The Manufacturing of a Mass Psychosis – Can Sanity Return to an Insane World?: how the insanity begins and how it can be cured

“The Manufacturing of a Mass Psychosis – Can Sanity Return to an Insane World?” (Academy of Ideas, 24 April 2021)

In past centuries, mass psychosis in Western societies took the form of witch hunts and persecutions, religious wars and genocides, and even dancing manias among nunneries; in the 20th and 21st centuries, mass psychosis has also been expressed in the form of totalitarian state societies where all power is concentrated in a central government and all institutions, codes and systems of authority and governance are created and controlled by that government. In such societies, the rights and freedoms of individuals are given by the government which also reserves the right to deny them to the citizenry. The people are divided into two groups: the rulers (always a minority) and the ruled (the majority), and both groups undergo a mass psychological transformation in which the ruled regress to a passive child-like status dependent on the rulers who become their gods and who believe that they alone have the knowledge, power and authority to rule the masses.

The video explains in a rather general way how the minority of rulers seizes power and maintains it by using shock tactics on a regular or semi-regular basis to sow fear and terror through the masses. Shock tactics can include the use of a threat, real or imagined or deliberately created, and might involve scapegoating a particular group of people such as gypsies or Jews to channel the masses’ anxieties and aggressions. Propaganda, fake news and disinformation, the abuse of statistics, lying by omission and suppression of the truth by labelling truth-seekers as conspiracy theorists (and thereby scapegoating them and portraying them as deplorables or trash) are some of the tools the rulers use as shock tactics, usually in combination, to unsettle the ruled and keep them in a state of fear, anxiety and hysteria.

A further step totalitarian states take to keep people in psychological darkness – what Dutch psychoanalyst Joost Meerloo called “menticide” – is to divide them and isolate them, thereby breaking up social interactions and ultimately fragment communities based on common interests. Break-up and fragmentation can be achieved by seizing the lands and resources of communities and forcing them to live on crowded reservations with other communities; at the same time, the rulers may take away the children of these communities, breaking family, social and cultural continuities. The children have no access to their cultures and languages, and are treated as tabulae rasae to be indoctrinated with whatever the rulers deem fit for them to know to take their place as worker bees and slaves in society.

With menticide being a multi-pronged strategy, the way to counter it, defend against it and to push it back to the point where societies can overthrow their diseased ruling elites and replace them with true democracy is also to adopt an agenda of many tactics and tools with common goals. Breaking free of mass brainwashing, discovering the truth and proclaiming it to as many of the brainwashed as possible, using humour and ridicule to attack the rulers, and creating parallel structures, networks and institutions that exist as a parallel society within the dysfunctional society are ways in which the people can erode the power and authority of hated elites. It has to be said though that such a strategy is a long-term one that often lasts longer than the life-times of the people involved in it. On this though, the video is silent; we are not told that such work is greater than the individuals who initiate it, who labour in it and who ultimately may benefit from it, one day well into the future.

The video’s artwork (much of it by Hieronymous Bosch) ranges from fevered and bizarre, as if inspired by dreadful nightmares, to the surreal and grotesque. The work of Joost Meerloo (“The Rape of the Mind”) is a major source of information and quotations for the video.

This video and its immediate AoI predecessors which also deal with aspects of mass psychosis and the modern totalitarian states that are founded upon it may well have been made by AoI as their response to and criticism of Western nations’ reactions to the COVID-19 pandemic by locking down societies at short notice for long periods, forcing the public to isolate with threats of the disease’s contagiousness, using propaganda and fearmongering tactics to take away individual rights and freedoms, instil anxiety and dependence on government, and to encourage the break-up of groups and communities by scapegoating people who refuse to take up dangerous mRNA injections claimed to protect against COVID-19 or its worst symptoms. If we take the video’s advice, the solution to the transformation of Western so-called liberal democracies into totalitarian dystopias is to apply a complex multi-varied approach of strategies and tactics, not all of which are necessarily going to make sense together, but which share common goals and objectives. Creating parallel structures, networks and institutions to spread truth and to counter mainstream propaganda and disinformation, and also to be a foundation for a new society when the dysfunctional society ultimately destroys itself, are needed; by implication, this is a collective activity to be undertaken by as many individuals and groups working together as possible, The work is greater than the individuals or groups involved in it, and this is something the video neglects to mention. AoI has a clear individualist stance perhaps akin to anarcho-capitalism so to advocate for collective action over individual action or groups of people working either in parallel or together as still self-interested actors – as opposed to people working together because they have decided to sacrifice some of their aims or freedoms to achieve a collective goal or goals that might not benefit them personally – would be beyond the pale for AoI. The result is that the film is very weak on suggesting pragmatic action and remedies for the problems it identifies.

A transcript to the video can be found at this link.

The Mass Psychosis and the Demons of Dostoevsky: how ideas and ideologies lay the groundwork for mass psychosis and control

“The Mass Psychosis and the Demons of Dostoevsky” (Academy of Ideas, 31 March 2021)

Drawing on the work of psychoanalysts Carl Jung and Joost Meerloo, this video explores the impact that ideas and ideologies can have on societies and predispose them to the fears, anxieties and insecurities that in turn drive them and individuals towards collective mass psychosis that legitimises scapegoating and persecution of minorities, supports war and encourages mass murder and genocide. These ideas are described in the video as demons and this metaphor, attributed to the Russian author Fyodor Dostoyevsky, is expanded into the suggestion that, like demons, ideas can possess humans and direct their thinking, behaviour and actions.

The video gives a general description of what these ideas and ideologies are or might involve – they can promote passivity or learned helplessness, or depict humans as imperfect beings incapable of self-improvement; they can set up humans in a hierarchy in which some humans are exceptional and others are not (and deserve to be driven to extinction); or they can justify the existence of a small elite before whom the majority must bow in obedient slavery – and then goes on to explain how these ideas or ideologies spread in societies aided by the political, social, cultural or economic tools available to them.

As is usual in their videos, AoI use paintings, other artworks and historical film archives (mainly old Soviet film) to illustrate their voice-over narrative. Quotations drawn from Jung, Meerloo and others are also repeated as text on inserted title cards. There is an anti-Communist bias in AoI’s choice of historical news and documentary film but I suspect if AoI had tried to be more even-handed and neutral in their choice of films, they might possibly run afoul of censors in Canada. AoI’s selection of quotations from Meerloo’s work “The Rape of the Mind” (which was also critical of the House Un-American Activities Committee and its actions in the US during the 1950s) might suggest the film-makers are more even-handed than their video at first appears.

One chilling observation featured in the video is that those possessed by such ideas and ideologies that lead to a totalitarian mindset and the quest for power and control believe that what they are doing is good, not just for themselves but for others and the whole of society that they seek to dominate. They are blind to the possibility that they are setting themselves – and by implication, others and even entire nations and regions – up for ruin.

The transcript of the voice-over narrative appears at this link.

Is a Mass Psychosis the Greatest Threat to Humanity? – how mass delusion forms through real, imagined or fabricated threats

Is a Mass Psychosis the Greatest Threat to Humanity? (Academy of Ideas, 27 February 2021)

Academy of Ideas is a Canadian-based website that explores and explains the ideas, philosophies and psychological theories of selected past thinkers and psychologists such as Friedrich Nietzsche, Soren Kierkegaard and Carl Jung among others, with the aim of encouraging self-empowerment and individual action, and helping readers cope with media disinformation. AoI also run a Youtube channel, posting short videos on philosophy, psychology and particular topics that may be relevant (though in a limited way) to viewers’ current social / political contexts. Over the past couple of years AoI has released videos on social psychology, in particular on the phenomenon of mass psychosis in human societies.

In this video, with the use of paintings, drawings and archived film from the 1930s and 1940s, AoI investigates what mass psychosis is and gives historical examples (some of the more recent ones in the 20th and 21st centuries appear to be cherry-picked: for example, Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union under Stalin, China and North Korea) of societies that experienced such a phenomenon. The impact of mass psychosis on individuals, as explained by voice-over references to quotations by Carl Jung (reinforced with the text in inserted title cards), can be severe: individuals in such societies can be overcome and dominated by emotional, fearful and panicky thinking, and can end up carrying out acts including murder that they would normally consider repugnant. A society under psychosis is detached from reality, believing in and influenced by delusions about its place in the world and about other societies in that world, and acting accordingly. The psychosis can be driven by governments, corporations, other organisations (including mass media organisations) and individuals with self-serving agendas and ideologies.

The video goes on to explain that populations can be made fearful and vulnerable to manipulation leading to mass psychosis by threats that can be real or fabricated. Emphasis is put on the background cultural context of the targeted population as AoI sees it: if the society is made up of what AoI considers to be self-reliant, resilient and inwardly strong or inner-directed individuals, those people will confront and overcome the threat (no matter how arduous that effort, be it intellectual, physical and/or moral, may be) with strength and will power both individually and collectively. Once a population is in a state of panic, augmented by fearmongering tactics by mass media, its fears and anxieties can be directed into scapegoating minority groups or into supporting war against perceived enemies, with all the devastating consequences that can follow.

There is not space in the video to explain how pre-existing conditions in a society can influence whether it will respond in a positive or negative way to a crisis or threat: that explanation is given over to another AoI video. The artwork featured in the video – much of it by Hieronymous Bosch and Francisco Goya – is dramatic with strong if dark colouring and features depictions of violence.

While indeed some past 20th-century authoritarian societies do appear to be classic examples of mass psychosis, one also has to explain how these societies rallied against serious external threats, as the Soviet Union did against the Nazi German invasion in 1941 and defeated it, and how these societies managed to end their collective psychosis. On this, the video is silent, perhaps because it takes more than self-reliant and inner-directed individuals, whether acting on their own or together, to overcome mass psychosis: a culture and ideology that emphasises positive thinking and development, and which favours particular collective values and behaviours that might involve self-sacrifice and giving up one’s freedoms, must be present too.

A transcript of the video can be found at this link.

Public Latrines in Ancient Rome: a droll introduction to Classical Roman daily life, culture and attitudes

Garrett Ryan, “Public Latrines in Ancient Rome” (Toldinstone, 15 December 2021)

In the space of seven minutes (as twenty seconds are devoted to the mention of the video sponsor whose business is relevant to the subject matter), historian Dr Garrett Ryan deftly gives a quick survey of the use of toilets, private and public, in cities and large towns in the Roman Empire. The first couple of minutes quickly dispenses with private toilets in houses and shops (often located near or even in kitchens so they could double as food garbage bins) and usually emptying into cesspits not necessarily connected to sewers which might allow noxious gases or unwelcome vermin to enter homes. Apartment dwellers made do with clay chamber-pots that would be emptied through the window into streets (and maybe onto unwary pedestrians) below; on many occasions the chamber-pot might well inadvertently follow the wastes with unfortunate, even fatal consequences for the unlucky pedestrians. Public latrines provided an alternative to private toilets and chamber-pots: they could range from two-seat facilities on the ground floors of apartment blocks through 12-seat facilities (fairly common) to massive buildings seating as many as 50, 70 and 80 patrons equipped with heated or mosaic floors, marbled panelling, painted walls and even statues. Even the seats themselves could be made of marble.

After the plug (ahem) for the sponsor, the video explains what using a public latrine would have been like for patrons: you would pass through a swinging door or curtain after paying a fee to the attendant into a dimly lit room (to help preserve privacy) and sit on one of several toilet seats set in bench-like constructions of stone (in southern Europe) or wood (in northern Europe) over hidden sewer pipes carrying grey water from public baths, to do your business. A slot beneath the seat allowed patrons to clean their privates with an absorbent soft Mediterranean-Sea sponge on a stick, moistened before use and cleaned after. Such items of course could spread disease (though Ryan does not mention that the sponge sticks might be cleaned with vinegar after use). Many Romans resorted to using pottery shards, old cloths or used papyrus as toilet paper, or splashed their privates with water. They would wash their hands in basins that were provided. The floors of public latrines were designed to be easily washable and narrow windows set high in the walls enabled some air flow and ventilation. Candles might have burned incense to disguise odours.

Public latrines did have their hazards: if they were located near the sea, the odd octopus might come crawling out of the toilet as did rats and snakes that might bite patrons on the family jewels; and the build-up of hydrogen sulphides together with methane gases beneath the seats caused explosions that did more severe damage than rats and snakes did.

The video is a very droll and entertaining introduction to Roman daily life and the customs and institutions of Roman culture and society. There is very little in the video about how the design of Roman-era public latrines reflects Roman attitudes about cleanliness, public hygiene and sanitation, and how they prioritised public sanitation over the control of public water supply (or not). Roman ideas about what was clean, what was dirty and what caused disease or encouraged disease or disease-causing parasites to spread were very different from ours – because much of our knowledge is built on what Romans did and on what others who followed them did.

Compared to other societies of their time and those that immediately followed them in Europe after Rome fell to Germanic invaders in the fifth century CE, the Romans did not do too badly in trying to keep large urban settlements in which hundreds if not thousands of people lived in crowded conditions, and public cleanliness and sanitation had to be a high priority for urban administrators, clean – and in many parts of Europe including Britain, Roman efforts in public sanitation (and even in building private toilets in houses and shops) were not exceeded until the late nineteenth or even early twentieth centuries.

The Disastrous Liberation of the Philippines: how the US failed to end war and suffering in 1944 – 1945

Carlton Meyer, “The Disastrous Liberation of the Philippines” (Tales of the American Empire, 10 December 2021)

In this short documentary, military historian Carlton Meyer makes his case that the US decision to liberate the Philippines from Japanese rule in 1944, when US armed forces could have bypassed that part of Southeast Asia (as they did with Singapore and Malaysia), and blockaded the island chains stretching from Formosa (Taiwan) through Okinawa and the Ryukyu Islands to southern Japan, and even to the Korean Peninsula, was the most disastrous the US made in the Pacific front against Japan. By attempting to liberate the Philippines, the US action not only resulted in the unnecessary deaths of thousands of US and Filipino soldiers, and of even more thousands of Filipino civilians and the destruction of Filipino cities, but delayed the conclusion of the war. Actions the US took to blockade Japan and cripple its military industries took place much later in 1945 than sooner in 1944. Japan’s offer to surrender might have been accepted sooner as well, though Meyer notes that the US deliberately delayed accepting Japan’s surrender because it wanted to demonstrate the effectiveness of its atomic bomb program to the Soviet Union and that program was not ready in early 1945.

Meyer lays out how the US could have effectively used a blockade of Japan to force that nation to surrender earlier and save millions of lives, not to mention using its troops in areas where they really were needed (in China and Korea perhaps) and thus preventing Soviet entry into the war against Japan. (This probably might not have stopped China and Korea from accepting Communist government but might have reduced popular support for the Communists.) Cutting supplies from Japan to the Philippines by an island blockade could have led to early Japanese surrender in the Philippines followed by an orderly withdrawal of Japanese troops – in most other parts of Asia and the Pacific region, Japanese soldiers surrendered and withdrew without necessarily fighting to the death – and the destruction of cities and towns in the Philippines would have been less severe.

The weakest part of the documentary is in Meyer’s attempt to find and explain why the US did not do what it should have done. There were individuals in the US Joint Chiefs of Staff who supported US Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz’s plan for blockading Japan. Meyer fingers US General Douglas Macarthur as the main advocate for retaking the Philippines in order to salvage his tattered reputation after his catastrophic defence of the Philippines against Japanese invasion in 1942. Whether the Roosevelt administration supported Macarthur over Nimitz’s plan or Nimitz changed his mind (under pressure from others perhaps), Meyer is unable to say. He is also unable to say what reasons may have attached to the US decision to liberate the Philippines and prolong the fighting unnecessarily, and if these reasons might themselves have been based on geopolitical or other agendas, the consequences of which would have given the US political, economic or other strategic advantages in East and Southeast Asia and the Pacific region.

Visual material including maps and archived film and photos help illustrate Meyer’s argument of what the US could and should have done. The voiceover narration can be quite fast and viewers may need to re-run the film to catch the details of what Meyer says. The implications of Meyer’s argument are enormous, as the decision not to follow Nimitz’s plan to blockade Japan resulted not just in unnecessary suffering, death and destruction but had widespread consequences for other parts of Asia beyond Japan and the Philippines which themselves generated further actions and results that are still working out in the geopolitics of this part of the world more than 70 years later.

In the context of Meyer’s Tales of the American Empire series, it’s hard not to think that the US decision to “liberate” the Philippines in the way this was done was perhaps to keep the Filipino people in such a wretched and impoverished state that they would never be able to press for independence.

How a Fish Bankrupted the Roman Aristocracy: a tale of a culinary craze in classical society

Dr Garrett Ryan, “How a Fish Bankrupted the Roman Aristocracy” (Told In Stone, 27 November 2021)

In this instalment in his Told In Stones series which explores culture and society in Classical Greece and Rome, historian Dr Garrett Ryan investigates fine dining amongst the aristocratic elites in Rome and the craze for red mullet that seized them during early imperial times. Ryan first describes the diet of ordinary Romans which was heavy on carbohydrates (in the form of bread or porridge), legumes and fruit, and cheese, and light on animal protein. Wealthy Romans on the other hand could afford a vast range of foods and especially meats: shellfish, snails, all kinds of poultry and game birds, and red meats … including the notorious predilection for stuffed dormice. Such foods were usually served at evening banquets consisting of several courses ending in desserts of fruit, nuts and honey. The Roman elites were especially fond of delicacies that modern Western palates would find odd or downright unpalatable, such as parts of the internal plumbing of sows or the working parts of songbirds. Many of these foods were doused in a sauce called garum, made from the fermented intestines of fish and used in ways similar to how fish sauce is currently used in Southeast Asian cuisines.

Pride of place in his talk is given to red mullet (actually two species of small fish) which was eaten both for its supposed aphrodisiac and (paradoxically) contraceptive properties. The high demand for red mullet among Roman elites coupled with the difficulty of domesticating the creature and farming it drove prices for the fish to such levels that a banquet featuring a dozen large mullets could rival a small villa in cost. Overfishing would have driven up prices for red mullet even further, fuelling the craze. The obsession with red mullet and the status attached to it, with all the signals of power and hierarchy attached to being able to host banquets featuring the fish in a number of dishes, apparently lasted some 200 years before fading away.

While the talk is very entertaining and funny, and as usual is illustrated with stunning visuals, it actually says nothing about how the demand for the fish “bankrupted” the Roman elites – if anything, the Roman elites were already bankrupt, thanks to the fixed power structures of Roman society in which the elites lived in a world parallel with, and dependent on, the rest of Roman society while having very little to do with it – or how this craze and similar crazes were symptoms reflecting the nature of a layer of society far removed and insulated from the concerns and stresses that belaboured ordinary Romans. If there is a silver lining in this particular cloud, it may be that the Roman elites were such a small class of people that their greed, traumatic though it may have been for the populations of the two red mullet species in the seas around the Italian peninsula, did not have a huge impact on a society in which the rudiments of the modern financial economy that would make speculative bubbles based on the demand for and supply of red mullet or tulips possible did not yet exist.

A Murder Mystery in Roman Egypt: an entertaining exploration of legal trials during Roman imperial rule

Dr Garrett Ryan, “A Murder Mystery in Roman Egypt” (Told In Stone, 24 November 2021)

This entertaining little documentary is actually less a whodunnit tale and more an exploration of an aspect of Roman rule over Egypt during the Classical Era. As narrator Dr Ryan drily notes, Egypt was Roman for 600 years yet in many ways this region was distinct from the rest of the Roman Empire due to (as Ryan adds) its isolation from other Roman-ruled areas, its huge wealth and its unique history and cultural legacy at the time. For us moderns, another distinct aspect of Roman Egypt is that, compared to other parts of the Roman Empire, the province bequeathed an enormous wealth of papyrus documents ranging from literary works to taxation receipts thanks in no small part to its physical geography which favours the preservation of papyrus and thus the preservation of archived documents. Not to mention of course, Roman Egyptian citizens’ propensity to safeguard items and documents they considered valuable from the eyes and hands of thieves and robbers!

Many of the preserved documents from Roman Egypt feature court cases dealing with the resolution of crimes. The documents show that theft was the most common crime, and that much theft was opportunistic or the result of ongoing personal or family conflicts between the thief and the victim. In one case, a man attended a funeral and when he later went home, he found his house had been stripped bare of all its belongings. Occasionally organised crimes are mentioned and in some cases of organised crime, the local authorities who would have responsible for investigating crime have been paid off by the defendants. Skirmishes between rival villages – perhaps the ancient equivalent of Mafia-style vendettas – are reported. Interestingly, murders seem to be seldom mentioned – but when they are mentioned, they are quite dramatic, even sensational. Among the murder cases Dr Ryan mentions, a powerful Alexandrian city councillor is brought to trial for the murder of a prostitute despite his efforts to intimidate city authorities with his cronies: he comes face to face with the prostitute’s mother in a confrontation and (presumably in an outburst) gives himself away. The man is later executed for his crime. In another case, in the 2nd century CE a man called Artemidorus was mummified and buried: recent CT scanning shows the back of his head was crushed in a way consistent with being hit repeatedly by a blunt instrument.

The eponymous murder mystery is sourced from the transcript of a trial that took place in 6th-century Byzantine Egypt: the transcript itself was pieced together from fragments of papyri found in a pit in 1905 beneath an Egyptian villager’s house when the man was renovating it. Archaeologists investigating the trove of papyrus documents in the pit discovered it had belonged to a lawyer / landowner called Dioskuros. The documents include part of the transcript of the trial. As the rest of the transcript is lost, we cannot know the details of what exactly transpired but the trial revolved around a conspiracy that included bribery and two savage murders of a priest and a villager in the village of Aphrodito. A soldier and an aristocrat were brought to trial over the murders. The soldier apparently denied any involvement in the death of the priest. What transpired later in the trial remains unknown and Ryan speculates that the priest and villager may have been killed because they knew too much about a scheme, possibly of embezzlement, being hatched by people who may have been the defendants in the trial.

Illustrated with vivid stills and photographs of Roman and Byzantine-era mosaics, statues and portraits – one portrait being that of a Greek diviner called Artemidorus, though likely not the Artemidorus subjected to being bashed – the mini-documentary runs at a brisk pace, gossipy in some ways with quite droll commentary from Ryan. Though the murder mystery is never solved, it is told in a very captivating if perhaps rather speedy (and actually dry) way by the historian. The documentary gives an insight into an aspect of Roman rule and administration in Egypt, and how perhaps Roman institutions and the individual representatives of those institutions came up against and treated (or mistreated) local Egyptian people, and dealt with their conflicts and spats.

The 1964 Coup in Brazil: how Brazil and South America were set back for 21 years by US regime change action

Carlton Meyer, “The 1964 Coup in Brazil” (Tales of the American Empire, 12 November 2021)

This instalment in Meyer’s ongoing series investigating the long history of US imperialism across the globe focuses on the overthrow of Brazilian President João Goulart by his nation’s military in 1964 and the role the US government under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson played in that coup. Goulart came to power in Brazil in September 1961 on a platform of educational, taxation, electoral and land reforms aimed at benefiting the poor and stimulating the national economy. He was friendly towards the Castro government in Cuba during the 1962 Cuban missile crisis and his belief in Cuban independence and self-determination led the Kennedy government to consider overthrowing Goulart’s government. The plan to get rid of Goulart became Operation Brother Sam. After Kennedy’s assassination in November 1963, US President Lyndon B Johnson then authorised a US naval task force and aircraft to travel to Brazil, ostensibly to conduct a military exercise, to support the March 1964 coup. The coup was organised by the CIA together with the Brazilian military.

The mini-documentary shows how supposedly progressive US governments like those of Kennedy and Johnson actually supported right-wing forces in Latin American nations and thwarted those nations’ drive for self-determination so as to safeguard US corporate interests. Archived film interviews and Brazilian television news reports help demonstrate how the Brazilian Chief of Army General Staff Castelo Branco was persuaded to support the coup by US military attaché Vernon A Walters who told him that the US naval force and aircraft would assist in regime change (to the extent of openly invading the country) if the coup were to falter. The film does not note that Castelo Branco later benefited from supporting the coup – he became President in April 1964 – which would have been rich irony.

As a result of the coup Brazil suffered repressive military rule for 21 years during which time the country served as the model and template for US-assisted overthrow of other South American leaders and governments deemed undesirable by Washington DC: this 21-year period includes the 1973 overthrow of Chilean President Salvador Allende by the Chilean military. Many consequences of the 1964 coup against Goulart were to follow and are still working their effects through Brazilian society and the rest of South America. Unfortunately Meyer’s video, concentrating on the details of Goulart’s overthrow and the US role in it, does not have the time or the scope to cover the full significance of the coup for Brazil and the entire Latin American region.

Vampires in Greek Myth: an introduction to a universal cultural phenomenon through the Ancient Greek worldview

Dr Garrett Ryan, “Vampires in Greek Myth” (Told In Stone, 30 October 2021)

Casting our fears regarding death and women who might be less than ideal mothers or loving wives and partners by personifying them as bloodthirsty monsters – in other words, vampires or vampire equivalents – seems to be a universal practice across all human cultures. Post-Classical Greek culture certainly believed in vampire-like beings but may have borrowed the concept from Slavs who migrated into the Balkans during the 5th and 6th centuries CE. Did the Greeks of Classical times also believe in vampires? Dr Ryan’s short film tutorial shows the ancient Greeks certainly did believe in bloodthirsty female demons or ghosts that preyed upon susceptible young men with the intent to drain them of their blood and vitality. Structured around two entertaining tales – one taken from Philostratus’s biography “Life of Apollonius of Tyana” in which Apollonius warns his student Menippus that the younger man’s new girlfriend is something of a manhunter, the other being The Bride of Corinth – the film discusses the lamia, the stryx and the empousa. All three are described in their lurid monstrosity: the lamia appears to humans as a beautiful woman in its upper body but its lower body having the form of a snake; the strix is a foul-smelling nocturnal bat monster with a human head and a penchant for attacking sleeping children through open windows; and the empousa is a shapeshifting ghost who goes after young men.

While the film is certainly entertaining and the artwork featured is rich and gorgeous, there isn’t much information about the place of these monsters in Greek mythology: how they came to be, what their relation might have been to the Olympians, the Titans or other beings that populated the ancient Greek imagination, and what importance they held for the people who feared them. What remedies did ordinary people believe in to ward off these creatures and what important cultural values or morals were emphasised in the stories people told and passed on to others about these creatures? The lessons one could take from the tale of Apollonius and Menippus, and the story of the Bride of Corinth might include warnings that romantic love or lust is not a good basis for a long-lasting relationship and that marriage is much more than a union of two people.

The film is best viewed as an introduction to the ways in which ancient Greeks coped with and expressed the universal human fear and fascination with death, blood, menstruation and women’s ability to give birth, the connections among all of these – and how in both imagination and reality these connections can be explored by being turned into their polar opposites in the form of vampiric monsters.

Ancient Greek Buddhists: a vivid snapshot of ancient Greek and Indian cultural contacts

Garrett Ryan, “Ancient Greek Buddhists” (Toldinstone, 16 October 2021)

A very fascinating snapshot of a short period in ancient Central Asian and Indian subcontinent history, this video explores the cultural interactions between Hellenistic Greeks and parts of present-day Pakistan and northern India about two thousands years ago. The Hellenistic presence in the Middle East and Central Asia was a consequence of Alexander the Great’s conquests in the fourth century BCE: the Seleucid Empire, succeeding Alexander the Great, held large territories in western Asia and the kingdom of Bactria occupied territory in what is now Afghanistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Indians themselves were not untouched by the Macedonian invasions: Alexander and his forces ranged over areas around the Indus River valley, leaving behind captured cities, defeated local kings and garrisons. For a long time afterwards, the Seleucids and the Bactrians bordered the Mauryan Empire in northwest India but after the Mauryan Empire fell in the early 2nd century BCE, the Bactrians invaded and conquered parts of northern India as far south as Gujarat and as far east as the Ganges River delta. Bactria ended up over-extended and split into two kingdoms, Bactria proper and the Indo-Greek kingdom

In India, the Greek Bactrian elites were impressed by Buddhism and converted to the religion; many of these people such as Menander I (reigned 165 or 155 – 130 BCE) of the Indo-Greek kingdom became Buddhist missionaries. As the video demonstrates in vivid stills of archaeological finds and sculptures, Greek Bactrian leaders and politicians established stupas and shrines, and their remains sometimes ended up in temples to be revered alongside images of the Buddha. After Bactria faded into the Parthian Empire and the Indo-Greek kingdom disintegrated after Menander I’s death, the Roman Empire became the major source of European contact with the Indian subcontinent through maritime trade. Indians or their products are known to have reached the Roman Empire: the film shows a picture of an Indian statuette found in the ruins of Pompeii.

Greeks and Romans in Europe seem to have been rather confused about the nature of Buddhism and its philosophies – even to the extent of mixing the religion up with Hinduism and Jainism – and Buddhism made no appreciable impact on Greek and Roman culture generally in spite of its attraction for the Indo-Greek elites. Hellenistic influence on Indian culture is demonstrated by the adoption of Greek sculptural techniques by Indian sculptors in creating free-standing, realistic human figures in draped Greek-styled clothes. It may be that the depiction of the Buddha as a human figure may have begun with the Indo-Greeks and that this form of portrayal spread wherever Buddhism went.

The short documentary is one of the most stunning and beautiful of the videos I have seen so far from the Toldinstone channel on Youtube. Dr Ryan’s narration is fast and viewers may have to run the film a few times to take in all the historical details. Unfortunately he has little to say about why the Indo-Greeks adopted Buddhism enthusiastically but seem to have stayed away from Hinduism, Jainism and other religions in the region. Aside from the material archaeological evidence of coins and our knowledge of Roman contacts with India, there is very little about the Indo-Greek economy. We can only know from what the material evidence tells us.

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