Ken Plum: The glory that was Greece
From my earliest years of study of history, I was always fascinated with the story of Ancient Greece. A goal that I had for decades was realized recently as Jane and I vacationed for nearly two weeks in Greece. We were not disappointed as we stood on the soil and envisioned from the ruins the glory that must have been Greece.
Greece is one of the oldest civilizations in the world, and this column will use some broad generalizations to condense that history and create a context for the influence of Greek culture on world history. Linking the ancient classical Greek period and the Hellenic periods together, the Ancient Greek civilization extended from about 800 BC and lasted until about 400 AD. During this classical or golden age of Greece, the incredible accomplishments of the Greeks were recorded forever in history.
As an online entry describes it, “Ancient Greece is considered by most historians to be the foundational culture of Western Civilization. Greek culture was a powerful influence in the Roman Empire which carried a version of it to many parts of Europe. Ancient Greek civilization has been immensely influential on the language, politics, educational systems, philosophy, art and architecture of the modern world, particularly during the Renaissance in Western Europe and again during various neo-classical revivals in the 18th and 19th centuries in Europe and the Americas.”
Historians agree that Greek intellectual achievements have been unparalleled in the history of the Western world whether you are talking about philosophy, literature, mathematics, science, art, architecture, or mythology. Greek intellectual leaders like Plato, Socrates, and Aristotle continue to influence the way we think about the way we govern, what we value, and what our ideals are. Their architectural achievements continue to be admired even as most of their most successful structures are in ruin as much from war and destruction as from the passage of time.
While the Parthenon is but a shell of its original magnificence with the pillage, destruction, and weathering it has endured, its significance cannot be overstated as to what happened within its walls. I had seen some of the incredible sculpture that had graced the building in the British Museum as it had been stolen from the edifice by the British in its occupation of the country. The new Archaeological Museum at the Acropolis is ultra-modern and contains dozens of sculptures from the Golden Age and would be a most suitable place for the British to return the art they made off with during their occupation.
Making your way up the steep steps of the Acropolis is a long distance and a long time from Ancient Greece to today that encompasses many conquests, occupations and failures. I am glad that we went to see the remains on the Acropolis and the site where the first Olympians trained and competed. As beautiful as the country and the waters that nearly surround it are, the country is not a major power. In recent times it has been rescued by its neighbors.
Great civilizations have not endured forever even as their influence may still be present. Are we living in a time when our own glory might at some future date be described in the past tense?
Ken Plum is a member of the Virginia House of Delegates.