Did the Ancient Greeks Discover America?

In a word, no, but that doesn’t stop the Epoch Times for wasting electrons on a nutty theory … here are just enough exerpts to smack your gob:

The year 1492 is one of history’s most famous dates, when America was discovered by Europeans. However that “New World” may have been already known to the ancient Greeks, according to a book by Italian physicist and philologist Lucio Russo.

The translated title for Russo’s book would be “The Forgotten America: The Relationship Among Civilizations and an Error Made by Ptolemy.” But the author told the Epoch Times that the title for the English version, which isn’t ready yet, will probably be “When the World Shrunk.”
Some Clues

Among the many clues of contact between ancient Europeans and Native Americans are the few pre-Columbian texts to have survived the Spanish devastation.

In a book about the origins of the Maya-Quiché people there are many interesting points. The fathers of that civilization, according to the text, were “black people, white people, people of many faces, people of many languages,” and they came from the East. “And it isn’t clear how they crossed over the sea. They crossed over as if there were no sea,” says the text.

However, researchers later decided to translate the Mayan word usually meant for “sea” as “lake.”

There are also many Mayan depictions and texts about men with beards. But Native Americans do not grow beards.

Furthermore, some artworks of the ancient Romans show pineapples, a fruit that originated in South America.

Ways of Thought

Russo, who currently teaches probability at Tor Vergata University of Rome, says the main reason why researchers think America wasn’t known to ancient Greeks is not due to lack of proof, but to scientific dogma. [...]

… now since they mentioned that old canard about pineapples in Roman art, we feel compelled to comment. We should make note of the photo that accompanies the original article:

Photo in the Epoch Times, apparently from Lucio Russo’s book

I won’t go too much into detail about the background on this claim (which ultimately goes back to Ivan Van Sertima … see Jason Colavito’s excellent post from a year or so ago: The “Pineapple” of Pompeii), but there clearly is something wrong with people if they look at those things and see pineapples. Begin with the mosaic and you’re looking at something that looks like it’s smaller than most of the fruit there. Then look at the fresco and see that the things are only slightly larger than the snake’s head. Then you can argue with yourself about the statue and decide whether it’s a child or an adult. If you’ve been around Classics for a while, however,  the thing is obviously a  pinecone, not a pineapple, which are similarly-depicted on plenty of pots relating to Dionysus/Bacchus and usually brandished by a Maenad, and often by Dionysus himself E.g.:

via Wikipedia

There are countless other examples, including architectural elements and the like. Once again we see the ‘danger’ of non-specialists building theories on rather common elements of ancient Greek and Roman life (more common than they want to believe) …

Video: Edward Cohen on Ancient Greek Crises

The blurb:

Edward E. Cohen, Adjunct Professor of Classical Studies, University of Pennsylvania, and Trustee Emeritus, American School of Classical Studies at Athens, will discuss the relationship between the current Greek, European, and American financial crises while examining what can be learned from the experiences of the ancient Greeks.

‘Gun Control’ and the Ancient Greeks and Romans

Very interesting post at the New Yorker‘s Culture Desk by Melissa Lane … here’s a bit in medias res:

The pioneers of citizen armies were also pioneers of withdrawing weapons from the places of civilized life. The ancient Greek armies were manned exclusively by citizens who brought their own weapons into battle. Getting to serve in an élite combat unit required being wealthy enough to afford to buy one’s own armor. It was this vision of citizen militias, further developed by the Romans, that went on to inspire the English revolutionaries of the seventeenth century and the American revolutionaries of the eighteenth—so shaping the values expressed in the Second Amendment.

Nevertheless, when one early-nineteenth-century American reflected on what the new American Republic could learn from the ancient Greeks, he drew attention to another feature that was widespread in their politics: refraining from carrying weapons in public spaces. In some cities, this was a matter of custom, in others it was a matter of law. Citizens carried their weapons abroad when serving in the military for public defense. But, even in these cities, it was believed that carrying weapons at home would be tantamount to letting weapons, not laws, rule.

This point is emphasized in a study of ancient-Greek laws attributed to Benjamin Franklin, though apparently composed by the founding editor of the Western Minerva, who published it in 1820. The laws, the author insisted, “apply with peculiar energy and propriety to the circumstances of the United States.” Number fifteen in this collection of a hundred “principles of political wisdom,” drawn from the school of Pythagoras, legislators for Greek settlements on the Italian mainland, was this: “Let the laws rule alone. When weapons rule, they kill the law.”

This is the opposite of the view attributed to the Founding Fathers by the N.R.A.’s chief executive, Wayne LaPierre, in 2009, when he said that “our founding fathers understood that the guys with the guns make the rules.” On the contrary, letting the guys with weapons make the rules of ordinary life was the opposite of the classical practices that inspired the American founders. Writing of the evolution of Greek societies in the first book of his “History of the Peloponnesian War,” the Greek historian Thucydides reported that the Athenians were the first to lay aside their weapons. Whereas men in all Greek societies used to carry arms at home, this had been a sign of an uncivilized era of piracy in which the most powerful men could dominate all the rest. Laying aside the everyday wearing of weapons was part of what Thucydides believed had allowed Athens to become fully civilized, developing the commerce and culture that made her the envy of the Greek world. The Romans, too, banned the carrying of weapons within the pomerium, the sacred boundary of the city.

The banning of carrying weapons in public was based on the idea that civilized coexistence could not tolerate public spaces that were dominated by those wearing weapons, on pain of intimidating those around them. Apart from the physical risks posed, such intimidation would inherently undermine civic equality. It is hard for the unarmed to argue with the armed. Key to civil society was that citizen-warriors put their weapons in storage when they returned to everyday social and political life.

… definitely worth reading the whole thing. I suspect this question comes up frequently in Classical Civ type classes …

Classics and the Greek Debt Crisis

There have been plenty of non-Classicist commentators dropping the word ‘tragedy’ and making all sorts of facile comparisons to the ancient world in regards to the ongoing debt crisis in Greece … finally, a Classicist — Oxford’s Armand D’Angour — wades in with some useful comparanda. From the BBC:

What advice would the ancient Greeks provide to help modern Greeks with their current financial worries?

1. Debt, division and revolt. Here’s the 6th Century BC news from Athens.

In the early 6th Century BC, the people of Athens were burdened with debt, social division and inequality, with poor farmers prepared to sell themselves into slavery just to feed their families.

Revolution was imminent, but the aristocrat Solon emerged as a just mediator between the interests of rich and poor. He abolished debt bondage, limited land ownership, and divided the citizen body into classes with different levels of wealth and corresponding financial obligations.

His measures, although attacked on all sides, were adopted and paved the way for the eventual creation of democracy.

Solon’s success demonstrates that great statesmen must have the courage to implement unpopular compromises for the sake of justice and stability.

2. What happens next? The Delphic oracle

Ancient Delphi was the site of Apollo’s oracle, believed to be inspired by the god to utter truths. Her utterances, however, were unintelligible and needed to be interpreted by priests, who generally turned them into ambiguous prophecies.

In response to, say, “Should Greece leave the euro?” the oracle might have responded: “Greece should abandon the euro if the euro has abandoned Greece,” leaving proponents and opponents of “Grexit” to squabble over what exactly that meant. It must have been something like listening to modern economists. At least the oracle had the excuse of inhaling the smoke of laurel leaves.

Wiser advice was to be found in the mottos inscribed on the face of Apollo’s temple at Delphi, advocating moderation and self-knowledge: “Know yourself. Nothing in excess.”

3. Nothing new under the sun: The sage Pythagoras

If modern Greeks feel overwhelmed by today’s financial problems, they might take some comfort from remembering the world-weary advice from their ancestor Pythagoras that “everything comes round again, so nothing is completely new”.

Pythagoras of Samos was a 6th Century BC mystic sage who believed that numbers are behind everything in the universe – and that cosmic events recur identically over a cycle of 10,800 years.

His doctrine was picked up by the biblical author of Ecclesiastes in the 3rd Century BC, whose phrase “There is nothing new under the sun” is repeated more than 20 times.

If you look at the picture at top of the story, the young man with a laptop on a Greek vase from 470 BC (in fact, a writing-tablet) seems to prove the proposition.

4. Mind you, it could be worse… Odysseus and endurance

“Hold fast, my heart, you have endured worse suffering,” Odysseus exhorts himself in Homer’s Odyssey, from the 8th Century BC.

Having battled hostile elements and frightful monsters on his return home across the sea from Troy to his beloved Ithaka and wife Penelope, Odysseus here prevents himself from jeopardising a successful finale as a result of impatience.

The stirring message is that whatever the circumstances, one should recognise that things could be, and have been, even worse. Harder challenges have been faced and – with due intelligence and fortitude – overcome.

5. Are you sure that’s right? Socrates and tireless inquiry

“The unexamined life is not worth living for a human being,” said Socrates.

By cross-examining ordinary people, the philosopher aimed to get to the heart of complex questions such as “What is justice?” and “How should we live?” Often no clear answer emerged, but Socrates insisted that we keep on asking the questions.

Fellow Athenians were so offended by his scrutiny of their political and moral convictions that they voted to execute him in 399 BC, and thereby made him an eternal martyr to free thought and moral inquiry.

Socrates bequeathed to humanity a duty to keep on thinking with tireless integrity, even when – or particularly when – definite answers are unlikely to be found.

6. How did those jokers end up in charge? Aristophanes the comedian

The most brilliantly inventive of comic playwrights, Aristophanes was happy to mock contemporary Athenian politicians of every stripe. He was also the first to coin a word for “innovation”.

His comedy Frogs of 405 BC, which featured the first representation of aerial warfare, contained heartfelt and unambiguous advice for his politically fickle fellow citizens: choose good leaders, or you will be stuck with bad ones.

7. Should we do the same as last time? Heraclitus the thinker

“You can’t step into the same river twice” is one of the statements of Heraclitus, in the early 5th Century BC – his point being that the ceaseless flow of the water makes for a different river each time you step into it.

A sharp pupil pointed out “in that case you can’t step into the same river once”, since if everything is constantly in flux, so is the identity of the individual stepping into the water.

While change is constant, different things change at different rates. In an environment of ceaseless flux, it is important to identify stable markers and to hold fast to them.

Bond markets, debt and bail-outs must feel like a similar challenge.

8. Tell me the worst, doctor. Hippocrates faces the facts

Western medicine goes back to Hippocrates, late 5th Century BC, and doctors still take the “Hippocratic oath”. An extensive set of ancient medical observations details how patients fared when they were treated by means such as diet and exercise.

What is exceptional in ancient thinking about health and disease is the clear-sighted recognition that doctors must observe accurately and record truthfully – even when patients die in the process.

Magical or wishful thinking cannot bring a cure. Only honest, exhaustive, empirical observation can hope to reveal what works and what does not.

9. Seizing the opportunity: Cleisthenes and democracy

The ancient Greeks were strongly aware of the power of opportunity – in Greek, kairos. Seizing the moment – in oratory, athletics, or battle – was admired and viewed as an indication of skill.

In many cases, such temporary innovation, born of the moment, will be more enduring, especially if successive innovators build on its principles.

When the tyrants of Athens were deposed at the end of the 6th Century, the leading citizen Cleisthenes needed to think up a constitution that would cut across existing structures of power and allegiance.

He devised with amazing rapidity a system of elective government in which all the citizens (the Greek word “demos” means “the people”) had a single vote – the world’s first democracy.

10. Big problem, long bath: Archimedes the inventor

Asked to measure whether a crown was made of pure gold, the Sicilian Greek Archimedes (3rd Century BC) puzzled over a solution.

The story goes that when he eventually took a bath and saw the water rising as he stepped in, it struck him that an object’s volume could be measured by the water it displaced – and when weighed, their relative density could be calculated.

He was so excited by his discovery that he jumped out of the bath and ran naked through Syracuse shouting “Eureka!” – Greek for “I’ve got it!”

Finding the solution to a knotty problem requires hard thinking, but the answer often comes only when you switch off – and take a bath.

Purloined Kouroi Recovered

Getty Images via ABC

Kouros-style marble statues, dated to the 6th century BC, are displayed on Tuesday at the National Archaeological Museum in central Athens.

The priceless artifacts were recovered by authorities three days ago during a sting operation in the Corinth prefecture of southern Greece, and specifically near the village of Klenia, which is located in vicinity of ancient Nemea. Two local men, identified as farmers, were charged with antiquities smuggling, while another is wanted.

The wanted man is allegedly the mastermind of the ring and has a previous criminal record with antiquities smuggling offenses.

According to reports, the two statues were dug up in the area eight months ago. The emblematic kouros, kouroi in the plural, were presented to the press during World Museum Day.

Speaking at the museum, Culture and Tourism Minister Pavlos Geroulanos and Greek Police (EL.AS) Chief Eleftherios Economou detailed the efforts made by authorities to apprehend the suspects as well as an ongoing probe into possible overseas buyers.

The sculptures, 1.82 and 1.78 meters tall, are considered unique works dating back to the late 6th century BC. According to archaeologists, the fact that makes them unique is that they are almost identical works sharing the same facial characteristics.

The damage observed on them, cut limbs and a head is recent and probably caused by excavation machinery, although archaeologists said the statues will be restored in full.

via Priceless ancient statues recovered by authorities.

Plenty of press piling up on this one (I’ll add some more later) … a thought that just occurred to me was that these are probably depicting Cleobis and Biton, no? One or both of them were victors at Nemea and statuary of them might be appropriately found in that vicinity …

Addenda: the Cleobis and Biton claim comes from a paper by M. Miller; see, however: Sophocles S. Markianos, “The Chronology of the Herodotean Solon “Historia: Zeitschrift für Alte Geschichte, Vol. 23, No. 1 (1st Qtr., 1974), pp. 1-20, esp. the discussion in note  66 (sorry! had 23 there before … reading on a small screen) (The Miller paper is referenced there as well).

More coverage:

Ancient Greek ‘Austerity’

Location of Pieria Prefecture in Greece
Image via Wikipedia

In the wake of all that Greek ‘stuff’ that’s been happening comes an interesting item on a Greek precedent for ‘austerity’:

Ancient Greeks at the end of the 4th century BC apparently went through a period of austerity and curtailment of wasteful spending similar to that Greece is facing today, according to finds in tombs in Ancient Pydna recently brought to light by excavations conducted by the 27th Ephorate of Prehistorical and Classical Antiquities.

A recovery excavation in a land plot destined for the installation of a photovoltaic unit in the northwestern section of the fortified settlement of Ancient Pydna (in the present-day prefecture of Pieria) revealed two clusters of tombs dating back to the 4th and 3rd century BC respectively. The unviolated tombs bear witness to the passage from the age of wealth to an era of economic tightness in a region of strategic importance that was the most significant commercial center of the Macedonian kingdom.

At the end of the 4th century BC, Athenian custodian Demetrios Falireus, appointed by King Cassander of Macedon, issues a decree prohibiting the erection of opulent tombs or funeral monuments, and recommending curtailment of extravagance in funerary rituals. Thus, the 4th century BC tombs are impressive and ornately built, while those of the 3rd century BC are smaller and more frugal, deputy supervisor of the Pydna excavations Manthos Bessios told ANA-MPA.

Thus, where the 4th century tombs contained offerings made of precious materials, such as gold jewelry, elaborate vases and ivory-plated beds, the 3rd century BC tombs were smaller, less elaborate, and contained instead offerings of more mundane materials, such as clay, although both clusters of tombs were of men, women and children of the affluent social class.

via 3rd century BC Greeks went through austerity period | ANA.

The ANA coverage is alone in citing Demetrius Phalereus as the author of the decree in question … but as far as I’m aware, Demetrius was in charge of Athens. Was Pydna also part of Demetrius’ decree? Or has something been lost in translation here?

More coverage:

Iris (Summer 2010) is Available!

The Summer 2010 edition of Iris is out this month, and the theme of this issue is crime and punishment in the ancient world. Contents include:

* Romans behaving badly: crime and punishment in Rome
* Iris chat: Andrew Irvine, author of ‘Socrates on Trial’
* CSI Athens: the crime scene in ancient Greece
* Rules and rulers: law making and breaking in ancient world
* What lies beneath: off the beaten track in Northamptonshire
* Redemption and revenge: the story of Philoctetes

It also includes articles and features on outreach projects, news and reviews, puzzles, a what’s on section, translations, fiction, advice and more.

Iris magazine is part of The Iris Project, an educational charity which promotes access to Classics in inner city state schools and deprived urban areas. The magazine is sent free to state schools which don’t yet offer Classical subjects, and this is funded solely by subscriptions and advertisements in the magazine.

You can order a subscription at http://www.irismagazine.org/order.htm or by emailing editor  AT irismagazine.org. For more information on how you can help support the outreach work of the project or if you would like to make a donation, please get in touch at with us through our website.

Stephen G. Miller on Nemea

He arrived in Greece in the ’70s as a young archaeologist aspiring to bring to light the kingdom of legendary Ulysses or, at least, the palaces of King Phillip of Macedon. Destiny, however, and the University of California at Berkeley, led Dr. Stephen G. Miller to Nemea in the Peloponnese, southern Greece, where he unearthed the ancient stadium of the Nemean Panhellenic Games.

In an interview with ANA-MPA’s “Greek Diaspora” magazine, Miller said the excavation was carried out very cautiously, and frequently with bare hands.

“The first time I visited Greece I felt a sense of national identity,” he said, adding: “I felt that I’ve always belonged here and will belong here forever.”

Dr. Miler recently spent nine months at the site, despite the fact that he is no longer the director of the excavations. Moreover, he has played a decisive role in the revival of the Nemean Games in their ancient form. Participating athletes are obligated to wear attire similar to those worn by their fellow athletes during antiquity.

“I believe that this re-enactment and revival of the ancient Nemean Games makes us all feel a part of this magnificent Greek history,” he says.

Referring to propaganda attempts following the breakup of the former Yugoslavia to cast doubt on the Hellenic nature of the ancient kingdom of Macedonia, he said the ancient Greeks of the 7th century BC considered the Macedons as fellow Hellenes, adding that “their Greek identity is obvious given that the inscriptions of the ancient Macedons were written in Greek”.

Furthermore, based on the archaeological findings, the Macedonians participated in the Games of Nemea as one of the Greek tribes and this is an indisputable fact.

Turning to another subject, he said the New Acropolis Museum is exceptional, and stressed that the British Museum no longer has any excuse to keep in London the Parthenon Marbles, “the epitome of ancient perfection, the cornerstone of Western civilisation, of beauty and symmetry.”

“If my hand was missing, wouldn’t I ask for it back? The answer is self-evident,” he continued.

He stated that isolated sculptures such as the Aphrodite of Milos (Venus di Milo) or the Nike of Samothrace would continue to be on display at the Louvre, or other such artifacts in museums throughout the world, in order to showcase the perfection of the ancient Greek spirit.

“But the Parthenon Marbles must be returned to their home, to be housed in the New Acropolis Museum, to complete their historic whole,” he added.

via Stephen G. Miller: From Berkeley to Ancient Nemea | ANA.