Saturday, December 01, 2007

Visiting Ancient Greece with an Ancient Geek

I have joked for years — since I returned from my mission, really — about being an ancient Mayan ruin. I came home from Guatemala with dysentery and appear to have been crumbling structurally ever since. Moderately, to be sure, but I have more creaks and groans in my bones than you might find in the Haunted Mansion®.

I say this because yesterday was a big Field Trip Day for Wonderwood Academy, home of the World Famous Woodyettes™. They've been studying ancient Greece for the past few months, and yesterday was meant to be the culmination of that unit. Mrs. Woody has details of the field trip over at her blog. She organized the trip on behalf of our local homeschool group and those who braved yesterday's weather enjoyed quite a treat.

But we start with the weather. The song says that it never rains in Southern California. This is a lie. Of course it rains in Southern California. Specifically, it rains on those days when we have arranged our schedules so that we can do special things with the girls. Yesterday was the first real rain we've had here pretty much all year. This was a pacific storm that blew in and dumped well over an inch in many parts of the area. Most of it seemed to fall on the freeways I was feverishly attempting to navigate. My hands were clenched tight on the steering wheel and I got cramps in my foot. The cramps were the result of trying hard not to exceed about 50 miles per hour, at which point hydroplaning became a problem.

I will say this, however. Once we got to the museum, the weather seemed to decide we were serious about having this field trip and began backing off. By the time we did the final garden tour, it had abated. In fact, it probably helped us by weeding out the less-than-dedicated museum goers so that the museum was wonderfully uncrowded while we were there. (Just to remind me who was boss, it returned and nagged us all the way home. Reminds me of some sopranos I've known.)

The museum, though, was tremendous. J. Paul Getty amassed a tremendous collection of art over the years, but his greatest collection (and deepest passion, apparently) was antiquities. In 1997, the foundation that runs the museum decided that the antiquities needed to be showcased in their own setting in surroundings that reflect the villas of Pompeii or Herculaneum prior to Vesuvius blowing her top. The resulting renovation now resembles a villa believed to have belonged to Julius Caesar's father-in-law and is called the "Villa dei Papirii."

Since this was our first time to the museum, we took two of the tours available. There was an overview that gives visitors an introduction to several of the significant collections and exhibits. It took us through four or five of the galleries and introduced us to chunks of wall from Pompeii, grecian pottery and wine cups, and statuary. The girls impressed our guide by demonstrating their newly acquired knowledge of Greek mythological characters.

The second tour was called the garden tour, but it was really an explanation of life in an ancient Roman villa. The caste systems of that time were explained to us, and we were shown how different parts of the villa would be used to both segregate and impress visitors to it. We saw which garden only family intimates might be able to visit, and which parts of the villa were meant to alternately impress or intimidate business contacts. They also have a full "kitchen garden" full of herbs and fruit trees that were germaine to the ancients' lifestyles.

I appreciate museums and historical exhibitions that have the ability to transport me to another culture and time. Perhaps this is one reason why, all joking aside, I enjoyed my particular mission. Guatemala is thought by many church scholars to be an area replete with Book of Mormon history. Indeed, the temples and other dwellings that have been discovered over the years are indicative of cities that may have been among those that were destroyed when the Savior visited the area following his crucifixion. It was easy for me to believe that I was living in Book of Mormon country. The people lived their simple existences fairly well cut-off from modern civilization, and adhered to many of the traditions of their ancestors. One felt a bit like Ammon and the sons of Mosiah while hiking around in the mountains where "roads" were few and far between.

To see physical evidences of ancient times has always fascinated me. Many of the pieces in Getty's collection pre-date the Savior Himself. They show stories that I learned in high school, and that the girls have just learned in homeschool. They were thrilled to see a gallery dedicated to Dionysos, for example, and enjoyed identifying drawings representing Hera, Aphrodite, and Paris. They saw statues of Orpheus and the Sirens. I had never seen a representation of a Siren. I'm pretty sure I would have been drinking some pretty strong wine before I would see beautiful women with what appeared to be stork legs.

By the end of our visit I was exhausted. I don't quite have the stamina that I used to, and chasing a bunch of kids around a museum can get me tuckered out pretty quickly. It was the sort of day that made me look forward to my nice, comfortable bed later on. Tired, yes; fairly stiff and sore, certainly. But a trip well worth the physical discomforts.

Bottom line: the Getty Villa is a great way to introduce your kids to ancient civilizations. Of all the questions these kids asked, though, this one reminded me why one must be careful when studying ancient Greece:

"Is everyone always naked in these pictures?"

Oops. Time for another lesson...

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