Barry Baldwin ~ Herodotean Hat-Trick

Reprinted with kind permission of Barry Baldwin himself, who years ago had to endure yours truly as a student. Errors in transcription naturally accrue to the latter.

Justin Marozzi’s splendid The Way of Herodotus, 2008 (potted version, Spectator, 21 Nov 2009) inspires updated expansion of my previous (FT179:16, 180:18) inspections. Further impetus from the Herodotus-loving character in Michael Ondaatje’s novel The English Patient, and the film thereof.

(Page references to Penguin translation; Herodotus (below) is abbreviated to H).

80-1: H’s claim, often doubted, that the Etruscans were descended from Lydia (Turkish Anatolia), is vindicated by geneticists’ studies of mitochondrial DNA from Tuscan residents and cattle.

214: H’s previously unattested story that Persian King Cambyses’s army was engulfed by a sandstorm as they picnicked in Egypt’s Western Desert is allegedly confirmed by the recent excavations of Italian archæologists Alfredo and Angelo Castiglioni (FT261:22-23).

246-7: H’s gold-digging Indian ants are explained by French anthropologist Michel Peissel as the Himalayan marmots that dwell in Pakistani Kashmir, from whose burrows the locals gather gold [FT97:9); cf. ER Bevan, ‘India in Early Greek & Latin Literature, in (ed. EJ Rapson) Ancient India (CUP, 1922), pp396-424 for rationalisation of similar Indian stories.

275: H accepts Aristeas’s poetic account of the Griffins that guarded Northern tribes’ gold (a commonplace in ancient literature and art – FT170:50-55), a tale now explained as folklore preserving the memory of some indigenous prehistoric beast.

332: A spring at Siwa is strangely cold by day, extraordinarily hot by midnight, a claim repeated by many authors down to Augustine (City of God, bk21 ch5), not realising that it was the desert air that underwent such dramatic temperature changes.

Herodotus would have enjoyed the local tourist come-on that Antony and Cleopatra bathed naked in it. Likewise, the modern claim that Queen Artemisia (she built the Mausoleum) sprinkled hubbie’s ashes into her wine before fucking, to have his dead body inside her.

221: Polycrates, tyrant of Samos, flung a valuable ring into the sea, only to discover it in the belly of a fish served at dinner. Fort (Books, p864) concedes: “It could be that once upon a time somebody did get a ring back fishwise.”

Herodotus himself frequently rationalises guides’ yarns. For instance, he (280-1) explained the supposed thick falls of feathers in Scythia as simply heavy snow – a winter in Canada would have reinforced this conclusion.

So far, so sober. FT readers’ thoughts on the following are invited:

112: Athene’s priestess at Pedasus thrice warned inhabitants of impending danger by growing a beard.

403: Many of the 20,000 Persian sailors wrecked at Athos were devoured by local sea monsters – perhaps ancestors of the famous modern monks.

241-2: Darius was elected King when his horse neighed at the spot it had previously mounted a mare, this portent enhanced by thunder and lightning from a clear sky.

536: Coming to loot the Temple at Delphi, Xerxes’s soldiers were frightened off by sacred weapons moving spontaneously, a strange cry from within the shrine, a hail of thunderbolts, and for good measure two crushingly huge boulders from Mount Parnassus.

Lots of sex in Herodotus: Nasamonian brides gang-banged before wedding (329); Babylonians fumigate their genitals after sex (121); Cheops’s prostitute daughter (179) builds the second Giza pyramid from bricks, one per customer – considering its size (447 feet high, 690 square footage), she was a busy girl.

“There is a fictional coloration to every body’s account of an ‘actual occurrence’, and there is at least the lurk somewhere of what is called the actual’ in everybody’s yarn” – Fort,  p864.

Classical Corner 144: Fortean Times 282 (December, 2011), p. 19.

Barry Baldwin ~ Golden Oldies

Reprinted with kind permission of Barry Baldwin himself, who years ago had to endure yours truly as a student. Errors in transcription naturally accrue to the latter.

“The wilder, luminous music in Plato…” – Fort, Books, p315.

Pre-Byzantine musical notation is scant, thus reconstruction is largely dancing in the dark. But there is enough literary evidence to get a sense of classical hit parades.

Homer (Iliad, bk9 v289) depicts Achilles singing of “men’s glorious deeds” to his rapt tent-mate Patroclus — sounds like middle-class student ‘revolutionary’ strumming endless choruses of ‘Guantanamara’. The Odyssey (bk12 v76) mentions “The Argo which all sing” — obviously  Number One on the Bronze Age charts

Aristophanes (dis)credits Euripides with a new dance hit, “The Shake”, well before The Swinging Blue Jeans. His audience may well have left the theatre whistling this play’s nonsense song “Tofhratothratophrat”  and frogs’ ‘Brekekekekoaxkoax — precursors of Right Said Fred and Mr Blobby (Frogs, 209-68, 1265-1314).

Plato, Republic, bk3 paras298-401 distinguishes between ‘good’ (martial Dorian) and ‘bad’ (decadent Ionian) music, perhaps the first demarcation line between classical and pop. His denunciation of the latter is along the lines every teenager has heard from the grown-ups.

British squaddies are famous for ‘Hitler he’s only got one ball’ and suchlike martial ditties. Their Roman counterparts were licensed to slag off their triumphing generals in songs that the general public probably picked up, Suetonius’s Life of Caesar (ch51) provides the best example:

“Home we bring the bald whoremonger/ Romans, lock your wives away /All the Roman gold you sent him/Went his Gallic tarts to pay – Robert Graves’s translation.

Horace (Satires, bk1 no2 vv1-3) maliciously portrays low-class Roman grief the death of the singer Tigellius – you almost expect the wreaths and teddy bears to start piling up at his door. This warbler had one high-class fan, Cicero  (Letters to his Friends, b7. no24), also an homonymous relative who also performed — Rome’s Oasis?

Juvenal (Satire vv63-5) thunders against girls and women who wet themselves while listening to their favourite stars, a damp combination of Roman Beatlemania and the ladies who used to throw their panties at Tom Jones (that green, green ass of home).

Trimalchio, the self-made millionaire host in Petronius’s comic novel Satyricon (ch73 para 3), assaults his guests’ ears by “murdering the songs of Menecrates”, the latter being a musical idol of the age (Suetonius, Nero, ch30) — this could well be the first record of a karaoke performance.  This may or may not (modern opinion varies sharply) a dig at Rome’s greatest (in his own estimation) star of them all. The singing-strumming emperor would be pleased at his 1960s reincarnation by the American group Nero and the Gladiators. Suetonius ‘s Life (ch-20-25) provides a detailed account, supplemented by Tacitus (Annals 14 ch 14-15, bk15 ch34) and pseudo-Lucian, Nero chs 6-10, this last asserting that he once cut out a rival performer’s vocal chords – this would have been effective scene in Espresso Bongo.

Nero began by coaching from pop maestro Terpnus. To strengthen this weak,  husky voice, he underwent a regimen of purgings and vomitings and lying with lead weights on his chest. For concerts, a voice coach was always in the dressing room with advice. Despite the presence of hired claques (nicknamed ‘Bees’, ‘Bricks’, and ‘Roof tiles’ — Roman roadies) to ensure endless Bravos and Encores, he was a nervous performer, especially if he noticed the more captive than captivated audience members who jumped from the theatre wall or feigned death to escape. His debut performance at Naples was enhanced by the theatre’s sudden collapse just after everyone had left. After exhausting Italian audiences, Nero embarked on a concert tour of the major Greek festivals winning 1808 first prizes – puts Michael Jackson’s Victory Tour in the shade. In return for the tactful verdicts, the Greeks were given a decade of tax exemptions — artistic stimulus packages. Apart from his famous ‘Burning of Troy’ intoned over the great Rome fire of AD 64 (Nero, of course, did not fiddle, and Stradivarius was not a Roman emperor), Nero’s versatile (he also fancied himself an ace charioteer) hits included ‘Canace in Labour’ (a Greek mythological heroine pregnant by her brother), ‘Orestes the Matricide’ (tactless choice for one who bumped off his own), and ‘Hercules Mad’, this last so well staged that a young soldier rushed the stage to lend aid.

Arius, eponymous provoker of the first major Christian doctrinal schism. preached his theological message in an elaborate song entitled ‘Thaleia’  (‘Banquet’), and was said by his ideological opponent Athanasius ( On the Synods ch15; cf Philostorgius, Ecclesiastical History bk2 ch3) to have performed rough songs for rough people in rough places, which sounds very much like an ancestor of London’s Roxy Club.

Arius as the progenitor of Rotten and Vicious? A piquant thought. The picture is completed by Arius’s fate, one shared by all the drummers of This is Spinal Tap, self-combustion sitting one Saturday in a Constantinople public jakes (FT 133:19),a destiny Nancy Spungeon would surely have envied.

I have no plans to adapt this column for public performance.

Classical Corner 142: Fortean Times 280 (October, 2011), p. 21.

Barry Baldwin ~ I Love Lucian

Reprinted with kind permission of Barry Baldwin himself, who years ago had to endure yours truly as a student. Errors in transcription naturally accrue to the latter.

(But not Lucy – American readers will understand)

Steve Moore’s splendid article [FT276: 46-51] is my cue to offer more on Lucian (below), the author whom Lord Macaulay dubbed “The Voltaire of Antiquity” and Samuel Bristoe in his 1711 English translation as “The Darling Pleasure of Men of sense in every Nation”.

The Suda, a Byzantine dictionary-cum-encyclopedia (c. AD 1000, cf. my “Aspects of The Suda”. Byzantion 86, 2006, pp11-31) obituarises thus:

“Lucian of Samosata nicknamed blasphemer or slanderer, or rather godless, because in his dialogues be ridiculed everything to do with divinity. Early in his career, this fellow was a lawyer in Syrian Antioch, but, after failing in this, he turned to writing and churned out reams of stuff. It is said that he was killed by dogs, because he aimed his savage pen at The Truth, for in his ‘Life of Peregrinus’ he attacked Christianity and slandered Christ himself, the scum. Consequently, he paid an appropriate penalty for his ranting in this life, but in the life to come he will inherit with Satan a share of the Everlasting Fire” – early example of the killer review.

Being a dogs’ dinner was also the alleged fate of another irreverent Greek, the tragedian Euripides, noted with fortean details of the fates of Aeschylus and Sappho by Virginia Woolf in her essay “On Not Knowing Greek”.

Various Byzantine commentators amassed a total of 39 scurrilous epithets against him (cf. my “The Scholiasts’ Lucian”, Helikon 20/21, 1980/81, pp219-34, for complete inventory and references), ranging from ‘atheist’ to ‘boy buggerer’ to ‘the thrice-accursed’, this list frequently used of the ancient Greeks and others by Fort himself (eg Books, pp55, 151)

His supposed blasphemies earned Lucian place in the Catholic Index of Forbidden Books also evoking a Jesuit Opera  Lucianus Samosatenus Infelix Atheus, produced on 3 September 1766 at Regensburg by the Lyceum und Gymnasium Societatis Jesu – there’s a copy in the British Library.

An image problem, then, in pious quarters. Mainly because of his pamphlet (comparable in viciousness to Alexander) aimed at Peregrinus Proteus. This worthy (cf. my Studies in Lucian, Toronto, 1973. passim), after a career in adultery, boy-fucking, strangling his sexagenarian father “for living too long” – shades of the Stones’ ” What a drag it is. getting old” in “Mother’s Little Helper” — fomenting Greek anti-Roman uprisings, exposing his cock Diogenes-style to a crowd (penis mightier than the sword?), and other sundry activities, he with maximum advance publicity burned himself alive as a postlude to the AD 165 Olympic Games – something like that would much enliven our modern ones, though not sure how you’d decide the winner.

Lucian devotes most space to Peregrinus’s duping of Christians – he is intriguingly said to have written some of their books — a sect mocked for worshipping “a sophist crucified in Palestine” (one pagan evidence for Jesus’s historicity . FT228.25) and as “morons who think they live forever”.

In his Philopseudes (Lover of Lies), Lucian pokes fun at tales of ghosts, poltergeists, and pest-death experiences. This is satire, but satire aimed at contemporary beliefs and claims, some of which might have appeared in Rome’s daily news gazette, the Acta Diurna,  known to have carried tabloid sensations; cf. my article in Chiron 9, 1979, pp.89 203, plus forthcoming FT column. One of his anecdotes herein is the direct ancestor of Faust’s Der Zauberlehring and thence in Disney’s Fantasia.

His True Story, albeit in Baron Munchausen vein, is an early, perhaps the earliest, science fiction novel — cf. my “Ancient SF?” [FT278-45-47) – along with philosophical dialogues which have his Cynic hero Menippus variously descending to Hades and ascending to Olympian heaven –  latter not the medal winners’ podium.

And, if by now I’ve put you to sleep, there’s in alarming awakener in this unique mention (Hippias, or the Bath,ch8) of a water-clock “that bellows like a bull”– I’ll stick to my retro Teasmade, while working out the Greek for “Wakey-Wakey”.

Classical Corner 141: Fortean Times 279 (September, 2011), p. 19.

Barry Baldwin ~ Top This

Reprinted with kind permission of Barry Baldwin himself, who years ago had to endure yours truly as a student. Errors in transcription naturally accrue to the latter.

(Partly inspired by an essay on modern literary suicides posted by Alastair McCartney, 24 September 2009, the Ready SteadyBook website. For other ancient self-toppings see FT154:21. Otherwise, Yolande Grisé, Le Suicide dans la Rome Antique (Paris, 1982) and Miriam Griffin in Greece & Rome 38, 1986, pp64-77)

The propriety of doing yourself in as much debated in Greece and Rome. Some big names condemned it, e.g.,  Aristotle (Nicomachean Ethics, bk5 para 1138a4f, and elsewhere, and Virgil (Aeneid, bk6 vv434-9). Others advocated or condoned, such as Plato Laws, bk9 paras 873C-D) and Seneca (Letters, no. 70). Ambivalences also attend. Socrates havers in the Platonic Phaedo (para 61C), the reading of which inspired one Cleombrotus  to leap to his doom (Callimachus, Greek Anthology.,bk7 no471) — trust this column will not thus affect any FT reader. Epicurus was said to have disapproved  (Seneca, The Happy Life, ch19), yet Diogenes Laertius  (Lives of the Philosophers. bk10 ch15) says he eventually committed suicide, as did his most famous Romain follower the poet Lucretius (the Eusebius-Jerome Chronicle for 54 BC), thereby giving Tennyson a lurid poem.

Suicide sometimes approached morbid cult status among eggheads. Ptolemy banned Hegesias’s enthusiastic lectures on it, fearing population decline (Cicero, Tusculan Disputations, bk1 ch83) – Auden’s denial that poetry influences anything does not apply here. Roman jurist Ulplan (Digest, bk 28 ch3 sect6 para7) deprecated the “self-glamorising suicides of certain philosophers”.

Ulpian was thinking chiefly of Stoics, whose founder Zeno (Diogenes Laertius, bk7 ch.28) had suicided by holding his breath. Seneca’s self-immolation (Tacitus, Annals, bk15 chs 61-4) was high on theatrics (right). Having severed his velns (along with wife Paulina, who was forcibly saved on Nero’s orders; Arthur and Cynthia Koestler), he chafed at the delay, vainly (after veinly) drank hemlock, then entered a sauna where he suffocated. His nephew, the poet Lucan, expired reciting verses on a dying soldier from his Pharsalia epic (Tacitus, Annals, bk15 ch72).

Stoics had no monopoly on this sort of thing. Some (Diogenes Laertius, bk8 chs 67-74-various versions competed) said poet scientist Empedocles (a proto-Darwin) jumped down Mt Etna to encourage belief in his divinity by vanishing — a theme for Matthew Arnold’s Empedocles on Etna. The Cynic Peregrinus (details in Lucian’s pamphlet), whose variegated career included writing some now unidentifiable Christian texts, barbecued himself at the Olympic Games of AD 165 — this would enliven our modern dreary spectacles.

Romans fall monotonously on their swords in Shakespeare.  Not that easy . Cato Plutarch’s biography ch70 para6) had to complete the job by manually digging out his own entrail.

Other public finales include Sappho’s jump from the Leucadian Rock (Greece’s Lovers Leap) through unrequited love, and the orator Demosthenes’s (Plutarch’s Life, chs 29-30) special poisoned pen or venom concealed in his belt — prefiguring modern cyanide capsules.

Some went out quietly, self-starvation the favourite method: Atticus (literary friend of Cicero – Nepos’s Life chs. 21-2) and poet Silius Italicus (Pliny, Letters, bk 3 no7 para1), both suffering from incurable diseases;  also historian Cremutius Cordus (Tacitus, Annals, bk4 ch 35 para5).

Petronius (Tacitus, Annals, bk 16 ch 19) tops the grand guignol parade, having his velns cut, sewn up, and re-cut during a sumptuous last supper, smashing a precious goblet coveted by Nero, and composing for that emperor a lubricious account of his debaucheries.

Though the was neither philosopher nor writer, I can’t leave out Pontia, possibly Petronius’s daughter, who after conviction for filicide opened her veins at a drunken party and danced herself to death — puts a new meaning to The Last Waltz.

“There are data of strange suicides that I shall pass over” -Fort, Books, p653, teasingly.


Classical Corner 139: Fortean Times 278 (August, 2011), p. 23.

Barry Baldwin ~ Duplicity: Ancient Literary Lapses

Reprinted with kind permission of the author himself, who years ago had to endure yours truly as a student. Errors in transcription accrue to the latter.

(Titular honours shared between Julia Roberts and Stephen Leacock. For a larger repertoire, see Joseph Rosenblum: Practice io Deceive: The Amazing Stories of Literary Forgery’s Most Notorious Practitioners, Oak Knoll Press, Delaware, 2000; also Melissa Katsoulis: Telling Tales: A History of Literary Hoaxes, Constable, 2009.)

“I can draw to line between imposture and self-deception” – Fort, Books, p670, apropos fraudulent claims (1924) to have discovered the lost books of Livy’s History, updated FT135:24.

Reflecting upon early records, Thucydides (History, bk1 ch13) warned against their easy fraudulence. On another side of the coin, Quintilian (Institutes of Oratory, bkl ch8) quipped that it was hard to argue against books that had never existed.

Thucydides himself may have been a victim. His Byzantine biographer Marcellinus (para43) says the final book eight of his History was concocted either by his daughter or his successor Xenophon, ruling out the former because a woman was incapable of such a thing – don’t doorstop me, feminists, I’m only the messenger.

Diogenes Lærtius (Lives of the Philosophers, bk5 para92) says Dionysius “The Renegade” composed a tragedy, Parthenopaeus, passing it off as by Sophocles. When the philosopher Heraclides fell for this, Dionysius directed him to the verses “An aged monkey is not easily caught;/ He’s caught indeed, but only after a time,” adding “Heraclides knows nothing of letters, and has no shame.” cf. Jim Schnabel: “Puck in the Laboratory: The Construction and Deconstruction of Hoaxlike Deceptions in Science,” Science, Technology & Human Values, 19, 1994, pp 459–92.

This prefigures the trick played by Bevis Hillier on rival Betjeman biographer AN Wilson, sending him a fake letter from Eve de Harben” (anagram for ‘Ever Boen Had”), containing the acrostic “AN Wilson is a shit.”

Politics as well as personalities played a part. His biographer Plutarch (ch10 para2) says Solon inserted verses into The Iliad to enhance Athens’s early history. X the Unknown knocked out fake diaries (remember the Hitler ones that took in Trevor Roper?) of Alexander the Great to prove him a drunk. The Donation of Constantine (eighth-century) were invented to justify papal earthly authority.

A diary of the Trojan War by ‘Dictys the Cretan’, supposedly found in Nero’s time, took in some later readers, as did its counterpart by ‘Dares the Phrygian’. Mary Byzantines swallowed the theological treatises purporting to be by the New Testament character, Dionysius the Areopagite.

The Augustan History, ostensibly a collection of post-Suetonian imperial biographies by six otherwise unknown writers under Diocletian and Constantine, is now widely regarded as the work of a late fourth-century single ‘rogue grammarian’ (Ronald Syme, author of sundry books and articles thereon).

No shortage of gullible takers. Lucian (Against the Ignorant Bibliophile, para4) mocks his victim for this, while his contemporary Galen had to write a pamphlet On His Own Books to separate literary wheat from chaff, having stumblod on forgeries being flogged in the Sandalarium (Rome’s Charing Cross Road).

Innumerable other examples could be adduced (see Katsoulis and Rosenblum above, also Anthony Grafton: Forgers and Critics: Creativity and Deception in Western Scholarship, Princeton UP, 1990). For easy examples, the 17th-century Nodot fake Petronius fragment, the Ossian business involving Satnuel Johnson, Clifford Irving’s ‘biography’ of Howard Hughes, the Hitler Diaries – like Mrs Thatcher, I want to go on and on…

Of course, if we believe John Ross’s Tacitus and Bracchiolini: The Annals Forged in the XVth Century (London, 1878; cf. “G.G: The Edinburgh Review, 148, 1878, PP-137–69), followed by the French Hochart (1890) and the German Weiner (1920), not to mention Jean Hardouin’s 1685 contention that virtually all Greek and Latin literature was forged by medieval Benedictines, then we are left with little except what the Germans so nicely call Schwindelliteratur”,

Classical Corner 138: Fortean Times 274 (Special, 2011), p. 19.