I have three brief topics for today: A competitor for my Jason and the Argonauts book, Giorgio Tsoukalos’s Bigfoot hunting adventure, and questions about the location of Noah’s Ark.
Another “Argonauts” Book
Back in 2012, when I was trying to find a publisher for Jason and the Argonauts through the Ages, Susan Bielstein of the University of Chicago Press rejected my manuscript even though she loved it because she had just signed—the same week!—another author who was writing an identical book on the same subject. That book has yet to materialize from Chicago, but a strikingly similar one just popped up over at I. B. Tauris, who also rejected my manuscript. Their publishing house announced publication early next year of British Classics scholar Helen Lovatt’s In Search of the Argonauts: The Remarkable History of Jason and the Golden Fleece. Unless, of course, there are now three books on the same subject!
The book is nearly identical to mine in scope and subject, though with a significant difference in emphasis according to the book description:
Few classical stories are as romantic as that of Jason and the Golden Fleece. The stirring tale of an adventurer who was also a disenfranchised king's son and daring sea-captain has resonated through the ages, rumbling and echoing like the clashing rocks which almost pulverised the doughty Argo to splinters. [But] it speaks to us of more: of sex and gender; of identity and race; and, of colonisation and conquest. From Pindar to J W Waterhouse, from Max Beckmann to Ray Harryhausen and from Mary Renault to Ian Seraillier, the epic poem of "Apollonius of Rhodes" has inspired later interpretations as rich, salty and diverse as the source text itself. Helen Lovatt here unravels, like untangled sea-kelp, the diverse strands of the narrative and its numerous and fascinating afterlives. Her book will prove endlessly entertaining to those who love classical literature and myth.
Yes, beneath the empurpled prose, the Tauris editors indicate that Lovatt plans to emphasize the sacred cows of the modern academy: gender, race, and colonialism. If only she could wedge in class, she’d have the whole postmodern matched set! By contrast, my book focused on the transformation and survival of Bronze Age mythic and religious concepts across time and space.
Recognizing that the writers of the description probably don’t quite capture the work, I am nevertheless confused by the emphasis on Apollonius’ Argonautica, which was not the inspiration for Pindar (who lived 200 years before it was written!). It is a late poem and one that was not historically very influential until after the Renaissance. Perhaps, then, this is the difference between our books: I am interested mostly in what came before Apollonius in order to reconstruct where the story started, and she prefers to trace where the story ended up afterward.
At any rate, maybe the similarity will work to my advantage since my book came out first and might manage to make its way into some reviews of the larger publisher’s offering for comparison’s sake.
Tsoukalos Hunts for Bigfoot
Two weeks ago, I devoted a number of blog posts to the unusual connection between Bigfoot and ufology, particularly the growing chorus of claims that the mysterious ape is somehow either an extraterrestrial himself, a trans-dimensional being, or the guardian of underground aliens. Well imagine my surprise when yesterday I learned that none other than Giorgio Tsoukalos, our favorite ancient astronaut theorist, is tramping about in the woods hunting for Bigfoot.
According to Bigfoot hunter Jack Meldrum, Tsoukalos is going to be the “host of an upcoming series,” but sadly what that series might be isn’t specified. We can only guess at who else might be paying for the dubious talents of a man who has written no books, produced no original research, and makes his living recycling Erich von Däniken’s old ideas.
Tsoukalos’s Bigfoot adventure was reported on the Bigfoot Evidence blog, along with photographic proof:
Tsoukalos, you will recall, has previously asserted that Bigfoot is an extraterrestrial genetic experiment and is probably related to the non-existent “troglodytes” of Greek mythology (Ancient Aliens S04E07, “Aliens and Bigfoot”). Actually, they are a nonfiction people found in Flavius Josephus (Antiquities 1.259 = Whiston translation 1.15.1) and other. They are probably the Tuareg of the Red Sea coast, back-formed into “cave men” when transliterating into Greek.
Tsoukalos, of course, has no trouble seeing aliens and animals as being in league. Apparently inspired by Star Trek IV, he proposed that extraterrestrials made a peace treaty with coelacanths: “I think it is possible that the coelacanth survived due to a direct guarantee by extraterrestrials” (Ancient Aliens S04E10, “Aliens and Dinosaurs”).
And now our intrepid hero bravely plunged into the woods in Washington to stalk the non-existent Sasquatch.
The Location of the Ark
I’ve been reading Irving Finkel’s The Ark Before Noah (2014), which I intend to discuss more fully after I’ve finished it, but something struck me as wrong when I was reading his chapter on the mountains claimed as the resting place of the Ark. In that chapter, Finkel enters into evidence the statements of Berossus as preserved first by Alexander Polyhistor and second by Abydenus, both to be found in Eusebius’ Chronicle:
Finkel suggests that Abydenus’ account is the more correct because it is briefer and that the Polyhistor version is attempting to amalgamate two separate traditions, an Old Babylonian one that placed the Ark in the mountains “beyond Urartu” (Ararat) at the edge of the world, and another that placed it atop Al-Judi (Judi Dagh/Cudi Dagh) in Turkey, in the Gordyaean Mountains, which he would like to make much more recent: “Polyhistor’s version sounds like an attempt to harmonise two diverse traditions; Armenia to the north – the survival of the Urartu-and-beyond idea – and the Kurdish (Gordyaean) mountains further south, perhaps by then already centred on Mount Cudi.”
The problem is that he seems to see the Gordyaean Mountains and Armenia as geographically unconnected, but this is only true of modern political Armenia. Ancient Armenia, in the time of Berossus, was much larger. See this map:
Note that Armenia included Lake Van, the heartland of the Kingdom of Urartu. Just south of Lake Van are the Gordyaean Mountains, which run quite visibly along what on this map is the southern part of Greater Armenia. The border fluctuated quite a bit over the centuries, and given the generally vague geography of the time, the whole region was “Armenia” everywhere above the Mesopotamian heartland so far as the Mesopotamians were concerned.
According to Xenophon in Anabasis 4, the Carduchoi inhabited the mountains north of the Tigris a century before Berossus wrote. Both Flavius Josephus (Against Apion 19) and Strabo (Geography 11) agree on the identity of the Gordyaean Mountains with Armenia, and Josephus cites Berossus to the effect that the Ark “was brought to the highest part of the Armenian mountains” (Against Apion 19) and directly quotes Berossus as given in Polyhistor (Antiquities 1.93 = Whiston translation 1.3.6). The Greek historian Nicolaus of Damascus, according to Josephus, concurs.
The Carduchoi lent their name to the Corduene, an ancient vassal state of Armenia that is now the Şırnak Province of Turkey. In Şırnak Province one finds, of course, Al-Judi, suggesting that Berossus knew Al-Judi as the mountain of the Ark. While Finkel would like to interpret the Ark’s landing on Al-Judi as a relatively late tradition used by Hellenisitc Jews, Nestorian Christians, and then Islam, we can see that it was the one known at least as far back as 300 BCE, and almost certainly earlier than that. But we know from Heraclius’ visit to the mountain (Agapius, Kitab al-’Unwan; Elmacin, al-Majmu’ al-Mubarak 2.1.1) that the Orthodox Christians followed the same tradition into the Middle Ages, and as late as the 1700s George Sale could write with bemused astonishment of the novelty that the Ark’s mountain had only recently been reassigned from Al-Judi to Mt. Masis in Armenia, which we today call Ararat.
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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