Newsday has an item on ancient biochemical warfare in the ancient world which largely draws -- of course -- on Adrienne Mayor's latest tome. It also talks to Victor Davis Hanson about something which directly pertains to Classics! Here's some in medias res stuff:
Victor Davis Hanson, a professor of classics at California State University at Fresno and an expert on ancient warfare, says he views Mayor's scholarly account of early biochemical weapons as sound and "very imaginative," a welcome contribution to the field of classical studies.
Hanson says Western culture has tended to label some forms of combat as less-than-heroic - missile weapons, for example - because the labels derive from a classical Greek perspective that anything other than hand-to-hand combat was somehow cheating, a bias that led to ambivalence even over unpoisoned arrows.
"Our moral hierarchy is a direct descendant of Greek values," he says. "We have trouble with off-and-on fighting, terrorism, assassinations, stealth - not that we cannot be adept at it. It's just that it's not what we idolize or romanticize."
In the primordial Greek past, Perseus, Hercules, Jason and other heroes were romanticized by defeating the grotesque embodiments of evil - cyclops, medusae, hydras and furies, among them. But even heroes have their dark sides and can abuse power, use morally questionable methods and mistreat others, making them valuable vehicles for the morality lessons codified in works such as Homer's "Iliad" and "The Odyssey."
The early dilemmas posed in mythic form would be recorded eventually in the annals of historians as combatants put their growing knowledge to practical - if controversial - use. The first recorded instance of poisoning an enemy's water supply, for example, appeared in the sixth century BC in the Sacred War, when a number of city-states, Athens among them, attacked the Greek harbor town of Kirrha.
"They were besieging this town for having taken advantage of a sacred site, for not respecting the sacred site of Apollo," Mayor says. And since the aggressors called it a sacred war, she adds, the label lent a certain justification to the use of the unconventional warfare. [the whole thing]