Monday, July 18, 2011

What Ancient Greece and Modern Europe have in common?

The situation in modern Europe with a crisis threatening to destroy all the achievements 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! What it means to be European and who is a true one? An identity search indeed. 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. 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 it. 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 have wrecked their culture themselves and the Romans would not be as inspired.

And not only that, but the legacy of Alexander created concepts like multiculturalism, that we in Europe are inspired from and trying to achieve! 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, their culture supreme and they never swallowed the fact that they fell under the Macedonian rule. 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 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. We can only imagine what the Greek culture and influence could achieve with that.

Europe's history is full of ancient Greek drama! So many wars, 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,  like USA and USSR during the cold war. We still are unable to unify and revive or even expand Europe's culture and influence in the World. We have yet 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 and a new World power come and put our continent out of political map of the future world?

It has happened in the past, after WW2. Europe was divided and a subject of the two major powers that emerged. Will we be spared again and get a second chance? Why must we always be divided into rich and poor, West and East and recently into Northern and South. For once I hope that Europe does not imitate Greece on this.

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