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I know I'm out of my element here, so let me try to phrase it in my own neanderthal way and let the wiser heads among you pick up the baton and carry it forward.
I'm wondering about the compariative value of (A) historical Truth as revealed by traditional history, such as that begun by Herodotus and Thucydides and brought forth to the present day's scholarly discipline, versus (B) historical Truth as revealed by literature and drama and historical fiction. To put it simplistically, can one gain more understanding of, say, the Ancient Greeks by reading Euripides, Sophocles, and even Steven Pressfield than by reading Thucydides?
I suspect this point must have been discussed by now somewhere on librarything's groups. But I'd like to hear viewpoints. I bring it up because a retired professor I know who spent his life reading scholarly discourse of the factual/empirical/statistical variety has now devoted himself to reading and understanding what the playwrights are trying to say in ancient Greek drama which he sees as being a more fruitful enterprise for his current intellectual yearnings.
It depends on what you want to learn about the ancient Greeks. If your just looking for history you can read Herodotus and Thucydides. But, remember there is still a certain amount of embellishment here. The play writes teach us about the people themselves. What Greek's like, what they didn't like, and what they cared about. The play is a glimpse into the mind, while the history is a glimpse into the past. Each are important, and are 'truths' in their own way. There are possibly some elements of truth in the plays, Lysistrata for example, there really was a war. But, we can never know for certain. Think of the plays as a way to figure out how the Greeks thought, and why. Perhaps the better question is: What do you want to know about the ancient Greeks?
I would second everything km.cruz said. There isn't any one "historical Truth". There is evidence and there are questions that we ask of the evidence and there are answers that we construct to try to fit the evidence and the question. The actual past reality is gone, and we can't know it - we can only try to approximate it by asking useful questions and making up answers to them that fit the available evidence as well as possible.
Any particular bit of evidence is very imperfect, and it will probably fit some questions better than others. If you want to know troop strengths at the Battle of Mantineia in 418 BC, Thucydides is most of your evidence. If you want to know what sort of problematic social relationships were regarded as sources of humor in classical Athens, you're better off with Aristophanes.
I don't there's a single good answer to this.
One approach would be to ask what you'd get reading recent historical accounts of, say, Vietnam, versus watching a whole bunch of movies from the period. Obviously there are differences, but the core question is the same—what do you get from historical accounts, and what do you get from other ones?
Not more, but different. The two complement each other.
But since you also bring up Steven Pressfield: I would say that modern historical fiction (generally) is an altogether different matter. The author has had to make the same kind of interpretation before you, and has to rely on the same sources. So you're getting it one step further removed. Plus, since it's fiction, the author doesn't need to tell you about the choices (s)he's making. Historical fiction, in my view, is primarily fiction.
Well I think all of it plays a role. Neither Herodotus nor Thucudides (nor Xenophon) are unimpeachable sources, but they are closer to the events they chronicle than others you might encounter. Although you could argue that the recent marriage of science and history in historical research has given us a glimpse of certain aspects of the ancient experience that even the primary sources would have been unaware of. Reading the literature of the Greeks -- Sophocles, Plato, etc. -- is very valuable in its own right.
As far as historical fiction goes, it is impossible to generalize. Some of it may be very good and may actually give you a "sense" of what it was like better than an actual history, but you have to be very careful and take what you read with a grain of salt. For instance, Gore Vidal's "Lincoln" probably captures the living, breathing Lincoln better than any biography I have read. On the other hand, Brian Fagan recommended Mary Renneault's The King Must Die for a wonderful fantasy of what ancient Minoan life may have been like -- but that is all it is -- a fantasy with no basis in fact.
Depends on what you want to learn. If you want to learn what happened then the historians, supplemented by archaeology, are your best bet. If you want to learn about how people felt about what happened, or how people felt about each other, or catch a glimpse into some aspects of society, then contemporary literature's a great way to do that.
It shouldn't be an either/or situation though. The two supplement each other. Personally, I read history first - usually secondary first, then primary/contemporary - followed by contemporary lit but others may find their interest piqued by the literature and then follow with the history.
As for modern historical fiction, decide what you want to do in your reading. If you want to be entertained, read fiction. You might learn something of value if the writer footnotes - or has a web page where he or she explains his or her research. There are writers who truly love history and write hisfic for that reason - and often they'll have something to supplement the book. Sharon Penman comes to mind and I imagine there are others. But generally, if you want to learn about history, read history.
On Pressfield, take a look at my review http://www.librarything.com/work/81486/reviews/6757635 . At the time, my Alexander site was #1 on Google (it's now #8), so Pressfield sent me a copy and tried to convince me to reevaluate it. I confess I didn't finish it. I found my opinion only confirmed. De gustibus non est disputandum, perhaps.
Personally, I try to avoid historical fiction about stuff I really care about. It's hard enough to keep all the sources separate in your head—the urge to create a continuous narrative is too strong—without fictional stuff creeping in.* I, Claudius has far too strong a hold on my knowledge of that period. (Fortunately, I was a Hellenist in graduate school.) I haven't read Mary Renault for that reason.
*Of course, you need to create a continuous narrative, but if you do it "too early" you don't see what the different sources are saying independent of each other, and your continuous narrative is likely to suffer. The same temptation is very much present in reading the Gospels.
I like Pressfield since he seems to be familiar enough with the known facts of the ancient world that he can fill in the blanks with plausible imaginative scenarios. And there are so many blanks in ancient history. Which is why I'd rather read historical fiction about the ancient world than, say, historical fiction about World War II where there are few blanks in our knowledge and the actual reality is as good as, if not better than, any novel.
Of course, not all historical fiction is created equal. The movie "300" is a sort of historical fiction I suppose. But it's so wildly over the top that I'm concerned some of my less-studious fellow Americans who went to the shopping mall theatre to see it on a Saturday night may think that the Persians employed elephants and rhinos and that Xerxes was 12-feet tall. At the time of the film's release, conservative radio commentator Michael Savage even seemed to think the Persians depicted in the movie were "Islamic."
Well nobody ever said he was a genius. Except himself, perhaps. Which is really all you need to know about that guy.
Chris469 said (at post 9): At the time of the film's release, conservative radio commentator Michael Savage even seemed to think the Persians depicted in the movie were "Islamic."
I know it shouldn't, but my goodness this made me laugh.
With regards to the topic at hand, I see historical fiction as harmless. I'm not sure I agree with TimSpalding (post 8) that it "pollutes" ones understanding or knowledge of an era (and I know I'm paraphrasing). I guess you could say it certainly adds flavour. But so does reading any account of past events. Herodotus is known as the "Father of Lies", as well as the "Father of History" you know.
There is an argument that empirical analysis of archaeological discoveries, and complementary scientific studies (genetics, dendrochronology, paleoanthropology etc) are the only reliable ways to view the past, as they don't rely upon anothers interpretation of the facts. Of course, the "facts" themselves need to be interpreted, and can be misinterpreted or even fabricated (witness Piltdown Man).
So I take historical fiction as it comes. I enjoy it. It can be educational and to argue otherwise is, I believe, needlessly obdurate.
For example, I know a great deal more about Napoleonic naval warfare, having read Patrick O'Brian, than I would otherwise have done. On the other hand, I'm pretty confident that Cornwell (whilst an enjoyable read) is not truly reflective of Napoleonic land warfare. You need to acknowledge and accept the variable nature of historical fiction, just as you need to do so with non-fiction history works, and so-called "evidence".
Omaca -- I think what Tim was saying is that certain historical fiction can draw you in so deeply that you inadvertantly absorb to such a degree that it becomes bound up with factual history.
This more or less occured to me with Gore Vidal's Burr. Perhaps the best historical fictional biography I have ever read; I have read several actual accounts of Burr's life yet I find myself forever viewing him through Vidal's prism and I often cannot recollect what part of my understanding of him is derived from that work and what is culled from actual biographies, such as the outstanding two volume Lomask bio I read some years back.
I don't think there are many works of historical fiction that can influence you that significantly. I'm sure there is no danger from reading John Jakes (LOL)
I don't know if this is perfectly analogous, but I'm old enough to remember a song parodist of the 1960s named Allan Sherman who wrote the humorous lyrics to his hit "Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh", (in which a boy describes his summer camp experiences) to the tune of a classical music piece: Ponchielli's "Dance of the Hours." Well, I love "Dance of the Hours" but now I can never listen to it without the ludicrous song parody entering my thoughts at some point.
Perhaps historical fiction can similarly muddle the pristine purity of the original historical fact.
LOL, yes something like that. Though I wouldn't necessarily call historical facts pristine or pure. Maybe we should say they're muddled enough all by themselves. ;-)
p.s.: by the way, that song in its turn inspired a Dutch singer to write a similar text for it about conscript army life in the barracks.
I'm going to cast my lot with the others and say, "It depends". First you have to define "historical truth". Try talking to Israelis and Palestinians about the history of a particular piece of land in the Eastern Mediterranean to see what I mean.
Then there are hidden truths--Victorian literature won't tell you much about the sex trade in London, but there are later historical works that will, such as The Worm in the Bud.
I'm most interested in material culture. Most people spend their lives getting "stuff". What kind of stuff do they work for, and why? The basics are food, clothing, shelter--what did people eat, what did they wear, how did they live? Why did they eat what they ate, wear what they wore, live how they lived?
E.g., why was Penelope's loom so important? What can we learn from that?
Calling anything historical either a truth or a fact can be pretty slippery. I won't go so far as to say there are no facts in history but I would say there are no absolute facts in history - even in recent history unless we're talking about the simplest, most basic concepts of dates and occurrences.
If you're looking for purity, I'm not sure you can find it in history. It's messy and clumsy and, as Matt said, muddled. IMO that's a big part of why it's fun.
Keep in mind history is the study of the past - not the past itself. At least that's the definition I prefer. We hope that through history we can come to understand the past better but perfect, pristine understanding, particularly when you're talking about the ancient past, is one of those goals we'll never achieve.
I'm going to assume that those answering the inquiry believe they actually "know" the "truth" about the world view and cognitive style of the ancient Greeks whose works still survive. Whether anyone can truly know such things is pretty dubious to me. I would recommend Preface to Plato by Eric Havelock (and any of his other work) as a book that could provide a grounding in what the major 'questions' are regarding the Greek view of the world. His perspective makes the most sense to me, anyway, and of course, I must be right about that. ; )
I would have thought it were clear that those answering the inquiry believe nothing of the sort, as should have been obvious from, for example, messages #3 and #17.
Indeed, what a curious assumption. Some of us may seek truth - and in any deeper sense it's a tricky concept anyway - but that's an entirely different thing.
I know few who would be so naive as to make such an assertion or to hold such a belief.
Any historian, whether primary or secondary, 'factual' or 'fictional' has to make choices. These choices are dependent on their own ideas and prejudices. Whatever they write is influenced by their times, their politics, their morals etc. etc. and, especially the later ones, tell you more about the time they were written than the original. Filtering these out is what makes studying history, especially ancient history, so fascinating.
Of ancient historians, tacitus, Livy and even Sallust are suspected of having a political axe to grind, which affected their presentation of history, especially if it was fairly recent history.
Tacitus was so unabashedly opposed to the Roman imperial family of his youth (the Flavians) that it's almost safer to read him than the purportedly "even-handed" historians. At least you can be sure where T. is "coming from". Josephus on the other hand, who wrote in Greeek must have been liked by the Flavians. He was even allowed to take "Flavius" as a surname. (Some modern writers have puzzlingly made "Flavius" his forename!?
Livy was (jokingly?) called a "Pompeian" by the Emperor Augustus, presumably because his history fell short of being a real ass-kicking "Caesarian" history, not because he was a real supporter of Julius Caesar's battlefield enemy. Would a real "Pompeian"-- a real fan of a major enemy of Julius Caesar-- have been tolerated as part of the emperor's literary circle? (Julius was Augustus's uncle and adoptive father.) The part of Livy's history that covers the recent past --including Caesar v. Pompey -- has not survived. Coincidence?
Sallust was a fervent supporter of Julius Caesar, but still didn't become a fan of Lucius Sergius Catiline, a would be rebel of 63 B.C., whom Caesar was suspected of cautiously supporting.
The Romans didn't really produce a historian comparable to Thucydides or Herodotus, though they were probably more careful in evaluating their sources than H. was. But the 3 mentioned above are worth reading. About Josephus I'm not so sure. He was a turncoat, changing from the side of the Jews to that of the occupying Romans. (He wasn't alone among Jews in that pro-Roman stance.) He did have a wide range of interests and a critical, though supportive view of the Hebrew scriptures. Impossible to like him, but he does arouse interest.
Interestingly, I think it's worth noting that quite a bit of history written by the Romans that we know about simply hasn't survived. Who knows how many other Greek historians there may have been whose tomes crumbled to dust, but with Rome there are lots of histories that are mentioned in passing by other writers that would likely add great depth to our knowledge of the Roman world, had they survived. My favourite example is that of the emperor Claudius, who wrote things that I would personally love to read--namely scholarly tomes about the history of the Etruscans and Carthaginians, not to mention a dictionary of Etruscan! Think of how much just these three things would help flesh out our history of the Mediterranean!
Agrippina the Younger (mother of Nero, wife and niece of Claudius) is supposed to have written a journal. I would just love to read that!
And of course the primary historical sources such as Thucydides have to be considered as literature as well, along with the tragedians, etc. Some of the primary sources on the American Civil War, such as Grant and Douglass, are steadily making their way into the American literary canon (along with secondary historian Shelby Foote and historical novelist Michael Shaara, not to mention Stephen Crane.)
But it strikes me that trying to figure out what Athenian life was like on the basis of the tragedians is like trying to figure out the early 20th-century West on the basis of Ibsen, Lorca, and O'Neill.
23 - Thinking of Roman historians with a built in bias, it's hard to miss Caesar's Gallic and Civil Wars.
"Roman historians with a built in bias . . ." (27)
Yes, "Cai Caesaris" are the 2nd and 3rd words
of caesarʻs Civil War. The first sentence reads: "When Caius Caesarʻs letter was brought into the Senate, it took an ultimate senatorial Decree just to have it read (aloud)* in the senatorial session."
We immediately have the picture of different factions of oligarchs, all of them from Noble families, on the point of lining up for a war. Critics have differed about the attitude shown by Caesarʻs use of the third person. Traditionally it is taken to be a sign of self-abasement: An egotist would have just s aid "I...". Others think that writing of oneself in the 3rd person is a supreme form OF egotism.
I donʻt remember that Caesar often addressed the issues that modern historians would think were the important ones of the civil war era. The main issue, of course, was land tenure. And the land that they were fighting about was Italian land. The already existing imperialism was taken for granted, and hence was a side issue in the minds of the combatants. It was going to come down to which sideʻs veterans would get such lands as were available -- Caesarʻs, with him living very much in the present, or even (some historians think) "ahead of his time) or Pompeyʻs whom the Conservatives had reluctantly made their military leader, though his "track record" was almost as "radical" as Caesarʻs. Among the many who lost land in the aftermath of the Civil War was the poet Virgil.
In Gaul, most modern historians think, Caesar was exercising unabashed imperialism, and his
Gallic War was a masterful propaganda piece intending to show how good for Rome was his series of interventions** in the wars that the Gauls were already having chronically long before the Roman presence.
*ALL reading was aloud; there was no silent reading in Caesarʻs time.
** Despite the singular "Bellum" of his title, the "War" was a series of interventions. He may, along the way, have realized that your enemyʻs enemy is NOT necessarily your friend and so had gotten into a clearcut "Roman VERSUS Gaul" situation.
Are these words from The Histories by Herodotus, fact or fiction? On the Egyptians, "They gather in the fruits of the earth with less labour than other people, for they have not the toil of breaking up the soil with the plough, nor of hoeing, nor of any other work which all other men must labour at to obtain a crop of corn; but when the river has come of its own accord and irrigated their fields, and having irrigated them subsided, then each man sows his own land and turns swine into it, and when the seed has been trodden in by the swine. he waits for harvest time." How do we know?
In general, Herodotus believed whatever he was told. Much of what he was told was bullshit. I can't speak to this specific reference though.
In general, Herodotus believed whatever he was told. Much of what he was told was bullshit.
Or in this case, pigshit, but my question still remains. How do we know?
We can guess that the general fertility of the soil was high, judging from the affluence of the society and the interest Rome had in securing Egypt's grain exports.
As to the specific agricultural methods - I'd look at tomb paintings first, then textual evidence. I don't know of any that show them using pigs to prepare the ground for seeding, but you never know.
The Egyptians liked to paint cows and judging from the offering table scenes, they prized beef, but the discovery of trichinosis in some mummies' livers suggests that the Egyptians also took advantage of pigs' ability to eat anything and turn it into bacon.
And yeah, Herodotus did like a good yarn.
Ancient Egyptian art (occasionally) depicts both ploughing (http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_wX0ryj-RWpw/S9p3hm7zdII/AAAAAAAACTQ/_kjhrN7YVjo/s1600/...) and hoeing (http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_wX0ryj-RWpw/S9p2MMtzbPI/AAAAAAAACTI/k15sloNYHls/s1600/...). And in fact ritual hoeing (by the Pharao or a representative) was an essential part of the foundation rituals for a temple (http://www.ancientegyptonline.co.uk/foundationritual.html).
Of course none of that means the "pig method" can't have existed too, but it does tell us Herdotus was wrong claiming it was universal practice.
There's a very good recent commentary on Herodotus' Egyptian book by an Italian. I don't have it. I'm sure it devotes pages to the issue...
While Herodotus is not to be completely ignored, his work on Egypt is very much suspect. Here is one example:
"On the pyramid it is declared in Egyptian writing how much was spent on radishes and onions and leeks for the workmen, and if I rightly remember that which the interpreter said in reading to me this inscription, a sum of one thousand six hundred talents of silver was spent; and if this is so, how much besides is likely to have been expended upon the iron with which they worked, and upon bread and clothing for the workmen, seeing that they were building the works for the time which has been mentioned and were occupied for no small time besides, as I suppose, in the cutting and bringing of the stones and in working at the excavation under the ground?"
So it seems either the guide couldn't read the hieroglyphs or he was just having Herodotus on, but it is a fact that the lunch menu was not inscribed on the pyramids. Serious historians do not take Herodotus at face value in his comments on Egypt.
I have only begun reading Herodutus and that was a while ago. If I remember correctly, he is credited for writing knowledgeably about the Persians. I thought -- again not sure I'm remembering accurately -- that when he was less sure of what he was writing, Herodutus would use phrases like, "It is said...."
And in fact he is surprisingly accurate - if sometimes still mistaken because of his cultural bias - about the Skythians.
Conclusion: Herodotus is a valuable source, but to be treated with caution.
Matt has it absolutely correct. Herodotus is wonderful to read but don't take everything he says at face value. Most of his section on Egypt is simply fiction. His info on Persia is much, much better. Caution is definitely the way to go.
My favourite bit in Herodotus is when he claims that Egyptian women pee standing up, while the men do so whilst sitting down :-D
How can one be sure that Herodotus had more authentic data
on Iran (Persia) than on Egypt?
I would think, if anything, Iran was, of the two, more vulnerable to a perception based on folklore and travelers tales. Herodotus did at least visit Egypt. He lived in a city ruled by a Persian governor, but did he ever see the Persian homeland?
I canʻt think of anyone in Classical Greece
who ever did a book-length study
of the Iranians. H. did realize their political importance for Greece/West Asia, but he thought of
them as representatives of a murky "Asian" culture first, and as
a nation in their own right second. He traced a supposed "Europe vs. Asia" feud back some 5 centuries to the Achaeans* vs. Trojans War of the 12th century. Some four centuries later, we still find
Catullus coming out with a heavy-handed anti-Iranian joke -- to the effect that the members of a certain Romoan family, being "incestuous", would make good Zoroastrians (the religion of Media/Persia). ("... si vera est Persarum impia religio" / ". . . if the Iraniansʻ damned religion is true".)
How, in the time of Cyrus the Great the Iranians became the ruling ethnicity in Media/Persia is described by Herodotus-- but not very convincingly; nor is the sudden conquest of the Lydian Empire west of them by the Iranians very convincingly told. Not that it was "myth" or fiction, but that Herodotusʻs view of it was basically a folkloristʻs view, not a historianʻs. WHAT happened was more important than WHY or HOW it happened.
The Greeks werenʻt even sure of the name of this "mysterious Eastern" enemy. "Medes" (Medoi) rather than "Persians" (Persai) continued to be the Greeksʻmost usual name for the rulers and the army of the Iranians. (A modern parallel would be, if one were to call the English "Scots" or the Russians "Ukrainians".)
*Achaeans (Akhaioi) : One of 3 names that Homer uses for the "Greek" side in the Trojan War. He never calls them "Greeks"
Roland, all excellent points. I certainly would not suggest that everything Herodotus tells us of the Persians is accurate -- as you so eloquently underscore -- but at least the Greeks knew something of the Persians and perhaps the framework of what he imparts has some merit. As to the Egyptians, they were almost mythological to the Greeks so whatever bullshit his Egyptian hosts fed him, Herodotus gulped down with gusto. Modern afro-centrists are still trying to turn these fairy tales into foundational truths ...
"....perhaps the framework of what (Herodotus) imparts (about the Iranians) has some merit.
I agree. I think his main weakness, like that of later generations in Athens and even in Sparta was in having no useful understanding of the politics of Iran, nor of its history insofar as that might afford the proverbial "lessons of history." He could at least see a "revenge" motivation in Xerxesʻs assuming leadership of the second invasion of European Greece. He has Xerxes say, "May I no longer be called the son of Darius (I), if I do not avenge myself upon the Athenians." (note that he specifies "the Athenians" and does not say "the Greeks"; some Greek cities, notably Thebes, supported the Iranians.
In the last stages of the Peloponnesian War, Sparta formed a working alliance with Cyrus the Younger, a brother of King Artaxerxes and governor (satrap) of a Western province of Persia. And Cyrus was soon to be a rebel trying to oust his brother and take over the whole empire. One of my old professors Sterling Dow has said that the Sparta/ Gov.Cyrus alliance clinched the Spartan victory over Athens at the end of the
5th century. Itʻs doubtful that H. could ever have foreseen something like this. It raises the question "could this governor, powerful though he was speak for the Iranian monarchy"?
The question probably didnʻt bother the Spartans much--any more than the doubtfulness of the "Iran/Contra" temporary alliance bothered the Reagan Administration of 1985. And the conventional wisdom of subsequent historians is still that "we supported IraQ!" (in the 1980-1988 Iran/Iraq War).
"Modern afro-centrists are still trying to turn these fairy tales into fundamental truths." (42)
Martin Bernal in Black Athena, vol 3 (his lingustic volume)
seems to be working on a Greco-EGYPTIAN connection, rather than on his earlier, more even-handed connection of Greece with
BOTH Egypt and the N W Semitic area.
The number of his references to non-Greek languages spoken reasonably close to Greece# is interesting. I have marked them IE (for Indo-European), S (for Semitic) and An (for Anatolian): :
Albanian (IE) 2
Armenian (IE) 9
Egyptian 6 (but Eg. comes up passim in the
listings of comparisons with Gr.)
Hebrew (S) 6
Luvian (An?) 3
Lycian (An) 5
Lydian (An) 1
ancestor of IE S), AND
Phoenician (S) 0 (!!)
Phrygian (IE)* 2
Punic (S) 1
lang. of Carthage, N. Africa)
Tokharian (IE) 5
Ugaritic (S) 3
Bernal, of course doesnʻt know all of the above languages, But I suspect his critics know even less of them, though they may be way ahead of him on Greek Language.
*Phrygian: Anyway, M B places it in Indo-Euorpean. He
is of course talking about something very technical, and comparative, here -- NOT about Herodotusʻs famous folk tale about Phrygianʻs being the first language ever, which is not accepted by any linguists or philologists, and H. himself had doubts about it.
# reasonably close to Greece: I made an exception by including Sub -Saharan African language (which linguists have not usually related to Egyptian) in this category. There were in fact FEWER of them than I expected.
In view of his earlier researches Phoenician is conspicuous by its near-absence. (THE PhoenicianS as a people are mentioned briefly.)
In his vocabulary lists, his main aim is to connect Greek with Egyptian. So, the data is heavily Egyptian, but not limited to Egyptian. His own best non-English languages are said to be
Chinese, Japanese, and Viet Namese, none of them applicable to this topic. Plus -- he told me by telephone -- the very applicable "Middle Egyptian". He is very aware of the gradually changing phases that both Gr. and Eg. went through.
More on Egyptian farming: true or false
“The inundation supplied them (the Egyptians) with the typical plough. To plough is to prepare the soil for seed. The inundation was the first preparer of the soil. The inundation is called Mer, and one sign of the Mer is a plough. This shows that when they had invented the primitive hand-plough of the hoe kind they named it after the water-plough, or preparer of the soil, and the Mer/ plough is a symbol of the running water.”
Harold Massey in A Book of Beginnings.
#43 Roland, more great stuff - I'm impressed by your depth of knowledge of the subjects under discussion.
I find it hard to take Bernal seriously. He seems to try to make facts fit his thesis, rather than using evidence to develop one. Why he is determined to make ancient Egypt the foundation stone for the Hellenes is beyond me.
Luxor temple(Thebes Egypt), was dedicated to the cult of Amun and was founded in the reign of Amenhotep III (1390-1352BC), although there was an earlier temple on the site. It was extended by successive pharaohs namely Rameses II.
Its primary role was as part of the annual Opet festival in which the cult statue of Amun was ceremonially carried along the avenue of sphinxes from Karnak. The temple has continued to be a place of worship right up to the present day. Alexander the great restored the temple, during the roman period it became a shrine of the Imperial cult, early Christians use it as a church and today part of the temple is a mosque.
It was his son, Amenhotep IV, who later changed name to Akhenaten, who curtailed the worship of Amun and the rest of the pantheon of deities and attempted to replace that with a monotheistic worship of Aten, the disc of the sun. Egypt was on the verge of civil war when he died. Most of the traces of his rule were then destroyed and Amun and the original pantheon returned to force.
". . .a monotheistic worship of Aten, the DISC OF the sun."
(47); emphasis added
You have defined the object of Akhnatenʻs worship better than most capsule accounts do: They say Aten WAS the sun, whereas he was as you say: the disc of the sun. (The sun "was" Ra.)
Amateur historian and maverick scientist
Immanuel Velikovsky said that Moses
could not possibly have learned monotheism
from Akhnaten, because Moses lived centuries BEFORE Akhnaten!
(I. V. had his own chronology, not accepted by conventional
I.V.ʻs arch-rival was amateur historian and maverick bio-psychologist Sigmund Freud. Freud argued that Moses was an estranged member of the Egyptian royal family, not a Hebrew.
He said something like" "I hate to take a peopleʻs national hero away from them, especially my own people, but in the interest of Truth, I must do it." (See his Moses and Monotheism.
Martin Bernal, whom Garp83 and I were discussing in this thread, was, to my mind, pursuing the same objective. Thus,
Garp, in answer to your question, ". . .Why is (Bernal) determined to make ancient Egypt THE foundation stone for the Hellenes. . .?" my answer is, "in the interests of truth -- I suppose." Just as I assume Freud was sincere in his re-casting of Moses*, Iʻm assuming that Bernal is sincere in "Egypt as A foundation stone. . ." theory. (And I would revise your words, above, only by changing your "the" to "a"., because Bernal has always recognized other influences than the Egyptian and the Semitic on the Hellenic Culture. Heʻs mainly saying (in v. 1 of Black Athena that conventional Classical Studies have written
both the Egyptian and the Semitic out of this history.
*which I DONʻT agree with, but thatʻs another issue from the "truth and sincerity" issue.
Well, I think Velikovsky was a bit off (to say the least) and theology was certainly not Freud's field.
We can't know for sure, of course, but Akhenaten's forsaking the other gods to promote Aten seems nothing like Moses's promotion of Yahwah as the Hebrew god. Very different kinds of monotheism. Also, religious Jews don't like to acknowledge it but the early writings seem to imply that Yahwah is their god, not everyone's god, which he later evolves into. As an agnostic, I find the whole thing a bit silly on one hand and yet quite fascinating on the other -- it's 2010 and lots of people still kill other people because their supernatural creature told them it was ok.
As to Bernal, I want to believe he is less adled than Velikovsky, but with all due respect to him the more he presses his case the more I tend to shrink away. We can certainly agree that 19th century historians failed to recognize afro-asiastic influences or simply ignored them -- that is not the same as giving these an exaggerated prominence they simply do not merit. As I pointed out earlier in the thread, the actual similarities between the Hellenes and the Egyptians are simply so narrow and peripheral that it can be nothing but overstatement to assign these values greater than the evidence presents. By no means do I intend to suggest that Bernal is not sincere, only that he is, for most part, quite off track.
Fact or Fiction:
"The Egyptians who possess a temple dedicated to the Theban Zeus, or live in the province of Thebes, never sacri£ce sheep but only goats; for not all Egyptians worship the same gods the only two to be universally worshipped are his and Osiris, who, they say, is Dionysus. On the other hand, those who have a temple dedicated to Mendes, or live in the Mendesian province, never sacrifice goats but only sheep.
The Thebeans and those who follow them explain the origin of their custom of abstaining from the sacrifice of sheep by a story of Heracles,' who, they say. wished above all things, to see Zeus. Zeus. however. was unwilling that this wish should be gratified. Heracles Insisted, and Zeus had to devise a means of getting out of the difficulty. His plan was to skin a ram and cut off its head; then, holding the head before him and covering himself in the fleece, he showed himself to Heracles.
This story explains why the Egyptians represent Zeus with a ram's head - a practice which was extended to the Ammonians, who are a joint colony of Egyptians and Ethiopians and speak a language which has points of resemblance to both. So far as I can see, the Ammonians took their name too from this circumstance; for Amum is the Egyptian name for Zeus. So much, then, for the reason why the Thebans do not sarifice rams but consider them to be sacred animals"
Herodotus The Histories Book II, 42
Remember what EVERYONE has said to you quicksiva: Herodotus is NOT a trusted source when it comes to Egypt. For Chrissakes they told him that the lunch menu was inscribed in heiroglyphs on the pyramids and he believed them and duly noted it in his book. Know I'm sayin'?
Did Gerald Massey write these words, in 1896, to make African Americans feel better about themselves?
"It will be maintained in this book that the oldest mythology, religion, symbols, language, had their birth-place in Africa, that the primitive race of Kam came thence, and the civilisation attained in Egypt emanated from that country and spread over the world.
The most reasonable view on the evolutionary theory-and those who do not accept that have not yet begun to think, for lack of a starting point-is that the black race is the most ancient, and that Africa is the primordial home."
A Book of the Beginnings p.18.
Can someone explain why clicking any of Martin Bernal's books sends me to
Mary Lefkowitz's academic lynch party instead of to the work I am trying to find.
" 0 Amen, 0 Amen, 0 God, 0 God, 0 Amen, I adore thy "name, grant thou to me that I may understand thee; grant "thou that I may have peace in the Tuat (underworld), and that " I may possess all my members therein." And the divine Soul which is in Nut saith, " I will make my divine strength to protect "thee, and I will perform everything which thou hast said."
A perusal of the above composition shows that we are dealing with a class of ideas concerning Amen, or Amen-Ra, which, though clearly based on ancient Egyptian beliefs, are peculiar to the small group of Chapters which are found at the end of the Saite Recension of the Egyptian Book of the Dead. The forms of the magical names of Amen are not Egyptian, and they appear to indicate, as the late Dr. Birch said, a Nubian origin."
E. A.Wallis Budge The Gods of the Egyptians
> 52: Very few people today would deny that Egyptian civilization is African indiginous. But similarly Sumerian civilization was West-Asian, Chinese civilization East-Asian, etc., etc.
It's the diffusionistic undercurrent I mostly object to. "Homo Sapiens" is a remarkable species, in any of its forms. There is no reason to assume that Egyptians were needed to kickstart civilization elsewhere. Just like there is no reason to think the Egyptians needed others to boot theirs. That doesn't deny that civilizations may, and probably will, influence each other when they come in contact.
As for Africa being the starting point or primordial home - that's commonly accepted too, only in a much much further past than Massey could imagine.
> 53: When you put a "touchstone" in a message you'll see the proposed link just right of the message field followed by "others". Check out the link before posting, and click "others" if the proposal is not the book you mean to touchstone.
(Somehow Ms. Lefkowitz's book comes up first when you touchstone "Black Athena" (maybe there are more copies of it on LT or something like that), but using this method you can easily change it to the correct "Black Athena".)
p.s.: though that touchstone doesn't seem to want to stick :-(
>58 Excellent way of putting the point Matt. Human beings are creators of culture wherever we live. This is one of the most basic aspects of human beings and their sociality. And we have the tendency to trade, borrow and influence whenever there is contact. These features of human beings and their societies transcend particular cultures, be they Egyptian, Greek, or Bushman.
Black Athena, vol. 1
Black Athena, vol. 2
Black Athena, vol. 3
More work than it should be. Even with the volume numbers I had to select volume two from the 'others' list. I tried to force the volumes with the bare 'Black Athena' entry with the work number in the touchstone and could get only one of them to appear. Black Athena by itself from the 'others' list brings up volume 1, but it doesn't post or stick, probably because there is no work number for it.
This topic is not marked as primarily about any work, author or other topic.