By: Christine Sears and Staren Henry
Today was our first full day on the island of Aegina. We started out by hiking through the mud and rocky ground up Mount Oros (which means mountain, so it’s Mt. Mountain) to the Temple Zeus Elaionas.
Walking up to the Temple site
There isn’t much left of the original building, but we do have accounts from Pindar that solidify the usage of the site, probably from the sixth century BCE onwards. Altars to Zeus are typically found high up on mountain tops, especially ones that storm clouds frequently pass over. Aegina only has one natural spring on the entirety of the island, so temple was dedicated in the hopes that Zeus would give them water. Due to the fact that his symbol was the lightning bolt he was also connected with the weather and rain.
The trail leading up to the site has been there for millennia – in fact, this trail has some of the earliest mile markers ever found. There are eight other trails up the mountain that are also based off of ones used in antiquity. Water continues to be the most expensive resource on Aegina to this day.
The site was also used as a place for meat distribution, with the remains of a stoa found full of dining rooms. It is unknown when the temple went out of use – the Church that stands there today was built from the stones of the stoa.
Once we managed to climb back down the mountainside, we drove to the Temple of Athena Aphaia. Aphaia (from the Ancient Greek word φαίνω [phaino], meaning “appear”, though in this case it means “vanish”) was an Archaic goddess who later became equated with Athena. In the myth, she was captured by Cretan sailors, but she escaped and hid (supposedly in a cave just beyond the temple). When she emerged, she vanished into the air, supposedly being taken up to the gods.
Both pediments (though not onsite today) featured scenes from two separate Trojan wars, and were created in two different time periods. The Western pediment (which features the Homeric Trojan war with Ajax) was built in the Archaic period, while the Eastern pediment (which features Heracles battle against the Trojan king Laomedon) was rebuilt in the Classical period, likely due to damage caused to that side of the temple in a natural disaster.
Valerie talked to us about how the original excavators, C.R. Cockerell and Otto von Stackelberg, took a page out of their friend (and our bitterest enemy) Lord Elgin’s book and stole all the pedimental sculptures and brought them back to Munich. To this day Greece is still trying to recover the artifacts, but unlike with the Elgin Marbles, Cockerell and Stackelberg actually sold the sculptures to the king of Bavaria, adding an extra wrinkle to argument.
We then headed to a lunch of fresh seafood beside the ocean, and the Professors freed us for the rest of the day to explore the island for ourselves. Some of us purchased pistachios and other pistachio products, as Aegina is lauded as having some of the best in the world. Tomorrow we return to Athens, and our journey through the Peloponnesus and the island of Aegina comes to an end!