Michael Scott is an assistant professor of classics and ancient history at the University of Warwick, though he is perhaps most recognized as a presenter for ancient history documentaries on National Geographic, the History channel, Nova, and the BBC. His new book on Delphi has been getting excellent reviews so far, including this from The Spectator: “Tells you everything there is to know about Delphi.” We couldn’t agree more and hope you will sample this complimentary chapter.
The book presents a thorough history of this historical site–expanding our understanding beyond the oracle to incorporate Delphi’s importance as a site of commerce, international politics, sporting competitions, culture, and on and on. It also includes a brief chapter for present-day visitors with insider’s tips on the sights to see making it the perfect companion for anyone planning a trip to see Delphi for themselves.
Now, on to the questions!
PUP: What inspired you to get into your field?
Michael Scott: A trip to Greece–indeed to Delphi–when I was 17 at school convinced me to study Classics at University. Whilst there, I was lucky enough to study at the British Schools at Rome and at Athens and to study in and amongst a wide range of fascinating archaeological sites. From that point on, I never looked back
What do you think is the book’s most important contribution?
For me, this book highlights what history, and particularly ancient history, really is. Not a list of undisputed facts about what happened, but a continuing dialogue–from then right up to now–of different, sometimes overlapping, sometimes contradictory arguments about how to understand the past, and the place of the past in our present and future. As the saying goes, ‘the future is certain, the past just keeps on changing.’
To properly understand any one moment and event, I argue that we need to connect histories from around the globe.
What was the most influential book you’ve read?
Tough one. In regard to the study of the ancient world, probably E R Dodds’s Greeks and the Irrational. I remember reading it just before starting my undergraduate degree and it entirely changing my perception of what studying the ancient world would be like.
Why did you write this book?
I wrote this book because while Delphi has been extensively studied, that study has often been piecemeal (in focusing on one particular activity at Delphi), or compartmentalized (in terms of focusing on what particular period of its 1000+ year history), or written from the standpoint of a particular kind of evidence (literary, inscriptional or archaeological). But that is not how the ancients saw, used or perceived Delphi. If we are to understand Delphi and its unique place and longevity within the ancient world, we have to get to grips with how the different sources portray Delphi’s portfolio of activities interacting across its lifespan to create a place that remained at the centre of the ancient world for so long.
PUP: What is your next project?
In my next book project, I want to break down some of the disciplinary boundaries between arenas of study in our ancient past. The book will focus on some of the most famous dates in our ancient story: 2000 BC and the completion of Stonehenge; 508 BC and the origins of democracy; 218 BC and Hannibal’s march across the Alps as well as 312 AD Constantine’s victory at the battle of Milvian Bridge. But exploring these critical moments is only the beginning. To properly understand any one moment and event, I argue that we need to connect histories from around the globe to examine what was happening elsewhere at these crucial times. So, yes, democracy may have been invented in ancient Greece in 508 BC, but what was happening politically at that time in Italy, or indeed in China? Constantine may have begun Rome’s march to Christianity in 312 AD, but what great shifts in religious observance were happening in India or North Africa? In asking that question, this book will connect up our different pasts and as a result enable us to understand the varying speeds, and kinds, of evolution that the regions of our world have been through. It will open up a window onto the similar and different challenges and issues we have faced, as well as the responses and ideas we have developed as a result.