GREEK FIRE, POISON ARROWS, AND SCORPION BOMBS
by Adrienne Mayor
I found this book as I was checking up on another of Adrienne Mayor’s works about Amazons. I put myself on a waiting list for that book, but then I found this, and after running into so many references to Greek fire in pop culture, the simple title of this book intrigued me. If nothing else, I’d never heard of a “scorpion bomb.” Was it as simple as a thrown insect? Really? I had to find out!
Warfare is nothing new, obviously. As long as mankind has been around, man has been trying to kill man. In primitive times, fists and rocks and sticks were employed to try to do the job, but later on, when mankind got a little more sophisticated, so did the weaponry. Not hidden in the recent scare about ebola was a nasty little whisper about “someone” sending infected people to infect others, but neither the vicious suggestion nor the technique is new; according to this book by historian Adrienne Mayor, the strategy was employed more than 3,000 years ago, and “poison maidens” were used to try to assassinate Alexander the Great and other key soldiers. (And of course, the use of poisonous gossip is nothing new.)
Types of weapons don’t change, but how the weapon is expressed of course has over the millennia. For instance, I didn’t know until I read this book that napalm, that thing of the modern era and the scourge of the Vietnam War, has properties similar to Greek fire. This in itself was an amazing fact, but then my attention went immediately to the passage about using flaming pigs to wage war, training sea lions to be sentinels and assassins, and using bees to find enemies and chemical agents. (Yes, I almost wrote “beeline,” but I caught myself. You’re welcome.) Flaming pigs nearly wiped everything else from my mind for a few seconds. Almost.
And yes, there’s more! Wasps’ nests thrown over walls, pleasing neither the recipient nor the wasps, I’m sure, poisonous snakes catapulted onto opposing ships, and scorpion bombs (yes, my attention finally went back to that) thrown at the enemy. Author Mayor uses a familiar phrase, “weaponizing nature,” and this book gives you a good idea of how that worked, thousands of years ago.
COMING UP: Christmas Delights by Heather Hiestand