Last week the Classical Society welcomed Professor Jason König for a talk enigmatically named ‘The Folds of Olympus.’ The address concerned the role of mountains in antiquity, not only as places of conquest, but also of religion and identity.
Professor König explained that our perception of mountains has changed from indifference to fascination over time, noting that many involved in mountaineering in the 19th and 20th Centuries were themselves interested in Classics. Indeed, mountains were prominent in both ancient Greek and Roman literature, like the story of Prometheus, who was chained to the Caucasus mountains as punishment for bringing fire to humans.
Mountains were also used to denote war and conquest in classical society. The Tropaeum Alpium (Trophy of the Alps) was erected to commemorate Augustus’s pacification of the Alps between 16 and 7 B.C. and can be seen today in La Turbie. Similarly, the Greek historian Herodotus notes that King Xerxes built a canal through the peninsula of Mount Athos in preparation for an invasion of Greece.
Professor König’s research also considers the importance of mountains in Homer’s Iliad as a place of religion. In Book I of the epic poem describing the Trojan war, it is stated the Achilles’ mother appealed to Zeus on Mount Olympus for aid. Later, on Mount Ida in Book XIV, Hera seduces Zeus so that the Greeks might gain the upper hand over the Trojans, further underlining the intersection between mountains and religion in ancient Greek mythology.