Sunday, March 28, 2010

The character of the Ancient Greeks. Will mankind ever achieve anything like this again?

The Greek attitude during the Golden Age was marked by a driving spirit to learn and develop an understanding of the world. The Greeks were able to reach a profound clarity of thought driven by a motivation that sought balance and oneness in the world – the whole instead of the parts.

We see in their accomplishments fact and beauty working together: in the tragedies, ideas and emotion; in the sculpture, reality and ideality; in the temples, logic and simplicity. Moreover, the Greeks were able to live with what is seen and unseen – geometry and the gods in balance.

What happened to this balanced human point of view?

Since the time of the Greeks, man has been unable to produce the same balance between mind and spirit. With the fall of antiquity and the rise of the Christian point of view, man retreated into a spiritual world, full of fear, without logic and science as his companions. Antiquity was denounced as pagan and unclean, so the accomplishments of the Greeks were discarded.

With the advent of the Renaissance, the pendulum swung radically in the other direction. Man discovered himself, began to think again, and sought control over his life. Reality replaced the ideal and living overcame morality. The Reformation attempted to reassert morality on mankind, but denied beauty in the process.

The next stage began in the late nineteenth century with the triumph of science and the discarding of art, the power of the spirit, and religion. Man looked to science as the truth would carry mankind forward and create the perfect world. But science can be corrupting and expensive; its morals defined only by the intentions of the worst of man.

Now we reach the final stage, which involves the disintegration of national unity – a loss of oneness to accompany the loss of balance. There are those with the aim of expanding the mind and those who possess the spirit, but few possess both. The mind is used for profit and the spirit to resist it – the anti-capitalist obsession.

Few in America speak for the whole these days, as we evolve toward the ultimate relativism, the special interest group. There is no whole, but only the parts that do not add together. Each has its own agenda and no one looks for what’s common in all.

The end of relativism can only be produced by a unity by common cause, a reset of the individual in favor of the whole. Its seems that only a catastrophe will get us there, because we no longer possess the spirit and will to see its value on our own.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The History of Troy

For centuries Troy was thought to be a myth created by Homer or whoever composed the Iliad. No one knew where it was, so there was no archeological evidence to prove it was real. Then, in 1868, the wealthy German businessman Heinrich Schliemann discovered the remains of the lost city.

There is not a single Troy, but rather several piled on top of each other. In all we have,

Troy I -- 3000-2600 B.C.

Troy II --2600-2250 B.C. - richest of the first five

Troy III -2250-2100 B.C.

Troy IV --2100-1950 B.C

Troy V ---1900-1700 B.C.

Troy VI --1600- 1400 B.C. - the most advanced fortress (destroyed by earthquake). Only one arrowhead found.

Troy VIIa 1300-1190 B.C. - shrunken recovery of VI in 1300 B.C. destroyed by man in 1200. Mycenaean pottery found here.

Troy VIIb 1190-1100 B.C. - short-lived

There is no evidence of Troy before the beginning of the Bronze Age, and most likely began at the end of the line of Mesopotamian influence. The early city is referenced in Hittite texts implying at least a trade relationship between those two cultures. The successive Troys formed a stready march through time -- as devastating as each destruction may have been, a new one rose soon after.

As you can see from the diagram above, the fortress of Troy was actually quite small; unlike the massive city depicted in the movie Troy.

Troy VIIa is the stage chosen by scholars as the player in the Trojan War. There is a problem with the opponent, however. During this period Mycenae itself was under attack from the north so it seems unlikely that it could muster an attack on Troy of the magnitude described in the Iliad. Who then attacked Troy?

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Greeks and Romans

I find it fascinating to compare the Greeks and Romans. Their status as the two great political systems of antiquity would suggest more similarities than differences between them, yet they are polar opposites.

If you make a list of adjectives to describe the Greeks, you'll find their antonyms on a list describing the Romans.

Greeks – theoretical, artistic, cultured, philosophical, egalitarian
Romans – practical, imitative, hedonistic, class-oriented.

These two great cultures were not only opposites, but outliers. The Greeks were too theoretical and less practical than they should have been for their own good. For example, their brilliant military formation, the Phalanx, was basically used in the same form without modification for 500 years. The Romans tried the Phalanx for a time, but fairly quickly abandoned it for the maniple, which was more adaptable to uneven terrain. Greek architecture was limited by their inability to devise the construction materials required for large structures. The Romans expanded building practices to a new level and invented concrete along the way.

The Romans, on the other hand, were too practical. Where possible, they stole the ideas of others and advanced them, but displayed less capacity to think theoretically. They stole gods from the Greeks, and modified them to fit their practical view of the world, displaying a disregard for tradition. When being practical mattered, the Romans excelled. They developed a legal system which forms the basis of our law today. Still, their art was weak and showed little creativity.

How do we explain the differences between the Romans and Greeks? As always we go back to geography, which I believe is the single most important factor in the development of human society. We’ve talked at length about Greece and how it was protected from invasion. Its mountain ranges caused a physical separation of its people, which during the dark ages created an incubator for the Polis.

What about the Romans?

Several geographic factors come into play. First of all Rome was inland and had no port. That meant it did not engage in trade (prior to the First Punic War) and was unexposed to new ideas from abroad. Secondly, the geography was relatively flat offering no protection from invasion. Once the Romans broke their Etruscan link, they fought their neighbors on a regular basis to survive, their citizen army proving superior to all adversaries. When the wars ended, the soldiers went back to their farms. Farming and fighting left no time for philosophy.

The social classes of Rome were more strongly differentiated than Athens and there were few leveling forces. The patron/client relationship provided enough support for the plebs to accept their lower status. It wasn’t until the rise of the middle class (Knights) that the class balance was upset and the patricians lost power.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

When Invasions Purify

The Geography of the Greek Peninsula offers protection from invaders, because the Balkan Mountain Range sits between Europe and Hellas. Nonetheless, there were at least two occasions in antiquity when the mountains were not high enough to protect the Greeks.

Invaders from the North spilled into Greece at the beginning (1900 B.C) and end (1100B.C) of the Second Millenium. Take a look at the following map. Blue is invasion one; Magenta invasion two.
The first of these invasions is marked by evidence of fire in many Greek settlements including Asea, Korakou, and Eutresis. Corinth was deserted afterward and Asine (Argolis) badly damaged.

The second invasion, more relevant to this post, was much more widespread. All of the Eastern Mediterranean was in decline and vulnerable, so the stage was set for traumatic changes to the early civilized world. Egypt, furthest from the source of the invaders, beat off attacks in 1230 and 1190 B.C. The coasts of Cyprus, Palestine, and Syria were attacked. The Assyrians were humbled and rendered impotent as a power and the Hittite Kingdom disappeared all together.

In Greece, Mycenae fell. Recovered tablets from Pylos record an effort to bolster coastal defenses against the invaders, to no avail. From Thessaly to Messenia, Delphi, and Attica, all were destroyed.

The Greeks, more shallow rooted than the cultures of the Fertile Crescent, fell hard and writing disappeared. The winners were the Dorians – barbarians who invaded a civilized land. The invasion was a catastrophe because it broke down a developed civilization, but the end of the Mycenaean Age at the hands of the Dorians was significant because the old ways were also destroyed. The Mycenaean view had been too tied to the outside – its predecessor Minoan culture. Now those external links were broken, freeing up the minds of the Greeks toward a new path. For three centuries the Greeks were separated from the east and moved forward in isolation. This new spirit was not Dorian. It was Greek forged by the invasion of the Dorians.