Wednesday, 9 January 2008

Blog recommendations

There are a couple of blogs by fellow Cypriots I’d like to recommend.

Nostos: A Journey to Ithaca is a bi-lingual blog, which, though occasionally straying into the Arab and Iranian worlds, largely explores the history and folklore of Cyprus, providing fascinating accounts of the island’s culture and traditions.

(Nostos – a very important concept in Greek culture, the root of the word Nostalgia – refers to the journey of a returning hero or the returning hero himself, who leaves ‘behind the wondrous and terrible lands of the Beyond, unknown and unsought [to come] home to a familiar reality’.

The classic nostos is, of course, Odysseus; and his attempt to get home from Troy, to the ‘familiar reality’ of Ithaca, is the most well-known journey in the nostos tradition).

A recent post on the Nostos blog which I liked a lot tells the story of St George the Neo-Martyr, who started out as a tall, handsome, athletic Cypriot who emigrates to Palestine in the 1750s and finds himself accused by a malicious gang of Turkish women sexually attracted to him of trying to seduce a young Muslim woman. George is brutally assailed by the women before being brought before an Ottoman judge who demands George convert to Islam. George, a devout Christian, refuses to abandon his religion and is executed.

The story of St George the Neo-Martyr can be read as a straightforward tale of Christian fortitude in the face of Islamic intolerance and Ottoman depredation; or a tale of a physically and intellectually superior immigrant who, in the land of the barbarians, refuses to conform, to compromise his inherited culture and destroys himself in the process; and, in the story, there is even something of the sexual and religious mania evident in Euripides’ Bacchae, in which Pentheus, who refuses to acknowledge the god Dionysos, is ripped to pieces by the deity’s frenzied female devotees; although, actually, if anything, comparing Pentheus with St George the Neo-Martyr reveals the significant differences between Greek and Christian aesthetics, between Greek and Christian tragedy.

Whereas Christian tragedy insists on a simple distinction between good and evil, right and wrong belief; in Greek tragedy, good and evil, right and wrong belief are never clear cut, existing simultaneously not just in opposing consciousnesses and discourses but also in the same consciousness and discourse.

In the story of the martyr, George is good, the Turks evil, Christianity the right belief, Islam the wrong one; but in Greek tragedy, Pentheus is both good and evil – as are Dionysos and the Bacchic women – and those who believe in the god and those who don’t believe in him are neither entirely right nor entirely wrong, but right and wrong and everything in between.

In general, Greek culture thrives on ambiguity, whereas Christian and, to an even uglier and disastrous extent, Judaic and Islamic culture, deal in dogma, infallibility and certitude.

I’d also like to mention Constantine Markides’ blog, Fourth Night. Markides, despite some unacceptable political associations, is a talented writer and his post this month on Seeking the Eiffel Tower in London is extremely funny and deserving of a wider readership.


Hermes said...

Very good post showing the sophistication of Hellenism against increasing barbarity as we move from Christianity towards Judaism and Islam. Only contact with Hellenism has provided Christianity with beauty otherwise it would have been just another Semitic catastrophe. Sadly for Judaism, they rejected Hellenism which resulted in the Talmud, and for Muslims, they rejected Falsifah at the end of the Ummayad Dynasty, with the awful consequences we see everywhere today.

john akritas said...

For sure, Hermo, though the differences between Greek and Christian culture remain profound, it is obvious that what distinguishes Christianity and societies formed by Christianity from Judeo-Islamic culture and societies is the greater ability of Christianity to incorporate Greek ideas and culture.

What's the name of that book you mentioned on MGO regarding Hellenism and Byzantium a while back?

Hermes said...

The book I mentioned is yet to be released:

However, the book does not deal with the issue discussed above. There are other better ones. Essentially, the difference between Hellenism and Christianity is not really moral, political, psychological, sociological etc. The fundamental difference is deeper than that, the difference is their respective theories of knowledge i.e. how we come to know things. Put simply, in the vast expanse of Hellenism knowledge is generally obtained by abstraction, reason, dialectics, empiricism, revelation etc whilst in Christianity it is obtained only by revelation (the New Testament, Patristic writings etc). Christianity assumes the Truth is revealed through Christ incarnate and then they use philosophy or philosophical techniques to defend or make more precise the meanings of revelation. Hellenism does not really assume anything. From their respective positions, there are all sorts of implications.

Christianity was humanised by Hellenism. Ideas such as the Trinity, theosis, incarnation, figurative depiction of the divine are Greek ideas. Without these aspects of Christianity would be just another form of Judaism. Note, Protestantism removed most of these ideas or at least de-emphasised them leading to some scholars to claim that Protestantism is closer to Judeo-Islam than Christianity.

Hermes said...

The difference between Christianity (partially Hellenised) and Judaism and Islam is also one of the reasons the Greek encounter with the Turks was so disasterous compared to the Greek encounter with the Franks, Venetians etc. Islam is a long way from Orthodoxy than Catholocism.

Hermes said...

Keep in mind Kaldellis is a controversial scholar challenging some of the cherished ideas of Byzantium. He kind of suggests there was a Hellenic pagan counterculture in Byzantium. In some quarters he has become a darling of the neopagans. From my discussions with him he is disapointed by this.

john akritas said...

Very interesting