The House of David

"dawnbreak in the west"

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Ptolemy VIII denies philosophers a platform

Ol' Mencius is back to trolling comment-threads with knowledge. The difference between now, and ten years ago when he was trolling the Blowhards, is that his opponents are now saying no-platform him - because "hate", of course. Fortunately for us, their host didn't delete the "Boldmug" posts. Which means we may still read this:

Lucio Russo wrote an interesting, if perhaps a little overstated, book, on the Hellenistic (300-150BC, not to be confused with the Hellenic era proper) golden age of science. We really have no way of knowing how close to a scientific revolution the Alexandrians came. But it was political failure, not scientific failure, that destroyed their world. The ratchet of progress was inside a ratchet of decay.


Russo, for instance, pins the intellectual death of Alexandria on Ptolemy VIII, of whom it was written: “He expelled all intellectuals: philologists, philosophers, professors of geometry, musicians, painters, schoolteachers, physicians and others.”

This is someone in 120BC writing about 145 BC. Sounds a lot like the evil Drumpf, doesn’t it? Ptolemy VIII ceded his kingdom to Rome. The Museum basically gathered dust for another half millennium and then was burned either by the Christians or the Muslims, or possibly both.

No one has come down to explain to us how, exactly, before Ptolemy VIII the Alexandrian intellectuals were shitting all over the Alexandrian non-intellectuals. But I’m sure it was something.

Here is raised an instance of Right no-platforming.

I always suspect It-Was-Written quotes from the Interweb, so I chased this one down. Don't look to La rivoluzione dimenticata, although Russo did know the source. This quote comes from (probably) Wikipedia, from Christian Habicht, based on the Fragmente der griechischen Historiker. Brill has this much online... if you pay for it. Elsewhere the isnad goes further to Athenaios' Deipnosophistae 4.83.184b-c. You can read this in English right now if you wanna, thanks to Loeb letting the copyrights slip. Athenaios was citing Menecles of Barca alongside Andron of Alexandria. At least Menecles was a contemporary of Ptolemy the second "Euergetes". Here is Athenaios, as Heinrich von Staden translates more fully:

A rejuvenation of all paideia was again brought about in the reign of the seventh (sic) Ptolemy who ruled Egypt, the one appropriately named Kakergetes by the Alexandrians. For he slaughtered many of the Alexandrians and exiled not a few who had grown up with his brother [Philometor], thereby causing the islands and cities to be jammed with philologists, philosophers, mathematicians, musicians, painters, physical educators, as well as physicians and many other professionals (tekhnîtai). On account of their poverty they taught what they knew and instructed many distinguished men.

As is usual with hadith, the exact words go off a bit over the transmission. But it's not that bad here; it's just an interpretation - which Moldbug is already conceding is "overstated" - of an already-hostile source, namely Athenaios. Athenaios for his part is probably doing not-badly with Menecles and Andron. Between them they all, literally, offload kaka upon Ptolemy's good name.

Moldbug doesn't answer what the Alexandrines did to deserve all this; he is asking. He invokes "Bayes" which is, I think, the principle of "if it happens now it also happened then". He might be marking, to serve as his "later" base, the Christian-era Alexandria between Cyril and Hypatia. For that era we have an impressive documentary record of what each side said about one another - including the "Ptolemaic" side. Moldbug thinks it at least askable that what happened to Hypatia in the early 400s AD also might have happened to Menecles' chums in the mid 100s BC.

Back to Hellenistic Egypt, I happen to hold a degree in this general field of "ancient Mediterranean civilizations". So I will take a crack at this Spirited Debates In Alexandria trope, under Ptolemy Kakergetes-Physcon. Spoiler: people got killed there.

Menecles himself traced his ancestry from Cyrene, so identified most with the Greeks; although (like me!) he might have had some Semite and Berber in him. Barca at this time was a province of Alexandria, home of Andron. Alexandria was a nexus of three cultures: Greek, Jewish, and Coptic. The Ptolemies were inbred Macedonians, only quasi-Greek, and presented themselves less as Alexander's heirs than as Coptic Pharaohs.

I haven't studied the so-called Alexandrian School, except that I gather it was mainly Hellenistic in focus, barely even addressing Egyptian concerns. [UPDATE 2/26/2017: Peter Thonemann's Hellenistic Age documents this neglect. Gideon Bohak explains why: the Greeks despised the Copts. Also they distrusted the Canaanites, and didn't know or care much about Jews.] I have a better handle on the Jews and Copts of Lower Egypt. They were arguing the Exodus - and the Copt writing as "Manetho", for his part, was claiming it proudly as the Shortest-Way With The Foreigners. For all the flamewars between the Coptic and Jewish ghettoes, the Ptolemies didn't give much of a damn. But if you think "Manetho" was just an anti-Semite and would have been fine with the Greeks, you don't know nativists very well. (UPDATE 2/11/2017: On "Manetho".)

Let's now consider those Greeks, with whom the Ptolemies shared a language and (once) a culture. The Greeks also were the mainstay of the army by which Alexander had conquered the Two Lands in the first place. And there was another Greek army just across the Sinai (now) - the Seleucids. The Ptolemies knew all about that lot; they'd lost Judaea to them. Lately Demetrius I Soter had been campaigning around that border. True, his successors (usurpers actually) Alexander Balas and Demetrius II Nicator weren't up to par, but in the early 140s BC Ptolemy couldn't know that. The Greeks, by the way, knew how to write plays too. A couple of Panhellenic Power demos in the streets of Barca, in those days, and let word of them spread around Alexandria and you're dealing with a hot leaking keg of olive-oil under a dry Egyptian sun. Near a torch.

So I am calling some major shenanigans on Menecles' and Andron's complaint, that Ptolemy just upped and decided to rid himself of his best engineers and physicians, because who needs 'em. This whole screed reeks of Dyndu Nuffin, with a balancing scent of #Fakehistory. I bet the musicians and painters were putting up a lot of pro-Seleucid chauvinism and threatening Ptolemaic rule, not to mention risking a massacre of Copts and oh wait, probably Jews as well. The other "intellectuals" were assuredly going along with the tribe, as university suckups always do, and I'll hazard that these weren't the highest echelon of Alexandrine brainpower either. If it happens now that indifferent scholars get into politics instead, it happened then. Ptolemy had to remove their platform, before they removed his.

I mean, just look at Menecles. He was a hack if I've ever read one. And I live in America. I've read many.

UPDATE 2/26/2017: Gideon Bohak shows the way: educated Greeks thought the Copts were ignorant bumpkins with laughable beliefs. As far as I am concerned, Moldbug's question is answered.

posted by Zimri on 21:01 | link | 0 comments

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