01 September 2008

Zeus Rains on Pagan Protest (Updated)

'Just as Zeus sends rain so as to grow the crops'
, (Aristotle, Phys. 2.8 198b), the ancient gods sent a much-needed downpour to Athens yesterday. That's the high priestess of the Olympians, Doretta Peppa (below) raising a fist perhaps in response to this mark of divine favour.

“This was the first [pagan] prayer ceremony on the Acropolis since the Parthenon was converted into a church,” [in the 5th C AD] Peppa said. "Is it a coincidence that rain started falling when the ceremony started and ended at the same time as the ceremony? I think not."

Pagans Pray at Parthenon

Thrusting their arms skywards and chanting Orphic hymns, about 200 Greek pagans made a comeback at the Acropolis yesterday. The Guardian reports

After a break of 16 centuries, Greek pagans are worshipping the ancient gods again - despite furious opposition from the Orthodox church.

Yesterday's ceremony represented a major coup for Greek polytheists whose faith, which is described by the powerful Orthodox church as a "miserable resuscitation of a degenerate dead religion", has long been banned in the country that gave birth to the gods of Mount Olympus.

This is the second public prayer meeting of the Greek pagans (who call themselves Ellenais*) in a little more than a year. I've been following the movement since last January (The Gods Revived, Pagan Revival II, More on the Pagan Revival) when they first appeared among the giant Corinthian columns of the Sanctuary of Olympian Zeus in Athens to pray for world peace (and for rain as well!). Since then, Greek Orthodox priests have redirected the venom they usually reserve for homosexuals, Catholics, Jews, Jehovah's Witnesses, masons and the barbaric Turks at these "satanic" New Ageists and fulminated against their idols.

Peppa said officials have also harassed believers in the Olympian gods. Despite this, the pagan revivalists recently won a court battle for state recognition of the ancient religion. Now, flexing their muscles, the devotees gathered yesterday at Greece's most sacred site on the Acropolis. Although the Culture Ministry forbids ceremonies of any sort at archaeological sites, the small band entered the Acropolis’s heavily guarded grounds as tourists and then persuaded guards to allow the 20-minute rite. Before the east wing of the Parthenon, they prayed to Athena, goddess of wisdom and patron of Athens:

Oh, goddess,” high priestess Peppa said over an offering of water and olive oil, “we are ready to defend your grounds.”

Defend the Acropolis, that is, from the cultural barbarity of the New Acropolis Museum.

Last year, the government moved hundreds of sculptures from a tiny museum on the Acropolis to a Euro 129 million (US$190 m; £94m) new museum below the citadel. The building is where Greece hopes one day to display the Elgin Marbles alongside the other Parthenon sculptures. Greek officials have said the new museum will open next month, displaying some 4,000 artifacts.

"Neither the Romans nor the Ottomans or any other occupational force ever took anything from this holy site," said Yannis Kontopidis, one of the high priests who officiated over the affair.

"It's scandalous that antiquities of such value, carved in honour of Athena, should be wrested from their natural environment and moved to a new locale."

The glass and concrete edifice, designed by the Swiss-American architect Bernard Tschumi in collaboration with Greece's Michalis Photiadis, has divided Greeks.

Supporters praise its cavernous space and have claimed the building will offer better protection of the antiquities and a superior viewing space for spectators, who previously had to negotiate the confines of a tiny museum atop the hill.

However, opponents, including architectural purists, have argued that the new museum is in the wrong location and far too big in grandeur and scale.

Ellenais described the new glass and concrete structure as "an incredible architectural monstrosity that insults [Greece's] cultural heritage," and thus he adds the strength of the polytheists to protests against the imminent inauguration of the new Museum.

Perhaps the nationality, too, of the architect sticks in the craw of worshippers of ancient Greek gods.

Although he himself is denounced by the state church, high-priest Kontopidis declares, "Moving these sculptures to a museum that is foreign and hostile to the Greek environment is like breaking up a family.''

And high-priestess Peppa frets, "We believe that the structural elements of a temple should not be moved and we worry about the consequences."

What, I wondered, could those consequences possibly be?

The Delphic Oracle

Being a Classical Archaeologist, I immediately consulted the Delphic Oracle.

I asked: Has the fated time of Athens' destruction come upon it?

And the goodly Pythia responded: They should not be too much troubled in spirit; a wineskin floats on the sea.**

You can't say fairer than that!

* an acronym in Greek for "Sacred Society of Greek Ancient Religionists".

** Q247 from Joseph Fontenrose, The Delphic Oracle, 1978.

Photograph of Doretta Peppa (top of post) via AP News

Photographs of the New Acropolis Museum from its website: above, Looking at the Acropolis with the cranes removing sculptures and pieces of temples through the glass walls of the Parthenon Gallery; middle, Architect's Conception of the Museum floating on a pilotis over the archaeological excavations; below, Architect's conception of the future Archaic Gallery.

Updated 28 September 2008 : I should have guessed that even a society dedicated to reviving the ancient religion would have a website ... and so it does: DODECATHEON (with information in Greek, English, French, and German). Interesting features on the Society, Hellenic religion, its journal Pantheon (in Greek only) and Greek rites -- including useful tips on how to have an Hellenic Wedding: it seems necessary to veil the bride and have a handy temple on the hill behind, which may make it hard to replicate in the diaspora.


  1. I've never been to the real Parthenon, though I've been to the one in Nashville. Never got to go inside, though I understand they have a giant, gold-plated statue of Athena therein.

  2. Thanks for alerting me to the replica Parthenon in Nashville, Tennessee. I had no idea there was such a thing. Obviously this makes it easier for USA neo-pagans who wish to marry in view of a Greek temple.

  3. I have a persistent memory from my childhood ('70s-'80s) of reading about a temporary Parthenon made of corn or corn cobs, but I simply cannot find an online reference to one.

    I did find the following at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capital_%28architecture%29:

    "When Benjamin Latrobe redesigned the Senate Vestibule in the United States Capitol in 1807, he introduced six columns that he 'Americanized' with ears of corn (maize) substituting for the European acanthus leaves."

    Maybe my memory mixed up the Parthenon with these capitals, but why is my memory of reading about it so vivid? Hm. Maybe I'm hungry or something.


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