N.Y. Onassis Cultural Center Opens to Glorious Dion, City of Zeus Show

NEW YORK – Guests will be greeted by Zeus on his throne when they enter the fabulous new exhibition space of the Onassis Cultural Center NY for the Gods and Mortals at Olympus: Ancient Dion, City of Zeus.

The variety, nature, and quality of the objects on display from March 24 through June 18 will draw a steady stream of Greeks and Philhellenes to the Olympic Tower in the heart of Manhattan, and the thought and care lavished on the endeavor by no less than Dr. Dimitrios Pandermalis, President of the Acropolis Museum and Director of Excavations at Dion on Mount Olympus and Professor of Archaeology at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, the curator, and his colleagues, guarantees guests will come away enlightened, delighted, and inspired.

The noted archaeologist, working with dedicated and energetic Onassis personnel, has not merely brought to New York exceptional works of art. In approximately one year, by assembling mosaics, sculptures, jewelry, ceramics, coins, glass, and implements dating from the tenth century BC to the fourth century AD, they have built a window into the world of our physical and cultural ancestors.

The National Herald was given a tour 10 days before its opening that revealed the effort involved in an exhibition of this order. Most of the objects were still being installed –  about 15 people are intensively involved in bringing them to America and setting them up – but like strikingly attractive and eloquent people, the works of art and live seize ones attention despite the temporary clutter, and the history of the Center promises the final presentation will be extraordinary.

“This is Zeus on his throne holding his thunderbolt, which is the symbol of his authority,” Pandermalis began his private tour.

The statue, which alas is missing its head, is still majestic. Created in the 2nd century AD, it was modelled on the great statue of Zeus in Olympia and is named “Ipsistos Dias” – the highest or transcendent Zeus” because from around the time of Alexander it was believed that in addition to the god dwelling on Mt. Olympias there was a heavenly Zeus – which he said approaches the thought of Christians, who used similar langue.

And just as the Jews and Christians viewed angels – Zeus had his messengers too. The Greek god communicated with humans through his eagles.


The exhibition explores the relationship between everyday life in Dion, a city built on the slopes of Mount Olympus and the mythological abode of the gods on its peak and the natural setting of Dion, which can be experienced today, strongly impacted the spirituality of the ancients.

“It is a place with plentiful water from springs and wells, and tall trees. It’s is near the ocean and there was also river plied by ships in ancient times,” Pandermalis said, adding “Dion is one of the best places to see how ancient religious practices emerged from the relationship with the physical environment.”

Pandermalis, who was raised in Thessaloniki and has Pontian roots, explained to TNH that “this exhibition contains objects from a single excavation, which means we have a great deal of contextual information. It’s one thing to simply have something, and another to know it came from a home or a temple.”

“Around the 5th century BC the sanctuary was transformed from a place of local worship of Zeus with a later significance for all northern Greece into a Panhellenic Shrine…It was the special sanctuary of the Macedonian royal house with a major festival in October organized not by committees as in other parts of Greece, but by the king himself,” he said.

“The sanctuary played a role in the great campaign of Alexander the great. That is where he performed the first sacrifices to the gods when his armies commenced their march.”

Alexander the Great played a catalytic role in the development of art and religion in the ancient world by celebrating multiculturalism – which did not make him popular back home. Beginning in Egypt, he said “yes, we worship the Olympian deities, but we will aslo worship the gods of Egypt,” Pandermalis explained. Many thinkers began to say that nations simply called the same deities by different names.

A statue of Isis in the show illustrates how the gods of other nations began to be identified with Greek elements with its symbols of the goddess Demeter like a stalk of wheat and a scepter.

Alexander’s vision of toleration and appreciation is not universally shared today.

Pandermalis, studied classical archaeology in Greece and Germany but he is also interested in Egypt and other parts of the Middle East.

He spoke about the artistic and archaeological destruction at the hands of ISIS. “It was impossible for anyone to imagine that this could happen in the 21st century. I think it a mark against civilization that makes all of us concerned and contemporary society.”

Pandermalis continued, “we see  positive and negative things in the world, but I believe that evil could be have been prevented…unfortunately, in some parts of the world fanaticism still plays an important role in 2016. Generally, western man is more open and tolerant. He listens to others and wants diverse society.”

Asked about the theme, he said “we have created this particular exhibition because it is worthy of being presented. It is related to Greece’s highest mountain and the most famous one it Greek mythology. It becomes better known, and but it is also important to tell the story of the objects on display – given the destruction we have just referred to – how they were found and are protected and maintained.”

It is a pioneering event in a double sense. This is the first time that objects from Dion have come to America, and it is inaugural exhibition of the renovated Onassis Cultural Center, which will also present programs on the exhibition’s theme as well as commissioned artworks by Maria Zervos and Kostas Ioannidis.
There will be peripatetic gallery talks with philosopher Simon Critchley, Family Sundays at Onassis, a Secrets of the Past video game, and online resources.

Pandermalis expressed his deep appreciation to all who worked on the project and for the generosity of the Onassis Foundation (USA).


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