- Paperback: 496 pages
- Publisher: Vintage; 1st edition (March 9, 2010)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0679763864
- ISBN-13: 978-0679763864
- Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 12 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #550,789 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Travelling Heroes: In the Epic Age of Homer Paperback – March 9, 2010
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“Multilayered and beautifully written. . . . [Lane Fox’s] great gift is to make this long-ago world a vivid, extraordinary and sometimes frightening place. Like Homer’s yearning traveller, Lane Fox longs to be there, and his longing is contagious.”
—Elizabeth Speller, The Sunday Times (London)
“Full of wit and suspense. . . . Lane Fox argues his case with tremendous style and verve.”
—Mary Beard, Financial Times
“A fascinating quest . . . that illuminates the roots of Greek thought and ideas that have shaped our own world and philosophies. . . . Lane Fox is a lively writer.”
—Lois D. Atwood, The Providence Journal
“Exciting. . . . With his usual panache, [Lane Fox] displays encyclopaedic erudition alongside an unusually wide historical and geographical scope. The pleasure and the education offered by this book lie in the stylishly presented detail.”
—Edith Hall, The Times Literary Supplement (London)
“As we follow [Lane Fox] through the pages of this learned, original and ceaselessly intriguing book, we find a strange and alien landscape opening up before us, one so remote that it had hitherto seemed lost to utter darkness. . . . This is a wonderful book.”
—Tom Holland, The Spectator (London)
“Original, daring, and arguably life-enhancing. . . . Lane Fox [writes] with a sweeping narrative flourish worthy of a cinematographer or screenwriter . . . seasoned and leavened with a wit that only writing can afford.”
—Paul Cartledge, The Independent (London)
“Lane Fox has spent his long and distinguished career negotiating a broader intellectual highway, and leading a wide range of readers along it. Travelling Heroes takes us on a dazzling journey throughout the Mediterranean world of the 8th century BC [and] he evokes the period brilliantly.”
—The Telegraph (London)
About the Author
Robin Lane Fox is a Fellow and Garden Master of New College, Oxford, and a University Reader in Ancient History. His books include Alexander the Great, Pagans and Christians, The Unauthorized Version, and The Classical World. Since 1970 he has also been gardening correspondent for the Financial Times.
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While the book is divided into four parts, please allow me to chart out the main themes in three segments.
I. Voyages of Euboean Greeks in the 8th century BC Mediterraneum (pp. 29-162)
Their seafaring routes in search of timber, precious metals, tin and copper for bronze making, somewhat paralleled those of the Phoenicians, who "did not begin to found settlements of their own in the west in order to defend themselves against Greek 'encroachment' on their trade...There was not yet a contest...Both peoples settled on new land...because there was gain to be had from taking it" (pp. 141-2). Bear in mind that these ancient Greeks were not only sailors (quite often had to pull at the oars though) but when the situation required acted as traders, warriors, or raiding pirates.
We start our journey at the Toumba royal burial mound of Lefkandi's ruler (early/mid-tenth c. BC Euboea), whence we travel to Cyprus where "Euboean and Phoenician goods had coexisted from c. 920 BC onwards" (p. 68 - referring to a tomb at Amathus).
Our next port-of-call is the unexcavated Posideion on the Bay of Issus, in the Neo-Hittite cultural milieu of Cilicia (southern part of Asia Minor - chapter 5). The Euboeans of this site may have joined the Assyrian Tiglath Pileser III's 730s campaign to the region, as attested by Near Eastern pieces of horse-harnesses from the same period found in Greek graves (pp. 109-12).
Further south, in North Syria there was the trading-post of Potamoi Karon/Al Mina (founded c. 800-780) in the Orontes river delta (ch. 6). One further evidence is that many of these sites can be connected "through one particular class of small objects, a much-discussed type of engraved seal-stone which shows the schematic figure of a 'lyre-player' on its green or reddish surface" (p. 107 - for a sample of it, see also p. 162). Aside from trading their wares, Euboean-Phoenician interaction resulted in the creation of the Greek alphabetic script (the earliest find is dated c. 750 BC), which in turn was adopted by Etruscans; the Greek unit of weight (stater) being modeled after the Phoenicians' shekel; and loan words related - quite understandably - to commerce.
On their westward journey, the same Euboeans - chiefly from Eretria and Chalcis that engaged in the Lelantine War (ended c. 705 BC) back on their home island - founded a settlement on the volcanic isle of Ischia/Pithekoussa off the coast of Naples c. 770-60 BC to produce wine and olive oil, while also practicing gold work; and another one on the mainland, called Cumae. Worth to note that "Euboeans may have come even earlier to north Africa, following Phoenicians who were settled at Auza (by c. 850 BC), Utica, and Carthage. From there they may have joined the route west to Huelva in Spain where Euboean plates and cups arrived by c. 800 BC. The north African venture would then have developed, beginning with a local Pithecussae and spreading to a Naxos which followed the Euboean one in Sicily (734 Bc)" (p. 138).
II. Myths traveling with Euboeans in their minds (pp. 163-314)
"Thanks to creative mistakes about foreign languages and foreign monuments [i.e, flexible misunderstandings, linguistic faults, wishful conjectures] there was a vast enlargement of the Greeks' 'family of peoples.' Cadmus included 'Phoenix' and 'Cilix,' namesakes of the Phoenicians and Cilicians; Lybia and Egypt became involved in the same genealogy, while Io, as promised, turned the lands by the Nile into a long-lasting Greek settlement, if only after Alexander the Great's conquest. This mapping and genealogy nowadays tend to be credited with stark consequences for colonial power and Greek territorial claims...Greeks who devised these kinships were not defining their own Greekness by opposing foreign 'others' to themselves. They were assuming that 'others' were more like themselves than they really were" (p. 204).
The myth of Daedalus is taken to Sicily (from the 7th c. BC onward), then as far as the west coast of Etruscan Italy - see winged figure captioned "Taitale" on a jug from Cerveteri, dated c. 630 BC (p. 189).
How the notion of the "pillars of Heracles/Hercules" (straits of Gibraltar) may have been inspired by the Euboeans' sighting of two pillars (Gr. stélai) dedicated to the patron-god Melqart of the Phoenician Tyre at Cadiz (Gr. Gades), and how stopovers of Heracles eastward journey while herding the stolen cattle of the giant Geryon were fixed to non-Greek places in the Iberian peninsula (for instance, Tartessus corresponds to Guadalquivir river in SW Spain) and Sicily (Solous, Eryx, Motya) (pp. 195-8).
How the "house of Muksas" ruling 9-8th c. BC Cilicia was assigned, falsely, an origin with the migrant seer Mopsus, and how his quarrel with another mythological hero, Amphilochus reflects the strife between competing settlers from Euboea and Rhodes in Asia Minor (ch. 13).
Ch. 14 traces the cult of Adonis and his women-worshippers from Babylon (Dumazi) through the Phoenician Byblos-Aphaca (Tammuz/Adonai) to Golgoi-Argos/Arsos in Cyprus.
How the sickle-motif forms a common mytho-textual platform to connect the Euboean settlement called Zancle (founded c. 770-6 or 730-20) of Sicily, the "birth of Venus" (Aphrodite), with senior god Cronos of the Greeks and the Hittite Kumarbi, is unraveled elegantly in chapter 16.
Comparison of the Hittite Storm god Teshub's clash with the snaky monster Hedammu and Zeus' confrontation with Typhon, whose lair the Euboean travellers associated with the cave of Arima (Cilicia), while the "lashing" (final imprisonment) of this serpent creature was thought to have taken place under the aforementioned Pithecussae, the island that in Etruscan language would be called Arim(a).
Large prehistoric bones were regarded by ancient Greeks as remains of the insolent and rebellious giants Zeus had battled with. Adding somewhat to the "Map of Giants" in Adrienne Mayor's The First Fossil Hunters: Dinosaurs, Mammoths, and Myth in Greek and Roman Times (New in Paper) (2000), Lane Fox includes the Pallene peninsula in northern Greece as the "base-camp", the Phlegraean Fields near Naples as the "battlefield", and the foul smelling bay by Leuca on the heel of Italy, where the mythological cohort of giants rested - sites that can easily be linked up with one another in the Euboeans' voyages.
III. Concerning Homer's and Hesiod's sources and their knowledge of the ancient world/geography (pp. 315-64)
The author draws our attention to the curious absences of many of the previous themes in Homer's epics. Then he refutes the idea of eastern borrowings in the Illiad, argued by other scholars: By c. 730 some of them [Euboeans] on Ischia knew Homer's Illiad, on a defensible reading of the inscription on 'Nestor's cup'" (p. 338, cf. p. 148).
However, it was not Homer, possibly a native of Chios, who had direct contact with 8th c. BC Euboeans but his near contemporary, fellow poet/story-teller/singer Hesiod. Indeed, he won the poetry contest by performing Hesiod: Theogony at the funeral-games of Amphidamas in Chalcis ca. 710-5 BC. This work, in turn, incorporated elements Hesiod had heard from Cretan priests of the Apollo oracle at Delphi. The core stories originated with the cultures we associate with Mt. Hazzi/Kasios/Jebel Aqra ("Olympus of the Near East" - see ch. 15), whence they journeyed to Cyprus and Crete, where local adjustements were made. No wonder "Theogony" resonated with his Euboean audience who "were not Orientalizing when they amplified the Greek tales of struggles and successions in heaven. They were adding details, they believed, which were told in the east about their same gods and which were supported by the landscape from Syria to Italy. They were not exotic: they were true" (pp. 350-1).
& tons more...
Here and there irony, in one form or another, seeps in that may elicit different responses from gentlemen (grin) and ladies (raised eyebrow): "She was Io of Argos, the first woman to become a real cow" (p. 199); or "...Adonis' mother was named Smyrna but then became Myrrha, the world's first spice-girl" (p. 228).
Elsewhere, being closer to home and in a sarcastic vein: "...in the benighted Cotswolds, such local 'Rassegne' [Surveys] would merely contain articles on sheep-tracks and mullioned windows" (endnote on pp. 404-5).
My only quibble is due to the author's rather confusing use of the term "south Asian" numerous times in reference to Lycia and Cilicia in Asia Minor from page 208 through 222.
8 sketch maps, 26 b&w photos, endnotes/references (pp. 365-415), bibliography (417-54), incomplete index (455-65) - note that Solous, river Tartessus (see above), or Erytheia (p.196), for instance, are not listed; while Ugarit cannot be found under letter U but is lumped together with Ras Shamra (p. 463).
Although I'm not a specialist in the field, I found his placement of Homer in the 8th century as convincing. I think Fox, while obviously conversant with some of the advances in "indo european" studies, is largely dismissive of that discipline, but of course it's impossible to ignore the relationship between Hittite culture and Greek myth.
Also, his 8th c. Euboeans seem to have had telepathy or cell phones, as one group of them sees something in Syria or Cilicia and makes a story about it, while another does so in Sicily. Meanwhile, another group of them in Crete or Egypt is wholly cognizant of both stories and mixes them to create another story with elements of both.
Furthermore, Lane never explains why Euboeans are so rarely mentioned in literature if they were such a pivotal part of establishing so many later, mythical traditions. This failure undermines the whole book.