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Tropaion is a web-log / electronic journal and Carnival for the ancient Greek Religion and history. The main goal of the web-log is to present original peer-reviewed and well referred posts on theoretical and practical aspects of the ancient Greek religion, to add to a broader circulation of Humanities and Classics in the Internet as well as to rise awareness for the Hellenic Polytheism today and to explore its relation with its ancient past.

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Today I wished to translate an opinion article by the well-known Cultural Editor Maria Thermou of the eminent Greek newspaper To Vima. I read the first paragraph and although I wished to continue to read and conclude the read, I decided to stop and wonder through books, indexes and dictionaries for one word: σφάκελος. According to T the term’s “interpretation is clear since σφάκελοι was in antiquity a form of curse, which in a diluted form is been used in modern era” as the gesture of insult in modern Greek μούντζες (moutzes) and / or φάσκελα (faskela).

The finding by T sounds with the first read quite impressive. Is it possible that the modern day Greek gesture of the ‘open hand palm’, known as μούντζα and / or φάσκελο is indeed derived from an ancient Greek curse gesture? I do not believe so. Please find below my exact translation of the first paragraph as seen in To Vima by T.

The marble relief may not be of highly technique, but its depiction is of great importance: a young man standing is been “confronted” with two...moutzes (sfakelous in ancient Greek, the new faskela). And its interpretation is clear since sfakela was in antiquity a form of curse, which in a diluted form is been used in modern era. The relief, within several more of the same themes, will be exhibited at the National Archaeological Museum from September 24th entitled “Wizards, spells and amulets: Magic in the ancient and Christian world,” as part of European Heritage Day.

The problem with the above interpretation is its used semantic reasoning. I cannot accept the confusion of two different terms and their meaning into one, which is obviously a modern misuse and misunderstanding of the ancient Greek language. The modern term moutza is indeed interpreted as faskela, however the one is of Byzantine origin and the other an ancient Greek word. To understand more clearly this modern confusion let us evaluate both terms separately.

Moutza according to Giannoulelli and Moysiadis is been derived by the Persian muzh which means dull, however in the Byzantine era was used as blackness or black dirt. There was a reason why the moutza has been to refer a hand palm gesture covered in black dirt: Byzantines used it for apprehend through their punishment of criminals. It is obviously a violent and offensive gesture and it seems that in Byzantium, as well as, today has no metaphysical use whatsoever.

Moreover, the term faskela (plural) or faskelo (singular) according to Henry George Liddell and Robert Scott (LSJ) is generally used for gangrene, mortification, or, of bones. There is only one reference which uses a derivative term σφάκηλος (or φάκηλος) as ‘the middle figure’ as stated in LSJ by an unpublished papyrus of the British Museum (PLond.inéd.). It is very difficult without the actual document available to accept an interpretation that the σφάκηλος or φάκηλος is been used as a gesture at all. The same can be said for the term in question: φάσκελα. All, therefore, references in literature use the above word within a medical terminology and nothing more of that.

What can be said for the relief that depicts the young man with the open hand palms or in ancient Greek παλάμη? My interpretation is as follows. According to LSJ it can be metaphorically means, cunning, art, device, either in good or bad sense (Thgn.624, cf. Hdt.8.19; esp. of the gods, θεοῦ σὺν παλάμᾳ, θεῶν παλάμαι, παλάμαις Διός, by their arts, Pi.O.10(11).21, P.1.48, N. 10.65; “ὦ παλάμαι θεῶν” S.Ph.177 (lyr.); πυκνότατος παλάμαις, of Sisyphus, Pi.O.13.52, cf. A.Pr.167 (lyr.), etc.; “παντοίας πλέκειν παλάμας” Ar.V.645.) and indeed the hand palm is a gesture used in phylakteria as "a defensive gesture against the evil eye" (see Georg Luck, Arcana mundi: magic and the occult in the Greek and Roman worlds, 2006, pp.19).

Conclusively, I do not believe that the modern day offensive gesture of moutza / faskela has nothing to do with the ancient gesture of open hand palm which is accepted to be, on the contrary of T’s opinion, a defensive gesture against evil.
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After the Independent, the Greek mainstream newspaper Ta Nea and Ms Adamopoulou reviews the newly publish book by Michael Scott From Democrats to Kings: The Brutal Dawn of a New World from the Downfall of Athens to the Rise of Alexander the Great (October 2009) published by Icon Books. It seems that the author's argument draws a growing negative response from Greek speaking academics throughout the world.

Spartans were warlike bullies and Alexander the Great a Mama's Boy? The book of British lecturer Michael Scott demystifies ancient Greece. It is fashionable, Greek historians and archaeologists say.

[...]

"There is a trend many young researchers, especially British, to pursue originality lowering the importance and mystifying people and events. Only most often based on subjective criteria and in few sources and not all the available sources," says the emeritus professor of Archeology Petros Themelis. "This is not the first time someone tries to do something similar. In the past we had the phenomenon of Black Athena, which was much more serious. It's funny to be offended, especially when we are not convinced by the arguments used by the authors."

[...]

"I have not yet read the book by Michael Scott" From Democrats in Kings. The "catchy" title of the book shows an anachronistic treatment of Greek history: the supposed path of democrats to kings is historically inaccurate oversimplification, "says" the professor of Ancient History at Oxford University, Angelos Chaniotis. "What Paul Bignell presents a groundbreaking review of sources and entirely new image of classical antiquity, is a mix of misunderstandings and exaggerations of the columnist, gross errors (the Olympiada falls heroically in the battlefield and the "golden Athena" of the 5th century has been confused with the Athena of the the 4th century) and clichés (the hardness of Spartan warriors, the debt of Alexander to Philip, the special relationship with his mother, the monarchy-friendly trends of Isocrates). Scott's book will certainly have good sales, as fifteen years ago the now forgotten "Black Athena". Those selective viewing of ancient Greece and its culture as a miracle heroes that does not accept a non-historical interpretation will eventually produce indignation. Anyone struggling to understand the Greek history as experience of human would ignore it.


I had no information for the book, for that reason only I cannot give my opinion for the book. As it seems to be true in my view is indeed the fact that the book will do some good sales. It is also true that a growing popular publications for Greek history tend to have an element of negative approach towards historical figures, Alexander the Great (a very good example), Pericles, Leonidas II, Socrates and Plato amongst others. They are, I believe, tow kind of popular readings on ancient Greek history, a) the titles that do have a heavy educational value by disseminating scholarly work; such as The Peloponnesian War by Donland Kagan and the Classical World by Robin Lane Fox, which of course are worth praising and b) the titles who wish to make the amazon's top 10 or 20, which regardless of the publisher's efforts to meet such target the content lacks of anything that can be seen as valuable - these titles use ancient Greek and Roman history as a background for engaging gossipry on ancient personae; that indeed make the sale figures meet the target. It is up to the author to choose in between the two.

Michael Scott as I understood want to be in the first group; he points in his weblog which was especially created for his book:

My book doesnt "threaten" ancient myths and I am not "shattering" ancient legends - my point is to explore them! From reading these articles you would feel that I was single-handedly bringing down ancient Greece and grinding it into the dust under my heel! Nothing could be further from the truth - by writing about it, I want to build up its reputation and importance, not destroy it!


I will read it first and I hope that I will agree with his point above. If you are reading it please give your comment below or send a reply to our twitter's message.

Source: Ta Nea, by M. Adamopoulou (06/10/2009)
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