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Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Greeks and Their Eastern Neighbors / Studies in the relations between Greece and the countries of the Near East in the 8th & 7th centuries B.C. by T. J. Dunbabin

Dwayne "the Rock" Johnson wears the skin of the Nemean lion in the big budget Hollywood film Hercules this summer.  This was a myth lifted whole-cloth from the East by Greek poets.

The Greeks and Their Eastern Neighbors:
Studies in the relations between Greece and the countries of the Near East in the 8th & 7th centuries B.C. (1957)
by T. J. Dunbabin
with a foreword by Sir John Beazley
Edited by John Boardman
Ares Publishing Facsimile Edition

   This title from my 229-book-long Amazon Wish List was added on July 6th, 2009- that is almost five years ago.  The Wish List dates all the way back to 2005, but I only have one book from 2005, two from 2007, two from 2008- the list doesn't really get started till 2009.  The subject of what, if any, influence the Near East exercised on the development of Greek civilization is important, but it is easy to see why several generations of Western historians have been not so interested in the subject.  First, there is the difficulty of doing archaeological work in countries like Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran.  Between two World Wars, the Cold War and the present situation getting on the ground has been hard.  Second, there is the ideological bias of the west that sees Greece as being separate and apart (and superior) to the civilizations of the Near East. Finally there are issue with learning anything about the time period between 1200 B.C. and 700 B.C., a 1st Millenium B.C. "dark age" brought about by the depredations of the "Sea People."

   Add to that the fact that Dunbabin himself died before he could even complete this book, meaning it's been published as an incomplete text and essentially consists of transcripts of lectures he gave on the subject of the relationship of Greek civilization to the civilizations of the East.  Once you get beyond the "Greece was different" ideology, the case linking East to West is straight forward.  Dunbabin's case is based on a combination of archaeological evidence (finding Eastern pottery in the West and vice versa) and cultural evidence (the Eastern derivation of Greek mythological narratives like the perils of Hercules, and creatures like Griffin's and the Centaur.  An especially compelling point regards the motif of Hercules and his slaying of the lion: Lions were nowhere near Greece in the 8th and 7th century BC, but they were present in the hunting gardens of the Assyrian king, and any first hand observation of a lion by a Greek poet of the 7th century BC is ridiculously unlikely.

   Dunbabin also provides a good overview of two lesser known Greek-related civilizations of the near east- the Lydians and the Phygians.  Note for readers: this book is only 80 pages long.

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