Showing posts with label History. Show all posts
Showing posts with label History. Show all posts

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Days of Gods and Games

Statue (image)
Continuing my examination of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, this week’s post sees another great gargantuan of Greece— the Statue of Zeus at Olympia.

The Greek sculptor Phidias, already renown for his earlier work, the Statue of Athena Parthenon, appropriately crafted his new 40-foot statue in the Temple of Zeus utilizing cedarwood, ivory, gold and ebony.

Seated on an opulent black marble throne, the god of sky, thunder and weather held a second statue in his hand, that of Nike, goddess of victory. In his other hand, he held a staff with a perched eagle. Allegedly, the statue had to be continually covered in olive oil as a safeguard from elemental erosion(!) The Temple of Zeus itself was located in Olympia, then controlled by the city-state of Elis, where every four years, fans congregated to witness its famed athletic games.

After eight years of construction, Phidias completed the statue in 5th Century BC which attracted awestruck onlookers from across the globe and dictated Zeus’s popular image in art, poetry and culture for centuries.

In 426 AD, the temple was destroyed in an earthquake but not before being desecrated and neglected by Roman emperor Theodosius I who banned all pagan cult activity, thus sidelining the Olympic Games for a spell.

But what became of Zeus? No longer a feature of the temple by the 6th Century, the statue of Zeus (formerly) of Olympia had seen renovation and subsequent relocation to Constantinople where anything from a tsunami, earthquake or fire may have claimed it.

That which we know of the majestic Statue of Zeus comes chiefly from its depiction in ancient art and coins. The timeline of its construction might also be a mystery were it not for the discovery of Phidias’ workshop in the 1950s. Little by little, discoveries of the such help us uncover the answers to the same age-old questions— When... where... how... and why?

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Christopher Robinson

Sunday, August 30, 2020

An Aquarian Exposition

Last week marked the 51st anniversary of the Woodstock Music and Arts Fair held in Upstate New York in the summer of ‘69. The unprecedented event became a cultural milestone and a defining moment for a generation. Perhaps a topic of contention at the time, it has since developed a symbolic legacy, embodying the spirit of musical and communal harmony.

Conceived by a young promoter named Michael Lang, the undertaking began with a team of investors, organizers and workers who tirelessly assembled a roster of the era’s most prominent rock and folk acts including Santana, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Ten Years After, Sly and the Family Stone, Country Joe and the Fish, Janis Joplin, Sha-Na-Na, Ravi Shankar, The Band, Joe Cocker, Melanie and Joan Baez.

The festival was scheduled to run for three days and underwent a change in venue a number of times until a dairy farmer named Max Yasgur signed on to host the festival on his 600-acre farm in Bethel. By that point, it was too late to complete the building of fencing around the site and the completion of the stage became prioritized until the day of the festival.

As this happened, word-of-mouth promotion brought over 400,000 more attendees than expected, forcing the organizers to put the festival on for free and cope with what was then declared a state of emergency by New York’s governor Nelson Rockefeller. The resulting traffic jams, sanitation conditions, bad weather and shortage of food and first aid became the subject of national headlines. Nearly no news sources reported on anything related to music.

Early on, Lang and company realized they would lose everything but kept the show going nevertheless. The mammoth crowd too, endured the inconveniences, sharing in the challenge as a makeshift family unit, seeing the weekend as an opportunity to realize their ‘peace and love’ ideals.

Many there, in fact, seemed to know they were participating in something historic. Asked by a reporter why he didn’t seem upset by the financial calamity, one of Lang’s team members pointed to the positive happenings around them. It was all worth it to him. (Try to picture that spirit in today’s pop music industry.) Eventually, the losses were recouped by revenue from the festival’s documentary and soundtrack albums.

The organizers’ acceptance of government aid was particularly cited by Objectivist writer Ayn Rand as evidence of the ultimate futility of the love generation. To Rand, the Woodstock hippies were “Dionysian” nihilists who favored unbridled emotion and squandering over reason and productivity as seen in the festival’s chaos and depletion of resources and amenities. Without the establishment’s interference, she claimed, their utopian experiment would have been immeasurably more disastrous.

“Where would they be without the charity of the local ‘squares’ who fed them? Where would they be without the fifty doctors, rushed from New York to save their lives; without the automobiles that brought them to the festival?”

Rand may have missed something more poignant, however. The unprepared attendees likely descended on Bethel under the faulty assumption that their basic needs would be met by the festival’s organizers. The purpose of the weekend was to turn a profit for the investors, not to prove to the world that hippies could survive in a self-created microcosm. One half-million young people had endured unpleasant conditions in a disaster area for three days and there were allegedly no reports of violence. That’s a staggering fact, especially in light of today’s multitude of tiny street protests that invariably turn violent and incendiary. (Incidentally, those are the ones that we’re consistently being told are “peaceful.” So it’s okay.)

Max Yasgur had little in common with his young guests. He was a middle-aged working class conservative who supported the war in Vietnam but he strongly defended the hippies’ right to free speech.(That’s yet another irony considering that our contemporary voices of dissent will extend no such courtesy to anyone like him today.)

The Woodstock film featured a touching moment where Yasgur addresses the crowd.

“I think you people have proven something to the world... This is the largest group of people ever assembled in one place... A half a million young people can get together and have three days of fun and music and have nothing but fun and music.”

At 49, Yasgur looked startlingly old for his age and two missing fingers on his right hand were a reminder of the hard and often dangerous life a working farmer leads.

Following the festival, he was boycotted, sued and shunned by his neighboring townspeople. He opted not to rent out land for more concerts and died only a few years later.

The concept of Woodstock was never successfully repeated. The record-breaking attendance was topped but no gathering could ever again unify a generation or capture the attention of the world. The sad paragon of that fact came in July of 1999 when a four-day show held in Rome, New York aimed to be another unnecessary new version of the famed namesake for ‘Generation X.’

Woodstock ‘99’s rampant commercialism, violence, arson, looting, rape and sexual assault confirmed the notion that the spirit of Woodstock can’t be summoned up for profit or cheap thrills.

Woodstock will remain in the hearts of many, not as an event, but a state of mind, representing music as a communal force and a universal identity.

“The one major thing you have to remember... is that the man next to you is your brother, and you’d damn well better treat each other that way because if you don’t, then we blow the whole thing, but we’ve got it right there!” 

--John Morris, Woodstock emcee

  • Have we blown it?
  • Can lessons be learned from Woodstock?
  • How can they be applied?

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    Christopher Robinson

    Sunday, May 10, 2020

    Milestones and Missed Opportunities

    Friday marked the 75th anniversary of VE Day, when victory in Europe was declared by the Allied Forces in the war against Germany on May 8th 1945. The end of World War II signaled a new era and commenced history’s bloodiest chapter.

    It’s safe to say that WW2 may be the single definitive event in our modern history, that being within the timeframe that living Americans can still recall. Arguably there have been three such momentous world/national events since Imperial Japanese Navy aircraft bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7th 1941, the current global pandemic being the latest. Relatively few of us have experienced the events leading up to VE Day, so it was particularly disappointing that its anniversary couldn’t be properly recognized due to current restrictions on public gatherings-one condition of history forestalling the remembrance of another one.

    Many among us recall certain global or national events for various reasons depending on our ages and the degree of association we might have with the events themselves. Some are significantly connected to major points in history that others merely observed as bystanders. Many of those events nevertheless carry equal importance among individuals regardless of their participation.
    Perhaps you have a ‘connection’ to one of those events-or another one that few others have claim to. The designation of any event’s importance can be subjective. What changed the world for you might not have even phased your friends, neighbors or peers. In a sense, we’re not always in these experiences together... or are we?