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The ANTIKYTHERA MECHANISM and the NATIONAL ARCHAEOLOGICAL MUSEUM – ATHENS.

This is a statue of a sleeping Maenid found on the southern side of the Athenian Acropolis. Circa AD117-138. Photo by JE

The National Archaeological Museum in Athens was my favourite museum of all those we visited. It was serendipitous that we visited this museum and were able to see the Antikythera Exhibition.

This is a statue of a kouros made in Naxian marble and found in Souniaon at the Temple of Poseidon. Circa 600BC. Photo by JE

I hadn’t  known where this extraordinary exhibition was when scheduling our trip and it is one I’ve longed to see. It did not disappoint.

Notice the difference in the detail between the two kouros statues despite the mere seventy or so years between their creation.

This is a statue of a kouros in Parian marble. It was removed from the grave of Kroisis and liberated from France in 1934. Circa 530BC. Photo by JE

The inscription on the memorial to this young man reads as follows:

Stop and mourn at the grave of dead Kroisis whom the raging Ares destroyed when he fought among the defenders.”

This museum had been renovated for 2004, and it is fantastic. There is a chronological logic to the way the permanent exhibits are now displayed.

Head statue

Part of a sculpture from the Temple of Aphaia on Aegina Island. circa 500BC. Photo by JE

The written history to each item – where it was found, what its purpose was and its significance to the people at that time – is always informative and often insightful.

A bronze statue of Zeus or Poseidon found in the sea off Cape Artemision. circa 460BC. My money is on Zeus. Photo by JE

So many of the archaeological sites we visited had signs stating that the items discovered were now on display at this museum.

 

The figures depict the leads in the story of Troy. It was used as a funerary urn and painted by Polygnotos in circa 430-420BC Photo by JE

3D comes to Ancient Greece with this funerary relief / statue found near Piraeus. He was Alexos, son of Stratokles of Sounion. Circa 320BC. Photo by JE

 

 

 

We were able to catch up with artefacts from the Temples of Aphaid and Apollo, Aegina Island, the ancient city of Corinth, the Temples of Poseidon and Zeus, archaeological digs on Santorini and Rhodes, sites whose stories were now so familiar to us.

The statue of Poseidon was found on Milos. He is missing his trident but has his trusty helper, the dolphin, next to his right leg. Circa 125-100BC Photo by JE

I hope the many photographs give you the feeling of wandering through galleries filled with the wonders of Greece.

This bronze head of a boxer was found at Olympia. He was a champion and they, the museum powers that be, believe that it belonged to Satyros of Elis, who was the Muhammad Ali of his day. The sculptor was Silanion. Circa 330-320BC. Photo by an impressed JE.

Portrait of a head with speculation as to the identity of the man it portrays. Some say an unnamed poet, others believe it is Attalos II from Pergamon who ruled from 159-139BC. Does he have the face of a poet or a ruler? This was my favourite piece among the main body of the museum as I spent hours trying to decide. His face is so ‘modern’, if that makes any sense. The jury is still out. Photo by JE.

Bronze of the Emperor Augustus (29BC-AD14). This bronze was found in the Aegean Sea between the islands of Euboea and Agios. It is thought to have been cast between 12-10BC. Photo by JE

This extraordinary bronze statue was retrieved from a shipwreck off Cape Artemision in Euboea. It is called the Artemision Jockey and is circa 140BC. Photo by JE

Pan is, as usual, making a pest of himself to Aphrodite with Eros helping her out. Made from Parian marble. Circa 100BC. Photo by JE who was laughing at the scene as she took the photo. Be impressed it came out at all.

 

 

This is the famous Gold Mycenean death mask known as the Mask of Agamemnon. Circa 16th century BC.
Photo by JE.

More from the Mycenean Age. Circa 16th century BC. Photo by JE.

However, what made our visit to this museum a knock-out was the Antikythera Exhibition.

The Antikythera Discopvery

A depiction of the Cousteau’s 1976 retrieval of the Antikythera shipwreck and its artefacts from the bottom of the sea. Photo by JE.

In 1900 a sunken shipwreck chokka-block full of Ancient Greek artefacts and destined for Rome in approx 60-50BC was found off the coast of Antikythera.  Many of the relics from this over-laden ship lay scattered on the sea floor.

This is the head from a bronze statue that is now known as the Antikythera Philosopher. Circa 230BC. Photo be JE.

Some of the artefacts were recovered especially bronze statues, glass bowls and ceramics, and clay pottery. Archaeologists knew they didn’t have the equipment to recover most artefacts, especially anything carved in marble as well as parts of the boat itself.

The Antikythera Youth, as it now famously known, is a bronze statue that experts date specifically to 340-330BC. There is so much speculation as to the identity of who it may be that I prefer he remains a mystery with a six-pack. Photo by JE.

 

 

In an act of blissful disregard for the bottom line, they left the vast majority of the artefacts at the bottom of the sea until they were able to recover them without causing further damage and further loss of life. A number of the deep sea divers succumbed to the bends.

This is an amazing bowl as it is so stylised with multi-leaved olive branches over the entire surface of the bowl. Photo by JE

Glass Bowl from the second quarter 1st Century BC. Photo by JE.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After more than 70 years since its discovery, Jacques Cousteau was asked in 1976 by the Greek Government to lead a team to finally bring this precious find to the surface.

The  exhibits are displayed well and the story of their recovery is well told. The bronze statues are undamaged.

This is the largest of the glass vessels found in the shipwreck. It is from the first half of the first century BC. I wish I had something to use as a yardstick to indicate how large this bowl is. They didn’t include the dimensions unfortunately. You’ll just have to take my word for it. Photo by JE who nearly chewing gummed her phone on the glass to give it some perspective but refrained.

However, beautiful marble statues have been disfigured by the 2000 years spent underwater.

This statue of a boy is made from Parian marble and is dated in the early part of the first century BC. It is what I call one of the Jekyll and Hyde statues. The boy’s left side has been corroded by the sea organisms while the right side, buried in the sediment of the sea floor, has been preserved and is almost perfect. They are fascinating. Photo by JE.

Those parts of the statues covered by the silt of the sea floor stayed in pristine condition, while those parts remaining uncovered had been under continual attack from salt and marine life, and are damaged beyond repair. These Jekyll and Hyde statues become compelling viewing.

This statue of Hermes is disfigured almost completely except for that part of his face and head that was covered by sediment. It is dated from the early part of the first century BC. Photo by JE.

Glass bowls, jewelry and the minutiae of daily life are also on view. Some in such remarkable condition you stare in wonder.

The Antikythera Mechanism. Its rear view. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

The Antikythera Mechanism. Discovered in 1901. It was a mystery for decades but is now called the world’s first computer. It is over 2,000 years old. Photo from Wikipedia (bless ’em).

 

 

But then you come to the Antikythera Mechanism, described as the world’s first analogue computer. It is an astrolabe. This amazing piece of technology, more than 2000 years old, is what sets the saliva going.

 

 

 

An astrolabe is a mechanical device which calculates astronomical positions. The Antikythera mechanism is ancient and has been dated to  approximately 80BC . It is made up of a number of interlocking bronze gears causing the main mechanism to rotate resulting in the desired astronomical information. There are theories that it was designed and built on Rhodes which was the centre of studies in astronomy, engineering and the sciences at the time. All inscriptions on the device are in Greek.

This is a model designed by Ioannis Theophanidis in the 1930’s. Photo by JE.

To underscore the significance of this one single find, the exhibition also includes a whole section on astrolabes.

Price’s Model of the mechanism was designed by Pro Derek de Solla Price and constructed in R. Deroski in the late 1970’s. Photo by JE.

 

 

 

Models of early astrolabes, including Ptolemy’s, are there for the benefit of those who are intrigued by technology and not confronted by being constantly reminded that technology isn’t a modern phenomenon. Reproductions of the Antikythera Mechanism recreated by modern day nerds underscore how extraordinary this one piece is.

 

 

The academic responsible for the definitive analysis of the Antikythera Mechanism is recognised  as Pro Derek de Solla Price. The mechanism had been put away with little real understanding of what it did until Pro Solla Price first looked at it in the 1950’s. He published a number of papers but in 1959 he released a major publication called ‘An Ancient Greek Computer’. In 1974 he also published ‘Gears from the Greeks: the Antikythera Mechanism – a calendar computer from circa 80BC’. To demonstrate how he believed the mechanism worked he designed a model which he subsequently donated to the National Archaeological Museum in Athens. (see photo above).

Modern replica of what is believed to be Ptolemy’s Astrolabe. Photo by JE.

You can spend an entire day in this one museum especially with the Antikythera Exhibition, which remains there until April, 2013.

Mark Colvin @colvinius kindly referred me to two short videos whose links I hope are below and successfully work. Now you know why I’ve been delaying including them in this blog post. Sometimes technology is a little overwhelming. Not, apparently, for the Ancient Greeks. Please watch these short films. They are fascinating.

This is NATURE’s video on Antikythera Mechanism Part 1

This link is to Nature’s video on the Antikythera Mechanism Part 2.

About boeufblogginon

I am a frustrated cook who is also a lover of all sport, politics, film, TV, theatre and a standard poodle with attitude called Toss.

6 responses »

  1. Great post, Joan, wonderful photographs and commentary. Just lovely. JW

    Reply
  2. Stunning – s’alls I can say. Very interested in the older ones, which have a lot in common to my mind with the Gandhara styles further east – the Indo-Greek Buddhist ones of an earlier generation.

    Pan might be making a pest of himself but Aphrodite doesn’t seem too worried. A little amused, it seems.

    My friend who was an Ancient Historian up here at UNE looked so much like Emperor Augustus in facial appearance that he used even to do his hair in that style, and sometimes in exhibitions at our Museum of Antiquities would stand beside a bust of Augustus that we had on permanent display, and he often got some rather weird looks.

    I agree with you on Attalos[?] A fantastic sculpture! He has a George Washington look about him to me.

    Very enjoyable! Thanks, Joan.

    Denis
    deniswright.blogspot.com
    @deniswright

    Reply
  3. What beautiful art. Cold stone come to life. The detail. The ancient Greeks knew the human body well. Such wonderful lines and beauty. Incredible. So gald to see so much of it preserved.

    Denis was correct – stunning.

    So life like and emotions captured in stone.

    I am rambling.

    Thank you for sharing such wonderful artifacts and history.

    Reply
  4. I just loved Greece & the people – travelled there with my partner and then with my daughter. Lovely photos, Joan.

    Reply
  5. Thanks you guys. You three are so bloody supportive it makes my eyes go all misty. Joan. xxx

    Reply

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