Alexandria's founded by Alexander

Alexandria's founded by Alexander the Great (by year BC): 334 Alexandria in Troia (Turkey) - 333 Alexandria at Issus/Alexandrette (Iskenderun, Turkey) - 332 Alexandria of Caria/by the Latmos (Alinda, Turkey) - 331 Alexandria Mygdoniae - 331 Alexandria (Egypt) - 330 Alexandria Ariana (Herat, Afghanistan) - 330 Alexandria of the Prophthasia/in Dragiana/Phrada (Farah, Afghanistan) - 330 Alexandria in Arachosia (Kandahar, Afghanistan) - 330 Alexandria in the Caucasus (Begram, Afghanistan) - 329 Alexandria of the Paropanisades (Ghazni, Afghanistan) - 329 Alexandria Eschate or Ultima (Khodjend, Tajikistan) - 329 Alexandria on the Oxus (Termez, Afghanistan) - 328 Alexandria in Margiana (Merv, Turkmenistan) - 326 Alexandria Nicaea (on the Hydaspes, India) - 326 Alexandria Bucephala (on the Hydaspes, India) - 325 Alexandria Sogdia - 325 Alexandria Oreitide - 325 Alexandria in Opiene / Alexandria on the Indus (confluence of Indus & Acesines, India) - 325 Alexandria Rambacia (Bela, Pakistan) - 325 Alexandria Xylinepolis (Patala, India) - 325 Alexandria in Carminia (Gulashkird, Iran) - 324 Alexandria-on-the-Tigris/Antiochia-in-Susiana/Charax (Spasinou Charax on the Tigris, Iraq) - ?Alexandria of Carmahle? (Kahnu)

Friday, June 14, 2013

Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea. Why the Greeks Matter by Thomas Cahill.

Quite astonishing what Thomas Cahill has to reveal in Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea. Why the Greeks Matter (ISBN 0385495544). I wish my history lessons at school had looked something like this, but maybe this knowledge is rather reserved for the advanced and intrepid readers – in all modesty! As much as Arrian’s book on the Campaigns of Alexander the Great is the key reading for everybody interested in Alexander, this book by Thomas Cahill is the one to get an overall view of our Western civilization, including an in-depth understanding of Alexander, of course.

This book is in fact Part Four of Cahill’s series published under the global name of “The Hinges of History”, comprising:
1. How the Irish saved civilization – The untold story of Ireland’s heroic role from the fall of Rome to the rise of Medieval Europe
2. The gifts of the Jews - How a tribe of desert nomads changed the way everyone thinks and feels
3. Desire of the everlasting hills - The world before and after Jesus
4. Sailing the wine-dark sea - Why the Greeks matter.
5. 6. 7. Are still under construction.

So many aspects of Greek life are being treated here that I can only mention a handful of the most striking or pertinent elements, like for instance Herodotus’ remark that “No one is so foolish as to prefer war to peace: in peace children bury their fathers, while in war fathers bury their children”. Nothing new under the sun, you’ll say as it applies to today’s circumstances as it did thousands of years ago.

One aspect that is being examined is that for the first time in history the Greeks invented an alphabet containing vowels meaning that reading was no longer a gamble, as opposed to the old Phoenician, Persian and even Arab words that had no vowels. This new written Greek language was so clear that even women (!), children and slaves could learn to read and write. The “secrecy” of written language suddenly disappeared, the curtain was lifted and suddenly a whole world became available to everybody. As a consequence, the centuries old oral communities (not knowing writing) that needed to do things together and required much more imagination, is now thanks to the written text replaced by individuals able to think for themselves, which in turn leads to rational analysis. All very logical, but I never thought of it …

And then there is the Iliad! Cahill states that it was a very daring enterprise for Homer to write a book that covered only the last four days of a war that lasted ten years! Yes, that is what surprised me too when I first read the Iliad, but it is even more amazing to find that the feeling of a ten-year-long war is so much alive in the book. After Homer we have to wait several centuries for new books to appear, especially longer works and extensive writings. This is simply due to the fact that it took a long time to import enough light-weighted papyrus from Egypt, so that the new texts could be “transported”.

Another aspect that is being highlighted is the Greeks’ thrive for competition, one that is still running through the blood of today’s population, I feel. Their need for competition arose in many different fields and not only during festivals or games. It was a way to catch the attention of the general public. This meant that one potter would take it up against an other, one stone-cutter against the other, and also the one poet against the other. The choruses singing the background tale during a theater performance needed poets to write their partitions. Athletes paid fortunes to have their prowess praised by a good poets. The burial ceremonies of important men needed poets to perform “funeral games” to sing hymns of praise that would surpass any previous one.

And then there is the subject of music in old Greece. It seems they knew something called “moods”, what we in our modern Western world limit to minor (sad) and major (happy). The old Greeks seem to have known five of such moods: Doric that was warlike, Phrygian that expressed contentedness, Ionic that sounded tempting, Eolian and Lydian. For the ancient Greeks, to live without music meant as much as being dead – that is what Sophocles said anyway. Looking at it from that point of view, it is evident that theater with its choruses is only a stone’s throw away.

Thomas Cahill also spends time to explain the Greek “symposia”, the event where men with the same interests met in order to philosophize and drink together. [The Greek symposion, became the Latin symposium, the plural in both cases being symposia – literally “a joint drinking”]. Clearly a happening that was not exclusively known in Macedonia, although they may have been and probably were rougher than what happened in civilized Athenian circles… These kinds of banquets were held in someone’s home, in a special room called andron, literally “men’s room”, while the idea was more that of a men’s club from the upper-class. The gentlemen were stretched on comfortable couches, wide enough to accommodate two or three guests together. They wore floral crowns (Oliver Stone must have had a very close look to portray the banquet held in honor of Philip’s wedding with Cleopatraate from tables loaded with all kinds of food, and were treated to music while wine was carried around by servants – usually teenage boys or female heatairai, literally “companions” in the style of geisha’s or call-girls. Young girls were generally kept away from these parties, at least in good society.

From the overall stories, one would expect the Greeks to eat lots of meat because meat was always used in the sacrifices to the gods, either sheep, goat, pork or beef. Yet nothing is further from the truth as the daily meals were simply fish (including shellfish) and bread. In fact nothing has changed much over the centuries since then and now the Greek cuisine produced artichokes fried in olive oil, or spitted fowl, fresh greens, fruit, nuts and even fat Sicilian cheeses (if they were lucky). It all was washed down with diluted wine – the amount of water to be added was the responsibility of the host.

On these occasions, beside the contribution of each individual guest, professional entertainers were called in to set the tone for a diverting and enjoyable evening. Soon the guests would rise from their couches to dance through the night, arm in arm, pounding their feet in a fashion not too remote from Zorba the Greek’s dance. This is described in a lyric way as if “there was a soul struggling to carry away his flesh and cast itself like a meteor into the darkness”. By the way, the word “lyric” was first used by Homer because this poetry was usually sung to a lyre.

Well, these are only a few facets of the many which Cahill is treating in his book which is in fact a true and thorough analysis of the Greek way of thinking and being. Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea is composed of seven distinctive Chapters:

The Warrior – How to Fight, examining the “Iliad
The Wanderer – How to Feel, treating the “Odyssey”
The Poet – How to Party, mainly centered on the poetess Sappho
The Politician and the Playwright – How to Rule, handling politics and theater plays with Solon, Aischylos, Sophocles, Euripides, etc
The Philosopher – How to think, a scientific chapter with geniuses like Thales, Socrates, Pythagoras, Plato, Herodotus, Thucydides, etc
The Artist – How to see, about Greek statues starting with male figure to which female figures were added in a later stage
The Way they went – Graeco-Roman Meets Judeo-Christian, which evidently treats religion.
To summarize, this is the ultimate book handling all facets of the Classic Greek world – extremely captivating reading!

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