Alfred Molina's voice is very beautiful.
This is not a good translation. It's more fair to call this a modern epic poem abridgement of the Iliad. The tipoff is that weird, weird introduction. The
The first chapter of this lecture series made me anticipate an enjoyable and dynamic course. The lecturer does indeed have an engaging way of speaking. I am VERY disappointed in the quality of the content, however. Aldrete totally ignores the need to qualify his statements and by this means, obscures the fact that he is taking certain positions on the known data. In other words, his interpretations are presented as the only ones.
I would warn the listener that there is FAR more to be learned about these cultures and that much of what the presenter says is debated material, skewed for dramatic value, or simplified past the point of being strictly reliable. He even fails to explain WHY he takes these positions.
As an example: he characterizes Egypt as (apart from the Nile) a largely forbidding and uninhabitable place in spite of the fact that prehistoric Egypt was much more humid and habitable than it is today, so that a large part of the oldest Egyptian archaeology is located in what is now desert; and the fact that agriculture took hold later in this region simply because the hunting and gathering OUTSIDE the Nile valley was so productive that agriculture was not necessary until the eastern and western deserts began drying out more (though not to the extent of today), and when Egypt had become a set of fledgeling states with larger populations and centralized authorities in need of profitable surplusses. Aldrete even makes the remark that he doesn't think anyone would have settled in Egypt were it not for the Nile; ignoring the almost certain fact that Egypt was the funnel through which humans settled, in multiple waves, Europe and Asia: BECAUSE it was a viable and relatively easy place to live and travel. This includes the areas outside of the river valley.
I would highly recommend instead the Great Courses series "Human Prehistory and the First Civilizations" by Professor Brian Fagan, which while it predates some of the most recent genetic information re: Neanderthals and modern humans, is scrupulous to point out the various sides of each debate in which he has a favorite perspective. Dr. Fagan also has the advantage of a great deal more hands on experience in the archaeology of ancient cultures. His presentation is dryer but his content is FAR superior.
This professor presents seriously questionable interpretations without mentioning the fact that they are disputed. I can only remark on the first lecture, as this is an area I specialize in, but two major interpretations with serious flaws are given as if they are the mainstream view of the material.
The first being her notion that the impetus to sedentism was related to communal worship rather than the pressures of changing climate and related distribution of food plants and animals. This misrepresents the issues and arguments, fails to mention adaptation to climate change, and doesn't even address the possibility that the sharing of food plant seeds that may have occurred at Gobekli Tepe could easily have been a big contributor to the development of domesticated crops. In other words, the ability to convert to an agricultural economy began as an incidental side effect of communal worship, whereas what she says implies that people formed sedentary communities specifically to worship in groups-in spite of the obvious fact that Gobekli Tepe was built and maintained purely by foragers who did not live year-round in the region!
There is no reason not to believe that communal religion existed well before agriculture. Since sedentism allows a small group of people to control the community by controlling access to luxury goods and trade, it is in sedentary communities where the evidence of hierarchy begins to be visible, obviously including religious professionals who might be buried with ornaments or possessions unavailable to the general population. But just because this is visible in sedentary cultures doesn't mean that religious professionals did not exist in mobile communities-only that their ability to be differentiated from others must have been less. In short, Schmitt is being fully reasonable (and Tobin, for mentioning the theory) by suggesting that organized religion pre-dated settled communities. BUT. This does not in any way mean that settled communities came about because of organized religion. In many ways it implies the exact opposite! That towns and the agriculture necessary to support them are not required for organized, communal religion to exist. And Gobekli Tepe is at the moment the world's outstanding example of this exact phenomenon.
My second argument is with Tobin's mention of a "Great Mother Goddess" in her discussion of Catal Huyuk as an entity (Tobin does admit that this goddess's existence is conjectural) that has a long history in Anatolia, presumably spanning cultures and large periods of time.
Now, it's one thing to say "The people of Catal Huyuk were farmers, and farmers are often concerned with fertility, and fertility is often also connected with the female body and childbirth, and one recurring image in the arts of Catal Huyuk is of the female form, sometimes emphasizing childbirth or reproductive characteristics". It is QUITE another thing to say that these female figures could be representations of a singular Great Mother Goddess of fertility and wild animals (but implying that this is actually about agricultural fertility) and that this singular entity crossed cultures and time frames throughout the geography and history of Anatolia.
Not to say that this isn't possible, but on the other hand it's all a fabrication and not supported by all the available evidence, either. And since this topic brushes up against some terribly unprofessional and insupportable theories about prehistoric religion that still crop up throughout popular literature about the period, it seems to me that representing the issue the way Tobin does is designed to give the listener an idea about Catal Huyuk that is not based upon good science, but smacks of revisionist feminist history. Any interested persons who then did a little internet digging or checked a book out of their local library would be likely to land on Mellaart or Gimbutas and have no background to think critically about what they were reading, coming away with an impression of prehistory worldwide that would be nothing short of pure fantasy. Ultimately the important thing to remember about these interpretations is that comparisons between cultures must be made very carefully indeed, and followed up with very good documentation, to be worthy of consideration. Any other approach is likely to produce blindness to the evidence that does NOT support the theory.
Given my two concerns with the first lecture, I do not recommend this series to the uninformed, basic listener who is simply curious about Anatolia. This is the person to whom the lectures are addressed, and this is the person who will not have access to information that rounds out what Tobin is saying. All sources tend to be biased in some direction or other, this is true. But I think this course does a poor job of presenting the material fairly.
There is a SIGNIFICANT quality difference between the translations of Iliad. Do yourself a favor and go with this one, the Lattimore translation.
The introduction to this audio version is surprisingly good. It is not the introduction written by Lattimore himself in my print copy of the Iliad, and it is much better as a general stage-setting to the text. I cannot fault the archaeological information, which is basic, or the discussion of literary devices and their origin as well as Homer's particularly fine usage of them. The overview of the first ten years of the Trojan War is excellent. I appreciate some of the ideas expressed about religion and spirituality in Classical Greece but the information given is based upon some outdated interpretations, especially as to the origins of the Olympian and other gods, and should be taken with a large pinch of salt. Other than this consideration--which any interested reader can follow up with his own research, and an uninterested reader will hardly care or remember later--the introduction, as I say, is very good.
The voice of Charlton Griffin is marvelous. It is filled with nobility and authority, richly textured, and precise.
Report Inappropriate Content