This morning my washing machine broke down, and it took half an hour for Home Depot to acknowledge my extended warranty because, as it turns out, they don’t provide a certificate documenting the warranty; instead, and unbeknownst to me, apparently the only proof was on the original purchase receipt, and not in the packet of documentation that came with the machine, or in the invoice or any other documentation, all of which I had in a thick file. Further, they couldn’t look me up in their system because they “forgot” to take my phone number at the time of purchase, which is the only way to review purchases “that old.” But it was all for naught because Home Depot only schedules repairs through Maytag, and Maytag doesn’t work weekends, holidays, or evenings. In short, I’ve been a bit pressed for time after spending the morning trying to wring out laundry and bail out the washing machine and then travel to Home Depot to get a new copy of the receipt. As it turns out, I have to have the receipt and not just the warranty number because Maytag is paranoid that someone might use another person’s warranty number, so they have to scan the receipt for proof at time of service, according to Home Depot.
Nevertheless, there is a great story for today. How could I resist this one? Over at the Rogue Classicist there is a post discussing the new book by an Italian mathematician which claims that the ancient Greeks discovered America. Aside from the normal claims that various imaginary islands in Greco-Roman literature really refer to America, the author, Lucio Russo, has a few main lines of evidence, all of which are, to be charitable, stupid. To mask this, Russo accuses historians and archaeologists of… wait for it… here it comes… close-minded dogmatism! He further claims that his work is of such genius that scholars cannot understand its arguments and therefore reject them.
The first piece of evidence I’ve dealt with before. The author claims that Roman art depicting items that look like pineapples is proof of contact across the ocean. He forgets that the pineapple was so named because of its resemblance to European pinecones, which are what we are looking at in ancient art. I wrote an entire post about them here.
The second piece of evidence is also a lie. Russo claims that Native Americans cannot grow beards; therefore, any mention or depiction of beards in pre-Columbian times is proof of European contact. This stereotype, very common in Europe, is the result of the romantic cowboy novels of Karl May, a German writer who had never met a Native American nor visited the West. His books were among Hitler’s favorites. Native Americans can grow facial hair.
The third piece of evidence is a little more complex. Russo cites the Mayan Popol Vuh, the creation epic, in which it states that four women were created in the east, at the edge of the sky, in a grassland. There they gave rise to many people who wandered through the grass in search of a homeland. “They did this for a long time, when they were in the grassland: black people, white people, people of many faces, many languages, uncertain, there at the edge of the sky” (trans. Dennis Tedlock). They then walked to Tulan Zuyua, a mythical mountain of seven caves. I’m sure it takes no genius to realize that Native peoples did not use eighteenth or nineteenth century scientific racism classifications. I’m not an expert in Maya mythology, but I imagine this refers to color symbolism rather than skin color, but even if it did refer to skin, Native peoples had enough variation in color that European explorers were quite taken by the many shades.
According to Russo, the reference to black and white people clearly implies that Europeans and Africans invaded Mexico in Greek times. He combines this with the slightly later passage in the Popol Vuh in which the black and white people cross from Tulan Zuyua to a new land by crossing a sea, also called a lake in other Maya sources. “They crossed over as if there were no sea. They just crossed over on some stones.” While Russo wants us to read this as an account of swift Greek boats cutting across the Atlantic, he neglects to note that the text specifically locates this event as occurring near Great Hollow, an entrance to the underworld that was decidedly in Mexico. Additionally, we know that this particular passage has some contamination from non-Maya sources since Tulan is a Nahuatl word meaning “place of rushes.” Finally, the Maya state clearly that all of the people involved in this story were Mayans.
Russo also incorrectly asserts that the Greeks were the only people to understand that the earth was round, a fact well-known to every educated person in the West from Classical Greece down to today. In fact, in Archaic Greece, the belief was that the earth was flat, as evidenced from passages in Homer, Hesiod, and Herodotus. Church Fathers like Ambrose and Jerome held for round earth, and scholars like the venerable Bede and Thomas Aquinas advocated its roundness. I could go on, but I think you get the point.
His final claim is that America vanished from ancient maps because Ptolemy misidentified the Fortunate Islands as the Canaries rather than Antilles, cutting 15 degrees of longitude from the earth and creating centuries of doubt about the shape of the earth and the ancients’ ability to navigate it. This, however, is second order speculation, building on earlier speculative assumptions that in circular fashion depend on a faith-based belief in pure and accurate original maps from which Ptolemy diverged.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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