Back to the Basics With MythVision Podcast

This article contains my show notes for my appearance on MythVision Podcast (MVP). Derek is the host of MVP and I’ve known him at least since around May 2019. I currently watch his show more than any other one and I support what he’s doing to provide a platform for studying what’s real and what’s myth. I was on his show once before but I was just discussing the research of someone else. This time around I’m mainly discussing my own studies and ideas.

One of the core reasons I started Ctruth was to further understand how to separate fiction from fact. While I might not yet have a solution for the incredibly complicated problem of determining reality from fantasy, I do have somewhat of an understanding of the problem itself. If you think I have anything wrong, let me know.

My presentation contains 3 main parts:
1 – The Foundations of Chronology
2 – The Fundamental Literary Sources
3 – The Formation of the Disciplines

Foundations of Chronology

The main foundations of Western chronology (Roman, Greek, Persian, etc…) were created by the clergy of the Christian church. Eusebius (265-339) and Jerome (d.420) are typically considered to have laid the foundation for Western chronology until Scaliger (1540-1609) and Petavius (1583-1652) arrived on the scene. Eusebius is believed to have been a bishop, Jerome a priest who later became a saint, Scaliger a Protestant, and Petavius a Jesuit.

Eusebius & Jerome

Eusebius is the first person I’ll mention because of his impact on Jerome. Paul L. Maier, the former Russell H. Seibert Professor of Ancient History at Western Michigan University, reported that Eusebius is today “our principal primary source for earliest Christianity, and his Church History is the cornerstone chronicle on which later historians would build”.[3, p.9] That is quite the role for someone to hold, “the cornerstone” of Church history. Eusebius himself even mentioned in his Church History that to his knowledge nobody else had done what he was doing.

As the historian of Church history Philip Schaff noted, Eusebius’ works were fundamentally apologetic. They were not scientific in nature.[4, p.33] These works of his were largely foundational for the next 1300 years or so. To highlight his importance, he’s the largest source of information from the 10 or 11 that we have for the list of Olympic victors, the list of which is the basis for ancient Greek dating.[11]

Elias J. Bickerman was a prominent scholar in the field of Graeco-Roman history during his lifetime. He noted that history had long been put into the service of the Church, and that Jerome was the main founder of the framework in which the Church, and the rest of the Western world, sculpted their histories.[1, p.87-88] Anthony Grafton, a prominent scholar of chronology today, also noted basically the same thing.

“(Jerome) thus created what became the chronological tradition in Western Europe: one that taught simple Christian lessons, and used a single, coherent diagram to capture all of world history.”
– Grafton (2003)[2, p.83]

Jerome based his Chronicon largely on the second half of Eusebius’ Chronicon, and brought it up to his own time. However, as Bickerman noted, the surviving manuscripts for Eusebius’ Chronicon more often than not have the wrong dates in them and are nearly useless.[1, p.88] Both Chronicons were based on Anno Mundi dating, dating since the “Creation of the World”. Jerome not only included dates which are generally today believed to be incorrect, he misdates himself in his writings by about 115 years.

“Errors were unavoidable. Jerome, a chronologist himself, writing after AD 374 congratulates a certain Paul on his hundredth birthday (Ep. Ad Paulum). Yet elsewhere (De viris ill. III, 53) he states that Paul knew personally Cyprian of Carthage who had died in AD 259.”
– Bickerman (1980)[1, p.89]

One hundred and fifteen years is no small amount of time to misplace. Anachronisms like this are not limited just to Jerome, as exemplified in the near uselessness of Eusebius’ datings and those found in many other sources. Especially with the introduction of radiocarbon dating, more and more historical beliefs are changing because of the c-14 dating results.

To summarize, manuscripts of Eusebius’ Chronicon are nearly worthless today and his Church history is considered a cornerstone for church history. Jerome laid the foundation for Western chronology, largely basing his works on those of Eusebius, but even his work has issues. Both of these people’s scientific interests paled in comparison to their ecclesiastical interests, but their works prevailed until Scaliger’s time.

Scaliger & Petavius

Scaliger and Petavius’ chronology is the basis of chronology today, as noted by Grafton.[2, p.78] Scaliger is commonly referred to now as the “father of modern/scientific chronology”. His works aren’t as novel as some people had originally thought, but he was among the first people to have attempted a more scientific approach to history based on the studies available to him in the 16th and 17th centuries. Petavius basically took Scaliger’s works and refined them for public consumption. Petavius had even laid out 29 fundamental points of chronology which were not to be questioned, which are still popular points used today, such as the birth of Jesus Christ or the death of Alexander the Great.

Scaliger was notably motivated by dispelling what he saw as historical misconceptions. In his De emendatione he criticized people for adding an extra 80 years to the world “in order to insert their imaginary kings of Persia…”.[7, p.166] This motivation has good and bad points. On the good side, he aimed to clear up misconceptions. On the bad side, he spent less time substantiating the basis he used to determine authenticity.

Scaliger began his most refined and elegant work, the 1606 Thesaurus temporum, in an attempt to reconstruct Eusebius’ lost Greek Chronicle.[1, p.88], [7, p.170] This again brings us back to the importance of Eusebius in chronological studies. Aside from Jerome and Eusebius, the Bible was for a long time the most important source for ancient historical studies in the West.

“Before Scaliger there had been two schools of thought about the use of ancient sources for chronology. One school followed the Bible and the texts forged by Annius of Viterbo; the other school followed the Bible alone.”
– Grafton (1975)[7, p.164]

The Bible was (and today still is by some) considered to be the only solid basis for chronology because it was the only work delivered by God himself. Scaliger too considered the Bible to be the only reliable source for chronology, but he also believed that knowledge of other sources was necessary for a full picture understanding of history.[7, p.167]

The other source, Annius of Viterbo, lived from about the mid-15th century to the first decade of the 16th century. His activities influenced European circles of scholarship until about the mid-18th century, so around 250 years. What he is most famous for today are his forgeries which caused quite a bit of controversy, received condemnation by some notable characters including Scaliger himself, but were still accepted by many, as is highlighted in Grafton’s quote above.[8, p.203]

“Hard though it is to believe, almost all sixteenth-century scholars were taken in by these forgeries. In fact, virtually every world chronicle and every study of national origins written before Scaliger rested in whole or in part on Annian materials.”
– Grafton (1975)[7, p.165]

I wonder how many writings from “authentic” historians are forgeries or fakes that have thus far escaped detection. Or even how many are just completely misunderstood due to later speculation, where they are completely alien from their original forms. This area of historical studies, the area of fakes, forgeries, and hoaxes, is severely underdeveloped. Which is a shame, because “…the fabrication of antiquities had become big business since about the turn of the sixteenth century”[8, p.206-207], about 100 years prior to Scaliger’s efforts.

I have a series called Killing Time available for the Ctruth patrons on patreon where I explore historical forgeries, hoaxes, and the like. Right now I have a 13 episode season and am working on producing Season 2. Season 2’s quality is going to be significantly improved and will be released next year in 2021.

Since Scaliger and Petavius, the general scheme of history hasn’t changed much aside from developments in “pre-history”, the time before written records.

Fundamental Literary Sources

The Graeco-Roman timeline is the backbone of Western, and to a degree, world history. Bickerman goes into some detail about this on page 82 of [1]. His concise conclusion is:

“Where the link to Roman chronology is broken, we grope vainly for certitude.”
Bickerman (1980)

The foundation for the Roman chronology were almost exclusively literary sources until recent times with new developments in archeology and numismatics, which both also have core issues in their present state. As for the literary sources, the vast majority of the surviving relics are dated much later than the times in which they are believed to have been originally written, which is a potential, if not major issue. For example, a document dated to the 10th century CE being the earliest surviving document for a writing believed to have been originally composed in the 5th century BCE.

Another thing which I think is an issue is the lack of interest in shedding light on the ownership and history of these surviving literary relics. The majority of them are incredibly obscure, and they supposedly contain some of the most important writings to have ever been produced, those writings which are the foundations for historical understanding.

I’m only giving one Greek historian (Herodotus) and one Roman historian (Varro) as examples to keep it concise but also to show a little bit of what I’m talking about here. I have done this type of manuscript research for numerous other Greek historians, such as Thucydides, Xenophon, Ctesias, Polybius, Siculus, and Strabo. Also for numerous Roman historians, such as Livy, Sallust, Tacitus, Suetonius, Pliny the Elder, and Dio Cassius. The majority of their surviving records are obscure and have been given little to no attention.

Again, prior to Scaliger and even to a degree after him, these “pagan” authors were not considered strong authorities for history.

Herodotus & Varro

I chose these two because Herodotus is commonly called the “father of history” and Varro has long been credited with determining the date of the foundation of Rome.

“It is a strange truth that Herodotus has really become the father of history only in modern times.”
– Arnaldo Momigliano

Herodotus’ (c.480-c.429 BC) earliest surviving manuscript (aside from the papyri) has been dated to the 10th century AD and has obscure provenance. Varro’s (116-27 BC) earliest surviving manuscript has been dated to the 11th century AD and has possibly 16th century provenance, but mostly obscure provenance. There’s a gap of about 1350 years between Herodotus and the earliest surviving MS and a gap of about 1150 years for Varro. And these are just the gaps based on the recent dating of the MSS. The reason provenance is important is because it helps strengthen the authenticity dating, and no provenance is sketchy at best. Again, the majority of surviving literary relics have had little to no attention given to them, especially in the realm of provenance. So while the Varro MS might be popularly dated to the 11th century, I think there are some serious issues that need to be discussed before taking that seriously, such as the incredibly obscure foundations for the dating itself, which leads into the next section, the formation of the disciplines which help in developing historical narratives and understandings.

Formation of the Disciplines

There are a number of disciplines which are used today for dating literature, but the two most important ones are paleography and diplomatics.

Paleography can be defined as, “the study of ancient documents and their provenance, of old types of handwriting and of obsolete forms of the language.”[5, p.28]

Diplomatics can be defined as, “the science of deciphering old official documents, as charters, and of determining their authenticity, age, or the like”.[6]

Mabillon & Montfaucon

These two disciplines were mainly founded in the 17th and 18th centuries. Jean Mabillon (1632-1707) is the uncontested founder of diplomatics, but the title “founder of paleography” is split between Mabillon and Bernard de Montfaucon (1655-1741). Regardless of the title, the two disciplines gained significant traction with these two people. I’ll also mention that Mabillon & Montfaucon were both French Benedictine monks. So two more members of the clergy, in addition to the 4 somewhat fundamental players in chronology.

The sciences and humanities were mainly founded in the 19th century, well after the general scheme of chronology had been established.[9] Between these two categories, the natural sciences (chemistry, astronomy, physics, etc.) have had many overviews of their histories written. The humanities have not yet had this. The methods which are employed in constructing narratives about the past have not yet had their histories sufficiently written.

The late founding of paleography and diplomatics, as well as the rest of the sciences and humanities, is problematic in that the general scheme of history had already been agreed upon before any serious methods of determining validity had been created. Instead of basing chronologies and histories on methodical investigation, it was more-so based on tradition and institutional authority. It just seems a bit backwards to me, like the cart before the horse, to establish the basic framework for historical narrative before establishing the methods necessary for methodically establishing a solid basic framework.

While I don’t yet have the potentially unobtainable solution as to how best determine each and every bit of myth from reality, I will be continuing my studies into this topic and producing content to help others understand what methods are available for making those types of determinations if they ever choose to venture down this path.

All in all, I think the fact that the majority of important sources are incredibly obscure is one of the greatest issues in establishing solid studies into the past. I think more efforts into establishing these histories will benefit historical studies greatly, and in turn will help us determine reality from myth.

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[1] – Bickerman, E. J. “Chronology of the ancient world” (1980). Accessed 18 Oct. 2020.

[2] – Grafton, Anthony. “Dating History: The Renaissance & the Reformation of Chronology.” Daedalus, vol. 132, no. 2, 2003, pp. 74–85. JSTOR, Accessed 18 Oct. 2020.

[3] – Maier, Paul L. “Eusebius–the church history : a new translation with commentary” (1999). Accessed 18 Oct. 2020.

[4] –,_Schaff._Philip,_3_Vol_01_Eusebius_Pamphilius,_EN.pdf. Accessed 18 Oct. 2020.

[5] – Leerssen, Joep. “The Rise of Philology: The Comparative Method, the Historicist Turn and the Surreptitious Influence of Giambattista Vico.” The Making of the Humanities: Volume II: From Early Modern to Modern Disciplines, edited by Rens Bod et al., Amsterdam University Press, Amsterdam, 2012, pp. 23–36. Accessed 18 Oct. 2020.

[6] – Accessed 18 Oct. 2020.

[7] – Grafton, Anthony T. “Joseph Scaliger and Historical Chronology: The Rise and Fall of a Discipline.” History and Theory, vol. 14, no. 2, 1975, pp. 156–185. JSTOR, Accessed 20 Oct. 2020.

[8] – Stephens, Walter. “When Pope Noah Ruled the Etruscans: Annius of Viterbo and His Forged ‘Antiquities.’” MLN, vol. 119, no. 1, 2004, pp. S201–S223. JSTOR, Accessed 20 Oct. 2020.

[9] – Accessed 20 Oct. 2020.

[10] – Berger, Sidney E. “Forgeries and Their Detection in the Rare Book World.” Libraries & Culture, vol. 27, no. 1, 1992, pp. 59–69. JSTOR, Accessed 24 Oct. 2020.

[11] – Accessed 24 Oct. 2020.

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