Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Meet Myrtis: A 24th Century Athenian Girl

Myrtis is a reconstruction of a young Athenian girl who lived and died during the time of Pericles of Athens.

Myrtis, is the one of the main attractions of the National Hellenic Archeological Museum of Athens.
This young, brown-eyed, red-haired girl lived during the time of the Peloponnesian war, and passed away at the age of 11 from typhoid fever. Myrtis died at around 430 BC only to be “reborn” in 2009.

Myrtis of Athens

Myrtis was reconstructed from the child remains (a skull) found in a mass grave near the Keramikos area of Athens by archeologist Effie Valavani. The mass grave contained remnants of Athenians and Athenian children that had been the victims of the terrible plague that had crippled Athens during the time of the Peloponnesian War.

The skull, which was the only remnant of the child was exceptionally well preserved and allowed a team of scientists from both Greece and Sweden to proceed with the reconstruction job. The cause of death was determined from dental fragments and remnants found in the mass Keramikos grave, which exposed traces of salmonella enterica serovar Typhi, or typhoid fever.

The Peloponnesian war was fought between Athens and Sparta.

Pericles of Athens' Deadly Miscalculation

Pericles, realizing that it was impossible to defeat the invincible Spartan army in direct confrontation, decided to shield Athens behind the Long Walls and use Athens’ superior fleet and well trained marines as a blockade and expedition force with the goal of isolating Sparta from her allies, and supplies.

By isolating Athens in such a way, Pericles essentially created a closed and isolated system that was impregnable to direct military attack, but vulnerable from an invincible unseen foe: bacteria and disease.
The mighty Athenian fleet which was also used to supply Athens, infused (through vermin, rodents and spoiled goods) the disease within the city walls, and the disease spread quickly (as in any closed isolated system) annihilating a large portion of the Athenian populace, and killing Pericles himself.
As Polybius notes, the Peloponnesian war set the seeds of destruction and eventually lead to the end of classical Greek civilization, city state independence, Greek thought and Greece. The resultant Spartan Pyrrhic victory (which eventually destroyed Sparta herself) lead to ageless disenchantment, strategic disorientation (which even Alexander was not able to reconstitute) and eventually opened the way for Imperial Rome.

The National Hellenic Archeological Museum

Myrtis, which the United Nations termed “Child friend of the Millennium”, is part of an exhibition ( resulting from multicultural, multinational cross scientific collaboration) whose goal is to extend a hand of friendship, peace and cooperation in the fight against deadly disease still plaguing humanity.
Myrtis will be displayed along with sculptures depicting other Athenian children that suffered the same fate: Nicandor and Selene bidding farewell to a young Kore (Niko) or maiden, holding a child in her arms.

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