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9 Awesome Quotes from Aeschylus

by February 26, 2019

Aeschylus (525 BC – 456 BC) was a playwright of ancient Greece and is considered the father of Tragedy. He wrote between 70 and 90 plays, won 28 competitions and completely altered the face of the stage… As well as being an important dramatist, he was a successful military man, having taken part in both the Battle of Marathon and the Battle of Salamis.
He is the earliest of the three greatest Greek tragedians, the others being Sophocles and Euripides… and below are Aeschylus’ best quotes.
Portrait of Aeschylus

Bust of Aeschylus

“It is not the oath that makes us believe the man, but the man the oath.” – Fragment 385
“For somehow this is tyranny’s disease, to trust no friends.” – Prometheus Bound, lines 224–225
“Words are the physicians of a mind diseased.” – Prometheus Bound, line 378
“His resolve is not to seem, but to be, the best.” – Seven Against Thebes, line 592
“Wisdom comes through suffering.” – The Oresteia, line 178
“It is in the character of very few men to honor without envy a friend who has prospered. – The Oresteia, lines 832–833
“Only when man’s life comes to its end in prosperity can one call that man happy.” – The Oresteia, lines 928–929
“Death is better, a milder fate than tyranny.” – The Oresteia, line 1364
“Good fortune is a god among men, and more than a god.” – The Libation Bearers, line 59
Did you know??
Robert F. Kennedy quoted these lines in his speech announcing the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. on 4 April 1968. His version of Aeschylus’ poetry:

Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget
falls drop by drop upon the heart
until, in our own despair, against our will,
comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.

Top 10 Quotes from Euripides

by February 19, 2019

Euripides (c. 480 – c. 406 BC) is the great Greek Tragedian of Classical Athens, along with Aeschylus and Sophocles. Some ancient scholars attributed 95 plays to him but, according to the Suda, it was 92 at most. Of these, 18 or 19 have survived more or less complete and there are also fragments, some substantial, of most of the other plays.
These are the Top Ten Quotes from Euripides.
10. “The company of just and righteous men is better than wealth and a rich estate.” Ægeus, Frag. 7
9. “Cleverness is not wisdom. And not to think mortal thoughts is to see few days.” Bacchæ l. 395
8. “Events will take their course, it is no good of being angry at them; he is happiest who wisely turns them to the best account.” Bellerophon, (Fragment 298)

Bust of Euripides

7. “A bad beginning makes a bad ending.”Melanippe the Wise (fragment)
6. “It is said that gifts persuade even the gods.”Medea, Line 964
painting of Jason and Medea

Jason and Medea – as depicted by John William Waterhouse, 1907

5. “Every man is like the company he is wont to keep.” Phœnix Frag. 809
4. “[T]his is slavery, not to speak one’s thought.” – Line 392 (Jocasta); translated by Elizabeth Wyckoff; as found in Euripides IV: Helen, The Phoenician Women, Orestes, ed. Griffith, Most, Grene & Lattimore
Painting of Hippolytus' death

The Death of Hippolytus, by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1836–1912).

3. “The credit we get for wisdom is measured by our success.” Hippolytus l. 701, translated by Edward P. Coleridge
2. “Nothing has more strength than dire necessity.” Helen (412 BC), as translated by Richmond Lattimore
1. “Love is all we have, the only way that each can help the other.” Orestes l. 298, as translated by William Arrowsmith

Pheidias – The Great Greek Sculptor

by January 16, 2019

By Jocelyn Hitchcock, Contributing Writer, Classical Wisdom
Considered one of the greatest sculptors of all time and producing pieces that are considered masterpieces even today, Phidias’ (or Pheidias) work remains to tantalize our imaginations. Due to the fact that we can only reconstruct some of his works, such as the colossal statues Athena Parthenos or Zeus at Olympia, from copies and descriptions, we truly can only imagine the immense impression that his art must have created for the ancient audience. Outlining the life of Phidias proves to be quite entertaining, peppered with a rise to fame, favoritism, scandal, bribery, and even exile. This all paints a vibrant portrait of the sculptor… however we should be wary of these stories since the majority are anecdotal as opposed to biographical.

Illustration of Pheidias

Pheidias’ Early Life
As with most historical figures in antiquity, exact dates are unknown. However, Phidias is expected to have been born around 490 BCE in Athens. He was the son of Charmides and was trained by other Athenian sculptors. Probable teachers in his early life were Hegias of Athens and Ageladas of Argos. Ageldas, or Hageladas, is suspected to be the reason behind the Dorian style exhibited in some of Pheidias’ work.
Pheidias’ Career and Prominence
In contrast to the scarcity of information detailing Pheidias’ life, we know a great deal about his career and his works. Around 449 BCE, Pheidias was placed in charge of a large building program that was initiated by the Athenian statesman Pericles. This was after the Persian Wars had swept through Greece but preceding the Peloponnesian Wars in the later half of the 5th century. As a part of this mega building project in Athens, Pheidias’ was commissioned for three different works on the Parthenon: the Athena Promachos, the Lemnian Athena, and the Athena Parthenos.
Illustration of Athena Promachos

Athena Promachos

Athena Promachos, or Athena who “fights in the front line,” is thought to be one of Pheidias’ earliest works. It was placed on the Acropolis around 456 BC, measuring around 30 feet high. While the statue itself does not remain, we do have a description from Pausanias who tells us that the statue was set up in the open, behind the Propylaea, with her helmet and tip of her spear visible to sailors approaching Athens from around Cape Sounion. The statue itself may have been erected to commemorate the battle of Marathon, in which Athens delivered a surprising blow to the Persian army in 490 BC. Incredibly, we have parts of the base and inscription that Athena Promachos rested on. The statue was destroyed in 1203 AD, but the form has been discovered on a few Attic coins that were minted during the Roman period. For one of Pheidias’ earliest works, it certainly did not lack any amount of sophistication or craftsmanship.
Lemnian Athena

Lemnian Athena

Another statue that was erected on the Acropolis and credited to Pheidias was the Lemnian Athena. Originally worked in bronze, the statue was dedicated and paid for by Lemnos, an Athenian colony, in 451 BC. Again, the original statue has been lost, but we do have a few Roman copies: a head recovered from Bologna and two statues in Dresden. Together, they give us the sense of what the original may have looked like.
However impressive these two preceding statues were sure to have been, little compares to the colossals that Pheidias produced: Athena Parthenos and Zeus at Olympia. Athena Parthenos was completed and dedicated in 438 BC, and was placed inside the Parthenon. She was made of gold and ivory and stood roughly 38 feet tall. And while we still don’t know much about Pheidias’ personal life at the time, we do see him and Pericles represented in the shield that Athena Parthenos holds… a fact that becomes integral to his downfall in the years to come. Again, the original no longer exists, but Roman copies and coinage give us the image of Athena Parthenos that we have today.
Athena Parthenos

Athena Parthenos

The statue of Zeus at Olympia was Pheidias’ final major project and was completed around 430 BC for the temple of Zeus at Olympia. It too was colossal, clothed in gold, and body made of ivory. It was about 42 feet high and took up the entire height of the temple, with some questioning how the statue even got in the temple in the first place, seeing as the statue came second. The statue of Zeus was highly decorated and painted, adding to the jarring, and somewhat gaudy by modern day perceptions, image of the god. Today, the statue of Zeus is considered to be one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, even though the original no longer survives.
Statue of Zeus

Statue of Zeus

Pheidias’ Death and Legacy
After the statue of Zeus at Olympia, Pheidias seems to have quickly left the public eye as a result of scandal and enemies. Likely due to his close association with Pericles, the Athenian statesman who certainly had his fair share of enemies, Pheidias was a target for plots seeking to get rid of him. One of the reported attacks on Pheidias came in 432 BC when he was accused by Pericles’ enemies of stealing gold from Athena Parthenos during construction for his own wealth. Somehow he was able to defend his way out of this accusation though and nothing much came of it. A few years later, Pheidias was accused of impiety, on the basis of his personal representation (along with Pericles’) on the shield of Athena. For this charge, he was thrown in prison and then likely exiled to Elis. His actual place of death is disputed, with Plutarch writing he died in prison in Athens, while Aristophanes quotes Philochorus saying he died at the hands of the Eleans after he finished the statue of Zeus.
Although we know so little about Pheidias’ life and most of his original work has been lost, he is still considered one of the greatest sculptors of all time. He produced monumental works that took up prominent places, so his exposure seemed to be far above his contemporaries. Pheidias is thought to have ushered in a true change in sculpture style into the classical from any leftover Archaic style. He represents a time of wealth and prosperity in Athens, but also serves as a reminder of the rampant political tensions, ultimately leading to his death.

Xenia for a Better World

by January 8, 2019

Today’s Classics Challenge delves into the importance of Xenia… and how resurfacing this concept can make for both better individuals and society as a whole.
But first… What is Xenia? Watch the video below to learn of this critical part of Ancient Greek (and indeed modern Greek) culture:
Xenia Video
While this was an essential part of Ancient Greece, perhaps tragically it has become less pervasive today, a loss to our communities and cultures. Indeed, the reverse “Xenophobia” is something encountered more and more instead.
But how can understanding the concepts of Xenia help you?
First we must realize that being both a welcoming host and a respectful guest is an ancient and sacred ritual… and thus we should take those roles in our day to day life with the appropriate seriousness. Listen to each other. Consider the other’s position. Bring a gift. This will no doubt help with your next dinner party or family stay.
Second, we should see these positions as host and guest with regards to our society as a whole. How we communicate with other peoples and cultures and, equally important, represent our own. Welcoming foreigners can bring exciting collaborations, important lessons and ideas… likewise, we learn tremendously by being good guests when we travel and treat our hosts with respect and compassion.
As a permanent traveler, I have been the beneficiary of wonderful hosts throughout the world, whether it was in Taiwan, Argentina, Mexico or… perhaps not surprisingly, Greece. I have also, tragically, witnessed real xenophobia, and it is a situation where everyone loses out.
We as individuals, and as a community as a whole, can make the decision to choose Xenia… and keep this beautiful ancient Greek idea alive.

Heraclitus Quotes

by January 2, 2019

About Heraclitus:
Heraclitus (535 – 475 BC) was a Greek Pre Socratic Philosopher who believed that the universe was governed by a divine logos or reason. This fundamental law of the universe held all things in perfect balance.
Heraclitus Quotes:

“Everything changes and nothing stands still.”
As quoted by Plato in Cratylus, 402a

“It is harder to fight against pleasure than against anger.”
As quoted by Aristotle in Nicomachean Ethics, Book II (1105a)

“Time is a game played beautifully by children.”
As quoted in Fragments (2001) translated by Brooks Haxton

“War is the father and king of all, and has produced some as gods and some as men, and has made some slaves and some free.”
Hippolytus, Ref. haer. ix. 9 (Fragment 53). G. T. W. Patrick, 1889

“Though wisdom is common, yet the many live as if they had a wisdom of their own.”
Fragment 2, as quoted in Against the Mathematicians by Sextus Empiricus

“Much learning does not teach understanding.”
Fragment 40

“The road up and the road down is one and the same.”
Fragment 60

“You cannot step twice into the same rivers.”
Fragment 91. Plutarch, On the EI at Delphi

“Dogs, also, bark at what they do not know.”
Fragment 97

“It is better to conceal ignorance than to expose it.”
Fragment 109

“Character is destiny.”
Fragment 119

Why Do We Celebrate Christmas on the 25th of December?

by December 26, 2018

By April Holloway, Contributing Writer, Ancient Origins
Why is Christmas celebrated on December 25th? The popular answer is that it is Jesus’ birthday. However, it is necessary to reconsider that belief, No records exist in the Bible, or elsewhere, suggesting Jesus was born on that date. If it was not the birth of Christ which set Christmas Day apart from others in the calendar, what was it? To find out, you need to take look at ancient Persian and pagan traditions.
Christmas Was Probably Not the Day Christ was Born
First, let’s take a quick look at why Christmas probably wasn’t Jesus’ day of birth. As the Catholic Encyclopaedia states “there is no month in the year to which respectable authorities have not assigned Christ’s birth” (Catholic Encyclopaedia). That being said, there are several reasons supporting the idea that Jesus wasn’t born in December. Luke 2:8 states that on the night of Jesus’ birth “there were also in that same country shepherds living out of doors and keeping watches in the night over their flocks.” Scholars tend to agree that it is highly unlikely that shepherds were out with their flocks in the cold winter month.
Mosaic of the Good shephard

“The Good Shepherd” mosaic in mausoleum of Galla Placidia. UNESCO World heritage site. Ravenna, Italy. 5th century AD. ( CC BY SA ) Few scholars believe shepherds were watching their flocks overnight in December – it’s more probable they would have kept them under cover.

Luke 2:1-4 also claims that Joseph and Mary were traveling to Bethlehem to register in a Roman census when Jesus was born. These censuses were not known to have occurred in winter – also making it improbable to link Jesus’ birthday with the day now called Christmas.
Pagan Festivals
Okay, so Jesus probably wasn’t born on December 25th. Yet other important events did fall at that time of year for ancient pagans. The most well-known of these celebrations were Saturnalia and the birthday of the Sun God, Mithra.
Originally, Saturnalia was held on December 17th, though the festival eventually was extended until December 25. This celebration honored Saturn, the God of Sowing and Husbandry, and was linked to the rise of a new year and the return of light. Ancient Romans would celebrate this date with a public banquet, giving gifts, partying, and holding a sacrifice in the Temple of Saturn.

Roman fresco of dice players from the Osteria della Via di Mercurio in Pompeii. ( Public Domain ) Saturnalia was a “time-off” for slaves when they were allowed to wear nice clothes, sit at the head of the table, and gamble.

Mithra’s Birthday?
Roman Pagans who worshipped Mithras believed he was born on December 25th – the most holy day of the year for many ancient believers. This was a well-known cult for the Roman military in the 1st to 4th centuries AD. But Mithras is a god who has his origins in Persia beginning around the 6th century BC. The proto-Indo-Iranian language calls him ‘Mitra’, but that name was later adapted into Greek as ‘Mithras’. Many scholars believe that Roman soldiers discovered this god while completing military campaigns in Persia.
The Mithraic New Year and Mithras’ birthday were celebrated on 25 December. The date was part of the Roman Natalis Invicti festival – a celebration linked to worshipping the sun in general.
Persian Sun God

Mithra divinity statue in Vatican library, old illustration. By unidentified author, published on Magasin Pittoresque, Paris, 1840. (BigStockPhoto)

Uniting Pagan and Christian Beliefs
When Constantine converted to Christianity in the 4th century, he may not have imagined how difficult it would be to convert pagans into Christians. To ease the transition, the birth of Jesus became associated with pagan holidays which fell in December. As the Pagan holidays gained Christian significance, it was decided that the birthday of the Sun God should also be the birthday of the Son of God. The Catholic Encyclopaedia quotes an early Christian stating, “O, how wonderfully acted Providence that on that day on which that Sun was born…. Christ should be born”.