What do these two pictures (carolers dressed in Victorian costume and ancient Greek ruins in Turkey?) have in common?
I’ll give you a hint. Next week is the winter solstice. For thousands of years people have celebrated this annual return of light to lift their spirits during the darkest, coldest, hardest time of the year.
It is no coincidence that the richest traditions and festivities of the year come when we need them the most, when the nights are long and dark and cold due to the axial tilt of the earth that creates the winter solstice.
We know from numerous archaeological sites around the world that many ancient cultures knew how to measure time and mark this event. (But that is not what’s going on at this ancient archaeological site).
The Conway Public Library’s Henney History Room has many resources to help understand the wide variety of historical and scientific influences that have led to our annual holiday celebrations.
There are books and films and even a telescope you can borrow to track time and direction with the stars. (no need for a GPS).
So back to our question, what do these pictures have in common?To explore this connection let’s go back a few thousand years. The ruins pictured above are some of what remains of the ancient city of Pergamon or Pergamum in Turkey.
For library lovers, this was the home of the second largest library in the world, after Alexandria in Egypt. According to Plutarch, the library held over 200,000 volumes.
Historical accounts claim that the library possessed a large main reading room, lined with many shelves. An empty space was left between the outer walls and the shelves to allow for air circulation. This was intended to prevent the library from becoming overly humid in the warm climate of Anatolia and can be seen as an early attempt at library preservation.
There was an interesting history of competition between the two libraries. At the time papyrus made from plants was the main writing medium. Earlier libraries consisted of clay tablets. Fearing that Pergamum’s library would become larger than the great library of Alexandria in Egypt, the Egyptians stopped exporting papyrus to Pergamum. As a result, and out of necessity, Pergamenes invented parchment (paper made out of animal skin) as a substitute for papyrus.
However, according to legend, after the burning of the library at Alexandria by Julius Caesar, his successor, Mark Anthony gave the entire collection of the Pergamum library as a wedding present to Cleopatra, emptying the shelves and ending the dominance of the Library at Pergamum.
To add insult to injury, much of the architecture and sculpture was also taken away and passed from one empire to another. The Altar of Zeus was taken to Berlin in the late 19th century. During World War II, the Pergamon Altar was dismantled and hidden near the Berlin Zoo to protect it from Allied air raids. It later fell into the hands of the Red Army, who took it to the Soviet Union, where it was stored in the Hermitage Museum. In 1958, the Altar was returned to Berlin’s Pergamon Museum in East Berlin, which at the time was also under Communist rule.
|Pergamon Temple of Zeus, now in Berlin Museum|
|Detail Altar of Zeus, in Berlin Museum. Notice the same type of dentil molding used here can be found carved in wood at the Conway Public Library|
Our focus now however, is not on purloined temples or pilfered libraries. In addition to a great library and an elaborate temple, Pergamon was also the home of an early form of a mental hospital or rehab center.
What we are looking for is actually underground, still in its original location in what is now Turkey. The image below is of the entrance to a specially designed tunnel using the most up to date therapies for the time.
Treatments included herbal remedies, mud baths, musical concerts, drinking water with radioactive propreties, and an early form of psychotherapy.
Here is a view from inside the tunnel. Notice the openings along the ceiling.
As they moved through the tunnel, patients would be treated with a kind of sound therapy. The practitioners above would use comforting sounds of running water, like many of us find by going to Conway’s own Diana’s Baths waterfalls. They would also provide supporting positive phrases, poetry and song.
Now hopefully, you can see the comparison with the carolers and the tunnel. Holiday songs and the sounds of the season (bells, drums, even kazoos) serve like a tonic for the darkness and cold, salves for the solstice, remedied with tidings of comfort and joy. (We heard a lot of this at the recent concerts at Kennett High School).
Drop by the Henney History Room to check out our music collection, including music used by Thomas Murphy, Lady Blanche’s husband. You are also welcome to send us a comment or give us a call to learn more.
By the way, did you know Santa Claus, also known as Saint Nicholas, was from Turkey? and his bones were stolen and taken to Italy? but that is another story for another time….