Whitmarsh says: «Halicarnassus was a bilingual Greek and Carian city that had been under Persian occupation

Whitmarsh says: «Halicarnassus was a bilingual Greek and Carian city that had been under Persian occupation

Recent scholarship, though, might emphasise Herodotus’s own culturally hybrid origins in Asia Minor: he was raised in Halicarnassus, on the Carian coast of modern Turkey – a city that during the Persian wars was part of the Persian Achaemenid empire, ruled by Queen Artemisia, herself half Halicarnassian and half Cretan https://tennesseepaydayloans.org/cities/liberty/. It comes down to networks. If you see Herodotus as occupying a single point from which Greek culture is ‘beamed out’, that’s a less interesting way of thinking of him than as a kind of nodal point between multiple different traditions and cultures. Herodotus’s The Histories is a predominantly Greek-voiced text, but that doesn’t mean that we should quieten all the other voices that can be detected within it.»

She adds: «We need to have a sense of shared ownership and care for these traditions: it’s crucial both in terms of scholarship and politics

Into this story of cultural cross-currents also falls the study of the Greek-language novel – a Roman-empire era prose fiction genre originating in Asia Minor and revived in medieval Byzantium in Persia. Iambilichus, author of the fragmentary work Babylonian Affairs, was writing in his second language, after that of Syriac, and he may have known Akkadian too.

Alexander being lowered from a ship in a glass barrel to view the wonders of the sea. From the Old French prose Alexander Romance manuscript, Rouen, 1445. Copyright © The British Library Board Photograph: The British Library

Another culturally hybrid work is the Alexander Romance, a story that recasts the Macedonian conqueror as secretly Egyptian, so the story of his annexation of Egypt becomes one not of conquest but of the return of pharaonic rule. Whitmarsh says the story reflects a Demotic Egyptian literary forebear. «It is forged in a very distinctive culture in which there are Greeks and Egyptians working together. And it tells the story of Alexander the Great in Egyptian-friendly terms. The interesting thing about this text is that, other than the Bible, it’s the biggest seller in antiquity – it goes into 26 languages in antiquity alone, and eventually into [the ancient Iranian language of] Pahlavi, French, Armenian, Bulgarian, Old English.» (It is also mentioned in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales). Whitmarsh adds: «It is a world away from the model of Greek culture as continuous, organic, hermetically sealed from outside influence.»

The other corollary of this approach is, Graziosi says, to «learn other languages – which is of course hard work, but often the only way». «Traditional» classicists such as Haubold, trained in Latin and Greek, have learned Akkadian: he passes on his linguistic skills to about 20 undergraduates a year. Whitmarsh’s ventures into Semitic languages have enabled him to read works by, for example, Bardaisan, the second-century AD scholar who inhabited the fringes of the Roman empire and whose works fuse Hellenic, Babylonian and Christian influences.

It’s not inherently implausible that he had a much more informed sense of the world than we have previously given him credit for

There is, says Graziosi, «an inequality of availability in source texts: cuneiform [the script in which most Mesopotamian texts are written] was not even deciphered until the 1850s. The first fully scholarly edition of even a text as central as Gilgamesh is only 10 years old. New texts are continually being found – and indeed destroyed – in Iraq and elsewhere.»

Although there may be far-reaching implications for this fresh angle of scholarship, Whitmarsh says that the approach is squarely in the tradition of a supple discipline which has always had «expansiveness and courage and ranginess … Everything we are talking about comes out of an intellectual tradition that has been devoted to self-analysis. You analyse the thing you are looking at, but you also analyse your own motivations for looking at it in that particular way. That’s our version of scientific empiricism. Classics is a progressive discipline, constantly confronting its own demons, and coming out better and fresher for it.»

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