25 August 2009
Moab and its neighbors

Moab and its neighbors

As I will be visiting Jordan pretty soon, I am reading a bit about the history of the Hashemite kingdom, and I will be adding articles to the website on its ancient history. First installment: Moab, an Iron Age kingdom directly east of the Dead Sea.

So far, not many texts have come to light from this area, but the Mesha Stela is quite interesting. As a political unit, Moab certainly existed in the Late Bronze age, and the Biblical book of Judges offers an interesting story about Moab’s king Eglon; more evidence for the history of Moab can be found in the books of Samuel and Kings. In the end, the kingdom shared the fate of Judah, Ammon, and Edom: after being vassal states of Assyria, they became subjects of Babylonia, Persia, and disappear from history in the Hellenistic age, when the Nabataeans became more powerful.

More about that later. The article on Moab is here.



25 August 2009

Writing can be fun

Some time ago, I invited you to mention subjects you’d like to see on the Livius website. I think that we can divide my plans for the future in several categories.

  • Requests: Alexandria, Alexandrine Judaism, Apollodorus of Damascus, Carneades of Athens, Comenius, Crocotta, Cyrus Cylinder, Ishtar, Tolsum. Of course there is already a page on the Cyrus Cylinder, but it is indeed extremely useful to indicate the exact quotes from Assyrian sources.
  • Preparations: I will be going to Jordan this Autumn, so it is useful for myself to write about Ammon, Edom, the Nabataeans, the Tobiads, Arabia Petraea. Moab is already done (here).
  • More preparations: Turkey is on my travel list for next Spring, so Lycia, Gordion, Zeugma, Nemrud Dagi are obvious. There are already pages on these places, but they need to be updated, and moved to new URLs.
  • Moving: Other places that need to move are  Naqsh-e Rajab, Naqsh-e Rustam, Taq-e Bostan, Bishapur, Pasargadae, and Persepolis – probably in this sequence.
  • Finishing things up: There’s still something to do about Woerden and Zwammerdam, Lepcis Magna and Sabratha, and finally Cyrene.

Knowing how I work, I will almost certainly do other things in the meantime. After all, moving pages on Troy led to pages on the Trojan War and the Epic Cycle.

The Odyssey

24 August 2009
Another anonymous avenger, another shoot-out

Another anonymous avenger

Finishing my series of articles on Troy, Wilusa, the Trojan War, and the Epic Cycle, I’ve also put online a summary of the Odyssey. There’s no need to tell much about Homer‘s famous story, which is essentially the ancient equivalent of our western movies. A mysterious foreigner arrives and appears to be up to something (revenge); there’s a flashback; there’s a pretty girl surrounded by evil man; and there’s a shoot-out.

Thirty-seven years ago, when I was a boy scout of seven years old, one of our leaders told the story of Odysseus and the Cyclops, including the joke “My name is Nobody”. This was the moment that the classics entered my life: the beginning of a love affair that may perhaps last another thirty-seven years.

The Iliad

23 August 2009
Nothing has really changed

Nothing has really changed

The Iliad was probably composed in the eighth century BCE, when the Greek cities started to grow and old ideas and values were no longer self-evident. Homer‘s famous poem is essentially about the question what it means to be an aristocrat: one has to be a hero, one has to be pious, one has to be generous, and most of all, a leader had to be able to control his anger. “With great power,” as a superhero of our own age would say, “comes great responsibility”.

My summary is now available here.

The Epic Cycle (twice)

23 August 2009
Achilles kills Memnon (Rijksmuseum van oudheden, Leiden)

Achilles kills Memnon (Rijksmuseum van oudheden, Leiden)

As a spin-off from my pages on the Trojan War, about which I blogged earlier, I decided to make available all fragments of the Epic Cycle. These are poems like Homer‘s Iliad and Odyssey, and although they are younger and only very fragmentary preserved, they are fascinating. The Aethiopis, for example, may have been a convincing story about a soldier who makes a serious mistake, admits it, grows as a person, and dies at the moment of his supreme glory.

Next stop: the Iliad and the Odyssey. The texts are already online on many pages and there are good essays on it, but for completeness’ sake, I will add my own pages. I will certainly enjoy my stay with the Master, but somehow it does not feel right to make these pages right now. Homer is one of the Really Big topics of ancient history, and I have a feeling I am not yet ready for that. So I will stick to a summary – which is of course, in the land of poetry, a serious error.

Anyhow, the Epic Cycle is now more or less ready. If you want to have a verbatim rendering of Hugh G. Evelyn-White’s translation in the Loeb series, with annotation and page numbers, go to LacusCurtius: here. If you do not need the notes but prefer my own treatment, go here.

Supporting document

22 August 2009
Achilles and Troilus

Achilles and Troilus

And due to what was apparently a misunderstanding on my part, Eager Beaver put up the Loeb Classical Library’s version of the Epic Cycle; just in English. The Greek will likely follow in the fulness of time, unless of course someone impatiently needs it.

Troy and the Trojan War

21 August 2009
Steep Troy

Steep Troy

In 2003, my friend Marco and I visited Troy. To be honest, the site itself is a bit of a disappointment, but when you climb to the summit of one of the nearby funeral mounds and look over the wide plain, it is impossible not to be impressed, even frightened. You sense something dreadful in the air, which I also experienced when I climbed the Cithaeron south of Plataea and watched the Boeotian plain, “Ares’ dancefloor”. Yes, I am a hopelessly romantic soul.

Judgment of Paris; f.l.t.r. Hermes, Iris, Hera, Athena, Aphrodite. Etruscan amphora, c.530 BCE (Antikensammlung, Munich)

Judgment of Paris (Antikensammlung, Munich)

Still, the plain with the funeral mounds is more impressive than the site, which is fascinating as an archaeological site only. It’s interesting to stand at the Schliemann trench and to see how later generations have been digging there, certainly; but where science and scholarship rule, the legend cedes. Disenchantment is inevitable. That’s a good thing in itself, but the magic is gone.

Anyhow: the photos are now online here, with comments on Troy I-V, Troy VI and VIIa (“Homeric” Troy), and Troy VIII-IX (Classical Troy); a three-page summary of the Epic Cycle (Cypria; Iliad; remaining poems); the Scamander; and of course a page about the funeral mounds.

Pottery from Troy VI (Archaeological Museum, Istanbul)

Pottery from Troy VI (Archaeological Museum, Istanbul)

Writing it all was fun. It meant rereading the Iliad, checking those interesting Hittite texts (that Wilusa stuff is easily the most fascinating puzzle of the twentieth century), and seeing lots of ancient vase paintings, sculpture, and other works of art. I realized that I used photos from fifteen museums to illustrate my pages. Others may have written better poems (I would not mind trading a Homeric hymn or two for some T.S. Eliot); other archaeological sites may be more spectacular (e.g., Palmyra); and other wars may have been more important, but when all is said and done, Homer, Troy, and the Trojan War remain something truly special, and I am glad to have visited the place.