Thursday, 4 July 2013

Who were the Greeks? Episode Two



Above is part two of Michael Scott’s BBC documentary Who Were the Greeks? in which the classicist looks at why Greek civilisation was so creative – which he puts down to the competitive spirit at the heart of Greek culture; why that civilisation has proved so enduring and appealing – which he associates not only with its continuing relevance but also the conquests of Alexander the Great – the spreading of Hellenism that came in their wake – and how captive Greece took Rome captive with the brilliance of its culture; and at (allegedly) new thinking about Greece – such as the use of paint and colour in Greek art, indicating that Greek art was not monochrome, as surviving statues and structures might lead us to believe, but technicolour.

I don’t think Scott gets much wrong, although for those who already have a reasonable understanding of Greek civilisation he doesn’t say anything original – and the trend of this country’s classicists to try and explain Greek civilisation by making comparisons to contemporary British popular culture makes them look stupid and trivial. Of course, this is only a TV programme and I suppose its purpose was not to tell you something different about a culture that you would need several lifetimes to study and appreciate to any satisfactory degree, but to give those who don’t know much about it some kind of introduction and to encourage them to look at Greece for themselves.

12 comments:

PhilippouApogonos said...

A good programme , much better than the first one and at times exciting.However having mentioned science in his first sentence , I expected he would tackle rationality, scientific understanding and the remarkable technological advances of the period.Nothing really. When talking about the Parthenon he could explain its mathematical and technological significance.

John Akritas said...

It could have been worse.

Loukas Leon said...

I saw this tweet from Scott yesterday which annoyed me:

#WWTG Useful reminder for modern immigration debates that in Athens some of its brightest minds were not from Athens

My response: @drmichaelcscott Please elaborate, because your comment might rank as one of the most idiotic things I have ever read.

I haven't received a response.

John Akritas said...

Of course, he's talking nonsense. Not born in Athens maybe, but they were from other parts of the Greek world. As well as trying to make Greece 'relevant' by constant references to popular culture, these British classicists also have a tendency to try and prove Greece was 'multicultural' and so on. It's embarrassing. Athens may have been more open to non-Athenian Greeks, but we shouldn't forget that Sparta had different ideas when it came to ethnic and cultural homogeneity and practiced a rigid form of foreigner exclusion, called xenelasia.

John Akritas said...

Here's the proof regarding what I'm saying about how the ideology of multiculturalism is poisoning the minds of British classicists:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2013/jul/11/ancient-greece-cultural-hybridisation-theory

Hermes said...

I think there is value in thinking about the interaction of Hellenism and Romiosyni with other cultures. Just a few days ago, I was reading Byzantium viewed by the Arabs and it was really interesting; particularly, the views of Arabs during the Byzantine Dark Age of the Iconoclasm where the Arabs thought they had taken the mantle of the ancient Greeks. For the pre-Christian Greeks its more difficult to get the views of their neighbours as many of them were not very literate. However, this project is very different than equating Greek civilisation with multi-culturalism. One of the enduring characteristics of diachronic Hellenism in antiquity and Byzantium is its rampant chauvinism.

John Akritas said...

I'm sure it was you, H, who once pointed out that it was only the Turks, after contact with Greeks, who resisted the civilising effects of Hellenism; in fact defining themselves in opposition to Hellenism.

It would be useful, if we had any sense, as a counterpoint to neo-Ottomanism, to stress the relationship between Hellenism and the Arabs.

Hermes said...

Actually, I have been listening to these podcasts about the History of Philosophy, which is really a history of ideas. I am up to the Islamic World. What is interesting is how deep into the Islamic age, Al-Kindi, Al-Farabi, the Shia Brethren of Purity were imbued with Greek thought; particularly, Aristotle, Galen, Proclus and Philoponus.

http://www.historyofphilosophy.net/

What is also very interesting is how unoriginal the Arabs were. Perhaps this is because they almost completely rejected the more speculative strains of Greek thought such as Plato, Plotinus and Damascius.

Even more striking is this video on the reception of Greek/Byzantine philosophy and astronomy into the court of Mehment II.

http://www.ascsa.edu.gr/index.php/gennadius/newsDetails/videocast2

Of course, Mehmet was only interested in knowledge for the purpose of subjugating the people of the Ottoman Empire. There was no speculative thought in the Ottoman Empire. Actually, about the only thing interesting from that montrosity was some cute blue painted tiles.

Hermes said...

We should never forget that although the Greeks investigated and engaged the Other for purely intellectual purposes, or, to better subjugate them, they always understood the Other on their own terms. This happened linguistically, conceptually, artistically and so on. For example, Greek intellectuals preferred to understand the Semitic religions (Old Testament), Egyptian wisdom (Hermes Trismegistus), Babylonian (Chaldean Oracles) in Greek. Not only that, they would allegorise and build their own conceptual edifice on the data of these thought forms ultimately making them unrecognisable compared to their original forms and almost quintessentially Hellenic. Of course, the French and others did the same. Almost wholesale Racine and Corneille copied the Greek tragedians. But the Greeks did this at a much greater depth and for a longer period of time. Only during periods of cultural degradation did the Greeks take on foreign product without altering it its essence. Contemporary Hellenism is certainly guilty of this.

John Akritas said...

The other day I was reading about Jawhar al-Siqilli, a Greek from Sicily, who was prominent in the expansion of Arab influence in the Mediterranean. His story is interesting from a number of perspectives:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jawhar_al-Siqilli

http://www.amaana.org/heroes/note010.htm

Hermes said...

The section of the above doco on Macedon is factually correct in identifying Macedon, Philip and Alexander and many others as northern Greeks. Well done.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=uV2Lkjvmktk#at=78

John Akritas said...

Yes, I thought Scott's emphasis on the Greekness of the Macedonians was quite deliberate.