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What Ancient Greece and Modern Europe have in common?
by Christos Mouzeviris
2011-07-19 10:05:31
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The situation in Europe now days with a crisis threatening to destroy whatever good the continent has achieved, reminds me of similar political dramas in the ancient times. Perhaps Europe borrowed more than democracy, philosophy and theater from Greece; it borrowed as well all the negative aspects of the Greek culture: Disunity!

Like the ancient Greeks were debating and pontificating of who is true Greek, or who is barbarian and they were in constant wars and struggles between them, the modern Europeans are doing exactly that! Remember how many of the Athenians, who always boasted about their supremacy not only over barbarian nations but among all Greeks themselves, rejected the Macedonian dominance and their Greek unification attempt by calling them barbarians and questioning their Greek roots.

The ancient Greeks were not one nation, one united ethnic group like we know Greece or most European states today. They were a group of Greek tribes, much like the Celtic ones, never united, so similar but so different as well. Some of them have assimilated native pre-Greek populations as well (Crete) creating a unique ethnic group of Greek heritage and culture, but with elements of the previous inhabitants.

The Macedonians of course were Greeks of either Dorian or Aeolian or mixed stock. They spoke one of those two dialects or a hybrid between them, but as their kingdom expanded to other neighboring tribes like the Illyrians and the Thracians, they got many elements from them in their culture and language. Most likely they were of mixed stock, with many Greek and later non Greek tribes making up their population. Prompting the Athenians and others who hated them and resisted their ever growing influence in the Greek world to call them barbarians and question their place and influence in the Greek world. A political position that even today is causing problems, since many scholars from FYROM and their supporters are using this as a proof of a different Macedonian ethnicity!

Nevertheless the Macedonians were accepted to participate in the Olympic games and as we know only men of Greek origins could do that. Perhaps the Athenians and other Greeks of the south resented the Macedonians so much because they wanted to take over the Greek world and unite them. The Epirotans and Thessalians had so much in common with the Macedonians but they were never hated as much, perhaps because they never attempted to unite Greece and rule all the Greek nations. Enter the dark side of ancient Greek politics!

But look what the Greeks united have achieved. Without the legacy of Alexander the Great, the Greek culture, influence and power would not reach as far as India and perhaps without the Hellenistic times that occurred as a result of Alexander's conquests, the Greek culture would not have had the same impact in the West either. When the Romans conquered all the Hellenistic kingdoms and came in contact with their culture, they were conquered instead by the Greeks culturally, prompting to the creation of the Western and European civilization! Had the Greeks remained small city states divided and at war with each other, they would probably had wrecked their culture themselves and the Romans would not be as inspired.

And not only that, but the legacy of Alexander created concepts like today's multiculturalism, that we in Europe are trying so much to achieve (in the wrong way I will add, in my opinion)! He was the first that dreamed to create a community of nations, with the "white skinned" Greeks being equal with the "dark skinned" barbarian nations that he had conquered. Another reason that the snub Greeks hated him!

Sparta never became part of his empire even though they were defeated, they refused to participate with the rest of the Greeks in Alexander's vision. They remind me of states like Norway or Switzerland that refuse to be part of the European dream and remain stubbornly outside. Unlike Sparta though, they fare better. Sparta declined and never played any role in the Greek or international political scene during the Hellenistic or Roman era, and until today it is only a small provincial town in southern Greece.

Athens reminds me of Britain. They did become part of Alexander's vision but they were not comfortable with it. They always considered themselves better and their culture supreme, and they never swallowed the fact that they fell under the Macedonian rule and they were not the ones who ruled or conquered as much as Alexander did. While their culture was indeed impressive and very advanced, they were never able to expand it to non Greek nations as they focused mainly only in trading with them. A bit of snubs and delusional really.

After Alexander's death the Greeks went back to what they knew best! Divisions, civil wars, power struggles and intrigues between them. They fell under the rule of the Romans and Greece was never able to recover politically or culturally again. If Alexander had not died, perhaps he would conquer Europe, Arabia and North Africa as well, and we can only imagine what the Greek culture and influence could achieve with that. But it did not happen!

Europe's history is full of ancient Greek drama! So many wars, so many divisions, a continent devastated by two World wars, yet we still do not learn! We have already fell under the political control of other superpowers present and past, (USA and USSR during the cold war) yet we still are unable to unify and revive or even expand Europe's culture and influence in the World! We have still to achieve our full potential and as things in the World are shifting and new emerging powers are making their mark, we are unable to put our differences behind and cooperate.

Europe you will say is not one nation or a country. But neither the Greeks were back then. I guess all we need is a modern Alexander in Europe, a leader with a vision and might to make our continent reach its full potential. But as the Macedonians and Alexander were hated by the Athenians and Spartans back then, the current European powers will definitely oppose and loath any nation or politician who will take such initiative. No wonder it is so hard for someone to come up with a plan. Will Europe follow Greece's fate then? Will a new World power come and put our continent out of political map of the future world?

In a way that has happened before, and it was America and the Soviets that ruled Europe. Will we be spared again? Will we get a second chance? Why must it be that we always are going to be divided? Rich and poor, western and eastern European countries, and recently northern and southern states! I for once hope that Europe does not imitate Greece on this!

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Emanuel Paparella2011-07-19 12:54:20
“I guess all we need is a modern Alexander in Europe, a leader with a vision and might to make our continent reach its full potential.”

But a modern Alexander has already appeared, Christos, and his name was Napoleon. His mausoleum in Paris is worthy of an Alexander the Great, wouldn’t you agree? He too had a grandiose vision of a united Europe and he almost pulled it off. The problem was however that what he called a united Europe was really the greater France and therefore still redolent of a xenophobic nationalism, and what he called brotherhood was a sort of pseudo-brotherhood, for genuine brotherhood always implies a Father of sort; and what he called "libertè" was Napoleonic tyrrany; and what he called "egalitè" was the preeminence of France over the other nations of Europe. Which is to say, what went down with Napoleon was an illusion inside a delusion. Had he been as wise as a Constantine he would have realized that the continent had a common culture and heritage which was universal and could function as a centripetal glue of sort transcending even Greco-Roman culture: Christianity. As an “enlightened” man of the 18th century he discarded such an option and put the cart before the horse: he put nationalism before universal values. We know the sad results: the reactionary Congress of Vienna which went back to good old nationalism and prepared the catastrophic wars of the 20th century. The question arises: is history repeating itself before our very eyes?

The founding fathers of the EU (the likes of Schuman, De Gasperi and Aedenauer) did not make that same egregious mistake and put the EU on a sound cultural foundation based on the greatest unifying force the continent had at its disposal able to transcend nationalisms and ideological totalitarianisms. But alas, only twenty years later, the “enlightened” men from France and other nations arrive on the political scene of the EU and declare that Christianity has no place in the public square and is to be relegated to one hour on Sunday in a church. The churches are now mostly empty, superseded by soccer games on Sunday, at times they are being transformed into mosques, and a union deprived ot its cultural identity as envisioned by its founding fathers seems to be coming apart at the seam. Proof of it is that multiculturalism has been declared dead by the economically most powerful nation in the union. As Yeates said in one of his poems, the center does not hold, and I would be inclined to add that all the banks, and all the soccer games in the world will not put humpty dumpty back together again as long as Europe's genuine heritage and the vision of its founding fathers is ignored and dishonored. Back to the Congress of Vienna? Indeed, the Enlightenement has still to enlighten itself!

Christos Mouzeviris2011-07-20 08:10:17
As you said Emanuel, Napoleon based his unification effort of Europe on nationalistic ideals, and tried to promote French ideals on everybody else...This is not the way...While Alexander was open to accept some of the culture of the nations he conquered, and of course he got a hard criticism from other Greeks for that...He married an Asian woman and encouraged his officials to do the same...He was dressing as one of the natives and overall he was more willing to incorporate some of their culture into the Greek one...

When we are talking about European unification, we do not mean French, British or German dominance over smaller or other nations..Rather the incorporation of all cultures and heritage of all nations into one...Not impose the French, Greek, German or British culture on others, rather enrich all cultures with all the rest..Promote even the smallest country's culture and language...

I am not crazy on Christianity I have to say, but I agree with you in one point...That Christian nations or secular nations are easier to integrate and find common grounds, rather when we are talking about Shariah law in Europe, and Islamic fundamentalism...We are trying to conform so much only the Europeans to accept the immigrants, but not the immigrants to accept European culture or even worse to accept other immigrant cultures...Have you ever seen an Indian allowing his daughter to marry an African? No! They send her back to their country to find a nice Indian boy...If we want to integrate them into Europe we will have to work on issues like those too...

It is hard enough to find a way to make Europeans feel proud of who they are and have the European identity as second after their national one..Like a Scottish man feels he is Scottish AND British, the same way I feel I am Greek AND European without the one erasing the other...That is what we need to promote, to all Europeans and the immigrants that want to stay here and call this continent their home...

Emanuel Paparella2011-07-20 11:00:36
Indeed, universal values are better than particular regional or parochial ones but multiculturalism will not work unless one begins with the particular and understand one’s own culture first; only then one may understand and appreciate the culture of others.

I continue to believe that the Christian and even Catholic ideals of the founding fathers need to be understood and appreciated by the Europeans first before they can be appreciated by the Moslem immigrants. That does not mean that they have to convert or that the unbeliever has to become a believer, but that they have to understand the heritage and the roots of the European cultural identity before they can hope to become part of the EU.

The Europeans ought to give them a good example in this respect. That example is lacking when the vision of the EU founding fathers is ignored and dishonored. Come to think of it, the word Catholic literally means “universal.”

Here in the US, the first generation immigrants often live in an ethnic ghetto and speak only their original ethnic language, but by the time the second generation arrives on the scene they are mostly bilingual and ipso facto bi-cultural. In effect we have a nations of nations united by certain cultural ideals as spelled out in the Constitution and Bill of Rights: the universal supersedes the particular without destroying it. A symphony remains a better metaphor than a melting pot forcing uniformity on everybody. I think that the EU founding fathers had something similar in mind but that is not the way the present EU is embarked upon, having declared multiculturalism dead.

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