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Athens reached its economic and cultural zenith during the 5th century BCE while ruled by Pericles.
In 146 BCE it fell sway to the Romans, later to become a province of Rome. By 1456 the Ottoman Empire engulfed Athens. In 1835 it became the capital of modern Greece and it was occupied by the Nazis during WW-II.
The contemporary city attracts hordes of tourists, mainly due to its scenic locale and historical marvels of art and architecture such as the Parthenon and the temple of Olympian Zeus (pictured here).
Athens is also the home of much profound philosophical thought that remains relevant today. The Athenian democracy, for instance, in which women and slaves couldn’t vote, is the first formalized form of democracy recorded in human history.
In the summer of 2004, Athens hosted the XXVIII Olympiad, returning the Olympics to the place where they began (there were only foot races for the first 13 Olympics; other events like wrestling and the pentathlon were added later).
A previous modern Olympics was hosted in Athens in 1896, and an unofficial one in 1906. » Aristotle, Plato
Image information and Source:
The Temple of Olympian Zeus at Athens, resized from original by wallyg at http://www.flickr.com/photos/wallyg/135119076/sizes/m/, Creative Commons License.
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In the ‘original’ (1978) and ‘reimagined’ (2003) versions of the science fiction film and TV program Battlestar Galactica, the Cylons are a mechanical race of beings created by mankind but which have turned on their creator.
In the reimagined TV series, the Cylons may look exactly like human beings. Not unlike the Hal 9000 in 2001: A Space Odyssey, the Borg and The Matrix, Cylons symbolize the possibility of mankind becoming endangered by machines. And on the sociological level, Cylons could be taken to represent the very real issues of depersonalization, alienation and, as sociologist Max Weber put it, the bureaucratization and rationalization of human beings in contemporary society. Not only that. As the above poster suggests, Cylons could represent hostile spies in otherwise healthy societies.
The background story to the Cylons is pretty complicated. It’s actually quite amazing how thoroughly the Battlestar Galactica writers fleshed out – maybe not the best metaphor in this instance – their identity.¹
The word Cylon, itself, stems from an actual Athenian nobleman.
¹ Especially in the reimagined series: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cylon_%28reimagining%29
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Clairaudience is the alleged inner hearing of sound different from, or beyond the range of, normal human hearing. Rosemary Ellen Guiley notes that the term comes from the French, “clear-hearing.”¹
The spiritually inclined see clairaudience as a phenomenon common to saints, mystics and seers throughout the ages.
The recently canonized Catholic Saint Faustina Kowalska (1905-38) writes in her Divine Mercy Diary that she often heard a quiet inner voice, accompanied with a feeling of grace. This synchrony lead her to believe that the voice was from God.²
St. Joan of Arc (1412-1431) heard voices which prompted her to masquerade as a man and enlist in the French army. She was eventually declared a heretic by the Catholic Church and burned at the stake at age 19 under a politically predetermined trial. Not until almost 500 years later did the Church canonize her in 1920.
St. Teresa of Ávila provides a more intellectual assessment of hearing voices, which she calls “locutions.” In her spiritual classic, Interior Castle, she says one must learn to discriminate among locutions that are from God, from the devil, and from the imagination. Locutions from God, she adds, are usually quite simple and accompanied with a strong and undeniable feeling of peace.³
In the Biblical Old Testament the voice of God tells King Solomon of his great wisdom. In the New Testament Christ beseeches Paul from the heavens, “Why do you persecute me?” Both of these example could be interpreted as instances of clairaudience.
Other possible examples of clairaudience are found in the religious and even philosophical literature. Plato’s Socrates, for instance, has a daimon hovering about him, forever cautioning him what not to say.
The Indian mystic Sri Aurobindo writes of a voice which lead him to establish an ashram in the French settlement at Pondicherry, India. Aurobindo also speaks of “false voices.” These, he says, come from dark beings, called asuras, which forever try to distract and deceive spiritual seekers.4
The Swiss psychologist C. G. Jung writes of a “ghost guru,” whom he called Philemon. Philemon apparently guided Jung via clairaudience until Jung got tired of his direction and stopped listening, at which point Philemon went away.5
The British scholar of religion Evelyn Underhill writes that mystics must apply rigorous logic and sincere self-analysis to ensure that inner voices are not products of the imagination or evil spiritual entities.6
With regard to the possibility of auditory hallucinations, contemporary psychiatry distinguishes between unhealthy hallucinations and healthy beliefs that are in keeping with one’s religious tradition. Psychiatry, however, still cannot fully explain how the brain creates hallucinations, leaving room for hypotheses concerning an interplay of biological, developmental and evil spiritual influences.
Concerning the notion of evil spiritual influences, practically every religious tradition in the world suggests that evil spirits actively deceive (or impart partial truths cleverly combined with lies), while Godly spiritual beings always tell the truth.
Along these lines the gospel writer of Matthew says that one may judge alleged prophets by their deeds—that is, by their fruit.
Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them. (Matthew NIV 7:15-20).
While many fundamentalists uncritically latch onto this passage, for thinking people, some methodological issues do arise. For instance, how long must one wait to determine whether a prophet’s utterances are true or not? For that matter, will a prophet’s truth be realized within a given lifetime?
According to the Christian tradition, Jesus Christ, himself, spoke actual words that the people around him did not understand. And it wasn’t until after his death that the subtlety and power of his prophesying was realized. For example, Jesus’ words “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days” (John 2:19 NIV) is often interpreted to refer to Jesus’ own death, descent to hell and resurrection, a sequence of events which, according to scripture, lasted three days. But in his day, many would have supposed that Jesus was simply talking about a physical building.
With a misunderstanding like this arising from real, spoken words, it seems that ordinary people could be even more confused by inner voices.
¹ Harper’s Encyclopedia of Mystical and Paranormal Experience, 1991, p. 109.
² Saint Maria Faustina Helena Kowalska, Divine Mercy in My Soul, 2nd edition, Stockbridge Mass.: Marian Press, 1990.
³ St. Teresa of Ávila, The Interior Castle, trans. E. Allison Peers. Image Books, 1961, pp. 138-148.
4 Aurobindo Ghose, The Riddle of This World, Calcutta: Arya Publishing House, 1933, pp. 56-57.
5 See more details here: http://www.bodysoulandspirit.net/mystical_experiences/read/notables/jung.shtml
6 Evelyn Underhill, Mysticism: A Study in the Nature and Development of Man’s Spiritual Consciousness (New York: The New American Library, 1955 ), p. 361.
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The term catharsis has deep literary roots, and goes back to Plato and Aristotle.¹ In everyday contemporary usage an experience is called “cathartic” if it helps us release a good deal of pent up emotions. Usually some kind of enhanced intellectual understanding follows.
Catharsis is also used in the arts with much the same meaning, where some dramatic performance – be it theatrical, visual, poetic or musical – compels us to release feelings, this usually followed by some insight into ourselves or into life in general and the human experience.
Today, the term crops up time and again in the arts and music.
¹ See this good discussion, “Plato and Aristotle on Tragedy” about the complexities of catharsis: http://classics.uc.edu/~johnson/tragedy/plato&aristotle.html
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Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite (c. 500 CE) was a Syrian believed to be the author of a series of works synthesizing Christian and Platonic thought. Also called Pseudo Dionysus,¹ he’s best known for his Celestial Hierarchies, which classifies angels into three hierarchies, each consisting of three thrones.
According to this schema, the Seraphim, Cherubim and Thrones are closest to God. The next set of beings, not quite as close to God, are the Dominations, Virtues and Powers. The third set are furthest from God. They are the Principalities, Archangels, and Angels. The highest beings are entirely rapt in God’s glory, continually singing His praises, while the lower two levels interact with mankind.
Dionysius is also known for his distinction between the “affirmative” (kataphatic) and “negative” (apophatic) approaches to theology. The negative approach argues that God is above and beyond worldly, conceptual attempts to affirm or deny the existence of the divine.
Adherents of negative theology believe that God exists in God’s own light and may be approached only through “pure and spotless spirit and prayer.”² This entails getting rid of the worldly dross and hollow intellectualism that apparently obstructs true union between self and the divine.
Because negative theology depends on personal experience to subjectively know God, it can only conceptually say what God is not. Positive theology, however, claims that definite statements can be made about what God is.
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¹ He’s sometimes confused with Dionysius the Areopagite, the New Testament figure converted by St. Paul and who later became the second bishop of Athens. The confusion arises over a series of works on mysticism, Corpus Areopagiticum, apparently signed by the author as “Dionysius.”
² Everett Feruson, ed. Encyclopedia of Early Christianity. New York: Garland Publishing Inc. 1990, p. 633.
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Demeter was an influential mother and corn goddess with temples in virtually every ancient Greek city. She had a major temple at the town of Eleusis (about 10 miles from Athens). Her daughter by Zeus is Persephone or Kore (“the Girl”), who also personifies corn. Together, Demeter and Persephone are deities of agriculture and growth.
Demeter is usually depicted holding sheaves of corn. The oldest myth about Demeter is found in the Homeric Hymn to Demeter, which links her to the Eleusinian Mysteries. In this hymn Persephone/Kore is abducted by Hades to the underworld.
As the corn crop suffers in her daughter’s absence, Demeter searches for Persephone/Kore until Zeus decrees that she must spend one part of the year with Demeter and another part with Hades.
Hades…gave Persephone a pomegranate seed to eat, and because she had tasted food in the Underworld she was compelled to spend a third part of every year there, returning to earth in spring.¹
This is often cited as an example of how storytellers mythologize the natural cycles of seed-time, vegetation, harvest and the subsequent storage in underground containers. Demeter is also portrayed as sorrowful because of Persephone/Kore’s sad fate.
In Italy Demeter is often identified with Ceres.
¹ Nicholas J. Richardson, Demeter in The Oxford Classical Dictionary © Oxford University Press 1996, 2000.
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Euripides (480-406 BCE) was a Greek dramatist, born in Athens. As a youth he was an athlete, winning prizes at Eleusinian and Thesean gymnastic events. After studying philosophy under Anaxagoras (along with his friend Socrates), rhetoric under Prodicus and dabbling in painting, Euripides realized that literature was his forté.
Euripides is identified with theatrical innovations that have profoundly influenced drama down to modern times, especially in the representation of traditional, mythical heroes as ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. This new approach led him to pioneer developments that later writers adapted to comedy, some of which are characteristic of romance. Yet he also became “the most tragic of poets”,[nb 1] focusing on the inner lives and motives of his characters in a way previously unknown.¹
He wrote some 80 dramas, out of which 19 remain. Medea, Electra, and Trojan Women were performed during his lifetime but his work became increasingly popular after his death. The Bacchae, for instance, was performed in Athens only after he had died.
Euripides is also relevant to contemporary psychiatry and, in particular, depth psychology. His play Heracles (416 BCE) most effectively personifies Madness as the daughter of Heaven and Night, sent to drive Heracles insane:
Madness has mounted her chariot
Groans and tears accompany her
She plies the lash, hell-bent for murder
rage gleaming from her eyes
A Gorgon of the night, and around her
Bristle the hissing heads of a hundred snakes²
Fully versed in the myths and legends that permeated his culture, he was also aware of the Sophists and the early scientists and philosophers like Anaxagoras.³ So Euripides didn’t buy into but, rather, satirized the popular religion of his day. He did believe in the idea of divine providence but was skeptical of many of the religious beliefs and practices that dominated the ancient Greek world.
Put simply, he preferred to find his own answers to questions concerning ultimate truth. As such, he’s been called ’the poet of the Greek enlightenment,’ among a variety of other things by his detractors and admirers.4
² Euripides, cited in Eric Flaum and David Pandy, The Encyclopedia of Mythology: Gods, Heroes, and Legends of the Greeks and Romans, Philadelphia, Courage Books, 1993, p. 99.
³ Peter Burian ” Euripides ” The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Greece and Rome. Ed. Michael Gagarin. © Oxford University Press 2010. The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Greece and Rome: (e-reference edition). Oxford University Press. Toronto Public Library. 25 May 2012 http://www.oxford-greecerome.com/entry?entry=t294.e458
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Epicurus (c.341-270 BCE) was a Greek materialist philosopher, born on the island of Samos who founded a school at Mitylene in 310 BCE. In 305 BCE he opened a school of philosophy in Athens, leading an exemplary life of simplicity and temperance.
From a few extant letters and fragments, we learn that Epicurus believed that happiness was the highest good and that life ended at the point of death. This was not the path of wanton hedonism, as some medieval Christian opponents suspected, but rather deliverance from pain and worry.
The Christian disdain for Epicurus, aside from his disbelief in the afterlife, was exacerbated by some of his followers who advocated sensual pleasure-seeking as the highest goal in life. While Epicurus did see pleasure and pain as standards against which to measure a successful or unsuccessful life, he also advocated restraint. And his understanding of pleasure was more akin to the notion of tranquility than a succession of ephemeral thrills.
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In the Homeric Hymn to Demeter (7th century BCE) Demeter visits Eleusis, near Athens, to search for her daughter Persephone (or Kore) who’d been abducted by Hades and taken to the underworld. Demeter creates the Eleusian mysteries to not only mark the event but to lead initiated human beings into a divine mystery that many suggest was undertaken in the hope of obtaining a favorable afterlife.
The mysteries were performed in a sacred hall, or telesterion, on a yearly basis at Eleusis, which is just outside of Athens. Initiation into the mysteries was popular among the Roman elite, with the exception of Nero, who refused to indulge in them.
Because the Eleusinian mysteries were a secretive mystery cult, little information survives. But we do know that initiates underwent three distinct stages, lasting about two years.
The first stage involved purification rites. Again, due to their secret nature not too much is known but these rites apparently had something to do with a symbolic death and rebirth. The final stage might have resulted in a spiritual awakening, perhaps catalyzed by a mystical revelation in combination with other factors.
From 395 CE onward, the telesterion was no longer used and the mysteries were abandoned. In 1924 a statue of Persephone was uncovered at Eleusis, said to date back to 500 BCE.
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Fortuna is a Roman deity, equivalent to the Greek Tyche. The most notable difference between the Roman and Greek forms is that the Roman Fortuna is, at times, less universal than Tyche.
Like Tyche, Fortuna represents a general concept of chance and luck. Her temples were in specific cities like Rome, with an unrivaled site at Palestrina. But unlike Tyche (who had altars at Thebes and Athens), the Romans observed a “Fortune of the Day.”
The Romans also invoked Fortuna for victory in battle. In the Middle Ages and Renaissance Fortuna was very popular, often depicted with a wheel turning through cycles of good and bad luck, joy and sadness. She’s also depicted with a rudder, a globe or with wheels or wings.
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