Posted in book review, Miscellany

Magical windows of the misty past

The story of man and beast decorates the wondrous latticework of the enchanting casement of Greek mythology. The ancient Greek weavers of stories used their poetic license to mirror the human traits, both attractive and unattractive, through the figures of the beast in scintillating ways. The resultant mythology created an aura of mysteriousness wonderfully anchored in reality whose thematics were originated in, such as the following tales from Greek mythology that reflect the nature of humankind as mirrored in the perspectives on the natural elements of animals and the relations to it.

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The Cretan Bull

  • The Cretan Bull and the Minotaur 

The story of a half-bull and half-man monster known as the Minotaur epitomizes the primordial thematic perspectives of mankind juxtaposed along with the law of nature representing the mysterious force. It became a subject of belief tradition peculiar to its natural and cultural environs. The conflicting sentiments of reverence toward the awe-inspiring nature’s creatures and the ambition for domineering them as the ruler of the universe give birth to the bestial creature in the figure of the terrific Minotaur who was fated to be slain by the Athenian hero Theseus. 

minotaur
The Minotaur

King Minos betrayed Poseidon by keeping his beautiful snow-white Bull, instead of sacrificing it to the expectant god, who, in turn, made his wife Pasiphae unquenchably infatuated with the Bull. She copulated with the beast by taking herself into the form of a hollow wooden cow designed by the Athenian architect named Daedalus. The result was the Minotaur kept in a Labyrinth by the selfsame designer of the wooden cow. The Minotaur showed no human feelings or emotions as the mythology did not treat him any more than a horrible bestial creature from the unnatural union of a woman and a beast. 

A Bull in the ancient Greek culture was a chthonic animal associated with fertility and vegetation and also represented the sun and the might. In fact, the famous figure and paintings of bull-leaping are seen inside of the Minoan mausoleum in Knossos as first discovered by the eminent English archeologists Arthur Evans, who also found Linear A and B letters, the mother of the ancient Greek language, at the turn of the 20th century, 

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Argos finally uniting with Odyssey.

  • The dog – the best friend of mankind

The perspective on the dog as the loyal canine companion collapses the millenniums between the ancient Greek’s time and ours. Even the Cerberus, the three-headed guard dog of the Hades look tamable with a piece of sweet cake, making it look less of a menacing beast necessitating the blood and flesh of man. This goes without saying that it was Argos, the paragon of the faithful canine, who recognized his travel-weary employer Odyssey after 20 years of absence from home and put forth what might think he had to approach him with a wagging tail. He died as his long-waited boss in incognito passed by him with his heart pounded by a surge of pathos dubbed in warmth. Of all the gods, goddesses, heroes, and even his family, it was Argos who showed genuine, artless unconditional affection to Odyssey and thus rendered his heroic owner all the more humane and sympathetic. 

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Laelaps, the dog that never fails to catch

Speaking of loyalty, Laelaps, a Greek mythological dog that never failed to catch what it was hunting, also denotes how the ancient Greeks perceived the dog as their life companions. Laelaps was initially a gift to Europa from Zeus, then bequeathed to Minos, who gave it to his concubine Procris whose sister included Pandora. She gave the hound to her husband Cephalus as a token of her unbroken love for him Cephalus used the hound for hunting the Teumessian Fox that could never be caught. Then Zeus turned both of the animals into the stars as the constellations Canis Major (the dog) and Canis Minor (the fox).

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The Eternal Catch-Me-If-You-Can between Canis Major (the Dog) and Canis Minor (the Fox)

Consequently, the use of the animals above in the thematic context in the Greek mythology evinces that mankind cannot exist alone as part of nature. Man finds his meaning of what it means to be a human and its purpose in life by rendering the values and precepts of natural law emblazoned in the human consciousness to the meta figures of the mythology. The mythological animals, whether wild, imaginary, or ordinary, are the reflection of the human traits interbred with imaginary creatures from the Elysium of Fancy. It became the substratum of a belief tradition administering to the modes of social behaviors in society, and thus developed into an organized religion by way of syncretism in the era of Christianity. 

Posted in book review

The Brilliant Legacy of the Mycenaeans: Ancient Greece’s First Advanced Civilization

The Mycenaeans: The History and Culture of Ancient Greece's First Advanced CivilizationThe Mycenaeans: The History and Culture of Ancient Greece’s First Advanced Civilization by Charles River Editors

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Before Homer wrote about the fearless warriors and extraordinary heroes enshrined in the temples of the Olympians in Iliad and The Odysseys, there were a people of invincible spirits and adventurism on a par with those of the characters – The Mycenaean, the torch-bearers of a great Aegean civilization in the Pre-Classical Greece existing from 2000 to 1200 BC, whose bravery and enterprising minds inspired Homer to pay tribute to them as immortalized in the two great Classical epics in the history of western civilization. Accordingly, The Mycenaeans: The History and Culture of Ancient Greece’s First Civilization by Charles River Editors takes us to look back on the Mycenaean culture in the Pre-Classical era when these ancient ethnic Greeks ruled the Aegean Sea as the maritime power and left their indelible marks on the posterity of the Classical Greek culture.

The Mycenaeans, the first Greeks, were never unified under a central state and were a collection of several kingdoms. Influenced by the earlier Minoan civilization (2000-1450 BC) at Knossos, Crete, the Mycenaean adapted the Minoan art and religious practices and developed them to their highest expectation of militaristic and cultural ideology. For example, the Mycenaeans developed Linear B Script, which was the writing system comprising hieroglyphics, used between 1450 and 1100 BC especially in Knossos and Pylos, the corporate headquarters of the Late Bronze Mycenae. The letters were mostly written in clay tablets largely concerned with documenting economic transactions of the palace administration and various business transactions. In fact, the Linear B Script, preserved as the oldest Greek writing system, indicates that the Mycenaeans were the linguistic and ethnic ancestors of the Classical Greeks.

In addition to transcribing economic activities Linear B Script also lets us glimpse into the belief system of the Mycenaeans with the names of the deities they worshiped, such as the head of the Pantheon and Poseidon, the god o f the seas whom the Mycenaeans paid special due respect for their being sea-faring people. The Mycenaean reverence for Poseidon is worth noting because it betokens the importance of the Mycenaean as the maritime power of the Aegean Sea as well as the most of the Mediterranean Sea. They eclipsed the Minoans and their Aegean neighbors in terms of open sea trade by establishing trade routes with the islands of Sardinia and Sicily as well as the Libyan coastline and importing more goods than exporting, such as grain from Egypt and metal from Cyprus and Anatolia to make weapons.

With respect to artistic and cultural historiography of the Mycenaeans, the art of burial practices entailed the Minoan influence assimilated into the Mycenaean of their own accord, which was akin to the fashion of Hellenism, the spread of the Greek culture through enculturation by Alexander the Great centuries later. Likewise, after then conquest of Crete, the Mycenaeans continued to employ many of the Minoan artistic traditions one of which was burial practices and their beliefs in afterlife as expressed in the Hagia Triada Sarcophagus on the island of Crete. Made in a Minoan style under the rule of Mycenaeans, it depicts scenes of funereal game held in honor of a fallen warriors and dead kings, consisting of the following athletic events as part of the ritual:

  • Chariot Race – Popularized by the Hittite and the Egyptian as a symbol of power and prestige; powered by 2 to 4 horses carrying a team of 2 to 3 men. The Hittite had 3 men – a driver, a shield bearer, and a warrior- while the Egyptian simply had 2 men – a driver and a shield bearer. The Mycenaeans would most likely to have either of the styles, though not manifested.
  • Armed Combat – conflated with the Hittite sport
  • Boxing – popularized by the Minoan and developed by the Mycenaean

In fact, the actuality of the aforesaid athletic sport events is alluded in Homer’s Iliad, suggesting a Bronze Age tradition of funerary games in Greece with vivid descriptions of the games to honor the slain Greek warrior named Patroclus, which were all coordinated by Achilles. However, contrary to the nude events of the Classical Greece Olympics, which were the offspring of the Mycenaean funereal games, the competitors in the funereal sport events wore loincloths called “zoma.”

The demise of the Mycenaean Kingdom resulted from several factors one by one in a period of times, including the invasion of the Sea Peoples and the emerging of the Dorian in the north, all of which represented the end of the Mycenaean Age, coinciding with the collapse of the Bronze Age in the ancient Near East, where the Mycenaeans played an important role as a formidable trade partner with the Egyptian. Notwithstanding the fall of the Mycenaeans as the major sea power in the ancient Bronze Age, the brilliant legacy of the Mycenaean culture still thrives in; (1) the form of Linear B Script, the oldest writing system of the Greek language before the adoption of the Phoenician alphabet system many centuries later; (2) the belief system in which Zeus and Poseidon were first recorded in the writing tablets and revered with due respect; and (3) the initiation of  the sparks of the organized athletic events developed into the Olympic Games in posterity. It is this ingenuity imbued with the spirit of adventure and the policy of engagement in adopting cultural traditions of other people that exemplified themselves among other Pre-Classical peoples, which is something we in the modern time should adopt as well, so that our posterity can benefit from what their ancestors learned and experienced, for it also becomes our legacy of heritage and culture to pass it down from generation to generation.

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