Wednesday, March 11, 2015

More on "Knowing What You Are Talking About"

... and the opinions of one "archaeologist," who in another blog post about his "devil-worshippers" theme perhaps misunderstands Greek polytheism:

"... the coins of Thasos showing a naked satyr and a nymph do not ... represent scenes of everyday life in Thracian society for the simple reason that both satyrs and nymphs are imaginary creatures."

They weren't imaginary to the Thracians and Thasians 2500 years ago. They were instead very real.

Greek religion (and its role in the lives of those who then lived in Thrace and on the island of Thasos) is a large and deep subject. I began to understand this in my conversations with French numismatist Jean-Bruno Vigne, to whom their religious content was a significant component of his intense interest in Greek coins. In La vie des monnaies grecques he alludes to this.

Greek polytheistic religion wasn't at all about the hereafter, but about what happened to people in their daily lives, and how they perceived things and phenomena whose nature and causes they did not comprehend as we do today (after two and a half millennia of scientific progress to guide us).

To ancient Thracians and Thasians, one might perhaps not be able to see satyrs and nymphs with mere mortal vision (unless they wanted to be seen), but they were there nevertheless, and their association with the god Dionysos made them important in rituals of the Dionysaic cult. 

Dionysos was very powerful. He could drive a man mad, or incite others to tear him to pieces in their madness. He also possessed great powers over fertility: human, animal and agricultural. If a man wanted to be blessed with healthy children, abundant flocks and rich crops, it was wise to venerate Dionysos -- particularly where wine was concerned, for it was sacred to Dionysos.

Placing images of satyrs and nymphs in a Dionysaic ritual scene on coins acknowledged the ways in which Dionysos had blessed Thasos and become the divine source of its wealth. Later, the Thasians would place images of Dionysos himself on their coins.

The reality of gods, satyrs, nymphs and other beings and creatures we now think of as mythical was, of course, their presence in the minds of those who believed in them. Was that a material existence? No. Can a dialectical (or historical) materialist understand its true significance? Perhaps not.

Collectors however often go very far beyond materialism, exploring in their mind's eye what life was really like -- what people may have looked like, thought, and said to one another so long ago -- and may thus achieve visualizations bringing those ancient people back to life, enriching appreciation of our cultural heritage.

Some further resources that may aid in achieving such visualization:

Thessalonica by Harry Turtledove 

Ancient Greek Music:

on Youtube

on CD

on the WWW

Homeric Singing

Polytheism is alive today in India:



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