Thursday 21 August 2014

Estuary Greek Philosophers and an Offer

Two years ago I decided to make some money from my pen so I could offer our children help with university fees. One has threatened not to do university at all because she doesn’t want to start adult life encumbered by vast debts. So I wrote Introducing the Ancient Greeks: from Bronze Age Seafarers to Navigators of the Western Mind.

Sian Thomas: my Audible avatar 
The US edition, published by Norton, recently hit the shops for under $20 or £20. Beautifully read by Sian Thomas, my absolutely favourite classical actress, it has also now come out on (not available on for UK download until next spring). I have one free hard copy and five codes for free downloads to give away to the first five people to write to me on my King’s College London email, findable through the Classics Department webpage. But if you write, please answer the three questions at the end of this blog! Go on, indulge me! [Sorry you're too late--ed. 24/9/14].

and  Amelia Bones in Harry Potter
The reviews have all been warmly glowing (e.g. in The Independent), except for James Romm’s in the Wall Street Journal. Romm has a reputation for being a dour reviewer, and people who read WSJ are unlikely to share my worldview anyway. He is also the only person alive who would complain that I don’t write enough in it about the ancient theatre—most people think I've  published too much on that already! He also says I never use the word *polis* (city-state), which I do on pp. 51, 104,120, 196, so one does have to ask whether he actually read it. [NB just heard on 23/09/14 that he has apologised and will try to get a correction published].

What western Turkey looked like then
But even he likes my bit on early Greek thought's connection with the silting up of the Maeander Estuary, which I believe is original and which most reviewers have appreciated. It is this:

Miletus today: landlocked
The Milesian thinkers who began discussing the world's unseen causes were watching that world change every day. In about 1,000 BC, their harbour began to silt up. The winding (‘meandering’) River Maeander disgorged itself into the sea, and the particles of rock and soil, ‘alluvium,’ sank to the bottom of the estuary. Every year, the alluvium extended the shore towards Miletus. By the Christian era, Miletus itself was landlocked. The process must have been about half completed when the first philosophers were alive. The men watching fresh water and stones meet salt water and sand, producing new land on a daily basis,  became the first people in recorded history to inquire into the origins of the world exclusively in terms of natural causes. 

Thales: Estuary Thinker
The earliest, Thales, thought that the first cosmic principle or element—the one being pushed back by new land—was water. The argument he used to support this view is that inanimate things lose water and dry out. His student Anaximander drew a map of all the physical world the Milesians knew, and suggested that everything they could perceive—both land and sea, which visibly limited each other—must be surrounded by something else that was limitless and immeasurable--apeiron. The third Milesian thinker, Anaximenes, watched land expand and sea shrink, and argued that all the constituents of the world man could see--fire, wind, cloud, water, earth, stones--are created out of air by processes of condensation or sublimation: the differences between them result from their relative density. In Ephesus, another city not far from Miletus which also became steadily cut off from the sea, Heraclitus asserted the principle that the physical universe was constantly changing: panta rhei, he said, ‘everything is in flux’. Quite.
So, if you want an code allowing you to listen free to Sian Thomas’ delicious voice purring through my version of Greek history, from Linear B to 391 AD, then email me the answers to these three questions:
1] What is the name of the Turkish village nearest to the (now inland) ruins of Miletus?
2] Which ancient Greek philosopher jumped into a volcano?
3] What was the name of Prometheus' Mother?

1 comment:

  1. It's little ridiculous to ask such questions in the Wikipedia era.