Athens Stories and Tips

Brush up on your Greek mythology - the Athens Archaeological Museum

Pan being a naughty boy... Photo, Athens, Greece

Just how good is your Greek mythology?

Do you know your Zeus from your Kronos? Do you know your Hera from your Thetis? Your Perseus from your Odysseus?

It helps to have some background knowledge when visiting the Athens Archaeological Museum. One marble bust begins to resemble another marble bust unless you recognise the name on the label. You enjoyment is a little more if you know how each god connects with the other. The Olympian family tree if you like? But there aren't just busts and statues of the Greek gods at the museum but also the Roman Emperors and the classical worlds ideal of beauty - Olympian athletes.

The museum stands on 28 Octovriou, a boulevard that heads north from Omonia Square and is about a ten minute walk from Larissa railway station. It certainly looks an impressive museum from outside. Extensive grounds dotted with planes and oak trees lead up to the marble portico. The whole building is made out of red stone and stretches for 500m in either direction. The museum costs 7 euros and although you don't need to be an Oxford classics scholar to get the most out of the collection - any knowledge you do have adds to your enjoyment. And it is a museum of the old school - echoing marble corridors, arched ceilings, and rows and rows of glass cases.

But yikes! What a hoard!

There are 10,000 years of history on display in this building. You almost don't know where to start. I suggest turning right as you enter and the start of the Mycenean galleries. The Myceneans were great Olympian worshippers and there were busts of Hera, Thetis and Athena dating from 335BC. Followed by a number of Kouros (basic torso statues of athletic men) dug from sites near Cape Sounion. Athletic youths were a constant theme and most showed off their prowess in Olympic poses.

Further on there was a fantastic bronze horse statue dug up in one piece. It stood six feet high and had a bronze cherub hanging on to its flowing mane. The goddess Aphrodite got a section all to herself and there were many statues taken from her temple at Daphne. Hercules was another favourite generally portrayed as a grizzled individual wrapped in a lionskin. Many statues came from the abandoned cemetery of Karameikos. One of my favourite gods was next - Pan! The goateed one was portrayed on the stele as gamboling with nymphs, satyrs and dryads. It was meant to look like gamboling - it looked more like sexual harassment to me..

Nearby was a section on what Rome had pilfered from Greece and remains of when Greece became the Roman province of Achaeon. A long line of Emporers busts including Caligula, Tiberius and Hadrian. By now you needed a breathe of fresh air and many of the biggest statues were in the middle courtyard. Most of them were very rusty as they had spent thousands of years on the Aegean seabed as the result of shipwrecks. One had to use ones imagination to envisage Athena with a trident or Zeus with a lightning bolt.

All in all, a world-class museum. And a complimentary match with your excursion to the Acropolis. And if you are a history/mythology buff you will be in seventh heaven.

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