The Beginnings Of Philosophy

It was in the town of Miletus, on the shores of the Aegean Sea, that an Ionian Greek named Thales (ca. 640-546 BC) first recorded his thoughts about the origin and nature of the universe. In so doing he became the first western philosopher.

No one really knows why philosophy began in ancient Greece, but it is interesting to note that it began not on mainland Greece but on the edges of the Greek world, where there was no doubt much mingling of different cultures and ideas.

What makes Thales unique is the fact that he sought to understand the world as a whole. He wanted to find a single basic substance or element from which everything is made.

Thales speculated that this single substance was water, and he said that everything (including the gods) was made from it. This way of thinking certainly has modern parallels since early in the twentieth century, scientists believed that everything originated from hydrogen, which when combined with oxygen forms water.

Thales no doubt noticed that although water normally exists in a liquid state, it can also exist as a solid and as a gas. This may have given him the idea that its liquid form is the basic ingredient from which everything else is made. He also thought that the earth itself floated in water.

Another thinker, also from Miletus, who lived during the same time as Thales, was Anaximander (ca. 611-547 BC), and he thought that the primary substance is a boundless, indefinite “Something,” taking as many different forms as the things we see. He believed that the earth was a cylinder, with a flat top and bottom, upon which people lived. This is the earliest theory that we possess which states that there is no true up and down.

Another thinker from Miletus, Anaximenes (ca. 590-525 BC) also wanted to know the basic element from which everything else is made. He said that this basic ingredient was air, which takes solid or liquid form when condensed, and gaseous form when rarified.

About the time of Anaximenes, just north of Miletus, in the city of Ephesus, another thinker named Heraclitus (ca. 540-470 BC) was saying that at the heart of all things there burns an eternal, all-consuming fire. He said that it was from this fire that everything else was created and it was to this fire that everything eventually returned. Heraclitus sometimes identified fire with “Logos,” or Universal Reason, as the law of change.

However, it was the speed of movement of physical fire that gave Heraclitus the bridge that he needed to the second part of his philosophy, which was that everything is in a state of perpetual flux. In his famous quotation, he stated that a person could not step into the same river twice, since it is not the same water both times.

The third part of Heraclitus’s philosophy was his belief that the change which is at the heart of things is always expressing itself in a struggle between opposites which, when they do come together, produce types of unity, and then dissolve again. This is very much like Hegel’s (1770-1831) much later theory of thesis + antithesis = synthesis.

The early theories of the universe are in a sense scientific as well as philosophic because they are hypotheses about the natural world. But these early thinkers had little or no conception of inductive methods of experiment and verification as they are used today.

Their search for a single substance probably sprang from a desire to find an underlying unity in life itself, which is one of the deepest desires of the human spirit. Moreover, the concepts in terms of which they thought were not the same as ours, of course.

Part of what makes the thought of any early epoch so very hard to understand is the subtle change that occurs in the meanings of concepts throughout the centuries.

However, these early Milesians and Ephesians prepared the ground upon which later great philosophers like Socrates, Aristotle and Plato would securely plant their own ideas, which would then germinate and grow into the vast tree that philosophy is today.

 

The photo shows, “On The Terrace,” by Iakovos Rizos, painted in 1897.

The Early History Of The Cross

As often happens in matters of scholarly opinion, what is accepted as “true” turns out not to be so upon deeper analysis or newer evidence.

Thus, for the longest while, it was customary to read in books dealing with early Christian history that the use of the cross only gained currency after endorsement by Constantine.

This view was fully expounded by Graydon Snyder in his now “classic” work, Ante Pacem: Archaeological Evidence of Christian Life Before Constantine.

Many may not know or remember, but poor Professor Graydon was an early casualty in the now-normal “social justice wars.” He was an ordained minister, and had the misfortune of reading a Talmudic account of a man falling from a tree on a woman and “knowing” her by accident.

The Talmud said that this could not be rape. But a female student in the lecture thought otherwise and declared the reading of this passage as the justification of the sexual brutalization of women and forthwith lodged a complaint.

The university, ever eager to forestall offence no matter who gets destroyed in the process, slapped the then-63-year-old professor with a formal reprimand and distributed a memo campus-wide which stated that Graydon had “engaged in verbal conduct of a sexual nature” that had the effect of “creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive” space in his classes.

This was not the end of – the university then assigned a monitor that sat in each of Graydon’s classes and lectures, taking notes of anything that might be considered offensive. Graydon soon retired.

Let the date of this incident come as a valuable lesson to all – the demise of the university system happened long ago. This annihilation of a good man’s character occurred back in 1994…twenty-four years ago.

The 1990s were the halcyon days of such random acts of social justice, when universities eagerly dragged the Trojan horse of postmodernism into the Academy, worshipped it with much fawning, drank the heady wine of relativism and feel into the deep sleep of nihilism – from which they never awoke, for the barbarians descended from the belly of the wooden beast and conquered the hapless “intellectuals.”

And, now only various forms of self-indulgent destruction are offered by universities, where once a proud tradition of civilization held sway. Such is the fate of all Troys, if given into the hands of fools.

But let us return to the matter at hand.

In his book, Graydon categorically decided that no evidence existed for the cross as a Christian emblem before Constantine. This led to the false assumption that Constantine “invented” the cross as a religious sign, because he chose to use it during the famous Battle of the Milvian Bridge in 312 AD.

Given the popularity of Graydon’s book, this view became the “Gospel truth,” and is still widely repeated without question by historians of early Christianity.

Embedded in Graydon’s argument was a curious turn to psychology…since the cross was a method of execution of criminals, it was, thus, an emblem of shame, and could never have been elevated to a sign of the faith before Constantine’s imperial sponsorship of Christianity.

Popularizers then went to work, imagining Christians in the Roman world desperate to hide their faith, even descending down into catacombs to carry out their worship. And that they invented arcane signs to recognize each other, which only fellow-Christians would know (like the “Jesus-Fish” now often found on car-bumpers).

It all sounds plausible, but is simply not true.

Rather, the primary sign of the faith from its earliest beginnings was not the fish or the anchor or the wheel, or even the Sator-Square – but the cross itself. Graydon’s view is nothing other than an exercise in myth-making, which is finally destroyed by a new book that takes a fresh look at the entire “cross-debate” and offers facts rather than myths.

This book is The Cross Before Constantine. The Early Life of a Christian Symbol by Bruce W. Longenecker, which offers incontrovertible evidence that, from earliest times, the cross bore not only symbolic value but also theological significance.

The evidence Longenecker marshals to bolster this conclusion is impressive indeed, for it engages not only extensive material remains, but also solid literary testimony.

Such an approach also fully justifies the unique character given the cross in Scripture, such as, St. Paul’s famous exposition of the double conundrum of the cross – as a mark of utter shame and the very token of final triumph: “For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God” (I Corinthians 1:18).

Such singularity of the cross links back to Jesus himself, with his well-known exhortation – “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me” (Matthew 16:24).

In, effect, then, Longenecker proceeds to uncover not simply the “life,” but the double-life, of the cross – as an instrument of painful execution, and as a symbol of life eternal.

He begins by examining the recent discoveries of various Jewish ossuaries that are engraved with crosses, either erect (+) or recumbent (x) – and these engravings are neither masons’ marks nor decorations.

Thus, the cross had significance in Jewish religious life during the Roman era. And this significance is grounded in Ezekiel 9: 4-6, where the cross is also the “mark” of God, which sets apart the faithful from the rest condemned to death, and is thus the emblem of life, a particular gift of divine grace.

Among the examples Longenecker shows are the Nicanor, Yehudah, Shalamsion, and the Jehosah ossuaries.

Thus, the “prehistory” of the cross is deeply rooted in the very “prehistory” of Christianity itself, namely, Judaic religiosity.

And because the early Jesus movement branched out of the faith of the Jews, Longenecker uncovers the earliest record of the cross’s double-life, both as a mark of God for mankind’s salvation, and as the process of execution that God, in Jesus, bears himself to bring eternal life to mankind.

Thus, the cross has importance far older than Constantine.

Next, Longenecker lays out an elaborate inventory of material and literary evidence.

He discusses the Alexamenos Inscription, the inscriptions in the Baths of Neptune in Ostia, the inscriptions in the catacombs of Rome, rings showing the cross, the famous Crucifixion Gem amulet in the British museum, the various inscriptions in Asia Minor, the graphic use of the cross in the gnostic Books of Jeu, the staurogram in Manuscript P66, and even the rather mysterious cross in a Pompeii bakery (Longenecker has devoted an entire book to the crosses in Pompeii, which is reviewed elsewhere in this magazine).

The literary testimony is even more extensive, and Longenecker deftly moves through it all to strengthen his case.

Thus, he makes use of the earliest witnesses from the first half the of the first century, namely, the Acts of Thomas; the Works of Hippolytus; Cyprian’s Testimonies and To Demetrianus; Tertullian’s De corona, On the Resurrection of the Flesh, Against Marcion; and Letters; Lactantius’s Divine Institutes; Clement of Alexandria’s Miscellanies; Minucius Felix’s Octavius (the first Christian work in Latin, little known outside scholarly discussion).

Moving on to the second century, Longenecker musters the Acts of Peter; the Acts of Paul and Thecla; Justin Martyr’s First Apology, Dialogue with Trypho; the Odes of Solomon; the commentaries of Ignatius of Antioch’s on Ephesians, the Smyrneans, the Trallians; and the famous Fifth Ezra; the Epistle of Barnabas; the Gospels and the Letters of St. Paul; and the Johannine Apocalypse (Revelation).

The conclusions that Longenecker draws from this extensive evidence is as follows:

  • The cross is found in various locations, always in Christian contexts – from Gaza and Jerusalem, out to Rome, Spain, North Africa, Egypt and East into Asia Minor and Syria.
  • Time-wise, the cross can be located as a Christian symbol from the first century down to the early parts of the third century AD. In other words, it is clearly used by Christians as an emblem of faith before Constantine.
  • Over the centuries, the shape of the cross evolved from the Jewish erect cross (like a +plus sign) to the more familiar body cross.
  • Longenecker also points out that the crosses found on rings may well have had an apotropaic function – to protect the wearer from demons and evil spirits (an attitude revived by Bram Stoker in Dracula’s aversion to the cross).

With his impressive and sedulous book, Longenecker has finally put out to pasture all the old myths about the cross, perpetrated by Graydon and his followers.

In other words, the cross was a well-established Judeo-Christian religious emblem long before Constantine took it up as his “coat-of-arms.”

For Christians, from the very beginnings of their faith, the cross had a double-meaning: it was the “mark” of God which set apart the believer from the non-believer, with all the significance of life and grace which this election signified. And, secondly, by extension, the cross became the “mark” that Jesus, the God incarnate, himself bore to embody an eternal life bought through horrific sacrifice.

The paradox becomes the solution – the “mark” of God becomes the instrument of torture, and then returns as a greater sign of life.

It is this paradox that St Paul explains: “But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world” (Galatians 6:14).

Torture brings about glory, death leads to life eternal.

The cross is, in effect, the summation of the entire Christian proclamation – because of Jesus, death, though horrid, is not the end.

Longenecker persuasively demonstrates this historico-theological process in the great gyre of history.

 

 

The photo shows, “Christ on the Cross,” by Carl Heinrich Bloch, painted in 1870.

Of Heroes and Heroism

Heroes in ancient Greek epic literature, namely Homer’s The Iliad and The Odyssey, are figures that are not only legendary but also like gods. In effect, they are god-men, whose characteristics are best defined within the ideals of the heroic, Homeric society that values these men not only for their high births, but also for their strength, courage, resourcefulness and relentless pursuit of glory. We see these qualities best in Achilles, whose exploits Homer richly and grandly describes.

The fact that his mother is the sea nymph Thetis and his father, Peleus, the king of the Myrmidons, attests to the high birth of Achilles. As well, it also tells us that he is half immortal and half human.

This combination of the divine and the mortal is perfectly reflected in Achilles’ own body, in fact. His entire body is impervious to harm from any weapon – except for his right heel, which is his only vulnerable spot. Thus, he is very nearly entirely a god; but mortality also marks him.

Through most of The Iliad, we read about the exploits of Achilles, and how the Greeks are invincible because of his actions alone. He appears to the Trojans like a great, angry god, whose strength and courage none can rebuff.

In fact, his wrath is a manifestation of his courage and his strength, since he does stand up for what is rightfully his. Even the mighty Hector is incomparable to him – something we learn by the end of The Iliad, wherein Achilles slays Hector in single combat.

Further, we learn that he is resourceful, in that his mother hid him from the society of men, among girls, and even dressed him like a girl. But his heroic qualities were immediately discernible, and Achilles became the best of Greek warriors fighting on the plains of Troy.

The last quality of the Homeric hero is the relentless pursuit of glory. In fact, Achilles does not shy away from it, since he was offered a choice by the gods. He could either live to a ripe old age, and be entirely unknown and never win fame; or he could have a short life and win immortal fame.

Achilles chooses the latter. Although we do not learn in The Iliad about the death of Achilles from Paris’s arrow in his heel, The Odyssey does mention it. Achilles fights not for the good of others, for his own aims.

This “selfishness” is a perfectly acceptable Homeric trait, because heroes must act to a specific standard, which demands that they prove their high birth and god-like stature through valiant deeds.

All of Achilles actions have, therefore, one purpose: the acquisition of glory – for it is glory alone that guarantees immortality to the Homeric hero, who dies knowing that his deeds will not be forgotten and his name will last among the living.

 

In all this we find something conveniently forgotten in our age – the virtues of manliness, namely, courage, steadfastness, strength of mind, and daring.

These virtues may be recouped in the Greek classics, and in their recovery lies the next renaissance for the western male.

Whatever Happened To The West?

The most ancient roots of the West lie in one place.

The society in which we live, a liberal democracy, is the result not of events that happened all over the world – rather, it is the result of events that happened in just one country. ancient Greece.

We are who we are not because of what happened in ancient China, Mesopotamia, ancient Egypt or India (essential as the histories of these places are to our knowledge of the world). Despite the passage of millennia, we still live in the world invented by the ancient Greeks.

And because of the influence and spread of western technology, the entire globe has now been impacted by these Greeks of long ago.

There is a reason why we want all people to be free; why we think more democracy is a good thing; why we worry about the environment; why we have immense faith in our ability to come up with solutions no matter how great the problem; why we believe education to be crucial to building a good life; why we seek self-respect.

And this reason is simply stated: we have inherited – not created – a particular habit of mind, a way of looking at the world.

We live within a set of values that constantly encourage us to depend on reason, to seek out moderation and distrust excess, to live a disciplined life, to demand responsibility in politics, to strive for clarity of thought and ideas, to respect everyone and everything, including nature and the environment, and most of all to cherish and promote freedom.

This is our inheritance from the ancient Greeks. We need to study them in order to learn and relearn about our intellectual, esthetic and moral inheritance – so that we might meaningfully add to it so that it may continue in the vast project of building the goodness of our society.

This is why we need to study the Greeks, because through them we come to study ourselves.

And what about the Romans? They were the people that allowed Greek learning to be made available to the world.

The ancient Romans adopted the Greek habit of mind and through their empire, which stretched from the borders of Scotland to the borders of Iran, they passed on this inheritance to all the people that lived within these borders.

Thus, in studying the Romans, we come to understand how very difficult it has been for ideas, which we may take for granted, to come down to us. Whereas the ancient Greeks created the world we live in, the ancient Romans facilitated it by giving universality to the Greek habit of mind.

Thus, to study both these civilizations is to fully understand our own.

Prehistoric human settlement in the Greek peninsula stretches back to the Paleolithic and Neolithic periods. By the time of the Bronze Age, different types of pottery demarcates the various phases of material culture.

For the sake of convenience, historians have used these various types of pottery to work out a chronology of Greek prehistory. And because Greece is not only the peninsular mainland, but also the islands in the Mediterranean and Aegean Seas, the pottery is sorted out by different regions.

Thus, the Bronze Age in the mainland of Greece is classified as Helladic (from 1550 B.C. to 1000 B.C.).

On the island of Crete, the Bronze Age is labeled Minoan (from 3000 B.C. to about 1450 B.C.). And on the various islands of the Aegean, the Bronze Age is referred to as Cycladic, where it begins around 3000 B.C. and lasts until about 2000 B.C., at which time the culture of the Cyclades is absorbed into the greater Minoan civilization.

The earliest expression of Bronze Age civilization in Europe is found on the island of Crete, where a brilliant culture flourished from about 2700 B.C. to around 1450 B.C.

It was brought to light in 1900 by the English archaeologist, Sir Arthur Evans, who excavated a large complex at Knossos, which he called a “palace.”

But the “palace” he found was different from what we might imagine. It was a warren of maze-like adjoining rooms, where people lived and worked, and where oil, wine and grain were stored in massive clay jars, some as high as six feet. It was likely an administrative center, plus a warehouse.

The labyrinthine layout of the palace suggested the name, Minoan,” to Evans, after the Greek myth of King Minos of Crete, who had built a maze to hide the Minotaur, the half-man, half-bull offspring of his wife, Pasiphae, who had fallen in love, and then coupled, with a white bull.

The many wall-paintings from the palace give indication that the cult of the bull was prevalent among the ancient Cretans – the best example being the ritual or sport of “bull-leaping,” in which young men and women grasped the horns of a charging bull and leaped over its back to land behind the animal.

It is difficult to say whether this was done as sport, or perhaps even as a religious dance. We cannot know since we have no contemporary written explanation for this display.

Evans also found thousands of clay tablets with writing on them. The writing was in two versions of the same script. The first version he labeled Linear A, and the second he called Linear B.

The only problem was that he could read neither. It would not be until 1952 that Michael Ventris finally deciphered Linear B and found the many texts in this script to be the earliest form of the Greek language.

When the same rules of decipherment were applied to Linear A, however, it was found to be a curious language that was not Greek at all, nor was it a language that could be placed in any known family group.

Perhaps as further work is done on Linear A, it might disclose more of its secrets. But for now, the Minoan world is mysterious to us, because all we have are its material remains.

However, the more intriguing question that arises from the evidence we have is – how did the earliest form of the Greek language get mixed with a non-Greek language in the palace at Knossos?

This question points us northwards to the mainland of Greece, and to a city known as Mycenae.

The speakers of the earliest form of Greek were the Mycenaeans, who were given their name from the city they inhabited, namely, Mycenae, where the German archaeologist, Heinrich Schliemann, in 1876, found a well-developed civilization, with a ruling warrior aristocracy who lived in fortified towns built on hilltops.

Aside from Mycenae, the towns of Athens (a relatively unimportant place at this early time), Pylos, Tiryns, Iolkos and Orchomenus were also part of Mycenaean culture, which established itself around 1900 B.C. and endured until 1200 B.C.

Schliemann’s excavations revealed a circle of shaft-graves, in which the dead were buried standing up, and in which were found large quantities of weapons as well as gold objects, from funerary masks to goblets and jewelry.

He also found evidence for the domesticated horse and the chariot – and, most important of all, there were found clay tablets with Linear B written on them, which would be deciphered as the earliest form of the Greek language.

All these discoveries led to an important question – where did the Greeks come from because their language ultimately is not native to the land now known as Greece.

If we examine the archaeological record of the time just before the Mycenaean age, we find massive destruction that lasted about a hundred years from 2200 B.C. to about 2100 B.C.

And the material remains of the people that established themselves after the destruction were markedly different from those that lived in these same areas before.

It is to this deep destruction that we can link the “coming of the Greeks,” a phrase much used by historians.

So, where did the Greeks come from?

The clues before us are two-fold: material and intellectual culture. The excavations at Mycenae yield several essential clues: chariot parts, horse tack, skeletal remains of horses, weapons and pottery; plus, there is also the fact that these people were speakers of early Greek, as demonstrated by the Linear B texts.

The recent discovery of the Griffin Warrior from the Mycenaean Age also points to the richness of the material remains from the era, and further offers hints as to the origin of Greek culture.

These clues points to one conclusion. The earliest Greeks, that is, the Mycenaeans, came as invaders, likely from the north, and they destroyed what they found and took control and began to build their own fortified towns.

And we know that they are invaders because of their language, which is Indo-European – and this tells us that these early Greeks came from elsewhere, since the origin of the Indo-European languages is in a place quite a bit distant from Greece.

In the latter years of the third millennium, there were massive Indo-European invasions throughout Eurasia. This is evidenced by the spread of Indo-European languages, and by DNA analysis.

The origin of the Indo-Europeans is likely in the Pontic-Caspian steppe, what historians call the “Kurgan culture.” “Kurgan” refers to the grave mounds under which these early Indo-Europeans buried their dead.

From this point of origin, the Indo-Europeans overran large parts of Europe and some parts of Asia. They were able to be do this because they had domesticated the horse, had invented the chariot, and perfected the composite bow.

The languages they spoke were closely related and to this day comprise the largest family group in the world.

Thus, the indo-European languages consist of the ancient languages (and their modern-day descendants) of northern India (Vedic and Sanskrit) and Persia (Avestan and modern Persian), the Slavic languages, the Baltic languages (Lithuanian and Latvian), Celtic and the Italic (Latin and its descendants, such as, French and Italian), the Germanic languages (such as, German and English), and of course Greek (interestingly, Greek did not create any descendant languages).

This affinity between languages extends further into intellectual culture, since language is the bearer of culture, thus there is a pronounced similarity, for example, among the myths of the various Indo-European peoples – these myths explain and stratify reality.

The Indo-Europeans who veered into Greece called themselves Achaeans, who spoke a very early form of Greek, a form that has some of the closest affinities to Vedic and Sanskrit.

The Achaeans subdued the various non-Indo-European peoples that were living in Greece (the Minoans) and set up suzerainty over them.

The outcome of this process was what we call the Mycenaean civilization, which Schliemann excavated, as noted earlier. The Mycenaeans were known for their warrior culture, in which the chariot and the horse were much valued.

By 1600 B.C. they were established and thrived not only in Greece but also in parts of what is now Turkey.

Around 1450 B.C. these Mycenaeans conquered Crete and destroyed the Minoan civilization.

But they were not above learning civilized ways from the people they had conquered – for they adapted the art of writing invented by the Minoans to their own language, since the Minoan alphabet was not suited for an Indo-European language which had many consonantal clusters, whereas the alphabet of the Minoans (Linear A) was syllablic (each letter represented a consonant and a vowel together).

It is for this reason that Sir Arthur Evans found texts written in both Linear A and Linear B at Knossos, since the Mycenaeans assumed control of this palace structure after their take-over of Crete; and in time they came to use the Linear A alphabet as their own.

The rule of the Mycenaeans in Greece and in Crete was fated. It was destroyed during a catastrophic period in Eurasian history known as “the Bronze Age Collapse,” in which a total of forty-seven important cities were attacked, their inhabitants either killed or enslaved, and the places burned to the ground.

The swath of burned down cities is large and covers Syria, the Levant, Anatolia, Cyprus, Crete and Greece. From 1200 B.C. to about 1150 B.C., there were destructive raids by newer groups of Indo-European peoples, who had developed an innovative method of warfare, which gave them a greater advantage over the armies that these doomed cities could muster.

We have to keep in mind that the first Indo-European invasions, which saw the establishment of the Mycenaeans in Greece and Crete, were the result of the chariot and the composite bow.

The invasions which put an end to the Bronze Age were also successful because of a new type of warfare – the use of infantry armed with a long lance and a broad sword.

The metal for these weapons was iron. Bronze weapons were no match for these iron lances and swords, and the chariots became useless, too, since the foot-soldiers could easily disable a charioteer with their long lances by spearing the warriors that rode inside. The Bronze Age was violently brought to an end by iron weapons.

Thus, the Iron Age begins with an enormous catastrophe – a total collapse of civilization.

Once the large cities and palaces were destroyed, they were replaced by small communities of a few individuals; and these were often located not in the plains, but high in the uplands.

The Iron Age is also known as the Ancient Dark Age, because civilization, or city life, disappeared.

The new group of Indo-Europeans, who invaded Greece in the twelfth century B.C. and put an end to the Mycenaeans, are known as the Dorians; their name likely derives from the early Greek word, doru, which was the long wooden lance that they carried.

It is from the various dialects of these new invaders, plus Linear B that the Greek language developed.

The invading people destroyed civilization and did not value living in palaces or large cities. Instead, they chose to live in smaller communities that had fewer luxuries and fineries which we usually associate with civilization.

There is also evidence of depopulation since the settlements that replace the burned cities and palaces tend to be small and few. Pottery is no longer finely and elaborately decorated but has simple geometric patterns.

The Dark Age lasted from 1200 B.C. to 800 B.C. and can be summarized as a period of petty tribalism.

However, we know a lot about this period because of two significant literary works that describe the people involved in these invasions.

They are the two poems by the legendary poet Homer, namely, The Iliad and The Odyssey. In fact, the story of the siege of Troy may be a memory of the Bronze Age Collapse.

It is with Homer that we enter into recorded Greek history, known as the Archaic period.

From 800 B.C. to 480 B.C., Greece underwent revolutionary changes and began to emerge from its tribal era. This period saw the growth of cities once more, which was fueled by an increase in population and the expansion of commercial trade.

The idea of people being ruled by kings vanished and was replaced by a new form of government, the city-state, in which people sought not to be warrior-heroes, but good citizens.

As a result, there was a focus on refining city life, which led to great achievements in architecture, sculpture, art, commercial relations and trade, politics, and intellectual and cultural life.

Because of larger population colonies were established outside of Greece: in Sicily, southern Italy, eastern parts of Spain, along the southern coastline of France, at Cyrenaica in North Africa, in the Hellespont, and along the Black Sea.

All this was possible because of the growth of technological knowledge, especially in the areas of shipbuilding and seafaring, as well as developments of a new form of government, the polis, or the city-state, which came about as a result of synoecism, or the gathering of various villages into single political entities or units.

It was because of advances in the archaic period that Greek city-states prepared themselves for the maturity and perfection that they would achieve in the fifth century B.C.

And the most important of these cities was Athens, whose citizens radically and permanently changed the world around them – so much so that the ideas implemented by these men and the structures established by them are the very ones in which we still live.

Civilization would never really look back, because of what was achieved in Athens in the fifth century B.C.

This is the origin of the West.

The photo shows, “The Erechtheion on the Acropolis,” by Lancelot-Theodore Turpin de Crisse, painted in 1805.

Forgotten Tragedies: The Greeks Among The Turks

The Greek presence in Turkey and its islands has been continuous since at least the 8th century BC, if not earlier.

The legendary Greek poet, Homer, was from western Turkey, and with the division of the Roman Empire into western (Rome) and eastern (Byzantium) portions, Greek culture flowered in the region, with Constantinople (Istanbul), and the Church of Hagia Sophia, as the high watermarks of Christian Hellenic civilization.

Although Byzantium endured and flourished for many centuries, its death knell struck in 1453, when the Ottoman Turks, led by Mehmed II, invaded the region and toppled the eastern Roman Empire.

They captured Constantinople, and converted the Hagia Sophia into a mosque. Thus was established the modern state of Turkey.

With the fall of Byzantium, the majority of the Greeks fled either to Greece, or westwards into Europe.

They took with them a vast amount of learning and knowledge, which would provide the incentive for the exuberance of the Renaissance.

However, a large number of Greeks also remained behind. Known as the Pontic, Anatolian, or Ottoman Greeks, they faced the brunt of the ethnic cleansing that the conquering Turks, who were Muslims, subjected non-Muslims.

Many were were forcibly converted to Islam, and huge swaths of the country were cleared of Greeks by slaughter. Before long, Byzantium, which was ethnically and linguistically Greek, became Turkish and Muslim.

Persecution of the surviving Greek minority continued through the ages; but in the early twentieth century, it became systematic extermination that came just after the Armenian Genocide, and also organized by the violent, fascist group known as the Young Turks, and the ensuing Greco-Turkish War of 1922.

This war ended with the Treaty of Lausanne when the two sides exchanged populations in 1923.

Thereafter, a mere 200,000 Greeks remained in Turkey. Because of continuous civil rights violations, the present Greek population in Turkey is only about 1500 people, who are concentrated around the Bosphorus.

The worst persecution was a pogrom during September 6-7, 1955. This outburst of violence was directed at the Greek community in Istanbul, with a great loss of personal and commercial property, and many instances of rape, beatings, and murder.

Many churches and schools were torched, houses and businesses looted, and Greek cemeteries desecrated, with some bodies of the Patriarchs of the Orthodox Church exhumed and defiled. Also, countless relics were destroyed or thrown to the dogs.

In 1995, the US Senate passed a resolution that recognized this pogrom against the Greek community of Turkey, and called upon the president to declare September 6, 1955 a day of remembrance of the victims of this state-organized massacre.

In 1958-1959, Turkish students (a revival of the Young Turks) actively encouraged the public to boycott Greek businesses. In 1964, all Greek permanent residents of Istanbul (those who were born in the city, but held Greek citizenship) were expelled on a two-day notice.

The tiny Greek community that currently resides in Turkey is still relentlessly persecuted. It faces discrimination, intimidation, threats against its religious leaders, and an ongoing desecration of its holy places.

The persecution is immediately discernible in the treatment of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, which is one of the oldest active institutions in Eastern Europe, having been established around 330 AD.

It is the spiritual center for Orthodox Christians worldwide, as the Vatican is for Roman Catholics. The Patriachate’s printing facilities have been shut down; and the Turkish government will not allow non-Turkish citizens to become bishops, and even the Patriarch must be a Turkish citizen.

This demand is next to impossible to meet, since there are very few Greeks left in Turkey, and the Turks themselves are Muslim.

Turkey also did not allow the Patriarchate to open a representative office in Brussels, Belgium in 1994, claiming that the Patriarchate was not a legal body, and thus there was no need for it to be represented in Brussels.

In 1995, the US Senate passed a resolution condemning the relentless persecution of the Patriarchate by the Turkish government, as it violates international treaties to which Turkey is a signatory.

As well, the Turkish government closed the Patriarchal Theological School of Chalke, which was the primary educational institute for the Patriarchate clergy; many Patriarchs throughout the world graduated from Chalke.

Despite requests from the Patriarchate, the Turkish government refuses to re-open the school. In its 1995 resolution, the US Senate also recognized the arbitrary closing of the School of Chalke.

Turkey also refuses to recognize the ecumenical nature of the Orthodox Church, and thus will not allow anyone who is not a Turkish citizen to participate in the Patriarchate’s affairs in Istanbul. This effectively bars most Patriarchs and clergy who are citizens of other countries.

Further, in 1986 Turkey revoked the right of ethnic Greeks to buy, sell, trade or inherit property. Thus, all property once held by Greeks in Turkey eventually passed into Turkish hands. Greek is not allowed to be taught at Greek schools, and many young people face discrimination because of their ethnicity.

There are Greek communities throughout Turkey, and these people have been completely disenfranchised. They live dual lives of sorts, in that they carry on as Turks in the wider society, but practice their Orthodox faith secretly; nor do they have a right to promulgate their language or culture.

There is also a drive towards “turkification,” especially of names. Therefore, the Orthodox Christians that live to the east of Istanbul cannot worship in Greek, nor can they claim to be Greek Orthodox in official documents, and must describe themselves as Turkish; thus even their ethnicity is denied them.

Further, the islands of Imvros and Tenedos have been aggressively made Turkish. School property was seized, the thriving meat export industry was shut down, and a large prison was established on Imvros.

The government also appropriated property that once belonged to Greeks and turned it over to Turkish settlers from the mainland.

Through a systematic policy of persecution, the ethnic Greek population of Turkey has been driven out, its property made over to the state, and its freedom to pursue its own culture, religion and language denied.

Ethnic cleansing of Greeks in Turkey continues – and no one wants to talk about it.

 

The photo shows, “After the Massacre at Somathrace,” by Auguste Vinchon, painted around 1827.

The Music Of Ancient Greece

The past comes to us fragmented and silent. We seek to reconstitute it in many ways – through collections in museums, through the uncovering of artifacts, through the preservation of manuscripts, and through individual curiosity and interest.

This is the grand ritual of history – to get beyond the inherent muteness of yesterday and of millennia – we the living must give voice to the dead that they might speak again, though briefly, though in faded whispers.

Lost is the noise of antiquity – the cadence and exuberance of conversation, the scurry and skitter of trade and industry, the jangle and din of ceremonies.

History truly is the great leveler, as Guiderius and Arviragus sing in Shakespeare’s Cymbeline:

Golden lads and girls all must
As chimney-sweepers, come to dust…
The sceptre, learning, physic must
All follow this and come to dust.

And yet an echo of this ancient noise can still be heard in the fragments of music that have survived from Greece of long ago. They are snatches of melodies that once soothed the spirit and delighted the ear.

Similar shreds of music remain also from the ancient Near, Middle and Far East; but by far the largest selection comes from Greece. We have sixty-one melodic pieces, and new ones continue to be found.

These are but remnants of a once grand musical tradition that pervaded much of the civilized world.

Understanding ancient Greek music is important, since so much of our own musical vocabulary and traditions stem from this antique period.

Essential words, such as, “music,” “rhythm,” “tone,” “melody,” “chord,” “scale,” “harmony,” and many technical ones (“chromatic,” “diatonic,” “enharmonic”) are all derived from Greek – as are our scale and tuning classifications, our consonance and dissonance structure, and our use of the octave modal scale.

The Greeks were great theorizers of music. They saw its obvious link to mathematics, and extended this connection to explain ideas of perfection, of morality and even of healing.

In fact, our notions of “musical therapy” are nothing than the rediscovery of their system of modes (or melodic behavior), each of which was seen to positively affect the emotional and spiritual make-up of a person.

There were fifteen such modes. For the ancient Greeks, sound was not something inert which we might receive or ignore without consequence – rather, sound was an active principle – even an entity – that entered our body and altered our interaction with reality.

Music for the Greeks was far more than entertainment (or worse, “relaxing” – an odious way to describe music) –it was a moral force – a process of civilization – a structure for goodness – an ideal of perfection.

The story of the recovery and then the decipherment and the ultimate performance of ancient Greek music is a fascinating one.

But how did it survive, and how are we able to read it? The sixty-one pieces, mentioned earlier, are found on two types of material – stone and papyrus, with papyrus comprising the majority.

But since this ancient form of paper is very fragile, all we really possess are torn bits and pieces on which are transcribed scores that we can work out as parts of melodies – only parts because the whole is lost.

Most of these shreds of papyrus come from Egypt, which is only fitting since the city of Alexandria once housed the famed library, in which the entire learning of the ancient world was said to be contained.

Sadly, the Arabs destroyed this library when they conquered Egypt in the seventh century AD. An eye witness account tells us that it took six months to burn all the books.

The fragments that we possess are those that escaped this conflagration because they had either been thrown onto garbage heaps, or even used as “stuffing” for mummies in the Ptolemaic Kingdom.

The most famous piece of music on papyrus is the Stasimon Chorus from Euripides’ play, Orestes. It’s a haunting melody, in the chromatic scale, of a chorus sung just after Orestes has killed his mother. This piece of music survives on a papyrus fragment that dates from about 200 BC.

These musical papyri are rustling whispers from an antique age.

Three pieces of music are also preserved in stone. There are two hymns to the god Apollo, inscribed onto a piece of the wall of the Athenian Treasury at the temple in Delphi. They were discovered in 1892 by the French archaeologist, Théophile Homolle. These hymns, though fragmented, preserve a substantial portion of the melodies, and they date from the second century BC.

The third piece is the Seikilos Epitaph, which is chiseled onto a marble gravestone. It’s a touching song of dedication by a man named Seikilos to his dead wife named, Euterpe.

The gravestone was discovered in 1883 by William Ramsay during excavation at the ancient city of Tralles (modern-day Aydin, in western Turkey). It’s now housed in the National Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen. All three are elegant echoes in stone.

We are able to read this ancient music because we know the notational system that the Greeks used – they had one set of symbols for voice and an entirely different one for instruments. We have gained this knowledge because we possess two remarkable documents.

One is a small fragment on which all two sets of symbols are inscribed and also explained. This is the Table of Alypius, a musician who lived in Alexandria, in the fourth century AD. We can rely on his information because he had access to the vast library in his city.

The other work is more extensive – it’s an entire book on Greek musical theory and practice written by Aristides Quintilianus, who lived in the second century AD. We have also fragments of a work by the fourth century BC philosopher Aristoxenus of Tarentum. These valuable documents have allowed us to return a little sound to antiquity.

The reason why we have these three valuable sources in the first is because of the efforts of one man (whose son would become both notorious in his time and later famous).

His name was Vincenzo Galilei (1520–1591) – the father of Galileo Galilei. Vincenzo was a renowned musician and intellectual of his time, and he was a member of the Florentine Camerata, which was a group of thinkers, philosophers, musicians and writers who met regularly at the house of their founder and patron, Giovanni de’ Bardi.

These men sought to veer music back to its classical roots, which they believed had been abandoned in their day. The result was the creation of musical drama, or what we now call, “opera.”

In 1581 Vincenzo published a few scores of ancient Greek music that he had deciphered. The scores consisted of three hymns to the Muses, to Nemesis, and to Helios (the sun god), which had been composed by Mesomedes of Crete (who lived sometime in the second century AD and who was the court musician of the Emperor Hadrian – he of the Wall in England)).

Vincenzo was the first to decode ancient Greek music by using the information given by Alypius, Aristides and Aristoxenus.

Vincenzo also effectively launched the field of study that now is known as “archaeomusicology” – or the study and reconstruction of ancient musical traditions.

A few decades later, Giovanni Battista Doni designed instruments that might properly play the music of Classical Greece. And in 1652, there appeared the extensive study of such music by the Danish historian Marcus Meibomius.

On the strength of this study, Meibomius was invited to the court of Queen Christina where he gave a concert of this music.

The concert ended badly, however, because in the middle of it, Meibomius struck Pierre Bourdelot, the Queen’s physician and favorite (who famously healed the Queen’s melancholia by making her laugh by reading Pietro Aretino’s satires and sonnets). Bourdelot was scoffing at what was being played and sung.

Meibomius beat a hasty retreat from the royal court and before long found gainful employment in Denmark.

In the Baroque era there appeared, in 1721, a study of ancient Greek melodies authored by Jean-Pierre Burette, physician, book-collector, and a man of great erudition.

Like Vincenzo Galilei, Burette again transcribed the three hymns by Mesomedes, to give them greater currency; and he even organized a concert in Paris for these three ancient pieces.

In the nineteenth century, musicians such as, Claude Debussy, Erik Satie and Camille Saint-Saëns, were involved in reviving ancient Greek music. Their interest was given impetus by the discovery in 1892 of the three Delphic Hymns, mentioned above.

These hymns were studied and transcribed by the polymath Théodore Reinach (who built the Villa Kerylos on the French Riviera) along with two other scholars (the classicists, Henri Weil and Otto Crusius).

Reinach also asked Gabriel Fauré to compose an accompaniment to one of the hymns; and this hymn and accompaniment were performed to much public acclaim in France, England, and the United States.

This hymn was also played at the very first meeting of the International Olympic Congress in June of 1894 (held at the Sorbonne in Paris). It’s said that upon hearing this ancient music the delegates at the Congress were filled with enthusiasm to create the modern Olympic Games.

This four hundred year old tradition of studying, decoding and playing ancient Greek tradition continued in the twentieth century with recordings by J. Murray Barbour, Fritz Kuttner, and Annie Bélis.

But what did this music sound like? To answer this question, let’s first take a look at the instruments that were popular in ancient Greece, and then we can move on to the pieces of music themselves.

There was the lyre, a version of the harp that consisted of seven strings. It was made of a wooden soundbox, two curving arms, and a crossbar. The strings were made either of gut or linen and were fixed to the crossbar by moveable pegs. It tended to be an instrument for amateur performance.

The larger version of the lyre was the kithara, from which our word, “guitar” ultimately descends. It had a larger soundbox, two sideboards and a crossbar. Seven gut strings were stretched over a bridge and wound on pegs fixed to the crossbar. The kithara was much louder than the lyre and was used as an accompaniment in public performance by professional singers.

The aulos was the main woodwind instrument of the Greek world and was made-up of two pipes (usually reed stems; later bronze). Each pipe had a double-reed that produced the sound.

Usually the aulos was tied to the mouth of the player by a leather strap tied at the back of the head (see painting above). This assisted in keeping the flow of air constant. Although it’s often called a “double-flute,” it really was much louder than the modern flute and sounded more like the chanter of the bagpipes. The aulos accompanied processions and dances.

There were also other instruments as well, such as, the syrinx (panpipes), the krotala (castanets), rattles, drums, and cymbals. The Greeks also invented the water-organ (the hydraulis).

Written records tell us that music was frequently heard not only at formal and informal dinner parties (like the symposia, where philosophers like Socrates worked out their ideas), but it was also an essential component in civic ceremonies, in religious worship, marriages and funerals.

And we have records of musical competitions in which prizes were awarded. We also know the pay-scales for professional musicians who belonged to guilds; and there were also choirs and choral competitions.

Concert halls were found in most cities, such as the Odeion built in Athens by Pericles in the fifth century BC. We have also found a few monuments erected to honor musicians.

The Greeks also invented drama; and this art form heavily relied on music (the members of Florentine Camarata based the structure of the opera on Greek drama).

We know also that all men in ancient Greece were educated in music and could play one or more instrument; and they were also taught to sing and dance.

On the philosophical level, music was regarded as the highest expression of individual, civic, and cosmic harmony – it was Pythagoras (he of the theorem) who first described the overtone series, for in it he found harmony and perfection, which he called beautiful.

Music, therefore, was beautiful – because it could only be expressed perfectly. One has only to fumble through a tune on an instrument to understand this. Music can only work when each note is perfectly played or sung.

The nature of the music that has survived tells us that the Greeks used the diatonic scale which has five whole notes and two half-tones in an octave, which together give seven pitches.

This led to the two octave scale, or the Greater Perfect System. And when the Greeks wrote their music and the writing of music expressed intervals on the Greater Perfect System.

The tradition started by Vincenzo Galilei continues in our day with great recordings of ancient Greek music being made by groups, such as, the Madrid Atrium Musicae, Ensemble Melpomen, the Ensemble De Organographia, and the marvelous Ensemble Kérylos (named after the magnificent villa built by Reinach mentioned above), which is led by erudite and imaginative Annie Bélis.

Some years backs, Dr. Jay Kennedy, a professor of philosophy at the University of Manchester, suggested in an intriguing study that Plato, the famed philosopher, embedded musical forms in his work by following the structure of the twelve-note scale.

This wonderfully connects with Plato’s notion that music is the experience of the soul, because music alone can cure the soul – and music then is the gift of the soul.

The more we study ancient Greek music, the more we learn and understand that we have forgotten so much. Music is always a mystery and a revelation.

The ancient Spartan poet, Alkman, says, “right against the steel is the sweet playing of the lyre.” This is a very concise view of ancient Greek music – music is life itself.

 

 

The photo shows, “The Vintage Festival,” painted in 1871, by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema.

The New Renaissance: The Greeks and Humanity

The twin ideas of “uniqueness” and “culture” undergo considerable transformation in the Classical context.

In the common perception, cultures become unique because they are self-contained and as a result understand reality in a distinct fashion. And this distinction serves as a “cultural marker” which creates identity.

A culture, then, is a set of ideas which produces meaning both on the macro and micro levels and as a result cultures are tightly bound with space and time.

This suggests that each culture needs continual affirmation of its own geography and history, its own context, in order to continue to remain viable as the producer of meaning.

Remove this context and a culture becomes meaningless, nothing more than a nostalgic, romanticized construct that individuals cling to in order to garner difference, which is only the quest for exoticism, that is, the postponement of reality.

Can a culture remain viable without context, without its geography and history? This question leads to a very effective critique of social experiments such as multiculturalism and plurality.

And this question also helps explain why most cultures have not been very successful in transplanting themselves into newer contexts, and need the help of political will to even remain viable.

Multiculturalism, for example, first and foremost, is a legal and political configuration (namely, social engineering). It is not the result of human beings living next to each other for a long time. Nor is it the result of communal consent.

Because of its close link with context, a culture either succeeds or it fails, in that a culture is only successful as long as its users need it. Once the need is removed, the culture fails.

No culture is sacrosanct, because each culture is instrumental, pragmatic, and utilitarian, since its primary function is to make sense of contextual reality.

The romantic view imagines culture to be innate – on par with DNA – and therefore untouchable, beyond critique. This sadly has led to nonsensical notions such as “appropriation,” “acculturation,” “assimilation,” which render culture as some monolith that demands respect rather than change.

This is the influence of postmodernism that places plurality, or fragmentation, as the only kind of response possible in a world where nothing exists outside the text, to paraphrase the infamous Jacques Derrida.

Are people made for culture, or is culture made by people? Why should a culture be preserved if it ceases to provide meaning for people, if it becomes uselsss? People change, so must culture.

Why should a culture be preserved by political decree, if it effectively paints people into ideological, even behavioral corners? Should a culture be preserved even if it becomes a prison?

Classical civilization offers us some hope of answering these difficult, yet necessary, questions. And it can do so because from the earliest time a distinct habit of mind developed among the ancient Greeks – a habit that sought to transcend space and time in order to regard the outside world not with condescension or fear – but with curiosity and therefore understanding and acceptance.

This attitude is discernible from the earliest times. Homer does not give the Trojans the worthlessness of an enemy foolishly standing up to the mighty Greeks (we have only to compare, for example the nearly contemporary depictions of the Egyptian pharaoh, Ramses II, as he heroically slays the Libyans, Syrians, Hittites and the Shardana who appear as mere foils for Ramses’ battle prowess. No need for moderation here).

But the Trojans are noble and heroic in equal proportion to the Greeks. Moreover, they consistently show dignity, whereas the Greek heroes often exhibit greed, anger, lust and pride..

Thus, the Trojans are often better than the Greeks, because Homer is not a cheerleader but the first explorer of what human dignity means, a dignity which rises far above petty claims of culture and genes.

In Book VI (253–300) of The Iliad, just before engaging in single combat with Glaucus, who fights for the Trojans, the Greek Diomedes learns that they are both, in fact, friends from long ago, and he plants his spear in the earth as a sign of peace, and the two exchange armor to signify their bond of friendship.

Enmity, difference, is easily transcended by good ideas (here, friendship).

In the Greek dramatists as well, we find characters such as Medea, the Trojan women, and even Lysistrata who actively embody strategies of greater self-reflection – not simply what it means to be Greek – but what it means to be a human being. And more importantly, what it means to be a civilized, dignified human being.

Socrates summarizes this in Plato’s Apology: “Thus, even now I still go around seeking these things, and in accordance with the god, I search after anyone, whether fellow citizen or foreigner, whom I think is wise.”

Dignity alone unites humankind.

There is a need to recognize kinship rather than difference. More interestingly, Plato’s Socrates suggests that for wisdom to be truly wisdom, it must necessarily be universal; it must always be free of space and time. This grants wisdom eternity.

There is also a rather radical suggestion here – that wisdom once discovered should be widely shared; it should not be hoarded as an ethnic heirloom, or worse a racial fetish (which is what multiculturalism promotes).

This is further confirmed and clarified in The Meno, where Socrates states: “all human beings are good in the same way, for by achieving the same goals they become good.”

It is Greeks who first understand that there is a great unity to humanity, in that people are bound by the same pursuit – happiness through virtue.

And in Plato’s Protagoras, this idea finds its fullest exposition when Socrates declares: “I regard you all as kinsmen, familiars, and fellow-citizens — by nature and not by convention; for like is by nature akin to like, while convention, which is a tyrant over human beings, forces many things contrary to nature.”

This is the tyranny of multiculturalism, in that it is legitimized and legalized convention.

The true place of human beings is not in the confines of context (time and space), but more importantly in their participation in universality.

Culture is a convention and this it becomes cruel. It is not nature. And what is said of Diogenes the Cynic serves as a summary of, and a launching point for, the discussion of the Classical concept of universality: “When he was asked where he came from, he replied, ‘I am a cosmopolitan, a citizen of the world.’” The word to note is “cosmopolitan” – a citizen of the universe.

Thus, human brings belong to the entire world, not to specific cultures.

A fragment of Antiphon the Sophist reads: “…by nature we are all, both barbarians and Greeks, born to be alike in all respects. We can examine those features of nature that are necessarily in all men and are provided to all to the same degree, and in these respects none of us is distinguished as barbarian or Greek. For we all breathe the air through our mouths and through our nostrils….”

The Eleatic philosophers sought to understand the underlying unity of things despite the infinite variety of forms. This began the first discussion of universalism, which is the transcendent man.

A fragment quotation of Melissus of Samos states something similar: “Now if it is, it must be one.” And further elaboration is given by Empedocles: “The same things become hair and leaves and dense feathers of birds and scales on stout fish.”

Thus, there is an ancient pedigree to universalism, which lead to the Greek discovery of reason, which needs no geography or history to exist. And reason sees the underlying unity of all mankind.

Ideas can only be universal if they are freed from context and therefore become adaptable and adoptable. But are all ideas worthy of such grandeur? No. Only those ideas that yield civilization.

And civilization means just one thing – where the mind, physical ability, and moral virtue are given full and fearless freedom of expression to fashion excellence.

There have, indeed, been many organized societies, which often get called, “civilizations;” yet none of them understood the necessary bond of freedom with excellence, which then could be extended to all human beings.

Only the Greeks were able to arrive at this point, and only the Greeks could then codify this process and spread it in the world, because they first discovered universal ideas.

This was the greatest gift of the ancient Greeks to the world.

The character of Greek ideas (liberty, individuality, reason) is such that it is transformative, wherein rises an awareness of the true contours of civilized life.

How shall “the new Renaissance”come about? Look no further than the ideas contained in ancient Greek works.

Start with Homer, then engage with Plato and Aristotle, the Greek dramatists, and then delve into the Bible (which many, sadly, do not realize is also part of ancient Greek literature).

In these works alone is found the very definition of the good life. The world is a wasteland without them.

 

The photo shows, “The Acropolis at Athens,” painted in 1846, by Leo von Klenze.

The Death Of The Mind

…the work, proper to the human race…is to keep the capacity of the potential intellect constantly active, first for speculation and secondarily for action. (Dante, De Monarchia).
The machine culture forgot about the culture of the spirit, the spiritual. (Boris Pilnyak, The Naked Year).

 

It was in 1946 that Bruno Snell published his epic work, The Discovery of the Mind, in which he traced the origins of the West’s intellectual character back to ancient Greece. Thus, the Greeks discovered the mind.

The defining characteristic of the mind is self-awareness – which is that ability to stand outside of yourself and question your way to the truth.

The human being, therefore, is always independent of any predetermined condition (society, politics, religion, culture, even family), because he uses his reason to structure reality. In this way, the brain becomes the mind.

Other cultures, though much engaged in reflection (mythologized explanations of existence), did not veer into self-awareness, and thus the mind was closed to them, since they could not abstract themselves from the unfolding of life in both time and space.

Without self-awareness, without the habit of questioning into truth, there can be only conformity (mythological thinking). A culture is severely misunderstood when its reflection is taken to mean the mind. Thus no culture, other than the Greek, discovered the mind.

For the Greeks, self-awareness was further clarified into the intellect and the soul. The intellect is the source of human action, expressed through the will, while the soul is “the life of the body,” in the words of St. Thomas Aquinas, for the soul is the vital essence, which gives human beings their moral character. Each person, then, has value, because each person has a soul.

Morality…the tireless cultivation of the mind

In one fragment, the Greek philosopher Heraclitus states, “As for the soul, you shall not find its limits, though you go here and there and all over – so deep is its structure.”

The mind alone defines and describes the human being, for inside each of us is the soul. Without the soul, the mind shatters and a person is no more than a flurry of emotions.

But can the mind also perish and die? Indeed, it can. Self-awareness is not a given; it is not a gift of nature, like sunshine or rain. Rather, self-awareness needs to be cultivated by way of conversation with minds that have gone before and who have left behind a legacy of both their intellect and their soul.

Only one mind can teach another, only one soul can guide another, thus forming a great chain that links humanity back to the Greeks, the first discoverers of the mind, and the world.

And yet chains too are easily broken. Self-awareness dies off when the brain engages only in reflection and expression of emotion, which are both reactions to material things.

When the mind cannot provide the soul its language of non-material things, of greater truths (the whys of life), and of infinity – the vital essence of a human being falls silent, and the mind dies. To deny the existence of the soul is to deny the existence of the mind.

Everywhere, the shattered human being is on display

With the silencing of the soul, self-awareness collapses into self-centeredness, or self-worship. What does this mean? Very simply this – the very integrity of the human being is destroyed, because he is no longer aligned with his soul.

The mind vanishes into the brain, which is now content with expressions of emotion that pertain only to the immediacy of the mundane.

The corollary to the death of the mind is the shattered human being, who is now mindless and thus held hostage by unending emotions, whose expression and fulfillment he eagerly and continually seeks.

Life thus becomes nothing more than a grand pursuit of desire, no matter how trivial – and society exists solely to enable individual whims, which often become manias. There is no meaning in life, no truth; there is only desire, and the hunger for desire.

A shattered human being becomes an automaton that may be reconstructed into any configuration, for the body without the mind is nothing other than a machine whose function is to persist.

If there is no soul, there is no humanity – there are only technologized creatures. The haves are those who can afford mechanical add-ons to their bodies – and the have-nots are the many who must live and perish within the confines of their human frailty.

This is the sad pivoting towards transhumanism, homines ex machina, where technology is given messianic qualities (cybernetics) that it might free us at last from all our physical impairments, so that we might live forever. Is this not nihilism apotheosized?

without the habit of questioning into truth, there can be only conformity

Everywhere, the shattered human being is on display. Because the mind has died, human brain size is shrinking.

Because the mind has died, people prefer to think with pictures rather than with words (the default ability of the brain).

Because the mind has died, people stare at screens all day long without tiring, suckling new “glass teats.”

Because the mind has died, human attention span has decreased to just eight seconds.

Because of the death of the mind, children too are expected to question and then choose whatever gender they like.

Because the mind had died, education is now meaningless, and universities cannot say why they exist, or worse, why they should continue to exist? How can there be education without the mind?

Therefore, courses only serve to give students predictable emotional postures to assume, and handy slogans to loudly declaim. It is not surprising that professors themselves have no idea why they teach, other than spouting versions of self-gratifications. Or they are fearful of their students.

self-awareness needs to be cultivated

Then there is the fragmentation of what constitutes a human being – into an ideologically contrived confusion of gender, of which there are now over a hundred types. This confusion is not only socially and politically encouraged as an expression of some vaguely understood “right,” or even as an affirmation of “progress” – but this confusion also affirms the death of the mind.

Self-centeredness is the abandonment of the self to emotional slavery, for the purpose of living without a soul is to demonstrate full submission to whatever diktats are declared worthy.

With the death of the mind, the body is made into a slogan, a message, meticulously constructed for the benefit of other people’s eyes.

This “billboard body” is not only the saddest version of virtue signalling (where the individual can aspire to nothing greater than the approval of others), but such a body is also a billboard of humanity emptied of all purpose, of a humanity without a soul.

With the death of the mind, the only aspirations left are the urges to persist, consume, and hunger after the praise of others (celebrity). To live is to be “messagey,” which is nothing more than the desire for self-annihilation.

Will we come to that stage of mindlessness where the body becomes useless once it has delivered its message? Eugenics and euthanasia may be understood in this light, for both are instances of devaluing the body in order to vaunt ideology.

The discovery of the mind sustained the West for more than two thousand years; it allowed for a true civilization to flower and to spread, and this civilization was rooted in a profound comprehension of morality, that is, the tireless cultivation of the mind.

the abandonment of the self to emotional slavery

But that discovery is now lost, and the mind is dead in the West, and both social and personal life is an endless display of either diversion or sloganeering.

With the death of the mind, comes the death of the world.

Perhaps in answer to our age “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing,” Yeats said, “We had fed the heart on fantasies, the heart’s grown brutal from the fare; More substance in our enmities than in our love.” In another poem, he looked closely at the consequences of this brutality:

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Both the best and the worst among us now live without the mind.

We shall have to await the time when humans grow weary of living emotionally, and set forth to discover again the mind by cultivating self-awareness, and thereby recalling the soul from its long exile. Did not hope cry out to Pandora, in a weak, small voice, to open the box for the last time that it might sustain mankind?

In the chaos let loose in our mindless world, we can indeed hope for a new renaissance, when the mind will be born anew, and the dialogue of the mind with the soul will implant in people a yearning for a life that is greater than the individual body. But for now, we can say with Meister Eckhart, “Somewhere there is light.”

 

[The photo shows, “The Torment of Creation,” by Leonid Pasternak, 19th century]