The Altar of the Twelve Gods

Archaeologists working in Athens think they've found the Altar of the Twelve Gods. If so, there are going to be some very excited antiquarians. The problem is, the location is smack underneath the train line, and the train people are less than keen about digging up the line and thus halting the trains while the archaeologists do their thing.

The twelve gods we're talking about here are Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, Demeter, Hestia, Apollo, Artemis, Hephaestus, Athena, Ares, Aphrodite and Hermes.

In ancient Athens, in the middle of the agora, was an altar dedicated to the whole crew. The Altar of the Twelve Gods was considered the centre of the city. Here's Nico describing the agora. I wrote this in my first book:
The open space in the middle was covered in a jumble of stalls, each little more than a rough plank resting upon a barrel at each end, with perhaps an awning to keep the vendors and their goods in the shade. I walked past the many stalls selling produce from the farms. These stalls were covered with jars and baskets of olives, olive oil, figs and grapes, corn, goat’s cheese and, rarely, smoked goat meat. Behind every stall stood a farmer, his skin leathery and dark from years working in the sun, his hands calloused, wearing rough clothes and a floppy sheepskin hat, shouting his products or dealing with a customer. These weren’t men to care much of politics; it was all they could do to scratch a living from the stony soil.
Barely visible, fenced off from the chaos, was the Altar of the Twelve Gods. The altar was the very center of Athens, the point from which all distances are measured. It was the only place in Athens dedicated to all twelve Gods, and so especially sacred: a place of sanctuary for anyone who could make it inside the fence before their pursuers reached them. The altar stone was made of marble, flat on top, and somewhat weathered though it had been set in place only sixty years before.
When I wrote that, no one knew what the for real altar looked like, so I made something up. If the archaeologists win the battle to dig the location, this promises to be the first time a later discovery shows something I wrote to be wrong, or, if I'm incredibly lucky, right.

15 comments:

C. N. Nevets said...

Hot dang.

That's technical archaeological jargon.

Vicky Alvear Shecter said...

How cool is that? Very exciting.

Botanist said...

Sooo...are you hoping they do get permission to dig, or hoping they don't?

Gary Corby said...

I'd love them to dig it up. There's certainly no damage to me even if my guess was totally wrong, and either way it makes for an interesting tidbit for book event stories.

I doubt they will though. I'm afraid the Greek record on antiquity care is rather spotty, unless it's a high visibility item.

Misha said...

Sigh... and here I was getting excited at the idea of such an important discovery.

:-(

Gary Corby said...

Hi Misha!

I figure someone will eventually come up with a clever down-looking radar that images stuff underground, and then it's going to get really exciting. Imagine if you could drag a machine like that across and piece of ground.

Jane Finnis said...

An underground imaging machine? Wow, that would be nearly as good as a time travel capsule. I wonder if anyone has written a science-fiction story featuring something like that? It cries out for a short story about the conflict among scientists, archaeologists and historians, not to mention the police, treasure hunters...Well, in the meantime, I agree it would be great if the Athenians dug up the altar site, but also agree I can't see it happening.

Gary Corby said...

Hi Jane!

I'm thinking if you could send a signal from about 8 different sources around your target, measured the bounce,and then applied a lot of clever signal processing, you could build up an image. But you'd have to deal with the wild variation in density of surrounding ground.

L. T. Host said...

How amazing would it be if they'd found it! What an important spot, if all of Athens' distances were measured from there. Hopefully the train people will let them dig, though I can understand why they wouldn't want to.

Gary Corby said...

Hey LT. Yep, most people think of the Acropolis as the centre of Classical Athens, but it was actually off to the side. To the guys on the ground, the agora was their central business district and the place to be.

Of course, in prehistoric times, the top of the Acropolis was the entire city.

Trisha Leigh said...

This is so cool, I wish they would explore their options!

Tana Adams said...

Interesting! And that would be wonderfully awesome if you were indeed correct. I hope they get to do their dig. Sounds educational all the way around.

Skipperhammond@gmail.com said...

If your description proves accurate, you can say you consulted with the oracles.

Meghan said...

Odd. I thought they always knew the area it was in (it's on one my historical maps of Athens) I didn't realize they hadn't actually found it!

Gary Corby said...

Meghan, yep, that's a terrific point. In theory the altar should be in the dead centre of the agora, but the modern train station is off to the side. Either the altar was moved later, which is actually quite likely, or else the agora wasn't considered the town centre, which I find hard to credit. I know the statues of the Ten Eponymous Heroes were moved, because I had to put them in their original position in my stories, which is different to where they later turned up.