2015 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 7,800 times in 2015. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 7 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Richard II – the play and the history

Richard II is one of English monarchs, mostly known as the young king, who dealt with the Peasants’ Revolt, led by Wat Tyler, in 1381. He was born in Bordeaux in 1367 and inherited ‘the throne from his grandfather in 1377, at the age of 10’ (Bremner, 2011). He is also known as ‘the first king that we know for sure what he looked like, in part because of his own conscious attempts to raise the personal place of the monarch, through the active use of imagery and artistic representation’ (ibid). Meanwhile, he was also one of the English monarchs, who inspired William Shakespeare to write a history play based on his own deeds, called The Tragedy of King Richard the Second. However, Shakespeare’s play doesn’t mention neither the Peasants’ Revolt nor any other important elements relating to his reign i. e., the impact of the Black Death prior to his reign nor the Lollard Movement led by John Wyclif. Instead, the play only focuses on the final years of his rule, effectively, from January 1398 to February 1400. This blog entry, first of all, would like to examine the opening scene of the play that provides the dispute between two powerful lords; Henry Bolingbroke and Thomas Mowbray, with making comparisons with real history.  This will automatically lead it to examining of Duke of Gloucester’s death and his relationship with, not only the lords mentioned above, but with the king himself as well.  Subsequently, it will also have a look at the story line that follows the opening scene, again comparing with historical facts. Finally, it will focus on a couple of incidents that took place after Richard’s reign; a failed plot against the new king Henry IV in January 1400, from which Shakespeare created a family comedy in Act 5 and the death of Richard in the following month.

Shakespeare begins his play with describing a bitter quarrel between Henry Bolingbroke and Thomas Mowbray that takes place in front of King Richard II (Act 1:1). In which, Henry accuses Mowbray of following three accounts; (1) he ‘hath receiv’d eight thousand nobles / In name of lendings for your highness’ soldiers, / The which he hath detain’d for lewd employ-ments’ (Craig, 2005), (2) an allegation that ‘all the treasons for these eighteen years / Complotted and contrived in this land, / Fetch from false Mowbray’(ibid) and (3) he ‘did plot the Duke of Gloucester’s death… And consequently, like a traitor coward, / Sluic’d out his innocent soul through streams of blood’ (ibid). Against these accusations, Mowbray disputes with providing his side of defences; as for (1), he says, ‘Three parts of that receipt I had for Calais / Disburs’d I duly to his highness’ soldiers; / The other part reserv’d I by consent, / For that my sovereign liege was in my debt / Upon remainder of a dear account, / Since last I went to France to fetch his queen’ (ibid), as for (2), he at least admits that he did ‘lay an ambush’ (ibid) against Henry’s father, John of Gaunt, who is also present in the scene, however, he explains, ‘But ere I last receiv’d the sacrament / I did confess it, and exactly begg’d / Your Grace’s pardon, and I hope I had it’ (ibid), and as for (3), he simply denies his involvement by saying, ‘I slew him not; but to mine own disgrace / Neglected my sworn duty in that case’ (ibid). Now, it would be worthwhile to examine what actually happened in real history and what sort of background was behind the dispute between these nobles, who belonged to the same generation; Henry Bolingbroke, son of John of Gaunt – born on 3rd of April 1367, Thomas Mowbray, son of John de Mowbray – born in c. 1366, and Richard II, as already mentioned earlier, who was born in 1367.

In real history, things known about the quarrel between Bolingbroke and Mowbray are relatively limited and could be summarised in the following way: ‘during the second session of the parliament of September 1397, held in January 1398, Henry Bolingbroke raised with Richard the accusation that Mowbray had stated privately to him that Richard would seek vengeance on both of them in the way that he had taken vengeance on Arundel, Gloucester, and Warwick. The matter was made a formal charge of treason against Mowbray in a parliamentary committee that met after the end of the session (31 January 1398). The matter could not be resolved through evidence which meant that Bolingbroke and Mowbray would settle the matter by means of a duel on 16 September 1398′ (Marx, 2003). As Shakespeare depicted in Act 1 scene 3, on that day, ‘Richard intervened to stop the duel and exiled both parties’ (ibid). As quoted above, it seems that the nature of actual quarrel had been more complicated and more serious than what was later staged in the Elizabethan theatre. Along with Gloucester, whose name was also mentioned in Act 1 scene 1, the allegation includes names of other lords as well; namely Arundel and Warwick, to whom, it is regarded that King Richard had taken vengeance. Now, it would be worthwhile to examine what had happened before things got to this stage, especially concerning the death of Gloucester.

Duke of Gloucester was born Thomas of Woodstock on 7 January, 1355. He was the ‘seventh and youngest son of the English king Edward III’ (http://www.luminarium.org/encyclopedia/thomaswoodstock.htm). Despite he was ‘made Earl of Buckingham by his nephew, Richard II, at the coronation in July 1377’ (ibid) and was created Duke of Gloucester, as ‘a mark of favour’ (ibid) from the king in 1385, to cut the long story short, by 1397 Gloucester was at odds with his nephew, Richard II, to the extent where, ‘it has been asserted that the duke was plotting to seize the king. At all events, Richard decided to arrest him’ (ibid). On 11 July 1397, Gloucester ‘was arrested by the king himself at his residence, Pleshey castle in Essex’ (ibid) and ‘was taken at once to Calais’ (ibid), where he died on 9 September, 1397, at the age of 42. Now, unlike Shakespeare’s historical play, it became clear that in real history, Richard had more role to play regarding the arrest and the death of Gloucester. Before delving into more details, it would make sense to examine what about the other key figures’ involvements.

Despite Henry Hereford once ‘supported his uncle Thomas, Duke of Gloucester, in his armed opposition to Richard II and his favourites’ (http://www.luminarium.org/encyclopedia/henry4.htm) in 1387, he later changed his sides ‘probably through his father’s influence’ (ibid) and the situation in ten years later was that Henry, along with his father, John of Gaunt, was still on the side with ‘the king against Gloucester, and in 1397 was made Duke of Hereford’ (ibid). In the meantime, Thomas Mowbray’s involvement was allegedly more directly. He had been appointed to captain of Calais by Richard II, a few years before 1397 and not only ‘He was present when Gloucester was arrested at Pleshey’ (http://www.luminarium.org/encyclopedia/thomasmowbray.htm), Gloucester ‘was entrusted to his keeping at Calais, and in September 1397 he reported that his prisoner was dead’ (ibid). As long as Gloucester didn’t die from natural causes, it would be plausible to speculate that Mowbray ‘was probably responsible, although the evidence against him is not conclusive’ (ibid). Nevertheless, others argue that ‘it is probable that he was murdered by order of the king on the 9th of September’ (http://www.luminarium.org/encyclopedia/thomaswoodstock.htm), with more details to follow:

‘At the beginning of September it was reported that he was dead. The rumour, probably a deliberate one, was false, and about the same time a justice, Sir William Rickhill (d. 1407), was sent to Calais with instructions dated the 17th of August to obtain a confession from Gloucester. On the 8th of September the duke confessed that he had been guilty of treason, and his death immediately followed this avowal. Unwilling to meet his parliament so soon after his uncle’s death, Richard’s purpose was doubtless to antedate this occurrence, and to foster the impression that the duke had died from natural causes in August. When parliament met in September he was declared guilty of treason and his estates forfeited’ (ibid).

To assess the situation and background of Gloucester’s death, it is quite important to trace back some related historical events for about a decade, especially focusing on the relationship between the king and the parliament.

In 1384, facing to critical conflicts against France and Scotland, Richard summoned feudal levy ‘for the last time in the Middle Ages’ (Bremner, 2011). This, and the result of the battle against Scotland, caused Richard to face with a parliamentary backlash, in which, the Parliament ‘won the sacking of Chancellor de la Pole’ (ibid) and his impeachment. In the following years, in 1386-7, the Parliament ‘ended up examining royal finances and putting the Duke of Gloucester in charge. Expenditure was cut and grants to favourites reduced. The king’s authority had been fatally undermined as the narrow power base of his administration had nothing to fall back on’ (ibid). Nonetheless, Richard ‘sought advice from leading judges’ (ibid), who gave judgements favourable for the royal prerogative, saying ‘no minister could be impeached without the crown’s agreement and that it was treasonous to limit the royal power’ (ibid). This encouraged Richard, who now ‘charged his opponents with treason’ (ibid). The king’s opponents are known as the Appellant Lords, who ‘represented the traditional noble houses that Richard had always scorned’ (ibid), and Duke of Gloucester was one of the most prominent figures among them. The situation changed dramatically when Robert de Vere, Earl of Oxford ‘raised the men of Cheshire in defence of the king’ (ibid) in later 1387. The Appellant Lords defeated de Vere in the battle and ‘then marched on London, met the king in the Tower, possibly removed him from the throne for a few days and then tried his leading councillors. The ultimate humiliation came with the execution of four of Richard’s favourite knights’ (ibid). However, the Appellants failed to rule sufficiently and as a result, ‘the Commons became disillusioned and the king’s popularity increased’ (ibid). When a couple of Appellants Lords defected to the king, it meant that ‘in 1389 the king, now aged 22, could declare his own majority and will to rule of his own. The remaining appellants were removed from office as Gaunt returned to bolster the crown’ (ibid). Nevertheless, Richard’s various reforms ‘failed to address all the financial problems and the king still spent more than he earnt, due largely to his extravagant personal expenditure. In 1397 he gained a taxation grant without there being the requirements for war, for the first time; a dangerous precedent for the king to rely upon’ (ibid). Meanwhile, Richard’s wife Anne of Bohemia, with whom, he had ‘actually fell in love’ (ibid) and married in 1382, died in 1394. On one hand, her death contributed Richard to go for another foreign involvement in Ireland, on the other hand, it also helped Richard to secure ‘A 28 year truce with France in 1396, sealed with Richard’s betrothal to a French princess’ (ibid) Isabella, daughter of King Charles VI. Unlike Shakespeare’s adult character, when the marriage took place in 1396, Princess Isabella was ‘not quite seven years old’ (University of London, 2007). Regarding this marriage, it would be worth to mention that Duke of Gloucester rather ‘disliked the peace with France and Richard’s second marriage with Isabella’ ( http://www.luminarium.org/encyclopedia/thomaswoodstock.htm).

Furthermore, it is argued that the loss of his beloved queen, who ‘may have provided a restraining influence’ (Bremner, 2011) could explain Richard’s reign in the following years, which ‘are traditionally described as a period of tyranny with the government levying forced loans, carrying out arbitrary arrests and murdering the king’s rivals’ (ibid). As for the latter, the king always had ‘resentment against the Appellants’ (ibid) and when he arrested three senior Appellants, in 1397, Gloucester was one of them along with Earl of Arundel and Earl of Warwick. Despite evidence of a plot against the king was ‘unclear’ (ibid), Warwick ‘was sent to prison’ (ibid) while ‘Arundel was executed’ (ibid). As for Gloucester, as already argued above, it is said that he ‘was probably murdered by Nottingham’s men in Calais’ (ibid). As a result of these brutal revenges, Richard ‘now handed out a slew of titles and land making, amongst others, Nottingham [Mowbray] the Duke of Norfolk and Derby [Bolingbroke] the Duke of Hereford’ (ibid). In addition, the former also ‘received most of Arundel’s lands in Surrey and Sussex’ (http://www.luminarium.org/encyclopedia/thomasmowbray.htm).

As it has been mentioned earlier, Shakespeare set the opening scene of his Richard II at this historical point, with depicting the three main characters, regarding the death of Gloucester, in the following way: Bolingbroke accuses Mowbray of plotting his death; Mowbray denies his involvement but acknowledges his neglect; whilst there is no implication of possible involvement of the king himself. In addition, accusation on Mowbray is further emphasised in the very next scene, where the widowed Duchess of Gloucester blames her husband’s death as ‘Mowbray’s sin’ (Craig, 2005). Nonetheless, the plot of the play after the opening scene is basically in tune with what actually happened in the final few years of the fourteenth century;

(1) dispute between Bolingbroke and Mowbray was decided to be settled by a single combat, which was to be held in Coventry, however, ‘when on the 10th of September 1398 everything was ready for the fight Richard interposed and ordered both combatants into banishment’ (http://www.luminarium.org/encyclopedia/thomasmowbray.htm). Then, ‘within fifteen days Henry, Duke of Hereford, was ordered to leave the realm, not to return for ten years, unless ordered by the King, on pain of death. He was, however, given a yearly income of £2,000. This was small comfort, for the secretary had one more announcement for him: his estates were to be confiscated. As for Mowbray… he was to leave the realm and never return, upon pain of death. He was given a yearly income of £1,000, and his property was confiscated. Both were then summoned to stand before the King and swear an oath that they would not continue the argument. This they did’ (McGrory, 2013). In addition, whilst Henry’s exile was ‘reduced by his father’s pleading by four years’ (ibid) before his departure, Mowbray ‘is said to have died of melancholy in Venice – though some sources say it was of “pestilence”, or plague’ (ibid) in September, 1399;

(2) John of Gaunt died in February 1399. Before his death and his son’s exile, it is argued that ‘fearing for their position, Gaunt and his son made the king promise to uphold their inheritance if either died’ (Bremner, 2011). Nevertheless, Richard ‘confiscated his vast estate, Henry’s birthright, and announced his exile was for life’ (McGrory, 2013);

(3) ‘Early in July, whilst Richard was absent in Ireland, he (Bolingbroke) landed at Ravenspur in Yorkshire… and Richard, abandoned by his friends, surrendered at Flint on the 19th of August’ (http://www.luminarium.org/encyclopedia/henry4.htm). As for Henry’s intention when he launched the invasion, whilst Shakespeare emphasises on his noble cause – to bring back his duly inheritance – through his character’s words in Act 2:3, saying ‘It must be granted I am Duke of Lancaster… personally I lay my claim / To my inheritance of free descent’ (Craig, 2005) and even though it is argued  that ‘It is true that Henry gave out that he was only returning to recover his own confiscated property’ (Miller, 2003), in reality, it would be more plausible to presume that ‘Henry must have learnt from previous experience that such a rebellion could never be undertaken for limited purposes only’ (ibid), and probably with the the king’s unpopularity in his consideration, Henry actually ‘did nothing to quench the ardour of his followers for the removal of a hated government, and allowed himself to be carried along on the popular tide which required the removal of King Richard II’ (ibid).

(4) ‘In the parliament, which assembled on the 30th of September, Richard was forced to abdicate. Henry then made his claim as coming by right line of blood from King Henry III… Parliament formally accepted him, and thus Henry became king’ (http://www.luminarium.org/encyclopedia/henry4.htm). This was followed by (5) a failed plot against the new king Henry IV in January 1400, which ‘reminded Henry of Lancaster how great a liability the live Richard II would be’ (Bremner, 2011) and, consequently;

(6) the death of abdicated Richard in the following month.

As for the failed plot took place in January 1400, Shakespeare mentions this incident through a family comedy in Act 5, which is attributed to Duke of York, his wife and their son Edward, who is described, in Scene 2, as Duke of ‘Aumerle that was; / But that is lost… And, madam, you must call him Rutland now’ (Craig, 2005). This reflects the historical facts that Edward ‘was created Earl of Rutland’ (http://www.shakespeareandhistory.com/richard-ii.php) in 1390 and was ‘created Duke of Aumerle in 1397’ (ibid) by Richard II’s favour. However, ‘He was stripped of his title of Duke of Aumerle and several other offices’ (ibid) by the new king Henry IV and ‘was not punished for his possible involvement in Gloucester’s death’ (ibid). Interestingly, in relation to Shakespeare’s dramatisation, some argue that ‘When a group of lords planned to murder King Henry in early 1400 it is said that it was Edward who warned the king of the conspiracy (although some chroniclers claim he was involved to an extent)’ (ibid). Despite it is unclear whether he was involved in the plot and to what extent, after this incident, history tells us that ‘Edward continued to be a faithful servant to the crown during the reign of Henry IV and… he succeeded to the title of Duke of York upon the death of his father in 1402’ (ibid).

Finally, as for the death of abdicated king Richard, whilst Shakespeare made up a character called Exton to be accused of murdering the once anointed monarch by his successor, Henry IV, in real history it is said that ‘By the end of February 1400, Richard of Bordeaux had starved to death…  Initially buried in Kings Langley, Henry V later placed Richard’s body in the tomb that he had designed for himself in the Confessor’s chapel of Westminster Abbey’ (Bremner, 2011).

Thus, this blog entry mainly focused on examining the background history of the opening scene of Richard II, the play by Shakespeare, which presents a dispute between Henry Bolingbroke and Thomas Mowbray. In doing so, it examined the real dispute took place between the lords in question and found the source event in a parliamentary committee met on 31 January. 1398, which dealt with a formal charge of treason against Thomas Mowbray. This automatically led it to examine the death of Duke of Gloucester and it found out that while Shakespeare’s play tends to depict the murder as solely ‘Mowbray’s sin’, in history it was Richard II himself, who arrested Gloucester and ordered him to be sent to Calais, where he died on 9 September, 1397. It also argued that the arrest and death of Gloucester took place as a part of Richard’s personal revenge against the so-called Appellant Lords, which also brought downfalls of Earl of Arundel and Earl of Warwick and, on the contrary, those who gained from these series of events were Bolingbroke and Mowbray. Subsequently, it shifted its focus to the storyline that follows the opening scene and confirmed that the entire flow of the play basically agrees with actual historical events. Finally, it looked at a couple of incidents that took place after the abdication of Richard. As for the failed plot against Henry IV in January 1400, it looked at the role of Rutland in the real history and concluded that it is unclear whether or not he was involved and to what extent. As for the death of Richard, it pointed out that he was not murdered by a fictional character called Exton, who appears in the final scene of the play, but was most likely starved to death in February 1400.


Bremner, Ian (2011), The Reign of Richard II, 1377 to 1399, BBC – History – British History (electronically accessed 26/01/2015)


Craig, W. J. (ed) (2005) The Tragedy of King Richard the Second, by William Shakespeare, AbsoluteShakespeare.com (electronically accessed 11/02/2015)


englishmonarch.co.uk (2005), Anne of Bohemia (11 May 1366 – 7 June 1394), English Monarchs – Plantagenet (electronically accessed 12/03/2015)


Friedman, Ofir (2015), Thomas de Mowbray, 1st Duke of Norfolk, Geni.com (last updated 30/01/2015, electronically accessed 16/02/2015)


Jokinen, Anniina (ed.) (2013), Thomas Mowbray, Luminarium: Encyclopedia Project – The Hundred Years War, excerpted from Encyclopaedia Britannica, 11th Ed, Vol. XXXIII, Cambridge University Press (1910), last updated 01/08/2013, electronically accessed 04/02/2015


Jokinen, Anniina (ed.) (2013), Thomas of Woodstock, Duke of Gloucester (1355 – 1397), Luminarium: Encyclopedia Project – The Hundred Years War, excerpted from Encyclopaedia Britannica, 11th Ed, Vol. XII, Cambridge University Press (1910), last updated 30/07/2013, electronically accessed 06/02/2015


Kingsford, Charles L. (2013), Henry IV (1367 – 1413), Luminarium: Encyclopedia Project (electronically accessed 02/2/2015, last updated 30/07/2013)


Marx, William (2003), An English Chronicle 1377 1461, A New Edition, Aberystwyth National Library of Wales MS 21608, and Oxford, Bodleian Library MSs Lyell 34, Medieval Chronicles, The Boydell Press, Woodbridge, Google Books (electronically accessed 18/02/2015)


McGrory, David (2013), Bloody British History: Coventry, Google Books (electronically accessed 27/03/2015)


Miller, Michael D. (2003), Wars of the Roses, An Analysis of the causes of the wars and the course which they took – Chapter 7: Henry of Bolingbroke rebels (electronically accessed 18/05/2015)


Shakespeareandhistory.com (2009), Duke of Aumerle Aumerle in History (electronically accessed 09/02/2015)


University of London (2007), Isabelle of France, Richard II’s Treasure – Treasure – Sources (electronically accessed 12/03/2015)


Posted in History of Britain, Literature | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2014 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 6,700 times in 2014. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 6 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Divorce between Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon

Henry VIII is one of the most popular monarchs in English history. He is known as the pioneer of the English Reformation but is most notably known for having his six wives. As everything has its first time, when Henry decided to go forward for his second marriage, he had to go through inevitable obstacles associated with his first marriage; to divorce. This short blog entry would like to look at things related to Henry VIII’s divorce from his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, in chronological order: his elder brother’s marriage in his early life, his marriage to Catherine and relationship with Rome in his early rule, how he decided to divorce and what was its requirement, how the Roman authority reacted to his request with the continental situation in its background, and how he broke through the obstacles, which resulted in establishing the foundation for the English Reformation.

Elder Brother

Henry was born as ‘the second son of King Henry VII and Elizabeth of York… on 28 June 1491 at Greenwich Palace’ (BBC, 2014). Since his elder brother Arthur ‘was the Prince of Wales and heir to the throne of England… Arthur was therefore given royal responsibilities whereas Prince Henry was destined to a secular life, his possible future role might have been the Archbishop of Canterbury’ (Alchin, 2014). Because of this reason, Henry ‘was also taught religious studies in the Roman Catholic religion’ (ibid). Whilst his parents marriage in January 1486 symbolised the unity of ‘the houses of Lancaster and York, the rivals of the Wars of the Roses’ (Eakins, 2011), his elder brother’s name ‘was purposely chosen to evoke memories of the great British king of the same name’ (ibid); King Arthur of the round table. Moreover, negotiations for Prince Arthur’s future marriage followed soon as early as 1488-9 and Henry VII won ‘the proposal that Arthur would be married to Catherine of Aragon’ (ibid), who ‘was the youngest surviving child of Ferdinand and Isabella, the joint rulers of Spain’ (Eakins, 2010). Despite this kind of political match, in this case –  to strengthen the unity between England and Spain – was common practice in those days, at this stage of betrothal, Catherine ‘was three year old… [while] Arthur was not even quite two’ (ibid).
With further negotiations, it was agreed  in 1496 that ‘Catherine would come to England in 1500, when Arthur was 14… [and] did eventually arrive in October 1501’ (Eakins, 2011). The marriage ‘took place 14th November 1501 in old St. Paul’s Cathedral in London… [and] After the wedding, Arthur and Catherine went to Ludlow Castle on the border between England and Wales to set up their household’ (ibid).
However, in March of the following year, ‘Arthur fell ill, possibly of tuberculosis, the plague or the dreaded “sweating sickness” and died’ (ibid) on 2 April, 1502. Now, ‘Catherine was left a young widow in a foreign country. The question of whether or not Arthur and his bride ever consummated their marriage became crucial’ (ibid) in decades later.


Henry VII ‘was interested in keeping Catherine’s dowry’ (Eakins, 2010) and made a new arrangement to betroth Catherine to his younger son Henry, who now became hair to the English throne but ‘was too young to marry at the time’ (ibid); 14 months after Arthur’s death. However, ‘By 1505, when Henry was old enough to wed, Henry VII wasn’t as keen on a Spanish alliance, and young Henry was forced to repudiate the betrothal. Catherine’s future was uncertain’ (ibid) until Henry VII dies in 1509, when Prince Henry duly succeeds his father’s throne as King Henry VIII, at the age of eighteen. Interestingly, it is said that ‘one of the new young king’s first actions was to marry Catherine’ (ibid). In doing so, Henry ‘obtained the papal dispensation required to allow him to marry his brother’s widow’ (BBC, 2014) and married Catherine on 24 June, 1509. It must be important to point out that at this stage, both Henry and Catherine ‘were Roman Catholics. Everybody in England was – the penalty for heresy [being found guilty of being a non-believer] was death… such was the tie to Rome and the Roman Catholic faith, that he felt it necessary to effectively get Papal permission [from Pope Julius II] to marry Catherine’ (HistoryLearningSite.co.uk, 2007).

Although ‘In the first years of his reign Henry VIII effectively relied on Thomas Wolsey to rule for him… he joined Pope Julius II’s Holy League against France in 1511’ (BBC, 2014). On top of that, in terms of his relationship with Rome, he was ‘conferred the title of Defender of the Faith’ (ibid) in 1521 by Pope Leo X ‘ for his book “Assertio Septem Sacramentorum”, which affirmed the supremacy of the Pope in the face of the reforming ideals of the German theologian, Martin Luther’ (ibid).
In the meanwhile, Henry had to struggle to produce his heir, especially a son, as it follows:

‘Shortly after their marriage, Catherine found herself pregnant. This first child was a stillborn daughter born prematurely in January 1510, but this disappointment was soon followed by another pregnancy. Prince Henry was born on January 1, 1511 and… was christened on the 5th. There were great celebrations for the birth of the young prince, but they were halted by the baby’s death after 52 days of life. Catherine then had a miscarriage, followed by… another short-lived son. On February 1516, she gave birth a daughter named Mary, and this child lived. There were probably two more pregnancies, the last recorded in 1518’ (Eakins, 2010) .


Before moving on to the 1520’s, it should be pointed out that ‘No one is sure when Henry decided that his marriage to Catherine had to end simply because the evidence does not exist that can pinpoint an exact date’ (HistoryLearningSite.co.uk., 2007), nevertheless, it would be worthwhile to present some known facts and allegations in chronological order as it follows:
First of all, it is known that Henry ‘had at least two mistresses that we know of: Elizabeth “Bessie” Blount and Mary Boleyn’ (Eakins, 2010). It is also said that ‘There were rumours in court of Henry wanting a divorce as early as 1520 but this was probably nothing more than mere court gossip based on no fundamental facts’ (HistoryLearningSite.co.uk., 2007).
Since Henry ‘was acutely aware of the importance of securing a male heir during his reign’ (BBC, 2014), his daughter Mary’s ‘prospects in life were made a matter of sordid bargaining from the first’ (Gairdner, 2010). She ‘was little more than two years old when she was proposed in marriage to the dauphin, son of Francis I. Three years afterwards the French alliance was broken off, and in 1522 she was affianced to her cousin the young emperor Charles V by the Treaty of Windsor. No one, perhaps, seriously expected either of these arrangements to endure… [and] not many years passed away before Charles released himself from this engagement’ (ibid). Some argue that this marriage proposal for Mary already triggered the very issue; ‘whether the marriage between the king and the mother of lady Mary, were good or no ?’ (Orr, 2013).
Whilst ‘the Cardinal de’ Medici was eventually chosen pope’ (Knight, 2012) as Clement VII on 18 November, 1523, Henry VIII was told from his physicians ‘either in 1524 or 1525… that Catherine was unlikely to give birth again’ (HistoryLearningSite.co.uk., 2007). In the meantime, Thomas Boleyn, father of Mary Boleyn – one of Henry’s mistresses, was ‘first ennobled as Viscount Rochford’ (Gairdner, 2012) on 16 June, 1525. It is said that ‘There cannot be a doubt that not only his elevation to the peerage, but several earlier tokens of royal favour besides, were due to the fascination his daughter had begun to exercise over the king’ (ibid). A further twist then followed. By 1526, Henry began ‘to separate from Catherine because he had fallen in love with one of her ladies [and sister of one of his mistresses]: Anne Boleyn’ (Eakins, 2010).

Decision for divorce

1527 was an important year for Henry VIII, not only regarding to the divorce case but also in the field of international politics. Despite his wife Catherine had ‘her family ties to Catholic Spain and her nephew Charles had succeeded Maxmillian as Holy Roman Emperor… Henry had grown tired of Charles V and allied himself with France, now ruled by Francis I, and he betrothed daughter Mary to the Dauphin (Orr, 2013). The negotiation for this new alliance resulted in a treaty on 30 April, 1527, that stated Princess Mary ‘should be married either to Francis himself or to his second son Henry Duke of Orleans. But the real object was only to lay the foundation of a perfect mutual understanding between the two kings’ (Gairdner, 2010). Interestingly enough, this treaty was later associated with a following allegation:

‘It was during this negotiation, as Henry afterwards pretended, that the question was first raised whether Henry’s own marriage with Catherine was a lawful one. Grammont, Bishop of Tarbes, who was one of the ambassadors sent over by Francis to ask the princess in marriage, had, it was said, started an objection that she might possibly be considered illegitimate on account of her mother having been once the wife of her father’s brother. The statement was a mere pretence to shield the king when the unpopularity of the divorce became apparent. It is proved to be untrue by the strongest evidence, for we have pretty full contemporary records of the whole negotiation. On the contrary, it is quite clear that Henry, who had already for some time conceived the project of a divorce, kept the matter a dead secret, and was particularly anxious that the French ambassadors should not know it, while he used his daughter’s hand as a bait for a new alliance’ (ibid).

In the following month, it is said that Henry, being ‘tired of Queen Catherine,… and passionately enamoured of Anne Boleyn, had made known to [Thomas] Wolsey in May, 1527, that he wished to be divorced. He pretended that his conscience was uneasy at the marriage contracted under papal dispensation with his brother’s widow (Knight, 2012), though others argue that the year 1527 ‘may be when he decided that a divorce was needed. [but] The truth is that historians simply do not know’ (HistoryLearningSite.co.uk., 2007). Whatever the case, once he made a decision to divorce Catherine, Henry began to act ‘to solicit from the Holy See contingently upon the granting of the divorce, [and] a dispensation from the impediment of affinity in the first degree [an impediment which stood between him and any legal marriage with Anne on account of his previous carnal intercourse with Anne’s sister Mary]’ (Knight, 2012). In short, Henry needed to obtain a permission from judicial authority of the Roman Catholic Church to divorce his wife Catherine, and a pardon for having an affair with Mary Boleyn, in order to marry her sister Anne because ‘the beliefs within the Catholic Church were clear and simple. Only the Pope could annul a marriage and as the Church believed in the sanctity of marriage and family, this was a reasonably rare occurrence. In many senses, royal families in Western Europe were expected to set the standards that others should follow’ (HistoryLearningSite.co.uk., 2007). In his petition to the Pope, ‘Henry used his knowledge of the Bible to justify his request for a marriage annulment. Henry used the Old Testament [Leviticus Chapter 20 Verse 16] where it stated:

“If a man shall take his brother’s wife, it is an impurity; he hath uncovered his brother’s nakedness; they shall be childless.”

Henry argued that his marriage to Catherine had been against God’s law from the start despite the Pope’s blessing for it to go ahead in 1509. He was therefore living in sin and that the Pope had to annul his marriage so that he could rectify this. As “Defender of the Faith”… Henry believed that such an annulment was almost a foregone conclusion’ (ibid).

Pope taking refuge

Meanwhile, in the continent, Francis I and Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor, were at war and Pope Clement VII, who supported the former, had to witness German mercenaries came to attack Rome; ‘On the 5th of May they reached the walls, which… were almost undefended. Clement had barely time to take refuge in the Castle of Sant’ Angelo, and for eight days the “Sack of Rome” continued amid horrors almost unexampled in the history of war (Knight, 2012). In this circumstance, Henry ‘asked Cardinal Wolsey to appeal to Pope Clement VII for an annulment… But, unwilling to anger Catherine of Aragon’s nephew – the most powerful ruler in Europe, the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V – the Pope refused’ (BBC, 2014). More precisely, it is argued that Clement simply ‘did what he had to do – prevaricate and procrastinate. What this charade demonstrated was that the earthly concerns of the prelates – their personal security and wealth, was the determining factor even in the weightiest of decisions. Indeed it was the Church’s involvement in temporal politics that eventually determined the Pope’s decision and had very little to do with the rule of the Scriptures or perceived rules of consanguinity’ (Orr, 2013). Having faced to the Pope’s refusal, Henry and Wolsey sought for an alternative way, to ask ‘the Pope to allow the matter to be resolved “locally”, ie Wolsey as Papal Legate… [This was] to declare the Pope incapacitated and Wolsey would hold a Convocation of cardinals to agree the matter of the divorce. In the event a second papal representative, Cardinal Campeggio, was sent to help Wolsey determine the facts – with instructions to prevaricate while Clement sought to extricate himself from the dominance of Charles V. Importantly the Pope declined them any plenary powers and reserved the decision to himself’ (ibid).

With these instructions in his mind, Cardinal Campeggio ‘first tried to dissuade Henry from divorce and when he got nowhere turned to Catherine to seek her agreement to the king’s wishes’ (ibid). It would be worth to point out that ‘At first, Catherine was kept in the dark about Henry’s plans for their annulment and when the news got to Catherine she was very upset’ (Eakins, 2010). Rejections from the both sides made the cardinals – Campeggio and Wolsey – being ‘left with nothing else to do but proceed to trial with the instruction [to Campeggio] that the decretal was only to be shown to the king, and then burnt (Orr, 2013). Regarding to this document, it is also argued that ‘The commission was to be shown to no one, and was never to leave Compeggio’s hands. We do not know its exact terms’ (Knight, 2012). Whichever the case, ‘Both Henry and Catherine appeared before the court and made representations… On 23 July 1528 the court was due to report its decision at which Campeggio foolishly sought to invoke the Roman courts’ timetable and take two months vacation until October’ (Orr, 2013). After the summer, ‘Campeggio reached England by the end of September, 1528, but the proceedings of the legatine court were at once brought to a standstill by the production of a second dispensation… in the form of a Brief… The production of the Brief, now commonly admitted to be quite authentic, though the king’s party declared it a forgery, arrested the proceedings of the commission for eight months’ (Knight, 2012), while Clement managed to escape from being a prisoner in the Castle of St. Angelo by disguising himself as a peddler and ‘returned to a depopulated and devastated Rome… in October 1528’ (Smitha, 2014).
Eventually, on 8 November 1528, Henry ‘gave a masterful speech to the country’s nobles at Bridewell, London… explaining that Catherine was noble and virtuous and that in other circumstances he would marry he[r] again. But because of what had happened he lived in “detestable and abominable adultery” (HistoryLearningSite.co.uk., 2007). This was followed by a change in the continental political tide that saw Francis I and Charles V ‘agreed on a Treaty at Cambrai… As a result Wolsey’s grand plan for conservative reform and England holding the balance of power in Europe, fell by the wayside’ (Orr, 2013). This was a fatal blow for Cardinal Wolsey’s political life, who ‘was ordered to leave London and live in much lesser circumstances in York [where he was the archbishop]’ (HistoryLearningSite.co.uk., 2007). Additionally, ‘In a final and almost bizarre act the kings’ officials ransacked Campeggio’s bags before he was allowed to leave the country at Dover. Henry had hoped to find the decretal which might have been used to secure the divorce. But it was not found’ (Orr, 2013).

The opinion of leading universities

Whilst the Pope Clement was busy working on negotiating with the Holy Roman Emperor in 1529, Henry ‘finally sent the Earl of Wiltshire, Dr Lee, Bishop of York, and Stokesley Bishop of London as delegates to the Pope then at Bologna where he was meeting with the Emperor, Charles V. Again Clement ducked the issue and said he would consider it when he returned to Rome… Henry’s response was to… obtain the opinion of the Divines of leading universities in Europe for their opinion about a divorce’ (ibid).
It would be important to summarise the points of dispute claimed from the both sides: while Henry argued that his marriage to Catherine had been against God’s law, making use of Leviticus 20:16 to back up his case, Catherine was adamant that ‘she and Arthur, her first husband and Henry’s brother, did not consummate their marriage and therefore were not truly husband and wife’ (Eakins, 2010). Moreover, on contrary to Henry’s claim, the Rome dissected what Leviticus had actually meant was ‘you should not marry your brother’s wife while he was still alive’ (HistoryLearningSite.co.uk., 2007). In addition, opposing to what shall happen as a result of such forbidden marriage, ‘Catherine and Henry were far from childless, and still had one living child. But that child was a girl, and didn’t count in Henry’s mind’ (Eakins, 2010). It should be noted that Catherine also ‘appealed directly to the Pope… since her nephew was Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor… not only to retain her position, but also that of her daughter Mary’ (ibid).
Consequently, the twelve of the Divines of leading universities in Europe, who responded to Henry’s request, concluded as following: ‘affirming plainly his marriage, in case as it standeth, both to be unlawful, and repugnant to the express word of God: and that no man is able to dispense with the same’ (Orr, 2013).

In the following year, it seems that Henry changed his strategy for appealing his case directly to Catherine’s nephew and appointed Thomas Boylen, in January 1530, along with other bishops, ‘to go to the Emperor Charles V, and explain to him the king’s reasons for seeking a divorce from his aunt, Catherine of Arragon. The pope [Clement VII] and the emperor at that time had met together at Bologna, and the ambassadors were further commissioned to treat with both of them, and with other potentates, for a general peace. But, of course, the main object was to counteract, as far as possible, the influence which the emperor would bring to bear upon the pope in favour of Catherine. The ambassadors, however, failed to impress the former with the justice of the king’s cause; and the latter very naturally kept his sentiments to himself’ (Gairdner, 2012). This followed an issue of breve by Clement on 7 March 1530, in which, the Pope indicated that ‘he knew of Henry`s intention to seek a decision elsewhere’ (Orr , 2013) and pronounced ‘censure against those who threatened to have the king’s divorce suit decided by an English tribunal, and forbade Henry to proceed to a new marriage before a decision was given in Rome (Knight, 2012). In the beginning of the following year, on 5 January 1531. the Pope further ‘issued a breve [warning letter] that peremptorily warned of excommunication if Henry proceeded to a second marriage before the existing marriage state was decided’ (Orr, 2013). Reacting to this, in March 1531, Henry ‘sent the matter before Parliament’ (ibid), in which, it was explained that Henry had consulted with ‘the chief universities of all christendom, to know their opinion and judgment’ (ibid) on his marriage to Catherine, and ‘The replies from the universities were produced and read out. The significance of the decisions was to demonstrate that the Pope was not what he claimed, and secondly, he presumptuously took unto himself powers that he was not able to dispense’ (ibid). As a result, the prelates were made to call Henry ‘”the supreme head of the Church of England” which they had never admitted before’ (ibid) and consequently the king ‘extorted a vast sum of money from the English clergy upon the pretext that the penalties of præmunire had been incurred by them through their recognition of the papal legate, and soon afterwards he prevailed upon Parliament to prohibit under certain conditions the payment of Anneates to Rome’ (Knight, 2012). Thus, in effect, the English Reformation has been launched.


On 22 August 1532 William Warham, the Archbishop of Canterbury, died and this ‘allowed Henry to press for the institution of [Thomas] Cranmer’ (Knight, 2012) as his successor. Though the pallium was ‘granted to him by Clement’ (ibid), ‘Almost immediately after his consecration Cranmer proceeded to pronounce judgment upon the divorce’ (ibid).

It would be appropriate to point out that dates given within this blog entry are basically on the Julian Calendar, in which, ‘New Year’s Day had been March 25, nine months prior to the Christmas celebration of Jesus’ birth. Thus, 24 March 1532 was followed the next day by 25 March 1533′ (Croom, p 190, 2001). Therefore, in theory, the following accounts should have occurred after the consecration of Crammer: ‘In January 1532 Parliament met again’ (Orr, 2013) and Henry attacked ‘the oath of the clergy to the Pope that had been disclosed by [Thomas] Cromwell’ (ibid) and replaced it with the oath of the clergy to the King, which ‘was the physical act that made the break with Rome a reality. But it still kept catholicism as the faith’ (ibid). In the meantime, the Pope ‘prepared’ the third breve addressed to Henry ‘on 25 January 1532 which named Anne [Boylen] for the first time and firmly rebuked Henry for cohabiting with her. It further ordered him to dismiss Anne and take back Catharine; if he failed to do so within one month of receiving the breve he would be excommunicated’ (ibid). However, this breve was actually ‘posted at Dunkirk and Bruge on 21 and 23 January 1533’ (ibid), nearly a year later.

Coincidently, the day Clement ‘prepared’ the third breve fell upon one of the same dates when Henry alleged to contracted a secret marriage with his mistress. By that time, it became clear that Anne Boylen is pregnant and in order to secure the legitimacy of the child to be born, Henry ‘contracted a secret marriage with Anne Boleyn’ (ibid) on either ‘St Erkwald`s Day, 14 November 1532’ (ibid) or ‘about St Paul`s Day, 25 January’ (ibid) 1532*. On this occasion, however, Cranmer ‘was not present and did not learn of it until a fortnight later’ (ibid). Meanwhile, ‘the convocations of the clergy and a meeting of parliament concluded that appeal to Rome was not necessary’ (ibid). As things got this far, Henry ‘declared his marriage to Catherine invalid’ (Smitha, 2014), and as for his marriage to Anne, ‘Cranmer, in May, 1533, declared to be valid’ (Knight, 2012). As a result, ‘Anne Boleyn was consequently crowned on June the 1st’ (ibid).
*The blog author modified the year given as 1533 in the quoted web site to 1532 because in the Julian Calendar, January 1533 comes after May 1533, when Cranmer acknowledged this secret marriage valid.

In the meantime, Catherine ‘was summoned on 10 May 1533 to appear in a matrimonial court but did not appear. Neither did she appear on the next fifteen days on which she was cited. Eventually she was cited for contumacy and by the assent of those present declared divorced on 25 May, and the marriage declared void and of no effect’ (Orr, 2013). Now, despite the huge efforts Henry has made for securing him a male heir, ‘On 7 September 1533 Queen Anne gave birth to Elizabeth’ (ibid), a girl child.


In the following year, ‘the Parliament pressed on further legislation abolishing all ecclesiastical dependence on Rome. But it was only in March, 1534, that the papal tribunal finally pronounced its verdict upon the original issue raised by the king and declared the marriage between Henry and Catherine to be unquestionably valid’ (Knight, 2012). Nonetheless, this came obviously too late. Clement VII ‘has been much blamed for this delay and for his various concessions in the matter of the divorce’ (ibid), which reduced Catherine’s position to be merely ‘referred to as the Princess Dowager in an act of parliament in 1534’ (Orr, 2013). As for her daughter, Thomas Boleyn was sent ‘on 13 July 1534 to the Princess Mary to induce her to renounce her title and acknowledge herself an illegitimate child’ (Gairdner, 2012). On 25 September, 1534, the Pope Clement VII died and he was succeeded by Paul III, who ‘used his power of excommunication against Henry, followed by his rescinding Henry’s title as “Defender of the Faith.” England’s parliament declared that title still valid. Pope Paul had to watch – powerless – as Henry “nationalized” all Roman Church property in England into his personal ownership and sold off these properties to the highest bidders among the aristocracy and the gentry. Roman priests in England were dismissed unless they swore an oath of conformity to Henry’s new Church. Those who would not were dispossessed of their positions and livlihood, or if made too much political noise they were executed as “recusants” – dissidents’ (Smitha, 2014). In addition, the Parliament of England in 1534 also ratified the ‘decision about the divorce’ (Orr, 2013) between Henry and Catherine and passed ‘the Treasons Act, which made it high treason, punishable by death, to refuse to acknowledge the King as head of the Church of England’ (Smitha, 2014).

In the years to follow, Catherine ‘continued with her appeal to Rome against the divorce and would listen to nobody but a few Spanish advisers. She rejected the universities opinion and procured from the Pope [contrary to the law as it happened] declarations and admonitions followed by excommunication and interdiction against the king and the whole realm… The Duke of Suffolk was subsequently sent to Bugden, near Huntingdon, where Catherine was… [and] proceeded to break up her court and dismissed many servants, leaving but a few who were clearly instructed to serve her as a princess, not a queen. Those who would not so serve her were dismissed’ (Orr, 2013). She was separated from her daughter and lived in ‘several dank and unhealthy castles and manors with just a few servants. However, she seldom complained of her treatment and spent a great deal of time at prayer (Eakins, 2010). Four months before the downfall of Anne Boleyn, who was arrested and executed on 19 May, Catherine died on 7 January 1536 ‘at Kimbolton Castle and was buried at Peterborough Abbey’ (ibid).

Thus, this short blog entry looked at things related to Henry VIII’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon in chronological order. First of all, it looked at Henry’s early years, where he was born as the second son of King Henry VII, who made the arrangement of political marriage between Catherine of Aragon and his elder brother, Arthur, who dies in 1502, shortly after the marriage. Then, it looked at how Henry married his elder brother’s widow as soon as his farther died and succeeded his throne as Henry VIII in 1509. Subsequently, it had a look at his early rule, where he built a good relationship with Roman authority, and as a result, he was awarded a title of Defender of the Faith in 1521. In the meantime, it also argued that Henry struggled to produce a male heir in his private life, in which, he heard from his physicians that Catherine was unlikely to give birth again in 1524 or 25, then he fell in love with one of his mistresses, Annee Boleyn, in 1526. With these two factors in its consideration, it supposed that Henry might have decided to divorce Catherine sometime in 1527. At this point, it examined what Henry needed to divorce his wife; a permission from judicial authority of the Catholic Church, and how his request was handled by the Pope Clement VII, who had been in trouble with the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, Catherine’s nephew. Then it discussed how Henry broke through the Pope’s reluctance and unwillingness for approving the divorce case, by making use of his domestic Parliament to legislate his marriage to Catherine void, and his secret marriage to Annee valid, in May 1533. It also described how Henry reacted in opposing to the Roman authority’s disapproval with a thread of excommunication, where he further pushed for a series of legislations and ultimately abolished all ecclesiastical dependence on Rome through the Parliament of England in 1534. Consequently, Henry consolidated foundations for the English Reformation, regardless to the fate of his first and second wives, which were both terminated in 1536.


Alchin, Linda (2014), Henry VIII Education, The Tudors Website – Henry VIII (electronically accessed 04/10/2014)

BBC – History (2014), Henry VIII (electronically accessed 03/10/2014)

Croom, Emily Annee (2001) Unpuzzling Your Past, Google Books (electronically accessed 11/11/2014)

Eakins, Lara E. (2010), Catherine of Aragon, Humble and Loyal, The Six Wives of Henry VIII (last updated 01/06/2010, electronically accessed 07/10/2014)

Eakins, Lara E. (2011), Arthur Tudor, Prince of Wales, Who’s Who in Tudor History (last updated 02/01/2011, electronically accessed 07/10/2014)

Gairdner, James (2010), Mary I 1911 Encyclopedia BritAnneica. Excerpted at Luminarium. 10 Apr 2012. [electronically accessed 11/10/2014]

Gairdner, James (2012), Thomas Boleyn, Earl of Wiltshire (1477-1539), Luminarium: Encyclopedia Project (last updated 28/05/2012, electronically accessed 02/10/2014)

HistoryLearningSite.co.uk. (2007), Henry’s Divorce from Catherine, Tudor England (electronically accessed 19/09/2014)

Knight, Kevin (2012), Pope Clement VII, New Avent – Catholic Encyclopedia (electronically accessed 20/09/2014)

Orr, Brian J. (2013), The Divorce from Catherine of Arragon, The Reformation – English Reformation (last updated 28/11/2013, electronically accessed 28/09/2014)

Smitha, Frank E. (2014), Pope Clement VII and Henry VIII of England, Macrohistory and World Timeline – 16-17 Centuries – The Protestant Reformation (electronically accessed 19/09/2014)

Posted in History of Britain | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Plato’s ‘Republic’; with its historical background

Whilst most of world leaders and politicians today approve democracy as the best form of political governance, nonetheless, this political system has never been immune to criticism as well. One of the most famous, and probably the strongest such criticisms, can be found in one of the best known books ever written, by one of the most prominent philosophers and political thinkers through out the Western history, Plato. It is widely acknowledged that Plato’s Republic ‘was probably written before 368 BC when the author was in his fourth to fifth decade’ (Galton, 1998, p. 264) with its title in Greek as ‘Politea, which can be rendered something closer to “forms of government” or perhaps “constitution.”’ (Columbia University, 2013). Republic is written in ‘the form of a Socratic dialogue which details the workings of Plato’s imagined ideal state (a meritocracy or “philosophocracy”), in so doing defining the imperfections in extant political methods’ (Hermes, 2011). Despite democracy was ‘arguably the greatest achievement of ancient Athens’ (ibid), in Republic, Plato ‘ranks both timocracy and oligarchy as favourable to democracy and maintains that only tyranny is a less preferable form of government’ (ibid). Meanwhile, in his real life, Plato actually lived and witnessed political turmoil and downfall of Athens, from ‘the golden age of Athenian democracy and power – under the rule of Pericles’ (Columbia University, 2013) in the second half of the 5th century BCE to the Peloponnesian War (431 – 404 BCE), which ‘resulted in Athens’ defeat and the temporary overthrow of Athenian democracy’ (ibid). In other words, ‘he saw an older, supposedly better, world crumbling around him, and he wanted to understand what had gone wrong and how it could be fixed’ (Wright, 2012).
This short essay would like to examine Plato’s counter arguments against democracy and for his ideal state explored in Republic, with the historical background – the downfall of Athens. mentioned above – in its consideration. At first, it will have a look at the history of Athenian democracy in the related period of time, mainly focusing on incidents that had effects on political views in those days. Then, it will deal with Plato’s criticism against democracy, from its origins to its maturity in his Republic. Subsequently, it will delve into ideas of governance suggested by Plato for his ideal state from various points of views, with occasionally comparing with political system and social norms practised in Sparta.

Radical Democracy

Therefore, it would be useful to review the course of history by winding the clock backwards to the glorious days of Athenian democracy, especially its culmination under the rule of Pericles, who ‘ was elected repeatedly to the office of Strategos during the period from 454 to 429 BCE – though not for every year during that period’ (Blackwell, 2003). By holding the office of Strategos, Pericles ‘was able to address the Athenians meeting in their Assembly on matters he deemed important’ (ibid) and his political achievement could be summarised as a couple of following points: ‘the so-called “Periclean Building Program”, which produced the monumental architecture we see today on the Athenian Acropolis, and the expansion of Athenian imperialism’ (ibid). Even though these achievements brought Athens glorious fame and prosperity for a time, it could be argued that whilst the latter consequently led to her catastrophic downfall by provoking the Peloponnesian War, the former may have contributed to undermine her political system by changing the course for enabling Pericles to stabilise his political status and power for a longer term. In other words, by holding the office of Strategos, Pericles ‘could introduce business for discussion in a meeting of the Assembly on his own authority, without going through normal channels’ (ibid) and consequently, he ‘could wield extraordinary influence over the affairs and policies of the city’ (ibid). Nevertheless, the office of Strategos was ‘one of the few in the Athenian democracy that was elected, rather than chosen randomly by lot’ (ibid) because ‘It was also the only office which an Athenian could hold for multiple successive terms’ (ibid).

Before Pericles came into the power, there was an era called Cleisthenic democracy, in which ‘only those who could afford to participate in political affairs did so’ (http://web.ics.purdue.edu/~rauhn/radical_democracy.htm). There was also ‘a traditional perception of Greco-Roman culture held that only those who participated in the military defense of their societies could claim the right to participate in political life’ (ibid). In this circumstance, Pericles made a drastic change by enabling ‘thousands of landless, poor Athenian males, the thetes (landless free commoners), to participate in the democracy’ (ibid) with introducing so-called Radical democracy, in which ‘Athenian citizens were paid by the state to participate in public affairs’ (ibid). In practice, ‘The role of the thetes in the Athenian fleet and in the construction of the Athenian empire gave them newfound legitimacy in politics’ (ibid). Moreover, Pericles even ‘created allowances for public festivals, fees for jury service and other grants and gratuities’ (ibid). In this way, Pericles created a political system ‘in which poorer voters voted in massive numbers to support his political agendas’ (ibid), nonetheless, such radical ‘development marked a dramatic transformation in the character of Athenian society, its population, and its social structure’ (ibid).
Before moving to the next stage, it would be noteworthy to point out his talent as an orator as it has been said that ‘Pericles was merely one of ten elected Generals. His “policies” came into effect merely because his office afforded him a platform from which to address the Demos, and his evident talents as a speaker allowed him to persuade the Demos to adopt his ideas as their own (Blackwell, 2003). Pericles suddenly dies of plague at the outbreak of the Peloponnesian War in 429 BC, before he could ‘train other politicians adequately to assume the reins in his place. After more than 17 years of direction by one man, the Athenian democracy became at a loss to know how to pursue the war or to maintain the empire that Pericles had created’ (http://web.ics.purdue.edu/~rauhn/radical_democracy.htm).

Athens’s downfall

One of the earliest criticisms against Athenian democracy that having been heavily modified by Pericles, came from ‘an Athenian writer whom we know familiarly as the “Old Oligarch”… His short and vehement pamphlet was produced probably in the 420s, during the first decade of the Peloponnesian War, and makes the following case: democracy is appalling, since it represents the rule of the poor, ignorant, fickle and stupid majority over the socially and intellectually superior minority, the world turned upside down’ (Cartledge, 2011). However, such criticism from ‘an oligarch’, who might have represented the traditional ruling class now facing the problem of losing its dominance in politics, did not seem to be heard because ‘at the time of writing, Athens was the greatest single power in the entire Greek world’ (ibid) and ‘the ultimate source of Athens’ power was its navy’ (ibid), which relied on the arms of the thetes, in effect ‘the poorest section of the Athenian citizen population(ibid).
Nevertheless, as the war continued, Athenian politics changed its course in the following way:

‘In 415, after an interlude of relative peace in the war between Athens and Sparta, the Demos of Athens undertook an invasion of Sicily. This adventure was an utter disaster, resulting in the destruction of an Athenian fleet and an army of Athenian citizens… In the aftermath, certain citizens took steps to move the government of the city away from the radical democracy that—they thought—was leading the city to ruin… Shortly thereafter, in 411 BCE, the Athenians brought an end to their democracy and instituted an oligarchy by, first, appointing ten “Commissioners”… These Commissioners proposed a new Council, consisting of 400 men, with service limited to the wealthier citizens… This oligarchic government lasted only four months before it was replaced by another government in which the power was in the hands of 5000 Athenians’ (Blackwell, 2003).

In summary, By 413, the argument ‘in favour of radical democracy was beginning to collapse, as Athens’ fortunes in the Peloponnesian War against Sparta began seriously to decline’ (Cartledge, 2011). In 411, an oligarchic regime was established by ‘the formidable intellectual Antiphon,… (whose) regime lasted only a few months, and after a brief experiment with a more moderate form of oligarchy the Athenians restored the old democratic institutions pretty much as they had been’ (ibid).

However, in 406, during the period of this restored democracy, Athens experiences ‘the biggest single practical blunder in the democracy’s history: the trial and condemnation to death of all eight generals involved in the pyrrhic naval victory at Arginusae. The generals’ collective crime, so it was alleged by Theramenes (formerly one of the 400) and others… was to have failed to rescue several thousands of Athenian citizen survivors. Passions ran high… during a crucial Assembly meeting, over which Socrates may have presided… The resulting decision to try and condemn to death the eight generals collectively only hastened Athens’ eventual defeat in the war’ (ibid). Eventually, ‘In 404 BCE, the Spartans caught the Athenian fleet on the beach at Aegospotamoi (“Goat Islands”) and destroyed it. After a period of siege, while the Spartans blockaded the harbors of Athens, the city surrendered, and its fortunes fell into the hands of the so-called Thirty Tyrants. These were Athenians selected by the Spartans to form a puppet government by the Spartans (Blackwell, 2003).Though this tyranny ‘lasted only one year before pro-democracy forces regained control of the city’s affairs’ (ibid), it should be pointed out that the Thirty Tyrants included Critias, one of Plato’s relatives. Soon after the restoration of democracy, in 399, Plato’s mentor Socrates ‘ was charged with impiety… and, a separate alleged offence, corrupting the young’ (Cartledge, 2011). In other words, Socrates was condemned for his religious views ‘were deeply unorthodox, his political sympathies were far from radically democratic, and he had been the teacher of… Critias’ (ibid). In the trial, Socrates didn’t do ‘anything to help defend his own cause, so that more of the 501 jurors voted for the death penalty than had voted him guilty as charged in the first place. By Athenian democratic standards of justice,… the guilt of Socrates was sufficiently proven’ (ibid). This trial and the execution of Socrates took place in front of his disciples’ eyes and thus ‘it helped decisively to form one of democracy’s – all democracy’s, not just the Athenian democracy’s – most formidable critics: Plato’ (ibid).

Plato’s criticism against democracy

Plato, as a young man, began his writing career most likely being passionately provoked by the death of his mentor Socrates. He grew up in Athens through the political turmoil with the Peloponnesian War in its background. During that period, he must have witnessed a couple of fatal political wrong doings – the execution of eight generals in 406 and of Socrates in 399 – both took place under the rule of democracy, which eventually led Athens to the defeat in the war. Plato must have formed his political views based on some intellectual anti-democrats during that time, including his mentor Socrates and one of whose pupils Xenophon. It is said that these intellectuals, including Plato himself, allegedly argued that ‘the majority of the people, because they were by and large ignorant and unskilled, would always get it wrong. In these intellectuals’ view, government was an art, craft or skill, and should be entrusted only to the skilled and intelligent, who were by definition a minority. They denied specifically that the sort of knowledge available to and used by ordinary people, popular knowledge if you like, was really knowledge at all. At best it was mere opinion, and almost always it was ill-informed and wrong opinion’ (ibid). Moreover, probably taking an example of Pericles into their account, they viewed that the masses were ‘easily swayed by specious rhetoric – so easily swayed that they were incapable of taking longer views or of sticking resolutely to one, good view once that had been adopted. The masses were, in brief, shortsighted, selfish and fickle, an easy prey to unscrupulous orators who came to be known as demagogues. Demagogue meant literally ‘leader of the demos’ (‘demos’ means people); but democracy’s critics took it to mean mis-leaders of the people, mere rabble-rousers’ (ibid). Ultimately, Xenophon concluded in a fictional conversation between Pericles and Alcibiades, in his work Memoirs of Socrates, that ‘democracy is really just another form of tyranny’ (ibid).

Now, Plato as a matured philosopher and a political thinker, launches more sophisticated counter-arguments against democracy, fundamentally by ‘putting into question the peoples’ ability to rule justly’ (Hermes, 2011). First of all, ‘The Athenian belief that all men are equal and so should have an equal opportunity in politics is severely criticised by Plato’ (ibid) because those elected by popular vote are ‘not the wisest and ablest… but the demagogues best versed in oration and rhetoric’ (ibid), who have ‘no skill or aim other than the desire for power itself’ (ibid). Subsequently, Plato accuses ‘Democratic governance, with its ultimate goal being liberty’ (ibid) of being ‘prone to the rise of anarchy and rebellion due to a distinct lack of discipline, sense of duty and respect for order’ (ibid). In short, ‘Pervasive liberty means that people are free to do what they desire, not what they are suited to… In this way a democratic society is one which obeys its basest wants… those of food, sex and money, above the more civilly beneficial elements of the psyche: reason and indignation’ (ibid), therefore, ‘the fundamental ideal upon which democracy is built’ (ibid) is to be blamed because ‘full liberty leads to anarchy’ (ibid). Finally, and most importantly, Plato points out inherent class tensions as his ‘most damning criticism of the democratic system. Plato makes evident the disunity between the classes, with a distinct lack of respect and discipline in the ordinary citizen for authority. This stems from the lack of incentive for the ruled to submit to the decisions of the rulers’ (ibid). In summary, Plato argues that ‘outright liberty and political equality do not provide true happiness and justice for the majority of citizens or in the state itself’ (ibid), in line with this, he ‘values overall happiness and justice far more than liberty’ (ibid) of individuals. As a result, ‘An important element of Plato’s imagined utopian city is that people must commit to the profession in which they have natural talent. This corresponds to a sense of social justice and a unified and efficient society, a level of cohesion which Plato does not believe can be achieved in democracy’ (ibid). Consequently, Plato ‘advocates rule by not the greatest orator or panderer but the greatest and most morally righteous of citizens’ (ibid) – in other words, philosopher kings.

Plato’s ‘just state’ consists of three classes

Having established logically sound criticisms against democracy, now Plato begins to build up his hypothetical ideal state. In doing so, it is said that one of his key elements in  Republic is ‘to put forth a conception of the “just state”‘ (Wright, 2012). The definition of justice, according to Plato, is ‘“To do one’s own business and not to be a busybody is justice.” (Republic 433b.)’ (ibid) Therefore, it follows that ‘In the just state, each class and each individual has a specific set of duties, a set of obligations to the community which, if everyone fulfils them, will result in a harmonious whole (ibid). The idea seems like corresponding to Plato’s philosophical world view that ‘everything in nature is part of a hierarchy, and that nature is ideally a vast harmony, a cosmic symphony’ (ibid), therefore, the just state should be hierarchical like nature and individuals should be ‘ranked according to their aptitudes, and definitively placed in the social hierarchy’ (ibid) because ‘justice consists in fulfilling one’s proper role – realizing one’s potential whilst not overstepping it by doing what is contrary to one’s nature’ (ibid).
In Republic, Plato discusses further details of his ideal state, which consists of ‘three major classes, corresponding to the three parts of the soul. The guardians, who are philosophers, govern the city; the auxiliaries are soldiers who defend it; and the lowest class comprises the producers (farmers, artisans, etc)’ (ibid). In this class society, ‘People are allowed to have only one occupation – namely that for which they are best suited by nature’ (ibid), and since ‘Only what is conducive to temperate living is encouraged… Neither wealth nor poverty is permitted, as each leads to vice’ (ibid).
Interestingly enough, the notion of this ideal state consists of three major classes, which is simply divided in governors, soldiers, and all the rest, seems to share some similarities with the political system of the winner of the war, Sparta.

Sparta was governed by ‘two hereditary kings from two separate families… The kings were also priests of Zeus and they sat on the council of elders known as the gerousia. This body consisted of 28 over-60 years of age males who held the position for life. The gerousia led the citizen assembly, probably proposing issues on which to vote and it was also the highest court in Sparta. The assembly (Ekklēsia) met once a month and was open to all citizens who voted by the simple method of shouting. There was also an executive committee of five ephors (ephoroi) chosen by lot from the citizen body, able only to serve for a maximum of one year and who were ineligible for future office… Just how these different political elements interacted is not known for certain but… It may also explain Sparta’s reputation as being a conservative state slow to make decisions in foreign policy’ (Cartwright, 2013). In terms of soldiers, all Spartan citizens were subjected to ‘a strong emphasis on military training and frugal living in communal mess halls where simple food such as barley meal, cheese, figs and wine were the norm. From the age of seven, males had a militaristic upbringing known as the agōgē where they were separated into age groups and lived in barracks. These youths pursued rigorous athletic and military training which became even more demanding from the age of 20, when they joined common mess halls (syssition)’ (ibid). Spartan citizens ‘did not indulge in farming (nor agricultural) activities themselves but devoted their time to military training, hunting, war, and politics’ because the role of producers were the lot of lower classes, namely helots and periokoi’ (ibid).

Plato and eugenics

The system used for upbringing Spartan soldiers might have inspired the following account recommended for Plato’s ideal state; that ‘the traditional form of the family should be done away with. Men should have women and children in common, such that no man knows who his children are or has excessive love for one woman in particular. Even mothers are not allowed to know who their children are. Their children are taken from them after birth, and they are given other children to suckle as long as they have milk’ (Wright, 2012). Furthermore, in terms of reproduction, Plato even goes further to seemingly the field of eugenics, when he says ‘the best of either sex should be united with the best as often [as possible], and the inferior with the inferior as seldom as possible’ (ibid), which may remind of Spartan practice of ‘killing weak and deformed infants’ (ibid).
In Republic, Plato also argues about ‘the policy of ensuring “judicious matings”‘ (Galton, 1998). In which, ‘He proposed that marriage for the guardian classes (guardians were the premier class of Athenian citizens, selected by their natural capacities and attainments to govern the state) be abolished and that provision be made for men and women of the same natural capacities to made. He drew an analogy with the selective breeding of sporting dogs and horses in order to obtain the desired stock… Inferior members of the guardian classes should be discouraged from reproducing. Only the best of the offspring should be kept in the guardian class and the inferior children should be relegated to the civilian classes’ (ibid). As for child bearing, he continues that ‘The newborn children were to be taken from their mothers and reared in special nurseries in a separate quarter of the city. Family life was to be discouraged as it provided a distraction from the business of governing, of defending or extending the city state by conquest. Any children born defective would be “hidden away” in some appropriate manner. This may actually a euphemism for instance. However neither infanticide nor exposure as practised in Sparta and other Greek cities was recommended by Plato for his republic’ (ibid).

Plato and gender equality

Whilst eugenics is largely approved in his ideal state, when it comes to make differentiations in each individuals, sexism seems to have little room for Plato, who suggests ‘women in the guardian class should receive the same education as men, so that the best of them can assist in war and governance’ (Wright, 2012), despite the background where, ‘the ancient Greeks held a rather low opinion of women’ ( DuBois, 2007). Plato’s argument for gender equality could be acknowledged as a logical extension of his fundamental principle for the ideal state, in which, ‘jobs and functions in an ideal state ought to be distributed according to one’s nature, inclination, and capability’ (ibid). Then he asks ‘if anything aside from physiology separates men and women; he soon concludes not’ (ibid). Therefore, men and women ‘are endowed equally with “natural capacities” for all “administrative occupations,” including the Guardianship (rule) of the city as well as its defense (sic), and that there is no sufficient difference between them to justify the exclusion of women from the most important duties of the state’ (ibid). Even though he believes that ‘since women are traditionally the physically weaker of the sexes, nature also dictates they be given a “lighter share” of these duties in keeping with their (assumed) level of strength’ (ibid), in terms of providing fair opportunities, ‘Plato advocates a system of equal education for men and women being raised as Auxiliaries (soldiers) and Guardians (philosopher-rulers)’ (ibid).

Again, it is quite interesting that referring to the education of the guardian class, Plato gives a suggestion that ‘women ought to be allowed to exercise naked in the gymnasia (athletic training-grounds) alongside the men as part of their physical education regimen, to keep them healthy and fit for military service’ (ibid) since this particular practice coincides with what could be seen among Spartan women, who ‘could enjoy athletics (done in the nude like men), and even drink wine’ (Cartwright, 2013). It is also worth to mention that ‘Women in Sparta had a better lot than in other Greek city-states. In Sparta they could own property which they often gained through dowries and inheritances. In fact, women became amongst the richest members of society, as their men were killed in the many wars, and eventually controlled 2/5th of Spartan land. In addition, Spartan women could also move around with reasonable freedom… All of these freedoms would have been unacceptable in other Greek poleis’ (ibid). Even though it could be assumed that Plato might have taken some ideas from Spartan politics, in terms of gender equality, it has been pointed out that he ‘obviously held women in a lower regard than men’ (DuBois, 2007); for instance, he ‘posits that cowardly or immoral men are reborn as women’ (ibid), therefore, he could be regarded to have advocated ‘a “proto-feminist” viewpoint’ (ibid) at the best.

Finally, in Plato’s ideal state, ‘There is no private property or money except insofar as it is necessary, among the lower classes; therefore there will be no disputes about what belongs to whom – just as there will be no disputes about which women belong to whom, and who one’s children are. In general, the goal Plato is aiming at is that everyone thinks of everyone else as a member of their family, such that there is little or no strife between people and they all desire the same thing – which is harmony, temperance, gentleness toward fellow-citizens’ (Wright, 2012) because the ultimate purpose of attempting to establish an ideal state in his work Republic was, as it has been quoted above, ‘to put forth a conception of the “just state” (ibid), which can bring ‘a harmonious whole’ (ibid) as a result.

Thus, this short essay tried to examine Plato’s arguments on democracy and his ideal state. It started off with looking at the historical background of Athenian democracy, where renowned orator Pericles’s attempts to establish Radical democracy led to a political turmoil and eventually to Athens’ defeat in the Peloponnesian War to Sparta. Meanwhile, it also followed the arguments of intellectual anti-democrats during the war time, to which Plato was involved, and found their mistrust in masses, who are prone to be misled by demagogues. Subsequently, it focused on Plato’s matured criticism against democracy in his Republic and picked up his doubt on ‘peoples’ ability to rule justly’ and his denial of civil liberty and political equality for these would lead to anarchy. It further delved into some other ideas suggested for his ideal state, especially focusing on its class system, eugenics, and gender equality and in each topic, it could find some degree of similarity between Plato’s accounts and practices in Sparta, the winner of the Peloponnesian War. Finally, it briefly looked at another important element for Plato’s ideal state regarding to private property and, with referring back to his conception of the ‘just state’, drew a conclusion that ultimate purpose of Plato’s ideal state is to bring ‘a harmonious whole.’


Blackwell, Christopher W. (2003), “The Development of Athenian Democracy,” in Adriaan Lanni, ed., “Athenian Law in its Democratic Context” (Center for Hellenic Studies On-line Discussion Series). Republished in C.W. Blackwell, ed., Dēmos: Classical Athenian Democracy (A. Mahoney and R. Scaife, edd., The Stoa: a consortium for electronic publication in the humanities [www.stoa.org]) edition of January 24 (electronically accessed 03/07/2014)

Cartledge, Paul (2011), Critics and Critique of Athenian Democracy, BBC – History – Ancient History – Greeks – Athens and Democracy (last updated 17/02/2011, electronically accessed 25/06/2014)

Cartwright, Mark (2013), Sparta, Ancient Hisotry Encyclopedia (electronically accessed 01/07/2014)

Columbia University (2013), Plato 429 BCE – 347 BCE, Columbia College – The Core Curriculum – Republic (electronically accessed 01/06/2014)

DuBois, Edward C. (2007), Plato as a Proto-Feminist, transcending silence…, Department of Women’s Studies, Univcrsity at Albany – Archives – Spring 2007 Issue (electronically accessed 15/06/2014)

Galton, David J. (1998), ‘Greek theories on eugenics’ Journal of Medical Ethics 24; 264-265, jme.bmj.com (electronically accessed 17/06/2014)

Click to access 263.full.pdf

Hermes, Tom (2011), Plato’s Critique of Democracy, CLIO – A Journal for Students of History in the Australian Capital Territory (electronically accessed 07/06/2014)

Purdue University (year unstated), Radical Democracy in the Age of Pericles (electronically accessed 17/07/2014)

Wright, Christopher C. (2012), Philosophy Now, a Magazine of Ideas Issue 90 (May / June 2012), Plato’s Just State (electronically accessed 08/06/2014)

Posted in Ancient Greece, Books, News and politics, philosophy / theology | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


Akhenaten is one of famous pharaohs in the history of ancient Egypt, not only because he was the father of King Tut, but also for his extremely unique reign. Some give him a credit as the founder of the monotheism in the world history or positively assert him as ‘history’s first individual’ (Sooke, 2014), whilst criticism is also associated with such views saying, ‘modern history has been kinder to him: we perhaps value individualism more’ (ibid) than the pharaoh’s contemporaries and successors, who tried to delete him from the historical record completely. This short blog entry will have a look at this controversial pharaoh from various points of views: his biographic background; how and when he might have begun his reign; his religious reforms and construction of the new capital; his royal family and its importance during his reign; disappearances of important figures around the time of his death; and how successors of Akhenaten dealt with the aftermath of his reign.

The second son of Amenhotep III
It is said that Akhenaten was born as the second son of Amenhotep III, who ‘ruled for almost 40 years during the 18th Dynasty of Egypt’s history that represented one of its most prosperous and stable periods’ (Dunn, 2011). The foundation of this stability was largely established by Tuthmosis III, the pharaoh’s grandfather, so that ‘little or no military actions were called for’ (ibid) during the pharaoh’s reign. Despite his fame as a successful pharaoh, little is known about when actually he bagan to rule. It is widely accepted that ‘Amenhotep III succeeded to the throne… as a child, sometime between the ages of two and twelve years of age… at the time of his father’s death. It is unlikely that his mother, Mutemwiya, served as a regent for the young king, and whoever may have been in charge at the beginning of his reign seems to have remained in the background’ (ibid).
Regardless to his actual age, it is said that Amenhotep III married Queen Tiy, the principle queen of the pharaoh, ‘in year two of his reign’ (ibid) and Tiy gave birth to ‘at least six of his children consisting of two sons and four daughters’ (ibid). Since he was not the eldest son, ‘Akhenaten was not supposed to become pharaoh. The son of Amenhotep III… Prince Amenhotep, as he was then called, was younger brother to the crown Prince Thutmose’ (Sooke, 2014). However, Thutmose’s unexpected early death made Akhenaten the sole surviving heir and ‘when his father died in 1353 BC, he took the throne as Amenhotep IV’ (ibid). In addition, it is allegedly said that ‘Amenhotep III may have died in about the 39th year of his rule, perhaps when he was only 45 years old. His wife, Tiy, apparently outlived him by as many as twelve years’ (Dunn, 2011).

Co-regency theory
Before moving to the reign of Akhenaten, it should be pointed out that ‘There is much debate about when his rule started. Some suggest he was Amenhotep III’s co-regent for up to 12 years; others think Amenhotep III died before his son took over’ (Mieroop, 2011, p. 199). While art historians tend to argue for co-regency theory ‘ because this would explain the mixture in artistic styles’ (ibid) during the overlapping period between Amenhotep III and Akhenaten, other scholars who work with written sources ‘see no conclusive evidence for co-regency, certainly not one that lasted more than a couple years’ (ibid). Now, it would be worthwhile to apply the given account – Amenhotep III died in 1353 BC at the age of 45 – to the theories above:

If the co-regency lasted for 12 years, it must have started when Amenhotep III was about 33 years old. Given another factor that Akhenaten was the pharaoh’s second son, his birth can hardly be traced back to the time before his father was 14 years old at least. However, being the ‘second son’ doesn’t necessarily mean that he was the ‘second born’ child among his siblings including four sisters. If Queen Tiy gave birth one child every year since her husband turned to 13 years old, at the time when the sixth child was born, the pharaoh must have been the age of 18. If Akhenaten was the fifth or sixth child, when the co-regency began, he was most likely in his age of 16 or 17. The same calculation applies to the case where the co-regency of two years; he was 26 or 27 years old whilst his father was 43, and the case where there was no such thing as the co-regency; he was older than 29 years old when his father died at the age of 45, respectively. Therefore, by simply calculating possible ages of the pharaoh and his son, it would be safe to say that technically all theories can not be rejected in this criteria alone.

In addition, as for the later years of Amenhotep III, it is argued that ‘to judge from his last portraits, (Amenhotep III) suffered a lingering malady of some sort which slowly killed him, so it would make sense that, as his health declined, he handed at least some of the reins of government to his chosen successor’ (Damen, 2013). This allegation has been even endorsed by examinations of his mummy, however, others oppose against this argument by pointing out that ‘the identity of his mummy is uncertain’ (Mieroop, 2011, p. 199).

Religious reform
Whatever the case, due to his father’s death, the son succeeded the throne initially as Amenhotep IV in 1353 B.C. The new pharaoh seems to have shown his interests on launching a radical religious reform from relatively early years of his reign. Within a year or two since he took the throne, Amenhotep IV began to build ‘temples to the Aten or divinised sun-disk at Karnak in a very different artistic style’ (Spence, 2014) and he also changed his name from Amenhotep, which means ‘Amun is content’ – honouring the state god Amun-Re – to Akhenaten, meaning ‘effective for the Aten’ (Sooke, 2014). Meanwhile, there are some arguments that point out some connections between the possible self-deification of Amenhotep III in his life time and Akhenaten’s worship of Aten. It is said that ‘Amenhotep III was somewhat insistent that he be identified with this sun god during his lifetime’ (Dunn, 2011), therefore ‘the worship of the sun god, Aten, by his son may have directly or indirectly also involved the worship of his father’ (ibid). Furthermore, some scholars suggest Akhenaten’s ‘cult of Aten was a simple admiration for his father. They point out that the name Aten, which was pronounced yati, sounded much like the Egyptian word for father, perhaps pronounced yata‘ (Mieroop, 2011, p. 199). For the argument’s sake, it would be also important to point out that Egyptian pharaohes were ‘expected to merge with the sun after his death’ (Dunn, 2011) and there is no physical evidence that proves ‘Amenhotep III (being regarded) as a major deity during his lifetime’ (ibid).

Regardless to whether his worship involved the deification of his father or not, Akhenaten’s next step towards his religious reform shows unparalleled uniqueness of this pharaoh in the Egyptian history: ‘In the fifth year of his reign, around the time that he changed his name, Akhenaten decided to build a new royal capital’ (Sooke, 2014). In doing so, he made it clear that ‘the worship of the Aten required a location uncontaminated by the cults of traditional gods’ ( Spence, 2014) and in this logic, he decided to ‘ban the traditional gods altogether, making redundant up to 2,000 time-honoured deities’ (Sooke, 2014). Taking the contemporary circumstance into the consideration, Akhenaten’s religious reform, in political view point, could be recognised as ‘declaration of warfare against the dominant religious authority in the day, the Amun priesthood based in Thebes… which by then was siphoning off a hefty percentage of the taxes collected in Egypt’ (Damen, 2013). Whatever the case, Akhenaten then ‘began closing down Amun temples across Egypt and even had the name Amun erased from some inscriptions. Later, he went so far as to order the word “gods” removed and changed to “god,” wherever it occurred in public inscriptions. Whether or not this is monotheism by theological standards, it’s certainly grammatical monotheism (ibid). In terms of theological view point, the key elements of this grammatical monotheism could be represented in the following account: ‘Akhenaten’s aten is the font of all being, which means by nature he cannot be restricted in form, and thus is almost always presented as the aptly universal and geometric solar circle… Even to say “he” of the aten is perhaps too restrictive for this universalist conception of deity—gender is clearly not relevant to sun-disks’ (ibid). Nonetheless, even though his religious reform is said to have ‘raised the Aten to the position of “sole god”… Akhenaten’s religion is probably not strictly speaking monotheistic, although only the Aten is actually worshipped and provided with temples. Other gods still existed and are mentioned in inscriptions’ ( Spence, 2014).

Construction of the new capital city didn’t take long, partly because ‘relatively small blocks were used’ (Damen, 2013) being ‘set in a strong mortar’ (Spence, 2014) to build the city and ‘after just two years (from the pharaoh’s declaration), the ruling family took up residence to the north of the city’ (Sooke, 2014), newly named as ‘Akhetaten, “Horizon of the Aten” (Spence, 2014). The location of this new capital was about ‘200 miles south of Cairo, in the heart of Middle Egypt’ (Sooke, 2014), where was ‘a desert site surrounded on three sides by cliffs and to the west by the Nile and is known today as el-Amarna’ (Spence, 2014). The place ‘had never before been settled’ (Damen, 2013), therefore, ‘it lent the site a sense of austerity and religious purity… and unlike even the remotest Egyptian village, this locale had not as yet been connected with any cult or deity. Theologically, it was a “clean slate,” so to speak. Before Akhenaten’s arrival, the place had no name even’ (ibid). The site was ‘virtually impossible to feed and house a self-sustaining populace of any real size—certainly not one large enough to govern a nation like ancient Egypt—so, maintaining the army of bureaucrats and office-workers needed to run Akhenaten’s realm depended on the collection of taxes and importation of food stuffs, an expensive and labor-intensive investment of resources’ (ibid).
In construction of his new capital city, Akhenaten revolutionised the place of worship. It is said that ‘Akhenaten’s temples incorporated vast open-air courts with offering tables and unroofed shrines’ (Sooke, 2014). This signifies a clear-cut contrast to worship of Amun, whose shrines ‘are invariably situated in the middle of temple complexes, roofed and dark, where priests alone may enter and then only on special occasions (Damen, 2013). In addition, Akhenaten’s such move towards the sun-worship at the open-air shrines was not brand new but was stemmed from ‘Old Kingdom theology, by now a millennium old, and (infamous for its)… pervasive reputation for tyranny’ (ibid).

On top of architectural discoveries at the site of el-Amarna, there remains ‘A number of hymns to the Aten (that) were composed during Akhenaten’s reign and these provide a glimpse of … the ‘natural philosophy’ of Akhenaten’s religion’ (Spence, 2014). According to such available sources, elements of Akhenaten’s religious philosophy could be described as following:

‘Akhenaten and his family are frequently shown worshipping the Aten or simply indulging in everyday activities beneath the disk. Everywhere the close ties between the king and god are stressed through art and text. The king forms the link between the god and ordinary people whose supposed focus of worship seems to have been Akhenaten and the royal family rather than the Aten itself’ (ibid).

Regarding to whom to be worshipped, it is said that Akhenaten, as the pharaoh, is ‘said to serve as the conduit between humanity and the aten. In other words, it’s through and because of him the sun-disk bestows life on the planet. In his own words, a hymn Akhenaten claims to have composed himself about the aten, “There is no other who knows you except your son, Akhenaten.” That makes the pharaoh and his family some species of divine beings among humankind, earth-bound extraterrestrials on whose good will the benefits of the sun, and thus all life, depend’ (Damen, 2013).

Akhenaten’s royal family
The royal family formally consisted of Akhenaten, Nefetiti, who was known as ‘great king’s wife’ (Spence, 2014) and the couple’s six daughters. Additionally, ‘There were also other wives, including the enigmatic Kiya who may have been the mother of Tutankhamun. Royal women play an unusually prominent role in the art of the period and this is particularly true of Nefertiti who is frequently depicted alongside her husband’ (ibid). In visual art during Akhenaten’s reign, ‘The royal family are shown with elongated skulls and pear-shaped bodies with skinny torsos and arms but fuller hips, stomachs and thighs’ (ibid). Furthermore, it is said that ‘Although formal scenes of the king worshipping remain important there is an increasing emphasis on ordinary, day-to-day activities which include intimate portrayals of Akhenaten and Nefertiti playing with their daughters beneath the rays of the Aten… While traditional Egyptian art tends to emphasise the eternal, Amarna art focuses on the minutiae of life… Even official inscriptions changed, moving away from the old-fashioned language traditional to monumental texts to reflect the spoken language of the time (ibid). In summary, it can be said that ‘Like no pharaoh before or after him, Akhenaten was family-oriented’ (Damen, 2013). In architectural findings, Akhenaten’s emphasise on the role of royal family ‘as intermediary between the Aten and the people’ (Sooke, 2014) could be culminated in ‘one of his palaces at Amarna (that) was designed with a special balcony known as the “window of appearances”’ (ibid).
However, in terms of popular support for Akhenaten’s religious reform and political revolution, it should be pointed out that ‘Recent discoveries at Amarna… suggest that Akhenaten’s cult of the Aten was not as successful as he might have hoped (ibid). Quoting from Anna Stevens, who ‘has excavated the cemetery where the workers who erected Akhenaten’s palaces and temples’ (ibid) Sooke picks up some counter evidences for Akhenaten’s revolution as it follows: ‘More than two thirds of these workers were dead before they were 35 years old. Moreover, Stevens noticed a surprising absence among the grave goods buried in the cemetery. There were lots of amulets and votive objects depicting popular minor deities… “But there is not a single representation of the sun disc at this cemetery, nor mention of Akhenaten on finger rings or scarabs or anything,”’ (ibid). Negative impact of Akhenaten’s revolution doesn’t seem to be limited to his domestic subjects. There is a letter of complaints ‘found among the remains of Akhetaten’ (Damen, 2013) relating to Akhenaten’s open-air sun worship. In which, it is said that ‘the Assyrian king complains that the emissaries he sent to Egypt nearly died of sunstroke when they were attending some royal ceremony at the pharaoh’s capital’ (ibid).

Disappearances and the death
The later days and the death of Akhenaten are also surrounded by uncertainties and mysteries. First of all, his first wife Nefertiti ‘disappears from the archaeological record around year 12’ (Spence, 2014) of his reign; circa 1341 B. C. Her disappearance is coincided with the emergence of Akhenaten’s co-regent Smenkhare, who ‘appears suddenly in the historical record two years before Akhenaten’s death’ (Damen, 2013). The circumstance was that Nefertiti gave birth to Akhenaten ‘six daughters but no male heir—and Egyptian tradition demanded some sort of “son of the pharaoh” succeed. Thus in the absence of a crown prince, the son of a secondary wife usually stepped in as successor’ (ibid). In this context, there remains ‘a few documents showing that he (Smenkhare) married one of Akhenaten’s daughters, surely an attempt to secure his claim to the throne after Akhenaten’s death’ (ibid). Whatever the case, during the Smenkhare’s co-regency, it is said that Nefertiti completely disappears from being depicted in the art of El-Amarna, except for only one occasion, where she is shown ‘in a funerary tableau recording the death of one of her and Akhenaten’s daughters’ (ibid).

The mysterious uncertainties followed by Akhenaten’s  death. Again, the year of his death is disputable that some argues it was the 17th year of his reign in 1336 B. C. whilst others say it was 1338 B. C., which was the 14th year of his reign. More importantly, things known about his death is quite limited, as Damen describes as ‘there is no record of his death… it is safe to assume he died in middle age. The cause of his death is not known… The historical record contains not a single hint of foul play in his death, though he was far from old age’ (ibid). Curiously enough, it is suggested that ‘his tomb contained “shabti” figurines that were heresy for Atenism’ (Sooke, 2014).

According to archaeological findings, it is said that despite of Akhenaten’s death, Akhetaten, the newly build capital city ‘was not abandoned immediately’ (Damen, 2013) and it construction works even ‘continued, at least for a while’ (ibid), probably under the rule of the deceased pharaoh’s co-regent, Smenkhare, who ‘disappears two years into “his” reign’ (ibid), circa 1336 B, C. As for this mysterious successor of Akhenante, historians agree that ‘about whom next to nothing is known’ (ibid) because ‘No tomb for Smenkhare has ever been located nor have any of his burial goods been found. There is simply no further mention of him at all in Egyptian history’ (ibid).
After this ‘third’ disappearance of important figures for Akhenaten’s reign, following the pharaoh’s first wife and the phraoh himself, the throne finally ‘passed to a child, Tutankhamun (originally Tutankhaten) who was probably the son of Akhenaten and Kiya’ (Spence, 2014). In effect, actual political power for ruling the country was passed to the child phraoh’s regent(s), probably included the future successor of the child pharaoh, Ay.

Back to Amun
The key policies of the child phraoh’s regent(s) and their intentions are symbolised by the the phrao’s name change from T…aten to T…amun:
‘Fairly early in his reign, he was persuaded to change his name and, doing exactly the opposite of Akhenaten when he assumed power, took the aten out and put “Amun” in… At some point around this time, the royal court left Akhetaten and returned to Thebes’ (Damen, 2013). What followed is not hard to guess – the newly build capital city, ‘home to up to 50,000 people – was abandoned, as the court returned to the traditional capital of Memphis. Old religious customs were restored. Akhenaten was effectively written out of history’ (Sooke, 2014). Later rulers’ attitude towards Akhenaten was quite hostile and ‘His name and those of his immediate successors were omitted from official king-lists so that they remained virtually unknown until the archaeological discoveries at Akhetaten and in the tomb of Tutankhamun made these kings amongst the most famous of all rulers of ancient Egypt (Spence, 2014).

Thus, this short blog entry tried to have a look at Akhenaten, a controversial phraoh in the history of ancient Egypt. As for his biographic background, it examined that he was born Amenhotep, the second son of his father pharaoh Amenhotep III, known as the most prosperous pharaoh during the 18th Dynasty. His elder brother died before his father’s death in 1353 B. C. and he succeeded the throne as Amenhotep IV, though it may have been the case that he began to rule as his father’s co-regent some years earlier. As for his religious reforms, it started out from looking at potential relationship between Akhenaten’s worship of Aten and his father’s alleged self-deification. Subsequently, through the change of his name from Amenhotep IV to Akhenaten, it looked at its political implication – in relation to the powerful Amun priesthood based in Thebes – and its theological character, to which it argued that Akhenaten’s solar cult is not strictly speaking monotheistic. Furthermore, it also had a look at Aketaten, a newly built capital city in the desert site now called el-Amarna, chosen by Akhenaten not for pragmatic reasons but for the locale’s religious purity. Akhenaten’s public life in the new captal and his religious role as conduit between Aten, the sole god and common people led the focus to the role of his royal family, which mainly consisted of Nefetiti, his first wife, and the couple’s six daughters. Though it could find Akhenaten was exceptionally family-oriented pharaoh, it also found some evidence that proves his religious and political reforms were not successful. Finally, it looked at mysterious disappearances of important figures took place in the later years of Akhenaten’s reign; Nefetiti’s disappearance in c. 1341 B. C., coincided with the emergence of Akhenaten’s co-regent Smenkhare, Akhenaten’s death in c. 1338 or 1336 B. C., and the disappearance of Smenkharre, two years after the death of Akhenaten. By briefly looking at the reversal of Akhenaten’s revolution during the reign of Tutankhamen, it may have indirectly answered for the reason behind the history’s silence over the time of Akhenaten’s death – he was effectively written out of the history.

Damen, Mark (2013), Section 10 – Akhenaten and Monotheism, USU 1320: History and Civilizetion (last updated 27/08/2013, electronically accessed 12/04/2014)

Dunn, Jimmy (2011), Egypt: Amenhotep III, the Ninth King of Egypt’s 18th Dynasty, Tour Egypt (last updated 04/08/2011, electronically accessed 02/03/2014)

Mieroop, Marc Van De (2011), A History of Ancient Egypt
Blackwell Publishing, Google Books (electronically accesed 19/03/2014)

Sooke, Alastair (2014) ‘Akhenaten: mad, bad, or brilliant?’ The Telegraph 09 Jan (electronically accessed 25/02/2014)

Spence, Kate (2014), Akhenaten and the Amarna Period, BBC – History – Ancient History (last updated 17/02/2011, electronically accessed 25/02/2014)

Posted in History of Egypt, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Marsh’s Library

UNESCO – United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization – defines the role of public library as ‘the local centre of information, making all kinds of knowledge and information readily available to its users’ (UNESCO Public Library Manifest) and encourages ‘national and local governments to support and actively engage in the development of public libraries’ (ibid). The Manifest also points out the importance of the public library for fundamental human values such as ‘Freedom, Prosperity and the Development of society and individuals’ (ibid) because these values ‘will only be attained through the ability of well-informed citizens to exercise their democratic rights and to play an active role in society. Constructive participation and the development of democracy depend on satisfactory education as well as on free and unlimited access to knowledge, thought, culture and information’ (ibid). Therefore, it suggests the services of the public library must be ‘provided on the basis of equality of access for all’ (ibid). Despite such importance and values, the notion of public library is relatively new to the entire human history, which saw the emergence of such things during the time of the Industrial Revolution. Marsh’s Library, in Dublin, is known for its historical value as the first public library founded in Ireland. This short blog entry would like to have a look at this intriguing place of interests from various viewpoints; the life and career of the founder of the library, his personal motivation and wider background for establishing the library, interesting things about the library for modern visitors, and a ghost story associated with the library and its founder.

Narcissus Marsh, the founder of the library, was born in Hannigton, Wiltshire, England in 1638. According to the official web site of the library, ‘His father’s name was William Marsh and his mother was Grace Colburn. Narcissus was the youngest in the family of five: three brothers and two sisters. The name Narcissus is certainly uncommon, but his brothers were given the names Epaphroditus and Onesiphorus’ (http://www.marshlibrary.ie/about/narcissus-marsh/). He was ‘educated at Magdalen College, Oxford, where he graduated in 1658… was elected a Fellow of Exeter College’ (Trinity College Dublin, 2011) in the same year, was ordained in 1662, and ‘awarded the living at Swindon’ (Find A Grave, 2001). Then he ‘was appointed chaplain to the Bishop of Exeter and Clarendon and principal of St. Alban’s Hall, Oxford in 1673’ (ibid). In 1673 – or at least by January 1678 – he was ‘appointed Provost of Trinity College Dublin on the nomination of the Duke of Ormonde, Chancellor and Lord Lieutenant’ (Trinity College Dublin, 2011). It is said that he was sent to Ireland in 1679 and ‘was consecrated Bishop of Ferns and Leighlin and rector of Killiban’ (Find A Grave, 2001) in 1683. This was followed by his temporary return to England ‘Due to social unrest under James II’ (ibid) in 1689, but he soon went back to Ireland in 1691, where he further ‘held three archbishoprics: Cashel (1691-4), Dublin (1694-1703) and Armagh (1703-13)’ (Trinity College Dublin, 2011).

On top of his career in the Church, he was also known for a scholar, who ‘wrote on logic and acoustics’ (ibid) and in 1683, ‘Marsh became one of the first members of the Dublin Philosophical Society. He contributed an early paper to that Society… in which he apparently was the first to use the word microphone’ (http://www.marshlibrary.ie/about/narcissus-marsh/). More controversially, his passion and enthusiasm went towards an awkward direction under the political climate at the time. It is said that Marsh ‘acquired a good knowledge of’ (Trinity College Dublin, 2011) the Irish language and ‘encouraged the Irish scholars to learn it, appointing a native speaker as a lecturer to teach them. He also cooperated with Robert Boyle, the celebrated chemist, in the production of an edition of the Bible in Irish’ (ibid). His encouragement of the Irish language was an ‘unexpected aspect of his provostship’ (ibid) because the time was when the language ‘had no place therein, and was banned out of public life, the schools, the courts etc… Since the early 17th Cent… there had been no Irish speaking upper class’ (Bräsicke, 2003).

Meanwhile, Marsh’s best known achievement – the idea of founding a public library – seems to have emerged gradually from his concerns on education. While he was Provost of Trinity College, Dublin, it is said that he ‘observed how difficult it was to use the library there’ (http://www.marshlibrary.ie/about/narcissus-marsh/) and complained in his diary of ‘the ill education that the young Scholars have before they come to College whereby they are both rude and ignorant’ (ibid). During his tenure, though he made ‘the revision of the regulations for administering the College library’ (ibid), nonetheless, in May 1700, he still complained in a letter to his friend in England of not having ‘any convenient room to hold an ordinary study of books’ (ibid) even at his position. When Marsh consulted his idea of a public library in the same letter, it was the time in England that saw ‘public libraries had sprouted up in industrious cities such as Bristol, Ipswich and Norwich’ (Heraghty, 2013). This momentum has only began in 1653, when Chetham’s Library was founded in Manchester, as the first public library in Britain ‘under the will of Humphrey Chetham (1580-1653), a prosperous… textile merchant, banker and landowner.’ (Chetham’s Library, 2013). In other words, emergence of public library could be accounted as a part of impact and effect caused by the Industrial Revolution to the society as a whole. Before the foundation of Chetham’s Library, it is said that ‘there was no facility for independent study in the north of England’ (ibid) and such facilities and knowledge had been mostly dominated by the college libraries like Oxford and Cambridge. In his will of 1651, Humphrey Chetham made sure that his librarians should be instructed ‘to require nothing of any man that cometh into the library’ (ibid).

In 1701-03, Archbishop Marsh established the library ‘furnishing it with his own collection of books and by the purchase of the collection of Edward Stillingfleet’ (http://www.marshlibrary.ie/about/narcissus-marsh/), who became the first librarian of Marsh’s Library. It was built on ‘St. Patrick’s Close, almost hidden behind St. Patrick’s Cathedral’ (Heraghty, 2013) in Dublin City Centre. The concept of a public library – ‘allowing ordinary people access to expensive books for free — was relatively radical’ (ibid) so that its building was designed to accommodate special rooms called the cages, where ‘visitors were locked in while reading one of the libraries more expensive titles, to prevent stealing’ (ibid). One of the most interesting things about Marsh’s Library for modern visitors is that it ‘is still a library but has not added new books since the 18th century’ (ibid) so that visitors could be ‘treated to an experience of an 18th century library (for) very little has changed since the library first opened’ (ibid), which involves not only the collection of books but also ‘Both the layout and furnishings of the library — including the dark oak bookcases, seats and shelves’ (ibid). Due to the fact that it was the first public library in Ireland, Marsh’s Library ‘had been a centre of great interest for tourists and scholars from many countries’ (www.guideirelandtravel.com) and still is operating as a place of interest for preserving its historical value and atmosphere. Furthermore, this old building has been associated with a rumour of ghost story, which has been connected with the founder of the library – Archbishop Narcissus Marsh – as it follows:

‘A brilliant scholar, Archbishop Narcissus Marsh was eccentric and obstinate. He did not believe in marriage and remained a bachelor all his life. His niece acted as housekeeper in his comfortable home beside the newly-built library.
The niece, Grace Marsh, met a young minister who, though poor, was hand-some and charming. She fell deeply in love with him but dared not let her uncle know about the affair. The lovers did not get the chance to meet very often because the Archbishop always seemed to be around. So they kept in touch with each other through written messages.
Whenever they wanted to send a message they just scribbled it on a piece of paper and placed the note carefully between the pages of a book, known to them both, but seldom sought by users of the library.
In October of 1695, the young minister and the Archbishop’s niece decided to elope to England. Eleven o’clock on one early October Eve the date… for the elopement was fixed, and in the meantime the lovers continued to correspond with each other through their secret “post office.”
All during that fateful week the Archbishop’s niece was particularly anxious that her uncle should not discover their plans. She felt that he suspected something. He seemed to frequent the library more often than usual.
On the morning of the elopement, snow fell heavily in Dublin. In an inner bay of the library the Archbishop’s niece sat reading a note from her lover, which gave final instructions for the elopement that night.
On her way out, however, the note fell from her pocket. It was found next morning by a shocked and angry Archbishop. It was too late. The previous night, two figures had met at the entrance to Marsh’s library in Dublin, not a stone’s throw from busy Patrick’s Close. There was a hurried conversation, then the figures moved together.
For days after the elopement, the Archbishop was like a man in a dream. Shock was gradually replaced by loneliness, then by bitterness. It is said that he never forgave his niece for what she had done. In the months that followed his health went from bad to worse until, some years later, he died at the age of 75. It was said that he had died of a broken heart.
Now, while Dublin sleeps, the ghost of the Archbishop is said to wander through the library, searching the shelves for the secret love messages of his niece.
The Archbishop’s remains rest in a vault in St. Patrick’s Cathedral churchyard. A short distance away stands the library. How the Archbishop’s niece, Grace, and the young minister fared has not been recorded but Grace lived to be 85 years old and it is nice to know that she was, after her death, buried in the same tomb with her uncle the Archbishop’ (ibid).

Though the story above has a convincing tone of telling, it would be appropriate to remind readers of following few points; (1) as it has been already mentioned, Marsh’s Library was built in 1701, therefore, 1695 is too early for setting this story to take place. (2) Similarly, contrary to the description of the Archbishop’s later life in grief, as it is already mentioned earlier, Narcissus Marsh continued to work as the Archbishop of Armagh, after the establishment of the library, and ‘served (there) until his death at 74 ten years later’ (Find A Grave, 2001) in 1713, which was 18 years later since the elopement in question. Finally, it would be illustrative to add some extra information regarding to the elopement of his niece Grace from another source, as it follows:

‘While Marsh was Archbishop of Dublin and living as an old bachelor in the Palace of St. Sepulchre he arranged for his niece, young Grace Marsh, to look after the housekeeping for him. Grace was only nineteen and probably found the Archbishop’s life style and strict discipline rather depressing. On the 10th September 1695 this rather sad entry appears in his Diary. “This evening betwixt 8 and 9 of the clock at night my niece Grace Marsh (not having the fear of God before her eyes) stole privately out of my house at St. Sepulchre’s and (as is reported) was that night married to Chas. Proby vicar of Castleknock in a Tavern and was bedded there with him – Lord consider my affliction”’ (http://www.marshlibrary.ie/about/narcissus-marsh/).

In addition, if Grace was nineteen years old at the time of her elopement, the year of her death could be roughly calculated to 1761, though both sources chose not to mention it but coincidentally began their closing lines with the same sentence: ‘it is nice to know…’

Thus, this short blog entry had a look at Marsh’s Library in Dublin, Ireland, from various viewpoints. At first, it looked at biographic information of Narcissus Marsh, the founder of the library, who was born in Wiltshire, England, in 1638, educated at Oxford, and extended his career mainly in Ireland and settled there since 1691 for being appointed three successive archbishoprics henceforward. It also briefly looked at Marsh being known as a scholar on logic and acoustics, and an advocator for the Irish language. Then it moved to the main topic of this entry, Marsh’s Library, and found the main motivation for the library in Marsh’s personal concerns on education and regulations of the College library, while he was Provost of Trinity College, Dublin. In wider picture, the time was coincided with the emergence of public library as a consequence of the Industrial Revolution in Britain that gave the first example in 1653, when Chetham’s Library was founded in Manchester. Subsequently, it looked at Marsh’s Library itself, especially focusing on interesting things for visitors today. The library was built in 1701-03 with the collection of books provided by its founder and its first librarian. However, it ceased to add new books during the 18th century and, along with the building’s unique features like special rooms called ‘the cages’, it is known for preserving what was there in the 18th century with very little changes since then. Finally, it examined the ghost story associated with the library and its founder Narcissus Marsh and his niece Grace. Due to the nature of this sort of story, little could be confirmed as facts i. e., Grace’s elopement on 10 September 1695, and their sharing of a burial site. Additionally, it also pointed out a potential gap between the ghost story and the real life of Narcissus Marsh regarding to his later life, in which he continued to serve as the Archbishop of Armagh until his death in 1713.

Bräsicke, Lars (2003), About the Irish Language, Gramadach na Gaeilge – The Irish Language (last updated 03/09/2003, electronically accessed 19/11/2013)

Chetham’s Library (2013), A Brief History of Chatham’s, History (electronically accessed 09/11/2013)

Find A Grave (2001), Narcissus Marsh – Memorial (electronically accessed 03/12/2013)

Heraghty, Michael (2013), Marsh’s Library, Choose Ireland – Dublin (Electronically accessed 07/11/2013)

Marsh’s Library (year unstated), Narcissus Marsh, Home – Research (electronically accessed 06/11/2013)

Trinity College Dublin (2011), Narcissus Marsh, History of the office – Former provosts (last updated 06/09/2011, electronically accessed 05/11/2013)

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (2013), UNESCO Public Library Manifest, Communication and Information (electronically accessed 11/11/2013)

http://www.guideirelandtravel.com (2013), A Dublin Ghost Story, ireland, the emerald isle -ghost stories – The Haunted Library (electronically accessed 12/11/2013)

Posted in Books, Education, History of Ireland | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Plato and Aristotle; in their ontological and teleological views

Plato and Aristotle are both well-known philosophers throughout the Western history. While the former is known for his Cave Allegory and the Two World Theory, the latter is famous for his Four Causes, as far as their ontological accounts concern. This short blog entry will briefly have a look at basic backgrounds of both philosophers and their relationship first, then will try to examine differences in their ontological view points by comparing their accounts in the following order; (1) to have a look at Plato’s Two World Theory, (2) Aristotle’s rejection of this theory and his logics that led him to establish the Four Causes, (3) similarity between Plato and Aristotle, especially in their teleological views, which would reach to (4) a conclusion to point out a certain fallibility.

Plato (427/428 B. C. – 347/348 B. C.) was born in Athens and was a disciple of Socrates, who was executed in 399 B. C., whilst Aristotle (384 B. C. – 322 B. C.) was born in Stagirus, Macedonia and studied under Plato at the Academy, an educational institution established by the latter, in Athens. Both were born in wealthy family background, lost their father in their young age, and received education designed by their guardians: as for Plato, ‘his family had a history in politics’ (http://www.egs.edu/library/plato/biography/) of Athens, his father ‘died while Plato was young’ (ibid), and he ‘studied at a gymnasium owned by Dionysios, and at the palaistra of Ariston of Argos’ (ibid). Similarly, Aristotle’s father ‘was court physician to King Amyntas of Macedonia’ (http://www.egs.edu/library/aristotle/biography/) called Nichomachus, who ‘died while he was a child’ (ibid), and his guardian ‘sent him to Athens at age 17’ (ibid). However, in terms of relationship between the philosopher himself and his mentor, Plato and Aristotle do not look alike: (1) whilst Plato followed Socrates voluntarily, Aristotle was sent to Plato’s Academy by his guardian’s will. (2) Similarly, whilst Plato established his own thoughts based on Socrates’s teachings and though his mentor’s influence gradually diminished towards his later works, in general, it could be said that largely Plato remained loyal to his mentor all through his life. On the contrary, after the death of Plato, Aristotle began to reject his mentor’s teachings – most famously Plato’s so-called two world theory.

In his theory, Plato sees the physical earthly world as being ‘full of unevenness, imperfections, and impurities’ (Baron, 2012). He observes ‘Physical objects are constantly changing (in flux, to use the Heraclitean term)’ (Brown, 2001) and therefore ‘They are transient and ephemeral’ (ibid). He goes further, with his famous Cave Allegory, to explain that ‘what we see on earth are mimics of the real thing, only with a lot of imperfections’ (Baron, 2012), in other words, ‘In real life all that is seen is an illusion (smoke) of the real thing’ (ibid). From this view point, Plato presents his two world theory, in which, ’there are two separate worlds or realms’ (Brown, 2001), namely the visible world of ordinary physical objects and the intelligible world of the Forms. Needless to say, in his Cave Allegory, the former is described as prisoners’ world in the cave whilst the latter as the real world out of the cave. In this theory, there are Forms in the intelligible world that ‘are unchanging and eternal’ (ibid), unlike physical objects we see in our visible world. Furthermore, Plato argues that the visible world ‘is a kind of shadow or reflection of the world of the Forms’ (ibid), ‘Physical objects (in the visible world) are less real than the Forms (in the intelligible world). Physical objects get what reality they have by their participation in the Forms’ (ibid), in other words, what he calls Forms ‘are what really exists’ (ibid).

Now, there arises a question whether the so-called intelligible world is accessible from our visible world or not. On this point, Plato gives the metaphor of the Divided line, another metaphor – along with the Cave Allegory – in his work The Republic and explains as it follows: ‘The intelligible world consists of the things above the (main) line’ (ibid), namely images and Forms, whilst ‘The visible world consists of the things below the (main) line’ (ibid), namely physical objects that are shadows or reflections of the Forms. Nonetheless, in practice, it is yet unclear what does it mean above/below the divided line and though Plato postulates in case where ‘once the humans rose above (the divided line from) their physical environment, they would understand the Forms which were present in the invisible world’ (Baron, 2012), nevertheless, this still holds a room to be answered, as it is argued ‘Whether he meant this would occur after death or during life remains a mystery’ (ibid).

In the meantime, Aristotle famously rejects Plato’s two world theory. He argues that ‘one cannot know the type of interaction which is occurring between the two Forms. If the “real or ideal forms” are eternal, pure and unchanging then how do they relate to the material objections or Forms on earth with all their physical imperfections? This participation or imitation link between the real and the imaginary… is erroneous thinking as no one can/has established such a link’ (ibid). Having objected his former mentor, Aristotle determined to stick to his belief that ‘our natural world itself was real and physical’ (ibid) and to ‘place himself in direct continuity with’ (Falcon, 2012) the tradition done by his predecessors: a causal investigation of the natural world around us. In doing so, he had to face to the same fact that physical objects – or matters, in his words – are constantly changing, in other words, ‘Matter underlies and persists through substantial changes. A substance is generated (destroyed) by having matter take on (lose) form’ (Cohen, 2002). This may suggest that ontological substances – or primary substances – could be ‘compounds of form and matter’ (ibid). However, ‘in the Metaphysics, Aristotle suggests that a compound cannot be a substance (Z3, 1029a30)’ (ibid). Instead, he defines requirements to be a substance as being ‘separable and a this something’ (ibid) As for the latter, Cohen adds a description that this locution is ‘usually translated, perhaps misleadingly, as “an individual”’ (ibid).

Subsequently, Aristotle ‘considers the claim of matter to be substance, and rejects it’ (ibid) because ‘Substance must be separable and a this something’ (ibid). To cut a long story short, it could be summarised that ‘perhaps Aristotle’s point is not that matter is neither separable nor individual; all he is committed to saying is that matter fails to be both separable and individual’ (ibid), therefore, ‘The only remaining candidate for primary substance seems to be form’ (ibid). Whilst the form Plato argued was separable from their shadows in the visible world, it is said that the form Aristotle argues is not ‘separable from all matter (except, perhaps, in thought). And it cannot exist if it is not the form of something’ (ibid). In his logic, individual substances are ‘compounds of matter and form’ (ibid), and ‘they’re not just unstructured collections of elements, but have a structure that is essential to their being what they are’ (ibid). In this relation, the form provides matter ‘a structure that is essential to their being what they are’ (ibid), therefore, ‘the form of a compound substance is essential to it (whilst) its matter is accidental’ (ibid). Due to its own nature, the form in Aristotle ‘is not a “thing,” (but)… the way something is’ (ibid) and this is where his form differs from Plato’s and where the following criticism arises from; what Aristotle counts as the form or ‘primary substance is one that is not in any way universal’ (ibid).

Nevertheless, Aristotle insists that ‘Substances are supposed to be objects of knowledge, and objects of knowledge are universals… (and are supposed to be) definable’ (ibid). As for knowledge, in its proper meaning, he also gives a following condition: ‘we think we have knowledge of a thing only when we have grasped its cause’ (Falcon, 2012). As for causes, through examining traditional causal investigations conducted by his predecessors, he reaches to a conclusion that ‘all his predecessors were engaged in an investigation that eventuated in knowledge of one or more of the following causes: material, formal, efficient and final cause’ (ibid). In summary, Aristotle supposedly means ‘proper knowledge is knowledge of the cause’ (ibid). Here, it would be useful to mention that what Aristotle actually had in mind was something that could be only described by using the Greek word aitia, which ‘is translated as “causes,” is probably better rendered as “that which explains”’ (Baron, 2012). In other words, ‘knowledge of the form or essence is in effect knowledge of the thing’s causes, of what explains why it is what it is’ (ibid). As a result of these arguments, Aristotle gives one of his flagship accounts known as the Four Causes, which can be summarised as following:

  • ‘The material cause: “that out of      which”, e.g., the bronze of a statue.
  • The formal cause: “the form”, “the      account of what-it-is-to-be”, e.g., the shape of a statue.
  • The efficient cause: “the primary      source of the change or rest”, e.g., the artisan, the art of      bronze-casting the statue, the man who gives advice, the father of the      child.
  • The final cause: “the end, that for      the sake of which a thing is done”, e.g., health is the end of walking,      losing weight, purging, drugs, and surgical tools’ (Falcon, 2012).

Among these four causes, the final cause only regards to explain why it is and by providing this, it is argued that ‘Aristotle offers a teleological explanation… that is to say, an explanation that makes a reference to the telos or end of the process’ (ibid). In general, it is said that ‘for Aristotle, an end (telos) is always something good’ (Henry, 2013). Strictly speaking, ‘final causation requires invoking the good as a per se cause. This is why Aristotle thinks no one before him grasped the final cause. For they may have employed the good in their accounts but only as an incidental cause’ (ibid). In this quest for the good as per se (good in itself), Aristotle’s tune resonates with his old mentor, Plato, whose teaching could be summarised in a following way: ‘A life focused on the question of its greatest good is a life lived to its fullest—an excellent or virtuous life’ (http://www.carroll.edu/msmillie/perspectives/wisdomasexcellence.htm). Seeking for the good as per se, or the greatest good, whilst Aristotle takes a direction for the Ethics, Plato sees the best example in his old mentor, Socrates, and whose wisdom. In Plato’s Apology, Socrates ‘identifies his activity with “wisdom”’ (ibid) as the wisest who ‘understands that his wisdom is worthless’ (ibid). This wisdom, and its ultimate state called wisdom as not knowing, provide the very basis of Plato’s thoughts. From his first-hand experience, Plato impersonates his late mentor and retells, ‘…the greatest good for a man [is] to discuss virtue [excellence] every day… for the unexamined life is not worth living for men’ (ibid). Nevertheless, as his mentor’s example clearly shows, wisdom at its wisest only achieves to wisdom as not knowing due to ‘the limited nature of human knowing—as he says, all human wisdom is worthless, nothing, in other words, fallible. Even in their best operation, even regarding those beliefs for which we have the best reasons, and spent the most time considering, human knowing is still fallible, and error is still possible’ (ibid). A clear cut difference between Aristotle and Plato here is, while Aristotle sticks to conduct his causal investigation, following the tradition of his predecessors, basically by counting on his own might, Plato rather recommends Socratic dialectic to minimise the effect of human fallibility, since it helps to ‘overcome our own defensiveness, prejudice, haste, lack of confidence’ (ibid).

However Aristotle’s causal investigation could be more realistic or scientific, in Plato’s view it would be ended up to be described as it follows: ‘We learn about physical objects empirically, by means of the senses: we look at them, taste them, listen to them, and so on. But none of the information we gain in this way is reliable or trustworthy: we don’t have real knowledge of the visible world, just mere “opinion.”… Empirical evidence is at best irrelevant, at worst misleading’ (Brown, 2001). Having rejected to learn by means of the sense, Plato tries to replace it with means of Reason. Upon this differentiation, once again, Plato inevitably goes back to his two world theory. In his view, ‘Our physical bodies are a part of the visible world. Our bodies are responsible for our appetites. Our sense organs, by means of which we learn about the visible world… But there’s also another part of us which links us with the eternal realm of the Forms, namely our soul (which for Plato is more or less identical with our reason). So one result of coming to learn about the Forms is that we will become less concerned with physical matters; we will be less governed by our appetites, and less reliant on our unreliable senses for knowledge’ (ibid).

Thus, this short blog entry briefly tried to examine differences of ontological views between Plato and Aristotle. At first, it had a look at Plato’s two world theory, which sees the physical earthly world as an illusion and sets up the intelligible world that accommodates the real Forms. Then it looked at Aristotle’s rejection of this theory and how he reached to establish the Four Causes, his ultimate conclusion through the traditional method called causal investigation. Subsequently, it tried to compare both theories, especially focusing on their teleological view points, and found that both weighed on similar terms; the good as per se, and the greatest good. Finally, through examining the terms above and comparing the difference in methods they took, i. e., Aristotle’s causal investigation and Plato’s Socratic dialectic, it was made to point out the former’s fallibility, which provides one of key issues to be dealt with for the latter, human fallibility.


Baron, Peter (2012), Explain the differences between Plato and Aristotle’s view of reality, Philosophical Investigation – Philosophy – Aristotle (electronically accessed on 28/08/2013)


Brown, Curtis (2001), Plato’s Metaphysics and Epistemology: Two Worlds, Trinity University – Philosophy Department – Introduction to Phylosophy (last updated 17/03/2001, electronically accessed 29/08/2013)


Cohen, S. Marc (2002), Aristotle on Substance, Matter, and Form, University of Washington – Philosophy 320, History of Ancient History – Lecture Notes (last updated on 09/07/2002, electronically accessed on 02/09/2013)


European Graduate School, The (2012), Aristotle of Stagirus – Biography, Library / Encyclopedia (electronically accessed 11/09/2013)


European Graduate School, The (2012), Plato – Biography, Library / Encyclopedia (electronically accessed 10/09/2013)


Falcon, Andrea (2012), Aristotle on Causality, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (electronically accessed 05/09/2013)


Henry, Devin (2013), Allan Gotthelf, Teology, First Principles, and Scientific Method in Aristotle’s Biology, Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews, An Electronic Journal (electronically accessed 12/10/2013)


Smillie, Mark (year unstated), Wisdom as Virtue or Human Excellence, Plato’s View of the Search for Wisdom (i.e. Philosophy), Carroll College (electronically accessed 16/09/2013)


Posted in Ancient Greece, philosophy / theology | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Discovery and deciphiering of the Crete inscriptions ‘Liner B’

The palace of Knossos in Crete was excavated by British archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans in 1900. The excavation also ‘discovered a large number of clay tablets inscribed with mysterious symbols’ (Ager, 2013) and Evans ‘dubbed the inscriptions and the language they represented as “Minoan”’ (ibid) because he believed that ‘he had discovered the palace of King Minos, together with the Minotaur’s labyrinth’ (ibid), told in the Greek mythology. Later, Evans categorised the inscriptions in three different languages; a hieroglyphic script, linear scripts A and B. This blog entry would like to examine how one of these mysterious scripts was deciphered, focusing on three scholars’ contributions basically in chronological order; Sir Arthur Evans, Alice Kober and Michael Ventris. Through looking at the process of deciphering of Linear B, it will also try to explain why the language was a form of ancient Greek.

Sir Arthur Evans was born in 1851, in Nash Mills, England. He was ‘the son of the famous prehistorian Sir John Evans’ (Ashmolean Museum, 2012), and was ‘educated at Harrow School, Brasenose College, the University of Oxford’ (http://archpropplan.auckland.ac.nz/virtualtour/knossos/22more.htm) in between 1870 and 1874. He ‘travelled across Europe for many years’ (Ashmolean Museum, 2012) before he was ‘appointed Keeper of the Ashmolean Museum’ (ibid) in 1884. His work in the Museum did not prevent him from further travelling and ‘from 1893 onwards his interests shifted to Greece and especially Crete’ (ibid). This shift seems to be triggered by his interest in languages as well for ‘Evans visited Crete for the first time in 1894 in order to study and decipher the unknown script that could be made out on seal stones, he also purchased about quarter of the site. A year later he published the results in Cretan Pictographs and Pre-Phoenician Script (http://archpropplan.auckland.ac.nz/virtualtour/knossos/22more.htm).

Political situation also backed up his further researches and enabled him to conduct a massive excavation at Knossos ‘when the island had been declared an independent State’ (ibid) in 1900. The excavation at the site continued until 1931. As for the excavation, it is said that ‘it proved necessary to preserve and restore the monuments that were being uncovered’ (ibid) from the early stage, but the method of restoration Evans took ‘has received much criticism since it introduced materials foreign to Minoan architecture’ (ibid). As for deciphering of the discovered inscriptions, Evans made a certain achievement in his life time:

‘He realised that the inscriptions represented three different writing systems: a ‘hieroglyphic’ script, Linear A and Linear B.

The hieroglphic script appears only on seal stones and has yet to be deciphered. Linear A, also undeciphered, is thought to have evolved from the hieroglyphic script, and Linear B probably evolved from Linear A, though the relationship between the two scripts is unclear.

Evans figured out that short lines in Linear B texts were word dividers. He also deciphered the counting system and a number of pictograms, which led him to believe that the script was mainly pictographic. Evans also discovered a number of parallels between the Cypriot script, which had been deciphered, and Linear B. This indicated that the language represented by Linear B was an ancient form of Greek, but he wasn’t prepared to accept this, being convinced that Linear B was used to write Minoan, a language unrelated to Greek.

In 1939, a large number of clay tablets inscribed with Linear B writing were found at Pylos on the Greek mainland, much to the surprise of Evans, who thought Linear B was used only on Crete’ (Ager, 2013)’.

With the hindsight that has been available after the deciphering of Linear B, now the puzzlement Evans faced can be explained as following: ‘Linear B was used between about 1500 and 1200 BC to write a form of Greek known as Mycenaean, named after Mycenae, where Agamemnon is said to have ruled’ (ibid). It is said that Mycenaean ‘adapted the Linear A alphabet to allow them to write down their own language, and that the language spoken in Crete at least by the rulers and their officials after 1450 BC was Greek, lending further credence to the theory that the island was conquered by the Mycenaeans’ (BBC h2g2, 2002). In the meantime, Linear A was used by the previous rules of Crete, who built the palace of Knossos but ‘all attempts to decipher the Linear A texts have failed’ (ibid) because nobody knows the language in its spoken form. Sir Arthur Evans died in 1941 at the age of 90, before Linear B was deciphered. Evans ‘is constantly admired for his intuition, his creative imagination and his profound scholarship. It is to him that we owe the discovery of the marvellous Minoan Civilisation, which until his time was only dimly reflected in Greek Mythology’ (http://archpropplan.auckland.ac.nz/virtualtour/knossos/22more.htm).

After the death of Evans, his ambition for deciphering the clay tablet scripts was left to surviving scholars, experts and individual researchers. Among them was an American female classicist, Miss Alice Kober. According to Margalit Fox, an author on Linear B, Kober ‘was an assistant professor at Brooklyn College in New York where she taught Latin and Greek classes all day’ (Gallafent, 2013). She ‘lived with her widowed mother, and there is no record in her papers of a social or romantic life of any kind. Instead, for almost two decades (in 1930s and 40s), Alice Kober devoted herself to trying to crack this mysterious Bronze Age script’ (ibid). Through her ‘hours and hours of unseen labour’, Fox adds, ‘She turned herself into the world’s leading expert on Linear B’ (ibid). On top of Latin and Greek, she also learned Egyptian. Akkadian. Sumerian, and Sanskrit – partly due to the academic climate on Linear B where, ‘Greek had been ruled out by scholars at the time’ (ibid) – but she also rigorously refused ‘to speculate on what the language was, or what the sounds of the symbols might be’ (ibid). Instead, she established her own methods and poured her efforts described as following:

‘… she set out to record the frequency of every symbol in the tablets, both in general, and then in every position within a word.

She also recorded the frequency of every character in juxtaposition to that of every other character.

It was a mammoth task, performed without the aid of computers. In addition, during the years surrounding World War II, writing materials were hard to come by.

Kober recorded her detailed analysis on index cards, which she made from the backs of old greetings cards, library checkout slips, and the inside covers of examination books.

By hand, she painstakingly cut more than 180,000 tiny index cards, using cigarette cartons as her filing system’ (ibid).

As a result of her hard work, she ‘spotted groups of symbols that appeared throughout the inscriptions – groups that would start the same, but end in consistently different ways. That was the breakthrough. Kober now knew that Linear B was an inflected language, with word endings that shifted according to use’ (ibid). Despite her marvellous achievement and the fact that she was ‘on the verge of deciphering Linear B’ (ibid), misfortune fell on her before she could complete the work. Alice Kober ‘fell ill, suddenly, and died soon after. The cause of her death is not known for sure, but it may well have been a form of cancer. It was 1950, and she was 43’ (ibid). At the point, where Kober ‘had correctly deciphered around one third of the Linear B characters’ (ibid), the mission was left for the third person – Michael Ventris.

Michael Ventris’s early careers can be summarised as following: he ‘was born on 12 July 1922 to an Indian Army officer and the daughter of a wealthy Polish landowner. He was educated on the continent and at Stowe School in England. He spoke several languages at an early age and showed a precocious interest in ancient scripts, having bought a book on Egyptian Hieroglyphs when he was seven.

His interest in Linear B began in 1936 when he went with a school group to an exhibition celebrating the 50th anniversary of the British School at Athens. Sir Arthur Evans, then 85 years old, happened to be present in the gallery and showed the boys his finds from Knossos, including the Linear B documents. His teacher remembers Ventris asking: “Did you say the tablets haven’t been deciphered, Sir?” Thus began a life-long fascination with “the Minoan problem”.

Ventris wrote to Evans — who kindly wrote back — and soon published his first article on the subject, when he was just 18 years old. This came out in the American Journal of Archaeology in 1940. The same year, Ventris began a course at the Architectural Association School in Bedford Square to embark on his chosen profession as an architect’ (University of Cambridge, 2007).

During the WWII, Ventris ‘served as a navigator’ (ibid) while Sir Arthur Evans died ‘just in time to be spared news of the occupation of Crete’ in 1941. But Ventris ‘never forgot the Aegean scripts problem’ (ibid) and after the death of Evans, he ‘corresponded thereafter with Sir John Myres, who had been entrusted by Evans with the publication of Scripta Minoa II, the Linear B tablets of Knossos’ (ibid).

After the war, it still took Ventris a few more years to settle things back on track. He was further mobilised to Germany due to this excellence in 1946, and after that he had to concentrate for his architect degree, which he finished in 1948. Through these years, Ventris visited John Myres in Oxford twice and in both occasions he had to decline the invitation for helping publication of Scripta Minoa II due to his busyness. Interestingly, Ventris had an opportunity to meet Alice Kober, who was brought in by Myres, in the second occasion on August 1948. Though this was the sole opportunity for Ventris and Kober to see each other, it is said that the meeting ‘was not a great success, and… It has been said that Ventris withdrew because, as an amateur, he was intimidated by academia’ (ibid) while it would be worth adding that ‘many academics themselves found Kober and Myres rather formidable!’ (ibid) Furthermore, other factors that made this meeting unsuccessful are allegedly pointed out as it follows: there was a crucial ‘disagreement over how the tablets should be classified’ (ibid) between Ventris and others and in this, ‘he was justified’ (ibid) when ‘a new set of transcriptions were later prepared by himself, (John) Chadwick and (Emmett) Bennett’ (ibid). As for compatibility between Ventris and Kober, some argues that ‘each underestimated the other deeply… She underestimated him because he was an amateur, and he underestimated her because she was a woman’ (Gallafent, 2013).

Following the circulation of his “Mid-Century Report” on Linear B in 1950, he ‘gave up his architectural job to work full-time on Linear B’ (University of Cambridge, 2007). In his attempt for deciphering, Ventris ‘wondered about the repeated groups of symbols identified by Kober as evidence of inflection’ (Gallafent, 2013). Then he began to work – in his words, ‘rather like doing a crossword puzzle on which the positions of the black squares haven’t been printed for you’ (University of Cambridge, 2007) – assuming the characters as a syllabic system and focused on finding some place names because these are ‘exactly the kinds of thing you’d expect to crop up all the time, especially on official palace documents. And place names often don’t change much, even after centuries’ (Gallafent, 2013). By February 1952, ‘he wrote to Myres about the Knossos place names’ (University of Cambridge, 2007) he had deciphered in the script and by May, ‘he felt the code was “breaking” and that, to his astonishment, the Linear B documents were, after all, written in Greek’ (ibid). Then, Ventris was invited to talk about Myre’s publication on the BBC Third Programme and he ‘took the opportunity to announce the decipherment and it was broadcast to the world on 1 July 1952’ (ibid). The broadcast enabled Ventris to collaborate with John Chadwick, a professional philologist – especially an expert on early Greek – who heard the programme, and they worked together closely for deciphering the script for a next few y ears.

As a result, it turned out that Linear B was ‘a form of ancient Greek, which had been taken to Crete by invaders from the mainland. The Greeks themselves did not develop an alphabet until centuries later, but at Knossos their language was written down for the first time, using an ancient script indigenous to the island’ (Gallafent, 2013). It would be worth to mention that ‘In a lecture after he had cracked Linear B…Ventris did however give substantial credit to Kober for her contribution – but this acknowledgement went largely unnoticed’ (ibid). Some argue that ‘Ventris would never have been able to crack the code, had it not been for an American classicist, Alice Kober’ (ibid) whilst others ‘question whether Kober would have had the creative spark to jump the final hurdle’ (ibid). Long before answering to this question, Michael Ventris ‘died in a tragic car accident on 6 September 1956’ (University of Cambridge, 2007), while he was ‘At the height of his fame and just weeks before the publication of his great joint work with Chadwick, Documents in Mycenaean Greek’ (ibid). The accident ‘has never been fully explained (and) some believe it may have been suicide’ (Gallafent, 2013).

Thus, this blog entry looked at how the Minoan scripts were discovered at the palace of Knossos in Crete, excavated by Sir Arthur Evans in 1900 and how he dubbed the inscriptions with legendary King Minos in his mind. It also saw it was Evans, who differentiated the scripts in three languages and one of them was called Linear B. After the death of Evans, it was Alice Kober, who made a significant progress on deciphering Linear B due to her hard work through the 1930s and 40s. Despite the war time hardship, she established her own method for analysing the characters and achieved to correctly decipher around one third of the Linear B characters, nonetheless, she fell ill and suddenly died in 1950 before she could crack the code. The end of the WWII enabled Michael Ventris, who was originally inspired by Sir Arthur Evans during a school trip, to work full-time on deciphering of Linear B and when he finally managed it, in 1952, it was revealed that the language written in Linear B was a form of ancient Greek, which had been spoken by Mycenaean, who ruled Crete from around 1450 B. C. after the decline of indigenous people, who had built the Palace of Knossos and developed their writing system, Linear A.


Ager, Simon (2013), Linear B, Omniglot – the online encyclopedia of writing systems and languages (electronically accessed 09/07/2013)http://www.omniglot.com/writing/linearb.htm

Ashmolean Museum (2012), Sir Arthur Evans, The Sir Arthur Evans Archive, the Department of Antiquities at the Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford (electronically accessed 11/07/2013)

BBC h2g2 (2002), The Menoan Civilisation of Crete (electronically accessed 10/07/2013)http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/A765146

Faculty of Classics, University of Cambridge (2007), Life of Ventris, The Faculty – Research Groups and Societies – Mycenaean Epigraphy Group – Decipherment (electronically accessed 17/07/2013)http://www.classics.cam.ac.uk/faculty/research_groups_and_societies/mycenaean_epigraphy/decipherment/life_of_ventris/

Gallafent, Alex (2013), Alice Kober: Unsung heroine who helped decode Linear B, BBC News – Magazine (last updated 05/06/2013, electronically accessed 16/07/2013)http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-22782620

Maguire, Daryl (year unstated), Sir Arthur Evans (1851-1941) (electronically accessed 24/07/2013)

Posted in Ancient Greece, European history | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ovid’s banishment and the Julian Marriage Laws

Ovid is one of the most famous poets in the field of classical literature, especially as the author of Metamorphoses, his masterpiece. Despite his works’ contemporary popularity and long lasting fame that followed up to today, little things are known about his own life. This entry would like to have a look at basic biography of the poet and some of his works that seem to be related to the author’s downfall. Then it will look at social and political background, especially focusing on the so-called Julian Marriage Laws. Finally, it will briefly look at the poet’s life in exile from which, he could never return.

Little things known about Ovid’s life until his banishment can be summarised in the following way:

‘Ovid was born Publius Ovidius Naso on March 20, 43 B.C.E., at Sulmo (modern Sulmona), Italy, about ninety miles from Rome. His father was wealthy {equestrian} and intended for him to become a lawyer and an official. He gave Ovid an excellent education, including study under great rhetoricians (masters of language and speech).
Ovid preferred exercises that dealt with historical or imaginary circumstances… {After the death of his brother, Ovid renounced law and began travelling to} Athens, Greece, {then, further} toured the Near East, and lived for almost a year in Sicily. His father convinced him to return to Rome, where he served in various minor legal positions, but he disliked the work and {resigned to pursue poetry}.

After leaving legal work, Ovid moved in the best literary circles. He had attracted notice as a poet while still in school and in time came to be surrounded by a group of admirers {including his patron Marcus Valerius Messalla Corvinus, a Roman General}. This period of Ovid’s life seems to have been relatively peaceful as well as productive. Of his private life we know little except that he was married three times…
In 8 or 9 C.E. Ovid was banished to Tomi, a city on the Black Sea in what is now modern Romania. The reasons behind Ovid’s exile have been the subject of much guessing. He himself tells us that the reason was “a poem and a mistake.”’ (Advameg Inc., 2013), with supplemental information from {PoemHunter.com}.

In the meantime, Ovid’s most famous work Metamorphoses is generally regarded as his masterpiece and it is said that the work was completed ‘By AD 8’ (PoemHunter.com). However, ‘a poem’ in question that implied by Ovid himself as a possible cause for his banishment is usually regarded as his earlier works, The Amores and The Ars Amatoria. Whilst the latter was pointed out by Ovid himself as the poem, which was the ‘cause of his banishment’ (PoemHunter.com) during his exile, the former has been speculated as the poem in charge, due to its contents. Although both seem to have much in common in their contents – whilst the latter is about the Art of Love, which ‘parodies didactic poetry whilst being a manual about seduction and intrigue’ (ibid), the former ‘made fun of conventional (socially accepted) love poetry and offered vivid portrayals of contemporary Roman society’ (Advameg Inc., 2013) – a significant difference between them is that the author ‘writes about adultery, rendered illegal in Augustus’s marriage law reforms of 18 BC’ (PoemHunter.com) in the former.

It is said that The Amores is one of Ovid’s early works and its original edition can be traced back to ‘a five-book collection, circa 20 BC’ (ibid), before the marriage law reforms take place. Furthermore, it seems that Ovid continued to work on this title for a couple of decades because there is a ‘surviving, extant version, reduced to three books, includes poems written as late as AD 1’ (ibid). This means that despite the criminalising of adultery with severe penalties such as ‘exile and confiscation of property’ (Lefkowitz and Fant, 1992) nearly a couple of decades ago, the final form of completed work was not only yet in circulation but also was described as ‘an immediate and overwhelming success in fashionable society’ (Advameg Inc., 2013) roughly for eight more years until the author’s banishment.

Augustus’s marriage law reforms in 18 B. C. is also known as the Julian Marriage Laws, named after the Emperor’s daughter, who became one of representing figures of the consequence of the law reforms. Julia was born in about 36 B. C. and was ‘a highly intelligent woman, well read and knowledgeable, with a penchant for lively and witty company (Barrett, 2001, p. 18). She married Agrippa, one of close friends of her father Augustus and gave birth to several children including prospective successors of the emperor, Gaius Caesar and Lucius Caesar, before her husband’s sudden death in 12 B. C. Facing to his close friend’s death, Augustus ‘forced Tiberius to … marry Julia’ (Oracle’ThinkQuest, 2011) by also forcing him to divorce his wife Vispania Agrippina, ‘whom he loved dearly’ (ibid). Tiberius was one of candidates for the future successor of Augustus and he had no choice but to obey the order. Nonetheless, it is said that ‘his marriage to Julia was not a very happy one. Julia bore Tiberius only one son who died soon after birth and there were no other children made between the two’ (ibid). Despite her father’s marriage law reforms, which made adultery a criminal offence, she ‘took lovers from at least the time of her marriage to Agrippa’ (Barrett, 2001, p. 19) since she was ‘quite “bohemian” and considered any behaviour socially acceptable if her own personal inclinations recommended it’ (ibid, p. 18).
In 2 B. C., while Tiberius was voluntarily withdrawing to Rhodes since 6 B. C., Augustus, in his age of 60 years old, heard shocking accounts of then 38 years old Julia, who allegedly ‘had scores of lovers and roamed about the city looking for thrills, even prostituting herself with strangers in the forum at the statue of Marsyas’ (ibid, p. 19). Although this made Augustus so angry that he intended to ‘put her to death… he limited himself to denouncing his daughter in a letter to the senate and requesting strict exile’ (ibid) and accordingly, Julia ‘was sent to the island of Pandateria, off the coast of Campania’ (ibid).

Julia’s disgrace and banishment were followed by further misfortunes and grieves that fell upon both of Julia’s sons through her marriage to Agrippa. It is said that ‘Lucius Caesar, on his way to Spain in AD 2 fell ill at Marseilles and died… (then) Gaius Caesar, died of wounds on his way back from the east in AD 4’ (ibid). Having lost all his realistic male heirs from his daughter Julia, Augustus arranged for Agrippina the Elder, daughter of Agrippa and Julia, to marry Germanicus, a nephew of Tiberius, who had been allowed to return from Rhodes in AD 2 to be adopted by the emperor, together with Agrippa Postumus, in AD 4. Despite the latter was the sole surviving son between Agrippa and disgraced Julia, he ‘was never seriously considered’ (ibid, p. 21) to be a candidate for Augustus’s successor, presumably because he was born on ‘after 26 June’ (Lendering, 2007) of 12 B. C., probably after his father’s death that took place in the same year. Though he managed to be adopted, his good fortune did not last long but it was followed by being sent to exile within a couple of years and he ended up to receive a decree of ‘eternal exile’ in AD 8, the year in question.

Ovid was relatively a less important figure in comparison with those who had to face cruel punishments sentenced by Augustus in between AD 6 and AD 8. Along with Agrippa Postumus mentioned above, whose sister Julia, who is usually called Julia the Younger to avoid confusion with her mother – Julia the disgraced – ‘was convicted of adultery’ (ibid) and banished in AD 8, whilst her husband, ‘Lucius Aenilius Paullus, was put to death for conspiracy against Augustus’ (PoemHunter.com).
To consider the nature of conspiracy here and severe punishments as its result, the following aspects would be inspiring and helpful for inferring what happened behind official records of punishments:

‘… the borderline between immorality and conspiracy is a fine one, when the imperial family is involved. An amorous entanglement with a ruler’s daughter must always involve mixture of both erotic attraction and political ambition. Under English law, for instance, it is still a treasonable offence, punishable by death, to be involved in a sexual liaison with the spouse of the heir to the throne. If the paramour is someone with an impressive personal pedigree the situation becomes especially dangerous, even if there is no over conspiracy’ (Barrett, 2001, p. 20).

Given the Ovid’s own accounts over his banishment, ‘a poem and a mistake’, and his further explanation that the latter ‘was worse than murder, more harmful than poetry’ (PoemHunter.com), it could be plausible to establish a hypothesis that he was banished ‘for political reasons’ (ibid) possibly related to one of conspiracies that involved some prominent figures disgraced around AD 8.

It is said that it took Ovid nearly a year for his journey to exile in Tomis, where ‘was subject to attack by hostile barbarians and to bitterly cold winters’ (Advameg Inc., 2013). Although he consistently wrote letters of appeals to be allowed to return to Rome by lamenting his situation in Tomis, where ‘books and educated people were not to be found and Latin was practically unknown’ (ibid), his laments only fell into deaf ears of successive Emperors; Augustus, who excluded Ovid’s works from the public libraries of Rome, and his successor Tiberius, who ‘was even more unyielding’ (ibid) against Ovid’s appeals. Nevertheless, it seems that the poet of poets did not only bear with his misfortune. On the contrary, it is said that ‘Ovid’s exile was not so unbearable as his letters indicate. He learned the native languages, and his pleasantness and friendliness made him a beloved and revered figure to the local citizens. They exempted him from taxes and treated him well’ (ibid). Ovid died in Tomis in his exile in circa 18 A. D.

Thus, this entry looked at early years of Ovid, where he received gifted life and education for becoming a lawyer due to his father’s will, and his success as a poet until his downfall in 8 A. D. Subsequently, it tried to examine his early works, in relation to his own remark – ‘a poem and a mistake’ – and political/legal background and provisionally reached to a conclusion that The Amores is the most likely poem in question. Then it looked at the impact of Augustus’s marriage law reforms enacted in 18 B. C. and found examples of other prominent figures’ downfalls including the emperor’s daughter Julia the disgraced and her daughter Julia the Younger. Pondering on these scandals also enabled it to come close to get a grip of possible implication of Ovid’s remark on his banishment – ‘a mistake’ – in relation to a speculation of hypothetical conspiracy. Finally, it also looked at Ovid’s life in exile and found his living condition might have been more comfortable than his own accounts left in his letters of appeals.


Advameg Inc. (2013), Ovid Biography, Encyclopedia of World Biography (electronically accessed 06/04/2013)

Barrett, Anthony A.(2001), Agrippina – Sex, Power, and Politics in the Early Empire, The Taylor & Francis e-Library – Google Books (electronically accessed 20/04/2013)

Lefkowitz, Mary R. and Maureen B. Fant (1992), Legal Status in the Roman World, Women’s Life in Greece & Rome (electronically accessed 11/05/2013)

Lendering, Jona (2007), Agrippa Postumus, Livius.Org (electronically accessed 18/04/2013)

Oracle’ThinkQuest (2011), Tiberius: 42 BC to 37 AD, The Empire – A List of Emperors (electronically accessed 27/05/2013)

PoemHunter.com (year unstated), Biography of Ovid (electronically accessed 16/04/2013)

Posted in Rome | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment