I am currently re-writing part of my thesis – specifically I am trying to tease out some examples of Cornish historians who write about Phoenicians and justify their work with classical texts and trying to make some observations on trends and possible reasons for them.
It wasn’t a big part of my thesis per se since what I wanted to focus on was the role of the more traditional Greek and Roman classical civilisations on historiography. Nonetheless not only is it impossible to talk about the ancient Cornish tin trade without talking about the Phoenician myth but it turns out that one of the key uses for classical texts in building the historiography of Cornwall is “proving” that the Phoenicians came to Cornwall.
The Classical reception scholar in me is fascinated by the way that not only do the ancient works form the basis and framework for historical research but also how quickly they become cheap acontextual citations to make a point and how important the phraseology of a translation can turn out to be for the non-specialist. But…
…that is what part of the thesis was about not what the article is supposed to say.
I want to point out that there are patterns for discussing the topic and that they show us some of the key concerns of the historians involved.
Specifically, the writers always use Strabo’s description of the Cassiterides and the Phoenicians at 3.5.11 (but never mention 3.2.9 or any of his writing about Britain) and usually conflate this account with Diodorus on Belerion (5.22.1-2) . The writers also seem to regularly get entangled in issues surrounding the possible dating for the trade and exact locations for parts of the route. Even more importantly it is clear that the Phoenicians form a kind of shorthand for understanding the development of Cornish civilisation and technology.
The Cornish writers attribute improvements in the process of mining, the design of hill-forts and parts of the language to the interactions between the Cornish and the Phoenicians. This allows the writers to suggest that certain important parts of Cornish culture had developed well before the Roman invasion and therefore that these Celts were somehow different to Caesar’s savage Britons. Like a number of historical writers of the period the writers tend to focus on the cultural legacy passed from the classical peoples to the natives rather than the existence or role of artefacts (rather handily when they are somewhat absent as in this case). In the texts that I have looked at there are some wild conjectures about the activities of the Phoenicians in Cornwall as well as more measured hypotheses but almost all of them are keen to describe the interactions as positive for the Cornish. I believe that in this way they took their own ideas about the important parts of Cornish history and framed them into a local mythos.
Now I just need to find a way to argue that as a convincing conclusion before the end of the month.
(more SFF soon. honest.)