Monday, 11 March 2019

Classics in Britain succumbs to cultural relativism

The obverse of Brexit Britain is cultural relativist Britain and the above lecture by Prof. Michael Scott is a horrible example of the latter. What's interesting and important about the ancient Greeks – and to a lesser extent the Romans – isn't their interconnectivity with Persia, China, Egypt, etc, but what was unique about their civilisation, what made them different to neighbouring civilisations, what drove them independently of others to develop the ideas and forms that shape to a significant degree our own way of looking at the world. 

I knew Scott was on the wrong path as soon as he brought up that old canard of Athenian democracy being fatally flawed by slavery and for excluding women. Of course, we – moderns – don't accept traditional Athenian attitudes in these areas; but that in no way should distract us from the complex and radical nature of Athenian democracy – which questioned itself, in various ways, regarding slavery and women's oppression – and is still worth scrutinising and extolling today if only to appreciate why the Athenians would not recognise our societies – our Greco-Western societies – as democracies at all. 

Finally, for Scott to understand what it was like to experience the Eleusian Mysteries, he doesn't need to go to the British Library to read up on cognitive psychology. Rather, he could go to a Greek Orthodox midnight mass on Easter Friday when the resurrection of Jesus Christ is celebrated, i.e. the triumph of life over death, of light over darkness, which is, of course, what the Eleusian Mysteries were supposed to affirm. If only Scott had more interest in the links between Hellenism and Christianity – rather than Hellenism and Buddhism – he might realise this, even if it meant him having to prioritise and assert Greco-Western civilisation over other civilisations.