The intellectual paucity of the ancient astronaut theory is laid bare when we consider what ancient astronaut theorists (AATs) do not discuss—pretty much anything that isn’t readily available at your average Barnes & Noble or an online search. This means that vast reams of information are unavailable to the intellectually incurious AATs, who rarely go beyond the obvious in constructing their “theories.” (Even the supposedly academically rigorous Sirius Mystery of Robert Temple relied mostly on secondary, popular works like Robert Graves’ handbook of Greek mythology and obsolete nineteenth century studies like Godfrey Higgins’ Anacalypsis.)
Here’s a case in point. In Greco-Roman times, major texts received commentary from later writers who would place additional information, excerpts, and other notes in the margins of manuscripts of major poems. These notes have the name “scholia,” and they are a major source of information about innumerable authors and subjects that survive nowhere else in ancient literature.
I have never seen the scholia discussed in an ancient astronaut book despite the inclusion of information that would, superficially, help their cause. This is probably because the scholia are written in Greek, never translated, frequently obscure, and (until the past couple of years—thanks Archive.org!) only available at major research libraries. I’ve wrestled with scholia (on Pindar and Apollonius of Rhodes), and it isn’t much fun. But it is instructive.
Here’s what the scholia on Pindar have to say about the lyric poet’s encounter with a “UFO”:
When Pindar was upon a mountain lecturing a student in 475 BCE, “there was heard a great noise, and a flame of lightning was seen descending, and Pindar saw that a stone image of the Mother had come down at their feet, and the oracle ordained that he should set up a shrine to the Mother.” (trans. Jane Ellen Harrison)
Now, to my mind this seems like a very close parallel to Great Cthulhu and the Old Ones who “had, indeed, come themselves from the stars, and brought Their images with Them.” However, I’m fairly certain this can’t be the real explanation.
If you are an AAT, you ought to read this as an encounter with an ancient astronaut. Clearly, the noise and flame must be the advent of a UFO. We know this because this is how Erich von Däniken has interpreted other ancient moments of noise and flame. In Chariots of the Gods, von Däniken asks of the Mahabharata: “How can the chronicler give descriptions that presuppose at least some idea of rockets and the knowledge that such a vehicle can ride on a ray and cause a terrifying thunder?” So, there’s our spaceship.
The “stone image of the Mother” must be an alien in a gray space suit, since Tsoukalos has informed us that aliens wear space suits and ancient people frequently mistook those spacesuits for metal or stone. On the August 25, 2011 edition of Ancient Aliens, Tsoukalos explained that the aliens’ space suits reflected sunlight, which ancient people mistook for golden crowns. So, there’s out space visitor, unless von Däniken’s theory from Odyssey of the Gods that Greek statues were really alien robots is correct. But for our purposes, I don’t think this much matters.
Of course, this interpretation is pure fantasy. The traditional reading of the passage is that it records a meteorite hitting the earth (as per Jane Ellen Harrison), though some modern scholars prefer to read the entire passage as a dream (as per H. S. Vernel).
The takeaway, though, is that this type of material, appearing only in the scholia and specialist literature, makes little or no impact on ancient astronaut theorists, whose sources are primarily popular, not academic. But without a command of the fine details of the history they purport to rewrite, how can they ever make anything but the most superficial of arguments?
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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