Greetings. If there is anyone who is actively following this blog – and I am not sure that there is anyone who fits that description other than myself – you may have noticed that I have been absent from posting for a bit. Primarily, this is due to an ongoing reevaluation of how best to continue this project going forward. I feel that I need an outlet for my research and hopefully a forum to discuss what I am doing with other like minded individuals who share my interests in culture, philosophy, and ancient history. On the other hand, tasking myself with writing a college term paper length post every week or two is not only overly ambitious, it defeats the purpose of having a forum for discussion that can help iron out my ideas in progress. In my reevaluation, then, my goal is to post more often but also more concisely. In this way, I would like to address individual issues one at a time rather than trying to expound on any grand themes or theories. It is just not realistic to try and post a two thousand word essay with documentation every week, given my current time and attention deficits. At the same time, this is not and was never intended to be a clearing house for post accumulation, and the old model of just posting excerpts from classical culture and images no longer appeals to me. So, in short, be on the lookout for more and shorter posts in the future. They will be geared towards topics that can be expounded on and which will, hopefully, provide the foundation for broader research and discussions.
Talking about ‘Germans’ and ‘Germany’ in an ancient context is a bit of a minefield as well as a misnomer. There was no national German identity as yet, and no tribe named themselves the Germans, that was a Roman name of uncertain origins. Moreover, Celtic and Germanic cultures overlapped significantly, so that it can be difficult to distinguish a particular group as distinctly one or the other. And, finally, while language might be considered a valuable metric, in the pre-Imperial Roman period and beyond, both cultures were essentially preliterate, making it difficult, with any certainty, to say who spoke what and from what language group it might have originated in.
In the first season of HBO’s Game of Thrones, the king of the Seven Kingdoms, Robert Baratheon, is notoriously killed by a boar during a royal trophy hunt. While Game of Thrones clearly draws on medieval imagery, myths, and histories to build its world, there are also many ideas and tropoi drawn from the ancient lore of the classical era. The idea of a deadly boar hunt with dreadful consequences was, in fact, a set piece in ancient literature dating all the way back to the time of Homer. The subject of ancient hunting is one that still fascinates and plays upon our imaginations. The idea of men, armed with little more than spears, their wits, and superior organization, confronting raw nature, armed of tooth and claw, is one that engages our sense of drama and fair play, even if such notions exaggerate the danger and rawness represented by the reality of these situations.
Many such stories can also be difficult for modern readers to access. The social dynamics that underlie such hunts are often invisible, poorly documented, and difficult to relate to, whereas the natural environment in terms of flora, fauna, its ruggedness in general, has been radically transformed by the modern industrial age and uncounted generations of urban living. Such dramatic changes in lifestyle and environment can make understanding the conventions that rule the ancient hunting narrative seem alien and exotic. Add to these obscurations a few thick layers of mythological allusion and technical jargon, and the result is a specialist literature, existing within an already specialized field, that few casual readers will find easy to parse.
Few sports or activities carried the same weight and reputation for nobility as hunting did for the antique mind. Xenophon, in his essay on hunting, the Cynegetica, charges the gods Apollo and Artemis with the invention of the art of hunting as well as with the use of hounds. He goes on to describe how these arts passed from them to the pedagogic centaur, Cheiron, whom he credits with having taught the art of coursing to many numerous and well-named heroes and demigods. In the end, he concludes that hunting is a noble activity worthy of the aristocratic curriculum of noble youths: “Therefore I charge the young not to despise hunting or any other schooling. For these are the means by which men become good in war and in all things out of which must come excellence in thought and deed” (Xenophon, “On Hunting,” Scripta Minora. E. C. Marchant, trans.: I, passim, & 18. ).
Though there is no doubt about the popularity and enthusiasm with which the ancients greeted Olympic games, arena combats, and displays of horsemanship, hunting myths and stories seem to occupy their own special register within the antique canon. Such pastimes are ones to which, perhaps, the lower classes need not have paid much heed. Certainly, the need for the acquisition of specialized equipment like expensive and labor-intensive nets, leather gear, spears and weapons of all sorts, as well as specialized hunting animals such as hounds and even horses, would have put thes grand chases beyond the reach of the typical peasantry, or even the middle-classes of well-heeled land-owners. The kinds of hunting described in Xenophon and Homer was the special province of old-money, the newly rich, and their favored hangers-on.
This, of course, doesn’t mean that the impoverished hoi polloi of antiquity never hunted, only that their game and means of acquiring it were more modest than those detailed in the grand tales of kings, heroes, and their retinues. The more mundane stories didn’t make it past the cutting room floor. Ancient writers and bards knew where their bread was buttered. There was proportionally more at stake for the nobility, as well, at least from the aristocrat’s own point of view. Honor in deeds was clearly far more important in the grand scheme of things than any such vague and unlikely circumstance as starvation.
Glory, timé, was the quarry sought by ancient hunters, not base sustenance. Thus, if some wild animal could be cast as a ferocious monster gleefully frightening children, threatening livestock, and rooting around destructively in precious acreage, then, all the better. Such natural or prodigious disasters constituted a need for action and engendered the necessary endeavor, the hunt—fortuitously a means, as well, to proudly display one’s excellence, one’s areté, in defense of the thankful populace.
The famous episode of the Calydonian Boar hunt is the epitome of just such noblesse obligé in action. Featured in not just one but two of the great epic poems of antiquity, Homer’s Iliad and Ovid’s Metamorphoses, the tale relates just such an expedition of the aristocracy defending the land from a monsterous quarry. According to the blind poet, Artemis had sent down an evil upon the city in the form of a “fierce wild boar with the shining teeth, who after the way of his kind did much evil to the orchards of Oineus. For he ripped up whole tall trees from the ground and scattered them headlong roots and all, even to the very flowers of the orchard …” (Homer, Iliad. 9, 539-542. Lattimore trans.). Ovid’s description of the beast is even more dramatic:
… And the goddessOvid, Metamorphoses. 8, 260-289. Rolf Humphries, trans., 190.
Loosed over Calydon a great avenger,
A boar as big as a bull, with blood-shot eyes,
A high stiff neck, and the bristles rising from it
Like spears along a wall, and hot foam flecking
The shoulders, dripping from the jaws that opened
With terrible grunting sounds; his tusks were long
As an Indian elephant’s, and lightning flashed
Out of his mouth, and his breath would burn the grasses.”
That the creature was destructive of the orchard was a fitting punishment for Oineus’ failure to appease the goddess huntress with a proper offering of his and its first fruits. Appropriately, too, Artemis would send discord to the whole polis, using the spectacle of the hunt itself, her special provenance, as its vector.
Meleager, Oineus’s son and prince of Calydon, is credited with dispatching the beast, but only after setting forth with a hunting party mustered on a military scale. Ovid provides a whole catalog of heroes invited along on the expedition. Homer warns us that the Calydonian boar had killed already: “so huge was he, and had put many men on the sad fire for burning.” (Homer, Iliad. 9, 546). The fire was a funeral pyre.
Even heroes, it seems, are subject to the stab and thrust of ivory tusks. In Ovid’s account of the battle Eupalamus and Pelagaon are knocked down and must be rescued by their companions, Enaesimus suffers worse, being hamstrung by the beast, and Hippasus is gored in the thigh. Ancaeus, ‘a man from Arcas’ is fully gored in the abdomen,”… and the ground was soaked in blood, Smeared with his entrails.”(Ovid, Metamorphoses. 8, 328ff. Rolf Humphries, trans., 192-3).
A wild boar could. in fact, be dangerous, even if the epics exaggerated the risks. Boars have long fierce tusks, and will turn and fight if threatened, more so to defend their young. All the better a vehicle, then, for the pursuit of much desired glory, and a good reason, too, for vaunting and boasting about one’s martial prowess, assuming one has, indeed, brought home the bacon. It was a dispute over honors, over who deserved the hide and head as trophy from the gigantic swine, that led to the war in Calydon, at least this is how the poets spin it. Even though Meleager had killed the beast, the recipient of the prince’s favor in the form of the hide, would be endowed with great renown. Thus, the means to the end of the creature, an assembly of “many hunting men out of numerous cities with their hounds,” also become the source of discord that completed the design of Artemis’ cruel punishment (Homer, Iliad. 9,454-45).
Homer assumed that his readers already knew the story. He reveals few details about why the Aitolians and the Kouretes have taken to “slaughtering one another about the city of Kalydon,” only that the Kouretes are laying siege to the city (cleverly mirroring the Achaean siege of Troy) and that they are warring “over the head of the boar and the bristling boar’s hide…” (Homer, Iliad. 9,530; 548). Ovid gives us more. Meleager, the prince of Calydon, having killed the beast, has given the trophies, head and hide, to the woman huntress, runner, and archer, Atalanta; her having drawn first blood. That such prizes, the very essence of timé, should have been offered to a woman, was more offence than the proud and arrogant Kouretes could bear. The result was a protracted siege lain against the prince and his people.
That a quarrel over a big game trophy could be accused of starting a full fledged war reveals the importance attached to hunting and its prizes among the ancient nobility. As a means of establishing social credibility as leaders, as a demonstration of protection provided and worthy of the allegiance of the people, as a mark for establishing social status among their peers, the hunts provided tangible evidence. Rank was everything, shame unendurable, in the aristocratic world of antiquity. These aristocratic engagements were, as time would show, remarkably stable in function, descending down from ancient times into the middle ages and beyond. In many ways these events became the forbears to the fully ritualized bloodletting of the aristocratic fox hunts, only recently banned in the United Kingdom. It is no surprise then that a boar hunt could turn the world on its head, given the stakes for which it was undertaken – it represented the very rights to rule, authority, and power. And that, readers, is no tame or dim unwary beast.
I am still getting the kinks worked out, and last weekend was a holiday to boot. I am trying to get caught up! So here is the news roundup for the last two weeks for anyone keeping score at home! Cheers.
We all remember the world maps that hung on the walls of our classrooms, the ones at which we spent countless hours staring when we couldn’t focus on the lesson at hand. Did we look at them and imagine fleeing school for one of the far-off lands they pictured — or indeed finding a way to escape planet Earth itself?
The Theban Necropolis Preservation Initiative Under the supervision of the Ministry of Antiquities, Factum Foundation partnered with the University of Basel to develop a project dedicated to promoting sustainable tourism and ensuring the continuous study and monitoring of the tombs of the Valley of the Kings in Luxor.
SOFIA, BULGARIA— Archaeology in Bulgaria reports that a dwelling dating to the Late Bronze Age was discovered in northwest Bulgaria during investigation of the proposed route of a natural gas pipeline stretching from Russia, through Turkey and Bulgaria, and into Central Europe.
As the cradle of European Civilization and a meeting place of diverse cultures, Crete is a magical island that stands apart in the heart of the Mediterranean sea. Its prominent place in world history dates back to the mysterious and fascinating Bronze Age civilization of the Minoans, who were building lavish labyrinth-like palaces at a time when Athens was just a village.
Medieval history has become synonymous with the study of western Europe. This article argues that it is important to widen the geographic focus to better understand the Middle Ages as a whole, and in doing so, counter Eurocentric views of the past that have dominated and shaped views of the past.
Is the collapse of a civilisation necessarily calamitous? The failure of the Egyptian Old Kingdom towards the end of the 2nd millennium BCE was accompanied by riots, tomb-raids and even cannibalism. ‘The whole of Upper Egypt died of hunger and each individual had reached such a state of hunger th…
‘White Queen’ died of plague, claims letter found in National Archives
Researcher says this could explain the unusually austere funeral for Elizabeth Woodville, the grandmother of Henry VIII A 500-year-old letter discovered in the National Archives has revealed that the “White Queen” Elizabeth Woodville, the grandmother of Henry VIII, may have died of the plague.
Natural philosophy redux
The great split between science and philosophy must be repaired. Only then can we answer the urgent, fundamental problems By Nicholas Maxwell Read at Aeon
Source: Natural philosophy redux
A Nazi Controversy Deep in the Solar System
Go beyond Earth and deeper into the solar system, past the craggy terrain of Mars and the shapeshifting storm of Jupiter, through the delicate rings of Saturn, beyond the silky clouds of Uranus and Neptune, and you will find a mysterious zone of small, icy objects.
This video by Data Visualisation Designer Pedro M. Cruze shows an animated view of the rise and fall of rival maritime Empires during the 19th and 20th centuries. The virus like expansions and contractions are, perhaps, appropriate for an age of rampant colonialism. One concern, however, is where are the great land powers? Shouldn’t China, Germany, and Russia be represented as well? At least Japan represented a significant maritime empire during the period between the Russo-Japanese war and the Second World War.
Greece in the 4th century is less well known and was, in many ways, less glamorous than the age of Perikles, opening as it did with the death of Socrates, colored by the fall of Athenian hegemony in the Aegean, and marred by political strife and violence in Athens in the wake of defeat in the Peloponnesian War of the previous century. Moreover, historical sources on the 4th Century Hellenes do not rise to the same level of excellence as that achieved by Thucydides, and the period is noted for a decline in both quantity and quality of literary output, though that same sort of qualitative judgement in antiquity may have in itself lead to the paucity of surviving texts.
For all of that, however, the 4th century features numerous characters and historical turns of great interest: the renewal of Athenian democracy under Thrasybulus; the crushing defeat of the Spartans by the Theban Epaminondas at Leuctra; and of course the legendary campaigns of Alexander the Great in Persia and beyond. Despite its general obscurity, the 4th century offers much of interest to the student or reader in history.
To the curious, some of the following secondary sources may be worth checking out:
- Buck, Robert J., Boiotia and the Boiotian League: 423-371 B. C. Edmonton: University of Alberta Press. 1994.
- Buckler, John. The Theban Hegemony, 371-362 B.C. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. 1980.
- Hanson, Victor Davis. The Soul of Battle. New York: the Free Press. 1999.
- Tritle, Lawrence A. ed. The Greek World in the Fourth Century. New York: Routledge. 1997.
For those wanting primary sources, the foremost for following up and completing Thucydides is Xenophon. For Alexander and his campaigns see Arrian as well as Plutarch. While for the bird’s eye view Diodorus Siculus may prove useful and informative, though beware of dating issues.
- Arrian, The Landmark Arrian: The Campaigns of Alexander,
New York: Anchor Books. 2012.
- Diodorus Siculus, Bibliotheca Historica. English & Greek. Vol. 7. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. 1933.
- Plutarch. “Alexander.” The Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans. Vols. 1 & 2. New York: The Modern Library. 1992.
- Plutarch. ” Pelopidas .” The Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans. Vols. 1 & 2. New York: The Modern Library. 1992.
- Xenophon. The Landmark Xenophon’s Hellenika. New York: Anchor Books. 2010.
Curated History, Archaeology, and Classics Articles from around the Web.
Gwent Police UK are investigating a number of incidents of Heritage Crime at Caerleon’s Roman remains (‘Heritage Crime, Caerleon’, 9th May 2019), following reports of vandalism at and damage to these ancient monuments.
ROME, ITALY—ANSA reports that a rectangular room decorated with paintings of panthers, centaurs, and a sphinx has been discovered at the Domus Aurea, or Golden House, the emperor Nero’s 150-room palace on Rome’s Palatine Hill.
Toward the end of the Renaissance period, a radical epistemological and metaphysical shift overcame the Western psyche. The advances of Nicolaus Copernicus, Galileo Galilei and Francis Bacon posed a serious problem for Christian dogma and its dominion over the natural world.
Detail, illustration in the Shahnamah. Printed in India, circa 1600. “The Shahnamah,” (translated as “The Persian Book of Kings”) is the majestic narrative that recounts the history of pre-Islamic Persia, a staggering work of literature first published about 1,000 years ago.
Popular in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, a “commonplace book” was a notebook used to gather quotes and excerpts from one’s literary wanderings — a kind of personalized encyclopedia of quotations.
NORTHUMBERLAND, ENGLAND—Chronicle Live reports that a rectangular stone board for the game Ludus latrunculorum has been uncovered at Vindolanda, the site of a Roman fort located just south of Hadrian’s Wall in northern England.
In the third year of the Peloponnesian War, the Spartan and Corinthian combined navy, having been taken by surprise and handily defeated by a much smaller force of Athenians led by Phormio, are determined to get revenge. Having assembled a force of 77 ships the Peloponnesian force now faces off across the Corinthian Gulf against a small patrol force of 20 Athenian triremes. Phormio addresses his nervous Athenian sailors:
89. ‘Soldiers, I have summoned you because I see that you are alarmed at the numbers of the enemy, and I would not have you dismayed when there is nothing to fear.  In the first place, the reason why they have provided a fleet so disproportionate is because we have defeated them already, and they can see themselves that they are no match for us; next, as to the courage which they suppose to be native to them and which is the ground of their confidence when they attack us, that reliance is merely inspired by the success which their experience on land usually gives them, and will, as they fancy, equally ensure them by sea.  But the superiority which we allow to them on land we may justly claim for ourselves at sea; for in courage at least we are their equals, and the superior confidence of either of us is really based upon greater experience.  The Lacedaemonians lead the allies for their own honour and glory; the majority of them are dragged into battle against their will;  if they were not compelled they would never have ventured after so great a defeat to fight again at sea. So that you need not fear their valour; they are far more afraid of you and with better reason, not only because you have already defeated them, but because they cannot believe that you would oppose them at all if you did not mean to do something worthy of that great victory.4  For most men when, like these Peloponnesians, they are a match for their enemies rely more upon their strength than upon their courage; but those who go into battle against far superior numbers and under no constraint must be inspired by some extraordinary force of resolution.  Our enemies are well aware of this, and are more afraid of our surprising boldness than they would be if our forces were less out of proportion to their own. Many an army before now has been overthrown by smaller numbers owing to want of experience;  some too through cowardice; and from both these faults we are certainly free. If I can help I shall not give battle in the gulf, or even sail into it. For I know that where a few vessels which are skilfully handled and are better sailors engage with a larger number which are badly managed the confined space is a disadvantage. Unless the captain of a ship see his enemy a good way off he cannot come on or strike properly, nor can he retreat when he is pressed hard. The manœuvres suited to fast-sailing vessels, such as breaking of the line or returning to the charge, cannot be practised in a narrow space.  The seafight must of necessity be reduced to a land-fight in which numbers tell. For all this I shall do my best to provide. Do you meanwhile keep order and remain close to your ships. Be prompt in taking your instructions, for the enemy is near at hand and watching us. In the moment of action remember the value of silence and order, which are always important in war, especially at sea. Repel the enemy in a spirit worthy of your former exploits.  There is much at stake; for you will either destroy the rising hope of the Peloponnesian navy, or bring home to Athens the fear of losing the sea.  Once more I remind you that you have beaten most of the enemy’s fleet already; and, once defeated, men do not meet the same dangers with their old spirit.’ Thus did Phormio encourage his sailors.
90. The Peloponnesians, when they found that the Athenians would not enter the straits or the gulf, determined to draw them in against their will. So they weighed anchor early in the morning, and, ranging their ships four deep, stood in towards the gulf along their own coast, keeping the order in which they were anchored. The right wing, consisting of twenty of their fastest vessels, took the lead.  These were intended to close upon the Athenians and prevent them from eluding their attack and getting beyond the wing in case Phormio, apprehending an attack upon Naupactus, should sail along shore to its aid. He, when he saw them weighing anchor, was alarmed, as they anticipated, for the safety of the town, which was undefended.  Against his will and in great haste he embarked and sailed along the shore; the land forces of the Messenians followed.  The Peloponnesians, seeing that the enemy were in single file and were already within the gulf and close to land, which was exactly what they wanted, at a given signal suddenly brought their ships round, and the whole line faced the Athenians and bore down upon them, every ship rowing at the utmost speed, for they hoped to cut off all the Athenian fleet.  Eleven vessels which were in advance evaded the sudden turn of the Peloponnesians, and rowed past their right wing into the open water; but they caught the rest, forced them aground, and disabled them. All the sailors who did not swim out of them were slain. Some of the empty ships they fastened to their own and began to tow away;  one they had already taken with the crew, but others were saved by the Messenians, who came to the rescue, dashed armed as they were into the sea, boarded them, and, fighting from their decks when they were being already towed away, finally recovered them.
91. While in this part of the engagement the Lacedaemonians had the victory and routed the Athenian ships, their twenty vessels on the right wing were pursuing the eleven of the Athenians which had escaped from their attack into the open water of the gulf. These fled and, with the exception of one, arrived at Naupactus before their pursuers. They stopped off the temple of Apollo, and, turning their beaks outward, prepared to defend themselves in case the enemy followed them to the land.  The Peloponnesians soon came up; they were singing a paean of victory as they rowed, and one Leucadian ship far in advance of the rest was chasing the single Athenian ship which had been left behind.  There chanced to be anchored in the deep water a merchant vessel, round which the Athenian ship rowed just in time, struck the Leucadian amidships, and sank her.  At this sudden and unexpected feat the Peloponnesians were dismayed; they had been carrying on the pursuit in disorder because of their success. And some of them, dropping the blades of their oars, halted, intending to await the rest, which was a foolish thing to do when the enemy were so near and ready to attack them. Others, not knowing the coast, ran aground.
92. When the Athenians saw what was going on their hopes revived, and at a given signal they charged their enemies with a shout. The Lacedaemonians did not long resist, for they had made mistakes and were all in confusion, but fled to Panormus, whence they had put to sea.  The Athenians pursued them, took six of their ships which were nearest to them, and recovered their own ships which the Peloponnesians had originally disabled and taken in tow near the shore. The crews of the captured vessels were either slain or made prisoners.  Timocrates the Lacedaemonian was on board the Leucadian ship which went down near the merchant vessel; when he saw the ship sinking he killed himself; the body was carried into the harbour of Naupactus.  The Athenians then retired and raised a trophy on the place from which they had just sailed out to their victory. They took up the bodies and wrecks which were floating near their own shore, and gave back to the enemy, under a flag of truce, those which belonged to them.  The Lacedaemonians also set up a trophy of the victory which they had gained over the ships destroyed by them near the shore;  the single ship which they took they dedicated on the Achaean Rhium, close to the trophy. Then, fearing the arrival of the Athenian reinforcements, they sailed away at nightfall to the Crisaean Gulf and to Corinth, all with the exception of the Leucadians.  And not long after their retreat the twenty Athenian ships from Crete, which ought to have come to the assistance of Phormio before the battle, arrived at Naupactus. So the summer ended.
HOMER (c. 8th cen – c. 8th cen), translated by Samuel BUTLER (1835 – 1902)
The Iliad, together with the Odyssey, is one of two ancient Greek epic poems traditionally attributed to Homer. The poem is commonly dated to the 8th or 7th century BC, and many scholars believe it is the oldest extant work of literature in the Greek language, making it the first work of European literature. The existence of a single author for the poems is disputed as the poems themselves show evidence of a long oral tradition and hence, multiple authors. The poem concerns events during the tenth and final year in the siege of the city of Iliun, or Troy, by the Greeks. (Summary adapted from Wikipedia by Karen Merline.)
Genre(s): Plays, Poetry, War & Military Fiction