naples when it was parthenope

32f46bc4-f964-11e4_1149284kPeter Strothard at the Times Literary Supplement:

In the seventh century BC, before there was a new city called Naples, there was an old city on more or less the same site called Parthenope. Both were Greek, both founded by Greeks who were occupying many other coastal parts of southern Italy at the time. Exactly which Greeks and when? That is a question which still exercises scholars, including Lorenzo Miletti at the beginning of this book. Were these occupiers invaders or colonists? As a general rule of historiography Romans “invade” and Greeks “colonize”, but any distinction made by the locals has not survived. The story of one of the Western world’s oldest continuously occupied cities begins with Parthenope.

The city name was a part of that first occupying process. Parthenope was one of the local Sirens who in Book XII of the Odyssey, and many variant versions of the story, sang songs to lure the Greek hero Odysseus to his doom, not anticipating that he would block the seductive sound by filling his sailors’ ears with wax. In shame at her poor defensive performance she hurled herself from her cliff, akatapontismos that made her “tomb” a fine foundation stone for a new Greek city. All occupiers wanted their own link to the Trojan War, known to all Greeks as part of their defining narrative of themselves. Parthenope was perfect and her name, though lasting only a hundred years or so on the ground, has long resounded through literature and scholarship, and as far as this fascinating collection of essays in OUP’s series, Classical Presences.

more here.