Saturday, December 28, 2013

Reasoning: Greek History Review #11: Approaches to Greek Prehisotry

One  of the things that makes grad school challenging is that the classes offered have little or nothing to do with the qualification exams that we have to pass in order to advance to candidacy. As such, the exams are a really good excuse for procrastinating on my other work, because there is never a dedicated time to study for them. After studying for it periodically when my other work was getting me down, I decided that I will probably attempt my Greek History survey exam in a few months time,

Thus, since I finished my final paper, I've been studying Greek history (insofar as the holidays have allowed),  As I've been reading the books on my list (and listening to various lectures while I walk), I've notice a number of interesting and bizarre things about general Greek history (and by this I mean both Greek history as written for students or popular Greek history written for a mass audience).

  • The last twenty years have radically changed the way in which Greek history is presented to a general audience, I make this claim from a number of different encounters with texts and I'll illustrate it with a few examples. 
    • Back in 1992, Jeffrey McInerney, currently a member of the Art and Archaeology Group at Penn and the chair of the Classical studies department  gave a series of popular lectures through the "Great Courses" series put out by The Teaching Company. While the lectures were never going to be cutting edge, I was surprised at his complete disregard for certain archaeological innovations. Even though he has himself dug at Crete, he argues that we can't ever really know anything about the Minoans. Odder still, he waxes poetic about his admiration of Arthur Evans [1].
    • The entirety of the Dark Age chapter in the 1999 edition of is based on the evidence of Homer instead of archaeology. To provide one of any number of examples, consider the foreign relations section (Pomeroy et al [1999] 59-60): "in the Dark Age, 'diplomatic' relations between one chiefdom and another were conducted by the chiefs themselves for by a trusted companion. As part of his training, Odysseus was sent at a young age to Messenia by his 'father and other elders'  on an embassy to collect a 'debt' owed to the Ithacans. This was a serious affair, for the Messenians had raided Ithaca and stolen three hundred sheep and their shepherds. If negotiations failed, Ithacans would stage a revenge raid, and the bad feelings would likley escalate into an all-out war" (Pomeroy et al [2012] 59).
  • However, In the 2012 edition of Pomeroy et al's Ancient Greece: A Political, Social, and Cultural History, the authors still present archaeology from the 60s, specifically the survey archaeology used to find settlements from "Dark Age," as a revolutionary tactic (Pomeroy et al [2012] 57).
  • Also, something I've noticed about the presentation of ancient history in general (if I end up reviewing Michael Crawford's The Roman Republic, I will have plenty to say on this subject) is that the authors from pre-1995 (although I'm still it still happens more recently) tend to do a lot of moralizing about the history they are presenting. McInerney makes the hilarious claim that the Spartans' fall was partially due to their moral bankruptcy which was shown through their willingness to take their nearby neighboring Greeks (the Messenians) as slaves. I couldn't believe it when i heard this argument. First off, doing that kind of moralizing in a history text seems inexcusable to me. But second, seriously? The Greeks all took other Greeks as slaves-- mostly prisoners of war. Although Sparta's enslavement was more systematic it was essentially the same principle; the Messenians lost two major battles to the Spartans so they were essentially prisoners of war. I remember reading about a similar thing in the scholarship of the women in the Late Republic and Early Empire is the same.
Anyway, those are my thoughts. I will be commenting on Robin Osborne's Greece in the Making 1200-479 BC shortly as well, so stay tuned in the new year.

Happy Holidays, everyone!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Appetitive: Thoughts on the Audio Aeneid

I have a confession to make: I've never been able to get all the way through the Aeneid-- until a few months ago.

I was assigned the Mandlebaum translation in my first year of undergraduate study. I think I managed to get through Book 6 before my interest entirely ebbed away (and the only part I actually liked was Book 5-- the funeral games). I tried again to get through the whole thing when I read Book 8 in the Latin my third year in college. I managed to get through Books 1 and; 2 (and obviously Book 8 in the Latin), but no further. Then, a few summers ago, I tried to read it again for my own edification with the Fagles translation. Once again, I just failed to get through it. Then, two years ago, when I read Book 2 in the Latin, I tried again with the Fitzgerald translation, but it was a failure.

There's something about the Aeneid that just fundamentally doesn't appeal to me. I'm not sure what it is. I just would rather be doing something-- anything-- else. So, since I have a 30 minute walk each way from my apartment to class every day, I decided to get an audio version so I could feel like I was doing something productive on my walks. It worked. I finished the Aeneid in about a week of walking and house-cleaning (audiobooks have save the state of my apartment).

I recommend this version. It's the Fagles translation, which is colloquial without straying too far from the text. Simon Callow's narration is a little over the top (and his female voices are quite annoying), but it kept me engaged in the story while I was doing other things. I actually noticed some interesting things (how many of Aeneas' actions are motivated by omens, for example).

Once I finished that, I started downloading other audio books of various other classical texts (including Ian McKellen's wonderful reading of Fagles' Odyssey). It makes me feel productive on my walks to and from class. More recently, I've been listening to Paul Cartledge's The Spartans, in order to study for my Greek history survey exam.