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How Can We Separate History from Myth?
And does it need to be true to be important?
Dear Classical Wisdom Readers,
One of the most frustrating aspects of studying history is discovering how much of it is myth.
The first American president, George Washington never actually cut down a cherry tree... it was just a tale by a traveling minister named Mason Locke Weems. Vikings never wore horned helmets. Napoleon wasn’t shorter than his peers.
So too the ancient world is filled with mythical histories: There were more than 300 men fighting for Hellas at the battle of Thermopylae (Herodotus counted over 5000 Greeks). Nero never played the fiddle while Rome burned (the fiddle hadn’t even been invented yet)... and thanks to recent archaeological excavations in the 90s, we now know that Jewish slaves didn’t build the pyramids.
Why do these stories prevail? How did they get twisted or invented in the first place? Well, for all the same reasons we see misinformation populating the headlines today... I often say history is written by historians... but they do have a habit of telling the versions that they are told to tell.
One of the most exhilarating aspects of studying mythology is discovering how much of it is history.
The notable examples jump to mind; the discovery of Troy at the Turkish site of Hissarlik in the 1870s by the amateur archeologist Heinrich Schliemann... the bull jumping frescos adorning the Cretan Palace of Knossos by Minos Kalokairinos and Arthur Evans... And the vindicated Herodotus...whose fanciful stories are slowly but regularly justified by exciting discoveries.
When we find that grain of truth hidden in these oral tales...we open up our minds and ears and seek more wisdom in ancient stories. What great lessons can we learn - gems embedded in these legends and lores?
Take, for instance, Seven Against Thebes. The ancient Theban mythology immortalized by Aeschylus tells the epic battle of a war that occurred before the Trojan war, in the age of heroes... but what if the sons of Oedipus really did fight each other to the death? What if their sons continued the quarrel? What if the ancient walls of Thebes were breached and bleed over?
[It is this story that is brought to life in Stephen Dando-Collins newest book, “Seven Against Thebes: The Quest of the Original Magnificent Seven” with impressive detail which was corroborated with geographies, biographies, poems, artwork, and archaeological evidence.
Classical Wisdom Members, you will receive an in depth extract of this foundational myth from Stephen’s new book this week, in time for our big Theban Event! If you are not already a member, but would like to join our growing community, please do so here.]
Indeed, history is myth and myth is history... but how can we delineate between the two? How can we cast away the noise, the propaganda, the mistruths to discover the reality of our past? And moreover, when delving into both history and mythology... does it NEED to be true for us to learn from it?
Essentially, how can we separate history from myth? And should we?
As always, you can reply to this email or write to me directly at email@example.com.
Now, onto today’s mailbag responses... Do we need dress codes? Your fellow classics lovers weigh in...
All the best,
Founder and Director
P.S. If you haven’t registered already for “The Story of Thebes”, make sure to do so today! If you can’t join us live, you will still receive the full recording featuring Paul Cartledge, Stephanie Larson, James Romm, Joel Christensen, Elton Barker and Stephen Dando-Collins... An epic event that aims to give Thebes its dues... finally.
I read the recent article regarding the need (or lack thereof) of dress codes.
I'll answer the question simply by stating we don't "need" dress codes. What we do need is a population that understands what is appropriate and inappropriate based on the circumstances. If you have to explain to a Senator why wearing a hoodie and shorts on the Senate floor shows a lack of decorum and respect for the institution, then you probably have a bigger issue than the dress code itself.
In today’s cultural conditions many seem to think there is no need for any code in any area.
When I first went to school, (Erm, quite a few moons ago...!) the parents and teachers were in a constant battle regarding school uniforms. The teachers wanted everyone to wear school uniforms, including gray jumpers with the school logo on them. However, a lot of the parents (mine included) argued that they could not afford to fork out for one uniform, let alone two per child, as one would be needed as spare. And, as my family had three children, this would cost a fortune. Many years later, and with a granddaughter who just started school, I can still understand both sides of the debate. I do think all schoolchildren should wear uniforms, because seeing every child dressed the same removes the distinction between rich and poor that can lead to bullying, and the government uniform grant for those on low wages has helped enormously. But perhaps it could be funded by the state.
Offices, especially those that the public see, should have a 'smart' dress code. It gives an air of professionalism. I do not believe in dress codes for theaters, museums, cinemas and so forth though. These are places of entertainment and relaxation and so should allow its customers to wear whatever they are comfortable in.
These may be old fashioned outlooks, but ask yourself this; would you be more comfortable receiving financial advice from someone in long-shorts, a Bermuda shirt and sandals, or in a nice, smart suit? Science has shown that humans form opinions of each other within the first three seconds of seeing them, therefore, no matter how good they may be at their job, we may subconsciously form a negative opinion of them. I know there are many examples that break the rules, but generally we prefer to see kids in school uniform and professionals dressed appropriately.
Please keep up the excellent work, and long live the classics.
BA (Honours) Classical Studies
BA (Honours) Humanities with Music
In modern times, I believe a dress code is more about showing respect than projecting vanity. Respect for people at certain kinds of events like weddings and funerals, or for institutions such as the US Senate, and for the people and the serious matters represented by the US Senate.
Can some cases be the dress code for ancient societies? Made a lot more sense than the dress codes of today. Take the Philippines.
Or Georgia, for that matter.
The older style. Is it much more comfortable than anything that is available today?
I beliehould dress according to the respect we connect to the situation, the environment and people with whom we expect to interact.
Using the US Senate dress code for example: Given the history of our country and how it was borne and the grave responsibility expected of our elected representatives, they should be allowed to dress accordingly. It shouldn't take the electorate long to see how their representative respects their hallowed grounds and their people. And hopefully their people will vote again accordingly.
A dress code is codification of societal norms for those that are under those norms then rise to the level of those norms. A dress code is a measure of respect for the civilization and society it represents. When a pig senator dubiously elected can not muster respect for office of Senate and the appropriate dress code contempt is earned and deserved. Andy Jackson would have taken his cane to him and Jackson would have been right.
When a society becomes degenerate dress codes are often the first sign of that downward trend into the abyss. When there is no respect for office and the dress code associated with office demise soon follows. Remember when people had a dress code applicable for commercial flying? Now pigs in Titanium pressurized shell canisters instead. And Norsemen rampaging across England were clean and manicured in comparison to the norm now witnessed. The death of dress codes tracks the growing absence of human decency.
It is interesting that in Japan and Red China even old railroad stations are neat, well maintained and spotless. Hand sewn seat cushions on waiting benches are clean and well preserved. Compare that to the disgusting vulgarity of American counterparts and it is clear that long forgotten dress codes march hand in hand to oblivion to the ledger of extinction for the nation, culture and civilization.
Without a doubt, Yes. First of all, I like to see well-dressed people. They appear attractive and pleasing to the eye, but here one may ask, what is meant by well-dressed? Well-dressed means wearing attire that is pleasing to the many and maybe signifying who you are for the better. One needs to be taught how to dress well in order to fit into society; we have lost this knowledge, and for any man, he needs a woman, for the most part, to teach him how to dress, or maybe that used to be true. Of course this is a generalization, but one I find to be true.
Now some would say, well, yoga pants fit in well, but does any woman really think that yoga pants are attractive, even on an attractive woman? It lends itself to a scatological society. Does the Ghetto-fabulous attire really give a good signifying effect other than you have bought into the criminal side looking to be a want-to-be-criminal? We have fallen, starting from the 1960s Hippies who gave up on standards to the digital people who started the casual look so they can work more hours, to the now ugly look of which I have no words, though often I smell body odor and unwashed clothes.
I went to a school in a rather rough area. They started to make us all wear ties and jackets. The roughness went away. No one wants to fight wearing a tie, which is a collar of civilization. I can see how the Senate will want to take away dress standards as they have taken away so many ethical standards already.
-Herman. H --San Francisco
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