Apollo Was Here: Daphne & the Laurel Tree

Previously on Apollo Was Here, the four-day old Olympian god had just killed the serpent/dragon Python and claimed the sacred ground on Mt. Parnassus for his own sanctuary. He was very pleased with himself.

When next he saw the cherubic Eros (aka Cupid), with his mini-bow and mini-arrows, Apollo laughed in his face and taunted him, “I slayed a terrible monster with my bow. You couldn’t hurt a fly with your useless little toy!” Continue reading

Apollo Was Here: Delos & Delphi

In the throes of labor, the Titaness Leto searched desperately for a place to bear Apollo and Artemis. Zeus was the father of the twins and his (justifiably) vengeful wife Hera had vowed to curse any piece of land that allowed Leto to give birth. As an extra bit of enforcement, Hera sent the serpent/dragon Python in pursuit of Leto. (Where was Zeus during all of this? That’s what I’d like to know. Apparently he sent the North Wind to help her along, but really, that seems like a pretty feeble gesture under the circumstances.) Continue reading

Jezreel – Valley of Battles, Basket of Bread

The Jezreel Valley in Israel, also known as the Plain of Megiddo or Valley of Megiddo, is a flat, fertile valley just south of the lower Galilee between the Carmel Mountains to the west and the Jordan Valley to the east.

In ancient times, many groups fought here for control of the valley, which was a major regional thoroughfare and a coveted piece of land. The Roman Via Maris, an important trade route connecting Mesopotamia (Iraq), Egypt and Asia Minor (Turkey), passed through the valley and crossed the Carmel Mountains to the Mediterranean sea at the Aruna Pass, also known as the Megiddo Pass, controlled by the city of Megiddo. Excavations have uncovered over 20 successive layers of settlement at and around Megiddo dating from the 8th millennium BCE to the 6th century BCE, with significant settlement beginning in the middle of the 5th millennium BCE.

The area is rich with biblical sites. In the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament Saul battled the Philistines and died here with his sons (1 Samuel 28:1-31:10), Jezebel had Naboath killed and confiscated his Jezreel Valley vineyard for her husband King Ahab (1 Kings 21-28), at the Harod Spring in the valley, Gideon assembled an army to fight and defeat the Midianites (Judges 7:1-8).

excavations at Tel Megiddo, photo by Itamar Grinberg, courtesy of the Israel Ministry of Tourism

excavations at Tel Megiddo, photo by Itamar Grinberg, courtesy of the Israel Ministry of Tourism

In the Christian Bible/New Testament, Megiddo in the Jezreel Valley is the site of the final battle between good and evil. Armageddon = Har Megeddon = the mountain of Megiddo (Revelation 16).

Today, the Jezreel Valley is a major agricultural area.


Ariadne, Theseus & Dionysus: A Greek Love Triangle

Ariadne Giving Theseus a Ball of String to Find His Way Out of the Maze - 19th century painting by Pelagio Palagi

Ariadne Giving Theseus a Ball of String to Find His Way Out of the Maze – 19th century painting by Pelagio Palagi

In Greek mythology, the islands of Crete and Naxos were each the setting of different chapters in the life and times of the deified princess Ariadne. She was the daughter of King Minos of Crete and half-sister to the Minotaur, the part bull-part man conceived by her mother Pasiphae after a short affair with a bull. Continue reading

Poetry Corner: the Song of Moses & Miriam

The Crossing of the Red Sea, Nicolas Poussin, 1634

The Crossing of the Red Sea, Nicolas Poussin, 1634

In honor of Passover, a song of praise from Exodus 15:1-19 ~

Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the Lord:

“I will sing to the Lord,
    for he is highly exalted.
Both horse and driver
    he has hurled into the sea.

“The Lord is my strength and my defense;
    he has become my salvation.
He is my God, and I will praise him,
    my father’s God, and I will exalt him.
The Lord is a warrior;
    the Lord is his name.
Pharaoh’s chariots and his army
    he has hurled into the sea.
The best of Pharaoh’s officers
    are drowned in the Red Sea.
The deep waters have covered them;
    they sank to the depths like a stone.
Your right hand, Lord,
    was majestic in power.
Your right hand, Lord,
    shattered the enemy.

“In the greatness of your majesty
    you threw down those who opposed you.
You unleashed your burning anger;
    it consumed them like stubble.
By the blast of your nostrils
    the waters piled up.
The surging waters stood up like a wall;
    the deep waters congealed in the heart of the sea.
The enemy boasted,
    ‘I will pursue, I will overtake them.
I will divide the spoils;
    I will gorge myself on them.
I will draw my sword
    and my hand will destroy them.’
10 But you blew with your breath,
    and the sea covered them.
They sank like lead
    in the mighty waters.
11 Who among the gods
    is like you, Lord?
Who is like you—
    majestic in holiness,
awesome in glory,
    working wonders?

12 “You stretch out your right hand,
    and the earth swallows your enemies.
13 In your unfailing love you will lead
    the people you have redeemed.
In your strength you will guide them
    to your holy dwelling.
14 The nations will hear and tremble;
    anguish will grip the people of Philistia.
15 The chiefs of Edom will be terrified,
    the leaders of Moab will be seized with trembling,
the people of Canaan will melt away;
16  terror and dread will fall on them.
By the power of your arm
    they will be as still as a stone —
until your people pass by, Lord,
    until the people you bought pass by.
17 You will bring them in and plant them
    on the mountain of your inheritance —
the place, Lord, you made for your dwelling,
    the sanctuary, Lord, your hands established.

18 “The Lord reigns
    for ever and ever.”

19 When Pharaoh’s horses, chariots and horsemen went into the sea, the Lord brought the waters of the sea back over them, but the Israelites walked through the sea on dry ground.

Exodus 15:1-19
New International Version

A Solar Eclipse of Peace


Today at Ya’lla Tours HQ in Portland, Oregon, we have just come in from viewing the solar eclipse. It was awesome! Just north of the path of totality, we saw the sun 99% covered.

Some 2500 years ago, the Greek philosopher/scientist Thales of Miletus was the first person ever to predict an eclipse, according to the ancient historian Herodotus. If this is true, it’s a mystery how the prediction was made, as it was another 200 years before the Greeks understood what causes solar eclipses, the moon passing between the earth and the sun.

Legend tells that the Eclipse of Thales occurred during a battle in a long running war between the Medes and the Lydians near the Halys River in what is now Anatolian Turkey. Taking the eclipse as an admonition by the gods, the combatants dropped their weapons and called a truce. Both sides accepted the Halys River as the border between their lands and peace ensued. Based on modern scientific dating, that eclipse, and hence the battle, happened in 585 BCE.

Talos: Mythical Droid of Crete

This 5th-century BCE Greek vase depicts the death of Talos at the hands of Medea and the Argonauts. The artist is known only as the Talos Painter.

This 5th-century BCE Greek vase depicts the death of Talos at the hands of Medea and the Argonauts. The artist is known only as the Talos Painter.

Talos was a giant bronze man, the Cretan sun god and general guardian of the island. There are many conflicting stories about his genesis, purpose and death, but his role as protector of Crete is a common thread. Zeus and Hephaestus (the god of the forge) are variously named as his creator.

Talos circled the entire island 3 times each day (to account for this, some ancient depictions show him with wings) and lobbed boulders at unauthorized ships that approached the island. Any invader who reached the shore would die a hideous death in his hot-metal embrace.

Talos had one vulnerability – a plug on his ankle, which contained the molten-metal life-blood coursing through a single artery. When Jason and his Argonauts attempted to land on Crete to resupply after their Golden Fleece adventure, they were held off by a barrage of rock-missiles. Fortunately, for the Argonauts, Jason’s wife, the sorceress Medea, was also on board. She cast a spell on Talos, which caused him to remove the plug from his ankle and “bleed” to death.

Some scholars suggest the story represents the cultural, political and technological transition from the Bronze Age and the power of Minoan Crete, which collapsed around 1100 BCE, to the rise of Proto-Greek groups, which invaded Greece in waves across the millennium prior to the fall of Minoan Crete.

A Halcyon Solstice

Kingfisher, Allen W. Seaby, 1929

Kingfisher, Allen W. Seaby, 1929

Alcyone, daughter of the keeper of the Wind, was married to Ceyx, son of the morning star. They were very much in love and totally devoted to each other, yet Alcyone’s love was powerless to relieve the suffering of her husband over the loss of his brother.

Even from the depths of despair, Ceyx knew it was time to get on with his life and he thought his best hope was a consultation with the oracle of Apollo at Claros. This required a sea journey, which, being daughter of the Wind, Alcyone knew to be perilous, especially in Winter, which it was. She pleaded with her husband not to go to no avail. Continue reading

Aesop’s Fables: The Camel & The Arab and Belling The Cat

A fable is a brief story ending in a lesson or moral, often involving anthropomorphic animals. Aesop’s Fables are attributed to a slave who lived in Greece in the 6th century BCE. Whether he actually wrote all the fables is a matter of debate. Whether he was an actual person is also a matter of debate. Regardless of their source, they have been spreading common sense around the globe for millennia. Here are two:

An Arab merchant was preparing to set out across a vast desert with a large inventory of precious goods. After loading his great bulging bundles on the back of his weary camel, he asked which way the animal would prefer to go, up hill or down hill?
The camel replied, “Why do you ask? Is the level road through the desert closed?”
The moral to this story is: Don’t ask obvious questions.

The Mice convened a Great Council meeting to discuss how to combat their mortal enemy the Cat. An eager young mouse, attending his first Great Council came forth with a proposal. “Our enemy’s main advantage is her stealth. If we had some warning of her approach, our chances of escape would be very high. I know of a small bell that could be easily detached from the Child’s toy. If we hang that bell around the Cat’s neck on a ribbon, she will not be able to sneak up on us anymore.” An excited murmur spread through the council chamber, heads nodded and whiskers twitched with favorable interest. The smart, young mouse swelled with pride. Then a wise, old mouse raised his hand. When the room was quiet and all attention turned his way, the old mouse said, “Who will attach the bell to the Cat?” Now, this was a community of hard-working, respectable mice, but none were heroes. They took a moment to mourn their fleeting moment of hope and then began again to brainstorm anti-Cat tactics.
The moral to this story is: Impossible solutions are easy to propose.


Perseus with the head of Medusa, Benvenuto Cellini, 1554

Perseus with the head of Medusa, Benvenuto Cellini, 1554

Having just passed through the peak of the annual Perseid meteor shower, I thought it appropriate to write a bit about the Greek Hero Perseus. The meteor shower is the result of debris trailing behind the Swift-Tuttle comet. Each year at this time, Earth passes through the comet’s debris field, which appears to originate in the Perseus constellation, hence the name Perseid, which means son of Perseus. Continue reading