By comparison with Ancient Aliens, however, Phillips’s article is practically scholarship. Ancient Aliens has done stories of Greek gods before, in scattered segments over the past fourteen years and in a 2011 episode that was primarily about Greek mythology. Indeed, much of this episode is a near point-for-point rehash of the 2011 episode. It raises a question worthy of Plato: What exactly is a “new” episode of Ancient Aliens anyway, since the show has subsisted on reruns, repackaging, and reusing past topics for well over half of its nineteen-season run?
We won’t answer that question today. Instead, I must sit through this sad spectacle, knowing that I wrote a book about Greek mythology a decade ago and know more about it than these jokers ever will.
The first segment starts off by summarizing Greek culture and describing ancient Greece as the foundation of Western civilization. However, when the show claims that the Greek philosophers attributed their accomplishments to the gods, it both takes figurative language literally and discounts the strong strand of euhemerism and even atheism in Greek thought. Many Greek writers happily argued that the gods were nothing but men glorified in myth and that myths could be rationalized into stories of humans and technology. (Ironically, ancient astronaut theorists are using a modified form of euhemerism without knowing they are doing so.) As in the previous version of this show (including what seems to be some of the same talking head clips), we hear about the Titans and the Gods and the various monsters of mythology, with the claim that Hephaestus was an alien robot-maker. The show alleges that Mount Olympus was “a military compound” for space aliens on Earth, though they offer nothing to support this bizarre claim. The segment (and the episode) feature extensive commentary, often conventional but sometimes dubious, from archaeologist Sandy MacGillivray, last seen on Hunting Atlantis.
The second segment recounts Heinrich Schleimann’s excavation of Troy, which they use to claim that Greek mythology is “true” over the objection of scholars who claimed it was all lies. As I have mentioned many times, the story Schleimann told wasn’t true; the site of Troy had never truly been lost, and thus it was never purely “mythical.” The idea of Troy as simply “myth” wasn’t a “long-held” academic dogma, as the show claims, but was a brief fad among one school of scholars in the middle nineteenth century, and was not a widespread belief before or since. Michio Kaku and Robert Schoch blast academics and scholars for refusing to believe mythology is true before Schleimann, and neither seems to have any idea about the actual history of the investigation into the connection between myth and history. Martin Nilsson’s pioneering work on The Mycenaean Origin of Greek Mythology is just one early example refuting the Ancient Aliens claim that only they correctly understand mythology to have a historical facet.
The segment next claims that the weapons wielded by the gods, which symbolized their power over nature, are actually “the technology of extraterrestrials.” Thus, the show concludes that the Greek gods were “extraterrestrials,” though they do not attempt to explain how the Greek myths can be literally true accounts of alien history when they are also shared in part with other Indo-European mythologies, whose analogous stories contain mutually exclusive details. While real scholars understand that these stories are diverging derivatives of an ancient original, ancient astronaut theorists are left to argue that either one culture is right and the other wrong or that separate groups of aliens enacted the same dramas at different spots around Eurasia.
The third segment discusses the excavation of the palace of Knossos on Crete, and it follows the conventional speculation that the labyrinth containing the Minotaur was a mythological memory of the large, complex, and chaotically organized palace complex. However, for the past twenty years, scholarship has moved away from Arthur Evans’s hypothesis in favor of Minoan-era cave structures. The show is not aware of scholarship from this century, so it doesn’t cross their minds. Instead, we hear about Greek myths of “hybrid” creatures like the Minotaur and centaurs, which they compare to genetic engineering. Similarly, they claim that stories of demigods are examples of alien hybridization of humanity. Naturally, the Watchers get a shout-out because, ultimately, Ancient Aliens is a heretical form of Abrahamic faith that worships the rebel angels as bringers of divine wisdom.
The fourth segment recycles the discussion of the Pyramid of Hellinikon previously recycled earlier this season. The Treasury of Atreus is discussed next. The show attempts to redate the Mycenaean structure along with the pyramid based on their cyclopean style to make them far older than the Mycenaeans in order to claim them as the work of gigantic space aliens. Pausanias (2.16.5 and 2.25.8) wrote that by Hellenistic times, Mycenaean sites were attributed to the Cyclopes (because their real builders had long been forgotten), but the show takes the story literally, even though the physical evidence makes obvious it isn’t true: The doors and stairs are too small for “giants.” You can read more about this very old ancient astronaut claim here.
The fifth segment rehashes claims about the Oracle of Delphi, which the show has covered many times before. While not a direct copy-paste recycling, it is a sometimes nearly identical copy of a segment from 2013 with added material on the omphalos stone from a 2014 episode. The show claims cyclopean-style architecture at Delphi is proof that alien Cyclopes built it, and they attempt to redate it to around 3000 BCE, which they claim is the “Golden Age” when the aliens lived alongside humans, based on nothing more than Hesiod and the Theogony.
A final segment offers a paean to the so-called “Greek Miracle” period of Classical Athens. (The term is now considered problematic, but the show is never more current than middle twentieth century scholarship, so, you know, whatever.) The show connects Greek accomplishments to modern American culture and then says aliens gave Greeks knowledge, so we have aliens to thank for America, too.
BONUS: After Ancient Aliens, The Proof Is Out There did a segment on the so-called “Marfa Lights.” First described as a “Ghost Light” in a 1957 Coronet magazine article, and unattested before the article, the lights are almost certainly modern fakelore. Distant observations of passing vehicle headlights became a (previously undocumented) century of paranormal lights at exactly the time that Marfa needed a new gimmick to keep valuable tourist dollars rolling in after the flood of tourists who had come to see where James Dean filmed Giant dried up. As the History Channel proves, a fake ghost story remains good for publicity more than sixty-five years later.
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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