Asianic Elements in Greek Civilization is a wide-ranging collection of lectures which share a very broad premise, put perhaps more clearly by one reviewer than by the title actually given to the series: those ‘who would understand Greek literature and civilisation must again and again seek clues in Anatolia’. Ramsay most clearly lays out this purpose in the first chapter and then draws it back together in chapter 21. The work should be approached as a rich collection of a life’s work and travel. Although sometimes frenetic, several broader themes emerge in the study.
In his first chapter, Ramsay sets as a starting point the significant ‘Anatolian’ influence in the development of Greek culture. Although Hellenistic traditions, particularly that of Athens, came to dominate latter perceptions of Greek culture, Ramsay argues for a profound influence from the eastern side of the Aegean Sea. He begins by identifying the ‘Son of Yavan’ (Genesis 10:4) or the ‘Old-Ionians’ as a part of a Greek culture originating in the Anatolian plains, Cyprus and in the region surrounding Tarsus. His references to Anatolian culture throughout his work refer to the region of Anatolia in its larger sense, rather than just the plateau, and also include the islands of Cyprus and Crete. In chapters 7, 12, 14 and 15, the author lays out some of the distinctive contributions of this Anatolian culture. Chapter 14 discusses the distinctive formation of ‘brotherhoods’ in these communities, and chapter 15 outlines an older Asian religious system, predating the Olympian pantheon, which continued to influence the wider Greek system of beliefs. This theme is again discussed in chapter 7, where Ramsay argues for a tradition of Anatolian and Phrygian cults formed around the worship of animals, which the priests came to embody in their dress. The animals deified in mountainous terrains tended to be more dangerous, like the wolf, whereas in pastoral regions, Ramsay notes the predominance of Goat-priests, Oxen-priests and Bee-priests. These elements passed on into Greek religious traditions in the form of the Dionysius Melanaigis in Athenian ritual, who is descended from the god with black goatskin, and in the cults of Artemis and Diana in Ephesus, where the deities were linked with bees. It is particularly in the cults of Ephesus where the tradition is most strongly represented, perhaps not surprisingly when considering its geographical location. The chapter which puts forward the most compelling argument for distinctive cultural aspects is chapter 12. Here Ramsay reassesses the work of the sixth-century BCE poet Hipponax and finds rich descriptions of a Greek culture in Lydia with distinct cultural attributes.
Another theme Ramsay explores is the influence of Anatolian belief systems in setting political boundaries, the division of people groups and defining routes of communication. Chapter 2 discusses how a belief that mountainous terrain was reserved as the property of the gods and thus effectively ‘no man’s’ land influenced settlement and communication routes. Chapter 8 describes the use of Anatolian terminology adopted into Greek usage for the description of towns and political systems. He also identifies a tradition of land ownership in western Anatolia surviving until at least the Crusades of the eleventh century. Ramsay identifies this as residual of an older Asianic culture, distinct from Semitic, Greek or Roman traditions. Chapter 5 explains the influence of an Anatolian belief in the goddess Nemesis which affected the location of settlements and markets. The primary evidence repeatedly used throughout these chapters is the retention of Anatolian words in the Greek language.
A third theme is the continued and pervading influence of the cultural tradition of Asia Minor. Ramsay identifies the poetic structure of Homer’s Iliad as containing older cultural traditions from Asia Minor, including the pestilence in the beginning of the work, the burial at the end, and the attributes given to Chryseis, the daughter of Apollo’s priest, by Agamemnon (chapter 10). Likewise, Ramsay attributes the flesh-eating birds at the gates of Troy to Asian traditions and dismisses that they are vultures in favour of some form of falcon (chapter 6). He identifies the distinction between the four Ionian tribes as the remnant of what might be called a caste system, again claiming that this is yet another ‘Asianic’ influence upon Greek tradition. Finally, the deification of Achilles into a god worshipped widely around the Greek world is attributed to a belief rooted in Anatolian tradition that the dead hero becomes a god to his descendents (chapter 21).
Chapters 18, 19 and 20 include important statements about distinctive attitudes towards gender in the society of Asia Minor which Ramsay terms ‘Anatolian’. Chapter 18 explains that women served as magistrates, received education and were free to refrain from marriage. This may have provided a foundation for the origin of Amazon legends. This lack of deference to the distinction between the sexes also manifests itself in the deities of the region. Unlike in Hellenic tradition on the western side of the Aegean Sea, deities in Asia Minor were predominantly female. Those that were preserved or adopted into wider worship often had their gender realigned.
In putting these traditions into their contemporary framework, Ramsay used three chapters to discuss external influences upon Anatolia, the role of the region in economic terms and a point in time when the influence from Asia Minor penetrated the very heart of the Greek psyche. With all his discussion of Anatolian influence on the world around them, Ramsay does not fail to recognise the introduction of external practices. One example that he gives is the adoption of marriage rites introduced with the arrival of invading Gauls (chapter 16). This should not be surprising, however, because Anatolia served a crossroads. Although the Hellenic and Roman cultures that came to dominate were centred to the west, Anatolia continued to play an important role as an economic contributor to both empires and as a conduit through which much goods and commerce passed (chapter 11). In terms of identifying a particular conduit of influence for Asianic tradition into Greece, Ramsay presents a very interesting study on the Cretan Epimenides in chapter 3. He argues that that philosopher, prophet and poet who has sometimes been disregarded as a mythical figure can be attributed a firm place both in the history of Athens and in the history of Hellenic thought. Although the product of Crete, an island which Ramsay identifies as one with a cultural tradition closely aligned with that of Anatolia, the philosopher becomes a promulgator of fusion between Hellenic and Aegean cultures. In addition to identifying Epimenides as the source of Paul’s quote in his address to the Athenians atop Mars Hill (Acts 17), he also declares the Cretan and his reforms in Athens as a theological link between an older Anatolian religion and the emergence of the Olympian gods of Hellenistic culture. In Epimenides, Ramsay declares a Hellenistic triumph over the philosopher’s traditional Cretan belief that the gods are mortal. So in the person and though of Epimenides, the flow of cultural influence runs both directions. He is ‘essentially and originally pre-Hellenic, though a great originator of Hellenism and Hellenic unity of feeling as distinguished from the Aegean type of civilisation out of which it grew’.
The final theme of Ramsay’s lectures is one that is illustrated in his personal familiarity with the region. Travelling through Turkey in the late nineteenth century, he came across cultural phenomena that he recognised as stretching back to ancient times. The contemporary burial ceremonies he witnessed in rural regions, especially where Turkish culture had yet to wholly replace an older one, bore striking resemblances to ‘Phrygian dirges’ recorded in the Roman period and even before. Moreover, in his brief lecture on wagons he notes having seen one in 1926 that closely resembled those found on Ephesian coins. In this way, Ramsay’s study not only resuscitates cultural traditions which seem to have been swallowed up by the Hellenization and subsequent Roman conquest of Asia Minor, but also shows the reader traces of an ancient past which persist into our own time.