Society / Grèce
babelmed - 23/03/2004
The exhibition focuses on the Hellenisation of the islands culture but points to the likely oriental origins of the Aphrodite cult. It seems that she originated as Ishtar, the goddess of sexuality of Mesopotamia, moving westwards through Syrian and Palestine, where she was known as Astarte before arriving in Cyprus where she acquired the attributes of the Greek goddess of love. The exhibition’s clearly stated aim is to show the Hellenisation of Cypriot culture from the cosmopolitanism of the Late Bronze Age (1650-1050 BCE) through the influence of early Greek Mycenaean settlers in the 11th century BCE until the island’s eventual full Hellenisation under Alexander the Great in the fourth century. If its objective is to tell the simple story of the ‘Greekification’ of the island – an ideological project with a contemporary (Olympic) audience in mind - it is clear from the exhibits themselves that such simplifications are far from accurate.
The second section of the exhibition shows the island’s culture after the arrival of the Phoenicians in the ninth century BCE. Several terracotta figurines point to the importance of Mesopotamian culture on the island at the time. The peaceful coexistence of the newer elements together with the earlier –imported again – Mycenaean culture, is shown by the fact that the worship of the Eastern goddess Astarte continued alongside local fertility cults. It is only during the Classical period that the Greek alphabet and Olympian deities appear, before finally becoming endemic after Alexander’s military expedition. The Hellenistic Aphrodite is clearly a product of the Greek sculptural tradition and the island’s position as an important meeting point of Mediterranean cultures. It seems that the title of the exhibition, however rests on a simplification. If the project’s aim is to show 3200 years of Cypriot Hellenism, it fails. The exhibits are well laid out and labelled and show the fascinating hybrid culture of the island before the Classical period. Aphrodite, naked and Greek arrived later after a complex cultural history that shows the influence of the West (Greece) but also that of the East. The exhibition itself shows the beauty of this mixed history and so it is a shame that its title (‘3200 years of Cypriot Hellenism’) seems to have fallen completely for the goddess’s myth: can a bath really purify eight hundred years of fertile infidelity to Hellenism? Leonidas Liambey