Monday, July 26, 2004

Greeks in Ancient Pakistan

Review by Safdar Mehdi

Greeks in Ancient Pakistan: "The invasion of Alexander the Great of the territories which now constitute Pakistan, was an event of great significance, not only because of the extraordinary nature of the military expenditure undertaken by one of the world's greatest conquerors, but also because it was the first time that direct contacts were established between Europe & South Asia. Alexander's invasion opened up a new era of mutually beneficial trade and cultural exchanges between the two regions, more than 4000 kilometers apart.

The fairly intense interaction between ancient South Asia and Greece commenced with the invasion of Alexander in fourth century BC and continued for almost seven centuries till the middle of 5th century AD. After Alexander, it was the Seleucid and Bactrian Greeks settled in West and Central Asia who continued to interact from across the borders before the Bactrian/Indus Greeks conquered Gandhara and Punjab in the begining of 1st century BC. The Indus Greeks were succeeded by the philhellenic Scythian, Parthians, and Kushans,who continued to rule ancient Pakistan, until the middle of 5th century AD."

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

New Cookbook of Ancient Recipes

"'The Philosopher's Kitchen: Recipes From Ancient Greece and Rome for the Modern Cook' by Francine Segan (Random House, scheduled for publication early August, $35).

Among the pleasing insider details revealed in this book are that it was the ancient Egyptians who taught the Greeks how to knead bread with their feet.

We learn that Archestratus, 4th-century B.C. bon vivant and early grill maven, declared that steak is best right 'off the spit while it is still a bit on the rare side,' and Alexander the Great was so convinced of the health benefits of apples that he ate them at every meal. It seems that the ancient Greeks used a disarming phrase, 'salt and bean friends,' to identify very close pals with whom you were happy to share the most simple food.

Among the recipes that have been updated is Pythagoras' refreshing dish of cucumbers with raisin-coriander vinaigrette; an herbed olive puree from Cato, Roman orator and statesman; and Roman cookbook writer Apicius' veal chops with quince and leeks."

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Hypatia of Alexandria

by Maria Dzielska

Hypatia of Alexandria: "Like many figures from antiquity, biographical details about Hypatia are tainted by partisan legend and speculation. In Hypatia of Alexandria, Maria Dzielska attempts to unravel layers of propaganda to reveal a core of verified or plausible truths.

Biographical evidence about Hypatia of Alexandria is sparse. Most important is her contemporary, Socrates Scholasticus (c. 379-450) who devoted a chapter to her biography. Less reliable are a few sentences by another contempoary, the Arian Philostorgius of Cappadocia (born c. 368). Later, John Malatas (491-578) wrote two important sentences; Hesychius of Miletus (6th C.) wrote a biography, and chronicler John of Nikiu wrote unfavorably in the seventh century. The next major source is the tenth century Byzantine Suda.

These sources alone are inadequate for a thorough account of Hypatia's life. Fortunately, she had literate disciples, one of whom, Synesius of Cyrene, maintained correspondence with Hypatia throughout his life.

Among the more significant corrections Dzielska makes to the Hypatia legend is the idea that Hypatia was not "a body of Aphrodite" when she was killed. She was no longer a tantalyzing beauty when the Parabolans (not monks, but a sort of military arm of the Alexandrian patriarch whom Dzielsjka says spread lies about the philosopher's sorcery) slew her. Instead, Hypatia was about sixty years old.

A second imporant point Dzielska makes is that Hypatia did not so much stand for paganism at odds with a new Christian tyranny, but as a supporter of one Christian political faction against another. The local prefect, Orestes, whom Hypatia supported, resisted incursions into his civil sphere by the new (religious) patriarch, Cyril. Dzielska goes further to say that Hypatia barely stood up for the pagan religion. Instead, unconcerned with the religious aspect, she offered her support to various Christian students. "

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Scandal takes a Holiday

"The Rome of Vespasian and Titus comes to life in Davis's entertaining 16th entry in her popular ancient historical series (after 2003's The Accuser) featuring "finder" Marcus Didius Falco. The staff of the official government newspaper retains Falco when Diocles, the paper's gossip columnist, disappears while on a visit to Ostia. At the seaport, a cesspool of corruption, Falco follows up on rumors that pirates, supposedly put out of business by Pompey the Great decades earlier, are engaged in smuggling and a kidnapping racket. Utilizing his street smarts and well-earned cynical view of humanity, Falco moves in and out of dives and places of worship on. the trail of a mysterious figure who acts as the middleman between the kidnappers and the victims' families. Disturbingly, some of the clues point to one of the detective's disreputable relatives."

An interest in the Emperor Vespasian was the primary reason Lindsey Davis turned to ancient Rome as the setting for her historical novels, reports Caroline Foulkes.

"The story of the Roman Emperor Vespasian and his mistress Antonia Caenis fascinated Lindsey, and, given the lack of information about Antonia, she decided to turn it into a novel. The Roman setting made publishers reluctant to take it on, and it took ten years before it was finally published. Yet writing The Course of Honour inspired Lindsey to begin the Falco novels, the first of which, The Silver Pigs, was published in 1989.

'The research I did for The Course of Honour got me interested in the Roman period, and gave me the idea of setting a detective novel in the big, dangerous city that Rome was at that time. Having written romance, I wanted to do something that involved other emotions. But I will always be a romantic writer in a way, because I'm interested in human relationships.'"