Archive for the ‘hist331’ Category

Thucydides 1

Wednesday, October 20th, 2010

The documents found in Fornara when compared to Thucydides’ Archeology and Pentecontaetia give weight to Thucydides’ accounts of the events before the Pelopennesian War, while also to a certain extent giving credence to Thucydides analysis of the underlying cause of the Pelopennesian War. While the documents found in Fornara can be difficult to read at times, two particular documents are especially important in giving credence to what Thucydides writes.
Thucydides’ Archeology and Pentecontaetia both cover a huge swath of Ancient Greek history, much of which was left undocumented by those who were there and what was documented are few and far between. However there are two incidents in the Archeology and the Pentecontaetia which can be backed up by first hand accounts. The first incident is that of the revolt of the Messenian helots which, in both Thucydides and the documents in Fornara, seems to have been prompted by an earthquake in the region. Document 67 gives multiple accounts of both the earthquake and the helot revolt. The documents also include accounts of the help given my the Athenians to the Spartans to help put down the revolt. These documents, while giving credence to the account given by Thucydides, also give more detail than Thucydides does. In the Pentecontaetia Thucydides quickly goes over the revolt before going onto the more important, at least in his opinion, outcome of Sparta’s rebuff to Athenian help and the larger implications for the Pelopennesian War. With the help of the documents found Fornara, the reader can acquire a better understanding of the events surrounding the helot revolt and not merely what its implications meant in the eventual lead up to the Pelopennesian War.
Another important to document, which does much of the same things that the previous document did, is document 72 which deals with the Egyptian revolt against the Persians. Much like document 67 did for the helot revolt, document 72 provides valuable insight to what exactly Athens role in helping the Egyptians was while also confirming many of the details found in Thucydides. While document 72 is much shorter when compared to document 67, it does much to support the account found in Thucydides.
As for the other documents while they are helpful in understanding the inner workings of Athens relations with Erythrae (something which is not dealt with directly until at least book 3) and Phaselis, the large chunks of text that are missing make it difficult to assess the value of the documents especially in relation to the parts of history covered by Thucydides in the Archeology and the Pentecontaetia.

Thucydides 3 – Justice

Monday, October 18th, 2010

While Cleon and Pericles are were both leading politicians during the 5th century in Athens, they both had very different ideas of what could be considered justice and what was right. While both men met opposition to there ideas, it was not because they held similar beliefs but because of the fickleness of the Athenians.
To Pericles what was right and just for one person must be right and just to all persons. As such Pericles believed in a more compassionate form of justice than Cleon. Unlike Cleon, Pericles believed that by showing equal compassion to all citizens, those citizens would be more likely to follow the rules of the law. Pericles states that in allowing individual citizens to do as they please, even if one disagrees with what their neighbour is doing, it encourages citizens to be more thoughtful and more inclined to follow the rule of law. Because citizens are not forced to be uniform in action they respect the law more because they know that that law is what protects them from such tyranny.
In contrast Cleon believed that the only way to maintain Athenian dominance, Athenians must rule over their allies with an iron fist, showing no compassion and meting out punishment to all no matter the actual status of their guilt. To Cleon what was just and right was what best suited the purpose of maintaining dominance, even if it meant being seen as unfair to others. Cleon, unlike Pericles, believed that “compassion is due to those who can reciprocate the feeling, not to those who will never pity us in return.” What was best for the power of Athens was what was right and just for Cleon.
Pericles and Cleon clearly held contrasting views on what was right and just. Pericles was more compassionate and believed that in allowing equality amongst citizens the rule of law could be maintained without tyranny. In contrast Cleon believed that the only way to maintain power was through showing no compassion to those who went against the Athenians. However despite these stark differences, both Cleon and Pericles felt that their perspectives, and by following their ideas, Athens would be able to maintain its dominance amongst its allies. Their two perspectives also show where Athens was in the Pelopennesian War. Pericles ideas of justice and what was right were based in a victorious Athens during a time when Athens wasn’t struggling to maintain power within its alliances. In contrast, Cleon’s perspective is one in which Athens has been attacked a former ally and has been suffering defeats at the hands of both its enemies and uncontrollable natural events (i.e. the plague discussed in the previous assignment.) So while both men show different opinions on what justice is and what is right, they are couched in the belief that through their ideas Athens will be able to maintain its dominance in each situation.
Cleon and Pericles each have very different ideas about what justice is and what is right. However, despite their stark differences, both men believed that their ideas would lead and help maintain Athens dominance with their allies.

Thucydides 2 – Plague

Friday, October 15th, 2010

According to Thucydides here are the symptoms of the plague that ravished Athens in the second year of the Peloponnesian War

  • A violent heat in the head
  • Redness and inflammation in the eyes
  • The inward parts (throat or tongue) become bloody and emit an unnatural and fetid breath
  • Follwed by sneezing and hoarseness
  • Upon reaching the stomach the person discharges of bile of “every kind named by physicians” followed by an “ineffectual retching…producing violent spasms
  • Externally no sign of fever, but the skin is “reddish, livid, and breaking out into small pustules and ulcers
  • Internal fever and “the miserable feeling of not being able to rest or sleep”
  • Patients usually succumb after seven to eight days, but if they last past that the sickness moves into “the bowels, inducing a violent ulceration there accompanied by severe diarrhea
  • If the patient doesn’t die after this point, the sickness settles in the “privy parts, the fingers, and the toes” which caused the patients to lose those extremities
  • Some surviving patients suffered from a loss of memory upon recovery

From this list it can be assumed that certain symptoms are related to each other based on where in the body the originate from. As such here is a list of related symptoms and the medical theory behind them

  • The Head: Fever, redness and inflammation in the eyes. Based on the fact that Thucydides lists these symptoms first and states explicitly later on that the illness first hits the head, it can be assumed that in Greek medical theory, illness begins with the head and then moves through the rest of the body from there. This theory is backed by the following quote which supports the idea that the head is where illness begins “Dejection which ensued when anyone felt himself sickening, for the despair into which they instantly fell took away their power of resistance, and left them much easier prey to the disorder”.
  • The Throat: Throat or tongue becoming bloody and emitting an “unnatural and fetid breath” followed by sneezing and hoarseness. The fact that the illness moves down from the head shows an understanding on the part of the Greek of an understanding of the connectedness within the body similar to that of the circulatory system in modern parlance. This particular theory can be applied to the rest of systems and will be brought up again later.
  • The Stomach: A discharge of “bile of every kind named by physicians” and an “ineffectual retching” and “violent spasms.” Death can occur after this stage. The external symptoms of the illness can also be said to be related to the stomach in that they seem to appear around the same time the illness has moved into the stomach. From this it can be assumed that in Greek medical theory the stomach and the skin are somehow related and, more importantly, that the stomach is the seat of life, as it were. The discharge of bile is particularly important to this theory in that it shows the connection between the life force and the biles that control life.
  • The Bowels and outer extremities: Diarrhea (in the bowels) and the loss of fingers and some cases eyes (outer extremities). While these two areas of the body and their symptoms aren’t connected in the way other symptoms were, the fact that the illness ends (either in survival or in death) at these points shows modern readers where the Greeks believed things went. It would make sense logically that in a system similar to the modern circulatory system, what goes through the bottom would either leave it through the bottom or through the loss of fingers, toes, or “privy parts.” While the Greeks may not have known about the circulatory system as modern readers do, the end point of the disease shows the beginnings of that theory.

Odyssey and Exodus

Monday, September 13th, 2010

In both Exodus and the Odyssey, books written around the same time as each other depicting events from the late Bronze age, their authors claim to show the reader a true depiction of historical events. While the veracity of the events and the time when they are set, continues to be debated by scholars, both books give their readers a glimpse of what the culture of these two Middle Eastern groups were like and the expectations these groups were meant to live up to at the time of writing.
In Exodus the writer, or writers, set out the story of the Israelites and their exodus from Egypt to the promised land. While the eighteen chapters of Exodus deal primarily with laying the foundation of the story of Moses and the reasons for the Israelites leaving Egypt, the next twenty-two chapters, or a little over half of Exodus deals with the laws the Israelites and the consequences of breaking those laws. While the historical accuracy of this book, in terms of chronology, is not wholly reliable, Exodus does give the reader a better understanding of what was expected out of practicing Jews when the book was written as well as an example of what happens when those laws and expectations weren’t followed. Many of the laws described within these twenty-two chapters lay out the do’s and don’ts of every aspect of the Jewish life as well as extensive instructions for the building of the Ark of the Covenant and the tabernacle which would hold the ark (25.10 – 28. 43).
What is left of these last twenty-two chapters of Exodus can be divided into the social expectations of the time in which the book was written and an “historical” example of what can happen if those conventions are broken. While it can be expected that these laws were not followed to the word in the way that writers of Exodus would have wanted, it can be assumed that these parts of Exodus were written to reinforce the cultural expectations of the time. This can be seen in the amount of detail that is given over to each specific aspect of the laws, as well as the specificity found throughout Exodus. An example of this specificity can be found in one of the Ten Commandments wherein God states, “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house.” (20.14) From there the commandment becomes even more specific stating exactly what the Jewish people cannot covet. Such specificity can be seen as a way of reinforcing what is expected of followers of Judaism and indicates that at the time of writing these expectations were not being met by many people within the community. This kind of specificity can found through out the next few chapters from who can be bought as a slave and how one should treat a slave (21.1-10) to what should be done if man is gored by an ox (21.28-37). However it is clear from what comes after the laws and the blueprint for the Ark of the Covenant and its tabernacle, that these rules were not being followed in the way that the communities would have liked. This can be assumed by the “historical” example within Exodus of what happens when any of these commandments are broken (32.25-28). While this example of what happens when the laws are broken is not as graphically detailed as the example found within the Odyssey is, the message is just as clear; breaking the cultural values of ones community never ends well.
A similar message can be found within the text of the Odyssey. While a large part of the last nine books of the Odyssey deal with revealing to various characters that Odysseus has returned to Ithaca another major theme found within those books are the cultural expectations of Greek society and more specifically the severe consequences of not meeting those expectations. In the twentieth book of the Odyssey Homer shows the importance of xenia, or hospitality, through Penelope’s questioning of her nurse. The importance of xenia is seen throughout books fourteen through twenty of the Odyssey, but of more importance is the consequences of over staying one’s welcome and manipulating the concept of xenia to an extreme. While the writers of Exodus focused on combating moral decline through specificity, it would seem Homer wishes to do the same thing by describing an extreme version of the consequences of such behavior. In books twenty-one and twenty-two of the Odyssey, Homer sets the reader up for the deaths of Penelope’s suitors by explaining how poor their behavior has been, thus explaining why they deserve to die in the manner they later do (21:256-269; 21:330-343). The consequences of such hubris is vividly depicted in book twenty-two of the Odyssey, but not before Odysseus explains why the suitors must perish (22:31-42). The violent deaths of the suitors can be as an extreme example of the consequences of breaking or manipulating the bonds of xenia. As with Exodus this example of what can happen when social expectations are broken can be interpreted as more of story to reinforce social expectations than as an historical event. Unlike with Exodus though, there is no specificity in what is expected of a person living within Greek society. Instead those expectations are meant to be generally known and therefore the purpose of the text is to show the consequence of not following those expectations.
In both the Odyssey and Exodus the importance of social expectations and the rules that dictate those expectations is paramount to the writers. While the authors claim to be writing true historical works, what remains is a glimpse of what was expected of the citizens who lived within each culture, whether it be to show respect to any and all that one meets in life or to follow to a letter the rules and regulations of ones religion. Despite decades of voyages and debates, the historical accuracy of both of these works is still questioned, but what is evident in reading these works are social expectations of Greek and Jewish society during the end of the time they were written.