Culture

Athens in the Ottoman Period

The Ottoman period for Athens began in 1458 with the city’s peaceful occupation, following a treaty between the Ottomans and the last duke of the Acciaioli, and ended in 1821 with the proclamation of Greek Independence. During this period the city was in Ottoman hands continuously with the exception of a brief interval of Venetian occupation between 1687 and 1688, which is usually taken as the boundary between the historical subdivisions of the first and second Ottoman periods. Continue reading Athens in the Ottoman Period

Plato

Plato (c. 427-347 BC) was Socrates’ student and one of the most influential philosophers in Western civilization. Born to a politically active and wealthy noble Athenian family, (Plato’s mother was descended from Solon, the famous lawgiver credited with major democratic reforms that paved the way for Athen’s Golden Age) Plato grew up during the Peloponnesian War (431-404 BC), a conflict that arose among Athens, Sparta, and their allies. This civil war was the beginning of the end of the Athenian Golden Age, and created an opening for later conquest by Philip of Macedon. The principles of democracy in Athens were lost, as was much of the cultural wealth of both city states. Continue reading Plato

Aristotle

Aristotle, or Aristoteles, (c.384-322 BC) was born in Stagirus in the Greek colony of Chalcidice, which lies to the north of Greece near Macedon. Aristotle was never an Athenian citizen, despite having spent most of his life in Athens. Nicomachus, Aristotle’s father, was court physician to King Amyntas III of Macedon.

Aristotle came to Athens to study and joined Plato’s Academy in 367 BC. Aristotle became Plato’s best student and was generally felt to be  Plato’s successor. He remained at the Academy until Plato’s death in 347 BC, when, bypassed in the election of the Academy’s next president, Aristotle left Athens with a few students and friends. Continue reading Aristotle

The Song of Armouris and Digenis Akrites

The Byzantine-Arab conflicts that lasted from the seventh to the early eleventh century provide the context for Byzantine heroic poetry written in the vernacular Greek language. The most important and oldest of these works are the Song of Armouris and the epic romance Digenis Akrites.

The first of these works, the Song of Armouris, 197 lines of which survive, relates the deeds of the young Arestis as he battles against the Saracens on his way to Syria where his father, Armouris, is being held hostage. Arestis crosses the Euphrates and succeeds in defeating the Arab armies single-handed. Just one Arab survives the encounter, although he has lost a hand, and it is he who bears the news of the defeat to the Arab emir. Arestis threatens to slay the Arabs if they fail to release his father. The emir, alarmed by these developments, yields, releases Armouris and proposes that their respective children seal the deal in marriage. Although the plot is complex, the narrative is fast-moving and lively. And while the style is plain it has considerable descriptive power. The poem contains much of the formulaic texture of oral poetry. Continue reading The Song of Armouris and Digenis Akrites

The Art of the Book in the Middle Ages

Before the invention of mechanical printing, books were handmade objects, treasured as works of art and as symbols of enduring knowledge. Indeed, in the Middle Ages, the book becomes an attribute of God.

Book cover with Byzantine Icon of the Crucifixion. Spain (setting) and Constantinople (icon), dated to before 1085. Courtesy www.metmuseum.org.
Book cover with Byzantine Icon of the Crucifixion. Spain (setting) and Constantinople (icon), dated to before 1085. Courtesy www.metmuseum.org.

Every stage in the creation of a medieval book required intensive labor, sometimes involving the collaboration of entire workshops. Parchment for the pages had to be made from the dried hides of animals, cut to size and sewn into quires; inks had to be mixed, pens prepared, and the pages ruled for lettering. A scribe copied the text from an established edition, and artists might then embellish it with illustrations, decorated initials, and ornament in the margins. The most lavish medieval books were bound in covers set with enamels, jewels, and ivory carvings. Continue reading The Art of the Book in the Middle Ages