A Day in Marathonas

Thursday, September 24th, 2015 | Art, Gay, Travel

The boys, Stavros, and I took a little day trip to Marathonas last week, just a little northeast of Athens. It was here in 490 BC that the Persians were crushed by a considerably smaller contingent of clever Athenians. In a pivotal moment in European history, the victory proved that the young democracy could appoint the kind of political and military leadership necessary to repel such an ambitious empire while at the same time avoiding a return to tyranny, leading to the eventual rise of Classical Greek civilization and its continuing influence today.

Near the site of the battle, in Nea Makri, are the remains of a sanctuary and bath complex dedicated to the worship of Isis and other Egyptian/Hellenic gods. It was built around 160 AD by Herodes Atticus, the Roman consul of Athens and buddy of the Roman emperor and total heartthrob Hadrian. As far as I know, it’s the only such complex found in Greece. Herodes was inspired by a similar complex that Hadrian built at his villa in Tivoli, in turn modeled after an Egyptian sanctuary in Canopus on the Nile Delta.

On the site are replicas of the statues found there. The originals are located in the Archaeological Museum of Marathonas, a wonderful little museum nearby, which also includes finds from the area going back to 4,000 BC. The statues combine characteristics of Egyptian and Greek goddesses, and, as if designed for a Cecil B. DeMille epic, are very theatrical and seem oddly not of their time. One statue holds in her hands three small roses, symbols of both the Egyptian Isis and the Greek Aphrodite. Another Egyptian-looking goddess holds a sheaf of wheat, symbol of Demeter, the goddess of the harvest, closely tied to the change of seasons.

A few days earlier, at the Museo Archaeologico in Athens, I had seen a statue of Antinous, Hadrian’s lover, as an Egyptian god. Antinous was associated with Osiris after he mysteriously drowned in the Nile and was deified by Hadrian. The wall label indicated that the statue was found in Marathonas, so I’m assuming it was part of the temple complex there. But Antinous was pretty much everywhere during that time. The sad obsessed Hadrian not only declared him a god after his death and commissioned thousands of humpy statues of his likeness, he also built a city on the site of his death, Antinopolis. He also identified a star in the sky as Antinous, a rosy lotus that grew along the Nile as the Antinous flower, and proposed a new constellation of Antinous being carried to heaven by an eagle (the constellation Aquila. Remember Ganymede was swept up to Olympus by Zeus, in the form of an eagle, to be the gods’ cupbearer).

Ganymede was the loveliest born of the race of mortals, and therefore
the gods caught him away to themselves, to be Zeus’ wine-pourer,
for the sake of his beauty, so he might be among the immortals.

I have such a crush on Hadrian. First of all he’s exactly my type with his big face and wavy hair and beard. Secondly he turns his boyfriends into gods. He wrote an autobiography, unfortunately lost, that I am hoping turns up someday.

But anyway, back to the little Archaeological Museum of Marathonas… in addition to the Egyptian-Hellenic god statues, there are many interesting grave stele and funeral monuments, including a herm unusual for having a penis and not a head. I’ve often wondered if one day archaeologists will find a hidden room somewhere filled with all the gentle-talia that have been hacked off of old statuary. I can imagine some modern-day Shemp opening the door and all the marbles spilling out around him in a river of white willies.

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