Thursday, 8 August 2019

Old classics books in film and TV

The Iliad and The boy next door (2015)

For a while there, ‘Iliad, first edition’ became the most searched for book on AbeBooks, a second-hand bookseller aggregator. This was thanks to the film The boy next door (2015), starring Jennifer Lopez as a classics teacher (yes, you read that right), and a 29-year-old Ryan Guzman as one of her school pupils.

In the film, Guzman’s character becomes obsessed with J-Lo. He gives her a special gift, because he’s a Nice Guy. To spare you from having to watch it, here’s the dialogue:
Claire. Oh hey, Noah, come on in. You know Kevin already left.
Noah. Actually I, uh, picked something up for you.
Claire. Oh, heh heh -- oh my God, this is a -- this is a first edition? I can’t accept this, this must have cost a fortune!
Noah. It was a buck at a garage sale. -- One man’s trash ...
Left: J-Lo takes the precious first edition. Right: another copy of the same edition (source: Los Angeles Times).
The film was immediately mocked on all sides for the idea that a modern printed book, in English, with very obviously late 19th century covers, could be the ‘first edition’ of a 2700-year-old poem in ancient Greek. If you do watch the scene (oh God, why?), you may notice J-Lo declares it a first edition before she even gets to the title page.

The Los Angeles Times tracked down the exact edition used in the film. It’s an 1884 copy of Alexander Pope’s translation of the Iliad, published by Belford, Clarke, & Co. (Chicago/New York), with John Flaxman’s illustrations, and notes by Theodore Alois Buckley. Here’s a link to this edition on the Internet Archive.

For the record, the bit about getting this for a buck at a garage sale is the only sensible part of the story. At the time I write, you can pick up a copy of this book -- maybe not the exact same print run, but a 19th century copy -- for USD$16.28 at AbeBooks. Here’s one with the same cover as in the film, which sold in 2016 for USD$35. OK, not quite one buck. But I can easily imagine someone selling it from their garage for a fiver. (Well -- except that in a later shot, the book clearly still has a bookshop’s sticker on its spine ...)

Now, it is a nice edition. The cover is pretty. Flaxman’s illustrations alone make it worthwhile. But there’s no sense in which it’s a first edition. Pope’s Iliad was published 160 years earlier. Flaxman’s illustrations were first produced in 1793, engraved in 1795, and published in 1805. Buckley’s notes came out with his own translation in 1851. The combination of Pope’s translation and Buckley’s notes and Flaxman’s illustrations came out just two years later, in 1853, with reprintings in the 1870s, 1880s, and 1890s.

The whole situation reminds me of the story of a recent edition of the Iliad, pictured above, with a sticker on the cover declaring that it’s autographed by the author. Dr Maria Pretzler reported that one in 2012.

(Well, it would be impressive, to be fair.)

The Aeneid and The man without a face (1993)

This time, it’s Mel Gibson playing a teacher. At one point Gibson recites the start of the Aeneid, in English. Briggs (2008: 196-197) offers another discussion of this scene; and take a look at Sellers (2012) on depictions of classics teachers in films.

Gibson recites a slightly altered form of an obscure 1908 translation by John Jackson. Jackson’s version is nominally prose, but in the opening it conveys some elements of Vergil’s dactylic hexameter in English. Here’s the text, which I’ve divided into hexameter lines:
Arms I sing, and the man, who first from the shores of Troy came,
Fate-exiled, to Italy and her Lavinian strand -- much
buffeted he on flood and field by constraint of Heaven and
<fell> Juno’s unslumbering wrath.
(See if you can hear the persistent dum-dum and dum-diddy rhythms in the first three lines.)

While he recites this, we get to see the Latin version he’s looking at, inscribed on a clock he once won as a prize. And ... well, oh dear. Here’s the Latin inscription.
Cano, arma que virum qui, profugus fato,
primus venit ab oris Trojae Itaiam que Lavina
littora: multumille jactatus et terris et alto
vi superum ob memorem iram saevae Junonis:
Muddled word order and misspellings all sic.
Left: Mel Gibson getting nostalgic for days when he still had a face. Right: some mangled Latin.
This Latin is horribly mutilated -- worse than the other side of Gibson’s face in the film. As it stands it makes no sense at all. It’s taken from an interlinear version of Vergil by Hart and Osborn (1882), where they adjust the Latin word-order to match their English translation. Hart and Osborn’s English isn’t great either:
I sing, arms and the hero who, driven by fate,
first has come from the coasts of Troy to Italy and the Lavinian
shores: much he has been tossed both on land and on the sea
by the power of the gods above, on account of the lasting wrath of cruel Juno.
Yeck. Even the punctuation is horrible. Here’s what Vergil actually wrote:
Arma virumque cano, Troiae qui primus ab oris
Italiam, fato profugus, Laviniaque venit
litora, multum ille et terris iactatus et alto
vi superum ob memorem Iunonis ob iram.
I suppose it could arguably make a kind of sense for a Latin teacher to have the clock inscribed with a pedagogical version of the text. I don’t like it. But still, we could say that it’s there to emphasise his role as a teacher. Later in the film, Gibson quotes an exercise from the standard textbook Wheelock’s Latin, chapter 13 (‘Certain teachers used to teach their students with such great skill that the students themselves indeed desired to learn’).

The Homeric hymns and Star trek: the next generation (1993)

Lowani under two moons. Kira at Bashi. The river Temarc, in winter.

Or, to put it another way: Good afternoon. I’m going to tell you a story. Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin.

‘Darmok’, season 5 episode 2 of Star trek: the next generation, is one of the finest pieces of Star trek of all time. The Enterprise encounters a race of aliens called the Tamarians, but for some reason they cannot communicate with one another. Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) gets whisked onto an isolated planet, where he has to team up with the Tamarian captain (Paul Winfield) and learn his language to survive. It turns out that though the Tamarians speak a kind of English, every statement is couched in metaphors based on their mythology. By the end of the episode, Picard -- and the audience -- have picked up enough of this system to follow a complete conversation in Tamarian, without subtitles or translation.

After the action is over, Commander Riker (Jonathan Frakes) finds Picard reading a copy of the Homeric hymns. In Greek. Naturally.
Riker. I hope I’m not intruding.
Picard. No, of course not, Number One. Please.
Riker. Damage reports, ready for your review.
Picard. Thank you.
Riker. [noticing the book] Greek, sir?
Picard. Oh. The Homeric hymns. One of the root metaphors of our own culture.
Riker. For the next time we encounter the Tamarians?
Picard. More familiarity with our own mythology might help us to relate to theirs. [pause] <The> Tamarian was willing to risk all of us. Just for the hope of ... communication, connection. Now the door is open between our peoples. That commitment meant more to him than his own life. ... Thank you, Number One.
Left: Riker walks in on Picard; in this shot the book binding is visible. Centre: the book lying open on Picard’s couch (image rotated). Right: Augustus Baumeister’s Hymni homerici (Teubner, 1860), pp. 82-83.
The text in Picard’s book isn’t easy to make out. I guess the big news for a Star trek fan would be that it genuinely is an edition of the Homeric hymns, in Greek. He’s reading the Hymn to Earth, if you want to know. And that seems fitting enough. If you can read German, do check out Heilmann and Wenskus’ (2006) article on this episode: Georg Gerleigner very kindly drew my attention to it a couple of years ago.

A bigger surprise, for me at any rate, is that it’s a pretty obscure 19th century edition. Nowadays, someone who wants to read the Hymns in Greek would usually use M.L. West’s 2003 Loeb edition. If they’ve got low standards, they might stoop to Allen’s 1912 Oxford edition. Or if they’re being extra scholarly, they might use Filippo Càssola’s 1975 edition.

Picard is reading Baumeister’s edition. If you look for Baumeister’s text at a research library, you’ll be lucky to find it. If it’s there, it’ll probably be in volume 3 of the Teubner edition of Homeri carmina, printed and reprinted in 1870, 1888, 1910, and probably a few more.

But even that isn’t good enough for Picard. He’s reading the editio maior (1860) -- the major edition, for really hard-core scholars.

This is a pretty rare book. There are no copies in my country -- hell, I don’t think there are any copies in the southern hemisphere. In America, plenty of university libraries have the minor edition. But the major edition is only held at three libraries in California: UCLA, Berkeley, and the Claremont Colleges. (No, it isn’t at USC, Stanford, or UCSB.) A few other libraries around the US have it: there are copies at Reno, Boulder, Austin, and the usual suspects further east. (Rather greedily, Michigan has two copies.) [Correction: I misinterpreted the Michigan catalogue. It seems they don’t have it at all. Sorry.]

So I’m left wondering two things. First: why is Picard, in the year 2368, reading an 1860 edition? Have all the more recent (and better) editions disappeared between the 1990s and 2360s? Wot no Càssola?

Second: where did the programme makers get the copy used for filming? It isn’t the UCLA copy: that’s been re-bound, but Picard’s copy still has the original marbled boards. One of the episode’s writers, Philip LaZebnik, reportedly has a degree in classics: might it be his copy? Hey, anyone at a university that has a copy, do you want to go and check if your library’s copy matches the cover shown when Riker walks through the door (see image above, left)?

If you look carefully, you’ll notice there’s a nick from where the pages were cut -- so at any rate that shows it didn’t come from a replicator on the Enterprise.

Anyway, it was a nice day when I finally figured out which edition this is. Sokath, his eyes opened!


  • Briggs, Ward 2008. ‘Latin in the movies and Rome.’ In: Cyrino, Monica S. (ed.) Rome. Season one: history makes television. Malden/Oxford/Carlton: Blackwell. 193-206.
  • Heilmann, Regina; Wenskus, Otta 2006. ‘Darmok, Gilgamesch und Homer in Star trek: the next generation.’ In: Rollinger, R.; Truschnegg, B. (eds.) Altertum und Mittelmeerraum: Die antike Welt diesseits und jenseits der Levante. Festschrift für Peter W. Haider. Stuttgart: Franz Steiner. 789-806.
  • Piętka, Radosław 2016. ‘A thrill for latinists: Latin language in contemporary horror films.’ In: Dominas, K.; Wesołowska, E.; Bogdan Trocha, B. (eds.) Antiquity in popular literature and culture. Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Publishing. 255-266.
  • Sellers, Ryan G. 2012. ‘Latin teachers in film.’ Classical world 105: 237-254.

Wednesday, 31 July 2019

Why maps have north at the top

One perennially popular question on ask-an-expert social media is: why do maps have north at the top? Is there a solid reason for it, or is it arbitrary?

The answer, just to give you a heads-up, lies in Greco-Roman antiquity.

Now, you will often see maps rotated to arrange a region or a building in a tidy rectangular space. A GPS service may turn a map continuously so that ‘up’ is always the direction you’re facing. Those things are fine. But if you open up a printed roadmap, or an atlas, you don’t want to hunt around to find out which direction is which. If you open up Google Earth, there’s a prominent button that will turn the map so that north is at the top.

We can grant that the four cardinal directions -- north, east, south, and west -- aren’t arbitrary. They’re determined by the geometry and rotation of the Earth. But you still need to choose which of those four to put at the top. The four cardinal directions aren’t arbitrary, but which of the four you choose -- that is arbitrary.
The central Mediterranean in four orientations. Each of these is a perfectly reasonable, non-arbitrary way of orienting a map. The arbitrariness comes in which of the four you choose.
(Actually there are eight possibilities, if we also admit the possibility of maps drawn from an underground perspective. We’ll assume we’re not doing that. We’re also ignoring maps with polar geometry, that is, with the south pole or north pole at the centre.)

Map-makers of various periods and places have certainly chosen directions other than north to put at the top. Prior to the 1400s there was no consistency. The Moroccan cartographer Muhammad al-Idrisi drew up a map in 1154 of western Asia, northern Africa, and Europe, with south at the top. Mediaeval T-and-O maps, like the Hereford mappa mundi (ca. 1300), have east at the top. Albertinus de Virga’s world map (ca. 1415) has north at the top, Fra Mauro’s (ca. 1450) opts for south. None of these options is intrinsically better or worse than the others.

Top: Muhammad al-Idrisi’s map, with Asia at the left, northern Africa at the top, and Europe at the bottom right. Bottom: the Hereford mappa mundi along with a stylised simplification.
Anyway, the obvious question is: why? Why did European mapmakers switch to having north at the top so consistently in the late 1400s?

If you do make the mistake of asking this on an ask-the-experts forum, you will get completely speculative answers:
  • ‘Europeans wanted to put Europe at the top ... [so] their maps would end up having the largest sway’. (That’s a good post hoc rationalisation for keeping maps pointing that way, but it isn’t the historical cause.)
  • Globes supposedly are naturally arranged with the axis of rotation pointing vertically (why?), and ‘globes have existed ... since the third century BC’. (They haven’t: this sub-myth comes from a mistranslation of Strabo.)
  • Compass needles supposedly point up. (Funny, I thought they’re horizontal.)
  • Alternatively, ‘you rotate [your map] until the needle is pointing away from you’. (Actually, 15th century European compasses pointed south.)
  • ‘[S]tars apparently rotate around the north pole’, and somehow that translates to having a map arranged with the ‘up’ side away from the reader.
  • There’s more land in the northern hemisphere, and somehow that makes north naturally ‘up’. (This answer comes closest to the reality, but still not close enough.)
Now, it’s imaginable that any of these speculations may hold true for some particular time, some particular place, some particular mapmaker. None of them comes close to the historical cause, though.

The short answer is that it was in the late 1400s that Ptolemy’s Geography became widely available in printed editions. Ptolemy, forgotten since antiquity, suddenly became insanely influential. And Ptolemy put north at the top.

(That wasn’t a universal thing in antiquity, either, by the way: Ptolemy makes a careful argument for his choice. We don’t know which way the maps of Eratosthenes or Marinus of Tyre were oriented.)

Ptolemy’s map, designed in the 2nd century, may look a bit shonky to modern eyes -- India and China are badly misshapen, most of Africa is missing, Scotland is completely misplotted. But for the Mediterranean world Ptolemy’s latitude and longitude data, based on Roman survey work, are pretty accurate, and very convenient. As a result, renaissance-era European mapmakers followed both his data -- until explorers improved on it -- and his design choice about which way north is.
Table 1 from the 1477 Bologna edition of Ptolemy’s Geography. The projection used to represent the curved surface of the earth isn’t rectilinear, unlike the maps of Marinus of Tyre and Mercator. This is the first projection Ptolemy outlines in his theoretical introduction (Geog. 1.24); many renditions of Ptolemy’s data use the second projection instead.
In 1406 Jacopo d’Angeli translated the Geography into Latin, from the Greek text assembled by Maximus Planudes. After the advent of the printing press, the translation appeared in several print editions -- four in a space of seven years: first the 1475 Vicenza edition, with just the raw data; then with the data plotted onto maps in accordance with Ptolemy’s directions, in the 1477 Bologna edition, the 1478 Rome edition, and the 1482 Ulm edition. Reprints followed quickly. Ptolemy was hot stuff.

One exception, by the way, is Fra Mauro’s map, made around 1450. Fra Mauro had access to data from further afield, about southern Africa and eastern Asia, but he still draws on Ptolemy for some things like the enormous island of Taprobana (far larger than Sumatra or Sri Lanka, the two islands that Ptolemy’s defenders try to identify it with). Fra Mauro doesn’t follow Ptolemy’s choice about orientation, though. Bear in mind that Fra Mauro lived before the spate of Ptolemy editions in the 1470s and 1480s.

You will occasionally find that an online ‘expert’ is aware of Ptolemy as the real reason. But even then, they’ll be blissfully unaware of why Ptolemy made that choice. Ptolemy explains, directly and explicitly, why he puts north at the top. And though his reasoning is arbitrary to an extent, it’s also data-driven.

It’s probably worth taking note, for a start, that Ptolemy was neither European nor a Roman citizen, and that because of axial precession, the North Star was several degrees away from the pole in the 2nd century when Ptolemy was alive. So a lot of the usual speculative reasons don’t apply (it’s all eurocentrism, or European colonialism, or the North Star is ‘up’). That said, here’s his explanation in his own words:
We have selected the arrangement for convenience of design, taking everything into consideration. It is based on the principle that we move to the right, with transitions from things that are already set down, to those that are not yet taken in hand. This will be the case if northern parts are drawn before southern parts, and western parts before eastern parts. So, to those designing or viewing the map, the north lies up, and the east of the world lies to the right, on both the globe and the map. Therefore we shall begin with Europe and divide it up; then we move to Africa via the Strait of Herakles; then to Asia, after covering the sea in between ...
-- Ptolemy, Geography book 2, prologue, §§4-6
In other words, maps have north at the top because ancient Greek was written left-to-right and top-to-bottom.

Ptolemy’s sudden popularity in the late 1400s has positive and negative sides to it. It certainly fed Columbus’ misapprehensions about the size of the earth. You might feel that the impact on map orientation is a good thing, because a universal standard is good, or a bad thing, because there’s no very good reason to have maps as standardised as all that.

There’s no doubt that map orientation has fed colonialist impressions about which bits of the world are important and which ones aren’t. That’s one thing that you will regularly see pointed out in response to this question -- thanks to a memorable episode of the TV series The West Wing.
Dr Fallow. When third-world countries are misrepresented, they’re likely to be valued less. When Mercator maps exaggerate the importance of western civilization, when the top of the map is given to the northern hemisphere, and the bottom is given to the southern, then people will tend to adopt ‘top’ and ‘bottom’ attitudes.
C.J. But ... wait, h- -- where else could you put the northern hemisphere but on the top?
Dr Sales. On the bottom.
C.J. How?
Dr Fallow. Like this.
C.J. Yeah, but you can’t do that.
Dr Fallow. Why not?
C.J. ’Cause it’s freakin’ me out.

Tuesday, 2 July 2019

The ‘FCM’ scandal: a timeline

Last week several statements emerged about various under-the-table dealings concerning ‘FCM’. This is the papyrus formerly known as ‘First Century Mark’, published last year as P. Oxy. 5345, and also known to New Testament scholars as P137.
P. Oxy. 5345
We now know that the papyrus actually dates to the second century. So while it is the oldest copy of Mark, it is not the oldest New Testament papyrus. Its text is not significantly different from the standard received text.

The recent revelations relate to a purchase contract that was agreed in 2013 between Dirk Obbink and Hobby Lobby, which owns the Green Collection and which established the Museum of the Bible. According to the contract, Obbink sold four papyri in his own name, including the Mark papyrus, to Hobby Lobby. It seems he did this without the knowledge or consent of the Egypt Exploration Society, which was and still is the owner.

Various parties over the last seven years have said that the Mark papyrus had been sold from one unnamed party to another unnamed party. It now seems they had good reason to believe that. However, after 2013 the purchase remained shrouded in obscurity, and there are still open questions over who had a hand in keeping the story obscure and why they did so. Some of the actions documented below do not seem like actions with honest motivations.

The main public pieces of information in this saga emerged in 2012 (the Wallace-Ehrman debate); 2018 (the publication of the papyrus, and statements from Scott Carroll, Dan Wallace [1, 2], and the Egypt Exploration Society): and 2019 (statements from Michael Holmes, the Egypt Exploration Society, Jerry Pattengale, and Scott Carroll).

A few points are worth making clear in advance:
  • ‘Egypt Exploration Society’ is abbreviated as EES.
  • The EES has a vast backlog of unpublished papyri. Over 100,000 papyri were excavated at Oxyrhynchus in the 1890s and 1900s. If all of them were to be published, the backlog would take several centuries to clear. In that context, decades-long delays are unsurprising.
  • In 2013-2015, much of the public discussion focused on the practice of retrieving papyrus from mummy cartonnage, which is a destructive process, heavily used at the Green Scholars Initiative. Some of the people involved in that scandal are also involved in this story, but with the information that is currently public there is no particular reason to suppose that P. Oxy. 5345 came from cartonnage.
Addenda, written a day later:
I had misreported the catalogue number of the papyrus in some places: this is corrected now. Mike Holmes has contacted me to clarify a point relating to a photo taken on 24 Nov. 2017, and with a correction of another point.

Also, a belated thank you to Theo Nash for casting his eye over this to make sure it was reasonably impartial.


1903: papyrus found at Oxyrhynchus

According to the EES (24 May 2018), this is the most likely date for when Grenfell and Hunt found the papyrus at Oxyrhynchus.

Early 1980s: preliminary dating to 1st century

According to the EES (24 May 2018), this is when Dr Revel Coles provisionally dated the papyrus to 'I/II' (i.e. first or second century CE), but without identifying it.

2011: papyrus identified as Mark

According to the EES (24 May 2018), this is when ‘a researcher working for Professor Obbink’ identified the papyrus as the gospel of Mark.

2011: Obbink shows the papyrus to Carroll and Pattengale

According to Dr Jerry Pattengale (28 June 2019), in 2011 Dr Dirk Obbink showed four papyri to Pattengale and Scott Carroll in his rooms at Christ Church, Oxford, which later became part of a purchase agreement (see below, 17 Jan. 2013). On 1 Dec. 2011 Carroll tweeted that P. Rylands 457 (P52) was no longer the earliest known NT manuscript.

1 Feb. 2012: the Wallace-Ehrman debate

In the debate Professor Dan Wallace states:
The oldest manuscript of the New Testament is now a fragment from Mark’s gospel that is from the first century. How accurate is the dating? Well, my source is a papyrologist who worked on this manuscript, a man whose reputation is unimpeachable. Many consider him to be the best papyrologist on the planet. His reputation is on the line with this dating and he knows it. But he is certain that this manuscript was from the first century.
Wallace goes on to say, later on in the Q&A:
I’m afraid I can’t tell you [the extent of the manuscript or who dated it], and the reason is because this whole project is rather hush-hush right now until the publisher comes out a year from now. I can tell you the publisher is E. J. Brill, and so it’s a reputable publisher, and I’ve been sworn to secrecy on the rest of the data.
In a later statement (11 June 2018) Wallace says that he understood Obbink to be the source of the 1st century dating.

Elsewhere (23 May 2018) Wallace states that, just prior to the debate, a representative of the purchaser ‘urged me to make the announcement at the debate’ and assured him that the date was reliable. He adds that ‘at some point along the line’ he learnt that the representative already knew that the source of the date was not as certain as all that, and ‘that the rep knew, two weeks prior to the debate, that the papyrologist had changed his views. But I was told none of this.’

Pattengale (28 June 2019) identifies this representative as Scott Carroll. In Carroll’s version of the conversation (29 June 2019), Carroll only mentioned the papyrus to Wallace in passing; Wallace asked Carroll for permission to make the announcement; and Carroll told Wallace that Hobby Lobby did not own the papyrus.

Later in February and March similar reports came out, stated by Carroll, Wallace, and Wallace again, with certainty about the 1st century dating, but no new information.

2012: Wallace’s NDA and inspection of the papyrus

According to Wallace (11 June 2018), in 2012 he was informed that the papyrus was being sold, and was asked by the purchaser to vet it. For this purpose, he was informed by Pattengale that the seller required Wallace to sign a non-disclosure agreement. The NDA may have happened before the debate (above), since in the debate he mentions being sworn to secrecy. However, he also says (25 May 2018) that he only got to see the papyrus later, after the debate.

17 Jan.-4 Feb. 2013: purchase agreement signed

A scanned copy of the purchase agreement was made public by Dr Michael Holmes (June 2019). The agreement is signed by Obbink and a representative of Hobby Lobby. Six items are sold in Obbink's name, including four NT papyri dated to ‘circa 0100 AD’.

6 Sep. 2013: Carroll describing new papyrus finds

In a presentation, Carroll discusses recent finds of biblical papyri and refers to ‘a first-century text of the Gospel of Mark ... that dates between 70 and 110’, and shows a list of several papyri on screen. The list seems to have some overlap with the ones listed in the purchase agreement (above) and in Obbink’s handwritten list, kept by Pattengale (see below, 24 Nov. 2017).
Carroll’s list of recent finds of biblical papyri, 6 Sep. 2013 (my highlighting)

October 2015: Carroll reports Obbink’s dating

Carroll, interviewed by Josh McDowell, states that
  • Hobby Lobby tried to acquire the papyrus in 2012-2013 -- Carroll wanted it to be part of an exhibit for the Vatican Library -- ‘but they delayed and didn’t.’
  • ‘It has since been acquired, I can’t say by whom. It is in the process of being prepared for publication’, and in the publishing process ‘the most important person of note is Dirk Obbink.’
  • Carroll saw the papyrus twice; on both occasions ‘it was in [Obbink’s] possession’.
  • Obbink ‘was wrestling with dating somewhere between 70 AD and 120, 110’.

2015: Obbink’s statement to The Daily Beast

The Daily Beast reports (25 May 2018) that in communications dating to 2015, Obbink refused to discuss ‘FCM’ or the Green Collection, and told them that he was ‘not involved in the study of [the Green] collection’.

Spring 2016: EES inventory of unpublished NT papyri

According to the EES (24 May 2018), this is when the EES decided to review NT fragments in their collection that had been identified but not published. They made this decision, they say, in response to social media discussion of the purchase of 'FCM'.

It was in the course of this review that the EES identified P. Oxy. 5345 as the ‘FCM’ being publicly discussed, and they instructed Obbink to prepare it for publication quickly.

In a later statement, the EES reports (7 Mar. 2019) that among the unpublished material they identified 20 NT papyri, 10 patristic texts, and 80 Septuagint papyri.

August 2016: Obbink steps down as general editor of the Oxyrhynchus papyri

This date is given in the EES statement of 25 June 2019.

14 July 2017: Carroll’s report made public

At this point Peter Curry posted online a transcript of Carroll’s statement in October 2015.

16 Nov. 2017: Pattengale realises there is a problem

Pattengale states (28 June 2019) that in November 2017 he realized that a serious ethical breach was being discussed at the opening gala of the Museum of the Bible. He took a photo of the people having the conversation, and he ‘immediately’ sent communications to the museum management.

Pattengale’s photo
(metadata removed)

24 Nov. 2017: Pattengale’s photo of Obbink’s list

Pattengale takes a photo of a handwritten list of four papyri, apparently the same ones listed in the 2013 purchase agreement. The handwriting matches Obbink's signature in the purchase agreement.

The photo was in the material that Mike Holmes released in June 2019. Holmes says that the hand holding the list is Obbink’s: this seems to be a misperception, perhaps coming from someone saying that the list was ‘in Obbink’s hand’ or similar, referring to the handwriting. [Addendum, a day later: Mike Holmes has contacted me directly to confirm this supposition.] Pattengale himself states that he took the photo (28 June 2019), and the file metadata show that the photo was taken on this date at 8.52 pm, in a residential area a few minutes from Indiana Wesleyan University, where Pattengale works.

Pattengale goes on to say that he carried the list with him for several years, and he sent the photo to the Museum of the Bible ‘before [his] retirement’ (in 2018). His motivations for taking his photos, and for his treatment of this list, are open to speculation.
The timestamp of Pattengale’s photo

May 2018: publication

The Mark papyrus is published as P. Oxy. 5345, edited by Obbink and Colomo.

23 May 2018: statement from Carroll

Scott Carroll states that
  • Obbink tried to sell the papyrus to the Green Collection in 2011 and 2013;
  • Obbink said that the papyrus was ‘in his possession’;
  • Obbink said it dated to the first century.

23 May 2018: statement from Wallace

Wallace states that, in 2012,
  • just before the Wallace-Ehrman debate, a representative of the organisation that he believed to be the owner ‘urged me to make the announcement at the debate, which they realized would make this go viral’ (this representative is identified as Scott Carroll in statements by Pattengale, 28 June 2019, and by Carroll himself, 29 June 2019 -- though Carroll describes the conversation quite differently);
  • he had been required to sign an NDA before being allowed to see the papyrus in 2012;
  • someone had told him that a collection had already bought the papyrus;
  • the same person had told him that ‘a high-ranking papyrologist had confirmed that FCM was definitely a first-century manuscript.’
Further details were added to all of these statements in Wallace’s second statement of 11 June 2018.

24 May 2018 (currently available version dated 4 June 2018): statement from EES

The EES states that
  • they have ‘never sought to sell this or any other papyrus’;
  • they have no knowledge of the NDA that Wallace describes, and ‘Obbink too says he has no knowledge of it’;
  • Obbink ‘insists that he never said the papyrus was for sale, and that while he did receive some payments from the Green Collection for advice on other matters, he did not accept any payment for or towards purchase of this text.'

11 June 2018: statement from Wallace

Wallace states:
  • His understanding was that the 1st century dating was Obbink's. (This corroborates that Obbink was the 'unimpeachable' papyrologist he was referring to in the 2012 debate.)
  • He was required to sign an NDA by ‘Jerry Pattengale, who represented a major collection that was interested in purchasing the papyrus.’ Pattengale was one of the ones who told Wallace that the papyrus was definitely for sale, and this is corroborated by Pattengale’s own statement (28 June 2019).
  • He was informed by Pattengale that the NDA ‘was requested by the seller’.
  • Wallace’s source for the 1st century dating wasn’t Pattengale, but another representative of the same collection, who is also the person who indicated that Obbink was certain of the date. Pattengale (28 June 2019) identifies Wallace’s informant as Scott Carroll.
  • Someone -- Wallace doesn't say who -- told Wallace that a ‘condition of the sale was that the seller ... would be free to choose who would edit it.’ That doesn’t appear in the purchase agreement made public by Holmes; [Addendum: in fact it does -- I missed this previously. Thanks to Mike Holmes for pointing it out] but the purchase agreement shows that Obbink himself was named as the seller.
  • It was Wallace's understanding that the sale continued to be treated as ongoing for some years after 2012.

23 June 2019: statement from Holmes

Brent Nongbri announces that he, and other papyrologists involved in a forthcoming conference panel on the papyrus, have been sent an e-mail about the papyrus from Michael Holmes at the Museum of the Bible. Nongbri publishes the e-mail, which explicitly gives him permission to do so.

Attached to the e-mail is a PDF file with a scanned copy of (part of) the 2013 purchase agreement, and Pattengale’s Nov. 2017 photo.

[Corrigendum, some time later: originally I mistakenly said that Holmes is at the Green Collection; he is not. Although the Greens established the Museum of the Bible, Holmes works for the museum, not for the Green Collection.]

25 June 2019: statement from EES

This states, ‘We note that Professor Obbink has not been a General Editor of the Oxyrhynchus Papyri since August 2016.’

28 June 2019: statement from Pattengale

Pattengale says many things, including:
  • Obbink had shown the four papyri to Carroll and himself in his rooms at Christ Church in 2011.
  • Obbink said on that occasion that the Mark papyrus was ‘very likely first century’.
  • The papyri were purchased in 2013 ‘at a fraction of their value’.
  • It was Carroll that ‘prematurely informed Wallace that it was okay to announce’ the Mark papyrus in the 2012 debate.
  • Pattengale ‘recruited Wallace’ and others who were not ‘willing to vouch with any confidence for a pre-second century date on any of the pieces’.
  • ‘[N]ondisclosure was a non-negotiable’ from the party selling the papyri in 2013.
  • Before the EES became aware that it possessed the ‘FCM’ being publicly discussed, ‘Obbink reported to Steve Green (chair of the Museum of the Bible’s board) and [Pattengale] that the EES gave him an ultimatum to sever all public ties with [the] museum or be fired’.
  • In November 2017, at the opening gala of the Museum of the Bible, Pattengale inferred from a conversation between Edwin Yamauchi and David Trobisch that illicit activity was about to be uncovered, and he took a photo of Yamauchi and Trobisch at the dinner table.
  • Following this incident, he communicated a version of these events to the Greens and the museum leadership.
  • ‘[B]efore [his] retirement’ from the Museum of the Bible (in 2018), Pattengale sent his photo of Obbink’s list to the museum.

29 June 2019: Carroll’s comment

In a comment on a blog post by Elijah Hixson, in the wake of Pattengale’s statement, Carroll writes:
  • Carroll repeats that Obbink showed him the Mark papyrus in his office in 2011, and told him that it dated to the late 1st or early 2nd century.
  • Carroll never signed an NDA.
  • He describes his conversation with Wallace in 2012 in a way that differs from Wallace’s account: he told Wallace that ‘the dating was based on the opinion of a renowned Oxford scholar’, and says that Wallace asked him if he could mention the papyrus in the debate; he told Wallace that Hobby Lobby didn’t own the papyrus, and that Wallace should use his own discretion. (In Wallace’s account, 23 May 2018, Wallace was ‘sworn to secrecy’, and Carroll urged him to make the announcement.)

Friday, 21 June 2019

Bad Latin in the movies: Life of Brian (1979)

Monty Python’s Life of Brian contains a Latin lesson that Latin students find unforgettable. When the film got released in other languages, though, how did the dubbing process deal with this scene?
Note, a couple of days later: I’ve made some minor edits to try and clear things up: apparently some readers interpreted this post as though I had translated the scene into other languages myself. I didn’t, and I’m not sure what the point of that would be! I’m looking at officially released dubs of the film.
How many Romans? (Life of Brian, 1979)

The English version

Video: link 1, link 2, link 3
Centurion. What’s this then? Romanes eunt domus? ‘People called Romanes they go the house’?
Brian. It -- it says ’Romans go home!’
Centurion. No it doesn’t. What’s Latin for ‘Roman’? Come on, come on!
Brian. Ahh! Romanus?
Centurion. Goes like?
Brian. annus?
Centurion. Vocative plural of annus is ...?
Brian. anni?
Centurion. Ro ... ma ... ni. eunt? What is eunt?
Brian. ‘Go’!
Centurion. Conjugate the verb ‘to go’.
Brian. Uh, ire. Uhh, eo, is it, imus, itis, eunt.
Centurion. So eunt is ...
Brian. Uh, uh, third person plural, present indicative! ‘They go’.
Centurion. But ‘Romans go home’ is an order, so you must use the ...
Brian. Aaaaahh, the imperative!
Centurion. Which is ...
Brian. Uuumm, oh! um, i, i!
Centurion. How many Romans?
Brian. Aaahh plural, plural, ite, ite!
Centurion. i ... te. domus? Nominative? ‘Go home’, this is motion towards, isn’t it boy?
Brian. Uh, uh, dative!
[Centurion draws sword and holds it to Brian’s throat.]
Brian. Oooohh, not dative, not the dative sir! No, ah, oh, the accusative, accusative! Uh, domum, sir! ad domum!
Centurion. Except that domus takes the ...
Brian. The locative, sir!
Centurion. Which is?
Brian. domum!
Centurion. domum. dom ... um. Understand?
Brian. Yes sir!
Centurion. Now write it out a hundred times.
Brian. Yes sir! Thank you sir, hail Caesar sir!
Centurion. Hail Caesar. And if it’s not done by sunrise, I’ll cut your balls off.
Brian. Oh, thank you sir, thank you sir, hail Caesar and everything sir!
-- Life of Brian (1979)
When I show this to a beginners’ Latin class, the students love to see Graham Chapman suffering like they do, and John Cleese’s horrible old schoolteacher, but there are some bits I have to explain. In my classes students don’t learn what a noun ‘goes like’: I think that expression is specific to England. Here they learn which ‘declension’ it belongs to.

Then there’s the bit about domus. A movie audience that doesn’t know any Latin won’t mind, but for students who have encountered the niceties of how to deal with ‘to’ in Latin, the route by which Brian gets to domum is confusing. Here’s the reasoning, if you’d like to learn a little Latin grammar. In Latin, ‘to’ is translated with a dative form only if you’re giving something ‘to’ someone, or telling, or showing something to someone. If you want to talk about motion to a place, you have to use the word ad, then the accusative form of the noun: ad urbem ‘to the city’, ad tabernam ‘towards the pub’. But there’s a select group of nouns that use the accusative by itself, without ad, and domus is one of them. A characteristic unique to nouns in that select group is that they can also take another special form, called the locative. So Brian is right to say that he should use accusative domum -- his error is using ad. When the Centurion gets him to remember that domus can take the locative, he says that Brian should use the locative form -- but that would be domi, and it would be wrong. The underlying idea is that because domus can take a locative form, therefore it belongs to that select group of nouns, therefore the correct expression is accusative without ad.

Brian gets the correct result, but the explanation is designed around comic pacing, not pedagogy.
Explanations in various Latin textbooks: Oxford Latin Course vol. 2 p. 122; Moreland and Fleischer p. 103; Kennedy’s Revised Latin Primer §§268-275; North & Hillard p. 32; Bradley’s Arnold pp. 207-208.
And now for something completely not different. I think it’s interesting to see what happens to this scene in dubs of the film into other languages. How do they explain the Latin? We’ll look at the German, French, Italian, and Spanish dubs.

The German dub

Video: link 1, link 2

First, I have to praise the marvellous job done by the actor for the Centurion’s voice. He’s wonderful. I’ve no idea who he is, though, because there are no credits for the dubbing.
Centurion. Was haben wir denn daaaaaaaa?! Romanes eunt domus? ‘Menschen genannt Romanes gehen das Haus’?
Brian. Es soll heißen ‘Römer geht nach Haus!’
Centurion. Heißt es aber nicht. Was ist lateinisch für ‘Römer’? Na komm schon, komm schon!
Brian. Romanus!
Centurion. Deklinieren.
Brian. annus?
Centurion. Vokativ plural von annus ist ...?
Brian. anni?
Centurion. Ro ... ma ... ni. eunt! Was heißt eunt?
Brian. ‘Geh’.
Centurion. Konjugiere das Verb ‘gehen’.
Brian. eo, is, it, imus, itis, eunt.
Centurion. Also ist eunt ...?
Brian. Dritte Person Plural Präsens Indikativ! ‘Sie gehen’.
Centurion. Aber ‘Römer geht nach Haus’ ist ein Befehl, also musst du was gebrauchen ...?
Brian. Den Imperativ!
Centurion. Der lautet ...?
Brian. i, i!
Centurion. Wie viele Römer?
Brian. Plural! ite! ite!
Centurion. iiiii ... te! domus ... Nominativ? ‘Geht nach Haus’ ist eine Bewegung auf etwas zu, nicht wahr, Junge?
Brian. Ja. Dativ, Herr? Ahh, ahh, ahh, oh nein nein nein nein! Ahh, Akkusativ, Akkusativ! domus, Herr, ad domus!
Centurion. Nun fordert domus den ...?
Brian. Den Lokativ, den Lokativ!
Centurion. Welcher lautet?
Brian. domum! Aaahhh!
Centurion. domum! dom ... um. Hast du verstanden?
Brian. Ja, Herr!
Centurion. Du schreibst das jetzt hundert mal.
Brian. Ja, Herr! Vielen Dank, Herr! Heil Cäsar!
Centurion. Heil Cäsar. Wenn du bis Sonnenaufgang nicht fertig bist, dann schneide ich dir die Eier ab.
Brian. Ahh, Danke Herr! Danke sehr, Herr! Heil Cäsar und alles andere!
In place of the English school expression ‘Goes like?’, the Centurion uses the technical term: he asks Brian to ‘decline’ the noun annus.

When we get to the bit about domus, the German dialogue screws up the grammar worse than in the original. In the original the Centurion asks Brian for the locative, and he gives it as domum (the correct form, but not locative). In German, Brian initially tries to use the expression ad domus, claiming that it’s the accusative, when in fact it’s nominative. What a mess. I wonder how Latin teachers in Germany explain this to their confused students. Maybe they just don’t show it ...

The French versions

Video: link

Thank you to Dr Jutta Günther for deciphering some bits that I couldn’t follow. A French dub was only made for the DVD release in 2003: it’s closer to the English than the subtitled version. This Centurion is a right bastard of a schoolmaster, even more than in the other versions: he’s constantly interrupting Brian’s correct answers with his next question.
Centurion. Qu’est-ce que tu as barbouillé là? Romanes eunt domus? ‘Des promeneurs nommés Romanes, qui vont la maison’?
Brian. Non ... ça veut dire ‘Romains, rentrez chez vous!’
Centurion. Mais non, pas du tout. C’est quoi ‘Romain’ en Latin? Alors, alors!
Brian. Romanus?
Centurion. Ça décline comment?
Brian. annus?
Centurion. Le vocatif pluriel du annus, c’est ...
Brian. anni?
Centurion. Ro ... ma ... ni. eunt. D’où ça vient?
Brian. Du verbe ire.
Centurion. Conjugue le verbe ‘rentrer’.
Brian. ire: eo, is, it, imus, itis, eunt.
Centurion. Donc eunt, c’est ...
Brian. Troisième personne du pluriel du présent l’indicatif! ‘Ils vont’.
Centurion. Mais ‘Romains rentrez chez vous’, c’est un ordre, donc nous devons utiliser ...?
Brian. L’impératif!
Centurion. Qui est ...?
Brian. i, i!
Centurion. Combien de Romains?
Brian. Pluriel! Pluriel! ite!
Centurion. i ... te. domus? C’est un nominatif! ‘Rentrez chez vous’, c’est un expression d’un mouvement, hein, jeune homme?
Brian. ... datif? Ahh non, non, pas datif, monsieur! L’accusatif, accusatif! domum, monsieur, ad domum!
Centurion. Excepté la domus se décline aussi en ...
Brian. Le locatif!
Centurion. Lequel est ...?
Brian. domum!
Centurion. do ... mum. uuummmm! Compris?
Brian. Oui monsieur!
Centurion. Donc la copiera cent fois.
Brian. Oui monsieur, merci monsieur, avé César!
Centurion. Avé César. Si c’est past fait au lever du soleil je te coupe les baloches.
Brian. Oh, merci monsieur, merci monsieur! Avé César et tutti quanti, monsieur!
The subtitled version, however, captures the grammatical logic of the domus bit better than any of the other versions here:
Centurion. domus? Nominatif? ‘Rentrez chez vous’, c’est là où l’on va, c’est ça?
Brian. Le datif! Non, pas le datif! L’accusatif! domum! ad domum!
Centurion. Mais domus prend le ...
Brian. Le locatif!
Centurion. Alors?
Brian. domum!
In the original and the French dub, the logic sounds like ‘domus takes the locative, therefore we should use the locative’ -- and that’s wrong. In the subtitled version, the logic is ‘domus takes the locative, therefore the correct form is domum.’ And that’s correct.

As in the German version, the Centurion doesn’t ask what Romanus ‘goes like’: instead he asks how it declines.

I’m vaguely pleased that the Latin domus is given its correct gender in French.

The Italian dub

Video: link
Centurion. Cosa stiamo facendo qui? Romanes eunt domus. ‘Certi chiamati Romanes vanno la casa’.
Brian. Vuol ... vuol dire ‘Romani andate a casa.’
Centurion. No, carino. Come si dice ‘Romano’? Forza, in latino.
Brian. Romanus!
Centurion. Della?
Brian. Seconda.
Centurion. La desinenza del vocativo plurale ...
Brian. i, i!.
Centurion. Quindi, Romani. Che vuoi dire con eunt?
Brian. ‘Andate’.
Centurion. Coniuga il presente indicativo di ‘andare’!
Brian. ire. eo, is, it, imus, itis, eunt.
Centurion. Quindi eunt è ...?
Brian. Ahh, ahh, terza persona plurale, presente indicativo. ‘Essi vanno’.
Centurion. Ma ‘Romani andate a casa’ è un ordine, quindi devi usare che cosa?
Brian. ... l’imperativo!
Centurion. E cioè?
Brian. Eh, oh, oh, um ... eh, i, i!
Centurion. Ma quanti sono i Romani?
Brian. Ah, già, plurale! ite, ite!
Centurion. iiii ... te. domus. Nominativo? ‘Andate a casa’ è moto a luogo, giusto, giovanotto?
Brian. ... dativo, signore? Ahh, no no, no! Non dativo, signore, no! No! Ahh! Accusativo! Accusativo! domum, signore! ad domum!
Centurion. Solo che domum vuole il ...?
Brian. Il locativo, signore!
Centurion. E cioè?
Brian. domum!
Centurion. dommmm .... dom ... um. Hai capito?
Brian. Sì, signore!
Centurion. Allora scrivilo cento volte.
Brian. Sì, signore! Grazie, signore! Ave, Cesare!
Centurion. Ave, Cesare. E se all’alba non hai finito, ti taglio le palle.
Brian. Grazie signore, troppo buono! Ave, Cesare! Ave, Cesare!
Once again, we have the telescoped bit about the locative, sticking close to the original.

The Italian dub handles the declension of Romanus differently from the others. Here, the Centurion doesn’t ask for a paradigm, and Brian doesn’t answer with annus. Instead, the Centurion simply asks ‘from which (declension)?’, and Brian answers ‘second (declension)’. Then he gives the correct ending, without bothering with a stem, and without bothering to use annus as a paradigm. I’m intrigued that the Italian doesn’t even use the word ‘declension’, just the number.

The Spanish dub

Video: link 1, link 2

A big thank you to Dr Tatjana Schaefer for copying this out (my Spanish is nearly non-existent). And a shout-out to the actor for Brian, who’s easily the best Brian in these dubs. His squealing of ‘El imperativo!’ is gold.
Centurion. Qué describes ahi? Romanes eunt domus ... ‘Gente llamada Romanes ir la casa’?
Brian. Dice ‘Romanos marchaos a casa!’
Centurion. De eso nada. Como se dice Romanos en Latin? Vamos, vamos!
Brian. Romanus.
Centurion. Y se declina como?
Brian. annus!
Centurion. El vocativo plural de annus es...?
Brian. anni.
Centurion. Ro ... ma ... ni! eunt. Qué es eunt?
Brian. Ir.
Centurion. Conjuga el verbo ir.
Brian. ire. eo, is, it, imus, itis, eunt.
Centurion. Luego eunt es ...?
Brian. Te-te-te-tercera persona del plural del presente indicativo. ‘Ellos van’.
Centurion. Pero ‘Romanos marchaos’ es una orden, asi que hay que usar ...?
Brian. El imperativo!
Centurion. Que es ...?
Brian. i, i!
Centurion. Quantos Romanos?
Brian. Plural! ite, ite!
Centurion. i ... te. domus -- en nominativo? ‘Marcharse’ indica movimiento, no, muchacho?
Brian. Dativo, señor! -- no no no no no no, no es dativo! Acusativo! domum, domum!
Centurion. Solo que domus lleva el ...?
Brian. El locativo!
Centurion. Que es ...?
Brian. domum!
Centurion. domum. do ... mum. Has comprendido?
Brian. Si señor.
Centurion. Escribelo cien veces.
Brian. Si, señor! Gracias señor! Hail César!
Centurion. Hail César. Si no esta escrito al amanecer te corto los cojones.
Brian. Gracias señor, gracias señor! Hail César y todo los demas.
Brian barely squeaks out the word annus: the Centurion should probably have double-checked that he had the right paradigm.

In this version the business of domus makes no sense at all. Brian offers the correct form, domum, only to have it corrected to ... domum. I don’t think the translator understood the reasoning. Which is fair enough, given that it doesn’t quite make sense in the original.

Other versions

Links to other languages, for the curious.

Dubbed/voice-over: Czech, Hungarian, Polish, Portuguese, Russian
Subtitles: Croatian, Greek, Hebrew, Serbian

Friday, 14 June 2019

Titans and Olympians

The twelve Olympians are the most important gods in the Greek pantheon. There’s some variation in their membership, depending on who you read. But there are generally twelve, and they’re always headed by Zeus, along with his brothers Poseidon and Hades, each associated with a third of the cosmos (sky, surface, underworld).

Greek myth has other bunches of divinities too. Some are minor local divinities: river gods, nymphs, and so on. Some can be just about as important as the Olympians, like the Dioskouroi (Castor and Polydeuces) or the Great Gods of Samothrace. And then there’s the Titans.

With the Titans, it can be tempting to think we’ve got two orders of gods: elder gods and younger gods, Titans and Olympians.
The Disney version of the Titans (Hercules, 1997)
No no no, not like the Titans in the Disney Hercules. Not like Clash of the Titans either -- a film that’s rather conspicuous for not actually having any Titans in it. (That applies to both the 1981 original and the 2010 remake, by the way.)

If it’s a popular depiction you want, you’ll find a closer match in Rick Riordan’s series of Percy Jackson novels. There, as in ancient Greek myth, the Titans are the arch-enemies of the Olympians, but they’re also the Olympians’ ancestors and parents.

Titans and Giants

Actually there’s one area where the Disney Hercules does represent ancient sources very well. It does an excellent job at steering around a confusion between Titans and Giants -- a common confusion among ancient writers.

The Titans and Giants were both colossal beings who fought the Olympians. The Titanomachy is the primordial war between the Olympian gods and the Titans, cosmic order vs. cosmic chaos. After ten years of fighting the Olympians finally win, aided by the Cyclopes and the Hundred-Handers, and they banish the Titans to the eternal void of Tartaros, the bottomless pit at the bottom of the cosmos, beneath even Hades. The Gigantomachy is the battle between the Olympians and the Gigantes or ‘earth-born ones’, spurred to attack Olympus by their mother Gaia: this time the Olympians are aided by the hero Heracles.

So we’ve got one battle at the beginnings of time, and one in the relatively recent legendary past, just one generation before the Trojan War. And yet ancient writers regularly mix them up. Several sources refer to a ‘Titanomachy’ poem as a ‘Gigantomachy’; in Orphic myth, Dionysus is sometimes killed by Titans, sometimes by Giants; one source glosses the Titans as 'Giants beneath the earth’ (sch. Eur. Hec. 471).

The general impression is that the Titanomachy was at root a poetic narrative, while the Gigantomachy belonged more to the visual arts. There were at least three Titanomachy poems: they seem to have had limited success, and the complete poems have all been lost, but we still have an episode in the Hesiodic Theogony dealing with the story. The Gigantomachy, by contrast, had no poetic treatments that we know of, but it was central to the decorations of two of the most important temples in the Greek world: the temple of Apollo at Delphi, and the Parthenon in Athens.

If you know the Disney film you’ll see how it navigates this ancient confusion. Zeus has imprisoned the Titans in Tartaros, as per the Titanomachy; but they get released, and Hercules intervenes to defeat the bad guys and save the Olympians, as per the Gigantomachy. The film synthesises both variants without ever dragging attention away from its main story. Rather well thought out, really.

Which Titans?

Most of the Titans aren’t even particularly evil. The trio of Kronos, Iapetos, and Okeanos are generally grouped together as the ones opposed to the Olympians. The Homeric Iliad groups Kronos and Iapetos together, imprisoned in Tartaros:
                  ... the nethermost extremes
of earth and sea, where Iapetos and Kronos
sit and never enjoy the rays of Hyperion the Sun,
nor the winds, and deep Tartaros is around them.
-- Iliad 8.478-481
But you notice Hyperion isn’t imprisoned with them? -- even though he belongs to the same generation of divinities. So: are only some Titans imprisoned? Or do only some divinities of that generation count as ‘Titans’? That’s not how Hesiod thinks of it (Theogony 205-6 makes them all ‘Titans’; at 424 Hekate seems to be counted as an ex-Titan).

There are plenty of Titans moseying around outside Tartaros. Elsewhere in Homer we find Phoibe, the moon, shining in the sky too. Dione appears on Olympus in Iliad book 5. Mnemosyne (‘Memory’) regularly gets invoked by poets. In Hesiod, Prometheus and Epimetheus are obviously still kicking around after Zeus becomes king of the universe -- though Prometheus goes on to be imprisoned too, in a separate story. Hekate gets to keep the prerogatives she had from the Titans.

Even Kronos himself wasn’t always the bad guy. Or, at least, not simply the bad guy. Athens and Rhodes celebrated festivals in honour of Kronos -- and, given that these two places belonged to distinct ethnic groups within the Greek world, that kind of suggests a pretty widespread observance. There were occasions, separate from the festivals, when cakes were offered to Kronos in Athens and in Elis. We know there were temples dedicated to Kronos at Athens and Olympia, both of them in precincts of Olympian Zeus.
For the Kronia festival in Athens and temples of Kronos, see New Pauly s.v. ‘Kronos’. For the Rhodian festival see Theodoret, Cure of the Greek maladies 7 (p. 108,46 = p. 294 Gaisford).

Van Dongen 2010: 192 thinks that Kronos and co. were originally separate from the Titans, pointing out that the Titans aren’t named in the Hesiodic Titanomachy. I don’t buy that. First, the idea of separating a single myth into two distinct ‘original’ myths is too close for comfort to the ‘two cultures’ interpretation I look at below. Second, the story is stable enough across both Hesiod and the Iliad (cf. Il. 5.897-898, 8.478-481, 14.278-289, 15.225) to point solidly to a much earlier origin.
Why celebrate Kronos, the arch-nemesis of Zeus? Not an easy question. Some modern theorists go for an agricultural explanation: the Kronia was a harvest festival, the Titans were harvest gods, and that’s why Kronos uses a sickle to cut off Ouranos’ genitals. Well, supposedly. I’m skeptical: I have a sneaking suspicion that some theorists have been taking their ideas about Kronos from Saturn, his Roman counterpart.

There are other ways you could interpret a festival in honour of the enemy of the gods. It might be a celebration of his imprisonment in Tartaros. It might be apotropaic (‘let’s honour Kronos so he doesn’t come back’). I’d prefer not to assume in advance that it’s just a peaceful, innocent harvest festival -- not unless there’s some evidence I’m just unaware of.
Kronos as depicted in the execrable film of Percy Jackson and the Sea of Monsters (2013). But read the books instead -- please, for the love of Zeus, read the books instead. (I hate that Surtr in Thor: Ragnarok reminds me of this godsawful film.)

Two families of divinities?

When you see a pantheon with two ‘orders’ of gods, one popular interpretation is that two pantheons, from different cultures, have been combined. For example: we might say that at some point there was a Minoan pantheon consisting of just the Titans, and when the Mycenaeans conquered the Minoan civilisation, they imposed their own gods -- the Olympians -- as a kind of superior caste. This is wrong, by the way.

But this binary interpretation, that Olympians and Titans originated as a superimposition and a substrate, had a lot of currency among theorists of the early 20th century. Here’s how Walter Burkert puts it.
Historians have long sought to understand Greece and Greek religion as a synthesis of an indigenous substratum and Indo-European superimposition. How far this idea holds good and can be verified in detail is another question. Global dualisms which exaggerate the distinctino between Indo-European and non-Indo-European assert themselves all too easily: male and female, patriarchy and matriarchy, heaven and earth, Olympian and chthonic, and intellect and instinct. The interaction of the two poles is then supposedly reflected in Greek religion as the new gods overthrow the Titans, or as the Indo-European Sky Father takes the mediterranean Mistress as his bride.
-- Burkert 1985: 18 = 2011: 37.
In the work of Georges Dumézil, this division takes on classist tones too: the newer gods are worshipped by the upper class, the older gods by the proles. That seems to be coming more from the Romans than from anything Greek: the Romans with their division of patrician and plebeian, and the worship of Jupiter and Ceres.

younger gods elder gods
Olympians Titans
Mycenaean Minoan
Indo-European non-Indo-European
patriarchy matriarchy
celestial earthly
intellect instinct
culture nature
upper class lower class

Important note: everything about the above table is wrong. (We’ve got no reason to think of the Minoans as matriarchal. That idea still has some currency, thanks to Friedrich Engels, but it’s an extremely tendentious interpretation of very indirect, and very thin, evidence. It comes from Johann Jakob Bachofen’s 1861 book Das Mutterrecht: Bachofen’s theory of an even earlier ‘hetairistic’ phase, where everyone was sexually promiscuous, kind of suggests that the whole idea has its roots in his sexual fantasies. No archaeologists or anthropologists have taken it seriously for many decades.)

But this theory boils down to a thinly-veiled nationalism. ‘Indo-European’ versus ‘non-Indo-European’? Just say what you mean: Aryan versus Untermensch.

(Incidentally, Burkert goes on to point out that when it comes to ritual practice, it’s earthly libations that are related to Indo-European religion, while the rising smoke of Olympian sacrifices is more closely linked to Semitic practices.)

The idea that two castes of divinities reflect two ethnic groups has been suggested for other bodies of myth. In Norse myth, figures like Gro Steinsland have suggested that the two orders of divinities -- the Æsir, with Odin, Thor, Tyr, etc., and the Vanir with Njord, Freyr, and Freyja -- are a result of two distinct mythological traditions coming into contact with each other. So the war of the Æsir and the Vanir supposedly reflects a historical war.

As with the Olympians and the Titans, it may sound like a reasonable working hypothesis. Let’s just emphasise the word hypothesis, though. There’s never any direct evidence to support this kind of thing. And there’s good reason to doubt it.

The parallel between the Greek and Norse pantheons sounds suspiciously like something systematic: it’s integral to the design, baked into each pantheon from the start. That impression gets even stronger if you draw comparisons to other pantheons: Indian myth has the devás warring against the ásuras, Irish myth has the Tuatha Dé Danann as successors to the monstrous Fomorians.

pantheon younger gods elder gods
Greek Olympians Titans
Norse Æsir Vanir
Hurro-Hittite Kumarbi karuilies siunes
Indian Devas Asuras
Irish Tuathe Dé Danann Fomorians
Mesopotamian gods ilani kamûti

For more on this, see West 2007: 162-164.

We certainly don’t have enough evidence to draw genetic links between any of these cases. If the idea of two orders of gods is one that the Greeks inherited, it’s best to assume it came via the Hittites. The Hittite former gods, or karuilies siunes, are incarcerated in the underworld, and there are usually twelve of them, just like the Titans.

But that isn’t to say we know how the myth developed. The Greek and Hittite pantheons have the closest link of any pair in this table, but no one’s going to suggest that Hesiod had a copy of the Kumarbi cycle in front of him. The date and means by which Anatolian and Near Eastern mythical patterns made their way to Greece are obscure.
There’s a similar sentiment in Clay and Gilan 2014: 5-6. Van Dongen 2010 suggests a relatively late date for mythical narratives spreading from Anatolia to the Greek world, with contact between Greeks and Phrygians and Lydians around the 8th century: personally I’d be very happy with a much earlier date, even in the Bronze Age. We have Greek gods in the Bronze Age, but alas, no direct evidence of Titans. See also Bachvarova 2016 for a more luxurious discussion.
I find the parallels compelling enough to accept that a two-generation structure is generally going to be something baked into the pantheon, not a result of two cultures having a war.

But not compelling enough to conclude there are genetic links. M. L. West, too, thinks the parallels are ‘suggestive’, but not so close ‘as to make the hypothesis [of a common heritage] ... irresistible.’ OK, for the Olympians vs. Titans, we’ve got Kumarbi and the Hittite ‘former gods’ to point to as a possible influence. But we don’t have anything like that for Indian, Irish, or Norse myth. There, the ‘two orders of gods’ structure seems more likely to have been created from scratch, rather than inherited from older traditions.
Another view of the Disney Titans -- this time, from the game Kingdom Hearts III (2019). Here Hercules isn’t teaming up with the Olympians, but with (left to right) Goofy, Sora, and Donald Duck. I wonder what Hesiod would think.
That doesn’t mean we have to revert to the ‘Mycenaeans absorb the Minoan pantheon’ model, or the ‘Æsir absorb the Vanir’ model -- let’s call it the ‘two cultures’ model. That model isn’t impossible. But it is euhemerism, and euhemerism has never been a useful guide to any myth’s development over time.

Another good reason to be skeptical of the ‘two cultures’ model is that when people are interested in the elder gods, and don’t know much about the historical background, they regularly go for the exact same interpretation. It’s a repeating pattern -- just like the ‘two orders of gods’ is a repeating pattern. Myths are really good at falling into similar patterns, whether or not they have a genetic relationship to each other.


  • Bachvarova, M. 2016. From Hittite to Homer. The Anatolian background of ancient Greek epic. Cambridge University Press
  • Burkert, W. 1985. Greek religion. (Translated by John Raffan.) Blackwell.
  • ---- 2011 [1977]. Griechische Religion der archaischen und klassischen Epoche, 2nd edition. Verlag W. Kohlhammer.
  • Clay, J. S.; Gilan, A. 2014. ‘The Hittite “Song of emergence” and the Theogony.’ Philologus 2014: 1-9.
  • van Dongen, E. W. M. 2010. Studying external stimuli to the development of the ancient Aegean. The ‘Kingship in Heaven’ theme from Kumarbi to Kronos via Anatolia. PhD dissertation, UCL.
  • West, M. L. 2007. Indo-European poetry and myth. Oxford University Press.