Wednesday, November 26, 2003

Herodotus and Historical Accuracy

We have been discussing the historical accuracy of many classical sources on my Imperial Rome discussion group and it reminded me of the problems with some of the numbers Herodotus quotes in his "Histories".

Even though Herodotus is often referred to as the father of history, I know many historians are skeptical about much of his narrative. One issue that seems to draw their incredulity is Herodotus’ statement of the size of Xerxes invasion force. Herodotus relates that Xerxes counted his troop strength by having 10,000 men pack themselves tightly into a circle. A circle was then drawn around them and successive groups of men were then herded into the circle until the entire army was counted. Herodotus reports the total at over one million. Historians say this would have been impossible.

Later, Herodotus recounts a conversation between Xerxes and Demerotus, the exiled Spartan king, about the fierceness of the resistance the Lacedaemonians would present. Xerxes exclaims that even if the Lacedaemonians fielded 5000 men, the Persians would still outnumber them 1,000 to 1. A little quick math returns the total this time of 5 million.

As the Persians marched through the countryside, Greek kings that had provided the token submission of earth and water to the great king were asked to feast the army for one night as the army passed through their country. Herodotus reports that the kings each had to expend a total of 400 talents of silver to provide enough food for the army and golden dinnerware for the king. He reported that each client king had to collect grain and livestock to feed this massive host. Now, if you knew the average cost of grain, goats, chickens, etc., you could probably devise still a third number based on a man’s average food consumption for a meal.

Monday, November 24, 2003

Was the Golden Fleece Dyed with Saffron Crocuses?

This article was intended to offer a gardening tip but I was intrigued by this reference to the Golden Fleece.

"Back then, an expensive, golden dye was made from saffron crocuses, and sheep fleeces were often dyed to make them more valuable. "

Sean Connery Eyes Role As Cyrus the Great

"The £50 million film, Cyrus, is being financed by a new London-based company called Chayaha, which is co-owned by Marinah Embiricos, a relative of the Aga Khan and a member of the Greek shipping family that controls the Embiricos Group."

"The screenplay is based on the extraordinary life of Cyrus the Great, who lived from 580-529 BC and founded the first Achaemenian empire in Persia."

"He was a notable warrior but his fame rests upon his decisions to free all slaves in the empire, to tolerate all religions, to allow exiled Jews in Babylon to return to Jerusalem and to order his governors to treat the people as if they were their children."

"No star roles have been cast but Sean Connery is being courted to play Cyrus and Angelina Jolie to be his empress."

Clooney the new Leonidas?

I was particularly interested to note that George Clooney may be the next Leonidas. I’ve heard rumors about Hollywood making “Gates of Fire” but hadn’t seen anything about it for months. Maybe there is hope for it yet. I was also interested to see that Essex’s book “Kleopatra” is being considered for the screenplay treatment as well. My sister bought me the book a couple of Christmases ago but it is still in my “to read” pile.

"Among other epics in the pipeline, George Clooney might lead the Spartans in battle in a movie based on the Battle of Thermopylae; and Vin Diesel is set to play Hannibal in a film by Ridley Scott. However, the biggest epic of them all might just be Kleopatra, which is based on a two-part novel by Karen Essex. "

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

5,000-year-old burials discovered in Jordan

In the first of a series of articles that the Lebanaon newspaper, The Daily Star, will publish on an ongoing basis with the cooperation of the American Schools of Oriental Research, the leading North American scholarly body for the study of the ancient Middle East, Professor Larry G. Herr of Canadian University College describes ancient burials found in one of the few preserved dolmens in Jordan.

"Dolmens can be found throughout the Mediterranean and Europe, dispersed between sites ranging from Wales to Tunisia. Until recently, thousands existed in concentrated groupings in Jordan. Constructed with large boulders, the dolmens often exceeded 3 meters in size. Sadly, modern construction activity in towns and villages has destroyed many of the dolmen fields, leaving few behind."

"There are several types of dolmens, all of them bearing similar features. The most common type found in the Middle East are composed of two large rectangular blocks standing upright and parallel to each other, about a meter apart. Smaller stones were placed at the end, with a large stone capping the construction. The ends of the capstone often overlapped the edges of the walls. Archaeologists rarely find more than the two parallel side stones and the capstone, sometimes collapsed."

"Because the ancients built dolmens above ground, forces of nature have largely swept away their contents, leaving archaeologists to debate when and how they were used. The most widely accepted theory is that they were used as tombs, but others have suggested that were employed as stables for small flocks or storage caches."

"Thanks to the Umayri discovery, archaeologists have been able to suggest that the structures were indeed used for burials and that they date to the late fourth millennium BC."

Monday, November 17, 2003

Aeschylus' Achilles in Cyprus to be performed after 2050 years

"Cyprus's national theater company, Thoc, plans a modern-day world premiere of Aeschylus's Trojan War story Achilles in Cyprus next summer. The play will then be performed in Cyprus and Greece.
Scholars had believed the trilogy to be lost forever when the Library of Alexandria burned to ashes in 48 BC.

'But in the last decades archaeologists found mummies in Egypt which were stuffed with papyrus, containing excerpts of the original plays of Aeschylus,' Thoc director Andy Bargilly told Reuters.
Drawing on references to the trilogy by other ancient playwrights and the recently discovered papyrus texts, Thoc and researchers believe they have the closest possible adaptation of Aeschylus's masterpiece. "

Friday, November 14, 2003

'The Centaur's Smile': Finding the Beast Within, and Portraying It Without

"The centaur, the mythic being with the body of a horse and the head and torso of a man, is the star of a new exhibit at the Princeton University Art Museum, but satyrs (part horse, rather than goat, in early Greek art), sphinxes (winged lions with human heads), sirens (half bird) and gorgons (who had serpentine hair) also have leading roles. Those we know by their proper names also have cameo parts, like the bull-headed Minotaur, the goat-man Pan and Typhon, the embodiment of wind and fire, who had wings and a serpent's lower body.

"Given how vividly composite beings have been represented in art and literature over the centuries and how they continue to thrive in our imaginations, some viewers may be disappointed at first by how fragmentary and modest much of the material here is. The exhibition focuses on the years 750 to 450 B.C., centuries in which art evolved from a primitive geometric style to representations anticipating the heroic human image-making of the Classical era."

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Bactrian treasure saved by security guard

"The fate of the Golden Hoard of Bactria, an ancient collection of 20,000 artefacts, has been the subject of fantastic rumours: that it was stolen by Soviet troops or looted by the Taliban to be sold through antique dealers in Pakistan to fund a terrorist network.
But the treasure remained safe largely due to the efforts of one man: Askerzai, who has been guardian of the vaults for 30 years. Mr Askerzai, 50, an employee of the central bank, is one of the few people in history to have seen the 20,000 gold objects. 'It's the best heritage of our country,' he said."

"The coins, medallions, plates, and necklaces set with precious stones were excavated in 1978 in modern Balkh province, northern Afghanistan, which was known as Bactria when Alexander the Great conquered the country."

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Ancient Evidence Points to A Real Jason and the Argonauts

I saw an interesting program Sunday night on the Discovery Channel about the real Jason and the Argonauts. Apparently, Greek archaeologists have excavated what they think is the site of Jason’s city. Although ancient Colchis is believed to have had timber forts that have not survived to the present day, archaeologists excavating an early Greek colony dated to several centuries after the mythical journey in Georgia (ancient Colchis), speculate that it must have been preceeded by a much earlier interaction between the cultures that would coincide with the period that Jason’s quest supposedly took place.

The program also talked about the legend’s reference to the women of Limnos being shunned by their men as perhaps a storyteller’s embellishment of a description of the industry of the island. Women there rendered purple dye from Murex snails. The smell of the process resembles rotten garlic and probably would have permeated the people’s clothes that were employed in its production. Of course they also mentioned the ancient practice of using sheepskins in the gold mining process in Georgia as well. So the Golden Fleece itself was probably a historical reality as well.

See also: http://www.theoi.com/Tartaros/Kholkian.html