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Elijah Carter

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					Carter 1 Elijah Carter McCormack/Schwartz/Shotwell Humanities 2001 A 1 October 2007 Greek Culture: A Testament to the Virtue of Man Americans are an inquisitive bunch, as an endless love of all things multimedia clearly illustrates. Thanks to broadband internet connections, high definition cable television, and more recently, cosmically based satellite radio, the curious citizens of the United States have the freedom to be unusually preoccupied with issues like the hottest celebrity scandals, the most ludicrous dietary recommendations, or even the incoherent ramblings of an absent-minded morning talk show host. There’s no denying that these pursuits are intriguing and of some personal value to the seeker of the truth, but this wealth of worldly knowledge can also become a source of dangerous complacency. Why not use these miraculous inventions to provoke a deep contemplation on the virtuosity of the human form or to provide a secure mental foundation upon which man’s potential can be built? The Greeks frequently and fearlessly explored the essence of man in their liberal arts; their obsession with mortal glory earned them a coveted place in world history. The sphere of ancient influence expands even into America’s diverse tradition of thinking, and unearthing these Greek roots is the first step in a catharsis of casual culture. Storytelling, in the epic proportion, brings the brilliance of the Greek heroes into the limelight. Homer’s Odyssey, first immortalized onto the page around 800B.C, gives the audience a prime example of how an excellent man should comport himself through the marvelous exploits of the larger than life warrior Odysseus as he returns from the Trojan battlefields. In several episodes, the protagonist demonstrates a bit of brutal eloquence to defeat

Carter 2 his ominous foes. Odysseus’ escape from the foreboding lair of the Cyclopes is one such instance of balance. Firstly, the hero displays his physical prowess by hurling a massive lumbered projectile right into the singular socket of the angry beast, then without a moment’s hesitation, Odysseus conjures up the cleaver pseudonym of “Nobody” in order preserve his own skin while at the same time humiliating the sea god’s son. Brain and brawn work to create a winning combination for he that walks in moderation! The climatic scene of the contest of the bow, near the conclusion of the Odyssey also portrays the lasting virtue of man in a unique way. Only the righteous Lord of Ithaca could muster the proper degree of strength and poise to string the majestic bow, and only a conditioned archer, one supremely devoted to his craft, could make the twelve rings sing their victorious song. This tale is similar to a multimillion dollar blockbuster in today’s theatres; the audience is effectively consumed by the thrilling action sequences and is also able to resonate with Odysseus’ strivings on an immensely personal level. The Classical Period of Greek literature offers a significantly democratic perspective on the virtuous nature of humanity. Plato’s The Apology of Socrates presents another dimension of the heart, one showcasing a selfless attitude and an unceasing dedication to uphold the pious calling of both god and state. Even though his fellow Athenians erroneously charge the humble Socrates with the corrupting of the youth and abhorring the very god he is trying to obey, the lover of truth boldly struggles to encourage his brethren to live life to the fullest; this fullness is found in examining one’s choices and challenging one’s initial impulses. This plea represents a perfect match of rationality and sensitivity. This sort of passionate understanding brings about an internal virtue for all men, a genuine equality of the spirit. Moreover, the willingness of Socrates to sacrifice his life for the sake of philosophical truth shines through to the present-day

Carter 3 mindset of the American solider, courageously fighting in Iraq, for the preservation of individual rights and democracy, even if his own countrymen refuse to support the sacrifice of life. The virtuous is neither limited to the brute strength that courses through the veins of the Homeric warrior nor is the excellence of human form confined to the clear thinking capacities of the Classical literatures. The splendor of man also permeates the wide world of Greek art as well, specifically in the statuary sense. The Kouroi, or model of male youth of the 6th century B.C., gives mortality a new kind of permanence with its unquestionably penetrating marble interpretation. This free-standing statue seems to demand the utmost respect from even the disinterested passer by because he effortlessly towers over all his miniscule surroundings as his verticality is indisputable. The complete nudity of this masterfully masculine piece serves to further celebrate the natural symmetry of form, in quite an engaging frontal fashion no less. Such an overt celebration of the physical body may seem a bit unnecessary to the eye of the contemporary beholder, but to the Greeks the Kouroi is an affirmation of the truth for “Man is the measure of all things.” This mammoth model even displays a subtle sense of personality thanks to his trademark Archaic smile. The Statue of Liberty which lords over the City that Never Sleeps certainly brings this tradition of old blazing into the present, minor difference of gender and clothing excluded, of course. The sculptures of the Classical age also denote the importance of human form and functionality. Myron’s Diskobolos or Discus Thrower does well in illustrating the evolution of the cultural idea of humankind’s virtuosity. This athlete’s first noticeable change in pace is his placement within a particular plane; he chooses not to remain a passive spectator. As a matter of fact, this animated fellow desires that his audience define the next move he makes; is he just beginning to build up momentum or is he recovering from a perfect execution? Secondly, the

Carter 4 inter-locking arcs and angular bends that characterize this specimen create a certain inherent order and sensibility. In other words, the mathematical forces which the Greeks believed knitted together the fabric of the cosmos are given a sort of excellent outward expression; mathematics is yet another avenue of the virtuous. The Diskobolos also works to create a new sense of time and space, one that evokes the imaginations and sympathies of the public. People are enchanted, as if they were watching the Olympic game he is participating in. The image of this marble athlete is being perpetuated in modern day advertising, as a mascot for the evils of anabolic steroid use. As the commercial progresses, the Discus Thrower gradually falls to pieces in order to sell the viewers, perhaps on the importance of maintaining bodily integrity. Music, for the Greeks was an all consuming force imparted to mankind by the nine daughters of Zeus, or the divine muses. Therefore, music was endowed with supernatural powers from the conception of the cosmos, and thus the ideal of song was immediately a standard of the virtuous because it lacked any sort of mortal taint. The Sirens, half-humans blessed with entrancing voices, demonstrate the intimate bond between celestial song and temporal sensation in their ability to literally suck the life from the unfortunate soul who lends an ear. Even the iron-willed Odysseus had to be immobilized with much rope in order to safeguard his sanity and sense of self. Worshipping the gods and goddesses was a chief aim of the musical inspiration because a belief in the gods was a great importance in early Greek culture. The Hymn to Nemesis was often featured in tragic plays as it recognizes the goddess of righteous anger and divine vengeance, but it also “sings the praises of man” too. When seeking to please the immortals, one’s voice must exhibit a high degree of both quality and clarity; man must prove his tonal worth in order to pass the pious test. In addition, the kithara or instrument of formal praise must

Carter 5 be used as the underlying accompaniment, for it highlights the natural vocal talents. The sacred attitudes held by many churchgoing Americans concerning Sunday Morning Worship may be a direct descendent of the ancient thought process. Another way the musical inclination reveals the might of man is through a devotion to scholarship and right practice. The Greeks were the pioneers of music theory; they refined its terminology; they invented its notation and they translated its philosophy. As a matter of fact, unlike today’s tunes of entertainment, the tones of ancient Greece held a distinct educational merit. Music was thought beneficial to the character and moral health of the populous because if left uncontrolled music could very easily confound one’s mood and cause one’s spiritual foundation to crumble! Music is obviously too magnanimous for mere man to contain within himself, thus the need for the Mode is made real. The Mode can be interpreted as the boundary of tones that defines musical form and faculty. For instance, the Dorian Mode is godly preference and the Phrygian Mode specializes in the release of human emotions. Interestingly enough, some of the musical guidelines have survived the tides of time and are a fundamental part of Western musical theory; the Dorian’s current identity is the Major Scale. Humans are creatures of legend to be sure; a simple examination of varied cultural motifs of ancient Greece has uncovered numerous historical similarities with the lone Superpower that is the United States. The literature, art, and music of old are precursors to the silver screens of Hollywood, the blazing flames of Lady Liberty, and the joyous melodies of a familiar hymn, just to name a few. The Greeks are certainly the forefathers of Western civilization and the citizens of this blessed country owe them wholehearted thanks, for in the Greek example one can plainly behold the encompassing virtuosity of all humankind.

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