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Ancient Greek Toys

Αρχική Exhibitions




Besides the known qualities, beneficial to the soul, that are enjoyed by a child or adult who plays for the sake of the game itself anywhere on the planet, the Greeks have one more reason to do so: Plato records than when Solon visited Egypt, he was told the following by a very old priest in Saida:

“Solon, you Greeks always remain children. There has never been an old Greek. You are all young at heart because your heart does not remember any of the old beliefs of tradition nor the age-old knowledge…”.

Greek inventiveness, which goes side by side with the thirst for knowledge and life (as in the proverb “ευ ζην” – “live well”) constitutes them the inventors of a wide variety of games; intellectual games, children’s games and games of chance, to such a degree that little was added later on by the Romans and the Byzantines, and in fact, almost every game that is played even today in the geographical region the ancient Greeks used to occupy, has its roots in Greek antiquity. Nonetheless, even though we have discovered many games in quantity, we do not have a clear view of the method of play for most of these games, perhaps because the writers of the age did not consider it purposeful to record those methods for their descendants.

Thus we only know some games by their design and we have difficulty comprehending the logic of some others, which require a different point of view for their understanding, and certainly not the perspective of the square and “dry” logic of the modern, and gradually ‘mutated’, city dweller. The society that founded its existence on speech was based on a complete education and attempted to provide answers to all subjects through dialogue, direct democracy and common effort and research. There, where the ultimate punishment was banishment from common affairs, each game set the conditions for the harmonious coexistence of the individuals, but also provided answers to specific questions and occasionally revealed the will of the Gods. This “exological” function was based on beliefs that make us smile at their naiveté and childishness, but they might be worth considering from a more differentiated and dispassionate perspective.

Christos D. Lazos, author and researcher, writes: “Whoever becomes thoroughly involved with the games will soon come to identify their direct connection with the rituals, the religious feeling, magic and divination, the rites of passage … There isn’t a single game that isn’t connected with some God, that does not derive from some God, that does not originate from divine will, while there is a patron God or deity for many games”.

It is a well-known fact that the ancient Greeks attributed great importance to divination, which was held sacred, like medicine. In fact, in many cases those two coexisted, as in the oracles-sanatoria of Asclepius. It seems that the essence of complete healing was closely connected to self-awareness (the Delphic proverb “γνώθι σαυτόν” - “know thyself” came, after all, from an oracle), in the sense that if there wasn’t complete healing at the psychological and mental level, it couldn’t be achieved bodily either. Nobody can claim naturally, that only the hearing of the oracle, for example, could bring self-awareness on its own. The answer is that by itself, the hearing of the oracle cannot.

The intention however, to receive an answer to some hazy or difficult matters is “perceived” by our environment and, under the proper conditions, the answer, which is in fact hidden within us, is projected outwards, decoded and simple.

In older times, when the human effort to understand nature was desperate, a very large file of observations was compiled, with the intention of deciphering the upcoming changes on a personal or general level or just to explain certain events. There were interpretations of almost all natural phenomena, from the flight pattern of certain birds to a noon or midnight sneeze and the way some items burned. The very many forms of divination that are preserved (and almost all of them with ancient Greek names) speak of the more or less everyday use of divination by simple people, who, by observing almost everything around them, automatically received the answers they sought.

A contemporary view of this process is provided by Carl Jung, the father of analytic psychology, with his theory of synchronicity, according to which each point in time has its own “signature” and specific quality expressed by almost all living and non-living things that surround us and that vibrate to the qualities and particularities of each moment. So, every idea, every situation, anything, can become the vessel through which we may come in contact with this dynamic and become aware of it during its evolution. The visible and invisible universe is subject to the law of dynamic change, since it is, in fact, the power of time itself that acts as the catalyst. The essence of time is very important in divination for the identification of the “signs” that must be observed and, naturally, their interpretation.

The items presented in the exhibition are simple children’s games or games of chance, but they are, in a way, magical as well, provided we leave them some space to function as such. They are accompanied by simple instructions either for playing the game or for practicing a simplified form of divination intended for amusement or simply meditation. It is true that life, and the rhythms by which it races by in the cities, leaves little time for reprieve, meditation, indulging in oneself with those little “rituals” that are beneficial to the soul. Jung himself had once commented that the longest and most interesting journey one could embark on was the journey within…