The Greeks and Greek Civilization
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From one of the greatest historians of our modern age comes a masterpiece too controversial to be published in his own time. Jacob Burckhardt (1818-1897) portrayed ancient Greek culture as an aristocratic world based on ruthless competition for honor, which led, in turn, to a tyrannous state with minimal personal freedom.
with altars to the gods, where justice was meted out.34 In seaports the square must have been near the harbour, at least it was so among the Phaeacians, whose whole existence was arranged in the best possible way (Odyssey VIII.4). Here, in full view o f the ships, surrounded by as many temples, civic buildings, monuments, shops and moneychangers’ stalls as there was room for, the Greeks could occupy themselves with agorazein, that activity no northerner can render in a single word. Dictionaries
odes at the festivals, in the splendid cult rituals, buildings and works o f art, and in the drama and recitations by the poets. It was the very fact o f living in the polis, the ruling and being ruled, which was valued as a continuous education. In the better times the polis gave her people very strong guidance through the honours she could confer on individuals, until here too abuses set in, and wiser men preferred to forgo their claim to crowns, heralds’ proclamations and so forth. In sum, the
wholehearted hatred in public. During the time o f the thirty tyrants a man on his deathbed made his family solemnly swear to take vengeance on his denouncer.12 In tragedy, too, revenge is recognized as a justifiable motive and reflects no discredit on sympathetic characters, allowing us to assume that the poet and the spectators were in agreement. O f course revenge was largely inherent in the myths on which plots were based, but the personal approval o f the poet is often clearly apparent in
classes. Besides, the widespread custom o f agonal competition, ranging from public appearances at the games to every kind o f achievement and self-assertion, excluded the social inhibition which today, as a rule, hardly permits any competition except in business affairs, and otherwise restricts the individual to the negative aspects o f the feeling for honour. That is, people now try to avoid anything that is disapproved of, and to obtain respect while shunning notoriety; where the modem
catas trophe. The hero o f myth scrupulously directs his whole life according to an obscure saying o f the gods, but all in vain; the predestined infants (Paris, Oedipus among others) left to die o f exposure, are rescued and afterwards fulfil what was predicted for them. But where the child fa ted by an oracle to kill his father is not exposed and they take every precaution to avoid each other, fate finds a way to bring about the parricide, as in the horrible story o f Catreus and