Resources for Trip to Greece

Updated July 8, 2007

A latent and long-simmering interest in classical literature and history has re-awakened because of our trip to Greece in May 2007. We're still going through our photos and filling in our Journal. It was a great trip - Thanks Ken McFarland! Lots of stories, history, language, friendships new and old, unbelieveable scenery - natural, and man-made in various eras. We've put up Draft 1 of our Journal complete with some photos - click HERE to see that. We welcome any and all photos in any format, to help complete our memories!

Below is my "blog" with notes in preparation for the trip, with references and links to movies, books, music, language & alphabet, websites. It makes sense to start at the beginning, i.e. scroll down to the bottom, June 2006, and work upwards to the end.

March 14, 2007: My big plans to be speaking and reading a little Greek by now have fallen a little flat. I'm working on a book on Angus Grant's fiddle tunes and everything else is in abeyance for a few more weeks. Take a look at the Angus Grant website for more info on this. However, our Greek concert with Beth Bahia Cohen and Panayotis League was fabulous!!! Those present really got the flavor, some stories, dancing, and all the time beautiful music played intricately and sublimely by our local stars. We should do this again!

I found a couple of interesting websites. Go to Greek Music & Art and The World of Cyprus. The latter has a free Greek language course, and Greek-English and English-Greek (ancient and modern) dictionaries.

There's a movie just out - called "300," referring to the 300 Spartans led by Leonidas against the thousands and thousands of invading Persians commanded by Xerxes at the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 BCE. The Athenian naval commander was Themistokles. The whole story is fascinating (for example, Themistokles had to lie to the Athenian people in order to get the crucial 100 additional triremes financed). The movie is getting mixed reviews; it's of course REALLY bloody, and it has a kind of animated sheen to it with all kinds of technology. However, the story is good, the actor playing Leonidas is Scottish, and Ebert and Roeper gave it two thumbs UP. Also, there was a 2-hour special about the movie and the history on The History Channel, which I really liked. At least try to catch that, even if you give the movie a miss.

See you on the Hellenic Beauty in Pireaus, if not before!

January 11, 2007: Melissa Bennett forwarded a New York Times link to an article on Greek food. Click HERE.

December 30, 2006: For Christmas eve we cooked up a light meal with Greek recipes - really good Greek olives, crusty bread with olive oil, a bit of ouzo here, then avgolemeno soup, Greek pasta salad, and for dessert I made Karithopita (Greek walnut cake). I went through the web looking for Greek desserts, and happily found this one. It had ingredients I had heard of, and had the ingredients in cups. Then, a few days later, I found another site with lots of information about Greek food, plus an ancient history section, and a page with the html equivalents for the Greek alphabet. Let's see if it works:

α β γ δ - these should be the first four letters alpha beta gamma delta!

Anyway this potpourri Greek website, starting with the Greek food section, is Another jumping-off point is Happy browsing! And back to Angus for me.

December 22, 2006: I'm a little quiet lately because I'm putting all my time into the Angus Grant project. The Greek island music concert on December 2 by Beth Bahia Cohen and Paddy League was just fabulous, and I'm hoping to have them play a house concert in March or April. More on that soon. And I've just found out about a very unusual event at the Museum of Fine Arts - a dramatic reading from Thucycidides' History of the Peloponnesian War. To wit:

"Commentary by Donald Kagan, Professor of Classics at Yale University, directed by David Muse, Associate Director of the Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington D.C., and performed by the Yale School of Drama. "The Spartans debate whether to go to war; Pericles urges the Athenians not to yield to Spartan threats. Actors bring to life the issues captured in Thucydides' classic account of the epic struggle of ancient Greece that still resonate for us today." Sunday January 21, 2007, 2 pm at the Museum of Fine Arts, Huntington Ave., Boston, Mass. Reception follows. To order tickets, go to the MFA Website or phone 617-369-3006.

And, we've gone to two Greek restaurants so far, both wonderful: The Greek Corner, on Mass. Ave. in north Cambridge, and Desfina on 3rd Ave. in the other end of Cambridge, towards the Science Museum. For Christmas eve we're making avgolemeno soup, and Greek salad. Happy Holidays!

November 8, 2006: Last week I finished Ulysses Found and started in on Herodotus: The Persian Wars. Herodotus is fun to read and full of stories. However, towards the end of Book 1 I'm getting a little bogged down in geography and tribes. I wish there were a map!

Ulysses Found is fantastic! (See Sept 3rd below for an intro.) It's written on many levels - historical, geographical, literary, philosophical, psychological, mythological, linguistic, scientific, economic, nautical ... I thought I'd choose a paragraph, turns out to be very hard, there are so many good paragaraphs. Here's one towards the end:

Ulysses has become a part of all human consciousness, and even those who may never have read the Odyssey have felt him lean over their shoulder. "To be sure," wrote Admiral Boscawen during the Seven Years War, "I lose the fruits of the earth, but then I am gathering the flowers of the sea." It is not surprising that sailors throughout all ages, and in every country, have found a model in Ulysses. But he has become the embodiment of far more complex and diverse aspirations than the simple conquest of the sea. In the words of Henri Bergson, "I only know one way of finding out how far one can go, and that is by setting out and getting there."

I can't resist parts of two more consecutive paragraphs. This is a passage from Homer of Circe's description of Scylla: " ... She is sunk up to her middle in the depths of the cave, but her heads protrude from the dreadful hollow, and there she fishes, searching about the rock for any dolphin or swordfish she can find, or any of the larger fish which find their living by the thousand in the deep-voiced seas. ..."

Bradford: " ... But what particularly interests me about Circe's description of Scylla is the reference to her fishing activities. Dolphin, the Delphinus delphis, is to be found all over the Mediterranean, so the reference to dolphin excites no comment. But, if no other authority existed for identifying the haunt of Scylla with the Messina Strait [the strait between Italy and Sicily] the mention of swordfish would be a startling clue. For this northeastern corner of Sicily by the Messina Strait is one of the few areas in the Mediterranean where swordfish are regularly caught. ..."

November 7, 2006: I'm watching a TV program (another in the Engineering an Empire series on the History Channel) about Pericles and the Parthenon. What an extraordinary building! However, it's now mired in a controversial reconstruction project, which will apparently take another 20 years! Meanwhile, visitors have cranes and ongoing work to deal with. The controversy comes not from whether to do the work or how to do the work, but the cost of the work. The chief engineer hasn't been paid in 3 months!

In looking for news about the reconstruction I happened upon a couple of websites. One is called Athens News. It gives current Greek news in English. Another is Rogue Classicism: the particular page referenced is about the Parthenon restoration, and other parts of the site look very interesting!

November 6, 2006: Springstep is featuring a Greek Night! It's Saturday December 2, 8 pm, at Springstep in Medford Square, Mass. "Featuring traditional songs and dances, this performance celebrates the diverse influences that have shaped Greek island culture." Musicians Panayiotis (Paddy) League and Beth Bahia Cohen and Dance Director Nikos Bekris with dancers from Mediterranean Greece, as well as Greek communities in the US. Both Paddy and Beth have performed in Boston-area Scottish concerts (in fact Paddy is a native Gaelic speaker as well as Greek speaker!). Go to the Springstep website for ticket info.

October 18, 2006: So, I'll figure out how to put Ken's photos on the web. He forwarded them to me by email yesterday. ... An hour later (I have to re-learn the technology), try clicking HERE to see Ken's breathtaking photos.

October 17, 2006: Inspired by Ken's mailed info and photos, I've been at the web again, and found a university program which has a tour which intersects a lot of the 5-day land tour. Check out this website. A bit of history there, too, about the fact that Greece has always looked a little more to the East than the West, though Western Europe really springs from the ideas of Socrates and Plato. Note that the Greek war of independence from 400 years of Turkish domination was 1821-32, and was partially inspired by the American and French revolutions.

I also found a site which describes some of the great finds at Akrotiri, on the southern tip of Thera (Thira / Santorini), some of which were described on the A&E program "Lost Worlds - Atlantis" (see Sept 3 below), i.e. 3-storey houses, indoor plumbing, breathtaking frescoes. It's called the "Pompeii of Greece" because the ash from the volcano preserved it, and has signs of people leaving precipitously because of the earthquakes. I'm sure we won't have time to get up to Akrotiri on our tour, and I'm not sure the public is allowed anyway, but I think there is a museum in the town of Phira which houses all or most of the transportable art from the digs at Akrotiri. I have a feeling we'll be anchoring at Phira, so I'll hope to put this museum on my own brief tour of Santorini. Take a look here for some descriptions and photos of the Akrotiri site.

Ah! Now I see there are two archaeological museums in Phira, on Thira. We'll have to keep our φs and θs straight! One is the one mentioned above, called the Museum of Prehistoric Thera. It houses the Minoan frescoes, statuettes, furniture from Akrotiri, ca 1600s BCE, at the zenith of this remarkable culture. The other is the Archaeological Museum of Thera, which has vases, sculptures and inscriptions from a later period, Archaic through Roman, ca 800 BCE - 100 CE or so.

September 6, 2006: Now I've just found an obituary for Jim Mavor. I wish I could have talked with him one more time.

September 5, 2006: I'm so sad. I just found out from Nancy Rawson that Jim Mavor died. She's not sure exactly when but could be very recently, within the week. She thinks there was a memorial service for him this past weekend. Robert reminded me that he saw Jim at NEFFA last April, but didn't get a chance to talk to him. I will treasure Jim's book, hand-inscribed to me from him.

September 3, 2006: I've finished Jim Mavor's book and have started a book I haven't read before, Ulysses Found, by Ernle Bradford. "This colourful and engaging book, written by a master historian, will appeal to the armchair traveller, the literary detective, and all those who love Homer's great poem." Ernle was in the Royal Navy in WW2, is a Homeric scholar, and lover of the Mediterranean world by boat. It's basically a biography of Ulysses, and gives a small-boat-eye-view of many sites which could have been landings by the wily Ithacan warrior.

And even as I write, I've happened upon a History Channel program called "Lost Worlds: Atlantis." Is it me, or is there suddenly a whole lot of programming relating to this period??? Anyway, this program is special in that it's the first one I've seen that mentions the one and same Jim Mavor! And his excavation of Akrotiri on Thera, which had, incredibly, a planned town structure, buildings of 2 and 3 storeys, and indoor toilets.

August 29th, 2006: I think it was last Thursday (August 24?) that we accidentally caught a Discovery Channel program called Exodus, Demystified, or some such. It tells of the Biblical story of the migration of the Jews from Egypt, and links this very strongly to the volcanic eruption on Thera. Again (see below) the 10 Plagues, the parting of the Red Sea (or "Sea of Reeds"), and many of historical and Biblical events are explained in terms of the eruption. Don't miss it if you can!

August 23, 2006: Bit of a hiatus, because of Pinewoods, family trip to California, and Boston Harbor Scottish Fiddle School. But all this time I've been re-reading Jim Mavor's Voyage to Atlantis. Jim, are you alive and well? Just about done, and marvelling at the high drama, really big discoveries, the possible ties with Noah's flood, the Exodus, the Plagues of Egypt, fallow years in China, Stonehenge, much much more of "prehistory." It's one of those books I will hate to finish. Meanwhile, another couple of websites: THIS is a scholarly series about bronze-age Greece, sort of catches us up to present-day research, and THIS has a pretty interesting listing of books, movies, histories and guidebooks.

July 8, 2006: During the past week or so we've finished the BBC Alexander the Great series DVD. He was a strangely driven guy, puts me in mind of "all is sound and fury, signifying nothing." We also watched Zorba the Greek. Then I re-watched it with the Director's Commentary, most interesting, highly recommended! Turns out there was a real Zorba! More.

I'm almost finished reading The Decipherment of Linear B. It's a real page-turner. There are a couple of good articles about Linear A (the Minoan script) and Linear B (the Mycenean script) HERE. Click on A-Z, then scroll down to L for Linear. You will end up with lots of interesting links to follow!

Flo Hearn sent me a link to a company that offers courses on cassette/CD/DVD. The Ancient Greek Civilization course happens to be on sale right now. I ordered it on DVD (set of 4) and it came in about 2 days. The company is The Teaching Company.

June 22, 2006: Some of the books I've ordered have arrived: The Persian Wars by Herodotus, and The King Must Die by Mary Renault. Herodotus is called "The Father of History," and "the most homeric of historians." He was born in Halicarnassus (in now Turkey) in 484 BCE, and died in Thuria (in now Italy) in 418. During his life he traveled all over his known world, collecting information for the writing of his History. Just now I found a website with a lot of biographies, among lots of other interesting things. Click HERE for a concise bio of Herodotus; then you can browse other bios such as Alexander the Great, Vergil, Aeschylus, Alcibiades, Ali Baba, Mary Queen of Scots, Beethoven, hundreds more! And for a more detailed, scholarly article about Herodotus by David Pipes at Loyola University, click HERE - "Father of History, Father of Lies." Finally take a look at a whole website devoted to Herodotus on the Web!

At the other ends of many spectra, is Mary Renault, a very private 20th-century woman novelist and historian, born in London in 1905, died in 1983. There is a new biography of her by David Sweetman; click HERE for brief bios and a photo. The London Times Literary Supplement says of The Last of the Wine "A superb historical novel. The writing is Attic in quality, unforced, clear, delicate. The characterization is uniformly successful, and, most difficult of all, the atmosphere of Athens is realized in masterly fashion." She wrote 9 historical novels set in ancient Greece, 6 contemporary novels, and a biography of Alexander the Great.

I look forward to re-reading both these books, after about a 30-year "rest."

Films! Found an intriguing website on Wikipedia called List of Films Based on Greek Drama! This will take some time to mine, it gives titles and dates only, so I'll have to search each one to see if it's available to buy or rent, or even if it's worth seeing. One interesting one might be The Trojan Women, 1971, based on Euripides' play, with Katharine Hepburn, Vanessa Redgrave, Irene Pappas, Genevieve Bujold, Patrick Magee, directed by Michael Cacoyannis (also director of Zorba). See this NY Times Review by Vincent Canby. It is available from Netflix and from Amazon.

June 17, 2006: Found a website with a bunch of Greek shopping ideas. I'm getting a children's Greek alphabet book, and 2 CDs of Greek music. They also have cookbooks, T-shirts, folk art, pottery replicas, more. It's

I'm still looking for comic books in Greek, like Donald Duck. Turns out these are actively being published; Disney is very popular in Greece. Click here for some info; however I can't find a place on the web to mail order. I'll keep trying!

June 12, 2006: I'd like to find a copy of The Iliad in Greek. But so far came up with a reading of Book I in Greek, which downloaded in less than a second and takes up a whole 4 kb of space. It sounds very poetic and dramatic, and you hear "Agamemnon" quite frequently. The website is Wired for Books.

I found some Modern Greek lessons. A good, complete, easy to use, contantly updated course is available on the web at It's got lessons, audio pronunciation, quizzes, games, etc. You can check out the first few lessons for free, then you can register for different time periods. I've registered for a year!

And found a site with text and commentary, including lexicon links, of Greek & Latin classics: The Perseus Project.

June 11, 2006: Today we got a treasure trove of books down from the attic! Two that I had read in college were The Peloponnesian Wars by Thucydides, and The Decipherment of Linear B by John Chadwick. I hope to re-read both of them this summer. The Peloponnesian War was the great conflict between Athens and Sparta, 431-404 BCE, during the "Golden Age of Greece" and the "Age of Pericles." Thucydides' History is pretty much the only contemporary account we have of the war, and of that important time itself. One of the highlights of the book is the great Speech of Pericles to the Athenians. They don't make them like that any more!

Linear B was the written language of the Myceneans, who were the people who took over after the Minoans (after the explosion of Thera in 1645 BCE?). Agamemnon was the King of the Myceneans, and it's his sister-in-law Helen who got taken off to Troy. "The decipherment of the Mycenaean Linear B script by Michael Ventris is one of those outstanding achievements of scholarship in the present generation that have caught the imagination of ordinary men." "It is not only an account of a startling piece of philological and archaeological research, but a simple, moving human story."

For a fairly recent, very short discussion on the latest scholarship on the above explosion, click HERE.

Tonight we watched the first part of In the Footsteps of Alexander the Great. "In this BBC production, documentary filmmaker and historian Michael Woods retraces the footsteps of the legendary Alexander the Great as he traveled from Greece to India on a quest for glory." We got it from Netflix. Very good!

June 10, 2006: There are several Greek alphabet resources on the web; try this one. It gives the writing and pronunciation for both ancient and modern Greek.

Today I noticed a little link on Ken's website; click on "Greek Isles Trip" on the bar just below Ken's name for photos and weblinks for each island. Thanks Ken!

A lot of my Classics books ended up in the Attic (funny, Attica is the region of Greece of which Athens is the capital; therefore Attic Greek is the dialect spoken in Athens). One of the books that remained in the house and is well-thumbed, is the Smaller Classical Dictionary by Sir William Smith. It'll probably be one of the few books I will bring with me on the trip. It's got all the gods, myths, historical people, authors, heroes, everything mentioned in the classical literature. Link to the alibris site to browse.

June 8, 2006: First, we'll start with something close to home. Here in the Boston Branch RSCDS, we have a member who has written a book called Voyage to Atlantis - A Firsthand Account of the Scientific Expedition to Solve the Riddle of the Ages by James W. Mavor, Jr. We've danced with Jim down on the Cape many times, and this book is fascinating! The Boston Globe said "[Mavor's findings] may have the same importance for this generation as the discovery of Pompeii in the 17th century." I read the book a long time ago, and it's slated for re-reading this year. One of the other archaeologists was Emily Vermeule of Harvard University, whom I met in the 70s in the Classics Department at Berkeley. More about the book: "For 2,000 years Atlantis has tantalized the minds of men and women: Was it a myth or a memory? Did it exist and, if so, where? How and why did it disappear? Here is the full, firsthand account by the man who led the scientific expedition that found Atlantis and revealed the cause of its destruction - the greatest single natural disaster witnessed and recorded by humankind - a cataclysm so great it left its indelible impact on the myths and legends of numerous cultures." ... "James Mavor, an oceanographic engineer now retired from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, was one of the principal designers of Alvin, the deep-diving research submarine." The tour will be going to Santorini / Thera / Thira, which is at the center of this very interesting book. Link to Amazon: click HERE.

In the same vein, we recently watched a video we purchased from the web: Time Life's Lost Civilizations: Aegean - Legacy of Atlantis. When we go to Santorini we'll hope to see some of the incredibly advanced and graceful artwork of the Minoan civilization, which flourished about 2000 b.c., thus pre-Trojan War. The film underlines all the theories proposed by Jim in his 1969 book. Link to TravelVideoStore: click HERE.

Back soon! Stay tuned!

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