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Greece, Heroes

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Agora…

“Ag-o-ra” [ag-er-uh]: (ancient Greece) the chief marketplace of Ancient Athens, center of the city’s civic life.

Today it is the center of a smattering of ruins, some with labels, best toured with a knowledgeable guide in tow to explain it all to you. John Camp, the director of the ongoing excavations at the Agora, would be the best guide to have, and I had the pleasure of this experience two years ago when I was here as a student in the Summer Session at the ASCSA. However, he is not available all the time. In the meantime, read a guidebook, hire somewhere, or explore on your own and just… guess. Ahhh guessing. Guessing is fun, isn’t it? Guessing takes up a lot of my time here in Athens when I explore the city. See, I’m in search for hero shrines. Often I have archaeological records that document the locations of shrines, and I find these extremely helpful. However, other times the only record is from Pausanias, an ancient travel writer of sorts, who might say things such as “there were a few altars dedicated to heroes in Phaleron, near the bay” or “so-and-so had a shrine south of the Olympeion by the Kalliroe Spring”. So specific, right?

Hero shrines are finicky in and of themselves. They come in many shapes and sizes, and we, modern scholars, have no clue as to the “why”. We just hope they come with an inscription that identifies the structure and, if we are truly lucky, the recipient of the offerings. Sometimes hero shrines share a structure with a god, sometimes they are worshiped in an open area with no physical structure other than an abnormal rock formation. Some were worshiped in houses, some were given dedications, some were worshiped at tombs, some were worshiped at the sea. … and so on.

Heroes were worshiped in caves

Heroes were worshiped just NE of the Areopagos

Near the Kalliroe Spring, south of the Olympeion

Base for "Eponymous Heroes" statues in the Agora

possibly the Strategeion (near a Geometric gravesite) in the Agora

Triangular hero shrine in the Agora (also in in Eretria, and 2 in Delos)!

graced with an inscription: "O HIERO"

possibly the temenos of the daughters of Leos

So, my “operation hero-shrine scavenger hunt” has been fun! Lots of “this looks like it could have been important!”. I’ve certainly seen a lot of ancient Athens hidden among the modern buildings. Which brings me to another point — modern Athens has been built up over the majority of the evidence. This makes things… more difficult. A challenge to really exercise my imagination.

Karaiskaki Stadium in Faliro, near the area where hero shrines were (according to Pausanias)

Luckily, I have quite the vivid imagination! And archaeological excavation records. And museums with many, many, many late Archaic Athenian vases for me to study. 😀

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About Elizabeth

PhD student in Classical Art & Archaeology at UVA with a focus on Greek heroes and iconography (yet forever awed by Roman 2nd and 4th style painting). Salsa and Argentine tango dancer extraordinaire. Weightlifter and Crossfitter the world over.

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