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!

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