Monday, March 30, 2009

Ancient Greece

A subject I really enjoyed at university was Greek History, Art and Literature. That ancient Aegean society really grabbed my interest. Studying the torso of a shattered sculpture or the scurrying scene on a mended jar opened up fresh thoughts about history, the creative spirit and human efforts to excel. I swallowed the lecturers’ theories uncritically, unaware of their late nineteenth century origin. The literature, especially the drama, proved good background for a lifelong interest in poetry and drama.

Greek Art - art criticism was new to me. The first time my eye received any training it was the human soul made manifest by the human body; passion and clarity intermingled. New art led to old myths. I systematically went through the library shelves, (both university and city) borrowing everything on the Greek gods and myths. The lecturers presented these as figments of imagination as representative of our species' behaviour. The books gloried in that sunlit ideal past in ways that made the present seem mundane. Mankind jubilantly released from the death- and animal-worship of the Egyptians evolved to honour the human figure and spirit. (Recently I read Black Athena a book that refutes this thesis). These ideas were a corrosive mix for a faint-hearted theological student. Yet in a strange way they helped support his faith by presenting the material struggle for existence as unimportant, indeed degrading. The argument of a divide between body and mind was reinforced.

So in later life I was delighted to twice travel to Greece. The Parthenon is a spectacular reminder of a past glory, while Mycenae, Epidaurus with its unbelievable acoustics, Olympia and Delphi lived up to expectations. A spectacular thunderstorm over Delphi added to the atmosphere.

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