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Mocking politicians have an ancient history January 8, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Archaeology Greece, Culture History Mythology.
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The 2,400-year-old Temple of Ifestos in the Ancient Agora of Athens, Greece  The 2,400-year-old temple of Ifestos, in the Ancient Agora of Athens, where ancient Athenian statesman Cleon placed shields captured in a victory over Sparta.

One venerable tradition of democracy seems likely to continue its noble history. Mocking politicians goes back a long way, it seems, at least as far back as the foundation of democracy in ancient Athens.

Consider the case of Cleon, an Athenian statesman credited with a victory over the Spartans in 425 B.C. at the Battle of Sphacteria. After capturing an astounding 120 knightly Spartans, Cleon and his victorious generals returned the Spartan shields in victory to Athens, placing them in the Agora, the center of Athenian government, as war trophies. Spartans, after all, were famously inveighed to “return with their shield or on them (i.e. dead),” by their own mothers before proceeding into battle. So Cleon capturing a bunch of the tough guys of the ancient world was a very big deal.

Editor’s Note > In Ancient Greek the mothers wished their sons “I Tan I Epi Tas” which means “Or with it [back] or on it [dead]”. 

For his troubles, Cleon earned immortality as a villainous demagogue in the playwright Aristophanes’ work, Knights, produced a year after the victory. A report in the current American Journal of Archaeology may show one reason that Aristophanes viewed Cleon with so much suspicion.

In the report, a new translation and archaeological discussion by Emory University classicist Mike Lippman and colleagues, the study authors offer “a speculative solution to a puzzle recently detected in Aristophanes’ Knights.” In the satire, a villainous character representing Cleon faces off with his rival, a sausage seller, for the favor of Demos, a character representing the Athenian people. Greek comedy could be little broad. Aristophanes’ best-known play is likely the anti-war comedy, Lysistrata, wherein the women of Greece bring a halt to war by dedicating themselves to chastity until the warlike men repent.

Lippman and colleagues investigate a curious series of lines in the play, lines 843-59, where the Cleon character brags about the shields he captured from the Spartans. Archaeologists know these shields were displayed at the agora because the ancient writer Pausanias mentions seeing them there and excavations in 1936 turned up one shield inscribed “The Athenians [took this] from the Lacedaimonians (Spartans) at Pylos,” in Greek.

In the play, the sausage seller turns this bragging against Cleon by pointing out to Demos that the shields still have their handles on them, needless for display, and could be used by Cleon’s followers to take over Athens in a military coup. Demos is warned that Cleon’s followers will seize the “the gates to our daily bread,” which historians have taken to mean seizing the granary feeding Athens.

But there are a few problems with this idea, Lippman suggests. One is that the excavated shield is of a type obsolete by 425 BC. Another is that the display area in the agora, the stoa, was too small to hold 120 Spartan shields. Also, there were no gates to the granary. And there wasn’t a granary.

Instead, the study authors note the best way then to take over Athens was to seize the Acropolis hill overlooking the town. For that reason, “24 pairs of very unusual cuttings preserved in three rows on the north face of the bastion of the Temple of Athena Nike become relevant,” they propose.

Athena Nike was the goddess of victory and patron of war trophies, with her temple overlooking the ramp leading to the gate of the Acropolis. The temple was dedicated to war victories by the Athenians, hosting many trophies, including a roof made to look like a gilded shield, was the home of a high priestess who favored Cleon and was likely directly visible to play-goers at the time. The cuttings in the temple’s bastion, 99 in all, hung above head height for anyone walking up the ramp.

Scholars have disagreed over the purpose of the cuttings for more than a century, with some, Lippman among them, arguing they held hooks for ceremonial displays on festival days. Normally, bronze trophy shields had their handles and wood backings removed, were flattened and then nailed to the wall, the study authors note. But the cuttings hold room for two hooks precisely spaced to just hold a shield with its handle still attached, they find, just the ticket for holding the Spartan shields. “With a single stroke, the Nike temple bastion was transformed into a gleaming tower of bronze, a spectacular trophy,” they write.

That leaves only the explanation for the reference to “daily bread” in the play. Rather than actual bread, the kind you eat, the study authors propose Aristophanes meant “bread” as in cash, moolah, dinero, or to Athenians, “obolos”, the daily pension handed out to old men, like Demos, who served on juries from the war coffers atop the Acropolis. “The joke is not that Demos is worried about the seizure of the city,” they conclude, “but that he groans over the loss of his three-obol daily jury allowance!”

Well, it was funny to the Greeks. Political humor tends to go bad almost as quickly as politicians do, after all. One can only wonder what our posterity will make of all the modern politicians’ rubber masks they unearth in future archaeological excavations of landfills.

At any rate, Lippman and colleagues conclude it was unlikely the Athenians left the walls of their temple to victory unadorned, especially after gaining the upper hand over the hated Spartans. Instead Cleon likely displayed a few in the Agora and attached the rest to the temple. Decked out on a temple wall, among bronze trophies, gilding, banners and other martial gee-gaws, “Cleon’s targets were a perfect target for his comic critics, Aristophanes first among them,” the study authors conclude.


Athens reveals ancient treasures of the past January 8, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Archaeology Greece, Architecture Greece.
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The two sides of a Roman coin excavated from Athens. It features the head of Brutus, one of the murderers of Julius Caesar on the one side and a pair of daggers on the other.

Athens reveals ancient treasures of the past  Like many treasures from antiquity, they were chance finds, but a fabulous hoard of more than 50,000 pieces unearthed during excavations in Athens has also provided a window on the ancient civilisation of Greece.

The treasure trove, discovered during excavations to build the New Acropolis Museum in the capital, includes relics ranging from a near-perfectly preserved marble bust of Aristotle, to cooking utensils, children’s games and figurines of little known deities.

“Thanks to the New Acropolis Museum, we were able to conduct the biggest ever dig within the walls of Athens’ ancient city,” archaeologist Stamatia Eleftheratou said. “The excavation yielded artefacts that told us a lot about people’s habits, the way they worshipped and their day-to-day lives.”

Some of the treasures, such as an ornate statuette of the eastern deity Zeus Heliopolites, are unique, providing evidence of a cult of a god hitherto unknown, and extraordinarily well-preserved. The £94-million three-storey museum, designed by the Swiss-born architect Bernard Tschumi to house the 5th century BC Parthenon marbles, is by far the most significant edifice erected so close to the Acropolis.

The decision to build on a site so archaeologically rich was roundly criticised, but the excavations have brought to light a densely built area of ancient Athens inhabited from the golden age of the 5th century BC to the mid-Byzantine period in the 12th century AD.

Some of the finds, such as a Roman copy of an original 4th century BC bust of Aristotle, found amid the debris of an archaeological trench near the museum’s entrance, were announced only recently. With its aquiline nose, protruding forehead, floppy hair and minute eyes and mouth, the bust is regarded as one of the best likenesses of the Greek philosopher.

University of Crete Medical School leads research for cancer January 8, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Health & Fitness.
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European scientists receive funding from EU to develop novel therapy for cancer 

Scientists of a consortium led by the University of Crete Medical School, Greece, have been awarded a grant from the European Commission Sixth Framework program for the discovery and validation of new therapeutic strategies for cancer. The research program, code-named Apotherapy, will develop methods to activate a protein at the surface of ovarian, lung and bladder tumor cells which will stop their growth. This protein, called CD40, can also induce the destruction of malignant cells by the body’s own defences. The scientists who participate in the program aim to combine CD40 triggering with chemotherapy or with innovative drugs that will cut-off signals necessary for the survival of cancer cells. This strategy is expected to achieve maximal therapy with minimal side effects. 

Dr Aristides Eliopoulos of the University of Crete Medical School who co-ordinates the Apotherapy research program, commented: “We are delighted to have received funding under this program grant. It gives us the opportunity to collaborate with some of the top European scientists and oncologists to fight this deadly disease. We are confident that in the near future, we will be able to progress the best of our developed strategies into clinical practice for the benefit of cancer sufferers.”

The project integrates the core skills and expertise of academic scientists, oncologists and biotechnology researchers from a total of seven Institutions:
University of Crete Medical School, Greece;
University of Helsinki, Finland;
University College London, UK;
Istituto Mario Negri, Milan, Italy;
University of Olomouc, Czech Rep;
University of Uppsala, Sweden and
The biotechnology company Novosom AG, Germany.
Apotherapy is supported with €2 million from the European Commission FP6 for a period of 3 years.

Related Links > www.med.uoc.gr

Film Library to open in 2008 January 8, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Architecture Greece, Movies Life Greek.
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The works carried out at the former Lais cinema will be paid for via the 3rd Community Support Framework

The Greek Film Library  The works carried out at the former Lais cinema will be paid for via the 3rd Community Support Framework

Given its multipurpose usage, the new Greek Film Library aims to attract a series of activities, ranging from education to entertainment. The building is situated on the junction of Iera Odos and Megalou Alexandrou roads in Athens. The new home of the Greek Film Library will be inaugurated in autumn 2008, on the premises of a former open-air cinema.

Works at the former Lais cinema, are expected to start right away, signaling a decisive step toward modernization for the outdated structure-wise Film Library. The project is part of the Third Community Support Framework and is jointly funded by the European Union and the Ministry of Culture.

Once construction work is over, the library will be in possession of 1,785 square meters of halls, spread over two levels, as well as a 700-square-meter loft which will operate as an open-air cinema. The Film Library will comprise a large screening hall with a capacity of 200 people, a smaller “Cine Club” screening hall for members with 60 seats, a 250-seat open-air cinema, a film museum, a library, an audiovisual reading room, audiovisual archives and offices. There will also be a bar, two foyers and a small shop.

The architectural study was carried out by architects Nikos Belavilas and Vasso Trova. The listed building combines a simplified industrial architecture on the ground floor with more eclectic popular elements on the upper, open-air cinema. An effort was made to respect the building’s history, but also the identity of the neighborhood. The Lais cinema used to operate in the loft, with its own independent entrance on Megalou Alexandrou street. Some of the cinema’s structural features, as well as some of its old decorations, will be maintained. The screen, the bar, the stairwell, the screening room, the metal decorations and the lights will be kept and restored, as will also be the case with the building facades. The surfaces, the entrance and the modernist openings will be restored to their original condition.

The Lais started operating in 1948 and closed down in 1975. According to pre-1976 newspapers, it used to run a weekly program with three films and daily screenings. It would occasionally host honorary soirees for actors and musicians, while at some point it also hosted local beauty pageants.

For the building’s interior, emphasis was put on equipment, so that the Film Library will not lack the latest in modern technology. The building itself has been designed to provide the possibility of screening any kind of films, videos or digital images, in the halls, the reading room and in the library.

The Film Library’s relocation from the Deligiorgi Mansion on Kanari Street in Kolonaki, central Athens to Metaxourgeio is a wise move. The latest cultural developments in Athens have focused on Metaxourgeio, a hub for emerging artists and new theaters. Metaxourgeio area is also close to the Gazi and Psyrri up-coming and major entertainment areas in Athens.

The wider region offers a variety of advantages: It appeals to young people, it is developing a powerful cultural identity, with the Benaki Museum’s Pireos Street annex, the Technopolis Arts Complex and the Bios Arts Complex all nearby, and has also been attracting new residents over the past few years. As of next April it will also boast a new metro station, after the extension of the metro’s blue line toward Aegaleo.

On the other hand, the derelict Deligiorgi Mansion is in no way suitable to house a contemporary European Film Library. As soon as works start, the administration will be temporarily moved to Solonos Street. In view of the new era on which the Film Library is about to embark, the institution’s staff is getting reorganized. Soon, director Theodoros Adamopoulos is expected to announce the members of a committee that will prepare the Film Library’s organizational details.

Land of memory and emotion January 8, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Movies Life Greek.
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From ‘The Tree We Wounded’ to ‘Uranya’ cinema turns to childhood in search of Greece > Following the commercial success of ‘Peppermint’ seven years ago, Costas Kapakas returns with his latest cinematic offering, ‘Uranya.’ 

Greece as depicted in many of its films is often more attractive than the films themselves. From the most recent, «Uranya» to the 20-odd-year-old «The Tree We Wounded» Greek cinema has frequently turned to the theme of childhood in order to gloss over its more inherent weaknesses with the power of nostalgia. Some films, however, proved to be much warmer than the lukewarm crust of memories, as well as revealing. These are the ones that succeeded in discovering in childhood a fantastical shelter, an imaginary yet real homeland that strikes a vibrant chord in every Greek.

In one of the final scenes of Costas Kapakas’s «Uranya», the young star of the film, Achilleas, with his left leg bound in plaster from ankle to thigh, walks disappointedly away from the small seaside home of the local prostitute, Ourania. Three bicycles, two red and one blue, lie on the sand, while some of Achilleas’s friends, the ones who have dipped into the common fund set up by the boys in order to buy a television, have thrown themselves into the deep waters of Ourania’s embrace.

The story unfolds over one summer in 1969 Greece, as mankind is making its last frantic preparations to set foot on the moon.

In «Uranya», a wordplay combining the name of the prostitute and a brand of television, the pale reds and blues show a Greece that was in the grips of the colonels’ dictatorship. The Greece depicted in «Uranya» is composed of shards of the past placed in the order commanded by present-day needs. For Achilleas, the concept of left or right wing seems anachronistic, farcical. The past, which is undefined and seems very distant, has them at each other’s throats for no apparent reason. The present brings them together.

«Uranya» which disappointed critics and received a lukewarm public reception, is no worse a film than «Peppermint», a blockbuster by the same director from 1999. It is less compact, but certainly more ambitious in terms of its intentions of creating a portrait of the dominant ethic of the time, though the way it is portrayed in «Uranya» is more fitting to the urban middle classes of Athens than the provinces where it is set. The way Greece is depicted in the film, the colors used, make it appear as a still-life painting that is brought to life by the boy’s very real experience of it and, in effect, of the post-Civil War reality of Greece. Young Achilleas is confused between the dream of conquering the moon and having the very earthy Ourania.

Achilleas’s Greece is a small, white lie, sweet as the long Greek summer that left its best imprint on the most transparent Greek film ever made about childhood, 1986’s «The Tree We Wounded» by Demos Avdeliodis. The beauty of this film lies in the truth of a child striding toward adolescence and the world of adulthood, alone and with mixed feelings. Set in a small mastic-producing village on the island of Chios in the early 1960s, Avdeliodis’s film observes a childhood friendship that is put to the test over a summer. The images are eloquent because they are based on experience and compose a simple symphony of emotions that rush through the film, washing away all ethology. The story, or small events that take place around the character of the child, whose, in the words of Francois Truffaut, «absolute» morality comes into conflict with the «relative» morality of the adult, marking the end of innocence, unfolds smoothly on a documentary-like canvas whose backdrop is the mastic harvest.

The mastic tree weeps, as does the young star of the film, from the shallow and deeper scars inflicted upon it by man, and becomes a parallel of the child, Avdeliodis’s silent star. The Chios captured by the filmmaker is the most fluid image ever to be shown of Greece in a Greek film. The child and innocence are but an excuse to return to a land of memory, basically a fantastical land, where happiness and misery sail side by side.

The theme of childhood in Greek cinema lies somewhere between a past that defined it as adventurous and the nostalgic present. «Invincible Lovers» (1988) by Stavros Tsiolis, which is about a young boy who escapes from an orphanage and travels to his hometown of Tripolis, is one of the most authentic Greek road movies ever made.

In a sensitive and nostalgic reference to Greece of the 1960s, «The Flea» (1990) by Dimitris Spyrou looks at the efforts of a 12-year-old student in a mountain village to write and publish his own newsletter.

«The Dead Liqueur» (1992) by Giorgos Karypidis tells the story of a dysfunctional family in 1950s Athens through the eyes of three children. Dinos Dimopoulos’s «Little Dolphins» (1993), a discreet comeback by the veteran director with a moral tale, is about a group of boys who protect one of their peers from being shunned by the local community. «Peppermint» (1999) by Costas Kapakas is a nostalgic look at the 1960s by a 45-year-old man who remembers his carefree past at a time of personal crisis. A schoolteacher comes into conflict with his bigoted colleagues when trying to help a dyslexic pupil in Dimitris Stavrakas’s «Canary-Yellow Bicycle» (1999). Penny Panagiotopoulou’s «Hard Goodbyes: My Father» (2002) is probably the most mature Greek film of recent years. In the drama, a young boy growing up in 1950s Athens refuses to accept the death of his father and creates a fantasy world in which he is still alive. Finally, Tassos Boulmetis’s «A Touch of Spice» addresses the theme of the lost homeland through the reminiscences of a man visiting Istanbul, where he was born.

Judo emerges as Greece’s main power sport > January 8, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Martial Arts.
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> with many talented practitioners
Sport’s class outweighs medal generators such as wrestling and weightlifting

Greek Judo Emerges  The success of Olympic Champion Ilias Iliadis (bottom) has helped establish a strong foundation for the previously neglected sport in Greece. The number of athletes active in judo nowadays has risen dramatically over the past few years.

Weightlifting and wrestling have been the country’s dominant power sports for years. But, more recently, judo has risen as a prime player, the most recent feat provided by Ilias Iliadis, the Athens Olympics gold medalist, who won gold again, this time at last November’s Europeans.

The 23-year-old, a nationalized Greek from the former Soviet Union, is just the tip of the iceberg. Behind him stand a promising number of athletes capable of distinction at major international events. The majority are young with two or three Olympiads ahead of them.

Greek interest in judo has skyrocketed in more recent times. A study conducted by Christos Kollias, a consultant for the sport’s Greek federation, showed that judo activity rose by 7,000 percent between 2001 and today. The establishment of the local Philippos Amyntaios judo school marked the beginning of this phenomenal rise in interest. Twelve athletes who entered the world of judo at the institution are now members of the Greek National Team. Today, over 120 judo clubs operate, with some 5,000 members aboard.

This local ascent is also reflected in the National Team’s international rise. At the 1996 Olympics, Greece’s leading performer in judo, Haralambos Papaioannou, captured seventh placed. In Athens, eight years later, Greece won gold with Ilias Iliadis and earned two more top-10 placings.

The trend has been similar in junior-level competition. At last year’s worlds, Tariel Zintiridis won gold in his category, while Alexandros Gordeev and Thodoris Masmanidis captured bronze. There was also a seventh placing from Vaza Zintiridis, all of which indicates a promising pool of emerging talent behind Olympic Champion Iliadis. The juniors also displayed promise at last year’s Europeans. The National Team’s coach, Nikos Iliadis, stressed the need for improved financial support at junior levels.

Greek Grand Prix, watch out for Vaso Gizikis January 8, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Racing & Motors.
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No matter who hosts the Summer Olympics, after all the medals are given away, after all the people leave, after all the athletes finally accept their final performances, there’s always a venue or two that was a one-off, big expense waste of money.

Even for Los Angeles, the most efficient Olympics ever, new stadiums were constructed that never had near the break-even crowds the Olympics gave them. It will be the case in China for the next Olympics, and it was the case in Greece three years ago.

But one Houstonian has an idea. At least for Greece. Vaso Gizikis, the race chair for the Sports Car Club of America Houston Region, figured that a venue unused is a great place for a car race.

Planned for the second week of June 2008, the Greek Grand Prix is set to be contracted and approved by Champ Car in the very near future. Champ Car is, of course, the same people who race in Houston. Expansion outside the United States isn’t irregular; just to Greek soil is. So this event will be a Greek, as well as a Champ Car, first.

How it came about was a little, well, chauvinistic. “I was very upset,” Gizikis said in her thick Greek accent. “They had an F1 race in Turkey. So I approached Champ Car and asked them if they were interested in doing a race in Greece. They said they were, so I started doing the work.”

If you don’t know the history, Greece and Turkey have never had the best of relationships. Throughout the years, the two have had their skirmishes. Eventually the Turks moved on; the Greeks, well, didn’t. They still harbor somewhat of a grudge. And seeing the GP in Turkey was enough to prompt Gizikis, a five-foot dynamo of a woman, to act quickly.

The Acropolis Rally, a World Champions event that’s been a tradition in Greece for decades, recently saw a huge surge of popularity when the first stages were contended in the Olympic Stadium in Athens. So why not use the same strategy?

“It’s going to be run on the old airport in Athens, which is now an Olympic facility. We’re now in the final stages of contract with Champ Car. And already the Greek press is going crazy about it. Even the European press has been doing a lot about it. Autosport has done three stories on it. We brought a driver to test already. It’s really moving along.”

The old Athens International Airport, quaint as it was, was small by modern terms. But it was certainly big enough to host a Grand Prix race. Right on the Aegean Sea, it’s just a few miles from downtown Athens and the Pireaus port, gateway to the Greek islands. In addition, some of the most affluent neighborhoods are right there near the GP, so dining and nightclubs will be plentiful. And unlike the rest of Europe, Greece is still relatively inexpensive, even during a Grand Prix race.

Gizikis has her work cut out for her. She has to coordinate everything from concessions to press, as well as city permits and team lodging. But if you’ve ever met her, you know she has the energy and the determination to do it.

The venues for the 2004 Athens Olympics, some of which will be used for the Grand Prix next year, were finished literally on the eve of the games. Will this be the case with the race, too?

“Well, they were done at the last minute, but it was the best Olympics ever, wasn’t it?” Gizikis quipped. “No, I will be early. I don’t like to wait until the last minute on anything. In fact I’ll be ahead of time.” The whole deal will be a Greek first.