A Cabinet of Greek Curiosities: Strange Tales and Surprising Facts from the Cradle of Western Civilization
J. C. McKeown
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The ancient Greeks were a wonderful people. They gave us democracy, drama, and philosophy, and many forms of art and branches of science would be inconceivable without their influence. And yet, they were capable of the most outlandish behavior, preposterous beliefs, and ludicrous opinions.
Like its companion volume, A Cabinet of Roman Curiosities, this is an uproarious miscellany of odd stories and facts, culled from a lifetime of teaching ancient Greek civilization. In some ways, the book demonstrates how much the Greeks were like us. Politicians were regarded as shallow and self-serving; overweight people resorted to implausible diets; Socrates and the king of Sparta used to entertain their children by riding around on a stick pretending it was a horse. Of course, their differences from us are abundantly documented too and the book may leave readers with a few incredulous questions. To ward off evil, were scapegoats thrown down from cliffs, though fitted out with feathers and live birds to give them a sporting chance of survival? Did a werewolf really win the boxing event at the Olympic Games? Were prisoners released on bail so that they could enjoy dramatic festivals? Did anyone really believe that Pythagoras flew about on a magic arrow? Other such mysteries abound in this quirky and richly illustrated journey into the "glory that was Greece."
"The loveliest thing on the black earth."
Sappho of Lesbos
"Well worth getting a copy."
Pisistratus of Athens
"Meticulously written, a must for every library."
Ptolemy of Alexandria
Atlas the Titan
Cassandra, priestess of Apollo
"The ideal gift."
Laocoon of Troy
"Not too long."
Callimachus of Cyrene
"I find something new every time I dip in."
Archimedes of Syracuse
attached to it (Cyranides 2.7). A fibula is a little ring that tragic and comic actors have inserted into their penis, to prevent them from having sexual intercourse, for fear that they might lose their voice (Scholion to Juvenal Satires 6.379). A terra-cotta model of a sandal with the word AKOΛOYΘ[E]I (AKOLOUTH[E]I, “follow [me]”) picked out in the nails on the sole. Presumably a prostitute might wear such sandals. PROSTITUTES Moirichus wanted Phryne to sleep with him, but when she
when red-hot (Plutarch Life of Lycurgus 9). The coin at the beginning of this chapter is Spartan, but from the 1st century B.C., when the traditional way of life was entirely gone. After the Battle of Plataea, the Spartan helots were ordered to collect the plunder from the Persian camp. They stole many items and sold them to the Aeginetans. This laid the foundation for Aegina’s great prosperity, for they bought the gold from the unwitting helots as if it were merely brass (Herodotus Histories
Claudius had Alexander’s face cut out from them and Augustus’s added instead (Pliny Natural History 35.94). In the largest synagogue the Romans set up a bronze statue of Caligula riding in a four-horse chariot. They did this in such haste that, since they did not have a new chariot available, they brought a very old one from the gymnasium. It was covered in rust, and the ears and tails of the horses had been damaged, as had the pedestal and other parts of it. Some people say it was actually
Papyri 11b.1). Burn the head of a hare under a drawing of a pair of gladiators, and they will seem to [come alive and] fight (Greek Magical Papyri 7.176). To induce a sleeping woman to confess the name of the man she loves: put a bird’s tongue under her lips or on her heart and ask the question—she will say his name three times (Greek Magical Papyri 63.8). To find out by means of a die if a person is alive or has died: have your client throw a die in a bowl, and then have him fill the
cannot be taken away from anyone (Ps.-Menander Sayings 2). Aristotle used to say that education was an ornament in prosperity, a refuge in adversity (Diogenes Laertius Lives of the Philosophers 5.19). When the people of Mytilene gained control of the sea, they punished those of their allies who had revolted from them by not allowing their children to learn to read and write or to have any education at all; for they regarded a life of uncultured ignorance as the severest of all punishments