry Dodona, your prophets about you
Living, the Selloi who sleep on the ground with feet unwashed. Hear me!”
(Richard Lattimore translation, 16: 233-235).

The oracle is also mentioned in Odysseus's fictive yarn about himself told to the swineherd Eumaeus: (Odyssey, 14.327-14.328). Odysseus, he tells Eumaeus, has been seen among the Thesprotians, having gone to inquire of the oracle at Dodona whether he should return to Ithaca openly or in secret (as the disguised Odysseus is actually doing).

“The man himself had gone up to Dodona
To ask the spelling leaves of the old oak
The will of God: how to return, that is,
To the rich realm of Ithaka, after so long
An absence – openly, or by stealth.” (14: 327-31)

Odysseus later repeats the same tale to Penelope, who may not yet have seen through his disguise. (Homer. Odyssey, 19: 299-303) His words reveal a familiarity with Dodona, a realization of its importance, and an understanding that it was normal to consult Zeus there.

And Socrates says to Phaedrus: "They used to say, my friend, that the words of the oak in the holy place of Zeus at Dodona were the first prophetic utterances. The people of that time, not being so wise as you young folks, were content in their simplicity to hear an oak or a rock, provided only it spoke the truth." [Plato, Phaedrus 275b (trans. Fowler)]


Hesiod, Catalogues of Women: Fragment 97 (from the Scholiast on Sophocles Trachinae 1167) (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic C8th or 7th B.C.):

"There is a land Hellopia with much glebe and rich meadows, and rich in flocks and shambling kine. There dwell men who have many sheep and many oxen, and they are in number past telling, tribes of mortal men. And there upon its border is built a city, Dodona; and Zeus loved it and appointed it to be his oracle, reverenced by men . . . And they [the doves] lived in the hollow of an oak (phêgou). From them men of earth carry away all kinds of prophecy,--whosoever fares to that spot and questions the deathless god, and comes bringing gifts with good omens."


Fictitious portrait of Herodotus (490-425 BCE)

Herodotus (Histories 2:54–57) was told by priests at Egyptian Thebes in the 5th century BCE "that two priestesses had been carried away from Thebes by the Phoenicians; one, they said they had heard was taken away and sold in Libya, the other in Hellas; these women, they said, were the first founders of places of divination in the aforesaid countries."

Herodotus follows with what he was told by the prophetesses, called peleiades ("doves") at Dodona:

"...that two black doves had come flying from Thebes in Egypt, one to Libya and one to Dodona; the latter settled on an oak tree, and there uttered human speech, declaring that a place of divination from Zeus must be made there; the people of Dodona understood that the message was divine, and therefore established the oracular shrine. The dove which came to Libya told the Libyans (they say) to make an oracle of Ammon; this also is sacred to Zeus. Such was the story told by the Dodonaean priestesses, the eldest of whom was Promeneia and the next Timarete and the youngest Nicandra; and the rest of the servants of the temple at Dodona similarly held it true."

"But my own belief about it is this. If the Phoenicians did in fact carry away the sacred women and sell one in Libya and one in Hellas, then, in my opinion, the place where this woman was sold was in what is now Hellas, but was formerly called Pelasgia, and later Thesprotia; and then, being a slave there, she established a shrine of Zeus under an oak that was growing there; for it was reasonable that, as she had been a handmaid of the temple of Zeus at Thebes, she would remember that temple in the land to which she had come. After this, as soon as she understood the Greek language, she taught divination; and she said that her sister had been sold in Libya by the same Phoenicians who sold her."

"I expect that these women were called 'doves' by the people of Dodona because they spoke a strange language, and the people thought it like the cries of birds; then the woman spoke what they could understand, and that is why they say that the dove uttered human speech; as long as she spoke in a foreign tongue, they thought her voice was like the voice of a bird. For how could a dove utter the speech of men? The tale that the dove was black signifies that the woman was Egyptian."

(Histories at 2: 54–57)

View of the temenos and the sacred oak at Dodona, with Mount Tomaros in the background.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Works from the David M. Robinson Collection

The David M. Robinson Collection of Greek and Roman Antiquities at the University of Mississippi Museum of Art is one of the finest collections of its kind in the United States. Covering the period from 1500 BCE to 300 AD, the collection contains Greek and Roman sculpture, Greek decorated pottery, architectural fragments, small artifacts in terracotta and bronze, and Greek and Roman coins.

The images shown below are photographs I took at the University of Mississippi Museum of Art in July, 2011, a few examples of black-figure and red-figure Attic pottery which are works of Athenian craftsmen from the sixth and fifth centuries BCE and part of the permanent collection there. There are only a few pieces depicted in the blog, but they reveal the main characteristics of each style. As well, I show a few oil lamps, and the painting on a kylix which reveals an unusual method of depilation by means of the oil lamp.

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Pallas Athena holding a helmet over an altar.
Amphora, Attic red-figure style, 500-490 BCE.

The Greek and Roman Antiquities Collection at the University of Mississippi Museum of Art is named after its donor, David M. Robinson, who was Professor of Classics at the University prior to his death in 1958.

David M. Robinson was born in Auburn, New York, in 1880. He received his A.B. degree in 1898 and his Ph.D. in 1904 from the University of Chicago. After serving as head of the Classics Department at Illinois College in Urbana from 1904-05, Robinson spent the majority of his career at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

Considered an influential figure in Mississippi Archaeology, Robinson conducted artifact excavations in Corinth, Greece (1902-1903) and in Sardis, also in Greece in 1910. In 1924, he directed the excavation of Pisidian Antioch and Sizma for the University of Michigan. His greatest archaeological achievement was the discovery and excavation of the ancient city of Olynthus from 1928 through 1938. Throughout his career, Robinson was widely published in Archaeology as well as Greek and Roman literature, history and linguistics.

In 1947, he retired from Johns Hopkins and accepted a position as Professor of Classical Archaeology at the University of Mississippi where he taught for ten years. Robinson passed away in 1958, leaving behind a wealth of published research and a unique collection of Greek and Roman antiquities, which was donated to the University of Mississippi Museum of Art. (Source: Museum notes)
Satyr, visible in the portrait of David Robinson, is a marble Greek bust from Pergamon, dated ca. 200 BCE, part of Robinson's private collection.

Attic Black-Figure Ceramics

Attic black-figure style emerged from the Proto-Attic style, towards the beginning of the seventh century BCE. It is a reflection of the Archaic or Lyric Art of the Greeks, primarily the style of the sixth century BCE. (See my blog of October 31, 2010: "Tragic Art: The Treasure House of the Siphnians.") A new method of outline drawing developed, with extensive use of white and an occasional but inconsistent admixture of incisions. Human figures are presented on a large scale, etched against a white or red background, or against the background of the warm brown of the clay. The figures are always shown frontally or in profile and in rigid pose. The representations are one-dimensional, formalized and stiff, in the form of religious imaging. Towards the year 630 BCE, the discipline of the Corinthian school begins to be emulated and a fully developed Archaic art of ceramics becomes prevalent in the Attic peninsula until the end of the sixth century BCE, when it is displaced by red-figure style (discussed below). Around 530 BCE, the inadequacy of the black-figure method of silhouette and incision will lead to the introduction of red-figure outline drawing. Yet the black-figure style did not die off immediately and works in this style are still being made in the fifth century. Due to the conservatism of the priestly classes and the ruling elites, the black-figure style was required on the amphoras presented full of oil to the victors in the Panathenaic Games.

I photographed only two examples of the black-figure style from the David Robinson Collection. The first is the neck-amphora of 530-515 BCE showing a warrior and two youths.
Neck-amphora. Attic Black-Figure Style, 530-515 BCE.

Note that the warrior and the two youths are depicted in profile and entirely in silhouette, in one-dimensional fashion, rigidly and formally facing one another. Their eyes are in profile and the eyeballs in the center of the eye, as was the formal tradition of this style. The garments, as well as the pose, are formally stylized; the line etchings are fine and crisp.

The oldest piece portrayed here is an Attic black figure Skyphos in the Boeotian style from the Fifth century BCE, which satirizes Circe and Odysseus. The figures depict a comic satire in the form of caricatures designed for comedic purpose. Circe stands above Odysseus who is receiving a gift from her.

Attic Red-Figure ceramics

The Attic red-figure style appeared rather suddenly in Athens around the year 530 BCE. It shows a tendency towards the naturalistic which is made possible by changes in technique. The figures are outlined, and the inner details are shown by thin lines of paint. This is similar to contemporary painted panels, but the black background and the lack of any other colors must have been the vase painters' own idea. As well, major lines are emphasized by the use of a thicker and more viscous solution on the black paint so that they stand out in relief. The overall effect is one of greater naturalism and grace.

Neck amphora in Attic Red-Figure style, 470 BCE, shows Triptolemos on a winged chariot.

In the red-figure style, figures are drawn in rather than engraved. Red-figure painting made it possible for the artist to convey a more naturalistic picture of human anatomy. In the last ten years of the sixth century BCE, vase painters working in red-figure style abandoned the ancient tradition of composing figures in strictly profile or frontal views. This was followed by a new anatomical system which placed this style within the tradition that has come to be known as Classical, characterized by anatomical verisimilitude, naturalistic expressions and movements, and flowing drapery and garments that hang naturally on the body of the human figures. The eye, for example, until almost the end of the sixth century, had always been shown frontally, with the eyeball in the center (see the Athena holding a helmet, below), even if the face was in profile. In red-figure style, the eyeball moves forward and the eye begins to open in front and is shortened to a correct profile view. As well, the drapery changes from a decorative to a more natural system of folds. Scenes of human life become more common, especially the convivial and the athletic, but even in such scenes, vigorous activity becomes less common than it was in the earlier black-figure style.

Amphora in Attic red-figure style, 500-490 BCE: Athena holding a helmet over an altar

Ease of movement and grace in action are evident in the representation of a Dyonisiac Maenad holding a thyrsos, the staff made of giant fennel stalks carried by the Bacchiadae, and a snake on her right arm, below:

Kylix. Attic red-figure 490-80 BCE: Maenad with thyrsos and snake.

Note that the eyeball of the maenad has moved forward in this representation, compared to the Athena directly above. As well, the garment flows more naturally and hangs gracefully from the outline of the thigh and left knee.

Kylix. Attic red-figure 490-80 BCE: Maenad with thyrsos and snake.

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The more naturalistic representation of the eye and eyeball in Attic red-figure style is evident in the figure of the bride below, both upon her receipt of a gift and as she looks at herself in the mirror, in the Lebes Gamikos of 450-440 BCE.

Lebes Gamikos. Attic red-figure 450-440 BCE: Bride seated receiving gifts and shown on the reverse side with attendants and a mirror.

The Lebes Gamikos, literally meaning “nuptial vase” (plural - lebetes gamikoi) is a form of ancient Greek Pottery used primarily in marriage ceremonies, probably in the ritual sprinkling of the bride with water before the wedding. In form, it has a large bowl-like body and a stand that can be long or short. Painted scenes are placed on either the body of the vessel or the stand. Below are two images of the stand of the vase depicted above. It shows the hero Perseus pursuing the nymph Thetis. The classical style is evident in the representation of the eye, the graceful depiction of the movement of the limbs and the naturalness of the draped garment.

Lebes Gamikos. Attic red-figure 450-440 BCE: Perseus pursuing Thetis (detail on stem)

Oil Lamps

Oil Lamps were not only used for light but also served as votive offerings in sanctuaries and also as tomb furniture. Lamp forms are highly varied, ranging from simple to elaborate. Lamps used in ancient Greece could sit on stands or be suspended from cords or chains. Olive oil was a popular fuel and a wick would be placed in the lamp and out the nozzle to ensure even burning. Lamps from Athens changed around the VIIth. century BCE, with more shallow lamps and longer nozzles being made in molds. This popular form was the standard for thousands of years. Larger and more decorative lamps were specialty items and usually denote ceremonial status. (Source: Museum notes)

Kylix depicting a woman removing her pubic hair by burning it with an oil lamp.

Oil lamps were also used for personal hygiene. On this Kylix (drinking cup), a woman is shown holding an oil lamp near her pubic region just close enough to singe the hair as she squats over a water basin with a sponge in her right hand as a precautionary measure. This practice was common for pubic depilation in Greece and its depiction on Grecian art is extremely rare. (Source: Museum notes).