Saturday, August 13, 2016

A Greek Skeleton Out of the Closet.


Jeff—Saturday

I bet there are very few of us who don’t have a metaphorical skeleton or two hanging around in some closet. Just look at the US Presidential candidates.  Those two have skeletons dancing all over the place. Though to be fair, one candidate looks to have far more skeletons haunting it than the other, while the other seems hell bent on becoming a skeleton to haunt us all.

I’ll let you work out the appropriate labels for yourselves.

Prescinding from any further discussion of politics, I think we can all agree it’s truly rare when a “skeleton in the closet” turns out to actually exist.

Well, once again Greece has astounded the world.

This week, world newspapers reported on an archaeological find disclosed by Greece’s Minister of Culture. The headline in Ekathimerini—Greece’s equivalent of The New York Times—read, “Ancient Teenage Skeleton Unearthed on Mountaintop Could Confirm Darkest Greek Legend.”  Here’s a photo of the discovery.


That headline caught my eye, because up until that moment I thought the darkest Greek legend was being written this year on Mykonos.  Just goes to show what I knew.

That discovery undoubtedly will further fuel a long raging debate over the role of classical writings in evaluating archaeological evidence.   And here’s why (quoting from Ekathimerini):

Excavators say it’s too early to speculate on the nature of the teenager’s death but the discovery is remarkable because the remote Mount Lykaion [in central Peloponnese] was for centuries associated with the most nefarious of Greek cults: Ancient writers — including Plato — linked it with human sacrifice to Zeus, a practice which has very rarely been confirmed by archaeologists anywhere in the Greek world and never on mainland Greece.”


A dig site on Mount Lykaion

Human Sacrifice in Greece! Wow, imagine all the stories that will spawn. Forget Game of Thrones and vampires, a whole new genre of Hellenic Horror fiction awaits! 

This is not the first time archaeologists have unearthed what’s been claimed to be evidence of human sacrifice here, but alternative explanations always seemed to spring up to send those theories off into the shadows, and supporting literary references were dismissed as just that—fiction; even though archaeologists such as the legendary Heinrich Schliemann used Homer and Virgil as engines for some of his most spectacular discoveries. 


Heinrich Schliemann
What makes this week’s announcement so remarkable is that the literary and physical evidence appears to strongly support one another. 

According to legend, a boy was sacrificed with the animals and all the meat was cooked and eaten together. Whoever ate the human part would become a wolf for nine years.

“Several ancient literary sources mention rumours that human sacrifice took place at the altar, but up until a few weeks ago there has been no trace whatsoever of human bones discovered at the site,” said excavator David Gilman Romano, professor of Greek archaeology at the University of Arizona.

“Whether it’s a sacrifice or not, this is a sacrificial altar ... so it’s not a place where you would bury an individual. It’s not a cemetery,” Romano told The Associated Press.

Zeus on His Altar on Mount Lykaion (Giovanni Tiepolo)

For those of you interested in reading more on the discovery here’s a link to the AP story appearing in The Guardian.

If your interests run more to human sacrifice of the political sort, just turn on any television, anytime, anywhere.

I’m off to find a legend of my own.  She arrives Monday. :)


—Jeff

23 comments:

  1. Now THERE is a proper title for a novel: A Legend of My Own. Or maybe Lying on Lykaion?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Lying Lykaion? What are you doing, EvKa, getting a bit Trump-like on us?

      Delete
  2. Fascinating, Jeff! I guess having been brought up on Mary Renault (and others) I always assumed that human sacrifice did exist in ancient Greece. So it's equally intriguing to discover that no, it didn't, and now,
    well maybe it did!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Ah yes, a true legendary writer of historical novels exploring Greece. But as you surely know, her masterful literary adaption of events was often questioned by scholars for their historical accuracy, as for example her view of Theseus and Ariadne's time together on my neighboring island of Naxos (as told in "The King Must Die"), most notably her bloody fling across that island's hillsides one night in the company of a group of definitely partying women.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Okay, Bro, now you are making me REALLY mad. First you imply that the US Presidential candidates are more or less equal when it comes to their past behavior, when in actuality one is a level headed, hard working victim of mysoginistic demonization and the other is a narcissistic madman and releaser of living demons.

    But then... But then, you attack a historical novelist because her stories are fiction?? Must you join those "scholars" who go around questioning the veracity of a great story teller who clearly labeled her work FICTION? FICTION!! I bite my tongue.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I have a better suggestion than biting your tongue, Sis. Take a breath. :)

      Delete
    2. Or was it simply sarcasm. :) OUCH. STOP HITTING ME WITH THOSE PILLOWS.

      Delete
    3. ME? Get Sarcastic with YOU? I know you better than that. You are my brother, the one who screams "OUCH" when I hit him with a pillow. Don't worry. I won't tell mommy on you.

      Delete
    4. I think in fairness to Jeff, he was only talking about the historical accuracy aspects of her work. I'm not sure if she deliberately falsified some aspects for the story, or whether that was the perception of the time.

      Delete
    5. Michael, in fairness to my literary genre: historical novelists are not people who "deliberately falsify" history. That is what toffee-nosed historians are always saying about us. As a group, we range from slavishly following the "facts" (which we all know are subject to change over time anyway) to those who write alternate history (what would the world have been like if the Germans had won WWII). We are not deliberately lying about history and trying to pass it off as the truth. We are fictionalizing it. Making it engaging and entertaining. Using it as a backdrop to spin a compelling yarn. That's what Mary Renault did superbly well. I know I am ranting, but that sort of criticism drives me nuts. I once had a historian tell me that I should not have put a full moon in my story without calculating whether the moon was really full on that exact date in 1650. AARRRGGGHHH!

      Delete
    6. Yep, you're right again, sis, you are ranting. :) [Quick, EvKa, hide under the dining room table before she finds us.]

      Delete
    7. That was exactly the point I was trying to make (although obviously not very well). If it was well accepted that there was no such thing as human sacrifice in ancient Greece, then her books are really what you call alternate history, and that would disappoint me a little. (After all, the central theme of The King Must Die is human sacrifice.) Thus I wondered if the matter was clear in her day. This recent discovery tends to suggest that the matter actually ISN'T clear either way!

      Delete
    8. http://www.timeanddate.com/moon/phases/south-africa/johannesburg?year=1650

      Delete
    9. Teehee. I actually knew the moon was full sometime the week I was writing about. Because it was the week before Easter.
      Anyway, regarding the question of whether the Greeks engaged in human sacrifice, I wonder why they seem want to deny it. Let's say that they did, a millennium or so before Plato. Many primitive cultures did at that time. The Carthaginians, just around then, were not only engaging in human sacrifice. But many historians say they REQUIRED every man give his first son to be sacrificed to their god Baal. But if the Greeks went from human sacrifice to Plato in less than a thousand years, they look to me like the most remarkable people on the planet. It's a boon that Western civilization followed suit. And as you know, it is my belief that we are still following in their footsteps and improving.

      Delete
    10. Stop kissing up to the Greeks and eat your souvlaki. :)

      Delete
    11. Have you forgotten that, unlike the others in this discussion, I am a descendent of Syracuse? (Io sono siracusana!) One of Plato's favorite cities. Where he went when he had to flee Athens.

      Delete
    12. Yeah, and where to I get to flee to, Pittsburgh?

      Delete
    13. Jeff, I'd thought about replying to AmA's well stated opinion on the state of everything, but then fortunately the wiser half of my brain stepped in and said, "You don't need to. Jeff will step in it. Just give him space."

      Delete
  5. I see a new plot line developing for Kaldis and crew. . .

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I often thought about placing a story on Naxos in large part because of it's historical significance, but held off because so few outside of Greece knew about it. With its recent surge in popularity, I might just reconsider, though for Kaldis #9 he looks headed off to Lesvos.

      Delete
  6. During this election period, everyone in Pittsburgh might try to flee the country.
    Syracuse and Mykonos seem like perfect places to hide out.

    ReplyDelete