New York.- By Vicki James Yiannias
A thought at the dedication, on March 21, of the exhibition “Gods and Mortals at Olympus, Ancient Dion, City of Zeus” that this was made possible by the legacy of Aristotle Onassis:
The Onassis Foundation Cultural Center of New York, where the exhibition sits
The Olympic Towers, where the Onassis Cultural Center is housed
The Onassis Foundation USA, which is committed to the promotion of Hellenic culture
That Aristotle Onassis gave the name Olympic to the Olympic Towers building as well as to his airline, Olympic Airways, suggests that “Gods and Mortals at Olympus, Ancient Dion, City of Zeus”, at the Onassis Cultural Center through June 18, might have been as special to him as it was for the guests who came to New York from Zeus’s namesake, the modern village of Dio-Olympus (including its past and present mayors and representatives of the Ephorate of Antiquities of Pieria) to attend its dedication on March 21.
It is to Zeus (Dios, or “of Zeus”), the leader of the Olympian gods, that the Macedonians dedicated the cult sanctuary of Zeus Olympios on the eastern slope of Mount Olympus, on whose peak he resided (as close as possible to the heavens). A religious festival, the Olympia, at Dion, which honored the Olympian Zeus and his daughters, the Muses, brought artists and athletes to
the sacred space, establishing Dion as the direct competitor to the sanctuary of Zeus at Olympia, in the Peloponnesos. Dion had a lifespan from the Archaic period to the Roman era.
Zeus punished or warned mortals with his thunderbolts, and using an eagle as his messenger dispensed judgments that directed the Greeks in maintaining civic and domestic order.
Four of these eagles, carved in marble, sit on columns awaiting their instructions from Zeus Hypistos, who sits on his throne almost casually, bathed in light in their midst at the entrance of the show. Although many aspects of the Zeus Hypistos cult are unknown, by the 2nd century A.D, Zeus had moved from his residence on the peak of Olympus up into the skies, where he flourished during the Roman period.
Professor Pandermalis, whose love for and total immersion in archaeology made his spirited explanations of the artifacts a highlight of the exhibition, says of this Zeus: “On July 6, 2003, as the excavation of the temple was approaching completion, the god’s cult statue was dug out. Zeus Hypsistos was found lying against the east wall. The enthroned statue, with a scepter in his left hand and a thunderbolt in his right, wore a himation folded back over the left shoulder, leaving bare the chest of the almighty god.”
Seen in the United States for the first time, the antiquities in the exhibition (to be discussed in a forthcoming article) show Dion’s daily, cultural, and religious life, from artifacts from the twin temples of Demeter and Persephone and offerings in these sanctuaries, the mosaic of the Epiphany of Dionysus from the Villa of Dionysus, statues of Artemis, Isis (whose cult replaced Demeter at Dion) and from the Great Baths of Dion, portraits of Roman empresses, correspondence etched in marble, coins, jewelry, cosmetics implements and utilitarian items.
A large-screen video showing the city’s ruins in the landscape, the lifting out and transport of the great mosaic of the Epiphany of Dionysus (the conservation of which was supported by the Onassis Foundation) found in the Villa of Dionysos, and other artifacts in the locations in which they were found, and an in situ recording that fills the gallery with immersive sounds of. bubbling water, birds, and owls. You are in the environment that inspired the ancients to make this a sacred space, and you see all around you some of the most significant finds of its excavation. You are in Dion.
“Gods and Mortals at Olympus, Ancient Dion, City of Zeus”, the eleventh archaeological exhibition at the Onassis Cultural Center that has been admired by curators from New York’s great institutions, is another jewel in the crown of the Onassis Cultural Center.
Introduced by Amalia Cosmetatou, Executive Director and Director of Cultural Affairs of the Onassis Foundation (USA), the speakers at the exhibition’s ribbon-cutting ceremony and the elegant dinner that followed were: Dr. Anthony Papademetriou, President of the Onassis Foundation, His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios of America. Ministers of the Hellenic Republic–Nikos Filis, Minister of Education, Research & Religious Affairs, and Professor Aristides Baltas, Minister of Culture and Sports, and Professor Dimitrios Pandermalis, President of the Acropolis Museum and Director of Excavations at Dion since 1973. Also present was Pericles Mitkas, President of The Aristoteleian University of Thessaloniki, which supports and performs the excavation.
“Gods and Mortals at Olympus, Ancient Dion, City of Zeus” is not only something from Dion,
”it is the universal Hellenic spirit,” said His Eminence, Archbishop Demetrios.
The ministers thanked Dr. Papademetriou and the Onassis Foundation. Their commentary included the terror attacks in Belgium the preceding day and the promotion of world peace, Greek Independence Day on March 25, and the ongoing economic and social crisis in Greece and its resulting “brain drain”. Speaking on his ministry, Nikos Filis said that Greece can be lifted from its profound social crisis by educational reform.
Professor Baltas thanked the organizers of the exhibition and spoke of Dion as a “magnificent place “ where Zeus is Mount Olympus and Dion dominates the name and the landscape. All aspects of modern culture are in constant contact with Greece’s heritage, he said, urging the new generation to try to stay in Greece and expressing the hope that all their forms of artistic expression will reach New York.
Mr. Filis said of Dion, “So, the past and the present meet at the excavation at the archeological site reconfirming that education played a key role in the establishment and development of the Greek nation…” He went on to say that “This exhibition, hosted by the Onassis Cultural Center NY on the city of Dion, on Olympus, is a timeless Greek testimonial. Because, as is the case with other archeological excavations, the discovery is the work of Greek archeologists, who make up one of the most internationally recognized communities of Greek scientists.”
At the elegant dinner following the ribbon-cutting Amalia Cosmetatou spoke about the goals of the Onassis Foundation and the guidance of Onassis Foundation president, Dr. Anthony Papademetriou, saying, “At the Onassis Foundation we explore ideas, we present programs that connect past and present, that invite thoughtful dialogue and creative responses to timeless questions that are relevant to all of us today as global citizens. Our programs deal with issues that speak to society today: of the protection of cultural heritage at a time of great threats; our connection to history and the natural environment; the peaceful coexistence of diverse cultural and religious traditions. At the core of our programming is the classical tradition. From that foundation and starting point, we explore ideas through a contemporary lens; we take creative risks; we are committed to new ways of thinking about culture. And, we are here for the public, open, welcoming and admission free. Behind it all is the vision, guidance, and commitment of our President, Dr. Anthony Papademetriou.”
Cosmetatou pointed out the incalculable contribution of Dr. Pandermalis to archaeology and to the Onassis Foundation, saying, “Professor Pandermalis is the president of the Acropolis Museum, and as you now know, the director of excavations at Dion for the past forty-five years. Professor Pandermalis has been a longtime esteemed partner and friend of the Foundation. I have had the privilege to learn from him, to collaborate closely with him on three exhibitions at the Center so far—and I can only hope we will collaborate on many more. Professor Pandermalis cares deeply about his work in a way that has inspired and moved us all. He has devoted his life to unearthing and preserving ancient art; to making it accessible to all people; and—this is very important—to revealing its humanity. He wants to engage people with ancient art, to get them talking about it, to make them relate to it. He encourages us to appreciate ancient art for its beauty, but also for its imperfections. When seen through his eyes, ancient art becomes alive, a very present force, an indispensable part of our identity. This is part of Professor Pandermalis’s legacy, and I will be forever grateful to have experienced it.”
“Gods and Mortals at Olympus, Ancient Dion, City of Zeus” is organized by the Onassis Foundation (USA) and the Dion Excavations, in collaboration with the Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sports–Ephorate of Antiquities of Pieria.