Thursday, June 11, 2009

Greek Fire, Poison Arrows And Scorpion Bombs - Adrienne Mayor

Greek Fire, Poison Arrows And Scorpion Bombs
Adrienne Mayor
Overlook Press
Copyright Date: 2009

According to the cover of Greek Fire, Poison Arrows And Scorpion Bombs:
Flamethrowers, poison gases, incendiary bombs, the large-scale spreading of disease... are these terrifying agents and implements of warfare modern inventions? Not by a long shot. Weapons of biological and chemical warfare have been in use for thousands of years, and "Greek Fire, Poison Arrows & Scorpion Bombs," Adrienne Mayor''s fascinating exploration of the origins of biological and unethical warfare draws extraordinary connections between the mythical worlds of Hercules and the Trojan War, the accounts of Herodotus and Thucydides, and modern methods of war and terrorism.
"Greek Fire, Poison Arrows & Scorpion Bombs" will catapult readers into the dark and fascinating realm of ancient war and mythic treachery-and their devastating consequences.

You don't have to be an expert in classical and early medieval history to enjoy this book. Adrienne Mayor has written a book that anyone who likes history can enjoy reading and learning from.

Although the main thrust of the book is centered on the Classical era and the world of the Greeks and the Romans, there are also incidents from Chinese, Indian and Middle-Eastern sources discussed as well. In terms of time frames, the incidents go all the way up to the early to mid fourteenth century, alhtough most of them, as I already said, come from Greek and Roman sources.

For each of the incidents described, whether it be from Thucydides, Dio Cassius etc. or legends and myths, Greek Fire, Poison Arrows and Scorpion Bombs describes the incident, then gives archaeological evidence backing up the author's conclusions along with any modern experiments proving or disproving her opinion. At the same time, she goes into detail about the mindset of the time towards these weapons of mass destruction, their problems for either side and also looks at similar modern issues, especially in the U.S.A.

We think of weapons of mass destruction, be they chemical or biological as being relatively new things in the scope of history. However, as proved by Adrienne Mayor, clearly they were not. Poisons, fires and disease have been around for thousands of years. Of course people were going to figure out ways to use them for their own purposes.

Some of the examples, though clearly 'low tech' were still extremely ingenious, and I'd bet, if used today, would still cause problems and distractions, such as the scorpion and snake bombs. Other ideas though, are just strange to the modern mind set, such as some of the recorded recipes for poison. Still, when broken down the way they are in this book, they make a sort of sense.

There are times though, when I wish the author had gone into more detail, such as the section on Hannibal using vinegar to crack rocks, along with the other uses mentioned. I wouldn't mind knowing why it worked.

Greek Fire, Poison Arrows and Scorpion Bombs is an interesting book on history, and one, frankly, that I wish I'd had while classes were still in session. If only because of the above mentioned incident with the vinegar on heated rock. The books I was using for a term paper disregarded the whole thing, and here's one saying that the ancient authors were right. Would have been helpful for said term paper.

One thing's for sure. This book is going to make me think a bit differently about the ancient world and their attitudes towards warfare. I'd gotten the traditional background in my classes on ancient heroism and beliefs, and here's a completely different perspective.


J.T. Oldfield said...

I know this was on your tbr and was looking forward to your review. You didn't disappoint! I think I will get it for my husband...and then I can read it!

Elena said...

Go for it!

The book is informative and yet somewhat entertaining at the same time. It is not at all dry.


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