I would like to just post a few thoughts on the inherently myopic and misconceived notions on History that still keep a stranglehold upon the Western historiography at present, resulting in confusion, and a partially parochial (fixed-pole-based) as well as a partially deficient command of knowledge of non-Western sources.
This critique deals with the place and context of a new book with the usually sweeping treatment designed to satisfy wishful thinking (perhaps unconsciously in this case):
It is truly sad to see that the readership even in this late stage of Western civilization (when presumably the level of historical understanding should be advanced) still falls for the basic inexpert interpretation of History that plagued this 'idealistic' World-view which has nothing to do with Historic reality.
Is it not time to emancipate the public perception of the Classical antiquity once and for all from all of these politically-correct, but historically highly misleading and ultimately ignorant interpretations of even the most regurgitated piece of History ever told (Greece and Rome)?
Even if the 19th century with its age of lavish Romanticism, Parliamentary-enthusiasm and never-ending revolutionary zeal aimed by the lesser individuals to overthrow the greater and overturn the Western societies (and their States) into something as liberally decadent and morally corrupt as the West in general is today - COULD BE excused for its relentless romanticizing towards the idealized Classical past (although Theo Mommsen did not allow himself to lose coolness under the pressure of wishful thinking), it is truly banal that works such as these (in this case by V. D. Hanson in "Why the West Has Won" (won what?)) are printed.
They mislead the public. At Salamis - it was not "the West" that was defended but a coterie of greedy little Mediterranean oligarchies (in which only one - Athens was a democracy), moreover, most of their cousins across the Aegean were enjoying the enlightened Persian overlordship (which did not take away any of their "native" practices for worldly-wise Persians could not care less what these little Greek-speaking city-states practiced politically inside their highly limiting city walls).
Slogans such as "Persian Tyranny Defeated Greek (by a jejune extension "European") Freedom" implying thereby that somehow the ancient Greeks represented the Western values of the past 1000 years, is patently false, ludicrous, highly misleading and extremely inexpert an example of self-deluding historiographical naivety. But even so, this is, sadly, still most likely the above-average intellectual output that modern American colleges produce these days, such is the sorry state of entertaining History research solidified around age-old misconceptions.
If the Classical World (greek, roman and etruscan) were somehow "Europe" (even though this never occurred to them), and we know that "Europe" is a late Cultural term designed to express the unity of practices and views of the 18th century on the little geographic extension of Asia where a new spiritual entity (roughly founded at the core during the Holy Roman Empire period) took root, and has no relation with the (by then long dead) Mediterranean World of the Classicals (which quite freely inhabited southern Europe, Northern Africa and the Nearer East - nothing else) - then Europe would have to include Africa and Asia because the cultural center of the Greeks was only partially on the European side (on the other: Ionia and almost whole of the Black Sea region, including Asia Minor and Lebanon/Syria were wholly Greek and Hellenistic at one time). Egypt too became Greek but ONLY in the cities of former lower Egypt (like Alexandria).
The static and entirely ahistoric lifestyle of the Classicals makes a mockery of these preposterous notions about some sort of unity across the historic Time between the ancient Greeks and modern Westerners. After all these numerous works written about them - Western scholarship has not moved an inch away from the misconceptions derived from the Age of Romanticism!?
The only reason that the Western Europeans paid so much attention to this aspect of the general past on this Earth - is that their own spiritual awakening took place partially amid the ruins of another, extirpated, civilization (the Classical) and because the Western European spirituality was deeply historical from the beginning (as such it has FAR more in common with Ancient Egypt and China than with Greece) IT HAD TO bring itself to analyze, to feel and to day-dream about what it must have been like in the days of "Caesars and demagogues". Having love for the Past is beautiful and important - but it must not allow for the sight of historic reality to be lost in the process!
So much other scholarship that could and should be written about the Classical world is sorely lacking..Who has as yet written a book about the Classical religion? Who has as yet analyzed the Stoicism of Greeks (Chrysippus, Zeno) or the Stoicism of Romans (Marcus Aurelius, Seneca) and brought it in a relation with the present? But as long as the battle of Salamis preserved "the West" wow, how pertinent!! Such a poverty of thought and feeling is betrayed by these materialistic and linear views of the past that arrogantly claim direct causality over 1000's of years of human epochs!! Sad.
The petty little city-states with all of their mutual suspicions, conspiracies and situational dramas (where there is no place for a strong and soaring "I" of the Shakesperean dramas, witness the hapless, unpredictable momentary challenges of Odysseus or Oedipus) where the worship of bodily perfection to the exclusion of any spiritually-radiant soulful attributes of the individual (because these ancients could not fathom the idea of open Space (which they feared and detested - as one can deduce from their incessant crowding-out of spaces in the background)) and instead glorified the bodily so much so that they refused to use drills in sculpture work (for it would break surfaces rather than expose them) but instead used chisels to emphasize the love of the amorphous quality of matter with no energy.
Ultimately, there was no Care (as there was not even a name for distant horizons) of any deep sort among them, their states were minimal in organization (Alexander merely followed into the footsteps of the Greeks who already invaded the mighty and superbly organized Persian Empire) and they lived for the moment only (having no concern and no understanding for either the Past or the Future (although they thrilled themselves with curiosity about what will happen by consulting oracles)) - which is evidenced in the Attic statuary, the classic sculptures - which are deliberately made to seem unaware of the spectator (unlike those of the much later Christian period who seem to have the spirit in them that looks back at the admirers). CARPE DIEM pure and simple....
The best that the Classical intellectuals could ever produce in terms of historical works - was in the form of contemporary accounts (the best ones were those written by actual participants in the events discussed in their books, e.g. Herodotus, Thucydides, Livy, Polybius, Tacitus, etc.) because their shallow sense of the Past transmuted events of the past into an immediate mythical backdrop of an immutable historical canvass (which overshadowed any knowledge or judgment they would make about events distant in time from their own present). However, their entire being centered itself around the ability to master the momentary crisis of the present - hence Thucydides was an able general and administrator who could master the moment, hence his personal experience accounts possess all that vividness so typical of Classical writings (Pliny too).
This is the same Culture that deliberately destroyed or made short-lived all of its achievements prior to sometime around 500 to 600 BC, and most Roman-era accounts in Italy of events prior to 300 to 400 BC were largely a mythical mixture of fact/cult and legends. In Greece (namely Athens) the same was true for the period prior to around 500 BC (prior to the Persian Wars). Such was their limited gaze that the Westerners many centuries later understood the Classical History better than the Classicals ever did.
How can a world that Cares so much see a continuity with a world that cared so little? It must be a psychological delusion at bottom (and not merely due to a political propaganda message of "love thy democracy").
While one ought to respect and know the History of the Classical peoples - one ought to understand it in its proper Historical context IN ORDER TO DRAW TRUE VALUE FROM HISTORY - and not a boring, politically-correct conjecture that is at the same time ultimately pointless in this form presented by Mr. Hanson. I feel sorry for those readers who will draw false analogies between the past and present.
false analogies between the past and present