Battlestar Galactica and the Aeneid

Okay … I’m officially confused about this one. For reasons unknown, it is being presented as something ‘new’ and hitherto unheard of that Battlestar Galactica (presumably the new one) is actually a retelling of the Aeneid. Charlotte Higgins’ latest blog at the Guardian includes this bit:

Now, am I the only person who regards the sweep of the story of the sci-fi series Battlestar Galactica as a kind of re-reading of Virgil’s Aeneid? I am talking, of course, of the great Roman epic poem that recounts the flight of Aeneas and his followers from their conquered city of Troy to Italy, where, it is prophesied, their descendants will found Rome.

For a moment, let’s forget about the Cylons (although whenever I see one on the screen, I am reminded that the original, real-life Cylon was a wannabe tyrant of Athens, a failed coup leader in 632 BC, but surely that really is a coincidence. If you don’t know the series, these are the enigmatic attackers of the humans’ home planets, a race of cybernetic workers turned aggressive).

Let’s think about the humans for a moment. A leader leaves the destroyed wreck of his former civilisation (Troy/Caprica), which has been blasted into smithereens by an invading force (Greeks/Cylons). You might even see Gaius Baltar as a sort of Trojan horse. That leader is accompanied by his son: it’s Adama as Aeneas, and Apollo as Ascanius, if you follow me.

On they forge, guided by prophecies that the leader is initially unwilling to accept, towards their fated new home (Adama, like Aeneas in Aeneid book two, needs some persuasion that the various portents pointing the way are of any value.)


Canada’s own National Post picked up on this and asked if their readers saw any other connections. Sadly, this is Canada where there are probably even fewer folks who have read the Aeneid than read the National Post. That said, when the original Battlestar Galactica was the only one in existence, I thought it was well-established that it was a retelling of the Aeneid, with bits of the Odyssey thrown in (I’m sure we discussed this on the Classics list or somewhere else at some point … by the time I was paying attention to this sort of thing BG was long into reruns of its one and only season (the 1980 thing doesn’t count; I also acknowledge that there were early comparisons to Mormonism as well). A lot of the names pretty much point to such connections, but let me just give a trio of quick examples which I vaguely recalled and managed to track down on the web with fuller episodic descriptions.

  • In the original episode, the Cylons give the humans the impression that they are suing for peace (with a treaty) but really have taken their fleet behind a foggy moon … this fleet is actually discovered by Apollo (= Aeneas, more or less) and he warns his father (Adama); when the battle finally comes, only Galactica manages to escape. (Saga of a Star World)

  • For some Odyssey content, the third episode involves Apollo being stranded on a planet (with an old west type setting) and he ultimately has to defeat the ‘red eye’, which he does as the latter exits a saloon. (The Lost Warrior). There’s also reminiscences of Achaemenides in the War of the Gods, Part I episode.

I haven’t managed to see a complete episode of the new version yet, but it sounds like the parallels might be even more obvious. Still, I’m surprised that there seems to be so much ‘surprise’ about this.

Kizilburun Shipwreck

Not sure how I’ve missed the scattered news reports on this one over the past few years, but the Kizilburun Shipwreck ‘dig’ seems to be rather significant. As the name might suggest, the site is off the coast of western Turkey and is largely the project of Deborah Carlson (and others) from Texas A&M. The wreck itself is interesting because it was carrying some 50 tons of marble, obviously destined for some major temple-type building project. This past week, National Geographic was alone among the newsmedia in giving coverage to Carlson’s identification of the cargo’s ill-fated destination. An excerpt:

The Temple of Apollo at Claros, about 40 miles (64 kilometers) from Kızılburun, was at the top of her list during the July 2007 election holiday. She drove up to the deserted site and knew she was on to something when she looked at the fallen-down marble columns scattered on the marshy land. “I was struck pretty much right away,” she recalls. The columns were Doric, the same as the marble on the ship, and looked like the right size. She waded around in the spring water that floods the site, checking chunks of columns with a tape measure. “I thought, wow, this is definitely a candidate.”

A year-and-a-half later, it looks like Carlson’s first impression was right. Using a variety of techniques, she has linked the column in the Kızılburun shipwreck to its likely intended destination, the Claros temple—as well as to its origin, a marble quarry 200 miles (322 kilometers) away on an island in Turkey’s Sea of Marmara.


To figure out where the marble might have been going, Carlson started by ruling out homes and other small buildings. If the drums were stacked, the column would have been huge—more than 30 feet (9 meters) tall—so Carlson knew it must have been intended for a monument. She narrowed down the list of temples near the shipwreck to those of the right architectural style that were standing or being worked on in the first century BC—the date for the wreck, based on the amphoras (two-handled jars) the ship was also carrying. That’s how she ended up at Claros.

Like the famous Temple of Apollo at Delphi, the Claros temple featured an oracle. When visitors came, the oracle, a priest, drank water from a sacred spring and made cryptic pronouncements on behalf of the god, who was associated with truth and prophecy.

Fans of Tacitus might remember Germanicus’ Alexander-like trip to the oracle of Apollo at Claros, with the unAlexander-like presaging of his impending death …

See also:

Neutron Analysis

Last week there were piles of stories in the press about the utility of the ISIS Neutron scanning technology for various matters archaeological. Now Science Daily has come out with a piece that is closer to our purview with a report on plans to scan some bronze artifacts from a couple of high-status Roman pit burials in Kent, in the hopes of determining whether they were manufactured locally or imported from Italy.

Dixit Dana Goodburn-Brown (ancient metals specialist):

Our experiments will hopefully aid us in characterising different Roman metalworking practices and perhaps recognising the distinction between imported south Italian goods and high standard copies produced by skilled local craftsman. These artefacts represent a time of great change in Britain – they appear shortly after the Romans arrived in this country, and may represent locals taking on cultural practices of these ‘newcomers …”

Dixit Andrew Taylor (ISIS director)

“For these rare and highly-valued objects, analysis with neutrons can give fantastic insight. Neutrons are a very powerful way to look at matter at the molecular level and they give unique results that you can’t easily get with any other technique. The measurements are extremely delicate and non-destructive, so the objects are unharmed by the analysis and can be returned to the museums unscathed.

The neutron beams we have at ISIS are a very versatile research tool and we’re always keen to help researchers answer a broad range of questions. Here we realised that we could take the same analysis methods we developed to look at parts of aircraft and power plants and use them to help archaeologists understand how ancient objects were traded and manufactured.”

JOB: Generalist @ Union College (one year)

The Department of Classics at Union College seeks to appoint a classicist for a one-year visiting appointment at the rank of instructor or assistant professor. This is a one-year sabbatical replacement that will begin in September 2009. The area of specialization is open, but we look for evidence of successful beginning language instruction as well as an area of research that could serve as the basis for interdisciplinary contributions to the curriculum more widely (examples include, but are not limited to, ancient technology, art, archaeology, science, women’s studies, religion). Union employs a trimester system, and the normal teaching load is two courses per term. Teaching competencies must include ancient Greek and Latin at all undergraduate levels as well as general courses in translation. For higher rank and salary, the Ph.D. must be in hand by August 2009. Visiting faculty are eligible for travel and research support, and our salaries are competitive. Further information about Union College may be found at Applicants should send a standard dossier, including cover letter, writing sample, c.v., and three letters of recommendation. The committee will interview selected applicants either by phone or at the annual meeting of the Classical Association of the Middle West and South in Minneapolis, MN. Applicants should indicate whether or not they plan to attend this meeting, and how they may be contacted most easily. Applications should be directed to the attention of Hans-Friedrich Mueller, Department of Classics, Union College, Schenectady, New York, 12308. Inquiries are welcome at muellerh AT Review of applications will begin on March 16, 2009, and will continue until the position is filled. Union College is an equal opportunity employer, and is strongly committed to increasing the diversity of its workforce.

This Day in Ancient History

ante diem vii kalendas martias

  • Traditional end of the Roman year (followed by a period of intercalation)
  • Terminalia — a festival in honour of Terminus, the divinity who presided over boundaries. In Rome itself, Terminus had a shrine within the Temple of Jupiter beneath an opening in the roof because, it is said, when they were building the Temple of Jupiter, Terminus refused to move. What happened in the city is unclear, but the rustic version of the festival involved the following: at boundary stones, farmer families would gather and build a turf altar; a fire would be built and one of the younger members of the family would throw grain in the fire three times. Others offered other things like honeycombs and wine, then a sheep or pig would be sacrificed and a feast would follow.
  • 155 A.D. — martyrdom of Polycarp at Smyrna
  • 303 A.D. — “Great Persecution” of Diocletian begins in Nicomedia