You tell them that you’re studying western classics – Greek and Roman civilizations to be more precise – and they make impressed faces and say “Oh right… That must be really interesting…” when you know that what they’re actually thinking is “Has she not noticed that we live in a fast-moving, ever-changing, you-can’t-so-much-as-stop-to-breathe electronic age?? What’s the point in spending years studying about a dead and gone civilization anyway??” So you smile and nod and assure the person that yes yes, it is indeed rather interesting.

The thing is, (at the risk of disappointing my Classics lecturers) I do not at present have a clever and logical answer for the unasked question mentioned above that’s masked by the impressed looks of the majority. Sure the subject enlightens us on how the western world of today came to be, but what good will it do for you unless you plan to make a career out of brushing the sand off the ground in an excavation site in Greece on the possibility of unearthing clay pots used for storing water thousands of years ago? Erm… Well anyway, allow me to share with you some interesting things that my selective memory has had the pleasure of picking up along the way during lectures and random google searches.

Psyche: She was Cupid’s lover, and her story is my favourite from all the interesting and scandalous tales one comes across when studying Greek and Roman mythology. It’s about how a typical mama’s boy’s mother’s (Aphrodite to be exact) schemes backfire and her precious son (Cupid) falls in love with the very girl – a mere mortal – that she was scheming against. The story is spiced up with impossible challenges, jealous sisters, talking towers and the legendary Cerberus (the three-headed dog guarding the underworld). Love triumphs over all else and after much ado, Psyche and Cupid are reunited. Being a hopeless romantic, I loved the story. Cupid by the way, was known to the Greeks as Eros – the primordial god of sexual love and beauty.

The Archaic Smile: This is a term (one that I still find amusing) used to describe a conventional smiling expression seen in Greek Korai (standing draped female statues) and Kouroi (standing naked male statues) of the Archaic period. Try making an expression of ‘strained cheerfulness’ and you’d know what I’m talking about.

Haruspicy: This was an ancient form of divination where the insides (major organs like the liver, intestines, heart, kidneys, lungs) of sacrificial animals like sheep, lambs and oxen were inspected for abnormalities to deduce whether to do or not do something. If the entrails were not irregular it was considered a good omen, and if malformed, it was considered bad. For example, armies might face each other for days and take no action if the entrails were found to be malformed. Haruspicy was practiced before crossing a river, before battle, before founding cities etc.

Achilles’s Shield: This is a legendary shield belonging to Greek’s all-time hero Achilles, used in the Trojan War to fight against Hector, and described in detail in Homer’s Iliad. The shield is said to have had circles of detail: The earth, sky and sea, the sun, the moon and constellations, two beautiful cities, a field being ploughed for the third time, a king’s estate where the harvest is being reaped, a vineyard with grape pickers, a herd of straight-horned cattle, a picture of a sheep farm, young men and women dancing, and the great ocean. Basically, the detail on the shield is believed to have represented the world. Sounds pretty impressive. Poor Hector probably got defeated due to being distracted by all that.

Greek/Roman Counterparts: If you’re someone who’s been confused about the same god or goddess having two names, here’s the deal. Each god and goddess in Greek mythology has a Roman counterpart; it’s basically the same deity with a different name. Zeus is known as Jupiter, Hera is Juno, Athena is Minerva, Poseidon is Neptune, Aphrodite is Venus, Heracles is Hercules and so on.

The face that launched a thousand ships: A must-know phrase in the field. It refers to Helen of Troy who by getting herself abducted by Paris, was said to be the reason for a fleet of thousand ships to be launched into battle in the infamous Trojan War.

The Olympians: Contrary to the first impression created by the word, the Olympians are 12 gods (goddesses included) that in Greek mythology is said to have resided in Mount Olympus. The pantheon comprised of Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, Athena, Dionysus, Apollo, Artemis, Aphrodite, Hephaestus and Hermes.

Pandora’s Box: If the thought “It’s a cruel world!!” ever crossed your mind or if you ever wondered why the world seems to have a good share of misery and disease, Pandora’s the one to blame. She is said to be the first mortal woman, created with the help of all the gods, and sent to earth with a jar (or box if you prefer) which she opens out of curiosity. Plagues and evil come out in to the world from the box, leaving only hope inside by the time she manages to close it again.

Zeus: He is referred to as the ‘Father of Gods and men’; the term is used to show his superiority over both gods and men, but significantly the term can be taken literally as well. I mean no disrespect but according to what I’ve read, Zeus is probably the biggest player in history. He has had more affairs and more children than a mere mortal can keep track of.

Echo: An interesting story, this. Echo is said to have been a mountain nymph who loved her own voice and had been given the task of distracting Hera (Zeus’ sister and consort) by talking incessantly while Zeus went about ravishing mountain nymphs. When Hera discovers this trickery however, she punishes Echo by taking away her voice and making it so that she would only be able to repeat another’s words. Another’s words. Another’s words. Get the drift?

These are but a handful of bits and pieces from the extremely entertaining and bizarre tales that one comes across when learning Greek and Roman civilizations. It may not help one run a little faster in the rat race but it certainly helps one run a little wiser. Oh and another fun fact: the Greeks ran in the nude. Imagine that… Okay stop. Something else that ought to be mentioned is that Greece is beautiful. So is Rome. Beautiful. That comes with all the emphasis that comes with a single word followed by a full-stop. No I haven’t been privileged enough to say that I’ve been there and yes I’m talking from what I’ve seen in pictures, and if you do a google search on the Aegean Islands, Athens and so on you shall see for yourself how incredibly beautiful and breathtaking it all is.

So why the fuss about dead and gone civilizations anyway? Why not? I’d say that all the fuss is well-deserved. Besides… oracles, orgies, disgruntled deities, abductions, sacrifices, heroes, wars, love. Can it possibly get more entertaining?

  1. Daruwa, your degree is on what? :O

  2. Quidmont says:

    What a wonderful post! Thank you.

    I came across you on a comment you made to Julie on her 50th birthday celebration blog. My cursor rested on your Gravatar and I had to follow to see who had such a wonderful tag line.

    I’ll be back!

    – Quidmont

  3. sy says:

    uuuummm, so you don’t have a clever and logical answer for the unasked question? ( may I suggest: “It may not help one run a little faster in the rat race, but it certainly helps one run a little wiser.” (?))
    You could not have stated your case more succinctly (I looked this up to make sure I was using it correcty)
    or illuminatingly. What a treat to read.

  4. sy says:

    uumm, you say you don’t have a clever and logical answer for the unasked question? May I suggest “It may not help one run a little faster in the rat race, but it certainly helps one run a little wiser.” (?)
    I don’t think you could have stated your case more illuminatingly or succintly. Immensely enjoyable read.
    (the first time I tried to leave this, I got a message saying I already did, but I know I didn’t. So hopefully this doesn’t show up twice)

    • psychodoodle says:

      thank u… 🙂 oh & it did turn up twice but with a different gravatar 😛

      • Sy says:

        weird, maybe I have another personality I don’t know about. you know that greek/roman counterpart thing probably started cause Zeus called one of his women by another one’s name accidently, then calmed her down (no wanting to ruin the moment) by saying, “there’s noone else, that’s what the Romans call you. I thought you knew, baby.”

      • psychodoodle says:

        😛 that actually could be what happened…

  5. sy says:

    I just got an e-mail saying that the “Like” button has been added.

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