Are there any good novels that use Greek trade in or around the 6th c. BC as a way of exploring ancient cultures?
February 20, 2012 9:44 AM   Subscribe

Are there any good novels that use Greek trade in or around the 6th c. BC as a way of exploring ancient cultures? Also, how far did Greeks travel during that time? Did they make into India? To the British Isles?
posted by jwhite1979 to Media & Arts (17 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Something to guide you: map of colonies in the greater European ancient world.

Clearly the Greeks knew about India, via Herodotus. Most modern sources tend to date the start of direct Indo-Greek interactions to Alexander the Greek. There don't seem to be any permanent Greek colonies in the British Isles, but according to Herodotus, they were aware that tin came from an island north of the European mainland. The first direct reports of Britain in the Greek world seem to be from Pytheas, but that was in the 4th century BC.
posted by deanc at 9:55 AM on February 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

Alexander the Great, I meant. What I would give for an "edit" function in these comments.
posted by deanc at 9:56 AM on February 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you're talking about 600 BC, this is pre-classical Greece, so the colonies you're talking about are going to be the Black Sea and Mediterranean, mostly.

Here's a good map.
posted by empath at 9:59 AM on February 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

Here's another map.
posted by empath at 10:01 AM on February 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Great maps. Thanks. I have been reading about Milesian trade lately, research for a story I'm working on, and I was under the impression that trade was confined, at least for the Milesians, to the Aegean and the Black Sea. Then I came across something about the Milesians of Ireland, and apparently some Celtic texts include legends involving the founding of Miletus. Kind of stunned me, but I guess those legends could have evolved centuries later. But it also got me wondering about whether or not Vedic texts might have been known to pre-Classical Greeks, perhaps via the Persian Empire.
posted by jwhite1979 at 10:14 AM on February 20, 2012

Best answer: Gene Wolfe's Soldier of the Mist/Soldier of Arete/Soldier of Sidon Trilogy is set during the Achaemenid period. It's a century or two later than the period you're concerned with, but close.

It's a travelogue story, among other things. Latro, the titular mercenary soldier, visits much of that world.
posted by bonehead at 10:33 AM on February 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: As far as I know, there is no evidence of permanent Greek settlements (or direct trade routes) with Britain or Ireland. You might be interested in Barry Cunliffe's work; this book is a very broad overview of Europe and sea trade and this is one of his books on the Celtic world. He's also written about Pytheas. Haven't used any of these though obviously he's very well-respected in the field. There is a substantial (obviously later) Roman trade with India and Sri Lanka, but it's based primarily around the sea routes from the Red Sea and the monsoon winds; the overseas routes were known and used before, though I'm not sure about the 6th century, but it would have been extremely costly in both time and expenditures. The 6th century is at the tail end of the Etruscan "Orientalizing" period. Although not representative of a Greek colony, Etruscan finds indicate a lot about the breadth and reach of trading for Mediterranean-based societies in that time period.
posted by jetlagaddict at 10:34 AM on February 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: But it also got me wondering about whether or not Vedic texts might have been known to pre-Classical Greeks, perhaps via the Persian Empire.

I think if they knew much about them, they'd have written about them more. Buddhism is far more likely to have made it west, because the indo-greek kingdoms were Buddhist, not Hindu.
posted by empath at 10:46 AM on February 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Maps-- waitwhat, Wasn't the OP asking for novels? I can't take credit for this recommendation, which came to me via hogshead in an earlier question, but I quote it here for you.

"In a similar vein are Votan and Not For All The Gold In Ireland by John James. In the first, a fourth-century Greek merchant is sent by his family to set up trade-routes in northern Europe, and ends up founding the entire Norse pantheon by accident. The second is much the same, with Celts. Brilliantly written and hysterical."

It's not the exact century, but it is Greek trade in Europe. I'm fear this may as close as you will get. Best of luck with your writing!
posted by seasparrow at 11:10 AM on February 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Perhaps of interest.
posted by goethean at 11:13 AM on February 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: What you read about the "Milesians of Ireland" is based chiefly on a mythology that was grafted onto Irish history by medieval monks, cross-bred with the existance of a tribe with a similar-sounding name, and filtered through the work of a linguistic scholar in the early 20th century.

Medieval Irish monks would often try to "fit" the history of a region into what the texts of antiquity told them about history -- say, an ancient Roman text talked about the history of a handful of barbarian tribes, but none of those tribes were in Ireland (because the author of that Roman text never knew about Ireland). So the monks did something like just pick one of those seven tribes was most likely to have been an ancestor of the Irish people, and then they started writing about early Irish history as if they were descendants of this other tribe. (I've even seen "Irish histories" that trace the history of the Irish people all the way back to oe of the sons of Noah.) In the case of the Milesians, there was an extant myth about "the sons of Mil", and some monk somewhere must have seen that and said, "ah! The sons of Mil! That must mean they're descended from the Milesians!" ...And then, in the abscence of any other scholarly research into Irish history, those stories got passed on as fact up through the early-to-mid 20th century.

Today we know that circa 600 BC, the Celts were only just starting to arrive in Ireland themselves and people in Ireland were just barely out of the Bronze age, so while it's not entirely unheard of that some Greek sailor may have stumbled upon Ireland after being blown off course, it wasn't an intentional destination (the first Greek and Roman documents at the time that dealt with Ireland often had scary and unattractive details like "they're cannibals" or "they have ritual sex with their siblings", so that also probably scared people off).
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:18 AM on February 20, 2012 [3 favorites]

I highly recommend Travels with Herodotus. Not exactly what your looking for, but a damn good read non-the-less.
posted by KeSetAffinityThread at 12:08 PM on February 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Herodotus' Histories is a fun read too. There's a great new translation out and if you're interested in that period in history, it's a must read. It's not just history, but also ethnography and sociology and the main thing Herodotus is interested in is the interaction between Greeks and non-Greeks.
posted by Kattullus at 1:02 PM on February 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks Kattullus for recommending the Herodotus translation. I got an idea for a story reading the Histories, but I have to say the Macaulay translation I was reading was kind of boring. No, it was really boring. Unfortunately being poor and having esoteric interests often means reading 19th c. public domain translations. :)
posted by jwhite1979 at 1:56 PM on February 20, 2012

Response by poster: Goethean, that is brilliant. Thank you so much.
posted by jwhite1979 at 2:11 PM on February 20, 2012

You could do a lot worse than Mika Waltari's novels - start with The Etruscan. The Egyptian is set a bit earlier than this and The Roman a good 400 years later, but both involve a lot of travel around the mediterranean and they're all really good reads.

Gillian Bradshaw's The Sun's Bride and A beacon at Alexandria don't cover your period but do have information about sea travel and trade routes, albeit a few hundred years later.
posted by krissf at 6:17 AM on May 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you're looking for an interesting commentary on Herodotus you could try this new book:

It hasn't been published yet but I've read the author's work before and she writes about history so well that I'm prepared to recommend it on that ground alone.
posted by krissf at 12:24 PM on June 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

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