Latest update: 9/1/2004; 6:23:51 AM
quidquid bene dictum est ab ullo, meum est ~ Seneca
~ This Day In Ancient History

ante diem xiv kalendas septembres

  • Vinalia -- the second major wine festival of this name celebrated by the Romans
  • 43 B.C. -- the future emperor Octavian enters his first consulship; Octavian's adoption by Julius Caesar formally recognized
  • 14 A.D. -- Augustus dies at Nola
  • 232 A.D. -- birth of the future emperor Probus
  • 304 A.D. -- martyrdom of Thecla at Caesarea
  • c. 306 A.D. -- martydom of Agapius at Caesarea
Thursday, August 19, 2004 10:24:36 AM

~ Clarification on the Atlantis-Is-Ireland Thing

Last week we posted on Ulf Erlingsson' s theory that Atlantis may have been Ireland, and while articles on the subject continue to pop up -- including one in which Irish Museum officials poo poo the suggestion -- it seems right to point to a 'corrective' on the whole issue in Ireland Online:

Dr Erlingsson has since contacted us to clarify his position on the subject as follows below:

"Atlantis is a literary construction by Plato. The existence of Atlantis has never been proven. On the contrary, we know for a fact that it was a utopia, something that I point out on page 1 in my book Atlantis from a Geographer's Perspective: Mapping the Fairy Land. I quote: "Nobody by his right mind is denying that part of Plato's story about Atlantis is fiction."

"The purpose of the book is, however, to test Plato's other claim, namely that he based the utopia on a real, historic place.

"In the book I erect and test the hypothesis that Plato based the description of Plato's Atlantis on the geography of Ireland, and find that with 99.98% probability the hypothesis is true. I do not believe that he based the city of Atlantis on anything on Ireland, but do speculate that he may have partly based the description of certain temples on Newgrange and Knowth, and that the hill may be inspired by Tara.

"The scientific value of this research is of course not that Atlantis has been 'found' (can you find something that has never existed?), but that it begs the question how Plato could be familiar with the Irish reality. As with all scientific hypotheses, this one must now be subjected to a critical review by peers."

Thursday, August 19, 2004 10:15:02 AM

~ Gospel Greek

Athens News seems to have made it into my scan a couple of times today (see below) ... this time, it's an interesting piece on whether the Greek of the New Testament would be considered "vulgar". Here's the incipit (apologies for the strange characters that might appear; the proper Greek characters are in the original article and should show up depending on your browser's capabilities etc.):

GREEK has changed little over the centuries: today's Greeks understand the New Testament written in the Greek of two thousand years ago. This happens because the Greek 'koine' (?????) of the 3rd century BC that served as the lingua franca of the lands conquered by Alexander the Great, ie the then known world, is closer to modern Greek than it is to the language of Pericles. A homily in Thucidedean Greek would be incomprehensible to a modern Athenian.

Most of the New Testament was written in Greek simply because this was the language most people could then understand. Had the gospels been written in Aramaic, the language that Jesus spoke, he would probably have remained as one more of the self-proclaimed Messiahs of which Jewish history is replete.

However, the Greek of the gospels was not the Greek of the intellectuals, it was the vernacular spoken at the time, one that the then 'purists' took great exception to. Manolis Triantafyllidis, the patriarch of modern Greek 'demoticism', pointed this out some eighty years ago to his purist opponents the self-appointed 'defenders of the language' (G?OSS????????S). Keeping his tongue firmly in cheek, he wonders how could the Holy Spirit, supposedly guiding every action of the Apostles, have made such a blunder as to use an allegedly degraded form of Greek to convey the 'Good Message' (???GG???? = gospel) to the world at large. [more]

Thursday, August 19, 2004 10:05:16 AM

~ Sounio Shines

Athens News has a really nice feature (that goes far beyond touristy) on Sounio, its history, and archaeological remains. Here's the incipit:

HIGH above the Aegean on the most farflung southeastern point of the Greek mainland, the awe-inspiringly located classical temple at Sounio has appealed to romantic foreigners since visiting began in the 17th century. On his first visit to Greece in 1809-11, Lord Byron was enthralled, and in the poetic account of his travels, Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, wrote: "Land of lost gods .../ Thy fanes, thy temples to the surface bow, / Commingling slowly with heroic earth, / Broke by the share of every rustic plough: / So perish monuments of mortal birth, / Save where some solitary column mourns/ Above its prostrate brethren of the cave; / Save where Tritonia's airy shrine adorns/ Colonna's cliff, and gleams along the wave." The cape is still sometimes called Kolones but the temple, which in Byron's time was thought to have been for Athena and was sometimes called Tritonia, is now known to have been dedicated to Poseidon, god of the sea and earthquakes. The Greeks found an inscription on the site clinching the fact.

More famously, Byron wrote of Sounio in Don Juan, in the stanzas beginning with: "The isles of Greece, the isles of Greece! / Where burning Sappho loved and sung." He went on to urge that the bowl of Samian wine be filled and concluded: "Place me on Sunium's marbled steep, / Where nothing, save the waves and I, / May hear our mutual murmurs sweep; / There, swan-like, let me sing and die; / A land of slaves shall ne're be mine - / Dash down yon cup of Samian wine!"

Having reached the cape - probably in nose-to-tail traffic - by the 70km coastal road, the so-called Attica Riviera, ideally for a sunset visit, an August sightseer will be unlikely to catch the sound of the sea from the elevated site. Byron's purple poetry, however, has permanently lodged the place in the popular imagination, and guides are constantly asked to point out the marble block bearing the poet's scratched autograph among the others left by early travellers. (Close-up inspection is ruled out, as the temple proper is out-of-bounds).

With similarly keen appreciation of the arcadian spirit of the place, an American scholar, John Young, has evoked halcyon days spent on the windswept cape in the 1930s. He was investigating circular tower-like marble structures, one the gleaming white Princess Tower on a neck of land jutting eastwards between the branches of the lower Agrileza stream bed, near the ancient road from Sounio to the north. "In the spring, the tower was a favourite haunt of shepherds, who perched upon its walls to watch their flocks and play their reed-pipes," he wrote in the 1956 Hesperia, the annual of the American School of Classical Studies in Athens. He was told of the little princess imprisoned in the tower by a cruel father.

Religious beginnings

Enthralled by the site, Lord Byron scratched his autograph on one of the temple's marble rocks 

Sounio hove into the ken of the western world as a holy place seen from the sea by Greeks returning from the Trojan War. In the Odyssey, Nestor tells Telemachus that, offshore from the cape, Phrontis, the helmsman of Menelaos, had died suddenly: "So Menelaos, though straining for the journey, was detained there, to bury his companion, and give him due rites." Athenian archaeologist Petros Themelis has noted with satisfaction that a couple of probably ninth century BC iron swords and votive statuettes associated with hero worship were found in the area, bearing out the Homeric reference. A shrine for the cult of Phrontis has been identified near the site of a temple of Athena about 500 metres north of the Poseidon temple. [more]

Thursday, August 19, 2004 10:00:06 AM

~ Solecism Solecism?

Interesting column in the Chicago Tribune on the origins of the word 'solecism':

The Word of the Day that turned up in my e-mail inbox was "solecism," meaning a breach of grammar or etiquette. It comes from the Greek word "soloikismos," for "speaking incorrectly."

I learned this from Merriam-Webster's free service for word buffs -- you can sign up at, but I warn you, it launches endless etymological expeditions.

Here's how it happens.

"According to historians," my Word of the Day e-mail continued, the ancient city of Soloi in Asia Minor "had a reputation for bad grammar," thanks to settlers from Athens who let their proper Greek deteriorate in their new surroundings.

Come on, I thought. A city known for its bad grammar? Doesn't that sound like an etymological tall tale, a fable told by English teachers to scare students into diagramming sentences?

So I e-mailed my college classics professor, Ken Bratt of Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich., to test the city-of-bad-grammar theory of "solecism."

He said the Greek root was a general term for speech and acts deemed barbarous. He hadn't heard the theory about the settlers at Soloi, but he pulled up some apparent evidence for it at the Perseus Project, a digital library of ancient texts (

Early examples

Perseus serves up some early examples of "solecism," including Aristotle's use of "soloikizo" in his classic text "On Rhetoric" to refer to an error of syntax, and Roman historian Aulus Gellius' use of the Latin derivative "soloecismus" to mean "misprint."

It also delivers sources that corroborate the story of Soloi. The influential Greek-English Lexicon of Liddell and Scott, for example, renders "soloikos" as "speaking incorrectly" and adds, "Derived from the corruption of the Attic [Athenian] dialect among the Athenian colonists of Soloi in Cilicia."

I followed my finger to "solecism" in one of the big blue volumes of the Oxford English Dictionary at the Harold Washington Library and read the same story, attributed to "ancient writers."

There you have it. Case closed.

Except for one reference at Perseus that gave me pause. The entry for "Soloi" in The Princeton Encyclopedia of Classical Sites contains one sentence of caution: "That `solecisms' are derived from the atrocious Greek spoken in Soloi is perhaps untrue, for the poets Philemon and Aratus . . . were natives."

How, indeed, could it be that a city known empire-wide for its sloppy speech also produced renowned poets? I call Jonathan Hall, chair of the classics department and Committee on the Ancient Mediterranean World at the University of Chicago. Turns out he's in Rome, so I e-mail him my questions.

The problem with the story of Soloi, Hall replies, is not Philemon and Aratus. Aside from the fact that their birthplaces can be disputed, "There's a world of difference between `high' literary prose and daily vernacular," he writes, adding that many Greek poets were fluent in both.

Possibly embellished

The real problem, he says, is that evidence for Soloi's reputation for bad Athenian Greek is scarce and may have been embellished by ancient historians. "The ancients constantly engaged in somewhat amateurish attempts to identify etymology," Hall writes.

The earliest available usage of "solecism," Hall says, is by the 6th Century B.C. poet Anakreon, in which he beseeches Zeus, as Hall translates, "to silence the solecian speech lest you utter barbarisms."

Whose speech Anakreon wants Zeus to silence, and why he calls it solecian, is not known. Anakreon's poetry survives mostly in fragments whose context is forever lost, Hall says. "It is certainly possible that Anakreon had Cilician Soloi in mind," he adds, "but without more of his original verses we cannot be sure that [this] was not the product of a later writer's imagination."

Strangely, one century after Anakreon, the historian Herodotus uses "soloikizo" to mean "to speak bad Scythian" -- another ancient language spoken clear across Asia Minor in what is now Iran.

Hall also writes that he doesn't know of any official Athenian settlement at Soloi. "While they did embark on disastrous expeditions to Egypt and Cyprus in the 5th Century," he says, "the Athenians didn't really have an interest in southern Asia Minor." To make matters worse, Hall says some Greek historians seem to confuse the Soloi in Cilicia (near Mersin in present-day Turkey) with the city of Soloi in Cyprus, an island in the Mediterranean Sea.

In short, it's not clear who settled Soloi in Cilicia, what they spoke there or how well. So how did the city-of-bad-grammar story about Soloi get started?

"I have no idea, but I wouldn't take it too seriously," Hall writes. Since Greek morphed into various dialects throughout its ancient empire, he observed, "it's difficult to understand why, objectively speaking, Soloi should have been deemed so infamous in this respect."

Even Strabo, a reputable Roman historian, wrote in the 1st Century A.D. that he didn't know whether the Latin word "solecise" was "derived from [the city of] Soli, or made up in some other way."

This is where many word history expeditions end up: some tempting theories, many tidbits and tangents, few solid conclusions. As I console myself with this realization, I savor the irony of poor Joe Shepherd, age 12, who was ousted from this year's National Spelling Bee on the word "solecism." Joe started out "S-O-L-I"-- alas, the Latin name for Soloi -- and was gone. It was a misspelling about misspeaking.

Thursday, August 19, 2004 9:54:17 AM

~ History to Appear on Maury Povich

One of the constant features on Maury Povich are programs in which they reveal to worried mothers which of their paramours is actually the father of their baby. A piece at Working for Change suggests that History might soon be amongst those worried mothers:

"To think of the future and wait was merely another way of saying one was a coward; any idea of moderation was just another attempt to disguise one's unmanly character; ability to understand the question from all sides meant that one was totally unfitted for action; fanatical enthusiasm was the mark of a real man... Anyone who held violent opinions could always be trusted, and anyone who objected to them became a suspect."

The quote is from Thucydides, the Father of History, writing about the day in 415 B.C. when Athens sent its glorious fleet off to destruction in Sicily.

Let's hope Herodotus and Thucydides can maintain civility on set ... (by the way, I'm checking the quote, which appears all over the net ... it seems to be a pastiche with additions of bits of Book VII).

Thursday, August 19, 2004 9:41:42 AM

~ Holy Anachronism Batman!

One of those AP general-Olympics-pieces-with-refs-to-the-ancient-world things includes this little tidbit:

This is the place where Alexander the Great competed in the chariot races because even to a man who had conquered half the world, an Olympic victory wreath was something special.

Someone needs to brush up either on their history or their sequence of tenses ...

Thursday, August 19, 2004 9:19:53 AM

~ Diogenes and Dogs

As folks are no doubt aware, just prior to the Olympics, Athens rounded up all the stray dogs which wander the city. This seems to have been the inspiration (of sorts) of an article in Asahi which, inter alia, reflects on Diogenes the Cynic:

I once visited the Acropolis. I saw several stray dogs. One was a big old dog with hair like a lion's. Frothing at the mouth, it was lying in the bush by the path leading to the Parthenon. Perhaps because I saw it on the Acropolis, the dog reminded me of Diogenes, an ancient Greek philosopher who was perhaps the most noted of the Cynics.

According to a book, the Cynics were so named because of their ``doglike'' (kynikos in Greek) behavior, or because the founder of the school began his lectures in a gymnasium named cynosarges, or ``white dog.'' (The book ``Girisha-no Shi-to Tetsugaku,'' on Greek poetry and philosophy, has been published by Heibonsha.)

Diogenes is said to have lived in a large tub as he pursued the Cynic ideal of living a life free of dependence on possessions and pleasures. There are many anecdotes about him.

Alexander the Great once visited Diogenes and asked what service he could render him. The philosopher, who was sitting in the sun, said, ``Nothing! Just don't stand between me and the sun.''

Struck by the reply, Alexander said to his friends, ``If I were not Alexander, I should wish to be Diogenes.'' [the whole thing]

Thursday, August 19, 2004 9:11:35 AM

~ Phanagoria Found?

A brief item in Ticino (in Italian) suggests that Russian archaeologists may have found the site of Phanagoria, a Greek colony on the Black Sea mentioned by Strabo but never securely identified. See the relevant article in Smith's Dictionary of Greek and Latin Geography at the Perseus Project for background. (I'd never heard of the place before) Thursday, August 19, 2004 8:54:56 AM

~ AWOTV: On TV Today

7.00 p.m. |HINT| The Great Empire: Rome: The Enduring Legacy
The final episode reveals the birth of Christianity and how this
religion that the emperors initially tried to destroy ultimately
passed on the empire's legacy. Highlights include: the crucifixion of
Jesus; religious persecutions; rise of Constantine, the first emperor
to embrace Christianity; and Justinian, Rome's last emperor.
8.00 p.m. |HISTU| Ancient Olympics: Let the Games Begin
Set in 448 BC, we recreate the main events of a single, 5-day
Olympiad. Dramatic reenactment, computer graphics, and expert
commentary bring these events to life. The athletes "starring" in our
games are real--their lives recorded in history. We meet the
competitors at their training camp, then see them in action. The
events covered include chariot racing, running, jumping, discus, and
javelin, and two man-to-man combat finals--boxing and "pankration", a
form of extreme fighting.
11.30 p.m. |HISTU| Thermopylae
Using cutting-edge computer gaming technology, we recreate conflicts
that shaped the ancient world and witness great battles like never
before. Hosted on location by Matthew Settle, we return to
Thermopylae in 480 BC, where 300 Spartans occupied a mountain pass
and held off the colossal army sent by the Persians to avenge their
defeat at Marathon. The Greeks held the pass for over a week in one
of history's greatest displays of military heroism--and died to the
last man rather than surrender.

Channel Guide

Thursday, August 19, 2004 6:53:53 AM

1. n. an abnormal state or condition resulting from the forced migration from a lengthy Classical education into a profoundly unClassical world; 2. n. a blog about Ancient Greece and Rome compiled by one so afflicted (v. "rogueclassicist"); 3. n. a Classics blog.

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