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Phaistos › Antique Origins

Definition and Origins

by Mark Cartwright
published on 15 May 2012
Phaistos, Crete ()
Located on the fertile Mesara plain in central Crete, Phaistos has been inhabited since the Final Neolithic period (ca. 3600-3000 BCE). The settlements greatest period of influence was from the 20th to 15th century BCE, during which time it was, along with Knossos, Malia and Zakros, one of the most important centres of the Minoan civilization. Settlement continued into the Mycenaean era, followed by a brief resurgence in the 7th century BCE. Phaistos' independence was finally lost when it was conquered in ca. 180 BCE by Gortyn, the Roman capital of Crete.
Tradition attributes the founding of Phaistos to either Minos, ruler of Knossos, or to his brother Radhamanthys. The name derives from Phaistos (the son or grandson of Herakles ), who was killed by the Cretan King Idomeneus. It was Idomeneus who led the Cretans in the Trojan War and Phaistos is described in Homer ’s Iliad as 'a well-founded city '.


The first large scale buildings date back to ca. 3000 BCE but it was from 2000 BCE that the first palaces were built on the site.The first and finest palace was constructed between 2000 BCE and 1700 BCE. This large scale Minoan palace was built on a wide plateau on the lowest of three hills, 97m high. The palace, at its widest extent, occupied an area of 8,400 square metres and was second only to Knossos in size and importance. Constructed on three terraces and ranging from one to three stories, it was a splendid building, with the large courts (the biggest being 1,100 square metres), colonnades, stairways and light wells so typical of Minoan palatial architecture.


It has been suggested that the palace was an administrative, manufacturing, and commercial centre with storage of goods for domestic and foreign trade and shrines for religious worship - in particular, of the Mother Goddess. Some scholars argue that the thousands of sealings, Linear A tablets and the quality and variety of ceramics found - particularly, Kamares ware - would suggest that the palace was something more than a communal gathering place and was perhaps the seat of a theocratic power. However, the archaeological evidence is inconclusive as to the specific role of the palace in the community. Certainly, the splendour of the buildings and richness of pottery finds suggest a period of great affluence.
The first palace complex was destroyed by two earthquakes around 1700 BCE and the second palace was soon built over the first. More modest than its predecessor, the second palace was itself destroyed mid-1600 BCE and abandoned until a brief revival in the 16th century BCE, after which Phaistos became second in importance to nearby Hagia Triada, the local seat of power under the Mycenaeans.
Phaistos Disk (Side B)

Phaistos Disk (Side B)


Excavations of the site were begun in 1900 CE by the Italian Archaeological School and continue to the present day. The extensive remains visible today are principally from the second palace. There are two large staircases - the monumental entrance to the main court (14m wide) and the entrance to the west court, (6m in height); a large theatre area with nine ranks of stone seats or steps, 24m long and with a possible capacity of over 400 standing spectators; the western court, where the celebrated bull-games were possibly held; two walled, circular pits; a lobby with benches; magazine rooms; remains of light wells; and large apartments, one - the so-called King's Megaron - still with original alabaster flagstones and red plaster interstices.
Amongst the many artefacts found at the site, the most celebrated is the unique Phaistos Disk. This clay disk, dated to 1600 BCE, is imprinted on both sides with 241 symbols in a spiral pattern. The disk may be said to be an ancestor of typography as each symbol was separately printed using a stamp. Despite much scholarly endeavour and debate, these symbols remain undeciphered. Artefacts from Phaistos now reside primarily in the Archaeological Museum of Iraklion, Crete.


Crates of Thebes › Who Was

Definition and Origins

by Joshua J. Mark
published on 02 August 2014
Crates of Thebes (Velvet)
Crates of Thebes ( c. 360-280 BCE) was one of the most important Cynic philosophers of ancient Greece. He was born to a wealthy family in Thebes but gave away his inheritance after realizing the futility of material possessions. He then moved to Athens where he studied philosophy with Diogenes of Sinope (c. 404-323 BCE). Like Diogenes, Crates lived on the streets, owned nothing, and lived his philosophy very publicly. His most famous student was Zeno of Citium (c. 336-265 BCE) who founded the Stoic School of philosophy which would later have a significant impact on the culture of Rome and later cultures and civilizations up to the present day.


Crates grew up in Thebes, the son of a wealthy family and, as a matter of course, would have followed in his family's business.One night, however, he saw a play of the Tragedy of Telephus, which relates the story of how King Telephus, the son of Heracles, was wounded by Achilles. The wound would not heal and, when Telephus consulted the oracle, he was told it could only be healed by the one who inflicted it. Telephus disguised himself as a beggar and went to Achilles' camp, where he managed to convince Achilles to heal him with the same spear that wounded him. No ancient sources explain what it was about this play that so moved Crates, but perhaps it was that not even a king, and son of the demi-god Heracles, was immune to pain and loss. It could also be that when Telephus assumed the disguise of the beggar, he was more effective in achieving his goal of being healed than when he was a king. Whatever it was, Crates dispersed his personal wealth to the people of Thebes, left his family, and went to Athens to study philosophy.



To say that Crates "studied" with Diogenes of Sinope gives the impression of a master teaching a student, perhaps in a classroom; this image is far from the truth of the relationship between the two men. Diogenes lived his philosophy daily on the streets of Athens, and Crates would have learned as much from his example as from his lectures. Diogenes' philosophy was developed from that of his teacher, Antisthenes (who had been a student of Socrates ), and emphasized the rejection of material wealth, objects, and social status in favor of a life lived simply and in accordance with nature. There was no need for personal possessions according to the Cynic view, because one was only going to lose them and, more importantly, they distracted one from the act of living one's life. This same could be said of social status or education (in the formal understanding of the word) or social etiquette; all of these concepts were unnatural and devised by human beings to help them give shape and order to the world but, really, they were artificial concepts that separated people from the possibility of living honest lives. The famous story of Diogenes of Sinope looking for a "human being" on the streets of Athens by holding up a lantern to people's faces in broad daylight is an example of how the Cynics tried to wake people up from the dream world they said that most lived in. Crates followed Diogenes' example but, it seems, had a much gentler approach.
The 3rd century CE writer Diogenes Laertius, who wrote on the lives of many Greek philosophers, claims that Crates was known as "the door opener" because he would regularly walk into people's houses to give them counsel, uninvited, and then leave when the situation was resolved. He was a physically unattractive man but had such a good spirit and was always so cheerful that the people of Athens welcomed him into their homes. One of the best examples of Crates' "door-opening" concerns a young man who would become a student of his and, later, his brother-in-law. Metrocles of Marneia was studying formal philosophy at Aristotle 's Lyceum under the teacher Theophrastus who ran the school in the same way Aristotle had and required students to give lectures on the subjects they had studied. The historian William D. Desmond relates the tale of Metrocles' enlightenment as found in the work of Diogenes Laertius:
Once while declaiming, Metrocles farted audibly and was so ashamed that he shut himself away from public view and thought of starving himself to death. But Crates visited him, fed him with lupin-beans, and advanced various arguments to convince him that his action [of farting] was not wrong or unnatural and had been for the best in fact. Then Crates capped his exhortation with a great fart of his own. "From that day on Metrocles started to listen to Crates' discourses and became a capable man in philosophy" (DL 6.94). Such is Diogenes Laertius' laughable deadpan conclusion, and this is the Cynic's point: everything is laughable, there is nothing serious in mortality, and one should not wrinkle one's brow with Aristotelian jargon or be ashamed of any natural functions (28).
To Crates, anything that did not proceed from nature was a trap and, among the many, were the traps of social etiquette, formal education - which only cluttered one's mind with useless facts - and, especially, social status and wealth. He is said to have driven his family away with a stick when they came to Athens to return him to his former life of ease and luxury back in Thebes.
Crates of Thebes

Crates of Thebes


Metrocles was the son of a wealthy Athenian family who were no doubt displeased when he dropped out of the Lyceum to live on the streets and follow Crates' teaching. Their displeasure definitely increased, however, when Metrocles introduced Crates to his younger sister Hipparchia. Hipparchia was a very enviable match in the elite circles of Athens and had many suitors.When she met Crates, however, she refused all of them and said she would marry only Crates or else kill herself. Her parents asked Crates if he would come reason with her and talk her out of this decision. He arrived at the house, disrobed and, standing naked in front of her, said, "Here is the bridegroom and these are his possessions - choose accordingly." Instead of dissuading Hipparchia, this only made her love him more and she left her family and wealth to marry him and live with him in poverty on the streets. They consummated their marriage on the porch of a public building in downtown Athens reasoning, as they did in all things, that if there was nothing unnatural about sex in private, there was nothing wrong with it in public.Hipparchia would bear Crates two children, a son and daughter, and lived with him for the rest of his life.
Crates is said to have taken his son, Pasicles, to brothels when the boy was older as an introduction to sex. He told Pasicles that sex was completely natural and simple and that traditional marriages and accepted etiquette concerning sexual matters were traps to be avoided. When his daughter (whose name is not known) reached maturity, he told her she should have trial marriages for one month to find a suitable mate instead of marrying and living as society expected her to. Crates emphasized non-violence in his teachings and, as a part of that belief, felt that no one should have to submit to another's will in marriage just because social custom and the laws of the city encouraged such behavior. One should strive to be free in all things and master oneself and one's own problems before worrying about others and theirs. He was known to never drink wine or any intoxicant, but only water, and to eat only what was necessary to live, but never to excess. In summer he wore a winter cloak to teach himself to bear adversity in the body and, in winter, only rags. He died of natural causes in his old age on the streets of Athens.


Both Crates and Hipparchia are said to have written a significant number of philosophical works but very few of Crates' lines, and none of Hipparchia's, exist in the present day. Hipparchia traveled and taught daily with Crates, wearing men's clothing and conversing with males as an equal. It is thought she took over teaching his students after his death. Crates taught completely by example, and it is thought his lectures were actually discussions and his classroom most certainly the streets of Athens. Among his pupils was Zeno of Citium, a former merchant of means, who was shipwrecked on one of his trips to Athens. He found a copy of Xenophon 's Memorabilia in a book store and was so impressed by the figure of Socrates in the work that he abandoned his business and devoted himself to philosophy, studying first with Crates.
Zeno developed the Cynic philosophy into the philosophic discipline of Stoicism which would be further developed by the Roman philosopher Epictetus (50 CE-130 CE) and become one of the most important and influential belief systems of ancient Rome. Stoicism, in time, came to influence later philosophical systems and became especially popular in the 1960's CE among the counter-culture who were largely introduced to Stoic concepts through Henry David Thoreau's Walden(published in 1854 CE), which emphasized the importance of living one's life truly through simplicity. Crates' vision of a world based on justice, non-violence, and simplicity of living, as developed by Zeno, may have also influenced Thoreau's other work, Civil Disobedience (published 1849 CE), which inspired Gandhi in his non-violent resistance to British rule in India and, later, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s civil rights movement in the United States of America.


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