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Posts Tagged ‘ancient history

“Troy has perished, the great city. Only the red flame lives there now.”*…

Detail from a 4th-century B.C. Persian sarcophagus, thought to depict a Greek-Anatolian battle scene, found in a tomb near Troy

It wasn’t just a legend. As Joshua Hammer explains, archaeologists are getting to the bottom of the city celebrated by Homer nearly three millennia ago…

It has been nearly 3,000 years since Homer wrote the Iliad, one of the foundational works of Western literature. The epic poem describes, in gory and lyrical detail, 52 days near the end of the ten-year siege of Troy, the “well-fortified” city ruled by the kindly King Priam. According to the legend, Priam’s son Paris (sometimes known in Turkey as Alexandros) ignited the war by seducing the “lovely haired Helen,” wife of the Spartan king Menelaus, and spiriting her to the Citadel at Troy. In response, Menelaus’ brother Agamemnon, the “king of kings” who ruled from Mycenae on the Greek mainland, led a fleet of warships across the Aegean to recapture Helen and take revenge against the city. 

The question of which of these people and events, if any, are historical has captivated scholars for centuries, and though there’s little conclusive evidence that any scene happened as Homer described it, he invested his characters with such vitality and complexity that it can be hard to remember that much of the story is likely made up. His epic, based on centuries of oral tradition, plays out among the ships in the harbor, inside the walls of Troy, and on the plain in between… It was there, according to the legend, that the Greeks, led by “god-like” Achilles, confronted Priam’s son Hector and his Trojan force. With its stirring descriptions of martial pageantry, its dramatic accounts of close combat, its heroic but flawed characters, its sacrifices, betrayals, grieving lovers and parents, and its powerful descriptions of loss and human suffering, the Iliad shaped Western literature through millennia. “Poets must sing the story over and over again, passing it from generation to generation, lest in losing Troy we lose a part of ourselves,” the British actor and scholar Stephen Fry wrote in his recent best seller Troy.

Until about 150 years ago, it was widely believed that Troy was a fiction, a mythical city like Atlantis or El Dorado. And yet throughout antiquity there was a tradition linking Hisarlik to Troy. The classical Greeks, who lived hundreds of years after the events described by Homer would have taken place, believed that Hisarlik had been the site of the Homeric city of Troias, and they built a Greek settlement with a lavish temple, theater and city council building there. Writing in the first century A.D., Plutarch described a visit by Alexander the Great in 334 B.C. to celebrate the Mycenaean conquest nearly a millennium earlier—and to grieve at the supposed tomb of Achilles. The Romans, for their part, believed that they descended from the Trojan hero Aeneas, who fled to Italy after Troy’s destruction, as recounted by Virgil in the Aeneid; Julius Caesar was said to have visited Hisarlik in 48 B.C. to pay homage to Aeneas, Hector and other Trojan heroes. The emperor Constantine even considered making Hisarlik the new capital of his empire before choosing Byzantium, later to become Constantinople, then Istanbul. In the fifth century, a series of earthquakes led to the city’s abandonment, and its links to Homeric Troy were largely forgotten. Still, as late as the 15th century, a Castilian traveler and writer named Pedro Tafur visited a collection of ruins—apparently Hisarlik—and described it as “that place which they say was Troy.”

In the modern era, the first person to suggest Hisarlik as the site of Troy was the Scottish polymath Charles Maclaren, a one-time editor of the Encyclopaedia Britannica. But it would be nearly half a century before an amateur archaeologist named Frank Calvert began to explore the mound overlooking the Dardanelles that the Turks called the “Place of Fortresses.” A wealth of detail in the Iliad suggested to him that Hisarlik and Troy were one and the same. Homer had placed the city on a hill situated between two rivers, the Scamander and the Simoeis, which some modern scholars suggest correspond to the rivers now known as the Karamenderes and the Dumrek Su. The Iliad also contains dozens of references to mile-high Mount Ida, 20 miles south of Hisarlik, from which Zeus “the cloud-gatherer” and his “ox-eyed queen” Hera observed the fighting and intervened on behalf of favored warriors. And there is a tantalizing description of “two well-heads of lovely water,” one hot and one cold, around which Achilles pursued Hector toward the end of the Iliad. (In the late 1990s, archaeologists discovered an underground reservoir that some believe fed the wells described by Homer.) Calvert uncovered temples and other ruins from Hellenistic and Roman towns, but he ran out of money to dig further. When he met a self-taught German archaeologist named Heinrich Schliemann, who was in Turkey conducting his own search for Troy, he encouraged Schliemann to pick up where he left off… 

Follow the story of discovery at Hisarlik from there all the way to today: “In Search of Troy,” from @Joshuaiveshamme @SmithsonianMag.

* Homer, The Illiad

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As we ponder the past, we might recall that it was on this date in 861 that the Viking burned Paris to the ground (for the third time since the Siege of Paris, on this same date in 845).   The invaders also torched the Abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, which they pillaged again in 869.  In 870, King Charles the Bald ordered the construction of two bridges, the Grand Pont and the Petit Pont, to block the passage of the Vikings up the Seine.  In 885, Gozlin, the Bishop of Paris, repaired the city wall and reinforced the bridges, enabling the city to resist an attack by the Vikings, who tried again twice (in 887 and 888), but were repelled each time.

Paris then enjoyed 90 years of (relative) peace, until 978, when the city was laid siege by The Holy Roman Emperor Otto II.

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“The ancient Oracle said that I was the wisest of all the Greeks. It is because I alone, of all the Greeks, know that I know nothing.”*…

The site of the oracle at Dodona

Your correspondent will be off-line for the next 10 days or so; regular service will resume on or around April 26th. In the meantime, a meeting of the (very) old and the (very) new…

The Virtual Reality Oracle (VRO) is a first-person virtual reality experience of oracular divination at the ancient Greek site of Dodona circa 450 BCE. Immerse yourself in the lives of ordinary people and community leaders alike as they travel to Dodona to consult the gods. Inspired by the questions they posed on themes as wide-ranging as wellbeing, work, and theft, perhaps you in turn will ask your question of Zeus?…

Homer mentioned Dodona; now you can be there, then. An immersive experience of the ancient Greek gods: “Virtual Reality Oracle.”

* Socrates

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As we look for answers, we might recall that it was on this date in 1977 that both the Apple II and Commodore PET 2001 personal computers were introduced at the first annual West Coast Computer Faire.

Ironically, Commodore had previously rejected purchasing the Apple II from Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, deciding to build their own computers. Both computers used the same processor, the MOS 6502, but the companies had two different design strategies and it showed on this day. Apple wanted to build computers with more features at a higher price point. Commodore wanted to sell less feature-filled computers at a lower price point. The Apple II had color, graphics, and sound selling for $1298. The Commodore PET only had a monochrome display and was priced at $795.

Note, it was very difficult finding a picture with both an original Apple II (not IIe) and Commodore PET 2001. I could only find this picture that also includes the TRS-80, another PC introduced later in 1977.

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The photo mentioned above: The Apple II is back left; the PET, back right

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

April 16, 2021 at 1:01 am

“The magic voice of Greece where the violet sunsets glow O’er heroic cities of kings sung by Homer long ago”*…

 

mycenae

A horse and chariot with two charioteers – detail from a 14th-century BCE ceramic vessel excavated in 1952 at Mycenae

 

In 1999, UNESCO deemed Mycenae, located in the Peloponnese of modern Greece, to be a World Heritage site, highlighting the impact the site had and continues to have on European art and literature for more than three millennia.

Mycenae was a place of considerable power and a key site of the Mycenaean civilisation in the Late Bronze Age (c. 1600-1100 BCE). The stories associated with this site and its remains would go on to play a vital role in classical Greek culture as a source of inspiration in art and literature. Mycenae was part of a complex Bronze Age society with impressive architecture, and complex arts and crafts. Thanks to its control of key trade routes by both sea and land, the city flourished…

Archives relating to the British excavations of one of the most celebrated and famous cities of the ancient world, Mycenae in Greece, have been digitized on the Cambridge Digital Library to celebrate the centenary of the British archaeological dig.  Explore the ancient Greek city of Mycenae in a newly released digital archive: “Digital Mycenae.”

* Alan Wace, Greece Untrodden

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As we travel through time, we might note that today begins National Canned Luncheon Meat Week, “celebrated” the first week of July each year… deviled ham, corned beef, scrapple, and of course, Spam.

The pandemic’s one-two punch of enforced eating at home and employment/income uncertainty has led to a surge in (shelf-stable, inexpensive) canned meat sales in the U.S. of more than 70% in the 15 weeks ended June 13.

But that doesn’t have to be grim.  Here, for example, is a recipe for “Spam ‘cookies’ on a stick, with hot holiday cheese dipping sauce.”

 

 

Written by (Roughly) Daily

July 1, 2020 at 1:01 am

“‘For a while’ is a phrase whose length can’t be measured”*…

 

Roman-calendar

A reproduction of the fragmentary Fasti Antiates Maiores, an early Roman calendar (c. 60 BC) [source]

 

 

What year is it? It’s 2019, obviously. An easy question. Last year was 2018. Next year will be 2020. We are confident that a century ago it was 1919, and in 1,000 years it will be 3019, if there is anyone left to name it. All of us are fluent with these years; we, and most of the world, use them without thinking. They are ubiquitous. As a child I used to line up my pennies by year of minting, and now I carefully note dates of publication in my scholarly articles.

Now, imagine inhabiting a world without such a numbered timeline for ordering current events, memories and future hopes. For from earliest recorded history right up to the years after Alexander the Great’s conquests in the late 4th century BCE, historical time – the public and annual marking of the passage of years – could be measured only in three ways: by unique events, by annual offices, or by royal lifecycles…

Once local and irregular, time-keeping became universal and linear in 311 BCE. History would never be the same again: “A Revolution in Time.”

See also: “The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there”*…

* Haruki Murakami, South of the Border, West of the Sun

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As we mark time, we might recall that it was on this date in 293 that Roman Emperors Diocletian and Maximian appoint Galerius as Caesar to Diocletian, beginning the period of four rulers known as the Tetrarchy.  Although he was a staunch opponent of Christianity, Galerius ended the Diocletianic Persecution when he issued an Edict of Toleration in Serdica in 311.

220px-Romuliana_Galerius_head

Porphyry bust of Galerius [source]

 

 

Written by (Roughly) Daily

May 21, 2019 at 1:01 am

“Sacred Cows Make the Best Hamburger”*…

 

Know Thyself

An anonymous 17th-century allegorical painting inscribed Nosce te Ipsum (Know thyself)

 

We all know the most famous bit of ancient advice inscribed on the Temple of Apollo at Delphi: Know thyself. It’s a powerful and daunting recommendation. If you take it seriously, you will begin to push through all of the misconceptions you have, not only about yourself but about human beings generally. You will begin to think deeply about who you really are and who you ought to be. You might start making life-altering decisions, decisions that (if you are right) bring you into harmony with your nature and your circumstances, or (if you are wrong) turn your life into a big mistake. There should be little wonder that this one command is the highest command of all philosophy: follow it like a religious law, and – one way or another – you will be a great philosopher.

But this powerful command is in fact just one of some 147 apophthegmata (pithy words of wisdom) inscribed upon a stone monument at Delphi. It’s not clear where these lesser-known maxims came from. The ancient compiler Stobaeus attributed them to the Seven Sages – wise men of the sixth century BCE, such as Solon and Thales – but maybe they were generated in the same hazy way that all instances of folk wisdom (sticks and stones, stitch in time, etc) are generated, and then set in stone for the benefit of later seekers of wisdom – such as us.

Some of these maxims are, for us, complete nonstarters…

Appraise the advise at “More than ‘know thyself’: on all the other Delphic maxims.”

* variously attributed to Mark Twain, Abbie Hoffman, and Aardvark Magazine

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As we wonder about wisdom, we might send well-worded birthday greetings to Samuel Johnson; he was born on this date in 1709.  A poet, essayist, moralist, literary critic, biographer, editor, and lexicographer, Johnson’s best-known work was surely  A Dictionary of the English Language, which he published in 1755, after nine years work– and which served as the standard for 150 years (until the completion of the Oxford English Dictionary).  But Dr. Johnson, as he was known, is probably best remembered as the subject of what Walter Jackson Bate noted is “the most famous single work of biographical art in the whole of literature”: James Boswell’s Life of Samuel Johnson.  A famous aphorist, Johnson was the very opposite of a man he described to Boswell in 1784: “He is not only dull himself, but the cause of dullness in others.”

Joshua Reynolds’ portrait of Dr. Johnson

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

September 18, 2018 at 1:01 am

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