ArgoGathering of the Argonauts, Attic red-figure krater, 460–450 BC, Louvre (G 341) (Wikipedia commons)

Periklis  Deligiannis

Sometimes some of my articles are criticized by various scholars, historians, researchers and other readers around the world. These criticisms are sometimes positive, sometimes negative and sometimes malicious or aggressive/abusive. Except the latter, all of them are welcome.
The most recent criticism (negative criticism, but I think not malicious) was made by an editor and writer from New York, Jason Colavito, who wrote here a long article in which he presents a number of his ‘arguments’ based on which he is trying to question the conclusions of my two articles on the Argonautica. Although I generally do not answer to the criticism of others, I will make an exception for Mr Colavito because my vacations have already started and I have plenty of time (no, I’m not on a beach of a Greek island, but in the cement-city of Athens under a heat wave!).

Mr Colavito writes that “Deligannis makes a number of errors, beginning with the fact that he takes the developed Argonaut myth of the Classical and Hellenistic period as representative of the state of the story in the Archaic period and earlier, including all of the people and places of the standard version of the myth. There is no evidence that the full complement of fifty some-odd Argonaut celebrities drawn from all over Greece were original to the myth. Homer knows nothing of them, nor does Hesiod’s Theogony. The Hesiodic fragments contain episodes…”

It is obvious that the writer of the above paragraph/argument does not have a picture in depth, of the topography, geography and settlement history of the Mediterranean region in Antiquity, which probably plays the most important role in dating the Argonautic myth and mostly the chronology of its approximately final form. The myth of the Argonauts mentions several cities such as Peiresiae, Oechalia, Iolkos, Titaros, Alope, Tipha, Lerna, Pylos, Arene and others which in the Classical and Hellenistic period either no longer existed and no one knew their location, or had become insignificant villages, overshadowed by famous nearby cities. Additionally, the legend does not mention at all very important cities of the Classical and Hellenistic period of the same areas such as Chalkis, Eretria, Histiaia, Megara, Marathon, Eleusis, Corinth (Ephyra), Sicyon, Patrae, Orchomenos in Arcadia, Mantineia, Olympia and many others. And above all, no one in the Classical and Hellenistic period knew for sure the location of the Bebryces, Salmydessos, the Symplegades, not even of Colchis (Colchis’ location at the foothills of the Caucasus was a reasonable hypothesis made by the subsequent Greeks but not a certainty).
The Classical and Hellenistic Greeks knew only the location of Lemnos, Samothrace, and the territories of the Doliones and the Mariandyni, but specifically for the Mariandyni this is doubtful because the homonymous people of their time is not certainly identical to the tribe encountered by the Argonauts. All these peoples, figures and cities obviously belong to a very ancient period (Proto-Mycenaean period, archaeologically known as Middle-Helladic); so ancient that the Classical and Hellenistic Greeks knew them only as ‘empty names’ without location or personal history. I think it is very unlikely for the later and much later (Hellenistic) Greeks to attach the lesser legends of such ’empty’ place names, peoples and other to the ‘central’ myth of the Argonautica. After all, that central myth would be very reduced in its original form.  I think that this evidence is enough to demonstrate that the Argonaut myth of the Classical and Hellenistic period is representative enough of the state of the story in the Archaic period and earlier, including all of the people and places of the standard version of the myth.

The conclusion that “Homer knows nothing of them (the Argonauts), nor does Hesiod’s Theogony” means nothing: both of them wrote an epic (Homer actually, two epics) or a work on the topic that they were interested in, and not a universal History of everything that happened in the Greek history, mythology, theogony, religion, civilization and everything else. They did not write some kind of Encyclopaedia.

On the remark/paragraph that “Deligannis also errs in assuming that the destination for Jason’s trip was always Colchis. This is not established firmly until the Corinthiaca attributed to Eumelus…” I have to ask how this conclusion came about? What I’m writing is that the Minyans where searching for a land on the Black Sea, wealthy in minerals and other goods, for which they had possibly been informed by mariners or traders outside Greece (rather Anatolians), and which country actually knew as Aea or as Colchis. Maybe the only features on the geography of this land that they knew from the beginning, were that this land had coasts on the Black Sea and also lied at the foot of the Caucasus. The Minyans and the much posterior Greeks did not care for the name of the land but specifically for her wealth, so if we are stuck on the names, let us forget the names ‘Colchis’ or ‘Aea’ and let us say that the Minyans were searching for the land on the Black Sea under the name “Wealthy in minerals and other goods”.
Concerning oversimplified remarks such as “Martin West concluded a few years ago, the Phasis was simply the great (and mythic) river of the east”, we must conclude that the Phasis was rather the Tigris River, the Euphrates or even the Indus River. And maybe a person or a small group can ‘invent’ the concept of a great mythic river of the east, but not a whole people, let alone advanced enough in civilization, navigation and seafaring.

Concerning the remark/paragraph that “Third, Deligannis errs in accepting euhemerized accounts of the Golden Fleece as accurate, apparently without entirely understanding the source of the claims. He attributes to nineteenth century authors the “conclusion” that the Golden Fleece was either a symbol of the treasure of Colchis, or the golden, ram-shaped prow of a trade ship….”, I mentioned the second-level (modern) sources regarding these suggestions and not the primary sources, being the ancient historians or geographers. If this is a serious argument against all that I wrote in my articles, then someone should condemn me and shoot me for this choice of mine. The aforementioned second-level (modern) sources are Janet Ruth Bacon for the first suggestion, and the Greek admiral and author P. E. Konstas for the second suggestion. But the fact that I quote to the second-level (modern) sources rather than directly to the ancient literature does not affect what I have written.

And most of all, how do I accept euhemerized accounts of the Golden Fleece as accurate, when I am referring to these accounts with the words “suggestions, hypotheses, supposedly” etc.? They are exactly suggestions or hypotheses and not accurate accounts.
Here I quote the first paragraph of my first article on the Argonautica, about the same issue: “Beyond the usual archaeological and other data, in this article, I will aim to the explanation of some subsequent Greek myths of the Classical age (myths referring to the Mycenaean period), behind which some historical facts are often hidden. Although the explanation of the ancient myths as mythological performance of historical facts is indeed hypothetical, this proposed interpretation of them is popular in many historians, archaeologists and researchers and it is often (if not usually) verified by the archaeological excavations.”

Concerning the remark/paragraph that “Beyond all of this, there isn’t another case of a trade mission serving as the foundation of an epic myth, nor should it…”, Mr Colavito clearly does not understand the nature of the Bronze Age maritime “merchants or traders” as he calls them (actually raiders and pirates as we shall see below). I do not write that the Argonauts were peaceful merchants or traders who went to Colchis in order to persuade the locals to trade with them. Instead, I present the whole operation as a military enterprise and after all, my conclusion is that it finally turned into an extensive raid. When a Bronze Age maritime “merchant or trader” was leaving his home harbor in order to discover a faraway wealthy land about which he has enough information, he was above everything else, a potential raider, conqueror or/and pirate (and especially in the Bronze Age, a professional one) and not a “merchant or trader”.
Moreover, assuming that “there isn’t another case of a trade mission serving as the foundation of an epic myth,…” according to my conclusions in the two articles, the Argonaut expedition surely wasn’t such a mission but clearly a military/piratical operation or simply a raid.

Concerning the remark/paragraph that “At any rate, Deligannis appears to have a Greek-nationalist agenda behind his analysis, one that takes Greek mythology as an accurate representation of Greek history and Greek glory…”:
First, here and here and here and here and here and here and here, I have written analogous articles on King Arthur’s historicity and thereby according to Mr Colavito’s view, although I am a Greek, I appear to have a British-nationalist agenda behind my analysis, one that takes Briton mythology as an accurate representation of British history and British glory.

Second, I again quote the first paragraph of my first article on the Argonautica, about the same issue: “Beyond the usual archaeological and other data, in this article, I will aim to the explanation of some subsequent Greek myths of the Classical age (myths referring to the Mycenaean period), behind which some historical facts are often hidden. Although the explanation of the ancient myths as mythological performance of historical facts is indeed hypothetical……”

Τhird, what “Greek glory”? The Greeks were the losers of the Argonaut expeditions: the first campaign under Phrixos ended in a total failure and the second under Jason ended with a very successful raid but that was all: probably Troy closed the Hellespont (Dardanelles) or the Minyans did not want to suffer more losses, the Colchians got rid of them, then the Mycenaean World collapsed (see below) and the Greeks never again reached the land between the Black Sea and the Caucasus (at least in significant numbers) until the 7th-6th centuries BC when they founded there a number of colonies (namely Dioskourias, Phasis, Pityous, Gangra, Apsaros and Bathys Limen, i.e. modern Pitsunda, Sukhumi, Poti, Batumi and possibly a few other modern Georgian ports).

For the same reasons there are no Greek archaeological finds in that region before the 7th-6th centuries BC: the Minyans/Argonauts did not colonize the country, they just raided it and then left. Phrixos’ expedition survivors were probably very few to leave any archaeological trace behind and perhaps many of them or their descendants chose to leave Colchis with Jason’s fleet.

Looking back at all these arguments of Mr. Colavito, I can see that someone has no arguments and tries to invent some…

Concerning the remark that I “had to jettison certain parts, like the appearance of Heracles in the myth, as late additions in order to make his scheme work”: any serious cognizant of the connection of certain Greek mythological heroes with certain ancient Greek tribes/peoples knows that Hercules is a hero (deity/agathodemon) of the Achaeans and originally unaffiliated with Thebes and her original Cadmeian people (before the Argive invasion). Hercules/Heracles is probably the most famous hero of Greek mythology and even if I wanted to, I could not ignore this incompatible presence of his without making that remark on it.

Concerning the remark/paragraph that “Ultimately, Deligannis’s version of the Argonauts myth is much like that of Judith Bacon, who assumed the story was an account of a trade mission in search of amber, and it suffers from the same flaw… … a political fantasy of an ancient period of Greek dominance of the eastern world.” : as I have mentioned it is obvious that my version of the Argonauts myth is much different because I consider it as a well-prepared campaign, a military operation with two aims: either the submission of Aea/Colchis in order to exploit her minerals, or at least an extensive raid in order to acquire a part of this wealth, and then come back again for a number of more raids (which it didn’t happen, probably because of Troy or because the Minyan Greeks found out that the losses were more than the gains).

Finally, what “Greek dominance of the eastern world”? The Greeks were obviously the losing ones of those involved in the Argonaut adventure (just a successful raid is not much of a gain, and the Colchians managed to get rid of them), and the same goes for the Trojan War as I have already written in my book “the Trojan War”. In that book, my conclusion is that the mentioned war had no winners but only losers.  I quote the related text of this book of mine, translated in English (also edited here):

“(in the 13th century BC) the Achaean kings (wanaktae) faced financial problems as their factories produced about half the products compared with the production of the 14th century BC. They lacked skilled craftsmen and slaves, although their territories were plagued by overcrowding. The commercial sea routes that they used were becoming more and more insecure, due to the increasing piracy and raids, and their savings were ‘evaporated’. The monarchs and aristocrats were forced to seek new areas for raw materials, new resources, labourers and slaves, probably lands for colonization, to plunder the goods of other countries and to discover new trading routes. Thus they destroyed Troy (because her alliance obstructed their plans), but soon after they had to abandon Greece en masse, due to their final failure. The Achaean/Mycenaean and other Aegean navigators who suffered this politico-economic collapse, turned to the open sea…”
Periklis Deligiannis