Monday, March 30, 2009

A little Democritus


The famed philosopher Democritus, who lived in the 5th century B.C.E., is best known to day for his theory of atoms. Hence he is called an atomist. Although many books talk about him in such a manner has to indicate that he was the originator of this idea of everything composed of atoms, i.e., amalgamations of very small particles he did not in fact originate the idea.1

It was in fact the philosopher Leucippus who originated the idea. Unfortunately Leucippus is a very shadowy figure and the tendency for later sources to talk about Leucippus and Democritus together does not make distinguishing them very easy. Further it appears that Leucippus wrote very little.2

Democritus seems to have been a little older than Socrates3, very little is known of his life,4 although he seems to have been a very prolific writer. The writer Diogenes Laertius supplies a very long list of Democritius’ works as follows:

Ethical Works

On the Disposition of the Wiseman
On the things in Hades
On Manliness / On Virtues
The Horn of Amaltheia
On Contentment
Ethical Commentaries

Natural Science

The Great World-ordering [probably actually by Leucippus]
The Little World-ordering
Description of the World
On the Planets
On Nature
On the Nature of Man
/ On Flesh
On Thoughts
On the Senses
/ On the Soul?
On Flavours
On Colours
On Different Shapes
On Changing Shape
On Images
/ On Providence
On Logic
/ The Rule

Unordered works

Heavenly Causes
Atmospheric Causes
Terrestrial Causes
Causes Concerned with Fire and Things in Fire
Causes Concerned with Sounds
Causes Concerned with Seeds and Plants and-
Causes Concerned with Animals
Miscellaneous Causes
On the Stone

Mathematical Works

On Different Angles / On Contact with Circles and- Spheres
On Geometry
On Irrational Lines and Solids
The Great Year
/ Astronomy [Calendar]
Contest of the Water clock
Description of the Heavens
Description of the Poles
Description of Rays of Light

Literary Works

On Rhythms and Harmony
On Poetry
On the Beauty of Verses
On Euphonious and Cacophonous Letters
On Homer / Correct Diction and Glosses
On Songs
On Verbs

Technical Works

On Diet
/ Dietetics
Medical Judgment
Causes concerning Appropriate and Inappropriate- Occasions
On Farming
/ Farming Matters
On Painting
The Use of Arms


On the Sacred Writings of Babylon
On Those in Meroe
Circumnavigation of the Ocean
On History
Chaldaean Account
Phrygian Account
On Fever and Coughing Sickness
Legal Causes
/ Problems5

A very interesting list which indicates the very wide ranging interests of Democritus. Unfortunately soon after Democritus’ death interest shifted from “Natural Philosophy” i.e., “Science” to Ethics and Metaphysics so that later Greek philosophers were far more interested in Democritus’ ethical works and what we now about Democritus’ atomic theory is from bare summaries and not from actual quotations. In fact the great majority of surviving direct quotations of Democritus’ works are in fact from his ethical works.6

In fact Democritus’ idea of atoms lead him to reject the idea of Gods or other supernatural forces controlling men’s lives and the behavior of the universe. Instead it was the material action of atoms that did so. Democritus apparently believed that such material action of atoms was discoverable through the use of human senses. Here was the possible foundations of something like modern “Science”. Alas it was premature and died being born.

So in this respect Democritus, although no Ionian was in fact the last of the Ionian Philosophers in that his main interest was in explaining the world around him. Subsequent generations of thinkers / philosophers were vastly less interested and instead shifted their interest to matters of metaphysics, ethics, the nature of virtue etc., so that Greek science was basically stillborn. Democritus’ skeptical approach was largely abandoned and so was his idea that the senses, although imperfect and sometimes deceiving, did tell us about the world.

In this particular essay I shall not examine Democritus’ “Science” but instead quote a few of his ethical statements and comment on them.

Medicine heals the diseases of the body, and wisdom takes away passions of the soul.7

This illustrates the traditional Greek attitude that passions are dangerous and need to be both understood and controlled. A wise man controls passions that uncontrolled lead to dangerous extreme behavior. Wisdom leads to moderation and that includes moderated passions.

Men enjoy scratching themselves – they get the same pleasure as those who are having sexual intercourse.8

This passage aside from its humorous aspects compares sex to scratching an itch and thus places it has something prosaic and hardly earth shaking. It also places sex as a type of physical pleasure and not has a sort of cosmic metaphor. Further by reducing sex to scratching an itch Democritus was perhaps implying that’s importance was vastly overrated and the wise man could do without.

Do not be eager to know everything lest you become ignorant of everything.9

Similar to the idea of a little knowledge is a dangerous thing or the idea of a dabbler of many trades is a master of none. In this case Democritus’ own prolific output in so many different fields just might indicate that this was a bit of self depreciation directed against himself.

Men fashioned an image of chance as an excuse for their own thoughtlessness; for chance rarely fights with wisdom, and a clear-sighted intelligence sets straight most things in life.10

A variation of God helps those that help themselves and that people make their own luck. This basically optimistic view of life was at variance with the then conventional Greek, and later Greco-Roman view, of fate. In this view men were nothing more than toys being tossed about by capricious “Fortune”. This pessimistic view of life went hand in hand with a depreciation of the virtue of knowledge of the outside world and the idea that anything could really change for the better. The turn inwards of Greek philosophy towards questions of ethics and self –understanding was also accompanied by an quietitude about accepting what happened to you as fate of which little could be done.

The world is a stage, life is our entrance: you came, you saw, you left.11

Yup that’s were Shakespeare got it! This thought goes with Democritus’ basically materialistic view of life. He seemed to think that the soul died with the body. And his vision of life as a play speaks to an awareness of the absurd / silly aspects of life and to the possible pointlessness of the whole enterprise. It also speaks to the idea that pointless or not life is worth living. Although I wonder if Democritus ever thought that if life was a play just who / what is the audience being performed for?

The world is change; life is opinion.12

Of interest in that it goes back to the ideas of the Ionian philosophers that change was continual and such notions as you never step into the same river twice.13 Further Democritus accepted the idea that many of the notions of how we order our lives are just opinion and not fact and we should relate to others through acceptance of that and exercise a measure of tolerance.

It is of interest that the idea of change being a basic property of the universe and essentially neutral was abandoned by later Greek Philosophy. Instead the idea arose that the seeking of permanent, eternal truths and facts was the point of philosophical inquiry. Instead of being a process of inquiry philosophy became a collection of “truthful” axioms. Thus life was no longer “opinion” and world was no longer “change”. Plato for example abominated change which to him meant degeneration. In his eyes what was to be sought was perfect unchanging “Forms”. Change of any description was bad and every effort had to be made to freeze things, to avoid dissention, conflict, disorder. Thus the search for the “perfect” state, “perfect” definitions, “perfect” laws. And the world was viewed as an inferior, decaying world of little real importance.

The cause of error is ignorance of what is better.14

This is similar to Plato’s idea that bad “evil” behavior is the result of ignorance of the “good” and not of innate evil. However in this case the moral attributes given by Plato are absent in that the here the neutral term error is used. This is probably related to philosophical stream of which Democritus was a part that concentrated on practicalities and not innate inward states. Plato was concerned with defining the “good” and could not conceive of men deliberately doing evil. Plato also was in search of absolute “good”. The earlier Ionian Philosophers with their notions of how things were frequently “relative” would have regarded such a search as potentially futile. Although they would have accepted the idea of certain attitudes and behaviors has “good”. Further Democritus seems to have viewed finding norms of behavior in a practical sense not in terms of searching for perfect definitions of concepts.

One should emulate the deeds and actions of virtue, not the words.15

A variation of deeds speak louder than words. Again a piece of practical advice. Rather than argue about what is virtue try to emulate virtue through action not through words. I strongly suspect Democritus would have found later Greek philosophy with its endless digressions about the nature of “virtue” etc., so many words that were nothing more than a substitute for action.

If you exceed the measure, what is most enjoyable will become least enjoyable.16

Similar to the idea of too much of a good thing. This goes with the Greek idea of things in moderation and that excess leads to corruption, satiation, boredom and a general lowering of the quality of life. The idea of indulgence leads to unhappiness is in general related to the notion that excess is a bad thing and that a life of measured moderation leads to happiness.

Men remember wrongs better than benefits. And that is just; for as those who repay their debts should not be praised, whereas those who do not should be blamed and suffer, so too it is with a ruler. For he was chosen not to do wrong but to do right.17

A very interesting point of view. What Democritus is saying is because rulers are expected to do what is right. When they are doing so they are doing nothing more than their jobs and what is expected and so should not expect praise. For by praising them you are saying what they are doing, i.e., doing the right thing is somehow unexpected hence praiseworthy. When it is merely what is expected. However bad acts are not expected and in fact violate the job description and so are worthy of loud denunciation. Democritus’ point is interesting but he seems to forget the all too human need for praise and ego boosting.

He who worthily administers the greatest offices has the greatest share of justice and virtue.18

Considering how Plato and many other Greek Philosophers viewed politics as somehow polluted and corrupting and saw little if any virtue in politicians or statesmen. Unless they were trying to create Plato’s ideal societies. In fact Plato thought Philosophers should avoid such entanglements and instead concentrate on navel gazing about being virtuous and avoiding the corrupt world of the senses. Here Democritus is advocating a connection with the world and the potential for good of political action. With the inward turn of Greek Philosophy this would largely fall by the wayside.

When those in power take it upon themselves to lend to the poor and to aid them and to favour them, then there is compassion and not isolation but companionship and mutual defence and concord among the citizens and other good things too many to catalogue.19.

A passage that illustrates the democratic sympathies of Democritus. I suspect Democritus had in mind the democratic city of Athens which was very successful in maintaining democracy and stability internally and avoiding the disastrous stasis or civil strife that pitted poor citizens against wealthy Aristocrats / Oligarchs in murderous mayhem for centuries. The Athenian democracy interestingly managed to do this and that the main leaders of the democracy were long established Athenian aristocratic families. Later Greek Philosophers including Plato generally abominated Athenian democracy and any attempt to give the poor a voice in government.

Justice is doing what should be done, injustice not doing what should be done but turning away from it.20

This makes a rather interesting contrast with Plato’s definition of “justice” in the Republic, where “justice” is defined as everyone doing what they are best fitted for. How you determine that is not explained except that the wise Philosopher Kings would somehow know through their philosophical speculations. It is interesting that whereas Plato defined “justice” as a property of a whole social system and took it away from the idea of “justice” as actions / omissions, i.e., the idea of “justice” being how people were treated and what was and was not done. Democritus keeps that common notion of “justice” here. Plato’s definition is part of the process by which Greek philosophy retreated from the practical world to the world of metaphysics and airy abstractions.

Democritus is again showing the spirit of the Ionian Philosophers with their emphasis of on practical action. It is also clear that Democritus did not view the idea of “justice” has a problematic concept but something fairly clear to everyone and not in need of obtuse analysis.

I could go on but that is a sample of some of the words of Democritus regarding ethics. For such a prolific writer it is remarkable that so little of what he wrote survived and even his ethical material, which had the most appeal to later Greco-Romans survives only in short quotes and pithy epigrams. It appears that even his ethical material was not that appealing and what generally circulated were collections of sayings. The full actual works were too out of touch with the otherworldly spirit of much Greco-Roman intellectual life after Plato. They lacked the inward focus of later intellectual life and so were little read in the original by later readers.

Democritus represents both the culmination of the Ionian Philosophers and the end. It appears that people preferred to read about his “scientific” books in summaries and amusing anecdotes. Very few seemed to have been interested in reading the originals. Very little work seems to have been done by the later atomist thinkers to build up from Democritus’ foundations. Instead they combined atomism with philosophical resignation and bootless speculation.

Ethically Democritus’ idea that action was both possible and desirable and his apparent rejection of philosophical resignation were ignored.

Thus did the Greco-Roman culture stagnate.

1. Jonathon Barnes Editor, Early Greek Philosophy, 2nd Revised Edition, Penguin Books, London, 2001, pp. 201-253, Waterfield, Robin, Editor, The First Philosophers, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2000, pp. 164-171, Kirk, G. S., Raven, J. E., Schofield, M., Editors, The Presocratic Philosophers, 2nd Edition, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1983, pp. 402-433.

2. IBID.

3. IBID. Kirk et al, p. 404.

4. Barnes, p. 203.

5. IBID. pp. 204-205.

6. IBID. p. 227.

7. IBID. p. 228.

8. IBID. p. 229.

9. IBID. p. 230.

10. IBID. p. 230.

11. IBID. p. 253.

12. IBID. p. 253.

13. IBID. p. 70, Greek Philosopher Heraclitus.

14. IBID. p. 251.

15. IBID. p. 250.

16. IBID. p. 238

17. IBID. p. 243.

18. IBID. p. 243.

19. IBID. p. 242.

20. IBID. p. 242.

Pierre Cloutier

Friday, March 27, 2009

A Fanatic for all Seasons

Thomas More

The play A Man for All Seasons,1 is a most interesting play in that it is of a man who never existed. That man is of course Thomas More. The More in the play is to be polite a lie and fabrication. The heavy handed play and its lugubrious and highly painfully earnest film version are parts of the lie that is the popular mythology about Thomas More that flourishes to this day.

Thomas More was born on February 7, 1478.2 Thomas More studied at the various Inns of Court and became a Lawyer. Thomas More wanted to be a Priest or Monk but decided reluctantly to get married to a woman named Jane Colt. When Jane Colt died in 1511, Thomas More almost immediately married a rich widow by the name of Alice Middleton who survived him. He served as advisor to the great Cardinal Wolsey and made friends with the great Humanist, Renaissance scholar Erasmus with whom he had a life long friendship.3

Of course Thomas More wrote Utopia, 4, (meaning no place), which was published in 1516. Much as been made of the religious tolerance of the Utopians. For example:
…for this is one of their most ancient laws, that no man ought to be punished for his religion. At the first constitution of their government, Utopus having understood that before his coming among them the old inhabitants had been engaged in great quarrels concerning religion, by which they were so divided among themselves, that he found it an easy thing to conquer them, since instead of uniting their forces against him, every different party in religion fought by themselves; after he had subdued them, he made a law that every man might be of what religion he pleased, and might endeavor to draw others to it by force of argument, and by amicable and modest ways, but without bitterness against those of other opinions; but that he ought to use no other force but that of persuasion, and was neither to mix with it reproaches nor violence; and such as did otherwise were to be condemned to banishment or slavery.

This law was made by Utopus, not only for preserving the public peace, which he saw suffered much by daily contentions and irreconcilable heats, but because he thought the interest of religion itself required it. He judged it not fit to determine anything rashly, and seemed to doubt whether those different forms of religion might not all come from God, who might inspire men in a different manner, and be pleased with this variety; he therefore thought it indecent and foolish for any man to threaten and terrify another to make him believe what did not appear to him to be true. And supposing that only one religion was really true, and the rest false, he imagined that the native force of truth would at last break forth and shine bright, if supported only by the strength of argument, and attended to with a gentle and unprejudiced mind; while, on the other hand, if such debates were carried on with violence and tumults, as the most wicked are always the most obstinate, so the best and most holy religion might be choked with superstition, as corn is with briars and thorns.

He therefore left men wholly to their liberty, that they might be free to believe as they should see cause;…5
This passage and several others have been used as evidence that Thomas more was a tolerant man however it ignores that the Utopians were not tolerant of atheists:

…only he [Utopus] made a solemn and severe law against such as should so far degenerate from the dignity of human nature as to think that our souls died with our bodies, or that the world was governed by chance, without a wise overruling Providence: for they all formerly believed that there was a state of rewards and punishments to the good and bad after this life; and they now look on those that think otherwise as scarce fit to be counted men, since they degrade so noble a being as the soul, and reckon it no better than a beast's: thus they are far from looking on such men as fit for human society, or to be citizens of a well-ordered commonwealth; since a man of such principles must needs, as oft as he dares do it, despise all their laws and customs: for there is no doubt to be made that a man who is afraid of nothing but the law, and apprehends nothing after death, will not scruple to break through all the laws of his country, either by fraud or force, when by this means he may satisfy his appetites. They never raise any that hold these maxims, either to honors or offices, nor employ them in any public trust, but despise them, as men of base and sordid minds: yet they do not punish them, because they lay this down as a maxim that a man cannot make himself believe anything he pleases; nor do they drive any to dissemble their thoughts by threatenings, so that men are not tempted to lie or disguise their opinions; which being a sort of fraud, is abhorred by the Utopians. They take care indeed to prevent their disputing in defence of these opinions, especially before the common people; but they suffer, and even encourage them to dispute concerning them in private with their priests and other grave men, being confident that they will be cured of those mad opinions by having reason laid before them.6
Further it is clear from Thomas More’s comments that one of the signs of the Utopians superiority is that they are eager to listen too and be converted to Christianity. Further since the Utopians are non-Christians they would have to be religiously tolerant to be able to more easily receive Christianity.7

There is no question that Thomas More believed utterly and completely in the absolute truth of the Catholic version of Christianity

Perhaps the best indication of the “true” Thomas More is in his myriad writings about heresy.

We have for example the fate of James Bainham. Thomas More while Lord Chancellor of England was involved in his arrest, questioning and imprisonment. James Bainham was charged with heresy and had after his first arrest been given the choice of being burned or recanting. James Bainham had not surprisingly recanted. After all who wants to die? Afterwards, filled with guilt, James Bainham recanted his recantation and soon afterwards was arrested again. As a relapsed heretic he was shortly afterwards burned. Foxe in his Book of Martyrs, claimed that Thomas More, who had been involved in questioning James Bainham, had him tortured and whipped. These claims are doubted today yet Thomas More wrote about the death of Bainham and other “heretics”:

And for heretics as they be, the clergy both denounce them. And they be well worthy, the temporalty doth burn them. After the fire of Smithfield, hell doth receive them where the wretches burn forever.8
Another example of Thomas More’s victims was Thomas Hitton a priest who was sympathetic to various aspects of Protestantism. Thomas More writes that Thomas Hitton was:
…an apostle, sent to and fro betwene our Englysshe heretykes beyonde the see and such as were here at home. The spirit of errour and lyenge hath taken his wretched soul with him strayte from the shorte fyre to ye fyre ever lastyng. And this is lo sir Thomas Hitton, the dyuyls [devil's] stynkyng martyr, of whose burnynge Tyndale maketh boste.9
When a man named John Twekesbury was burned Thomas More stated:
burned as there was never wretche I wene better worthy.10
While he was Lord Chancellor Thomas More violated rules of English law to get at heretics and he continued to rejoice until his own death in the destruction of heretics.11 He carried out until his death a vicious vendetta against William Tyndale the translator of the New Testament into English. Thomas More described William Tyndale as:
beste oute of whose brutyshe bestely mouth cometh a fylthy fome.12
Eventually Thomas More played a role, even though Thomas More was in the tower at the time awaiting his own execution in William Tyndale’s horrible death by fire.13.
The Execution of William Tyndale

Thus does Thomas More crow in hateful joy at the hideous death of other human beings judicially murdered for their opinions.

Thomas More in 1529 published a book called A Dialogue Concerning Heresies,14 In it we find such good words as:
The Author showeth his opinion concerning the burning of Heretics and that it is lawful, necessary, and well done.15
In A Dialogue concerning Heresies, we get such bon mots as this concerning Martin Luther.

…a fond friar, to an apostate, to an open incestuous lecher, a plain limb of the devil, and a manifest messenger of hell.16
For in More’s eyes regarding heresy:

there is no fault that more offendeth God.17
Finally Thomas More wrote in a letter to Erasmus as follows:
...with deep feeling. I find that breed of men [heretics] absolutely loathsome, so much so that, unless they regain their senses, I want to be as hateful to them as anyone can possibly be for my increasing experience with these men frightens me with the thought that the whole world will suffer at their hands.18
Richard Marius says this about Thomas More and his campaign against heresy:
To stand before a man at an inquisition, knowing that he will rejoice when we die, knowing that he will commit us to the stake and its horrors without a moment’s hesitation or remorse if we do not satisfy him, is not an experience much less cruel because our inquisitor does not whip us or rack us or shout at us.


But in the same work, [More’s, Apology, 1533] More - by then out of office – exhorted the bishops not to falter in their zeal to suppress heretics by any measures at their command.

His own labour was utterly single-minded and not mitigated by any flash of mercy or tolerance. Heretics were enemies of God, servants of Satan, minions of hell, and beyond all that, they were usually lower-class, people without roots resolved to root out the grand old faith which was the only guarantee of meaning in the universe. More believed that they should be exterminated, and while he was in office he did everything in his power to bring that extermination to pass. That he did not succeed in becoming England’s Torquemada was a consequence of the king’s quarrel with the pope and not a result of any quality of mercy that stirred through More’s own heart.19
Thomas More as a man of tolerance is a myth. The tolerance in his ideal society described in Utopia is a function of the fact that the Utopians are non Christians that More wants to become Christians so of course they are tolerant,; but not of atheism which More abominated. The tolerance of the Utopians tells us zero about More’s own attitudes in this matter. Instead his large corpus of written writings is full of hatred against so-called heretics and zealous in calls for their violent suppression by terror and painful death right to the end of More’s life. All this makes an interesting contrast with More’s friend Erasmus whose tolerance and dislike of violence make it manifest that he would almost certainly have never have overseen the judicial murder of individuals for so-called heresy.

It is ironic that Thomas More who believed it was right to murder men, and had in fact done so, for their opinions was murdered for his own.20

1. Bolt, Robert, A Man for all Seasons, Vintage, New York, 1990, see the following critique, O'Connell, Marvin, A Man for all Seasons: an Historian's Demur, at Here

2. Marius, Richard, Thomas More, Fount Paperbacks, New York, 1984, p. 3.

3. IBID. pp.14-83.

4. A copy of Utopia can be found at the Oregon State website Here.

5. IBID. Utopia, in Book II: Of the Religions Of the Utopians, at Here

6. IBID.

7. IBID. also Marius, pp. 152-183.

8. IBID. Marius quoting Thomas More p. 406.

9. Moynahan, Brian, Thomas More: Zero Tolerance, Part II, at Here, quoting Thomas More.

10. IBID.

11. IBID.

12. IBID. and Moynahan, Brian, Thomas More: Zero Tolerance, Part I, at Here

13. IBID.

14. See More, Thomas, The Complete Works of St. Thomas More; volume 6: A Dialogue Concerning Heresies, ed. Louis A. Schuster, Richard C. Marius, James P. Lusardi and Richard J. Shoeck, Yale University Press, New Haven CT., 1973.
15. Quoted in Marius, p. 347.

16. See More, Dialogue..., p. 346.

17. IBID. p. 407.

18. More, Thomas, St. Thomas More: Selected Letters, ed. by Elizabeth Frances Rogers. Yale University Press, New Haven CT., 1961, pp.180.

19. Marius, p. 406.

20. For more about Thomas More has fanatic see Marius and Ridley, Jasper, The Statesman and the Fanatic, Constable, London, 1982.

Pierre Cloutier

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Fall of the Maya

The Raid
Mural from Bomapak Mexico

The Glory of the Mayan golden age ended with abandoned cities and chaos. Between 800 C.E. and 900 C.E. the great majority of classical Mayan centres were abandoned. Why is one of the great mysteries of Pre-Columbian America.

It should be pointed out that Collapse while rare is not unique it has happened to a number of societies in the course of Human History. For example:

1, The Western Roman Empire 350-500 C.E.

2, Chacoan Culture 1150-1250 C.E.

3, Indus Civilization 1700-1500 B.C.E.

4, Mycenaen Civilization 1250-1150 B.C.E.

5, Easter Island 1500-1700 C.E.

Since Stephens and Catherwood explored and described the Mayan cities there has been much speculation about why the cities were abandoned, much of it totally useless. Unfortunately the Maya seem to attract more then their fair share of weirdoes and cranks. Including a truly large number of the wacky who could not and cannot believe that the ancestors of today’s Maya built the cities. The Erich von Daniken Chariots of the Gods, nonsense for example. Who is mentioned here because von Daniken interprets the image on Pacal’s sarcophagus lid as that of an Astronaut in a spaceship. I wonder what Pacal would think? Mr. Von Daniken’s particular conceit is that the Mayans were expecting the "Gods" to return on a certain date and when they did not the Mayans abandoned their cities.2

To get back to reality theories about why the Mayan collapse happened have included, Earthquakes, Famines, Epidemics, Hurricanes, Unbalanced sex-ratios, Foreign invasions and so on and so forth. All the above theories have in common the following. Lack of evidence, wild speculation and simplicity.3 They are also almost all not just partly wrong but completely wrong.4

Rather more serious is the idea proposed by the Great Mayanologist Sylvanus Morley that the Mayans devastated their environment by practicing slash and burn agriculture that turned large areas of the lowlands into savanna leading to collapse due to inability of agriculture to support the population.5

The Great Mayanologist Erich Thompson proposed that the Collapse occurred when exasperated Mayan peasants, tired of taxes and wars, overthrew the system and sacked the cities.6

Both those theories are believed to have some truth in them however both had a series of flaws. Morley’s Agricultural depletion theory was based on the assumption that the Mayans during the Classic period practiced slash and burn agriculture, (also called swidden and milpa), which involved burning down an area of jungle planting 1-3 crops and then letting it lie fallow for years (10-30) before planting again. Of course the population that could be supported by this system was not large and population densities were assumed to be low and the cities assumed to be ceremonial centres. To put it bluntly this is all wrong. The Mayan region was much more thickly populated, the cities real cities, and intensive agriculture by means of terrace farming and irrigation the norm in the lowlands.7

Regarding the peasant revolt theory it was based on a view of Mayan society has a huge mass of peasant labourers ruled by a tiny class of Aristocrats/Priests residing in ceremonial centres. This is also very wrong. We now know about the existence of a large class of "petty" nobility with a far from insignificant "middle" class. And of course the cities had large populations.8

The lack of evidence for either savanna creation or a mass peasant revolt does not help these theories either.9 This does not mean these theories do not have value. The decipherment of the Glyphs has brought to forth various new theories and the creation of new theories. The following are some things to keep in mind.

Lintel from Yaxchilan Mexico

1, Mayan cities had been abandoned before the best example of this is El Mirador about 100 C.E.

2, The Maya had cyclical view of time expecting things to repeat, at least on a general level each 256 years of the short count.

3, There are clear signs of environmental degradation and population pressure before the collapse.

4, The Mayan city state system was dominated by the city-states of Tikal, (Mutul), and Kalak’mul who engaged in a struggle for dominance lasting centuries.

5, The population did not collapse and did not decline noticeably until several centuries after the collapse.

6, The Maya Collapse is similar to other collapses.10

It now appears that the collapse occurred for a variety of interrelated reasons. The most likely reasons seem to be a combination of environmental degradation and severe competition between the city-states.

It has been suggested that the concept "marginal returns " offers a way of looking at the problem. In marginal returns the idea is for example: 1X effort = 1Z result, however,2X effort = 1 & 1/2 result, not 2Z result. Or to put it another way it costs for example:it costs $100 to build a bridge 10 meters long, however it costs, $300 to build a bridge 20 meters long. The idea is that all systems have "costs" which tend to go up exponentially in relation to their results. Thus a pyramid 40 meters high takes 4 times the effort, cost, etc., of one 50 20 meters high. This applies to all "systems". The "marginal return" tends to get less. In other words you get less bang for your buck the more you try to do. In this concept has Mayan society got more complex, more ornate, has more temples were built, the aristocracy got larger there was a tendency to get less for the effort, cost, in maintaining the whole system. The idea is that in the late 8th century the cost became to great in relation to the returns, and the system radically simplified i.e., collapsed. 11

The Mayan agricultural system of irrigation and terrace agriculture was apparently developed to support a growing population and to provide the economic surplus to support the elite and the cities. For a considerable period of time the system continued to expand fueled by demand for more people for building projects, pay taxes and to provide bodies for intercity competition. In the late 8th century the system was capable of supporting the population but it was having increasing difficulty doing that and supporting the cities. It was the apparent impossibility of doing both by about 800 C.E. that caused the collapse. Certainly there is some evidence of increasing hunger and disease by the late 8th century. Also it appears that the elite was much larger by the late 8th century than before and a greater burden to carry. Further building projects were on average more extravagant/costly than ever. Wars between the city-states were getting worst. 12

Also the system had been under stress for quite sum time because of the inability of the Maya to politically unify resulting in continual wars between the cities. By 400 C.E., the Mayan world was dominated by two "Super" states Kalak’mul and Tikal (Mutul). Each one lead a constellation of vassals and allies who acknowledged the over lordship of one or the other "Super" state. The conflict was never resolved instead both alliances fought themselves into exhaustion. The competition lead to escalating conflict, competition and steadily increasing expense and effort. The result was that beginning in the late 8th century a great simplification began to happen. 13.

For example in Copan the local nobles apparently decided they did not need a King or monumental architecture or the expense of Royal politics and after Yax-Pac died (820 C.E.) made sure they did not have one. In Bonampak the locals may have overthrown the government. In other place like Dos Pilas, Aguateca ex-victims sacked and destroyed them both. In other places the inhabitants simply abandoned the city i.e., Yaxchilan, Palenque. In some places like Kalak’mul the place was occupied for several decades after the collapse but then abandoned. In many place temporary smaller centres were established independent from any control has the city-states disintegrated before they too collapsed. 14

The Maya in the Classic age also apparently knew of and used the short count dating system which placed a date within a 256 recurring period of time. The Maya believed that events in a general sense repeated themselves in each 256-time period. Thus for example Tikal (Mutul) was defeated and sacked by Caracol in 562 C.E.. The katun (20 year period) in which this disaster happened was due to start c. 800 C.E.. The "Hiatus" that resulted from the sack lasted in Tikal and many of its allies for over 100 years. With that date approaching it is possible that many Maya acted accordingly and created, to some extent, a self-fulfilling prophecy?16

In the end the cities were abandoned and left to the jungle while the Maya were left to pick up the pieces for the cost of maintaining a steady escalating complex, expensive system was too much, and besides was not disaster inevitable?

What is remarkable is that it is all too likely that the Maya may have something to teach us about the limits to "endless" growth.

Glyphic Panel from Palenque Mexico

1, The Collapse of Complex Societies, by Joseph A. Tainter, University of Cambridge Press, New York, 1988.

2, Chariots of the Gods, by Erich von Daniken, Bantam Books, New York, 1968.

3, See The Classic Maya Collapse, Ed. T. Patrick Culbert, University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque, 1973, for more details.

4. IBID.

5, See above 1, & The Ancient Maya, by Sylvanus Morley, Stanford University Press, Stanford, 1956.

6. The Rise and Fall of Maya Civilization, (2nd Ed.), by Erich Thompson, University of Oklahoma Press, New York, 1966.

7, Pre-Hispanic Maya Agriculture, Ed. Peter Harrison & B.L. Turner, University of New Mexico, Albuequerque, 1978.

8, See The Maya (6th Ed.), Michael D. Coe, Thames & Hudson, London, 1998.

9, See Note 3.

10, See The Code of Kings, by Linda Schele & Peter Mathews, Touchstone Books, New York, 1998.

11. See note 1.

12. See Schele, Linda, Freidel, David, A Forest of Kings, William morrow and Co. Inc., New York, 1990 & Fash, William L., Scribes, Warriors and Kings, Rev'd Ed., Thames and Hudson, London, 2001.

13. Martin, Simon, & Grube, Nikolai, Chronicle of the Maya Kings and Queens, 2nd Ed., Thames and Hudson, London, 2008.

14. See Fash, Schele, Sharer, Robert J., & Traxler, Loa P., The Ancient Maya, sixth Ed., Stanford University Press, Stanford, 2006.

16. IBID. Sharer.

Pierre Cloutier

Friday, March 20, 2009

The Legitimacy of Charles VII

Charles VII

It is a common historical tale that Charles VII, better known has Joan of Arc’s Dauphin was disinherited at the Treaty of Troyes, (1420 C.E.) and declared a bastard by his own mother who publicly declared that he was fathered on her by one of her lovers, the most likely being Louis Duke of Orleans, Charles VI's brother. That Charles VII was racked by doubt about his legitimacy. It further is said that Joan gained Charles VII’s confidence by assuring him that he was indeed legitimate. For example:
By the terms of the treaty the English King became - Haeres et Regens Franciae – Heir to the French Throne and Regent of France – Isabeau cheerfully claiming that the Dauphin was a bastard by one of her lovers.1
The Dauphin [Charles VII] was rudely thrust aside, since this “so-called Dauphin” was, by his mother’s confession - a somewhat belated one to be sure – nothing but a bastard , born in adultery: his father’s name was not disclosed.2
The number of books that use this so called “fact” is legion.3
Queen Isabeau
The problem with this story is that it is simply false. Or to put it less politely a lie. Let us start with the Treaty of Troyes that disinherited Charles VII in favour of Henry V.

The pertinent terms are as follows:
6. After our death, and from that time forward, the crown and kingdom of France, with all their rights and appurtenances, shall be vested permanently in our son [son-in-law], King Henry, and his heirs.

7… The power and authority to govern and to control the public affairs of the said kingdom shall, during our life-time, be vested in our son, King Henry, with the advice of the nobles and the wise men who are obedient to us, and who have consideration for the advancement and honor of the said kingdom. …

22. It is agreed that during our life-time we shall designate our son, King Henry, in the French language in this fashion, Notre tres cher fi1s Henri, Roi d' Angleterre, heritier de France,· and in the Latin language in this manner, Noster praecarissimus filius Henricus, rex Angliae, heres Francais.

24. ... It is agreed that the two kingdoms shall be governed from the time that our said son, or any of his heirs, shall assume the crown, not divided between different kings at the same time, but under one person, who shall be king and sovereign lord of both kingdoms; observing all pledges and all other things, to each kingdom its rights, liberties or customs, usages and laws, not committed in any manner one kingdom to the other.

29. In consideration of the frightful and astounding crimes and misdeeds committed against the kingdom of France by Charles, the said [also translated as “so called”] Dauphin, it is agreed that we, our son Henry, and also our very dear son Philip, duke of Burgundy, will never treat for peace or amity with the said Charles.4
There is no mention in the Treaty of Troyes that Charles VII was illegitimate. Queen Isabeau further never said in any contemporary official document that he was not her and Charles VI’s son. The nearest thing in the document to the claim that Charles VII was not Charles VI’s son is the comment, “soy disant dauphin de viennois” translated into English as “said Dauphin” or “so called Dauphin”, it does not indicate illegitimacy at all it was instead a common form of insult. In 1408 for example Charles, the Duke of Orleans, described Jean, Duke of Burgundy, as “soy disant duc de Bourgogne”, i.e., the “so called” or “said” “Duke of Burgundy”.5

Instead the Treaty claims that the Dauphin crimes and misdeeds of the Dauphin legally and legitimately entitled Charles VI to disinherit Charles VII and to make Henry V his heir. In letters issued by Charles VI, or at least in his name, in January 1420, Charles VI disinherited Charles VII for breaking the peace and for Charles VII’s involvement in the murder of the Duke of Burgundy (Jean), in 1419. Also Edward Hall a chronicler of the time has Henry V acknowledge Charles VII as “the kynges sone”, but further declares that Charles VII was deprived of his rights because “contrary to his promise & against all humaine honestie, (he) was not ashamed to polute & staine him selfe with the blood and homicide of the valeant duke of Burgoyn.”. On December 23, 1420 Charles VI and Henry V issued a joint lit de justice declaring for those reasons Charles VII disinherited.6
Charles VI

The story that Charles VII had doubts about his legitimacy is a charming tale but it seems to have only a very weak basis. It appears that in 1516 an author by the name of Pierre Sala in a book called Rois et Empereurs, heard from the Lord of Bisey who heard it from someone else who etc… the following tale:
The king … went one morning alone in his oratory and there made a humble silent request in the prayer to Our lord within his heart, in which he begged him devoutly that if it were true that he was his heir, descendant of the noble House of France, and that the kingdom should in justice belong to him, might it please God to protect and defend him, or at the very worst, allow him the grace of escaping alive and free from imprisonment so that he might find solace in Spain or in Scotland, which were from times long past brothers-in-arms and allies of the kings of France.7
Supposedly Joan of Arc told him about this secret event and thus won Charles VII over. The problem is not only is this attested long after the event in a so and so told so and so who told so and so manner, but it is frankly dubious. Firstly Charles VII’s legitimacy was never in doubt until it became politically convenient to do so. Also given that the alleged father was Louis, Charles VI brother, Charles VII would still have had a good claim to the French throne. Certainly better than Henry V’s. Finally there is also the simple fact that no contemporary source mentions Charles VII having doubts about his legitimacy.8

Henry V

Another question is; was Isabeau, Charles VII’s mother, a promiscuous woman? Here is where “fact” clashes with fact. The evidence for her alleged affairs turns out to be, too put it mildly, very dubious. Like the stories of her being ugly and fat, a bad wife and bad mother; it appears that the basis for such stories is less than paper thin.9

It is true that various songs and documents accused Isabeau and / or the people around her of corruption etc., but the same sources do not accuse Isabeau of adultery. In fact some of them praise Isabeau for her Christian behavior. None accuse her of adultery until there was political motive for doing so and long after the death of Louis, Duke of Orleans. (which occurred, by assassination in 1407 C.E.)10

Two sort of contemporary documents mention the alleged adultery. The first is a allegory called the Pastorelet, written after the assassination of Jean Duke of Burgundy in 1419 C.E., which depicts important people at the time has shepherds and shepherdesses, in it Charles VI learns of Louis and Isabeau’s affair and swears revenge and Jean Duke of Burgundy says he will take care of the matter. Louis’ murder by Jean is thus excused. The problem with the story is that at the time (1407 C.E.) Jean never even hinted at this affair and instead accused Louis of tyranny to justify the assassination. The political purpose of this piece of satire is so obvious, to promote the Burgundian cause, in the context of the Treaty of Troyes, it can be discounted. The chronicle Jean Chartier, writing after 1437 C.E., records in describing the death of Isabeau, that the English shortened the life of Isabeau by spreading this slander because it upset her very much.11 The reliability of this source is of course also questionable, although its of interest that a source that describes the accusation of adultery has a slander is used as evidence of its truth!

It is interesting that even after the Treaty of Troyes Isabeau tried to keep in touch with Charles VII and apparently was trying to mediate a solution despite being involved in the disinheriting of her own son.12

All of this would seem to indicate that the story of the alleged illegitimacy of Charles VII is a later legend, so too are the stories of him doubting his legitimacy and even the “fact” of the promiscuity of Isabeau, at least at the time of Charles VII’s birth is similarly a myth.

Isabeau never publicly, or privately, it seems, declared Charles VII a bastard. The public reason given for Charles VII’s disinheritance was his involvement in intrigues and the murder of Jean Duke of Burgundy. If Charles never doubted his legitimacy, which seems to be the case, then what “secret” did Joan of Arc tell Charles VII at Chinon to convince him of her mission? The answer is we do not know.13

Joan of Arc
Some myths should be laid to rest and Isabeau’s public declaration that her son Charles VII was a bastard is one of them.
1. Seward, Desmond, The Hundred Years War, Athenum, New York, 1978, p.182.

2. Perroy, Edouard, The Hundred Years War, Capricorn Books, New York, 1965, p. 243.

3. For example Given-Wilson, Chris, & Curteis, Alice, The Royal Bastards of Medieval England, Routledge, 1984, p. 46, Marius, Richard, Thomas More, Fount Paperbacks, London, 1986, p. 109, refers to:
Queen Isabeau of France, wife to the mad King Charles VI a century before More wrote his History, claiming that her son Charles VII was not fathered by her lawful husband,…
Those can be easily multiplied.

4. Ogg, Frederic Austin, A Source Book of Medieval History, American Books Company, New York, 1907, p. 443.

5. Gibbons, Rachel, Isabeau of Bavaria, Queen of France (1385-1422): The Creation of an Historical Villainess, Transactions of the Royal Society, Sixth Series, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1996, pp. 51- 73, at. pp. 69-70, Seward, Desmond, Henry V as Warlord, Penguin Books, London, 1987, pp. 143-145.

6. IBID. Gibbons, pp. 70-71.

7. Pernoud, Regine, & Clin, Marie-Veronique, Joan of Arc, St. Martin’s Griffin, New York,1998, p. 24.

8. IBID. pp. 23-25, Warner, Marina, Joan of Arc, Penguin Books, 1981, pp. 72-75.

9. See Gibbons, Rachel for many examples.

10. IBID. pp. 64-67.

11. IBID. 67-68.

12. IBID. p. 68.

13, Warner, pp. 70-77.
Pierre Cloutier

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

A Note on Thomas More's
History of Richard III and Richard Marius' View of it

Thomas More (Left) Richard III (Right)

But even if More’s interpretation was askew, the consistency of his portrait testifies to determined research, and willy-nilly he gives us a more satisfying and coherent image of Richard than the King’s many modern apologists have managed to create

The History of King Richard III, offers a consistent, detailed and plausible version of events, one not published in his lifetime and consequently less open to the charge of malice that More’s accusers have made. In its general outline, More’s story also enjoys the advantage of agreeing substantially with much other evidence from the time1
 Thus does Richard Marius, More’s best modern biographer, also with one exception2 the biographer least enamored with the legend of Thomas More,3 accept the “black legend” about Richard III. Like so many writers who seem to have a need to accept this vision of Richard III he seems blind to the obvious problems with More’s account.

Marius’ Reasons

Marius’s reasons for accepting the basic truth of More’s account can be briefly summarized:

1, More did a great deal of detailed research.

2, One of More’s sources could have been John Howard, Duke of Norfolk and or his son Thomas Howard.

3, Any distortions or errors in the account of the murder of the Princes in the tower may have been the result of one or both of the Howards trying to cover up their part in the murders.

4, Henry VII would not have invaded England unless the Princes were dead otherwise his invasion would only have served to possibly restore Edward V to the throne.

5, Tyrell, the probable, murderer may have been ambitious and in pursuit of his own ends have murdered the Princes upon Richard’s order, and then informed Henry VII, that this obstacle to him, Henry VII, becoming King of England had been removed. In fact Tyrell may have claimed he did it for Henry.

6, Tyrell may have confessed for the good of his soul in 1502 and Henry VII, given the favour he had shown both Tyrell and the Howards would have suppressed the confession because it would have been obvious that he approved of both doer and deed.

7, More hated Henry VII and would not write a white-wash of Henry VII or be a Tudor propagandist.

8, The discovery of the bones of two children buried in a box beneath a stairway in 1674 is a confirmation of More’s story along with a medical analysis of the bones done in 1933 that confirms that the bones were of the right age.

9, More’s account was not published and in fact its publication would have gotten More into serious trouble, hence once again enhancing the veracity of the account.

10, Richard’s character has described by More is consistent and believable and hence probable and true.4

That is it!

Problems with Marius' Reasoning

The problems with the above are legion the following points should be kept in mind.

1, The bones that are continually trotted out has evidence of Richard’s guilt were not found where More said they were buried. In his account More states that the bones were buried under a stairway and then moved to another spot. The stairway may postdate the reign of Henry VII. The circumstances of the finding of the bones in 1674 were far from ideal which creates problems over what was the actual find. The dating of the age of the bones in 1933 is far from conclusive and likely wrong. Finally other bones of children have been found in the tower including two bodies found in a sealed room in the reign of James I.5

2, In Tyrell’s alleged confession he identifies the men who assisted him as Miles Forest and John Dighton who smothered the children. It appears that when More wrote his account Forest was dead but that Dighton was still alive. In fact according to More’s account he was still free and traveling around the country more than a decade after Tyrell’s confession. This is to put it mildly very hard to believe. We are asked to believe that a man who is accused by a deathbed, sworn confession of involvement in regicide and the murder of then Queen Elizabeth’s two brothers was allowed to stay free and unpunished. (Note: After Bosworth field Henry VII cemented his claim to the throne by marrying the York heiress, Elizabeth, sister of Edward V.) This is hard to swallow.6 The pertinent quote is as follows:

For first to beginne with the ministers, Miles Forest at sainct Martens pecemele rotted away. Dighton in ded walketh on a liue in good possibilitie to bee hanged ere he dye.7
3, Henry VII was claiming the throne and already planing to invade England and marry Elizabeth, Edward V's sister before the Princes were allegedly murdered. So it appears that the continued existence of the two Princes was not a complete bar in Henry’s mind to invading England.8

4, Regarding More’s hatred of Henry VII. This is obviously true from More’s writings yet tells us little about the reliability of More’s account; because regardless of More’s attitude to Henry VII he did not doubt the legitimacy of the Tudor claim to the throne of England. To present a positive account of Richard the Third, especially in relation to the “murder” of the Princes in the tower would have been to cast doubt on the Tudor claim to the throne, i.e., the claim of Henry VIII, More’s sometime patron to rule.9

5, Did More do detailed research? Since he failed to find a copy of the Titus Reglius that ruled Edward IV’s children illegitimate on grounds of a pre-existing valid pre-contract for marriage with another woman named Eleanor Butler, this is doubtful. The “research” is little more than an assertion. The claim his source may have been one or both of the Howards is little more than sheer speculation and proves nothing one way or another. We don’t know if the Howards were or were not one of More’s sources.10

6, Speculation of why Tyrell may have murdered the Princes i.e., that he may have told Henry VII for various reasons, for example Tyrell may have told Henry VII he killed them for him. That Tyrell may have confessed for the good of his soul. All this is once again sheer speculation. The fact is we do not have the “confession”. More admits he never saw it only that sources, unnamed, told him the contents. Vergil’s History of England, which contains a laudatory account of Henry VII and blames Richard III and Tyrell for the Princes death does not mention such a confession. Neither does the death sentence against Tyrell.11

7, The fact that More did not publish the manuscript in his lifetime adds nothing to the question of the veracity of his account of the life Richard III. This is an especially weak argument amounting once again to speculation. It is also possible that More did not publish it because he decided that his account was dubious. As it is this the failure to publish proves nothing. As for the idea it would have gotten More into serious trouble this is again speculation.

8, More’ delineation of Richard’s character shows a striking consistency, and it seems dubious that he manufactured this coherence out of whole cloth.12

Henry VII
The “consistency” of character that More gives Richard III along with the believability of that character prove nothing. Marius seems to be unaware that this may prove nothing but that More was a convincing writer. Also given his errors about Richard’s physical appearance why would More’s description of Richard’s character be any more accurate? The Historian Tacitus created a brilliant image of the Emperor Tiberius that the majority of modern historians believe is wrong. Consistency proves little one way or the other and like many other Historians he ignores the positive image in some contemporary chronicles about Richard III.13

More’s view of Richard’s character; it is a portrait of a dyed in the wool hypocrite, liar and dissembler. It is certainly consistent for what it is a one dimensional villain, not a human being. Neither Marius nor More seems to be worried about the contrast between Richard’s behavior before and after becoming King. Like Tacitus More seems to think that Richard, (like Tiberius), was hiding his real character all along.14

Its of interest that More for all of his so called research has praised by Marius manages to give Richard III a hunchback and a withered arm both of which are false.15

Other Problems

Marius repeatedly makes assertions instead of arguments with little or no evidence. For example his faith in More’s research and the reliability of More’s unnamed sources is curious given that More describes Richard III has a crippled hunchback which is manifestly false.16

Another serious mistake is Marius’ treatment of the whole precontract issue:
Elizabeth Lucy had a child by Edward IV. Edward’s mother, the dowager Duchess of York, was furious with him for marrying Elizabeth Woodville and claimed, so More says, that the marriage was invalid because Edward had promised to marry Elizabeth Lucy. Elizabeth Lucy was thereupon interrogated by a panel of judges and asked if the charge was true. Under oath she said that the king had never made such a promise explicitly.
"Howbeit, she said his grace spoke so loving words unto her that she verily hoped he would have married her, and if it had not been for such kind words she would never have showed such kindness to him to let him so kindly get her with child." (a quote from More)
More’s point was not mere comedy; it was to show that the charge had been made and refuted long before Richard and his cohorts brought it up. Yet the story does let him mock a foolish women.
Richard and Buckingham in some accounts accused Edward IV of making a marriage contract with one Eleanor Butler. More does not mention her but gives instead the humorous story of Elizabeth Lucy, who hoped that the king might wed her if she permitted him to bed her.17
This is really sloppy to put it mildly. Contemporary sources including the Titus Reglius, (Henry VII made great efforts to destroy every copy he could get his hands on), which was the legal basis for Richard III’s denial of his nephew’s right to the throne, only mention a precontract with Eleanor Butler. Elizabeth Lucy’s precontract claim is not known to any contemporary source. Since Eleanor Butler was of the nobility the claim of a precontract may have been valid whereas a precontract with Elizabeth Lucy an alleged whore would be ridiculous to More. Since More did not find out, apparently, about Eleanor Butler one wonders about the depth of More’s research. Marius seems to love a good story. It seems that, despite Marius comment, the alleged pre-contract was with Eleanor Butler not Elizabeth Lucy. It appears that More is simply repeating Tudor propaganda that replaced the respectable Eleanor Butler with the absurd Elizabeth Lucy. Marius second comment about “some accounts” refer to Eleanor Butler ignores the official document that excluded Edward IV children from the throne, (the Titus Reglius) only mentions Eleanor Butler. To quote it:
[A]t the time of … the same pretensed Mariage, and before and longe tyme after, the sed King Edward was and stode maryed and trouth plight to oone Dame Eleanor Butteler, Daughter of the old Earl of Shrewsbury, with whom the same King Edward had made a precontracte of Matrimonie, longe tyme before he made the said pretensed Mariage with the said Elizabeth Grey…18
The fact that this document was suppressed combined with the appearance of the Elizabeth Lucy story, which is only known from More would seem to indicate Tudor propaganda not truth.19

Regarding the repeated speeches that More put into his History of King Richard III, Marius states:
Obviously, too, the long speeches in the work were composed by More for rhetorical effect. He was following a tradition as old as Thucydides, allowing historians to put words to fit the occasion into the mouth of leading characters.20
Marius should then of course examine the very extensive literature about the reliability of those speeches. He would of course find out that those speeches are not reliable instead what people say in those speeches is what the author considered appropriate for those occasions. They tell us next to nothing about what was said and about the person in whose mouth the words are put, but it tells us an enormous amount about what the author believed and felt was appropriate. In those speeches the person uttering the speech is nothing more than a mouth piece for the author. So the speeches given to Richard III tell us nothing about Richard III but tell us a great deal about Thomas More and what he thought about Richard III.21

Instead we have the following bit of nonsense from Marius:
We should recall that he had had occasion to talk to a great many eyewitnesses of the events he reports and the underlying substance of the long speeches may be accurate. This is especially true of Buckingham’s speech in the Guildhall.22
It is of interest that Marius accepts wholly the idea that the Hastings “conspiracy” was a complete invention. Marius thus accepts the tradition of the falseness of the charge. Unfortunately the evidence is frankly entirely consistent with the charge of conspiracy being for real. Certainly the Richard treated the other alleged conspirators quite leniently. Not in keeping with his image of vicious ruthlessness.23

Then Marius’ critical faculties vanish entirely he says:
..the force and animadversions against sexual offences is striking. His attacks on his mother’s morals are more than striking they are shocking. He claimed that both Edward IV and George, duke of Clarence, Richard’s older brothers, were not sons of his father.24
Marius attempt to defend this absurd piece of idiocy by citing various people who allege that Richard’s mother supposedly said something similar. Marius then brings up the case of Isabeau of Bavaria in 1420 C.E., at the signing of the Treaty of Troyes of claiming that Charles VII was not Charles VI’s son but the son of one of her lovers; in this case Charles' brother Louis. The problem with that story is that it is a myth. Isabeau never did that and never denied Charles VII was Charles VI’s son.25

Marius’ further account that Joan of Arc restored Charles VII’s faith in his legitimacy is a nice hoary myth with no foundation and dates well after Charles VII’s lifetime.26

Marius then accepts has genuine all the out bursts of Richard III against sexual license. Marius thus completely abdicates from being a historian just why should we accept this view of Richard anymore than the withered arm or hunchback?

But Marius is in full throttle so he says, to repeat the quote used at the beginning:
But even if More’s interpretation is askew, the consistency of his portrait testifies to determined research, and willy-nilly he gives us a more satisfying and coherent image of Richard than the king’s many modern apologists have managed to create.27
If Marius wants to be take seriously the absurd one dimensional caricature that More gives us and to take More’s alleged detailed research seriously Marius is perfectly entitled to do so; but I for one cannot take Marius on Richard III seriously.

Marius then discusses the murder of the two princes in the tower.28 After going through the principal objections by Historians like Kendal he reluctantly admits that the Tyrell's confession is dubious in the extreme. Although Marius avoids the problem of one of the alleged regicides wondering around England well after the murder after Tyrell’s alleged confession! Marius then makes a whole series of fanciful speculations to rescue the story. I.E., Tyrell sent Henry word that the princes were dead and Henry covered up the confession because it would indicate that he and Tyrell were tainted by the crime. This is all fantasy on par with the most extreme Richardian’s about the death of the two princes in the tower.

The Two Princes Edward V and Richard Duke of York

Marius over and over again talks about the consistency of More’s version of Richard III’s character. Ignoring quite deliberately the historical record. The contrast between what the record shows us concerning Richard III’s character before his taking the throne and after is not consistent with the dyed in the wool one dimensional villain of More’s fantasy. Other interpretations of Richard III are possible and Marius by very consistently ignoring this evidence supports the cartoon of legend.

In the end Richard III remains an enigma, probably no more ruthless than other Kings at his time, but still the disappearance of the two Princes in the tower remains very strange. It remains very mysterious just how and why and stranger still if Richard III ordered them murdered why do they disappear into “night and fog”, why was no cover story concocted? In the past English Kings and others had been murdered and such stories created yet in this case the Princes just vanish. It all very hard to understand. It is of course also strange that Henry VII although married to Elizabeth never seems to have made any sort of search for Elizabeth's two brothers bodies or made any effort to find out what had happened to them. The result is a mystery that will probably never be solved. However it remains that Richard III is the most likely culprit for murdering the Princes.
1. Marius, Thomas More, Fount Paperbacks, London, 1984, p. 110, 112. For More’s book see, More, Thomas, The History of King Richard III, Here

2. Ridley, Jasper, The Statesman and the Fanatic, Constable , London,1982.

3. For example the play A Man for all Seasons.

4. Marius, Ch. 7 pp. 98-122.

5. Fields, Bertram, Royal Blood, HarperCollins, New York, 1998, pp.238-257.

6. This has not stopped many writers like Alice Weir, The Princes in the Tower, Ballantine Books, New York, 1995, and Seward, Desmond, Richard III: England's Black Legend, Franklin Watts, London, 1984. Kendal, Richard the Third, Garden City, New York, 1965. See Fields, pp. 230-237.

7. From More, Here.

8. Fields, pp. 133-134.

9. The Tudor claim to the throne was, to put it mildly, dubious, and there were in fact many better claimants in terms of legitimacy. These individuals had a tendency to be executed by Henry VII + Henry VIII. See Fields, pp. 151-153, 197-198.

10. See Fields, pp. 84-87, 97-98, Marius, p. 112.

11. Tyrell was accused of treason against Henry VII the princes were not mentioned. See Fields, pp. 230-237.

12. Marius, p. 109.
13. See Fields, pp. 258-270, and Tacitius, The Annals of Imperial Rome, Penguin Books, London, 1976.

14. IBID, Tacitus, Introduction, pp. 16-22.

15. Fields, pp. 277-278.

16. Fields, pp. 92-93, 277-285.

17. Marius, p. 107, 108, for More’s version see, Here

18. Fields, p. 287.

19. See Fields, pp. 162-163, 285-287.

20. Marius, p. 108.

21. Finley, Ancient History, Chatto & Windus, London, 1985, pp. 12-15.

22. Marius, p. 108 see More, Here

23. Fields, pp. 88-93.

24. Marius, p. 109 see More, Here for examples.

25. Warner, Marina, Joan of Arc, Penguin Books, London, 1981, pp. 58-59, Gibbons, Rachel, Isabeau of Bavaria, Queen of France (1385-1422): The Creation of an Historical Villainess, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 6th Ser., Vol. 6, pp. 51-73. 1996. In fact Isabella’s lawyers deprived Charles VII of the crown on the grounds of his involvement in the various crimes, especially the murder of Jean Duke of Burgundy. There was not a breath of talk of Charles VII being illegitimate. Henry V deliberately spread this rumour.

26. Warner, 56-60.

27. Marius, p. 110.

28. Marius, pp. 112-115.

Pierre Cloutier

Monday, March 16, 2009

Homer and His World a Preliminary look

The Mask of Agamemnon

Homer’s two epic poems the Iliad and the Odyessy are among the greatest of all the works of literature produced since man began to write. They reputation for almost beyond belief excellence is entirely deserved. What will be discussed here is not the literary excellence of the poems but the location in time of the world described in the poems. It is here that the excellence of the poems betrays the investigator. For the very excellence of the poems casts a spell and misleads.

Both the Iliad and the Odyessy are written in Greek hexameter i.e. in six feet or meters each foot being a group of syllables. Usually dactyls, (one long followed by two short syllables) and ending with a spondee (two long syllables) at the end and sometimes as the third meter. In homer there is invariably, (with few exceptions). In Homer’s poetry a caesura, (pause) usually occurred after the third meter.1

Needless to say it is very difficult to write poetry in this way and for reasons having to do with the grammar and nature of English a virtually lost cause to write in English using the hexameter.2 But in Greek it is a truly extraordinary experience even if you don’t understand Homeric Greek to hear it in Greek. It is quite beautiful.3 Some other time I may go into the question of who Homer was, if he was more than one person etc.

The truly beguiling poetry and excellence of the poems has lead to the totally erroneous idea that if the poetry of the poem is excellence than so is the history told in the poem. This is needless to say totally erroneous. However there has been for centuries attempt after attempt to get history from Homer’s poems. Even today enormous energy is spent seeing if Homer was “right”.

Common sense would dictate that one should be very careful about expecting that Homer would be “right” about everything or even about most things that were not continuous into his own time. This is because of the following attitude:

Few anthropologists view the invariably oral traditions of the people they study with the faith shown by many ancient historians The verbal transmittal over many generations of detailed information about past events or institutions that are no longer essential or even meaningful in contemporary life invariably entails considerable and irrecoverable losses of data, or conflation of data, manipulation and invention, sometimes without visible reason, often for reasons that are perfectly intelligible. With the passage of time it becomes absolutely impossible to control anything that as been transmitted when there is nothing in writing against which to match statements about the past. Again we suspect the presence of the unexpressed view that the traditions of Greeks and Romans are somehow privileged, though no one has yet demonstrated a plausible mechanism for the oral transmission of accurate information over a period of centuries (e. g. from archaic Greece to Pausanias in the second century A.D., or from the Rome of the kings to Livy and Dionysius of Halicarnassus in the late first century B.C.).4

And of course such history we end up with is frequently the idea that it contains a kernel of real historical data. The problem is just how do you find that kernel of data if you do not have an external check / source of some kind, i.e., contemporary source etc.? Fore example The Roman traditions about the pre-republic kings. It gives in the 250 years before the Republic a total of seven kings. Does it have to be pointed out out that this tradition is dubious in the extreme that some at least of these kings are frankly likely complete myth. (For example Numa and Romulus). As as been said:

To begin with, a 250 year period occupied continuously by only seven kings is a demographic improbability, perhaps an impossibility: The first seven emperors under the principate reigned for a total of one hundred years. Then to conclude about the second king Numa Pompilius that the ‘only historical fact’ about him is his name and that his biography is ‘legendary’, is effectively to remove one of the seven from the record.5

But then in regards to the use of dubious source material and evaluation of same:

I Suspect that Ogilvie’s slip reflects, no doubt unconsciously, the widespread sentiment that anything written in Greek or Latin is somehow privileged, exempt from the normal canons of evaluation.6

One would think that the first step in evaluating the potential reliability of the Iliad and the Odyessey would be, since contemporary sources are virtually non-existent, with one exception we will come too some other time, would be a comparison with other epics / oral traditions for which conventional historical sources are available for comparison.

Nestor's cup

For example the Epic The Song of Roland,7 which is purportedly about a Muslim ambush of the rear guard of Chralemange’s army at the pass of Roncesvaux in the Pyrenees in the year 778 C.E. Well in this case we have contemporary historical sources to compare the epic too and guess what the epic makes a hash of actual events.

For example the details of combat between the French Knights and the Muslim Knights are completely wrong for the time period. The description of the war is way off. The author alleges that Charlemagne conquered all of Spain and was tricked into retreating and that a traitor named Ganelon betrayed Roland and Charlemagne to the Moors. All of the above is simply wrong.

Further details are also wrong. The description of the action at the ambush in the Roncesvaux is wrong and so is the pursuit of Muslim forces after the battle and their rout. It simply never happened. However a really huge error is the fact that the enemy forces that ambushed Charlemagne’s rearguard were Christian Basques not Muslim Moors!! That contrary to the epic Charlemagne was not a century old is just another ho-hum error compared to that. Further the ambush was no big battle but a rather a small scale engagement and if contemporary accounts are anything to go by not in any sense, like the epic, a heroic last stand instead it was a rout.

Not only is the traitor Ganelon a myth; his name means deception, but the Muslim’s named in the epic are without exception completely mythological. The Muslim religion as described in the Epic is wrong. For example the Muslim’s in the Epic worship a trinity one of whose members is Mohammed and they are idol worshipers. Their society is the same feudal society of their Christian enemies. This is all wrong. Further the Christian society as described in the Epic is early to mid 11th century C.E. Feudal France it is not Carolingian France of the late 8th century C.E.8

Of course the existence of made up character’s like Roland’s love interest and Roland’s friend Oliver is just icing on the cake in this mythological stew.8

And if you you think The Song of Roland is bad lets talk about the Nibelungenlied.9 Lets give a few particulars The Epic has Theodoric the Great who reigned from 493-526 C.E., Attilla the Hun who invaded Italy in 452 and died in 453 C.E., and a Pilgrim who was bishop of Passow from 971-979 C.E. Opps! Of course the two chief character’s of the Epic, Brunhilde and Siegfried are completely mythological and are not based on real people at all. This complete hash of the chronology is all too typical of oral and epic traditions. For example the Serbian Epic about the Battle of Kossovo, despite copious historical sources gets the main hero wrong.10

In fact evidence from primarily oral societies indicates that oral traditions of historical events are generally not reliable if referring to events more than two centuries old. One study using African oral traditions found out that such traditions not only were unreliable if referring to events 2+ centuries old but that events tended to be conflated chronology confused and usually lengthened when compared to primary historical sources.11

So where does that leave us. It leaves us with the fact that comparison with other Epics would lead us to expect massive distortion in Homer’s poems! But such comparative analysis is decidedly absent from analysis of the two epics by Homer. Instead the notion seems to be that since Homer’s poems are so excellent, and they are!, that the historical kernel must be large. Why? The onus is on those who maintain that the world described by Homer is the world of the Mycenean Palace culture of the period c. 1400-1200 C.E. to prove their case. We know a fair bit about what happened, at least archaeologically, between 1200 – 800 B.C.E., and it can be fairly described has a catastrophe. The break was serious and dramatic. The idea that detailed, accurate knowledge of Mycenaean society and history would survive, (ignoring things that survived from that time into the 8th century C.E.) is pushing the envelope. This is a point of view that has to be defended and proven it is not up to the doubters to prove it wrong but that those who propose it that it is right. The fact is comparison with other epics makes it unlikely that detailed accurate knowledge of the Mycenaean period survived except in continuities. Of course it makes sense that there would be some survivals from that period but the idea that Homer was accurately describing Mycenaean society of the 13th century B.C.E., is a fantasy.12

We do not write history from The Song of Roland and the Nibelungenlied why should we write if from the Iliad and Odyessey?

In a later essay I will pursue this topic

One of the Vapheio cups

1. see Dactylic Hexameter, Here

2. Ibid.

3. See Wired for Books, Here for audio of the Iliad in Greek.

4. Finley, M.I., Ancient History: Evidence and Models, Chatto & Windus, London, 1985, pp. 16-17.

5. Ibid. p. 9-10.

6. Ibid. p. 10.

7. For a copy see Medieval Source Book, Here

8. See Finley, M.I., Aspects of Antiquity, Second Edition, Lost: The Trojan War, Penguin Books, London, 1977, pp. 31-42, at 41-42, Finley, M.I., The World of Odysseus, Second Edition, Penguin Books, 1978, pp. 47, 145.

9. A copy can be found at The Online Medieval and Classical Library, Here

10. Finley, 1978, pp. 170-178, 1977, p. 42.

11. Henige, D. F., The Chronology of Oral History, Oxford University Press, 1974.

12. For the destruction see, Deger-Jalkotzy, Sigrid, Decline Destruction, Aftermath, in The Aegean Bronze Age, Ed Shelmerdine, Cynthia W., Cambridge University Press, 2008, pp. 387-415, See also Finley, 1977, 1978.

Pierre Cloutier