Although Artemis was blood-thirsty, vengeful, and just plain mean, she may have been the most popular deity among Greek/Roman women. Why? She was considered the deity who assisted in pregnancy, childbirth, and the raising of young girls to puberty.

The reason this anti-sex deity had these responsibilities is that when she was born, she was the first of twins. She immediately served her mother as midwife in the birth of her twin brother, Apollo.

How could she do this? Several Greek/Roman myths indicate that deities are fully functional when they are born. In this way they are not like us pitiful humans who are utterly helpless during our first year.

When a girl reached puberty, she was likely to go to a sanctuary of Artemis that was located on a political boundary for a coming-of-age ceremony. Boundaries were dangerous. They were poorly policed and opposing armies might clash unexperctedly. It required courage for the girls to assemble for their ceremony.

This picture comes from the ancient city of Philipi in northern Greece. On the rocky hill above the city theatre there are several hundred votive carvings to Artemis, mostly depicting the goddess running, but some depicting a mother and child. Apparently the women of Philipi especially trusted Artemis.

You may use this picture under a creative commons license as long as you give credit to Richard Davies as photographer and do not use it for commercial purposes.

August 2020

Last month I mentioned that Artemis teamed up with her brother, Apollo, to kill the children of Niobe. Artemis and Apollo were the twin children of Leto. (Their father was Zeus, and there is a story there, because Zeus was married to Hera, and she didn't like her husband "playing around" with other women.)

Niobe had 14 children, 7 girls and 7 boys, and she boasted about her many children in constrast with Leto, who had only two children. Leto didn't like it, so sent her children to get revenge on Niobe. Artemis and Apollo used their arrows, Artemis killing the girls and Apollo killing the boys.

This photo is the left end of a marble sarcophagus (casket). In the left corner of the carving is Artemis. Her right arm is missing, but it is pulling the bowstring. The bow is in her left hand, behind the large girl who is one of Niobe's daughters. Next to her we see the aged Niobe trying to comfort one of her dying daughters. Apollo is on the right end of the sarcophagus using his deadly bow.

The sarcophagus is from about 150 CE (or AD). Why did anyone want this bloody scene on the box that would hold their bones? Why would anyone worship bloodthirsty Artemis?

You can see this sarcophagus in the Glyptothek in Munich (Munchen), Germany. If you use this picture, give credit to Richard Davies as photographer.

July 2020

I don't need to tell you that this month's picture is not an ancient artifact. It is a coffee mug I discovered in a Goodwill Store, and I have no idea where the "Artemis Cafe" is located or what they serve. However the "Artemis Cafe" gives us something to think about.

Artemis (called Diana by the Romans) seems to us to be an attractive goddess. She is the epitome of a healthy life-style, a fit outdoors girl who runs around the woods in a very practical knee-length skirt, seldom donning the clumsy floor-length robes the other goddesses wear. She kills animals, but surely this is for a good reason, not just for the fun of killing.

Artemis has many duties, and one of them is keeping the moon in its course, so the current U.S. effort to get back to the moon is being called "Project Artemis." That's lovely.

Few people realize that she was a blood-thirsty killer, slaughtering anyone who displeased her or displeased her mother. She and her twin brother, Apollo, killed all the children of Niobe. This is well known. Less well known is that those two roamed the world killing every man who had ignored their mother when she was pregnant. (Pausanias VIII.53.1).

Artemis also received the honor of human sacrifice. Euripides tells us that she saved the life of Iphigenia so Iphigenia could supervise human sacrifices. Artemis was not nice. I plan to say more about her next month.

June 2020

When St. Paul was in Corinth, he was planning to travel to Rome, so he wrote a letter to the Christians in Rome. At the conclusion of his letter to the Romans, he gave greetings from a number of people in Corinth that both he and the Roman Christians knew. One of them was named Erastus (Rom. 16:23), who had a civic responsibility that carried some sort of financial duties. Scholars have written much about what sort of responsibility he had, and the Revised Standard Version of the New Testament calls him, "city treasurer."

In 1929, archaeologists discovered the stone we show here, which was laid by someone named Erastus. Was this Paul's friend or was it someone else with that name? We do not know. In the New Testament we find three references to someone named "Erastus": Rom. 16:23, 2 Tim. 4:20, and Acts 19:21. Are these all the same person, or are we given references to two or three people? We do not know.

We do know that this monument was set up by a wealthy person who had used his wealth to provide things the city needed. It tells us that Erastus laid the pavement at his own expense. This is how things were done in the Greek/Roman world: if you had a lot of money, you were expected to use it to fund public works. This was not taxation, it was simply citizenship.

As I write this, the world faces financial collapse because of a pandemic. How will our economy survive? It will require citizens, especially wealthy citizens, to open their purses for public good.

This monument is located in the ruins of ancient Corinth. Photo by Richard Davies. Please do not use it for commercial purposes.

May 2020

It is difficult for us to remember that all money in the ancient world was in the form of coins. In the New Testament we read a lot about the collection St. Paul raised for the use of Christians in Jerusalem (for example, 1 Cor. 16:1-4), and we should realize that the entire collection was really heavy. Maybe as much as 200 pounds in weight. (A talent was a unit of weight equal to about 80 pounds.) Paul wanted each congregation to provide young men to accompany the money partly for security, but also partly to carry the heavy load.

 

Coins are also useful for propaganda. The coin we see here is from the reign of Emperor Nero (who killed a lot of people, including St. Peter and St. Paul). It shows Ceres, the goddess of grain (seated on the right, holding a torch (meaning light with all its metaphorical implications), and a strange goddess on the left. The strange goddess is Anonna Augusta, who was a bureaucratically created goddess. She represented the transport of grain so that the people of Rome could eat. Notice the cornucopia (horn of plenty) she carries. What she actually represents is the Emperor's power to feed the people. 

 

In the background is the prow of a grain ship, and between the two goddesses is a sacrificial altar. The message is that we should thank the Emperor for his blessings. It was Emperors such as Nero, who were unfit for office, who needed to tell the people about Anonna Augusta. We can learn an important political lesson from this coin.

 

The coin is on display in Rome at the Roman National Museum Plazzo Massimo.

April 2020

In the ancient world the so-called "battle of the sexes" was deadly real -- at least according to myth and legend. In fact we have ancient gravestones that demonstrate a great deal of tender affection and love between husband and wife, but myth and legend tell of both men and women doing really bad things to each other.

March is traditionally the "windy" month, so here is a picture of the north wind, Boreas, attempting to capture a nymph, Oreithyia. She was the daughter of Erichthonios, founder of Athens (see the December 2019 blog entry). This vase shows him watching the chase, but it doesn't show us what he thought of it. I don't know the identity of the second woman running away.

As I say, myth and legend also tell of women doing bad things to men. Artemis (or Diana) viciously killed a guy who happend to see her bathing when he was walking through the forest. Eos, the dawn, went after a poor farmer. Etc. All of these stories are commonly depicted on vases and in sculpture. This leaves me with two questions. (1) Why? (2) What was the psychological impact of telling and retelling these stories?

This vase is another item from the vast collection in the British Museum. It is cataloged as Vase E-512. As usual, you can re-use this picture as long as you don't use it for commercial purposes and you give credit to Richard E. Davies as photographer.

March 2020

There were two guys named Ajax in the Trojan War. The one in this picture is commonly known as "Ajax the Lesser," and he has decided to take as his personal captive a Trojan woman named Cassandra. (The plain word is "rape.") She sought sanctuary in the Temple of Athena, but Ajax violated the sanctuary and dragged her away. You can read about this part in Virgil's Aeneid (2.403). Ultimately the commanding general, Agamemnon took her home as his own slave, where both of them were murdered.

Sanctuary is an ancient idea that crosses all religions. We should be able to find relief from unjust prosecution or danger in a sacred space, but too often sacred spaces have been invaded in the name of evil. The drama by T. S. Eliot, "Murder in the Cathedral," is about the killing of Thomas Becket (1170). In 1980 Bishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador was murdered as he presided at Mass. There have been too many church murders.

In the Bible, Exodus 21:13 says that God appoints a safe place, and we see this safe place invoked in First Kings 1:50. As I said, the idea of sanctuary or a safe place is part of all relgious consciousness.

We are told that, because he violated sanctuary, Ajax didn't make it home. The gods attacked him in a storm and he died at sea.

Many Greek vases pictured this event, perhaps so the importance of sanctuary would not be forgotten. This vase in in the British Museum, E336; GR1873.8-20.368.

As usual, I ask you to respect the creative commons rules: If you reuse this picture, give credit to Richard Davies, and do not use the picture for commercial purposes.

February 2020

     I have lots of pictues of Greek/Roman antiquities, and my intention is to display something each month. Let's start with this Guy. He is Antiochos I, son of General Seleucus, who had served Alexander the Great. Seleucus organized his own empire from pieces of the Persian Empire, but the empire was fragile, and Antiochos couldn't hold it together. He doesn't look very happy on this coin. Maybe he even looks frightened. In spite of this, people gave Antiochos the title of "savior."

     This reminds me of the temptation of Jesus. The Devil offered Jesus all the kingdoms of the world (Matt. 4:9-10, Luke 4: 7-8). Jesus probably remembered what had happened to the empire of Alexander the Great and his followers. He knew the Devil's offer was not a short-cut to his mission of saving the world, so Jesus rejected the Devil. The Devil is not to be worshipped or trusted.

     This silver coin is displayed in the Art Institute of Chicago, "Gift of William F. Dunham, 1920.725." 

     You have permission to reuse this photo under a "creative commons--attribution--non-commercial" license. In other words, if you re-use it, give credit to Richard Davies. Do not use it in any commercial application. Thank you.

October 2019

Photo of the Month

September 2019

January 2020

The man shown in this picture was from Palmyra, Syria, a city on the trade route  between the Persian Gulf and the Mediterranean. He was probably a wealthy merchant, otherwise he would not have had such an elaborate portrait on his gravestone. The museum display informs us that he died in the third century (the 200s of the Christian Era).

Notice his hands. Both display the ancient sign of the "horns," intended to combat the "Evil Eye." In ancient times (and even in the Middle Ages) educated people presumed that we can see because of a sort of "fire" in our eyes that projects out of our eyeballs and bounces back off of the object we look at. This is sort of like Superman's "X-ray Vision." Some people were thought to have a sort of light in their eye that would injure people they looked at. This was the "Evil Eye." The extended index and little fingers might poke such eyes out!

This man carried fear with him to the grave. Perhaps he had been afraid all of his life. Being wealthy, he was no doubt powerful, but there was always someone "out there" who wanted to do bad things to him. They might cheat him, steal from him, or kill him. Those with the Evil Eye might come after him in eternity. He was sure he would have to beware of enemies forever. How sad is this?

Think of the hand signs as a form of prayer. If the hand signs express a prayer for safety, then to what god is this man praying? Most likely he is praying to himself. There is no one else he can trust. Again we say, how sad is this?

This grave stone is on display in the Los Angeles County Musem of Art (LACMA), number M.76.174.249. You are free to use this photo in a non-commercial application if you give credit to Richard Davies.

December 2019

December is the month when Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus (Son of God, God in the Flesh). It is difficult to understand how God could really understand humanity if God were utterly confined to a totally separate realm (which we know as "Heaven"). Thus it is important that God has experienced life in the flesh.

It is worth giving some thought to the differences between Jesus and the many pagan gods and heroes. All of the pagan gods were considered to be immortal, but none were "eternal," because all had been born. Sometimes their mother was a deity, and sometimes their mother was human. However, none of them truly experienced life in the flesh with all of its inconveniences and limitations. For example, Artemis (Diana) was the first-born of twins. She immediately served as midwife to the brith of her twin brother, Apollo. In contrast, Jesus was truly an infant, truly a toddler, truly a youth, truly an adult. He had free will, but his decisions were limited by normal human limitations.

Pictured here is the mythical founder of Athens, Erichthonios, whose "mother" was literally the Earth. He is shown at the moment of his birth, arising from the ground. Looking on are Athena, with a robe presumably suitable to his role as king, and Zeus, ever ready with his thunderbolt. Although Erichthonios is shown here in human form, he was also known to take the form of a snake (thus he didn't have the normal limitations common to humanity).

For much more about Erichthonios, see the book, The Parthenon Enigma by Joan Breton Connelly (Knopf, 2014). Connelly argues that the myth of Erichthonios is key to understanding the Parthenon.

This picture is a composite (a rough one) of two shots I made of Vase E182 (GR1837.6-9.54) in the British Museum, London. You may use this image with appropriate acknowledgement of the source.

Here we have an every-day oil lamp. They gave only enough light to allow you to find your way to bed, but they were absolutely essential. They were quite inexpensive and their tops depicted things that every-day people might identify with. This lamp depicts the brutal end of a gladiator fight, and that reminds me of St. Paul in Berea, Macedonia (Acts 17:10-15). If you visit the archaeological museum in Berea, you will find that the city was home to a large gladiator school,  perhaps the largest in Macedonia. Furthermore, gladiators from Thrace (just north of Berea) were highly valued. Question: what did St. Paul think of having a gladiator school near the place of worship that he established? (Even though Acts doesn't emphasize Berea, there is evidence that it was a viable congregation. St. Paul didn't waste his time there.)

In my experience, I once served as pastor to a congregation located near a large ("brand name") distillery. It was the largest employer in the area, and I was quite uncomfortable with its presence.

Was St. Paul uncomfortable with the gladiator school? What might I learn from St. Paul about being pastor of a church in such a setting? I don't have a clear answer, but it gives me something to think about.

This lamp is displayed in the British Museum (London), item GR 1856.12-26.418 (Lamps Q761).

     You have permission to reuse this photo under a "creative commons--attribution--non-commercial" license. In other words, if you re-use it, give credit to Richard Davies. Do not use it in any commercial application. Thank you.

November 2019

In the USA we often think of the month of November as a time for Thanksgiving. We recall that 17th century immegrants to this continent suffered through a very difficult winter (50% of them died), but the following autumn rejoiced at a good harvest and held a feast with the indigenous people ("Indians") in the area.

(I recommend reading Bradford's History of the Plymouth Plantation.)

          The Ancient Romans also celebrated the harvest season, and we see it in this portion of a major sculpture (seen today in the Vatican museums). The sculptue features a woman who is the personification of Autumn with several "cupids" who are gathering grapes. When you visit a museum and see such ancient sculptures, take time to look at them carefully. In this one, notice the rabbit (who must be getting ready for winter . . . no new bunnies here), the harvesting knife, and notice how the little "cupid" struggles under the heavy load of grapes.

          They gave thanks to a different understanding of the world and of "god," but it is worth contemplating the fact that they gave thanks.

           As usual, you have permission to use this picture with appropriate credit.

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