(Expanded version of my lecture, with pictures, given at TFUSA on 9/27/15)
Our two weeks’ journey in Greece took us to places where its beauty was breathtaking, and to places where we traveled back in time to lay our feet on grounds where ancient Greece came alive, and where foundations of Western civilization and modern human knowledge were laid down.“On most subjects Greeks said it first, and said it well”, writes Mary Ellen Snodgrass in Greek Classics.
We started in Athens and traveled to Corinth Canal, Ancient Corinth (where St. Paul preach Christianity in 52 AD), Mycenae, Epidaurus, Nauplia, Olympia, Patras, Delphi, Meteora, Varlaan Monestary,Thermopylae and beautiful island of Santorini.
I will start from Cycladic Age which was followed by the first advanced civilization, Mycenaean Age.
Cycladic Age; (3200 BC to 1600 BC), Early and Middle Bronze age, signifies for its flat female idols, frying pan and early bronze figurines. They lived by harvesting emmer wheat as well as raised herds of sheep, goats and pigs. They worshiped mother Earth.
Mycenaean Age; (1600 BC to 1100 BC), Late Bronze age. This is the first advanced civilization in Greece. During this period Greece was invaded by forces of Indo-European origin, which spoke Greek and introduced it to the locals. Urban organization, art, writing and wall painting developed in this age. This period took the name after Mycenae, a prominent town in Greece as many of the invaders settled there. Later Mycenaean invaded island of Crete and adopted their Minoan culture which believed in multiple Gods. Mycenaean influenced settlements in Epirus, Macedonia, Aegean Sea, coast of Asia Minor, Levant, Cyprus and Italy. This period was the historic background of Greek literature, Mythology and Trojan Epic cycle that included Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey. Some of the popular Greek’s Gods during this period included Zeus (King of Gods, sky and thunder), Hera ( wife and sister of Zeus and Goddess of Marriage), Athena ( Goddess protector of Athens, wisdom), Aphrodite (Goddess of Love) Eris (Goddess of discord), Poseidon (God of sea and earthquake), Apollo (son of Zeus and his mistress Leto, God of music, light, health, disease and prophecy). Apollo was one of the most politically powerful God because of his prophecy powers and many rulers will come to his temple to give their offerings of wealth and animals. Apollo was famous for Oracle of Delphi, a priestess, through which God Apollo pronounced his prophecies.
Dark Ages; (1100 BC-800 BC) . During this period the Mycenaean civilization collapsed and while some attribute it to natural disaster while others believe Dorians or Sea people invaded and destroyed Mycenae, and by the end of this period even writing was forgotten.
Classic Greek Period: (800 BC- 323 BC). This is the most significant period of Greece history which saw Homer’s unsurpassable poetry, Cleisthenes’ democracy, Pericles’s Golden Age of Athenian culture, rise of gripping dramas with moral under tones, comedy laced with irony and laughter, Alexander the Great’s victories, spread of Greek literature in libraries from Egypt to Hindu Kush mountains and new grounds of philosophy, ethics, and metaphysics by Socrates, Plato and Aristotle.
800 BC started with renaissance in Greek literature. New phonation Greek alphabets were introduced and Homer wrote his Trojan Epic Cycle including Iliad and Odysseus that was set in Mycenaean age. Homer was an itinerant singer of verses but for thousands of years his Iliad and Odyssey, touching on all aspects of complex human nature, has been the standard by which poets of all time has tried to measure up, and has never been surpassed.
In Greek mythology Trojan war was raged by Greeks against the city of Troy and sieged the city for ten years. Homers’ Iliad describes the part of the last year of the war and Odyssey relates to ten years of journey back home by Odysseus, one of the war heroes.
The root of the war was a quarrel between Goddesses Athena, Aphrodite and Hera which started after Eris, the Goddess of discord, gave them ‘Golden Apple’ with inscription “to the fairest”. God Zeus, sent them to Paris, prince of Try, to resolve the dispute. Paris gave the apple to Aphrodite, Goddess of love, who in return made Helen, the most beautiful woman and wife of Menelaus, the King of Sparta, fall in love with Paris who abducted Helen to Troy. Agamemnon, King of Greek and brother of Menelaus, sieged the city of Troy to revenge the humiliation. The siege lasted for 10 years and Greeks won the war with the help of a huge wooden Trojan Horse that hid Greek soldiers inside the horse and tricked the Troy to take the horse inside their city. The soldiers came out of the horse and broke city’s defenses. Some famous heroes like Achilles, Ajax, Hector and Paris died during this war. Terms like Trojan horse, for trickery and Achilles’ heel for weak point are still being used today. Achilles was known for his strength and bravery and no wound could kill him except wound at the heel, his weakest point, and he died of an arrow wound to the heel during Trojan War.
Trojan War was considered a myth but archeological findings in 9th century in Mycenae reveal that it has some basis on real events. Troy was not a mythical city, but a city in Asia Minor.
Although Solon ( 594 BC) is credited for sowing the seeds of democracy for his attempts to legislate against political, economic and moral decay, but it was Cleisthenes, a nobleman and politician of the time, who in 507 BC introduced the concept of Democracy that consisted of three branches, Ekklesia, Boule and Dikasteria. Ekklesia was equivalent to current legislative branch responsible for making laws and foreign policy but voting was limited to 40,000 male adult citizens out of about 250,000 populations. The Boule, equivalent to our legislative branch, was a group of 500 men, chosen by lot 50 from each of the ten tribes, was responsible for daily governance. The Dikasteria, equivalent to our judicial branch, was group of 500 men chosen by lot each day from men of over age 30, and it was responsible for bringing cases of law violations, prosecution and defense. It has unlimited powers and Aristotle argued that Dikasteria contributed most to strengthen the democracy.
Pericles ( 495 BC to 429 BC) was the most influential statesman, orator and general ( generals were elected and not appointed) during the Golden age of Athenian culture( 449 BC-431 BC). The Golden Age of Athenian culture flourished under his rule. He used Delian League treasury to build Acropolis, theaters, support art, philosophy, science and drama. He subsidized tickets for the poor for theater. Pericles’ consort Aspasia was a great orator and taught young Socrates the rhetoric and oratory.
Unfortunately under Pericles the democracy started to degenerate into Aristocracy. He died of plague in 429 BC. Pericles had embroiled Athens into many conflicts that continued after his death. Athens lost the Peloponnesian War and surrender to Spartan in 404 BC. Now it was ruled by “ Thirty Tyrants”. Few decades later Phillip II of Macedonia conquered all of Greece except Sparta. Upon his assassination in 336 BC, his son Alexander the Great became the King and he expanded the empire to large parts of Balkans, Middle East, Persia, Turkey, subcontinent India, Afghanistan, central Asia and Hindu Kush mountain region.
During the reign of Alexander the Great and even after his death, Greek’s cultural influence and Greek literature spread all across the conquered lands. As many of these lands later became Muslim territories, they had Greek literature books in their libraries, especially Alexandria Library in Egypt, which had about 700,000 books, and it became the source of knowledge for later Muslim scholars who translated them into Arabic and made their own contributions.
Alexander died in 323 BC and many consider it the end of the Classic Period.
Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, founders of Western Philosophy, appeared during the part of classic period when the decline had already set in.
Socrates (469 BC-399 BC), a Classic Greek Philosopher, was famous for Ethics, Socratic irony and Socratic Method. He fought in Peloponnesian War as a soldier. After the defeat by Spartans, he questioned the merits of democracy and became a relentless critic of social and moral values of the Athenian citizens and rulers. Plato refers to Socrates as becoming a ‘gadfly’ of the State. He was charged with questioning the Gods and polluting the young minds, like Plato, by the Thirty Tyrants who ruled Athens after the loss of war. Socrates was sentenced to death by drinking poison, and he obliged without putting up any fight.
Plato (428 BC-347 BC), a student of Socrates but a giant on his own right, was a Philosopher and mathematician. He founded Plato Academy in Athens, the first higher education institution in the West. We largely know about Socrates through the writings of his students like Plato, as Socrates himself did not leave anything in writing. Plato’s Republic and Laws explored political, ethical and metaphysical questions facing both individuals and nations, from philosophical point of view.
Aristotle (384 BC-322 BC) was a classic Greek philosopher and scientist who came from northern Greece near Macedonia, at age 17, to study at Plato Academy. His father was a physician in royal court of Macedonia. Aristotle’s work included Nicomachean’s Ehics and Politics. After the death of Plato, his nephew Speusippus was appointed head of Plato Academy. Soon after that, disappointed Aristotle left Athens. He spent some time in Asia Minor and then went to Macedonia to tutor Alexander the Great. He returned to Athens when Alexander the Great took power, but left again after the death of Alexander the Great as his situation became precarious as Athenians rebelled against Macedonian rule.
Plato and Aristotle’s contributions in the field of philosophy, Ethics and especially metaphysics tackling the questions of soul, first cause, first philosophy, causes and principles of being – influenced the thoughts of Islamic and Christian scholars. This became the basis of synthesis of reasoning, morals and theology by such scholars as Al-Farabi, Averroes, St. Augustine of Hippo, St. Thomas Aquinas and many others.
Hellenistic Period; (323 BC- 31 BC). The period between death of Alexander the Great (323 BC) and beginning of the conquer of Greece ( 31 BC) by Romans is referred to as transition or decadence period. During this period much of the literary work was supported by kings or aristocrats, and it was devoted to the praise of rulers. Zane of Citium introduced Stoicism during this period which emphasized on personal virtues and sage. It became very popular among Romans because it did not challenge the rulers. This period gave rise to New Comedy. The Old Comedy was a political satire like Saturday Night Alive, the Middle Comedy was mild and general but not personal, the New comedy was situational comedy like Every Body Loves Raymond and many other sit-com shows on television.
Roman Empire & Christianity; The Western Roman Empire fell with the fall of Rome in 476 AD but Eastern Roman Empire( Byzantine Empire) continue to flourish and ended with the fall of Constantinople in 1453. Constantine I and Licinius issued Milan Edict in 331 AD to decriminalize the Christianity and later ordered to build Church of the Holy Sepulture in Jerusalem at the Christ’s tomb. Justin I, in 6th century made Christianity State religion and banished all pagan practices including Olympics which started in Olympia in 776 BC as tribute to God Zeus. Olympics were started again in 1896 in a new Olympic stadium in Athens. In 1935, with Bonn Olympics, the Olympic Flame igniting ceremony was moved to Altar of Goddess Hera (wife of God Zeus) in Olympia.
Ottoman Empire; Occupied Greece from 1453 AD to 1821 AD and left its cultural influence on many aspects of Greek’s daily life.
Modern Greece; Greece declared independence in 1821 but did not get it until 1829 AD with the help of Russia, Britain and France. In 1829 AD, Russian foreign Minister, Ionnis Kapodistrias, became the President of Republic of Greece. He was assassinated and replaced by a monarch, King Otto, a prince of Bavaria. King Otto was succeeded by George I of Denmark. The Greek was ruled by monarchy from 1829 to 1974 except 1829 to 1832 and 1924 to 1935 when it was a Republic, and during 1967 to 1974 ruled by Military junta with token monarchy. In 1974 monarchy was disposed, new constitution was adopted, democracy resumed and Greece was admitted to EU in 1991.
Ancient Greece wrestled with fundamental question of ‘sovereignty of a nation’-whether it rests in rule of law, constitution, officials or citizens? It seems Greeks were never able to settle on a definite answer and over centuries political power shuffled between monarchs, tyrants, aristocrats, oligarchs and citizens with short periods of democracy. The West foresaw where their destiny lies and embraced as well as benefited from Greek thoughts on ethics, democracy, philosophy, literature, art and science but Greece itself, cradle of Western civilization, neither fully embraced their own precious thoughts nor reaped much rewards.
In many ways Greek’s political history has parallels with many Muslim lands in shuffling of political power mostly between non-democratic actors with short periods of democracy and rampant corruption. Greeks, like Muslims, love to boast about their Golden Age and past contributions, but do little to live up to those ideals.
( My writing is mostly from personal notes from trip and history narrated by our tour guide, “Greek Classics” by Mary Ellen Snodgrass, articles from TFUSA website on history and philosophy, Stanford Encyclopedia of philosophy, “History” website and Wikipedia. Vast majority of pictures are from my camera, maps from google maps, some photos of Gods, philosophers and leaders are from Wikipedia or History, and these pictures are numbered and somewhat blurry).