I’m fascinated by those old Greeks, the real old Greeks, the Greeks from a few thousand years ago.
A little history: forty thousand years ago modernish humans were living around the Aegean and on the Greek peninsula. They weren’t intellectual giants and they didn’t write anything down. On the other hand they didn’t need shopping lists, just a spear or a club.
Around five thousand* years ago those people started messing with metal. It was new and shiny and ouched if you weren’t careful. A couple of hundred or so years later there was a ribbon cutting and the Bronze Age of the Aegean began, and soon thereafter the people evolved into dependency on metal, a dependency which continues to this day despite the inroads of plastic.
From roughly forty-five hundred years ago to thirty-five hundred years ago, a couple of Greekish civilizations developed. On the island of Crete, the Cretans, centered in the city of Knossos, took root and grew into something formidable and formidably cultural. And they had writing, two kinds, one of which still hasn’t been deciphered. On the mainland of what is now Greece another group, who spoke a passable, inchoate Greek rumbled in from the north and in time became the Mycenaeans, the same bunch that later sacked Troy at least once. About thirty-six hundred years ago they took over Knossos, and about the same time their culture underwent a sudden, unexplained improvement.
About two hundred years later Crete collapsed, possibly due to the violent explosion of the volcano at Thera, though that may have happened about the time the Mycenaeans took over Knossos. My sources are a bit confused so far on that. Nonetheless Crete collapsed and Mycenae was the big power left standing.
After the Trojan war, within a couple of hundred years of it, Mycenae collapsed and much of the population of Greece migrated to Asia Minor and the Ionian islands, while another wave of Greekish types made their way down into the peninsula, a people known as the Dorians, maybe, sort of.
From thirty-two hundred years ago to twenty-eight hundred years ago Greece, or Hellas, entered the Dark Age. Population was down, the people were poorer, and things artistic and technological fell from grace. During the same period the Ionians began doing the things that would ultimately lead a few hundred years later to the Classical Age of Greece, the Greece of Athens and Sparta, well, mostly Athens.
That’s all history book stuff.
But these are the people who started us on the road to where we are as a civilization today, and never mind those Neanderthals in the Tea Party. Here’s the thing: go for a walk. Pay attention to how your muscles move while you’re walking. Pay attention to how your eyes respond to light and movement. Pay attention to how your clothes feel on your body. Pay attention to the breeze blowing your hair. (Forget the damned cellphone for a minute, would you?!)
And now think about this: thousands of years ago those Greeks, those Hellenes, felt the same things. Their muscles moved the same way, their eyes reacted the same way, the wind did the same things to their hair. Okay, the clothes were different and they were smart enough to not have cellphones. But they were the same as us, and vice versa, if you will. They were people you could talk to about the Yankees or the Redskins. They went to work, they ate, they drank, they breathed, they did sexy stuff to each other’s bodies, they worked farms and metal shops and made cloth. Never mind the cultural differences. Never mind the language. Think Yankees. Think Red Sox. Think local politics. Think food shopping. Think gossip.
And think: them’s the guys that gave the Western world science and philosophy. They got it all wrong in the beginning, but so what. They asked questions. They thought about things. They tried to make sense of the world, and humanity, in rational, logical ways. We’re here because they thought about stuff. Those guys. Just like us.**
That just blows me away.
* I really hate the whole B.C. and B.C.E. stuff, but just to hint you in, five thousand years ago was about 3,000 BCE, or BC if you want to be a pain in the butt about it. You work out the rest.
**Except for the cellphone and television stuff and the plastics, the lack thereof undoubtedly giving them time to focus on thinking for more than three minutes at a time.