Monday, 31 March 2014

The Lemnian Gods

The Lemnian Gods

The Muses: tellers of stories and makers of memories

Gaia and Ouranos had a daughter called Mnemosyne, a goddess whose name means ‘Memory’. She was the mother of the nine Muses. All of them were skilled singers, and dancers. Together with the Graces they would lead processions to Mount Olympus.

Their names were,

Kleo, ‘the giver of fame’; she was also the mistress of history.
Euterpe, ‘the giver of joy’; she was the mistress of the flute.
Thalia, ‘the festive’; she was associated with comedy.
Melpomene, ‘the singer’ was the muse of elegies and tragedy.
Terpsichore, ‘she who enjoys dancing’; was known for her skill on the lyre. Earato, ‘the awakener of desire’, was known as goddess of dance.
Polymnia, ‘she of many hymns’, was connected with story-telling.
Kalliope, ‘she of the beautiful voice’, was associated with heroic song. Urania, ‘the heavenly’, was the muse for astronomy.

Hephaestus – the god who lived in Lemnos 

Hephaestus was the god of fire and iron. He was born deformed ugly and bad tempered. He was thrown out of heaven by his mother Hera. Nine years later he was brought back after she discovered how skilled he was at making jewellery. She arranged for him to marry Aphrodite. But then, by siding with Hera in an argument, he angered Zeus who again threw him out from Mount Olympus. This time he landed in Lemnos on Mount Mosichlos, breaking both legs. He had very little life in him, but the islanders nursed him and helped him set up a metalworking smithy there. He was later pardoned and restored as an Olympian, but he could only walk with golden leg-supports. /

The Sinties, the island’s first inhabitants who lived nearby in Poliochni, looked after him and in return Hephaestus taught the Sinties to work in metal.

One time Hephaistos was ordered by Zeus to make a clay model of a woman. After the four winds had breathed life into her and all the goddesses of Olympus adorned Pandora was very beautiful, however she was also foolish, mischievous. She was given a great vessel with a lid on it, and told not to open it, but Pandora was curious and she opened the lid of the great vessel. Out flew all the spites of mankind which were hidden there. Many horrors escaped, such as Old Age, Labor, Sickness, Insanity, Vice. Gloom and Death. These ills stung Pandora and then spread out upon the earth. Pandora tried to replace the lid quickly, but when she did only hope was left inside. Yet this is a strange story as the name Pandora can be correctly interpreted as ‘the one rich in gifts’, ‘the all-giving’.

Another time Hephaestus made a throne for his mother but one that magically held her down. The other gods pleaded with Hephaestus to let her go. He did but demanded, as a reward, to be given as a wife Aphrodite. This was against her will.

Aphrodite presented him with three children however the true father of Pheobus, Deimus, and Harmonia was Ares, the straight-limed, impetuous, drunken, and quarrelsome God of War. Hephasestus knew nothing of the deception until, on night, the lovers stayed too long together in bed at Ares’s Tracian palace. As Helius, the sun, rose he saw them at their sport and told Hephaestus. Hephaestus then made a snare out of chains that fell over the couple as they made love. He then called the other gods to come and see the couple.

Metalurgy first reached Greece from the Aegean Islands. Lemnos is a volcanic island and it seems a jet of natural asphaltic gas issued from a summit of Mount Moschylus. It had burned steadily for centuries and it was still alight in 1801AD. It was here that Hephaestus set up his smithy. As a Bronze Age metalworker he would have been seen as something of a sorcerer, and his tools, and the weapons and utensils he made would have been seen to have magical qualities. 

It could even have been that in primitive times smiths were purposely lamed to prevent them from running off and joining and helping enemy tribes. (One story told of coinmakers, who used real gold, was that the gold was measured exactly, and if there was any weight loss the smith had his hand cut off. )

Aphrodite – the wife of Hephaestus

The goddess of love, Aphrodite, was born in Cythera. In Cythera she rose naked from the foam of the sea riding on a scallop shell. When she came ashore grass and flowers spring from the soil wherever she trod, and wherever she went sparrows and doves accompanied her. Finding Cythera only a small island she passed on through the Peloponese to Crete, and eventually took up residence at Paphos, in Cyprus.

The ancient Minoan Civilisation of Greece centred in Crete is where many of the legends of the Greek islands find their source. The great and colourful Minoan city-state spread its trading tentacles far and wide around that part of the Mediterranean, even up into the Northern Aegean. In those ancient times Cythera was an important centre of trade between Crete and the Peloponnese.  

Dancing with Love       
Love came to announce the day
As the morning star, 
And lead us through the dark
As the evening star.

While Haephastus broke stones
Aphrodite danced.
He made the iron work,
She sparkled and danced and danced.

The gods approved his efforts, 
Saw in her actions little use.
They’d say, ‘Dancing has no purpose.
Working with iron, that has use.’

Though in winter naked she lay
Each year she sparkled anew. 
In spring and summer she danced 
And the landscape awakened anew.

Her seeded flowers appeared,
Shaking their petalled colour.
As Aphrodite turned and swirled 
The hillsides erupted with colour.

With flowers, and with a star,
Aphrodite embroidered the world to life.
So gods, what is it that women desire?  
With beauty to colour their life!

Julia Catton 

Venus, the star of night, can be observed by the naked eye better than any other star, and it is possible to follow almost continuously the course of this star through the heavens. 

The Kavira – the fire spirits, children of Hephaestus.

Near Hefestia is Kavira where the three daughters and three sons of Hephaestus and Kavira (a fire spirit) were worshipped.

An Australian Aboriginal Story of the Fire Spirits

Moatah told her mother the story of her friend, the fire spirit, and how she flew with Nanginya. Nanginya leapt into the night sky when she heard Moatah ...

Ulysses and Philoctetes – and the siege of Troy

Philoctetes, a famous archer, went with Ulysses to wage war against Troy. He wished to receive the blessing of the goddess Hera to help in the siege and made a stop at Lemnos to offer a sacrifice at the temple of the Kavira. Here he was bitten by a snake and Ulysses decided to leave him on the island of Lemnos to recover. Ten years later Ulysses decided they needed his skill and went back to collect him. Philoctetes helped win the battle by shooting Achilles in the ankle.

At the siege of Troy, according to Homer in his book the Iliad, the ships of the Greek expeditionary force lined up on the beach near the ancient town of Troy. This town we think is Hissarlik, an ancient settlement near the coast of the Aegean in the north-west corner of Asia Minor and almost opposite Lemnos. Homer tells us that the armies of Agamemnon and his brother Menelaus encamped in huts beside their ships. With them were other forces whose princes owed allegiance to these more powerful kings, and included Ulysses. The fighting took place on the rolling plains between these huts and the city walls (though maybe not for as long as ten years!

And Another Two Important Lemnian Goddesses

Artemis – the goddess of Myrina

The island women who lived around Myrina worshipped Artemis, and Aphrodite became jealous and cursed them so that they developed a bad smell. This caused their husbands to sleep with their maids, women from Thrace. In revenge the Lemian women killed their husbands and sons. They lured them up to the top of the outcrop, Petassos, they pushed them over and onto the rocks below.

Athene - the main goddess of the conquering Athenians 

 Athene was known as the goddess of war but she got no pleasure from battle and would rather settle disputes and uphold the law by peaceful means. The God of Lemnos, Hephaestus, loved her and when she came to him to ask him to make her a bow and spear he tried to make love to her. Poseidon had tricked him and told him that this is what she wanted, but she repulsed him. Myths differ about whether or not she bore him a child.

Athene was a feminist for, although in Classical Greece an artisan had to be a man, it was known that some of the finest pots were made by women and it was said that Athene was their teacher. She taught all kind of sciences including the arts and crafts of the household, cookery, spinning and weaving and pottery making. 

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

A Turbulent History

 A Turbulent History

An Ancient Town – Hefestia (to the north)

 In the 11th C BC, a number of years after the Trojan War, a large group of people arrived on the island. These were the Pelasgians. They had been expelled from the mainland of Greece by the Athenians. These people built the town Hefestia. From 1,000 BC - 1,200 AD Hefestia became the most important town on the island, covering 5 acres.  (By now the old town of Poliochni was deserted, though Myrina was still flourishing in the south of the island) so there were still two towns on the island.

This group often sided with other Greek states against the Persians. And though they did not want Athenians to come and live on the island at first, they later came to accept their help to fight off the Persian navy. This alliance also gave them protection from the pirates. Eventually their capital, Hefestia, became one of the centres of Athenian culture.

 A Greek Amphitheatre at Hefestia
This was one of the sites where ceremonies were held in which slaves were given Greek citizenship.

Athenians and Romans

479  BC Athenians occupied the island (While Hefestia welcomed them the Myrians at first resisted and some left the island). In 511 BC Hefestia had been burned to the ground by the Persians but it was rebuilt by the Athenians and became the island’s capital during the Middle Ages with a parliament, senate and political life.

The island’s open plains, which are a unique geographical feature not found in many other Greek islands, has meant that Lemian farmers have been able to grow wheat in abundance. Because of this wheat has long been an important export, and at this period Lemnos grew wheat on all its hillsides and sent wheat to the city of Athens. But these years were also filled with tragedy as famine hit the country in 430BC and there was a powerful earthquake in 330 BC.

In 166 BC the Romans conquered the island. Lemnos was at this time important to the Eastern Roman Empire for its position which enabled the occupying force to control the maritime route between the Aegean and the Hellespont.

Athenian Gods and Goddesses
With the Athenians came new gods and goddesses. Though what happened was that the older gods were often kept but with a name change. The Great Goddess of Lemnos was now called Artemis or Aphrodite, and also many of the old fire ceremonies remained.

Mount Athos had temples with statues of old gods and goddesses, and it is said that when Saint John and Mary the Mother of Jesus landed there these statues fell and were broken. This was seen as a sign that the people should now follow the new religion of Christianity.

The Rule of the Church

During the Byzantine Era the Christian Church was an important political entity, and tracks of land in Lemnos belonged to the monasteries on Mount Olympus. In the 9th century Aghios Efstratios, who was exiled from the monasteries of Mount Olympus and who found refuge on the island was buried here. A small nearby island is named after him.

There are many churches on the island. Each has its special festival. Here one of our grandchildren is climbing the steps to attend a church festival.

Lemnos during the time of the Byzantine Empire was extremely cultivated, from shore to shore and every hillside was terraced. In its ports were anchored caiques, frigates and sailing vessels carrying metals, oil, wood, marble, wine, flour, leather, pottery, wool and grain.

During this period the island was also seized periodically by others nations: Saracens, Venetians, and Genoans and then the Venetians again.

Strong Women 

The children on Lemnos love stories about their women heroes. There are the stories about Myrina and Hypsipili,  but there is also one about Marula who helped the islanders and the Venetians fight off the Turks when they tried to take over the island. 

One of our cousins with a statue of Marula

The Turks

In 1442 came the first appearance of a Turkish fleet and again in 1447 both times it was beaten back. But in 1479 Venetians ceded the island to the Turks and many Lemians left to make a life elsewhere, many in Smyrna, Alexandria, Syros, Odessa.

In 1854, during the Crimean War, an attempt to become independent from the Turks was made by the islanders but this was not successful and so again a large number of Lemians fled to other cities. Many to Alexandria. It was not until October 6th of 1912 that independence was declared. This was the signal for many Alexandrian Lemians to return, they were now wealthy merchants and they enriched the island with schools, churches and large houses.

The Great Wars and Other Recent Troubles

In 1915 Lemnos sheltered many camps of Allied soldiers. Before their attack on Gallipoli the Allies used the port of Moudros as a naval dockyard. Over 500 ships were anchored in that bay and the camps housed more than 30,000 soldiers.

In1922, after that war an exchange of nationals was decreed, Turks living in Lemnos left to go back to Turkey (even though they had long lived on the island) and 45,000 Greeks who had settled in Asia Minor resettled back on the island (even though they now had absorbed a different culture).

In 1941 German army invaded the island and in 1944 the Germans left.

During the Greek Civil War Limnos was made on of the places of exile for communists and leftists.

In 1967 the Greek Monarch fled the country, and in 1974 the constitutional monarchy was declared ended.

Another grandchild. Sitting on the steps of a memorial for the fallen at the battle of Gallipoli.

Modern Heroes
Sometimes we call someone a hero even when they do not win their battles. Those who came to Lemnos from Australia, and other countries, to fight at Gallipoli died without winning that battle, yet every year these heroes are remembered for their bravery.

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Ancient Lemnos

Ancient Lemnos

Dragons and Dinosaurs?

The island of Lemnos was constructed during a period of intense volcanic activity many thousands of years ago. In some rocks on the island you can find fossilized sea creatures. At that time the weather was different too and in some places you can find fossilized semi-tropical trees such as cedars, palms and cinnamon trees.

From a letter to our Grandchildren

How are you my dears? 

All stories begin ‘once upon a time’ and in these letters I will tell you some stories that also begin with a ‘once upon a time’, for it was many, many, years ago that the island of Lemnos began to grow. At that time continents and seas looked very different from today, and when this island began to grow it came up out of the sea; a volcano spouting fire and rocks. 
Can you imagine back this long ago? If you can you might perhaps wonder if there were dragons and dinosaurs roaming around the world at that time. If you have wondered that I think you might be right. 
It is easier to imagine such things as dinosaurs and dragons when you are in Lemnos as the island is full of rocks strange shaped rocks. For instance when I take an early morning swim, and I look up at the rocks around the bay, I can see rocks in the shape of a dragon. I like to go for a swim very early in morning as there are not many people in the sea at this time of the day. I lie on my back looking at the nearby rocks and I imagine a dragon up on the cliffs. Today I took a photo of this dragon to send to you. Here it is. 

A Sunken Bronze Age Town: Pavlopetri

By Dr Jon Henderson on BBC

 ‘Covering an area of about eight football pitches, Pavlopetri appears as a series of large areas of stones indicating building complexes, among which a network of walls can be traced. It is a city of well-built roads lined by detached and semi-detached two-storey houses. There are larger apparently public buildings and evidence of a complex water management system involving channels and guttering.

Semi-detached houses with gardens, clothes drying in the courtyards, walls and well-made streets - Pavlopetri epitomises the suburban way of life. Except that it's a Bronze Age port, submerged for millennia off the south-east coast of Greece.’

A image of what Pavlopetri might have looked like

Pavlopetri was part of the birth of a new type of city in Europe. Not one based around a god-like king or sacred palatial structure, but rather one based on trade and economics.
All of the world's major modern coastal cities owe their success to their relationship with the sea. All had at their heart a gateway to the sea and the rest of the world. Pavlopetri can perhaps be seen as one of the first links in this chain which continues to this day.

Lemnos, A Port of Call for Many Tribes

Because of its position, guarding the waters leading to the Bosporus and the Black Sea, many tribes have come and built guardposts on Lemnos or have even taken over the whole island.

Early visitors and cultural influences came from the Cycladic and the Minoan civilizations. Later other tribes arrived; Spartans, Macedonians, Persians, Athenians, Venetians, Turks, Germans, these have all played a part in forming the culture of the island. However though it has often been conquered Lemnos has also benefited from the various arrivals and invasions and at times it has been one of the richest of the Aegean islands.

The First Town: Poliochni (on the eastern shores)

There have been people living in Lemnos since 5,000 BC. The first peoples to come to Lemnos may have originally come from central Anatolia as there were towns there where people cultivated olives, pistachios, almonds and cherry trees.

A late Neolithic settler, on the coast of the Mediterranean, would have been able to see a chain of nearby islands and would have been tempted to sail from one to the next. Most islands were only up to twenty miles away and a boatful of men could easily row from one to the next in half a day. 

While there were probably Neolithic people living on the island since 5.000 BC the first real village was built by the Sinties who arrived around 3700BC. There were about a hundred of them who came over from Asia Minor with their sheep, cattle and pigs, and settled in the bay of Poliochni on the eastern shores of Lemnos. 

The town of Poliochni was established on the island around 3700BC though at this time the ‘town’ was little more than a small village, with a few houses surrounding two squares and two wells. There were also two large storage pits in which wheat was kept for winter. On the whole the people here, the Sinties, were an agricultural people but they also had iron and gold workshops. It was probably a major stopover for seafarers who were on their way to the coasts of the Black Sea where could be found many goods not available in the Aegean islands.

The Sinties planted olive trees and grapes on the hills of Lemnos. Olive trees did well on the dry hills of the Aegean islands. Harvesting olive oil meant that the people had to develop ways to store the oil, and so they also began to make large clay pots. Harvesting grapes led farmers to find ways of preserving the juice as wine. This then led to them making jugs and cups. Having oil and wine meant that the people also developed more interesting recipes. And finally, all of this led to more trading with other islands as the villagers bartered their surplus oil, wine and pottery.

Later the people of Lemnos also made metal objects, which they traded with the big cities of the time, Troy and Knossos, bartered these goods for products they did not have on the island.

A Second Town: Myrina ( on the western shores)

About 6000BC the Minoans settled in Crete and began to trade with other nearby islands. Around 4000BC there were sail-propelled boats on Euphrates and it is probable that traders soon after used sails out on the seas. 

For many years the Minoans controlled the seas trading with other islands from their palaces in Crete. When a large earthquake destroyed the nearby island of Thera (Santorini) in 1450 BC the Minoan city of Knossos, which was just 70 miles away, was also affected. 

The effects of the earthquake were catastrophic for the Minoans, their palaces and large fleets of ships were destroyed. This contributed to the destruction of the whole Minoan civilization, but meanwhile they had established towns in other parts of the Mediterranean, one being on the western shores of Lemnos.
Myrina Today

From a letter to our grandchildren.

Dear all,
I went down to the old town of Myrina today. It is not easy to shop in the main street (the Agora) at the moment as they have been digging up the old cobbles stones to put down new pipes. This work has been going on for a long time as every time the workers make a hole they find some very ancient pipes or stone. That means that they have to call for an archaeologist to come, and then the archaeologist says that the stones and pipes are very old, perhaps Byzantine or Ottoman, an then everyone has to stop work while the archaeologists take pictures and make drawings. 

This town was built first by King Thoas and QueenMyrina. They came here with their servants from the island of Crete. There they had been living in a great palace with Minoan and kings and queens. They were asked to go to Lemnos to set up a trading post and when they landed in the bay of Riha Nera they decided to build a town here for themselves and their servants. They became the first king and the queen of Lemnos, and the town they built was named after Queen, Myrina.

Ancient Aegean People

Mythic Heroes and Heroines.

Helen of Troy

Paris, Helen, Agamemnon, Jason and the Argonauts, Odysseus, Philoctetes, Thoas, Myrina, Hypsipili

There are always men called heroes...For Homer’s heroes everything pivoted on a single element of honour and virtue: strength, bravery, physical courage, prowess...there was no weakness, no unheroic trait, but one and that was cowardice, and the consequent failure to pursue heroic goals.
 M. I. Finley The World of Odysseus

The world that Homer described was an aristocratic world... It was a world with unique views of hospitality; it was a world whose gods were more like men than gods have ever been before or since. Mark Van Doren in the forward to The World of Odysseus

From a letter to our Grandchildren.

Dear All, 
The boys and girls of Lemnos do not find all their heroes on TV, they find their heroes in their own ancient stories. For instance teachers will tell them stories about Jason and the Argonauts, and also about Odysseus and Agamemnon. Jason, you will remember, set out in his boat The Argo to find gold. He stopped off on the way and married Hypsipili on the island of Lemnos. 

One story told about Odysseus and this war tells about the time Philoctetes, a famous archer, got bitten by a snake and was left behind on Lemnos. Odysseus realised they needed him to win the war so he came back for him. It was Philoctetes in the end who helped Agamemnon by shooting the arrow that killed the Trojan’s king’s son. I’m sure you will read more about these old heroes one day too. 

In 3000 Troy was a fortified city at the mouth of the river Scamander, it had a controlling influence over the entrance of the straits of the Hellespont. It was destroyed by fire several times, the last time by the troops of Agamemnon in 1184 BC. The story is that Agamemnon built a large wooden horse and hid some of his soldiers inside. At night, when the Trojans wheeled the horse inside their city, these men climbed out and opened up the city gates to let the rest of Agamemnon’s army in.

From another letter.

Dear All,
You know, at the corners of our roof in Lemnos we have tiles shaped like serpents, with tongues sticking out of their open mouths. I think this is because snakes were honoured on the island when the Minoans were here. Minoan queens, who were often also priestesses, used to be able to hold snakes in their hands. 
Once, when I saw a snake in our garden climbing the back wall, I remembered this story and thought, ‘This must be a good sign. Perhaps a snake visiting our house means that the old priestesses have blessed our house’. 
The Minoans were also clever acrobats. They would let a bull charge at them, and then jump up and grab the bull’s horns and somersault over its back. 

Perhaps Queen Myrina was a snake priestess, or perhaps she was an Amazon woman. I wonder this because she must have taught her daughter how to shoot and fight, for when the hero Jason arrived with a group of his friends Myrina’s daughter, Hypsipili, led a group of women archers down to the beach to try and stop them landing.
 (Jason’s friends were called the Argonauts because they had sailed with him in his boat called the Argo).

But when the women saw that the sailors were friendly they didn’t shoot, instead they invited them home. Later Hypsipili married Jason and they had two sons. Jason went on to have more adventures but he often returned to Lemnos.

With much love and many kisses, Grandma. xxx

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Lemnos at Dusk

Lemnos at Dusk

Takis’ memories of evenings past

‘Ah, I remember it so well, the meals, the swims, the discussions on the terrace every evening while we sipped coffee, Greek coffee of course!’

The Ruba’iyat of Omar Khayyam, number 215

Don’t seek to recall yesterday that is past
Nor repine for tomorrow which has not yet come;
Don’t build your hopes on the past or the future.
Be happy now and don’t live on wind.

Evening relaxation 
Before our visitors depart we usually find time to go for at least a couple of evening visits with them to the port, or to one of the seafront tavernas. An evening visit to the port, the limani, is an activity beloved by all Lemnians. After eight in the evening the tavernas begin to fill, and while the parents sit and chat their children play with each other in the plaza. If you are early you might be able to watch fishermen packing up for the day, or perhaps you might catch a visiting organ grinder who has just stepped off a ferry. It’s a good way to unwind after a busy day.

When driving there Takis might be still stressed by the obstacles he’s encountered during the day, however though he might shout at locals driving without giving signs, or yell at young men roaring past on their motorbikes, after taking a seat, watching the crowds wandering around the seafront, and eating a plate of loukoumades (honey balls) sprinkled with walnuts, he’ll mellow.

from The Path to the Sea Thomas A. Clark

'in the half-light of dusk
after the day has prepared
hard surfaces for inspection
before the night has plunged
things back into themselves
there is a settlement in which
the external and the internal are
continuous with the evening air
if you are alone at the edge
of shadows you are not alone
the hours of light shine in you
with a compacted energy that
also burns in tree and stone
partly revealed and partly veiled'

Home Entertainment

Music Making
One the evening we heard music coming from the terrace of the house next door. It was our neighbour Nicholas playing his balalaika, accompanying his wife who was singing some of the old Greek ballads. We all went around to their house and sat under umbrellas on their terrace, with glasses of cold water and cookies, looking out onto their small garden. They like us, and like many Athenian Greeks, come to the island for four to five months each summer, living the rest of the year in Athens. And like many overseas educated Greeks of their age, this couple could speak a little English and even better French.

Story Telling
Another evening Panayiotis and his wife invited us to supper at their house. They’d also invited two other neigbours, and all of us sat down to ouzo, dips and chatter. The conversation was in Greek, but as Takis held the floor most of the night, and I already knew his stories by heart, it wasn’t difficult for me to follow most what was being shared. Harri would ask him about the Mavrellis family and the room would fall silent as he filled them in on some of the old family stories or the recent shenanigans we had been experiencing while trying to buy the shares from various members. Then Takis would turn to me and say,
‘I must tell them the story of....’
And when someone else told a story Takis would translate some of it for me. But generally I found myself watching body language, to catch the inflexion of what was being talked about, and I enjoyed observing this aspect of their interaction as much as taking part.
Now and then Takis lapsed into English, as the others could understand a little, and at one point he told them that he was amazed he was actually doing this project.
‘Me, the least of all my cousins, here to save the last crumbling remnants of the Mavrellis fortune!’

Dreams in the Dusk, by Carl Sandburg

'Dreams in the dusk Only dreams closing the day 
And with the day’s close going back To the gray things, the dark things, 
The far, deep things of dreamland.

Dreams, only dreams in the dusk, 
Only the old remembered pictures 
Of lost days when the day’s loss 
Wrote in tears the heart’s loss. 

Tears and loss and broken dreams
May find your heart at dusk.'

Or we just sit and watch the sun set