Wednesday, 3 July 2013

How many lions in Olympia?

Before I begin on the lions, I just want to mention that Trifolium Books is offering The Boy with Two Heads e-book for a limited time at the incredible price of £1.02, via my Trifolium Books author page. Go to Trifolium Books in the menu bar, and Authors in the drop down list, then The Boy with Two Heads. Click on the right hand of the two icons of the book.

This is a special promotion of all Trifolium Books to celebrate the imminent re-publication of The Bride of the Spear by Kathleen Herbert. Thank you, Connie, for including me in your celebrations! And congratulations on your guest posting on Helen Hollick's blog.

But to go back to the lions, every time I go to the Archaeological Museum at Olympia, I am enchanted by something new. This time I came across this little creature ...

Dating from (I think) about 700 BC, he must have been a knob or handle on a bronze vessel. I thought he was charming, and set off on a lion hunt through the museum to find more.

And they were everywhere: 

underfoot (from the pediment of the Temple), ...


... on the gutters, ...
 ... on the rims of cauldrons, ...
 ... as parts of statues, ...

... handles, ...
... religious offerings, ...

... and even as warnings. 

They reminded me of the importance of lions at Mycenae, where the remains of the palace date from about 1400 BC. 
The Lion Gate entrance to Mycenae.
from the cover of the official guidebook
to Mycenae
I have often wondered whether these Mycenean lions ever had heads and, if so, how they fitted into the triangular space ... But at least there were heads on some of their lions, like this glorious gold one, now in the National Archaeological Museum of Athens ...

... and these tiny but perfect lions on the blades of Mycenean daggers which are there, too.
from the official guidebook to Mycenae

As I said in my last posting, in ancient times, there must have been all kinds of dangers that today we cannot even imagine. From the number of representations of lions, they were one of those dangers. Herakles (Hercules) of the Twelve Labours was central to the myths of heroes, and his first Labour was to kill the Nemean Lion. 

It seems likely that lions were still roaming the forests of Greece in Alexander the Great's time (356 to 323 BC) as the illustration on his father, Philip II's tomb at Vergina suggests. This is a reconstruction of the frieze above the doors of the tomb. The man on the horse in the middle is assumed to be Alexander. The boar at the feet of his horse has been dispatched and he turns his attention to the (strangely red) lion being harried on the right. 
Artist's reconstruction of the frieze over the door of Philip of Macedon's tomb
from 'Vergina', published by Ammos Editions, Athens.

My hero, Themis, does not meet a lion in The Boy with Two Heads. But he does meet a bear on a mountain top, and bears, though endangered, still live in the forests of northern Greece.

I read somewhere that lions were extinct in Greece by about 100 BC. Still, it was obviously a feat of great bravery to kill one while they were still a threat. Even today (although killing a lion is against the law in all but exceptional cases) the Maasai warriors of East Africa still gain glory and status if they take part in such an exercise. I must say, it's not quite my idea of a restful Sunday afternoon pastime ...

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