Month: January 2012

Traditional and Historical Origins of Certain Supernatural Ideologies

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History of the UndeadVintageZombie

“It is fairly well known that there are origin stories in the traditions of South America but as a Graeco-Roman historian I wondered also about European origins.”

Post Written by Graecomuse for her wonderful friend VintageZombie. VintageZombie is undertaking fantastic studies in popular culture focusing on the personification of human emotions and ideals in the supernatural.

Ker or Poena, Lucanian red-figure krater C4th B.C., Cleveland Museum of Art


War Minus the Shooting: Ideals behind the Ancient Olympic Games

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‘War Minus the Shooting’, is what Orwell in Spivey’s ‘The Ancient Olympics’ states as being what serious sport amounts to.  But, can this be said to be the sole idea behind competition at the Olympic Games in the seventh and eighth centuries BC, or did competition amount to more?

Competition at the Olympic Games was not just about ‘war minus the shooting’ especially since one of its key bases was in religion.  By competing, athletes were attempting to become closer to the gods.  Spivey asserts that in Greek Myth all the events that appeared at the Olympic Games during the eighth and seventh centuries BC were first participated in by gods or heroes.[1]  This suggests that by participating in these competitions, the athletes were striving to reach what those gods associated with those events, represented. Spathari explains that the competition and training was essentially an attempt to attain and evolve physical, intellectual and spiritual powers.[2]  In striving to perfect their physical and spiritual wellbeing the Ancient Greeks believed that they would follow the path which led to the divine.

Tampa 86.35. chariot race. Photograph courtesy of the Tampa Museum of Art

Excavators have uncovered evidence of altars in and around the sanctuary of Zeus in the form of ashy deposits, which could be attributed to the seventh and eighth centuries, along with a number of votive offerings.[5]  The Olympic Games were primarily a religious festival and the competition was a way of worshipping the gods: primarily Zeus who came to Olympia in the tenth century with the Eleans.  It is also argued by such as Sansone that “all sport is a ritual sacrifice of bodily energy”[6] suggesting that the competitor and competition at Olympia doubled as both a dedicator and a dedication.

Early competition in the Olympic Games also held associations with the heroic ideal.  Competition at Olympia was in part a means to gain attributes of the heroic ideal as set out by Homer.  Tyrrell assesses that one of the most important aims of competition at the Olympic Games was to become the best of men.[7]  Tyrell’s assessment is backed up by Homer’s statement “always to be best and superior to others”[8] (Iliad VI 208), which was transformed into an idea that became the essence of competition in the Ancient Greek World.  It became a purpose of competition to achieve this superior status amongst your fellow competitors.

Heroic poetry had a very significant role in competition in Ancient Greece and in particular at the Olympic Games.  The competitive ethos within these texts influenced the people’s ideas of what was important in life and how these ideals could be achieved.  This heroic poetry expresses that fame, honour and glory are the most important things to strife for, and this was an idea internalised by ancient Greek society to the extreme.  Competition at events such as the Olympic Games was the only way one could achieve the glory only otherwise gained in war.[9]  In this way the Olympic Games could be viewed as “war minus the shooting,”  but not in the sense which Orwell refers to.  Spivey notes that Homer can be assessed as a great influence on competitive ethos throughout the whole of society due to becoming a “set text for school children, a poet whose lines were widely known and often quoted.”[10]

Tyrrell explains that the ancient Greeks admired and “strove to emulate the values of the Homeric warrior,” [11] chief among these values being his arete, his valour. The Iliad and the Odyssey illustrate the shame culture in Ancient Greece and the Homeric values of honour and fame.  This competitive ethos was internalized from the heroic poetry, and competitions such as at the Olympic Games were a means of achieving what all Greeks desired, kleos (κλέος) and arete (ἀρετή).  Homer’s account of the funeral games of Patroclus demonstrates the quest for kleos (fame/glory) and arete (valour) though athletic competition.[12] When Menelaos and Antiochos are arguing over the prize of second place in the chariot race, essentially they are arguing for their kleos and to retain their arete.  Homer’s account of this event illustrates the importance of these values to Greek society in the ferocity of the arguments of these two characters.[13]

Tyrell asserts that the “study of Greek athletes begins with the warrior’s arete because in many ways his values continued to impel men to pursue through athletics the glory no longer obtainable in war.”[15]  During the eighth and seventh centuries BC the quest for individual honour was forced out of war by the introduction of the hoplite form of fighting.  This suggests that the quest for honour moved to other “competitive areas”[16], among them the athletic contest.

Good strife being born of “a coupling between Zeus and the night, encouraged mortals to make the most of their brief time on earth…nurture desires for wealth and fame.”[18]   Due to the popularity and influence of this idea worded by Hesiod, it can be asserted that competition at the Olympic Games was not only about “war minus the shooting,” but a means to create this good strife.  Spivey assesses that Homer and Hesiod “established and exemplified the principle of positive strife”[19] and promoted contests and challenges as the “necessary trials of all creative endeavour.”[20]

Discobolus (Discus Thrower), Roman copy of 5th C Greek statue from the British Museum

Orwell believed that competition was bound up with “hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence.”[21]  Though in many ways competition in the Olympic Games does reflect the acts of warfare, it was also about friendship and unity of states and a reflection of the individual and society. Eusebius asserts that Iphitus consulted the Delphic oracle and introduced the Olympic festival in response to the concern for wars, and he proclaimed a truce for those involved in the Olympic Games.[22]  Homer in ‘The Odyssey’ demonstrates that rivalry ceased to be hostile and became friendly competition as the character of the Odyssey’s games is the same as that attributed to the Panhellenic games.[23]

An assessment of competition at the Olympic Games suggests that spectators did not just see competitions as mindless violence, but as a reflection of themselves and their emotions.  This idea can be seen clearly in the ancient term ‘Olympiakoi Agones’ (Ολυμπιακοί Αγώνες) meaning the ‘Olympic Games’.  Agon which is the Greek word for contest is related to the English word ‘agony’ and is hence a reference to the contest being a reflection of one’s emotions in relation to Olympic competition.

The idea of “war minus the shooting” though is by no means unprecedented in relation to competition at the Olympic Games in the seventh century BC at least. [24]  Spivey states that sport was a “sublimated form of human aggression, a channelling of the biological instinct to fight.”[25]  In other words, though the competition’s main purpose was the quest for honour and glory, the desire for which was the result of the internalisation of competitive ethos from heroic poetry, the platonic essence of athletics was an act of mimicry of fighting.  This relation to the mimicry can be seen in eighth century black figure pottery where the sports illustrated, such as wrestling and hand to hand combat,[26] can be rationalised as a set of drills for “infantry fighting” in later centuries.[27]

From the analysis of the Olympic Games in the seventh and eighth centuries BC we see that competition did not just amount to “War Minus the Shooting.”  Competition was not only the mimicry of war acts but was seen as a religious dedication and was concerned with trying to achieve a status close to the gods and divinity by trying to be the best of men and participating in events associated with the gods. Though later on in the seventh century, competition did reflect many of the acts of warfare, it was first and foremost a quest to gain and retain honour and hence considerably more than “War Minus the Shooting.”

[1] Spivey, N., The Ancient Olympics (Oxford, 2005), p.4

[2] Spathari, E., the Greek Spirit of Competition and the Panhellenic Games, in 1000 Years of the Olympic Games (Sydney, 2000), p.16

[3] Vergil, The Aenied, Penguin Classics (Trans. W. F. Jackson Knight), (Oxford, 2006), Book VI

[4] Ibid., Book VI

[5] Raschke, W.J., The Archaeology of the Olympics (Wisconsin), p.21

[6] Golden, M., Sport and Society in Ancient Greece (Cambridge, 1998), p.17

[7] Tyrrell, B., The Smell of Sweat: Greek Athletics, Olympics, and Culture (Illinois, 2004), p.4

[8] Homer, Iliad, Translated by A.T. Murray, 1924, Book VI 208

[9] Tyrell, B., op.cit., p.2

[10] Spivey, op.cit., p.15

[11] Tyrell, op.cit., p.2

[12] Homer, op.cit., Book VI – Presentation of the prizes for the chariot race at the funeral games of Patroclus

[13] Ibid., Book VI 208

[15] Tyrell op.cit., p.2

[16] Ibid.,  p 8

[18] Spivey, op.cit., p.3

[19] Ibid., p.5

[20] Ibid., p.5

[21] Ibid., p.1

[22] Eusebius, Chronicle, p 193

[23] Homer, Odyssey 8.97-253 – Odysseus in the tenth year after the Trojan war stays with the Phaeacians and participates in athletic contests as a guest of the Phaeacians.

[24] Eusebius chronicle – shows that events that emulated war like activities only start to occur around 708BC with introduction of wrestling and the pentathlon later followed in the early seventh century BC by chariot and boxing competitions.

[25] Spivey, op.cit., p.2

[26] 1000 Years of the Olympic Games (Sydney, 2000), p.18

[27] Spivey, op.cit., p.3

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If you liked this post you may like to read The Fall of the Ancient Olympics: The Theodosian Code

Important Rules to Remember When Learning Ancient Greek Part 2

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Well with part one of ‘Important Rules to Remember When Learning Ancient Greek’ being the most viewed post in last three months, let me present you with part two. Important rules to remember when looking at the imperfective and the aorist. Hopefully this will be helpful in remembering terms and simple rules when you are in the process of learning or improving your Greek.

The secondary active suffixes

MS 2649 LEVITICUS 10:15 - 11:3; 11:12 - 47; 12:8 - 13:6; 23:20 - 30; 25:30 - 40
  • Kind of action = verbal aspect
  • Past tenses of the active indicative = Imperfect and Aorist
  • Greek verbs have three sets of forms for indicating action in past time
    • Imperfective aspect = imperfect indicative
    • Aoristic aspect = aorist indicative
    • Perfective aspect = pluperfect indicative
  • Past time is indicated by the prefixing of the past time morpheme = AUGMENT ε
  • Augment appears only in secondary tenses
  • All aorists and imperfects use Greek secondary suffixes (For a full list of the secondary suffixes see Black, p.49)

The imperfect active indicative

  • Imperfect tense = augmenting the present stem, attaching the connecting vowels ο/ε, adding secondary suffix
1st Person Singular:   ἔ-λυ-ον = I was releasing
2nd Person Singular: ἔ-λυ-ες
3rd Person Singular:  ἔ-λυ-ε(ν)
1st Person Plural:        ἐ-λύ-ομεν
2nd Person Plural:      ἐ-λύ-ετε
3rd Person Plural:       ἔ-λυ-ον
The Aorist active indicative
  • Aorist Active Indicative = augment, add aoristic aspect morpheme σα, add secondary active suffix
  • Major difference = aoristic aspect morpheme
1st Person Singular:   ἔ-λυ-σα = I released
2nd Person Singular: ἔ-λυ-σας
3rd Person Singular:  ἔ-λυ-σε
1st Person Plural:        ἐ-λύ-σαμεν
2nd Person Plural:      ἐ-λύ-σατε
3rd Person Plural:       ἔ-λυ-σαν

Amalgamation in the aorist tense

  • When aoristic aspect morpheme σα added
  • Same kind of modifications are made in the final consonants of the stem as are made when the future time morpheme σ is added to form the future stem
  • Κ, γ, χ + σ = ξ
  • Π, β, φ + σ = ψ
  • Τ, δ, θ +σ = σ

The Augment

  • Several important allomorphs
  • If the verb stem begins with a consonant = ADDITIVE MORPHEME = SYLLABIC AUGMENT
  • If the verb stem begins with a short vowel = PROCESS MORPHEME, TEMPORAL AUGMENT = lengthens the short vowel to the corresponding long vowel
  • If the verb begins with a long vowel/long diphthong = ZERO MORPHEME AUGMENT = no visible phonetic change
  • Some Greek verbs take a double augment = both an additive and a process morpheme = αγω = αγαγ- = ηγαγον
  • Some are irregular = εχω = ειχον

The imperfect indicative of ειμι

  • Its person-number suffixes are those of the secondary active tenses with the exception of the first person singular = middle/passive suffix, and 3rd Singular = takes a nu

First and second Aorists

Panel from an Ivory box (The Maskell Ivories), Rome, Present Location: British Museum, Date: 420-430
  • Two basic patterns
  • Difference is one of form only
  • -ed
  • First Aorists have σα aoristic aspect morpheme
  • Most Greek verbs have first aorist forms
  • Second aorist forms are identical to the forms of the imperfect tense except for their stems
  • The second aorist differs from the imperfect by differences within the stem itself
  • The only difference between the imperfect and the second aorist indicative is that the imperfect is formed on the present stem, while the second aorist is formed on the aorist stem = VOWEL GRADATION = like the English ‘sing’/’sang’
  • Some verbs form their second Aorists by substituting entirely different forms = SUPPLETIVES = λεγω = ειπον eg. Went and go

Second aorist stems

  • Add the augment and imperfect ending to the second aorist stem
  • The second aorist is translated exactly the same as the first aorist
  • The original stem of a Greek verb is often preserved in the second aorist

Uses of the imperfect and aorist

  • PROGRESSIVE IMPERFECT = continuous action in the past = I kept loosing
  • CUSTOMARY IMPERFECT = habitual action in the past = I used to loose
  • CONATIVE IMPERFECT = attempted action in the past = I tried to loose
  • INCEPTIVE IMPERFECT = initiation of an action in the past = I began to loose
  • CONSTATIVE AORIST = views an action in its totality = was built
  • INGRESSIVE AORIST = emphasises beginning of an action = lived
  • EFFECTIVE AORIST = views action from the vantage point of the conclusion = I have learned

Resources that may help you further:

Perseus Vocabulary Tools

New Testament Greek Grammar Books

Learn to Read New Testament Greek, Third Edition, By: David Alan Black

Little Greek 101

Note that this website can be followed by pressing the ‘Follow by Email’ option on the right hand side of the screen :)

Important Rules to Remember When Learning Ancient Greek Part 1

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There are many reasons why one may study ancient Greek and Koine Greek; as a student of the classics, archaeology, new testament studies, pure interest, but when we learn a new language we are often bowled over by the amount of rules and terms to remember with just the basics. So in response to some of my students I am here providing some of the most important rules when learning basic Greek so one can remember them, refer to them and read the Greek better.

The Alphabet:

  • 24 Letters, many similar to English ones
  • 7 vowels
  • Short vowels = α  ε  ι  ο  υ
  • Long vowels = α  η  ι  ω  υ = note Eta and Omega are long forms of Epsilon and Omicron
  • Γγ is pronounced as ng. Thus ἅγγελος is angelos (angel)
  • There is still debate over how eta is pronounced
  • Iota can sometimes behave as a consonant when it begins a work (ie. Like a Y in English). Thus IAKWB is Yakob
  • Ensure that there is a difference in sound between k and x, by over-emphasising the h sound in x.
  • Watch Nu – it looks like an English V
  • Watch Rho – it looks like an English P
  • The letter sigma is written in two different ways, depending on where it is in the word. Lunate sigma at end of word. Eg. χριστός
  • It can often be helpful to know that in English words derived from Greek the U has become a Y, eg. Mystery
  • DIPHTHONG = Two different vowels combined into one syllable
  • Four sibilants or s sounds = ζ ξ σ ψ

Accents and Breathings:

  • Rough breathing mark ( = initial h
  • Smooth breathing mark ) = no initial h sound
  • E(n = one = hen
  • E)n = in = en
  • Initial rho and upsilon always have the rough breathings, eg. ῥῆμα (word) and ὑποκριτής (hypocrite)
  • With a rho = H not pronounced
  • If with a capital letter = breathing goes to left
  • Acute /
  • Grave \

    Oldest Known Image of Jesus from Duras Europos 235AD
  • Circumflex ~
  • Accents occasionally distinguish between words that are otherwise identical. Eg. εἰ means ‘if’; εἶ means ‘you are’
  • Accents serve to indicate which syllable in a Greek word is to be stressed in pronunciation
  • Apostrophe indicates the omission of the final short vowel before a word that begins with a vowel or a diphthong δι’ αὐτου= (through him)
  • This is called ELISION
  • DIAERESIS (¨) occurs where two vowels that normally combine to form a diphthong are to be pronounced separately
  • CORONIS (‘) indicates the combination of two words with the loss of an intermediate letter or letters. Combination of two words = CRASIS eg. I’m, eg. κἀγώ = καί ἐγω “and I”

Present and Future Verbs:

  • ACTIVE VOICE = subject is performing an action
  • PASSIVE VOICE = subject is being acted upon
  • MIDDLE VOICE = subject is pictured as acting in its own interest
  • AFFIRMATION is said to be INDICATIVE mood
  • Express a command = IMPERATIVE mood
  • Express a contingency = SUBJUNCTIVE mood
  • Express a verbal idea without limiting it by person and number = INFINITIVE MOOD
  • Expresses a polite request = OPTATIVE mood
  • PRIMARY (or PRINCIPLE) TENSES = present, future, perfect and future perfect
  • SECONDARY (or HISTORICAL) TENSES = imperfect, aorist and pluperfect
  • Greek has separate sets of person-number suffixes for the primary tenses and for the secondary tenses
  • Greek adds a vowel before the suffixes –men and –te = CONNECTING VOWEL
  • By removing the –w we obtain the present stem
  • The conjugation of present active indicative of –w verb = substitute present stem of that verb, add primary suffices with appropriate connecting vowels
  • Greek indicates future time by adding a sigma to the present stem = FUTURE TIME MORPHEME = ‘will’ equivalent
  • When the stem of a verb ends in a consonant, a phonological change will occur when the future time morpheme sigma is attached.
  • Π, β, φ, + σ = ψ
  • Κ, γ, χ + σ = ξ
  • Τ, δ, θ drop out before the σ
  • ‘Not’ is expressed by the adverb οὐ
  • Used with the indicative mood
  • μή is used with all other moods
  • Both precede the word to which they refer
  • Finite verbs convey = tense, voice, mood, person, and number
  • + its source (lexical or vocabulary form) of the verb

Nouns of the Second Declension:

  • NOMINATIVE = subject
  • ACCUSATIVE = object
  • GENITIVE = possessor
  • DATIVE = indirect object
  • VOCATIVE = person or thing addressed
  • Greek nouns can be grouped together according to the manner in which their endings change
  • Change in case and number
  • Number = singular or plural
  • Nouns with the same pattern of ending are called declensions
  • Three basic declensions in Greek
  • Second declension may be divided into two main groups = nouns whose nominative singular end in –os; and those than end in –on
  • There are also several feminine nouns of the second declension
  • Some second declension nouns are irregular in their formulation eg. ἰησοῦς
  • ABLATIVAL GENITIVE = indicates a source = ‘from a house’
  • LOCATIVE DATIVE = ‘in a field’
  • INSTRUCTIONAL DATIVE = ‘by a word’
  • Definite article = THE
  • NT writers typically placed the subject after the verb

Nouns of the First Declension:

Papyrus 66: This manuscript contains almost the complete Gospel of John
  • Next most regular declension after the second
  • Five paradigms
  • Differences between these paradigms are due to certain phonetic changes and are confined to the singular
  • No neuter nouns of the first declension
  • If the stem of a word ends in the phonemes ε, ι, or ρ, then the α of the nominative singular is retained
  • If the stem of the word ends in a sibilant phoneme then the α of the nominative singular lengthens to -ης and –η
  • If the stem ends in a phoneme other than ε, ι, ρ, or a sibilant, then the η in the nominative singular is retained throughout the singular
  • Mostly feminine
  • 112 masculine nouns of the first declension
  • All five paradigms have the same plural endings
  • Prepositions with One Case
    • Used with a noun (or pronoun) in order to clarify the relationship of the noun to some other word in a sentence
    • Located before the noun = PRE-POSITION
    • In Greek, numerous prepositions take a single case, but others take two or even three cases
    • Four Greek Prepositions that are used with a single case
    • Απο = takes genitive case = from, away from, of = αφ’ before rough breathing
    • Εις = takes accusative case = into, to, for, in
    • Εκ = takes genitive case = out of, from, by
    • Εν = takes the dative case = in, within, by, with, among
    • A preposition is always to be read in conjunction with what it governs in a sentence
    • This combination is called a prepositional phrase
  • The Paradigm of the Definite Article
    • The feminine article followed the paradigm of φωνη
    • The masculine and neuter inflections follow ανθρωπος/δωρον with the exception of the nominative singular
    • The root of the definite article is the rough breathing in the nominative masculine and feminine (singular and plural) and τ elsewhere


  • A Greek adjective agrees with the noun that it modifies in gender, number, and case.
  • Most adjectives will therefore have 24 forms like the article
  • Called THREE-TERMINATION ADJECTIVES as have for masculine, feminine and neuter
  • Smaller number of TWO-TERMINATION ADJECTIVES with no separate forms for the feminine
  • Frequently these include COMPOUND ADJECTIVES = composed of two of more constituent parts eg. Αδυνατος ‚impossible‛
  • Feminine forms follow the first declension
  • Masculine and neuter forms follow the second declension
  • When stem ends in ε, ι, or ρ, the feminine singular will use α; otherwise it will use η
  • Summary of the Uses of the Adjective

Resources that may help you further:

Perseus Vocabulary Tools

New Testament Greek Grammar Books

Learn to Read New Testament Greek, Third Edition, By: David Alan Black

Little Greek 101

Note that this website can be followed by pressing the ‘Follow by Email’ option on the right hand side of the screen :)