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Ancient Greece and the Formation of the Western Mind Greece is considered by most historians to be the foundational culture of Western Civilization, although this view has come under more critical scrutiny in recent decades. Greek culture was a powerful influence in the Roman Empire, which carried a version of it to many parts of Europe. the Glory that was Greece, And the grandure that was Rome. To Helen Helen, thy beauty is to me Like those Nicean barks of yore, / That gently, o’er a perfumed sea, /The weary way-worn wanderer bore To his own native shore. On desperate seas long wont to roam, Thy hyacinth hair, thy classic face, / Thy Naiad airs have brought me home/ To the Glory that was Greece,/ And the grandure that was Rome. Detail from Grecian Urn. . . .Lo! In yon window-niche How statue-like I see thee stand, The agate lamp within thy hand! Ah, Psyche, from the regions which Are holy-land! By Edgar Alan Poe 1831 Artist: Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828 - 1882) Helen of Troy Art Style: Pre- Raphaelite Year: 1863 http://www.livingmyths.com/Greek.htm http://www.mlahanas.de/Greeks/Mythology/Helen.html Why Study the Greeks? • Western intellectual history always begins with the ancient Greeks. • This is not to say that no one had any deep thoughts prior to the ancient Greeks, or that the philosophies of ancient India and China (and elsewhere) were in any way inferior. In fact, philosophies from all over the world eventually came to influence western thought, but only much later. • But it was the Greeks that educated the Romans and, after a long dark age, it was the records of these same Greeks, kept and studied by the Moslem and Jewish scholars as well as Christian monks, that educated Europe once again (Boeree). Though the origin of the Hellenes, or ancient Greeks, is unknown, their language clearly belongs to the Indo-European family. • Named after the mythical king Minos, the Minoan civilization flourished on the island of Crete in the second millennium B.C. • In the same period, the Myceneans developed a wealthy and powerful civilization on mainland Greece. • At some point in the last century of the millennium, the great palaces were destroyed by fire. • With them, the arts, skills, and language of the Myceneans vanished for the next few centuries, a period called the "Dark Age" of Greece. • Much of what we know about them is based on the body of oral poetry that became the raw material for Homer's epic poems, the Iliad and Odyssey. “Where Do I Come From? Why do I Do the Things that I Do?” • By serving as a basis for education, the Iliad and Odyssey played a role in the development of Greek civilization that is equivalent to the role that the Torah had played in Palestine. • The irreconcilable difference between the Greeks gods of Olympus and the Hebrew god led to a struggle from which only one survived. • For those of us raised under monotheistic religions or cultures, the Greek gods and their relation to humanity may seem alien. “Mythic Greek Hebrews and gods were admired for Greeks qualities that would make the modern world http://www.expressnews.ualberta .ca/print.cfm?id=5998 flinch.” • Whereas the Hebrews blamed humanity for bringing disorder to God's harmoniously ordered universe, the Greeks conceived their gods as an expression of the disorder of the world and its uncontrollable forces. • To the Greeks, morality is a human invention; and though Zeus is the most powerful of their gods, even he can be resisted by his fellow Olympians and must bow to the mysterious power of fate. Greek Piety vs. Greek Myths Religious beliefs and practices of the ancient Hellenes. • Greek religion is not the same as Greek mythology, which is concerned with traditional tales, though the two are closely interlinked. • Curiously, for a people so religiously minded, the Greeks had no word for religion itself— the nearest term being eusebeia (piety). • The student of Greek religion is naturally concerned to know what the Greeks believed about their gods. • They had numerous beliefs, but the sole requirement was to believe that the gods existed and to perform ritual and sacrifice, through which the gods received their due. – To deny the existence of a deity was to risk reprisals, from the deity or from other mortals. – The list of avowed atheists is brief. But if a Greek went through the motions of piety, he risked little, since no attempt was made to enforce orthodoxy, a religious concept almost incomprehensible to the Greeks. • The Greeks had no word for religion itself, the closest approximations being eusebeia (“piety”) and threskeia (“cult”). • The large corpus of myths concerned with gods, heroes, and rituals embodied the worldview of Greek religion and remains its legacy. • It should be noted that the myths varied over time and that, within limits, a writer—e.g., a Greek tragedian—could vary a myth in order to change not only the role played by the gods in it but also the evaluation of the gods' actions. • From the later 6th century BC onward, myths and gods were subject to rational criticism on ethical or other grounds. – In these circumstances it is easy to overlook the fact that most Greeks “believed” in their gods in roughly the modern sense of the term and that they prayed in a time of crisis not merely to the “relevant” deity but to any deity on whose aid they had established a claim by sacrifice. – To this end, each Greek polis (city) had a series of public festivals throughout the year that were intended to ensure the aid of all the gods who were thus honored. – They reminded the gods of services rendered and asked for a quid pro quo. In crises in particular the Greeks, like the Romans, were often willing to add deities borrowed from other cultures. What a Neo-Pagan Says Nobody would suppose they would make themselves a better person by emulating Zeus, or even Athena or Apollo (let alone Hermes or Pan). (Indeed, aspiring to be like the gods is the most obvious form of hubris, and invites Their wrath, as we see from many myths.) But this does not mean the gods are immoral. The gods have Their own morality, and it makes no more sense to apply Their moral norms to us, than it would to apply our moral norms to wolves. . . We worship the gods - we respect Them, acknowledge Them - because They are the ineluctable powers of the universe, neither good nor evil (because our moral categories are not appropriate for Them). Sophistes Grecian City States • Though united by their common Hellenic heritage, Greek city-states differed in customs, political constitutions, and dialects. • They were often rivals and fierce competitors, establishing colonies in the eighth and seventh centuries along the Mediterranean coast. • The Greeks who established colonies in Asia adapted their language to the Phoenician writing system, adding signs for vowels to change it from a consonantal to an alphabetic system. • First used for commercial documents, writing was later applied to treaties, political decrees, and, later, literature. Battle of Thermopylae • An Allied Greek force of approximately 7,000 men marched north to block the pass in the summer of 480 BC. • The Persian army, alleged by the ancient sources to have numbered in the millions, arrived at the pass in late August or early September. • Vastly outnumbered, the Greeks held up the Persians for seven days in total (including three of battle), before the rear-guard was annihilated in one of history's most famous last stands. Aware that they were being outflanked, Leonidas dismissed the bulk of the Greek army, and remained to guard the rear with 300 Spartans, 700 Thespians, 400 Thebans and perhaps a few hundred others, the vast majority of whom were killed. The site of the battle today. The road to the right is built on reclaimed land and The Persian Immortals approximates the 480BC shoreline. Go tell the Spartans, passerby: That here, by Spartan law, we lie Athens and Sparta • Inspired by their defeat of the Persian invaders, Athens and Sparta emerged as the two most prominent city-states of the fifth century B.C. • With the elimination of their common enemy, however, the two cities became enemies, culminating in the Peloponnesian war, which left Athens defeated. http://www.sikyon.com/index.html Sites Cited • Berggren, Paula. Dale Hudson, and Anita Mannur “Ancient Greece and the Formation of the Western Mind.” Anthology of World Literature. 2003-2006 W.W. Norton http://www.wwnorton.com/nawol/s2_overview.ht m 5 Oct. 2006. • Boeree,George C. “The Ancient Greeks, Part One: The Pre-Socratics” George Boeree’s Homepage http://www.ship.edu/~cgboeree/greeks.html 2000 5. Oct. 2006. • Bouchard, Gilbert A. “Olympics Viewed Differently by Ancient Greeks” Express News. 13 Aug. 2004 http://www.expressnews.ualberta.ca/print.cfm?id =5998 5. Oct. 2006 • Eddy, Steve. “Greek Myths” Living Myths. 2001- 2006 http://www.livingmyths.com/Greek.htm 5. Oct. 2006. • "Greek Religion." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2006. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. http://search.eb.com/eb/article-9110627 5 Oct. 2006. • Papakyriakou/Anagnostou, Ellen. Ancient Greek Cities. 1997-2004 http://www.sikyon.com/index.html 5 Oct. 2006. • Parada, Carlos. Greek Mythology Link 1997 http://homepage.mac.com/cparada/GML/index.ht ml 5 Oct 2006. • Sophistes, Apollonius. "Hellenic Neo-Paganism" The Biblioteca Arcana. 1995-1997 http://www.cs.utk.edu/~mclennan/BA/HNP.html# immoral 5 Oct. 2006.
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