Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Hesiod -- Works and Days

It’s time we introduced Hesiod, the other notable Archaic Greek writer besides Homer.

Hesiod is less of a mythical figure than Homer because we actually know some things about  him. For example, we know that he was born and lived in Boetia and that his father hailed from Cyme in Asia Minor. Hesiod was raised in Ascra near Mount Helicon.
See below:

Herodotus says something about him – “Homer and Hesiod were the two poets who composed Theogonies and described the gods of the Greeks giving them all their appropriate titles, offices, and powers, and they lived, I believe not more than 400 years ago.” It is believed that Hesiod lived some time during the eighth century B.C.

Hesiod, like Homer, is known primarily for two long poems, his titles being Theogony and Works and Days. Theogony is one of the primary sources of Greek mythology, successful because it pulls many of the mythical stories together in a single narrative. One of the hallmarks of the work is that it asserts the authority of Zeus over all the Greek people rather than trying to establish a connection to a specific living dynastic line.

In this post we will concentrate on Works and Days, an 800 line poem which is not idyllic like Homer, but instead describes the moral life of a farmer. The setting for the poem is the dispute between Hesiod and his brother Perses over the brother’s trickery in obtaining the majority of the inheritance meant for both of them. Hesiod urges his brother to give up selfishness which will destroy his virtue and maybe his life. In the first 369 lines he moralizes by telling two stories: the evil of Pandora (1- 109) and the ages of man put on earth by Zeus and how violent men were punished (110-369).

But you, Perses, listen to right and do not foster violence; for violence is bad for a poor man. [215] Even the prosperous cannot easily bear its burden, but is weighed down under it when he has fallen into delusion. The better path is to go by on the other side towards Justice; for Justice beats Outrage when she comes at length to the end of the race. But only when he has suffered does the fool learn this.

But for those who practice violence and cruel deeds far-seeing Zeus, the son of Cronos, ordains a punishment.

But you, Perses, lay up these things within your heart and [275] listen now to right, ceasing altogether to think of violence. For the son of Cronos has ordained this law for men, that fishes and beasts and winged fowls should devour one another, for right is not in them; but to mankind he gave right which proves [280] far the best.

With verse 370, Hesiod transitions from his brother’s scolder to an agricultural consultant reminiscent of Cato’s De Agri Cultura. As he moves along the advice takes on the appearance of the Farmer’s Almanac.

[370] Let the wage promised to a friend be fixed; even with your brother smile—and get a witness; for trust and mistrust alike ruin men.

More hands mean more work and more increase. If your heart within you desires wealth, do these things and work with work upon work.

[405] First of all, get a house, and a woman and an ox for the plow—a slave woman and not a wife, to follow the oxen as well—and make everything ready at home, so that you may not have to ask of another, and he refuse you, and so, because you are in lack, the season pass by and your work come to nothing.

Then remember to hew your timber: it is the season for that work. Cut a mortar three feet wide and a pestle three cubits long, and an axle of seven feet, for it will do very well so; [425] but if you make it eight feet long, you can cut a beetle from it as well. Cut a felloe (wagon wheel) three spans across for a wagon of ten palms' width.

So soon as the time for plowing is proclaimed to men, then make haste, you and your slaves alike, [460] in wet and in dry, to plow in the season for plowing, and bestir yourself early in the morning so that your fields may be full. Plow in the spring; but fallow broken up in the summer will not belie your hopes.

But if you plow the good ground at the solstice, [480] you will reap sitting, grasping a thin crop in your hand, binding the sheaves awry, dust-covered, not glad at all; so you will bring all home in a basket and not many will admire you.

While it is yet midsummer command your slaves: “It will not always be summer, build barns.” Avoid the month Lenaeon, (end of January) wretched days, all of them fit to skin an ox, [505] and the frosts which are cruel when Boreas blows over the earth.

Then put on, as I bid you, a soft coat and a tunic to the feet to shield your body,—and you should weave thick woof on thin warp. In this clothe yourself so that your hair may keep still [540] and not bristle and stand upon end all over your body. Lace on your feet close-fitting boots of the hide of a slaughtered ox, thickly lined with felt inside. And when the season of frost comes on, stitch together skins of firstling kids with ox-sinew, to put over your back [545] and to keep off the rain.

Observe all this until the year is ended and you have nights and days of equal length, and Earth, the mother of all, bears again her various fruit. When Zeus has finished [565] sixty wintry days after the solstice, then the star Arcturus leaves the holy stream of Ocean and first rises brilliant at dusk

But when the artichoke flowers, and the chirping grass-hopper sits in a tree and pours down his shrill song continually from under his wings in the season of wearisome heat, [585] then goats are plumpest and wine sweetest; women are most wanton, but men are feeblest, because Sirius parches head and knees and the skin is dry through heat.

But when Orion and Sirius are come into mid-heaven, [610] and rosy-fingered Dawn sees Arcturus, then cut off all the grape-clusters, Perses, and bring them home. Show them to the sun ten days and ten nights: then cover them over for five, and on the sixth day draw off into vessels the gifts of joyful Dionysus.

Marry a maiden, so that you can teach her careful ways, [700] and especially marry one who lives near you, but look well about you and see that your marriage will not be a joke to your neighbors. For a man wins nothing better than a good wife, and, again, nothing worse than a bad one, a greedy soul who [705] roasts her man without fire, strong though he may be, and brings him to a raw old age.

Never put the ladle upon the mixing-bowl [745] at a wine party, for malignant ill-luck is attached to that. When you are building a house, do not leave it rough hewn, or a cawing crow may settle on it and croak. Take nothing to eat or to wash with from un-charmed pots, for in them there is mischief. [750] Do not let a boy of twelve years sit on things which may not be moved, for that is bad, and makes a man unmanly; nor yet a child of twelve months, for that has the same effect.

[780] Avoid the thirteenth of the waxing month for beginning to sow: yet it is the best day for setting plants. The sixth of the mid-month is very unfavorable for plants, but is good for the birth of males, though unfavorable for a girl either to be born at all or to be married.

The tenth is favorable for a male to be born; but, for a girl, the fourth day [795] of the mid-month. On that day tame sheep and shambling, horned oxen, and the sharp-fanged dog and hardy mules to the touch of the hand.

That man is happy and lucky in them who knows all these things and does his work without offending the deathless gods, who discerns the omens of birds and avoids transgression.

This is certainly a plebian story when compared to the epic battle at Troy or the lives of the gods. But we gain a view into what the everyman farmer is trying to do from day to day – survive in the battle with nature – and he feels like one of us.

Friday, May 13, 2011

The Volcanic Explosion at Santorini and the Destruction of Minoan Crete

The fall of Minoan Crete, and for that matter Mycenae, are a mystery. There is evidence of fire at both locations as if they were attacked and burned. Was this the so called Dorian invasion or something else?

An interesting piece to this puzzle is the eruption of the Santorini Volcano, which had a significant impact on the region, especially Crete. Its part in the destruction of the Minoan civilization is still being debated, so I’ll let you can form your own opinion after you’ve seen the facts.

Let’s start with the geography. The image below is a satellite view of Santorini (known as Thira in antiquity). 

The existing islands are actually the rim of the crater of an active volcano. The volcano collapsed during an eruption circa 1525 B.C. and has been re-building itself since that time. The center island, Nea Kaimene, is made up of new lava deposits as the volcano rebuilds its cone. The island now reaches about 400 feet above the surface of the Aegean. I have marked the location of known Minoan settlements on Santorini showing that Thira was a Cretan satellite during the Minoan Period.

The first of these settlements was accidentally discovered in 1859 when part of Thirasia was being mined for material to be used in the construction of the Suez Canal. As the construction teams worked to cut away layers of ash, they exposed the ancient stone walls.

The next photo is one I took when I was in Santorini last September. I’m standing on Thira Island and you can see Nea Kaimene at the left in the foreground and Thirasia Island behind it in the distance.

To get a sense of the magnitude of the explosion of the Santorini Volcano, we can use the August 27th, 1883 eruption of the volcano Cracatoa in Java as a guide. When that volcano exploded, windows were rattled at a distance of 100 miles. A column of ash rose seventeen miles into the atmosphere and there were a series of four violent explosions resulting in the collapse of the cone. The third of the four explosions was the loudest noise ever recorded on earth – heard on the Isle of Rodriquez  3,080 miles away. Wind-born ash fell over a very wide area, including 17 inches at Port Alfred South Africa, 4,500 miles away. We have excellent data on the spread of the ash cloud because of the records of ships in the area. For example, the ship Tweed recorded seven inches of ash on her decks at a distance of 370 miles. The Cracatoa eruption was accompanied by a Tsunami which generated fifty foot waves and devastated all coastal developments and towns in the region.

I have provided the Cracatoa story to make a point.

The Santorini eruption was significantly (4 times) larger than Cracatoa and was the largest volcanic eruption on earth in the last ten thousand years.

Crete is only 68 miles from Santorini.

Now we know that in the Late Minoan 1B period, circa 1500 B.C, the northern coast of Crete (east of Knossos) was wiped out. There is archaeological evidence of ash deposits in during this period and similar deposits have been found in the seabed of the Aegean. Similarly, we know that the Minoan settlements on Santorini were buried under ash in the Later Minoan 1A period, perhaps 10-20 years before the Cretan deposits. How can this be explained?

The evidence points to a two stage eruption: the first dropping pumice over a wide area and the second, years later, dropping ash as the volcano collapsed, causing a Tsunami and possibly an earthquake.

Some of the structural damage to Northern Crete could not have been caused by ash or Tsunami, only by an earthquake. How do we then reconcile the eruption with the fire damage? The burned remains pre-date the volcanic eruption because they were buried in the ash, so the Minoans must have been attacked previous to the eruption or an earthquake must have preceded the eruption and caused the fire. The ash probably made Northeastern Crete uninhabitable for a time because of the destruction of plant life.

The tsunami itself would have been an incredible force at 75 feet high, reaching Crete twenty minutes after the explosion on Santorini at a speed of 200 miles per hour. As far as the earthquake goes, we have too little data to positively relate a Santorini earthquake to the damage in Crete.

The image below shows distances from Santorini to various places in the region including Egypt. This gives a sense of the devastation that must have visited the surrounding islands.

We have to conclude that Crete was attacked and burned by some outside agency prior to the devastation caused by the Santorini Volcano, but the eruption probably destroyed any Minoan attempts to restart their civilization and opened the door for the Mycenaeans to occupy Crete and end the island civilization for good.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Comments on the Association of Ancient Historians Meeting

I was in Erie Pennsylvania last weekend attending the AAH annual meeting and I found it wonderful to be immersed in antiquity and away from the real world for a couple of days.

There were 90 in attendance including representatives from Britain, New Zealand, Finland, Germany, and Russia. The presentations were set up in panels with a moderator and three or four presenters on a particular topic. After the papers were given, the moderator would present his own views or comment on the other presentations. Questions then followed.

Recent graduates seemed uniformly nervous, often reading their papers without looking up. The more experienced ones were at ease with their subject and it showed.

My overall reaction (no surprise) was how specific the presentations were. Topics outside my areas of interest were hard to sit through. For example, The Euergetism of Piety: Palymira, Cult, and Greek Civic Benefaction.

Still there was much to be interested in.

One panel’s topic was New Directions in Warfare. Papers included, Moral Contexts of the Roman Siege and Centurions: Discipline, Violence, and Authority in the Roman Army.

Another, The First Punic War, featured Forgotten POWs in the First Punic War and The Claudii and the First Punic War.

One of the presenters serves as the historical advisor to the Starz series Spartacus, Blood and Sand and he had many interesting stories to tell about his battles with the script writers over historical accuracy. He lost most of the time because of production constraints, story flow, or the need for dramatic impact.

I never was able to locate the kind of history I write in this blog at the meeting – multi-disciplinary with presentation of large issues. These guys (and gals) live in History and Classics departments which stick to their topics (in minutia). The intent is toward new work, new research -- not trying to make a bigger picture out of what’s already known. In the end, I’m happy I don’t have to live with their constraints.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

History of the Greek Language

The Greek language is one of the oldest and most important of all languages, because it served as the vehicle for many important works of antiquity, including the Bible. The story of the development of Greek is fascinating because it took the solving of several mysteries to fill in the holes left by history. In the end, we have been able to unlock the puzzle that connects Greek with the symbolic languages of the Minoan period.

In 1900, the British archeologist, Sir Arthur Evans, was excavating Knossos Crete when he discovered clay tablets containing three different symbolic languages. The first type was similar to Egyptian hieroglyphs, the second more stylized than the Hieroglyphs and closer to what one might call a real language, and the third was even more advanced than the second, although akin to it in style and content.

Evans spent the rest of his life trying to decipher these three language forms without success, partly because he stuck to the stubborn notion that the all three were Cretan.

Later, in 1939, Carl Blegen came to Messenia in the western Peloponnese looking for Nestor’s castle, which had been described in the Iliad. The city he sought was ancient Pylos, north of the modern city of that name. Blegen began to dig on a hilltop, reasoning that to be the likely spot for a castle, and began to unearth significant artifacts, including clay tablets that matched the third type found in Knossos. Had this language traveled from the mainland to Crete or the reverse? Was this the Minoan language? The answers to these questions was revealed when similar tablets were found at Mycenae and Thebes. The language written on them, named Linear B, was Mycenaean! The presence of Linear B at Knossos  meant that the Mycenaeans had taken control of Knossos after the fall of the Minoan civilization, and brought their own language with them.

The two remaining tablet types from Knossos came to be called Minoan Hieroglyphic and Linear A.

The Minoan hieroglyphics look like this:

Linear A looks like this:

Michael Vetris, an English architect and classics scholar, spent 17 years trying to decipher Linear B before finally braking the code in 1951. Vetris discovered that the language contained both syllables and logograms. The syllables were used to form words, while the logograms were used to identify assets (objects of value) for accounting purposes. Linear B was shown to be a primitive form of the Greek language, by noting that the endings on words changed -- a primitive form of declension. Linear B is written by connecting syllables with hyphens using the same form as that of the tablets (a small vertical line was the syllable divider on them).

So de-do-me-na is translated as dedomena meaning contribution.

All of the tablets found with Linear B writing were part of an inventory and accounting system utilized for the regional king. They record numbers of domestic animals, crops, religious offerings, weapons, and manufactured goods.

When the Mycenaean Age ended during the 1200-1100 B.C. timeframe, Linear B writing was lost, but the spoken language was carried forward by the surviving Greeks. A new written form of the Greek language then developed around 750 B.C. when the Phoenician alphabet was adapted to Hellas.

Greek               Phoenician          English

Α α                   Aleph                      Alpha
Β β                        Beth                        Beta
Γ γ                    Gimel                      Gamma
Δ δ                   Daleth                     Delta
Ε ε                        He                           Epsilon
Ζ ζ                   Zayin                       Zeta
Η η                       Heth                        Eta
Θ θ                        Teth                        Theta
Ι ι                     Yodh                        Iota
Κ κ                       Kaph                       Kappa
Λ λ                   Lamedh                  Lambda
Μ μ                  Mem                       Mu
Ν ν                   Nun                        Nu
Ξ ξ                   Samekh                   Xi
Ο ο                   'Ayin                       Omicron
Π π                       Pe                            Pi
Ρ ρ                        Resh                       Rho
Σ σ ς                     Sin                          Sigma
Τ τ                    Taw                        Tau
Υ υ                        Waw                       Upsilon
Φ φ                       origin disputed       Phi
Χ χ                   origin disputed       Chi
Ψ ψ                  origin disputed        Psi
Ω ω                  'Ayin                       Omega

Let’s look at a word that exists in both Linear B and Greek.

The word qa-si-re-u in Linear B translates as quasileus or Basileus in Greek. In Mycenaean, quasileus means chief or head man; in Greek Basileus means king.

Linear B was used by the Mycenaean people from approximately 1500-1200 B.C. Linear A was used in Crete and some of the Greek Islands between the years 1800-1400 B.C, during the height of the Minoan Age. The hieroglyphs (1700-1600 B.C.) overlap the Linear A scripts in time, but it is unclear how they are related. Despite the efforts of many, the hieroglyphs and Linear A have never been deciphered.

One of the most interesting aspects of this story is the survival of the tablets themselves. There were approximately 1400 found at Pylos and 3000 at Knossos, although many of the later were broken pieces. At the time of the fall of the Mycenaean Age the structures at Pylos and Knossos were burned, probably by an invading army. The clay tablets would not have survived without the fire because the heat turned clay into ceramic, making them resistant to erosion. Ironically, an act of war had preserved history.

The tablets tell us much about the physical aspects of Mycenaean life: how much cattle was raised, what crops were grown, and what industry was present, but it’s a cold history, without emotion. They tell us nothing about the way people lived, what they believed, or how their political system operated.