On the grassy slope below me was the god’s precinct, a sacred spot, entered on pain of death. Indeed, worshipers of old believed that, once there, neither man nor beast could cast a shadow. In times past they had processed up this mountain in the night to reenact a ritual human sacrifice to their god — or so ancient sources tell us. At the festive meal, a person who chanced to eat human flesh mixed with the flesh of sacrificed animals would transform into a werewolf. In fact, Lykaion signifies “wolf.”

These enigmatic rites were celebrated not by an uncivilized people in a forgotten land but rather in the heart of classical Greece during its so-called Golden Age. The practitioners of these rites were respected Greek citizens, not fringe cultists, who worshiped Zeus, the king of the gods. In a way, these rites were no more bizarre than countless mainstream festivals of the time: During the Athenian Thesmophoria, women retrieved the decayed bodies of piglets from pits into which they had tossed the dead animals months earlier, and in the rites of the goddess Artemis that took place at Brauron little girls impersonated bears.

Like all periods of history, the Classical Age of Greece, which lasted from about 500 B.C. until the death of Alexander the Great in 323 B.C., was complex and contradictory, a mix of superstition and rationality that blended revolutionary concepts and age-old traditions. Classical Greece is rightly regarded as a high-water mark of civilization. Yet the living, breathing people who created this culture did not exist merely to turn out masterpiece after masterpiece for the later Western world to study, though it may seem that way to students of the humanities reluctant to embrace the less enchanting aspects of the culture. Because so much of Western culture has its roots in classical Greece, it is easy to overlook the living context from which this heritage arose. We focus on what we know, ignoring the features that strike us as bizarre or even repugnant.

The great masterpieces of ancient Greece are our heritage, but it is doubtful that any modern Western person can fully comprehend their background. How can we, in the 20th century, envision the magic spells of the sorceress Medea? Or the magic behind the routine spilling of animal blood as sacrifice? Or the use of curse objects to summon ghosts from the underworld to harm one’s enemies? Yet these practices and beliefs, as much as the spirit of democracy and the value of aesthetic beauty, formed the nerves and sinews of ancient Greek culture. To professional classicists this is old news, but to the layman these unfamiliar aspects of Classical Greece are shocking. Unfamiliar as well, to the layman, are the centuries of earlier Greek life that laid the foundation for the famous “Golden Age” we study in school. For these reasons, I determined that when I traveled to Greece, I would visit all these different eras and rituals. I would pay tribute to the Parthenon—but also examine the “voodoo dolls” in the Kerameikos Museum in Athens.

On the island of Euboea, north of Athens, an unusual site demonstrates that the Golden Age did not spring into existence fully formed but instead was centuries in the making. On a nondescript hillock overlooking the sea near the town of Lefkandi, a tenth-century B.C. grave was revealed when ground was dug up for a house. The work unearthed the remains of an elaborate cremation and burial, uncannily similar to the burials of heroes described in Homer’s Iliad. In addition to the deceased’s bones, carefully wrapped in a piece of fabric and placed in an heirloom bronze urn, excavators found evidence of a building nearly 160 feet in length that had once covered the burial site.

Dating from the era traditionally known as Greece’s Dark Age — some three and a half centuries that began with the collapse of the Mycenaean world — the Lefkandi finds were a reminder that however murky or “dark” this historical period may be to us, to the people of the time it was life. The Dark Age was an age of many things: oral bards continued the tradition of transmitting the Homeric masterpieces, the Iliad and Odyssey; distinctive pottery with geometric patterns was made throughout Greece; and as the Lefkandi site indicated, people built impressive structures to bury their dead in a manner befitting heroes. Like the carefully preserved bronze urn, two centuries older than the bones it contained, ideas — and culture — were passed on from generation to generation of Greek people.

Paragraph 1

Paragraph 1 Analysis

On the grassy slope below me was the god’s precinct, a sacred spot, entered on pain of death. Indeed, worshipers of old believed that, once there, neither man nor beast could cast a shadow. In times past they had processed up this mountain in the night to reenact a ritual human sacrifice to their god – or so ancient sources tell us. At the festive meal, a person who chanced to eat human flesh mixed with the flesh of sacrificed animals would transform into a werewolf. In fact, Lykaion signifies “wolf.”

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Paragraph 2

Paragraph 2 Analysis

(1) These enigmatic rites were celebrated not by an uncivilized people in a forgotten land but rather in the heart of classical Greece during its so-called Golden Age. The practitioners of these rites were respected Greek citizens, not fringe cultists, who worshiped Zeus, the king of the gods.

(1) Surprise! We’re talking about Ancient Greece. Not what you were expecting?

(2) In a way, these rites were no more bizarre than countless mainstream festivals of the time: During the Athenian Thesmophoria, women retrieved the decayed bodies of piglets from pits into which they had tossed the dead animals months earlier, and in the rites of the goddess Artemis that took place at Brauron little girls impersonated bears.

(2) The author gives examples of other strange rituals to prove that his first example is not alone in its strangeness. The author wants you to know that there is a lot about Ancient Greece that will surprise you. Maybe you have the Greeks all wrong.

Paragraph 3

Paragraph 3 Analysis

(1) Like all periods of history, the Classical Age of Greece, which lasted from about 500 B.C. until the death of Alexander the Great in 323 B.C., was complex and contradictory, a mix of superstition and rationality that blended revolutionary concepts and age-old traditions.

(1) The author is painting a complicated picture of Ancient Greece. He or she is trying to break your preconceived notions about this ancient culture.

(2) Classical Greece is rightly regarded as a high-water mark of civilization. Yet the living, breathing people who created this culture did not exist merely to turn out masterpiece after masterpiece for the later Western world to study, though it may seem that way to students of the humanities reluctant to embrace the less enchanting aspects of the culture. Because so much of Western culture has its roots in classical Greece, it is easy to overlook the living context from which this heritage arose. We focus on what we know, ignoring the features that strike us as bizarre or even repugnant.

(2) The author sees Ancient Greek culture in its entirety, and showing how he is different from students of the humanities in seeing it as such.

Paragraph 4

Paragraph 4 Analysis

(1) On the island of Euboea, north of Athens, an unusual site demonstrates that the Golden Age did not spring into existence fully formed but instead was centuries in the making.

(1) Our author wants to prove that the Ancient Greece we learn about in school is only one age in the culture’s history. This “Golden Age” is the result of an earlier time that we don’t often study.

(2) On a nondescript hillock overlooking the sea near the town of Lefkandi, a tenth-century B.C. grave was revealed when ground was dug up for a house. The work unearthed the remains of an elaborate cremation and burial, uncannily similar to the burials of heroes described in Homer’s Iliad. In addition to the deceased’s bones, carefully wrapped in a piece of fabric and placed in an heirloom bronze urn, excavators found evidence of a building nearly 160 feet in length that had once covered the burial site.

(2) Since the description of the Lefkandi site comes directly after, and in the same paragraph as, the description of early Greek history, we can assume the author is going to use this example to discuss this time period further.

Paragraph 5

Paragraph 5 Analysis

(1) Dating from the era traditionally known as Greece’s Dark Age–some three and a half centuries that began with the collapse of the Mycenaean world – the Lefkandi finds were a reminder that however murky or “dark” this historical period may be to us, to the people of the time it was life.

(1) Here is the author’s explanation of the site’s meaning. It is a burial site and shows that people treated the dead with respect. Life and death existed at that time, just like at any other time in history.

(2) The Dark Age was an age of many things: oral bards continued the tradition of transmitting the Homeric masterpieces, the Iliad and Odyssey; distinctive pottery with geometric patterns was made throughout Greece; and as the Lefkandi site indicated, people built impressive structures to bury their dead in a manner befitting heroes.

(2) Our author thinks the Dark Age is important. It had its own traditions and kept earlier traditions alive.

(3) Like the carefully preserved bronze urn, two centuries older than the bones it contained, ideas – and culture – were passed on from generation to generation of Greek people.

(3) The urn came before the burial, and because it is an element of the past, existing in a more recent time, it represents the continuity of Ancient Greek culture. The author shows that he believes Ancient Greek culture was an ever-progressing entity, flowing from one period into the next.

1. What is the passage type?

Subject: History
Action: Persuade

2. What is each paragraph about?

P1: Description of an Ancient Greek ritual
P2: Ancient Greek culture is a lot more bizarre than you probably think.
P3: Ancient Greece is very complicated, and most people don’t see that.
P4: The more bizarre elements of Ancient Greek culture should not be overlooked.
P5: We only learn about the “Golden Age” of Ancient Greece in school.
P6: Pay attention to all of Ancient Greek history: the “Dark Age” as well as the “Golden Age.”

3. What is the organization?

The passage is persuasive and uses archaeological evidence as examples to bring its points alive. Worship – Thesmophoria, Artemis

Sacrifice – Lykaion, animal

Magic spells- Medea, voodoo dolls

The passage also sets up a variety of key contrasts:

Bizarre rituals vs. democracy and art

Golden Age vs. entirety of Ancient Greek history

Layman’s concept vs. true Greece

4. What is the Big Idea?

It is important to see Ancient Greece for everything it was.

5. What is the author’s purpose?
To spread awareness of the less well-known aspects of Ancient Greek culture.

Explanatory Answers

1. Which of the following is/are not representative of the Dark Age?

(A) the creation of the Iliad
(B) ideas and culture
(C) geometrically patterned pottery
(D) large burial sites
(E) urn burial

Type: Detail of the passage
(A) The answer is evident from the last paragraph: “… oral bards continued the tradition of transmitting the Homeric masterpieces, the Iliad and the Odyssey; distinctive pottery with geometric patterns was made throughout Greece; and as the Lefkandi site indicated, people built impressive structures to bury their dead in a manner befitting heroes.” The author says the Homeric masterpiece continued to be transmitted during this period, implying that it was created during an earlier period, other than the Dark Age. Also, the other four options are explicitly mentioned as being characteristic of this period, making (A) the only possibility.
2. Classical Greece is one basis of Western culture and heritage. This statement:

(A) follows directly from the passage.
(B) is partially true.
(C) cannot be derived from the passage.
(D) is an unstated assumption made in the passage.
(E) may be inferred from the passage.

Type: Inference
(A) In the third paragraph, the author writes, “Because so much of Western culture has its roots in classical Greece, it is easy to overlook the living context from which this heritage arose. We focus on what we know and edit away the features that strike us as bizarre or even repugnant.” The author is taking for granted that Western culture is derived from classical Greece. Therefore, (A) is the correct answer choice. (B), (C), (D) and (E) are not supported in the passage. Although (E) may seem correct, there is no inference necessary to make the statement, since it is directly stated in the passage.

3. “Students of the humanities” are called reluctant by the author because:

(A) studying Ancient Greece is not pleasant.
(B) classical Greece has so many facets to study.
(C) history is normally approached with reluctance.
(D) the Greeks did not always turn out masterpieces.
(E) none of the above.

Type: Detail of the passage
(E) The students are called “reluctant” because they are unwilling to acknowledge that there was a lot of unpleasantness in the daily life of Classical Greece. This follows from the third paragraph, “Yet the living, breathing people who created this culture did not exist merely to turn out masterpiece after masterpiece for the later Western world to study, though it may seem that way to students of the humanities reluctant to embrace the less enchanting aspects of the culture.” There is no mention of the subject of Ancient Greece being unpleasant, only that aspects of Classical Greek life are difficult to acknowledge because they are unpleasant. This is a subtle difference between the passage and the answer choice, making (A) incorrect. The passage also never mentions that Classical Greece has too many facets to study, that history is normally approached with reluctance, or that the Greeks do not always turn out masterpieces (with respect to students). Hence (A), (B), (C), and (D) are incorrect. This question requires you to look to the passage for information about students’ attitudes. You must understand their attitude and be able to recognize that none of the answer choices correctly portray it. When you eliminate the options you know to be incorrect and there is only one answer left, it must be correct.

4. Which of the following may be inferred from the passage?

(A) Mount Lykaion’s history embodies that past of Greece, which, though little known, holds its audience enthralled.
(B) Mount Lykaion represents historical Greece in an enigmatic, unfriendly and rare manner.
(C) Mount Lykaion’s story is the story of a Greece that is at the same time repulsive and interesting.
(D) The history of Mount Lykaion tells the intimidating past of a Greece that is unknown.
(E) Mount Lykaion represents an aspect of ancient Greek civilization that is little known and definitely not celebrated.

Type: Inference
(E) Mount Lykaion represents a part of ancient Greek civilization that is considered bizarre. The author suggests that it has been overlooked, rather than celebrated, and he’s determined not to do that. There is no mention in the passage that Mount Lykaion holds its audience enthralled, ruling out (A). In addition, the passage does not state anywhere that Mount Lykaion represents historical Greece in an enigmatic, unfriendly and rare manner, only that it shows a side of Ancient Greece that is not often honored. Again, there is no mention that Mount Lykaion is at the same time repulsive and interesting. (D) misses the point of the passage: part of ancient Greek life is regarded as strange, but it is not “intimidating” and is somewhat known, at least among historians, as in paragraph four: “To professional classicists this is old news.” Thus, (A), (B), (C), (D) are incorrect. Only, (E) remains consistent with the passage’s general focus on the less well-known aspects of ancient Greek life.

5. The “nerves and sinews” of ancient Greek culture would omit which of the following?

(A) bizarre practices
(B) the spirit of democracy
(C) the canons of beauty
(D) a belief in ghosts and sacrifices
(E) revolutionary architecture

Type: Definition of a term or phrase
(E) Paragraph four asks, “How can we in the 20th century envision the magic spells of the sorceress Medea? Or the magic behind the routine spilling of animal blood as sacrifice? Or the use of curse objects to summon ghosts from the underworld to harm one’s enemies? Yet these practices and beliefs, as much as the spirit of democracy and the value of aesthetic beauty, formed the nerves and sinews of ancient Greek culture…” The “nerves and sinews” of ancient Greek culture, then, include both the philosophical and artistic principles of ancient Greek culture and the rituals and practices of ordinary life. To get this question correct, you must locate all the answer choices in the passage and eliminate each one that you find. Options (A), (B), (C) and (D) are included but (E) is not. No mention is made in the passage of architecture. Hence (E) is the right choice.

6. The Lefkandi findings indicate that

(A) Life was as complex and difficult during the Dark Age as any other period in history.
(B) Life went on just as it had for centuries in Greece, regardless of how we now classify that time period.
(C) However “dark” this period may seem to later civilizations, it was an honorable age.
(D) The Iliad and the Odyssey were transferred by oral bards.
(E) Large burial sites only existed during the Dark Age

Type: Inference
(B) In the last paragraph, the author states that the Lefkandi findings were a reminder that however murky or “dark” this historical period may be to us, life went on. Thus (B) is correct. There is no mention of the complexity of life at the time, eliminating (A), nor that the Dark Age is now considered “honorable,” eliminating (C). While the transmission of the Iliad is mentioned, it is not related to the Lefkandi findings, which eliminates (D). Though it is a large burial site, the Lefkandi findings do not, just by their appearance in this passage, prove that large burial sites only existed during the Dark Age. Therefore, (E) is incorrect. (B) is the correct choice.

7. The town of Lefkandi is situated:

(A) near mount Lykaion.
(B) near the Aegean Sea.
(C) in the outskirts of Athens.
(D) on the island of Euboea.
(E) near to the Parthenon.

Type: Detail of the passage
(D) The fifth paragraph contains these references: “ On the island of Euboea, north of Athens…On a nondescript hillock overlooking the sea near the town of Lefkandi …” There is no mention of the town’s proximity to Mount Lykaion, the Aegean Sea or the Parthenon. Thus, (A), (B) and (E) are incorrect. Lefkandi is in the north of Athens but may or may not be in its outskirts; therefore, there is insufficient evidence for (C). Hence, (D) is the right choice.

8. The author’s attitude towards the Dark Age of Ancient Greece is one of:

(A) surprise
(B) amusement
(C) reverence
(D) acceptance
(E) opposition

Type: Tone
(C) The author uses words like “enigmatic” and “distinctive” to describe the Dark Age of Ancient Greece. He or she tells us that the sorcery and rituals of the Dark Age gave rise to the culture of the Golden Age, Greece’s most well-known Ancient period. The author’s descriptions are filled with awe and respect.