Sunday, April 25, 2010

AtF: Greeks Bearing Fire

I’m not going to lie to you, tonight’s After the Flood is going to hurt me more than it hurts you.  The reason for this is about twelve-fold, but I think I’ll give you the list of things that matter.

First, I’m almost entirely out of booze.  I found a couple bottles of Shiner in the back of my fridge, but they were most certainly purchased my first weekend in the great state of Texas, since I’ve mostly been focusing on St. Arnold, Rahr & Sons, and Real Ale ever since I learned there are actual microbreweries down here that don’t make my inner beer snob want to cry.  Either way, I have a splash of Tanqueray and Lagavulin other than that Shiner.  But the gin won’t be enough and there’s no way in hell I’m wasting good scotch on this filth.  So, enter Shiner.  One of which is Shiner Light.  I will say this, though, at least it’s not Lone Star.  Although it is getting a bit skunky…

Second, I just figured out exactly what I’m going to do with that book I’ve had sitting around for, like, four years waiting to be written.  And yet here I am, called by my strange feelings of obligation to write a bunch of stuff about a terrible book.  This is what I do for you people.  And how do you repay me?  Um, actually, I don’t know.  Maybe I should start charging for blog access.  Or maybe I’ll incorporate a barter system, say, a goat for a snarky takedown of a terrible book…

Third, this week’s Cooper bullshit is terribly tedious.  It requires absolutely no imagination to poke holes in.

Fourth, seriously, I’ve just figured out that I need and want to give agency and voice to a character who otherwise existed to push one of the main character’s stories along.  I’m still a little thrown as to how, exactly, to do this, but it’s a shiny new problem.  And it’s weird, too, because the re-written initial chapters that survive from my attempt to re-do this thing from, like, last fall clearly indicate that I was on my way to that point, but I’d apparently not gotten around to realizing that it was the inevitable result of what I was working towards.

But it’s okay.  I’ve been a good boy and done all my chores, so if I do this now I can go play in my fictional universes for a little while before bed.  Also, when did becoming an adult mean reverting to childhood?  That’s a little weird.

Anyway, if you remember from last week, we dealt with the amazing connection between Livy’s Brennus and Tysilio’s Brennius.  If you don’t recall from last week, well, I screwed up the auto publisher.  So you might want to just go back and re-read that puppy right now.  Either way, the Roman historian Livy had a story of the sack of Rome in 387 BCE that sounded a lot like an account Tysilio gave, except the bit where Livy said it was a Gallic tribe who popped across the Alps and Tysilio claimed it was the Britons.

Either way, I found Cooper’s credulous reporting of Tysilio to be more than a bit preposterous.  The idea of the Britons just saying, “Hey, let’s go attack Italy,” is nuts.  The idea of whoever wrote Tysilio deciding to incorporate that bit in to his own story and attribute it to the great Britons of old, however, is pretty damn attractive.

Cooper, of course, gives no such thought to the idea.  I mean, it goes beyond not effectively arguing the point.  He simply assumes its accuracy based, I’m assuming, on the fact that it supports his nutso world building scheme.

So Cooper then goes back to Dunvallo, who I also touched on last week.  Specifically, Cooper goes to Dunvallo’s code of laws, which were apparently quite friggin’ awesome.  Geoffrey of Monmouth said so, so we can totally trust that.  And they still exist to this day, according to Cooper.  He even reprinted them in one of his Appendices.  Oh, wait, no, he reprinted Flinders Petrie talking about them.[1]

Here’s the problem.  The only real reference I can find to modern occurrences of the Molmutine Laws comes from the discovery by one Iolo Morganwg, a self-styled 18th and 19th Century Welsh bard.  Oh, and forger.  He was also a forger.  Who wanted to bring back some sort of crazy Arthurian/Welsh/druidic tradition.

Judging by Petrie’s discussion of the Molmutine Laws, which aren’t cited by any stretch of the imagination, I’m guessing he was working with some combination of records handed down by G of M and ol’ Iolo.  And I have real problems with Iolo’s version, as they seem to borrow far more from 18th Century Enlightenment thought than anything that could have possibly come from a pre-Roman barbarian king.[2]

Either way, Cooper, that irascible devil, proceeds to take the evidence provided by the Brennus story and the evidence provided by the Dunvallo story and say that their truthfulness logically means we can jump back eight centuries[3] and say that all the stuff about Brutus colonizing the island of Britain is totally accurate.

Cooper again flogs Petrie’s explanation of things to borrow his attempt to claim that Tysilio’s use of a crapload of navigational locations is accurate.

The general character of these names selected is that of points well known to mariners, such as any seaman might readily give as stages of a voyage. How then do they come into the Brut legend? They cannot have been stated by any seaman after AD 700, as the Arab conquest wiped out the old names and old trade.

In general, I have to concede the point to Petrie on this one.  He even points out that your average medieval scholar wouldn’t have had access to such information on your basic mappa mundi.  Moreover, Tysilio and Geoffrey pre-dated the re-discovery of Ptolemy.

Did a medieval writer, then, extract the names from a Roman author? No single author seems to contain all of them: Ptolemy omits Salinae, Pliny omits Salinae and Azara, Strabo only has the Philanae, the Antonine itinerary only Rusiccade and Malua, the Peutingerian table only Rusicade, and the Philaeni in a wrong position.

Again, it’s a good point.  But I have many questions, specifically about where Petrie got his source material.  See, in the Cooper translation of Tysilio, Brutus doesn’t stop at nearly as many places as Petrie claims he does.  He does hit the Caves of Hercules, which are generally better known as “Pillars.”  Also, he fights a dude name Goffar the Pict in Aquitania before laying waste to Gascony and marching on Tours.

First, the Picts lived in Scotland.  So it’s a bit hard to believe that a Pict would be king of the Aquitanii.  Second, Tours wasn’t called Tours until about the 4th Century CE.  I have a hard time believing it existed in the 12th Century BCE, either.

And, of course, that ignores the bit where Brutus communicated with a talking statue of Diana.  Also, some sea monsters attacked them while they were hanging in the Caves of Hercules.  And when they arrived in Britain it was uninhabited, except for the giants.  But there weren’t too many of them.  And Brutus had his own giant to help out.  So that was pretty sweet.

But, the fact is, I have problems with the Brutus origin story, anyway.  I mean, beyond the whole “descendant of Aeneas” thing.

See, according to Tysilio, Brutus found a bunch of Trojans enslaved in Greece under the great Greek king Pandrasus.  First, that sounds about as authentically Greek as when people act like adding an “o” to the end of every word means they’re speaking Spanish.  Second, there wasn’t a single Greek king at any point in Greek history until basically Philip the Great.  Greeks were all about the independence of the city-state.  They only banded together out of need and often fought amongst themselves.  You can even figure this out if you read Homer, for the love of Pete.

Moreover, according to Tysilio, the reason the Trojans were in Greece is because Achilles’ son Pyrrhus brought them there after the Trojan War.  Where he held them in vengeance for the slaying of his father.

As best I can tell, Achilles didn’t have a son.  Full stop.

Moreover, there was a Pyrrhus, specifically Pyrrhus of Epirus.  He nearly destroyed Rome in the 4th Century BCE, but won a battle that was so disastrous it gave us the term “Pyrrhic Victory.”

Oh, and there’s a bit during the tale of Brutus freeing the Trojans from captivity where it records the Trojans catapulting Greek Fire at the Greeks and pouring it down on their heads.  Say it with me, kids: Greek Fire was a Byzantine weapon.

Now, this bit is interesting, though.  Cooper sees it as an indication of the true antiquity of Tysilio.  Greek Fire wasn’t invented until the tail-end of the 7th Century CE.  It was also not known to most of Europe until the Crusades and it was not known as “Greek Fire” until then, as the Byzantines did not call it by that name.  Moreover, they wouldn’t have called themselves “Greeks.”  The Greeks called themselves “Hellenes.”  The Byzantines called themselves “Romans.” It's true.  Look it up.  Unless you're Bill Cooper.[4]

So, then, how does a reference to Greek Fire make its way in to Tysilio?  The theoretical original account would have been written at roughly the same time as the invention of the weapon.  Geoffrey lived and died between the First and Second Crusades, so it’s actually somewhat difficult to believe that he’d ever heard of the stuff.  It didn’t receive mention in medieval texts for another century or two.

Thucydides references the use of fire as a weapon as early as the 5th Century BCE, but that would have still put it a good seven centuries after Brutus’s supposed expedition.  And Thucydides’ weapon wasn’t Greek Fire as used by the Byzantines.  For that matter, Tysilio doesn’t refer to Greek Fire as used by the Byzantines.  Greek Fire was used like a flamethrower, whereas Tysilio refers to it as being catapulted and poured.

This doesn’t really undermine the account itself.  Had Tysilio said that flaming missiles were catapulted at the Greeks or molten lead poured down on their heads I wouldn’t have batted an eye.  These things happened in siege warfare.  Setting fire to siege engines was the best way to get rid of them, so flaming missiles were used all the time.

But trying to claim that a Greek Fire reference makes the story more believable?  Nope.  Not going to happen.  I suspect it was a mis-translation on Cooper’s part.  Or evidence that Tysilio as known by Cooper is a post-13th Century forgery.  Perhaps we should get Iolo Morganwg on the phone…


[1]I find myself continually astounded by the complete lack of intellectual curiosity Bill Cooper displays in his book.  I’d say that there’s a better than even chance that I know more about the world Cooper’s writing about than he does, and I only give a flying crap about it for about three hours a week whilst consuming copious amounts of alcohol.  Seriously, though, quoting someone else talking about something is a terrible way to get your point across that the thing exists.

[2]It’s not a far stretch.  By arguing that the ancients had an extremely modern, Enlightenment philosophy that was lost to the Romans and Christians, it establishes the idea that, “Hey, we just need to get back to this thing we used to have and, by the way, weren’t the Druids feckin’ cool?  It’s quite reminiscent of many other religious narratives.  The most easily comparable in my mind is Wiccanism as we’ve had it pushed in to the public consciousness over the last few years.  But there are also those moments where Christians like to claim that Jesus was the first feminist and other such silliness.

[3]Skipping, once again, the bit with the red dragon and the white dragon.  C’mon, Cooper, teach the controversy.  Maybe they were Apatosauruses.  With wings.  And the ability to breathe fire.

[4]I'm not saying he doesn't have to.  I'm saying he won't.


Rhino of Steel said...

Any time you have to use a bard as your go to source, something has gone very wrong. Not to mention trying to take any story connected with the Trojan War as historically accurate is just plain stupid. He has gone from extremely wrong but at least superficially plausible differences between Tysilio and Caesar to the entirely impossible idea that the Aeneas story is accurate. He actually managed to reduce the credibility of his argument which is kind of impressive in a brain damaged way.

I do have to mention one thing he did get right that you called him on though, Achilles did have a son named Pyrrhus, also known as Neoptolemus. See, when Thetis foretold that Achilles would die in a great war, she decided to hide him so he wouldn't fight. So she sent him to live in the court of Lycomedes, king of Skyros, had him dress as a woman, and go by the name Pyrrha. Living with the king's daughters, Achilles ends up impregnating one of them, Deidamea,and she gave birth to Pyrrhus. He was the one who killed Priam and took Andromache as a concubine, usually depicted as a fairly large asshole even for a Greek hero.

Side note: One of my classmates made a Greek Fire equivalent, since we don't know the recipe, for a class last term. Worked amazingly well, even the grenade version of it burst into flames just from impact. She is very likely on a CSIS watchlist for ordering the materials mind you but so worth it.

Geds said...

Huh. So Achilles really had a son named Pyrrhus. I mean, it was in the same way that Homer really has a son named Bart, but still...

I guess you learn something new every day.

BeamStalk said...

I was beaten to the comment about Achilles' son. Yes, according to mythology he had a son. Odysseus claimed Achilles' armor and later brought it to Neoptolemus. Now if you try to claim this as real history you are crazy.

Chris said...

So it’s a bit hard to believe that a Pict would be king of the Aquitanii.

I'm not inclined to believe in a Pict in 1,200 BCE either, really. As far as I know Picts was the name of a tribal confederacy which came together in the 4th century CE, or maybe a little earlier. Tacitus doesn't mention them in Agricola, although he knows plenty of North British tribal names, so the parsimonious conclusion is that they didn't exist by the 1st century, let alone a thousand years earlier.

Geds said...

And I am officially baffled as to why it occurred to me to think Tours didn't exist in the 12th Century BCE, but the idea of a Pict hanging out didn't phase me at all. Neither, for that matter, did the idea of him ruling Aquitaine and Gascony.

The Aquitanii was a name given by the Romans (it's an extremely Latin word) and, as best I can tell, "Gascony" was a medieval construct. So we have another problem here. If there were really pre-RomaninBritain writings, then the words "Aquitaine" and "Gascony," not to mention "Tours" shouldn't have existed anywhere in the Tysilio account. And I find it much harder to believe that Tysilio or G of M would have simply known what area was referred to, as I'm aware of how much difficulty Petrarch had figuring such stuff out. And he had access to much better source material.

GailVortex said...

And I am officially baffled as to why it occurred to me

I'm thinking your first couple paragraphs might shed some light on a possibility...

Michael Mock said...

Yep, I think GailVortex has spotted the cause: you didn't have enough booze.

Geds said...

I love that, "You're not drunk enough to follow this book," is a valid criticism of my critique...

It's just such an immense blizzard of stupid, though. I think that this is one of those cases where the community critique is actually necessary to try to catch all the insanity at any given time.

And, terrifyingly enough, the next chapter starts with a re-tread of what I've been going over with Brutus. Apparently it's valid to keep making the same tired, not even wrong argument.