Sex and the City - Troy, that is.

The study of religious or heroic legends and tales. One constant rule of mythology is that whatever happens amongst the gods or other mythical beings was in one sense or another a reflection of events on earth. Recorded myths and legends, perhaps preserved in literature or folklore, have an immediate interest to archaeology in trying to unravel the nature and meaning of ancient events and traditions.

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Sex and the City - Troy, that is.

Postby Grumpage » Mon Sep 29, 2008 1:54 pm

From the recent news item (28th Sep) about Homer’s epics:

This violence, in fact, opens an important window onto that world. Patterns of violence in Homer are intriguingly consistent with societies on the anthropological record known to have suffered from acute shortages of women. While Homeric men did not take multiple wives, they hoarded and guarded slave women who they treated as their sexual property. These women were mainly captured in raids of neighboring towns, and they appear frequently in Homer. In the poems, Odysseus is mentioned as having 50 slave women, and it is slave women who bear most of King Priam's 62 children. For every slave woman working a rich man's loom and sharing his bed, some less fortunate or formidable man lacks a wife.

In pre-state societies around the world - from the Yanomamo of the Amazon basin to the tribes of highland New Guinea to the Inuit of the Arctic - a scarcity of women almost invariably triggers pitched competition among men, not only directly over women, but also over the wealth and social status needed to win them. This is exactly what we find in Homer. Homeric men fight over many different things, but virtually all of the major disputes center on rights to women - not only the famous conflict over Helen, but also over the slave girls Briseis and Chryseis, Odysseus's wife Penelope, and all the nameless women of common Trojan men. As the old counselor Nestor shouts to the Greek hosts, "Don't anyone hurry to return homeward until after he has lain down alongside a wife of some Trojan!"

The war between Greeks and Trojans ends in the Rape of Troy: the massacre of men, and the rape and abduction of women. These events are not the rare savageries of a particularly long and bitter war - they are one of the major points of the war. Homeric raiders always hoped to return home with new slave-concubines. Achilles conveys this in his soul-searching assessment of his life as warrior: "I have spent many sleepless nights and bloody days in battle, fighting men for their women."



I’m not sure what to make of this. Is this reductionism gone mad or is he on to something? After all, a woman is alleged to have been the cause of the mayhem in the first place. The motives of Agamemnon in the Peterson movie made much more sense to me - but is this anachronistic? Modern research, as far as I know, makes no mention of women in the possible conflict between the Hittites and Bronze Age Greeks.
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Postby kbs2244 » Tue Sep 30, 2008 8:54 am

Some women are worth fighting over and some are not.
It has been true for a long time.
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Postby Grumpage » Sat Oct 18, 2008 1:36 pm

The quote at the start of this thread was taken from an article by Jonathan Gottschall. I was sufficiently intrigued by his ‘explanation’ of the Trojan War to get a copy of his book, The Rape of Troy.

His thesis is deceptively simple - sex imbalance in populations i.e. more males than females, causes conflict, violence and war. He backs this up with a wealth of information from evolutionary biology and comparative anthropology. The root cause of conflict etc resides in the drive for reproductive success, the score card of evolution. Given equal numbers of males and females in a population a state of de-facto reproductive imbalance would still pertain since men are always reproductively available whereas women are not. Apparently, there is a naturally occurring birth imbalance in favour of males anyway. This is often increased, due to various factors, in older age groups, especially for primitive societies.

The drive for reproductive success is often not conscious (although at least one quoted primitive society straightforwardly and openly expressed the reasons for inter-tribe warfare as a means of acquiring women). Usually it is masked by social, political, economic or status requirements.

Gottschall’s contribution here is to link up this approach with late Dark Age Greece at about the time of Homer and to demonstrate that much of Homeric society (as described in the Iliad and Odyssey) is entirely consistent with it, including the apparently absurd (to us) rationale of going to war because of a woman. This is not to say that he believes the story.

This book is fascinating, well written and accessible, and abundantly referenced, often with interesting notes. His use of Homer within the context of evolutionary biology and anthropology reveals a thoroughgoing knowledge of his sources and a brave confidence in his ideas.

At the end of it, however, three things stuck in my mind:

First, evolutionary biology makes it axiomatic that reproductive success is the overriding ‘motivator’. Therefore, it seems to me, it can be invoked to ‘explain’ everything. So, in a sense, it really explains nothing. More meaningful and useful explanations of human behaviours devolve to those factors that are commonly associated with them. In the case of war these would be economic, political etc and this would be just as true in ancient times.

Second, evolutionary biology introduces a somewhat pessimistic legacy to life. The ‘perfectibility of man’ idea is severely circumscribed by apparently permanent genetic limitations. However, on the plus side, it may point to solutions - e.g. get the sex balance right and, hey presto! (Gottschall gives reasons why this was not possible for Homeric society because of the vicious circle of violence established in the fist place).

Third, and very personally, is my objection to the ubiquitous designation (thanks to evolutionary biology) of man being an animal. In my view this is no more than a Darwinian expression of the great ‘put-down’, that we are not the centre of the universe, incessantly imposed on us by science since Copernicus. This perspective is a direct consequence of the development of science (time’s arrow of scientific discovery) and seems inevitable but, I think, that in the light of the enormous differences between us and animals, we should take offence at this categorisation, shake it off and re-assert our humanity. Science may provide us with information but it has no right to tell us who we are. Power to the people!
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Postby Ishtar » Sun Oct 19, 2008 3:03 am

Grumpage wrote:
Gottschall’s contribution here is to link up this approach with late Dark Age Greece at about the time of Homer and to demonstrate that much of Homeric society (as described in the Iliad and Odyssey) is entirely consistent with it, including the apparently absurd (to us) rationale of going to war because of a woman. This is not to say that he believes the story.


What might be a slightly less absurd explanation is something I read a while ago about Helen of Troy actually being a meteorite statue of the moon goddess. These 'goddesses that fell from the heavens' were highly prized by those who owned them and we do have a record of one being taken from Greece and installed in Rome with great pomp and ceremony around 200 BC at the command of the Delphic Oracle. I'm also reminded of a statue of Ishtar that was sent to cure the King of Egypt of a fatal illness in an act of diplomacy by the King of the Mittanis in Akkadia. This was most likely a meteorite too and, no doubt, smeared with hematite.

History suggests that the celebration of the Magna Mater is the oldest known religious cult in the world.

From six thousand years we find Magna Mater known by various images and by various names, but in each situation, she is known for one common attribute: "The Mother of the Gods". She was known as Cybele in the region of the Aegean Sea, Damkina, Goddess of Fecundity to the Babylonians... fecundity referring to her 'marriage with the earth and sky'. Among the Euphrates she was called Koubaba, in Greece, Gaia or Gheea "Mother Earth". She was known as Terra, from the Latin 'Terra Mater', the Goddess of miners in the Eastern area of Europe. Egyptians called her Isis; in Akkadia her name was Ishtar.

Magna Mater transcends world history: her mysteries and many presentations have inspired poets and artists, simple mortals or kings, with many kings dedicating her temples in great number.

For many religions she is eternal, existing from the beginning of time, the bearer of the world and all life populating this planet (plants, animals and humans). The Romans identified this Goddess with the Greek Rhea, and gave her the name Magna Mater, the Great Mother. Although the priests of the cult were men who had castrated themselves in front of her image, most of her followers were women. They worshipped the Goddess in various temples, each one independent of one another. Some temples, however, became more influencial than others. They were located mainly in Phrygia, Greece and Italy.

In Pessinus, a city in Northern Asia, a simulacrum of the divinity was worshipped: a black stone of conical shape, speculated to be a meteorite.


http://www.magnamaterproject.org/en/history.htm

It would make more sense to me that they would fight over what they saw as the source of their power and wellbeing than a mere pretty woman, despite the biological imperative.

It's interesting, too, that it is the only Greek myth that we read as possibly true historically. This, I suppose, is because of Schliemann's discovery in the 19th century of a town he claimed to be Troy. But I don't think there was ever any proof that it was Troy, or if it was, that it was the location for a battle that had a beautiful woman as its trophy. Whereas, the story has all the hallmarks of a classical myth and just like all other great gods and goddesses of mythology, Helen's 'true father' is the main godhead (Zeus) and her mother, another goddess, was born from an egg.
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Postby Grumpage » Sun Oct 19, 2008 4:38 am

Ishtar wrote:It would make more sense to me that they would fight over what they saw as the source of their power and wellbeing than a mere pretty woman, despite the biological imperative.

It's interesting, too, that it is the only Greek myth that we read as possibly true historically. This, I suppose, is because of Schliemann's discovery in the 19th century of a town he claimed to be Troy. But I don't think there was ever any proof that it was Troy, or if it was, that it was the location for a battle that had a beautiful woman as its trophy. Whereas, the story has all the hallmarks of a classical myth.


1. If you are invoking religious belief as a cause for war then I guess evolutionary biology would relegate that as secondary to the imperative for reproductive success. The nub of evolutionary biology is that everything serves reproductive success.

2. No one is suggesting here that the Trojan War actually happened. No one knows what was in the mind of Homer (or his bardic predeccessors) in terms of historical accuracy or even history at all (although the ancients believed it). Gottschall's point is that Homer can be seen as a mirror to the kind of culture that existed at his time.
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Postby Ishtar » Sun Oct 19, 2008 5:23 am

Grumpage wrote:
1. If you are invoking religious belief as a cause for war then I guess evolutionary biology would relegate that as secondary to the imperative for reproductive success. The nub of evolutionary biology is that everything serves reproductive success.


Not just religion, Grumpage. Power ...

Conferred power 'from above' has always been sought by kings and scoundrels alike, which was probably why these meteorite magnetic mamas were exchanged in acts of diplomacy.
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Postby kbs2244 » Sun Oct 19, 2008 10:47 am

I can see the idea as true for small “raids” on neighboring areas.
I expect there are places in the world where it goes on even now.
But the whole concept seems flawed to me once you reach historical times with large armies.
Armies are almost always made up of men.
In the real early days they would often take their families along with them to help guard and carry any plunder they collected as their pay.
But that fell out of favor as the generals wanted to be able to move farther and faster and therefore promised to pay the soldiers and send the money back to the stay at home family if he wanted to.
That left a male vacuum back home, not a female one.
There were whole maleless generations after the American Civil War and both WW I and WW II.
Even today, in the American urban ghettos, there is a lack of adult males due to the black on black gang warfare.
It is even spreading into the Hispanic areas.
One of the untalked about reasons for the “illegal alien problem” in the US is Hispanic gang leaders importing “soldiers.”
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Postby Grumpage » Sun Oct 19, 2008 2:01 pm

Ish: Your "Mother of Gods" actually fits the evolutionary biological hypothesis brilliantly...think about it...

kbs: Gottschall's thesis only applies to prehistoric cultures. Even then it can be obscured by secondary 'masking' characteristics like politics, economics and other reasons for conflict. The obvious relevance to modern civilised cultures is less clear but I've no doubt a clever proponent could make a case for it.
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Postby Ishtar » Sun Oct 19, 2008 3:36 pm

Grumpage wrote:Ish: Your "Mother of Gods" actually fits the evolutionary biological hypothesis brilliantly...think about it...



I have been giving it some thought today, Grumpage, as I think it's an interesting subject.

I was thinking about lions, and how only the dominant lion gets the females of the pride. I think is the case with many other animals too, for instance I've also seen this behaviour in monkeys.

So the lion has to face off and fight any other males who wish to take over the pride and the lionesses And only after he has seen them off can he relax with his females so to speak. But if he loses the fight, the victor will kill all his cubs, in order to bring all the females into season, so that he can have impregnate them with his sperm and genes, and thus the usurper's family line will prevail.

So if you translate this to human behaviour (and I take your earlier point that we are not necessarily animals, but we do have animal instincts imo) gaining and holding on to the power is a pre-requisite that has to come before the gaining of females. How humans gain and hold on to power is by some sort of Divine Right of Kings, whereby they manage to convince other humans that the gods favour them above all others, which is where, imo, these meteorite mambo mothers come in.

Having a woman, or more likely a harem of women as the kings of old did, is in itself a symbol of power.

It's about potency ... on every level.
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Postby Grumpage » Mon Oct 20, 2008 9:48 am

Ishtar wrote:Having a woman, or more likely a harem of women as the kings of old did, is in itself a symbol of power.

It's about potency ... on every level.


Power, yes. But power for what? For its own sake? That doesn't scan. Power for its own sake is nothing. Power is the energy to do something. The means to an end. In this case to maximise reproductive success. That, according t the evolutionary biologists is what it is all about. It is the first and final cause of the whole damn thing. Everything else is secondary.

We will have to agree to disagree on this, I fear.
8)
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Postby Minimalist » Mon Oct 20, 2008 10:19 am

But power for what? For its own sake?



Why not? Recall the words of Gaius Julius Caesar:

"I would rather be first in a small village in Gaul than second in Rome."
Something is wrong here. War, disease, death, destruction, hunger, filth, poverty, torture, crime, corruption, and the Ice Capades. Something is definitely wrong. This is not good work. If this is the best God can do, I am not impressed.

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Postby Ishtar » Mon Oct 20, 2008 10:30 am

No ...! Don't give up on me. I'm a slow learner sometimes, but once I'm there, I'm there. :D

You also do have the advantage of having read the book.

Let's take another example and think it through: Bush and Blair invaded Iraq on the pretence that there were WMDs and terrorist cells there. But it was really because they wanted a firmer toe hold in a region that supplied their countries' energy - oil. Do you agree so far? This is how it looks from my end of the telescope anyway.

Bush needed a steady, reliable and cheap supply of oil to please his voters, so that he could stay in power. He also needed to please his Daddy's friends by distributing jobs for the boys in Baghdad. And perhaps, subconsciously he wanted to finish off what his father started but, some said, never finished properly, on the road to Basra.

So all of this was so that he could stay in power because .... in your theory, because of an evolutionary imperative. Maybe that was underneath all of it, but it's well hidden and also where would be the need? He had a wife who had already borne him children and they had been raised successfully in an affluent and secure society. You may say that the society wasn't secure because of 9/11 and that's why Bush went to war. But that was just his excuse, as explained above ... it's a good reason for Afghanisation but not Iraq .... unless I've got it all wildly wrong.

Anyway, I'd be interested to hear if your book has an explanation for how the Iraq War was caused by Bush's desire for reproductive success.

I'm also not trying to win the argument, Grumpage. You should know that about me. I'm one of those who are more interested at arriving something resembling the truth than winning the argument. Not everyone on here is like that.
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Postby Grumpage » Mon Oct 20, 2008 2:21 pm

Anyway, I'd be interested to hear if your book has an explanation for how the Iraq War was caused by Bush's desire for reproductive success.


I'm not sure how to respond to this apart from referring you to my reply to kbs. However, that seems to be something of a cop-out and I assume you have read it and found it wanting. In a sense so do I. Bear in mind that the comments I've made do not neccessarily reflect my own views. Come to think of it I have no view on this - I've only read a book. Nevertheless, the question requires a better answer or at least a fuller one. In the words of somebody or other, "I'll be back", after I've slept on it. Nighty, night.
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Postby Ishtar » Mon Oct 20, 2008 2:42 pm

Good night, Grumpage. May your dreams be inspiring. :D
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Postby Grumpage » Tue Oct 21, 2008 2:00 pm

Anyway, I'd be interested to hear if your book has an explanation for how the Iraq War was caused by Bush's desire for reproductive success.


This is very strange. I put together a reply which turned out, in my opinion, to be not what you were looking for. It was more a clarification and recapitulation of my own thoughts on the matter. I then looked again at this thread and realised that I had, in places, implied that Gottschall’s approach applied generally rather than to prehistoric societies. This was unintended. I can see now how easy it is to have made this slip. However, in my reply to kbs I did state that Gottschall's thesis only applies to prehistoric cultures. I said this without realising the confusion I had caused. Clearly that wasn’t enough to clear things up. I can’t say I blame you for pressing the point. In fact I’m pleased you did. At the very least it gave me the opportunity to think again about this topic.

For what it’s worth here is the reply I drafted. I think Para 6 might contain something new but otherwise it’s all something of a rehash.

1. Gottschall’s book is about the applicability of evolutionary biology and anthropology to its most obvious sphere of interest, primitive, prehistoric or what he calls “non-state” societies. His focus is on Homeric society.

2. He says: “I argue that patterns of conflict in Homeric society converge beautifully with those described by anthropologists and ethnographers across a strikingly diverse spectrum of non-state societies.” Homeric men compete for various reasons (wealth, prestige, immortal fame) and Gottschall is not trying to usurp these factors but to “provide a broader view capable of placing all elements of Homeric conflict within a single explanatory context.” That is, the evolutionary imperative for reproductive success.

3. Given the universality of conflict (warfare is everywhere) through obvious causes (wealth etc) “why was Homeric society particularly prone to intense conflict within and between groups?” His answer, self-consciously controversial, is that the patterns of violence within Homeric society are consistent with the hypothesis that Homeric society suffered from an acute shortage of available young women relative to young men (an imbalance in reproductive capacity and a threat to reproductive success).

4. Competition over reproductive capacity may be a root cause of violence but it often resides as substructure to other more familiar causes. As such it may be masked by these. This was the case even in non-state societies. History provides many reasons for conflict but as a single overriding idea the need for reproductive success (without which none of us would be here) makes sense in evolutionary terms.

5. This approach aims to ‘explain’ conflict in non-state societies, specifically Homeric society. In my opinion Gottschall succeeds here. If Homer reflects his society with anything like historical accuracy then all well and good. More than that, I don’t know.

6. Gottschall refers to “competition within and between groups for scarce resources that convert to reproductive advantage”. The anthropology can undoubtedly be read as indicating that the spoils of war can be converted to reproductive advantage. I’m a bit unclear as to whether there would necessarily have to be a sex imbalance to kick the conflict off in the first place although any conflict would almost certainly cause one. Also, I imagine many spoils of war in primitive societies can be interpreted (by evolutionary biologists) as being convertible to reproductive advantage e.g. material resources, social status and martial prestige - these in turn would attract and claim women as rewards. However, this smacks of a post-hoc interpretation born of the very thing it was meant to demonstrate. I’m hard pressed to think of anything that may not result in sex-as-reward in primitive societies. To this extent sexual pay-offs, and so reproductive success, are inevitable consequences of non-state conflict. But as a cause, I’m not so sure. Gottschall claims that sex imbalance, to the detriment of males, caused conflict in Homeric society. By implication, it can do that elsewhere. That‘s fine, but it would need to be demonstrated in the manner he does so for Homeric society rather than deduced from the results of war. I cannot say how much of the anthropological evidence points in any particular causal direction. I suspect the logic is from consequences to causes but I could be dead wrong here. But it’s worth flagging up.

7. You ask how this approach might explain Bush-Iraq (and kbs also doubted its contemporary applicability). This is not an evasion but we should not forget that Gottschall was talking about prehistoric cultures. If we take it out of context we must come to our own decision on this one. The most I would say is that the reproductive imperative is still there but in civilised states it is invisible and so overlaid with cultural conventions that its expression is probably non-existent although Gottschall raises the subject of mass rape which appears to be a mandatory component of invading armies even today. But that is another question entirely.

Postscript: I am wondering now if your question was more rhetorical and ironic than serious. However, if it was not, I hope my inability to provide a clever response didn’t disappoint too much.
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