The Real Glaucus

Many a hardcore North American birder has braved cold temps, usually awful weather to try and find one of the gems of the Gull world, the mighty Glaucous Gull.

The standard definition of Glaucous is, or at least as it is applied to the bird, means frosted or powdered.  As the Glaucous Gull is in a group of Arctic Gulls collectively known as the “White-winged Gulls“, the name fits.

Yet the name Glaucus (the Greek uses the -ous) is important in the Ancient world, with 5 important people share that name, some were real others are part of mythology.  Most of the people mentioned, died horrible deaths, so maybe the name isn’t as a regal sounding anymore.

1.  Glaucus son of Hippolochus, with his cousin Sarpedon led the Lycians at Troy.  He was killed fighting over the body of Achillies.

2.  Glaucus son of Sisyphus (name your kid that today and see what happens) of Ephyre.  He had it rough too, as he was eaten by his horses at the funeral games for Pelias!

3.  Glaucus infant son of Minos and Pasiphae, who fell into a jar of honey and was drowned.  His body was recovered by the seer Polyeidus, who revived him, game him the gift of prophecy, but later revoked it.

4.  Glaucus Pontius or Thalassius, a sea-demon with prophetic powers.  He seemed to have had a minor cult following in the area of Pontus, modern day Istanbul in Turkey.

5.  Glaucus of Rhegium (Circa 410 BC), was one of the first historians on Ancient Poets and Musicians, following the origins of Poetry and Music and was a major commentator on Homer’s Iliad.  For a considerable amount of time, Antiphon the sophist was considered the author of these works, but it is now thought that he stole it from Glaucus.

(Oxford Classical Dictionary pp 638-639)

So the next time you are standing at a dump or shoreline or frozen river and a birder turns to you and says, “Hey there’s a Glaucous Gull!” you can respond with “Did you know the name Glaucus…”

The Bird Gods of Ancient Egypt

As many of you know the ancient Egyptians  personified many of their major gods as birds.  Why they did is open to considerable debate.  Perhaps it was because birds could fly and thus be in areas unattainable by humans or perhaps maybe they were viewed as being powerful for being able to live in the harsh desert conditions.

Below is a guide to the ‘Bird Gods of Ancient Egypt’, and like anything in Egyptian culture, you can find more information by searching the web or visiting your local library.

Falcon/Hawk:  The Falcon or Hawk is usually associated with the God Horus.  It is believed that the Falcon had special protective powers and is often represented hovering over or protecting a Pharaoh.  The Falcon was also sacred to Montu, the god of war and Sokar the god of the Memphite necropolis.  Qebehsenuef, the son of Horus and the protector of the canopic jar of the intestines was also often represented as a Falcon.

Goose:  Known as the ‘Great Cackler’ when in Goose Form, the Goose was sacred to the god Geb.  Geb often is represented as the ‘earth’ god and he is the father of the goddess Isis who is sometimes referred to as the ‘egg of the Goose’.

Heron:  The heron is interesting in Egyptian mythology.  Some view it as the original Phoenix, a symbol of sun and rebirth.  One practical reason for this, is herons would be likely be plentiful during the rainy season and their nesting season would likely coincide with the spring planting and flooding of the Nile.  The heron is closely linked with Heliopolis (Sun-City).  It is also the Ba (depiction/Soul) of both the gods Ra  and Osiris.

Ibis:  Thoth, the Egyptian god of wisdom or knowledge was always depicted as having the head of an Ibis.  The Greeks viewed him as similar to the Greek god Hermes.  As Thoth was one of the major Egyptian dieties, the Ibis, like the Falcon was very sacred to the ancient Egyptians.

Ostritch:  Maat, the goddess of truth, justice and the, er, Egyptian way is often depcited as a woman seated with an Ostritch feather headress or sometimes just as the feather.

Vulture:  Sacred to the goddess Nekhbet, the goddess of upper Egypt and also Mut, the ‘mother’ goddess.  The Vulture represents eternal power and protection.  This makes a lot of sense, since Vultures are scavangers by nature, it is no surprise that they had become associated with eternity.  As they eat the flesh of the dead, it can be assumed that they consume the soul of the departed.  When finished the vulture soars off into the sky, carrying the departed soul to heaven.  Because Egyptian dynastic mythology was caught up into immortality (mummies anyone?), the Vulture was very often depcited in association with the many rulers of Egypt.

The 300

With so many years of Classical History and Archaeology training under my belt, my stomach turns at the thought of Hollywood telling the story of some of the most important events of the ancient world.

I know The 300 is based off a ‘graphic novel’.  But I was surprised, it wasn’t half bad.

The filming of the movie was well done, I liked the colors they used, it gave it a very surreal look and the costumes were creative and the choreography excellent.

The acting was OK, sadly Leonidas’ Scottish accent would sneak through now and then and too many of the actors in the army were pasty white Brits, who looked like they just got out of filming Braveheart.

The movie does capture Spartan society well.  Yes what they did would amount to Child abuse these days, but the Spartans had to do it.  The Spartans did not farm or make anything.  Why?  Because they had a massive slave population to do all that work.  It also meant that the Spartans had to be on their guard at all times, for a revolt was always possible.

The movie is essentially an exaggerated story loosely based on the battle of Thermopylae.  In point of fact however, it tells the basic story quite well.

The movie takes places during the Second Persian War (480/79 BCE), or 10 years after Darius’ failed invasion of Greece (In the first war the Persians army were stopped at Marathon and the Spartans were jerks then too).  Xerxes wanted to out do his father and conquer the rest of Greece (he had already taken over Ionia, what is today Western Turkey).  Most of Xerxes army was Greek, not Persian.  On the battlefield it would have been very difficult to tell who was who, but that wouldn’t work for a movie now would it?

Much like the first War, the Persians sent a massive land force of likely 100,000 troops through Turkey and into Northwestern Greece.  They also sent a massive navy, just in case.  The Greeks who by this point were separating into two factions anyway, the Eastern Greeks and the Islands supporting Athens, with the mainland supporting Sparta, spent more time trying to figure out who should lead the alliance against Persia than actually doing anything about it.

There were probably religious reasons why none of the Greek cities sent their full armies, but the Spartans in particular were very skimpy.  No doubt their thinking was they would worry about really fighting the Persians later, perhaps after Athens had been burned to the ground, they were also likely miffed that Athens was leading the alliance.

But as fighters go in Greece there was none better than the Sparta.  King Leonidas, lead his troops into the ‘Hot Gates’, along with about 6,000 of his closest friends.  Contrary to the movie, there were about 6-7 thousand Greek troops in the pass.  But Leonidas was an idiot.  He didn’t defend his flank.  He knew about the paths through the hills, but just hoped the Persians were never find out.  A local Greek, not this strange Quasimodo character, sold out to the Persians and the Persian archers were able to get the high ground and Greeks were up the creek with out a paddle.

Realizing his mistake, Leonidas and his 300 Spartans (and a few others) really shined.  Knowing he could no longer hold the pass, Leonidas sent the rest of his army back towards Athens, while he lead his Spartans in a brilliant rear guard action.  He delayed the Persians long enough for the main army to escape, but his force was slaughtered to a man.  As was traditional in ancient culture, you mutilated the bodies, especially the leaders, which usually involved cutting off of the ears, eyes, nose, tongue and genitals.  This was to make sure you had a crappy after life.

The Persian army would sweep south and burn the empty City of Athens (like they did 10 years earlier).  All the Athenians had moved to the Island of Salamis right off the Athenian coast.  The Greeks would defeat the Persian navy (Athens gets a win!) at the Battle of Salamis, one of the most important naval battles in history.  It was then that the Persians realized that Greece held nothing for them and what was there wasn’t the cost of trying to invade a country with difficult terrain. 

Athens would rebuild and many would consider the post war era Athens as the height in Ancient Greek culture.  Philosophy, art, pottery, poetry were the best in the Greek world, in Athens at least.  Sparta wasn’t into to all that pansy stuff.  Even as culture flourished the rift between the two city states and their allies grew to a chasm.    By 430 BCE the two sides would get into a 30 year no holds back brutal fight, which would end with Sparta finally taking Athens.  But the victory was also a defeat in many ways, though Sparta won, she did not have the strength to control Greece and a new power would rise to north…

The movie though captures the idea of the battle and of Spartan society, but it shouldn’t be taken too seriously.  The violence is actually pretty muted and there are a lot of ‘yeah right’ moments.  Still its amazingly filmed and the movie is worth watching just for that. 

Athena’s Owl

Athena is the Greek goddess of Wisdom and the patron goddess of the city of Athens in Greece.  She is also confused with the Roman goddess, Minerva, who shares similar atributes, but appears to be an Etruscan as opposed to Greek import.

If you examine the art that surrounds Athena, both Ancient and Modern, you might have notice she always has a little friend near her.  If you look closely, you will find an Owl.

Now it’s very difficult to determine which came first, Athena or the Owl.  Most likely the Owl became associated with Athena because of a couple of reasons.  1) The light that reflects off their eyes in the dark gave the appearance of an ‘inner light’ or Wisdom and 2) This is the most likely cause, a particular species of Owl was common ontop of the Arcopolis of Athens.  Since that hilltop was dedicated to Athena, the Greeks took the fact that there were so many owls present as them being sacred to Athena.  As a result the Owl and Athena have been linked and the Owl has come to represent Wisdom in many later cultures, heck right down to Owl in Winnie the Pooh.

But what kind of Owl was Athena’s Owl?  The most likely candidate is the Little Owl (Athene noctua).  Even the latin name, translates to “Athena’s Night” or “Athena of the Night”.  At about 9″ it is perhaps slightly larger than a Northern Saw-Whet Owl.  It is common across Europe, North Africa the Middle East in Asia.  It also has a habit of nesting in buildings.  No doubt the Parthenon on the Acropolis in Athens would have been very attractive to this species.

This is a very durable species, which is not native to Britain but was introduced to the island in the 19th century, likely as a result of the resurgent interest in Greek and Roman civilization and people no doubt wanted to bring ‘Athena’s Owl’ back to civilization (along with the Elgin Marbles).

Many other civilizations had birds play import roles in their mythology.  The Egyptians used many birds and the Roman used the Imperial Eagle as their symbol (which the United States would copy later on) but those are stories for another day.

Eight Random Things Meme

I hate these silly chain letters, but what the heck.

  • Players write a post with eight random facts/habits about themselves.
  • At the end of that post, they “tag” eight bloggers to write similar posts, including the rules.
  • The players then leave a comment to tell the “tag-gees” about the meme.

Okay here we go:

 1)  I have a deformed left ear and have been deaf in that ear since birth.  In fact there is no Ear Canal.  So, can some explain Surround sound to me? 

2)  The first bird I ever identified was a Great Blue Heron at the age 18 months.  Don’t believe me?  I have the newspaper article to prove it.

3)  I have lived in New York State my entire life and have been a Red Sox fan, even longer.

4)  My wife’s maiden name Kapusta, which means Cabbage in Slovak.

5)  Part of my family avoided suspicion during World War I by pretending to be Swiss (they were from Barvaria in Germany).

6)  I have written, designed and displayed a full Museum exhibit for the Irish American Heritage Museum.

7)  I read the entire ‘Lord of The Rings’ trilogy in the 6th grade.

8)  I have a degree in Greek and Roman Civilization with a specialty of Classical Archaeology, but I have never been on an Archaeological dig.

Since just about everyone I know tagged me, the only person I have left to tag is Josh at Armchair Everything.

Blog Updates 6/17/07

Happy Father’s Day!

It’s a slow day here at the Irish American Heritage Museum, so I’ve taken the time to take care of some odds and ends with the blog.  The biggest changes are to your right in the links and blog roll sections where I added many new links to blogs and other sites.  If you have a site you would like to see linked here let me know!  Hoaryredpoll AT Hotmail dot com.  Please be sure to check out these sites and comment where you can.  People love to see how people got to their sites and where people are viewing the sites from.  As always I’m open to comments and suggestions as to how to improve the blog.

Be safe, do good deeds and have a great weekend!

Blog Name Change

Recently my blog had it’s 1,000 hit.  I know it means nothing, but it got me thinking about the blog and where I can make improvements.  The first was the name.  SPQR was a noble blog when I started, but I’ve found I’ve wanted to write about more topics than just the Ancient World and I felt the title was misleading.  The new title “The Nightjar” I think more accurately represents what I mostly write about, the Ancient World with birds (and other topics) mixed in.  I thought about going with “The Goatsucker” but decided against it, since I couldn’t begin to think what search engines would bring traffic to the site.

Many concerned people have wondered why I don’t use pictures, especially for a nature blog.  We live in a very visually stimulated world and I find that people today don’t know how to imagine what things look like.  Studies have shown that when you read a description of something (i.e. the bird was a warm, rich buff-brown color) you use more of your brain than if I just showed you a picture of the bird.  Time to exercise those brains people!!!  So no pictures, on this blog.  Get over it.

The nice thing about blogging is that it is always changing and always evolving.  Who knows what will happen in another 1000, 5000 or 10,000 hits.  I guess you’ll just have to keep checking back!