Friday, April 23, 2010

"I Have Gazed Upon The Face Of Agamemnon"

On March 14, a very busy day for us, we visited Mycenae after our visit to Corinth.

Mycenae was the capital city of the powerful ruling dynasty that governed most of the Eastern Mediterranean for 500 years during The Late Bronze Age. Indeed, Mycenae was so influential from 1600 B.C. to 1100 B.C. that those five centuries are often referred to as The Mycenaean Period.

Unique for the age, the royal city of Mycenae was situated neither upon water nor upon a well-traveled trade route. Instead, the city was erected amidst rugged terrain in the mountainous interior of The Peloponnese. It is believed that the city was intentionally founded upon a site ideal for defense against foreign invasion.

Most of the ruins to be seen in Mycenae today are remnants of structures built between 1350 B.C. and 1200 B.C., the peak years of Mycenaean civilization.

One enters the city proper (The Citadel) through the Lion’s Gate, erected circa 1250 B.C.

The Lion’s Gate is reached only after an arduous climb up a steep, rocky, winding road built during The Late Bronze Age. The road was constructed so as to make attempted invasions of the royal city exceedingly difficult.

While city walls and foundations of the royal palace are still visible, the most important Mycenae monuments visible today are grave circles (funerary enclosures used for the burials of non-notables) and royal tombs (the monumental graves of Mycenae’s rulers and aristocrats).

The photograph below shows one of Mycenae’s two large grave circles.

It is unknown how many persons were buried in each of the grave circles. While the remains of dozens of persons have been uncovered in both grave circles, it is likely that the grave circles represented a symbolic place to pay tribute to the dead rather than a final resting place (the common practice in Mycenaean civilization was to incinerate, not to bury, the dead).

Important personages were not buried in grave circles. Important personages were, instead, granted individual burial monuments.

Mycenae buried its nobles in beehive tombs (large, circular burial chambers with high vaulted roofs). The tombs featured solemn, even dramatic, entranceways lined with stone.

The tombs, vandalized only a few generations after they were first erected, were richly adorned when new. The dead, laid to rest in sitting positions, were buried with gold masks, tiaras, jeweled armor and weapons, and other luxuries befitting their exalted statuses.

The largest and most famous tomb of Mycenae is today known as The Treasury Of Atreus. Historians speculate that it may have served as the tomb of Agamemnon, although there is no direct evidence to support such a claim.

The photograph below shows the entrance to The Treasury Of Atreus.

The photograph below shows the interior of The Treasury Of Atreus, illuminated with its single source of natural light.

By 1100 B.C., Mycenae was abandoned, a victim of earthquakes, fires and waves of destruction by foreign invaders. The abandonment of the city was coincident with the sudden collapse of Mycenaean civilization, a collapse that attended the end of The Late Bronze Age.

The swift demise of Mycenaean civilization resulted in a great and lasting Dark Age for the entire Eastern Mediterranean, a Dark Age whose long-term effects vastly exceeded the effects of the Dark Age that was to follow the collapse of The Roman Empire sixteen centuries later.

Trade and commerce came to a halt. Literacy disappeared (as did entire languages). Ruinous declines in population occurred. Flourishing city-states with sophisticated political structures ceased to exist almost overnight, replaced by scattered and thinly-populated villages that lacked significant contact with the outside world. Mycenaean culture, known for art and architecture, advanced naval vessels and land weaponry, and high-technology coinage and communication and record-keeping systems, was wiped from the face of the earth in a near-instant.

Greece was not to begin to recover from this particular Dark Age for 400 years.

The highly-developed civilizations of Anatolia in present-day Turkey were to take even longer to rebound, not to emerge from this Dark Age for over 1000 years.

Addendum Of 14 August 2010: The photograph of the interior of The Treasury Of Atreus, which I found on a Greek travel website and which may be viewed elsewhere on the worldwide web, was taken in 2009 by Mr. Richard Buck of Oxford, United Kingdom. Mr. Buck’s photograph is by far the finest photograph I have encountered of the interior of The Treasury Of Atreus. The original photograph may be viewed, in ultra-high resolution, on Mr. Buck’s Flickr page, which may be found [link disabled, pursuant to Blogger request, on 8 September 2010] .

Addendum Of 28 August 2010: The very same photograph of the interior of The Treasury Of Atreus also appears in a 2003 disc of photographs distributed by the U.S. arm of The Tourist Authority Of Greece and mailed to prospective U.S. travelers in response to requests for information about the 2004 Athens Olympic Games. The photograph was clearly taken by a professional photographer during a period in which the historic attraction was closed to the public—there are no tourists milling about, inside or out, and no tourist shadows, and no modern torches illuminating the interior of the dark cavern, all of which are in conspicuous evidence during visitor hours. In the booklet accompanying the 2003 photo disc, the photographs contained on the disc are credited to: S. Adrianou, G. Efstathiou, D. Karvelas, A. Michelis, B. Ostroff and C. Thiamis.

Addendum Of 8 September 2010:

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  1. Interesting post and great photos. Sounds like you're having an amazing trip.

  2. Well, we're back now. We were in Greece from the morning of March 13 until the morning of March 21.

    Pleased to see you are back writing again. You had disappeared for a while.

    I was going to enter a comment on your Maurizio Pollini entry, but I had nothing meaningful to add.

    Glad you enjoyed the concert.

  3. What a fascinating trip you two embarked on! :oD Thanks a bunch for sharing what you learned with us. Now I have a better idea in my head when I put my favorite recording of Strauss' Elektra on the stereo and try to envision the scenes!

  4. Smorg, I thought of "Elektra" the entire time we were in Mycenae.

    The foundations of the royal palace remain, and portions of the palace walls are still standing, some more than ten feet high.

    One undamaged stone staircase has survived, suggesting the palace had at least two levels, and portions of two additional staircases may be observed.

    One of the royal beehive tombs was allegedly built for Clytemnesta, but most Classics scholars do not accept the claim (although the Greek government seems to push this theory pretty hard, probably for reasons of tourism).

  5. Drew, I'm sure you're on top of the local concert scene in the Boston area--I recall that's where you are--but I thought I'd mention that Pollini is giving recitals in the Boston area too. Don't know if he's your cup of tea.

  6. I love Pollini. We last heard him in October 2008, in the Schumann Concerto with the Boston Symphony.

    Pollini's Boston concert is this afternoon. The program will be all-Chopin, although I believe the program will be different from the Chopin program you heard in New York.

    We must skip the concert. Josh's exams begin on Tuesday.

  7. Hi Andrew

    Glad to see that you liked my picture of the Treasury of Atreus – if it's not an imposition, can I ask of you'd mind changing it to link back to the original, please? (That's flickr policy and my personal preference - also the Creative Commons licence does specify attribution in the terms.) Many thanks!

  8. Thank you, and done.

    Please see the Addendum I have added to my original entry.

  9. Many thanks for adding the credit, and the link, and the kind remarks: if you can remember which website you saw it on, I'd be very grateful for the name — unless they're making direct use of flickr's API (and possibly even then) they're using the image (and probably others) without permission.

    Once again, many thanks.

  10. Hi Andrew

    I'm sorry you haven't been able to tell me where you saw my photo used elsewhere on the web: I personally haven't been able to find it reused anywhere else.

    It also occurs to me that your kind addendum doesn't actually make clear that I own the copyright on the picture.

    It is true that I have partially waived some of my rights by applying a Creative Commons licence to it, but one of the conditions of that licence is that "for any reuse or distribution, you must make clear to others the license terms of this work," and this isn't clear from your post or your addendum.

    I must ask you, therefore, in order to help prevent any further 'innocent' infringements of my copyright, to please add either a link to the Creative Commons licence or a simple "© 2009 Richard M Buck" below the photograph in question.

    Once again, many thanks,

    Richard M Buck

  11. Dear Andrew

    Since you have had over 72 hours to respond to my comment requesting that you fulfil the terms of the Creative Commons licence I linked to, and your only response appears to have been to delete that comment, I am forced to conclude that you are unwilling to respect the terms of the licence. I note that you have made a blog post in the intervening time, showing that you clearly had the opportunity to respond to my comment in a more positive and/or polite way if you chose to do so.

    This means that your continued use of the image referred to above is an infringement of my copyright. I must advise you that I have now, therefore, changed the licence applied to this image to "All Rights Reserved", as I feel that if you were now to choose to comply fully with the terms of the formerly applicable Creative Commons licence it would really be too little, too late. Since you have neither sought nor been given permission to use this copyrighted material, you should remove it from your blog immediately. I have also completed an online Blogger Digital Millenium Copyright Act Infringement notification to this effect.

    You may feel that this requirement is a little petty, and perhaps it is: however, I would remind you that you could have avoided it at several points in the process — by not publishing copyrighted material without proper attribution in the first place; by giving an apology rather than an apologia, when challenged; or by not having the outstanding discourtesy to delete and ignore a comment which asked you merely to act within the terms of the Creative Commons licence then applicable. In simple terms, you could have had it for free if you'd been prepared to play nicely, but you weren't, and now you can't have it at all.


    Richard M Buck

  12. Mr. Buck, blogger within the last week instituted a spam system for comments. I was unaware of this new spam system until today, when I noticed for the first time that I now have a spam folder. Curious, I clicked on it—and your two recent comments appeared. I presume blogger directed your two recent comments to the spam folder because you were posting on an old post (but this is solely a guess on my part). Your two recent comments have now been published.

    On August 14, 2010, upon receipt of your first comment, I added an addendum to my original post, attributing you as the photographer of the photograph in question, and I provided a link to the page on your website on which the photograph appears. Pursuant to the terms of the Creative Commons License (the validity, application and scope of which are being hammered out in American courts), my efforts were sufficient to satisfy the terms of such license. Further indicia of ownership are unnecessary as a matter of law.

    In any case, any use of photographs on my weblog, a noncommercial weblog not written or published for profit, is covered by the “fair use” exception for copyrights, a long-standing doctrine in American intellectual property law.

    It might interest you to know that the photograph in question, which you assert to be your own work, is included in a 2003 photo disc of highlights of Greece. The photo disc was distributed by an arm of The Tourist Authority Of Greece and mailed to U.S. citizens that had inquired about attending the 2004 Olympics in Athens.

    I have noted such fact in a second addendum to the above post, published today.