Thursday Odds and Ends: History Channel Ratings, Dating the Thera Volcanic Eruption, and Hermes' Receipt of Angelic Knowledge
Today I have a few brief topics to discuss as we await tonight’s broadcast of Ancient Aliens. The first is an update on the ratings for Ancient Aliens and its lead-out, In Search Of. According to figures released by Nielsen, Ancient Aliens is trending downward, sinking since the start of the current run of episodes to just 1.075 million viewers, a loss of about 10 percent of its audience from the start of the current half-season. I wonder if the new, slower format and primary focus on one ancient astronaut theorist and one location or “quest” per show is boring some of the audience. Meanwhile In Search Of pulled a surprising reversal. While it has not improved its ratings over its run, it did outdraw Ancient Aliens—just barely—this past week, bringing in 1.090 million viewers. A modestly larger number of men and older people watched In Search Of than Ancient Aliens. The two shows are now running neck-and-neck, but largely due to Ancient Aliens’ declining ratings than any particular momentum behind In Search Of.
Meanwhile, there was a news story I meant to mention last week but didn’t get around to. For the past several decades, controversy has surrounded efforts to date the eruption of Thera, the volcanic disaster that has been claimed as the inspiration for everything from the legend of Atlantis to the Biblical Exodus, and which has been considered a key event for establishing a chronology of the late Bronze Age Aegean. Archaeological evidence suggested that the eruption’s effects impacted Mediterranean societies around 1570-1500 BCE, but radiocarbon dates for the ash layer left behind by the volcano put it at 1600 BCE. Now a new study suggests that the international standard used to match radiocarbon results to calendar dates may be off. By examining tree rings from 1700 to 1500 BCE, researchers determined that the current standard doesn’t accurately reflect carbon-14 levels for those years. Their new, refined dates place the Thera eruption between 1600 and 1525 BCE, which now overlaps the archaeological dates and allows for a more precise dating of 1570 to 1525 BCE.
Finally, last week I described the Book of the Quinte Essence, a medieval text ascribed to Hermes Trismegistus. This book claimed that it was given to Hermes by an angel, and I said at the time that I wasn’t aware of any other Hermetic text that had such an attribution. I wondered if it were not, perhaps, a mistranslation of Agathodaemon, the “Good Spirit,” associated with Hermes in alchemical lore. But shortly after writing about that, I discovered that there is another book that offers a similar opinion. That book is called the Kyranides, and it was a Greek manual on magic attributed to Valerius Harpocration and written in the fourth century CE. It was the second volume of a work that began with the now-lost volume Archaika, a bestiary of magical animal lore.
Our concern, however, is not with the actual book itself, which is an interesting example of Late Antique popular magic—and widely dismissed in the Middle Ages and the early modern period because it was unrefined and of the people rather than the learned elite. Instead, our concern is with the preface. In 1168 it was translated into Latin by Pascalis Romanus, who was the Latin translator for Emperor Manuel I Komnenos of Constantinople, in which form it was known to the West. It provides a narrative—whether original to Harpocration or added by a subsequent editor is unclear, but the French scholars who edited the text favored the former—of how this treatise came to be:
He that received this Book from GOD, was Hermes Trismegistus, well known to all men. […] This Book was engraven in Syriack Letters upon an Iron Pillar, in a Book indeed interpreted by me formerly. But in this Book which is called Kiranides, twenty four Stones, twenty four Fishes, twenty four Herbs, and twenty four Birds are written of. (anonymous 1685 English trans.)
The Latin version, however, differs from the original Greek in ways small and large, and the Greek gives the narrative a bit more completely this way:
Hermes, the god Trismegistus, having received from the angels a very great gift from God, communicated it to all intelligent men. […] This book was written on an iron column in Syriac characters; it was interpreted by me in my first book, the Archaika. Here in what is called the Kyranides, twenty-four stones, twenty-four birds, twenty-four plants, and twenty-four fish are treated. (my trans.)
The Greek is slightly ambiguous since the word in question--ἄγγέλων, a plural form of ἄγγελος—could mean either messengers or an angels. To Harpocration, writing as a pagan in Latin Antiquity, or his first Greek editors, he probably meant to say “messengers of the gods,” but Christian copyists, who altered the work many times over the centuries, clearly interpreted it as Christian angels, though they oddly left in Hermes’ sobriquet as a divinity.
However it worked out, the text shows that there was a popular tradition, still known in the Middle Ages, that Hermes Trismegistus received his wisdom from the angels. The Quinte Essence isn’t as unusual as I imagined in that regard.
Also: There must have been a surfeit of engraved pillars back then to make plausible the idea that so many books are written on stones. Have you ever tried to engrave an entire book on a pillar?
8/24/2018 10:26:48 am
Why assume that there "must have been a surfeit of engraved pillars back then to make plausible the idea that so many books are written on stones"? It could have been a trope that was meant to be accepted despite its lack of connection with reality. After all, Mormonism is based upon scriptures that were allegedly first written upon golden plates, yet the writing of texts long enough to be books upon metal plates has never been common (and may, depending upon your definition of long texts, be unknown).
8/24/2018 10:47:16 am
I was being facetious. There clearly weren't pillars, at least not enough for all the books said to come from them! It was a literary trope found at least as far back as Euhemerus, with origins in the Mesopotamian claim that archaic wisdom was written on pre-flood tablets and columns.
8/24/2018 06:49:00 pm
To be fair, most Egyptian pillars do seem to have been at least painted up quite elaborately, including with inscriptions. And we do have what seem to be massive amounts of memorial walls inscribed with names--enough that seeing a similar memorial wall in the rebooted Voltron series, on the world of a highly technologically advanced civilization, didn't stand out or seem wrong until I stopped to think about it. So maybe it's really NOT much of a stretch to think of an entire library of wisdom inscribed on pillars.
8/24/2018 10:44:13 am
"I wonder if the new, slower format and primary focus on one ancient astronaut theorist and one location or “quest” per show is boring some of the audience"
8/24/2018 11:16:06 am
A lot of potential viewers are probably able to suspend disbelief for the duration of a relatively brief segment on a particular place/topic. But it gets much harder to do that when a single place/topic becomes the focus of the entire show.
8/24/2018 06:49:42 pm
That was my thought, too--they slowed down enough for people to keep up and realize the ice is pretty damned thin.
8/24/2018 02:18:36 pm
You have Ancient Aliens Obsession Disorder. All day long reruns on History and also on the A & E network. Your mental illness is far worse than the disorder you claim WILCOCK has. You love to hate and that’s sick but you haven’t changed since college.
8/24/2018 03:28:33 pm
Jason certainly has changed since college: his hairline has receded by around a centimetre.
8/24/2018 05:16:04 pm
"you haven’t changed since college."
8/24/2018 05:36:16 pm
Your stupid, homophobic sense of humor is noted Negro.
8/24/2018 06:23:54 pm
Noted far and wide in fact, the same way you're noted for constantly repeating yourself. "Power-bottom" is far from exclusively gay, so it's interesting (and rare) to see your mind at work.
8/24/2018 08:23:55 pm
I’m sorry Negro, I didn’t realize that your moronic, sophomoric joke about me offering to “power bottom” for Jason could have a non-homosexual connotation. I’ll defer to your expertise on the various sexual meanings of “power bottoming.” Please carry on now.
8/24/2018 08:33:45 pm
Don't get me wrong, I'm NOT saying that you don't have a compulsive drive for receptive sodomy, just urging you not to generalize from your own experience.
8/24/2018 09:25:37 pm
For an avowed homophobe, you sure have an impressive knowledge of gay lingo. I think I’ll start referring to you as the Roy Cohn of this blog!
8/24/2018 10:09:28 pm
Goober you know that wasn’t me because I know you are an old white gay guy.
8/24/2018 10:07:10 pm
The nasty comments to Goober above were not made by me, the real HAL. One of Jason’s pals is trying to make me look bad.
8/24/2018 10:58:41 pm
Trying to make you look bad ? ,,,,,,,,,,hahahahahahaha
8/27/2018 09:35:55 am
The Thera Theory has always mildly interested me. I guess the questions is did Plato make up Atlantis, tabula rasa, to arouse his writings or was he inspired by something that actually happened deep in History but without really knowing the details. I guess, if Plato made up Atlantis, whole cloth, then the Atlantologists are dead in the water. If, Plato did have some vague conception of a past event that inspired his story, almost as if he had emerged from a cave having only seen mere shadows of the event and filled in the details, then maybe there is some real world event to endlessly speculate and search for; and Thera may be the best theory. But, it all depends on what Plato actually knew (or didn't), because, if he made it all up one morning then sure Thera happened but it had no relevance to Atlantis. So, which is it? We may never really know; flip a coin, I guess, or maybe the Man's underlying Philosophy can help.
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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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