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Judgement of Paris

The judgement of Paris led to the Trojan War. It also led to some of the finest works of art ever created.

The story of the Trojan War begins at the wedding of Achilles’s parents, Thetis and Peleus.

All the gods are invited to the wedding except one: Eris, the goddess of discord. But this doesn’t stop her from leaving her mark on the occasion. Instead of attending the wedding, Eris plucks a golden apple from the Garden of Hesperides, writes “To the fairest one” on it, and tosses it inside the wedding ceremony.

Three goddesses – Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite – each claim that the apple is meant for herself. When they ask Zeus to settle the matter, and decide who is the fairest, he suggests that they ask a Trojan shepherd named Paris.

So Hermes leads them to Mount Ida.

Here Paris is confronted with three gods, each wanting the golden apple, each offering Paris something in return for judging her the fairest. Hera offers Paris political power over Europe and Asia. Athena offers Paris neverending victories on the battlefield. Aphrodite offers Paris the most beautiful woman in the world.

The judgement of Paris is to award Aphrodite the apple. This leads to Helen and Paris eloping, Agamemnon launching a thousand ships, Odysseus building the Trojan Horse, and eventually Helen sailing back home to Sparta with her husband Menelaus.

Above is a 1904 painting by Enrique Simonet titled El Juicio De Paris, and below are are some other classic renditions of the world-famous scene.

4th-3rd century BC engraving on the back of an Etruscan bronze mirror by unknown artist

1st century AD mosaic by unknown artist

c. 1485-1488 painting by Sandro Botticelli

c. 1510-1520 print by Mercantonio Raimondi, after Raphael


c 1550s painting by Frans Floris


c. 1600 painting by Hans Rottenhammer

c. 1638 painting by Peter Paul Rubens

c. 1645-1646 painting by Claude Lorrain


c. 1710-1720 painting by Michele Rocca


c. 1808 painting by Francois-Xavier Fabre


c. 1812 painting by Guillaume Guillon Lethiere


c. 1862-1864 painting by Paul Cezanne


c. 1906 painting by Eduard Lebiedzki


1908-1910 painting by Pierre-Auguste Renoir


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Who is Hermes?

This 15-minute video gives an awesome overview of who Hermes is, including his identities as Pan and Mercury.

Among other roles, in Book 24 of Iliad Hermes guides King Priam across the Achaean border to Achilles’s hut. This leads to the emotional climax of the epic when Achilles finally softens his anger and agrees to give Hector’s body back to Priam.

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Where is the center of the world?

The center of the Ancient Greek world is in the town of Delphi. This stone is called the Omphalos, or “navel” of the world. Think of it as Mother Earth’s bellybutton.

A long time ago, Zeus wanted to find the center of the world, so he sent two eagles — one from each end of the earth. When they met at Delphi, Zeus sent down the Omphalos, a stone that his father ate and regurgitated (thinking he was eating his son Zeus) as navel of the world.

Omphalos Syndrome is the belief that the city with the most money and most powerful politicians is in fact the center of the world.

So, where is the center of the world? It used to be by the temple of Apollo at Delphi, where the great oracle Sibyl gave prophesy. Now, it’s just up the road at the new museum.

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The Ancient Greek aulos

The aulos is a double-reeded pipe, like an oboe (though it’s sometimes played with a single reed, like a clarinet) made out of bamboo and bone. This 1st century AD mosaic from the “House of the Tragic Poet” in Pompeii shows a piper playing two auli at once, surrounded by actors in goatskin dresses and theatrical masks.

Traditionally, you play two auli at once. This allows you to harmonize with yourself, and anyhow each aulos has only 1/2 of the notes in a scale, so you need two auli to play a complete scale.

While the lyre is associated with Apollo, the aulos is associated with Dionysus.

Here is a 2-minute aulos performance by Prof. Stefan Hagel.

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Ancient Greek poetry is musical theater

The oldest known Greek poet was Homer. His poetry was set to music and sung out loud in public theaters like this one, built in Epidaurus in the 4th century BC.

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The Ancient Greek hydraulis

The hydraulis is a hand-powered organ. Just like a pipe organ in a modern church, the hydraulis makes sound by blowing air through pipes, and is played by pressing keys on a keyboard. This 2-minute video demonstrates what a Roman replica sounds like.

The word “hydraulis” literally means “water-pipe” because water (“hydra”) is used to deliver steady air pressure to a pipe (“aulos”).

This 2-minute video shows a hydraulis performance with a closer look at how the organ works.

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What Ancient Greek Music looks like

This shows the first and second verses of the First Delphic Hymn to Apollo, carved in marble for the Athenian Pythaides festival in 128 BC in Delphi. The composer’s name is Athenaios Athenaiou (Athenaios, son of Athenaios).

The melody is written above the lyrics, and shows which notes to sing (according to the Greater Perfect System).

The rhythm is inherent in the poetics of the verse. For example, we see cretics (instead of, say, iambs or dactyls) so we know the time signature is 5/8.

Here is a performance of the hymn.

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The Trojan War really happened

In 1184 BC, the 30-foot-high walls of Troy were set on fire, putting an end to the Trojan War.

The ashes, the arrowheads, and the fallen soldiers still exist to the present day — preserved underneath a later city built on its ruins.

The city of Priam, often called “Troy VII” or “Troy VIIa”, is still being unearthed in modern-day Turkey..

Modern Remains Of Troy

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The Ancient Greek kithara

The Ancient Greek kithara gives us the word “guitar”.

This 5-minute video shows Professor Stefan Hagel explaining some basics of Ancient Greek music, followed by a nice performance demonstrating what the kithara sounds like in the diatonic genus.

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How did the world begin?

This 7-minute video outlines one Ancient Greek story of the creation of the universe: the beautifully-worded Theogony of Hesiod.

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What Ancient Greek music sounds like

This 16-minute video is an interesting attempt to recreate authentic Ancient Greek music.

They cover some fundamental instruments like the kithara and the aulos. They play a jazzy version of Homer. It finishes with a really cool semi-authentic performance of the actual music Euripides composed for Orestes, which was a musical, not a play.

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Who is Aphrodite?

This 16-minute video gives a good overview of who Aphrodite is, and how she came to be. In the Iliad, she represents the “mind” and Ares represents the “body”.

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Map of Homer’s Greece

This is a really helpful map of the Mediterranean, showing the geographic names they used during the Trojan War, and the names of the kings who fought in it.

Of course there is no “Greece” or “Turkey” but the regions and cities are still represented in their communities today, in one way or another.