Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Life of the Ancient Greek (1911) - Part Two

[Image: Scene of Olive Gathering, Antimenes Painter, 520 BC, Photo by: Steff, 2005, Public Domain]

Today I finished the second of two articles entitled The Life of the Ancient Greek by David M. Robinson of John Hopkins University, published in December 1911 in The Classical Weekly. The second article picks up where the first part finished, with the education of a typical Greek (specifically Athenian) citizen. There follows some description of Greek military service, but more interesting to me was the description of Greek farming techniques which came afterwards.

The Ancient Greeks ploughed their fields, but their ploughs were very simple things. They were often just the forked limb of a tree, with the projecting fork making the actual plough-share, sharpened to till the soil. It was pulled along by oxen or mules (almost never by horses), and the field it ploughed would be used to grow grain, lentils, peas and beans. The Ancient Greeks understood the importance of both fertilizing and irrigation.

Crop farming was vital to the Ancient Greek way of life - meat was rarely eaten (except during feasts) because animals were expensive to rear. When harvest time came round, hand-sickles were used to cut the grain. I imagine all of this work was done by men, as women were kept secluded and indoors (more on this later). [EDIT: I'm currently reading a book about this, which suggests that lower-status women probably were outside, working in the fields]

When the grain was harvested, the farmer would bind it together in sheaves and carry it home (leaving one sheaf in the field for luck or as an offering to the harvest gods). The grain would then be either boiled into gruel or taken to a mill, where it would be ground down into flour. The millers had jolly milling songs they sang while they ground the flour, like this one:

"Grind, mill, grind, for even Pittacus grinds, king of mighty Mitylene."

Admittedly, it must have lost something in translation.

After describing farming, Robinson goes on to describe the fashion in Ancient Greece. Apparently, conical felt hats were popular. I imagine this was despite the fact they probably made people look like they were wearing toy penes on their heads. I'm sure they didn't actually look like this - so I'll have to see if I can dig up some images on Google [EDIT: Actually... they sort of did look like toy penes: IMAGE].

I was particularly impressed, though, by the inventiveness of Ancient Greek quarrying techniques. Quarry-men drilled holes into the marble, before driving wooden shafts into the holes and then pouring water over the wood so that it swelled and split off the desired blocks of stone.

Finally, the last section of the article concerns marriage and death. Yes, the author makes all the usual jokes about marriage and death... and so, apparently, did the Ancient Greeks. Robinson writes:
To put death in immediate sequence after marriage may seem to leave a great gap, or may even seem humorously suggestive. "What!" says one character in Greek comedy, "Married! Did you say he was married? Why it was only the other day I saw him alive and walking about."

Robinson explains that the Ancient Greek marriage ceremony was different from the modern conception of marriage. There were no vows or rings exchanged which might mark the point at which the couple were officially married. Instead, the marriage was a prolonged process of feasting and ceremonies.

Interestingly, when the groom married his adolescent "girl-bride" (who would typically be about fifteen years younger than her husband-to-be) he would not yet have seen her face. Women in Ancient Greece were veiled and secluded from men, a custom inherited by the Byzantine empire, and possibly passed from there into the Muslim world. [EDIT: After reading about this a bit, it seems that the practice of veiling was common all across the ancient world, not just in Greece.]

Rating - 7 out of 12
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