Two articles recently published on the BBC website recently caught my eye. The first was a discussion of the earliest known writing on Earth, as part of a series on ‘50 things that made the modern economy’. These earliest written texts were economic texts: inventories of goods, sale contracts, IOUs, written in Sumerian Cuneiform more than 5000 years ago. Continue reading “Words that Last: Clay, Papyrus, and Computers”
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.
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”
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
I recently re-watched the 1963 film Jason and the Argonauts, one of the best cinematic retellings of a Greek myth and a film that contains some of the finest work of master animator Ray Harryhausen. Among the film’s conceits is the image of the gods literally playing games with mortal life: Jason’s adventures are revealed to be largely controlled by a boardgame that Zeus and Hera are playing against each other – Hera supports Jason in his quest, while Zeus seeks to derail the quest by placing various obstacles in their path.