The Byzantine Republic

I recently finished reading a book on an aspect of the Classical world that neither I, nor many other Classicists likely have thought much about. The book is Anthony Kaldellis’ The Byzantine Republic, which deals with the Eastern Roman Empire (called by modern scholars “Byzantine”) which ruled a fluctuating area centred on Anatolia and the Balkans from the fall of Rome to the Goths in 476 CE until the final capture of Constantinople by the Turks in 1453 CE. Kaldellis’ work represents an intriguing attempt to reconnect the Byzantines to their Roman heritage, something which he argues has all-too-often been ignored and/or denied by scholars.

Continue reading “The Byzantine Republic”

The Afterlife of Baʿal

My friend and colleague Philip Boyes writes about the strange evolution of an ancient Near Eastern deity. Well worth checking out!

Ancient Worlds

(or, What This Ugaritian Storm-God Looks Like Now Will Astound You!)

1200px-Baal_thunderbolt_Louvre_AO15775 Ba’al on a stele from Ugarit, now in the Louvre

Callot 2011 Reconstruction 2 Reconstruction of the Temple of Ba’al on the acropolis of Ugarit. From Callot 2011

Ever since excavations began at the Syrian city of Ugarit in 1929, the importance of the god Baʿal has been clear. Among the first Ugaritic texts discovered at the site were mythological tablets recounting the legends of this god; Baʿal’s temple was excavated in prime position on the city’s acropolis, close to that of his father Dagan. While the supreme god El occupied the pinnacle of the Ugaritian pantheon, as more and more ritual and religious documents have been recovered from Ugarit, it’s become unquestionable that the city’s people felt a particular fondness and affinity for Baʿal, the archetypal king who had his palace on Mount Saphon overlooking the city.

But Baʿal was not solely…

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Sock Puppets and Cult Leaders: The False Prophet Alexander

Content warning:  Cults, Sexual Abuse, Snakes

One of the strangest stories from the ancient world comes from the pen of the Second Century CE writer Lucian of Samosata.  Lucian, a Greek-speaking Syrian, was part of the great flowering of Greek culture under the Roman Empire that we refer to as the Second Sophistic.  To generalize greatly, the Second Sophistic was characterised by great erudition, self-consciously elaborate language, and a playful attitude toward history, myth and literature.  Lucian is one of the most emblematic of this movement, and many of his works are wonderful examples of wit, learning and subtle self-parody. Continue reading “Sock Puppets and Cult Leaders: The False Prophet Alexander”

Essay Advice

I’ve been working on a handout that gives some broad principles and tips for essay writing, and I thought I’d share it here.  While some of it applies specifically to Cambridge, quite a lot I think applies to good essay-writing anywhere.  Thoughts are most welcome!  I’m also posting a PDF version on my Teaching page.  Continue reading “Essay Advice”

The End of Western Civilization? What if Persia Won

In popular discussions of the attempted Persian invasions of 490 amd 480 BCE, one theme that is often heard is that they were a turning point of Western Civilization. The wars are presented as a battle between the nascent Athenian democracy, a city that would go on to produce the art, drama, philosophy, and political ideals on which the glorious of the West are founded, and the autocratic Persian Empire, ruled by Great Kings who wielded absolute authority over nations of abject slaves. Had the Persians won, the notion runs, the Persians would surely have crushed a form of government that they saw as anathema to their vision of a well-ordered empire bowing to a single Great King (as a random example of this narrative, see http://www.historynet.com/greco-persian-wars-xerxes-invasion.htm). Continue reading “The End of Western Civilization? What if Persia Won”

Some food for thought from Demosthenes

At a time when “Alternative facts” has become a new buzzword, and politicians and media in many countries seem comfortable telling provable falsehoods, I am reminded of this passage from a speech by the Greek orator Demosthenes:

οὐδὲν γὰρ ἔσθ᾽ ὅ τι μεῖζον ἂν ὑμᾶς ἀδικήσειέ τις ἢ ψευδῆ λέγων. οἷς γάρ ἐστ᾽ ἐν λόγοις ἡ πολιτεία, πῶς, ἂν οὗτοι μὴ ἀληθεῖς ὦσιν, ἀσφαλῶς ἔστι πολιτεύεσθαι;

There is nothing which wrongs you, the people, more than telling lies.  After all, when the government is based on words, if those words are not true, how can we be properly governed?

~Demosthenes 19 On the False Embassy, section 184

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