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Greek Lies, Historic Truth

Another response to Greek Lies, Historic Truth, with my replies:


Why are you defending the Greeks if you're Xerxes, Ruler of Persia? Didn't the Greeks kick your butt? <g>

>> Yes Egypt is older but your claims that had there been no Egypt or Sumer etc; there would be none of the spectacular accomplishments by the Greeks. You are thoroughly mistaken. <<

Based on what...your opinion? Your belief that the Greek civilization would've evolved without any antecedents or influences is totally unprovable. But if you think you can prove it, by all means try.

Ancient Greece's predecessors
A brief history of Greece and the Mediterranean may be instructive. The quotes are from the Time-Life book Barbarian Tides:

They came out of the north—hordes from the plains of the Black Sea and of northwest Asia Minor. For almost a millennium, between 2800 and 2000 BC, the human tide [of Indo-European invaders] swept around the Aegean Sea and poured into the nearby peninsula....They first conquered, and then over the centuries settled among, the original inhabitants of the Greek peninsula.

The greatest of the first primitive Greek cultures was Mycenae:

And just as the Middle Eastern conquerors borrowed and adapted the cultures of such civilized peoples as the Babylonians and the Egyptians, so too the lords of Mycenae turned to the oldest, best-established civilization close at hand—that of the Minoans, on the island of Crete.
The Minoan culture dazzled the newcomers, and they adapted much of it for their own. From the Minoans, the Greeks learned to combine copper and tin to make the alloy called bronze. Skilled Minoan workers and their Mycenaean pupils shaped gold, silver, ivory, rock crystal, and other materials into handsome luxuries for the lords of their palaces and citadels. Mycenaean pottery makers closely mimicked the works produced by Minoan masters. Becuase the Mycenaeans had no written language of their own, they adapted the linear scrpt that Minoan scribes had been using to keep accounts.

A volcanic explosion decimated the Minoan civilization, or classic Greek culture might never have been born. After the collapse, the Mycenaeans briefly ruled the Aegean. But, continues Barbarian Tides, "when trade with Egypt fell off abruptly after 1300 BC, the Mycenaean domains suffered an economic decline that emphasized how dependent they were on older, richer civilizations."

While the Indo-European people collectively known as the Dorians overran the Greek peninsula:

Beginning about 1000 BC, the Phoenicians boldly ventured forth from their cities...to explore and then establish trading posts and colonies in the farthest reaches of the known world....In about 700 BC they were joined in their maritime ventures by another trading folk, the Etruscans....For more than 100 years, the Phoenicians and Etruscans between them outclassed the understandably envious Greeks as naval and mercantile powers in the waters beyond Sicily. And it was they who largely shaped events and set cultural patterns around the rim of the western Mediterranean for centuries to come.

To sum it up, classic Greek culture derived from Indo-European roots overlaid with Cretan civilization. The Minoans, in turn, were heavily influenced by their Egyptian neighbors to the south. So Egypt and other civilizations contributed directly or indirectly to the Greeks.

Going forward in time, Roman civilization was a mixture of Etruscan and Greek culture as modified by people ranging from Germany to Asia Minor to Palestine to Egypt to Carthage (a Phoenician city). Then Rome "fell" and its culture mixed with Europe's native Anglo-Saxon cultures and others. So many, many people, not just the Greeks, contributed to what we call Western civilization.

Why no temples to Amon Ra?
>> If Egypt or other civilizations held so much sway over Greek thought why are there no temples to Amon Ra in Greece? <<

If Greek civilization had so much influence on the present world, why are there no temples to Zeus in the US?

The Greek city-states were insular compared to the later Hellenistic and Roman empires, so it's not surprising they didn't show many overt influences. When Alexander and the Romans conquered Egypt, they were influenced by Egypt as much as they influenced it. If you want architectural influences, look at the Roman obelisks or the pyramid on the back of the dollar bill. If you want religious influences, the Concise Columbia Encyclopedia notes that

The worship of Osiris, one of the great cults of ancient Egypt, gradually spread throughout the Mediterranean world and, with that of Isis and Horus, was especially vital during the Roman Empire.

Since my thesis is that the present-day world is a mix of Greek and non-Greek influences, I don't have to show the Egyptian influence went directly through Greece. To varying degrees, Egypt influenced the Hebrews, Minoans, Greeks, Romans, and other peoples of the Mediterranean, all of whom contributed to Western civilization.

>> Why are Hieroglyphics not the language of record of those times? <<

Why isn't Greek the language of record now?

Your statement is ironic considering the ancestry of the "Greek" alphabet. The letters we now use took shape in the Near East and developed in Phoenicia. The very word "alphabet" comes from the Hebrew words "aleph" and "beth." The non-Western origins of our writing system are clear.

>> Yet, there is no archeological evidence to support your claims of these cultures having influence on Greek civilization. <<

Plenty of archaeological evidence shows the influence of the neighboring cultures in Crete and Asia Minor. As for Egypt's influence, the Egyptian civilization was already 3,000 years old by the time of Pericles. It lay dormant or dying after several millennia of expansion and contraction. I wouldn't expect a culture that distant in time or space to directly influence ancient Greece any more than I'd expect ancient Greece to directly influence present-day Great Britain, Morocco, or Afghanistan.

One of my sources makes a similar point. From The Culture of Ancient Egypt by John A. Wilson:

By the time that the Hebrews and Greeks were writing, Egypt had become a vast and impressive legend, a colossus slumbering in a feeble old age, but still wearing a mysterious air of majesty. It was impossible to visit Egypt without a respectful awe before the mighty pyramids and vast temples.

But the evidence of outside influence does exist. As L.S. Stavrianos writes in Man's Past and Present: A Global History:

...[T]he Greeks had closer contacts with the ancient Middle Eastern civilizations than did the Indians [of India]. Traces of these contacts are available in archaeological remains and literary sources and provide clues to early Greek history and culture.

Egypt's extensive influence
And from Wilson again, listing Egypt's accomplishments and influence:

The successful use of mass in stone architecture, in pyramids, tombs, and temples, was so distinctly Egyptian that we may call it an invention of theirs....Structural elements of the buildings, such as the pylon towers, the torus moulding at the corners, and the several different orders of columns, derived from native materials and forms....At the top of such a bundle-column appeared the tufted heads or flowers of the reeds. This was the origin of the stone column with floral capital and of the three orders, Ionic, Doric, and Corinthian. This was a form which Egypt "invented," and which subsequent cultures in Palestine, Asia Minor, the Aegean, and Greece took over. The artistic expression of ancient Egypt was a native development, with its distinctive cubism, its two-dimensional representation, its idealized portrait, and its bland ignoring of precise location in space and time in order to capture eternity....To a very marked degree Canaanite-Phoenician art and archaic Greek art borrowed the Egyptian form of expression. We may trace from Egypt to Greece the orders of columns, certain floral and geometric designs, the sphinx, or the statue which stands frozen with legs apart and with fixed smile in clear imitation of Egyptian style.
Egyptian science gave a good working basis for its culture....Egypt worked out the 365-day calendar long centuries before it was in use elsewhere in the world. Her mathematicians and architects could lay out huge structures with an amazingly small margin of error. With a cumbersome system of notation, without any zero or complex fractions, they could make precise calculations of such volumes as that of a cylinder or that of a truncated pyramid. In the practical fields of anatomy and surgery, her physicians commanded wide respect in the ancient world. They recognized the focal importance of the heart within the human body, as a feeder of life-sustaining fluid to the entire system.
The Greeks were generous enough to say that they took their science from the Babylonians and the Egyptians, and this is true in the same sense as applies to art and architecture.
The same observations may be made about the treatment of man's position in space and time, that is, about the writing of history. The Egyptians and Mesopotamians had annals and chronicles, detached records of what happened in a certain reign or a certain year....
In the field of religion and ethics, it has been argued that the fountain sources of our moral heritage lie in ancient Egypt, because the Egyptians discovered the worth of the common man and insisted upon his sacred right to justice....The conflict between the rights of the group and the rights of the individual—a conflict which is still under debate—had been a question at issue from the Old Kingdom to the Empire. In reaction against the absolute centralization of the early Old Kingdom, there had come an emphasis upon the rights of the individual citizen. For a time rule ceased to be sheer right and became social responsibility, with pharaoh the good shepherd, who tended his flock patiently and conscientiously.
The Egyptians had colonies at such places as the Fourth Cataract, Byblos in Phoenicia, and Beth-Shan in Palestine, as early as 1400 B.C. Thousands of foreign captives were brought into the Nile Valley. By 600 B.C. there were colonies of Greeks and Hebrews in Egypt. Peoples living side-by-side learn from each other. There is a tradition that Egyptian physicians were in great demand in other countries, traveling to Asia Minor and Persia to practice their superior medical lore. There is no doubt that such contacts were a means of taking Egyptian forms to foreign countries and of bringing foreign forms to Egypt.

Here's more on the Egyptians' knowledge of medicine, from the NY Times:

September 10, 2005

Secrets of the Mummy's Medicine Chest


The ancient Egyptians left proof of their scientific prowess for people to marvel at for millennia. Their engineering skills can still be seen at Giza, their star charts in Luxor, their care for head wounds on Fifth Avenue.

Head wounds? Yes, and the ancients treated broken arms, cuts, even facial wrinkles -- vanity is not a modern invention -- and they used methods as advanced as rudimentary surgery and a sort of proto-antibiotics.

As for Fifth Avenue, it, like the Valley of the Kings, is a place of hidden treasures. What researchers call the world's oldest known medical treatise, an Egyptian papyrus offering 4,000-year-old wisdom, has long dwelled in the rare books vault at the New York Academy of Medicine.

It is an extraordinary remnant of a culture that was already ancient when Rome was new and Athens was a backwater -- Egypt's stone monuments endure, but the scrolls made of pulped reeds have mostly been lost. One expert, James H. Breasted, who translated the papyrus in the 1920's, called it "the oldest nucleus of really scientific knowledge in the world." Yet relatively few people know of it, and fewer have seen it.

It is about to become much better known. After a short trip down Fifth (insert down-the-Nile metaphor here) to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the papyrus will go on public display, probably for the first time, on Tuesday, as part of the Met's exhibition "The Art of Medicine in Ancient Egypt." The show will also include items like a CAT scan of a mummy, surgical needles and other medical artifacts.

"What they knew about the body is quite striking, though they did not always understand it," said James Allen, curator of Egyptian art at the Met, whose new translation of the papyrus appears in the exhibition catalog.

The papyrus shows that ancient medics had a pretty good idea that blood, pumped by the heart, flows around the body -- a notion that was not firmly established until the 17th century -- and knew how to stitch cuts closed. It includes the oldest known descriptions of the effects of brain injuries, and the meninges, the membrane that covers the brain.

It also advises using honey -- a natural bacteria killer -- on open wounds, and giving patients a concoction of willow bark, which contains a natural painkiller that is chemically similar to aspirin. Mr. Allen said another ancient Egyptian text recommends putting moldy bread on wounds, suggesting that doctors had stumbled onto the principle behind penicillin. "They didn't know what bacteria was, but they were already fighting infections," Mr. Allen said. Though Egypt had metal tools, its doctors used stone knives, because "They could make flint knives much sharper, and a freshly sharpened flint knife is sterile."

Preparing bodies for mummification gave the Egyptians detailed knowledge of anatomy and bandaging. They understood that a wound to one side of the head could cause paralysis on the opposite side of the body. The papyrus advises doctors to insert fingers into head wounds to feel what kinds of skull fractures and brain penetration are involved, and it differentiates between bones that are fractures, splintered or snapped in two.

Ever since an American, Edwin Smith, bought and translated the papyrus in the 19th century, it has struck readers as surprisingly modern. It includes magical incantations, but most of the text takes a methodical, empirical approach to diagnosis and treatment. Perhaps most striking is its restraint -- the author's approach is cautious, and in some cases, the text counsels doing nothing but waiting to see if the body will heal itself.

"When you think about some of the aggressive treatments recommended by later authorities, the things done in the Middle Ages that would make your skin crawl and were sometimes harmful, the papyrus is often much more in line with our current thinking," said Miriam Mandelbaum, curator of rare books and manuscripts at the academy of medicine.

The papyrus dates to the 17th century B.C. -- about nine centuries after the great pyramids were built, but about a century before the time Moses is believed to have lived. While there are fragments of medical writing that are somewhat older, experts say, none are nearly as extensive.

The papyrus uses words that were already archaic then, and the writer explains them, evidence that it is a copy of a document that was a few hundred years older.

In his book, Wilson also discusses the limits of Egyptian influence, but we needn't go into them here. People like you are already too quick to claim Greece invented everything.

A mix of Greek and Hebrew
So Egypt influenced the Greeks and the Hebrews, who both contributed significantly to Western civlization. As Wilson, who was the Andrew MacLeish Distinguished Service Professor at the Oriental Institute and Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, the University of Chicago, puts it:

The Greeks acknowledged rather simply that they had learned a great deal from Egypt and Mesopotamia, and that this had been formative in their own lives. The Hebrews were both resentful of and allured by the sophistication of the Egypt from which they had escaped. While they wrote about the "fleshpots," they also wrote about "all the wise men" and how Moses had learned "all the wisdom of the Egyptians."

And from a book review of The Mind of Egypt: History and Meaning in the Time of the Pharaohs by Jan Assmann—in the LA Times, 4/21/02:

...[T]hanks to the work of the Egyptian-born Greek priest Manetho in the 3rd century and others, Egypt remained in the cultural awareness of many later civilizations. Assmann points to the compelling impressions left by pyramids and other monuments, to biblical and classical texts that described Egypt as a living culture.

>> When compared to others, the Greek civilization stands apart and THAT is why, to this very day, people marvel at its uniqueness! <<

As I wrote in Multicultural Origins of Civilization in response to a similar claim:

>> But in the intellectual sphere, their contributions were unique and stunning... <<

Unique and stunning, perhaps, but not brand-new or original.

>> When Alexander conquered Greece, he adopted Greek civilization. Why? Cause it was better than the Macedonian in all things cultural. <<

Here's what Stavrianos says about the spread of Hellenization:

At first the Greeks and Macedonians went to the East as conquerors and rulers, and imposed a pattern of Hellenization. But in the process they themselves were changed, so that the resulting Hellenistic civilization was an amalgam rather than a transplantation. And in the long run the religions of the East made their way West and contributed substantially to the transformations of the Roman Empire and Medieval Europe.

That seems clear enough. An amalgam is essentially what I said.

>> When other cultures were subjugated, they were not FORCED to adopt Hellenistic civilization, they ate it up willingly because it was much superior to their own. These are documented FACTS from writers in these subjugated lands. You can read the records of Hellenized Parthians, Egyptians and Hebrews that attest to this fact. <<

You can quote the records to me if you want me to consider them in this debate.

I'd rather read the views of the people who weren't Hellenized, since Stavrianos notes it was a time of great upheaval and confusion. The non-converts would be more objective about the shortcomings of Hellenization.

Since Persia, aka Iran, was once the center of Hellenistic culture but is now rabidly Islamic, I guess the Hellenistic culture didn't sink in deeply or have much permanent effect. That would be consistent with Stavrianos's claims that local beliefs co-opted and changed Hellenization.

>> But, in your biased view, you probably think they were forced to swallow Greek culture at sword point. <<

A professional historian used the word "imposed," above. I'll go with his expert opinion over yours.

Renaissance rediscovered Greece
>> It was only revived in the renaissance by thinkers who RE-DISCOVERED the wealth of Greek knowledge in science, art, medicine etc. <<

Tell me something I don't know. So we agree Greek civilization didn't influence Europe for a thousand years while other cultures did. In addition, much of that Greek "wealth" was preserved by Islamic scholars who added their own knowledge to the mix. That would make Renaissance Europe a mix of Greek and non-Greek influences, as I said.

Besides, it's mostly a myth that the Middle Ages were "Dark" Ages. Many evolutionary changes happened over the medieval period, leading to the flowering we call the Renaissance. As Michael Crichton put it in his well-researhced novel Timeline:

...[T]he truth was that the modern world was invented in the Middle Ages. Everything from the legal system, to nation-states, to reliance on technology, to the concept of romantic love had first been established in medieval times. These stock brokers owed the very notion of a market economy to the Middle Ages.

These developments were largely based on native European tradition and ingenuity. Other influences came from the Mongol invaders, the Islamic empires to the south, and trade with Asia. They did not come directly from Greece, since—as you said—Greek civilization was lost and buried.

>> But the Greeks were the FIRST to apply rational thought to them, turning them into the true science that we know today. <<

They were the first to apply rational thought systematically, perhaps. As noted above, the mathematics needed to build the pyramids and the medical knowledge needed to perform surgery were plainly rational. You can't do math "irrationally" and come up with correct answers.

Professor Sabatino Moscati, Director of the Center of Semitic Studies at the University of Rome, addresses the issue of Oriental rationality in his book The Face of the Ancient Orient:

Both astronomical and mathematical calculations and medical diagnoses and prescriptions undoubtedly exist[ed]: is there much point in asking whether the men who worked them out and drew them up were or were not aware that they were doing scientific work? They did it in fact, even if they had no theoretical conception of it as such.
...[T]he myth-making character [of the ancient Orient] is not to be understood as eliminating rational thought, but as including it in a higher unity. The Oriental is not unable to think rationally, but he feels no need to isolate reason as an independent faculty and theorize it as such.

I covered your point in backhanded fashion when I wrote that "...'scientific astronomy,' like 'scientific medicine,' is distinct from astronomy or medicine." That acknowledges the Greek development of the sciences. This development built upon the knowledge amassed in the Near East and Egypt. It did not spring miraculously from Zeus's brow or belly button.

>> Thus we have the miracle of Western civilization. <<

Which I've addressed in postings such as:

Multicultural origins of civilization
This ain't no party, this ain't no disco:  a Columbus Day rant
America's exceptional values

Who's in denial?
>> But to deny the achievements of one of the greatest in history to make one feel better about his own culture is hollow. <<

I didn't deny the Greeks' achievements, I put them in context. And what do you think "my own" culture is, exactly? FYI, I'm a white Anglo-Saxon Protestant whose roots are English and German—as you might've guessed from the name Schmidt.

>> Using your thought process, I can easily say that since the ancient Greeks were the most advanced sea faring people of their time, traveling as far as Ireland, it's not such a stretch of the imagination to say that they just may have brought their knowledge of astronomy and math to the ancient Incas! <<

The most advanced sea-faring people for their time...if you claim the more advanced Phoenicians were of a different time.

In fact, it's more likely the sea-faring Phoenicians reached the New World than the shore-hugging Greeks did. But—unfortunately for you—that would be another non-Greek influence that predated classical Greek civilization. Since you're the only one who seems uncomfortable with history here, I guess you won't want to admit that possibility.

>> Unlike you, I do not wish to re-write history! <<

Don't you? By denying the Mesopotamian, Egyptian, and Minoan influences on Greece, it sure seems like it.

>> In closing, I must say that I have found most of the articles on your site very informative and have gained an insight into a culture I must honestly say I had no exposure to. <<

Well, thanks!

>> Your culture is just as valid as mine sir, and I would never think to try to diminish the great aspects of yours <<

I'm glad you approve of my white, middle-class, Anglo-Saxon culture. My relatives who descended from William Palmer of Connecticut in 1636 will be glad to hear it.

But you're not trying to diminish other cultures by saying the Greeks invented everything important? Uh-huh, sure you're not.

>> please try to apply that ethos to your dealings with others. We are given the respect we give! <<

I've given Greek civilization exactly the respect it deserves, since I've stuck to the verified evidence. Now let's pay our respects to its predecessors:

From Standing Guard in the University of Chicago magazine, December 2003:

"The Mesopotamians were true innovators," notes [Oriental Institute] Museum director Karen Wilson, who oversaw the gallery's reinstallation, "and our heritage from them includes many of the things we now take for granted," including writing, mathematics, time, urban civilization, the wheel, the sail, and astronomy.

From Moscati again:

When Greece and Rome have been assigned their proper place in the historical process...we shall see how extensive, varies, and at times decisive was the influence which the ancient Orient which preceded them exercised in those civilizations.

I suspect we could find hundreds if not thousands of books with similar conclusions. For instance, Ancestor of the West: Writing, Reasoning, and Religion in Mesopotamia, Elam, and Greece. One reviewer wrote that this book stresses "the intelligence, culture, and religion that Mesopotamia has bequeathed to the modern world."

So I'm not trying to diminish Greek culture so much as the prejudices of people who worship it blindly. I hope this message has helped you see the light.


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