Posts on events before the middle of the first millennium CE
Classicists and Assyriologists spend a great deal of time and energy editing ancient texts, debating which version to use, and carefully noting which they have chosen. A debate about the use of catapults in fourth-century BCE Greece has reminded me why this matters.
Although this is the end of term in Austria, I made time to hear a very exciting talk by Dr. Jens Høyrup of Copenhagen. What was billed as an overview of mathematical and scribal culture turned into a survey of Mesopotamian history from the Agricultural Revolution to the Neo-Assyrian Empire as seen through the lens of the technology of numbers. Høyrup has some provocative views, including the idea that Sumerian is descended from a creole. He also had a good overview of the transition from counting tokens to impressions of tokens to sketches of tokens to cuneiform writing. The first stage of this transition does not seem to have soaked the popular literature, and I will try to find and link a good article on it one of these days. (A famous book is How Writing Came About by Dr. Denise Schmandt-Besserat of Texas).
Some academic books overcome such obstacles that they should be accompanied by trumpets and parades when they come out. Two volumes published by Walter de Gruyter in 2005 and 2009 completed an edition of Hesychius’ lexicon which was begun in 1914 and carried on through two world wars, shortages of money, economic crises, the closing of the original publisher, the death of the original editor, and the illness of his replacement. This edition, in turn, was the descendant of one published in Venice as early as 1514. The editor, M. Musevius, wrote his corrections on top of the original text before lending the manuscript to the printer, and that turned out to be unfortunate because his manuscript was the last one in existence. The manuscript, in turn, had been made circa 1430 and was linked to Hesychius’ own work in the fifth or sixth century by a long process of copying, condensing, and interpolating. The purpose of a scholarly edition is to publish a text which is as close to what Hesychius actually wrote as possible, with a few comments on sources, especially controversial entries, and related texts.
Darius the Great, fourth notable king of Persia, came to the throne under unusual circumstances. In the version which he tells, he was a distant relative of king Cambyses, an impostor pretended to be the king’s brother Bardiya and took the throne, and when Cambyses suddenly died it was necessary for Darius and six of his companions to slay the impostor, fight nineteen battles in a single year against rebels and pretenders, and restore order and unity to the world. This story has been preserved in one of his inscriptions at Behistun in Iran, in a damaged papyrus from Elephantine on the Nile, and by the Greek historian Herodotus. Some of my recent readings have made me reconsider my views on it.