Wednesday, October 11, 2006
When at last, the Greek artists perfected the high-rank style deemed exemplary in such masterpieces as the Parthenon, the Classical Age of Greece (490-323 BC) was born. This was right after the Homeric Age, when the epics Iliad and Odyssey became the avenue for the description of athletic excellence, the means for the hero to show his virtue and attain social admiration not only for his physical strength but also for his courage, brilliance and, ultimately, virtue. Homeric values continued to influence the Greeks during the Classical Age, when the cultural excesses were moderated by classical virtues as justice, integrity, courage, temperance, decency, beauty, and balance.
One such fine example of classical bravery was demonstrated by Socrates during his defense at his trial, chronicled in The Apology (“defense”). In the Apology, Socrates alludes to the daimon (demon) inside him, that which serves as his spiritual guide, a divine and prophetic sign, a “voice.” The daimon started in Socrates’ childhood and endured his whole life through. Socrates claimed that the voice always forbade but never commanded him to do anything he was to do.
Socrates was tried for not ministering before the gods of the state and for corrupting the youth like the popular aristocrat Alcibiades who betrayed by helping the Spartans. While he could have chosen to exile himself after having been charged with such potentially capital crimes, Socrates decided to submit himself on trial. Believing Socrates would propose to be exiled so he would be rid of since none wanted him to die anyway, the prosecutor puts forth the death penalty. Manifesting great courage that epitomizes the classical climate, Socrates drinks the hemlock poison and dies and for such execution, Athens turned infamous.
On the other hand, Plato’s account of a bacchanalian feast where each guest is enjoined to make a speech on the nature of love and where the drunken gatecrasher Alcibiades joins Socrates and playwright Aristophanes is the Symposium. The classical Athenian perspectives of friendship, sex and sexuality and the social role of the all-male drinking party were tackled during the symposium.
"Justice and Power: The Language of Early Greek Tyranny," centers on dike or rightful share and its meaning with rulers from Homer. Lacking real concern for dike, Homeric kings were preoccupied with honor and vengeance; leaders contemporary with Homer and Hesiod, meanwhile, were accountable for the society’s well-being, specifically the safeguarding of justice. When these were considered to have twisted justice, a path was paved for tyranny. The oracles involving Kypselos of Corinth show that his tyranny's original purpose was to rectify the injustice of the city's leaders, a purpose shared by other tyrants. These claims founded a right to govern, but the tyrant's administration of justice could seem random itself, unjust and requiring its own correction, in the long run. The classical ideals were present, but the tyrannical excesses were way too intoxicating.
Meanwhile, the participation of women in Athenian ritual is examined by Mary Lefkowitz in "Women in the Panathenaic and Other Festivals." The roles of the arrhephoroi, the kanephoroi, and the ergastinai are investigated (their duties, training, and place in the religious life of Athens). The employment of women or young girls for these significant ceremonies hails back to the foundation myths of Athens wherein the daughters of Kekrops and Athena look after the would-be king, Erichthonios. The Eleusinian rituals were considered in light of the arrhephoroi, young girls (sisters) who care for a cast-out being. It is apparent that the classical values of compassion and selflessness may be discovered in this female participation.
While the classical virtues were being upheld as recorded in the four texts in question, the period was a violent one, extensive intellectual flowering notwithstanding (the three great philosophers Socrates, Plato and Aristotle all lived during the Classical Age). The initial year of the Classical Age saw the ferocious fighting Persians attacking Athens. The young democratic system, criticized no less by Plato himself, almost went fazed and very nearly returned to oligarchy in case decisions were slow to appear in the former, but novel martial tactics at the Battle at Marathon drove the Persians running and screaming the opposite direction, giving victory to the Athenians. 10 years later, Persia went war-freak again and fought against most of the banded Greek cities. The Battle at Thermopylae was lost, but the Battles at Salamis and Plataea brought defeat to the Persians. The united Greek cities save for Sparta contributed to create a formidable navy courtesy of Athens if ever the Persians attacked again, but the Persians did not return and so the cities backed out from sending money one after another, until excesses by Athens—using its military power to crush fellow cities which declined contribution and laundering money to build its own city—angered the other cities and triggered the Peloponnesian War.
When the hinterland north of Greece finally emerged as a powerful kingdom, Greece was conquered by Macedonian father and son leaders Philip and Alexander, and the Classical Age drew to a close. However, the classical trends were revived as the Macedonian conquerors disseminated Greek civilization across its empire running from Pakistan to Egypt. The style of Greek perfection endured history since, and when we mention the term classical today, the glory that was Greece comes to mind.