“Gods and Mortals at Olympus” exhibition at Onassis New York Center

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“Gods and Mortals at Olympus” exhibition at Onassis New York CenterOnassis Cultural Center NY will present the exhibition Gods and Mortals at Olympus: Ancient Dion, City of Zeus, exploring the relationship between daily life in a city built on the slopes of Mount Olympus and the mythological abode of the gods at the peak

From March 24 through June 18, 2016, the Onassis Cultural Center NY will present the exhibition Gods and Mortals at Olympus: Ancient Dion, City of Zeus, exploring the relationship between daily life in a city built on the slopes of Mount Olympus and the mythological abode of the gods at the peak.

As greeknewsonline.com reports, within an immersive setting, the exhibition will feature more than ninety artworks and artifacts—including mosaics, sculptures, jewelry, ceramics, coins, glass, and implements—dating from the tenth century BC to the fourth century AD. Gods and Mortals at Olympus will be open to the public free of charge as the inaugural exhibition in the newly renovated galleries of the Onassis Cultural Center NY in midtown Manhattan.

Dr. Dimitrios Pandermalis, President of the Acropolis Museum, Athens, and director of excavations at Dion, has curated the exhibition, which consists entirely of artworks and artifacts never before seen in the United States. On view for the first time anywhere will be a visually arresting group of mosaic panels dating from the Roman era, newly restored with the support of the Onassis Foundation.

Dion and the Gods

Although people in antiquity associated Zeus and his reign with several ancient locales, very early tradition identified the highest peak in Greece, Mount Olympus, as the habitation of the gods. Located in the northern range that separates Thessaly from Macedonia, the 9,500-foot-high Mount Olympus may have been the site of an altar to Zeus as early as the tenth century BC. But the same great height that shrouded Mount Olympus in awe also made it difficult for worshipers to bring sacrificial animals to its peak. The first known altar to Zeus Olympios, as well as the earliest documented cemetery on the mountain, were established at Dion on the lower slopes: the cemetery where the river Helicon disappeared underground, and the altar downstream where the river re-emerged under the name of Baphyras.

By the end of the fifth century BC, the city of Dion had become the federal shrine and religious center of the Macedonians. This status was confirmed by the king Archelaos (ruled 413-399), the great-grandfather of Alexander the Great, who inaugurated yearly “Olympian games” that were celebrated at Dion with the altar to Zeus Olympios as their focus.

During the Hellenistic period (third to first centuries BC), the concept of the far-ranging influence of Zeus became formalized in the cult of Zeus Hypsistos—the Highest—who soared over the peak of Olympus and above the other gods and sent eagles as his messengers to the mortals in Dion. This was also the period when new divinities introduced by Alexander the Great merged into the traditional Greek pantheon, with worship of the Egyptian goddess Isis being instituted in a sanctuary at Dion that previously had been dedicated to Artemis and Aphrodite.

Still later, during the second and third centuries AD, Dion enjoyed a period of remarkable prosperity while Macedonia was a province of the Roman Empire. Adopting Roman standards of city life while simultaneously looking back to Classical times, the residents of Dion built great baths, new city walls, and lavishly decorated dwellings.

On View in Gods and Mortals at Olympus

The magnificent mosaics that are displayed in Gods and Mortals at Olympus were created for the symposium hall of one such private house from the Roman era, known today as the Villa of Dionysus. The large central panel (approximately 5 feet high by 7 feet long), showing Dionysus, the god of wine and theater, in triumph, is installed in the exhibition with three accompanying mosaic panels depicting the theatrical masks of Silenus, King Lycurgus, and a satyr. These decorations from the late 2nd to early 3rd century AD testify to the importance of Dion as a theatrical center dating back to the reign of Archelaos, under whose patronage Euripides is said to have written The Bacchae and under whose support the play was first performed.

Also on view from the Roman period are a group of four marble sculptures portraying philosophers (part of the furnishings in the Villa of Dionysus) and sculptures of a philosopher and two divinities associated with Asclepius, the god of medicine, that were installed in Dion’s main public baths. These works illustrate the persistence into Roman times of the Greek tradition of the gymnasium as a place of recreation and discussion.

Other important statues, dating from the Hellenistic period, reflect the prominence of the cults of the goddesses Demeter and Aphrodite, as well as the gradual introduction of Egyptian influences into the religious life of Dion. Among these works are a head from a statue of Demeter, a statue of Aphrodite Hypolympidia excavated from the sanctuary later dedicated to Isis, and a relief stele depicting Isis as Demeter.

The dominant cult on Mount Olympus is represented by a powerful seated figure of Zeus and three marble statues of eagles, excavated in 2003 from the sanctuary of Zeus Hypsistos, and royal letters and treaties inscribed in marble that had been deposited in the earlier sanctuary of Zeus Olympios.

Fascinating objects

Also included in the exhibition are fascinating objects that are more intimate and utilitarian in nature. Among these are a metal brooch with remnants of fabric, fashioned as a pair of spirals, that dates from the early Iron Age (1000 – 700 BC); terracotta jars from the same period, excavated from a cemetery mound; a gold bracelet with lion’s head finials from the late 3rd century BC; a group of nine gold impressions of coins; a copper alloy medical instrument—a speculum—from the 1st century BC; a copper alloy oil lamp with a decorative head of a panther (1st-2nd century AD); and a miniature glass vessel with an incised inscription from the mid-2nd to 4th century AD.

Augmenting these objects will be specially commissioned videos showing the landscape of Mount Olympus and the archaeological site of Dion and the removal and conservation of the mosaics from the Villa of Dionysus.


Accompanying the exhibition will be entertaining educational programs for school groups, children and families; weekly tours for the public by archaeologists; special tours by Museum Hack; and philosophical discussions with Simon Critchley and special guests as part of the Onassis Cultural Center NY’s new program Let’s Talk.

In addition, a specially commissioned video game designed by the Greek game/software studio CulturPlay will enable children ages 10 to 12 to engage with and understand the process of archaeological excavations and the preservation and display of antiquities.

Exhibition Catalogue

In conjunction with the exhibition, the Onassis Foundation (USA) is publishing a 176-page, softcover catalogue, which includes illustrated entries for all objects in Gods and Mortals at Olympus: Ancient Dion, City of Zeus. The catalogue features essays by Dimitrios Pandermalis on the history of ancient Dion and its excavations; Maria Katsakiori on Mount Olympus and its natural environment; Fritz Graf on Zeus Olympios and his cult in Greece; Richard P. Martin on divine family in the human landscape of Dion; Semeli Pingiatoglou on the cult of Demeter at Dion; Angelos Chaniotis on everyday life in Roman Dion; and Sophia Kremydi on the use of coinage in ancient Northern Greece.

Managing the exhibition and its publication on behalf of the Onassis Cultural Center NY is Dr. Roberta Casagrande-Kim.

Contemporary Art in Conjunction with Gods and Mortals at Olympus

While the exhibition is on view, the Onassis Cultural Center NY will present Olympus, a new video project by artist Maria Zervos, on The Art Wall in the public atrium of midtown Manhattan’s Olympic Tower. Shot on location in the landscape of Mount Olympus, the video brings a poem by Zervos into dialogue with an ancient Greek text by the Hellenistic poet Telesilla, while exploring how people in modern times grapple with ancient ideals of perfection and immortality.

Also featured in conjunction with the exhibition will be specially commissioned sound pieces by the Greek artist Kostas Ioannides. These document the centuries-old “language of the mountains”—a repertoire of whistles with a fully developed vocabulary and grammar, still in use—and the sounds of Mount Olympus.

About the Onassis Cultural Center NY

Founded in 2000, the Onassis Cultural Center NY explores Hellenic culture, from antiquity to today, through a rich and diverse program of exhibitions, events and online engagement. Located in midtown Manhattan, in Olympic Tower, the newly renovated creative space offers experiences that inspire and support the interaction between audiences and artists and thinkers in all cultural fields from visual arts, dance, film, literature, music and theater to the humanities. Programs and exhibitions—from scholarly initiatives to offerings designed for families and novices—are presented free of charge to make the experience accessible to all.


The Onassis Foundation (USA) is committed to the promotion of Hellenic culture. By cooperating with educational and cultural institutions in Greece and throughout the Americas, the Onassis Foundation (USA) promotes cultural relations. The mission of the Onassis Foundation (USA) is realized through two major initiatives. The Onassis Cultural Center New York presents art and archaeological exhibitions and a season of major cultural and artistic events focused primarily on the humanities and science. The academic program, the University Seminar Program, places eminent scholars from all over the world in universities in North and Latin America for lectures and seminars on topics related to Hellenic civilization.

To learn more about the Foundation and the Onassis Cultural Center NY, please visit www.onassisusa.org.

Read more here.

RELATED TOPICS: GreeceGreek tourism newsTourism in GreeceGreek islandsHotels in GreeceTravel to GreeceGreek destinations Greek travel marketGreek tourism statisticsGreek tourism report


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