Greek Strikes

27 October 2010

Kerameikos closed

Here in Greece, it is hard not to notice that the Greeks are angry at their government, which can only prevent a state bankruptcy by taking desperate measures. For example, people can no longer retire in their mid-fifties. They will have to work longer, even when they have a right to an early retirement. Or another case: many people working on the archaeological sites haven’t received their wages for twenty-two months. I do not know to what extent the situation is comparable to my own country, where I find some economic measures hard to swallow because the people who have gotten us into this mess have remained unpunished: the CEOs, the bankers, a couple of politicians, a handful of accountants, a lot of economists. To some extent, I can sympathize with the angry Greeks.

This morning, the inevitable happened: we found an archaeological site closed. Everyone at Kerameikos was on strike. I should probably count my blessings that this afternoon, they will reopen the museum and the excavation. Yet, strikes create victims – and it is a stupid to focus on foreigners. They won’t influence Greek public opinion for the strikers, but can influence foreign public opinion against Greece.

Targeting foreigners is not only stupid, it is also ungrateful. After all, to keep the euro stable, the other member states have had to offer loans to Greece, and this money must come from somewhere. This has added to the problems in northwestern Europe. My parents could benefit from a pension when they were sixty-five but I will probably not be able to retire before I am sixty-eight or sixty-nine, partly because of the Greek bail out. It has long been known that my generation has to pay for the babyboom and I have learned to live with it sometime in the late nineties, so it’s fine with me, but I think the Greeks cannot reasonably ask that they can retire at fifty-eight when this means that others have to work until they’re sixty-eight.

Mesopotamian Olympics?

14 August 2008
A legendary hero, shown on a relief from the Assyrian capital Khorsabad (Louvre)

A legendary hero, shown on a relief from the Assyrian capital Khorsabad (Louvre)

The modern Olympics are not the subject of ancient history and under normal circumstances, I would not have mentioned the Games at all. But here’s a subject that I like to mention: Mesopotamian influences on the origins of the Greek Olympic Games. This is the link to a new website that presents the evidence for cultural borrowing; the author, David Chibo, claims to have found eleven parallels between oriental and Greek athletic contests.

He points at a key text from Babylonia: the Sumerian version of the Epic of Gilgamesh, which was known throughout the ancient Near East and has jumped to Greece as well (it is referred to by Aelian, who also knows the name of “Gilgamos”). The idea that the archaic Greeks, who accepted oriental artistic motifs, were inspired by the Epic of Gilgamesh, is by no means far-fetched, especially since Gilgamesh and Heracles (the mythological founder of the Olympic Games) closely resemble each other.

As I said, Chibo claims to have found eleven parallels. I was not convinced by all of them, but yes, athletic contests, in July/August, to honor the gods, awarding wreaths, ending with a victory banquet – well, five parallels is at least quite suggestive.

The remaining six parallels I find unconvincing and I think that the author overstates his case when he suggests that it is still necessary to prove “that civilisation evolved naturally at the confluence of three continenents rather than miraculously in the isolated mountainous terrain of Greece”. I think only very old-fashioned scholars still make the last-mentioned claim: no scholar worthy of that title denies, for instance, that the Alexandrine Library was inspired by Babylon or that Alexander the Great ordered the Mesopotamian astronomical texts to be translated into Greek. At least on my website, Livius, I have never excluded the ancient Near East, and I think Chibo is putting up a strawman.

That being said, he has found five parallels, and I think his article is worth reading.

Six Battles of Thermopylae

2 August 2008


I’ve visited Thermopylae three times, have walked a bit through the mountains, climbed into an electric pylon to make the photo to the right – in short, it’s a place I like, even though it is, to quote a poet, “a guilty landscape” with almost too many historical associations. It is hard to imagine that this was once a narrow road along the coast and the site of six ancient battles. I already had something online, but expanded it. There’s a page about the landscape, a page about the famous battle in 480 BCE against the Persians, a page with Herodotus’ account, and a page with the other five battles (actually, six, but one of them was not really at Thermopylae).