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Heroes

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Letter to my Dan Dan

Dear Dan Dan,

You’ve been on my mind a lot lately, and the past 2 times I’ve been to Tucson I didn’t go visit you. I’m sorry, I really am. I’m not ignoring you, I just miss you too much. Sometimes I feel like Sansa after Lady died, like I’ll never quite be whole again.

I guess I have so much to say that I don’t know where to start. Kind of like my dissertation at the moment… which I should be working on, so instead I’m writing this letter.

Do we have souls? And, if we do, when do die do our souls live on? Where? Somewhere with internet? I hope so, because otherwise you’d be hard-pressed to read this.

Anyway, I just… you’ve been gone almost seven years, and you’ve missed so MUCH. A lot happens during that time, ya know? (Some things stay the same, though, like me cleaning up after you. Your tombstone can get so DIRTY so quickly!).

Well, I still don’t know how to fill in 7 years’ worth of information in just a letter, so I’ll just highlight what comes to mind, shall I?

Let’s start with me. You died the summer after I graduated from Scripps, I had a steady long-term boyfriend and was about to start my MA studies at UA. Well, I got my MA, but left the boyfriend. I spent almost every summer being academic in either Italy (AAR) or Greece (ASCSA), and got into UVA for more graduate school. I’m focusing on the iconography of Greek heroes on late Archaic Athenian vase-painting, and as long as I don’t botch anything horribly, should be “Dr. Bartlett” by this time next year. “Elizabeth Bartlett, ABD” just doesn’t quite have the same ring, ya know?

Harry Potter defeated Voldemort (turns out he was the final– and accidental — horcrux). Snape always loved Lily.

Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time came to an end with the 14th book, and though many people died it was a great ending and you would have been proud of Mat. I still love Nynaeve and Perrin the most, though.

George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire got picked up by HBO and is about to embark on its third season. It’s full of sex and violence and British actors, and now Mom has read all the books, though there’s still another one (or two?) to come.

By the way, the Mayans were wrong. 2012 came and went, and the world did not end.

Stephanie is studying abroad in Prague, and her blog and pictures just make me want to be abroad, too.

I did spend summer and Fall of 2011 abroad, actually. Okay, I guess I can’t complain too much. And Brie visited me in Athens!

Though it’s the future, we do not have hover boards such as depicted in “Back to the Future II”.

We do, however, have a black President. He just got re-elected for his second term. Yeah, he’s no Bill, but we like him well enough.

Hollywood remade “Les Mis”. Wolverine plays Jean Valjean and the gladiator was Javier. Anne Hathaway did a stellar job as Fontine… and I cried horribly when she sang “I Dreamed a Dream”. Not because she was also crying  at the same time (it was a bit over the top), but because that’s OUR song. Remember when we did that duet of you on piano and me on vocals for the talent show at Stanford Sierra Camp? Man, what was I thinking. You were such a good sport.

Annie got married and is now a step-mom! You would have loved the wedding, there was a live fiddle band and square-dancing and lots and lots of cake. Ted got married exactly a year before that, and it was a great excuse to see Brooklyn and cousins. I am still NOT married.

Joss Whedon did it again with “Dollhouse”. It was only one season (thanks, Fox), and it was awesome. Not as awesome as “Firefly”, but up there.

I still can’t do as many push-ups as you could (100!!!, geez), but I could try. I did set a world record in the 100% Raw Federation for the squat (130kg) for my weight class and age group, and Mommy set a world record for deadlift (92.5kg!) for her age group and weight class. I’ve also become a personal trainer for both Crossfit and Olympic weightlifting, and I compete. Crazy, I know, but you’d be proud. If you were around I’d somehow talk you into coming to a gymnastics gym and getting you on the rings. I bet you could’ve done some crazy shit up there.

We sent a robot to Mars, and it took some cool photos.

A man broke the sound barrier with a free fall from space, and the whole world watched him not die in the process. It was really something!

Weed is now legal in 2 states in the US.

http://trextrying.tumblr.com/ . Yeah.

Gay marriage is now legal in many US states, and that number is growing! I think the main issue there (with our generation) is that it is still an issue. Equality for all, right?

Every year we (Mom and Dad) sponsor summer research for a graduate student in the math department at UA, as well as a yearly lecture series in your name. I’m sure you’d approve.

Bubbe’s the only grandparent left. She’s going to live forever, probably.

I discovered I liked chopped liver, and that I like making it, and that I make it well. You split, I choose.

I still can’t believe you were allergic to tomatoes. You ate them ALL THE TIME.

You were always my favorite sibling, you know 😛 Okay you were my only sibling. STILL. Best older brother a girl could ask for. Fierce friend for all who had the privilege to know you. Intimidating intellect for those who braved to converse about matters of the mind with you. Silly sense of humor.

Even though I focus on heroes of the ancient Greek sort, you’ll always be my number one. Miss you and love you forever and ever.

(cowboy Dandan and the Princess Elizabeth)

Hope the pecan pie is good wherever you are. Mine may not be as good as Dad’s, but I have some on your birthday. Always.

xxxxxxxx

Elizabeth

PS: I may be surpassing you in years, but you’ll always be my older brother. Always. I had to learn the hard way that life is short and precious, so it’s best to just live well, laugh often, and surround yourself with people and things that make you happy.

So here’s to you. Slainte! (you would’ve loved Ireland)

(handsome man!)

Goals

“You don’t have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great.” ~Zig Ziglar

I’ve learned that unless you actually state realistic goals to achieve, you won’t work as hard. So, here I am setting some goals to achieve by June 2013.

Strength goals:

Deadlift 350#/159kg

Back Squat 300#/136.5kg

Bench Press 150#/68kg (with a pause)

Clean & Jerk 200#/90kg (or more)

Snatch 160#/73kg (or more)

Qualify for USAW National Championships as a -69kg (need a 153kg Total in a meet… best official Total to date is 140kg. The meet is early March, 2013. Let’s do this).

After all, Sean Connery picked up a weight or two 

AND he liked to pick up a book or two, as well.

and played a professor, as well as a father to a professor (and archaeologist… oh it’s all fitting together so nicely)

Which leads me to… Academic goals:

Finish dissertation, defend dissertation, get doctoral degree.

Keep up to date on “to-do” list for dissertation in order to accomplish above goal.

Present stellar papers at (at least) two conferences this year (Darmstadt, CAMWS).

Publish the AAR pottery article! (This is a group effort, but it WILL get done! And soon!)

Get stellar teacher reviews for my course on mythology and epic at the University of Richmond.

Personal goals:

Continue to be awesome every day.

Visit friends and family often.

Quality over quantity every time.

…unless you are Sean Connery, in which the two are mutually exclusive.

Everything I Need to Know I Learned from Xena

Fun fact: in Greek “Xena” really means “stranger” or “foreigner”. I’ve certainly had the honor of filling that role many times in my life, and recently.

I am Xena!  

I am not ashamed to admit that I own all 6 Seasons of the CLASSIC TV show, “Xena: Warrior Princess” starring Lucy Lawless. The show is full of absurd fight scenes and corny jokes, and also lessons of love and friendship. The episodes are filled with quips on Classics, history, love, friendship, and kicking ass.

When I become a teacher, I’m going to include clips from this show. I kid you not. In fact, I think a great quiz would be to have the students watch an episode of Xena from Seasons 1-3 and then write down the following: 1) inspiration for all names of people and places; and 2) everything that was WRONG with the episode. I can’t blame writers for taking serious liberties with history or mythology. They keep us on our toes!

Greek history: Solon, Callisto, the Trojan War, Greek geography (apparently it takes no time at all to travel around Greece by foot), music, ancient currency, ancient dress (okay not really), centaurs and Chiron, Elysian Fields/Hades, Amazons (who live in “Amazonland” according to John Boardman hehe),

Hercules (sadly not called Herakles), shamans, Greek temple architecture (…no), the gods and their interactions with humans (this actually happens quite a lot in Homer), and so on. Ares especially 

Roman history: crucifixion, Caesar (who is also Cupid who is also the guy who kills Jason Bourne’s wife AND the son of Theodin in LOTR – busy guy!), 

Cleopatra, Christianity, Livia, Vestal Virgins, medicine (Galen), the brutality of the amphitheater

Other cultures!!!: Indian (Krishna), Chinese (where Xena travels to repay a debt to Lao Ma), Japanese (Samurais). During the later seasons of the show Xena travels East (just like Alexander and later Romans!). She learns secret arts of fighting and power and of gods while in India, and later Gabrielle discovers her own power and how strong she really is while in the Orient.

Do you believe in rebirth or past lives? The writers of Xena sure do. It all comes with the idea of “soul mates”, I suppose. Xena and Gabrielle (…and Joxer) are always meant to find each other, no matter what the year.

Real life lessons learned from Xena?

1)      Don’t believe everything you see on TV

2)      Friends are the most precious commodity

3)      You can walk ANYWHERE

4)      Gods exist, but they don’t rule you. You control your own life.

5)      When in doubt: wear leather, carry a big sword, and kick ass.

6)      Good ALWAYS conquers evil.

Lucy Lawless loves to sing. Therefore, Xena loves to sing. There are many musical episodes in this show, some reference “Bye Bye, Birdie”, some “Footloose”, some are anti-war messages… and some, like this favorite of mine, are all about girl-power (kind of a major theme of the show). Enjoy 😀

Hero, Icon, Role Model

A little kid comes home from just another day at school, unceremoniously dumps his backpack on the ground, stomps into the kitchen, and sits down at the kitchen table for a tasty afternoon snack. His father places a plate in front of him. “Ants on a log”. Delicious. As he picks up the first one, careful not to get the excess peanut-butter on his fingers, his father asks him the usual “what did you learn at school today?”
“Stuff”, he replies. –“Did you have a good day?” –“Meh.” –“What’s your homework?” The little boy stalks over to his backpack and pulls out a piece of paper. On the top is printed the following question:

“Who is your hero, and why?”

A deceptively difficult assignment, in my opinion.

Take a moment and answer that question for yourself — who is YOUR hero, and why? Answer this question before you read on. Alyssa has demonstrated this process already http://myhero.com/go/hero.asp?hero=Cooley_MMS_.

(Cover of “Hero” magazine, Issue #5…and 99% sure this image has nothing to do with this post except for the word printed on it.)

Thought of a hero yet? …Good.

Now, riddle me this: how did you define the term “hero”? WHAT, exactly, is a hero?

Checklist: Is your hero living or dead? Does your hero transcend nature? Is your hero male or female (and are you the same or different gender?)? Do you personally know your hero? Is your hero a fictional character? If the question had been “who is your role model” would you have chosen someone different? What about “icon”? Is your hero a celebrity, athlete, or politician? A martyr? Did you have a hard time choosing just one hero — if yes… who are your other heroes?

WHY is this person (or persons) your hero(es)?

Does your hero personify an idea you wish to portray or emulate?

Would you say you “worship” your hero? If so, how? Is it akin to religion?

In the case of the grade-school essay assignment, “hero” has an assumed definition of “role model”, or “someone to emulate”, “someone who inspires” – personifications of morally good values and ideals.

In the case of comic books, a hero is usually a “super” human figure, blessed with unnatural abilities, often strength, and cursed with equally unnaturally gifted foes.

A “super” hero, if you will. More than human.

“Hero” is a term that gets thrown around a lot. This is a shame (yet I am certainly guilty of this crime). The word “hero” should not be taken so lightly, methinks. When a soldier dies for her country, she is honored as a “hero”. When a husband opens the pickle jar, his pregnant wife exclaims “Oh! My hero!”. When Theseus slayed the minotaur and saved the people of Athens from having to sacrifice 7 boys and 7 girls for future years, he became a national hero.

Epic heroes have been around for a very, very, very long time (think Iliad, Odyssey, and Gilgamesh). Hero worship was part of the religious system in ancient Greece and Rome. Heroes were worshipped in a similar manner as were divine figures. With the rise of Christianity, one could argue that the idea of the saint replaced the need for the hero — a transcendental figure one could pray to who was once a living person. In the Middle Ages, heroes of old and new heroes emerged in the literature — Hercules and tales of King Arthur and his Knights. I could try and trace the path of heroes through history, but that would take a very long time, I fear.

What I would rather discuss are the ways in which heroes are categorized. There isn’t simply one type of hero, after all (or is there? I could be very wrong. It happens). Maybe the hero you chose fits into one (or more) of these categories. … and maybe the figures who fall in these categories are better described as “icon” or “role model” (you be the judge).

Category #1: Political heroes.
Whether we think of these figures as “good” or “bad”, their names are stuck in the history books as leaders who left their mark on the world. Some of them include: Mao (in fact much of Chinese hero worship scholarship was written during the 1960s, during the Mao era – “thought control in Communist China … a strict order to write about certain subjects in a certain manner” [Sheridan, Mary. “The Emulation of Heroes.” The China Quarterly, 33 (Jan.-Mar. 1968): 47]); Lenin; Kim Jong Il; Napoleon; Hitler; FDR; Jefferson; JFK; Washington; Lincoln; MLK …. Some of these leaders were heroized during their lifetime, and others posthumously. Interestingly… it’s the Americans I listed who were heroized posthumously. “Heroized” could simply mean “became a revered national figure”, but one must be revered in order to be considered a hero.

Category #2: Supernatural Heroes
Or, more colloquially, comic book heroes. The “Super” man theory is actually one that was developed by early philosophers, and should not be discarded as a childhood notion of a larger than life figure who saves the day. Though these heroes are mythological in character (ex: Superman, Spiderman, Wonder Woman, X-Men), they all have extraordinary (physical) abilities that they use in order to protect the weak (except Batman… who has no genetic alterations yet takes it upon himself to use fancy gadgets and superior fighting abilities to catch the bad guys). These heroes are like “super cops”. And they have their “super villain” counterparts, as well. And ridiculously amazing costumes that many of us don once a year (it’s called “Halloween”, and it’s the best excuse to play dress-up after age 10). 

Category #3: Celebrity Heroes
That is, pop culture heroes, many of whom died young: Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley (funny how the ‘young’ Elvis is more often revered, yet the older Elvis is more often imitated), Michael Jackson… I could go on. Popular heroes in America have shrines, and people make pilgrimages to these shrines, such as Graceland for Elvis. Other American pop heroes with popular shrines include Will Rogers, Buffalo Bill, Wild Bill Hickock, and Jesse James.

 

Hero athletes might also fall under “celebrity hero” status. In America, baseball is the national past time, and when we think of baseball we think of Babe Ruth. Even before his death, “Babe Ruth Day” (April 27) was celebrated in baseball parks all over America.

Category #4: The Martyr/War Hero
A martyr is someone who dies for his/her (often religious) beliefs. War heroes certainly are no exception. They are people, just like you and me, who sacrifice their lives during the struggle of injustice. They fight for a cause, and do so selflessly. Heroes of war have always been revered and honored (the mound that covers the 192 soldiers who died at the Battle of Marathon when the Greeks fought the Persians is still a site visited today) . And, a little closer to home, one can visit the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, DC, or battlefields, or military cemeteries in order to pay respect to those who fought for us. 

Even CrossFit, a fitness movement that is taking over the world (or so it seems), honors war heroes. There are certain WODs (“workout of the day”s) with names that form a group called (appropriately) “hero WODs”. They are named after soldiers who died in the line of duty. Whenever a CrossFitter performs one of these workouts, that person will often give more of him/herself toward the workout, fight harder through the pain, resist the desire to quit, because s/he is doing it “for that hero”. It’s a method of hero worship in its own way.The “worship” aspect is performing the workout with 100% intensity as a tribute to the soldier who gave his life for our freedom.

T. H. Auden wrote “no hero is immortal till he dies”. And yet, a 1993 sociological experiment done in Philadelphia asking people who their hero is found that the most common answer was “my mom/dad”, no matter whether the parent was still living or not. After that came celebrities, then politicians, then Jesus [Klapp, Orrin E. “Hero Worship in America.” American Sociological Review, 14.1 (1949): 53-62.]

One could hardly form an argument against modern heroes and modern hero worship, given that we erect monuments and memorials to certain individuals, which are usually larger and more magnificent than those to “ordinary” persons. “While honor creates status, commemoration expresses the peculiar value of the hero as symbol. Monuments, likenesses, relics, legends, and periodic celebrations may be taken as mnemonic devices to preserve the collective image of a hero” (Klapp 1949: 58).The idea of a monument is not just a way to honor the hero/es, but is a method of perpetuating the memory of the individual(s) commemorated.

So. “Hero.” Can we answer the “what” part of “what is it”? This topic gained much popularity by European thinkers in the 18th and 19th centuries: Rousseau wrote about the idea of the hero, the Romantics started to redefine the idea of heroism as it concerned the individual (it was in fact Shelley’s opinion that Satan, in his noble defiance, was the real hero of Milton’s Paradise Lost), and in 1841 Carlyle published 6 in-depth lectures On Heroes, Hero-Worship and the Heroic.

In the 1960s, the idea of heroes and heroism gained new popularity. Charles Horton Cooley (1964) connects hero-identification with religion and other transcendental metanarratives. For Cooley, hero-identification was precisely a way for the individual to mark self-transcendent aspirations associated with moral idealism. Joseph Campbell (1968) defined the hero as one who, in response to a call, leaves the familiarity of ordinary life to enter a sphere of transcendental conflict; in returning from which, the hero raises the level of ordinary life itself. Daniel J. Boorstin (1968) maintains that heroes in modern culture have been replaced by celebrities. Whereas heroes were famous because they were great, celebrities are great because they are famous.

…do heroes even exist anymore? Truly? Bertolt Brecht wrote Life of Galileo (1943) during the height of Nazism, and in it he immortalized the following conversation between Andrea and Galileo —
Andrea: “Unhappy the land that has no heroes.”
Galileo: “No. Unhappy the land that needs heroes.”

 

And as for MY answer to the original question: “who is your hero?”. Well, I’ve had to answer to this question, and the answer came easy: my brother.

HERAKLES: A (Brief) Discourse on Heroes, Part 3

Herakles (or “Hercules” to many of you), that Panhellenic hero-god everyone knows and loves, who has muscled his way into modern pop-culture… truly immortal.

 …from Ryan Gosling to Kevin Sorbo… 

…all the way to Disney.

Muhammad Ali may have “wrastled with an alligator”, but Herakles wrestled everyone and everything. Known for his incredible strength, his first feat was to kill a lion whose hide was so tough no weapon could pierce it. So he wrestled it, eventually killing it with his bare hands.

Vatican 20262 -- Herakles wrestles the Nemean lion, Athena looks on.

Hence he was depicted wearing the lion’s hide as his identifying garment. Sometime he wields bow and arrow, sometimes a large club, sometimes both. He often has curly hair and a beard, and a few painters took pains to ensure the viewer understood his hair was curly by inserting thick blobs of slip as if to represent tight curls.

Vatican 16546 -- Guess who?

He was the hero “par excellence” for all of Greece. He was worshipped on the islands, on the mainland, in northern Greece, and even as far as Sicily. Later the Etruscans revered him, as did the Romans. He appealed to all — the traveling hero with brute strength.

It makes sense he appealed to athletes. Offerings were made to him by competitors before the Games at Olympia. What is lesser known is that he appealed to musicians, as well. Herakles is a patron hero of ALL athletes, including those of the mousikos agon(musical contest). Almost everyone is familiar of the deeds of Herakles and the monsters he bested, his muscular athletic build and victorious nature, but few are familiar with the stories concerning the musical education of Herakles. It is no surprise, then, that only a handful of the many visual representations of Herakles during the late Archaic periods depict him playing a lyre as a musical contestant. A handful of Athenian vases dating to the late sixth century depict Herakles holding a kithara (a fancy lyre), standing on a pedestal, flanked by Athena and either Hermes or Dionysos.

Athens, NAMA 635 -- Herakles in center playing a lyre, flanked by Athena and Hermes.

Vatican 16590 -- Herakles in center, playing a kithara, flanked by Dionysos and Athena

Here he is the guitar hero: performing at a mousikos agonin the hopes of winning the monetary prize and golden crown. Musical contests took place in nearly every ancient Greek city. At some major Greek Games, contests in music and similar arts formed a part of the program, on a par with athletic contests. The kithara was the most esteemed instrument, and the first place prize in kithara singing was a gold crown worth one thousand drachmas (perhaps worth as much as $150,000 in modern terms). The contestants won prizes for their success just as athletes won prizes for theirs.

The ancient athletic contests were religious in function, held in honor of a god (Olympics for Zeus, Pythian for Apollo, Panathenaian for Athena… and so on). These musical scenes could be seen as religious scenes, though not as obviously religious as Herakles sacrificing at an altar.

NY Met 41.162.29 -- Herakles roasting meat on spits over an altar

However, the issue of Herakles’s piety is a topic for a whole other blog post.

Watch this space.

Fearless in Philly

Subtitle: “A Weekend of Brains and Brawn.”

Sunrise in Philadelphia can’t hold a candle to those in Tucson, but it sure does have character. I. Love. Philly.

My uncle lives here in a great townhouse just south of Rittenhouse Square, so figuring out where to stay is hardly an issue, the hard part is just finding the excuse to get up to Philly. This weekend provided me with the perfect one: the AIA/APA annual meeting. 3 days of panels, colloquiums, roundtable discussions, posters, book sales, and receptions hosted by various institutions. And let’s not forget the slew of amazing people!

I won’t list all the papers I attended, but I would like to highlight a few of the ones that really struck a chord with me: “Some Roman Architectural Influences at Pompeii” (John Dobbins, UVA); “Lawrence Richardson, jr. and the Painters of the Pompeiian Fourth Style” (Eleanor Leach, Indiana U.); “Toward a Social Network Analysis fo Pompeian Wall Painting” (by a group from U. of Arkansas — truly a stellar presentation); “The Hairstyles of the Erechtheion’s Caryatids in Context” (Marice Rose, Fairfield U.); “Between a Rock and a Hard Place: Rethinking the Cilicia Mosaic from Antioch” (Tyler Jo Smith, UVA — and can I just say how inspiring it is to see scholars give excellently researched and delivered talks on a topic outside their normal field of study? Love it); “Little Big Lies: Forgeries of Ancient Gems” (Ken Lapatin, J. Paul Getty Museum); “Recent Excavations in the Athenian Agora” (John Camp, ASCSA); and finally I’ll end the highlight list with “The Kekropion and its Relation to the North Terrace Wall and to the Erechtheion” (John Caulk, an independant scholar who posed a very interesting theory about the Kekropion based on very careful interdisciplinary analyses of ancient texts and the physical remains).

***I did not, however, like it when phrases such as “scarcely feminine musculature of the arms” or “bulging feminine muscles” used to describe female figures painted on the walls of Pompeii are uttered with a tone of disbelief. Women can, in fact, have nicely sculpted arms.***

There were many other presentations I attended and posters I read that filled my days with academic fun (yes, fun). And there was scholarly fun, as well! This conference is also a great excuse to see old friends who are now all across the globe. I got to see former professors from my time at the University of Arizona, friends from my MA program, friends who dug with me in Orvieto, Murlo, and Rome, friends who studied with me at the American Academy in Rome (both the Summer Program in Archaeology and the Pottery Program), professors who led my summer programs at both the AAR and the American School of Classical Studies in Athens, friends from my summer at the ASCSA and from my recent time there this past Fall as an Associate Member. So many people. So many wonderfully familiar faces. And I love seeing their recent achievements! Some of them were presenting, now have really good jobs in their field, and others were there to interview for faculty positions at prestigious institutions! We’re all growing up, aren’t we?

My brain is on stimulation overload right now. Sitting there listening to amazing and innovative papers on subjects ranging from Greek architecture to Roman iconography to excavations in Bulgaria have set the hamsters in my brain working double-time (Billy Blanks would be so proud). The wheels, they spin. My hand is cramped not from the note-taking I did, but all the “note to self”s I wrote regarding short- and long-term ideas and goals about my current research (dissertation), my extra-curricular academic interests (still love those wall-paintings and still find it hard to fight the itch to dig again), and ideas about future conferences and thinking about jobs (so many of my friends are PhDs now and interviewing to be a professor… I realize I’m not far behind).

And what trip would be complete without a visit to a local CrossFit box? Last time I was in Philly I checked out Crossfit Center City . Really cute box and I enjoyed my time there, but Philly’s a big place with lots to explore. So this time I headed South to Fearless Athletics/Crossfit South Philly. Nothing like heavy lifting and a pounding heartbeat after a day full of sitting and learning, right? The box was spacious, red, and when I walked in the squat racks at the back were occupied with people squatting big weights. Yesssss. 

The owner, Wil, was leading the class and greeted me. After I changed into workout attire the people arriving for the next class (my class) did what any good CrossFitter would do — they didn’t know me so they introduced themselves. Insta-friends! One of them even recognized me from past competitions that we both attended; he was also a trainer at this box and guided me through their Clean and Jerk warm-up before we had 17 minutes to max out our low-bar back squat. Well, that didn’t end up being enough time for a true ‘max effort’ (had to share a rack with 2 other people), but I still got a nice PR at 250# (113.5kg) with lots more in the tank! I was one of many PRs that day — so exciting to see people (even people I just met) get stronger! Guess it’s something in the cheesesteaks? (…actually I am sad to report I did not eat a single cheesesteak.) Then the conditioning part…. 2 rounds for reps of: 2 minutes wall-balls, 2 minutes push-press (75/55), and 2 minutes burpees (strict pushup at the bottom for the standard!), 1 minute rest. Whew — 104 reps for the first half, 99 for the second. That was rough!

Repping out the 55# push presses

And yet I came back the next morning for the “Advanced” workout, which started off with a single-arm kettlebell complex to warm-up, then “Clean and Jerk for virtuosity” (nice), and then a CrossFit Football workout named “Volkswagen”… because you’ll feel like there’s a VW sitting on your chest. 21-15-9 for time of body-weight bench press (ha) and pull-ups (chin OVER bar). If ever there was a workout to make me love pull-ups, this was it! Breezed through them without tearing my hands! I scaled the bench-press to 70% of my body-weight, and still at the end I was breaking them up into singles! 17:44… not the best time, but then I’m not the best at benching. 2 days later and my triceps and lats are still feeling it!

Great atmosphere, great coaches, great people, great attitudes, great energy. I’ll certainly visit this box again when next I find myself in this great town. And that won’t be too far off from now, because I love Philly. Philly itself is a harmony of old and new, a pedestrian-friendly city of character, always full of sights, sounds, smells, spectacles, and speckled with history.

The architecture is great. I love old cities because the contrast of old and new architecture is reflected everywhere you go. 

Let’s not forget row houses, shall we?

I have to admit I didn’t really like US history until I visited Philadelphia, Boston, and Washington, D.C. I guess something about being in the middle of it where it all began really helps you appreciate it that much more. And yes, whenever I’m in Philly I feel like watching “National Treasure”. Don’t judge me.

Independence Hall

2nd Bank of the United States (Greek Revival much?)

In case you were wondering.

St. Paul's

Graffiti! If you never believed graffiti could be art then come walk the streets of Philadelphia and stare at the sides of the buildings. Many of them are covered top to bottom with incredibly colorful and fantastic paintings. Not just paintings, either… sometimes mosaics!

And no trip to this place would be complete with stopping in to Reading Terminal Market. Prepare yourselves for the mob of people and onslaught of culinary treats! Many of the stands in here are run by Amish folk, and the food they dish up is often the most popular — with good cause. It’s delicious! So is the fudge they make. And Raw milk is legal when sold by them, and yes I did get my pint of raw goat’s milk while there. I also got fed lots of free meat samples by a flirty chef at the Kosher deli stand. Mmmm free pastrami and brisket.

the hungry and curious masses at Reading Terminal Market

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Because everyone loves Rocky

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And now on a train to Charlottesville, VA!

THESEUS: A (Brief) Discourse on Heroes, Part 2

Recently I enjoyed a cinematic experience. The title of the movie was “Immortals”, and it was made by the same people who did “300”.

“Immortals” trailer

Aesthetically, it was quite pretty. Very enjoyable for the sake of entertainment. It has absolutely NOTHING to do with the mythical Greek hero Theseus, however, even though that is the name of the protagonist of this CG-enhanced adventure. (Although there was an allusion to a fight with a minotaur and the inclusion of a bull… and even I didn’t actually get the reference until the very end. Then I laughed.) For anyone who cares about historical accuracy (or accuracy of any sort), this movie will be very frustrating: the art and architecture is all over the chronological map and the outfits are fantastical; but the flick has its pros, as well: Ancient Greek is spoken by 4 of the characters, which is pretty cool; there are pretty bodies throughout (at one point a very nude very pretty body); colorful costumes and shiny gods permeate the screen; and let’s never forget the many fun action scenes. ANNNND Mickey Rourke plays the bad guy, so it must be legit.

One thing they did get very right: Theseus was young, he wore a short tunic, and he was beardless. At least, that’s how he is typically portrayed on Athenian vase-painting (where is weapon of choice is a sword, though, not this mythical “bow of Hyperion”).

ARF amphora (early 5th) -- Theseus slaying the minotaur

Who was the Greek Theseus, the man I study? He was the Athenian hero par excellence. He begins his story by venturing to Crete to slay the minotaur and in doing so save his city from having to send any more girls and boys as tribute (er, food). Plutarch gathered all of his stories and with them narrated a biography of Theseus, and in doing so made him appear a real historical figure. He was a king of Athens, he had connections to the Trojan War, he was associated with Poseidon (and Athena), and he completed ‘deeds’ similar to those of Herakles.

Around 500BC, Theseus sees a surge in iconographic popularity. Herakles used to be the popular hero in Athens, but it seems that Theseus for a brief moment almost replaces him, and he is imagined as the ideal Athenian citizen, what every young man should aspire to be. His mythology comes with a set of deeds similar to Herakles’ labors, and around this time period large red-figure Athenian plates are produced which portray these deeds in sequence. He battles evil men (such as Sinis and Prokrustes) and  beasts (the minotaur, of course, and also animals such as a sow and a bull).

ARF parade cup (c510) -- deeds of Theseus

Theseus does not really have set attributes the way most deities and some other heroes do; for example: Zeus has a thunderbolt, Poseidon a trident, Herakles his club… Theseus normally is depicted as a beardless youth, often (partially) nude and wielding a sword (or an axe for Prokrustes), but really he is better identified in context. It seems as if the Athenians themselves are still unsure how to best portray their new main hero. They’re still playing around with whether he has brown or blonde hair, whether he should wear clothes or be athletically/heroically nude, or whether he should fight with a sword or assimilate him to that other awesome hero, Herakles, by giving him a club to hold… and a bull to fight.

This leads to what I like to call “conscious ambiguity”. Herakles’s seventh labor was to capture (not kill!) the Cretan bull and take it with him back to Athens. The bull was released from there and wandered to Marathon (nearby) and Theseus captured the “Marathonian bull” (the very same one) for sacrifice. Herakles is often depicted bearded and nude but for his lionskin helmet and cape while subduing the bull. Theseus is also shown (partially) nude while subduing the bull, sometimes tying its legs together. Sometimes the hero wields a club. In such cases, the identity of the hero capturing the bull is a tad uncertain.

ARF, c490, Herakles/Theseus and the bull

Herakles or Theseus? Your choice! (<– that may have been just the point, indeed.)

Only Death is Certain

(This is not a grim post — at least, that is not my intent. .My intent is, as ever, to encourage everyone to find reasons for joy and laughter each and every day.)

“The idea is to die young as late as possible.” –Ashley Montagu

Who wants to live forever? How depressing would that be? All your friends, family, and lovers will die around you, the world will keep spinning and changing and there you will be, stale, and alone, a remnant of the past. Death, now, death is certain. The ONLY certainty in this adventure we call life. I’m not a pessimist, really I’m not, I’m just way too practical. I can predict your future: I predict that one day you will die. Eventually, our days come to an end.

Death is constant. Death is solid. Death is inescapable. It brings cause for others to come together to celebrate a life and to mourn a loss. Too bad we can’t stick around after our own deaths, because sometimes that is when you’re truly recognized — Van Gogh’s paintings finally sold, U.S. Presidents’ faces can decorate U.S. currency, you may become hailed as divine (Jesus, Herakles, Roman Emperors…). Even CrossFit (yeahhh I went there) names their “hero” workouts after soldiers who died in battle. Key word: “died.” In ancient Greece, one could not be revered as a hero until after his death, and cult rites typically took place at his tomb (there was also ancestor worship, but that is slightly different, though it also took place at the grave site). W. H. Auden said “No hero is immortal ’til he dies,” and the poet was not wrong.

Tombs, gravestones, mausoleums, burial mounds… reverence for the dead has been around maybe since time immortal. Okay, *slight* exaggeration, but think about the oldest type of grave marker you know. What comes to mind first? Pyramids of Egypt? Bronze Age beehive tombs from Mycenae? Rock-cut tombs from Lycia (Turkey)? Your great-great-grandmother’s gravestone in Maine that you visited when your were 5? Why do we take such care of our dead? They’re not around to see whether or not we remember them or pay or respects (or maybe they are, actually… an afterlife is definitely one of those things that falls into the “uncertain” category). And yet, for thousands of years humans of all cultures have paid homage to their dead. Why?

Last week I visited the First Cemetery of Athens. It takes up a vast portion of land and is filled with grave markers ranging from an elaborate temple-like structure (Schliemann’s tomb, for example) to a simple marble cross (mostly in the Protestant section).

First Cemetery of Athens: Schleimann's tomb on the left

First Cemetery of Athens: Protestant crosses

First Cemetery of Athens: modern elaborate tombs

Some markers are incredibly ornate, some more distinct and modern, and many are influenced by the markers from the much older neighboring cemeter in the Kerameikos neighborhood: the cemetery of Archaic and Classical Athens. This week I visited that great site, which is typically devoid of tourists any time of the year. However, it does not lack for turtles. Nor does it lack for a sense of awe and reverence. For example, the “Street of the Tombs” outside the city walls of ancient Athens — only a small section is preserved, and adorning the top of the walls only a couple tomb-markers are displayed.

Kerameikos: Street of Tombs

But you have to imagine… the Sacred Way, another street that runs from the city walls of Athens 20km to Eleusis, it was once framed by those elaborate tombstones, either of the grand Archaic type or the more simple stele from the Classical period.

Kerameikos: Archaic tomb

One making that 20km trek from Athens to Eleusis would be surrounded by constant reminders of their own mortality. Just imagine it.

Mortality.

That’s right. We. Are. Mortal. Death comes for us all, we just don’t know when. I’ve known men to die in their young 20s and others who lived past 100. Neither had any way of knowing that would happen. We have no say in that, we DO have control over our waking lives. I, for one, choose to live it trying to laugh every day. “The idea is to live young as late as possible”, right?  This doesn’t mean “die young”, no, it means, live well. Live like a kid. Kids are awesome. Kids know how to have fun. Next time you walk by a playground, I challenge you to stop and take a look at those young faces. Some will be full of tears from a fall off the monkey bars. Some will be filled with big eyes wide with fear trying to find the courage to go down the highest slide. Most, though, will be filled with smiles and accompanied by giddy laughter and carefree bliss. No matter their economic or family background, children can lose themselves in the wonderful world of the playground. The jungle gym. The big sand pit filled with amazing structures. Games. Friends. New experiences. Fun. It means an opportunity to try something daring, like jumping off the swings when they’re at the highest point. That kid may break her wrist doing so, but hey… wrists heal, whereas moments are fleeting and opportunities often only come once. Take advantage — you only regret what you did NOT do. Ah, the wisdom/brilliance of the innocent youth. Running, skipping, giggling, crying, sniffling, screaming, playing, totally without worry.

Why should that end on a playground of our youth? It doesn’t have to.

She's as young as her grand-daughter right here

Be daring!

I’m not saying go out to an actual playground and pretend you’re 7 years old again (though some friends and I did just that on a nice Spring day and it was a super good time, hence the human pyramid of accomplishment above. We weren’t the only ones mingling with the kids! See Grandma Rad above swinging herself round and round on the jungle gym.) Go out there, try something new, be active, make new friends, be bold, take a chance, and above all else: laugh. Find whatever it is that makes you smile inside-out, whether that’s cooking, dancing, writing, riding a motorcycle, or just sitting around a table with your nearest and dearest. It’s never too late to discover new joys in life.

Example: my grandmother is a mere nonagenarian. She has bad arthritis in her knees and often walks with a cane. She’s stopped driving (sold her car, even!) and gave up eating meat (except fish). Recently, she tried out this athletic program at her local JCC called “Silver Sneakers” (this is a woman who was never very “athletic”, though back in the day she was a trophy-winning bowler…). She’s one of the oldest in her class, and, it turns out, one of the best. She absolutely loves it and goes three times a week. This is a woman who sometimes couldn’t complete her daily mile-long walk because of pain or nausea. Now she’s found her new playground with kids her own age. She’s making friends, getting active, getting stronger, and feeling younger for it. I say: “You go, girl.” That woman just may actually live forever…

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. 😀

Can you get a Fulbright for CrossFit?

If I were a smart (Paleo) cookie, I would have connived a clever application for the Fulbright committee to read that involved me traveling around Europe in order to study the cross-cultural effects of CrossFit. I think maybe they would have gone for that. And then, on the side, I would have used the stipend to fund my dissertation research.

Or I could have spun the “hero” theme — doing “hero” WODs while studying ancient heroes, all the while being inspired by real life ‘heroes’ such as Kyle Maynard.

So it’s no secret that I am not shy, that I love meeting new people, and that I love picking up heavy weights and forging new bonds of friendship over the shared agony that comes with intense exercise (a la CrossFit). Starting in July I began a 5 month adventure in Europe in order to conduct research on my dissertation, but on the side I sought out the local CrossFit boxes or weighlifting gyms. In Oxford I found OXP, a place for Strongmen, Powerlifters, rugby players, and Olympic weightlifters to train… and me. In London I revisited Crossfit Central London for an Oly session. In Paris I ran around the streets, did pull-ups on some random scaffolding, and created daily WODs to complete in my studio apartment. .I got to CrossFit in other languages, starting with German. In Berlin I visited Crossfit Werk a few times, and even got to eat dinner with the crew at a Paleo restaurant. My long weekend in Vienna included two grueling sessions at Crossfit Vienna. Two weeks in Italy with my parents and no Crossfit gym provided opportunity for more creativity: I used my mother as a barbellfor back squats, and a staircase as a pull-up bar. My father joined me in a WOD.

my dad doing some perfect push-ups at the end of a wod in our Rome apartment

I coached my parents through some tabata squats and plank holds. I completed my first swimming WODs.

Post-swim WOD handstand

 

 

 

 

 

Now I’m in Athens and have settled in with the Primal Crossfit Athens  group. I am here for 3 months, so I am very glad I enjoy it. I don’t speak Greek (except a few words here and there… mathainw! (“I’m learning!”), but many of them speak English, and where the language barrier is tall we find a way to hurdle over it. After all, encouragement in any language is always appreciated, and the post-WOD feeling of “I’m so happy that’s over with” while you lie on the floor catching your breath is pretty similar for athletes everywhere.

The gym here has been, as ever, very welcoming and full of fun people learning new skills each day and making strength gains, amazing themselves every day at what their bodies are capable of. I am included in this, as well. Though I have still not yet managed to join the muscle-up club, I have finally mastered the art of the one-handed handstand!

Love being upside-down!

And competitions are not absent from my agenda even though I’m in another country! To be fair, each WOD is a competition against yourself and your fellow gym members, but there are other opportunities here, as well. Every Saturday at our gym we hold a \”Primal Tournament\”  competition, and in a couple weeks I’ll be venturing to Volos, Greece, to be the only American competitor in the Argo Games. I don’t know much about what to expect, but I fear a mountainous 5k run for the first wod… If anything I know it will be fun! And I will want ice cream when it’s over 😀

 

Needless to say, it’s been quite an experience seeing the different ways each Crossfit box functions. That isn’t to say all American boxes are the same — because they are not. But there are further differences once you cross the pond: European boxes are predominantly male whereas in the States they are usually at least 50% female; they work with kilos instead of pounds; the pull-up bars I’ve come across here are thicker than in the States (which makes using them more difficult); they are harder to find, in general!!! CF is growing in popularity, but unlike in the States, where Tucson, AZ alone has about 8 different places you can go to Crossfit, Europe has maybe one-three gyms per COUNTRY (Paris, Rome, Florence…. none of the cities have CrossFit).

There are other gyms to visit, of course, including ones that specialize in powerlifting or Olympic weightlifting, and since CrossFit is like a gateway drug to those other disciplines, you can still get in a good lifting session. And I can’t imagine a place where you can’t at least go for a run, or do push-ups in your bedroom. But as anyone who attends a CrossFit gym will know, it’s the community aspect of it all that keeps us coming back (that and the adrenaline/endorphine rush that comes with each workout). And I have to say, not a one has let me down. The Greek guys even invite me, the American, out with them at night.

I will dance party in every CrossFit gym around the world, if I can! (Fulbright or no Fulbright.)