The Courtyards of Plaka, 1987

Ah, Greek food. A fine thing. I’ve had it in a number of places, including Sydney, but unfortunately not Greece. There was none to be found in San Antonio of the 1970s, nor Nashville of the early ’80s, or at least I made no effort to find it.

March20.1987 (2)So I never had any until sometime in the mid-80s, probably in Chicago. One of the things to do during visits to the city in those days was seek out various kinds of food you couldn’t find at home, relying on word-of-mouth or luck in those pre-look-it-up-on-your-electronic-box days, to get commentary from a crowd of strangers. Will future generations believe people used to live like that?

Based on online evidence, the Courtyards of Plaka seems to be closed, but I’m not entirely sure, and don’t feel like calling them unless I’m going there. In any case, 30 years ago was long enough ago that a lot of restaurants still gave away matches, rather than cards. Now I sometimes can’t find either.

I picked up some matches when I went with my friends Neal and Michele, who lived in Chicago at the time. I just had moved there the month before. I don’t usually write anything on the matches or cards I find at restaurants, but for some reason I did that time. Maybe I should have more often.

March20.1987Can’t say that I remember much about that evening, though I’m sure we had a fine time. A short 1993 description of the restaurant in the Tribune said: “A lively place, especially once the live piano music gets underway. A handsome bar overlooks the stage-perfect for those who just stop in for a drink. The pretty, two-level dining room is awash in shades of terra cotta, with dark green accents; a series of white wooden slats suspended from the ceiling creates a canopy effect that makes you feel as though you’re eating outdoors.

“The menu lists a fair number of mezedes, the tapas-like tasting portions that lend themselves to grazing. There are also solid, sizable entrees: a pair of double lamb chops, a bit too chewy but quite tasty, and pair of expertly grilled, gently seasoned quail.”

Manto Mavrogenous, Face on the 2-Drachma Coin

Among many other things, coinage is (or can be) educational. Take Manto Mavrogenous (Μαντώ Μαυρογένους), for instance. Until recently I didn’t know who that was. Then I acquired a demonetized 2-drachma piece, which has her portrait on it, so I had to find out more. I still don’t know that much — it would take more digging than I want to spend on the matter right now — but I learned some some basics, from the likes of this site and this one.

Such as that she participated in an important way in the Greek War of Independence, especially by outfitting rebel forces at her own expense, and encouraging other wealthy Europeans to support the cause. Apparently she was the subject of a Greek movie in 1971, but her story cries out for a big-budget biopic in our time, with a few changes, of course. It’s one thing for her to be Demetrios Ypsilantis’ lover, but the script can also spice things up with a love triangle that involves Lord Byron as well, played by some handsome English actor. Did she ever really meet Lord Byron? Details, details.

The Hellenic Republic thought enough of her to put her on the 2 drachma coin from 1988 to 2001, which was retired when the country traded for euros (and a peck o’ trouble).
2 drachma2 drachmaIt’s a nice little coin, and unlike many copper-plated coins of recent vintage, such as the U.S. cent since 1982, it’s actually copper. The nautical design on the obverse (at least, I think it’s the observe) makes sense in the context of Manto Mavrogenous’ contributions to kicking Ottoman butt, a good bit of which involved raising and paying for ships to fight near Mykonos.

The Greeks: From Agamemnon to Alexander the Great

I’m not sure if it counts as a megashow, but the touring exhibit called The Greeks: From Agamemnon to Alexander the Great now at the Field Museum seems like a fairly big deal among museum shows. For one thing, it’s sizable enough, featuring a large assortment of sculpture, tools, vessels, jewelry, weapons, helmets, and more.

“Presented in chronological order, the exhibition begins with the Neolithic Period, around 6000 BC, and continues until the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC, marking the end of the Classical period,” the Field Museum says. “Highlights of the exhibition include artifacts from the tombs of the first rulers of Mycenae… a burial that depicts the ritual of burial and sacrifice in a funeral pyre described by Homer in the Iliad, a replicated Illyrian warrior helmet that visitors may try on, grave goods from the tomb of Philip II, and inscribed pieces of pottery (ostraka) that were used to ostracize even the most powerful leaders of Classical Greek society.”

But the show’s main distinction is that its artifacts come from no fewer than 20 Greek museums, and some of them haven’t ever been exhibited outside of Greece. Such as this fellow.
Not AgamemnonBecause my misspent youth didn’t include a visit to Greece, I’d never seen this object in person, though I’ve seen the image reproduced enough to be familiar with it. At once I thought Agamemnon. I wasn’t the first person to think of that, of course.

“Displayed here for the first time outside of Greece, this is the gold mask that Schliemann first associated with Agamemnon,” the sign near the artifact said. “It was placed over the face of a person who died in his or her thirties. Although the deceased was certainly not Agamemnon — assuming that Agamemnon ever existed — he or she could have been one of his ancestors and was undoubtedly a powerful Mycenaean ruler. Mycenae, Circle A, Grave V, second half of the 16th century BCE. National Archaeological Museum, Athens.”

Google “mask of Agememnon” or the like, and you’re get this image, not the mask above. That’s because Schliemann later dug up another mask — the one Google pulls up — that he more famously associated with Agamemnon. The second mask wasn’t part of the exhibition, but there was an artful 19th-century replica of it on display.

Other familiar faces populated the exhibit. That is, sculptures I’d seen reproduced in books or elsewhere. Such as Homer (a Roman copy of a Greek work, exact time of creation unknown).

D'oh!Then there’s this unnamed lad with an Archaic smile. In fact, he seems pretty happy, considering that part of his penis is missing.

Smile, damn you, smileHere’s Aristotle (another Roman copy). I’m pretty sure this very image was depicted on a collection of his works that I have somewhere.

AristotleAnd Alexander.

Looks like Jim MorrisonThe bust is a Greek original, created in Pella. Am I the only one who thinks Jim Morrison resembles this Alexander? Anyway, the busts of Homer and Aristotle are from the National Archaeological Museum, while the famed face of Alexander is usually found at the Archaeological Museum of Pella (open only since 2009).

The exhibit will be in Chicago until April, and then go to the National Geographic Society Museum in DC for its last stop. Previously, it traveled to Ottawa and Montreal. The Greeks pointedly decided not to send the trove to anywhere in the UK, such as the British Museum or even the Victoria and Alberta. Still some bad feelings over the Elgin Marbles, it seems.

Gods and Mortals in Classical Mythology

I’ve turned the “reply” function here back on — or at least no logon to WordPress should be required to leave a comment — to see what happens. So far, unwanted replies are coming in. We’ll see whether that becomes a torrent.

Gods and Mortals in Classical MythologyAnother specialized dictionary that’s a prized book on my shelves: the hardback edition of Gods and Mortals in Classical Mythology by the tireless Michael Grant and John Hazel, first published in the UK in 1973. The Dorset Press put out my edition in 1985.

In the front cover I wrote my name, and “New York City, Aug 29, 1986.” I found it on a remainder table at the Barnes & Noble on Fifth Avenue back when that place was a destination, rather than just a large store in a large nationwide chain (and which closed last year anyway). I bought it as an upgrade to a paperback version of the book I acquired ca. 1984 in Nashville.

Acquiring the hardback allowed me to give the paperback to my college friend Rich, who’d expressed an admiration for it during a visit, and wanted it to look up Classical references in the Continental philosophy and the writings of other Germanic thinkers he’s interested in.

Me, I just enjoy reading about Antiquity. Gods and Mortals in Classical Mythology is an exceptional reference for that purpose.

Some excerpts, picked at random, show its richness. Such as wonderful detail about well-known characters:

Traditions vary about the appearance of the Gorgons. One the one hand, they are sometimes described as beautiful, and it was said that Athena gave Perseus the power to kill Medusa because she had boasted of excelling the goddess in beauty. Ancient art, on the other hand, depicts them with hideous round faces, serpentine hair, boar’s tusks, terrible grins, snub noses, beards, lolling tongues, staring eyes, brazen hands, a striding gait, and sometimes the hindquarters of a mare.

Or giving more obscure characters a mention:

Halirrhothius: Son of Poseidon and a nymph, Euryte. Near the Acropolis in Athens, he raped Alcippe, a daughter of Ares and Aglaurus, and for this Ares killed him. The god was arraigned by Poseidon at a court which met on the spot. This was the legendary origin of the court named Areopagus (Hill of Ares), which tried cases of homicide at Athens: it acquitted Ares of guilt.

And offering variations on the stories, which shows that that’s the way storytelling usually works. The book has this to say on the death of the hunter Orion, who hunts even now in the winter sky with his faithful Canus Major and Minor following him.

Orion next went to Crete, where he hunted in Artemis’ company, but Eos, goddess of the dawn, fell in love with him and carried him off. The gods, and particularly Artemis, were jealous that a goddess should take a mortal lover, and on the island of Delos… Artemis killed Orion with her arrows.

She is likewise associated with other variant accounts of Orion’s death. According to one of them, he died because he rashly challenged the goddess at discus-throwing; and another story recounted that she shot him for trying to rape Opis. Again he was said, while clearing Chios of wild animals, to have tried to rape Artemis herself, but she brought from the ground an enormous scorpion which stung him to death.

Or else she did this because she was afraid that he would kill all the animals on earth; or, alternatively, she actually contemplated marriage with Orion, whereupon her brother Apollo tricked her into killing him by pointing to an object far out at sea and betting that she could not hit it. She tried and succeeded, but the target she had hit turned out to be Orion’s head, for he was swimming or wading far from shore. In her grief she place her beloved in the sky as a constellation.