25 July 2008
The Bosphorus, seen from the Topkapi Palace
The Bosphorus is the narrow strait between the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara. The ortigin of the name is not known, but the Greeks interpreted it as “the cow’s ford”. According to an old Greek legend, it was the place where Io, who had been changed into a cow by her lover Zeus to hide her from the supreme god’s jealeous wife Hero, crossed from Europe to Asia.
Because the north-south current is extremely fast and the winds are predominantly from the north, it is very difficult to move from the Sea of Marmara to the Black Sea. This is why Byzantium, situated on the southern entrance, became an important town: sailors had to go ashore and rest before they could start rowing up north.
21 July 2008
The unfinished temple
Segesta (or Egesta) was a town on ancient Sicily, and is well-known for the Unfinished Temple that attracts thousands of visitors every year. Its history is dominated by a conflict with the nearby Greek city of Selinus, which forced the Segestans to ally themselves to Carthage, to Athens, to Pyrrhus, and to anyone who could offer support against the Selinuntians. Rome became Segesta’s protector during the First Punic War; after this conflict, Segesta’s countryside was exploited through villas with many slaves, and the town itself went into decline. I put online a brief history and some photos of the Unfinished Temple and the Theater.
17 July 2008
A new text by Plutarch of Chaeronea: Advice about Keeping Well (De tuenda sanitate), which Bill Thayer (who puts online the moral treatises of Plutarch) calls his “favorite item so far”. Plutarch is giving common-sense advice on rational living, and much that he has to say in regard to rest, exercise, and diet is in accord with the best medical practice of the present day.
But that’s not all. Several useful items from the 1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica: Iconoclasts, Idrisi (whose Book of Roger was already available), Illyricum, and the great German Altertumswissenschaftler Theodor Mommsen, who may be called the founder of ancient history as a well-organized discipline (picture).
I continue to move (and rewrite) pages on Livius.Org: Salamis, Sentinum, Kneblinghausen.
17 July 2008
Portrait of a Roman official, first quarter of the second century (Koninklijke Musea voor Kunst en Geschiedenis, Brussel)
Suetonius is best known for the Lives of the Twelve Caesars, but that is just a part of his oeuvre, which also included such titles as Physical Defects of Men, Greek Children’s Games, Lives of Famous Prostitutes, and a dictionary that contained only terms of abuse. The twenty books of the Playground of Names and Languages culminated in a series of biographies of
Fragments survive, most of them rather short (like Passienus Crispus) but some of them still pretty long. They are now available at LacusCurtius: go here, or use one of the links above. You can find both the Latin texts and the Loeb translation.
16 July 2008
Faravahar, the visual aspect of Ahuramazda. Relief from Persepolis.
Three books dealing with the Achaemenid Empire, all trying to show the results of Iranology to the general audience. A sympathetic aim. However…
- Kaveh Farrokh’s Shadows in the Desert is one of the worst books I have ever read;
- Tom Holland’s Persian Fire is unnecessary;
- Bruce Lincoln’s Religion, Empire, and Torture, although a very good book by an excellent scholar, understates its own case.
Of these books, the first one is probably the most dangerous for Iranology, as it contains hundreds of errors and even quotes political propaganda. I was shocked to discover that Farrokh holds a PhD and is working for a university. The book by Holland also contains numerous mistakes, but at least the author does not claim to be a historian.
Iranology has grown in the 1980s and 1990s. Publications are now of a higher quality than they used to be. If the discipline wants to continue to prosper, we need better books. Books that are meticulously checked – writing for a general audience is not, as Farrokh and Holland seem to think, an excuse for sloppiness. Books that say something new, and do not -as Religion, Empire, and Torture does- confirm what the general reader already knows.
I have written a long review, which you can find here.
16 July 2008
Imperial eagle, on a small arch in the Theodosian Wall, directly north of the Golden Gate.
The Notitia Urbis Constantinopolitanae belongs to the ancient genre of “regionaries”: a list of monuments and civil servants in the regions of a city. The text was published by the great German scholar Otto Seeck, as an appendix to his edition of the Notitia Dignitatum (1876). The Notitia Urbis was written during the reign of the emperor Theodosius II (probably in 447-450) and goes back to official sources. Although the simple lists are not always easy to understand, the Notitia Urbis helps to know what the city must have looked like before Justinian‘s building program.
15 July 2008
Plutarch, bust from the museum of Delphi.
Again a treatise by Plutarch online at LacusCurtius: this time, the Sage of Chaeronea tackles superstition, trying to prove that it is worse than atheism. The full Greek text of his sermon is here; the English translation is here. I think it is the treatise with the most quotations from older sources in classical Greek literature.
Also available: brief items on the Judicati Actio (from Smith’s Dictionary) and the Boeotian town Abae.