Friday, December 20, 2013

Reverie at the Parthenon, Part 3

By Glenn Juday
Note: In October/November 2012 Professor of Forest Ecology Glenn Juday participated a private trip (pilgrimage) following the route of St. Paul, through Turkey, mainland Greece, Aegean islands and Rome. As time permits he will post some sketches of the history, geography, and natural history and contemporary observations of this route.

St. Paul at the Areopagus

There are few figures in history with a more dramatic life story than Saul/Paul of Tarsus. His life was filled with apparent contrasts. He identified himself as a member of the Israelite tribe of Benjamin and as a Roman citizen. He was reputed to be the most brilliant pupil of the most brilliant rabbi, Gamaliel. As a zealous defender of the Jewish Law and traditions, he seized, arrested and assisted in the execution of Jewish followers of “The Way” – shortly after then known as Christians. A systematic thinker and philosopher, he had a literally blinding mystical experience that transformed his entire spiritual orientation in life. A committed Jew, he became what he had previously persecuted, a Christian.

Ancient steps to the summit of Areopagus, chiseled into the rock, November, 2012. The Areopagus was a place of judgment for matters of civil law.

 After a whirlwind life in the heart of most developed part of the world, the eastern Mediterranean, Paul withdrew to the Arabian desert for years of spiritual contemplation and thinking. Committed to rousing his fellow Israelites/Jews to accept “The Way,” he hit upon the strategy of bringing the Christian message to the gentiles and thus making his own people jealous. In doing so he made a major contribution to arguably one of the greatest cultural transformations in history – the emergence of Christian culture and civilization, and the start of the fusion of the world view embodied by Jerusalem and Athens. For his efforts and labors he was repeatedly beaten, whipped, exiled, arrested, imprisoned and ultimately executed.

Devoted to the land of his Jewish ancestors, he traveled across the Mediterranean world, and ended up with his earthly remains interred in the great city of Rome. The Roman capital that heard his message of religious zeal and moral reform was in the first stages of a disastrous decline into Imperial decadence. Roman power had both made a world in which he could travel safely and it had oppressed his people –Jewish and Christian.

St. Paul was nothing if not fearless, and ambitious as well. He was a man with an urgent message and a sometimes deliberately provocative style. On his second missionary journey he found himself in Athens, known for its students of philosophy – and an intellectually rough and tumble environment. There he spotted his opening. In his characteristic mixed style of debate and proclamation he would confront/provoke the Athenian philosophers and get taken to the civil authorities where he could debate and proclaim the Christian message to an even more influential audience. The tribunal in Athens for such matters was called the Areopagus, a compound of the words for the place where the cases were heard and judgment rendered – the rock (pagos) of Ares (known in Latin as Mars Hill).

The Rock of Ares or Areopagus is near the entrance to the Acropolis of Athens, and is a popular attraction to this day. The ancient steps chiseled into the rock are worn slick from centuries of visitors, and are so slippery they represent a real risk for visitors. The pine and cypress trees around the base of the hill provide welcome shade. As I climbed the steps and reach the summit I was rewarded with a view of the Acropolis above, and down below, the agora. The agora was the public center of the city, and hosted activities such as commerce, politics, religion, and military affairs. Four times per month laws were passed, embassies received, and city defenses reviewed in the agora. But the great attraction at the Areopagus is to literally stand in the footsteps of St. Paul.

In another of the ironic contrasts that seem to mark Paul’s life, he, even though the accused, is widely remembered while most of his judges at the Areopagus are long forgotten, except one judge who took up his cause. Even nearly 2,000 years later it’s difficult to improve on the fast-paced, straightforward account of what happened to Paul at the Areopagus by the scholarly gentile physician Luke in the second half of the Chapter 17 in the Book of Acts.

Acts, Chapter 17
[15] Those who conducted Paul brought him as far as Athens; and receiving a command for Silas and Timothy to come to him as soon as possible, they departed.

[16] Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols. [17] So he argued in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the market place every day with those who chanced to be there. [18] Some also of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers met him. And some said, “What would this babbler say?” Others said, “He seems to be a preacher of foreign divinities” -- because he preached Jesus and the resurrection. [19] And they took hold of him and brought him to the Are-op'agus, saying, “May we know what this new teaching is which you present? [20] For you bring some strange things to our ears; we wish to know therefore what these things mean.” [21] Now all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new.

[22] So Paul, standing in the middle of the Are-op'agus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious.[23] For as I passed along, and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. [24] The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by man, [25] nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all men life and breath and everything. [26] And he made from one every nation of men to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their habitation, [27] that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel after him and find him. Yet he is not far from each one of us, [28] for
‘In him we live and move and have our being’;
as even some of your poets have said, ‘For we are indeed his offspring.’ [29] Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the Deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, a representation by the art and imagination of man. [30] The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all men everywhere to repent, [31] because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all men by raising him from the dead.”

[32] Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked; but others said, “We will hear you again about this.” [33] So Paul went out from among them. [34] But some men joined him and believed, among them Dionys'ius the Are-op'agite and a woman named Dam'aris and others with them.
 Bronze plaque at the Areopagus, with the quotation from the second half of Acts 17, describing St. Paul’s mid first century speech at the Areopagus, November, 2012.
When he went before the tribunal, Paul identified with his audience, he praised their religious impulse. As a thorough scholar, he quoted the classic authors of Greco-Roman culture to his inquisitors in the Areopagus. He deftly used their own belief in an unknown god to advance his case. Paul’s message had three main points. First he was proposing an alternative to the religious world-view in which numerous gods competed against each other, resulting in otherwise inexplicable suffering for humanity. Paul proclaimed a single God with one mind, one will and all power. That would take some digesting. Paul also inverted the view which held that a proliferation of gods needed to be worshiped through idols in every place where their help might be required. Reality was just the opposite, Paul said. There is one God who is omnipresent. More food for thought.

Finally, Paul made the bold claim that there would be a final day of judgment, in stark contrast to the seemingly endless philosophical debates Athens was so famous for.  The verdict of his audience was mixed. Some rejected it out of hand and ridiculed it, and some wanted to hear more.

In the end, the outcome of St. Paul’s encounter with the Areopagus on this, his second missionary journey included one crucial convert - Dionysius (Dennis) the Areopagite (Greek = Διονύσιος ὁ Ἀρεοπαγίτης). According to the early Church historian Eusebius, Dionysius the Areopagite became the first bishop of Athens.

Portrait of Saint Dionysius the Areopagite in the Latin Rite Catholic Cathedral in Athens, Greece.

This account of origin of church authority is a classic example of apostolic succession. Men that Jesus selected and trained as apostles in turn picked men as bishops (Greek: ἐπίσκοπος, episkopos, or overseer) and so in an unbroken line to today. To this day the Greek root word episkopos persists in the Church as a description of anything relating to the authority or governance by bishops – episcopal office, episcopal conference.

The apostolic lines of succession in Greece, of course, go back to apostles in both the Orthodox and Catholic Churches. But, in the mind of many Greeks the Catholic Church traditionally has been regarded as a foreign presence, given its historical association with western powers and their involvement in the lands of what is now Greece. The sack of Constantinople by western Christian knights in the Fourth Crusade in 1204 is still a very sore point among many Greek Orthodox of today. The concept of transnational, universal identity that characterizes the Catholic self-view contrasts with a stronger tendency toward national or ethnic identity in the Eastern Apostolic Churches. The Greek Orthodox Church played a major role in keeping alive Greek identity, language and culture during the centuries of Ottoman domination. So the status of the Catholic Church today in Greece is frequently challenged in law and the reception of the Catholic Church could be described as something well short of open or friendly. But as EU rules on the cross-border movement and residence of people take effect, the number of Catholics in Greece has increased to a few hundred thousand, and adjustment to this new reality is taking place.

Our group heads for Mass to the Latin Rite Catholic Cathedral (from the Greek καθέδρα or kathedra = seat) in Athens, St. Dionysius Cathedral. It was built in 1844 in the Greek revival style, designed by the well-known German Court architect Leon von Klenze. It is a beautiful church and one of the best neoclassical buildings in Athens. The walls and fence around the cathedral create a secure and peaceful space, but the occasional harassment on the street and the pervasive graffiti on the outside surfaces that we have come to expect in Athens is a reminder of the barely submerged tensions in religious, economic, social, and especially political life in modern Greece.

The Church of Saint Dionysius the Areopagite, Latin Rite Catholic Cathedral in Athens, Greece.

Spray paint graffiti has taken over nearly all public spaces in Athens. A noticeable amount of the graffiti uses the Latin alphabet in an obvious play for western media coverage. Jobs are few, opportunities limited, tax avoidance pervasive, the future very uncertain. One of our Greek guides points out that conditions are better in Athens than surrounding countryside. Many Athenians fill up their cars with food and head out of the city for long weekends starting on Thursday evening. She claims that without this food supplement arriving in the countryside, people would go hungry. As petroleum prices rise or incomes fall, a turn to wood combustion for heat frequently generates a gray or brown layer in the lower atmosphere.

Different groups have different sectors of society they prefer to blame for the woes of modern Greece – immigrants, the EU, the opposite political party. And there is fear that the democratic polity that emerged in ancient Athens as an example to the world may not be coping with the strain.
Spray paint graffiti on a sign describing improvements by the Greek government to the Acropolis of Athens, Greece, October 2012. Spray paint proclaiming rival political/civic ideologies defaces most of Athens, including businesses, public structures, even antiquities.

It’s not difficult to understand some of the contributing factors that make modern Greece a divided society seemingly on the edge. Despite its foundational role in western society, the Greek language has fallen on challenging times. Greek, with its ancient and distinctive alphabet, is read and spoken by about 13 million people, compared to nearly a billion who speak romance languages that use the Latin alphabet. Demographically, Greece is one of the most severely challenged parts of a severely challenged continent. Very roughly speaking, if you polled four Greeks who are grandparents, currently they would have among them about two grandchildren. No pension system can function effectively in the face of numbers like that.

Greek government entities are, financially speaking, broke. Their fiscal liabilities are greater than can reasonably be expected will ever be paid back to creditors. Extreme political movements are growing. Centrist parties struggle to gain public confidence and have deep-seated problems of corruption and credibility in the face of paralysis and inaction. The adoption of the strong Euro as the currency has made manufacturing and exporting from Greece non-viable. Tourism and a sunny climate loom large in the Greek economy. Greece is a first point of landing for non-legal immigrants who are truly desperate and looking for any means to survive.

Still, Greeks are nothing if not resilient. In one sense, the emergence of the modern Greek state was improbable in the extreme. In the early 1800s the military, financial, and political/diplomatic resources necessary for a successful revolt against one of the major powers of the time simply did not exist. The main forces, if they can be called that, behind Greek independence were ideas – liberty, democracy, culture. But the force of those ideas did, in fact, have power. It was the power that comes from the ideals of democracy, science, and art as embodied in the tangible architectural and artistic patrimony of ancient Athens. They had enough power to move the people of Greece and the educated elite of Europe and the U.S.

As usual, reality was more sobering than the ideal. While Greek independence emerged, it did so with plenty of weaknesses and failings. The land had been ravaged in the fighting. The Western Powers and Russia played a major role in the victory, contributed to a mercenary army, and exercised an outsized role politics of Greece for years to come.

The situation then as well as the current situation in Greece might not have seemed all that unfamiliar to St. Paul. A divided society, with some elements of a prosperous population coexisting alongside people not secure in the basic needs of life. A not-so-distant past that looks good compared to an uncertain future. As he traveled the Greek lands, St. Paul must have wondered, what will come of these contending forces?

But he never looked back and he never stopped – right up until the time a Roman sword put an end to His earthly life. And that approach to his mission made a difference, a difference that is felt to this day in the life of everyone reading this account.


Beard, Mary. 2010. The Parthenon. Profile Books. 118 p. ISBN 1847650635.

Kaldellis, Anthony. 2009. The Christian Parthenon
 - Classicism and Pilgrimage in Byzantine Athens. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge UK. 268 p. ISBN: 9780521882286.

Numerous authors. 2013. 6th International Meeting for the Restoration of the Acropolis Monuments. (Abstracts). Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sports, Committee for the Conservation of the Acropolis Monuments, Acropolis Restoration Service, Special Service for the Sector of Culture. Athens, Greece. 48 p.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Alaskans can learn history of state's ungulates online

When Reindeer Research Program staff decided to offer an eLearning course on the history of Alaska's ungulates, little did they realize the fascinating stories they would find.

They'll be sharing those tales in HLRM 120: History of Domesticated Alaska Ungulates during spring semester. "I've been wanting to develop distance delivery courses for a long time," said Greg Finstad, associate professor with SNRAS and manager of the RRP.

Lomen Bros. reindeer, Nome, Alaska, early 1900s (Alaska State Library Historical Collections)
In an effort to make the high latitude range management courses sustainable, Finstad decided that offering online versions will be much more affordable than having students travel to Nome.

Working with Owen Guthrie, instructional designer with eLearning and a former RRP employee, Finstad and other RRP staff have found the right formula. Rather than old-style distance courses where a student works on his own, this type of class involves interaction among the students.

"It will be a learning community," Guthrie said. "There will be community discussion forums and video conferencing. By sharing the learning experience, people learn better."

The course will cover the amazing tales surrounding the introduction of reindeer, cattle, bison, elk and yak to Alaska from 1890 to the present. Students will explore the political, economic and social aspects of raising livestock on the last frontier.

Guthrie said, "When you're on the frontier and try something new some make it and some lose everything. It makes for compelling human stories."

"There have been quite a few diverse attempts to raise several species at various locations with different management techniques," Finstad said. And all was not always well. There have been some disastrous projects around the state. "There has been a history of failure but one of the huge successes was the Lomen Brothers who raised reindeer in western Alaska and shipped 1 million pounds of reindeer meat yearly to the lower 48 until the Depression did them in.

"There is a lot of history out there and we're digging for it," he said. "This will be a work in progress. RRP's George Aguiar has been interviewing ranchers around the state to get their perspectives and Darrell Blodgett has been doing a literature search and creating a Google map.

"The livestock industry in Alaska is not large but there is a rich history of diverse, strange, daring and foolish attempts," Finstad said. "We'll be looking at the history of our state through this one particular lens."

The state could have a bright future in producing more of its own meat, he said. "We have a large land base and a small population. We just need to convert some of the range forage into meat and we're good. There is huge potential."

The one-credit course begins Jan. 16 and lasts four weeks. Contact Marissa Carl for more information.

New service learning course offered spring semester

A new course, NRM 497/697, Natural Resource Service Learning Independent Study, offers students opportunities to partner with local K-12 teachers.

Students will facilitate K-12 classroom lesson plans and activities using an interdisciplinary STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, math) approach. The course is tied to OneTree Alaska, an education, outreach and research project that uses the boreal forest as a springboard for active, place-based learning. OneTree Alaska is a program of the UAF School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences.

Jan Dawe works with a middle schooler on a OneTree Alaska activity.
One Tree takes an integrated approach to learning. University students from diverse disciplines are invited to bring their unique perspectives to K-12 classrooms as service learners. They will be paired with teachers to customize and implement OneTree activities.

Each service learner will spend at least 10 hours in the classroom during spring semester and meet for one hour each week (proposed time 8 to 9 a.m. on Wednesdays in O'Neill 356). Participants will also need to attend sessions one or two Saturdays per month to meet with teachers and prepare classroom materials.

For more information, contact Jan Dawe at 907-388-1772.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Painting sacred space: Harrison Crandall and Grand Teton National Park

Harrison R. Crandall: Creating A Vision of Grand Teton National Park, by SNRAS geography professor Kenneth A. Barrick, begins by stating:

"You might be curious to know how a professor from Alaska became interested in Harrison R. Crandall, who preferred to be called 'Hank,' and his role in creating a vision of Grand Teton National Park."

It turns out that Dr. Barrick has been collecting national park art, and in particular photochromes (color lithographs), for a very long time. William Henry Jackson's—and now Hank Crandall's—works are Barrick's particular passion. Jackson was a photographer in the 1870s in the Hayden expedition, a scientific expedition which explored the Yellowstone area. He and Thomas Moran the painter brought the visual wonders of the area to the eyes of the public and Congress, helping show people who didn't know what a geyser was, for example, and in the process providing support for the creation of the 1872 Park Bill.

In a similar way, Crandall helped to visually interpret and explain the Grand Tetons to people through his work, enabling them to connect to the West through his hand-painted photographs and landscape paintings. Crandall was the park's first and only official photographer and Jackson Hole's first resident artist, homesteading in the Teton Range from before the park was officially created, and he continued to live in the Tetons until his death in 1970.

Barrick first discovered this painter/photographer at an art show in Bozeman, Montana, while he was looking for photochromes by Jackson. His eye was caught by two portraits, one of a wild rose (right) and another of fringed gentian, both of which he promptly purchased. ("Wild Rose," by H.R. Crandall, courtesy K.A. Barrick Collection)

"Many people today don't realize that color photos first became available as hand-painted black and white photographic images," Barrick explained. So, people could hang a "color photo" on their wall more than a hundred years before color photography was invented. "[Hank Crandall's] have very bold, deeply saturated colors, so they're very beautiful to look at."

Barrick tried to find out more about the artist, but there was very little information available. His research eventually led him to Grand Teton National Park, and Alice Hart, now former curator at Teton, with whom he was to work for six years, and Crandall's family. Images in the book came largely from the park archives, Crandall's family, the National Archives in Washington, DC, and two galleries (Cayuse Western Americana and Fighting Bear Antiques). Some images were unique to the Crandall family archives, particular the early items, so the public is seeing them here for the first time; some commercial items were displayed in Hank's studio over the years at the park. These range in size from small souvenirs to full-sized paintings, including the large and dramatic landscape that hangs in the Moose Visitors' Center and adorns the book cover.

Hank Crandall and his family in front of the Grand Tetons. From left to right: daughter Nancy, wife Hilda, Hank, and daughter Quita. Photo by H.R. Crandall, courtesy of Grand Teton National Park Archive.

Crandall excelled in more than one genre: black and white photography, opaque overpainting on photos, and painting. The opaque paints were unusual: most hand-painted photos of the day used transparent paints. Crandall depicted people within a recreational wilderness in his photos and movies, often inserting gags and staging the images. His paintings of landscapes very rarely included people, and almost always were of a slightly romanticized wilderness. He also made a dozen films during the 1920s, including documentaries of life in Jackson Hole and a dramatic film titled The Hold Up.

"Begging for Sugar," Photograph by H.R. Crandall, courtesy Grand Teton National Park Archive. 

Crandall had been fascinated from an early age by the area: he had decided as a schoolchild to go to the Tetons because of a photograph he saw of the area by William Henry Jackson. He moved from Kansas to California, and eventually homesteaded in Jackson's Hole, where he remained.

Barrick explained the concept of geopiety, or the belief that certain geographical sites are sacred. Many such sites evoke awe, including the Tetons, which dramatically jut up from a comparatively flat area. Barrick makes the case in his book that the Teton Range were Crandall's sacred mountains. It is certainly apparent in Crandall's many decades of painting the mountains of the Teton Range that he brought respect to his subject and appreciation for their drama and beauty.

The parks and Hank Crandall
  • 1872 Park Bill: The first national park was Yellowstone, approved by Congress in part because of the images that Moran and Jackson sent. The mandate of the bill was that the park be for the enjoyment of the American people. At first, a civilian staff managed the park.
  • 1872–1916: In 1886, the military took over management of Yellowstone National Park. Other parks began to be added, some managed by the states, some by the federal government.
  • 1916: The Organic Act created the National Park Service and system and established the goals for park service. The young Park Service was competing with the Forest Service for funds and recognition, trying to prevent poaching on park grounds, and figure out how to get the public to come visit. Artists and their on-site studios became important because they were the only park interpreters. Artwork depicting the parks also became significant in Washington, DC, for more than its beauty. Stephen Mather and Horace Albright, the first and second directors of the Park Service, respectively, and several prominent members of Congress, for example, displayed Crandall's paintings in their offices.
  • 1920s: While Crandall was homesteading at Jackson Hole, Albright entertained John D. Rockefeller, Jr. and son, taking them to see the Grand Tetons. Rockefeller was so taken by the area that he eventually donated $1.5 million to buy up a portion of the valley floor for the park expansion (an act that is still controversial to some!). Albright depended on artists like Crandall, who supported the park expansion, to interpret and portray the landscape. Hank spent his life in the park, painting and photographing the people and wilderness around him. His studio is now the Jenny Lake Visitor Center.
  • 1954: Hank's studio at the old homesite at Paintbrush Point burned down, but 1,200 negatives were saved, including photos of Native Americans, portraits of the family, movie actors, early national park managers, Civilian Conservation Corps crews, and other images, and a dozen 1920s-era vintage silent films.
"There's still lots of Crandall's art out there that we don't know about," said Barrick. He asks that anyone who has work by Hank Crandall to please contact him at "Maybe there will be enough for a second edition of the book, or even a second volume!"

Dr. Barrick's book is available through Gulliver's Books and Barnes & Noble and other online stores, and is on display at the Rasmuson Library.

More information:
Ken Barrick is working on other projects, including:
  • National Park Souvenirs: Taking Home the Sacred, which will document the history and unique meaning of souvenir art and ephemera of the national parks. 
  • a book on the impact of geoengineering on the naturalness and wilderness: a major part of the definition of wilderness is that it is a self-willed environment or ecosystem without human control or development. Geoengineering, by definition, is an attempt by humans to control climate by technological fixes, so naturalness will disappear from the region (depending on the size, up to global). In the United States, any impact on wilderness by geoengineering appears to violate the intent of the Wilderness Act, says Barrick, which incorporates naturalness as a key component of wilderness.

Reverie at the Parthenon, part two

By Glenn Juday
Note: In October/November 2012 Professor of Forest Ecology Glenn Juday participated in a private trip (pilgrimage) following the route of St. Paul, through Turkey, mainland Greece, the Aegean islands and Rome. As time permits he will post some sketches of the history, geography, and natural history and contemporary observations of this route.
Part 2 of 3

The design, construction and conservation of the Parthenon

The construction of the Parthenon displays architectural design skill, large-project construction capability, and artistic ability beyond the level of nearly all other structures of its time. The Parthenon displays a deceptively simple visual harmony, which is what first attracts most visitors. The harmony is based on the simple mathematical and geometric ratio of 9:4. This is the ratio of the length to the width of the Parthenon, and it is the ratio of the width of the front of the temple to its height. The same ratio carries over into the distance between the center of each vertical column to the width of each column.

An olive tree at the base of the Erectheum, on the Acropolis of Athens, October 2012. This olive tree commemorates the gift of the mythical goddess Athena.
The columns stand on a platform called the stylobate, which curves upward in the center very subtly at just the right amount to overcome the apparent visual distortion of a perspective view of such a large structure. The designers and builders achieved the effect of entasis in the columns, which involves the incorporation of slight curvature to counter the effect of apparent distortion from perspective view. And the builders even thought to (and were able to) slightly angle the columns inwards by about 7 cm to further contribute to the same effect. These sophisticated and subtly executed curves and lines make the Parthenon look even more symmetrical than it actually is. The overwhelming effect is to promote the classical ideal of visual beauty – proportion, symmetry, harmony.

The Parthenon originally was lavishly decorated with marble sculptures on both the exterior and interior. The west and east pediments (triangular spaces between the peak of the roof and height of the columns) were covered with tableaux of the mythological events of the involvement of the gods and demi-gods in the origin of the city. Analysis of residues on the sculptures indicates that they were originally painted, although the extent and color scheme are still being discovered and debated.

In terms of the quality of artistic workmanship, these sculptures are practically without parallel in the Hellenic (from the Greek Hellas for Greek) world of the time. Doric temples such as the Parthenon characteristically had a frieze or wide moldings and bands, which extended horizontally above columns. The frieze of the Parthenon could only be seen through the columns, requiring the viewer to look up. As a result they had to be designed very precisely so the viewer could see the details. The amazing fact about the sculptures on the frieze of the Parthenon is that the carvings are no more than 7.5 cm (3 in) deep. Yet the figures depicted convey a three dimensional look. They display a naturalness and fluidity that easily suggests movement, or strength and power in horses, or relaxation in the maidens.

All of the original sculptures have been removed from the building itself, although some replicas have been put in their place. Some were destroyed in late antiquity, some were partially destroyed in a 17th century explosion, and some have been placed into an excellent on-site museum. But perhaps the most famous set of sculptures missing from the Parthenon are the so-called “Elgin Marbles” (actually the Parthenon Marbles), which are one of the prized holdings of the British Museum. Thomas Bruce, the 7th Earl of Elgin, was the British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire from 1799 to 1803. During his ambassadorship he obtained a blanket permission from Ottoman authorities to remove pieces of the Parthenon. The local Greeks were largely a suppressed, powerless, and poorly educated people. Ottoman officials, and obviously British as well, felt no need to consider their opinion at the time.

Agents working for Elgin removed about half of the Parthenon sculptures, a number of architectural members, and sculptures from the Erechtheum from 1801 to 1812, packed them up and shipped them off by sea to London. Some of the pieces were sawn apart to facilitate shipment. Even at the time, this removal of pieces of the Parthenon generated harsh criticism in Britain as equivalent to an act of vandalism or looting.

Elgin was unable to bear the expense of the entire operation while maintaining his estate. The British government purchased the Parthenon Marbles from Elgin in 1816 and put them on display in the British Museum, where they remain today in a special wing constructed for them. The museum’s dilemma is acute. On the one hand, the Greek government and people have a strong case for the return of their patrimony. On the other hand, few museums in the world could sustain all their current holdings on the basis of a consistent application of the general principle of repatriation of objects acquired with some shady overtones.

The Parthenon, the instantly recognizable iconic symbol of so much of enduring value in art, architecture and democratic values, has had a difficult time enduring in recent decades. All it takes to dissolve marble into a salt crust is acid and water. For much of the post-WW II era, Athens existed in a vigorous cloud of air pollution that provided plenty of acidity, particularly sulfur oxides and nitrous oxides. Just add water and sulfuric acid and nitric acid are produced. Nearly all school children have seen a teacher put a few drops of acid on limestone or marble and watched the rock dissolve away. In just this way the Parthenon and its artwork began to dissolve away.

As the population in Athens exploded in the post-WWII years and a great influx of people from the countryside moved in as a result of the civil war with the communists in the late 1940s, a new and somewhat haphazardly constructed city with very bad air quality took shape. The great marble and limestone artistic and cultural patrimony of ancient Greece were bathed in acid. The damage was severe, and in some cases exceeded in a couple of decades the amount weathering in the previous two millennia. More recently some progress has been made in reducing air pollution.

Severely deteriorated figures on an original marble frieze from the Parthenon, now on display in the New Acropolis Museum, Athens. Acid deposition has dissolved outer layers of the marble and removed the clearly defined features of the faces of these figures. Much of this type of damage occurred from the development of air pollution starting in the mid 20th century. All susceptible original marble artwork at the Parthenon has been removed and placed in controlled environments indoors.

Greece has developed a world-class set of museum facilities, conservators and historians. A conservation and restoration plan for the Parthenon is being carried out gradually. Some of the severely damaged sections of the Parthenon remained as stone fragments littered about the Acropolis, and previous restorations frequently put them together incorrectly. Today these stone pieces are being taken apart and then reassembled correctly with the aid of a complete database of original stone fragments and a computer shape-matching program. But in the end the final decision about the proper placement of a fragment is reserved to human judgment. Some past restoration used concrete to supply missing material in order to join to original pieces. Older concrete mixtures can react with the original marble and accelerate deterioration, so concrete restorations are being removed. Reinforcement of some weakened stone structural sections was formerly accomplished using iron and steel reinforcing rods, which have reacted over the years with the marble and damaged it further. Where necessary, new titanium rods are being substituted for other metals.

All these problems are being systematically corrected while the Parthenon is open to visitors. The visibility of scaffolding and construction cranes are minimized to the degree the different asks allow so that visitors can continue to enjoy the Parthenon and it can continue to generated much-needed revenue for the Greek economy. 

Author in front of crane and scaffolding at the west end of the Parthenon, November, 2012.

The Parthenon is built from marble quarried from Mount Pentelicon, about 16 km (10 mi) from Athens. This proximity of an abundant source of high quality marble (a premium building material in ancient times) was a crucial factor in allowing the construction of such a large and elaborate temple to such high standards. Ancient records indicate that quarrying and moving the marble was the biggest expense in the construction of the Parthenon. The Mount Pentelicon quarry has been reopened, and it supplies marble for restorations of the original structure of the Parthenon and replica statuary. Restorations are now literally the same material as the original. 

Restoration on the Propylaea (“front gate”), Acropolis of Athens, November 2012. The light or white colored marble pieces are modern replacement marble from the original quarry of Mount Pentelicon. Over time these restoration pieces will weather to the buff, tawny color of the ancient marble.

The fate of the Parthenon through history

The Parthenon, obviously, has a long history. Yet it managed to survive in a more intact condition than most of its contemporary structures. The Parthenon outlasted the civic religion that produced it, the empires that absorbed it, and even a number of alternative uses that spread across the Acropolis. The Parthenon did not go into ruin slowly. Much of the worst damage to it came from specific incidents, with a surprising number of them in the later, more recent period of its long life.

Just before the spectacular recovery achieved by ancient Athens from the Persian attack that occasioned the building of the Parthenon, Athens formed a military alliance with more than 150 smaller and more vulnerable city-states. These city-states either contributed forces or alternatively paid a fee to the alliance. The sacred island of Delos held the treasury where the payment was stored and guarded, and so the alliance was called the Delian League. Over time the larger, stronger Athenian protectors began to dominate the League, and in practical terms it became an Athenian Empire. In 454 B.C. Pericles ordered the transfer of the League treasury to Athens. The self-appropriation of the immense wealth of the League treasury allowed Pericles to rebuild the Parthenon, the Propylaea and much of Athens on a lavish scale to the most exacting standards of quality.

The Parthenon itself appears from its earliest days to have been partially regarded as a treasury. The giant stature of Athena was made of ivory and covered with a massive amount of gold. As might be expected, when in later times (296 B.C.) a somewhat dodgy ruler, the tyrant Lachares, got into a pinch and needed some quick way to pay his army, he helped himself to the gold.

Athens and all of Greece came under Roman rule after 146 B.C., at first under the Republic, and later the Roman Empire. In 88 B.C. Athens revolted, and the Roman Army under the general Sulla crushed the resistance with much violence and emphatic attention to the details of looting. But once Roman rule was unchallenged, life in Athens continued much as before. The Greek language remained solidly established in the eastern Mediterranean. The Romans had a saying that: “Graecia capta ferum victorem cepit.” (Captive Greece captured her rough conqueror). The Romans had a god paired to nearly each in the Greek pantheon, in part because the Roman gods and religion developed under some Greek influence in their formative years. So once the Roman Empire engulfed Athens it was a simple matter to let the Parthenon stand and function as it had before.

The Romans were practical, proud of their achievements in engineering (both civil and military), and focused on the future – as in expanding or protecting the Empire. Many Romans deeply respected the Greek cultural patrimony, but a number, especially the more populist types, tended to regard Greek philosophical schools, refined language, and attachment to a golden past as stuffy, effete and hopelessly impractical. Even in the early times of the Roman Empire, only a couple of centuries after construction of the Parthenon, there was a nostalgia about the Athens of a golden, glorious past, now faded. But there is no particular evidence that the Romans identified the Parthenon in any special way as the icon of the institution of democracy or the cultural achievements of the Golden Age of Athens. Partly, that was because there was plenty of other evidence to make the point – physical evidence as well as unbroken transmission of cultural evidence.

In the late 4th century Athens experienced a brief incursion of the Goths and Vandals from the north, who, not surprisingly, vandalized and looted much of the city. They were driven out and went on to sack the greatly weakened city of Rome in 410 A.D. The Roman Empire had by then reorganized, and earlier in the 4th century the Emperor Constantine founded a strong new and much more defensible capital, Constantinople, at the old village of Byzantium as the Eastern Roman Empire. Immediately Athens was at the heart of the new empire. But it was Christian empire from its start, and the Parthenon was quickly converted into a Christian church.

The contemporary author Anthony Kaldellis argues that the Parthenon was more important as a church than it had been as a cultic temple, and in fact there is scant evidence for the latter use at all. However there is evidence that the Parthenon Church became an important pilgrimage destination. The Parthenon was initially dedicated as the Church of the Holy Wisdom (Greek: Ἁγία Σοφία, or Hagia Sophia). It was then rededicated to the Virgin Mary as Theotokos (literally “God bearer,” or more commonly, Mother of God). The term Theotokos emerged in 431 at the Council of Ephesus from the controversies over the nature of the person of Christ. Given the origin of the Parthenon as a structure dedicated to Athena Parthenos – Athena the Virgin – one interpretation under the new Christian culture was that the old and imperfectly understood prepared the way for the perfect and fully revealed (Blessed Virgin Mary). An apse was added at the east end, and the internal columns were removed. Significantly it is not clear that many statues of pagan deities were removed from the Parthenon during its active use as a church. Some polemicists would like to make the Christian culture of the time a retrograde and vandalizing force. While it is indisputably true that among the Christian ranks there existed ignorant and weak-minded people, there is little evidence to support the conjecture of systematic anti-cultural and anti-art fanaticism. And the clearest example of anti artistic fanaticism, the iconoclast controversy, was introduced as the result of imperial meddling and was resolved as a result of condemnation of iconoclasm (literally, icon smashing) by Church councils of 787 and 843. In any event, the great pagan mythic scenes on the pediments of the Parthenon were certainly not removed. For nearly a millennium the Parthenon functioned under this order. It certainly was architecturally one of the oddest churches dedicated to the Virgin Mary.

As a result of the Fourth Crusade, Athens and Constantinople itself were conquered by western knights, with the latter severely looted. During the period from 1205 to 1456, Athens was ruled by a succession of medium “western” powers heavily invested in trade with the eastern Mediterranean and able to project power and establish bases there - Burgundians, Catalans, Florentines, and, briefly, Venetians. All of them appear to have extended respect to the Parthenon. By this time the differences between the ancient apostolic Eastern and Western Churches had firmed up into a schism or split of Eastern Orthodoxy versus the Catholic and overwhelmingly Latin Church. The western rulers of Athens in this period transformed the Parthenon into a Latin-Rite Catholic Church. In the late thirteenth century, Pope Nicholas IV even granted an indulgence for those who went on pilgrimage to it.

By 1460, the recent Islamic conquest and destruction of the Byzantine (Eastern Roman) Empire by the Ottoman Turks allowed a continuation of jihad and invasion into mainland Europe. Greece and Athens were conquered, and the Parthenon was converted into a mosque. A minaret was added, but even at this date the Parthenon was far more intact than anybody in modern times has seen. Then a period of neglect and decline began. The Venetians alternately traded with and fought the Ottomans in the eastern Mediterranean. During one of these wars, in 1687 the Parthenon suffered the greatest damage in its history. The Venetian forces were attacking, and the Ottoman forces were defending from the Parthenon. The Ottomans had stored their gunpowder in the Parthenon. A Venetian mortar bomb arced through the roof and detonated the gunpowder. The explosion destroyed the central portion of the Parthenon.  The roof collapsed, and pillars especially on the south side were cut in half. Most of the sculptures were damaged to some degree. A fire raged for a day and a half. The largely intact patrimony of a time two millennia earlier was ravaged in an instant.

By the late 18th century tourism to Athens began to develop under the protection of the strong British fleet that dominated the Mediterranean Sea and a general decrease in risk of travel on land. The ruins of the Parthenon fit right in with the mood and aesthetic of this, the early Romantic Period. In its essence the aesthetic went something like: a long lost romantic past is encountered in ruins that speak of the intangible things of the spirit and culture. The Parthenon became a must-see on any decent tour of the Mediterranean.

The Ottomans anticipated an eventual conquest and replacement of European civilization with Islamic culture, and so were not greatly moved by the Parthenon or its fate. But the British, a rising power in the region, had an intellectual class keenly interested in all things ancient and Greek. The widespread teaching of Greek (some of the American Founding Fathers were among the students of the language) began to create a class for whom the Athenian past spoke. The removal of the Parthenon Marbles by Lord Elgin was the product of that unique moment in history when the indigenous Greek people were powerless, the ruling Ottoman power indifferent (or bribable), and an outside global power (British) enthralled and projecting power into the region.

Seething under Ottoman and Islamic suppression, and benefiting from a Greek language revival, the rise of a merchant class, and young people educated in European universities, in 1821 the Greeks began a war for independence. A sympathetic British and European elite offered encouragement and pressed their governments to support the revolt. A combined British, French and Russian fleet defeated an Ottoman naval force, and Ottoman land forces were forced to withdraw. George Gordon Byron (Lord Byron), the chief English Romantic poet, joined the revolt and died of a fever, becoming a Greek national hero. During the struggle, Greek and volunteer forces besieged and attacked the Parthenon. Ottoman defenders rearranged the ruins for defense, and even extracted lead for bullets from metal stays that held parts of the Parthenon together. The Greeks forces were so upset it is said that they offered the defenders their own bullets if they would agree to stop damaging the Parthenon.

The Greeks gained control of Athens in 1832 and promptly removed the minaret from the Parthenon. All modern and medieval structures were cleared from the Acropolis, and it became an historic district controlled by the Greek government. In essence the Parthenon was appropriated for Greek nationalism. Given the influence of the Romantic movement and the thorough destruction of Greek and Byzantine culture and learning by four centuries of Ottoman rule, the modern act of recalling the past skipped over most of a millennium and a half. In the subsequent presentation and depiction of the Parthenon, a hazily recalled and inaccurately depicted secular past leapt directly into a politically charged modern world. The tourist experience at the Parthenon was crafted to provide this meaning, and the Parthenon became the icon of the origins of democracy and the cultural flowering of the time of Pericles and the Golden Age of Athens. This interpretation is accurate enough, as far as it goes.

But the idea that the Parthenon was a treasury, a mosque, and since there is no record of it being de-sacralized, that the Parthenon is still an Orthodox (“Panagia Atheniotissa”) or Catholic church (“Notre Dame d’Athène”), is simply not part of the modern consciousness. At the very time the modern world has established strong cultural institutions such as museums or scholarly institutes and developed a continuously improving historical record, a sort of black hole has opened up in the contemporary historical understanding of the middle life of this unique and iconic building. Perhaps the history of the Parthenon is too much of a record accumulated over too much time for the somewhat odd world we inhabit to show much respect for historical truth. But perhaps there will always be a few people interested in such things, and who knows what meanings will be attached in the future to this hauntingly attractive building and the island of ‘time out of time’ that surrounds it?

See Part One

Friday, December 13, 2013

Finnish exchange student enjoys Alaska's people and nature

In a semester exchange from the Rovaniemi University of Applied Sciences to the University of Alaska Fairbanks, Jenni Peteri has gotten to know the people and nature of Alaska.

She loves them both. "I hope to come back again," she said.

Raised in south Lapland, Finland, Peteri had never been interested in visiting the U.S. until she got an email about opportunities for exchange programs. "Alaska was my first choice," she said.

Jenni Peteri

Raised on a farm, Peteri is a senior majoring in agriculture. Her parents raise goats and sheep and operate a plant nursery. "Both my parents have a strong connection to nature." she said.

Agriculture was her choice of study because of her interests in sustainability and the environment. "I hope I can have an effect on those from the inside," she said. Her career goals are still under consideration.

"It's hard to decide what to study because I am interested in too many things. I think it's really important to study nature and culture in the north."

While at UAF, Peteri took the natural resources management course Soils and the Environment, two rural development courses, rock climbing and ceramics. "I enjoyed the soils class and I liked learning about Alaska Natives through rural development," she said.

She took advantage of an Outdoor Adventures climbing and hiking trip and also visited Chena Hot Springs and Tolovana Hot Springs. For Thanksgiving, she traveled to Homer with friends from her dorm. "It was great," she said. "There was a lot to see and I got to see what Thanksgiving is about."

What Peteri will remember most about her semester at UAF is the people. "It's really funny; I came to Alaska and got to know people from India as well as Alaskans."

Her only complaint was that the fall semester flew by and she will soon return to Finland. "It went too fast," she said.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Reverie at the Parthenon

By Glenn Juday
Note: In October/November 2012 Professor of Forest Ecology Glenn Juday participated a private trip (pilgrimage) following the route of St. Paul, through Turkey, mainland Greece, Aegean islands and Rome. As time permits he will post some sketches of the history, geography and natural history and contemporary observations of this route.

PART 1 of a 3-part series

The setting and origin of the Parthenon
The Parthenon (in Greek: Παρθενων) is one of the most famous buildings in the world. It’s situated in a spectacular setting, and is a tangible part of ancient Greece that allows a visitor of today an immersion experience in a long lost time. The Parthenon sits atop the Acropolis (in Greek: Ακρόπολις), a term compounded from the Greek acro = upper/edge or extremity, and polis = city. Many larger Greek cities in classical antiquity had an acropolis. Originally such a district served as a defensive fortification to which the population could retreat during a raid or attack. Over time, the acropolis of a city often assumed political/religious significance as an expression of power, sovereignty, and social ideals.

North side of the Acropolis of Athens, October 2012. The forest here is made up of pine, olive and cypress.
The Parthenon was ordered constructed by the Athenian leader Pericles beginning in 447 B.C. The structure was built to commemorate the defeat of the Persian invasion of the Greek lands, including Athens, in 480 B.C., and specifically to replace an older temple destroyed by the Persians. The Parthenon that sits on top of the Acropolis of Athens was built as a temple to the mythical virgin (parthenos in Greek) goddess Athena, at least nominally. There is little evidence that the Parthenon generated, or was fully meant to generate, the cultic following easily identified at other ancient religious temple structures. In Greek mythology, Athena contested with Poseidon for the right to be the patron god/goddess for the city-state. Athena won the contest, and the city adopted her name, Athens. She was the goddess of intellectual insight and disciplined spiritual development, and her temple was designed to stimulate these qualities in its visitors. In an important sense the Parthenon might be thought of as a celebration in art and architecture of the emerging cultural vitality, political/military power, and artistic prowess of Athens. Of course it is a modern mistake to try to fully separate religious, civic and political ideals in the minds of ancient people – they did no such thing. The Parthenon was probably/apparently built for all of these reasons.

The replacement temple structure built to commemorate victory over the Persians, the Parthenon, was designed to house a 40-foot tall of “Athena Parthenos” (literally Athena the Virgin) and to surpass previous structures on the site. The names of the architects of the project are known to us today - Iktinos and Kallikrates, as is the name of the sculptor of the giant statue of Athena, Pheidias. The proportions of the Parthenon are considered the definitive expression of the Doric order, and its construction signaled the rise of a talented, confident, and powerful society in its golden age that rightly is identified as making a foundational contribution to western civilization.

 A small (about 1/12th scale) marble replica of the great Chryselephantine (gold-encrusted ivory) stature of Athena that formerly occupied the Parthenon of Athens. This replica was produced at the Varvakeion School (an art training center) during the Roman era in the first half of the 3rd century A.D. Source:éna_Varvakeion.jpg (National Archaeological Museum in Athens, Photo by Marsyas, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license).

The flowering of ideas and material culture in classical antiquity that produced the Parthenon has maintained a powerful hold on the imagination of the world for nearly 2,500 years. Although the Parthenon began its long life as a Greek temple, as the parade of history passed through it also has been a treasury (for money), a church, and a mosque. Today, the Parthenon is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the world and a major income producer for Greece, a country struggling with a crippled economy, as was painfully obvious on my visit.

A personal encounter with the Parthenon
This Alaskan’s expectation for early November weather in Athens was for moderate – even pleasant – fall temperatures. But the Greek sun that was piercing a well-entrenched high-pressure system over Athens was delivering summer-like conditions. It was another warm temperature anomaly like we had experienced for the week we had been following the route of an ancient Jewish tentmaker and pivotal religious scholar, Saul of Tarsus, also known as St. Paul. After several days of pilgrimage excursions along the shore of the Aegean Sea and inland I had learned my lesson for dealing with this heat. On midday walks, I would dispense with the backpack if possible. So when the pilgrimage group arrived at the base of the Acropolis of Athens and was preparing to hike the path up to the Parthenon on top, I left most gear behind on the coach where it would be secured by the driver.

But in my concern to travel light in the heat, I suddenly discovered that I had left my camera on the bus. Here I was at an icon of western civilization and one of the highlights of the trip, and I had left my camera behind! I sprinted from the ticket entrance back to the bus staging area, and saw the bus in motion already well beyond the exit. But rather that continue the sprint down the street to catch it, something prompted me to just relax (somewhat uncharacteristically, my students and colleagues might say) and go back to rejoin the pilgrimage group. And so I did.

Up the steep incline the group walked, rewarded with a spectacular view of Athens and the Aegean shore. Our guide’s commentary began to fill in the skeleton of information my wife and I had picked up a few days before at the New Acropolis Museum just below us in a hasty tour of with a group of early arrivals for the pilgrimage. Now, here at the Parthenon I simply engaged the moment, trying not to think about the camera. And then my wife had an idea.

Following our tour of the Parthenon, which was at midday, the pilgrimage group had a brief (and welcome) afternoon break before a late afternoon lecture back at the hotel. She suggested that during the lecture I take a taxi back to the Parthenon and wander about on my own until the early evening closing time. And in doing so I was richly rewarded.

The Propylaea (Greek: pro =in front, pylon = gate) at the entrance to the Acropolis of Athens, November, 2012. Scaffolding on the right is part of the process of continuous repair that is carried out on the structure.

I arrived back at the Acropolis just 30 minutes before the last entrants were allowed to start into the site for the day. Logically enough, the crowds were dramatically thinned out in comparison to midday. Who would choose to pay the full entrance fee only to be herded out before sunset - not all that much later? Not many, it turned out. It was as if I had much of the place to myself.

And instead of the harsh vertical midday sun glinting off the marble of the columns, stones and statues and washing out their features, the slanting rays of the late afternoon light worked a kind of magic on the lifeless rock, breathing new depth and texture and color into everything. As the background sky assumed a deeper azure blue with the declining sun angle, the marble began to glow in pigments of cream, yellow, tan, tawny. The evening breezes cooled the Acropolis that sits so commandingly above the city. I could imagine many ancient Athenians would have found it their favorite time of the day on the sacred site.

All the day’s lessons came back to me as I slowly walked about photographing, finding scene after scene essentially framing my thoughts. After a while I had the pictures I wanted. I found an ancient marble bench and sat to pray the Rosary in the dimming light before the site guards began herding stragglers back to the exit (“exodus” in Greek).

Later, I discovered I sat at a place that, in the long and varied history of the site, had been an Eastern Christian church, then Catholic cathedral. History and continuity combine in a complex, and significant, way in this part of the world.

The Propylaea on the west side of the Acropolis of Athens, October 2012. Horizontal lines or breaks in the fluted or grooved columns mark the stacked sections of “drums” that form the tall columns, indicating how these tall pillars were constructed in ancient Greco-Roman architecture.

Power versus Wisdom

People are predisposed, of course, to read the past in terms they are familiar with from the present. From today’s perspective, many assume that the cultural peaks in Athenian democracy (from the Greek demos = people, and kratos = power) represented by the construction of the Parthenon were bright markers on a straight path to secular American and western democracy, a path that broke decisively at its origins from the myths and superstitions of primitive religions. But the past was a different place and the story was not that simple. The starting point on that path was perhaps not where some today may suppose.

The mythos (μθος; Greek = word, speech, tale, saying) behind the Parthenon operates at many levels. In any event, the story is instructive, as it was intended to be. The Athenians at the time of the construction of the Parthenon looked to mythic King Cecrops (Κέκροψ) as a founder Athens. He was supposed to have introduced Athenians to the institution of marriage (as contrasted to promiscuous coupling that occurred before), reading and writing, and dignified ceremonial burial of their dead. It was clear to Athenians that these civilizational traits were foundational to their power and success, especially in comparison to surrounding peoples. Also, according to the mythos, Cecrops was said to have been the first to set up altars and statues to the gods, and offered them sacrifices, although he was said to have forbidden the sacrifice of any living creatures. King Cecrops was said to have taught his subjects the art of navigation, so useful to a people inhabiting a peninsula. Some stories make him the founder of the areopagus. Areopagus, is the composite form of the Greek words Areios Pagos, or the Rock of Ares (Greek: Ἄρειος Πάγος). It is located north-west of the Acropolis of Athens, and was the final court of appeal for criminal and civil cases.

Areopagus, or the Rock of Ares, also known from the Latin as “Mars Hill,” north-west of the Acropolis of Athens, October 2012. This was a place where arguments were presented in legal appeals. This was the location of the scene involving St. Paul as described in the Book of Act, Chapter 17.

King Cecrops, a demi-god himself, called upon Athena and Poseidon to see which of them would become protector/patron god of the city. Athena and Poseidon developed an intense rivalry over this honor and were about to attack each other – always an occasion for otherwise inexplicable human suffering in the form of earthquakes, storms, volcanoes, floods and other disasters. But Athena, with her characteristic wisdom, suggested instead that they should stage a contest for the city, with King Cecrops as the judge. Whoever provided the best gift to the city would gain the reward of the city itself as the prize. 

As a huge crowd of citizens of Athens watched, the two gods went up to the Acropolis to present their gifts. Poseidon, the god of the sea (and sometimes of earthquakes) went first. He lifted his three-pointed spear (trident) and struck the ground, causing the earth to tremble. A spring burst forth and produced a sea. The people were delighted, until they went close to it and found the water salty – an inevitable consequence of a gift from the god of the sea.

 Plaster reconstruction of the sculptures that formed the apex of the west pediment of the Parthenon, New Acropolis Museum, Athens. Athena (with spear and shield, left) and Poseidon (with trident, right) are contesting for the patronage of the city of Athens. The gift of Athena that determined the outcome, the olive tree, is seen between and behind the two contesting deities. The Parthenon was a tangible reminder and exhortation to the citizens of Athens, built at the very height of its golden age, to value wisdom over raw power, however, superficially attractive the latter.

Athena, on the other hand, was far less dramatic. Armed with a spear, she quietly knelt on the ground and either inserted the spear into the rock or buried something. It grew to be an olive tree. The people of Athens gained olives to eat, olive oil for lamps and to cook food, and wood for their houses and boats. They saw her gifts as much more useful. Cecrops declared her the winner and patron goddess of Athens. As a final act of rage for his loss, supposedly Poseidon cursed the city with a lack of fresh water, which continues to this day. In this way, quiet wisdom defeated the superficial attraction of raw power.

At the most fundamental level, this origin mythos poses the idea that it is better for a people to grow their own food (and thus take control of their own fate) than to seek even unstoppable power to plunder neighbors for what they need. The basis for making this distinction is not as far-fetched as it may at first seem to a modern reader. The neighboring Greek city-state of Sparta was built on military power, institutionalized slave labor, and political power monopolized by a highly restricted elite. Taken further, the Golden Age of Athens (sometimes called the Age of Pericles) was built on civic wisdom, literary and artistic works, many of which survive to this day, and the strength that comes from civic pride. The people of Athens were reminded, in a particularly visible way by the Parthenon, to take this lesson to heart, and it became part of the civic cult of Athenian, western, and world civilization.

The temple building known as the Erectheum, at the Acropolis of Athens, October 2012. The Erectheum was built between 421 and 406 B.C. and held some of the most ancient and holy relics of the Athenians, including (1) the supposed marks from Poseidon’s trident and the salt water well or salty sea that sprang up from Poseidon's strike, (2) the claimed sacred olive tree that sprouted when Athena struck the rock of the Acropolis with her spear and (3) the supposed burial places of the mythical kings Cecrops and Erechtheus.