Mary Shelley’s Radical Sentiments

June 28th, 2015

Mary Shelley’s Revolutionary Sentiment and Liberal Positivism
Questions about Mary Shelley’s commitment to the radical causes of her youth, and whether or not she was a critic of technology, come up in an examination of some of the differences between the 1818 edition and the 1831 edition of Frankenstein; Or, The Modern Prometheus. I shall examine aspects of the relationship of the Shelley’s and their contemporaries, to developments in technology. Reading the letters of Mary Shelley, pertinent critical literature and its relevance to Shelley, I shall examine aspects of her changing perspective over time, including material from the book Frankenstein, but I shall focus on her letters. From my reading I shall propose that Mary Shelley maintained an interest in politics, remained true to what she called “the Cause,” in an abbreviation among her friends, in letters, for the cause of freedom and democracy. Her perspective on technology seems more complicated. She places her story of Dr. Frankenstein in the context of the technological advancements of the day, and seems to have maintained some interest. Percy Shelley writes in the “Preface,” to Frankenstein, “The event on which this fiction is founded has been supposed by Dr. Darwin [Erasmus Darwin, grandfather of Charles Darwin] and some of the physiological writers of Germany, as not of impossible occurrence.” Her later novel, The Last Man (1826), reflects an apocalyptic world epidemic leaving one survivor, but her personal writings are not full of scientific stories, they rather reflect domestic concerns, financial matters, informed short commentaries on current politics, and work of her own writing or the writing of her husband or her friends. Thus, it is my contention that Mary Shelley’s perspective changed. However, it was not a transformation from a flaming revolutionary to conservative. Wordsworth for example, whose change, Percy Shelley laments in his early poem On Wordsworth:
In honored poverty thy voice did weave
Songs consecrate to truth and liberty, -
Deserting these, thou leavest me to grieve,
Thus having been, that thou shouldst cease to be.
Mary Shelly rather maintained an early position of supporting political and the liberation of the human spirt represented in her husband’s view of the Promethean spirt. Regarding science though, her youthful fascination seems to move in a darker direction in story form, but in personal writing, she has little to say about the factory system as the industrialization process proceeded. Shelly shows an abiding interest in reform as her letters to Robert Dale Owen, son of Robert Owen and Frances Wright, indicate. Owen was involved in his father’s New Harmony commune in Indiana and together with Frances Wright edited a socialist publication. They were major activists in the New York Workingmen’s Party. Mary Shelley wrote to Frances Wright a letter dated December 30th 1830, “I have felt timid at the idea of intruding myself upon one, whose noble mind is filled with such vast interests … amidst all your enthusiasm for the Cause, … the case seems to stand thus-The people will be redressed-will the Aristocrats sacrifice enough to tranquilize them-if they will not-we must be revolutionized…” Clearly, she has codified the language of socialism, industrial progress, and enfranchisement, into the simple phrase, ”the Cause.” Perhaps it was Frances Wright’s self-evident activism that elicited this response from Mary Shelley. Frances Wright had traveled to America with Lafayette on his farewell tour in 1824, where she was able to meet Thomas Jefferson, at whose home she spent a day engaged in discourse. In 1825 Frances Wright had embarked on an effort to free slaves by allowing them to work for their freedom in a community she established outside of Memphis, Tennessee called Nashoba. This is from a letter to her by Thomas Jefferson discussing her experiment to free slaves via labor:
I am cheared when I see that on which it is devolved, taking it up with so much good will, and such mind engaged in it’s encoragement. the abolition of the evil is not impossible: it ought never therefore to be despaired of. every plan should be adopted, every experiment tried, which may do something towards the ultimate object. that which you propose is well worthy of tryal. it has succeeded with certain portions of our white brethren, under the care of a Rapp and an Owen; and why may it not succeed with the man of colour?
Regarding Shelley’s interest in technology, as Richard Holmes argues in The Age of Wonder, two conceptions of science predominated in the Romantic period; one was that of the “solitary scientific ‘genius,’ thirsting and reckless for knowledge, for its own sake and perhaps at any cost.” Secondly the concept of the “Eureka moment, the intuitive inspired instant of invention or discovery, for which no amount of preparation or preliminary analysis can really prepare….this became the ‘fire from heaven’ of Romanticism.” Mary Shelley fulfilled these romantic dictums in her own creation of the tale, ‘willing to boldly go where no man has gone before,’ to borrow the theme from that old television series Star Trek, or as Mary Shelly sets the task for herself, “a story to rival those which had excited us to this task. One which would speak to the mysterious fears of our nature and awaken thrilling horror – one to make the reader dread to look round, to curdle the blood, and quicken the beating of the heart.” That was the task she set herself, to outdo the band of celebrated geniuses with her own tale. Second, the Eureka moment, “Swiftly as light and as cheering was the idea that broke in upon me. ‘I have found it!’” Shelley, writing within the tropes established in the Gothic novel, establishes both her interest in the sciences and in following the literary norms of her circles, with an avid interest in current developments and their influence upon society She maintained the social interest through her life, in radical republicanism, even if her interest in science in later letters is not as evident, her following of the Owenite experiments and the activities of her friend in America, Frances Wright indicate at least an interest in the developments in industrialism and attempts to mitigate the negative impact of it upon the workers.
Silvia Bowerbank noted, “Mary Wollstonecraft, and her husband, Percy Shelley, were committed defenders of the radical perspective. In 1816-1819, when she wrote Frankenstein, Mary consciously shared their viewpoint.” By the 1830’s Mary Shelly was writing in her Journal:
“With regards to ‘the good cause’ –the cause of the advancement of freedom and knowledge, of the rights of women, &c.-I am not a person of opinions … Some have a passion for reforming the world; others do not cling to particular opinions. That my parents and Shelley were of the former class, makes me respect it … I do not feel that I could say aught to support the cause efficiently.”
As has been seen above, she was also writing incendiary material in her letters. I would think that she had good and bad days, due to the vicissitudes of life. From personal experience in the late twentieth century American radical left, I can identify with those feelings.
Mary Shelley’s world shaped by the death of her radical feminist mother Mary Wollstonecraft shortly after her birth, in 1797, and her disagreeable relationship with her stepmother after her equally radical father, William Godwin, remarried. She met Percy Shelley who was part of the circle of intellectuals drawn to her father, Godwin author of Enquiry into the Principals of Political Justice, among many other works promoting the radical concept of the Necessary, more of which below. Shelley and Mary studied the works of her parents, including A Vindication of the Rights of Women, by her mother. As a teenager, Mary was struggling to find her place in a world in which she had the privilege to be among some of the most brilliant minds of her day, including Samuel Taylor Coleridge reading Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner, which shows up in Frankenstein in the second letter of Walton to his sister. Walton assuages her fears for his safety in his attempt to reach the North Pole and seek a polar passage to the Orient by telling her he will kill no albatross. The explorer character in Frankenstein, Walton, makes a telling observation “I have often attributed my attachment to, my passionate enthusiasm for, the dangerous mysteries of the ocean to that production of the most imaginative of modern poets.”
This commentary on Coleridge who had by the time of the writing of Frankenstein, long split with his youthful enthusiasm for the French revolutionary materialism, and the circle around Godwin in which he had participated in his youth, who, like Shelley could have called himself “a compleat Necessitarian” following Godwin. The principal of necessity, which essentially states that man learns from experience not from reasoning, originally David Hume’s concept, was developed by William Godwin in his Inquiry concerning Human Understanding, and promoted by Shelley in Queen Mab. Coleridge, having doubts about the materialist approach believed “authority could not derive from a knowledge of space and time.” The ambivalence of Coleridge and his move to a more conservative position in the first decade of the nineteenth century may have influenced Mary Shelley to move away from the idealism of her husband to a more nuanced view. Certainly, Coleridge was a major influence, as Michelle Levy notes in her study “Discovery and the Domestic Affections in Coleridge and Shelley,” sharing with her certain “tension between their attraction to stories of the unknown and their repulsion by the effects of unbridled exploration.” However, to counter that view, I could not find any personal correspondence between Shelly and Coleridge, thus perhaps as an elder member of the first generation of the great English branch of the revolutionary fervor in the 1790’s in which her father and mother had been major players.
Coleridge had lectured in 1795 warning against imperial expansion, and the pernicious effects of the slave trade on the English as Levy writes, “Coleridge bitterly laments that both Englishman and slave alike have been cruelly ‘torn from the bleeding breast of domestic affection.’” The concern for domestic tranquility destroyed reflected in Frankenstein, first in the abandonment of his creation by Victor who observed, “his jaws opened, and he muttered some inarticulate sounds, while a grin wrinkled his cheeks.” This was the behavior of an infant reaching to touch his parent. “He might have spoken, I did not hear; one hand stretched out, seemingly to detain me, but I escaped and rushed downstairs.” The wretch experiences abandonment, it would be interesting to discover child abandonment statistics for London of the period. But also in Walton’s insistence on reaching the North Pole at the expense of his own crew, and in the exploitation of the individual as Victor destroys his own heath, nursed back to heath by Clerval after creating the wretch, Shelley gives examples of irresponsible behavior, considered part of the cost of science. Victor in his last throws before perishing makes his final recommendation to Walton his companion in the Romantic version of the scientist/adventurer “seek happiness in tranquility and avoid ambition, even if it be only the apparently innocent one of distinguishing yourself in science and discoveries.” Percy Shelley said in his own review of his wife’s work speaking of the injustices suffered by the wretch:
Treat a person ill, and he will become wicked. Requite affection with scorn; - let one being selected, for whatever cause, as the refuse of his kind – divide him, a social being, from society, and you impose upon him the irresistible obligations – malevolence and selfishness. It is thus that, too often in society, those who are best qualified to be its benefactors and its ornaments, are branded by some accident with scorn, and changed by neglect and solitude of heart, into a scourge and a curse.”
There is further indication of an interest in science on the part of both Shelley and Mary as is exhibited by the note in her “Author’s Introduction” to Frankenstein in the 1831 edition. Writing of the conversations between Shelley and Lord Byron in Switzerland, she states, “Perhaps a corpse would be reanimated; galvanism had given token of such things: perhaps the component parts of a creature might be manufactured, brought together, and endued with vital warmth.” This essentially mechanical process based on her understanding of the cutting-edge science of the times. It reflected her confluence of the differing theories of material or spiritual creation.
Galvanism, the use of the newly invented voltaic battery to run an electrical current through the legs of frogs by Luigi Galvani an Italian scientist, had been followed up by experiments in London by Galvani’s nephew Giovanni Aldini in which he dramatically reanimated a recently hanged man, in 1803. Sharon Ruston, in her article for the British Library, “The science of life and death in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein” writes of the hanged man, a certain George Foster, “Onlookers report that Foster’s eye opened, his right hand was raised and clenched, and his legs moved.” The other matter mentioned by Shelley is vital warmth, which was part of the debate over whether humans were the sum of their parts or animated by a vital force, or vitalism promoted by John Abernathy, Coleridge’s doctor, who held the Professorship in Anatomy at the Royal College of Surgeons. Percy Shelley’s doctor and protégé of Dr. Abernathy, William Lawrence, took umbrage with that concept and promoted the materialistic conception of man. Lawrence had studied in Europe with the noted ‘German physiologists’ mentioned by Percy Shelly in the very first line of the 1818 preface. In a famous series of lectures between 1816 and 1820, the two doctors argued over the issue, Holmes on the debate says Lawrence “claimed that the development of this physiological organization [of the human body] could be observed unbroken ‘from an oyster to a man.’” Lawrence, influenced the Shelley’s views on the subject is a reasonable speculation, Mary had already been taken to see the great chemist, Humphry Davy’s lectures on chemistry in 1812 by her father. Davy’s words from an 1802 lecture, which Coleridge attended, almost verbatim as the words of M. Waldman in his introductory lecture so influential upon Victor:
We do not look to distant ages, or amuse ourselves with brilliant, though delusive dreams, concerning the infinite improvability of man, the annihilation of labour, disease, and even death. But we reason by analogy from simple facts. We consider only a state of human progression arising out of present conditions. We look for a time that we may reasonably expect, for a bright day of which we already behold the dawn.”
Returning to Shelley, “’The ancient teachers of this science,’ said he, ‘promised impossibilities and performed nothing. The modern masters promise very little; but they know that metals cannot be transmuted and that the elixir of life is a chimera.” He goes on to celebrate the potential of chemistry and science that captures the imagination of Victor. In the original 1818 version Victor goes on to join the professor after class and it seems to be a victory for science. In the 1831 edition, the paragraph inserted in which Victor says, “Such were the professors words – rather let me say such the words of fate – enounced to destroy me.” At that point the issue comes up, was Mary Shelley back tracking and taking a more conservative position regarding her radicalism. Was Shelley, as Edward Oakes says, “The claim is often made that the changes Mary Shelley made in the 1831 edition indicated both a loss of nerve and the intrusion of extraneous theological exculpation from the alleged materialist blasphemies of the 1818 edition.”
Shelley’s letters, especially those from the period around the time of the publication of the second edition, and reading her introductions to the 1839 edition of The Collected Poems of Percy Bysshe Shelley, give a clearer idea as to her public and private views. Reading this material has led me to conclude that Shelley although beset by financial woes, and expressing a certain modesty in terms of her ability to hold opinions regarding issues of the day, was actually fairly outspoken and quite savvy regarding the economics of the publishing industry, as well as the state of affairs in England and the progressive cause. Consideration to the possibility that Shelley, by the time she wrote the 1831 author’s introduction, was affected by the trauma of the loss of three children and her husband or that as Anne Mellor states Shelley’s “obsessive need to idealize her husband and the bourgeois family, the results of which are overly sentimental rhetoric and implausible plot resolutions.” Reading through Mary Shelley’s notes, in the text of the 1839-revised edition of The Complete Poems of Percy Bysshe Shelley, the example of Queen Mab, is rather edifying. Mary Shelley writes “In the former edition certain portions were left out, as shocking the general reader from the violence of their attack on religion. I myself had a painful felling that such erasures might be looked upon as a mark of disrespect towards the author, and am glad to have the opportunity of restoring them.” Mary did not have an original copy of Queen Mab. In the process of hunting down a copy over the course of December 1838 and January 1839, she queries friends on their thoughts, in a letter dated December 11, 1838 to Thomas Jefferson Hogg, she writes:
The book seller (Moxton) has suggested leaving out the 6th and 7th parts as to shocking and atheistical. What do you say? I don’t like mutilations - & would not leave out a word in favor of liberty. But I have no partiality to irreligion & much doubt the benefit of disputing the existence of the Creator – give me your opinion.”
The lines were not included. Edward Moxton’s concerned over his copyright, which he could lose if the lines were considered blasphemous in a court of law. Reviews in several publications were critical of her, one in The Spectator, claimed her preface to be “a panegyric rather than a judgement.” Resulting from this criticism and letters from friends and acquaintances of her late husband, she decided to request that Moxton include the verses in the second edition later that year. The book seller did and was subsequently convicted but received no punishment. This might be a sign of caution, or as a sign of her being willing to do the right thing. Mary Shelley writes in “Note to Queen Mab,” that Percy “did not in his youth look forward to gradual improvement: nay, in those days of intolerance, now almost forgotten, it seemed as easy to look forward to the sort of millennium of freedom and brotherhood which he thought the proper state of mankind as to the present reign of moderation and improvement.” In the more liberal climate of 1839, the government would go through the motions of following the letter of the law but Shelley no longer considered threatening, even though it was quite evident there were many people who cared about his legacy.
Further, in 1830, just before the publication of the 1831 edition of Frankenstein, Mary Shelly wrote to General Lafayette, of the American Revolutionary fame, leader of the radical faction after the 1830 revolution in Paris:
How does every heart in Europe respond to the mighty voice, which spoke in your Metropolis, biding the world to be free… May England imitate your France in its moderation and heroism. There is great hope that any change operated among us will originate with the government. I was the wife of a man who – held dear the opinions you espouse, to which you were the martyr and are the ornament.
What I found interesting was the repetition here of what her husband had said that in the review of her book, Frankenstein, paraphrasing Percy Shelley’s the line about being benefactors and ornaments. Clearly, she had this in mind, whether General Lafayette would have understood the reference is conjectural, but he certainly would understand the meaning. This also indicates Shelly’s awareness and advocacy of the liberal position in English politics. At the time, there was a big push for the passage of the Reform Acts, which did pass in 1832, suppressing the rotten boroughs, and giving the franchise to many of the town dwellers. In 1828, the Test and Corporation acts were repealed, no longer requiring Protestant dissenters to take the Anglican sacrament to become representatives of town councils. The Catholic Emancipation Act of 1829 did the same thing. This series of acts constituted the peaceful overthrow of the ancient regime. As Frank O’Gorman states in his The Long Eighteenth Century, the Anglican church “was simply unable to establish hegemonic presence in the new industrial towns.” Shelley was aware of the changing political and social environment; technological change had been part of the transformation that Percy and Mary Shelley desired. They had embraced technological innovation and the liberating tendencies this represented in secularism and the expansion of human understanding of how the natural world worked. For them it was part of a greater movement to human liberation and liberty. The development on the part of Mary Shelley towards a radical view seems to have stopped with the passage of the Reform Act. She must have been aware of radical publishers in the Chartist circles such as Richard Carlyle who in his publication Sherwin’s Political Register published excerpts from Chartist supporters Percy Bysshe Shelley and Lord Byron. Pirated copies of Queen Mab, which had been in print since 1821 had become what “George Bernard Shaw referred to it as the ‘Bible’ of Chartism.”
Although at the end of her life Mary Shelly was concerned with legacy, and that may have propelled some of her statements, she does not seem to have given up on the cause of liberty. She seems to have had, like Coleridge reservations about the elimination of a creator, certainly, she was more interested in human liberty than the abstract, and seems to have followed political developments and maintained her interest in affairs of the world perhaps in spite of her personal life distresses, which are also represented in her letter. She seems more to be on the side of the angels in the struggle for human emancipation. I do not think Mary Shelley saw technology as evil, but the technicians who misapplied it as so. I will end with the final words of Victor Frankenstein “Yet why do I say this? I have myself been blasted in these hopes, yet another may succeed.”

Works Cited
Bederman, Gail. “Revisiting Nashoba: Slavery, Utopia, and Frances Wright in America, 1818– 1826.” Am Lit Hist (Fall 2005) 17 (3): 438-459. Accessed June 26, 2015. Doi: 10.1093/alh/aji025.
Bennett, Betty T. “To Thomas Jefferson Hogg, 41 d Park St. 11 Dec. 1838.” In The Letters of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley Volume II “Treading in unknown paths,” edited by Betty T. Bennett, 301-302. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press. 1983.
— “Review of volume I.” In The Spectator 12. 552, January 26, 1839. “To Thomas Jefferson Hogg, [41 d Park Street] 11th Feb-[1839].” In The Letters of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley Volume II “Treading in unknown paths,” edited by Betty T. Bennett, 309-310. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1983.
—“To Edward Moxton 41 d Park St. 5 March 1839.” In The Letters of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley Volume II “Treading in unknown paths,” edited by Betty T. Bennett, 311-312. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1983.
Bowerbank, Silvia. “The Social Order VS The Wretch: Mary Shelley’s Contradictory- Mindedness in Frankenstein.” ELH, 46.3 (1979): 418-431. Accessed June 16, 2015.
Evans III, Frank B. “Shelley, Godwin, Hume, and the Doctrine of Necessity.” Studies in Philology 37. 4 (1940): 632-640.
Holmes, Richard. The Age of Wonder. New York: Vintage Books. 2010.
Jefferson, Thomas. “From Thomas Jefferson to Frances Wright, 7 August 1825.” Founders Online, National Archives. Accessed June 28, 2015.
Kipperman, Mark. “Coleridge, Shelley, Davy, and Science’s Millennium.” Criticism, 40.3 (1998), 409-436. Accessed June 19, 2015.
Levy, Michelle. “Discovery and the Domestic Affections in Coleridge and Shelley.” SEL Studies in English Literature 1500-1900, 44. 4 (2004), 693-713. Accessed June 19, 2015. /44.4levy.pdf.
Mellor, Anne K. “Making a Monster.” In Bloom’s Modern Critical Interpretation Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein Updated Edition, edited by Harold Bloom. 43-59. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 2007. Originally published in Anne. K. Mellor, Mary Shelley: Her Life, Her Fiction, Her Monsters. (New York: Routledge, 1989).
Miller, Walter James. Forward: The Future of Frankenstein to Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus, by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, v-xviii. New York: Signet Classic, 2000.
Oakes, Edward T. “Vitalism, Promethean Science, and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.” Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture. 16, 4 (2013), 56-77. Accessed June, 21, 2015. DOI: 10.1353/log.2013.0036.
O’Gorman, Frank. The Long Eighteenth Century, British Political & Social History 1688- 1832. London: Hodder Arnold, 1997.
“Robert Dale Owen American politician and social reformer.” Encyclopaedia Britannica. Copyright 2015. Accessed June 21, 2015. Dale-Owen.
Ruston, Sharon. “The science of life and death in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.” Discovering Literature: Romantics and Victorians. London: The British Library. Accessed June 15, 2015, in-mary-shelleys-frankenstein.
Scriven, Tom. “Humor, Satire, and Sexuality in the Culture of Chartism.” The Historical Journal, 57.1,2014. accessed June 28, 2015, 157-178. DOI:
Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft. Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus. New York: Signet Classic. 2000.
— “Author’s Introduction.” In Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus. Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, xxi-xxvi. New York: Signet Classic, 2000
— “Note on Queen Mab.” In The Complete Poems of Percy Bysshe Shelley, notes by Mary Shelley. 850-854. New York: The Modern Library, 1992.
— “To Frances Wright, 33 Somerset St Portman Sq. 30 Dec. 1830.” In The Letters of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelly Volume II “Treading in unknown paths,” edited by. Betty T. Bennett, 123-125. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1983.
— “To Thomas Jefferson Hogg, 41 d Park St. 11 Dec. 1838,” In The Letters of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelly Volume II “Treading in unknown paths.” edited by Betty T. Bennett, 301-302. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1983.
—“To General Lafayette London 33 Somerset St Portman Sq. 11 Nov. 1830.” In The Letters of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelly Volume II “Treading in unknown paths,” edited by Betty T. Bennett, 117-118. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1983.
Shelley, Percy Bysshe. Preface to Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus. By Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, xxvii-xxviii. New York: Signet Classic, 2000.
— “On Frankenstein.” In The Prose Works of Percy Bysshe Shelley, vol.1. edited by Richard Hearne Shepherd, 417-419. London: Chatto & Windus, 1906. Accessed June 20, 2015, Facsimile PDF.

Burford’s Arcadia: Ancient Greek Agriculture, Slavery and Democracy

May 4th, 2015

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Image: Berlin Foundry Cup,Foundry Painter, Red figure kylix, c. 490
From lecture podcast on Ancient Greek Slavery by Dr Gillian Shepherd

Below is a book review written for my Classics class on Ancient Greek History I had fun writing it but had to edit it down for the class. Perhaps I will post the long version at a later point in time. I focus on the issue of slavery in the ancient Greek world as well as agriculture and the creation of the classical Greek demos.

Burford, Allison. Land and Labor in the Greek World. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. 1993.
Allison Burford’s study of the ancient Greek agricultural world is based primarily on the extant ancient literary sources with some reference to archeological research, epigraphic and papyrus material as well as numerous secondary sources. As she states in the preface, Burford has not written an exhaustive reference work on the legal and technical aspects of land ownership, nor is it a statistical study of land tenure and agricultural practices over the course of the period, roughly the Eighth through the Second centuries BCE (Burford, ix). Basing her study upon a suggestion by M. I. Finley, she examines aspects of ancient Greek agricultural practices (x). The author argues that Greek civilization was based in agriculture and the ability to find free time from agricultural labor to via the labor of others, indicating that chattel slavery in Athens, and the institution of helotry in Sparta, for example provided much of the means for this freedom (1-3). She focuses more on the fundamental relationship between town and country emphasizing that agriculture concerned much of the population’s interest (3, 10). She also argues that the farming practices described in Hesiod’s Works and Days, were essentially the same as those of the time of Xenophon in his Oeconomicus written some three centuries apart, negating much of the idea of a transition from pastoralism, or the concept of an agricultural revolution in the Fifth century BCE (8-9, Morris, 1294). For Burford “the Classical city-state is, then, the developed image of the early community, not an entirely different creature” (12). Burford is interested in showing the continuity of the dependence upon agriculture and how it shaped ancient Greek civilization (12).
Alison Burford Cooper published studies in ancient social and economic history, including The Greek Temple Builders at Epidaurus (1969), Craftsmen in Greek and Roman Society (1972), and Land and Labor in the Greek World (1993). Born in England, she read Classics at Cambridge University. After teaching at the University of Nebraska and the University of North Carolina–Asheville, she and her husband Guy L. Cooper retired in Ann Arbor (Cooper, 1). The work under consideration, written near the end of her academic career seems to sum up her position regarding the importance of agriculture in the ancient Greek world building upon the work primarily of M. I. Finley.
Burford describes the dependence upon domestic food production and anxiety over the annual harvest as being primary to the Greek economy and civilization (Burford 2-3). She describes agriculture outside of Attica and Athens, especially descriptions of the Spartan system, but because of the dearth of literary source material, her focus is primarily, almost necessarily, upon Athens and Attica. She goes into some detail on the types of agricultural practices, division of land between productive agricultural and the more marginal upland where grazing occurred. She asserts that it was the exchange of surpluses locally and not dependence on international trade, even in Athens, except briefly during the Imperial period, was the driving force of daily life and policy of ancient Greeks (3).
Burford focuses on the mechanisms of land ownership, asserting that the state had overriding concerns and that the polis could and would intervene in private ownership, calling the polis “proprietor in chief of all landed assets within its boundaries” (16). This was true in Athens as well as the more obvious case of Sparta. She goes into some detail on efforts to make land distribution among citizens equal, not only in the new colonies but within the polis, citing Aristotle among others and examples from city states besides Athens (28). She then discusses the actual inequality of land distribution and the “concept of ‘ancestral portions’” asserting that the relationship between families and their land as going back to the foundations of communities and the preservation of the oikos through the “assured transfer of inheritance within the family, preferably from father to son” (29, 34-35). The legal dispute over distribution of the estate of one Hagnias of Athens, who had no children, became a multigenerational affair involving increasingly distant relations, to me indicates the power of families in property rights and privileges of the citizens within the context of the polis, whereas Burford sees the fact of intervention on the part of the courts as an indication of state power (43-45). Litigation rather than blood feuds is an advance of sorts.
She goes into some discussion of the position of the female inheritors, the epikleros who “had no independent rights to property,” but essentially used as a means of insuring that property stayed within the greater family or oikos to the extent that a male relative designated to marry an epikleros, had to divorce his existing spouse (46). Burford sees this as an indication that the community was more concerned with maintaining the stability of the oikos as the basis for the polis, citing Solon’s law providing for the dowry of an epikleroi with no estate by proscribing that the members of the pentakosiomedimnoi provide for epikleroi of the thetes within a family group (47). It seems to me that the state control of property is exaggerated and the families of the oligarchs still seem to have undue influence in the countryside even after the reforms of Solon as I will discuss further.
For the most part Greeks rejected feudal like peasantry an unacceptable status, one of being subservient to a greater lord, as was the case in Athens when Solon abolished indentured servitude. Defining helotry as feudal peasantry, according to Burford is not helpful, although I personally did not clearly understand the distinction she was trying to make other than to insure that readers would not look to medieval equivalency (85-86). The popular rebellion against indentured servitude by the citizens led directly or indirectly to the increased slavery of foreigners in Athens in my mind.
M.I. Finley’s contention that Athenian democracy was a result of chattel slavery, is taken up by Burford with her initial assertion that “chattel slavery became concomitant of radical democracy, and at the same time many landowners took a hand in working their own land” (3). Michael Jameson, agreeing with De Ste Croix, says “one might almost say that in the ancient world there was no true freedom without slavery” (Jameson, 122). Finley asserts that large scale agriculture of the wealthy classes was largely undertaken by slaves, including the overseers, indicates in my mind an oligarchic reaction to labor cost increases and the desire for control (Finley, Was Greek Civilization based on Slave Labor, 149).
Burford argues that in “Attica as in Chios and numerous other places, chattel slavery became the most important form of labor, not because the pelatai or thetes, the ‘nearby dependents,’ were reduced to slavery but because they were emancipated” (Burford, 209). This is an important point, as Finley points out using the analogy of the USA slave states before the American Civil War, he notes that three quarters of the land owners in the south had not connection to slavery and were small holders, yet close to one third of the population in the slave states were slaves, whereas in Classical Greece the practice of slave holding was more widespread (Finely, Was Greek Civilization, 151). Burford, discussing Attica, believes that the reforms of Solon reduced the availability of easily coercible labor, increasing the dependence on chattel slavery (Burford, 209). Burford cites Homer’s story of Eumaeus (Od. 15.415-84), Odysseus’ swineherd who had been kidnapped by Phoenician traders and sold into slavery as an example of piracy as a source of slaves as well as an example of the prevalence of slavery (Burford, 208). The question of Athens increased participation in the slave trade as a driver of empire, especially mass collusion versus resistance on the part of the thetes is an interesting issue. Were the oarsmen active slavers?
Contrasting Burford’s decidedly landlocked views on the shaping of Greek civilization are the views of those who would emphasize trade and naval power especially during the period of the Athenian Thalassocracy. Ian Morris, in his review of Burford, claims she doesn’t give enough weight to the “new model” of Greek agriculture with a shift to a market orientation Athens in the Fifth century BCE (Morris, Review, 1294). John Hale in his Lords of the Sea claims that without the navy there would not have developed the extreme form of Athenian democracy, the degree of democratization was due to the dependence of the Athenian Navy upon the urban poor for oarsmen (Hale, xxvii). David Lewis notes that trade with Barbarian parts of the world was required to maintain the extensive slave population required in the Athenian economy (Lewis, 91). This would tend to support the contention that there were economic drivers to the expansion of the Athenian Empire. Lewis considers the Greek Comedies as rich source of information on Greek attitudes about slavery; Aristophanes Scythian archers, the slave police force of Athens, are prominent in Lysistrata (Lewis, 100; Findley, Was Greek Civilization, 152; Lis. 15-24). Burford gives little if any information about the complexity of the relationship between overseas trade, slavery and agriculture.
I think that exploring further the implications of the slave trade and the economic basis of the more industrial aspects of Athenian agriculture in particular would have been helpful as Jameson points out the locus of slavery in Athens, unlike the more feudal like conditions in Sparta, where helotry actually inhibited urbanization similar in some ways to the American pre-civil war south, rather he points to slavery as being indicative of the importance of Athens as a trade and industrial center (Jameson, 123). One could be tempted to see the relative sympathy of the Oligarchs in Athens to the Spartans due to a confluence of interest in maintaining a lucrative slave market, with Nicias having some one thousand in the silver mines alone, the would have been sufficient economic reasons for a convergence of interest (Finley, Was Greek Civilization, 149). Aristophanes reminded his audience of the Athenian rescue of Sparta from the helots, (even if this was fictional, it would seem to have been a popular fiction) “Then Cimon went, taking four thousand infantry, /and saved the whole of Lacedaemon for your state,” indicating a resounding normalcy of slavery in Athens making a keener focus on the nature of dependence on slavery to be of even more interest (Lys. 42).
As the entire world population at least until the nineteenth century was primarily agricultural, and much of that of a subsistence nature, Burford’s focus on what the majority of the population did for a living is a good idea. D.W. Rathbone, reviewing Burford, is critical of the lack of focus on the growth of monetization, or any exposition of the field surveys and excavations of rural sites in more than a cursory manner (Rathbone, 330-331), to which I would add lack of geographic and topographic imagery in the form of maps, charts or photographic information, is to be regretted. Stylianos Spyridakis although largely praising her work, found the omission of evidence for a stronger case to be made for wealth generation outside of the purely agricultural sphere, pointing to trade in particular (Spyridakis, 107). Overall the impression is that Burford certainly went to great pains and into great detail to prove her point as to the rural nature of the Greek economy, but it presents a relatively static view of Greek agriculture. The book presents a massive amount of research mainly from the literary sources. The author tends to focus on detailed information giving the impression of a relatively static rural society over the time period with Hesiod and Homer side by side with Xenophon and Aristotle, where things happen, but there is not the focus on trends in population pressure, climatic conditions, the slave trade, etc. that would create a more dynamic model of the Greek world as it relates to the natural systems and practices of the populace over time. The book provoked a desire in this reader for more statistical data to verify the literary sources.
Works Cited
Aristophanes. Lysistrata. Translation and introduction by Donald Sutherland. New York: Harper & Row, Publishers. 1961.
Burford, Allison. Land and Labor in the Greek World. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. 1993.
Cooper, Alison Burford. “Feasting and Fasting in Classical Greece.” Repast Quarterly Newsletter of the Culinary Historians of Ann Arbor. 20. 4. 2004.
Finley, M. I. “Was Greek Civilization based on Slave Labor?” Historia: Zeitshrift fur Alte Geschichte, 8.2 (1959): 145-164.
Finley, M. I. The Ancient Economy. Updated Edition. Berkeley: University of California Press. 1999.
Hale, John R. Lords of the Sea The Epic Story of the Athenian Navy and the Birth of Democracy. New York: Viking Penguin. 2009.
Jameson, Michael J. “Agriculture and Slavery in Classical Athens.” The Classical Journal. 73. 2 (1977- 1978): 122-145.
Lewis, David. “Near Eastern Slaves in Classical Attica and the Slave Trade with Persian Territories.” Classical Quarterly, 61.1 (2011): 91-113.
Morris, Ian. “Forward.” The Ancient Economy. Updated edition, Berkeley: University of California Press. 1999. ix-xxxvi.
Morris, Ian. “Land and Labor in the Greek World.” The American Historical Review, 99.4 (1994): 1293- 1294.
Rathbone, D. W. “Burford, A. ‘Land and Labor in the Greek World’ (Book Review).” Classical Review, 44.2 (1994): 330.
Spyridakis, Stylianos. “Land and Labor in the Greek World.” Agricultural History, 68.1 (1994): 106-107.

April Easter Meditations: Myth of Progress

April 5th, 2015

Moai Statues on Easter Island.
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I am feeling inspired this morning. Well perhaps inspiration is too strong a term, let me just say I am awake. It started at 4:38 AM and at that ungodly hour I awoke, thinking I was late for work, checked the time, and then remembered it was Sunday. Instead of falling back in to slumber land, I pondered, rather than feel existential anxiety over my piddling fate, I was struck by the big WHY question. Why now, why me, what is the purpose of all this. Perhaps it was because of a lingering sense of duty to adhere to some normative relationship to the great Christian holiday ensuing in the world around me, or perhaps it was because the last comment I made to a fellow human being before drifting off into the land of Nod, was how I thought the whole Easter business was nonsense but entertaining for humans in need of reassurance that their lives had meaning, whatever the reason, I found myself facing the eternity abyss without panic or defensive humor, simple wonderment was sufficient.

Ruminating over the Ancient Greeks whom I have been studying of late, especially thinking about how complex and modern seeming their society was, although watching a National Theatre Production of Aeschylus’ The Libation Bearers, emphasized the alien nature of Greek drama, what with the masks and chorus, but overall the Greeks seemed to be a pretty sophisticated bunch. Trying to follow the ins and outs of an ancient law suit Haginas Versus Haginas, to borrow the name from modern legal terminology, I was amazed at how tenaciously a group of fairly distant relatives battled over the estate of an ancestor who died without progeny to inherit the property, which was mostly agricultural land as described in Alison Burford’s book Land and Labor in the Greek World (Burford, 43-45).

I don’t know if the persistence of wrangling over property is a sign of advanced civilization, but it certainly is a sign of consistency in human endeavor. Artistically there seems to be evidence of a progression from geometric oriental influenced art to idealized human forms degenerating into naturalistic kitsch, or so the classical art historians would have us believe with their fetish for 5th Century Greek formalism, mostly surviving in Roman copies, which to my mind speaks more to nineteenth century European elite than ancient Greek taste. Which brings me to my question of the day, why did technology take off so grandly in the modern epoch? If humanity is not measurably more intelligent than before, except perhaps in the sense that more of us have the luxury of not having to work as physical drudges than before, it is not clear to me that all this excess brain power is feeding into the greater wisdom of the species, unless Youtube cat videos count as adding to the enlightenment of which we are the alleged beneficiaries. In truth, as ever was, the spark of genius that lies within, is only allowed so much physical candle power before it burns out all the moths that gather round its heated light.

Am I condemning us all to perpetual ignorance? No only to perpetual indulgence in phantasies of progress. The Hegelian in me rebels against such pessimism, but when I look at the past, I am amazed at the sophistication and complexity I see and my sense of the present day as having advanced is replaced with the concept that we have merely changed focus. By indulging in spending so much of the planetary resources in a brief incandescent moment of technological fixes, are we creating an enduring base for a vastly superior golden age to come, or merely depleting our resources in some recreation o Easter Island systemic collapse on a grand scale as Jared Diamond describes in his book Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed(Diamond, 79-119). I am just as suspicious of fads in doom and gloom as I am of eternal optimism. We may be on the Titanic, but oh, how glamorous our departure into the depths. Perhaps some future civilization will write a Homeric epic on the fall of oil based technological civilization as the ancient bard wrote of Troy falling to the barbaric Greeks. It is hard to imagine aircraft carriers launching jet fighters and rockets red glare with solar and wind power. On the other hand in a collapse, these would probably be the last hold outs of the technology of the children of the Enlightenment as we moderns are.

Okay there I go again with my pessimism. But it is Easter Sunday, at least according to the revised Gregorian calendar, and we are here to celebrate a renewal of life, a second chance as it were. We, the people of the world, choking in our oil petrochemical waste, plasticizing our oceans as we are, eating organic produce wrapped in petrochemical products, etc, are we hell bent on removing the possibility of redemption simply because we have so clogged the arteries of divine cleansing that we are insensible to its effects? Divine cleansing, as if the divine could be reduced to a detergent, Mr. Clean genii popping out of another bag of tricks to provide us with an escape, just in the nick of time from our own childish refusal to see that over our shoulders there are dues to pay. Jubilee, indulgences for all, please divine daddy…

I should not be so dramatic, after all, there is progress in specific areas. It is just the unintended consequences that become problems. I am thinking about the extended life spans of people. Resources are spent on caring for the elderly that could be spent on early childhood education and poverty elimination. But we could also do that by simply eliminating the huge military budget. If the US spent as much as European countries we might even be able to afford socialized medical care, and take care of the young and elderly. One can dream. Maybe even throw in free university education, Obama has the right idea for free community college.

Perhaps we as a world civilization will move on to the socialist paradigm, and away from the Capitalist one but then there will be issues of the individual against the bureaucratic machine, Ayn Rand followers might then actually have a case. The State in the US is merely intrusive rather than overwhelming. Interestingly enough it wasn’t until I had a catastrophic illness that I really benefited from the state. Going back to school, medical care and tax relief were some of the most evident benefits, it made kidney failure almost enjoyable. Being back at work has been somewhat traumatic, especially because it has forced me to cut back on school. The experience has shown up the class distinctions in the US with education becoming again a luxury for the affluent, unless massive debt is something in your aspirational vision. Hmm not doing too good with this optimism thing, not really my forte.

This was what we used to do for Easter when I was a kid. Only our eggs were not so fancy.
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Works Cited

Burford, Alison. Land and Labor in the Greek World. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. 1993.

Diamond, Jared. Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. New York: Viking. 2005.

Near Eastern Influences on Archaic Period Greece

March 22nd, 2015

Greek hoplite and Persian warrior fighting each other. Depiction in ancient kylix. 5th c. B.C. National Archaeological Museum of Athens
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I recently posted this book review I did for an ancient Greek survey class. I have have had some health issues recently and had to drop most of my classes. Work has been excessively demanding and has taken up most of my waking hours, and being sick just left me too drained to continue most of my studies. I did manage to hang onto this one class and I am thoroughly enjoying my hours immersed in the Greeks. The question has come up in my mind, as I watch Congress fawning over Israel and evincing seemingly irrational fear of Iran, as to why this anti Iranian sentiment. It is more than simply the result of the Iranian take over of the embassy in Tehran. This is deeper cultural stuff. As I was thinking about the Greco-Persian Wars, I realized that the anti-Persian propaganda goes back to the ancient Greeks and the wars against the Persian Empire in the 5th Century BCE. Since the study of ancient Greece goes back to at least the 18th Century in elite American and Western European culture, this prejudice, part of a greater fear of Oriental domination, ingrained by experiences with the Muslims and Turks more specifically in the case of Europe, all has influenced the current political climate. I applaud the Obama administration for its breaking through to a more rational position vis a vie Iran.

I hope you enjoy reading my review.

Walter Burkert, The Orientalizing Revolution: Near Eastern Influence on Greek Culture in the Early Archaic Age. Trans. Margaret E. Pinder and Walter Burkert. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard U. Press. 1992).

Burkert’s book is dedicated to the exploration of oriental influences in Greek culture particularly in the archaic period of the ninth through sixth centuries BCE. Burkert starts with evidence from scraps of Greek literature bolstered by an examination of the artifacts remaining from the period. He considers the period of the Assyrian battles for domination on the coast of Northern Syria in the later Ninth century and again in the later eighth and early seventh centuries BCE, in particular to be seminal in the diversification of Oriental knowledge among the Greeks, with refugee craftsmen relocating to the Greek speaking regions among others (Burkert 11-14).
Specific example Burkert uses for an early immigration is that of a family of goldsmiths and gem cutter in Knossos who reused a Minoan tomb consecrating it with oriental style foundation deposits in approximately 800 BCE known as the “Tomb of the Goldsmiths” (22, 54). He goes into a rather extensive description of the traditions of the “public workers,” or demioergoi (Od. 17.383-385 qtd. in Burkert 23), writing of their ability to move about due to their skills of techne (23). He indicates that immigrant potters, and vase painters came from Egypt, Lydia and Phrygia also, noting that as late as Aristotle craftsmen were as a rule described as immigrant non-citizens, and often slaves (23).

Banded Jug with Oriental Influences

The seventh century began with the influence of Oriential Style are influencing the current Geometric Style. Images of lions, foreign goddesses followed by strange animals, and the sphynx were all elements introduced into greek vase painting by eastern culture. The brunt of the oriental influence came from the greek east that had the most contact with eastern civilization. The areas of Rhodes, Samos, and Miletus had a strong influence on this trend.

(Carter, np)

Burkert also describes in some detail the transfer of magical and religious rituals and traditions citing the bronze liver models from Mesopotamia in clay and the very similar Etruscan liver model from Piacenza in the third century BCE and being an example of a clear transfer of systems of belief from the east to the west, in this case hepatoscopy or haruspicina, divination by interpreting sheep livers in particular (Burkert 46-48). He indicates that there was a very specific Assyrian school with a systemic approach that was somewhat abstracted from nature, also followed in their own system of saecula by the Etruscans (48, 49-50). The Greeks he argues followed a more naturalistic and behavioral model in interpretation with it becoming the preferred form of divination into the classical period as Burkert cites from Plato (49). He considers “the spread of hepatoscopy one of the clearest examples of cultural contact in the orientalizing period” (51). The mobility of seers and healers or “migrant charismatics” as he calls them, is a key part of the spread of oriental wisdom to the west along with the traders and craftsmen.

Burkert spends some time denouncing the “anti-oriental reflex” (3) as something that emerged in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries among German speaking academia, in particular, as an outgrowth of the “ideology of romantic nationalism” of Herder, the separation of philology from religion by Wolf and the new pagan influenced classicism of Winckemann (2). The emergence of national romanticism is seen by the author as part of the grounds in which anti-Semitism gained influence in classical studies. The discovery of the Indo-European linguistic base for most European languages, along with Sanskrit and Persian, furthered what was at the time a Greek-Roman-Germanic view of the world (2). A strong motivation for Burkert is quite evident in his almost crusader like approach to rehabilitating the Oriental and Semitic influence in particular in this study of the Archaic period of Greek history. He notes later in the text that Beloch went out of his way to separate “Rhodian Zeus Atabyrios from Mount Atabyron =Tabor, the mountain in Palestine” claiming this as a clear cut case of anti-Semitism (34).

While I am not an authority on German academic anti-Semitism, it is fairly clear that until recently Semitic roots to many aspects of Greek culture has been limited. A simple scan of the citations from the East in the text book A Brief History of Ancient Greece describes the period after the decline of the Mycenaean Civilization mentions grave goods from Greek tombs, from the Near East that may have been a result of contact with “Near Eastern traders roaming the Aegean Sea” (Pomeroy et. al., 47). They mention the emergence of iron working after 1050 BCE as a result of trade in bronze making raw materials being cut off, rather than being the result of technology learned from the Hittites or other Near Eastern sources where “Iron technology was long known” (43). Mention is made of Hesiod deriving a history of the gods in his Theogony from ancient Mesopotamian stories, but then goes nowhere with that connection (57). Later describing Hesiod’s Works and Days where “Sermonizing poetry, so different from that of the Homeric narrative, was clearly influenced by the Ancient Genre of Near Eastern ‘wisdom literature’” (77). The colonization of the wider Mediterranean word is attributed to Greek traders in partnership with Phoenicians (59) and that the Greeks took up the phonetic writing system in the Eighth century for reasons that are called debatable (60). They do better describing the origins of art in the description of the “Orientalizing style” from the Near East and Egypt in about 720 BCE, but the description takes up a couple of sentences only (62) and their description of the emergence of the classic Greek Temple at that time doesn’t mention outside influences at all (62). This may seem fairly substantial but it seems to allude to rather than explore the influences of the East. Burkert sets about to develop the influences his and others influence can be seen in the text above.

Lady of Auxerre
Lady of Auxerra. Limestone, probably from Crete, ca 650-625 BCE.

Source: Boundless. “The Orientalizing Period.” Boundless Art History. Boundless, 14 Nov. 2014. Retrieved 05 Apr. 2015 from

Burkert claims an eastern influence on the construction of large altars for burnt offerings and the large temples which he notes coincided with the period of movement of eastern craftsmen in the eighth century prior to which there had been no examples in Greece (Burkert, 20). The use of composite beasts and other animal motifs in pottery and sculpture are part of what has been known as the Orientalizing period as mentioned above. Creatures such as the Chimera have Hittite links, Triton’s to Mesopotamia, as well as lion motifs. He states that the sight of a lion would have been something unknown in the life of most Greeks (20). He goes on to say that “typically Greek” forms of portrayal of Zeus and Poseidon with the lightning bolt or the trident are derived from Syrio-Hittite statuettes. The same goes for the portrayal of the standing naked female goddess with hands touching breasts as being of Syrian origin (21). He goes on to state that the Hoplite weapons that came into use in the Archaic period were close to Assyrian and Urartian models, suggesting that mercenaries may have picked brought them back with them. Burkert notes the Carian and Ionian mercenaries in Egypt under Psammentichus among others in the seventh and sixth century (25). Burkert, a philologist, has an extensive discourse on the use of loan words from the Near East. He states that the earliest Greek writing shows up shortly before 750 BCE in Naxos, Ischia, Athens, and Euboea intersecting exactly with the time of the “trading connections of Iawones from Syria via Euboea to the West” (26). He says that while the exact location of the transfer may be hard to pinpoint, it occurred rather rapidly form Phrygians to the Etruscans in a matter of a few decades, indicating that the idea of a slow indigenous development of the Greek alphabet had been discredited by Lilian Jeffery’s work (27).

Burkert seems to go so far as to give short shrift to the Egyptian influence on Greek culture and religion. As he describes the possible roots of the Greek tradition of liver augury, describing the priest clan of the Tamiradae at Paphos claiming to have brought the tradition from Cilicia, citing Tacitus and discounting the earlier source Herodotus’ claim for an Egyptian source as being unfounded (49; note 16, 182). Although I understand is desire to accentuate Semitic roots, discounting Egyptian roots seems to be somewhat counterproductive. The distinctions being made by Burkert seemingly have more to do with late twentieth century revisionism than historical fact. Although his speculations on the migration of technology, myth, and religion seem perfectly valid, his emphasis on the Akkadian, Phoenician and Assyrian roots is noteworthy.

Bernal in his extensive review of Burkert, complains of the lack of inclusion of the Egyptians and of the narrow time frame in which Burkert sets the impact on Greek culture of the Near East (Bernal 138). Bernal has bigger fish to fry, he seems to be out to debunk the concept of the Dark Ages in Greece as one of isolation from which the Greeks emerged in the Archaic period stating “Burkert appears to share the Hellenocentric view that … the ‘Dark Ages’ provide a significant barrier between the cosmopolitan society of the palaces and the ‘repurified’ Greek society that emerged in the early eight century” (138). He goes on to argue that the initial Semitic influence goes back to the earliest period of Bronze Age Greece and Minoan Crete to the early second millennium BCE (144). While I agree with Bernal on his assessment on the weakness of the Egyptian influence in Burkert’s argument, I don’t read Burkert as excluding earlier influences so much as focusing on the Archaic period and expanding upon our understanding of the extent of the influence of dispersion of ideas across geographic regions.

Writing of purification rituals, Burkert describes how there is a wide literature available for magic rituals whereas that in Greek is brief, allusive or dependent on later reports Burkert, (Burkert, 56). He discusses the piglet bloodletting rituals in Aeschylus description of the purification of Orestes for murder (57). He mentions one example of ritual purification in the Iliad called lymata or dirty water being disposed of (57), Deciding to look for the citation I found (Il.1.313-314) “while Atreus’ son told his people to wash off their defilement. And they washed it away and threw the washing into the salt sea.” (Trans. Lat. 83). This seems to be related to the offense to Apollo and his priest. Seeking further information about the matter I found this extract on

Arctinus of Miletus, The Aethiopis Fragment 1 (from Proclus, Chrestomathia 2) (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic C8th B.C.): “Akhilleus [after slaying Thersites for his insults] sails to Lesbos and after sacrificing to Apollon, Artemis and Leto, is purified by Odysseus from bloodshed.” (Astima, Artemis n.p.).

An Apulian krater in the Louvre shows Apollo himself pouring the blood of the pig over Orestes Burkert affirms, although he does not show this image in the book (Burkert, 57). It is available on line from the web site of the Louvre in Paris. Below is the image described by Burkert with a description from the Louvre Museum in Paris where the krater is located:

The purification Orestes in Delphi.’ This exceptionally large bell-krater depicts the beginning of Aeschylus’s tragedy The Eumenides. The scene opens at the Temple of Apollo in Delphi, symbolized by an altar surmounted by the Omphalos, the navel of the world. Orestes has taken refuge here, fleeing the Erinyes, the terrible goddesses of vengeance. He is still holding the dagger with which he has killed his mother, Clytemnestra, to avenge his father. Behind him stands Apollo, holding a laurel branch in one hand and, with the other, shaking a piglet above the young man’s head in a gesture of purification. Artemis, the god’s sister, stands by his side.

(Padel-Imbaud, np).

The ritual purification in the Semitic world involved the blood of a pig as Burkert indicates in an excerpt from Babylonian ritual texts of purification (Burkert, 58). There is much evidence of purification rituals in the Near East from which the Greeks could have picked up from traveling seers and healers the specific practices mentioned above He goes on to make the point that even Apollo had to undergo ritual purification after slaying the Python, by going to Crete which Burkert associates along with Cypress as a center for the early Orientalizing period. He also notes that there are indications that the cult of Apollo itself has links to Semitic culture including the rituals around the new moon and the seventh day of the month (61). Although he clearly states that not all coincidental similarities of names and timing of events, are not evidence of Semitic influences, he feels that not enough recognition of the links that are the most likely hypothesis are given credibility by experts in the field and this book goes a long way in rectifying that lack of credit.

With much detail and copious notes, half again as long as the book itself, Burkert packs in a short text of 129 pages plus 90 pages of notes and bibliography an extensive and well- argued case for the continuous and extensive interaction between the Near East and Archaic period Greece. While he doesn’t give much shrift to the continuity of prior connections during the Bronze age, focusing on the period from about 800 – 650 BCE, he does not state that this was the only period of interaction, but the main early period. As I have stated before he leaves Egyptian sources largely neglected, but his effort is primarily aimed at debunking the approach of Orientalists and Hellenists that tries to examine Greece as a pure case of indigenous brilliance as the source of western civilization separate from the Near Eastern cradle in which the Greek baby rocked.

Works Cited

Atsma, Aaron J. “Artemis Goddess.” Theoi Project 2000 - 2011, Accessed Feb. 21, 2015

Bernal, Martin. “Burkert’s Orientalizing Revolution.” Arion, 4.2 (1996): 137-147.

Carter, Xxavier. “The Geometric Style Greek Archaeology,” Metamedia at Stanford Last modified Sat Dec 17/2005 06:09. Accessed 4 April 2015.

Lattimore, Richmond, Trans. The Iliad of Homer. Introduction and notes Richard Martin. Chicago: U. of Chicago Press, 2911.

Padel-Imbaud, Sophie. “The purification of Orestes in Delphi.” Apulian red-figure bell-krateine 23. Collection Campana, 1861, 1861 Known as the “Eumenides Krater” Cp 710. Louvre, France. Web, accessed 2/22/15.r. Department of Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities: Classical Greek Art (5th-4th centuries BC) Sully wing 1st floor Galerie Campana V Room 44 Vitr

Pomeroy, Sarah B., Burstein, Stanley M., Donlan, Walter, Roberts, Jennifer Tolbert, and Tandy, David, W. A Brief History of Ancient Greece Politics, Society, and Culture. Third ed. New York: Oxford U. Press. 2014.

Betwixt and Between

February 1st, 2015

Betwixt and Between talk with Mihika

I am hovering over a decision whether to drop the pretense of understanding the English language well enough to write it properly. Questions about my willingness to persevere in, the process of dissecting the English language, and attempting to become a better writer via the English Rhetoric program at CSULB have arisen. Dread at another sleepless semester has me halting before the gateway to eternal wisdom.

Dante purportedly originated the phrase: “Abandon all hope ye who enter here,” the warning at the gates of hell

Invested as I have become in attaining a degree in English Rhetoric, I find myself falling into continual despair at my inability to articulate correctly the brick and mortar terminology of the language. I have been reduced to watching ESL videos on YouTube in attempts to prop up my poor understanding of grammatical structure.


I am at another Rubicon, and sit here on my writing bed Hamletizing over whether to wrestle with my travails and misfortunes or to throw in the literary towel. And yes, I did consciously use Hamletize, that literary no-no. As my old girlfriend Nadine would famously say “fuck em’ if they can’t take a joke.” I am becoming much too aware of my phrasing for my native heart to take. Hesitating and bemoaning my lack of clarity, denigrating the artless expression of raw content, and thus forfeiting immediacy, for fear of clunky exhortations.

From: The Vault at Pfaff’s - Biographies - Search

Arguments over passive voice and active voice, transitive and intransitive verbs, proper pronouns and the lot have me quivering in fear over the next word, whether or not this sentence will falter and die a thousand deaths, or land in some version of literary limbo.

Aldous Huxley with “Limbo” From:

I can envision Dante, led by his faithful Roman guide Vergil, observing myself same words, enduring the slings and arrows of abuse from Chiron’s centaur horde. I can reference with the best of them, but only with the help of a well-worn Google search. Only the fragments of memory from the days when I could roam over the literary fields with some felicity have aided in my hunt and pecking in these more dour times.

Chiron Descending From:

So should I continue to abuse myself, lacking sleep, deferring literary projects, following the dubious path of academic acknowledgement, into my doddering last days, or eschew the trappings of academia and strike forth upon my own, hacking a path in the primordial-chthonic stew? I suppose, imagine, conjure, that to be the question dear reader.

I singe the body eclectic!

From: Scientists Are Cracking the Primordial Soup Mystery | Motherboard

Flora of Stoney Point Park, California

January 10th, 2015


Stoney Point rock formation and city park, in the western San Fernando Valley. A Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument located near Chatsworth Park North, in Chatsworth, Los Angeles, California From:

Flora of Eight Transects at Stoney Point: Significance Indications of Transition from CSS to Chaparral at Intersecting WTR and SCo region of California Floristic Province

Samantha Antu, Justin Chong, Gary Crethers, and Natalie Espinoza
Report written by Crethers. Data collected by Antu, Chong, Crethers and Espinoza.
Photos and tables as credited.


The flora data from eight transects taken in the southwest region of the Stony Point Park, Chatsworth area of Los Angeles County, was used to determine the vegetation type community according to the University of California Natural Reserve System and the Jepson Manual, Hierarchical Outline of Geographic Subdivisions. The data compared with data from three other groups examining other locations in the SW region of CA-FP, using Chi data analysis initially and then using Alpha, Beta and Gamma Biodiversity analysis. The determination that the vegetation in the Stony Point region was so divergent from that of the other regions, all of which were in the CSS, led to the tentative conclusions that this was a hard Chaparral plant community with some aspects of valley and foothill woodland vegetation. The plants in the region were suffering from prolonged drought conditions making plant species identification problematic. The constant use of the area by rock climbers also affected the vegetation. The authors recommend further study, including historical plant data correlated with climatic conditions and disturbance factors.


The Stony Point Park is a seventy-six acre complex of trails around a rocky outcrop located in the western region of the Valley in Los Angeles near the intersection of the 118 Highway and Route 27 Topanga Canyon Road, approximately 20 miles from the Pacific Ocean. This is an area where the California Floristic province or CA-FP, SW region (southwest region), WTR (western transverse region) intersects with the SCo (south coast) (Hickman; 1993, 44-45). The plant communities of this area are described in the NCR (University of California Natural Reserve System) as “Chaparral (Hard Chaparral) same in Muntz” and the “Valley and Foothill Woodland (includes Northern, Southern Oak Woodland; and Foothill Woodland)” (Ornduff, Faber and Keeler-Wolf; 2003, 115-118). The area is part of the Chatsworth Formation the oldest geological formation in the Simi Valley region, forming in the Upper Cretaceous period 75 to 70 million years ago. Sandstone is the major component of this formation originally part of deposits left by turbidity currents in a submarine canyon creating deposits 6000 feet thick. The transverse zone created by the end of subduction 30 million years ago with the beginning of the transverse slippage process by which the Pacific plate is moving in a northwesterly direction relative to the North American plate represented by the San Andreas fault has created the current geological conditions. Layers of grayish rock when exposed to weathering appear brown to reddish brown in layers of thick sandstone interleafed with thin layers of mudstone (Squires; 1997a, 294-296), figure 1.


Figure 1 us geological survey paper 1515 san andreas]fault 1990-1991. Map shows elevations.

The region fragmented in terms of urban development in relationship to natural ecosystems. Stoney Point itself is a popular rock climbing and hiking area. The area transected could be qualified as disturbed with many hikers seen tramping around the sites. There is a horse stable directly adjacent to the south of the region we selected. Datura Wrightii, the first species examined seemed to prefer the disturbed area with a lot of human activity. Stoney Point is part of the Mediterranean climate zone (mild, wet winters and hot dry summers), which has recently been undergoing drought conditions which may be a reflection of climate change. Recent studies of Brassica rapa have indicated that evolutionary change is occurring in species as well as natural plant plasticity (Franks, and Weis; 2008). Drought in the region cannot be specifically determined to be a result of warming in the SST due to the contradictory effects of the high abnormality over the eastern Pacific and the increased atmospheric humidity (Wang and Schubert; 2014). The vegetation is dispersed with clumps of denser vegetation near the dry water channel and at the edge of the horse stable and homes where there may be some runoff creating the potential for an oasis like microclimate, although no water flow was observed. These species included Centaurea melitensis, Quercus agrifolia, Rhus ovata, and Eucalyptus globulus. The rocky southern slope of the hill studded with large boulders that provide some shelter for vegetation. Stipa coronata especially seemed adapted to this environment. Santa Ana winds are particularly strong in the region, with the author experiencing gusty winds on a second visit to the site.

Materials and Methods

The group used a tape measure to divide each transect into segments of 1 meter over a 10 meter length for 11 identifications each. GPS data gathered at the beginning and end of each transect using GPS Status data available as an app for cell phones. The closeness to the rock wall of the hillside and some of the larger boulders made readings less than 100 percent reliable. Data was recorded manually on transect forms with pen and pencil with the tasks being shared by all participants. Eight transects were taken, sampling two on the trail entering the site from the Topanga Canyon Road. There was one transect taken among the rocks on the south side ridge of Stoney Point. One transect taken in a grove of trees among sheltering boulders. Another three transects were done along the dry watercourse and a final transect was made among trees that were on the edge of the park paralleling a housing development to the south. The choices made sampling different terrains and vegetation in a random manner as we moved in an easterly direction, and then doubled back for the last transects. Antu, Chong, Crethers, and Espinoza took data sampling on November 8, 2014. Crethers did a follow up on November 16,, 2014.

Plant identification was done with a combination of photographic images taken on the spot and cuttings from species observed at the transect points. The images checked against Calflora, Google images, the NPIN: Native Plant Database at, Wiki articles, Jepson Manual of Higher Plants and Introduction to California Plant Life as well as consulting with Professor Rodrigue who initiated the research site and methodology proposal. The plant data analyzed by Gary Crethers and Justin Chong; Chong then created an excel spreadsheet with the data. This data further modified by Crethers and Professor Rodrigue and reviewed by Antu and Espinoza. The data gathered was subject to a Chi-square test by Samantha Antu, and then Antu performed a comparison analysis with alpha, beta and gamma diversity tests against the data gathered by three other groups for the Southern California region. These included data from transects taken from the Bolsa Chica Wetlands, Palos Verdes at the Portuguese Bend Reserve, and Sepulveda Basin Wildlife Reserve.


The identifications hampered by the extremely dry conditions of the drought. (Swain et. al., 2014, S3; Wang and Schubert, 2014, S7). See figure 2.


Figure 2 California Precipitation over long historical periods. From:

Plant images for identification purposes were almost universally from when the plants are flowering. There were large areas with no visible plant life or unidentifiable plant debris. Of the 88 separate identification locations, 38 were bare ground or rock face or 43 percent of the area. This indicates the discontinuous nature of the vegetation. Species tended to clump together. Only twelve species identified in transects with dirt being the most common. Only twelve species identified in transects with dirt being the most common. See Table 1 below.


Chi-Square results showed the region to be anomalous in relationship to the other groups. Bolsa Chica Reserve and Portuguese Bend Reserve are both CSS environments directly on the Pacific coast. Sepulveda Basin Reserve has riparian CSS, with indications of a transition to the chaparral of the WTR, as the SepulvedaF14 data shows. Species Salix goodingii, or Gooding’s willow, Baccharis salicifoila, or mule fat, and Baccharis pilularis, or coyote brush, predominant in the groups transects, indigenous species. Whereas Datura wrightii, jimsom weed, Ambrosia psilostachya, or ragweed, and Hirshfeldia incana or Mediterranean Mustard predominated in StonyPointF14 data, with ragweed and mustard both invasive species, according to the results posted by Rodrigue (Geog.442, 2014).

The Alpha Beta diversity comparison below indicates the degree of diversity of the other sites. We have twelve different species at Stoney Point indicating the least diversity among the sites. But then when compared to the other sites on the Beta diversity Stoney Point has the least divergence with Sepulveda and the greatest with Bolsa Chica. The Gamma diversity of the region is 52.


Figure 3 Alpha Beta Diversity comparing Stony Point Data to the other three sites (Samantha Antu 2014).
That would indicate that geographical distance maybe significant as a factor, as Bolsa Chica is the furthest away from Stoney Point at approximately 50 miles. Palos Verdes is next at 38 miles and Sepulveda is closest at 10 miles, but physical distance is not necessarily significant in and of itself, if the climatic conditions are the same over the entire regional environment. A more important factor would be the distance from the maritime influence of the ocean. As has been stated, Stoney Point is 20 miles from the Pacific Ocean. It is almost due north from the mouth of Topanga Canyon. Bolsa Chica and Palos Verdes sites are both less than a mile from the Pacific Ocean. Sepulveda site is approximately 10 miles from the ocean, almost exactly half the distance that Stoney Point is from the Ocean. Looking at the topography, the Palos Verdes site has a rapid increase of altitude from near sea level at about 50 meters to 280 meters or almost 1000 feet. Bolsa Chica has elevations that are all very near sea level all less than 5 meters, 15 feet or less elevation. Sepulveda is on the other side of the Mulholland Pass. It is a riparian site with the LA River running through it and as figure above indicates it is in the 205 to 220 meters altitude range about 600 feet. Whereas the Stoney Point readings were at about the 310-340 meter level over 1000 feet. Elevation in itself clearly is not the distinguishing factor. A combination of elevation, distance from the ocean, wind currents affecting rainfall, whether or not the microclimate is within a rain shadow or not all are factors. Stoney Point partially blocked by the higher Simi Hills to the west and the Santa Monica Mountains to the south does not benefit as directly from the coastal CSS climate as the other areas.


Figure 4 California Floristic Province Map from the Jepson Herbarium From:

The constant influx of visiting humans and the proximity to residential areas, provide many opportunities for invasive species to infiltrate the park that is isolated from the larger, more natural ecosystems of the Simi Hills. The species along the dry watercourses were a mixture of introduced species such as the Eucalyptus globulus, brought from Australia to provide drought resistant timber in the nineteenth century, Rhus Ovata or sugar bush, and Quercus agrifolia, or coast live oak. The last two are native and the coast live oak used by Native Americans for the acorns to produce one of their dietary staples. This expected as the climatic conditions change from SCo with its milder temperature range due to the mitigating effects of the maritime ecosystem along the coast inland. In addition, the coastal fog in the summers mitigates the transfers a greater degree of moisture to coastal plants spared some of the effects of the hotter and dryer conditions as one moves inland. The hot, dry summers and cool wet winters reflect a Mediterranean climate, which transits to a montane environment moving inland and upland, with its Chaparral, Valley, and Foothill ecosystem.


The results would tend to indicate with the lack of shared species, that the Stoney Point data is from a different plant community, than that directly on the Pacific coast, in this case identified as Chaparral and Valley and Foothill Woodland. Dirt appearing as the most common identifier indicates the lack of foliage density. This seems to be the result of human use of trail areas and the severe drought conditions have caused many species to die back and subsequently become hard to identify. Still we concluded the species reflect those found in Inland Scrub or Chaparral zone. Twenty miles from the ocean, species in Stoney Point have more of the characteristics of species found in the inland scrub rather than CSS, although identification was somewhat problematic. The group bolstered fieldwork by checking the Jepson Manual of Higher Plants and Introduction to California Plant Life area maps to confirm this conclusion. See Figure 4 above.

Further research:

Prepare a historical study of introduction of invasive species and the advisability of removing them from such a small ecological island.
 Pre-Colonial Indigenous influence on species and habitat has been profound and needs further research, see Appendix 1.
 Effects of Climate change and extended drought on whether the CSS area is reduced and replaced by Chaparral species or if the opposite occurs or some more complex adaptation.
 The Urbanization effect on habitat and species resilience, including the effects of pollution, small versus large ecological islands and the possible linking of the park with other areas to provide corridors for native fauna and flora is another area for further study.

Appendix 1: Notes on Native American Land Use and Datura Wrightii

Datura Wrightii used by the indigenous people of the region for a variety of purposes. According to Edward D. Castillo in his article on California Native Americans, Datura or Jimsonweed was used male puberty rituals due to its hallucinogenic properties (Castillo 1998). The area around Stony Point was a traditional site for the local Tataviam tribal people called Momonga and was a mortuary area according to the tribal web site of the Fernandeño Tataviam Band of Mission Indians. They also claim the use of jimson weed in the making of baskets. “The historical Tataviam ate acorns, yucca, juniper berries, sage seeds and islay, and they hunted small game. Jimsonweed, native tobacco, and other plants found along the local rivers and streams provided raw materials for baskets, cordage, and netting” (Fernandeño Tataviam Band, History).


“Momoy (Chumash) – Datura wrightii

Also called California Jimson Weed or in Spanish, toloache, this small bush is common in disturbed areas and often considered one of the most sacred plants in the Chumash world. According to Cecilia, Momoy protects and tickles the soul, brings you back to earth. Ingestion of the root mixture would initiate young boys or girls into adulthood and can induce sacred dreams or hallucinations. Unfortunately, the dreaming-dose can inhibit breathing, become poisonous, or induce blindness. It can be dangerous or deadly, and not recommended outside of sacred, not psychedelic, Chumash ceremonies. In small amounts it can help a patient breathe as aromatherapy mixed with yerba santa leaves (Eriotdictyon crassifolium) or destress as a foot soak” From:

The issue of how First Nation Californians managed their ecosystems largely through controlled burns and the introduction and removal of species makes the issue of what is native, even more complex. The example of the fox population on the Channel Islands has become an issue as Sharon Levy points out that there are strong indications that the fox was introduced by Chumash or other early human arrivals (Levy 333), which has become controversial in determining how far back one should go in restoring original ecosystems. It also brings up the question as to whether there is such a thing as an original ecosystem since the complex nature of the environment is constantly adapting and changing, at what point is restoration simply advocacy for an ideological position? Standards seemingly based on some aesthetic of diversity as an aspect of beauty, rather than a vain attempt to recreate a frozen moment in time because of some purported scientific reason, or perhaps based on the best pragmatic determination as to what will enhance our own survivability. Self-interest ecology seems like it might appeal to the rightward shift in Congress for continued funding.

Jan Timbrook points out that before the arrival of Europeans the local Chumash and Tongva peoples used controlled burns to modify the natural environment. The practice ended by the Spanish missionaries causing the ecosystem to change and gradually lose much of the character it had at the time of the arrival of Europeans (Timbrook, 244). This has led some such as Kat Anderson and Michael Moratto to suggest that the Native American land use practices led to much healthier forests in the Sierra Nevada and bringing Naïve practices back into use. The claim is that protection of supposedly pristine eco-islands is not even historically an accurate view of pre-invasion California, particularly in the Sierra Nevada Mountains (Anderson and Moratto, 187-188).

Certainly a deeper look at what is the natural environment to be preserved needs to take into account thousands of years of Native American husbandry practices as well as the world wide phenomena going back perhaps hundreds of thousands of years in Africa in particular.

If you would like to see the original paper in full color you can contact me at “” and will gladly email you the article.

Works Cited
Anderson, M. Kat, and Michael J. Moratto. 1996. “Native American land-use practices and ecological impacts.” In Sierra Nevada ecosystem project: final report to congress, 2: 187-206 (accessed December 12, 2014).
Calflora: Information on California plants data contributed by institutions and individuals, including the Consortium of California Herbaria. [web application]. 2014. Berkeley, CA: The Calflora Database [a non-profit organization]. Available:, (accessed: Nov. 14, 2014).
Castillo, Edward D. 1998. “Short Overview of California Indian History.” California Native American Heritage Commission., (accessed December 12, 2014).
Fernandeño Tataviam Band of Mission Indians. 2014. “History.” Fernandeño Tataviam Band of Mission Indians. villages/tribal-citizens-ancestral-villages, (accessed December 12, 2014).
Hickman, J.D. (ed.) 1993. The Jepson Manual: Higher Plants of California. University of California Press, Berkeley, CA.
Levy, Sharon. 2010. “Island Fox Paradox.” Bioscience 60, no. 5: 332-336. MAS Ultra - School Edition, EBSCOhost (accessed December 7, 2014).
NPIN: Native Plant Database, (accessed November 14, 2014).
Ornduff, Robert. Phyllis M Faber, and Todd Keeler-Wolf. Introduction to California Plant Life. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Rodrigue, Christine M. 2014. Geography 442 Transect Data Spread Sheet. (accessed December 3, 2014).
Squires, Richard. 1997a. L. Geologic Profile of Simi Valley. Simi Valley A Journey Through Time Ed. Bill Appleton. Simi Valley: Simi Valley Historical Society and Museum.293-301. (accessed November 14, 2014).
Swain, Daniel L., Michael Tsiang, Matz Haugen, Deepti Singh, Allison Charland, Bala Rajaratnam, and Noah S. Diffenbaugh. 2014. “2. The Extraordinary California Drought of 2013/2014: Character, Context, and the Role of Climate Change.” Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society S3-S7. Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost (accessed December 7, 2014).
Flora of Eight Transects at Stoney Point 10
Timbrook, Jan. 1990. Ethnobotany of Chumash Indians, California, Based on Collections by John P. Harrington. Economic Botany. 44, no. 2: 236-253 (accessed Dec. 12, 2014).
Wang, Halian and Siegfried, Schubert. 2014. “3. Causes of The Extreme Dry Conditions Over California During Early 2013.” Bulletin Of The American Meteorological Society S7-S11. Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost (accessed December 7, 2014).

New Year

January 1st, 2015

A Tale of Two Hoodies

It is a new year a dawning. I hear fireworks, shouting and pan clanging around me as I write. Out with the old, and in with the new.

We have begun to see the resistant remnants of ugly racism fall before the angry critique of the aroused brown and black peoples. It is my firm belief that the US will be able to face at last the lingering distasteful odor of race based discrimination and cleanse itself, from this bloody relic of slavery and colonial imperialism. Good luck and well wishes to us all.


May 2015 be the year we finally make it to a world where there is only one race, the human race.


See you around the block folks, and may we all grow in tolerance, empathy and understanding.

British Imperialism in Ireland: Harbinger of Things to Come

January 1st, 2015

Sir Henry Sidney, Lord-Deputy, accompanied by an armed force, sets out from Dublin Castle for a progress through Ireland. Detail from a plate in The Image of Irelande, by John Derrick (London, 1581).
From: John Derrick -

Coercing the Native Speaker: English Language Consolidation in the British Isles

The intent of the Scots to become Englishmen was certainly not predetermined at the time of the attempted union by King James. This was voted down in Parliament and Shakespeare’s commentaries in Macbeth notwithstanding, there was a propaganda war occurring. This war was fought between those who advocated a Standard English and those who wanted a Scottish standard of English. The victims of this battle for control of the language were the common dialect speakers who were forced to choose between these narrowing poles as the contest for the hearts and minds of the Scots and English developed over the next two centuries. As Adam Beach notes by the time of Adam Smith there had emerged a semi anthropological view of civilized and savage language in which those who did not speak in the dominant paradigm were increasingly regulated to lower class status.
Lynda Mugglestone relates how class was determined by accent, emphasizing the opportunity offered by language standardization in the work of 18th century writers like Thomas Sheridan. Sheridan spoke disparagingly about the ‘disgrace’ of dialect, uniformity of language would provide opportunity for the Scots, Irish and Welshmen. The shifting emphasis on accent and speaking properly became a focus in English culture. Mugglestone describes language becoming a key determinant of class status by the late 18th century.

Britain is depicted in its feminine aspect as the Athena-like Britannia disciplining the naughty Irish child

Taking another approach Amy Devitt sees the movement to uniformity as part of a natural process and not one of prescriptivism or institutional enforcement. Describing the gradual standardization of English in Scotland around the initial union through King James, the process is simply seen as a normal outcome of history. The emergence of a dominant language is not always benign as the example of the Irish would show during this same period. Patricia Palmer wrote about the dislocation felt by the Irish who as described in John Derrike’s The Image of Irelande, a not so rosy picture arises, “Dumb / bloodied, the severed / head now chokes to / speak another tongue”. Severed heads present a literal finality. Choking to speak the oppressors tongue, transition from one language to another in Elizabethan times displays the interrelationship between conquest and language. Perhaps the Irish model from the Elizabethan England’s bloody conquest of Ireland with the subsequent pushing aside of the Irish language could be seen as the mother of all English imperialism, in fact the model for subsequent rendering of savages unto civilization as was done so well with Native Americans by the colonists.

White and Black Slaves in the Sugar Plantations of Barbados. None of the Irish victims ever made it back to their homeland to describe their ordeal. These are the lost slaves; the ones that time and biased history books conveniently forgot.

As the British embarked on the earliest phase of its dabbling in colonialism, Shakespeare weighed in against such foreign ventures. Leah Marcus describes Shakespeare’s anglicizing of names in his version of “Thomas Lodge’s prose romance Rosalynde (1590),” As You Like It, where the Ardennes forest is replaced with the British Arden forest. Marcus shows Shakespeare subtly anglicizing many original French terms and denigrating foreign adventures, Jacques for example becomes Jaques a potential victim of the French disease (as syphilis was known), with his sores, the representation of what would happen if the locals went abroad. Shakespeare was critical of British foreign adventurism by anglicizing Lodge’s story, according to Marcus. England was embroiled in its war of Irish conquest at the time As You Like It was first staged possibly at the opening of the Globe Theatre in 1599. Shakespeare in my modest view was constrained to follow the way the winds were blowing rather than staking is reputation on an anti-colonialist position.

Cromwellian army’s campaign in Ireland immediately after the English Civil War. Cromwell was short of cash to pay his troops at the end of the war, and confiscated 80% of the land (coloured orange above) for his troops in lieu of money. The dispossessed landowners were offered poor quality land in Connaught in exchange.

Bloody Ireland was a test, which way would the English go, to empire or fraternal relations? Patricia Palmer wrote, “`Elizabethan’ Ireland is the last moment when a confident Irish-speaking world confronts its English nemesis” The wordsmiths of freeholder independence vs the consolidation of empire in the language is part of a process of defining legitimatization according to Jim Milroy. Milroy’s criticism of “internal linguistic analysis” presented by advocates such as Saussure, who believed studying internal linguistic structural forms, creates “objective, non-ideological, and reliable,” analysis. Linguistic standardization excluding variants contradicting the norm inherently involves bias. Miloy says the claim “the history of standard English is the legitimate history of English” exhibits bias limiting the discourse, setting standards ignoring geography, history, and culture. The standardizing tendency, determines much English origins discourse focusing on corruption of a supposed model, Miloy considers illusory. Miloy credits the influence of Victorian enthusiasts enamored the language of Shakespeare, exploring dialects as vulgarizations of the mother tongue, denying historicity to deviations.

The fact is the term “Black Irish” is an ambiguous term!Traditionalist maintain the term to be in accordance with a dark-haired phenotype of Irish descent.

Writing of Ireland Palmer claims that the imperial and linguistic project went hand in hand as early as the sixteenth century. “The fact that so many of the leading translators of the age - Bryskett, Fenton, Googe, Harington - were also players in the conquest of Ireland confirms the uncanny congruity between pushing back the frontiers of English and expanding the geopolitical boundaries within which it operated.” The steps taken to establish empire were essential to the process creating English predominance, leading to the destruction of competing cultures by rooting out linguistic variance. Thus the creation of legitimate and illegitimate language is according to Wiley a projection of elite culture going back to the sixteenth century, defining social status by accent much earlier than the eighteenth century where Mugglestone places much of the written literature devoted to uplifting the linguistically deprived. While Mugglestone and Wiley are associating the distinction to class, Palmer focuses on the imperial project as dependent or co-equally requiring the destruction of the native tongue.

From the website: The Image of Irelande, by John Derrick (London, 1581) - Plates

The English solders return in triumph with ‘liberated’ livestock and Irish prisoners, carrying severed Irish heads and leading a captive by a halter. Note the adoption of Irish practice in the taking of enemy heads.

The Scottish then become subject to a different type of linguistic deconstruction. The new king of England in 1603, James, was the king of Scotland and England combined, already King of Scotland when he accepted the crown of England upon Elisabeth I’s death. For Devitt this was a natural process of integration. The power balance between England and Scotland was as that of Ireland prior to the conquest, still to be determined. Neil MacGregor points out that James attempted to solidify his union of Scotland and England in a political alliance, which neither the British nor the Scots would abide by. The Scots demanded equality and the English superiority. King James could only get out of Shakespeare a Macbeth, with the English coming to the aid of the legitimate rulers of Scotland, Edward, an ancestor of James. Yet Macbeth, as Greenblatt points out, would be reassuring in the sense that the usurper lost his head, just as the Gun Powder plotter, as Shakespeare obliquely refers to a Jesuit writer of equivocations, one whose head landed on a pike outside the Tower of London.
(To Be Continued).

Gunpowder Plotters heads on poles.

Works Cited For end notes contact

Beach, Adam R. 2001. The Creation of a Classical Language in the Eighteenth Century: Standardizing English, Cultural Imperialism, and the Future of the Literary Canon. Texas Studies in Literature and Language. 43, no. 2: 117-141, (accessed October 21, 2014).

Devitt, Amy J. Standardizing Written English: Diffusion in the Case of Scotland, 1520-1659. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1989.

Greenblatt, Stephen. Will and the World. New York: Norton. 2004

MacGregor, Neil. Shakespeare’s Restless World A Portrait of An Era in Twenty Objects. New York: Viking 2012.

Maloy, Jim, “The legitimate language Giving a history to English.” Alternative Histories of English. Ed. Richard Watts and Peter Trudgill. London: Routledge, 2002. 7-26.

Marcus, Leah S., and Furness, Horace Howard Oliver. 2014. “Anti-Conquest and As You Like It.” Shakespeare Studies 42, 170. MAS Ultra - School Edition, EBSCOhost, (accessed October 21, 2014).

Mugglestone, Lynda. ‘Talking Proper’ The Rise of Accent as Social Symbol. Oxford: Clarendon Press.1995

Palmer, Patricia, Ann. Language and Conquest in Early Modern Ireland: English Renaissance Literature and Elizabethan Imperial Expansion. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2001.

The Whiteness Disease: Symptoms and Remedies

December 4th, 2014

The Privilege that Keeps on Giving

You know it is true. We try, we of the pale persuasion, to be Hip Hop. When I was a kid it was the Blues we emulated, and the whiter and richer, like the Rolling Stones, the more we wanted to be bad and black. Or as Lou Reed that famous English Major from suburban New York, may he rest in Jewish heavenly peace, says “I Wanna Be Black” because blacks have natural rhythm and they don’t have to be college nerdy college students, or some such thing as Lou’s parody of the white blackophile, states. Any smart white person with a modicum of awareness knows that being white is not where it is at. It is a moral and cultural dead end. Not that white people haven’t done some decent stuff, but white identity… forget it. It is about as hip as Wonder Bread and just as good for you.

A contingent of Seattle Black Panther Party (led by Lt. Elmer Dixon) on the Capitol steps in Olympia, WA, on 29 February, 1969.


In my own teenage years I rode on the coat tails of the Black Panthers, distributing their newspaper in my local suburban Connecticut high schools, getting my taste of martyrdom being jumped and beat up by local greaser thugs and having beer bottle thrown at me by passing truck drivers…. It was considered to be a badge of honor to be the hippie-commie-nigger lover. But those days are long gone, and the dreams of social justice, ‘da revolution man’ and all that faded into the realities of Reaganomics that even my attempts to cling to respectable alienation as a punk-rocker anarchist and eventually problematic druggie, could not maintain.

After several false starts in politics (losing two mayoral races and an attempt to become Lt. Governor), Maddox became infamous when he was photographed on 3 July 1964 wielding an axe handle at negroes attempting to enter his whites-only Pickrick cafeteria.


I was and still am white and yet whiteness is nothing but a concept in peoples minds. I passed though the court system with barley a scratch. Judges looked at me amidst the dark brown and black masses in the line up and would say, we must have made a mistake, that white man must go free. And don’t believe I didn’t accept the pass. Jail is no place for a human being. And yet millions of our brothers and sisters on this planet are imprisoned and worse, simply because of the color of their skin forced to endure humiliations and early death.

So true


White people simply will never be able to be black, not unless they become black, or golden, or whatever and become what they are not, the oppressed, the obviously identifiable objects of scorn, discrimination and physical violence. It is no joke that black male teenagers are 21 times more likely to be shot and killed by police than whites. The Propublica report ( has identified this shocking fact. In my Biogeography class the teacher pointed out that those who stand out distinguished by color or other easy identification are subject to predation. This is to my mind more a refection of the white state of mind, that imposes an order that places whiteness as the norm and all shades deviating from that as aberrant and deserving of culling.

As an ethnic group, Americans of African descent have had to endure extreme mental attacks in the forms of racism, oppression, systemic discrimination and it still continues.

Obviously this has to stop. Perhaps it will take a localized reduction of whiteness to its true status, as a minority position, before the idea will get across that humanity is truly a rainbow, and that there is no such thing as race within humanity when it comes to biology. We are all of the species Homo Sapiens with a little Neanderthal thrown in. Perhaps it is because White people have more Neanderthal in us than other races, that makes us a little slow on the uptake. With a memory of being less viable than the other true humans out of Africa, not a bastard race like the Neanderthal-Sapiens mix that the Euro-humans became in their isolated Ice Age Europe, living in caves and wearing dead animal skins, lacking sunlight and healthy vegetables and fruits, forced to live on the dead bodies of animals. No wonder whites became a depraved variation on the sunny golden humanity, The white maggoty substance found living on decaying matter.

Neanderthal 2-5% of European genetic makeup.


Ok, I made my point. It is easy to turn racism on its head. The so-called achievements of western civilization, capitalist rape of the planet and enslavement of masses of fellow humans for the sake of greed, well I could go on but I don’t want too. My point is that the protests against police shootings of persons of color are necessary and must bring attention to the need for immediate change in the legal system. A legal system that is biased not in favor of defendants, as the Media seems to want to say as a way of rationalizing the continuous failure of grand juries to indite police for murder, but one that systematically is biased in favor of the representatives of state power against those who are the objects of its repressive apparatus, is both logical and obvious. What is needed is a recognition of the bias, of the racism and hierarchy of power inherent in the system set up by white slave owners and the merchant classes of the fledgling American Republic. Inheriting the system developed by English aristocrats in the middle ages to insure that their clique retained power over the unwashed rabble of England. In that time, the Magna Carta forced upon King John of England, from one perspective, to retain the right to maintain dominance over the masses, and insuring that the King did not go to far in disrupting their power by bad policy decisions. What ever the roots of the English system of jurisprudence that the USA has inherited from Roman and medieval English law, it is not designed with the interests of the people, but for the interests of the status quo elites who have been and still are for the most part white or whitish.

Prison Industrial complex part of Business As Usual


“No Justice, No Peace: is an entirely appropriate response to such an oppressive system and anyone on the receiving end of the American justice system understands its inherent unfairness, all the justice for the elite and their friends that money and position can buy/appropriate is the law of the land. It is the justice of the conqueror, ask any native American, of the master, ask any slave or former slave, of the capitalist, ask any worker struggling for simple livable wages and I could go on. But I think you get the point. Rioting and disrupting traffic, all business as usual is appropriate and necessary to bring about change.

Half white, half black. Source: CBS


Embarrassing the nominally black president into standing for the people is a tough business, he has to face his masters every day behind closed doors, giving the world his best black face for public consumption. Perhaps there is a soul in that man somewhere, he is not truly white, I can see his awkwardness at being forced to face his black side. and it is good. We all need to bring out our inner blackness, code in reality for inner humanity. We are not machines and it is not our fate if we do not allow it to be eaten by Moloch in a descent into soulless whiteness. White bread… says it all, it has to have vitamins artificially added.

I liked that you could roll it into little balls; you could smash it flat and toast it against a light bulb.


And the answer is direct action….

Protesters march outside Ferguson police station Sept. 25, 2014.


While I am not going to say Obama is totally ineffectual in this area, I will say that the efforts of Attorney General Holder, are perhaps as far as Obama is willing to stick his neck out to confront the security establishment. The withholding of funds to Homeland Security by Congress may be more beneficial than not if it cripples some of its efforts in militarizing local police forces. Let us hope libertarians and left leaning liberals in Congress manage to do something about shipping military hardware to local police departments because the president has said he will not end the policy.


Although there has been a lot of media noise on the issue, it will take grass roots activism to keep pressure on. Unfortunately, knowing how media news cycles work, the window of opportunity on this issue is about to end. Only more police violence and an appropriate response by communities will keep the attention on the issues in the media. The President, being a lame duck, at least can use the bully pulpit, and procedural changes, just like he did with immigration to bring attention to the issue. Federal funding to local police agencies should be contingent upon a real display of a reduction of police violence against communities of color an very strong policies that constrain unnecessary use of force, deadly force in particular. I personally believe the Andy Griffith policy of giving the cops only one bullet, that must be kept separate from the weapon might be the way to go. Police with loaded guns, a bad idea.

Photo of Don Knotts as Barney Fife from The Andy Griffith Show. Barney is seen here loading his pistol with the only bullet he was allowed to have. It was kept in his uniform short pocket in case it was needed. Whenever Barney loaded his gun, it would either go off while holstered, fire into the ceiling, etc


Tiberius, Elections and Popular Violence

November 28th, 2014

Imperial Roman fresco, ca. 59 - 79 AD, from House I, 3, 23 at Pompeii. Riot and brawl between Pompeians and Nucerians in and around the amphitheater.


Popular Protest, Political Wrangling, Tiberius and the Augustan Succession
By Gary Crethers

The right to vote, according to Fergus Millar, in the sovereign body of the Republican constitution was the populus Romanus, as represented by the various forms of the voting assembly. The three bodies of the ancient Roman Comitia: the centuriata, an assembly by centuriae established by Servius Tullius, the curiata, assembly of the curiae, (which rarely met in the later times of the Republic), and the tributa, assembly of the tribes of Rome. The right to participate in major decisions, such as going to war or to make other major changes was a right the Roman plebian populace had fought to attain over centuries. Yet by the time of the ascendency of Tiberius in 14 AD, Tacitus claims that elections transferred to the Senate, but as noted by B. M. Levick this did not necessarily need to lead to the demise of the electoral process. Levick interprets the statement in Tacitus as Tiberius limiting his own power, because of an understanding of the consequences of commendati, or written recommendation, by suggesting only four candidates to the tribunate. Tacitus writes:

Tum primum e campo comitia ad patres translata sunt: nam ad eam diem, etsi potissima arbitrio principis, quaedam tamen studiis tribuum fiebant. neque populus ademptum ius questus est nisi inani rumore, et senatus largitionibus ac precibus sordidis exsolutus libens tenuit, moderante Tiberio ne plures quam quattuor candidatos commendaret sine repulsa et ambitu designandos.

It was then for the first time that the elections were transferred from the Campus Martius to the Senate. For up to that day, though the most important rested with the emperor’s choice, some were settled by the partialities of the tribes. Nor did the people complain of having the right taken from them, except in mere idle talk, and the Senate, being now released from the necessity of bribery and of degrading solicitations, gladly upheld the change, Tiberius confining himself to the recommendation of only four candidates who were to be nominated without rejection or canvass.

(Ann. 1-15)

The intent of this short paper is to examine aspects of democratic survival by electoral and non-electoral means in the early Imperium, with a focus on the transition from Augustus to Tiberius.

It seems that Tiberius had hopes of restoring the old Republican system if a reasonable chance of success was determined to exist and acted to expand the power of the Senate as Olive Kunz saw the removal of electoral power to the Senate. He did not want the office claiming the job to be too difficult for one man and wished to be just one among many. Augustus himself claimed in his summary of his deeds in the AD 14 Res Gestae Divi Augusti:

Ín consulátú sexto et septimo, b(ella ubi civil)ia exstinxeram | per consénsum úniversórum (potitus rerum omn)ium, rem publicam || ex meá potestáte (§) in senát(us populique Romani a)rbitrium transtulí.

In my sixth and seventh consulships, when I had extinguished the flames of civil war, after receiving by universal consent the absolute control of affairs, I transferred the republic from my own control to the will of the senate and the Roman people.

(Res Gestae VI 34)

The restoration could have been a dream on the part of Augustus, yet in a technically legal sense, it was true. Shipley indicates that Augustus did begin divesting himself of extraordinary powers in 28 and 27 BCE, but that he maintained the “ordinary offices in an extraordinary way, such as the tribunica potestas and the imperium.” Much has been made of this statement; Augustus himself quotes from the authorization to the imperium given to him by the senate, ordering him “to see that the republic suffered no harm.” Clifford Ando states that the entire binary division between imperium and auctoritas is a false one, that “the coexistence of the Republic and monarchy is everywhere attested, both explicitly and implicitly, both in documentary and in literary texts.”

Statue of Tiberius from Privernum. Marble. Ca. 20—30 A.D. Rome, Vatican Museums, Chiaramonti, XXI.3. Credits: © Photo, text: N. N. Britova, N. M. Loseva, N. A. Sidorova. RIMSKII SKUL’PTURNYI PORTRET. M., “Iskusstvo”, 1975, s. 34, ill. 49.


There are some issues to clarify regarding Tacitus, who has been a major source on the reign of Tiberius; he presents a notably one-sided view of Tiberius. As the venerable historian, Sir Ronald Styme, wrote “It is mainly for his treatment of Tiberius that Tacitus comes under censure.” Tacitus shows Tiberius a man whose truly evil nature came out in degrees as the mitigating factors of the presence of parties such as Germanicus, Drusus, his mother and even Sejanus were removed, after which his depravity knew no bounds. Styme believes that Tacitus went back to original sources, and cites the accounts of Suetonius and Cassius Dio who to a degree corroborate Tacitus. Kuntz considers Tacitus to be poisoning the well, exhibiting undue influence on Suetonius and Dio. Reading some of the supportive sources on the reign of Tiberius, Velleius comes to mind, presents a different picture, one of peace and prosperity, and a Princeps beset by undeserved personal misfortunes. Velleius wrote just before the fall of Sejanus, and, perhaps due to writing in the reign of Tiberius, was prejudiced in his favor.

Republican coin, issued by the moneyer P. Licinius Nerva, showing voting in an assembly. Two voters are casting their ballots: the voter on the left receives his tablet from an attendant below, while the other, after crossing the bridge, places his tablet in the voting urn. Below, a drawing of the image. (VRoma: National Museums, Rome: Barbara McManus)

From :

The contention that the voting rights of the populace disappeared at that time seems premature as to the actual state of affairs. Josiah Ober, in his research on the testament of Augustus that is supposed to have guided Tiberius, can find nothing that implies Augustus had anything more in mind than a list of suggested candidates for office. It seems that there was no conspiracy on the part of Tiberius, or the intent of Augustus to end the popular vote, only to secure the Senate as functioning body. Tiberius brought all manner of matters before the Senate, great and small, in what Suetonius called “a certain show of liberty, by preserving to the senate and magistrates their former majesty and power.” Suetonius, who may have read Tacitus, although Styme thinks it unlikely, implies the liberty was a sham. Turning that around it could simply be the failure of the Senate to act in a manner in accordance with its power, or as has been noted, the view of Tacitus, who had survived the trials at the end of Domitian’s reign, may have colored the perspective of subsequent historians.

Tiberius claimed only the Tribunican authority given to him by the Senate, to call the Senate to session upon the death of Augustus, as even his detractor Tacitus states. Evidence of a continued electoral process at least in the provinces, seen in Pliny the Younger’s references to a “marriageable gentleman,” who, happens to have stayed out of the hustle and bustle of the political life, was a sure indication that such a life still was important even during the empire. In his article on the survival of the demos in Greece during the imperial period Arjan Zuiderhoek wrote, “Greek cities in the Roman east continue to use the formula ‘the council (boule) and people (demos) decide/honour’ well into the third century.” The idea that Imperial dictates replaced elections seems not to hold up. It also would be absurdly cumbersome for the imperial apparatus to have to pick the members of every city council. Given the technology of the time, even the good Roman roads would leave cities waiting for years for executive decisions from the Roman imperial bureaucracy. As Clifford Ando notes, there was no clear distinction between imperial and republican structures, elections continued at least until the end of the third century AD. The populus Romanus remained an integral part of the imperial ideology.

Reading the commentary in Velleius, who was there, on the supposed suppression of the plebeians voting rights commanded by the letter of Augustus, all he says is:

Post redditum caelo patrem et corpus eius humanis honoribus, numen
divinis honoratum, primum principalium eius (Tiberii) operum fuit
ordinatio comitiorum, quam manu sua scriptam divus Augustus reliquerat.

(Compendium II.124.3)

The Loeb translation of ordinatio comitiorum is “the regulation of the comitia, instructions for which Augustus had left in his own handwriting.” Looking in Cassell’s Latin Dictionary the term ordinatio is translated as “a setting in order, arrangement” and comitiorum is “the assembly of the Roman people for the election of magistrates, etc.; hence the elections.” What was interesting upon looking further was the root of ordination, in ordo, ordinaries, cited from Livy as being in the ordinary manner, as in elections, as opposed to suffecti, or substitute. These words all have significance in the political realms. It would seem that the translation is that of a return to normalcy or even an ending of irregular substitutions of the elected authorities. Ober sees no claim to a secret memorandum to Tiberius as Cassius Dio contends, citing “Suetonius held the positions of a studiis, a bibliothecis, and ab epistulis under Trajan and Hadrian and presumably had access to the imperial archives.” This in making the point that Suetonius never mentions a book of recommendations for Tiberius as Cassius Dio claims in his history.

There are problems with this argument. Going back to Tacitus, he clearly states that in time after Augustus’s death, elections transferred from the Assembly to the senate and that up until that time the tribes had been able to elect officials, albeit in Tacitus’ words only unimportant elections. Moreover, according to Tacitus, “the public, except in trivial talk, made no objection to their deprival of this right.” Yet we find Velleius gushing over being the candidatis Caesaris of both Augustus and Tiberius, along with his brother for the praetorship, which would imply that there were non-Caesarian candidates, which the previous quote from Tacitus Tiberius’ recommendations, were limited to four. Where were the voting masses? Tacitus claims they simply did not care about the vote. Senators were relieved not to have to canvas the electorate.

Reed: Plebeians Checking vote lists.


Something is missing. Relief over the end of the civil wars would have been decades prior to 14 AD. The average life span according to Shelton was 27 years. Augustus ruled for more than two generations of Romans. Tiberius was born during the Triumvirate and was 55 when he became Princeps. The Republican traditions that most of the populace knew were those of the reformed Republic. Augustus had done his job integrating the imperium and his auctoritas into the new order, a masterful political strategist he carefully prepared the opportunity for his replacement. Tiberius, by contrast was a soldier, came from a gens the Claudii, proud and sticklers for their privileges. His tastes in literature were of traditions from the past and held no truck with the Augustan poets. Augustus reputedly called him a “slow devourer,” a dour fellow who was not one of Augustus’ favorite party guests. Tiberius seems old fashioned in his moderatio, a bit behind the times, resisting the power offered, as Suetonius records a member of the Senate saying “others are slack in performing what they promise, but you are slack in promising what you perform.” How would the people adapt to Tiberius?

W. Erder claims Augustus was building a link between old forms of the Republic and the Republic, sans the violent discord from bad old days. Augustus was attempting to build a consensus of support for the next princeps, who would have the concensus universorum that granted him sole possession of power. It was his auctoritas, according to Erder, that granted him the right invest a successor with the roles to take his place. Acquiesce of the public would be perceived as the res publica accepting this choice. Hence the statement by Tacitus that the consuls, senate, equites, and the people swore allegiance to Tiberius upon his accession, although as I read it, there was nothing but bile in Tacitus’ statement for he saw Tiberius as putting the final nails in the coffin of the Republic. An indication of things to come was the way Tiberius handled the funeral of Augustus. Troops guarded the site, justified by the disruptions at the time of the funeral of Julius Caesar. Tiberius anticipated popular disruption, as Tacitus writes there were jibes at the fearful new rulers afraid of a few citizens.

Map of the Capitoline Hill, indicating the probable location of the Gemonian Stairs at the time of the Roman Empire.


Yet the process of alienation of political rights, initially justified perhaps as an echoed response to the troubled times of the last years of the Republic, became problematic leaving the masses without certain aspects of legal political expression, the public areas of the city remained an arena in which the populace expressed political opinions. One of these locations was the Scalae Gemoniae, steps built by Augustus during his rebuilding of Rome, the place of choice for public strangling of opposition figures according to William Barry. The displays of power did not dissuade the populace from expressing its views, and the steps became contested where riots occurred in AD 20 during Cn. Calpurnius Piso’s trial, and again at the time of the downfall of Sejanus. Executing the more notable opposition, such as the children of Sejanus who were, as Tacitus writes in his rather gruesome chapters on the reign of Tiberius, “both were strangled, and their young bodies were thrown on the Gemonian Steps.” This became the place for both demonstration and execution of the more notable defendants in the time of Tiberius.

Roman Plebeians


Roman elites were suspect of all associations among the plebs. They degraded the significance of their associations, calling the informal gatherings of small groups known as circuli, with the presence of a circulator, a person who facilitated these meetings as the equivalent of a type of low entertainment put on by hucksters. The example of the snake charmers drugging snakes by Celsus, indicates the type of entertainer that the upper classes considered the circulatores to be as Peter O’Neill pointed out in his study on class and popular speech.

UW-Green Bay’s Dinner Lecture: When in Rome… Experiencing a Roman Feast


Tacitus, as noted above claims that the people were indifferent to their loss of political power. Rather, popular assemblies became ciruli. The suffragatores, political party whips, becoming cirulatores, mere circus barkers, in an elite view. Yet the populace was not passively sitting around telling tales.

There were curious events, riots related to the pantomimes. The first occurred at the Sodales Augustalus, games honoring the deified Augustus in September 14 A.D. Tacitus says a conflict between rival ballet dancers caused a disturbance. The next year Tacitus relates that there were casualties, including a company captain as well as civilians. The Senate moved to have actors flogged. A tribune blocked the proposal, and Tiberius remained silent. Tacitus, noting that Augustus had said actors would be exempt from corporal punishment, claims loyalty to Augustan precedent rather than respect for the law that motivated Tiberius. He did lower the wages of actors according to Suetonius, but it is unclear if that was the cause of the rioting or a punishment after.

Pantomime- The dancers relied on gesture and odd movement to delineate a story, usually a Greek mythology. Performances were long, with grand costume and mask changes. Jumps, leaps, freezes, and gymnastics were exact, athletic, and formally choreographed. Performers’ hand movements were extremely important, and this “talking with the hands” was called “cheironomy”. Ancient Roman Dance: Pantomime-Reagan Noelle Kowert


Suetonius reports, it was a fight in the audience that broke out, leading to the parties involved and the actors’ exile. Public protest over the exiling of the popular actor Actius, resulting from the riots apparently irritated Tiberius, who had to release Actius, according to Suetonius. Tacitus, not naming the actor, mentions that charges against a certain Falanius due to “admitting among the worshipers of Augustus an actor in musical comedies who was a male prostitute.” Tiberius released the offenders stating his mother the Augusta, had not instituted the games to entrap Roman citizens, and that the actor had been a performer in the games. I find the passions aroused by these incidents in the early days of the regime to indicate that politics played on many levels and the public was not indifferent or immune. The issue, as seemingly trivial as whether a group of actors could stay in Rome, masked some deeper issues of the changes that had occurred in Rome.

Roman costumes would depend on the type of play they were doing but became more and more realistic as time progressed.


The populace transformed by the influx of foreigners, slaves, freedmen, merchants, and country people seeking better lives. The populace was up to ninety percent of foreign birth according to John Wesley Heaton in his study of mob violence in the Republic. The lustrum a sacrifice after the census, which Augustus uses synonymously, taken by Augustus reported in the Res Gestae indicated growth from 4,063,000 citizens in 28 B.C., a second in 8 B.C. with 4,233,000, to that in his third lustrum in 14 AD., showing a citizenship of military age of 4,937,000. This was a radical increase over the last previous census of 60 B.C. with a citizenry of 450,000. The difference probably attributed to a more accurate accounting of citizens across the empire, not just within the environs of Rome.

W.J. Slater calls the incidents, Pantomime riots, with the “first great riots of 14 and 15 A.D. in Rome.” It is amazing, how much detail exists about this incident, considering this was a dispute among the less than reputable actors. As Slater points out Greek professionals called themselves “actor of tragic rhythmic movement,” implying they were superior to the generic Latin histro. As Tacitus describes it, Augustus introduced pantomime in 22, B. C. to gratify his ally Maecenas, who was infatuated with the actor Bathyllus. Augustus also liked the theater, making him seem more a man of the people. However, Tiberius had no time for theater and rarely attended. This goes to the differences in style between the two. Tiberius portrayed as reserved, cunning, superstitious, and cruel. He was efficient, economical, fair, a good manager of the provinces, and did not like flattery or extravagance. Tiberius was a private man, who seemed to prefer his own company in Rhodes and Capri than the center in Rome. Augustus has more of a flair for the extravagant, rebuilding Rome, sponsoring poets and the arts. One could say Augustus presented himself as a main of the people and Tiberius a man who was not one to suffer fools. However, in two long reigns they managed to solidify the Imperium as the family affair it became for a century.

Family tree of Julio-Claudian Dynasty producing 5 emperors at the start of the Roman Empire (27 BCE - 68 CE). Remade from start using Image:JulioClaudian.png as a template.

Protests in the theater where the public gathered in one place offered opportunity for complaints. During a period high grain prices, the crowd protested loudly, nearly rioting. Tiberius blamed the authorities for not controlling the mob. Tacitus says nothing of the steps taken to ameliorate the condition. Velleius mentions rioting in the theaters suppressed, and low grain prices, as laudatory practices of Tiberius, evidently claiming the problem solved. This indicates further the balancing act the Roman authorities had to play, if they were to deny the plebeians the right to participate, because the authorities were taking care of them, when the authorities let the people down, there could be hell to pay. Later Emperor Claudius attacked by a crowd, during a famine when he was in the law courts, only escaped with the aid of soldiers. Massacring citizens was not the order of the day.

There remained a legacy of political action. After the murder of Gaius or Caligula as we know him, there was an attempt to restore the Republic, in 41 A. D. that failed because the Praetorian Guard remained loyal to Claudius. Sam Wilkinson records various attempts to restore the Republic, which was not simply personal attempts at gain, but part of an ideological desire, at least among the elite for a return to the Republic. The lack of popular support was a major factor in their failure. Suetonius notes that a mob surrounded the senate house demanding one-man rule and Claudius bribed the gathered troops to support him, the first time that had been done. Later during the rule of Vespasian, after the civil wars at the end of Nero’s rule, there was a movement by the philosophers to agitate among the masses. Helvidius Priscus “banded various men together, as if it were the function of philosophy to insult those in power, to stir up the multitudes, to overthrow the order of things, and to bring about a revolution.” This was in 70 AD and the Republic had been supposedly dead for over a century. Political activity did not end nor was it strictly an affair among the elite. As Plutarch wrote in his essay, Whether an old man should engage in public affairs, “we must remind them that being a politician consists not only of holding office, being ambassador, vociferating in the assembly, and ranting round the speakers’ platform proposing laws and motions.”

Ancient Greek Speech making.

From: ZumaFactoid.

In conclusion, Tiberius inherited an Imperium built upon limited legal authority and the great personal authority of his predecessor Augustus. He managed to maintain his position by a careful negotiation that although similar to what Augustus did in substance, was perceived very differently due to his less open and public persona. The people seemingly shut out of one aspect of the polity, maintained an ability to influence the policies of the government through direct action in the streets and public theaters.

The masses saw efforts to restore the Republic as elite attempts to remove their great sponsor, the emperor. The mostly wealthy members of the opposition failed to galvanize popular support and attempts to reach the plebes failed due to governmental reaction to the potential threat. There were probably few alive at the time of Tiberius’ ascent to the Imperium who could remember anything of the Triumvirate, and none who would remember the functioning Republic prior to the Caesarian revolution. There had remained enough institutional memory of those times, colored by Augustan propaganda to allow Tiberius to assume authority yet not without some resistance and commentary.

The modern American political scene seems to echo much of what was current in Roman politics. Conflict between Congress and the President is part of the classical legacy that makes Roman history relevant today. The founding fathers of the American Republic steeped in Latin literature and their caution in forming a government informed by their readings of the past. The average citizenry is just as alienated from the Congress as the Roman plebes were with their Senate. Many find that feeling unrepresented, they take to the streets in protest, sometimes rioting. In that respect perhaps, nothing much has changed over the millennia.

Ferguson, MO. ‘I will kill you’: Watch terrifying moment policeman at US protest threatens to shoot crowd August 2014.


The footnotes do not transfer over unfortunately. For full article with footnotes you can contact author at

Partial Bibliography.

Ando, Clifford. 2000.Imperial Ideology and Provincial Loyalty in the Roman Empire. Berkeley. University of California Press.

Barry, William D. 2008. Exposure, Mutilation, and Riot: Violence at the Scalae Gemoniae in Early Imperial Rome. Greece and Rome. 55, no. 2: 222-246. (accessed November 12, 2014)

Erder, W. 1990. Augustus and the Power of Tradition: The Augustan Principate as Binding Link. Between Republic and Empire Interpretations of Augustus and His Principate. ed. Kurt A. Raaflaub and Mark Toher. Berkeley: University of California Press

Heaton, Wesey. 1939.Mob Violence in the Late Roman Republic. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

Kuntz, Olive. 1922. Tiberius Caesar and the Roman Constitution. Seattle: University of Washington Press.

Levick, B. M. 1967. Imperial Control of the Elections Under the Early Principate: Commendatio, Suffragatio, and “Nominatio”. Historia: Zeitschrift Für Alte Geschichte. 16, no. 2: 207-230. (accessed November 14, 2014).

Millar, Fergus. 1998. The Crowd in Rome in the Late Republic. U. of Michigan.

Ober, Josiah. 1982. Tiberius and the Political Testament of Augustus. Historia: Zeitschrift für Alte Geschichte 31 no 3: 306-328. (accessed November 14, 2014).

O’Neill, Peter. 2003. Going Round in Circles: Popular Speech in Ancient Rome. Classical Antiquity. 22, no. 1: 135-176. (accessed November 12, 2014)

Shelton, Jo-Anne. 1998. As the Romans Did. New York: Oxford University Press

Shipley, Frederick W. trans. 1924. Res Gestae Divi Augusti. Loeb Classical Library 152 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press)

Simpson, D.P. 1968.Cassell’s Standard Latin Dictionary. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Slater, W J. 1994. Pantomime Riots. Classical Antiquity. 13, no. 1: 120. (accessed November 12, 2014)

Styme, Ronald. 1958. Tacitus. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Wilkinson, Sam. 2012.Republicanism During the Early Roman Empire. London: Continuum Publishing Group.

Zuiderhoek, Arjan. 2008. On the Political Sociology of the Imperial Greek City. Greek, Roman and Byzantine Studies. 48. 417-445.

Classical Sources

Augustus, Caesar. Res Gestae

Dio, Cassius. Roman History Reign of Augustus.

Suetonius. Lives of the Twelve Caesars.

Tacitus. Annals of Imperial Rome.

Velleius, Paterculus. Compendium of Roman History.

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