Friday, January 27, 2017

The Emergence of Archaic Greek Peculiarities

If Greek history is displayed on a timeline, which event marks the starting point? Naturally, there will be some ambiguity and controversy around any answer given to that question.

The Greek area - Greece proper, plus the surrounding waterways and islands - was originally inhabited by other nations. A group known as the Minoans, who seem to have their origins on the island of Crete, planted themselves on the Greek mainland and became known as the Mycenaeans.

But they were not the Greeks.

Starting around 1600 B.C., several waves of invasions brought Indo-European settlers into Greece. These tribes were, in order, Achaeans, Aeolians, Ionians, and finally the Dorians.

Although the Dorians were in some ways technologically advanced, as is seen by their use of iron, they were part of a pattern of instability in area, and so civilization is often considered to have been in decline during the Dorian era.

The distinction between being civilized and being technologically advanced is worth considering.

As the social and political structures gradually stabilized, the new tribes absorbed some aspects of the Mycenaean cultures and blended them with their own Indo-European culture. The result is what might be called the beginning of Greek civilization. As historians Ralph Magoffin and Frederic Duncalf write,

During the three centuries which followed the period of invasion and settlement in Greece, the Greeks laid the foundations for their particular form of civilized life. Being self-reliant folk, they established a form of society in which the individual person had the freedom of self-expression. Wherever Greeks lived they preferred small, independent city-states. They never became cooperative enough to unite in large states.

Already at the beginning of Greek history, the characteristically Greek trait of independence appears. Greece as unified nation-state will not exist until many centuries later.

It is misleading to speak of the ‘ancient Greeks’ - it is more accurate to speak of Spartans, Athenians, Corinthians, Eretrians, etc.

The ‘Greeks’ were a handful of fiercely independent city-states, who occasionally cooperated with each other for mutual military defence, but who were as likely to attack each other.

Why did both independence and individual self-expression emerge as typical Greek qualities? There is no clear answer, but perhaps the origin of the Greeks as a sort of “melting-pot” of various Indo-European and Mycenaean influences was a contributing factor.

Thursday, January 05, 2017

Wenceslaus - The Original SJW?

The Bohemian nobleman Wenceslaus is perhaps best remembered as the protagonist in the narrative contained in the song, “Good King Wenceslas” (note the variant spelling of the name).

But there’s more data about this man. His grandmother had been murdered because she had taught Wenceslaus about Jesus. In those days - he was born between 905 and 907 A.D. - Bohemia was still a largely pagan territory.

Corresponding to the territory of what is now the Czech Republic, the heathen traditions of Bohemia included human sacrifice, torture, and a general low regard for the value of human life. Women were considered as property, and could be bought and sold.

Ludmilla, the grandmother of Wenceslaus, helped to spread the teachings of Jesus into the region, and paid with her life. He would do the same. When “Wenceslaus became king of Bohemia in 922,” writes historian Bert Ghezzi,

He instituted a Christian rule over a people who were only partially converted to Christianity. Thus, a cadre of powerful pagan nobles opposed him and ultimately conspired to have him murdered.

As a follower of Jesus, Wenceslaus worked to reduce the frequency with which defendants were sentenced to capital punishment. He also reduced the amount of time which convicts were spending in prisons, instituting instead a form of ‘restorative justice.’

His efforts to stop the practice of human sacrifice and to raise the status of women angered the heathen leaders. Sometime between 929 and 935 A.D., he was assassinated.