So as is my wont, yesterday, prior to setting off for my nightly appointment with Morpheus, I sort assorted email items to post at rogueclassicism and/or my explorator newsletter. One of those items was a piece at the BBC by Oxford Classicist Armand D’Angour, whom we have mentioned several times at rogueclassicism. Dr D’Angour penned a nice little piece commenting on the veracity of assorted Greek legends: How many Greek legends were really true? It is a well-written piece, with nothing which a Classicist would take umbrage at. Imagine my surprise, however, when I woke up to an item from the Greek Reporter, which oddly seems to have seen Dr Armand’s piece as an attack on Greek Culture: BBC Attempts to Rewrite Ancient Greek History!
As longtime readers of rogueclassicism know, I have often criticized Greek Reporter for ‘losing things in translation’ or not reporting things as clearly as a news source should. In this case, however, Greek Reporter has not only ‘missed the boat’ … they didn’t even make it to the pier, washed away in a wave of false inferences and insinuations. Even worse, Greek Reporter doesn’t even provide the name of the author of the piece. Sadly, however, it is clear that Dr D’Angour is now being excoriated online (at Twitter) by the trolls who suck at the teat of Greek Reporter. E.g.:
So let’s begin with Dr D’Angour’s opening paragraph:
The culture and legends of ancient Greece have a remarkably long legacy in the modern language of education, politics, philosophy, art and science. Classical references from thousands of years ago continue to appear. But what was the origin of some of these ideas?
… and this is how Greek Reporter appears to have interpreted it and/or decided to spin it:
BBC published a not so flattering article regarding ancient Greek legends. The article’s author, Armand d’Angour, associate professor of classics at the University of Oxford, raises a series of questions and attempts to clarify if all of the ancient Greek legends are actually true or if they are myths, a figment of Greeks’ colorful imagination. The article seems as an unsuccessful attempt to devalue the significance of Greek culture and the contribution of ancient Greeks to modern civilization.
Wow … from dealing with ‘legends’, you get that? Moving on, Dr D’Angour deals first with the question of the veracity of the Trojan Horse:
The story of the Trojan Horse is first mentioned in Homer’s Odyssey, an epic song committed to writing around 750BC, describing the aftermath of a war at Troy that purportedly took place around 500 years earlier.
After besieging Troy (modern-day Hisarlik in Turkey) for 10 years without success, the Greek army encamped outside the city walls made as if to sail home, leaving behind them a giant wooden horse as an offering to the goddess Athena.
The Trojans triumphantly dragged the horse within Troy, and when night fell the Greek warriors concealed inside it climbed out and destroyed the city. Archaeological evidence shows that Troy was indeed burned down; but the wooden horse is an imaginative fable, perhaps inspired by the way ancient siege-engines were clothed with damp horse-hides to stop them being set alight by fire-arrows.
… personally, I had never heard of the “damp horse-hide” interpretation, but it is interesting and not really offensive as far as I can tell. Greek Reporter, however has this:
According to the writer, even though archaeologists have proven that Troy was indeed burnt down, there is no significant evidence regarding the existence of the wooden horse that Greeks used to hide and pass the city gates. It was probably an “imaginative fable, perhaps inspired by the way ancient siege-engines were clothed with damp horse-hides to stop them being set alight by fire arrows.”
It is perhaps ironic that one has to use a Latin phrase to describe the Greek Reporter‘s fallacy here, but obviously it’s a non sequitur to infer that because there’s evidence of Troy being burned at some point, that the Trojan Horse part must be literally true. But it gets worse. The next question to be dealt with is whether Homer actually existed. Dr D’Angour presents an answer which will be familiar to anyone who has taken a first year Classical Civilization course (and plenty who haven’t):
Not only is the Trojan Horse a colourful fiction, the existence of Homer himself has sometimes been doubted. It’s generally supposed that the great epics which go under Homer’s name, the Iliad and Odyssey, were composed orally, without the aid of writing, some time in the 8th Century BC, the fruit of a tradition of oral minstrels stretching back for centuries.
While the ancients had no doubt that Homer was a real bard who composed the monumental epics, nothing certain is known about him. All we do know is that, even if the poems were composed without writing and orally transmitted, at some stage they were written down in Greek, because that is how they have survived.
Greek Reporter‘s response:
The article claims that Homer may in fact have never existed. His greatest works, Iliad and Odyssey were both composed orally under his name, but even though ancient Greeks were certain that he was the one who recited them, there is no actual way of knowing if that was the case.
Again, we are to infer that Greeks should be raising their ire at this. And yet, we probably should note that Greek Reporter pretty much said the same thing about Homer just a few months ago (10 of the Most Significant Writers of Ancient Greece:
He is mainly known for Iliad and Odyssey, the most famous epic poems. The Iliad is the oldest work of western literature. In ancient Greece, people considered themselves uneducated if they had not read both the Iliad and the Odyssey. What is odd is that there is no knowledge of Homer’s life to such an extent that historians dispute his existence.
Skipping something on the alphabet (which Greek Reporter also skipped), we proceed to the question of the Pythagorean theorem … Dr D’Angour:
It is doubtful whether Pythagoras (c. 570-495BC) was really a mathematician as we understand the word. Schoolchildren still learn his so-called theorem about the square on the hypotenuse (a2+b2 =c2). But the Babylonians knew this equation centuries earlier, and there is no evidence that Pythagoras either discovered or proved it.
In fact, although genuine mathematical investigations were undertaken by later Pythagoreans, the evidence suggests that Pythagoras was a mystic who believed that numbers underlie everything. He worked out, for instance, that perfect musical intervals could be expressed by simple ratios.
… and Greek Reporter:
Even though schoolchildren around the world are taught the Pythagorean theorem during math class, d’Angour believes that the Babylonians had been using the theorem for centuries before Pythagoras even mentioned it.
The logic — if it can be called that — in that one is mind-boggling, and once again, we should point out that a couple of months ago, in a piece entitled Pythagoras: A Mysterious Personality, Religion and the Infamous Theorem, we read:
His mysterious personality was noticeable during his teaching; no notes and questions were allowed, that is why a great part of his works are lost. There is no additional information even on the renowned Pythagorean Theorem.
It is also not known if Pythagoras invented this theorem on his own or with the help of his students. The simple phrase saying that “the square of the hypotenuse (the side opposite the right angle) is equal to the sum of the squares of the other two sides” was proven right before the Babylonians.
Skipping a few more (as does Greek Reporter) Dr D’Angour deals with the question of whether Alexander really was ‘great’. His brief assessment:
According to ancient sources, however, he was physically unprepossessing. Short and stocky, he was a hard drinker with a ruddy complexion, a rasping voice, and an impulsive temper which on one occasion led him to kill his companion Cleitus in a violent rage.
Alexander the Great
As his years progressed he became paranoid and megalomaniacal. However, in 10 short years from the age of 20 he forged a vast empire stretching from Egypt to India. Never defeated in battle, he made use of innovative siege engines every bit as as effective as the fabled Trojan Horse, and founded 20 cities that bore his name, including Alexandria in Egypt.
His military success was little short of miraculous, and in the eyes of an ancient world devoted to warfare and conquest it was only right to accord him the title of “Great”.
Greek Reporter ends their piece with:
Alexander may have been given the title “Great” but according to the article his character was far from that. In fact, the Oxford professor claims that he was a heavy drinker, a megalomaniac, paranoid, short man with a “rasping voice and impulsive temper” which even led him to kill one of his closest associates, Cleitus.
To which we can only say: So what?
Seriously, Greek Reporter? There is NOTHING in Dr D’Angour’s piece which should cause Greeks to take umbrage. Indeed, they should be grateful to Dr D’Angour and every Classicist who goes out of his or her regular academic duties to pen things in the popular press which are essentially promoting the study of the culture you claim is being disparaged. Until such time as you realize that we’re all on the same side, you’ll be continued to be dismissed as a feeder of trolls rather than a responsible promoter of a proud Greek heritage.