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This site is aimed at similar people who are interested in archaeology, ancient history, philology and epigraphy. Interesting stories, archaeological tidbits and blogs will be put up as I partake in digs myself and come across things to share.

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An Introduction to Ajax the Polis Hero

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In Sophocles’ ‘Ajax’, Ajax possesses many qualities of the heroic ideal and some less desirable qualities as a hero.  Ajax is mostly known for his physical strength and military prowess as recounted by Odysseus in Sophocles after Ajax’s death.  Wilson assesses Sophocles’ Ajax as courageous and self reliant which can also be attributed to the heroic ideal, it can be evaluated from Sophocles that Ajax was a man of few words.  It can be observed from ‘Ajax’ 670-83 that though blunt in speech, Ajax had certain “clarity of insight” which also asserts wisdom of sorts that can be attributed to Ajax as a hero; he can be seen as the Sophoclean hero who has gained wisdom through experience.  However, Ajax can also be assesses as proud and boastful, also he becomes angry and unpredictable when he loses Achilles’ armour which are much less desirable qualities.

In order to assess Ajax’s feelings we must look at the definitions of shame and guilt.  The OED defines shame as “a feeling of humiliation or distress caused by awareness of wrong behaviour, loss or respect or esteem” and guilt as the recognition of wrongdoing.  An assessment of Ajax’s behaviour does indicate that he does feel shame and guilt in Sophocles, as agreed by Platzner and Harris. However, Wilson asserts that Ajax thinks primarily of himself and maintaining heroic status.  This suggests that it may not be shame and guilt that Ajax is feeling in the sense of feeling sorry for his actions, but arrogance in that he is first concerned with his image as a hero and his loss of honour, instead of the damage he did.  Ajax may have felt shame and guilt but this seems to be primarily concerning his loss of honour and heroic reputation.

 Ajax can be seen as similar to Homer’s Achilles.  Homer represents Achilles as larger that life, a superman type figure; this can also be said of Sophocles’ Ajax.  Pausanias describes how angry Ajax became at being dishonoured concerning Achilles’ armour; this concern for personal honour is also seen in Homer’s Achilles in his feeling relating to Agamemnon.  This suggests that both characters possess a great sense of glory and honour as their first and foremost priorities.  Both heroes also seem to have a great loyalty to one another as seen in black figure pottery of them playing games together. Another similarity is the idea of invulnerability as displayed in some texts.  There are also differences between the two characters.  Ajax in Sophocles refuses the gods for example where as Achilles has a sense of piety, Achilles unlike Ajax, choice the more honourable death.

 Plato explains the importance of every community to have a hero; Ajax can be assessed as a hero of the polis in the manner of him being the local hero and of family ancestry in both Salamis and Athens.  An assessment of these traits in relation to the importance before expressed by Plato, Ajax became a polis hero.  Hesiod explains how the Heroes of the Polis defended it.  This suggests that Ajax was a hero for the Polis because he would defend it, however, this can be seen as an example of mutual obligation between the people and the hero, Ajax was interested in honour, by honouring him, the people of the polis were thought to be protected. Ajax is a polis hero as he is a representation of defence and power that would help to protect it, Ajax’s strength and fighting ability is seen in Attic red figure pottery.

 

Bibliography

Adams, S.M, The “Ajax” of Sophocles, Phoenix, Vol 9 no 3 (1955) pp. 93-110

Evelyn, H.G, Hesiod, Works and Days, University Press, London, William Heinemann Ltd.159-169

Green, P. A Concise History of Ancient Greece, Thames and Hudson, London, pp. 44-47

Harris, S.L. and Platzner, G. (2001), Classical Mythology, Images and Insights, Third Edition, Mayfield Publishing, California, pp. 797

Homer, Iliad, Translated by A.T. Murray, 1924, Book 1

Jebb R.C, Sophocles 7, Cambridge (1907) xii

Kerenyi, C. (1997), The Heroes of the Greeks, Thames and Hudson, London, pp. 319-330

Knox, B.M.W, The Ajax of Sophocles, Harvard studies in classical philology (1961), Vol 65 pp.1-37

Millard A, Ancient Greece, Usborne Publishing, London, pp. 36

Oxford English Dictionary

Pausanias 1.35.3, Translated by W.H.S. Jones and H.A. Oremrod, Heinemann, London

R.G. Bury, Plato’s Laws, Harvard University Press, London, William Heinemann Ltd. 738d

Sophocles, Ajax, Translated by R.C. Trevelyan London, G. Allen and Unwin (1919)

Tzetze, On Lycrphon 455-461

Wilson J.P, The Hero and the City, University of Michigan Press, America, pp.60, 176, 179-185

Studying for History Exams and in General

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Studying for History Exams and in General.

 

It’s almost exam period again. So see this previous post for some techniques and tips for students everywhere.

And a funny video.

Where is Archaeology Blogging Going? #BlogArch

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This month is the last month of the Blogging Archaeology Carnival that you may have seen participation in on other blogs and websites as well as GraecoMuse. This month we are looking at where we plan to take our blogging or where we would like to go. 

“…where are you/we going with blogging or would you it like to go? I leave it up to you to choose between reflecting on you and your blog personally or all of archaeology blogging/bloggers or both. Tells us your goals for blogging. Or if you have none why that is? Tell us the direction that you hope blogging takes in archaeology.”

So where am I going with blogging about archaeology and ancient history? Well personally, as I’ve already mentioned in some of my previous posts, this to me is about productive procrastination. But I have realised that it is more than that and there are certainly things I’d like to achieve. One thing you often find with academics is a vast negativity about careers and research which can be very overwhelming especially for young academics or those who wish to expand into the field for any reason. I would like to show that there are those out there who are positive, who are willing to help and promote learning for all in a way that is fun and inspiring. This negativity is often called realism but seriously archaeology and academia is different for everyone and if you love it enough you will go far. You just need to be proactive. And if you don’t end up in academia that’s totally fine, you can still be part of this wonderful thing called history and do things that interest you and learn all that you want.

378320_10151488407322119_2116310759_nSo in brief I what to promote a more positive view of history and archaeology which it deserves.

I also realised that I want to help those who are a little less knowledgeable but want to be knowledgeable. To make resources more available to those outside or academia and students themselves. Especially in the US, I have found that students simply don’t know and haven’t been told how to find information. This blog has become more than just random posts and includes access to such things which people can access really easily. 

So access to resources for all! On the blog, on facebook, on twitter, everywhere!

Frankly though my main goal is a bit selfish. I have fun researching things and blogging is just fun. But in the end I would like blogging to continue what it has already started, making archaeology and ancient history more inclusive and more available to everyone. So many people are not aware of the value of archaeology and history and it’s about time they were. And I think bloggers and others are finally achieving this. For instance it is through people like us that word is got out about bad archaeological practices. For instance the horrible National Geographic Show Nazi Diggers which got pulled before it ever aired because of PUBLIC and professional outcries.

Archaeology and history are amazing. I also want to show that media dramatizations of events and the like are completely unnecessary. It seems the media these days really does thing its audience is bloody stupid and need all the stupid dramatizations and dramatic music and the like. History doesn’t need this, we don’t need this, their audiences don’t need this. Let history speak for itself. It is dramatic, it is amazing. 

Hopefully with the rise of blogging in archaeology and ancient history, someday people will realise it.

 

http://dougsarchaeology.wordpress.com/2013/11/05/blogging-archaeology/ 

Zeus and his Siblings: An Introduction

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IMGP0089We hear so much about Zeus and the Olympic Gods but who were they? It worries me sometimes when an archaeology student doesn’t know the basics so let’s begin! Hesiod explains that Zeus’s parents were Cronus and Rhea and his siblings included Hades, Poseidon, Hera, Hestia and Demeter.  Hesiod accounts that Zeus fathered seven lesser gods, but only two of these were with his wife/sister’s Hera.1  These children were Ares and Hephaestos, Athene, Artemis and Apollo, Hermes and Aphrodite. 2  Though accounts made by Hesiod are generally agreed on by Homer, Homer’s works do indicate that he believed that all gods originated from the Ocean.  Gantz explains that Homer implicates that Oceanos and Tethys were the actual parents of Zeus. 3

Platzner and Harris explain that Zeus and his offspring did represent aspects of human beings so were anthropomorphic.  Zeus represents the complexity of human sexuality/lust.4  Grimal also links Zeus to mortals with the idea of being subject to fate.  Zeus’s offspring can also be seen as displaying anthropomorphic qualities.  Aphrodite was the goddess of love, love being at the heart of all humans and something that all desire.5  All the gods maintained human characteristics, such as Artemis’ wildness and anger, and Athene’s strength and warrior like qualities.6  Though these gods represent the world around us such as the ocean and earth, they also include human characteristics which govern their actions.  So to a fair extent, Zeus and his offspring are anthropomorphic deities.

Kerenyi assesses that Zeus’s main attributes and Functions include his place as a supreme being, as father of the gods. 7  Zeus’s defeat of the Titans illustrates military prowess, strength and he is seen as a divine warrior. 8  Platzner and Harris assert that Zeus is a representation of the complexity of human sexuality in his lust, saying that “modern mythologists tallied no fewer than 115 different objects of Zeus’s affections”. 9 Zeus also was the “distributor of good and evil” 10, meaning that he has the function of maintaining the balance of the universe.  He is also attributed to being the divine patron of the Olympic Games.

The older Olympian gods are still seen as creator gods and are generally related to universal ideas.  They are more firmly intertwined with the universe as a whole and have greater and broader areas of influence.  For instance, Hesiod describes Zeus as maintainer of balance in the universe, as the overseer of all that is good and evil. 11  Hera retains the creative power of her parents, an attribute which controls life itself.  Poseidon is seen as the king of the sea, the ocean being a powerful force of nature.  The younger Olympian god’s attributes are more specific. An assessment of Homer and Hesiod’s works suggest that these gods were more linked to certain aspects of humanity. 12  For instance, Artemis as the goddess of midwifery and childbirth and Apollo being the communicator of the God’s will to humanity. 13

The nature myth theory acts as an explanation for the creation of life as the ancient Greeks knew it.  An assessment of this theory suggests that the functions of the Greek Pantheon were an extension of this explanation, further creating reason behind aspects of life by providing personifications of the world and of human characteristics.  The theory explains the attributes and functions of the Pantheon to a great extent as it is the base from which the ideas of life and creation emerge which are reflected in the Pantheon’s traits.

  1. Hesiod, Theogony and Works and Days , Hesiod; West, M. L. , (1988)
  2. Harris, S.L. and Platzner, G., Classical Mythology, Images and Insights, Fourth Edition, (California, 2004), p. 178
  3. Gantz, T., “The Olympians” in Early Greek Myth: A Guide to Literary and Artistic Sources (London, 1993)
  4. Harris, S.L. and Platzner, G., op.cit., p.182
  5. Grimal, P., Dictionary of Classical Mythology (London, 1991), p. 47
  6. ibid., p.60, 66
  7. Kerenyi, C. (1997), The Gods Of The Greeks (London, 1961), p. 91
  1. Hesiod, op.cit., Book 1
  2. Harris, S.L. and Platzner, G., op.cit., p.182
  3.     Grimal, P., op.cit., p. 454
  4.     Hesiod, op.cit, Book 1
  5.     Homer, Iliad, (Translated by A.T. Murray, 1924)
  6.     Harris, S.L. and Platzner, G., op.cit., 194

 

Bibliography

 

Gantz, T., “The Olympians” in Early Greek Myth: A Guide to Literary and Artistic Sources (London, 1993), pp. 57-119 .

Grimal, P., Dictionary of Classical Mythology (London, 1991), pp. 47, 60, 66, 453-456

Harris, S.L. and Platzner, G., Classical Mythology, Images and Insights, Fourth Edition, (California, 2004), p. 178, pp.177-198

Hesiod, Theogony and Works and Days , Hesiod; West, M. L. , (1988)

Homer, Iliad, (Translated by A.T. Murray, 1924), Book 1

Homer, Odyssey (translated by A.T.Murray, 1919)

Kerenyi, C. (1997), The Gods Of The Greeks (London, 1961) , pp. 91-116

Kirk, G. S., The Nature of Greek Myths (London, 1988), pp. 113-145

Pinsent, J. (1969), Myths and Legend Of Ancient Greece (London), pp. 148-152

Examples in Archaeology: The Multiple Burial in the Corner of the Hexamilion North of the Roman Bath (Gully Bastion)

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 When and where the feature was found

The multiple burial (Grave 2 Gully Bastion) is located in the Corner of the Hexamilion North of the Roman Bath at Isthmia.  The grave cut into what is assumed to be ground level at the time of the construction of the Hexamilion wall which is a hard white soil.  The grave itself was excavated in the 1970 season and was found under a later kiln or oven.

isthmia
Location of Grave 2 in corner of the Hexamilion wall,
Gregory, T.E., Isthmia: Vol.5, The Hexamilion and the Fortress (1993)

 Topelev = 41.08

Botelev = 40.18

 Brief Description

Located in a corner of the Hexamilion wall the Gully Bastion Grave Two has the interior face of the wall forming both the West and the North sides with the North side slightly undercutting the Hexamilion by around 20cm. The sides of the grave are lined with large tiles, these tiles also included in their number one stamped tile[1]  and another which being heavily smoke stained indicates that it may have originally been part of the nearby Roman Bath.[2] The interpretation of this tile as formerly of the Roman Bath is also suggested by how the smoke staining does not extend to the corners of the tile where it would have been resting on top of hypocausts.

 The grave is actually split into two irregular sections, North and South.  These two sections were split by a line of vertical tiles which ran West to East across the grave.  Within the north section was found two skeletons with their heads to the west and within the south compartment eight skeletons were uncovered also with their heads to the west.  There is some debate to who these individuals were, whether they were part of the garrison assigned to guard or build the Hexamilion or from some other associated part of society.

 Underneath the lowest body in the southern section a number of artefacts were found, namely an Athenian glazed lamp fragment which shares much of the characteristics of other lamps found in the Roman Bath (IPL 70-100)[3] which can be dated to the second half of the fourth century after Christ. There is debate over the function of the lamp in the grave.  Was it part of some religious ceremony for the deceased or simply just lost or for another reason yet to be thought of? Either way this lamp fragment allows for the best dating of the grave in relation to similar lamps found in the Roman Bath as mentioned previous.  Several other items were found in the same area as the lamp fragment including a coarse dark reddish bowl (IPR 70-26) which like the lamp can be dated to the second half of the fourth century.[4]  A bronze buckle (IM 70-32) and a bead on a wire (IM 70-54) were also excavated.

 Interpretation:

The north side of the grave undercutting the Hexamilion along with the relation between the lamp fragment found in the south section of the grave in relation to lamps found in Roman Bath dating to the fourth century suggest that the grave was contemporary with the construction of the Hexamilion.  This is further indicated by how the grave sides are the interior of the wall on two sides.  The graves construction can hence be placed either at the time the Hexamilion was being built or slightly after but before the kiln/oven was placed on top.

The position of the skeletons within the grave suggests primarily a Christian burial with the skeleton’s heads to the west. Christian burials of the period were generally orientated East-West with the head to the West end of the grave in order to mirror the layout of the Christian Church and the direction from which Christ is meant to come on judgement day.

References

Gregory, T.E., Isthmia: Vol.5, The Hexamilion and the Fortress (1993), pp.42-45

Notebooks:

                  Gully Bastion 1970 Vol.2 – pp.47-72 May 1970

                  Gully Bastion 1970 Vol.3

 Wohl ‘Deposit of Lamps’ No. 24

Fraser, P.M., Archaeology in Greece, 1970-71, Archaeological reports, No.17 (1970-71), p.9


[1] Gully Bastion Notebook Vol.2, p.47 and 53

[2] Ibid., p.49

[3] Ibid., p.55

[4] Ibid., p.68

The Persecution of Christians in Eusebius

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Koenig wrote that “Religious tolerance is something we should all practice; however, there has been more persecution and atrocities committed in the name of religion and religious freedom than anything else.” This post will look at the persecution of Christians through Eusebius’ Historica Ecclesiastica and other primary and secondary sources.  

It is difficult to apportion blame for this persecution, or whether individuals can even be held responsible, for truly the greatest contributors to persecution are those who do nothing when they have power to make a difference.  Eusebius like Lactantius implies that blame lies with Galerius though his implication does not directly name him; instead addressing Galerius as the long accepted “prime mover in the calamitous persecution.”[1] Lactantius agrees with this claim announcing that, due to his mother’s conceived hatred against the Christians for not following her ways, she instigated Galerius to destroy them.[2]  Why would Eusebius make the suggestion that Galerius was responsible? Barnes asserts that Eusebius was a prime supporter of Constantine and wrote in his reign.[3] His support for Constantine suggests that he could not offend those related to the Emperor, such as Constantius who reigned during the same period as Galerius as he would be indirectly offending Constantine himself.  It is also possible that Eusebius had a personal vendetta against Galerius, blaming him for the persecution of his fellow Christians.

Eusebius’ account also suggests that divine judgement was responsible for the persecution of Christians.  Eusebius expresses that “increasing freedom transformed our character to arrogance and sloth.”[4] Eusebius goes on to explain that divine judgement, God himself, gradually began to order things and the persecution began with the Christians in the army.  This indicates that Eusebius thought the Christians brought the persecution upon themselves for ignoring sins and abusing their own freedom. Eusebius’ suggestion of divine judgement further indicates that he was attempting to put a positive spin on the circumstances, making it appear that persecution was part of God’s ultimate plans, God being infallible. Barnes asserts that the purpose for this suggestion was to strengthen the belief that “God intervenes in history to ensure that the Christian Church shall prosper.”[5] This indicates that Eusebius may have even been suggesting that the persecution had its benefits in the prosperity of Christianity by laying the blame of the persecution in divine hands.

The account by Eusebius and other scholars shows that the persecution affected different areas with varying intensities, some greater than others. For instance, Eusebius describes the persecution at Thebais where people were subject to wild animals and other horrendous tortures.[6]  An analysis of Eusebius’ account of Thebais, Antioch and Nicomedia among others gives us the impression that though the Christians suffered horribly, there was always a faith that could not be taken from them, that there was a “most wonderful eagerness…in those who had put their trust in Christ.”[7] This gives us the impression that many Christians saw the persecution as a chance to prove their loyalty to God.

 The place where the persecutions appear to be carried out with the greatest intensity according to Eusebius and Lactantius was not a location in the geographical sense.  Eusebius highlights that the army was a key target and starting point of the persecution.[8]  An assessment of the army being central to the persecution suggests that there was an aim to strengthen the loyalty of military powers.  Eusebius also asserts that Nicomedia was a focus point.[9]  From this account we gain the impression that the intensity in Nicomedia was to primarily strengthen imperial powers. 

Other areas where we see an intensity of persecution as told by Eusebius were Antioch and Tyre.  ‘Historica Ecclesiastica’ recounts the “ordeal of the Egyptians who championed the faith so gloriously at Tyre.”[10]  Eusebius also indicates the great intensity in Egypt and Syria, stating that “we should feel equal admiration for those of them [Egyptians] who were martyred in their own country.”[11]  This statement also suggests that the persecution was wide spread.

Religion is more apparent in history than any other reason for persecution.  The persecution of the Christians under Diocletian is one such example where the persecution had varying consequences to the population and church even with the introduction of an edict of toleration.[12] The edict of toleration would have provided the majority of the Christians with a sense of relief.   Though, the sheer number of volunteer martyrs mentioned by Eusebius and Lactantius implicate that for the few the edict removed their chance to show their devotion.  Momigliano asserts that one such response is that some Christians voiced resentment in light of those who “survived in fear”[13] through the persecution rather than in physical pain. An analysis of this suggests that there may have been some resentment for the minority who appeared to seek the persecution.[14]  

The edict also created consequences in relation to ‘conscience’ and the unification of the church.  Chadwick assesses that there were many problems of conscience as a result of the persecution and that one such response was the rise of certain militant extremist groups such as the Donatists.[15]  The Donatists counted even the smallest of physical punishments as a worthy martyrdom and saw those who denied their faith, as traitors.  This suggests that militant ideas forced a widening division focusing on the legitimacy of certain clergy members. Chadwick assesses that these problems of ‘conscience’ in light of the persecution led to many adaptations of the law to meet particular cases. [16] 

Eusebius explains another ramification of the edict’s responses was that it set bishops against each other due to certain cleric’s militant ideologies.[17]  In achieving this, the church was further divided even though Constantine appears to be looking for a means of unification.  An evaluation of the responses to the edict suggest that it created a new though less severe bout of persecution, this time between the various factions of the Christian population.

The persecution of Christians under Diocletian is one example of the many religious conflicts throughout history.  Through primary and secondary sources we see where the blame of this persecution is aimed and that the persecution looked towards securing military and imperial power.  The persecution had several ramifications, showing us that even with an edict of toleration the church lay divided.  We do however see one continuing theme; that even in the face of extreme controversy and persecution, faith stood tall in the hearts of many even in the face of death.


[1]: Eusebius, Historica Ecclesiastica, Book 8 (Eusebius, The History of the Church, Penguin (London 1989), p.280 – Eusebius addresses Galerius as “the author of this edict” rather than by name.  Further reference to Galerius as the prime instigator of the persecution is found on p.281 as the man whom Eusebius wrote of on the previous page.

Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History was rewritten at least twice in light of the persecution, Eusebius wishing to leave a permanent account of the martyrs of his day

[2] Lactanius, De Mortibus Persecutorum,, 11-13 in Stevenson, J., A New Eusebius: Documents Illustrating the History of the Church to AD337 (London 1987), p.271 – Lactantius recounts the nature of Galerius’ mother in regards to the Christian religion not agreeing with her own and how she made sure her hatred continued in her equally superstitious son.

[3] Barnes, T.D., Constantine and Eusebius (London 1981), p.150

[4] Eusebius, op.cit, p.257

[5] Barnes, op.cit., p.162

[6] Eusebius, op.cit., p.265

[7] Ibid., p.265

[8] Ibid., p. 260 – primary attack on the army as an example as well as a means to secure military power on the part of the Arian persecutors

Lactanius, De Mortibus Persecutorum, 31.1-52.5 (Creed, J.L. (trans.), (Oxford, 1984), p.49

[9] Eusebius, op.cit., p.261 – significant centre of imperial power in the period, by securing the power of the imperial forces you secure more significantly the population which they rule over

[10] Ibid., p.264

[11] Ibid., p.264

[12] Barnes op.cit., p.159

[13] Momigliano, A., The Conflict Between Paganism and Christianity in the Fourth Century (Oxford, 1963), p.80

[14] Cameron, A., The Later Roman Empire: AD 284-430 (Glasgow. 1993), p.66 – provided a link to the apostles

[15] Chadwick, H., Studies on Ancient Christianity (Hampshire, 1984), p.XX47

[16] Ibid., p.XX47

[17] Eusebius, Vita Constantini, 22.1-61.1, Cameron, A. & Hall, S.G. (trans.), Eusebius, Life of Constantine (Oxford, 1999), p.115, book II 61.2-62

An Introduction to Lucian of Samosata: Ancient Science Fiction?

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Long before Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin set foot on the Moon in 1969, Lucian of Samosata and a band of heroes were travelling in outer space, encountering alien life-forms, interplanetary war and artificial intelligence. Lucian’s ‘True History’, and successive writings like Kepler’s ‘Somnium’, illustrates that dreams to reach the moon and beyond have long been in the minds of humanity. Lucian calls his work ‘The True History’. He claims it to be false and yet is there some truth after all? Where have Lucian’s claims come from? Is there mythological and ideological basis behind Lucian’s imagined journey? And has this fake ‘true’ history acted in any way to inspire humanity to make their dream of moon landing a reality?

At first appearance the True History appears almost absurd. Wine flavoured fish, talking trees, horse-vultures, sun and moon inhabitants at war, Ostrich-slingers, catapulting of huge radishes, winged acorns ridden by dog headed men, pirates sailing in giant pumpkins, cloud centaurs…etc. The story is certainly a bit different. After a war between the races of the Sun and Moon, on his subsequent trip to the underworld, he is put on trial for being alive in the land of the dead, and he meets a myriad of famous characters: the most famous of these being Homer. Lucian’s account claims the ‘true’ reason why Homer wrote the Iliad and the Odyssey…basically why not?…

Lucian’s view of truth

Lucian opens his history by stating that “Men interested in athletics and in the care of their bodies think not only of condition and exercise but also of relaxation in season; in fact, they consider this the principal part of training. In like manner students…after much reading of serious works may profitably relax their minds and put them in better trim for future labour.”

Lucian’s main concern is the relationship between truths and lies. He associates lying with the poets, historians and philosophers who ‘wrote many marvellous stories’, such as Ctesias of Cnidos and Iambulus. He asserts that his own work will allude to these ‘liars’ in an approach which is mocking and amusing. Lucian from the very start confesses that he draws satirically on the fashionable tales of the past, but what is more imperceptive is the way he draws off the very truth of human character to look to certain things and ask questions as many a scholar and poet which he draws on has done previous. Lucian admits that he himself has turned to lies but defends his choice to tell them by admitting that there is nothing worth telling that has happened to him in his monotonous life. He justifies this by claiming he will be far more reasonable in his lies that the others. Lucian continues on a tradition of illustrating the human condition through fiction.

In his declaration and following introduction, Lucian parodies the preliminary works of Socrates at the commencement of his apology and Ctesias who claimed to be telling the complete and unvarnished truth. Lucian uses authorial and narratorial voices and in doing so exemplifies the way in which the truth and fiction are constantly threatening to coalesce. So Lucian is looking to show how the falsehoods can be presented as truths. But in doing so he is still presenting us with human truths which are the foundation of natural thought processes and with cultural ideologies in his context.

The journey – reasons and significance

The journey in the ‘True History’ is indicative of imaginative expressions, expressions of our desire to give shape and being to change. Lucian uses his writing to explore topics such as generic transformation, the construction of both individual and communal subjects and the contemporary sense of an ending. Augustine of Hippo explains this concept of expression and need for explanation well in his sentiment that “it is the mind that looks for things that are being looked for by the yes or any other sense of the body (since it is the mind which directs the sense of the flesh); and it is the mind that finds what is being looked for when the sense comes upon it.” Lucian is essentially displaying a sense of self and a questioning of life’s questions by developing the enquiries already laid out for him in myths and history.

The trip across the sea

Lucian’s voyage across the sea illustrates the journey, the physical portraying imaginative and inner thought. The physical outward journey of the travellers and our narrator is used by Lucian to present the inward mental journey. In doing this Lucian is presenting truth as well as fiction. It echoes the works of Homer in the Odyssey as a parody of the search for philosophical truth. McKee attests that the sea voyage embodies many of the elements of the tradition of allegorical interpretation of the Odyssey. I argue that this attestation has merit as Odysseus’ wanderings are paralleled in the major stages of the voyage in Lucian through successive episodes of peril and discovery. In Lucian however they are in the form of the moon journey, the whale and the Land of the dead.

The Sea had become a natural association with the philosophical journey by the time Lucian penned his so-called history. It had also become a standard symbol for Homer and epic poetry. Romm makes a fair analysis of the the analogy between Homer and the Oceans concluding that it was an especially popular concept in the late first and second centuries AD, when Lucian of Samosata was composing his works. Many of Lucian’s contemporaries use the image of the sea journey in their works. Longinus, On the Sublime. 35.3-4[1] and Quintilian, Inst. Orat. 10.1.46 to name but a few.[2]

Lucian’s voyage also demonstrates myth being used to parallel narrative to create symbolic readings. Lucian draws on the images and cultural understandings of myths such as the labours of Heracles to display his truths and questions. Lucian starts by travelling through the pillars of Heracles in 1.5 and arriving at the island of the Vine-women where the voyagers find an inscription recording the visit of Heracles himself in 1.7. This voyage across the sea has also been suggested as another part of the trip to the underworld imagery where the voyage across the sea is reminiscence of the river Stix. And the three-headed horse vultures in 1.11 who guard the moon are parallel to the Cerberus character of myth. The Whale episode in Lucian 2.1 when the travellers are trapped inside and escape by setting fire to the innards, killing the whale is reminiscence again of Heracles’ adventures in the rescue of Hesione by killing the sea-monster from the inside. I argue that this is a paragon of the Heraclean ideal of virtue where fighting from inside represented battling against illusion and falsehood itself. The whale episode has also been compared to a form of ‘descent for knowledge’ which is paralleled in Plato’s allegory of the Cave and Plutarch’s cave of Trophonius in de Genio Socratis 590A-592D.[3] This is a kind of journey for truth which is a search for knowledge in relation to an escape from a prison-like space of darkness where one is isolated from reality. The episode ends when knowledge has been gained and the voyagers escape back into the real world. This entrapment with eventual resolution is a recurring theme in the True History which is seen throughout Graeco-Roman epic. It illustrates how the mind searches for truth through knowledge and experience but only at the presentation of an intellectual torpor of lack of genuine original knowledge.

Lucian also parallels Plato’s use of initiatory journeys of the mind and soul which comes from a long tradition of mythical episodes. Plato’s Republic, for instance, relates the myth of Er in 614B-621D where Er recounts how his soul left his body and travelled to a place of judgement where the souls of the judged were separated between the good and the bad. The good souls went right and up and the bad went left and down (614B-E). This episode in Plato parallels Lucian’s account of the Isles of the Blessed and the Wicked in 2.29-31.

The journey to the moon

The journey to the moon illustrates the natural instinct that humans have to look up and wonder. It is a caricature of the human imagination as Kerslake puts it. Lucian’s portrayal of the moon and the sun at war partly illustrates the disagreement between the various groups of philosophers. Again Lucian presents far more truth in his fiction. The trip to the moon parodies the soul’s journey to the beyond, an idea that has obsessed the human mind since the beginning of time. It could even be related to the boarding of Charon’s boat, if indeed the idea is that the voyagers are all ready dead as some scholars have suggested. I argue that Lucian may have been echoing the journey to the afterlife but that he was doing it in the sense of the wonderings of the living and hence the voyagers are not dead. Death does not work as well with later parts of the narrative where they cannot remain on the Island of the Blessed because they still live. The war between the sun and moon peoples also satirises the wars of the Homeric tales.

Trip to the underworld

The trip to the underworld in the True History further demonstrates Lucian’s wish to find truth and the human desire to learn what comes after death. The Isles of the Blessed and the Wicked are an imaging of the afterlife as well as a way of posing questions to the dead which stayed at the forefront of the intellectual mind in the period. McKee asserts that Lucian here parallels Plato’s dialogue Phaedo which described the final hours of Socrates’ life when he tells his followers that he does not fear death because the soul of a moral person ‘departs to the place where things are like itself – invisible, divine, immortal and wise; where on its arrival, happiness awaits it, and release from uncertainty and folly, from fears and gnawing desires, and all other human evils.’ This theme of thanatology illustrates Lucian’s conscious and unconscious need to explain the hereafter. It is a theme which still overwhelms the modern consciousness. We just need to look at modern media to see that it is a part of human nature to search for such truths. For example Philip K Dick’s novel Ubik which presents the afterlife as a strange and unnerving limbo, or Logan’s Run.

The underworld instalment includes the Isle of the Blessed, where the travellers are told that they cannot remain because they still live. Thus they can only stay seven months before they must leave and later be judged for their life’s actions upon their actual death. The episode shows what is termed by Holliday as, the ‘journey of the soul.’  This subsidiary journey of knowledge also includes the meeting of Homer and many of the philosophers whose writing’s and ideals Lucian is parodying in the True History. Ctesias and Herodotus also appear suffering punishments on the Isle of the Wicked because of their habit of lying so seen by Lucian.

The journey to discover the truth of life and death is continued in the concluding shipwreck episode of the True History. At the beginning of the narrative, Lucian tells us that the voyage’s goal is to reach the telos of the sea. Telos has many meanings in the Greek language but is also associated strongly with death and finality. The shipwreck episode has this sense of finality the equivalent of death and signifies the ending of the voyage and thus the end of this particular search for truth and knowledge.

Significance

We see that Lucian of Samosata was influenced by sources which he used to portray the ideas of truth and falsehood but have Lucian’s narratives stemmed from a deeper ideology and influenced later ones. We can see why many scholars have previously focused on how close Lucian’s True History is to modern day science fiction as science fiction is both symptomatic of cultural disruption and an expression of our desire for advancement and knowledge, using the future and the surreal to comment of the present and familiar as Lucian does.

The True History is also significant as it continues a theme very close to Lucian’s personal values. This theme is vastly seen in his earliest pieces such as his ‘Instructions for writing history’ where he bade the historian first to get sure facts, then tell them in due order, simply and without exaggeration or toil after fine writing. Lucian’s quest for the truth continues as he advises that the historian should aim not less at an enduring grace given by Nature to the Art that does not stray from her, and simply speaks the highest truth it knows. The dialogues of Lucian also aim at protecting against false opinions by bringing the satire of the likes of Aristophanes and the sarcasm of Menippus into disputations that sought to dispel false idols before setting upon discovering the truth.

You can see why it isn’t generally mentioned among the classics. The ‘True History’ seems a bit far-fetched for any audience. But if you want to read something different, written way back in the second century before the advent of Stargate, Mars Attacks and Independence Day, then I suggest you give it a look. And as we have seen, there is much truth behind Lucian’s fantasy. The basic structure of the True History deals with the concept of separate worlds between the living and the dead which is analogous with religious ideals. Parody and allusion are used constantly to create Utopian visions combining history and myth to answer questions of the mind and soul.[4][5] The True History is a means of commenting on the existing or potential conditions of Lucian’s field and society in fantastical settings. This is not so far removed from the political and social criticism of modern Science Fiction, for, in the ancient context especially; philosophy incorporates not only metaphysical, but also political and scientific concerns.


[1] Therefore even the whole world is not wide enough for the soaring range of human thought, but man’s mind often overleaps the very bounds of space. When we survey the whole circle of life, and see it abounding everywhere in what is elegant, grand, and beautiful, we learn at once what is the true end of man’s being. 4 And this is why nature prompts us to admire, not the clearness and usefulness of a little stream, but the Nile, the Danube, the Rhine, and far beyond all the Ocean.

[2] I shall, I think, be right in following the principle laid down by Aratus in the line, “With Jove let us begin,” and in beginning with Homer. He is like his own conception of Ocean,which he describes as the source of every stream and river; for he has given us a model and an inspiration for every department of eloquence.

[3] “He said that on descending into the oracular crypt his first experience was of profound darkness; next, after a prayer, he lay a long time not clearly aware whether he was awake or dreaming. It did seem to him, however, that at the same moment he heard a crash and was struck on the head, and that the sutures parted and released his soul. As it withdrew and mingled joyfully with air that was translucent and pure, it felt in the first place that now, after long being cramped it had again found relief, and was growing larger than before, spreading out like a sail; and next that it faintly caught the whir of something revolving overhead with a pleasant sound.  When he lifted his eyes the earth was nowhere to be seen; but he saw islands illuminated by one another with soft fire, taking on now one colour, now another, like a dye, as the light kept varying with their mutations.

[4] Utopian visions – utopian philosophical schemes, such as Plato, may also have been an important source for Lucian; these are parodied most extensively in the visit to the Isle of the Blessed, but some of the details of the life of the moonmen seem to be drawn from utopian visions – (ferguson (1975), Doyne Dawson (1992)

[5] Swanson (1975) suggests that Lucian’s VH ‘exposes philosophy, ostensibly a mode of inquiry into truth, as being patently effective, once it has come to a terminus in belief, only to the degree that it serves falsehood’ and proposes that the narrative can best be categorized as “philosophical science fiction”. P.230-231

 


 [A1]The man in the moone – Page 135

  books.google.com.auFrancis Godwin, William Poole – 2009 – 176 pages – Preview

Appendix B: From Lucian of Samosata, The True History [The ironist Lucian of Samosata (c. 125-c. But it is in Lucian’s True History that the moon is properly explored. The translation excerpted below is that of Francis Hickes,

Collected Ancient Greek Novels – Page 619

  books.google.com.auB. P. Reardon – 2008 – 827 pages – Preview

LUCIAN A TRUE STORY TRANSLATED BY BP REARDON Introduction The name of Lucian is well enough known, but usually one thinks of him not as a writer of romance but as a satirist. He did, however, write some works that we should characterize

Lucian and the Latins: humor and humanism in the early Renaissance – Page 187

  books.google.com.auDavid Marsh – 1998 – 232 pages – Preview

Lucian, True History. 1.3. For the Odyssey as “lying” model for Lucian. see Dane 1988, 70-73, “The Traveler’s Tale and the Lie”; for the Odyssey as the primordial hypertext of Western literature, see Genette 1982, 200-201. 20.

Lucian‘s True history

  books.google.com.auLucian (of Samosata.) – 1902 – 117 pages – Snippet view

LUCIAN: HIS TRUE HISTORY. EVEN as champions and wrestlers and such as practise the strength and agility of body are not only careful to retain a sound constitution of health, and to hold on their ordinary course of exercise,

Homosexuality in Greece and Rome: a sourcebook of basic documents – Page 471

  books.google.com.auThomas K. Hubbard – 2003 – 558 pages – Preview

10.11 Lucian, True History 1.22 The True History was a kind of science fiction novella, based on fantastic voyages to faraway places populated by strange races with unique customs. I should like to describe the novel and unusual things

Trips to the Moon – Page 33

  books.google.com.auLucian of Samosata – 2007 – 100 pages – Preview

Lucian’s True History, therefore, like the Duke of Buckingham’s Rehearsal, cannot be half so agreeable as when it was first written; there is, however, enough remaining to secure it from contempt. The vein of rich fancy, and wildness of

Utopian thought in the Western World – Page 103

  books.google.com.auFrank Edward Manuel, Fritzie Prigohzy Manuel – 1979 – 896 pages – Preview

Virtually all the major Utopian themes of the novelistic Greek Utopias are parodied in the True Story of Lucian. This second-century rhetorician and satirist had served as an administrator for the Romans in Egypt, and in the spirit of

The library of wit and humor, prose and poetry: selected from the …: Volume 4

  books.google.com.auAinsworth Rand Spofford, Rufus Edmonds Shapley – 1894 – Snippet view

THE TRUE HISTORY. (Translated by W. Tooke.) [LcciAN, a classic satirist and humorist of the first merit, Lucian was one of that class of men who do not readily embrace any form of religion — men whose sharp critical eyes see too

Lucian‘s science fiction novel, True histories: interpretation and … – Page 5

  books.google.com.auAristoula Georgiadou, David Henry James Larmour – 1998 – 254 pages – Preview

Allegory was well-established as a literary and philosophical technique before Lucian’s day and was current at the aim is to propagandize social change, imaginary voyages like Lucian’s The True History, Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels.