Pericles' Funeral Oration...or was it Aspasia's?

In 430B.C., at the end of the first year of the war against the Spartans, the Athenians gathered, according to their custom, for a commemoration service in honor of their fallen.

Pericles stepped forward, and proceeded to deliver possibly the greatest speech we have from the ancient world. There are speeches from Rome to compare, but none is as well known as Pericles' Funeral Oration.

Pericles not only praised the dead, but set forth everything that Athens was, and hoped to be, everything that made an Athenian proud of his city: the democracy, equality of all men under law, freedom of speech, and their open society. It all sounds remarkably modern. This is the speech in which Pericles called Athens, "the school of Greece," a phrase which reverberated through history so strongly that 1,900 years later during the Renaissance, Michaelangelo et al. were referred to as belonging to the school of Athens. It's also where Pericles said, "the whole earth is the tomb of heroes."

The only comparable speech in history would be the Gettysburg Address. The parallels are so strong, some people have speculated how much Pericles may have influenced Lincoln. Though Pericles's speech is much longer, the structure of the two is almost identical. might not have been Pericles influencing Lincoln. It might have been his girlfriend, Aspasia.

Aspasia of Miletus was, to put it mildly, a remarkable woman. She probably arrived in Athens as a hetaera: a combination of high class prostitute and salon hostess. The rich and powerful of Athens clamoured to get invitations to the parties held by the best hetaerae. The hetaerae were the only women in Athens with access to a good education; they needed it, to be able to recite poetry, sing, play music, discuss the affairs of the day with the men running things, and keep those men amused. What set Aspasia apart from the others was that she was very, very smart, and her particular skill was rhetoric.

Pericles met Aspasia at some point in the 440s, presumably at one of those parties, and fell madly in love with her. It's not known whether they formally married, but Aspasia was very happy to put away her old profession and move in with him. They remained a close couple until the day he died. In fact, it was an open scandal that every morning, Pericles was seen to kiss Aspasia goodbye at the door to their house, before he set off for work. The scandal was not that Pericles had taken up with a hooker, but that we was pashing her in public; definitely not the done thing in those days.

Aspasia's brilliance shone through at once, to the point at which men like Socrates turned up at Pericles' house to talk with her, not him. Socrates credited Aspasia with being his teacher in rhetoric. Interestingly for anyone who's read my first book (not many yet, but we're working on it...), the only other woman Socrates credits among his teachers is a certain priestess from Mantinea, called Diotima.

After Pericles had delivered the Funeral Oration, the rumor went round that Aspasia, not Pericles, had written it.

We know the rumor because Plato passed it on in his book Menexenus, which relates the usual Socratic dialogue between Socrates guessed it...Menexenus. Starting from section 235e, from the Perseus Digital Library, it says:

And do you think that you yourself would be able to make the speech, if required and if the Council were to select you?

That I should be able to make the speech would be nothing wonderful, Menexenus; for she who is my instructor is by no means weak in the art of rhetoric; on the contrary, she has turned out many fine orators, and amongst them one who surpassed all other Greeks, Pericles, the son of Xanthippus.

Who is she? But you mean Aspasia, no doubt.

I do and; also Connus the son of Metrobius; for these are my two instructors, the one in music, the other in rhetoric. So it is not surprising that a man who is trained like me should be clever at speaking. ...[snip]... but I was listening only yesterday to Aspasia going through a funeral speech for these very people. For she had heard the report you mention, that the Athenians are going to select the speaker; and thereupon she rehearsed to me the speech in the form it should take, extemporizing in part, while other parts of it she had previously prepared, as I imagine, at the time when she was composing the funeral oration which Pericles delivered; and from this she patched together sundry fragments.

Could you repeat from memory that speech of Aspasia?

Yes, if I am not mistaken; for I learnt it, to be sure, from her as she went along.

Plato(!) has just said that Aspasia wrote the most important speech of the ancient world. Now Plato put many of his own words into Socrates' mouth, but he has no axe to grind here, the odds are fair he is reporting something Socrates actually said, and Socrates was in a position to know the truth of which of them wrote it. Furthermore, among Plato's readers were certainly men who had stood before Pericles when he delivered the speech. There's no way Plato could have got away with this claim unless it was a common belief.

It's easy to see how this could happen. Imagine you are Pericles; you have an important speech coming up, but you also have to run a city in a dire state of war. At home, your wife just happens to be the world's greatest living exponent of rhetoric. Why would you not, when you got home that night, say, "Honey, run me up a speech, will you?"

Though we can never know for certain, the evidence is strong that the speech which defined the legacy of Athens was written by a former high class hooker from Miletus.

The Voting Age in Athens

Brandi asked a question that made me think, in my post about The Long, Long Childhood of the Greeks. If you were a legal child, did that prevent you from voting?

The answer is no, you could vote even if your father was standing right next to you. (Which he may well have been to make sure you voted the way he wanted.)

But it raised the obvious next question: what was the voting age?

It took me a while to dig out the answer, but here it is. Men who were citizens got the vote from age 18. Aristotle's Athenian Politics, Chapter 42, Section 1, courtesy of the Perseus Digital Library, says in part:

The present form of the constitution is as follows. Citizenship belongs to persons of citizen parentage on both sides, and they are registered on the rolls of their demes at the age of eighteen...

A deme was like a combination of suburb and sub-tribe.

The rule that to be a citizen both your parents had to be citizens was introduced by Pericles himself, and he got hoist on his own petard by that one. Later on, he fell desperately in love with Aspasia of Miletus, and they had a son, also called Pericles, who of course could not be a citizen because his mother wasn't. Pericles had to go to the people and beg them to overlook his own law. He got nowhere until be broke down and sobbed before the entire populace, a major event since Pericles prided himself on his public composure. The people, having had their fun, duly enrolled Pericles the Younger as a citizen.

Only men had the vote. Women were losers, I'm afraid; so were slaves (no surprise there) and resident aliens (called metics) of whom there were lots. The good news is, the franchise extended over not merely the city, but all of Attica, the quite large region of southern Greece controlled by Athens. Of course you had to be physically present in the city to vote, there being a distinct lack of internet at this stage, but people did come in for important issues.

As a percentage of total population, the franchise wasn't huge, but the amazing thing is that there was a franchise at all. This was the world's first democracy and they fiddled with the basic laws constantly to fine tune the system, which was surprisingly complex when you look at it in detail.

Wikipedia incorrectly (as usual) says that men didn't get the vote until after they'd completed their army training, but I can forgive them the error just this once because the two came closely together. Every male citizen as soon as he reached adulthood, was required to serve two years as an Ephebe (trainee-recruit) in the army. So pretty much the moment you got enrolled to vote, you were whisked off for 2 years of no doubt hellish boot camp. No exceptions. Probably the first time lots of men got to vote was when they were released from the army at age 20.

There was a higher age restriction on holding public office. You had to be 30+ years old to be an archon (civil leader), or a strategos (military'll never guess where we get our word strategy from), or be a member of the council which managed the affairs of the general assembly.

Something people in our modern democracies don't entirely get about Athens, is that back then, people were voting all the time. There was none of this modern vote-once-every-4-years-and-then-let-someone-else-run-the-country rubbish. The entire voting populace formed the entire parliament. If you didn't like the way things were going, then there was no one to blame but yourself, because you and your neighbor voted for it.

So when I say at age 18 you were enrolled to vote, what I mean is at age 18 you became a legislator in the ruling government.

There were about 40 voting days in every year. Of course not everyone could attend every assembly, so they set a quorum of 6,000 people. Imagine if your own parliament had a minimum 6,000 members!

Confucius and Socrates

Your trivia for the day: By most sources, Confucious died in 479B.C., and Socrates was born in 469B.C. Only ten years apart!

It was theoretically possible for someone to have met them both. I'm 100% sure no one did, but the possibility is sort of cool.

Interesting too that philosophy and science exploded in China and Greece almost simultaneously, as if the world had reached a point where great advances became possible.

The long, long childhood of the Greeks

One of the weirder aspects of Athenian life was that a man was legally a child until his father died.

Thus when he rose to power, Pericles was the foremost man in Athens...and a child.

The effect of legal childhood was that a man had to run to Daddy for his allowance from the family estate (if the family was wealthy), for approval of any commercial action, in fact for approval of just about anything.

You might think reasonable fathers would interpret the requirement loosely, giving their 30+ year old sons lattitude to make their own decisions. But you'd be wrong. There are numerous known instances where fathers reversed decisions they didn't like made by their fully grown sons.

Xanthippus, the son of Pericles, thought his allowance from the family estate was niggardly. (It probably was...Pericles had a reputation that way). Xanthippus was a fully grown man with a demanding wife, who expected the son of the most powerful man in the city should be able to do better by her. So Xanthippus borrowed money from lenders to maintain his lifestyle. It all came out when repayment fell due. Pericles was furious. He repudiated his son's agreement, and sued the lenders for fraud against him. Why fraud? Because the lenders were demanding money based on an unenforcable contract with a legally incompetent child.

This system reached its ultimate ridiculous position when the great playwright Sophocles, at the age of 90, was sued by his eldest son Iophon. Iophon wanted his father declared mentally incompetent so he could take control of the family estate. Family dinners must have been interesting affairs while this was going on! But it's hard not to feel some sympathy for Iophon; at the age of about 60 he would still have had no more legal status than a 12 year old. Sophocles defended himself in court by reciting, on the spot, the ode to Athens from his latest unpublished work, Oedipus at Colonus. The poetry was so brilliant that the jury dismissed Iophon's suit, who one can imagine got a sound spanking from Daddy when they got home.

The three numbers that scare me: 90, 95 and 99

Back when I was doing project management (for software development, but that's irrelevant here), there was an amusing and frequently ineffective ritual that I carried out on a regular basis. It was called getting status updates from the team.

It worked like this. Let's say Fred has been assigned a 1 week task, which he began on Monday morning last week. It is now first thing Monday morning this week.

I could, in theory, have collected Fred's status update at close of business on Friday afternoon, but that wouldn't have been playing according to the rules, because everyone knows there is an infinite amount of time available during the weekend to finish a job.

So, it is Monday, and Fred's job is due. Needless to say Fred does not volunteer it, so I go to him.

Gary: How's that task going?

Fred: It's 90% done.


Fred: It's 95% done.

or (and this means Fred's task is in deep trouble and is going to be very, very late)

Fred: It's 99% done.

The answer to the last one is easy...

Gary: Oh good! Then I'll stand behind your back for the next 24 minutes while you finish it, shall I?

Because 1% of 40 hours is 24 minutes. And Fred replies:

Fred: Oh...uh...well, there's this problem and that problem...none of which are my fault of course, about Wednesday?

Wednesday is actually code for end of the week, making a 100% overrun.

Gary: So it's not 99% done, is it? It's more like, 50%.
Fred: Errrr...guess so.

Now you might argue I should have checked with Fred halfway through, to make sure he was on track, and you'd be right. I did check with Fred halfway through, at the end of Wednesday last week, and he replied, "Oh, I'm going fine. It's half done!" Because, you see, Fred can count to 5 (probably) and he knows that on day 3 he should be halfway done. He didn't actually check to see if he was halfway done, he merely said that, because that irritant Gary was bothering him again, and this was the right way to get rid of the irritant.

The funny thing is, the one week task that Fred has screwed up on, was scheduled on his own estimate. Whenever possible, I did bottom up scheduling in which the person who had to do the job was the one who decided how long it would take, and that's what went into the schedule.

This teaches a hugely important lesson:

People are really, really bad at estimating how long it will take them to do things.

By bad I mean, I kept records of how long people said it would take them, and how long it really took them, and on average, it took 3 times longer than they said.

I call this the fudge factor, and used to keep records of everyone's personal fudge. The ratios varied per person from about 1 to 5, 3 being the average. I only once met someone who had a fudge factor less than 1; his was about 0.7. That guy had two PhDs, one in engineering and the other in astrophysics, and had memorized the entire set of emacs commands. If you are familiar with emacs, you'll know this is like memorizing all of War And Peace, only harder because it doesn't make sense.

Although individual fudge factors varied widely, for any one given individual their fudge factor was remarkably consistent across many tasks and many estimates, even if the tasks were of a wildly different nature. If I asked how long it would take you to do the shopping, or to write some code, or to proofread your novel, you would be wrong by about the same ratio in every case.

So, what's your personal fudge factor? If you're not sure but want to find out, try writing down some estimates for things you'll be doing in the next couple of weeks, and then record start and stop times using a watch.

St Valentine's Day

It's St Valentine's Day, so what better time to talk about...aphrodisiacs.

Our word aphrodisiac comes from Aphrodite, the Greek Goddess of Love.

Aphrodite was a girl who got around. I suppose that's part of the job description.

Her most famous lover was Adonis. Adonis was killed by the God Ares who'd transformed himself into a boar (the pig kind, not the party kind) to off his rival. The death of Adonis made it into religious festivals, paintings, and the odd poem.

A guy called Theophrastus, who was a student of Aristotle's, had a few things to say about aphrodisiacs. He declared that corn-flag, which has a bulbous root and which, "boiled, pounded and mixed with flour, makes bread sweet and wholesome," would work as an aphrodisiac.

Truffles, garlic, leeks, and a type of orchid called satirio were all considered aphrodisiacs. So for dinner tonight, I recommend truffle and leek soup with garlic.

It's said that Aristotle advised Alexander the Great not to let the soldiers drink mint tea, because it would make them horny. Not that there was much chance of soldiers drinking mint tea. Unwatered wine was more their thing. Hippocrates on the other hand, said that mint reduced your sperm count and caused erectile dysfunction.

The Greeks also practiced love magic. However, almost all the spells and charms I've come across are to improve male potency, so it seems what we're really looking at are early versions of viagra. In The Acharnians by Aristophanes there's a bride who's given a special wine to rub on the bridegroom every night to make sure he doesn't stray. Theophrastus, who I mentioned before, talked of a lotion which when rubbed on the penis produced 12 erections in succession. One assumes he tried it. That's not the only penis lotion, by the way. Ancient writings are chock-a-block full of penis lotions. The mind boggles.

Nestor's Cup is a rather cool love magic system which has survived. Here is a Wikimedia Commons of the underside of the cup.

The inscription underneath says:

I am Nestor's Cup,
Good to drink from.
Whoever drains this cup,
Desire for beautiful-crowned Aphrodite
will fall upon him.

Ritual butchering in Ancient Greece

Here's your trivia for the day. One of the reasons so little red meat was eaten in Ancient Greece was that all meat animals had to be ritually dedicated to the Gods before they could be slaughtered. No exceptions!

So if you wanted chicken for dinner, you had to catch your chicken, and then hold the equivalent of a church service before you were allowed to wring its neck and start plucking. This was a pain in the neck for more than just the chicken.

The same rule did not apply to fish. Seafood was just plain easier if you were a Greek.

Backup systems for writers

Having abandoned a life as an ultra-techie to become an author writing in classical times is a bit of a jump, to put it mildly. One which I am enjoying immensely, btw.

You couldn't think of two more radically different careers, however, my old life does help my new in a couple of ways. The first is, I apply the principals of project management to writing novels. Which is to say, I get the job done. (I may regret that assertion come next deadline...)

Secondly, my backup system, to be immodest about it, is immaculate.

The first thing to notice about the backup requirements for a writer is that they are really small. A 90,000 word manuscript in Microsoft Word comes to about 1.2MB. The same in OpenOffice's equivalent Write application (which, btw, I much prefer), is no more than 300K. You could store this on the head of a pin.

There are three levels of disaster you need to cover:

1. Your computer is stolen or blows up.
2. Your office is burgled and everything taken.
3. Your house burns to the ground. (Sorry, Travis)

Saving a spare copy of the manuscript on your own computer does not cut the mustard, not even for the lowest level of disaster. It is essential you copy your manuscript to a drive external to your work machine. If you are a nomal human bean, you won't do this religiously every day, so you also need to automate the copy.

My own backup system is over the top for writing, but it's a legacy of my old job and since it works well I'm not going to change it.

I have ethernet cable laid from one corner of the house, where the office is, to the far opposite corner of the house. In the opposite corner I've installed a network drive.

I have configured all our PCs, using the built-in Windows backup system, to copy the entire contents of every data disk in the house to the network drive every night. Yes, it's a big network drive. There are two instances of this script on every machine, which run on alternate nights. So there are two total backups of every disk on the backup drive. That's to cover the risk that a machine might self-destruct while halfway through writing its backup.

This means any file lost can be recovered as long as the loss is noticed within two days. I'm not worried (much) about long term archiving because (a) if I tried, I would go mad, and (b) we have a zillion family photos and videos, and network storage of 10+ copies of everything isn't cost-effective. Occasional DVD copies work okay for archiving.

Online (internet) server space is very cheap these days, but extremely slow to copy to. A select number of crucial files, including the manuscripts, are copied to internet storage every night. This covers the possibility of the house burning down and me not being there to grab the backup drive. In fact, since my server space is in the US, it covers off the possibility of a giant meteor crashing into the earth and obliterating Australia. I may be reduced to my component atoms, but somewhere on the other side of the planet my words will live on.

It's this last piece I that I really think every writer should consider doing. Buy some internet server space. Create a scheduled task to copy your ms to somewhere far away from your house every night. If the worst occurs, you'll be thankful you did.

Ancient Greek insurance scams

The Greeks used to practise bottomry. No, it's not what you think it is. Bottomry is a form of maritime insurance.

It works like this: the captain of a boat borrows money from a lender. Then he sets sail. If the boat makes it to the next port, he has to pay back the lender what he borrowed plus interest. If the boat sinks on the way, the lender loses his money.

This is, in effect, insurance, but it probably began when merchant captains had an urgent need to repair their ships in foreign ports.

A captain might need money to repair his damaged ship, but have nothing on board to pay for repairs. As anyone who's ever run a small business knows, cash flow is the killer. So the captain borrows from a moneylender, using the only thing he has available as collateral: the ship itself. He repairs the boat, takes a cargo on board, and sails to the next port where he sells the cargo at a profit. Then he repays the lender, plus interest.

The Greeks realized that the risk-offset aspect of this arrangement was very valuable, regardless of whether the ship needed repairs. And so, insurance was born.

The practise became widespread. Merchants could cover the risk of losing their ship and cargo, while lenders (insurers) could make a profit of...wait for it...30%! How's that for a high premium? But we know the figure was 30% because that's what it is in surviving documents. Merchant vessels ran high risks in those days and 30% would have been a fair price considering how many boats foundered.

We know a lot about bottomry and ancient insurance scams via a legal eagle called Demosthenes. Demosthenes is famous for getting into serious doo-doo with King Philip of Macedon and his son Alexander, which he did by persuading the Athenians to rise up and fight against one of the world's greatest military geniuses. This resulted in a negative experience for the Athenians - they're lucky Alexander didn't raze Athens to the ground - and Demosthenes wisely suicided before he could be captured.

However before Demosthenes began his unfortunate career in politics he prosecuted countless cases of insurance disputes, four of which survive today in court speeches.

The Greeks, being the strong individualists that they were, invented the insurance scam approximately 10 seconds after they invented insurance. It was perfectly normal for the boat owner to claim the boat had sunk, when in fact it was hidden in some foreign port. This was so common that standard contracts required the owners to pay the insurer twice the premium rate if the boat was concealed and subsequently discovered still floating. If you're wondering why the owners weren't jailed for fraud...that's rather difficult if there's no police force to make an arrest, nor a jail to put offenders in. If you were an insurer who'd been diddled, your only recourse was a civil court case.

One of the most spectacular cases of fraud came about when two men, Hegestratos and Xenothemis, decided to pull a bottomry scam. They contracted with an insurer in Syracuse - a Greek city in what is now Sicily - for their shipload of corn, which they said would sail to Athens. In fact the ship left Syracuse with an empty hold. The men planned to sink their own boat three days out of port, make it back to shore on a raft, and since the boat had sunk, pocket the value of their boat (no doubt over-stated) plus the value of all that non-existent but very expensive corn.

Things went pear shaped when, three days later, the passengers and crew wondered what that banging was down in the hold. They discovered Hegestratos trying, and failing, to punch a hole in the boat. The passengers and crew were just a little bit upset that the owners were willing to drown everyone for mere profit. Hegestratos jumped overboard to escape their wrath and promptly drowned. Xenothemis carried on in the perfectly sound boat to Athens. History does not record what happened to him then, but we can be quite sure it was unpleasant.