by now, most of you have probably seen this post about how “Athena gifted Medusa with ugliness and the power to turn men to stone as a way of protecting her from further violations of her person…As the original myth tells it, she lived in solitude because she did not wish to be around men after what Poseidon had done. And Athena gave her the power to never be at the mercy of a male again”
In addition, it makes some claims about how the image of Medusa’s head was found on the lintel of women’s shelters, and it was patriarchal Rome that subverted this myth into the one of rape and victim-blaming and turned her ugliness into something shameful.
….EXCEPT REALLY NOT
first let me say, I am all for reinterpreting and retelling Greek myths! People have been doing it down the ages, and I love the Romantic fixation on Prometheus and Freud’s fetish for Oedipus and tumblr’s fascination with Persephone/Hades. And I am definitely all for reclaiming stories that have been used to shame and silence women.
But I am also allergic to those retellings being retroactively fitted back into their sexist framework. On top of this being just plain old revisionist history, it does a disservice to why we needed to retell it in the first place.
Medusa was (probably) not natively a feminist heroine and her head was not hung above doorways of women’s shelters (not sure if Classical Greece had anything recognizable women’s shelters, my research hasn’t turned up anything.) Ancient Rome is not automatically more patriarchal than Ancient Greece, because Greece was pretty damn gross in a lot of ways and their myths are not exempt from that.
Let’s unpack the history of Medusa, shall we?
[cut for length and excessive sourcing]
When archaeologists work to understand an ancient civilization, they often use that civilization’s texts to get a clue as to how they saw themselves. But these people didn’t live in isolation. They traded; they invaded. They carried inventions and knowledge back and forth down the Silk Road, the Tea Road and Roman roads. They also, sometimes, wrote down what they thought of each other.
A few years ago, the University of Washington’s John E. Hill drafted an English copy of the Weilüe, a third century C.E. account of the interactions between the Romans and the Chinese, as told from the perspective of ancient China. “Although the Weilue was never classed among the official or ‘canonical’ histories, it has always been held in the highest regard by Chinese scholars as a unique and precious source of historical and geographical information,” says Hill. Read more.
[rebloggable by request]
You’re the same person who sent me the ask, “Given that Deiniol was born in Wales, How likely is it that he was a person of color?”
I take it you did not read any of the 19 books I referred to you? Otherwise you’d probably be able to better understand your own question.
I don’t know why you keep sending me these vaguely race-baiting asks.
Phrases like “how likely is it” and “not ethnically Italian” don’t really make any sense in the context of this blog, or history in general. You seem to have this really weird idea that somehow in some far-distant past, Europe was full of exactly one race that you consider to be White. I mean, are you trying to say, Proto-Indo Europeans? That’s completely in the realm of linguistics, and has nothing to do with race. I mean, here’s a simplified mockup of Italy from 400 B.C., 400-ish years before Terentius Neo died in Pompeii:
Here’s some Etruscan art from around that time:
Like, how far back do we have to go to find people you’d consider “ethnically Italian”? When does this question start making sense?
Wait, did you mean when it was part of Ancient Greece, Crotone and all that?
Did you mean like, 8000 B.C.? Are these people “ethnically Italian”?
WHAT ANSWER ARE YOU LOOKING FOR?
this ask from earlier hit some unexpected nerves with some people. If it wasn’t clear: “ethnically Italian” isn’t really relevant since Italy wouldn’t exist until 1861, almost 2,000 years later.
If you mean “white people” you should probably just say “white people”.
Asking about ethnic Italians isn’t entirely meaningless, but definitely misphrased. The name Italia goes back thousands of years and wasn’t just invented at unifiation. In the Social War when various non-Latin Italic indigenous ethnic groups tried to rise up against Rome (either to demand citizenship or to overthrow the Republic - the debate still rages), these peoples did fight under ‘Italia’ (the Latin coming from the Oscan word víteliú). This Italia was perceived as sort of an alternative to Rome that might overthrow it and basically incorporated various Italic peoples from all across the mainland (not including Sicily since it’s not Italy - which is why the proto-Sicani paintings are a little misplaced as an example, the peoples of Sicily were not Italic peoples).
If vladith is looking for numbers, he won’t find them (we barely have numbers for anyone in Rome who wasn’t an adult male citizen - slaves, women, kids, forget it). Is he asking about the 2nd century BCE or CE? If CE, a hell of a lot of them would be non-Latin ethnically, considering how easily people born outside of Rome could become citizens, but they’d still be Romans legally, and almost entirely culturally if they were living in the city itself. If BCE, fewer would be non-Latin and non-Italic, but they’d certainly be around. I think at least Roman Jews are attested somewhere in the record for the late 2nd C BCE. Migration’s not as hard as people seem to think tho, and is also something that wouldn’t have been documented so much (what are the chances someone’s going to write “so this guy came into Puteoli from North Africa today” and that it’d survive?). Etruscans themselves might not even be Italic (this debate still rages, I’m on the non-Italic side of things) although they were one of the Italian peninsula’s most prosperous civilizations (I concede angrily). And there should have been a good number of Etruscans at Rome in the 2nd C BCE too.
If this kid was looking for modern Italians in ancient Rome tho he’s really got another thing coming!
The context: I had just posted this painting from Pompeii(A.D. 55-79):
And in that context, it’s fairly ridiculous.
The insistence on viewing or describing people of color in Europe as “foreign” in some way, shape, or form is what I’m really calling into question here. Especially when combined with the previous ask. How long to you have to be in Europe before you are considered “European”?
The point of my blog is that Europe has been racially diverse for a long, long time-but a lot of history was rewritten in the 19th and 20th centuries to erase that fact. Just Italy on its own was very diverse culturally, as we have both noted (quibbles over Etruscans notwithstanding).
As for the proto-Sicani cave paintings, the point they make stands: looking for historic evidence of an “all-white” Europe is a wild goose chase that requires you to ignore, explain away, and dismiss about a million proofs to the contrary. Unfortunately, modern academia has been designed to do just that.
Also, I’d imagine that some of them managed to get to the mainland and have some babies in the last 10,000 years, so they would in effect be Italian. And lastly, you may have noticed they are literally stick figures on a cave wall; it’s not like you have any idea WHAT they may have looked like.
As for Terentius Neo, all we really know is that he lived in Pompeii and was a baker; there’s no way to know by looking at him what his ethnicity would have been considered at that time. Roman ethnic categories were really, really different than ours, and weren’t racial categories.
Lastly, thanks for pointing out that North Africa is like, literally right there. Even ancient peoples often had legs, domesticated riding animals, and boats.
Not sure whether the thank you was sarcastic, but you’re welcome nonetheless. Obviously we don’t have hard stats but there were tons of North African and Eastern peoples in Rome for a lot of its history.
Perhaps a bit late but a good addition to this post… the emperor Septimius Severus was Punic, from Leptis Magna in Libya, and take a look at the way he’s depicted here! (And I hope vladith considers that Severus was just as Roman as he was Punic regardless of his colour)
The icon of Rome’s foundation, a life-size bronze statue of a she-wolf with two human infants suckling her, is about 1,700 years younger than its city, Rome’s officials admitted on Saturday.
The official announcement, made at the Capitoline Museums, where the 30 inch-high bronze is the centerpiece of a dedicated room, quashes the belief that the sculpture was adopted by the earliest Romans as a symbol for their city.
“The new dating ranges between 1021 e il 1153,” said Lucio Calcagnile, who carried radiocarbon tests at the University of Salento’s Center for Dating e Diagnostics.
Recalling the story of a she-wolf which fed Romulus, the legendary founder of Rome, and his twin brother, Remus, after they had been thrown in a basket into the Tiber River, the so called “Lupa Capitolina” (Capitoline she-wolf) was donated to the museum in 1471 by Pope Sixtus IV. Read more.