Athena's Web Weekly Column

  Week of July 15th - July 21st,  2011

The Real Deal

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Quick as a wink

Quicksilver Hermes

  We have spent a fair amount of time over the last few years delving into the Age of Gemini, roughly running from 6300 to 4800 BC, attempting to understand the mindset of those who lived during this period. While it is easy enough to use current celestial symbolism to help understand some of the cultural currents of that time (such as knowing that Gemini is an AIR sign, and noting the preponderance of birds and bird symbolism of the time), what does the archaeological record indicate for this period? Does the hard evidence support the themes of Gemini, and if so, just how did the world manifest these traditions?

  The Greeks tell us that Hermes (Mercury in the Roman tradition) was the Lord of Merchants. This is your wheeler-dealer with a good stiff shot of gift of gab. The capacity to sell refrigerators to Eskimos is only one part of their claim to fame. These door-to-door salesmen (Mercury rules windows, doors and keyholes) spend as much time on the road as they do at home, possibly more so. Herms (a squared stone pillar) and cairns (small piles of stones) once marked the way through urban areas for the former, and more pastoral settings for the latter. Paths and trails through difficult terrain were discovered and identified by the god. But Mercury and Gemini are also said to rule the hands. They are clever at figuring things out. Carpenters and craftsmen often have more than their fair share of Geminis among their ranks.

modern stone cairn

contemporary stone cairn

  From the seventh through the fifth millennia BC, there was an incredible growth in cultural cross fertilization. Archaeologists infer the existence of wide-ranging trade from the dispersion of various materials found far from their place of origin. Obsidian, alabaster, marble and Spondylus shell have been disseminated along some of the principle highways of the times, the seas and inland waterways. Obsidian was being transported by sea as early as the seventh millennium BC. We know of sailing boats, not because we have found the boats themselves, but because of their depictions on various ceramics. In the Balkans and northern Greece there was a steady growth in metal production and trade: copper needles, awls, fish-hooks and spiral-headed pins were produced. Axes and daggers begin to make their appearance at the end of this period, as found in the Vinca, Tiszapolgar, Lengyel and Cucuteni cultures. From 5200 BC on one can find workshops of flint, copper, gold and pottery, implying that craft specialization and a general division of labor had begun. In the great river valleys of the Nile and Tigris Euphrates, it was determined how to drain the swamps and irrigate the parched lands, broadening the agricultural cornucopia and its produce for the people's benefit. It is thought, for this reason, that the children of the Delta became more advanced than those of the Nile highlands, with a better lifestyle, agricultural advancements and general government. Indeed, the Greeks record in their myths that on the first day of Hermes birth, he found the tortoise shell, invented the harp, learned how to play it and then got bored with the effort and cast it aside as he looked for something else to engage his curious mind.

  Not bad for a days' work, especially by one dressed in swaddling clothes. Imagine what could be done when he had a whole epoch to work with.


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