Moving (14)

30 June 2009
Persian Gate

Persian Gate

If I say that Hecatompylos has moved to this URL, and if I add that Masjid-e Solaiman is now here, and if I mention that the page on the Persian Gate can be visited here, you will understand that you have come across a new installment of the highly irregular and highly irrelevant series called Moving Livius.Org. Of these three sites, only the last one is really worth visiting, although I have excellent memories of the other Iranian sites too.

The same can be said of Priene in Turkey, where I once spent a leisurely afternoon. The climb to Oenoanda, on the other hand, was exhausting, but certainly worth the effort: the ruins are impressive. Because there were wild animals over there, we hired a hunter and his friend to keep us company. It was the first time that I was escorted by a man who carried a gun.

Still 77 pages to go…

Water or Fire

30 June 2009

Plutarch, bust from the museum of Delphi.

From my fingers to God’s ear; I hope He has something better to do — this one is none too good, although here and there it makes up for it in downright weirdness: ps‑Plutarch • Is Water or Fire More Useful? (no Greek online anywhere that I know of, and I didn’t add any, either).

Common Errors (23): Sicilian Expedition

30 June 2009
Syracusan coin, showing a chariot with maritime symbols, commemorating Syracuse's victory over Athens

Syracusan coin, showing a chariot with maritime symbols, commemorating Syracuse's victory over Athens

The Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta consists of two parts: the Archidamian War (431-421) and the Decelean or Ionian War (413-404). When the first part had ended in an Athenian victory, the Athenians believed they could now try to expand their empire. A large expedition to Sicily was believed to be the best idea, and in 415 a large armada left Greece and went to the west. Over there, everything that could go wrong, went wrong. The Sicilian Expedition ended in failure; of the many who had left, only a few a returned.

Benefitting from the absence of a great part of the Athenian forces, the Spartans decided to renew the Peloponnesian War (413). This time, they were more successful: in 404, Athens surrendered. Nearly always, the Spartan victory is explained from the demise of Athenian power after the expedition to Sicily, but this cannot be correct. In fact, Athens recovered quickly, and in 410, the Spartans regretted their declaration of war. They offered peace negotiations, but Athens declined: after all, Sparta had twice broken a treaty (in 431 and in 413), and Athens demanded some kind of guarantee that the Spartans would leave the Athenians in peace. When Sparta was unwilling to offer this, fighting was resumed.

In the meantime, however, the Persian king Darius II Nothus had decided to support the Spartans. Now, Sparta had the money to create a navy, and although it still suffered several defeats in naval battles, in the end, it was victorious at Aigospotamoi (405). Athens no longer controlled the sea, and was starved into surrender.

What caused the fall of Athens? Not the Sicilian disaster: Athens recovered sufficiently to make the Spartans decide to negotiate again. It was Sparta’s Persian alliance that shifted the balance of power, so the ultimate question must be why the great king decided to abandon his policy of non-interference.

The answer to this question, and the deepest cause of the fall of Athens, is that the Athenians had supported one Amorges, a rebel in Asia Minor, fighting against the Persians. This was unacceptable to king Darius, who now decided to support Sparta. The orator Andocides explains (On the Peace 31-32):

The king’s runaway slave, Amorges, induced us to discard the powerful support of his master as worthless. We chose instead what we imagined to be a more advantageous understanding with Amorges himself. The king in his anger replied by allying himself with Sparta, and furnished her with 5,000 talents with which to prosecute the war; nor was he satisfied until he had overthrown our empire.

Her support of Amorges, and nothing else, lost Athens the war.

<Overview of Common Errors>

More Plutarch

29 June 2009

Plutarch, bust from the museum of Delphi.

Bill copies the translations of Plutarch‘s Moralia faster than even God can read them.  I am glad that they are online now. Today’s installments are:

So many Greek texts… Seeing the speedy expansion of their number, I think Bill will soon have to rebaptize his increasingly inaccurately named website “LacusCurtius. Into the Roman World”, and will name it  “Trophonius’ Cave. Into the Greek World”. ;)

Common Errors (22): Pericles

28 June 2009
Fragment of the Athenian Tribute List, 425-424 BCE (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York)

Fragment of the Athenian Tribute List, 425-424 BCE (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York)

In 431 BCE, the Spartans declared war upon Athens, being afraid that this city was becoming too powerful and had too much influence in the Greek sanctuaries. The Archidamian War, as the first part of the Peloponnesian War is called, was to last ten years.

Every year, the Spartans pillaged the Athenian countryside, but they were unable to attack the city itself, which was surrounded by a large wall and was connected to a port by “long walls“. As long as the Athenians were the only ones with a large navy, their town could not be captured, while they were able to use their ships to attack the country of Sparta and its allies anywhere they wanted. In this way, a battle against the dangerous Spartan hoplites could be avoided. Moreover, Athens had a war fund of no less than 6,000 talents, to which every year 1,000 talents were added. Many historians have concluded that the Athenian leader Pericles, the architect of the strategy explained above, had prepared his city very well.

Ten years later, Sparta threw the towel in. Athens had won the Archidamian War. But this was not because of Pericles’ excellent preparations. On the contrary. You do not need to be a bookkeeper to recognize that his strategy to exhaust the enemy with naval operations, was disastrous. There were about two hundred people on a warship, who received one drachm per day. That makes 6,000 drachms per month, or one talent. In the first year of the war, the Athenians used

  • one fleet of hundred ships, for an estimated eight months: 800 talents
  • one fleet of thirty ships, for an estimated eight months: 240 talents
  • one fleet of seventy ships, twelve months: 840 talents
  • an army besieging Potideia: 420 talents
Pericles (British Museum)

Pericles (British Museum)

The grand total is 2,300 talents. Even if we optimistically assume that income remained the same, it is impossible that there were more than 4,700 talents left in the spring of 430. If Athens had continued the war according to Pericles’ strategy, it would have been forced to surrender in the fourth year of the war.

Pericles had prepared his city disastrously. He died in 429 and another leader, Cleon, convinced the Assembly that a different strategy was imperative. He was able to raise the tribute and, collaborating with capable generals like Nicias and Demosthenes, he designed a cheaper strategy. After 425, Sparta was no longer capable of attacking the Athenian countryside, and instead decided to attack the periphery of Athens’ empire: the far north. The Spartan commander Brasidas managed to outwit the Athenian Thucydides and captured Amphipolis, an exceptionally important city, from which Athens imported silver and wood. Now, the Spartans had something to negotiate about, and in 421, they obtained a peace treaty that was less humiliating than they had expected in 425.

Thucydides (Altes Museum, Berlin)

Thucydides (Altes Museum, Berlin)

Cleon was the architect of Athens’ success, not Pericles. Why do historians write that Pericles had prepared the war well? It has a lot to do with the fact that we have only one source for this war: the impressive History of the Peloponnesian War by Thucydides, the man who had been responsible for the loss of Amphipolis. Cleon had sent him into exile, and Thucydides had not many kinds things to say about the man who had saved the city. On the contrary, several chapters of the History of the Peloponnesian War are a careful character assassination. At the same time, Pericles’ virtues are extolled.

If we had had more than one source, we would sooner have recognized Thucydides’ bias. It is for historians better to have contradicting sources than to have one source, even if it looks reliable. Even today, after a generation of research in which modern scholars have tried to look beyond the History of the Peloponnesian War, the description of the Peloponnesian War is in many books on ancient Greece still a summary of Thucydides’ book.

<Overview of Common Errors>

Common Errors (21): Etruscan Origins

28 June 2009
Etruscan urn from Chiusi. Rijksmuseum van oudheden, Leiden

Etruscan urn from Chiusi. Rijksmuseum van oudheden, Leiden

Just north of Rome were the cities of the Etruscans, twelve in number, according to the tradition. This nation has a reputation of being very mysterious. And it is true that they lacked the necessary credentials to give other ancient nations the idea that they understood the Etruscans: their origins were contested. The Greek researcher Herodotus of Halicarnassus claims that they came from Lydia in western Turkey (Histories, 1.94). However, the Greek writer Dionysius – also a native of Halicarnassus – objected that the Etruscans did not speak Lydian and did not sacrifice to eastern gods (Roman Antiquities, 1.30.2). He concluded that they had to be native Italians.

The mystery was not diminished when nineteenth-century scholars discovered that the Etruscan language did not belong to the Indo-European language family. Its speakers were therefore unrelated to the other Italian and Anatolian people. Because it was believed, back then, that language told something about a nation’s nature, the Etruscans were more enigmatic than ever.

It would be exaggerated to say that all riddles have been solved in the twentieth century, but much progress has been made. DNA research appears to have shown that at least part of the people that were later known as Etruscans are related to people in Asia Minor: there seems to have been a migration from the eastern part of the Mediterranean to Italy. This conclusion has been corroborated by the results of DNA research on goats, which also appear to have arrived from the east. These results have not been without criticism, though. Still, the language is now better understood than ever. Although we can not establish to which languages Etruscan is related, we can read most inscriptions, recognize cases and conjugations, and make a dictionary. There’s little left of the Etruscan mystery.

<Overview of Common Errors>

Common Errors (20): Hanging Gardens

28 June 2009
Artists Impression of the Non-Existent Monument

Artist's Impression of the Non-Existent Monument

Babylon was the cultural capital of the ancient Near East. Many monuments have become famous, like the Ištar Gate, now in the Vorderasiatisches Museum in Berlin, and the temple tower named Etemenanki, the “Tower of Babel”. Equally famous are the Hanging Gardens that king Nebuchadnezzar II (r. 605-562) created for his queen, a young lady from Iran who longed back to the mountains of her fatherland.

The Hanging Gardens, one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world, are mentioned by several Greek authors: the geographer Strabo of Amasia, the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, the orator Philo of Byzantium, and Cleitarchus, who wrote a biography of Alexander the Great that is now lost. This book, however, is quoted by the Sicilian historian Diodorus and his Roman colleague Curtius Rufus. So, we have a great many sources, and we get the impression that the complex was about two hectares large, as high as the city walls, and resting on heavy foundations of natural stone.

So far, so good. The problem is that all these sources were written in Greek or Latin. The Hanging Gardens are not mentioned in the thousands of cuneiform tablet from Babylon, not even in the list of monuments that is known as TINTIR is Babylon. Archaeology has not been helpful either: when the city was excavated at the beginning of the twentieth century, Robert Koldewey (1855-1925) was unable to establish the site of the Hanging Gardens, and in the end pointed at the only natural stones he could find. He admitted that he was not convinced himself.

It has been suggested that there must be a misunderstanding: the gardens may have been in Nineveh, the capital of Assyria. Although this assumes an error that is as big as placing the Eiffel Tower in Berlin, it is not impossible: Greek authors often confused Babylonia and Assyria. Herodotus of Halicarnassus was even capable of making Babylon the capital of Assyria. An alternative explanation is that the Hanging Gardens are simply a description of the Palace of Nebuchadnezzar: we know that it had gardens – so roof garden may have been there too. If this is true, the original mistake may have been made by Cleitarchus, who was not above exaggerating and delighted in stories about wonderful things.

Is Cleitarchus the inventor of the Hanging Gardens? All sources directly or indirectly quote him, except one: Josephus refers to a list of monument by Berossus, a Babylonian author from the third century BCE, who was known to Josephus through Alexander Polyhistor. However, there is something weird with Berossus’ list: it enumerates a series of monuments in exactly the same sequence as the East India House Inscription that is now in the British Museum. The only monument mentioned by Josephus that is not mentioned by Berossus, is the final one: the Hanging Gardens.

The similarity between the Berossus fragment quoted by Josephus through Polyhistor and the East India House Inscription is so striking that it is impossible that Berossus does not quote (a copy of) it. This leaves us with only three possibilities:

  1. Josephus added information from Cleitarchus to information he found in Polyhistor (unlikely: he had no motive for this fraud);
  2. Polyhistor added information from Cleitarchus to Berossus (likely: we know that Polyhistor had a rather loose way of dealing with texts);
  3. Berossus added information from Cleitarchus to the East India House Inscription (which raises the question why the inscription ignores a major monument).

We can not be completely certain, but it seems very likely that the Hanging Gardens are in fact Cleitarchus’ fantastic description of the royal palace in Babylon. All our sources can, directly or indirectly, be connected to his biography of Alexander.


R.J. van der Spek, “Berossus as a Babylonian Chronicler and Greek Historian,” in: R.J. van der Spek (ed.), Studies in Ancient Near Eastern World View and Society, Presented to Marten Stol on the Occasion of his 65th Birthday (2008) 277-318.

<Overview of Common Errors>

Common Errors (19): Vespasian

28 June 2009

Head of a statue of Vespasian from Narona (Museum of Vid)

After their death, good Roman emperors were venerated as gods. The judgment whether the ruler had been sufficiently good to receive divine honors, was dependent on one factor: did he have a son who would succeed him and force the Senate to recognize the apotheosis? The emperor Vespasian (69-79) had two sons, Titus and Domitian, and could reasonably expect that people would make sacrifices to him after his death. Many modern books tell us that he died with the last words Vae, puto deus fio – “Dammit, I fear I’m turning into a god.”

The Roman biographer Suetonius tells us that Vespasian indeed made this joke shortly before he died (Life of Vespasian, 23.4), but he does not say that these were the emperor’s last words. Those were in fact far more impressive: “An emperor ought to die standing” (24.1).

<Overview of Common Errors>

Common Errors (18): Pilate

28 June 2009

Pilate's inscription from Caesarea

Some ten years ago, two colleagues approached me with a request: could I read the general introduction to ancient history they had once written and was about to be reprinted? They wanted to seize the opportunity to remove all errors they might have made, and invited me to point out everything I could possible find.

Among the mistakes they refused to correct, was their qualification of Pontius Pilate as a procurator. True, this is what Tacitus writes in his Annals (15.44):

Christ, from whom the sect of the Christians has its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilate.

But Tacitus is wrong. An inscription from Caesarea, found in 1961, is our evidence. It contains several lacunae, but Pilate’s title is clearly legible:

[dis  avgvsti]S TIBERIEVM
[praef]ECTVS  IVDA[ea]E
[fecit d]E[dicavit]
To the august gods, this temple of Tiberius, … Pontius Pilate, prefect of Judaea, erected and inaugurated.

There is no doubt about it: Pilate was a praefectus (a soldier), not a procurator (a civil official). This is not a mere triviality: the trial of Jesus was a matter of military urgency, not a civil trial.

<Overview of Common Errors>

Common Errors (17): Frozen Rhine

28 June 2009
The river god Rhenus (Römisch-Germanisches Museum, Köln)

The river god Rhenus (Römisch-Germanisches Museum, Köln)

The German historician Alexander Demandt enumerates in his fascinating book Der Fall Roms (“The Fall of Rome”, 1984) no less than 210 factors that contributed to the collapse of the Roman Empire, arranged alphabetically from Aberglaube, “idolatry”, to Zweifrontenkrieg, “war on two fronts”. This illustrates a debate about the causes of the demise of the ancient world that has now lasted more than two, three centuries. It is unlikely that we will ever reach consensus.

All modern authors agree on one point, however: when the Vandals, Suebians, and Alans invaded the empire on the last day of 406, an event that must have played a role in the transformation from Antiquity to Middle Ages, they crossed a river Rhine that was frozen.

But how do we know? The subject has been debated at RomanArmyTalk, where it was shown that this little detail was not in our sources, and that it was probably invented by the British ancient historian Edward Gibbon (1737-1794). In 1781, he wrote in chapter 30 of his famous History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire:

‘On the last day of the year, in a season when the waters of the Rhine were most probably frozen, they entered without opposition the defenceless provinces of Gaul.’

Why did he speculate that the river must have been frozen? Partly to explain why the barbarians didn’t meet any opposition, we’re tempted to think – and probably, we’re right. However, it may also be relevant that Gibbon used to live in Switzerland for some time, and may have seen how the upper reaches of the Rhine can indeed be covered by ice. And he certainly read the following lines by Herodian, who presents an account of extreme circumstances as if it is a description of an average winter. Gibbon, who had never seen the Middle and Lower Rhine, may well have been led astray by his excellent command of the sources – in this case, Herodian, Roman History, 6.7.6-8:

The Rhine in Germany and the Danube in Pannonia are the largest of the northern rivers. In summer their depth and width make them easily navigable, but in the cold winters they freeze over and appear like a level plain which can be crossed on horseback.The river becomes so firm and solid in that season that it supports horses and men. Then those who want drinking water do not come to the river with pitchers and bowls; they bring axes and mattocks and, when they have finished chopping, take up water without using bowls and carry it in chunks as hard as rock. Such is the nature of these rivers

<Overview of Common Errors>

Common Errors (16): Persepolis

28 June 2009
The Palace of Darius I the Great: not destroyed by fire

The Palace of Darius I the Great: not destroyed by fire

In the first weeks of 330 BCE, Alexander the Great captured the capital of the Persian Empire, which the Macedonians and Greeks called Persepolis, “City of the Persians”. The living quarters were looted immediately, and when the invaders continued their expedition in early Spring, the palaces were destroyed as well.

Our sources are not in agreement about the way this happened. According to Arrian (Anabasis, 3.18.11), it happened after deliberations; it was a well-planned operation. On the other hand, Curtius Rufus (History of Alexander, 5.7.3-12) and Plutarch (Life of Alexander, 38) say that Alexander was drunk – by no means excluded.

Scholars have so hard been trying to find out what happened exactly, that they ignored a more important question: did it actually happen? The problem is that many buildings were simply left intact: the Gate of All Nations and the Palace of Darius the Great, for example. Of course, the wooden and the limestone parts have vanished, but the gates, windows, and lower parts of the walls are still standing. No traces of vandalism here.

Something else happened in the Palace of Xerxes: hardly anything survived. Fragments of the columns that once supported the roofs of Xerxes‘ rooms were discovered far away: these palaces were the victims of a gas explosion (a “delayed flash-over”, as the fireman I once interviewed on the subject explained). There’s also evidence for arson in the Treasury and the Apadana, the throne room where the Great King received embassies of the various nations. Here, the excavators found a stratum of one to two feet of charcoal: burnt cedar wood.

And that’s the smoking gun. These buildings were extremely significant: the Palace of Xerxes, because he had attacked Greece in 480; and the Apadana and Treasury, the symbols of the ritual of gift exchange that was Achaemenid equivalent of the social contract.

Of course fires are unpredictable, but why, out of a set of twelve momuments, were exactly these three buildings destroyed? It is almost impossible that these buildings, and these buildings only, were destroyed by a random process. The arsonists in Persepolis were not drunken vandals: this was a well-organized action.

<Overview of Common Errors>

Common Errors (15): White Sculpture

28 June 2009
Reconstruction of the Marcus Caelius Cenotaph.

Reconstruction of the colors of the Marcus Caelius Cenotaph (Xanten)

The ancient Greeks were brilliant sculptors, who were the first to accurately render the human body in bronze or stone. Perfection, defined as understanding contrapposto, was reached at the beginning of the fifth century BCE.

It has often been assumed that the old statues were made of white marble from Paros or the Pentelic Mountains. The absence of color was even lauded as a brilliant abstraction, an aesthetic judgment comparable to the idea that old black-and-white movies have a beauty of their own, and that it is blasphemy to make a colored version of, for example, Buster Keaton’s The General.

Yet, the ancients did in fact paint their sculpture. On many statues, we can still see traces (example); yes, even when we can not discern these traces, our scientists, applying all kinds of modern technology, know how to reconstruct them. According to our standards, ancient sculpture had screaming colors and was absolutely campy. I remember a lecture in Oxford, the introduction to a series of lectures on ancient sculpture, in which people burst out into laughter on seeing a slide with an exquisitely ugly Primaporta Augustus.

Polychromy was also characteristic of ancient architecture. The monuments on the Forum Romanum were made of green, purple, red, or white marble, and grey or purple granite, while the floors were covered with stones that had yellow, green, or purple veins. Exposed to centuries of sunlight, the colors have now vanished, but if you look at the floors of Rome’s medieval churches, which are covered with mosaics made of ancient marble, you get an idea of the splendid colors of the ancient city.

An interesting website, in German and unfortunately with music you’re forced to listen to, on the subject is here.

<Overview of Common Errors>

Common Errors (14): Flat Earth

28 June 2009
World map of Agrippa

World map of Agrippa

It is of course a great image in the cinema: the actor playing Columbus (1451-1506) is looking at the horizon and sees how a ship disappears – first the hull, then the masts. He looks at the orange or apple he happens to be eating, and you can see how he is thinking and realizes that we live on a spherical earth.

Great cinema, indeed, but unhistorical. The people of the fifteenth century were not that stupid. The Italian poet Dante (1365-1321) already assumed that the earth is a globe: people descending into hell eventually leave the netherworld on the other side of the planet. Seventeen centuries before Dante, Aristotle (384-322) already knew that the earth is a sphere.

So how come that so many people, not only in Hollywood, “know” that the ancients believed that the earth was flat? It’s all based on a misunderstanding of a remark by the Andalusian bishop Isidore of Seville (560-636). In his Etymologies, he says that the earth’s orb has this name because it is as round as a wheel (Orbis a rotunditate circuli dictus, quia sicut rota est; 14.2). Careless reading indeed gives the impression that the venerable writer believed the earth was wheel-shaped, but we know that Isidore in fact knew better (e.g., Etymologies 9.2.133).

It may be added the many ancient maps also give the impression that the makers believed that the world was flat, but the maps of Hecataeus and Agrippa are not a real argument: our own maps are also two-dimensional representations of a three-dimensional world. Herodotus of Halicarnassus may have been the latest author to believe that the world was flat.

<Overview of Common Errors>

Finishing things, sort of

26 June 2009

Plutarch, bust from the museum of Delphi.

When I was a kid I collected stamps. Back in those days, it was still not so far in the past that many countries issued stamps in “series” — a set of stamps with a single design, but each denomination in a different color. The stamp collector was thus very often enticed into trying to get the whole series, an amusing and harmless semi-competitive endeavor.

Well, this compulsive trait has surfaced again from my childhood. I originally had no intention of putting all of Plutarch online, many of his works being concerned with philosophy and Greek stuff, and I’m not fond of either. But little by little — at Attalus there is a page entitled “Plutarch: Moralia — list of translations”; and if anyone out there has been wondering why certain Plutarch items have been going up at Lacus rather than others, it goes far to explain it. I’m filling in the blanks, starting by and large with those texts that don’t appear to be online anywhere at all; and when I’m done with those, I’ll probably wind up by putting up the others as well … to “complete the series”. Right now, in addition to the Lives (complete), Lacus has just short of 30% of the Moralia.

Today’s item is an exception, though, since already up elsewhere, but it was short: On Envy and Hate (envy rather than hate, in fact) with Philippe Remacle’s Greek and French linked, as before. It’s a bland little essay, tells us a bit about envy, but not what to do about it; reminds me of the oft-told story, with various famous American divines in the title rôle, of the preacher who gave a two-hour sermon on Sin: when a parishioner was asked by an absent friend what he’d said, the reply — “He was against it.”

The good Plutarch

25 June 2009

Plutarch, bust from the museum of Delphi.

Amyot thought and wrote of Plutarch as “le bon Plutarque”; and I’ve just put online one of the items that gave him that reputation, that made him “the good Plutarch.”

Plutarch can be very good. Good in two senses: (1) as opposed to not very good, unfinished, fragmentary, turgid, pro-forma — a lot of that in the Plutarchean corpus, as previously noted — but also (2) good in the sense of therapeutic for the common man. If philosophy among the Greeks covered disciplines as diverse as metaphysics and meteorology, theories of history and religion, political science and ethics, it also covered psychology; and the essay usually called De vitioso pudore (“On Compliancy” in the Loeb translation) is one of the psychological ones, and apparently breaks new ground: it’s a clear exposition, not previously made by anyone, of a fault common to many of us, and what to do about it. The fault in question is one of my worst, and has caused me endless personal grief; I hope that for once, in addition to doing the donkey work for which LacusCurtius is now famous and being of academic use to serious students of Antiquity, I might pay attention to what I transcribed, and maybe do myself some good. My own title for it — as the Loeb editor’s introduction points out, the Greek word is very difficult to render — is On Not Letting Ourselves Be Bullied. The approach is typical Plutarch: the moral person is the happy person; and this particular essay, in its easy humanity but at the same time its astringent sense of morality, is very reminiscent of the Desert Fathers (or of course, the other way round).

No Greek onsite: again, grec et français chez Philippe Remacle with links to him on each of my pages, under the Greek and French flags as before.

Ps.-Plutarch, On Fate

23 June 2009

Plutarch, bust from the museum of Delphi.

Again, a text by Plutarch‘s Moralia to announce. Well, to be honest, it’s a text from the Plutarchan corpus, but it’s actually written by a Platonist, who tries to construct a theory of fate compatible with providence in god and free will in man. His view is opposed to the Stoic view that “everything conforms to fate”; a  polemic against Stoicism is implicit in the treatise, but in several respects the argument reveals the influence of Stoic doctrines.

You can find the English translation of On Fate here while the Greek text is available here.


22 June 2009
A triere

A triere

My article on Nearchus is several years old, but today, I was able to add a better map. A much better map: the first of several maps made by Google Maps. I’m quite happy with it. A similar map, not yet finished, that will eventually offer links to all photo pages, is here.

More Plutarch

20 June 2009

Plutarch, bust from the museum of Delphi.

And there’s more from Plutarch‘s Moralia to announce. Today’s addition:

There’s also a brief piece on Patrimi and Matrimi from Smith’ Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities. It may not be the most important essay ever put online, but take a close look and you see why the internet can be relevant and why PDF-scans of ancient books are of less use than html-webpages: the article contains fifteen references to sources and secondary literature, and eight of them are accessible through hyperlink.

Ancient Warfare Magazine III.3

20 June 2009

I may not be the most objective reviewer of this month’s issue of Ancient Warfare: I know the editor-in-chief well and sometimes contribute to this magazine. (This issue contains a notice I wrote on the museum of Tongeren.) Yet, I like to introduce Ancient Warfare to a general audience, because it always contains interesting articles and attractive artwork. On this issue’s cover is a splendid cavalry standard bearer by Johnny Shumate, and inside we can find a reconstruction of a scene in a Mycenaean palace by Igor Dzis: a work of art. Other illustrations are by Angel García Pin and Andrew Brozyna, and the maps are by Carlos de la Rocha.

This issue’s theme is “classical heroes” and deals with the influence of ancient (Homeric) exempla on later warfare, a theme made popular by J.E. Lendon in his Soldiers and Ghosts (2005). This theme, of course, needs an explanation about the values and the type of warfare we encounter in Homer‘s Iliad and Odyssey, an explanation that is offered in two articles by Josho Brouwers and Michael J. Taylor. Christian Koepfer is the author of an essay on the Shield of Achilles and Arnold Blumberg describes how Philip and Alexander picked up clues from the bard when they reformed the Macedonian army. The way soldiers can go berserk and experience divine battle frenzy, like Homer’s Ajax and numerous other warriors, is the subject of a contribution by Sidney Dean.

An article by Andrea Salimbeti and Raffaele D’Amato on warfare in the Mycenaean age, centered on the Seven against Thebes, tries to reconstruct the Late Bronze world that Homer is evoking. I have always neglected this age, so I learned a lot from this article.

Rome is represented by an article by Ross Cowan, who describes legionaries and auxiliaries who received military decorations. Unrelated to the theme of heroism is Duncan Campbell’s article on Hyginus’ essay on constructing camp fortifications: Campbell tries to find out which campaign may have been the subject of Hyginus’ account. Flavian, Trajanic, and Antonine are possible, but Campbell does not rule out the possibility that the text is a product of fourth-century antiquarianism. Murray Dahm’s article on Athenaeus Mechanicus’ On Machines and the usual reviews conclude this issue.

In sum, it was an interesting read that I like to recommend. You can subscribe here.

Oh, what a difference 40 years makes….

18 June 2009

Plutarch, bust from the museum of Delphi.

Plutarch, or at least the body of work transmitted to us under his name, covers a multitude of sins.

Some of these works are so fragmentary as to be next to nothing; some very few are so bizarre or so inept that they cannot possibly be by him (unless they’re impish self-parodies); some seem to be his own working notes or collections extracted from him by others; some are abstruse Gnostic-like disquisitions on the slenderest of topics, the kind of thing that gives philosophy a bad name; finally, many are banal and derivative; and many, and not just either the longest and the best-known, are marked by warmth, humanity, psychological insight, humor, and outright genius: the Plutarch of Montaigne and Shakespeare.

I’ve just put online two of these unpredictable critters — as it turns out, one each of the last two types mentioned; amazing they should be by the same man, but to me, at least, they both bear the unmistakable imprint of Plutarch: the first, the dull one, On the Love of Wealth (De cupiditate); the other, Should Old Men Take Part in Affairs of State? (An seni respublica gerenda sit). The “only” thing that separates them is forty years or so of living; the latter is clearly addressed by one old man to another he has known for many years — “neither of us shall desert the long companionship in the journey which we have thus far made together” — this one sentiment and the gracious expression of it sufficient to place the essay in a class of its own; the other essay, so the Loeb editor tells us, is characterized by youthful “exuberance and fancifulness of diction”: but we need not be proficient in ancient Greek prose style to recognize it clearly as the work of a very young man, just by its inadequate and regurgitative treatment of the subject.

I feel privileged to see the beginning and end of such a man’s life, and as it were share in his journey; would we all did so well in the business and art of being human.

No Greek onsite for either one, since Philippe Remacle has the Greek original of both on his site; I was off the hook easily: you will find links to him on each of my pages, under the Greek and French flags of course.


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