10 Favorites from the National Archaeological Museum

With “10 Things” being one of my journal games during this trip, of course Mike, Barb, and I came up with a collective 10 Favorite Things from the National Archaeological Museum.

First, though, we had to get to the museum, which proved harder than we expected, despite our preparations and familiarity with the Metro system. I did not anticipate needing the exact amount for our tickets in coins. Bills? Not an option. Credit card? No good. Only one out of four ticket machines worked.

I wasn’t keen to haul around a pocket full of heavy coins all day at the museum—one- and two-euro coins have some weight to them—so I’d left most change at home. Mike hustled back to the apartment to get what we needed.

The rest of the Metro experience was uneventful until the trip home when the cars were packed like those in Tokyo during rush hour. That wasn’t fun, but we got where we needed to go.

So . . . our ten favorite things at the National Archaeological Museum, in no particular order.

1. Schnozzes on cartoony Mycenaean warriors

Mycenean Warriors, National Archaeological Museum, Athens

Fresco of Mycenaean Warriors. Are those colanders on their heads?

Mycenaean Profiles, National Archaeological Museum, Athens

Gold charms of Mycenaean Men

Do these feel modern or what? This style feels contemporary to me, and how interesting that caricatures were an ancient thing just as they are a contemporary thing. Part of me thinks, “well, du-uh, it’s a natural human perspective,” and still another part is amazed at the connection we humans, specifically I, have with people who lived so long ago. In a world where Everything Changes, this feels like evidence to the contrary.

2. Reading stories on vases

Story Vases 2, National Archaeological Museum, Athens

Pictures on vases tell stories

Story Vases, National Archaeological Museum, Athens

A story of the University crew team, perhaps?

Sometimes I recognize the stories depicted on vases, but I confess I don’t recognize these. Oh, Ba-arb! Do you know them?

Even without recognizing a scene, it’s easy and fun to make up my own. These are scenes that are familiar to people of that time, and that’s revealing.

3. Sounding out Greek Words

Sounding out Greek Words, Athens - Jen Funk Weber

Yes, this has the English right below the Greek, but not all signs do, and I tend to try the Greek first. This was one I got from the Greek alone (a different sign). This is the name of the Metro station where we exited.

Just as speaking Spanish was a highlight of visiting Isla Isabela in the Galapagos, sounding out Greek words and actually recognizing some and thus making connections with those words is huge fun for me.

None of us took a picture of the sign in the museum, but we all stood looking at a display, figuring out what it was, noticing the details. I sounded out the sign, Óμηροσ. O – m – e – r – o – s. That little symbol with the first O throws an H sound in, so Ho – m – e – r – o – s. Hearing me, Mike made the connection: Homer! The pieces snapped together. It was a display of The Odyssey.

Nope, this puzzle-solving never gets old.

4. Jockey of Artemision

Jockey of Artemision, National Archaeological Museum, Athens

Jockey of Artemision

Few Hellenistic bronze statues remain today, as many were melted down during invasions, presumably to make armor and weapons. This one, however, was lost at sea, a victim of an ancient shipwreck. Archaeologists recovered it after its discovery in 1926.

Did you know that underwater archaeology is a career option? The professor of two courses we watched before coming to Greece—John Hale, PhD.—is, in fact, an underwater archaeologist.

Can I have a career do-over?

5. Giant painted vases

Giant painted vases, National Archaeological Museum, Athens

Imagine the genie that could live in this!

Does anyone else want one or more of these? I want them in my yard and garden where I can plant things in and around them.

6. Mycenaean gold

More Mycenean Gold, National Archaeological Museum, Athens

Mycenaean gold

Mycenean Gold, National Archeological Museum, Athens

Mycenaean gold jewelry

Ohmygoodness, the quantity of gold in this museum is mind boggling. We strolled past case after case of gold ornaments. Once again, I’m fascinated that ancient people were into the same precious metal that so many people today are. That shared feeling makes for a strong sense of connection.

Do we know how they mined and purified it? I should look that up.

7. Mask of Agamemnon

Mask of Agamemnon, National Archaeological Museum, Athens

Mask of Agamemnon. No, that’s not a blue mustache; that’s a glare.

This is a funeral mask, but it isn’t really the mask of Agamemnon; Heinrich Schliemann just hoped it was, and the name stuck. Modern archaeological research indicates the mask is from 1550–1500 BCE, which is well before Agamemnon’s time. Some scientists even wonder if this might not be a fake, given the differences between it and others found at the site. A few suggest that the mask, with its mustache and beard, looks like Schliemann.

Heinrich Schliemann (1822–1890) was a wealthy German businessman turned archaeologist, enamored of Homer’s stories and determined to prove the historical nature of them. His primary focus was on discovering Troy, but he excavated in Mycenae, as well, where stories say Agamemnon was king. This is confirmation bias in action: Schliemann interpreted the mask as evidence that the theory he wanted to be true was, in fact, true.

He was wrong.

Here are a couple of funeral masks that aren’t so controversial.

Mycenaean Funeral Mask, National Archaeological Museum, Athens

Mycenaean Funeral Mask, National Archaeological Museum, Athens

Mycenaean Funeral Mask 2, National Archaeological Museum, Athens

Mycenaean Funeral Mask 2, National Archaeological Museum, Athens

Barb suggested that the lines on the eyes may indicate the lids were sewn shut. I wonder if those might just represent eyelashes. Whatever they are, I like them better than the eyes without lines in the other mask.

8. Youth of Antikythera

Youth of Antikythira, National Archaeological Museum, Athens

Youth of Antikythera bronze statue

We originally thought this was Perseus holding a now-missing Medusa head in his outstretched hand. The Museum calls it simply “Antikythera Youth.”

Sponge divers seeking refuge during a storm discovered the “Antikythera shipwreck” off the coast of the island of Antikythera in 1900. That year, apparently, archaeologists recovered this statue, among other things.

Over the years, archaeologists recovered more and more artifacts from the site, including the Antikythera Mechanism, which is a crazy-complex thing that we learned about in one of our courses. Some scientists consider it the first computer.

The site sat idle for about 40 years, and then in 2014 new investigations began. In August of this year, divers discovered a skeleton which they hope might still contain DNA. Not much is known about this shipwreck, and researchers are excited to see what else they can discover and learn. So am I!

How exciting that this statue is related to fascinating discoveries being made Right Now!

9. Bull and Lion Rhyta

Bull Rhyton, National Archaeological Museum, Athens

Bull Rhyton

Lion Rhyton, National Archaeological Museum, Athens

Lion Rhyton

A rhyton is a conical vessel used for pouring or drinking liquids. They’re pitchers! Sometimes they’re fancy for ceremonies; sometimes they’re everyday table vessels.

10. Zeus Throwing Thunderbolt

Zeus Throwing Thunderbolt, National Archaeological Museum, Athens

Zeus throwing a thunderbolt. Or Poseidon with his trident. You decide.

There is debate whether this is Zeus throwing a thunderbolt or Poseidon with his trident. The weapon, you see, is lost.

I’m calling him Zeus.

Mike thinks he’s wonderfully well-proportioned, but I think his arms are disproportionately long.

An Impromptu Dinner Out

Walking home from the Metro, we stopped in the little three-aisle market to pick up some food. On the way home, however, a tiny cafe caught our eyes. The young, friendly cook/server (who turned out to be working for her mother-in-law) invited us to look at the dishes on offer, explaining what each was. We up and decided to sit down at one of the six or so tables. We gobbled down moussaka, spinach crepes, stuffed chicken and potatoes, and two Greek salads. And I do mean gobbled. Perhaps we haven’t been eating as well as I think we have been.

4 replies »

  1. You can get this one, Mike. That’s the story of Heracles and Atlas, one of Heracles’s Twelve Labors, to get the Apples of the Hesperides. See Heracles wearing his lion skin (from another Labor), with his club (another attribute) leaning nearby? Atlas has tricked him into holding up the world, while he gets the apples for Heracles from his daughters, the Hesperides. And there he is, holding the apples. But Atlas has no intention of taking the weight of the world back on his shoulders. So Heracles has to trick him right back. Heracles, too trusting; Atlas, a little thick.

    Oh, and the goofy, prominently-schnozzed warriors are on the so-called Mycenaean Warrior Vase, actually a krater (vessel for mixing water and wine), found by Schliemann at Mycenae.

  2. Ha! You homed right in on that little scrap of food talk, didn’t you, Elsie? I have asked Mike to help me get pictures for a food post.

  3. Yes! I know that story. We were focused on that bridle or whatever that rope-y thing is. Still don’t know what that has to do with anything.

    I should probably edit the schnoz bit.

    Thank you, Barb!