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(#61, Version 5.0)
It is very obvious that ancient Greece was one of the primary inspirations for the Gorean novels of John Norman. Mr. Norman did a lot of historical research prior to and during the writing of the Gorean novels. Some words used in the books may seem archaic and confusing but are actually ancient Greek terms. Other Gorean items, institutions and ideas also derive from the ancient Greeks. Some of these inspirations are very apparent while others are more subtle and only uncovered after detailed research. This scroll will provide a list of items inspired by the ancient Greeks for the Gorean novels.
This scroll is a work in progress and thus more will be added to it over time as my research continues. The information in this scroll comes from my own personal research into ancient Greece, seeking its similarities and differences to Gor. Numerous books, magazines and other sources have been consulted. A bibliography of my varied sources would be lengthy. Some of the items I address in this scroll are my own opinions about what might have inspired Gor. These are not necessarily correct but I have attempted to fully discuss my reasons for those opinions. Many of the similarities are too extensive to be merely coincidental. Any mistakes in this scroll are solely my own.
I welcome anyone who would like to further discuss the matters raised in this scroll to contact me. I am always open to informed debate about such matters. The origin of Gor is an area that has been largely untouched in the online Gorean community. Very little has been posted or publicized about such matters. But I believe it is a very important area that can aid one in comprehending Gor. If we know more about a thing's beginnings, we will understand it better.
A couple of topics have been purposefully omitted from this scroll as they are large enough to warrant their own scrolls. These two topics include: Slavery in Ancient Greece & Spartan Society and the Warrior Caste. Those scrolls will be forthcoming.
Pythagoras of Samos was an ancient Greek mathematician and philosopher who lived during the sixth century B.C. He seems to be an important figure in the creation of Gor. Though we have nothing of his own actual writings, Pythagoras did create a society of students and followers and we have some of their writings. But, it can be hard to differentiate what was actually created by Pythagoras and what was created by his students and followers. Some ideas attributed to Pythagoras may actually be the inventions of his students and followers.
Two of these ideas used in the Gor novels are the Counterearth and the Central Fire. Gor itself is known as the Counterearth. One expression for the Sun that Goreans use is "Lar-Torvis" which translates as the Central Fire.
Pythagoreans were very concerned about numbers and believed that many numbers had special significance. For example, they believed that one is the point, two is the line, three is the surface and four is the solid. Ten was considered a perfect number because it is the sum of one, two, three, and four. In addition, if you wrote those four integers in dot notation they would form a perfect triangle.
Pythagoreans could observe nine heavenly bodies and these included: the heaven of the fixed stars, Mercury, Venus, Earth, the Moon, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, and the Sun. But, they wanted the heavens to be perfect though so they needed a tenth heavenly body to complete their perfect number. They thus postulated the idea of a Counterearth, a planet in the same orbit as the Earth but on the other side of the Sun. This was probably the first time the concept of a Counterearth was ever considered. Pythagoreans did not postulate the type of world that the Counterearth was, they simply wanted it to exist to form their perfect ten. Pythagoreans also believed that there was a Central Fire in the center of the universe. All heavenly bodies rotated around this Fire, including the Sun. Goreans adopted this term, Central Fire, but attributed it to the Sun instead.
Thus the idea of a Counterearth came from Pythagoras. Did the word "Gor" also derive from him? Consider his name, PythaGORas and the name of his followers, PythaGOREANS. This is probably more than a coincidence. I think it would be reasonable to assume "Gor" came from his name, especially as Norman states Pythagoras created the idea of a Counterearth.
The society that Pythagoras created was a quasi-cult, combining science, religion and mysticism. The society followed a strict code of secrecy that has also contributed to our limited knowledge of Pythagoras. The society also created many legends about Pythagoras, claiming he performed numerous miracles. The society was bound by certain restrictions such as they could not eat meat or beans. They were also supposed to be celibate. Much of their time was involved in the study of mathematics. Doesn't this sound like the Gorean Initiate Caste? They both share some of the same restrictions and interests though there were differences as well. For example, both men and women were permitted to become members of the society but the Initiates only permit men.
Why the restriction against beans? It does seem odd but there have been many different reasons proposed by the proponents. The custom actually existed in Egypt prior to its adoption by the Pythagoreans and Pythagoras likely borrowed it from them after his stay in Egypt. In addition, he may have borrowed their guidelines of secrecy and abstinence as well. One theory is that at the beginning of creation, when the earth was new, the bean arose. The evidence for this is that if one chews a bean to a pulp and exposes it to the sun for a certain time, it will emit the odor of human seed. In addition, we can take the bean and its flower, moisten it and then plant it in the earth. After a few days, if we dig it up again we will see that it looks like a womb. If we examine it very closely, we will also see what looks like a baby's head growing within it. Another theory states that beans have tiny souls in them. Flatulence is simply those souls trying to escape from your body. Some recent scholars have interpreted this restriction in a much different form. They feel that "Abstain from beans" may actually mean to "Avoid politics." Beans, black and white, were once used as a means of voting. The Pythagoreans did have trouble mixing politics in their philosophy so this is also a possibility.
Gorean Alphabet
There are twenty-eight letters in the Gorean alphabet but the books only detail eighteen of them. Several of the known letters were either derived from or taken specifically from the ancient Greek alphabet.
al-ka: This is the first letter of the Gorean alphabet and it corresponds to the Earth letter "A." It derives from the Greek letter "alpha."
ba-ta: This is the second letter of the Gorean alphabet and it corresponds to the Earth letter "B." It derives from the Greek letter "beta."
delka: This is the fourth letter of the Gorean alphabet and it corresponds to the Earth letter "D." It is the same as the Greek letter "delka." It even looks the same, like an equilateral triangle.
eta: This is a letter of the Gorean alphabet and it corresponds to the Earth letter "E." It is the same as the Greek letter "eta."
mu: This is a letter of the Gorean alphabet and it corresponds to the Earth letter "M." It is the same as the Greek letter "mu."
nu: This is a letter of the Gorean alphabet and it corresponds to the Earth letter "N." It is the same as the Greek letter "nu."
homan: This is a letter of the Gorean alphabet and it corresponds to the Earth letter "H." It is derived from the Cretan alphabet. Crete is a Greek island that possessed its own alphabet that predated the common Greek alphabet.
Gorean Drinking Vessels
Many of the vessels used by Goreans for drinking and to carry/store liquids are derived from ones used by the ancient Greeks. Their Greek names have been retained on Gor.
bota: The bota is simply a wine skin and has been used throughout the centuries. Though this word is not of Greek origin it was used by the Greeks as well.
crater: This Greek word may alternatively be spelled as "krater" and literally means a "mixing bowl." This is a vessel used to mix wine and water. The Greeks had many different types of craters such as the column crater, calyx crater, volute crater, and bell crater. In the Gor books, there is only one type of crater described. The common crater is a footed bowl but it generally does not have handles. It has a wide mouth and is deeper than a kylix. A crater may also be used as a drinking vessel and not just for mixing. Greek wines, like Gorean wines, had a high alcohol content and thus many people choose to dilute their wine with water. They would use a crater to do so and this is similarly done on Gor. "Akratos" is a Greek term that means "unmixed" wine. Though that term is not used in the Gor novels it is interesting nonetheless. The Goreans might even have a similar term in their own language.
kantharos: This is a Greek word that literally translates as "dung beetle." It is though a deep, footed bowl with two curved handles that run vertically down the sides of the bowl.
kylix: This Greek word may alternatively be spelled as "cylix" and is also a footed bowl with two handles though it is generally wider and shallower than the kantharos.
hydria: This is a tall vessel used to carry water. It commonly has three handles. There is a single vertical handle that can be used to carry or pour the hydria. There are also two horizontal handles near the top of the vessel to allow it to be easily lifted.
amphora: Though this is a Latin term, the Greeks often used these vessels to store and transport liquids. It commonly has two horizontal handles, for lifting, and often a narrow, pointed base. As it cannot stand straight up due to the pointed base, it is placed into storage holes in the ground. This tends to keep the liquid cool due to the protection of the ground, especially at night. Amphorae were often carried on merchant ships to transport liquids such as wine. Archaeological digs of Greek ships have sometimes uncovered sealed amphorae still containing old wine.
Gorean Officials
A few officials and positions derive from ancient Greece though most of the legal officials derive more from ancient Rome.
aisymnetes: This is a Greek word for a type of dictator/tyrant who ruled for a specified period in a time of crisis or war. This is a very similar to the concept of the Ubar. A Ubar, by the Warrior Code, can seize rule during a time of crisis and war. Once the crisis is over, the Ubar is supposed to step down.
archon: This is a Greek word that means "leader" or "ruler" and generally refers to high ranking magistrates. There are various types of archons and the polemarchus is one such type. On Gor, an archon is also a magistrate though their actual powers are never discussed.
polemarchus: This is a Greek word for a certain type of archon, a war leader. A polemarchus is generally the high commander of an army, more powerful than a general.
Gorean Arms and Armor
The arms and armor on Gor, permitted by the Weapon Laws promulgated by the Priest Kings, are generally derived from ancient Greece. The gladius is one of the primary exceptions and it derived from ancient Rome.
helmet: The most common Gorean helmet resembles an ancient Greek helmet in the style known as Corinithian. It is a solid piece of metal, often bronze, with a "Y" shaped slot for the eyes, nose and mouth. The helmets may be cushioned with leather and be crested with hair.
shield: The most common Gorean shield is also similar to those of the ancient Greeks. It is a round shield, about three feet in diameter, made of wood and supported with bronze. It is fitted with a so you can carry it on your left arm. The face of the shield is often painted with a symbol to reflect your city, family or other important affiliation. This type of shield was known as the "hoplon" and it gave its name to the common Greek infantrymen, the hoplites.
hoplite: These were the primary warriors in ancient Greek armies, considered to be heavy infantry. They would carry a hoplon and spear. Unlike Gorean warriors, hoplites might also wear a metal breastplate and leg greaves. Hoplites were formed in a phalanx, a rectangle of warriors often eight files deep. Each warrior, protected by his shield, would hold his spear out, presenting a bristly wall. A phalanx requires discipline to maintain its cohesion and prevent the opening of any gaps in the front rank. If a warrior in the front rank drops, a warrior in the next rank will immediately replace him. The phalanx has some disadvantages. It works best on level ground against an opposing phalanx. It is difficult to maintain over rough terrain and it is poor at pursuing retreating foes. A number of Gorean cities still use the phalanx in battle though a few cities have advanced to more sophisticated military tactics.
peltasts: Peltasts were lightly armored troops, who possessed more agility than the more encumbered hoplites. A typical peltast carried a small light shield, a short sword and some javelins. They did not wear any body armor. The typical Gorean warrior would be considered somewhere between the hoplite and the peltast. A Gorean warrior often wears a helmet and carries a hoplon. Thus he may be a bit slower than a peltast but would still be quicker than a hoplite.
artillery: Siege warfare existed in ancient Greece and they were familiar with the use of catapults and ballistae. In addition, the Greeks, like Goreans, often used human hair as cordage for their artillery.
spoils of war: By commonly accepted law and tradition, much of the ancient world, including the Greeks, permitted the taking of spoils of war from a conquered city. If you were successful in capturing an enemy city, you were considered to now own that city and could do with it as you wished, including enslaving its populace. This was a primary means for the acquisition of slaves in the ancient world. Under Gorean traditions, similar spoils of war are acceptable.
Gorean Terms
Here are a number of words used in the Gorean novels that are actually ancient Greek terms. Some of these words were defined in the novels while others were not. Norman may have simply assumed that educated readers would be familiar with these terms.
aulus: This is the Gorean word for "flute." It derives from the Greek word "aulos" which also means flute.
cothornoi: This is a Greek word that refers to "high, platform-like boots." They are used in the Gorean theater by some actors and actresses to make themselves appear very tall.
himation: This is a Greek word for a type of cloak or mantle.
hortator: Also known as a "keleustes," this Greek word refers to the man on a ship who keeps time for the rowers. On many Greek ships, this man used a flute to keep time. Thus, it was essential for silence to be maintained on a warship so that the rowers could hear and maintain the proper cadence. On many Gorean ships, he beats a drum to keep time for the rowers.
klepsydra: This is a Greek word for a "water-clock." The water-clock was actually an invention of the Egyptians.
nykus: This is the Gorean word for "victory." It derives from the Greek word "nike" which also means victory.
onkos: This is a Greek word for a very large "headdress." They are used in the Gorean theater by some actors and actresses.
ostrakon: This is a Greek word that means "pieces of potsherd" that have writing on them. They are generally used as tickets, voting slips or similar such matters. The plural form is "ostraka." On Gor, ostrakon are often used as event or raffle tickets. They are generally made of baked clay. The word "ostracism" derives from the use of ostraka. In ancient Athens, ostracism was a procedure where a vote was taken to determine if an offender should be honorably banished from the city for a period of ten years. After this time period, the citizen could return to Athens without further repercussion. The votes were taken by using ostraka.
pharos: This is a Greek word that means "lighthouse." It was also the name of an island and city located off the coast of northern Egypt. The famed Lighthouse of Alexandria, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, was located on the island of Pharos. This lighthouse faced the city of Alexandria. This was the first lighthouse ever built and the model for all that followed. It was approximately 350 feet high and constructed into three sections. The bottom section was a square, stone platform. The middle section was octagonal and the top was circular. Fires were kept lit at the top and they could be seen for up to thirty miles out to sea.
phratry: This is a Greek word that means "clans." A phratry consists of one or more "genes" which are individual family or clans. The singular form of genes is "genos."
polis: This is a Greek word that means "city-state." The plural form is "poleis." Greek city-states, similar to Gorean cities, are self-governing independent entities. The English word "politics" derives from this Greek word.
scytale: Like on Gor, this was a method for sending a secret message. The Spartans invented this method. They would wrap a leather strip around a staff and write on it. When the strip was unwrapped, the message would be illegible. The leather could be sent to the recipient, who would have a same-sized staff, and who could then wrap the strip around the staff and read the message.
staters: This is a Greek word that means "coins." It often stood for the largest denomination coin. On Gor, staters are gold coins.
strigil: This is a Greek word for a certain type of metal tool that was used to scrape dirt and oil off a person's body. They are commonly of a spatulate shape but they can take a variety of shapes and styles. They were often used by athletes, people getting massages and those using the public baths. On Gor, they are mentioned primarily in regards to the public baths but anyone receiving a bath or massage may use one. Strigils are used as part of the cleaning process and bath girls are often the ones to wield the strigils.
Gorean Cities/Islands
The names of some Gorean cities and islands are also the names of ancient Greek locations. Some of these places share similar characteristics as well.
Corcyra: This was an island off the northwest coast of Greece. Its name is similar to the Gorean city of Corcyrus. Corcyra was an important point on route to Italy as most Greek ships needed to sail close to the coast. Corcyra is interesting in that it was one of the few ancient cities that employed slaves on their war ships.
Cos: This was an island southwest of Asia Minor. It was a major exporter of wine and was most famous for a white wine made from special grapes. The Gorean Cos is also an island famed for its wine, especially Ta wine. We could postulate that Ta wine should be white based on the Greek Cos.
Lydia: This country in western Asia Minor was allegedly once usurped by Gyges, a hersdman. It would also be conquered by Alexander the Great at one point. The Gorean port city of Lydius, located on the Laurius river, may have been inspired by Lydia. That is even hypothesized in the Gor novels.
Tyros: This was a coastal city of Phoenecia and a very important port. The Gorean Tyros is an important island in Thassa.
Tetrapoli: This Gorean city is not based on a specific Greek city but its name derives from Greek terms. "Tetrapoli" means "four city-states" and on Gor that city was created when four towns consolidated into a larger, unified entity. The books state that "tetrapoli" means "four cities" or "four towns." That would be an approximate translation though the more accurate term would be "city-state."
Miscellaneous Items
Alcohol: The Greeks preferred wine over other types of alcohol. Distilled spirits, such as brandy and whisky had not yet been invented. Beer was seen as a drink of barbarians and thus not suitable for the civilized Greeks.
Amazons: In Greek mythology, the Amazons were female warriors that lived on the fringes of the known world. They lived in an exclusively female society. They commonly wore animals skins as clothing and were known for their skill in archery. Their name derives from the Greek word "amazoi" which means "breastless." It was alleged that the Amazons seared off a young girl's right breast to enhance her archery ability. It was thought that the breast would unduly interfere with the bow. The Amazons may have inspired the Panther Girls and talunas. There are some differences as well. Amazons were also skilled horse riders and wielded swords, axe and shields. They existed to be defeated by men in an Amazonomachy (Amazon-Battle).
Aqueducts: The Greeks used tunnels to transport water, the precursors to the more elaborate aqueducts invented by the Romans. The Romans added arches to the tunnels to make them more efficient. These aqueducts could transport water from one place to another, sometimes from a great distance even. Some Gorean cities, such as Torcodino, use aqueducts.
Barbarians: Greeks considered all foreigners who did not speak Greek to be barbarians. Goreans also consider those who cannot speak Gorean to be barbarians.
Calendar: Each Greek city, like Gorean cities, had their own names for the months of the year.
Clothes: Greek men usually wore a tunic called a chiton. This was a sleeveless garment that extended down below the knees. The men also wore sandals or leather books. Gorean men also often wear similar tunics and footgear.
Divination: The Greeks believed in the efficacy of divination, fortunetelling. They practiced various forms of divination including some forms where animals were sacrificed. Gorean divination practices are very similar.
Gods: The Greek gods were said to live on Mount Olympus, an actual mountain in Greece. This is similar to the Priest-Kings, the Gorean "gods" who live in the Sardar Mountains.
Heralds: During the time of ancient Greece, heralds were regarded as immune from capture or attack. They operated under the protection of Hermes, a Greek god. They could travel anywhere, bearing a special staff that identified them as a herald. This was an accepted practice throughout the ancient world and Gor retains that same sanctity for its heralds. But, on Gor, heralds do not carry a staff to signify their position. It does appear that some Gorean heralds bear a gold slash on the left temple of their helmet to denote their status.
Marriage: Greeks often arranged the marriages of their daughters, similar to Goreans arranging the Free Companionships of their daughters.
Ocean: The Greeks basically knew only the Mediterranean Sea and they referred to it simply as the "Sea." To them, it was an endless ocean. This mirrors the Gorean idea of "Thassa," their own endless ocean and the only sea they know.
Papyrus: Papyrus is a marsh plant that commonly grew in the swamplands of lower Egypt, especially the Nile delta. Papyrus is the inspiration for the rence plant of Gor. Papyrus, like rence, was used for many items like ropes, sandals, baskets, boats, and especially paper. The method used by the Egyptians to make paper from papyrus is the same method detailed in the Gorean books for the making of rence paper. The Greeks used papyrus and called it byblos, biblos or papryros.
Prayer: When praying to their gods, Greeks generally stood with their arms oustretched to the heavens. It would be very unusual for them to kneel in prayer. Goreans do the same, choosing not to kneel in prayer.
Satyrs: These mythical Greek spirits were mentioned in the Gor novels. Satyrs were half-human and half-goat, possessing the ears, tail, legs, and hooves of a goat. They were a symbol of fertility and sexual desire. Satyrs often spent their time pursuing nymphs, female woodland spirits.
Ships: Greek ships were divided into two types: Merchant ships and warships. Merchant ships were also called round ships. Both types of ships were single masted though they were more often rowed. Warships never used sails in battle. The crews on merchant ships were usually slaves. The basic Greek warship was the trireme, named for its three banks of oars, and it carried a metal "beak" for ramming. A trireme required a crew of about 200 men. A typical trireme would also carry ten hoplites and four archers. A trireme was built entirely of wood and did not carry any cargo. Thus, it was very buoyant and would not sink. It would fill with water and become unmaneuverable but it would remain floating just above the surface. This allowed the triremes to be recovered by the victor in a naval battle. Nearly all of these items apply to Gorean ships as well.
Symposium: This was a type of Greek party for men. The only women present were prostitutes or slaves. The men would play games, engage in discussions and debaucheries. Drunkenness and sex were common elements of these parties. They resemble Gorean paga taverns or an all-male feast.