Philbrook, Aphrodite, and Helen of Troy

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Thursday I took the students in my Ancient Greek class at Augustine Christian Academy. We went to Philbrook to see a special exhibit of ancient artifacts -- statues, inscriptions, coins, jewelry, household items, and vessels having something to do with Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love (known to the Romans as Venus), and her most famous child, Eros (aka Cupid).

I had the students spend a good deal of time looking at a Greek inscription from the Roman period, from a public bath in the Greek town of Assos in Asia Minor. We're accustomed to seeing ancient texts set mainly in minuscule letters, with spaces between words and accent marks. It was interesting to try to decipher words in all caps with no spaces or accents, with part of the inscription missing and words sometimes wrapping around the end of a line.

Here is an image of the inscription, from Papers of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens: 1882-1883, published shortly after the inscription's discovery as part of the "first collection of Greek inscriptions ever made by an American expedition in classic lands."

Lollia_Antiochus_Inscription.PNG

Many artifacts depicted Aphrodite's role in the abduction of Helen and the disastrous war it sparked. Paris, prince of Troy, was asked to judge which of the goddesses Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite which one was the fairest. Aphrodite bribed Paris with Helen, the most beautiful woman in the world, who happened to be the wife of Menelaus, king of Sparta. Menelaus rallied the Greeks to get her back, the Trojans refused, and the Trojan War ensued, ending in the destruction of Troy. Aphrodite's mortal Trojan lover, Anchises, escaped the flames on the back of their son Aeneas, whose treacherous travels to the future site of Rome are told in Vergil's epic poem Aeneid. At least one coin in the collection depicts Aeneas giving Anchises a piggy-back ride.

I was fascinated by a vessel depicting the elopement of Helen and her return to Menelaus. There were names in tiny letters scratched into the pot above most of the characters. Some of them were written left-to-right and some right-to-left. There were phis and thetas, but there were Ls instead of lambdas, and they seemed to use X for the xi sound.

The exhibit has a roped-off "mature audiences only" section; we steered clear of it. There were a few items near the end of the exhibit (relating to drinking parties and a Greek practice that I'll euphemistically call "mentorship with depraved benefits") that should have been in the roped-off area.

After seeing the exhibit the students all decided to color a picture of an amphora (one student turned hers into an ιχθυς τανκ). We toured the gardens and marveled at a magnificent display of tulips on the south allee. On the rotunda's mezzannine, there's an exhibit of glamorous black-and-white photos of Hollywood stars of the 1930s, and next to it an intriguing display of art made from books.

We topped off the field trip with lunch, appropriately at Helen of Troy restaurant, 6670 S. Lewis Ave. We had gyros, tawook, stuffed grape leaves, hummus, falafel, and spanakopita. It was all delicious, and the students enjoyed trying new foods. The portions for the lunch sandwiches were larger than we expected.

It was a delightful day. If you have an interest in ancient Greece and archaeology, I'd encourage you to catch the Aphrodite exhibit; it's at Philbrook through May 26, 2013. And if you love the food of the eastern Mediterranean, I encourage you to dine at Helen of Troy.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on April 28, 2013 12:23 AM.

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