Friday, October 06, 2023

The courtesan story has jumped the shark

FUNERARY SPELUNIC ARCHAEOLOGY SENSATIONALISM: It is entertaining to watch the evolution of the headlines about the recently-discovered cave-tomb in Israel whose contents may have belonged to a hetaira courtesan. I noted the story here and here. The headline to the first story, by i24 News:

"Archeologists 'for first time' unearth tomb of Ancient Greek hetaira courtesan."

Sounds pretty confident she was a courtesan, but otherwise cautious.

The second headline, by Haaretz:

"Israeli Archaeologists May Have Found First-ever Grave of Hetaira From Time of Alexander the Great."

A little more cautious. She may be a hetaira. Also more informative, giving an approximate date connected to a well-known historical figure. (Alexander's career was in the late fourth century.) The archaeologists date the tomb to the fourth-third century BCE. But wait. Bringing in Alexander could have unintended consequences.

From a few days ago, a Live Science headline by Sascha Pare:

2,300-year-old grave in Israel contains remains of Greek courtesan who may have accompanied Alexander the Great's army.

Not only is she from the time of Alexander, she may have accompanied his army? Sure, maybe. There are various other possibilities. She may have died in the early third century, long after Alexander.

Then today, in the headline of an unattributed article in Neos Kosmos:

2,300 year old tomb found in Israel with potential link to Alexander the Great.

Note the subtle shift. Our possible courtesan may have had a link to Alexander himself, not just his army. Intriguing. How close a connection? It is true that the subheading does clarify that a connection to his army is meant. But people tend to absorb and click on headlines.

Finally, the headline of an article by Michael Havis in the Daily Mail dated yesterday goes full clickbait:

Is this Alexander the Great's escort? Tomb of a courtesan who may have seduced the Macedonian king is discovered after 2,300 years.

Our possible hetaira courtesan who may have lived in the late fourth century and may have accompanied Alexander's army now may have actually been Alexander the Great's lover!

To be clear, the content of the articles is about the same. The actual story is that archaeologists found a cave-tomb near Jerusalem dating to the late fourth/early third century BCE which contained cremated remains and a cool bronze box-mirror. Everything else is inference, speculation, and, finally, wild speculation.

The lesson: assume that media headlines sensationalize any story, sometimes beyond recognition, to get you to click on that link. Do not assume you have accurate knowledge about the story until you read it in full, carefully, and—if possible—you compare it to coverage in a couple of other articles.

You're welcome.

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