Sunday, May 16, 2010

AtF: How Icarus Got His Groove Back

We’re back for more.  And by “we,” I mean, “me.”  I made the mistake of engaging in a foolhardy bet, though, so there’s going to be some rough terrain ahead.

See, I made a bet that it’s possible to find a line Glenn Bek won’t cross and from the moment I could find incontrovertible proof that he has no line, I wouldn’t drink for a month.  Well…

 So I’m completely sober.  But I must soldier on because…um, something something contractual obligations…?

Either way, we’re fortunate to be at one of the funniest interludes in William Cooper B.A.’s comedy of erroneous logic.  See, apparently Brutus’s travelogue mentioned that he visited an island called Levkas.  Apparently Geoffrey of Monmouth mentioned the oak forests on said island.  Cooper then makes an utterly obvious leap of logic.

For Geoffrey of Monmouth to be aware of these woods, they must have been mentioned in the original and ancient source-material that he was translating, and we can only ask ourselves whether the presence of oak forests on this sacred island which the Britons long remembered, and the fact that the early Druids of Britain ever afterwards held the oak tree to be particularly and peculiarly sacred, are entirely unconnected.

Now, I’m no expert on the druids.  Technically speaking, nobody is an expert on the druids.  We know absolutely nothing about them, as the Romans weren’t really big fans of running comparative religion symposia.  The druids were outlawed, pushed back, marginalized, and basically driven to extinction from Julius Caesar’s time.  However, what Cooper seems to think we know of the druids comes from Pliny.  To wit:

The Druidae... esteeme nothing more sacred in the world, than Misselto, and the tree whereupon it breedeth, so it be on Oke... they seem well enough to be named thereupon Dryidae in Greeke, which signifieth ... Oke-priests.

I’ve got approximately three problems with this.  First, mistletoe does not come from oak trees.  That’s like saying moss comes maple trees or mushrooms come from beech logs.  Second, although there is a connection between dryads and oak trees, that comparison on the part of Pliny is specious at best.  Third, what was Pliny doing naming a bunch of British priests using a Greek word?  I won’t find out the answer to that final question, though, because Cooper, as he so often does, gives me the source he took the quote from without telling me where he got the Pliny quote.

The answers to my questions don’t actually matter, though.  The idea that it actually matters that there was an island with oak trees in the Mediterranean and that druids liked oak trees are connected require you to believe, well, that a Trojan hero had a grandson who wrested Britain away from giants.

By the way, one of the big pro-Brutus arguments is that Brutus named the island after himself.  So, y’know, Brutus/Britain.  Except that was the name given to the island by, wait for it, the Romans.  I just thought I’d toss that little nugget in to the discussion.  Chew on it for a while we go back to Levkas.

However, of added interest is the fact that both Geoffrey of Monmouth and the Welsh chronicle record the presence on the island of a ruined temple that was dedicated to the goddess Diana. There then follow the descriptions of a most complex ritual performed by Brutus and the nature and attributes of the goddess Diana that could only have come from a pagan source. But there is an added aspect to all this. Diana was considered to be the personification of the moon, and although there is no apparent trace remaining today of the temple of Diana on the island, there are the ruins of a temple to Diana's theological husband, the sun god Apollo.

Okay, four things strike me about this particular bit.  First, the rampant incuriosity displayed by Cooper with the descriptions of ritual “that could only have come from a pagan source.”  Actually, it’s not just incuriosity, it’s a sniffy, haughty, dismissiveness.[1]  Second, the idea that it doesn’t matter that there’s no archaeological proof of a temple to Diana doesn’t matter, since there is a temple to Apollo is hilarious.  It’s like getting directions to a McDonald’s, then insisting that you’re in the right place because there’s a Burger King and they’re both places that sell shitty hamburgers.[2]  Third, um, Diana was Apollo’s twin sister, not wife.  Theologically speaking, Cooper’s dead wrong.  Also, sister makes way more sense than wife from a “theological” perspective.  Furthermore, is that really an appropriate use for “theological?”  Fourth, if we’re talking about the island of Levkas in the period where Rome hasn’t yet asserted itself in Greece, shouldn’t that have been a temple to Artemis?[3]

The thing is, though, that he uses this to set up what may well be the official dumbest thing I have read so far in my slog through Cooper’s dreck.  That temple to Apollo was up on a cliff, which apparently meant it was associated with an awesome ritual:

... it was from here that the priests of Apollo would hurl themselves into space, buoyed up - so it was said - by live birds and feathered wings. The relationship between the ritual and the god seems obscure, although there was an early connection between Apollo and various birds. Ovid confirms that the virtues of the flight and the healing waters below the cliff had been known since the time of Deucalion, the Greek Noah.[4]

In case you’re wondering, his source for that story is Ernie Bradford’s The Companion Guide to the Greek Islands.  If you’re thinking, “Gee, that sounds like some sort of Lonely Planet-esque travel guide,” well, you’d be right.  This reminds me of that one time my Illinois history prof gave me a zero on one of my essay answers on a test because I attempted to use Zagat’s Chicago Restaurants as a source on the Black Hawk War.[5]

Awesomely, though, the hits just keep on coming.  Tonight’s entry is a murderer’s row of teh stupid.

Now there are definite echoes of this curious and most ancient ritual in the story of one of Brutus'not far removed descendants, king Bladud (Blaiddyd in the Welsh chronicle. See next chapter). Bladud, it is recorded, made himself pinions and wings and learned how to fly. He only had one lesson and the flight was predictably a short one, but the important detail is that Bladud was killed as he struck the temple of Apollo that once stood in the city known today as London.

No.  Seriously.  We’ve just played out Johnny Dangerously’s grapevine[6], history-style.  The story of Brutus mentions an island with a temple to Diana and some oak trees.  The island in question doesn’t actually have a temple to Diana, but it does have a temple to Apollo and oak trees are sacred to druids.  There’s a legend associated with that temple that the priests would jump out the window, borne by birds.  A descendent of Brutus tried to build his own wings and fly, but crashed in to a temple of Apollo, instead.  Ergo, Cooper’s stupid premise is absolutely correct.

We’re almost to the end of the chapter.  Cooper throws out a couple more craptacular gems that are too short for their own entries, so I’ll deal with them here.

Yet this is not the only curious detail to emerge out of the early British record. What, for example, are we to make of the mention of Greek Fire in the story of Brutus? This appears as tan gwyllt in the Welsh chronicle, and as sulphureas tedas and greco igne in Geoffrey of Monmouth's account. (27) As Flinders Petrie rightly points out, Greek Fire was entirely unheard of in Europe before the time of the Crusades. Did an early medieval forger have a lucky guess?

I already dealt with this.  Greek Fire didn’t exist for nearly two thousand years after the supposed journey of Brutus.  So, um, I’m going to go with not a lucky guess on the part of some forger.

Further, there is the name of the king against whom Brutus fought in order to win the freedom of his followers. His name is given as Pendrassys in the Welsh chronicle and as Pandrasus in Geoffrey. (29) I have seen no attempt whatever to identify this king, and there is now no possibility of tracing the name in the surviving records of ancient Greece, although such tracing would itself be futile.

Do you know why you haven’t seen any attempt, Bill Cooper?  Because the only place he gets mentioned is in Tysilio.  And he didn’t exist.  But that doesn’t stop Cooper from coming up with an awesome explanation.  Did we doubt him for even a moment?

Pandrasus is not, it seems, a proper name at all but a title - pan Doris - meaning king of all the Dorians. Again, archaeology tells us that the Dorian Greeks overran this part of the Grecian mainland at just about the same period (12th-11th centuries BC) in which the story of Brutus begins. [7] So it is clear that the name Pandrasus belongs firmly and authentically to the times that are dealt with in the opening portions of the British account.

This, again, is a fail on every possible level.  You don’t get to just make up linguistic naming conventions whenever they suit you.  I mean, unless you’re a thirteen year-old attempting to write an epic book about elves and fairies and shit.  Then you can, but only if you promise to be embarrassed about it later in life.

Either way, the funny thing is that one of the possible etymological origins of the word “Dorian” is actually dōris, which could, theoretically, create the word Cooper is blindly fumbling about for.  Except that would mean that there’s a dude running about named King All-woods.  And I’m not sure how you get from pan-Dorian to “Pandrasus,” anyway, unless you’re running a Babelfish translation filter through Welsh, Old English, and modern English.  Or you're just making shit up.

Oh.  Right.


[1]Now, I’ll be the first to admit that I gloss over passages of such things myself.  Many ancient authors did very much love their descriptions of ritual.  I’ll also tend to skip over long letters that authors toss in to the middle of explanations of things where it’s, “So-and-so disagreed, sending a letter to his opponent saying that he would not do it, as we can see here: [insert three or four paragraphs from said letter].”  However, the reason I tend to skip over such things is because they’re not necessary for whatever I’m working on.  If I were quoting such things I’d mention that I was skipping a bunch of stuff.  But it’s a far cry from, “There’s a bunch of here that’s not relevant to the subject at hand,” to, “There’s a bunch of stuff that nobody should give a shit about because it’s written by a silly old pagan.”

[2]Shitty, strangely delicious hamburgers.  Seriously, what’s up with that?  There’s absolutely no way that you can make an objective argument that a Quarter Pounder with Cheese is actually good in any way, but it’s still fucking delicious.

[3]It’s astounding how much utter fail is packed in to that single paragraph.

[4]The story of Deucalion is that Zeus had decided to end humanity with a flood.  Prometheus warned Deucalion, who built an ark, provisioned it, and hopped aboard with his wife.  And no one else.  No animals, either.  When the flood waters receded he was instructed by an oracle at Themis (how there was a living oracle is somewhat beyond me…) to throw stones over his shoulders.  So Deucalion and his wife, Pyrrha, did so.  His became men, hers became women, and in so creating they re-populated the Earth.  Fortunately, though, no ancient Greek mythology apologist has seen fit to write a book called After Deucalion’s Flood, arguing that those stone people eventually settled in Britain…

[5]Because, yes, I am that stupid.

[6]It’s good stuff.  Also, that movie contains one of my favorite movie lines of all time: “Did you know your name is an adverb?”

[7]For this bit he cites Webster’s New Geographical Dictionary.  I’m not even sure what to make of that.


Chris said...

And I’m not sure how you get from pan-Dorian to “Pandrasus,” anyway

You don't. From what I remember of the Greek I learned 40 years ago, long vowels can be modified in compound words, but they can't be eliminated.

I'm loving this stuff.

Rhino of Steel said...

I love Lewis Black and that bit is especially relevant since Cooper is doing his own six degrees to Kevin Bacon with that nonsensical line of thought on Levkas.

Cooper almost seems to resent the idea of proper sources or citing techniques. I can't think of any other reason for using a Webster’s New Geographical Dictionary to reference something that is discussed in so many good sources, both primary and secondary (although its more likely, and appropriately, to be called the Dorian migration rather than invasion these days). Also once again failing to say where he got a quote from. Especially with Pliny (I assume the Elder but either way) there is far too much to go through. I'd like to double check his Ovid reference too, since any time he discusses Apollo there is a damn good chance that he is just making fun of Augustus semi-covertly.

It is remarkable how much worse his arguments seem to be getting. You'd swear he was trying to make people call him on his bullshit but then I remember the audience for whom this book was written.