Sunday, April 4, 2010

AtF: Two Shooters on the Grassy Knoll

I’ve been turning the last couple entries in the AtF series over and over in my mind today.  There was something I wanted to write about for the follow-up entry to Caesar v. Tysilio.  It was such a strong impulse that I’d written about half a post in my head, but having never put it to paper it’s gone now.  So while I think about it, I’ll instead show you a picture of my new apartment.

Some people should not be allowed to have mantles.  That’s all I’m sayin’.  Also, the focal point of my living room is a signed RCPM tour poster.  Why?  Because I’m trying to create a new style of interior decoration I call North American What the Fuck?  Seriously.  I’ve got this high shelf on the other side of my living room that currently contains pictures of old and new Comiskey Park, random friends, my dog, WGN Radio’s John Williams with a historian named Clay Jenkinson who pretends to be Thomas Jefferson and Theodore Roosevelt, a Carlton Fisk White Sox Starting Lineup figuring in its original packaging, and three R/C trucks (specifically two RC-10Ts and a RS4 MT).  Also, since I took the picture of my mantle I’ve added my Frank Thomas and Mike Ditka (yes, Mike Ditka) bobblehead dolls.  Because, apparently, I intend to write a post entitled “The 29-Year Old Virgin” in about three months.*

Oh, and don’t even get me started on the Lego pirate ship that’s just itching to be reassembled…

Okay, we’re back from that interlude.  And I think I’m starting to remember.  So hang on to your hats, folks.  And if you’re not wearing a hat, feel free to go get a hat to hold on to.  I’ll wait.  For about three seconds.  Ha!

Aaaand we’re back.

I don’t know if anyone noticed, but The Bullshit Channel engaged in further bullshit this week, just in time for Easter.  They ran a program where they re-created the face of Jesus using the Shroud of Turin.

Now, for anyone who possesses even a tiny shred of information about the Shroud in general and medieval relics in particular, the idea of creating a program like this is indefensible.  The Shroud popped in to existence about six hundred years ago.  Science tells us this.  Hell, logic tells us this.**

The only reason that the Shroud of Turin story persists is because there are people who willfully disregard science, history, and logic in an attempt to claim its authenticity.  They claim that the radio carbon testing was inaccurate or that it’s impossible to create such an image using paint or some other such garbage.

Against that, well, we have the issue that the body would need to be wrapped in a decidedly non-Jewish burial tradition way in order for the Shroud to be real.  Also we have the, “Things that popped up during the height of the relic era claiming to be authentic Jesus relics were pretty good moneymakers,” thing.  But that doesn’t matter in the face of “faith.”

I put faith in quotes there because it’s not faith that the believers in the Shroud are seeking.  Bill Cooper isn’t seeking it, either.  They’re seeking certainty, and in their attempt to seek certainty they selectively choose the accounts they’re willing to listen to.

Truth be told, I shouldn’t need to write this series.  The Bill Coopers of the world should be laughed out of the room by the other 99.99% of the population.  Sadly, they aren’t, as we’ve seen recently in the great state of Texas.

Now, I’ve seen nothing to indicate that the SBoE of Texas is attempting to make After the Flood a part of the curriculum.  But the BS they’ve been pulling with state science and history standards goes hand in hand with the topic I’m discussing tonight.  It’s all about selective reading and intentional suppression of the actual literature.

In this specific case, Bill Cooper has to bluster his way through the problems in the differences between Tysilio and Caesar.  He does it in four parts:

Caesar describes in detail how his cavalry came to grief when they encountered the unusual fighting tactics of the Britons. He describes these tactics in detail, remarking on their effectiveness. And yet no such description appears in the British account. One could reasonably expect that a later forger or compiler would triumphantly have mentioned how his forebears terrified and almost defeated the Romans with superior and ingenious fighting tactics, but not a contemporary Briton who was recording the same events as Caesar but from a different vantage point. But, again, why should a contemporary Briton mention tactics with which he and his intended readers would have been all too familiar?

The second concerns our good buddy Labienus:

Now, the name Labienus would earlier have been known to the Britons from reports reaching them of Caesar's second-in-command who, at the time of Caesar's second invasion and quite unknown to the native Britons, had been left behind in Gaul to administer matters there in Caesar's absence. Thus, learning from prisoners taken in battle that the dead officer's name was Laberius, they confused the names and naturally assumed that this was the Labienus of whom they had heard. It was a perfectly natural error made in wartime conditions, but not one that would have been made by a medieval forger who had Caesar's account in front of him.

The third concerns Odina:

Similarly, the second item concerns the garbled British report of a fortress that was erected at Caesar's command when he returned to Gaul. Caesar does not name the fort, whereas the British account reports its name as Odina.  Flinders Petrie points out that no such place is known, although he does mention that Caesar reports the sending of troops to Lexovii (today's Lisieux), and that the river there, which again Caesar does not name but which is called Olina, suggests the origins of the British report. Again, the name Odina (which Caesar does not give) could obviously not have been borrowed from Caesar's account by any medieval hand.

The fourth was the whole confusion with the ships getting destroyed thing:

The third incident concerns an inaccurate report by British scouts which led Kasswallawn's intelligence gatherers to assume that Caesar had fled Britain at a time when the Roman army was in fact firmly encamped on these shores. Caesar, having lost valuable ships during a storm, ordered that the ships be taken out of the water and dragged inland to within the Roman camp.  This was a prodigious feat of engineering. These ships were extremely heavy military transports, and yet the task was well within the (to us well-known) capabilities and engineering skills of the Roman sappers. However, it would not have occurred to the Britons that such a thing would be contemplated let alone possible, and so it is that when the advance scouting parties of the Britons could no longer see Caesar's ships beached upon the strand, they naturally but wrongly assumed that he had fled these shores.

And, hell, let’s add a fifth, specifically the bit where Cooper mentions that Tysilio has accounts of “British warriors fighting in this country against the armies of the kings of Syria and Lybia, and which look initially like a most unlikely collection of stories.”  I should say so…

Anyway, as we can see in the first four, Cooper points out an objection, then explains it away.  For the fifth, bonus objection, he points out that there may well have been Syrians and Libyans in Caesar’s army.  I don’t have a problem with his rational per se, but doubt there would have been enough Libyans or Syrians to warrant a mention in Caesar’s army.  Assuming there were any.

Unfortunately for Cooper, the rest of the arguments don’t hold up well at all.

I believe I’ve already handled the first, but the fact is that we would probably be more likely to see detailed accounts of victorious tactics from the pen of a primary, British source.  The second is a decidedly convenient and serendipitous account of the death of someone with a similar name.  The third hinges on a similarly serendipitous account of a river with a particularly fortunate (for Cooper) name.  The fourth is just plain bullshit, since Caesar didn’t charge the Thames in ships.

The assumption that the author of Tysilio would have been cribbing directly from Caesar is also suspect, anyway.  Chances are he had some combination of folk tale and Caesar to work with and wrote whatever made the most sense.  Or, alternately, he wrote whatever seemed the most interesting.

It’s also useful to note that Cooper never even touches the issues I take with Tysilio.  Namely, he sees no need to even mention dragons.  Or Merlin.  At least as far as I’ve been able to see.  He never questions the founding of London.  Oh, and he never bothers to point out that Brutus is the descendant of Aeneas, who was a mythological hero of Troy, who was a warrior in a war that never happened.

But, y’know, other than that I have no problems with this.

This, though, is what the Biblical literalist has to do to survive.  They have to pick out little pieces and argue until the end of time that these tiny little details prove that their account of the Bible is true.  Bill Cooper is a man looking at a picture of Lee Harvey Oswald taking that fatal shot from the Book Depository, but picking out a black speck by the grassy knoll to prove that JFK was killed as part of a vast conspiracy.


*Also, on the off chance I end up co-habitating with a member of the female gender at any point in my life, I’m pretty sure that there will be move-in fights.  Those fights will probably end with a stabbing.

Although, really, I don’t think this will be too much of a problem.  I’m pretty good at playing the “emotionally stunted and standoffish” card on first dates.  Also, given that, like, 58% of everyone I know is currently posting ever-so-cute baby pictures on Facebook and whatnot, I manage to remind myself how small my desire to have children is, like, every day.  Also, I’m perfectly content to let anyone who needs a place to stay to crash at my place.  But not for any longer than is absolutely necessary and definitely not in my room.

**The thing popped up in the mid-16th Century, accompanied by a story of its miraculous recovery from the fall of Constantinople or some other such tomfoolery.  There are no records of the Shroud before that.  Given the medieval penchant for relic forgery, there’s a really good explanation for this…


Rhino of Steel said...

The second point really shows his faith actually, but only his faith in the capability of medieval scribes. If he honestly thinks such a mistake couldn't be made even with a correct version in front of him, he is sadly mistaken.

Even that assumes Tysilio had a correct account of Caesar's De Bello Gallico instead of a fragmentary and/or poorly copied edition.

I'm also really curious, leaving aside the abject stupidity of a naval invasion up that Thames, how the scouts could see that the ships were gone from the beach but miss the fortified Roman camp of thousands of men and horses as well as hundreds of ships. I don't think it is even possible to be that incompetent.

Geds said...

I know! Imagine the conversation the king would have with his scouts after the Roman legions charged out of the woods and slaughtered everyone in their drunken revelry.

King: Where the hell did they come from?"

Scout: Um, we don't know.

King: Didn't you look?

Scout: Yeah. We didn't see their ships out on the river any more.

King: Did you happen to look on shore?

Scout: Uh...

King: Did you happen to notice, say, a large encampment with about six or seven thousand guys?

Scout: We did. We just weren't sure what to make of it.

King: Did you happen to notice that they were all dressed alike?

Scout: Yes, actually. We figured maybe they hadn't called each other to check their wardrobes.

King: Did you notice that they were all heavily armed?

Scout: Now that you mention it...

King: Alright, here's how we'll play it. We'll say that we beat them back, but then, um, one of my rivals called them back. Yeah. Tom?

Tom: Yes, m'lord?

King: Pretend you called Caesar back. We're not going to look like idiots here.

Tom: Yes, m'lord.

King: Okay, that should do it. Y'know, just as long as that Caesar guy is illiterate...

Rhino of Steel said...

Sadly for Cassivellaunus, Caesar remained at least semi-literate although he certainly wrote like someone who had taken one too many sword blows to the helmet (and thank Jupiter for that, so much easier to translate).

Something with the third point is bugging me now too. He says the Britons knew about Labienus. How, exactly? The disputed amount of interaction between Gaul and Briton aside, I can't see the identities of Caesar's lieutenants as being something they would be all that interested in. Even if they were and they had detailed information then surely they would have been aware that he was actually in charge of the legions in Gaul at the time and, you know, alive. And continued to be alive and prominent for long enough after that if they had known of him then they would have realized if a mistake had been made earlier.

If he wanted to make the argument that they were deliberately lying to make themselves look better I might buy it but that goes against his first point since obviously contemporaries never feel the need to make themselves look better than their enemies (/headdesk).

I am starting to see why you make sure to have a drink when doing these.