Copy of Hellenic Museum blog

Unclasped: Discovering Contemporary Greek Jewellery

17 February 2016

Artist Profile

Ismini Pachi (Greece)

Born in Lamia, Greece, Ismini trained as a metalsmith at the Synapeiro Jewellery School, and has been a member of Ragtag Collective since 2012. Ismini’s academic background in Psychology, as well as her interest in the human personality have inspired her to design jewellery that reveals the individual’s psyche in different emotional states.

Her intention is to visualise these emotional states and by then reflecting the opposing aspects of our personalities through the use of contrasting elements within her work: solid and drilled, concealed and evident, soft and hard, light and dark, fairy-tale and reality. What stimulates Ismini, and inspires her work, is the way in which different materials are mixed together to develop dialogue and stories, as well as how they are combined in a way that is visually, physically and emotionally pleasing.

Movement and elasticity of the materials she uses plays a crucial role in the creative process. The different parts of each piece are connected in such a way that permits maximum movement. The various shapes each piece achieves allow flexibility both with the  human body and the emotional state of the wearer.

Solitude 2015 

Iron, magnet, monofilament, pvc, white metal

Emptiness 2015 

Iron, silver

Nightmare 2015

Iron, PVC, Monofilament



13 February 2016


Artist Profile

Christina Karakalpaki (Greece)

Born in Athens, Christina has a background in architectural studies, which has given her technical and aesthetic knowledge that she uses within her work. She has attended several seminars on jewellery design and micro-sculpture and her work has been featured in design magazines. Participating in Greek and international exhibitions, she currently maintains a workshop in Athens.

Christina’s current collection draws inspiration from the Three Moirai, or Spinners, of Greek mythology. These three sisters, Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos, personify fate and the interwoven web, which inexorably bind humans to their future, and are responsible for allotting each person with their time upon this Earth. Despite the inevitability of the thread of life being spun, measured and cut by the sisters, people still have the freedom to define the tapestry of their own life. The myth of the Three Moirai opens a dialogue between what is and what may be, and it is this that Christina hopes to embody within her work. Christina’s work is designed to combine the work and the act of wearing with utility and cultural value, and achieves this through persistence and constant experimentation. What is important to her is that her work has aesthetic integrity, consistency and purity in its structure.

Web 2013

Leather, nylon, bronze

Atropos 2013

Leather, inkjet printed canvas, nylon, thread

Spinster 2013

Leather, aluminium, cotton thread, Polaris, safety pins

11 February 2016

Artist Profile

Anastasia Kandaraki (Greece)

Having grown up in a family of Goldsmiths, Anastasia began experimenting with jewellery in her father’s workshop. In 2006 she decided to begin her studies into the art of jewellery, studying at the silversmithing and jewellery design school Mokume in Athens and, later, at the Alchimia School in Italy. Since 2008 she has participated in exhibitions both in Greece and abroad. In 2011, she created Anamma studio, where she teaches and organises contemporary jewellery seminars and exhibitions. For Anastasia value of contemporary jewelry comes from the idea and the message it attempts to communicate.  The human body plays a significant role in the realization of the message, becoming a place of expression and exhibition.

Growing up in Athens she was continually surrounded by remnants of the past, as such her work is influenced by abandoned, crumbling buildings, which show the marks of time. These buildings, while in a state of deterioration and exposure, still maintain their own stories, which she hopes to emulate within her works. For Anastasia this physical decay has a distinct parallel with the current situation in Greece, in which society is both falling apart but also has the potential to emerge from the chrysalis and become something beautiful once more.

Living Ruins I 2015

Oxidised sterling silver, stainless steel

Living Ruins II 2015

Oxidised sterling silver, stainless steel

Living Ruins III 2015

14 carat yellow gold, oxidised sterling silver


16 October 2015

The Archaeological Process

We dig a little deeper into archaeology in celebration of International Archaeology Day.

The Amphipolis Tomb: the perimeter consists of multiple levels of stone. Total height of the perimeter wall is 3 meters.

Archaeological Excavation Techniques

The ultimate aim of archaeology is to reconstruct and interpret the changing patterns of past human behaviour and culture. To accomplish this effectively, archaeologists often work with specialists in other disciplines in order to recover, record, analyse, and classify archaeological material.

Following the discovery of radiocarbon dating there was a veritable revolution in the study of antiquity. Archaeology began to adopt a battery of analytical techniques from the natural and physical sciences, these analyses are not an end in themselves, they merely add precision and facilitate the reconstruction and explanation of past human life and culture. 


Arguably the most important concept in archaeology is context. Knowing the provenience of a find – its position within a sedimentary layer and its association with other finds – is crucially important because it enables archaeologists to recognise patterns of human behaviour. Objects removed from context have less archaeological value and are often a result of looting and the trade in illegal antiquities.


Before any field campaigns are untaken, whether field survey or excavation, it is important to design a research program with clear objectives and timelines.  This is especially significant for archaeology because projects often involve many collaborators from different fields. The method must be clearly delineated because archaeology is a mono-directional study. Once a layer of information has been removed it is essentially destroyed.

Site Discovery:

Locating and recording sites is the first step in archaeological fieldwork. Sites are located either by ground reconnaissance (field-walking); aerial reconnaissance (data collected from space or the air) or a combination of both. Field-walking is the oldest and still most effective procedure of discovering new sites. Archaeologists should be able to observe fluctuations in the nature of the landscape and recognise ancient artefacts (such as pot sherds, flint tools, building debris) lying on the surface, which have eroded from a site.

Arial photographs and satellite images are often used as a supplement to field-walking. For teams who can afford it, satellite imaging is increasingly being used to identify potential buried landscapes with astonishing precision. These are particularly useful in regions, which are difficult to reach, too large to field-walk or in conflict zones too dangerous to visit.

By combining and processing images archaeologists are able to see into the infrared part of the light spectrum, which is invisible to the naked eye. The images allow them to detect subtle surface changes caused by objects like mud bricks a foot or less underground. In 2011, relying on infrared satellite pictures, a team from the University of Alabama, identified 17 potential buried pyramids, some 3,000 settlements, and 1,000 tombs across Egypt. At the 3,000-year-old city of Tanis, once a capital in the Nile Delta, they found evidence of hundreds of dwellings.

Not all ‘invisible’ sites show up in aerial photography. If a site is known but its extent not fully apparent, then a number of geophysical techniques can be used in these circumstances. Archaeological prospecting techniques such as ground penetrating radar, magnetometry and resistivity, work on the principle of detecting anomalies (foundations, burials, pits) beneath the ground surface. While satellite imaging may be set to revolutionise the site discovery process, old fashioned digging is still required to confirm the satellite finds.

However many sites are discovered by chance: farmers tilling their fields have discovered significant finds, like China’s Qin Terracotta Army, construction crews have unearthed sites, a Bedouin looking for a lost animal discovered the Dead Sea Scrolls instead and a group of boys investigating a hole made by a tree root in France revealed the caves of Lascaux.


Excavation of any traces of past human activity will destroy a site’s matrix or fabric, it is imperative that information is preserved with scrupulous recording. Archaeological techniques have advanced considerably over the last 150 years or so. In the nineteenth century, they were understandably crude by today’s standards, and the main objective was the recovery of finds rather than the study of past human behaviour.

Stratification is the principle that in a series of archaeological (or geological) layers those at the bottom are older than those at the top. The stratigraphy of an archaeological site is used as the basis for constructing its chronology.

There are two main systems of excavation employed, the box system and the open-area method. The box system employs the use of a grid of square trenches with squared timber beams left standing between them as a record of the stratigraphy on all four sides of the trench. The advantage of this method is that it provides a clear vertical sequence, which is especially useful at sites with deep deposits. Its disadvantage is that it can obscure large horizontal features. By contrast the open-area method is designed to uncover large areas so that their form and development could be understood fully. In this method timber beams are rarely used. Instead, sites are often excavated in strips. While this method is ideal for sites of limited depth, it can also be applied to sites that have deeper deposits.  The advantage of the open-area technique is that it offers maximum exposure of each horizontal level at a site. Its major drawback is that excavators never actually see all the deposits together in a cut-away trench.

Chronology and Dating the Past

Archaeological evidence needs to be organised in a sequence before the patterns of cultural change can be understood; there are a series of dating techniques used by archaeologists to assess chronology.

Historical Dating:

Archaeologists working in historical periods often have a chronological framework defined by primary documentary resources, such as the king lists of Egypt. King lists, like that of the Palermo Stone were written by Ancient Egyptians about their own history, the list of kings and sequence of their reigns allows archaeologists to contextualise the artefacts that they find. Unless there is a direct association between archaeology and texts, such as an inscription found within a stratified deposit, documentary evidence should be used with caution because of the distance between documentary evidence and archaeology.

Typological Dating:

The idea behind this technique is the grouping of contemporary artefacts together in sub-groups in accordance to their features. These features can be: functional qualities, shape or the method of manufacture. These typologies were commonly used in cross-dating, that is, synchronising one region with another. The principle was that an object in a well-dated region (or site) such as Egypt could be used to date a level in another region. This method has a series of issues, the most significant of which is that objects imported form other areas may have been kept in use for a period of time before entering the archaeological record.

Scientific Dating:

One of the best-known and most widely used scientific methods of dating is radiocarbon dating. Developed by Wilfred Libby in the late 1940s the science has been further refined over time. The principal is based on the decay of the 14C isotope, a carbon isotope which is present in all organisms. When an organism (humans, animals, plants and so on) dies, the amount of carbon decay can be calculated based on the known half-life the 14C isotope, which is 5730 years. So 5730 years after death, an organism would have approximately half the amount of 14C as it did when it was alive. After 11,460 years it would have a quarter of that amount, and so on. Therefore, the rate of decay is such that this method of dating is generally reliable to about 50,000 years before the present, though it can be pushed (if the samples and conditions are ideal) to 70,000 years.

Once excavated and all the material culture has been carefully recorded the question arises of what to do with the excavated structures. Should they be covered in again, or should they be preserved for posterity, and if preserved, what degree of conservation and restoration is permissible? This is similar to the issue that arises in connection with the removal of antiquities from their homeland to foreign museums, and there is no simple or generally accepted answer to this.

A question often asked is; considering how much has been found, how much is there left? Recent studies suggest that archaeologists have discovered a fraction of one percent of the archaeological sites all over the world. The record and safeguard of our shared cultural heritage continues to be paramount. Archaeology provides a more balanced record of the past, the historical record is often biased toward the wealthy and powerful, archaeology reveals these social prejudices and tells the story of those people that history has forgotten.

- Sarah Craig, Curator, Hellenic Museum



16 July 2015

Women in Warfare in the Ancient World: Some exceptional examples from 3 ancient civilisations

With the opening of Lemnos-Gallipoli 1915: Women in War installation to mark the ANZAC centenary of the Gallipoli campaign, we take a look at the roles women have played in warfare in the past.

Medical and nursing sisters of 3rd Australian General Hospital (3AGH) in the tent lines with patients. Lieutenant Colonel Sydney Jamieson may be the officer (left).

Today 15.4% of the Australian Defence Force permanent workforce are female, with all employment categories open to women since 2013 (Australian Government Department of Defence). Prior to 2013, some direct combat roles were not open to women, under Commonwealth laws. After a transition period of 3 years, all gender restrictions are expected to be lifted in 2016. Throughout history, the role of women in warfare has been much more limited. With the opening of our Lemnos-Gallipoli 1915: Women in War installation to mark the ANZAC centenary of the Gallipoli campaign, we take a look at some of the more involved roles women have played in warfare in the past, using a few incredible examples.

In our first instalment, we focus on a few examples from the ancient world to give you an insight into the legends and records of female warriors from all cultures. Keep in mind this is just a selection of the numerous records of female rulers, soldiers and warriors.

A family feud in ancient Egypt

The Ptolemaic Dynasty in Ancient Egypt is wrought with wars and marriage between family members. Male rulers were called Ptolemy, and most queens were called Cleopatra, making for a confusing family tree. Cleopatra II married her brother Ptolemy VI around 175 BCE, and had his children, including Cleopatra III. The throne was briefly taken by their brother Ptolemy VIII, but they were restored to power. Nearly 20 years later, Cleopatra II married this other brother, but he then married her daughter Cleopatra III several years after. Nearly ten years later, Cleopatra II drove her brother and daughter out of Egypt after leading a rebellion against them. She ruled the empire for three years until fleeing to Syria. In 124 BCE Cleopatra II reconciled with her brother and daughter and ruled with them. Very little is known about these family members except for their dates of rule, leaving much of the detail to the imagination.

Another Egyptian ruler, Queen Ahhotep II, was buried with weapons and 3 golden flies, usually given as rewards for military skill or bravery on the battlefield. It is not known whether these belonged to Queen Ahhotep II, who is thought to have lived around the 16th century BCE.

Armies and The Art of War in ancient China.

Ancient Chinese legend also includes several stories of women participating in warfare.

For 250 years, the Zhou dynasty was divided into 8 states that were constantly at war, causing this period to be known as the Warring States period (475-221 BCE). During this time Sun Tzu is thought to have written the lasting and influential book The Art of War for the King of Wu, Ho Lu. The principles of this book were tested by Ho Lu who trained an army of 180 women to prove anyone could become a warrior if trained.

Lady Fu Hao is remembered as a wife and mother but also as a military leader and politician during the Shang dynasty (1600-1040 BCE). She led campaigns against neighbouring regions, details of which were recorded on bones used for divination known as oracle bones. Her grave, discovered by archaeologists in 1976, held more than one hundred weapons.

The Lady of Yue, or Yuenu, was recruited by the King of Yue to train his officers in the art of sword-fighting. The officers then trained their own soldiers in her style, in preparation for war against the Wu state.

Disguises and deception in ancient Greece

You may know about the Amazons from Greek mythology already: the civilisation of warrior-women that was characteristically opposite to Hellenic culture in many ways. The Amazons were entwined in the foundation myths of the city of Athens, mentioned by Homer around the 8th century BCE and described by Herodotus in the 5th century BCE. This idea of a warrior-women race is echoed in many cultures and is sometimes seen as a symbol of ‘the other’ used as propaganda for the order of the day. However, archaeological excavations near the border of Russia and Kazakhstan have revealed burials of many women dating back over 2,000 years. These women, taller than the average height of the time, were buried with a variety of weapons including knives, bows and arrows, possibly supporting the idea of warrior women that travelled east as the Hellenic world expanded.

The Trojan War, thought to have occurred in the 13th century BCE, is known best for the Trojan Horse used to get the Greek army behind Trojan walls. This war gave rise to several accounts of women disguising themselves as men to fight. One of these women, Epipola, was stoned to death by the Greek army once she was discovered fighting for them.

The story of Artemisia, the Queen of Halicarnassus, has lasted through the writings of the historian Herodotus, who considers her to be a “particular object of admiration because she was a woman who played a part in the war against Greece”. The Persian invasion of Greece around 480 BCE is remembered most by the Battle of Salamis, where the Persian ships were overpowered by the navy of allied Greek city-states. Queen Artemisia commanded her own 5 ships that she contributed to the Persian navy. When, during the battle, an Athenian ship began to target her, she attacked a Persian ship giving the impression that she had changed sides and would fight for the alliance. The Persian king Xerxes, watching the battle from afar, thought she had attacked a Greek ship and congratulated her after the battle, when she returned to the Persians.

Pausanias, a 2nd century Greek traveller and writer, tells of the female poet Telesilla who gathered an army of women, slaves, old men and young boys, to defend Argos once the Spartans had massacred their army. According to legend, the Spartans left the city and Telesilla’s army untouched, fearing divine retribution if they killed women and the weak, or humiliation if they were defeated.

Aside from these stories, records of women from Roman, Assyrian, Israeli, Japanese and many other ancient cultures exist, but are almost always the exception to the rule of all-male armies.



18 March 2015

The jury that convicted Socrates

Ancient Athenian juries weren’t the 12 carefully selected peers they are today...

Bronze ballot disks used for voting in a trial. Some had a hollow rod in the middle and some were solid so jury members could easily conceal which one they placed in the urn as their vote.

A democratic jury:

In ancient Athens, the first jury was used in a trial in 590 BCE, the same time as political reforms that introduced the beginnings of democracy. The court system changed drastically over the next few hundred years, especially in the 5th century BCE, to become more and more a council of the people, rather than the aristocrats.

Who was part of the jury?

Each year, 6000 older citizens were chosen by lot to be potential jurors that year. A citizen was any free Athenian male over the age of 18, but for the purposes of the jury they had to be over 30. Each day, a jury of several hundred would be chosen by lot from those that showed up in the morning. As compensation, those that were selected were paid, making jury duty appealing to working men. The smallest recorded jury was of around 200 people, but on average there would be five 500-700 people, with the idea that it’s impossible to bribe that many men from different Athenian tribes. Juries could reach a few thousand people at times. During the trial the jury was separated from other spectators in the large courtrooms, and they were free to shout and heckle the defendant or prosecution as they spoke.

What was their role?

The jury listened to the speeches of the prosecution and defence and afterwards voted in favour of one side. There was no judge to guide their decision or inform the jury of the law. In fact, in some cases there was no law to follow, only the verdict of their conscience and an oath to the gods. The speeches made by the prosecution and defence were sometimes written by professional speech-writers and could be constantly interrupted by the shouts and heckles of the jury.

How did they vote?

Once both sides had been heard, the jury would cast their vote without discussion or deliberation. Several methods of voting have been recorded. It seems that originally voting was public, by throwing a pebble onto a pile for the defendant or the prosecution. By the early 5th century BCE, voting was secret. One way was to have 2 bronze tokens, each signifying either the prosecution or the defence. The jury member would place one in an urn for votes to be counted, and the other in another urn of tokens to be discarded. Another method was for each jury member to have one pebble and to approach two urns with his hands in fists, hiding the pebble. One urn was for the prosecution and one for the defence. The jury member would put a hand in each urn and drop the pebble as his vote without anyone seeing. The votes would be counted by randomly selected jury members and the side with the majority would win. There were no courts of appeal so the jury’s verdict was final. If the jury found the defendant guilty then a second vote would be held to determine his punishment. Both the defendant and the prosecution would suggest a punishment, and the jury would choose which one. Punishment could be anything from a fine to exile, imprisonment or death. In the case of Socrates, the prosecution offered the death penalty while Socrates suggested free breakfasts in the city square. After the jury voted, he was made to drink poisonous hemlock.



15 January 2015

Spotlight on: Costa-Gavras

As part of the 2015 program for the Summer Cinema, the Hellenic Museum screens Z: both a brilliant suspense thriller and a political cry of rage. Here we take a closer look at the film's director, Costa-Gavras.

Costa-Gavras is a Greek-French director and producer, most famous for the 1969 film Z. One of the few films to be nominated for both the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film and Best Picture, Z explores the oppression associated with the military dictatorship in Greece in the 1960s and 1970s.

Costa-Gavras drew on his own personal experiences in directing the film. He was forced to leave Greece in the 1950s following the imprisonment of his father on political grounds. In his words, “everyone in the leftwing resistance was considered a communist” during the Greek Civil War. His father’s imprisonment meant that he could not attend university in Greece or obtain an American visa. Instead, he moved to France and studied film.

He went on to achieve great success in the world of cinema, having made 20 films in a career spanning half a century. His films have received a number of awards, including an Oscar for best screenplay adaptation and a Palme d’Or from Cannes. Costa-Gavras himself has been awarded a French knighthood and an honorary doctorate from the University of Thessaloniki.

Many of Costa-Gavras’ films tackle political themes, often criticising conservative governments. Costa-Gavras used his films as a means of political activism, explaining that “Some people sign petitions, others go to the streets – I do something as a film-maker.”

Based on the novel by Vassilis Vassilikos, Z depicts a state in which “the military banned long hair on males; mini-skirts; Sophocles; Tolstoy; Euripides; smashing glasses after drinking toasts; labor strikes; Aristophanes; Ionesco; Sartre; Albee; Pinter; freedom of the press; sociology; Beckett; Dostoyevsky; modern music; popular music; the new mathematics; and the letter ‘Z’, which in ancient Greek means ‘He is alive!’”

Other movies by Costa-Gavras have tackled similar themes in different countries. Missing is an 1982 film exploring the Pinochet coup in Chile in 1973 and the US involvement, through an American man’s search for his disappeared son. Amen, released in 2003, explored the silence of the Catholic Church in relation to the Holocaust during World War II.

Some of Costa-Gavras’ personal experiences as an immigrant also informed his 2009 film, Eden is West, focused on the story of an illegal immigrant’s attempts to reach Paris.

Z will be screening on Saturday 21 February as part of the Summer Cinema; tickets available now.



18 December 2014

How to: make parchment and vellum

Today ideas of a post-paper world are floating around, but what was used before paper was commonly available? Let us walk you through the process of making parchment and vellum.

Before paper was widely manufactured and used, scribes depended on parchment, the final product of an involved and costly process. In what might look like a morbid practice now, parchment and vellum were processed from animal skin into durable materials, without which we would not possess the wealth of knowledge that we have today.

At risk of sounding like a parchment ‘Do It Yourself’ guide, the value of parchment and vellum can’t be understood without a little know-how about its production. Depending on the production methods and the animal used, the finished product could vary greatly. The very finest skins, vellum, came from animals less than six weeks old, and freshly killed. Whether for parchment or vellum, the animal skin was first soaked in a solution of lime to soften it and loosen the hair which was then removed. The skin was then stretched on a wooden frame where it was scraped with a curved knife called a lunellum. During this process it was alternatively wetted and dried to create tension. The final step was to abrade the skin with pumice and treat it with a lime or chalk solution which made the pages whiter and allowed the skin to accept the ink pigments. The skin was then divided into sheets, with the number of sheets depending on the size of the skin and the sheets. Just to give an idea, an average calfskin provided three and a half medium sheets of parchment. The parchment could then be folded without becoming brittle, unlike plant-based papyrus. This allowed the folded pages of the book.

There are relatively few sources remaining which describe the Byzantine method of vellum production in particular. One of these is a letter from Planudes, a theologian, grammarian, rhetorician and head of the monastery school at Khora. The monastery held a great library and as a result much of Planudes’ correspondence dealt with sourcing the finest parchment for manuscripts. His letters offer insights into the practices and issues that surround parchment and vellum production. For instance, he insists that the finished vellum should not be treated with egg white. This practice, preferred during the Byzantine period, gave lustre to the pages but if the book became wet the egg white would flake and peel off, and with it the work of the scribe.

Given the time taken to make these as well as the materials and expertise needed, it’s not hard to imagine how highly valued these manuscripts would have been – and still are today. 



4 December 2014

Four things your history teacher didn't tell you in school

Ancient Greece: a time of philosophy, poetry and geometry, right? Not quite. Here’s what your high school history teachers didn’t want you to know about the ancient civilisation that shaped ours.

Image: Nymphs have been depicted throughout history as a way of representing sexual encounters and female nudity through a socially acceptable medium. Federico Bonelli as Actaeon and Marianela Nunez as Diana with her Nymphs in Diana and Actaeon. Photographer : Andrej Uspenski/Royal Opera House

The Dionysiac Mysteries

Dionysiac Mysteries were rituals in honour of the god Dionysus. Celebrated with wine and revelry, this god had a wild side. The Mysteries were cult rituals characterised by dance, music and intoxicating drugs in an attempt to return to a natural state, without social inhibitions. These rituals were only for the initiated though, and the details have been lost with these ancient ravers.


Nymphomania is an aspect of Greek mythology that has lasted until today. Countless myths and art pieces were and still are based on nymphs. These female deities, found in woodlands and ponds, were known for their freedom and sexual encounters. Shown variably as carefree, aggressive, passionate and insatiable, nymphs were used as a way to depict sexual encounters in public spaces, without society’s censure. Throughout history nymphs, and the associated nymphomania, have been interpreted as symbols of females being both objectified and empowered.

The Wandering Uterus

Ancient Greeks believed that a woman’s uterus would ‘wander’ through her body, causing medical problems. Both Plato and Hippocrates – writer of the original Hippocratic Oath many doctors still take today – write about a uterus’ need to bear children, and if inactive for a length of time it would wander through the body causing hysteria and seizures. The term ‘hysteria’ was used historically to describe irrationality in a woman, excluding her from participating in democratic votes. To prevent her uterus from wandering, resulting in hysteria, woman were encouraged to have children young and often. To cure a wandering uterus, strange remedies were suggested to drive the uterus back to its original position.


Necromancy, meaning ritual communication with the dead, was attempted often for divination. To commune with the dead, it is thought that people would sleep on tombs, complete ritual practices, and visit oracles. It appears to have occurred in prehistoric times but the first written account is in Homer’s Odyssey. In this epic poem about Odysseus’ ten year journey home from the Trojan War, he seeks advice from the deceased prophet Tiresias. The goddess and enchantress Circe instructs him to dig a pit and fill it with offerings to the dead – milk, honey, wine and water. She tells him to pray to the dead and promise them sacrifices on his return home. He then has to sacrifice animals to the god of the Underworld Hades, and his wife Persephone. The souls of the dead gather out of the darkness, with Odysseus speaking to a few about their relations, lives and deaths.



18 November 2014

The ancient Greek Underworld: who made it out alive? 

What do Dionysus, the god of wine; Herakles, ancient Greek strongman; and Orpheus, mortal musician have in common? The third and final piece in our series about the ancient Greek Underworld helps join the dots.

Image:  Herakles, shown here in the Nemean Lion skin that he wore as armour, was one of the few to descend to the Underworld while still living, and to make it back out alive. 

Over the last couple of weeks we’ve spoken about how the world of the living and the world of the dead are very separate places. To make the transition from one to the other requires elaborate funerary rites and, more basically, for one to be deceased. But that’s not true all of the time. In ancient Greek mythology, several heroes and immortals descended to the Underworld. But the harder part was often getting back out.


When we talk about characters of the Underworld, we can’t look past the goddess Persephone. Persephone was abducted by Hades, the god of the Underworld, to become his wife. When Persephone’s mother, Demeter, found out, her grief was felt world-wide. Plants stopped blooming and crops no longer grew, causing famine and desolation. Zeus intervened and Persephone was returned to her mother. However she had already eaten fruit from the Underworld, which meant it would always have a claim on her. An arrangement was struck that for a third of the year, Persephone would reside in the Underworld with Hades, and for the remainder of the year she would live on Mt Olympus with the main gods. Each year when Persephone returns to the Underworld, her grieving mother withholds grain and crops, brining winter.


As one of his 12 Labours, Herakles descended to the Underworld to bring back the three-headed guard dog Cerberus. Aware that no mortal had ever returned from the Underworld, Herakles performed religious rites celebrating Demeter and her daughter Persephone, queen of the Underworld. From a cave in Laconia, at the mouth of the Underworld, Herakles descended. The souls of the Underworld fled when they saw Herakles. When he reached the god Hades and asked to take Cerberus from the Underworld, Hades agreed with the condition that Herakles master the animal without weapons. Herakles overcame the monster with brute strength by wrestling it into submission.


When Dionysus, the god of wine, drama and revelry, wanted to bring the poet Euripides back from the dead to save Athens, he planned his descent into the Underworld. Aristophanes’ play The Frogs shows Dionysus asking Herakles for “roads, resting places, stews, refreshment rooms, towns and lodgings with the fewest bugs”. Instead, Herakles bluntly suggests to him several ways to die as the quickest route to the Underworld. He describes the unfathomably deep lake that must be crossed with an ancient ferry-man, Charon, who needs payment. There follow great snakes and savage monsters, then foaming seas of filth, where those who sinned unforgivably dwell. Before you get to the gates of Hades, Herakles describes, you’ll hear flutes and bands clapping amidst myrtle groves and sunshine. Dionysus travels through these into Hades’ halls and returns to the world of the living with another poet, Aeschylus, who knew better how to save Athens.


In Homer’s Odyssey, Odysseus encounters the world of the dead by following instructions given to him by Circe, a goddess and enchantress. Rather than descending to the Underworld, Odysseus travels to a certain land surrounded by cloud and mist, where he can meet with the souls of the dead. He pours libations of milk, honey, wine and water, then sacrifices sheep to attract the souls of the dead. The spirits emerged from the darkness with their wounds visible. The Underworld Homer describes is an unpleasant place. When speaking to Odysseus, the soul of the dead, Achilles says he’d “rather serve as a poor peasant without land, and be alive on Earth, than to be lord of all the lifeless dead”.


The musician Orpheus was so spectacular at playing the lyre that his music was able to tame the wilder beasts and even make the trees dance. When his wife Eurydice was fatally bitten by a snake, Orpheus played such sorrowful music that both humans and gods cried. He then ventured to the Underworld in the hope of using his music to bring his wife back. He was allowed in by Charon the ferryman, past the spirits and insubstantial shadows of those that dwelled in the Underworld. Orpheus used his music to sedate the three-headed guard dog Cerberus and to soften the hearts of Hades and Persephone. When Persephone agreed to allow Eurydice back to the world of the living, it was with one condition: that Orpheus should walk ahead of her and not turn back until they were both out of the Underworld. Virgil describes how “sudden madness seized the incautious lover” and after stepping into the light of the world of the living he looked back at her, but she was a step behind in the world of the dead. She cried out and then vanished “like smoke vanishing in thin air”.



7 November 2014

The ancient Greek Underworld: part two 

From the world of the living to the world of the dead: funerals in ancient Greece.

Image: This white-ground lekythos is an oil flask, associated with women and their role in the funerary process. The technique of applying a white slip to the vase was exclusive to Athens, and reserved for burying with the dead. This vase depicts an Athenian woman preparing to visit the tomb of a deceased loved one, or alternatively, a bride preparing for her wedding that didn’t go ahead, due to her untimely death.

For the ancient Greeks, death meant a separation of the body and the soul, with one continuing to the Underworld. The soul, psyche or spirit of the deceased left the body as a puff of wind, before descending to Hades to live on as a one of countless “shades”, as Homer describes those living in the Underworld. So how did the living make sure their loved ones reached the Underworld?

The ancient Greeks saw death as a contaminating event. The house or street that a death had occurred in was seen as polluted, just as those who touched the deceased were. Even the water and fireplace of the house could be seen as contaminated. People caused different levels of contamination, depending on their role in society. A king’s death contaminated someone from every household; slaves and children were less pollutive than citizens and adults; and soldiers that died at war caused no pollution at all. To purify, contaminated people would wash with unpolluted water three days after the burial, and sprinkle the house of the deceased with clean water and soil.

For the most part, the funerary process was divided into three stages. The prosthesis was the laying out of the body, usually in their house for one day, to be viewed by friends and family. The body would have been washed, anointed with oil, dressed and often crowned by the older women of the family before being laid out. In this stage, women mourned by wailing and chanting, sometimes tearing at their hair and clothes to enact grief. The ekphora was a pre-dawn funeral procession from the house to the grave, outside the city walls. The men in the procession walked ahead of the body while the older women went behind, sometimes accompanied by musicians. The burial was the final stage with some descriptions including animal sacrifice at the graveside. Grave goods were often left in or on the grave. These could be offerings of honey, milk, wine, perfumes and oils in vases. The lekythos was a common shape for a funerary vase, often made specifically to be buried and not used in everyday life.

If the body was cremated, the ashes were still buried in a grave. A commemorative celebration followed at the house of the deceased, where people would feast and wear wreaths. More ceremonies are said to have taken place on the third, ninth and thirtieth day after burial. Performing a proper burial was important not just to honour the deceased but also to avoid punishment from the gods.

Monuments to the deceased were a way of honouring and remembering them. While the grave goods left by the mourners were seen only by them, grave markers were for the following generations. These markers went through phases of restraint and extravagance. Laws about the construction of grave markers were introduced and revoked, depending on the period. For instance, in Cicero’s Laws, he mentions that “no one shall make a tomb requiring more work than ten men can do in three days”.

In democratic Athens, state funerals were held to commemorate those that died at war. Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War, suggests that these followed the format of private funerals, with the prosthesis, ekphora and internment, however anyone could attend these. A public figure chosen by the people speaks a eulogy for those lost at war. Stone monuments with statues and lists of names marked these graves.

The funerary customs changed over time and between city-states, reflecting both the characteristics of each society and the ancient Greek belief of life after death in the Underworld.

Even though the world of the living and the world of the dead were separate, there were some that tried their hand at venturing to the Underworld before their time: up next in part three.



31 October 2014

The ancient Greek Underworld: A place of judgement, penance and retribution far removed from life on earth

What happens to us after we die? The age-old question still debated today, raising issues of religion and the meaning of life. Find out what the ancient Greeks had to say in our three part series about death, burial and the underworld.

Image: Ancient Greeks were often buried wearing wreaths as it was believed that those entering the Underworld wreathed would be feasted on their arrival. Gold myrtle wreath with a multi-petalled flower in the centre. 4th - 3rd century BCE. On display in Gods, Myths & Mortals at the Hellenic Museum

Ever wondered what it would be like in the Underworld? There’s no shortage of description in ancient Greek writings. Hesiod, in his Theogony, (around 700 BC) described Tartaros, the deepest part of the Underworld, “as far under the earth as the sky is above”. Tartaros, misty and enclosed by a beaten bronze wall, is roofed by the roots of the earth above it. Winds blow incessantly, battering its occupants, creating an eerie and monstrous atmosphere that is “terrible even for the gods”.

Hades, the ruler of the Underworld, lives in echoing halls guarded by a three-headed hound that devours anyone trying to leave the Underworld. His wife, Persephone, dwells there part of the year, out of reach of her mother Demeter. Her grieving mother annually strips the land of life and food, until Persephone returns to her in spring when she revives the plants and crops.

The goddess Styx lives nearby, at the limits of the sea, sky, earth and Tartaros. She lives separately from the rest of the gods, her power making her loathed by them. Water from the river Styx is used to seal the oaths of immortal gods. If broken, the dishonourable god enters a year of coma, followed by nine years of exile without nectar or ambrosia to feast on.

In the depths of Tartaros, far from all the gods, the Titans are imprisoned. Overthrown by Zeus and his siblings, this previous generation of gods were ruled by Kronos. When Zeus rose against his father, the two generations warred for ten years, until most of the Titans were beaten back and bound for eternity.

Aside from the immortal occupants of the Underworld, the souls of mortals dwell there. Homer saw life there as a miserable lot for most, the souls being no more than “fluttering shades”. Others saw it as a place of judgement, punishment and reward. Plato in the 4th century BC describes the soul as immortal, even if the body is not. As such, the soul experiences life in the Underworld as an individual entity. When a mortal dies, their soul is taken by a guardian spirit to an assembly place where they are judged, taken to the Underworld and undergo any punishment and purification required. The many possible experiences mean that the Underworld is a web of crossroads and forked paths, making the guardian indispensable. Those with impure souls from committing crimes of bloodshed are shunned and wander, guideless, in desolation until enough time has passed for them to move on to another place.

The judgement of immortal souls is done by three dead judges, the mortal sons of Zeus. The souls to be judged are naked, laid bare and anonymous, ensuring a king is given the same treatment as a farmer. Plato describes death as “nothing but the divorce of two separate entities, body and soul and when this divorce takes place, each of them is left in much the same state as it reached during the man’s life”. In this way, both the physical traits and the qualities of the soul are visible.

Once judged, the soul is conveyed along a certain river, depending on their judgement. All rivers flow into and from the Underworld. Those judged to be neutral travel along the river Acheron where they are purified, absolved of sins and rewarded for good deeds. Those who sinned unforgivably are hurled into the depths of Tartaros and never re-emerge. Those who sinned less severely are also sent to dwell in Tartaros but emerge after a period of penance. People who lived lives of exceptional virtue are released from Tartaros and dwell on the earth’s surface in beautiful surroundings, albeit without bodies.

In imagining the Underworld, ancient writers both channelled and influenced the beliefs of the ancient Greeks. Their understanding of life after death impacted their reaction to death itself, resulting in the distinctive mourning and funerary rituals – but that’s a topic for next time. Watch this space.



10 October 2014

QR codes: using modern technology in a historic space

QR codes and museums. We discuss the links between this innovative technology and historic space

Image: using QR codes in the Gods, Myths & Mortals collection

You may have already had a look at our Gods, Myths & Mortals exhibition, or maybe it’s still on your to-do list. Did you notice the QR codes next to some of the items? These QR (quick response) codes are our interactive companion to the exhibition. Just quietly, we’re pretty excited about them. They can be scanned by smartphones or tablets and link to extra information about the pieces. For each one, a short video appears, telling you about what you’re looking at, whether Picasso was influenced by this piece or what that symbol meant. Each item included in the QR tour is also part of an image gallery, connecting it to other pieces in the exhibition. For instance, an ancient figurine may be connected to a Byzantine icon, exploring the changes in representations of the human figure. But enough about the exhibition, what about these QR codes? Let’s start at the beginning.

What are QR codes?

QR codes, short for quick response codes, are a two-dimensional graphic code instantly connecting your phone or tablet to online content. This can be a webpage, blog, video, feedback form, game, social media page…the list is as long as the internet. This allows you to access relevant (and sometimes exclusive) information directly, rather than searching through your internet browser.

QR codes and the technology surrounding them are not exactly new, but they are being used in more and more innovative ways as the number of people using smart phones also increases.

How do you use QR codes?

If you have or can borrow a smartphone or tablet, then all you need to do is:

1. Download a QR scanner or reader.

2. Scan the QR code.

3. Explore the link.

That’s it.

Why QR codes?

So why do we use these? As an increasingly popular technology, QR codes are used as an on-the-spot point of access to what is on offer. As more and more people use smart phones, QR codes are a way of using what’s in our back pocket to reach extensive amounts of relevant information. Some organisations are using QR codes to replace paperwork, instruction manuals, and data collection. This can streamline processes, reduce paper use, and increase access to information from different locations. By using QR codes, wider access is available to resources and information, suitable for our right-here right-now lifestyle.

QR codes in museums:

QR codes are being used in museums and galleries around the world, as exhibition organisers look for new ways to connect visitors to the exhibition. They have been used as audio-visual tours in the Cleveland Museum of Art, Bologna’s Museum of Archaeology, the National Museum of Scotland and the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney. The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts used QR codes in their advertising campaign, creating an image made completely of QR codes that when scanned, linked to information about their upcoming exhibition. The Petrie Museum also used QR codes to encourage visitors to leave comments about the pieces they saw, creating a dialogue between visitors at different times, and adding to the history of the object. The contrast between historic objects and modern technology is just another way to interpret the pieces.

How are we using them at the Hellenic Museum?

We’ve chosen 20 items that give a snapshot of the Gods, Myths & Mortals collection of around 200 pieces. Each of the selected 20 have a QR code next to them that, which when scanned by your smartphone or tablet, will link you to our online content. You will see a video narrated by George Donikian telling you more about the pieces that isn’t available anywhere else at our museum. Recognise the name? The charismatic Greek-Australian journalist and news reporter points out some of the most interesting aspects and facts to about the objects. So when you look at these pieces, you don’t just read about them, you can take this chance to hear about them, discover them, and connect them to the rest of the exhibition. Encompassing so many periods and cultures, there are always multiple links to be drawn and observations to be made.

Want to check out what you have to look forward to when you visit the exhibition? Try out the QR code below to hear about a Cycladic figurine.

Image: scan the QR code above using any QR code reader, such as i-nigma, to preview the QR tour of Gods, Myths & Mortals



1 October 2014

The Greek War of Independence - for kids

Our recap of the Greek War of Independence: overthrowing just under 400 years of Ottoman rule in just under 400 words

Image: Steel saber with a horn hilt and a leather scabbard with silver gilt mounts. It was given by Theodoros Kolokotronis (1770-1843) to his comrade-in-arms Theodoros Leonardos.

Did you know that Greece was not always its own country? Contrary to what some people think today, Greece was not actually a state until 1822. Even in ancient times, what we call ‘Greece’ did not exist as a nation, but was an area of city-states that had their language and religion in common.

So what was happening in 1822 that changed all this? The Greek War of Independence. This rebellion against the Ottoman Empire gave Greek speaking people a national homeland for the first time in history.

Since the 15th century the land that we now call Greece had been occupied by the Turks. They held control for almost 400 years, but in the 18th century the idea of national freedom grew within the Greek speaking community. They wanted independence! With the help of Russia they revolted in 1770. Even though this failed, it started a movement of revolts and uprisings of Greek people trying to achieve freedom. They were inspired by the success of the French Revolution that had occurred in 1789 and the heroic poems of Greek fighters. A series of uprisings and movements lead to the beginning of the Greek War of Independence in 1821.

This time around they were more successful. The initial defeat of the leader of the rebels, Alexandros Ypsilantis, inspired people all over the Ottoman Empire to join the war for independence. Within a year they won control of the southern region of Greece and on March 25 1822 the rebels declared the independence of Greece. They established their own constitution and temporary government. The Turks tried three times over to invade the newly won territories in the next few years, but they were never successful.

Now, every year on March 25, the National Day of Greek Independence is celebrated. Towns and villages throughout Greece hold a school flag parade and schoolchildren march in traditional Greek costume and carry Greek flags.

When you wander around the Gods, Myths & Mortals exhibition, you will see many items that relate to the Greek War of Independence in some way or another. Gunpowder pouches, swords and even rifles that were used by the rebellious fighters are on display. There’s the sabre of Theodoros Kolokotronis, the Commander-in-Chief of the Greek forces; the pistols of Petrobeis Mavromichalis; and the memoirs of Nikolaos Kasomoulis, a leader and fighter in the uprisings. See if you can spot these pieces when visiting the museum!



24 September 2014

Growing up in Ancient Greece - for kids

Daydreaming about another life? Find out what it would have been like to grow up in ancient Greece! Written for kids about kids

Image: Gold child necklace of fine band with rosettes and a row of spear-head pendants. Late 4th c. BC.

Did you know that in ancient Greece children had very different lives to you? They were trained from a young age to be ready for adult life as a soldier, farmer, wife, or another position in society.

If you were born in ancient Greece there would be celebrations but you would not be named for at least a week. By the time children reached the age of 13 they were considered young adults.

Some children had toys very similar to ones you might have played with, such as toy horses on wheels, rattles, balls, dolls and even yo-yos! Different types of board games were also played like checkers, and they were very competitive. It was believed that losing one of these games meant that the gods weren’t on your side. Some houses also had pets like dogs, birds, mice, turtles and goats.

You may have heard that ancient Greek parents preferred to have boys rather than girls. This is because a son could look after them as they got older and inherit their property, but a daughter would be married, with the parents paying for her dowry. The dowry was a sum of money or a collection of items given to the husband to help look after his wife.

In ancient Greece, where you were born had a big impact on your upbringing. In Sparta, boys stayed at home until they were 7 when they were taken to the barracks to be trained as soldiers. They would stay until they were 30 years old, training as a soldier and eventually fighting for their city-state. Girls form Sparta were also trained to use a weapon and fight. This was in case the women had to protect the city while the men warred somewhere else. In this way, most education in Sparta was focussed on creating warriors capable of defending their city and the Spartan way of life.

In other places in ancient Greece like Athens and Corinth, some children were educated to create good members of society. If you were a wealthy boy in one of these cities you would have started school when you turned 7 and learned reading, writing, maths, science, music and poetry. As well as this, boys and young men were very active and participated in competitions of running, jumping, wrestling and spear-throwing. This helped to prepare them for training to become soldiers. Some girls were also taught to read and write and do maths, as they had to be able to run the household once they were married. Mostly, girls were taught household tasks such as weaving and cooking.

Image: Toy. Egypt 5th-7th c.

Girls in ancient Greece were married very young, around 13 to 16 years old. Their husband was chosen by their father and was usually much older than them. On the day before her wedding, the bride would sacrifice all her toys to the goddess Artemis, who was associated with young women, to show she had grown up. Unless she was Spartan, she would spend most of her life indoors looking after the household. She would have her own rooms and would very rarely be seen publicly except for religious festivities or with other women. Poorer women would be outside more often, as they did not have slaves to work for them.

As boys grew up, they would have to work extremely hard earning money for their household. They could work as fisherman, sailors, farmers and artisans. Not all of them went to school. The ancient Greeks were often at war, calling on most men to fight at some point in their lives.

Do you think you would have like to grow up in ancient Greece? Keep in mind that life was very different for boys and girls, for the rich and the poor, and for people of different cities. Would you like to have been a Spartan boy? Or perhaps a wealthy Athenian girl? Or maybe you wouldn’t like to have grown up in ancient Greece at all!



19 September 2014

Ancient Greek Myths: the who, what and why

From Homer to Harry Potter, what is it about ancience Greek myths that make them resonate? We take a shot at explaining why their star hasn't faded over thousands of years... with some of your favourite gods and heroes featured in Gods, Myths & Mortals: Greek Treasures Across The Millennia

Image: Attic black-figure Siana cup with scene of Theseus wrestling with the Minotaur. Attic workshop. Attributed to the workshop of of the Pyri Painter. 560-550 BC.

The first thing to know about ancient Greeks mythology is that they had a polytheistic religion, meaning that they believed in and worshiped many different gods and goddesses. Greek mythology had no formal structure, except for the various festivals held in honour of the gods, and there was no sacred book or code to live by. Temples were constructed however, for worship of certain gods and goddesses, often the patron deity of the town.

Greek myth was a form of storytelling and it had several uses in antiquity. The myths attempted to explain the origins of the world and recurring natural phenomena, which were often attributed to the moods and actions of the gods. Take the seasons, for example, instead of understanding that the world revolves on an angle around the sun, ancient Greeks believed the difference in seasons was caused by the grief and joy of Demeter, goddess of the harvest. Myths were also used to guide people through certain stages in their life, sustaining social values and customs. Now we can use them to find out what the people of ancient Greece believed in and valued.

Myths also detailed the lives and adventures of a wide variety of gods, goddesses, heroes, heroines and mythological creatures. The most powerful Greek gods were known as the twelve Olympians and were believed to live on the highest mountain in Greece, Mount Olympus. From this spot they ruled every aspect of human life. Believed to have the appearance and personality of humans, the stories surrounding the gods and goddesses were characterised by arguments, jealousy, love and revenge. As time went on, the myths surrounding each figure grew increasingly complicated and interconnected.

The belief system of the ancient Greeks extended beyond the immortal gods and goddesses to mortal heroes. These heroes, such as Herakles, Theseus and Perseus, fit into a certain type of ‘hero myth’, as it has come to be known, that followed a common structure. Usually, the hero would have peculiar circumstances surrounding their birth, have a calling to action setting them on their adventure, overcome obstacles and challenges with special talents they were equipped with, be aided by the gods and goddesses, and return having succeeded in their mission. This structure is still used today in many comics, novels and films. Think Harry Potter: marked as a toddler as destined for extraordinary things, equipped with special skills and unique items, aided by higher powers, and overcoming obstacles.

Image: Harry Potter English Australian series. Copyright B.Davis 2003

But how were these myths communicated? The earliest ones were part of an oral tradition that began in the Bronze Age, and their plots and themes gradually developed as written literature of the archaic and classical periods rose to prominence. The first written record of Greece, known to us, comes from Homer’s Iliad. Most likely produced in the 8th century BCE, it tells us of the mythical Trojan War as a divine conflict as well as a human one. In this, the gods and goddesses used humans as their pawns, took sides and warred among themselves.

You may wonder why these myths are so important today, over 2000 years later. The characters, stories, themes and moral lessons of Greek mythology have influenced art and literature for thousands of years. They appear in Renaissance paintings and writings such as in Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, Raphael’s Triumph of Galatea and Dante’s Inferno. Modern plays, novels, television programs, movies and even advertisements also often refer to Greek gods, goddesses, heroes and their stories. Think for example about the television series Lost and Charmed, which both have version of the mythological explanation of how the world was created, or of Xena: Warrior Princess, a television series set in a fantasy world dominated by Greek gods and mythological creatures, and of the Battlestar Galactica franchise. It is hard to look past the everyday references to Greek mythology, such as the brand names Nike and Amazon. Even heroes we know today have their foundation in ancient myth, from the structure of their story to the ideas they embody.

As well as their lasting influence on art and literature, the myths capture ideas and aspects of human nature that are still relevant today, and can be used to compare our contemporary values to those thousands of years ago.



8 August 2014

Places of Abandon

Throughout history there have been locations that, once inhabited by flourishing populations, have then been deserted, leaving historians with little to no explanation of why. In Gods, Myths & Mortals, some of these historic places of abandon feature in the pieces that survived, leaving us with small traces of another time and wondering at the lives and stories that passed before us. 

Image: Gerard Mercator (1512 - 1594) Map of Greece, 16th c. Tinted etching on paper

Location: Cyclades. On the map: an island group located in the south Aegean Sea. Time: first inhabitants most likely came from Asia Minor around 5000 BCE

Sometime around 1650 BCE there was massive and cataclysmic eruption of a volcano on what is now the island of Santorini. Preceded by earthquakes of a magnitude of 7 on the Richter scale, which destroyed the town and created 9 meter high tidal waves, the eruption itself released an estimated 15 billion tons of magma into the atmosphere, making it the largest volcanic eruption of the last 10,000 years. Following this disaster, the town of Akrotiri was completely covered in volcanic ash. As such it remained well preserved until it was excavated for the first time in 1967 CE. However, unlike what archaeologists found at Pompeii, there were no bodies at Akrotiri. There was evidence of an attempt to clear rubble, which suggests that there time for the residents to abandon the area before the final eruption. Akrotiri has been suggested as the possible origin of Plato's Atlantis legend, as the island partly disappeared into the sea after the volcano erupted.

We do not know why, but around 1250 BCE there is evidence of destruction and abandonment all around the Aegean. Palaces were abandoned, communities migrated and literacy disappeared. The Cyclades largely followed this trend, but returned to some degree of importance around 800 BCE, by which time a new, distinct society was in the making.

The last remnants of Ancient Greek civilisation in the region finally disappeared in the 5th and 6th centuries CE, when many of the temples were turned into Christian basilica, only to return to prominence in the 20th century when excavations revealed the importance of the area.



1 August 2014

Benaki Museum Director, Angelos Delivorrias, picks his top three

When asked to name drop his favourite piece in the Gods, Myths & Mortals collection, Benaki Museum Director Angelos Delivorrias gave us three

From left to right: Manuscript of Nikolaos Kasomoulis military memoirs from the Greek Revolution 1822-1833; Gold Kylix with repoussé representation of running hounds. Made in the manner of Mycenaean models of the Late Helladic II-IIIA 1 period (15th-early 14th c. BC); Marble crouching female figurine-pendant, perhaps from the Peloponnese Middle-Late Neolithic period (5800-4500 BC)

I’ve been asked this question countless times and I always give exactly the same answer: unaffected by the usual aestheticism… I consider that all the objects in the Museum are complementarily on a par with each other. Regardless of their age, their material value and their rarity. That’s why it is difficult for me to pick out just one of the exhibits in Melbourne, which is, moreover, something that I consider to be anti-scientific. Because all these exhibits together refer, allusively of course, to individual chapters of a single narrative, so that they are all together basic components of its continuity and its cohesion. However, if you insist… I would be obliged to spell out in detail why I would choose at least 20 of the works in the exhibition. Certainly, it would be impossible for me to limit myself to fewer than the following three: the extremely rare Neolithic pendant representing the great Mother Goddess of prehistory, because it also signals the awakening of research interest in the remote Greek past; the gold Mycenaean kylix with the hounds, which emblematically imprints Antonis Benakis’s immense love of the museum he created, despite the disputes between specialist scholars as to its interpretation; the manuscript memoirs of Nikolaos Kasomoulis, a precious historical testimony of the Greek Struggle for Independence, which describes the heroic Exodus from Missolonghi that had shocked the consciousness of the age and had invigorated internationally the various Philhellenic movements. 

Gods, Myths & Mortals opens Friday 12 September



16 June 2014

Authentication and Conservation

If you want to purchase an object, research it, exhibit it, loan it to another museum or in any way use it to tell a story - you have to understand what it is made of 

The museum recently took a look at some innovative equipment used in conservation and archaeology: the pXRF. Short for Portable X-ray Fluorescence, this equipment can tell you the elemental composition of a material – whether it is a painting, vase, or precious jewellery. Understanding the composition of an object can illuminate the character of a civilisation, especially relevant to us as we plan the upcoming exhibition of the Benaki collection, with items spanning nearly 8000 years.

Heading to a workshop about the pXRF hosted by an industry expert, I expected 8 hours of chemistry and physics. What I got was a new understanding of how light and colour are formed and their impact on our understanding of the world around us. Let me explain this as best I can. You may know already that no material has a colour; instead they have the capacity to visibly reflect some wavelengths of light, and absorb others (or reflect it at an energy too low to make visible light). It is the reflected light that is the colour visible to us. Between red and violet on the electromagnetic spectrum, the wavelengths are visible as light. When these wavelengths meet a material – say a leaf – the light is absorbed except for the waves of that particular leaf’s green which are reflected and visible to us. A white jumper is reflecting all of the visible light, whereas a black car is not visibly reflecting any. Light can be described in terms of photons that can act like waves or particles. Infrared and ultraviolet (UV) radiations are outside of the visible spectrum, but are still affecting us, most notably in the UV rays of sunlight. X-radiation is small enough and of high enough energy to pass through us when we get an X-ray, forming a shadow image on the image plates used in X-radiography.

This behaviour of light brings us to the pXRF spectroscopy equipment used by some museums. If you want to purchase an object, research it, preserve it, exhibit it, loan it to another museum or in any way use it to tell a story – you have to understand what it is made of. For example, in the upcoming exhibition from the Benaki collection, a ceramic vase tells a completely different story to a metal bowl. The story of an object ranges from the materials local to an area to the technology available at its time of manufacture to the use of those resources in domestic, liturgical or burial items. Pieces of jewellery made of precious metals have different connotations to those made of lesser metals, just as textiles using gold thread have a different meaning to dyed textiles.  Understanding these materials can mean extensive research without the guarantee of a definitive answer. Who’s to tell us what pigment a painter used 500 years ago when we know many of similar appearance were available? The pXRF can analyse the materials of an object using X-radiation, measuring the radiation emitted by the object and matching that with a known database of elements and their emissions. Sounds complicated? The science of it is, but its use is quite straightforward. Instead of destructively removing a sample from an object, these are portable and can be taken directly to the object without harming it. A reading can take 30 seconds, but for the sake of accuracy 3 minutes is more appropriate. Once you have this information, it can help you understand what an object was made of, how it was made, why these materials were used, and the item can be compared with objects of a similar time, place, purpose or material.

Aside from its contribution to our understanding of an item, knowing an object’s composition can be integral in its authentication. Forgeries and fakes are always topical in museums, galleries and private collections. As these are living resources in understanding the past and present of others and our selves, museums and galleries have a responsibility to house the authentic and the original. Knowing the materials of an object with the scientific accuracy provided by the pXRF can substantiate a claim that an item is a forgery or add evidence to its authentic status. A good example is the use of titanium white pigment in paintings purporting to be from earlier than the 20th century. Although commonly used now, titanium white was not available until the 1920’s, and its presence in earlier paintings can sometimes indicate a forgery. The importance of correctly identifying a forgery or mis-attribution can not be overstated, as the longer an item is in a museum collection the more the reputation of the museum adds to its supposed authenticity. In this way, museums have some power in designating authenticity, just as they have a responsibility to ensure it.

So if you wanted to know what people 6000 years ago were eating out of, when a certain civilisation starting mining gold, what pigments your favourite artist used to paint, or what women 200 years ago were wearing to their weddings, ask the object. Just by knowing what an item is made of, so much can be told about it, the society that produced it and our capabilities as a civilisation.

- Gabrielle Fanning, HM team

Image courtesy of the Benaki Museum: analysis equipment used by the conservation department at the Benaki Museum



15 April 2014


Protecting The Past Is The Way Of The Future

How the digital age is keeping the past alive

The practice of protecting the past is looking toward the future with the use of apps and mobile technology to aid conservators. While some see conservation of museum objects and historical sites as a profession of living-in-the-past, it is increasingly using social media and apps to their potential, creating a more inclusive and effective practice.

But what does a conservator need in an app or program? It’s a question that has been thrown around blogs and forums for the last few years, and is gradually being addressed. Portability is one of the most obvious aspects of mobile technology to help conservators. From working in a lab or exhibition spaces to treating objects at archaeological digs or remote sites, having the right equipment at all times is sometimes just unrealistic. Using tablets and apps means that colour charts, information on chemicals and mould identification tools – to name just a few - are accessible and increasingly universal. Durability is another important aspect of a conservator’s tools. While you may not see iPads as icons of durability, when compared to piles of paper for condition reports competing with the wind and dirt of an archaeological dig, tablets win again. Recording object conditions or origins accurately is another integral part of conservation, aided by tracing and 3D imaging apps such as iDraw or AutoCAD that are superseding graph paper and measuring tapes.

Away from on-site or lab conservation, conservators also play a role in preventing and/or identifying art crimes. The Italian Heritage Police, managing one of the largest stolen art databases in the world, have introduced an app for anyone to use connecting the public with police and the database. Using the app, anyone can upload a photo they took of a suspected stolen artwork and the heritage police will compare it to their archives. This is taking the use of websites such as the Art Loss Register to the next level by being portable, accessible and contributing to a collaborative effort.

Social media also has its undeniable uses in conservation, with Dr. Monica Hanna’s efforts to protect Egyptian heritage using her twitter account a recent example of its effectiveness. Tweeting about looting occurring at specific sites, Dr. Hanna draws the attention and help of locals, activists and archaeologists. This use of social media to raise awareness in the public also raises the awareness of the government, promoting media coverage and official action, in this case the stationing of security at the site.

Far removed from taping objects together in a museum basement, conservation is becoming an increasingly well-connected practice, involving the public more and more and utilising programs to be more effective. This is all contributing toward a conscious effort for the protection of cultural heritage to be everyone’s responsibility. 

- Gabrielle Fanning, HM team


11 April 2014

Art Town 

Bringing the streets inside: the latest exhibition at Chapel Off Chapel. 

From paintings and photographs to sculpture and soundscape, last night’s opening of Art Town at Chapel Off Chapel captured the sights and sounds of Windsor and Prahran. Following several weeks of live art sessions, the exhibition produces a dialogue between artists, the surrounding community and the creativity of the neighborhood.

Removed from the privacy of a studio, the works have an undeniably communal feel about them. This begun with weeks of productivity on the streets of Commercial Rd, Chapel St and Greville St, where easels were set up and artists positioned. Outside the Town Hall a craft station with tables of materials invited passersby to make miniature replicas of rooms and spaces, which became individual, snapshot worlds. On opening night, the dioramas were displayed hanging from the ceiling, stacked on top of each other, facing out, provoking both the desire to be seen, and to peer in. There was also video work of skaters, who crisscrossing on a half pipe, spray painted wooden paling, capturing their movements in multiple mediums.

The outcome? A very inside-out world that fostered a dwelling of the Chapel St community, or in other words: art mirroring life, mirroring art. 

- Gabrielle Fanning & Chloe Wilson, HM team 


14 March 2014

The Daily Dig

Hannah Gwyther explores the nature of the dig as a member of the excavation team last year at Zagora, an Early Iron Age Site on the island of Andros.

There is nothing to make you feel a part of a team quite like a communal 5 am wakeup, sleepy breakfast and slightly terrifying drive around cliff faces to the top of an ancient precipice. From there we sit, huddled into our dust protecting scarves, waiting for the first fingers of dawn to break over the Aegean, illuminating the iridescent islands of the Cyclades shimmering in the distance beyond.

With the mountains gleaming, car doors are opened, backpacks are put on, lunch and other supplies are divided up, and the half hour trek down the hillside to our promontory begins – and we all slowly start to wake up. The ritual walk is almost a step back through the ages. We begin at the local Church of Agia Triada, moving through the farmland, past flocks of shoats (rather unscientific classification of something resembling Goat X Sheep), down across little dried-up streams, with sunlight bouncing off the schist stone that dominates the landscape. With laughter and chatter in the air we scramble down ‘Heartbreak Hill’, troop past the old low lying schist shepherd huts, and down through the terraces to Zagora. By the time we enter our windswept site, it almost feels as if we have been transported back in time. Ancient walls emerge amongst the chaos of centuries of shepherd walls and fences, and Early Iron Age houses are just visible beneath the tangle of thorn and oak. Suddenly you realise that you are a part of something very special, you are allowed a rare insight into the lives and the landscape of a group of people living almost 3000 years ago. 

With our wheelbarrows, buckets, picks, trowels and brushes we make our way across the site to measure, record and dig down further into the past. We slowly and methodically uncover bits of ancient peoples’ everyday lives and their township, adding to our knowledge of how these people lived. After a careful day’s excavation in the intense heat or gale-force winds, we bag and label our finds, and a few lucky people lug them up the hillside to make it to the museum before closing time. We then secure our trenches against the elements, stow away our tools and ready ourselves for the hike back up.

The afternoon sees us emerge back into our sleepy seaside village sporting trendy ‘dust-tans’, new rips in our dig clothes and voracious appetites. Plates of ‘saganaki’, ‘gyros’, ‘patates’, and Fix and Mythos beers line the tables as we gradually wash off the dust in the ocean and recover from the day. Dig books are opened, and the day’s events recorded and discussed over another chunk or two of feta. As dusk envelopes the olives and settles over the calm sea, the cicada chorus lessens and we retire to our rooms to rest, with the thrilling anticipation of what we just might find tomorrow...

Zagora is an Early Iron Age Site on the island of Andros and was occupied between approximately 900 and 700 BCE. The Zagora Archaeological Project is run by the University of Sydney Dept. of Archaeology and the Australian Archaeological Institute at Athens, in collaboration with the Athens Archaeological Society. It receives major financial support from the Australian Research Council.  The Powerhouse Museum is a major contributor to the project and its educational outreach work: see

Hannah Gwyther is a University of Melbourne Graduate in Archaeology and Curatorship, who was a member of the excavation team in 2013 and is currently a volunteer at the Hellenic Museum. Images courtesy of Hannah Gwyther, 2013: (top) Standing on the top of the spoil heap, this soil is later reused to back-fill the trench for conservation and preservation requirements; (bottom) sunrises during the walk to Zagora. 


24 February 2014

A Pop-Up World

Popping up in a space near you.

We can enable them, read them, block them, and book them. They are pop-ups, and from children’s books to Internet ads, they alter and influence space in ways that have become synonymous with now. For the last three weeks, we’ve had one sitting in the garden. Designed and built by Hickory, it’s a prototype for innovation and acceleration in modular construction, and it’s hanging out here, awaiting restaurateur Con Christopoulos and the crowds every Saturday evening as part of the Summer Cinema.

Another pop-up, The Cube, tours Europe and sets up locale on the sites of opera houses and palazzas from Brussels to London, adding momentarily to the landscapes of parks and cities alike. But where do pop-ups come from, and why are we so fascinated by them?

Walking through a city is in many ways akin to walking through a museum: Art Deco; Gothic revival; Victorian; Modernism. On the other side of this is the pop-up: springing up overnight, and sometimes only for a night. It is movable, transient and adaptable, just like society right now. Some permanent buildings visibly represent this fluidity already, such as a number of those with LED screens, designed to allow external and internal environments to be overlayed and projected via architecture. Pop-ups enable a new type of building again. But there is something quite human about them. They are not confined or based upon any one particular design; rather, the pop-up is a way of building. They exist upon what is already in place, add to it, combine it, transform it, convert it, recycle it and collaborate with it. Pop-ups move as we move, and this is what makes them perfect for today.

It is not only the pop-up space that mirrors today, it is also the way of thinking. Logistically, pop-ups are generally less expensive to run and staff, and this allows them to be a launching pad for ideas and a lab for experimentation. Chefs are able to move their restaurant outside of their home base, such as the Danish Noma and New York based Le Cirque; or to test new concepts before committing to a permanent structure, such as Andrew McConnell’s 2013 Supernomal Canteen. For Hickory, this meant augmenting the UB system that was created for them by architect Nonda Katsalidis. The pop-up they built for Con Christopoulos at the Museum is a prototype of increased safety and of speed of production, and of reduced material and energy waste. From perfecting their design, they can now install apartment blocks and offices in just days.

Yet inspiration is not confined to any particular industry, it reaches out to the wider public, to guests as well as participants and creators in their own right. Spin-offs such as Restaurant Day, the global calendar where anyone can turn their private location into a restaurant for 24 hours, are an example of how the pop-up is reigniting the community element of dining. Bringing people together over food while offering an experience that is unique to time and place moves society from the habitual to the memorable: and there is no sign of the pop-up take over slowing down.

- Chloe Wilson, HM team


07 February 2014

Everyone has a favourite Bond

Bond has two weeks left in Melbourne, and counting.

Do you know what’s cool? The DB5 Aston Martin used by Sean Connery’s 007 in ‘Goldfinger’, currently on display as part of ‘Designing 007 – 50 Years of Bond Style’ at Melbourne Museum. Do you know what’s cooler still? The 1/3-sized replica created using a 3D printer, also on display. I almost missed seeing both of these covetable objects because when it comes to attending exhibitions, I sometimes have a problem with timing. I remember seeing the giant billboard announcing the exhibition’s run (1 November – 23 February) in early 2013 during one of my morning commutes along Melbourne’s Best Tram Line (i.e. the 96). The exhibition’s subject piqued my interest, so I promised myself I would not only visit Bond’s lair, but would do so in a timely manner. Cut to 2 February, the third last weekend of the exhibition’s run. Oh well, at least I made it. I loved seeing the storyboards, costumes, gadgets, and the progression of filmmaking over the last 50 years.

Bond officially departs the city in two weeks, so if you're after quality time with the world's most beloved spy, don't miss it.

- Nicolette, Culture Advisory Panel


28 January 2014

David Sedaris in Melbourne

Nicolette from our Culture Advisory Panel checked out author David Sedaris at Hamer Hall last week.

In this overwhelmingly digital age, where attention spans are short and most of us own at least two touch screen devices to keep ourselves entertained or rather, distracted, it seems impossible that a man on a stage, with only pieces of paper for accompaniment, could entertain an audience big enough to fill Hamer Hall. For hours. This is the magical genius, though, of David Sedaris. 

Reading from his latest collection 'Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls', pieces he's had published in the New Yorker and his own diary, Sedaris had the crowd simultaneously in stitches, drawing sharp intakes of breath during more risqué passages, and really, just hanging on his every word. He even had most of us coffee snobs feeling slightly sheepish, when we fell for his story about finding the best coffee in Melbourne, in a little place at the 'Paris' end of the city... called McDonald's. He played on our coffee pride, had us waiting to see which of our amazing establishments he'd fallen in love with, and then delivered the delicious punch line. We should have been insulted, but we weren't. We loved it. We loved him. So, if you missed Sedaris during his January 21 performance, don't let it happen again. 



23 January 2014

Delphi Guide to a Melbourne Summer

Our young arts panel spent extra leisure time to bring you the low down on what's what over summer in Melbourne.

While all the ports and bays are thriving, and the hot topic moved from beating the Brits at their own game to Serena Williams being defeated at the Australian Open, we looked at the best places to dine near the sea. There's Station Street Trading Co. for breakfast in Port Melbourne, the latest DOC for pizza in Albert Park, and the ever popular Fish Tank on Church Street in Brighton. 

Arts wise, on here at the Hellenic Museum in early March will be new works by George Raftopoulos and Michelle Mantsio as part of the Summer Arts Long Weekend. There are also summer programs at TarraWarra and Heidi, and exhibitions at Bendigo Gallery and Melbourne Museum that are finishing up in February. City galleries, from Craft Victoria - with Troy Emery, Bonus Card and John Brooks - as well as Edmund Pearce and Dianne Tanzer have all got their doors open and exhibitions on. 

Although music festivals are in abundance at this time of year, don't forget to check out the Zoo Twilights, with a line up of local and international music acts, as well as the program of free outdoor concerts from the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl. In many ways, it feels like summer's only just beginning.


13 December 2013

Summer Classics

Professor Chris Gribbin is running a Classics Summer School from 6 - 10 January, 2014. We ask him the hard questions on antiquities, Socrates and life.

Your favourite antiquities piece?

One of my favourite pieces is the Tomb of the Diver, from Paestum in Italy (which used to be the Greek town of Poseidonia). The walls of the tomb were decorated with scenes from a symposion – an ancient Greek dinner party. Although the art is not as sophisticated as some of the public art, it provides a fascinating snapshot of daily life in antiquity. My favourite pieces are always the ones that tell us about the ordinary people.

What do students take away from your classes?

One of the things students often tell me is that they’re amazed by how many things really haven’t changed that much in the last 2,500 years. The people we meet in the ancient texts, the problems they had to deal with and the way they made sense of the world are often no different to what we see today. But sometimes you also come across things that are really hard to relate to, like slavery. Understanding what’s stayed the same and what’s changed since antiquity is a great way to understand both the ancients and ourselves.

What were some of the big issues in Ancient Greece that are still affecting society today?

The ancient Greeks worried about social justice and the distribution of wealth. The Greeks had to carefully manage international relations. In Athens, people worried about how to create a society where people had the freedom to live good lives. Some of the details change, but we’re still struggling with many of the same questions.

How important will the Benaki collection be to Melbourne?

It’s really exciting for Melbourne to be able to host these pieces. For me, being able to see genuine articles from another time really helps to bridge the gap between now and then. These pieces will provide a point of connection for Melbourne, not just with antiquity, but with all of Greek history.

Why would Socrates win an argument?

According to Plato, Socrates said that he was wiser than other people because he knew that he knew nothing. Other people also knew nothing – but unlike Socrates, they didn’t realise it. When you start from an assumption that you know nothing, it opens you up to really hearing what other people have to say. That helps you see when they haven’t thought through what they’re saying. Learning to argue like Socrates is about making the part of us which jumps straight to an answer quiet and discovering how to ask powerful questions.

Just what is the Human Flourishing Project?

Aristotle set himself the project of working out the best way we could live our lives. He covered a broad range of topics, from our personal lives to our relationships, our working lives and our community as a whole. His answers still provide a powerful vision and have even influenced recent work by the United Nations to improve the lives of people in the developing world.

What sort of people enrol in the Summer School

The Summer School attracts people from all sorts of backgrounds and all sorts of ages. Classes are relaxed and assume no prior knowledge. So everyone’s welcome. One of the fun things about the school is that it brings all these people with different perspectives together to learn about the ancient world.

For more information about the classes, or to sign up, head over to:


13 December 2013

Flight at the Benaki Museum

What happens after dark at one of the world’s most prestigious cultural institutions? 

In preparation of things to come, we’re watching Flight at the Museum. The short film was produced by Emptyfilm and Benaki Museum to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the E. Venizelos Airport in Athens. The film was screened at Clermont Ferrand Short film Festival, Bristol Encounters UK, Seoul SIYFF and won an honorary distinction in Drama Short film festival in Greece.