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Greek History (7)

Η Ελληνική Επανάσταση, ο Αρχαίος Ελληνικός Πολιτισμός, και η Ελευθερία

Η Ελληνική Επανάσταση του 1821 ήταν μέγα γεγονός Ελληνικής και Ευρωπαϊκής ιστορίας. Ο αγώνας εναντίον των Τούρκων κατακτητών ήταν στην ίδια βαθμίδα ηρωισμού των Ελληνικών αγώνων εναντίον των Περσών στις αρχές του 5ου αιώνα Π. Χ.

Το ιδεώδες της Ελληνικής Επανάστασης, ο αγώνας για την ελευθερία, είχε ρίζες στην αρχαία Ελλάδα.

Free Besieged

Nature of freedom

It’s not clear what freedom has become. So many claim it, but so few understand it. We probably connect this virtue to right of free speech and to the absence of old-style free-slave despotism.

But how are we to explain freedom in the United States and the Republican Party and Republican Americans that elected Trump who tried burying democracy and freedom?

What I can say with certainty is that freedom is in danger. Oligarchy and tyranny, on the other hand, have found a fertile ground in an increasingly plutocratic America.

Unless Trump is brought to justice for the environmental and public health crimes of his administration, and for the treason he committed for urging his followers to take over the government with the insurrection that took place on the Capitol, January 6, 2021, and unless the billionaire class is brought under the rule of law, America will have the fate of the Roman republic.

The republican Romans knew Greek freedom, but they were too busy killing each other to pay attention. They fought their decades-long civil wars in Greece.

Greeks invented political theory and freedom. In fact, freedom was within their civilization: piety for the gods, polis, athletic games, education, literature and art.

The Greeks created their freedom. They founded the polis, which enabled them to pass laws that protected their right to speak freely, and to govern and be governed by citizens of the polis.

In other words, the Greeks experimented with a variety of constitutions that either embraced freedom (democracy) or limited freedom to a few (oligarchy) or just one (monarchy and tyranny). The Athenians proved that direct democracy was the best defender of freedom.

The Greeks were extremely competitive, however. Such antagonism often gave rise to hubris and discord, even war. Oligarchy and tyranny empowered the few who weakened the common interest and defense of most of the many small Greek poleis (city-states).

The loss of Greek freedom

This brought Rome and Christianity to Hellas. They wrecked Hellenic civilization and, in time, the image we have of ancient Greeks and their civilization.

The Greeks suffered what people suffer when they lose their freedom. Western Christians and Moslem Turks captured and humiliated and impoverished Greece.

One example of that subjugation illustrates the price of living without the divine-like virtue of freedom, which was everything for the Greeks.

In January 1824, Lord Byron, the most celebrated Philhellene in Europe, arrived in Mesologgi in Central Greece. The Greeks of the beleaguered city welcomed him like a hero and defender.

The poems of Byron praised Greek virtues. He loved Greece. He tried convincing the European powers to intervene on behalf of the Greeks struggling valiantly since 1821 to free their country from Turkish occupation. However, he died in Mesologgi in April of 1824.

The battle of Mesologgi

Meanwhile, the Turks were fighting back. The Sultan promised his Egyptian vassal, Mohammed Ali and Ali’s son, Ibrahim Pasha,  Peloponnesos, if only they could defeat the Greek Revolution raging against him successfully since 1821.

The Egyptian ruler sent a large fleet to crush the Greek rebels. The arrival in Peloponnesos of the Egyptian and African troops meant an all-out war of extermination.

During 1825-1826, these foreign armies besieged the strategic town of Mesologgi. The Greek defenders fought successfully for several months against the much larger enemy army. But in time the Egyptian-African troops shut down the land and water ways Greeks used to supply food to the defenders of Mesologgi.

In desperation, the population of half-starving Greeks tried to get out of their besieged city with catastrophic losses. But before this heroic exodus, some of the people of Mesologgi blew themselves up of committed suicide.

This great heroism and tragedy touched the feelings of the Europeans who had heard stories from Philhellenes who fought with the Greeks against the Egyptian-African and Turkish troops.

One of the Europeans who got infuriated with the fall of Mesologgi was the famous French artist and painter, Eugene Delacroix. In 1823, he had painted a canvas of the 1822 Turkish massacre of the population of the Aegean island of Chios. He had also read the poetry of Lord Byron. In 1827, he produced his masterpiece of Hellas expiring at Mesologgi, which inflamed the passion of Europeans trying to convince their governments to do something on behalf of Greek freedom.

No doubt, the brutality of the invading Egyptian-African and Turkish soldiers in Peloponnesos, and Mesologgi in particular, had something to do with the European intervention in Greece. In October 1827, a fleet made up of British, Russian and French warships annihilated the Egyptian-African and Turkish fleet at Navarino in Peloponnesos. This ally victory brought independent Greece into being.

Another person who was caught in the flames and passion of the struggle at Mesologgi was a privileged Greek named Dionysios Solomos, 1798-1857. He was born in the Ionian island of Zakynthos. He was educated in Italy, but his talent blossomed in Greek poetry. His inspiration came from the ancient Greek tradition of poetry as well as the equally rich source of modern Greek peasant poetry, wedding and festival songs, and stories.

Deep freedom

The Greek Revolution touched his soul. In 1823, he wrote the Hymn to Freedom, which became the Greek national anthem. Solomos traced freedom right from within the roots of Hellenic civilization.

“I recognize you, eleutheria, freedom,” he said, “from the terrible cuting edge of the sword… You come straight from the sacred bones of the Greeks and, like in ancient times, you are full of manliness and courage, hail o hail eleutheria!”  

In 1844, he wrote a poem, The Free Besieged, in which he resurrected the heroic struggle of the people of Mesologgi.

Like ancient Greek poets, Solomos has a goddess—like woman relating the story of Mesologgi under siege. The woman wore a black cloth, as black as the blood of a hare. Walking towards Mesologgi was stepping into deep darkness, light, thunder and thunderbolt.

The black-dressed woman says the drama of Mesologgi unfolded while nature was blooming, its beauty overwhelming. What with the land, flowers, birds, and the sky merging to a gigantic beautiful being. Nature wanted to enter the human soul and besiege human nature on the surface and in depth.

The enemy was tempted to speed up its conquest in order to possess this beautiful land. But to the besieged Greeks, the exquisite land caused pain as they knew they would  lose it.

We are all free but besieged. The plutogenic climate change has been threatening massive harm, more plagues, and destruction. And like climate change, oligarchy and plutocracy are rising and engulfing our politics, threatening freedom here at home and all over the world.

The lessons of Greek history are potent.  \

Freedom or Death: How Adamantios Koraes Transformed Greek Thought Into the Greek Revolution of 1821

The clerical dilemma

The Turkish conquest of Greece in 1453 was a calamity. The best Greeks left the country for Europe. Resistance to the occupiers never ceased, though the Sultan gave the Orthodox clergy a privileged position. 

One of the best Greeks who left the country was Adamantios Koraes, 1748-1833. He worked in Paris -- far from his hometown of Smyrna and the Turks. He knew the double life  of the clergy.

In public, he expressed his respect for Orthodox Christianity and the clergy. A few times, however, he revealed his anger and lashed out at those of the senior ecclesiastics serving the Turks. He did that anonymously.

Tourism in Greece: From Heavy Industry to Prosperous Hospitality and Love of Nature

Tourism and pestilence against nature

Tourism is the heavy industry of Greece. It annually earns a fourth of the country’s income. The pestilence year 2020, however, was bad for Greek tourism. In 2020, some 70 percent fewer tourists visited the country. This drastic decline meant less money for debt trapped Greece. Compared to 2019, tourist receipts in 2020 dropped by 78.2 percent.

Greece was not alone in losing tourism in 2020. Tourism declined dramatically everywhere. That decline had “a profound effect around the world.”

Less international travel was beneficial to air quality and climate change. Global warming gas emissions declined by about seven percent. Experts say that kind of decline, 7.6 percent in greenhouse gas emissions, would be necessary every year for ten years to stabilize global temperature to about 1.5 degrees Celsius higher than the temperature in pre-industrial age.

However, humans and nations are selfish and very unlikely to shut themselves down for another nine years for the benefit of the planet and their own survival.

Even in the pestilence year 2020, people (especially in Africa, Asia, and the Americas) took advantage of the decline in the official protection of natural parks and wildlife and, like barbarians, smuggled, trapped, trafficked, and hunted animals, including endangered species.

The natural treasures of Greece

We don’t know what happened to wildlife in Greece in 2020. But we can safely assume that the pestilence emboldened criminals to increase their wildlife depredations. Besides, the international lenders of Greece, the European Union and America’s International Monetary Fund, have practically killed Greek national sovereignty and the country is like an unfenced vineyard. 

Greece, however, is blessed with biological diversity. Luc Hoffmann, founder of WWF (World Wide Fund for Nature; World Wildlife Fund), was right saying: 

“Greece is the country of diversity…Zeus must have hit this area with his hammer, splashing thousand islands in the sea and tearing the mainland into pieces so that the country’s coastline became as long as the one of the whole continent of Africa. This physical multiplicity is increased by a wide gradient of climates, ranging from almost subtropical to truly alpine conditions, as well as by a variety of mountains, hills, and plains, many of which scattered with wetlands. No wonder these conditions have produced an exceptionally rich living nature, in fact the highest biodiversity known in Europe.”  

Hoffmann was wise. Zeus was also xenios, the god who protected foreigners visiting Hellas. That virtue the Greeks called philoxenia / hospitality.

Philoxenia was complementary to the exceptionally rich living nature in Greece, which  inspired Greek gods and thinkers.

Zeus was a sky and climate god. He sent the rains, hail, snow, lightening, and the feared thunder and thunderbolts. Demeter, sister of Zeus, gave the wheat and grains to the Greeks. To this day, Greeks call their cereals Demetriaka, gifts of Demeter. Dionysos, son of Zeus, introduced the vine and wine. Athena, daughter of Zeus, gifted the olive tree to Athens. Her sacred bird was the owl. Artemis, sister of Apollo, protected the natural world. Aristaios, son of Apollo and the nymph Kyrene, was the god of honeybees, other insects and wildlife, and shepherding, cheesemaking, and olive growing – all vital for a healthy people and alive natural world and life and civilization.

Orpheus was so good a musician and singer that he caught the attention of beasts, even trees and stones. He joined the Argonauts searching for the golden fleece, some time before the Trojan War.

Hesiod was a near contemporary of Homer. His epic poems praised the beauty of the natural world and the work of peasants in making a living out of the riches of nature. About three centuries after Hesiod, another Greek, Xenophon, described the delights and usefulness of working with nature for national defense, democracy, and a prosperous farming.

Aristotle, a near contemporary of Xenophon, invented the science of zoology, praising animals as the perfect products of nature that does nothing in vain.

This gives us some clues and sets the context for the natural world in Hellenic culture. The natural world was sacred and essential for an independent, mostly democratic, and healthy polis. Hellas was blessed with plenty of animals and plants, mountains, hills, valleys, rivers, and seas. 

The International Union of Conservation of Nature estimated there are about 36,000 species of animals and plants in Greece. This represents 23 percent of animals and plants in Europe, and, possibly, more than 2 percent of the world’s animals and plants.

About 32 percent of the species threatened in Europe live in Greece. The country hosts about 42 percent of all the European mammals; 38 percent of reptiles; 27 percent of amphibians; 50 percent of the butterflies; and 58 percent of the dragonflies.

The threats to wildlife in Greece, as well as the rest of Europe, come from mining, deforestation, and, primarily, industrialized agriculture, its gulping down of fresh water, its invasion of forests, and its toxic pesticides. These toxic and climate change practices homogenize nature and leave not much safe habitat for insects, birds, and other wild animals and plants.

The tourism tsunami

The other perennial threat to the integrity and health of the natural world is tourism. Every year for a few months Greece is literally flooded by foreigners who are thirsty for ancient Greek culture, seeing and visiting the Parthenon and the exquisite and mind-expanding museums. In 2018, about 33 million tourists arrived in Greece.

In addition, tourists want clean waters to swim and play. Millions of them visit the country’s natural parks to see and enjoy rare wildlife. All of them eat good food.

But Greece is barely ten million people and the tourists sometimes are double and triple that number. The trash, and especially the plastic water bottle trash, is enormous. In the summer of 2017, I came across those plastic water bottle mountains in a secluded village of the beautiful island of Kerkyra the tourists call Corfu.

Pollution is not the only threat of tourism. Millions of tourists inundate the beaches, some of which like those of the Ionian islands of Zakynthos and Cephalonia, are the resting and breeding grounds and the birthplace of the endangered turtle Caretta caretta.

The pestilence (and debt) disruption of tourism

The 2020 pandemic reduced the tourists visiting wildlife sanctuaries in Greece to a trickle. This caused stress in the protection of wildlife. Money dried up.

Did the crimes of hunting, poaching, trapping, smuggling, and trafficking of wildlife also happened in Greece?

I already said I cannot answer this question, though I suspect that the pandemic and the country’s debt have been shredding state wildlife policies. Lax environmental and wildlife protection rules are always detrimental to both nature and people losing treasures of life that give meaning and pleasures to their own life and civilization.

Changing tourism to philoxenia and zoophilia (love for animals)

I already mentioned that Aristotle invented the science of zoology and spoke eloquently about the beauty and importance of animals.

Yet despite Aristotle and the spread and advances of biology and environmental sciences, humans are daily harming nature. Their numbers alone are simply explosive needing more than one Earth. Second, the largest institutions of the world, corporations, and often governments, treat the natural world like a mine.

Climate change  has been hitting humans with tons of bricks: droughts, heavy rains, storms, tornadoes, hurricanes, wild forest fires, and the rapid disappearance of species and pestilence. Yet humans don’t get it. The pandemic especially demonstrated that humans are backwards species often walking paths of suicide.

Even if Greece were at its ancient glory, it could not alone stop the human onslaught on Mother Earth. However, it can become a paradigm for emulation: reform its practices towards nature: convert its farming to organic agriculture and produce its electricity from the boundless Sun god Helios and wind god Aiolos, both ancient Greek gods.

Tourism is secret Philhellenism. People with some acquaintance with Western civilization know that impoverished and debt-ridden Greece is behind their knowledge, science, architecture, art and culture. They visit the country and see the proof of ancient wisdom and sophisticated science splashed all over ruined and looted Parthenon, theaters, the ruins of temples, and the treasures of the museums. Greece becomes their second home.

These secret millions of Philhellenes could become Greek ambassadors all over the world.

The Geek tourist organization can facilitate this process by simple things like changing the name of Santorini to its real Greek name of Thera and labeling paths to archaeological sites worth seeing and exploring. The museums of these sites should always have a complete or partial collection of the books of the best of the Greeks – in English translation.

The tourist organization should fill the country with statues of the best of the Hellenes: heroes like Herakles, Achilles, Odysseus, Leonidas, Themistokles, Thrasyboulos; thinkers like Homer, Hesiod, Thales, Anaximander, Pythagoras, Herakleitos, Parmenides, Empedokles, Demokritos, Hippokrates, Aischylos, Sophocles, Euripides, Aristophanes, Herodotos, Thucydides, Sokrates, Plato, Aristotle, Euclid, Aristarchos of Samos, Archimedes, Eratosthenes, Hipparchos, Galen, Ptolemaios and Hypatia, the first martyr of science.

Another and equally important priority in making tourism more attractive, sustainable, and Greek would be to protect the country’s natural parks. The guards of these national treasures of the natural world should know the natural history of the species and ecosystem they are protecting.

The museums of these natural parks should be selling short histories of the species inhabiting the protected area. The History of Animals by Aristotle (both the Greek text and English translation) should be in each of the Greek museums.

In short, the silver lining of the pandemic and its devastating impact on tourism is a necessary rethinking of tourism. Is tourism simply a business? Should debt-humiliated Greece facilitate the export of tourist earnings to debt-collectors or should invest this money to create a more powerful and ecological country with a more Hellenic future?

Tourism could be redesigned to spread Hellenic culture and ecological consciousness while earning a good living for Greece.

Done properly in the Greek tradition of knowledge, philoxenia, and deep respect for nature, tourism has the potential to strengthen Greece while avoiding the adverse effects of business as usual, the monster ships carrying thousands of tourists from port to port, pollution, and the degradation of the natural world and its treasures.

 

  

War and Power in Classical Greece: Lessons for Superpowers and the World

Prologue

Humans have had almost ceaseless difficulties in working and living together. Superstition, religious ideas, race, geography, ownership of land, and language engulf them so much, they often fail to extend a friendly hand to people who don’t fit their schizophrenia of who among humans is like them. This culture has been generating a deadly record of competition and conflict.
The terror of survival coded war and peace in human genes and societies.

The sixth century BCE Greek natural philosopher Herakleitos praised war as the father and king of everything. He should know. He lived in Ephesos in Ionia (Asia Minor), where Greeks had several flourishing independent states. These Greeks lived next to the Persians. War was nothing unusual. The Greeks had a war god named Ares.
The Greeks struggled long and hard in organizing a society that best suited their passions for excellence and freedom. They formed many small communities sharing the same language, piety for the gods, and vision of non-Greeks and the cosmos.

The polis

The Greeks called their community polis (city-state) from their conviction that each member of the political community would have to work with other members for common security and prosperity.
The Greeks of the polis thought that living together would solidify their way of life stamped by polis culture. This polis experience gave the Greeks politismos / civilization.
The rule of law was the chief characteristic of governing the polis. The Greeks called this rule of law politeia (government / constitution / republic). It guaranteed individual rights and the common good, including the defense of the polis. The hope was that the institutions of the polis, especially those of government, the rule of law, and the temples inspiring piety towards the same gods, would make living safer and, equally important, would help people to respect and like each other.

Lawgivers and polis constitutions aimed to make the polis an invisible university for the education of citizens in virtuous behavior. There were some criminals in poleis, but the polis tried to make crime unacceptable and impossible.
The democratic polis of Athens, for example, would pay citizens to attend the theater whose plays explored dramatic stories from the time of the heroes, the era of the Trojan War and Homer, patriotism, peace, tragedy, and the beautiful and virtuous.
Plato praised the polis. He even wrote his own Politeia (Republic), a dialogue-story of political genius and imagination. Plato’s student, Aristotle, could not see how a human being would maintain a semblance of civilization outside of the polis.

The footprint of the polis was usually small. Each polis had enough land for houses, temples, agora, courts, schools, theaters, and stadia. It also had a much larger area of land for raising its own wheat and barley, grape vines for wine, fruit trees and vegetables, and olive trees. Farmland was essential for food self-sufficiency.
Agriculture also assured the political survival of the polis. Peasant farmers, not philosophers, defended the polis and invented democracy.
The Greeks had a couple of millennia of experimenting with their poleis (city-states). They straddles mainland Greece, the region of the Black Sea, southern Spain and France, Asia Minor and northern Africa. Italy, starting from Naples to Sicily, was pretty much Greek. The Romans called that region Magna Grecia (Great Greece). In the fifth century BCE, there were about 2,000 Greek poleis in the Mediterranean.

The polis became the laboratory of political theory and power. Political theory was not abstraction. Theory comes from reasonable speculation and seeing living and imagined reality. Life, especially political life, life lived in a polis, was full of surprises, satisfactions, and difficulties. Political theory sprang from a variety of political experience with tyranny, monarchy, oligarchy, democracy and other constitutions in foreign countries like Persia and Egypt.

Democratic Athens invented an array of institutions to empower the average Athenian male citizen to govern and be governed. Athenian juries were large and complex organizations. They were immune to corruption. It was impossible to predict who would be a juror in a forthcoming trial.
Athenians could seek justice in courts, courts of appeal, and district courts. There were no judges or lawyers in a trial. The citizen who filed a suit against another citizen would have to explain to usually large number of jurors why he sought the punishment of another citizen. Hired speech writers could embellish the presentations of prosecutors and defendants.
Athenians served as jurors and magistrates. They slowly evolved to accommodate a variety of constitutions, which enlarged the rights and obligations of citizens.

The polis was not some kind of ideal city of perfect equality, justice, science and civilization. Plato’s Politeia highlighted perfection and virtue. But Plato never run a polis.

Sparta and Athens

The real polis, say Athens and Sparta, grew to vigorous states that dominated mainland Greece, especially in the fifth and fourth centuries BCE. Athens and Sparta joined forces and defeated the Persian Empire in early fifth century BCE.
This was no small accidental victory. This was a big victory that saved the Greeks and Western civilization from extinction.
In reading Herodotos, the fifth century BCE historian of the Persian Wars, one has a sense of the cosmic confrontation unfolding in Persia, Ionia, dotted with Greek poleis, and Greece. The mighty Persian King Darius could not tolerate independent Greek poleis on the borders of his vast empire. He threatened these cities and the cities appealed to Sparta and Athens for military assistance.

The Spartans were the strongest polis in Greece. Their mixed constitution combined oligarchy, monarchy, democracy and communism. Male Spartans lived the lives of soldiers. They removed their sons at the age of seven from their mothers and trained them in military barracks to be soldiers. Sparta was a permanent military camp.
In order to remain soldiers, the Spartans had enslaved fellow Greeks, Messenians, descendants of Agamemnon and the Trojan War Myceneans, to grow food for them.
This grave injustice kept Sparta on a permanent state of war readiness, lest the enslaved Messenian helots revolted. This cloud of fear and uneasiness colored everything the Spartans did in Greece or abroad. Second, Sparta was, for all practical purposes, an oligarchy, with little if any sympathy for democracy.
Athens, on the other hand, did not wear a military straightjacket. Athenians were convinced they were autochthonous, springing from their own land. Yet they were opened to the world, their navy brought them all over the Mediterranean for trade and ideas. The peasant farmers of Athens made up its soldiers who always fought bravely in the hoplite phalanx.
Leading Athenian citizens experimented with all forms of political power. They started with kings who resembled powerful nobles of the era of the Trojan War. These kings, and kings in other Greek poleis, came out of the oligarchy but did not have the power of modern kings like Louis XIV. They had moderate power. Athens eventually abolished hereditary monarchy. Kings became officials elected for a year.

When in the sixth century BCE, the rural oligarchs in Athens overstepped their power, the moderate of the Athenian nobles gave the legislative key of their troubled polls to Solon. This was a former archon (ruler) who, within a year, 594-593 BCE, abolished the slavery of Athenians by Athenians. His laws aimed at eunomia (dominance of good law) and Seisachtheia (shaking off of burdens of political inequality).

Solon supported small family farmers and set the foundations for a democratic constitution in Athens. The political history of classical Greece is primarily the struggle for power between democratic Athens and the military superpower of oligarchic Sparta.

The Persian Wars

The Persian Wars brought to light the enormous but hidden competition of Athens and Sparta. First of all, in the early fifth century BCE, the Persian danger brought Athens and Sparta together.
In 490 BCE, the Athenians confronted the Persians at Marathon. But before the battle, they sent the fast runner Pheidippides to Sparta appealing for help. Pheidippides reached Sparta by running 140 miles in a day. The Spartans said they could not join the Athenians at Marathon before there was a full Moon.
Athenian hoplites and 600 soldiers from the polis of Plataea fought a larger Persian army at Marathon, inflicting on the Persians a crushing defeat. The Persians suffered 6,400 casualties and the Athenians lost 192 hoplites.
The new Persian king, Xerxes, immediately started preparing for a war of revenge. Herodotos reports that, in 480 BCE, Xerxes invaded Greece with an armada of more than 2,500,000 troops, 1,207 trireme warships, and 3,000 smaller warships for carrying troops and cavalry. More likely, the Persian army was a multi-national force of around 200,000 soldiers from 46 countries.
Under the leadership of Sparta, the Greeks formed the Hellenic League to fight the Persian invaders. Thirty-one poleis joined the Hellenic League. They took an oath to fight the Persians to death in order to preserve freedom. Sparta was the hegemon of this alliance, the first such union of Greek states since the Trojan War. Argos, the main enemy of Sparta in Peloponnesos, and Crete remained neutral.

The Greeks asked the Oracle of Apollo at Delphi for guidance. The priestess was so fearful of the coming Persian invasion, she uttered cries of despair. But during the second pleading for advice, she mumbled something about wooden walls and Salamis.
The Hellenic League sent King Leonidas of Sparta to block the Persians from entering Peloponnesos at the mountain pass of Thermopylae in Central Greece. In August 480 BCE, Leonidas and his 300 fighters sacrificed their lives on the cause of Greek freedom.
The Persians then invaded and burnt Attica and Athens. With the news of Thermopylae, Themistocles, the Athenian general commanding Athens, insisted the Greeks should send their fleet of 271 triremes (of which 147 were Athenian warships) to Salamis, an Athenian island close to Attica.
In September 480 BCE, Themistocles sent a trusted slave, Sikinnos, to Xerxes, deceiving him to send his fleet to Salamis. Xerxes did and the Athenians and other allies annihilated the Persian fleet in the narrow strait between Salamis and the Greek mainland.
In August 479 BCE, Spartans and Athenians finished off the Persians at Plataea. They executed Theban leaders who sided with the invading Persians.

The defeat of the Persians lifted an enormous danger over Greece. It inspired the Athenians to greatness: a political and civilization enlightenment. The Spartans, however, returned to their military barracks, losing their sleep, and leaking their worries about the rising Athenian power in the post-Persian world.
Athens founded the Delian League, which included all vulnerable poleis to potential Persian attack. Athens and her allies freed other Greek cities under Persian influence and control and kept peace in Ionia, home of several great Greek poleis.
In time, some of the Greek allies of Athens started paying Athens for the security they received.

Scholars describe this relationship between Athens and its Aegean and Ionian allies as the Athenian Empire. I find such claim problematic.

Empire is always hostile political arrangements between a ruler and his subjects. Persia was an empire. Athens never imitated or acted like Persia. Athens might have been harsh at times, and especially during the Peloponnesian War. However, in the fifty years between the Persian and Peloponnesian War, Athens did not treat Greeks as conquered subjects.
Democratic Athens, however, was preparing itself for hegemony. It sponsored Thurii, a Panhellenic polis in the Tarentine gulf in southern Italy. Athens wanted to see a polis made up of Greeks from all over the Greek world. Probably Athens wanted to unite Greece. Athens was tasting and living power. That power was changing it. Perikles, its political leader, used Athens’ new wealth (the money allies paid Athens for security) to build the Parthenon. He was proud telling Athenians their polis was “the school of Hellas” (Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War 2.41).

The Peloponnesian War

Athens had the largest fleet in the Mediterranean. No Greek or foreign state was a match its constantly growing confidence and power – a reality building antagonism and hostility among the Spartans.
Thucydides, the Athenian general who recorded the war that broke out in 431 BCE between Athens and Sparta and its Peloponnesian allies, assures us that it was the ceaseless growth of Athenian power that became the main reason for the war (The Peloponnesian War 1.23).
Power does lift up its owner but it also radiates jealousy among those whose power is declining or in doubt. The Spartan superpower of the Greek world could see Athens was drawing accolades. Anywhere Athens went oligarchic regimes gave in to democratic constitutions and governments.
In other words, power is indivisible. You either have it or you don’t. When you have it, others are attracted to you. They imitate your schools, economy, even the clothes you wear, the music you invent, and the food you eat.
America since 1945 has been a classic example of this political power. China’s greatest ambition is to become an exact copy of America.
Like sex, power is a monopolistic aphrodisiac. It becomes the center of everything. It does not split in two.
The Peloponnesian War caused irreparable damage to Greece. Both sides of the war (Spartan and Athenian) perpetuated atrocities. Greeks started treating other Greeks like barbarians.

Decline and fall of Sparta

In 404 BCE, Athens sunk to the humiliations of defeat. Sparta rose back to superpower status. Sparta had brought Persia back to Greek politics. Persian gold funded Sparta, a factor of emerging corruption in the military society of this invincible oligarchy. Sparta also was not accustomed to the niceties of diplomacy. It demanded and got the money Greek poleis used to pay Athens. This additional money increased corruption among Spartans who were forbidden by their own constitution from owning coins of gold or silver.
The Spartans had destroyed the walls of Athens, but did not agree with the proposal of Corinth and Thebes, powerful Spartan allies (on the Isthmus linking Central Greece to Peloponnesos and Boeotia in Central Greece) to wipe out Athens. Nevertheless, Sparta put its own tyrannical regime in Athens.
Other Greek poleis started resenting Sparta. An Athenian general, Thrasyboulos, attacked the thirty tyrants Sparta had imposed on Athens and fought to a standstill the Spartans who came to restore the tyrants. In 403 BCE, Thrasyboulos restored democracy to Athens, winning the greatness he deserved.
Sparta tried to freeze Greek politics while it remained superpower. It convinced the Persian king to issue an edict on the independence of Greece, dissolving confederacies, save that headed by Sparta, and ordering the autonomy of all poleis.
This blatant and Spartan-inspired Persian interference in Greek affairs increased the hostility of the Greeks for Sparta. Thebes decided to do something about it.
In 371 BCE, two Theban generals, Pelopidas and Epaminondas, lead 6,000 Theban hoplites against 10,000 Spartan hoplites. The Theban victory at Leuktra in Boeotia was decisive.
The defeat of Sparta by Thebes shattered the political power of Sparta. Thebes delivered the final blow soon after. In 369 BCE, Thebes led a huge army of some 50,000 to 70,000 Greek soldiers into Sparta’s home ground in Lakonia, something that had never happened before. The Spartans did not go out of their villages to meet this formidable army.
The Thebans inflicted considerable damage to the countryside of Sparta. In addition, they cut the jugular vein of Spartan power. They freed the Messenian helots, giving them their own polis at Pylos in Peloponnesos, the capital of Nestor, the Mycenaean king who fought in the Trojan War. Freeing the helots effectively destroyed the power of Sparta – for good.
These examples of power politics in classical Greece suffice to illustrate the nature of political power. It is insatiable, corrupting, and tyrannical.
Thucydides lived through the events he described, shedding light on why the Greeks fought for so long the most destructive war in Greek history. He was right that his history of the Peloponnesian War would last forever. It has. It remains a required text in most military academies and universities teaching history and political science. The book is insightful, always timely, riveting and telling of the weaknesses and strengths of human character.

It should also become the required text for those elected or appointed to high political office, especially among politicians seeking to become president of the United States.
War is necessary to defend freedom, like the war the Greeks fought against the mighty Persian Empire or the war Europeans and Americans fought to defeat tyrannical Hitler and the Nazis. But, otherwise, war makes men barbarians.
The polis, at the center of the Peloponnesian War, was a great political idea that brought about the Greek “miracle”: natural philosophy, epic poetry, drama, comedy, theater, history, classical architecture, astronomy, biology, geography, cartography, medicine, mathematics and democracy, the Parthenon, Plato and Aristotle.
But not all poleis were equal or thought of themselves as equal. One Greek superpower followed another in wars that weakened Greece, making it a tempting target for outsiders.
It always happens. Which is to say, Greek history is always relevant and important and timely.
The Europeans repeated the political mistakes of the Greeks. The result was two Peloponnesian Wars that nearly destroyed civilization. Instead of wars, the Europeans could have founded a strong confederation that would have prevented tyrants like Hitler.

Climate change and political theory

Now, in 2020, the world of some 200 states is also in the precarious position of the Greek poleis and European states.

Overarching this conglomerate, there are three states, superpowers all: US, Russia and China. Then there are other additional nuclear-armed states in the second tier, and everyone else is at the bottom of the barrel.
Now that the US has become temporarily the kingdom of Trump, intelligent Americans and the world seem to be in a shock. The new Washington consensus is all about building castles and walls around the United States. The Trump regime is an enemy of public health and the natural world, a friend of polluters, oilmen, loggers, and oligarchs.
Given the certain nemesis of climate change, the world is astonished at the stupidity and immaturity of Americans for their political choice of Trump.
However, political power will survive Trump. The next American president may well be Joe Biden who has a saner and “democratic” view of power — and the world.

Will Biden, like Perikles, be able to fight off climate change enough to bring about a golden age for civilization? Or will he be tempted to enrich the munition merchants by another deadly contest with the other superpowers?
Biden could earn the Nobel Peace Prize and immortality by getting the United States, Russia and China to establish a Peace League, in which the three would pool the trillions they spend on armaments to fight climate change and convert the world petroleum economy to a carbon-free economy.
Second, will Biden grasp the enormity of political power, now that such elixir is wrapped by the life and death threats of the virus plague, climate change, overpopulation, disappearing fresh water, nuclear weapons, and the ceaseless destruction of the natural world.
Third, if Biden does understand these rising crises, and is willing to tame them, the world has a chance to avoid the third, final and fatal, Peloponnesian War.

Political power can be muzzled for the benefit of all. And unlike the Politeia of Plato, an inspiring pie in the sky, this Politeia of America, Russia and China can restructure the world from a death-pursuing bunch of heavily armed nomads to a peaceful, ecological, and livable commonwealth of nations.
These nations must reduce their populations dramatically, which, among other things, may necessitate abandoning religious beliefs or religions or economic doctrines teaching man’s domination of the Earth and unlimited human procreation. Enough of these superstitions.
That way, humanity survives in polis-like communities with small populations working the land and enriching their ancient traditions with the best assets of science and virtue.

Evaggelos Vallianatos is a historian and environmental strategist, who worked at the US Environmental Protection Agency for 25 years. He is the author of 6 books, including Poison Spring with Mckay Jenkings.

 

What is a Golden Age?

A golden age captures the best and greatest virtues of human achievements. These accomplishments, however, must have the potential of uplifting humanity to a higher plane of living and be sufficiently moral for building civilization.
Greece had two golden ages. Their legacies, especially in science, made Western civilization.

The first Greek golden age took place after the Greeks defeated the Persians in the early fifth century BCE. During the fifty years between the Persian Wars and the Peloponnesian War, Athens in particular shone with a flourishing and confident Greek culture: democracy, the building of the Parthenon, philosophy, science, classical architecture, theater, athletic games, and military strength.

The existence of free speech, prosperity, and confidence formed the pillars of this golden age. The second golden age was the result of another Greek military victory over the Persians. This happened in the second half of the fourth century BCE when Alexander the Great conquered the Persian Empire and spread Hellenic culture throughout the world.
The capital of Alexander’s empire was Alexandria, Egypt.

Alexander and Aristotle

Alexander, who lived from 356 – 323 BCE, was the son of King Philip II of Macedonia.Philip hired Aristotle to tutor his thirteen-year-old son.

1977 Greek postage stamp celebrating the 2,300 anniversary of the birth of Alexander the Great

Aristotle, who lived from 385 – 322 BCE, was a student of Plato and a great philosopher who invented the study of science.

For about seven years, Aristotle taught Alexander Greek history, philosophy, politics, ethics, science and international relations, focusing on the Persian threat and the need for a united Greece to revenge the Persian invasion of Greece in the early fifth century BCE.
Aristotle edited Homer’s Iliad for Alexander. His message to Alexander, in short, was this: knowledge about the workings of the world matters, but so does knowing oneself.

Homer was the passport Aristotle gave Alexander for entering the world of heroes, Hellenic virtues and traditions. Greece needs to become one unified country, Aristotle constantly reminded Alexander.
And the ideas of Aristotle found a fertile ground in the brilliant student. Alexander became an intelligent and passionate lover of Hellenic culture and freedom.

Alexandria

In 336 BCE, a soldier assassinated King Philip II. Immediately, the twenty-year old Alexander became recognized as king, and he launched his invasion and conquest of Persia.
With Aristotle in mind, Alexander founded the city of Alexandria in Egypt, making clear to his generals that Alexandria was to be the Greek Aristotelian capital of his empire.
Alexander appointed one of his generals and close friends, Ptolemy, the son of Lagos (who lived from 367 – 282 BCE) to be the governor of Egypt.
When Alexander died in 323 BCE in Babylon, Ptolemy consolidated his power in Egypt. In 305 BCE, he made himself king of Egypt and took the name Ptolemy I Soter (Savior). He started translating Alexander’s Aristotelian dream into reality.
Ptolemy was fortunate to have the assistance of Demetrios of Phaleron, a student of Aristotle who was also author of philosophical works. Demetrios convinced him to replicate Aristotle’s school in Athens in Alexandria, first of all, by building a Library and a Mouseion, or Shrine of the Muses (a university-institute for advanced studies).
Ptolemy was also a student of Aristotle. He encouraged Demetrios to implement the Aristotelian proposal.

Archimedes, Alexander and Aristotle and students. Mural above entrance at the University of Athens. Photo: E. G. Vallianatos

Mouseion and Library

At about 295 BCE, Ptolemy founded the Mouseion for the study and cultivation of Greek culture and the sciences, as well as poetry and literature.
The methods and science of Aristotle took deep root in Alexandria, becoming the intellectual infrastructure of the golden age of Greek science.
Ptolemy I died in 283 BCE. His successor, Ptolemy II Philadelphos (or “Brotherly Love”), who lived from 308 – 246, continued his father’s tradition and lavished money and political support on the Mouseion and its staff, famous scientists, poets, and scholars recruited from all over the Greek world.
These academics did independent research and writing, advancing science and technology. They received handsome salaries and paid no taxes; they also lived in the Broucheion, which was part of the Palace.
The Ptolemies also established a Library of about 500,000 volumes in the Broucheion section of the palace and a sister Library of probably 42,000 volumes in the temple of Zeus Serapis (or Serapeion/Serapeum).
One of the librarians, Kallimachos, compiled the Pinnakes, (Πίνακες), a 120-volume catalogue of the collections of the Library. Staff of the library combed Greece for manuscripts. Books found in ships coming to the harbor of Alexandria were also copied for the Library.
The Mouseion and the Alexandrian Library were at the center of Greek society in Alexandria and the Greek world.
Alexandria eventually surpassed Athens in its many scientific and technological achievements. It became the center of knowledge and civilization for Greece and the world.

Science and scholarship

The Greek kings of Alexander’s empire, especially the Ptolemies of Egypt, created the foundations for a rational commonwealth characterized by scientific exploration, state-funded research, the scholarly study of earlier Greek culture and the editing of Homer, Hesiod and the Greek classics.
The scholars of Alexandria pioneered the techniques of scholarly research and painstaking study, which spread all over the civilized world. They continue to be the model for classical and scientific studies.
This enlightenment lasted for several centuries, from the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BCE until the second century.
However, the late fourth, third and second centuries BCE were exceptionally fertile in Greek scientific genius.
In the late fourth century BCE, Euclid codified Greek mathematics in his masterpiece “The Elements.”
Archimedes of Syracuse was such a great third century BCE genius in mathematics and mechanics-engineering that, in a real sense, he set the foundations of modern science. Galileo and Newton relied on his findings for their own research.
Eratosthenes of Kyrene (the eastern region of Libya in north Africa) flourished in the third century BCE. HE was such a versatile polymath, he was known a the Pentathlos (“All-rounded”).
Eratosthenes made outstanding contributions to the realms of geography, chronology and astronomy. He measured the distance between the Earth and the Sun and calculated the circumference of the Earth. He was also the chief librarian in the Library of Alexandria.
Aristarchos of Samos, also of the third century BCE, invented the Heliocentric Theory of the cosmos.
Ktesibios of Alexandria, who worked in the early third century BCE, invented mechanical gears, a form of advanced technology that made possible the Antikythera Mechanism of the second century BCE — as well as the Industrial Revolution of the seventeenth century.
Apollonios of Perga, a contemporary of Archimedes, advanced Conics, a geometry of curves (ellipse, parabola, and hyperbola) resulting from the intersection of planes and cones.
In the second century BCE, Hipparchos, the greatest Greek astronomer, set up shop in Rhodes, where he invented mathematical astronomy and left his fingerprints on the Greek computer, the Antikythera Mechanism.

Antikythera Mechanism – the First Computer in the World

This computer, which archaeologists of the National Archaeological Museum in Athens dubbed the Antikythera Mechanism, or machine, is a marvel of heavens and Earth.
Sponge divers from the small Aegean island of Symi discovered the bronze device in the deep waters of the tiny Ionian island of Antikythera in the spring of 1900.
For about half a century, scientists, Greek and foreign, were shocked with an ancient Greek astronomical machine that worked with gears, the first gears that had survived from antiquity to modern times. So, not knowing what to make of it, they described it as an astrolabe, another ancient Greek invention, but of limited astronomical capabilities.
It could identify planets and stars and measure the altitude of a celestial body above the horizon.
Modern scientists have been facing a metaphysical dilemma. Some today reject any notion that ancient Greeks had advanced technology. And yet, in front of their eyes in the Archaeological Museum in Athens, there are fragments of a device that worked with advanced gear-driven technology.
The device, however, is at least 2,200 years old. Could the ancient Greeks have reached that high level of scientific technology?
Derek de Solla Price, a British experimental physicist and historian of science, wrote in the 1959 issue of the Scientific American that he saw the Greek computer as “the venerable progenitor of all our present plethora of scientific hardware.”
“It is a bit frightening,” Price admitted, “to know that just before the fall of their great civilization the ancient Greeks had come so close to our age, not only in their thought, but also in their scientific technology.”
Price became professor of the history of science at Yale University. He continued studying the fragments of the ancient computer at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens.
Yes, he concluded, the Greek computer was indeed a product of scientific technology, the likes of which did not appear in Europe before the eighteenth century.
In his insightful 1974 study of the Antikythera Mechanism, “Gears from the Greeks,” he found that the Antikythera Mechanism was a “singular artifact… The oldest existing relic of scientific technology, and the only complicated mechanical device we have from antiquity. (It) changes our ideas about the Greeks and makes visible a more continuous historical evolution of one of the most important main lines (of Greek science and technology) that lead to our civilization.”
One of Price’s principal discoveries was that in addition to its precisely interlocking gears, the Greek computer had a differential gear, the first ever created, which governed the entire mechanism.
This was the gear that enabled the Antikythera computer to show the movements of the Sun and the Moon in “perfect consistency” with the phases of the Moon. “It must surely rank,” Price said of the differential gear, “as one of the greatest basic mechanical inventions of all time.”
Price shows that this technological advancement preceded the geared inventions of Leonardo da Vinci and other Renaissance inventors.
The Antikythera computer could accurately predict the eclipses of the Sun and the Moon as well as track the movements and position of the planets.
The computer was like a miniature galaxy encompassing the technological legacy and philosophy of the golden age of Greek science. It benefited from the widespread tradition of techne (craftsmanship), the application of the sciences ,and crafts coming out of geometry purposefully applied in the design of machines for the benefit of all Greeks.

A reconstruction of the Greek computer by Dionysos Kriaris, a mathematician living in Athens. Courtesy Dionysios Kriaris.

First, the Antikythera computer was a reliable religious, athletic, and agricultural calendar. It connected celestial phenomena to a calendar of the seasons, sowing and harvest, sacrifices to the gods, and the two and four-year cycles of religious and athletic celebrations in the Greek world. Because of its predictive function, it served not only astronomers, but farmers, priests, and athletes as well.
It revealed the secrets of the stars by exhibiting the order of the whole heavens: it predicted the will of the gods.
The golden age of Greek science that produced the world’s first computer lasted from the late fourth century BCE till the second century of our era.

A Greek ecumene

Alexander’s successors spread Hellenic (not Hellenic-like or Hellenistic) civilization throughout Asia and the Middle East while uniting Greece for the first time.
The rapid expansion of the Greek world gave an opportunity to Greeks to earn a good living almost everywhere.
Alexander’s vision of Greek ideas and culture spreading East and West triumphed for several centuries.
Strabo, a Greek geographer whose life covered the violent transformation of the Roman Republic to the Roman Empire, 63 BCE to 23 CE, visited Alexandria. He was impressed by its wide streets crossing each other at right angles, suitable for horses and carriages.
Alexandria, Strabo said, had “magnificent” public buildings and palaces that covered a fourth to a third of the city. Alexandria was also “full of dedications and sanctuaries.” The Gymnasium was the most beautiful building in Alexandria. The length of its porticoes was around 175 meters.
The Greek writer Theokritos of Syracuse, Sicily, was born at the end of the fourth century BCE. He knew Alexandria well. In his pastoral poetry, he praised Ptolemy II Philadelphos for his wealth, military might and wisdom. He reported Ptolemy II reigned over Egypt, rich in soil and towns, regions of Syria, Asia, Phoenicia, Arabia, Libya and Ethiopia. Ptolemy II was also the wealthiest king of the world.

Another Greek writer, Athenaios, who lived in the second century, quotes a book on Alexandria written by Kallixeimos of Rhodes. Kallixeimos, 210 – 150 BCE, described the great procession of 279 BCE.
This was a procession of wealth and power the likes of which were rare in any time in the ancient world. The display of unfathomable riches was the work of Ptolemy II Philadelphos.
Alexandrians must have been astonished by the exotic animals, carriages full of representatives of the gods, 57,600 soldiers and 23,200 cavalry, and huge amounts of gold in statues, jewelry, and decorations.
Kallixeimos explained this unrivaled wealth in gold as a gift of the Nile, which “streamed” with gold and unlimited amounts of food.
Kallixeimos also reports that in the procession he saw a mechanized statue standing up and sitting down on its own. It held a gold libation bowl from which it poured libations of milk. The automated statue held a garlanded staff like that of god Dionysos.
The statue operated on a cart decorated with a canopy and four gilded torches. We don’t know who mechanized the statue, but, in all likelihood, it was Ktesibios who lived in Alexandria during the reign of Ptolemy II.

Another report on the splendor of Alexandria under the Ptolemies comes from Herodas, a poet of mimes who flourished during the reign of Ptolemy II.
Herodas bragged that all that the world produced existed in Egypt, and, most probably, Alexandria:
“Wealth, wrestling grounds, power, peace, renown, spectacles, philosophers, money, young men, the precinct of the Brother-Sister gods [deified Ptolemy II and his sister-wife, Arsinoe], a good king, the Mouseion, wine, everything good one might want, women more in number – I swear by Kore [daughter of Demeter, Persephone] wife of Hades – than the sky boasts of stars, and in appearance like the goddesses who once rushed to be judged for their beauty by Paris.”
Pergamum also had a famous Library dedicated to research, science, inventions, and learning. King Attalos I, 241 – 197 BCE, lavished the Library with wealth and prestige. His dream was to make Pergamum a second Athens.
He built the Pergamum Library next to a temple of Athena. He funded a replica of the Pheidias statue of Athena in the Parthenon for his Library.
During the reign of Eumenes II, 197 – 159 BCE, Egypt stopped exporting papyrus to Pergamum.
Papyrus was essential for book production. Pergamum used this unexpected crisis and invented a better alternative to papyrus.
This was a product from sheepskin known as pergamene from the name of Pergamum. Pergamene eventually came to be known as parchment, a technology that guaranteed hundreds of years of survival for books.
The Greeks in Alexandria, Pergamum, and, possibly, other Alexandrian kingdoms and Greek poleis produced modern-like science and institutions.
Miroslav Ivanovich Rostovtzeff, a great Russian and American historian of Greece and Rome in the twentieth century, admired the achievements of the Greeks.
Greek literature, art, and science, he said, remained Greek even after the death of Alexander the Great.
It’s wrong to call this a decadent or Hellenistic age. On the contrary, he insisted, the Greek genius in the centuries after Alexander was just as creative as it had been in the centuries before Alexander. Greek civilization, in fact, spread over the world.
City people spoke Greek. Cities in the post-Alexander Greek world, says Rostovtzeff, had a modern-like infrastructure of water supply, paved streets, healthy markers, schools, athletic stadia, libraries, outdoor stone theaters, race-courses, public buildings for local assemblies, and beautiful temples and altars for the worship of several gods.
Egypt under the Ptolemies, for example, had banks in all administrative districts and most villages. These royal banks lent money and regulated the currency and the economy. They invested funds and paid interest to depositors.
Ptolemy II put up unparalleled displays of wealth and funded unparalleled advancements in science and technology.
Throughout the Alexandrian world the educated classes read the same Greek books, went to the theater, and sent their children to the same wrestling schools and gymnasia. Children studied music, literature and science – “a combination characteristic of Greece.”
Finally, says Rostovtzeff, Greek education was the badge of civilization. Reading Homer, Plato, and Sophocles and enjoying the comedies of Menander was essential to being a citizen of the Alexandrian Age. Failure in this Greek education was the equivalent to being a barbarian.
The Greeks did not force non-Greeks to become Greek, much less take up their civilization. The culture of the Greeks, says Rostovtzeff, “owed its worldwide recognition mainly to its perfection.”

 

The Golden Age of Greek Science

What is a golden age?

A golden age captures the best and greatest virtues of human achievements. These accomplishments, however, must have the potential of uplifting humanity to a higher plane of living and be sufficiently moral for building civilization. 

Greece had two golden ages. Their legacies, especially in science, made Western civilization.

The first Greek golden age took place after the Greeks defeated the Persians in early fifth century BCE. During the fifty years between the Persian Wars and the Peloponnesian War, Athens in particular shone with a flourishing and confident Greek  culture: democracy, building of the Parthenon, philosophy, science, classical architecture, theater, athletic games, and military strength. 

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