What is worse than cannibalism? Unfair cannibalism. The sailors in this story were brought to trial for murder not because they ate their shipmate, bu...moreWhat is worse than cannibalism? Unfair cannibalism. The sailors in this story were brought to trial for murder not because they ate their shipmate, but because they failed to draw lots. Instead they chose the weakest, sickest guy who was near death, hastened him to his reward, and ate his flesh to stay alive. The bastards.(less)
The only horror book I've read that contained something that scared me and I've no idea why. The story "The Dreams in the Witch House" has a very cree...moreThe only horror book I've read that contained something that scared me and I've no idea why. The story "The Dreams in the Witch House" has a very creepy character named Brown Jenkin; a rat with a human face and hands that chews on people in their sleep and whispers vile things in their ears. Just got a shudder typing that.(less)
A good counterbalance to B.H. Liddell Hart's fawning book on Scipio Africanus. The two books really go together. Mr. Cottrell even dedicated his "Hann...moreA good counterbalance to B.H. Liddell Hart's fawning book on Scipio Africanus. The two books really go together. Mr. Cottrell even dedicated his "Hannibal" to Liddell Hart.
Not a scholarly work by any stretch, this book is more a sort of biography for the armchair general. Like many books that focus on individual personalities of this time period it fails to see that there were a plethora of other factors involved in the wars fought between Rome and Carthage. Rather, everything revolves around one man like some shakey and inaccurate model of the solar system.
I think this book is fun and can serve a good purpose in getting people excited about ancient history, but it also tends to oversimplify the complex relationship between the Romans and the Carthaginians, which was by no means always hostile.
One good thing that any book on Hannibal, Carthage or ancient North Africa has going for it is that it shows that our modern perception of Rome tends to be a bit too grandiose and taken for granted. Most especially in the third century B.C. Rome was no mighty, unstoppable juggernaut. In Carthage Rome faced her equal. It could have easily ended up quite differently.(less)
For centuries and centuries every nation to have emerged in Europe has proudly claimed to be the heir of Greece and Rome. Western law, art, philosophy...moreFor centuries and centuries every nation to have emerged in Europe has proudly claimed to be the heir of Greece and Rome. Western law, art, philosophy, military theory, political structure, etc. are all combined into some gleaming baton that the ancients have handed off to empire after empire in succession. Drawing (often haphazard) parallels between Rome/Greece and [insert name of one's own country] has been a lasting theme for many authors.
If you were schooled in Europe or one of the many places colonized by some portion of it chances are you were lovingly spoon-fed this dogma throughout your formative years. The writings of the Founding Fathers, for instance, contain so many references and analogies to Greece and Rome that one can almost see the umbilical cord extending two thousand years into the past.
That WE are the inheritors of the majesty of Greece and Rome is not only a western mantra but also a badge of honor. Empires from France to the United States have justified their temporary global preeminence by claiming to be THE modern link in that glorious chain of history.
So what happens when someone acknowledges your self-aggrandizing interpretation of history and then simply adds one more link to the chain at the beginning rather than the end? If that link is anywhere in Africa the answer is instant anger. We've become so proud of our white western culture sired by Greece and Rome that to even entertain the thought of those titanic parents being deeply influenced by African thought and civilization is aberration, disgust, anathema.
Enter Mary Lefkowitz. She is not angry. She is clearly a classicist who is pointing out easily verifiable errors in facts and chronologies cobbled together by some of the more outlandish revisionist writers. The problem is that, although she is dispassionate and seems to simply want to correct large absurdities rather than put forth an agenda, her writing can have no altering effect on the two groups concerned; traditional westerners will smugly and gleefully read a confirmation of what they knew all along and Afrocentrists will be incited and cry racist.
Where does that leave everyone else? I read this book originally through the standard western lens. The author convinced me of the falseness of many of the claims of Afrocentrists through the simple citing of verifiable sources. Texts I could pick up and read. However, perhaps unintentionally she also got me to think. Certainly Aristotle couldn't have stolen texts from a library that hadn't been built, but when we pull back from the individual to the cultures involved the answers get grayer.
The Semitic, Asiatic, and African civilizations represented by the myriad of nations found in the fertile crescent and Africa beginning thousands of years before there was more than a village in Greece and Italy are not revisionist fantasies. They are tangible blocks of history verified by both ancient writing and the material remains recovered by archaeologists. Akkad, Babylon, and Egypt (to name just a few) were hoary when Greece was still babbling "democracy" in its crib and the Romans were herding sheep on the Tiber. That may be uncomfortable, but it's demonstrably true. These cultures rose to supremacy in their turn long before anything similar in Europe emerged.
We want to accept that we are the descendents of Greece and Rome, that we are carrying their torch forward. Yet if we cling to that belief that we have been so fundamentally influenced by the great civilizations of the past how can we in the very same breath deny that the Greeks and Romans were in turn influenced by those that came before them? Yes we can definitively say that Plato was not African. But we cannot justifiably claim that the emerging societies of early Europe were not somehow shaped by those that came before. It may make some people uneasy that the first peoples to conceive of things like settled society, cities, and agriculture had other pigments than white, but that doesn't make it false.
In the end I think Lefkowitz is fighting a pointless battle in this book. She spends page after page in exposing the lunacies of a handful of quacks. Yet she misses the opportunity to explore the larger picture. Cultures are not nicely delineated in time and space like countries with borders on a map. Cultures shape each other, interact endlessly, and change constantly. Yes we should be wary of wholesale and shaky attempts to rewrite history. But we should also be open to how much we take for granted that is false and incomplete.(less)