Odysseus in America?

Here’s some (ultimately vintage) nuttiness for your Black Friday standing-in-an-endless-line-at-the-checkout reading … from Greek Reporter:

The first researcher, who questioned the prevailing theory that Ulysses wandered the Mediterranean Sea for years before the gods allowed him to set foot once again on his beloved Ithaca, was an American historian from Chicago, Henriette Mertz.

In 1964, Mertz suggested with conviction in her book The Wine Dark Sea: Homer’s Heroic Epic of the North Atlantic that Ulysses, in many of the adventures described in Homer’s epic The Odyssey went outside the Mediterranean.

Based on her research and explorations in North America, Mertz proposed that Ulysses had reached the shores of North America with the help of the sea currents.

Mertz studied the speed of sea currents in conjunction with the time it took Ulysses to travel from one place to the other, reading carefully through Homer’s original descriptions and observations. She said she identified the exact locations Ulysses visited in the then unknown part of the world, which have lately revealed archaeological treasures dating back to the ancient Greek hero’s time.

Mertz took her research one step further and designed a detailed chart containing all of Ulysses’ journey stations after the fall of Troy and on his way back home. The map points out the island of the Sirens, the exact point on the American coastline that harbored the sea monsters Scylla and Charybdis, and the actual sea route Ulysses took to get back to Ithaca (assisted all the way by the powerful and swift current of the Gulf Stream).

The study of Siegfried Petrides in 1994, Odyssey – a Naval Epic of the Greeks in America, came to strengthen Mertz’s findings and proposals. According to Petrides, the Greeks have a naval history that starts from at least 7250 B.C. as proved by the findings in Frachthi cave in Argolida.

“… The uniqueness of the Greek geographical area, namely its location in the relatively small Aegean Sea with its hundreds of islands, allowed the prehistoric Greek inhabitants to develop the technology of sea communications very early. Over the years and with the accumulated experience of sea voyages, sailors from the Aegean became more brave and started sailing off to the North and the Black Sea, to the South in Egypt and Phoenicia, and to the West to Italy and the Iberian Peninsula.

“They discovered that the sea they had been sailing was everywhere surrounded by land and had only one exit. They did not hesitate to leave the familiar waters and travel to the North in order to get precious metals, and they did the same westwards as well” he wrote.

The Greek literature is rich in references of the geographical and astronomical knowledge of the ancient Greeks, which allowed them to use the constellations for directions. In his study, Petrides also presented data on the geographic knowledge of areas, such as the North (hyper north), the East (Asia), the Southern (Ethiopia, Cyrenaica, Egypt, the rest of North Africa) and nd the West (Italy, islands west of Italy – Sardinia, Corsica, Elba, Capri, Ischia – the Iberian Peninsula, France, north-east Europe, Britain and Ireland. These references can be easily found in Homer’s epic (Rhapsody 5, 273).

Petrides’ said his long experience as a sailor and his study findings allowed him to confirm and correct wherever necessary the conclusion of Mertz providing extra details on the wind direction, sea routes, description of the islands etc. He suggests in his book, unlike Mertz, that the ancient Greek sailors did not rely on mere chance to have reached the American shores but owned fast and flexible vessels that could easily navigate through the Atlantic. They also knew perfectly well how to take advantage of both the sails and the rows, which enabled them to cover long distances.

Henriette Mertz was one of those people who figured everyone, more or less, had been to America before Columbus … Petrides’ work is a couple of decades old … why is Greek Reporter wasting valuable electrons bringing this stuff up again for a new generation?

CJ Online Review: Hodkinson and Macgregor Morris, Sparta in Modern Thought

posted with permission:

Sparta in Modern Thought: Politics, History and Culture. Edited by Stephen Hodkinson and Ian Macgregor Morris. Swansea and London: The Classical Press of Wales, 2012. Distributed in the United States by David Brown Book Company. Pp. xxvi + 462. £60.00/$120.00. ISBN 978-1-905125-47-0.

Reviewed by Tim Rood, St. Hugh’s College, Oxford

This fine collection of essays on the reception of Sparta adds greater depth and detail to the picture established by Elizabeth Rawson’s remarkable 1969 monograph The Spartan Tradition in European Thought and subsequently refined by further research, in particular on the eighteenth-century image of Sparta (e.g. in Chantal Grell’s extensive Le dix-huitième siècle et l’antiquité en France, 1680–1789 (1995)).

One way in which this volume takes Rawson’s research further is by covering the period since her work was published. Rawson herself concluded with the reflection that it would be inappropriate to draw any conclusion from the history of the Spartan tradition, “for the reason that it has surely not yet come to an end.” The final three chapters (forming Part IV: Cold War Politics and Contemporary Popular Culture) confirm that she was right—while also showing that the Spartan tradition has taken turns of which she could not have dreamt. Gideon Nisbet’s typically lively contribution, “‘This is Cake-Town!’: 300 (2006) and the Death of Allegory,” discusses a number of receptions of the film 300 published on the YouTube website (the chapter follows nicely from Lynn S. Fotheringham’s discussion of the original graphic novel 300). Nisbet defines these modern responses through the trope of negation: “There is no Cold War here, no Nazis, no socialists, no paladins or public-school mottos. Unsurprisingly, no-one is quoting Plutarch”—or reading Rawson, by the sound of it. Rather, YouTube is engagingly figured as a new Sparta where actions speak louder than words.

There is plenty of Cold War, by contrast, in Stephen Hodkinson’s meticulous and fascinating survey of “Sparta and the Soviet Union in the U.S. Cold War Foreign Policy and Intelligence Analysis.” Hodkinson argues here that there is no evidence before the late 1960s for specific analogies between Sparta and the Soviet Union in U.S. foreign policy discussions (as opposed to much looser generic perceptions of the contemporary relevance of the Peloponnesian War). A great strength of his analysis is the way he looks at the relations between practices in the U.S. intelligence service and academia (with a particular focus on the influence of Donald Kagan’s teaching at Yale). Hodkinson’s discussion of the historical shifts in the use of the Sparta/Soviet analogy is compelling: provocatively he suggests that W. R. Connor’s recollection (in the introduction to his 1984 book on Thucydides) of readings of the Peloponnesian War in the 1950s in which “totalitarian, land-based” Sparta was made to stand for the Soviet Union reflects better the terms of the analogy at the time when Connor himself was writing. It will be interesting to see if Hodkinson’s picture is modified by investigation of any archival material that Hodkinson’s extensive research has not uncovered.

The countries and periods that receive greatest attention in this volume are Enlightenment to Post-Revolutionary France (Part II) and Germany: From Literary Hellenism to National Socialism (Part III). These sections contain valuable essays on themes already treated more briefly by Rawson, but they are slightly marred by a certain amount of repetition that could have been avoided with stronger editorial guidance. The degree of repetition is less of a problem in Part III, which in addition to a broad survey of “The Spartan Tradition in Germany, 1870–1945” (Volker Losemann) has essays focusing on Hölderlin (Uta Degner) and Nazi education (Helen Roche); rich material here includes discussion of “Sparta” as a brand-name for German sun-tan lotions (a topic more at home in the field of Classical Reception as currently configured than in the study of the Classical Tradition as generally practiced in Rawson’s time). In Part II, by contrast, Haydn Mason’s survey of “Sparta and the French Enlightenment” picks up some themes from the second essay in Part I, Kostas Vlassopoulos’ excellent study of “Sparta and Rome in Early Modern Thought” while also covering some of the same ground as Michael Winston’s “Spartans and Savages” and Paul Christesen’s “Treatments of Spartan Land Tenure in Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century France.” This element of repetition is a shame, as these last two are valuable essays which do also contain extensive discussion of new material. Christesen’s concluding focus on the political context of nineteenth-century French scholarship on Spartan land-tenure is particularly interesting given, as he notes, its continuing presence in modern scholarship.

The most substantial contribution to our knowledge of periods covered by Rawson is found in Ian Macgregor Morris’ illuminating discussion of “Lycurgus in Late Medieval Political Culture.” Rawson includes a brief chapter on “The Middle Ages” followed by a chapter entitled “Sparta Rediviva.” Readers of Macgregor Morris’ detailed chapter will wonder whether rumors of Sparta’s death were exaggerated (Macgregor Morris also promises a monograph on Sparta in medieval political culture). This is not to criticize Rawson’s pioneering work: after all, the uses of antiquity in the Middle Ages is still a rather marginal area in the field of Classical Reception. (Indeed, Macgregor Morris’ chapter seems rather an interloper in a volume on Sparta in modern thought.)

This book makes an important contribution, then, to the study of Spartan reception, particularly in relation to political thought. The one criticism I would have (apart from the slight repetition noted above) is that the fragmented nature of the contributions means that the background to two important shifts remains under-developed: the shift from the Sparta–Rome polarity discussed by Vlassopoulos to the dominant Sparta–Athens polarity and the (partial but related) shift from Plutarch to Thucydides as lens for viewing the Spartan mirage.

Classical Words of the Day