February 12, 2000
We picked this dispatch as today's "Best."
But, the divine cannot be buried, it does not fall in earthquakes or get killed in wars. Instead, divinity changes faces, takes on new names and new personas, with every new conqueror or religion that passes through. Even today, though no humans live in Ephesus, the divine is here.
Cybele began to take her leave, in name at least, when the "Sea People" came in the 11th century BCE. Escaping the Dorian invasion on their own islands, Greek "sea people" arrived, mixed with the locals, established new city states, free from the weakened Hittite empire, and brought their own gods and goddesses. Ephesus was in the center of Ionia, the small but powerful league of cities of sea traders. After seeing so many Greek ruins around the Mediterranean, and having the "Ionic columns" pointed out to me, I finally know what they were talking about! While Athens was still small and unimportant, Ephesus was then the center of Hellenic (ancient Greek) culture.
Cybele's temple was made even more glorious by becoming Hellenized. Ruler after ruler made the temple more and more grand, adding marble columns, exquisite statues,and gifts from far-off lands. The rulers have all but been forgotten, but Artemis only grew in glory.
Not long after, in 547 BCE, the mighty Persians swept in from the East, from the area of modern Iran, and conquered all of Anatolia. The Persian Cyrus was the emperor, now, but Artemis was still their deity. Ephesus lost its role as the center of Hellenic culture, and Athens rose to prominence, with its mighty Acropolis built to Athena. Different faces, different names, same divinity. Several huge statues found show this Cybele/Artemis goddess as having 22 breasts-now that's a powerful symbol of fertility!
War raged on, with the Persians using the Anatolian coast as their base to launch attacks on the Greek islands. We know them as the "Persian Wars," since the historians we know were all Greek, and since the Greeks eventually won. Do the Persians call them the "Greek Wars"?
The history of this great city just goes on and on, doesn't it? Wouldn't it be cool to have your name as a part of it? A lunatic named Herostratus thought so. How better for one man, with no armies or power, to go down in history, than to set fire to the great temple of Artemis? It worked. In 356 BCE, the temple was destroyed, and now you know this guy's name, too. (The Odyssey World Trek does not recommend senseless destruction as a path to immortality.) The story is told that, when asked why Artemis could not protect her own temple, the Ephisians replied, "Because our goddess had gone to Pella to be present at the birth of the Great Alexander."
Reconstruction was well underway (you can't keep a good goddess down, they say) when who should arrive on the scene but Alexander the Great himself! The son of Phillip II of Macedonia, a small Greek kingdom to the West, Alexander and his armies crossed the Hellespont (Dardanelles) in 334BC, and conquered everyone and everything from Greece to India. He came here to visit and revere the goddess Artemis, and organized a great parade in her honor.
The plans for the new temple were so amazing that even young Alexander was humbled. Legend has it, of course, that the old temple was burned down the night he was born, because the goddess was away attending his birth. He offered to pay the entire cost of the reconstruction, if the new temple would be dedicated to him, once finished. The Ephesians declined. "It would not befit a deity like you to build a temple to another deity," they told him.
And the temple was finished, without Alexander's help. That's when it became one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.
Jasmine and I stand off the roadside, looking out over a huge, empty field, with two small ponds at either end. One huge, huge column stands, in the center, put back together by archeologists so that we can get a small clue as to just how huge and grand this temple must have been. The Seven Wonders? Hmm. I can only wonder, today, what it might have been like. 425 feet long, 220 feet wide, and 60 feet high, with 120 huge Ionian pillars. What magic and ritual must have taken place in this very spot?!
Even the natural world goes through changes over time, and Lysimachus noticed coming problems. The river had changed course, leaving the town next to a mosquito-ridden swamp, where malaria was sure to lurk. The bay was filling up with silt, making it difficult for ships to get in and out, a real drawback for a town based on trading. And so he built a new city, away from the swamps, full of gymnasiums and theatres, baths and temples. To force the reluctant Ephesians out of their old homes, he plugged up the sewage system, so that the old town flooded during a huge storm. Yuck!
This new town is where we are walking today, but very little of these buildings remain, either. Yesterday, I walked along the remains of the huge wall Lysimachus built, overlooking the city, in search of the divine. The sun shone brightly, flowers poked their heads up from the earth, and I knew that the divine, no matter what form you believe in, was there with me!
Ephesus continued trading and worshipping Artemis. Hoping not to be destroyed again, Ephesus allied itself with the powerful rulers of the time. The Seleucid kings of Syria, then the Ptolemies of Egypt, then the rulers of Anitoch and then Pergamum, and eventually the Romans.
The ruins we are playing on today are the remains of the great city of Roman Ephesus, which was the capital of Roman Asia Minor with a population of 250,000 (no small beans 2000 years ago). It had a busy commercial port and the temple of Artemis granted the right of sanctuary to errant wanderers. Artemis took on her Roman name of Diana, but continued to be the goddess of the hunt. The New York City of the Ancient World, Ephesus was a metropolitan center, where traders and immigrants from all over settled. The most famous being Mary, the mother of Jesus.
Layer upon layer, year upon year, century upon century... Jasmine and I walk and play in the remains of an ancient city, blessed by the divine. Nestled between two hills near the blue Aegean Sea, the glory of this town lives on in our imaginations, and now in yours!
p.s. - Please e-mail me at ...firstname.lastname@example.org
Team - What the Gods Have Joined Man Has Put Asunder: The Ancient City of Miletus
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