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History lost July 19, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Arts Exhibitions Cyprus, Cyprus Nicosia.
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The looting of ancient sites is the biggest threat faced today by archaeology. It is also the subject of a travelling exhibition at the Cyprus Museum in Nicosia.

‘You have been robbed,’ reads a large banner outside The Cyprus Museum in Nicosia.

Why? I have to ask, slightly bewildered. The answer is rather dire, throughout the country, over 100 archaeological sights have been looted. The destruction of Cyprus’ cultural heritage begun in the 19th century and intensified after the Turkish invasion as the antiquities trade spiralled out of control in the occupied part of the island.

It is estimated that 15,000-20,000 Byzantine icons, mosaics and wall paintings in total have been stolen. “In the northern occupied parts of Cyprus there is a particular problem as illegal trade prospers and more and more archaeological sights are continually being damaged to this day,” said Andreas Apostolides, Greek director and writer on the illicit trade of antiquities around the world. “Thousands of icons from churches in northern occupied Cyprus have been sent all around the world, with Munich standing as the main illegal centre where there are connections with the Turkish mafia”.

This is not just a problem for Cyprus however, as the looting of ancient sites for commercial gain has become the most serious threat to the world’s cultural heritage as a whole. In fact, the majority of antiquities that appear for sale on the art market have been illegally dug and smuggled out of the country of origin. As the admiration of ancient civilization grows in the west, the theft and destruction of archaeological sites around the world intensifies. The steadily increasing number of museums in the US and the rising demand for antiquities by private collectors in Europe, North America, Japan and Australia have exhausted the supply of legal antiquities.

As trade relies mainly on trafficking, theft and pillage, we will never know why certain items were created, and what they have to say about our past. Taken out of context, they have completely lost their historical value. “The main problem is the complete loss of knowledge. If a specific site is looted, you cannot trace the exact context and background which surrounds them,” said Apostolides.

In general, the international trafficking of antiquities flourishes in countries where political instability or war prevails. The illicit excavation and theft of antiquities has been especially severe in Lebanon, Somalia, Cambodia, Afghanistan and Iraq. “Every country that is rich in archaeological sights faces the problem of looting, but political instability simply makes the problem far worse as it has done in Cyprus,” Apostolides explained.

The escalating plunder of the world’s archaeological heritage has not gone unnoticed by the international community. In 1972 UNESCO adopted a convention for prohibiting and preventing the illicit import, export and transfer of ownership of cultural property. Today, 109 countries, including the US and the UK, have signed the convention. After the UNESCO Convention however, museums, collectors and dealers still trading in antiquities of unknown provenance began to use forged documents to cover their actions. As it was becoming increasingly difficult for Western museums to buy antiquities, new large museums were formed containing previously unseen antiquities of unknown provenance. These collections in turn, were exhibited, borrowed, or bought by important museums in the West.

‘History Lost’, the current exhibition at The Cyprus Museum, transports the visitor from the looting of the Baghdad archaeological museum and the destruction of statues in Cambodia, to the illegal sale of Cypriot and Greek antiquities in US auction houses.
A visit to the museum also provides a historical overview of the birth and evolution of the antiquities trade from the 18th century and the creation of the first large antiquity collections of the Louvre, the British Museum and of European aristocrats with a passion for classical antiquity.

Extracts of documentaries on the trade of antiquities from all over the world are screened continuously throughout the day. Two interactive games and a touch screen with a world map can also be used. Photos accompanied by small texts provide an insight into the history of Cyprus and of other countries across the globe. “The problem of extensive looting is so far not very well known among the general public,” said Apostolides. “It’s an awkward problem that many governments don’t acknowledge and is often hidden from public knowledge. This exhibition should fill you in on things you may have never realised”.

History Lost
A multi-media travelling exhibition about the illicit trade of antiquities in Greece, Cyprus and the world. Until August 25. The Cyprus Museum, Nicosia.
Monday-Saturday 9am-5pm. Sundays: 10am-1pm. Tel: 22-865801

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Sexual attitudes July 19, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Living.
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Sexual attitudes have changed dramatically since the Victorian era.

When couples get married today they may have had up to 10 sexual partners. Back then the majority of women were probably virgins. Even when they did get married a lot of women still didn’t have a clue what to do on the first night of their honeymoon. Britain’s oldest virgin Clare Smith was 95 when she recalled her wedding night.

She said: “We were so innocent my husband and I didn’t even know what having sex was. We both wore thick pyjamas and he played the mouth organ in bed all the time. I married twice and I never had sex. It didn’t bother me, what you don’t know, you don’t miss.”

It was really the introduction of the pill in the Sixties that brought the sexual revolution by breaking the link between sex and pregnancy.

Sex could be enjoyed just for the fun of it. But Scots are not so liberal on sex as we might like to think.

One academic study found that 85 per cent of Scotsmen viewed adultery as wrong and 70 per cent viewed homosexual sex as wrong. When gay sex was decriminalised in England and Wales in 1967, the age of consent was set at 21. But it wasn’t until 1980 that gay sex was decriminalised in Scotland after an amendment to the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill was passed.

In 17th century Spain, it was illegal for anyone other than a woman’s husband to see her bare feet. A woman could freely expose her breasts, but feet were considered sexual and had to be covered in the presence of men other than her husband.

Queen Victoria, Britain’s longest serving monarch is reputed to have been unable to comprehend the notion of lesbianism, thus allowing it to remain legal while prohibiting male homosexuality.

The Greeks are the sexiest nation on the globe. They have sex 138 times a year – well above the global average of 103.

The vow of a Roman vestal virgin lasted 30 years. If she engaged in sex before then, she was punished by being buried alive.

The availabilty of contraception for women broke the link between sex and pregnancy – sex was all for fun now.

Of gay love, athletes and Greek warriors July 19, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Culture History Mythology, Gay Life.
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Haunted by high school memories, I started to hum when I learned that “Beotia” would be the opening song for Gay Games VII currently hosted by the City of Chicago, which got under way this weekend at Soldier Field.

It’s a hymn of praise to the ancient Greeks, who would have been stumped by the assumption I grew up with in the 1950s: that homosexuals and sports heroes are separate species. Far from finding homosexuality and athleticism mutually exclusive, they considered gay sex an excellent training regimen and an inspiration for military valor.

The song “Beotia,” which was composed for the start of this year’s Gay Games, celebrates one of the most famous Greek military units, the Sacred Band, 150 pairs of warriors who were lovers.

“If there were only some way of contriving that a state or an army should be made of lovers,” the philosopher Plato had speculated, “they would overcome the world.”

Somewhere between the days of the Sacred Band and my school days, Plato’s idea was lost. As freshmen, we were lined up in gym class. A few assistant coaches went down the line, motioning the biggest boys to step forward. They became the guards and tackles of the junior-varsity team.

They weren’t asked if they wanted to play football. It was assumed any normal, red-blooded boy would. Turning down the opportunity would have been tantamount to proclaiming yourself gay, and that meant immediate ostracism at Lane Technical High School, where athletes were worshiped as gods in a pantheon that recognized only macho deities.

Consider, for a moment, the possibility of some sort of biological basis for homosexuality. By what logic should we assume it is linked to a gene for not being able to hit a baseball or slam-dunk a basketball?

Yet an axiom of high school culture 50 years ago was that athletic ability and heterosexuality were bound intrinsically. One was considered prima facie proof of the other. You didn’t want to be vulnerable to the reverse of that proposition, by looking dorky or uncoordinated.

One of the terrible side effects of prejudice is that it doesn’t just put people down. It places blinders on their ambitions, telling them what they can and cannot be.

Statistically, some of my classmates had to be gay; the student body numbered 5,000. How many of them never realized potential athletic abilities because the adolescent culture told them gays and athletes are twains, predestined never to meet?

You couldn’t sell modern homophobia to the ancient Spartans, who had the finest army in Greece. Like today’s opponents of gay marriage, they thought the marital bond between a man and a woman was one of the pillars upon which society rested.

Yet they also saw a virtue in men having male bed partners. Spartan boys were raised with the single-minded focus of making them fierce warriors. As part of their training, they were paired with older warriors. As the ancient writer Plutarch put it, “They were favored with society of lovers from among the reputable young men.”

Those gay unions were intended to foster a spirit that, in every generation, on every battlefield, the foremost thought in a Spartan’s mind must be never to let down their city. “The boys’ lovers also shared with them in their honor or disgrace,” Plutarch explained.

The Spartans’ military success made them the envy and role model of other Greeks. The city of Thebes formed the Sacred Band celebrated in “Beotia.” Beotia or Voiotia (in Greek) is a region of northern Greece of which Thebes is the principal city.

The Gay Games are expected to draw athletes from 70 countries for eight days of competition in 30 sports.

The reasoning underlying the Sacred Band long outlived it. During World War II, the U.S. produced a series of propaganda movies titled “Why We Fight.” They were designed to remind troops of family members whom they were struggling to protect.

The Thebeans anticipated that equation of bravery with feelings for loved ones. Members of the Sacred Band didn’t have to conjure up images of a loved one they had left at home. On a field of battle, they stood side by side, warriors who were lovers.

It is said that the Sacred Band was never defeated until its last battle, when Greece lost its independence to King Philip II of Macedonia. Even then, the Sacred Band’s final exploit moved Philip, father of Alexander the Great, to utter a sentiment that ought to serve as a dirge for all forms of prejudice.

Again Plutarch: “When after the battle, Philip was surveying the dead, and stopped at the place where the 300 were lying … and learned that this was a band of lovers and beloved, burst into tears and said: `Perish miserably they who think that these men did or suffered anything disgraceful.”

Editor’s Note > Article by By Ron Grossman, Copyright © 2006, Chicago Tribune.

The return of the relics July 19, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Archaeology Greece.
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A long Greek drama came closer to its end last week when the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles agreed to return to Greece two ancient artifacts: a 2,400-year-old tombstone and a 6th century B.C. marble relief of women offering gifts to a goddess.

For decades, Greece has noisily lobbied for the return of relics–especially the British Museum’s Elgin Marbles, which were stripped from Athens’ Parthenon in the early 1800s.

Its efforts got a big boost last year, when Italian authorities put former Getty antiquities curator Marion True on trial for trafficking in looted works. Then in February, New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art agreed to return to Italy the Euphronios krater, a 2,500-year-old vase.

The Greek government is negotiating with the Getty for two other artifacts. And it won’t stop there. An internal Culture Ministry memo lists 10 more wanted works. They include a grave marker from 340 B.C., housed at Harvard’s Sackler Museum; icons of St. Paul and St. Procopius allegedly stolen from a 14th century church in Greece and now at the Dumbarton Oaks Research Library in Washington; and Byzantine frescoes of the prophet Elijah and St. Andrew, which, according to the memo, the Odigia Foundation Icon-Institute in the Hague says it bought from a London gallery in 1996.

The Greeks are certain that more relics will return. “This is just the beginning,” says Culture Minister George Voulgarakis. “We will scour the globe and recover them one by one.” 

History: The concept of State July 19, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Culture History Mythology.
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The concept of State and Statecraft are rooted in history and they have a great meaning for the present age too.

The word ‘State’ was first used by Greeks as ‘Polis’.

The Romans used the word ‘Civitas’ which also meant the state. The Tautens used the term ‘Status’ from which the modern word ‘State’ has been derived. But the credit for employing the Word ‘State’ in political science goes to Niceolo Machiavelli (1462-1527).

Salonica, City of Ghosts July 19, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Books Life.
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Salonica, City of Ghosts: Christians, Muslims and Jews, 1430-1950 by Mark Mazower (Vintage, 544 pages, $22.95)

For over half a millennium, Salonika, a port city in northern Greece, was a place where Europe met the Middle East.

Mazower, a professor of history at Columbia University, sets the history of Salonika and its Orthodox Greeks, Egyptian merchants, and Spanish Jews within a “single encompassing historical narrative.”

He reconstructs this once vibrant city as it thrived under the Ottoman Empire (1430-1912), reverted to Greek control after the First World War, and saw its Jewish population deported en masse by the Nazis in 1943.

Dance Festival makes powerful start July 19, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Arts Festivals.
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Dance is celebrated in Kalamata for the 12th consecutive summer with a wide range of shows.

Angelin Preljocaj’s choreography on Vivaldi’s ‘Four Seasons,’ which featured inventive sets designed by artist Fabrice Hyber, opened the event at the city’s castle on Friday evening.

Variety is everything at the International Dance Festival of Kalamata and this year is proving to be no exception. “The great virtue of dance lies in its many shapes,” said the festival’s artistic director Vicky Marangopoulou and that is something she has remained faithful to since the festival first started in 1995. Over the first weekend alone, four productions revealed entirely different facets of the contemporary international dance scene (from a choreography on Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” to improvisations and from the exploration of the female identity to South African vibes) setting the tone for the rest of the festival, which runs through this coming Sunday.

Kalamata’s 12th festival, which this year features 11 ensembles from nine different countries, has by now gained a loyal audience which keeps increasing. With dance gradually establishing a firmer presence in Greece’s cultural life, the festival, which was founded at a time when Greece lagged in the field, is now a prominent institution. As always, fans traveled all the way from Athens and other parts of the country to the southern city of Kalamata to attend shows that cater to all tastes, many of which were sold out.

Angelin Preljocaj’s choreography on Vivaldi’s classic “Four Seasons” marked the beginning at Kalamata’s castle in a sold-out performance last Friday. Members of the Ballet Preljocaj took to the stage before a striking and inventive set that hung suspended from the ceiling and was an inextricable part of the performance. The set was designed by acclaimed artist Fabrice Hyber. The equally imaginative costumes (from inflated transparent plastic suits to bikinis, to mention just a couple) completed the sets and played along with the weather changes, as Vivaldi’s seasons rotated. The audience seemed captivated by the playful and rich choreography, and was particularly taken with the two male dancers who skillfully moved with two chair legs attached to their buttocks, the curved staircases which provided the setting for a spectacular choreography and the mysterious mask that shaped the relationship of two women and a man. As the seasons changed, bits would occasionally drop from Hyber’s suspended stage set, which included a chair, a sun, a moon and even a huge bunch of grapes.

Loud applause greeted the end of the performance as the public expressed its enthusiasm for the work of France-based choreographer of Albanian descent Preljocaj, well-known to the friends of the Kalamata Festival since he has presented his work there in the past.

The scenery was entirely different on Saturday afternoon when award-winning, Venezuela-born choreographer and master of improvisation David Zambrano presented his duet “Maza-Dama” with Ermis Malkotsis, dancer and choreographer of the Greek dance company Sinequanon, who is also known for his participation in the opening ceremony at the Athens Olympics. In the foyer of the Cultural Center, which provided the setting, Zambrano (who is also conducting this year’s seminars) and Malkotsis informed those present that they were free to walk around the two dancers during the soul music-inspired performance, or could climb onto the balconies to get a better view. In what turned out to be one solo after another, sometimes with music and sometimes without, the two dancers seemed to plunge into their inner selves and move according to their feelings and need to express themselves. As the audience gathered around them curiously, they fell, rose, trembled and huffed with a powerful intensity that appeared to stem from deep inside. Although “Maza-Dama,” which is an anagram of their names, was clearly a very personal show, at the same time it sought the involvement of the audience, which in turn responded accordingly, as those present seemed completely intrigued and eagerly followed every movement.

Shortly afterward, at Kalamata’s Regional Municipal Theater, an up-and-coming choreographer of Israel’s dance scene, Yasmeen Godder, performed “Two Playful Pink” along with dancer Iris Erez. In the duet, which Marangopoulou had described as “very introverted but very interesting,” the two women explored parts of their identity and developed a relationship on stage which went through different phases. During the show, they sometimes changed outfits as part of their inner search, which peaked at the end when they both performed wearing huge, fake breasts.

The festival’s first weekend ended with a powerful and uplifting message by South African company Via Katlehong Dance, which celebrated the 10th anniversary of the fall of the Apartheid regime with “Nkulukelo” at the castle on Sunday evening. The group was founded in 1992 by young people who were brought up in a ghetto and took refuge in a culture of alternative music and dance, “pantsula,” in an effort to survive the oppressive regime. With the fall of Apartheid, pantsula, which bears some resemblance to hip-hop, became more commercialized and Via Katlehong took it to the stage, embellishing it with other South African traditional dances.

The audience responded enthusiastically to the young dancers from the moment they stepped on to the stage. Through a mix of techniques, from tap-dancing to scenes reminiscent of musicals and even whistling, and always with intense body movements, the dancers seemed to create rhythm even when there was no music. Reflecting the spirit of true entertainers, they cheerfully and cheekily interacted with the audience who would often interrupt the show with applause. After making a spectacular exit, with each dancer presenting himself, they invited the public to join them on stage for a spontaneous dance, an invitation which did not go unheeded. Representing the social aspect of dance, Via Katlehong sent a positive and youthful message to the world with a natural ease that made it almost impossible to remain seated.

The festival, which ends on Sunday, further includes shows by Zoe Dimitriou and Alexandra Waierstall (tonight), Belgian ensemble Peeping Tom (tomorrow and Friday), Portugal’s Sonia Baptista (Friday and Saturday), Austria’s Chris Haring (Saturday and Sunday) and Israel’s Emanuel Gat on Sunday.