Alexander the Great and Philosophy

Intro

Alexander ‘the Great’ conquered half the known world by the time he was 32. His story is one of the most captivating in history. He is remembered as history’s golden boy.

He is the ultimate endowment of youth, intellect and heroism. He pursued an extraordinary destiny and burned out too soon to see what he would do next. The Greeks said, ‘Those whom the gods love best die young,’ (Gergel, 2004).

His victories against the enemies of Greece established him as a mortal demigod. He would surpass the bounds of history and legend itself.

In the space of 13 years, as a young man, he would manage to change world history. He would set a standard for the world to follow.

The Macedonians

The Macedonians were a rugged people from a mountainous region of northern Greece. They were seen as the barbarian kingdom of the Greek city-states. It was mostly a poor, farming community.

Alexander’s father Philip, created a powerful army. It was patterned after the Greek-style phalanx. His phalanx gave each hoplite a longer, 18-foot spear called a ‘Sarissa’.

The new phalanx was organized into eight to 16 rows that moved toward the enemy. Using the Sarissa it easily killed from a distance of 20 feet.

He started a full-time army so his men drilled year around. Through constant drilling he perfected the co-ordination of different troop types. This was an early example of combined arms tactics (Liddell Hart, 1956).

He used new the heavy infantry phalanx, skirmish infantry, archers, light and heavy cavalry, and siege engines were all deployed in battle. Each unit was separately and together used for its own particular advantage. It created a synergy of mutual support.

This new army crushed all opposition within Greece, including the famed Spartans (Cummins, 2009).

The Persian Threat

Across the Aegean Sea, lay the western provinces of the Persian Empire. It was the greatest power that existed in the world. It was ruled over by its king, Darius. It stretched from Upper Egypt to the Indus. It went as far north as the modern Tajik-Uzbek border and ran into the Aral Sea (Gergel, 2004).

150 years earlier the Persians had been defeated in battles at Salamis and Plataea. To the Greeks the Persian war represented a latter-day heroic age. The Greeks never forgot the desecration of their temples.

The World before Alexander’s Birth

As the Macedonians came to power in Greece they saw themselves as the avengers of Greek culture. Philip prepared and planned on mounting a war of revenge with his new powerful army (Gabriel & Boose).

By the time Alex is born there has been an entire century of war. It is between the city-states of Greece and internal struggles for power in the cities themselves.

Plato creates the swan songs of his dialogues the famous, “Laws.” In it the great scribe is deeply distressed by the civil wars. He describes the ideal city-state in the belief that this would contribute to the reconciliation of the states.

Up to the last moment of his life. He saw before him a vision of reconciliation which never came.

At the heart of this turbulent time, Alexander comes into the world.

Alexander’s Childhood- Aristotle and Olympias

In 356 BC Alexander III, is born in Pella to King Phillip II and Queen Olympias.

Two important people helped to the intellect of Alex. His mother, Olympias, and his wise teacher Aristotle.

Olympias

Olympias had an explosive temperament and sacrificed to the Olympian gods daily. She would talk to her son for hours and hours about the secret cult life of the Cabeirian mysteries, a cult she belonged to.

From his mother he learned of the allegory of metal and fire. Metals were the crude, unrefined material elements of nature. It represented coarse and simple people.

Fire was the spiritual light, which penetrates cosmic matter and the human body. That which reaches in the inner sanctum of the soul, and the mind to raise them up to be heavenly spheres. The embodiment of perfection in the spirit and intellectual form.

His mother would tell him of the heroes of Greek culture- Orpheus, Hercules, Jason Odysseus, Agamemnon, and his father Phillip were all initiated into this ideal.

From Olympias he would learn about the cult of Orpheus, his descent into Hades, the kingdom of Pluto and Persephone. The soul stirring myth of Dionysus, who brought Persephone back to life with a kiss. It was the awakening of the soul from darkness to the light. It was a metaphor on the importance of education.

A tale of the miracle of love and the unique Orphic songs all were stories about the path leading to divinity through great and heroic deeds.

Childhood

In his childhood years he learned to be pious and just- the virtues of a learned man from Greece. He learned to excel in every kind of spiritual development. His destiny was linked to his willingness to be able to submit to the wills of the gods.

He came to believe in the ideal that the most moral thing is the best shed the divine light of godliness on his soul, which passionately sought to identify with the will of the gods.

This created within him the aspiration to unite men with divinity itself. From a young age he believed that man was a part of the gods. A man could be defied as an individual who seeks to become part of universal divinity.

Olympias’ real legacy was helping Alexander to understand the power of the gods in any kind of worship and in any type of cult. This would prove crucial later as Alexander made his way east.

Alexander believed in an ideal of a universal soul, universal humanism and the world unity of the people he would conquer.

Aristotle

In the year 342 BC, Phillip of Macedonia, hired Aristotle, for a large fee, to teach young Alex philosophy.

Their discussions took place outside the sanctuary of the nymphs, near Mieza, a beautiful place with caves in the rocks. Since the time of Plutarch, it has been considered a very impressive site.

Alexander would listen to his teacher’s views and advice with profound respect, attention and admiration. Aristotle’s influence on Alexander’s mind and soul was enormous.

Esoteric Secrets

Alex was introduced to esoteric secrets and the natural events of cosmology, geography, botany, zoology and medicine. Because of this he would take scientists of all these disciplines with him on every campaign.

Alexander listened carefully to Aristotle’s discourses on logic, metaphysics, and types of poetry. The importance of politics on a local and universal level, and, above all, the nature of the soul and its essence.

Aristotle believed that man had in his nature the power to create a state. In other words, he is a political animal by nature. Man can find his true vocation through the organized state.

Alexander once asked Aristotle, “What is a state?” The teacher answered it was a complex entity composed of citizens. A citizen is an equal member who can participate governing out and meeting justice.

Alexander got an idea of creating a happier state that did away with the hunger and poor conditions he heard about from the veterans of his father’s army. This change would take place when culture and knowledge replaced misery and ignorance.

Aristotle taught Alexander that if the government and the armed forces are the same hands, Alexander saw a road of civilized conquests, which was decried by his own destiny enforced by his mother.

The defining aim of the state is the happiness of the many, Aristotle drilled into student dogmatically.

Greek Philosophy

Greek philosophical schools in Athens and Ionia taught that even one man can rectify a whole community by his example. If a man thinks he has within him the power to change the regime of the state for its citizens to have a happier and more just life, this thought is a commitment to the gods.

The man is obliged to strive for its realization.

This thought is what fueled Alex to change the world map through his conquests. The words of Aristotle describing the soul and its substance were what gave birth to the idea for Alex to turn to the east.

A Shaping of Destiny

The meeting-point between Aristotle’s words and Alex’s destiny defined the victorious army commander’s crossroads in history. What defined Alex’s “greatness” was not his conquests, but for their essence.

This transformed the conqueror into a visionary and the defeated into beneficiaries of the supreme logic of Greek philosophy.

Aristotle taught Alex that his every move should never be based on chance. Everything has an aim and man must strive to realize that aim.

In battle, he who started the first movement must define from the very outset the main aim of the attack, and its essence, both of these constitute the why and because of the battle.

Everything was defined through its esoteric essence.

The body is the rented place of the mind. Every move should have, as its defining aim, the enhancement of the soul. The body dies, but the soul remains to enter the world of the gods. At the crossroads of the suns or into Hades, the dark of Pluto.

Or- What we do life echoes in eternity!

Aristotle helped to forge the scope, speed, and brilliance of his intellect in making military decisions. At the tough battles, he waged at Gaugamela and Hydaspes he was able to make movements that would inflict damage on the enemy.

Bibliography:

Cummins, J. (2009). History’s Greatest Wars. New York : Crestline Publishing .

Gabriel, R. A., & Boose, D. W. (n.d.). The Great Battles of Antiquity A Strategic and Tactical Guide to Great Battles that Shaped the Development of War . Westport, Connecticut : Greenwood Press .

Gergel, T. (2004). Alexander the Great: Selected Texts from Arrian, Curtius and Plutarch . New York : Penguin Group .

Liddell Hart, B. S. (1956). Strategy. London: G. Bell & Sons .

 

 

Turning 40 at Fort Dix, NJ

Fort Dix, NJ- July 7, 2015 I turned 40 today. On the bright side of things you no longer have to worry about being middle age once you turn 40, I am officially a quadragenarian now, lol.

Odds are I will live to be double the age I am now. Good, tough genes on both sides of my family. I think your 20’s are where you learn how to be an adult and your 30’s is where you learn what you want. Maybe your 40’s are where you put it all together.

My 20’s were action packed and filled with adventure as I traveled all over the world for the first time. My 30’s were some of the same with me trying to “find myself.” I think I may be the worst example of the old adage, “All who wander are not lost,” I am still lost and looking.

At 38, I started to finally grow up. In the last six months of being 39 I did one of the greatest transformations of my life. I found love for the first time and started a new career (for the *cough* fourth time, *cough*).

The bravest thing I ever did was to start writing full-time. I am a compulsive writer and it is what I love to do most in the world, I can’t even help myself. I need to go to some meeting and say, “Hi, my name is Dom. I am a compulsive writer and I love to read books.”

Learning how to write is a great excuse to read good books, it’s how you learn to write better. My biggest regret as I didn’t have the courage to start writing earlier in my life because I was afraid to fail.

The best lesson I learned so far is how to do things even when you are afraid, I learned that in Iraq. Believe me, I am Mr. Anxiety and Make-A-Plan guy. I am always looking at all the angles, trying to figure stuff out. There is always a reason “NOT” to do something.

You should do things you love and give you pleasure. Life is short, and a little fun each day is what makes the hard work worthwhile. I see the lines around my eyes and the gray in my hair, or what’s left of it. I have a constant roll of flab around my stomach no matter how well I eat or how far I run, but what matters is that I am happy and healthy. I do need to eat more salad and less fries, something else I am working on.

I have learned that being “older” now of days is much more subjective. There are twenty-years-olds who are married with full-time jobs. There are forty-year-olds who are in graduate school, some of them living with their parents. Maybe it’s all about balance. In your 20’s, you live life without regrets. In your 30’s, you have lots of regrets.

At 40 you just learn to live life. You learn to defy labels because something has happened when all the stuff you really cared about when you younger smooths out because you realize you have some time left in the world. At 40 you are old enough to know better, but still young enough to do something about it. End of sermon.

Teaching Command & General Staff College

The class is going great. It was only the first day yesterday, but it went fantastic. We have a great group of 16 eager Majors with a wealth of experience. They are a diverse group. Most are traditional National Guardsmen and Reservists, but we have a three full-timers who are Active Guard and Reserve.

We have an attorney, a Blackhawk pilot, both females. We have a finance guy who was an Infantry Officer and now works as his state’s budget officer. Another student is a Signal Officer who is a full-time Admin Officer for his Infantry Battalion back home.

Most of them come from the Northeastern United States and up and down the East Coast. They hail from as far north as Connecticut and as far south as South Carolina.  Most of them are in their late 30’s, with a handful in their late 40’s. We have only two Combat Arms guys, the rest are Combat Service or Service Support.

One gentleman is a 58 year old Lieutenant Colonel who is a veterinarian.  He did ILE for “fun” and is signing up for more training when he gets done. He lives 20 minutes outside the back gate of Fort Dix, interesting guy. Almost all have a Master’s Degree and all but one have multiple tours in Iraq, Afghanistan and Bosnia.

They are a dynamic group and the discussion that followed in our first 45 minutes showed they are ready to work. They are a slice of America and where our army is headed. By the looks of this group the army and this country are in good hands. The state of the world is ticklish enough and no one can be sure what will happen next (what else is new?).

These fine Americans are the best we have and the future is looking bright. Let me explain a little bit about why I think that. These young men and women are veterans with lots of experience who has barely done what they were first trained for during their deployments.

We have a Signal Officer who did two tours in Iraq doing Route Reconnaissance and Convoy Security missions. We have a Military Policeman who is a State Finance Officer and an Infantry Officer that is his brigade’s Public Affairs Officer.

They are the men and women of the National Guard and Army Reserve who get vague and ambiguous missions and make it work. They straddle two worlds being “citizen-soldiers” wearing a uniform one day and a suit and tie the next.

They are the workhorse of the “ready reserve,” they are seasoned troops and commanders with loads of experience to apply to strange missions like counterinsurgency or nation-building, odd tasks we barely have names for but they get the job done.

I turned 20 at Airborne School, I turned 30 in Iraq, and I can’t think of a better place to turn 40. It is a wonderful place to be at Fort Dix and seeing these amazing Majors in action is a real privilege and pleasure.

Alexander the Great

Intro

Alexander the Great’s is one of the great stories of history. In 13 short years he created the largest empire in the entire ancient world. An empire that covered 3,000 miles.

He did this without the benefit of modern technology and weaponry. In his day, troop movements were primarily on foot, and communications were face to face. Not bad for a kid who became the King of Macedon at the age of 20.

Alexander’s Timeline:

The Boetian Plains-August 338 BC

Alexander’s debut in battle under his father King Phillip II. Alexander led the elite “Companion Calvary” to a decisive victory.

336 BC King Phillip II is assassinated and Alexander becomes the King of Macedonia.

335 BC Alexander destroys Thebes, killing over 6,000 men, women, and children.

Granicus Rover- May 334 BC

Alexander’s first battle as King. First battle with the Persians whom Alexander’s father, Phillip II had always wanted to attack, but died before doing so.

333 BC Alexander cuts the Gordian knot, fulfilling a prophecy granting him the title, ruler of Asia.

Issus- Fall 333 BC

Battle against Darius III, King of Persia. Victorious, Alexander’s men looted the Persian camp, but left his family unharmed.

332 BC Egypt surrenders to Alexander and he crowned Pharaoh in Memphis, Egypt.

Gaugamela- Fall 331 BC

King of Persia, Darius III, offered Alexander land and a daughter for marriage in return for peace, but Alexander refused.

King Darius III flees after his defeat.

331BC the Oracle at Siwa confronts Alexander as a God. His army destroys the Persians led by Darius at the Battle of Gaugamela.

330BC Alexander sacks and burns Persepolis.

327BC Alexander marries Roxanne, his first wife.

Hydaspes (Now Jhelum) River- August 327 BC

Battle against Porus, ruler of extensive territory in the Punjab in Northern India. After capturing Porus, Alexander returned his kingdom, so long as Porus remained loyal to Alexander.

This battle proved to be the end of Alexander’s dreams of world conquest when his men refused to go any further.

323BC Alexander falls ill at a celebration.

321BC Alexander’s funeral procession is hijacked.

Consequences of the Greek Invasion

The prominent commander, Ptolemy noted, the result was always as Alexander had seen it from the start of the battle. Arrianus also wrote, Alex had the wonderful power of seizing the right movement, even when the situation looked nebulous.

From the time he landed in Asia, Alexander knew that he had to create his own kingdom there in order to win the willing cooperation of his subjects. The training began with young children from Sardis, who would become soldiers in his kingdom.

He developed the rivers- the Indus, the Tigris, and the Euphrates. They became floating roadways for trade. He organized a new system of irrigation in Mesopotamia.

His capacity to think ahead of each new project were verified in shipping especially between the Persian the Gulf and Indus River delta.

Alexander as a Military Commander

Alexander had an army of 40,000 men. His army continued to change as he marched east. At any time he had 5,100 cavalry and 33,000 infantry. The basic building block of his army and main weapon was his Macedonian contingent: 1,200 Companion Calvary and 12,000 infantry.

He repeatedly demonstrated an ability to successfully fight campaigns in every theatre of war in the ancient world had to offer. His naval experience was limited to the later stages of the siege of Tyre.

His greatest trait was his ability to adapt. He continuously adapted his strategies and tactics to every emerging circumstance.

He had an ability to analyze the evolving circumstances that the Afghanistan region presented. He and changed the organization of the army to deal with the new threat of guerrilla warfare.

Alexander’s sense of timing during his set-piece battles was also remarkable.

Alexander’s fundamental tactic was to attack in more than one direction simultaneously. We see this in his set-piece battles where he times his attacks so that the Companion Cavalry strike the flank of the enemy infantry at the same time the heavy infantry attack from the front.

His use of all the technology of his day was new and innovative. From siege engines, artillery, scaling ladders along using his cavalry and infantry in a combined effort to win a battle.

His use of subordinate commanders was important. Any successful general requires his subordinates to have some measure of ability. Alexander needed his orders to be conveyed to the rank and file, and he needed them to be carried out. This would not have happed with a less talented bunch.

Alexander’s Legacy

Alex grew up in a kingdom that was continually at war. Within the depths of his soul he had to disregard any kind of danger. He was always at the forefront of every battle. His leadership was about leading by physical example.

Based on his reading of ‘The Iliad’ and the example of Achilles, he considered a real hero to be one who based glory on bravery. He believed a real leader had to set an excellent example for his men by active participation in a battle.

The Aristotelian model of heroes, which Alexander had to imitate in his life, not only to reach their level but to suppress them. Phillip, Kairos, Hercules and Dionysus all were heroes in the mind of Alexander.

At this point Arrianus writes, if he had added Europe to Asia, which he was competing with himself because there was no rival.

As he went into each new country, he brought with him Greek culture in wisdom, art, education and language. Alexander established cities in Asia whose leaders were Greeks familiar with democratic institutions and the principles of justice government.

Alexander zealously established Greek schools everywhere. In his “Ethics,” Plutarch informs us that when Alexander died, the procedure of new schools was already under way. Greek culture was spreading to a new generation.

Alexander brought civilization to Asia, the reading material in the elementary schools was the epics of Homer. The works of Sophocles and Euripides were studied by teenagers.

Alexander was the bearer of Greek civilization. His influence in education left its mark on the people he conquered.

How he is remembered by history

Alexander’s empire left strange debris in its wake: lost cities, blue-eyed Indians, exotic treasures, and ancient manuscripts. His story is told over and over again in songs, poems, myths and legends.

He is remembered in the as a scourge in the biblical Book of Daniel as the ‘Third Beast who unleashes a bloody tide of humanity. In the Koran, he is the mysterious avenger of the ‘Two-Horned One’ who builds a magical wall to keep out Gog and Magog. They are the evil ones who will ravage the Satan in man’s last days.

He is the subject of desire, fantasy and fear in almost every culture he touched. He is the embodiment of manifest destiny. A real-life Superman who achieved anything beyond his wildest on a scale never seen before or since.

Alexander’s campaign was the first globalizing experience of the ancient world. As a result of his conquests Greek art and thought accelerated and deepened the exchange of ideas. All of this was done in the heartland of civilization.

Bibliography:

Cummins, J. (2009). History’s Greatest Wars. New York : Crestline Publishing .

Gabriel, R. A., & Boose, D. W. (n.d.). The Great Battles of Antiquity A Strategic and Tactical Guide to Great Battles that Shaped the Development of War . Westport, Connecticut : Greenwood Press .

Gergel, T. (2004). Alexander the Great: Selected Texts from Arrian, Curtius and Plutarch . New York : Penguin Group .

Liddell Hart, B. S. (1956). Strategy. London: G. Bell & Sons .

 

 

The Peloponnesian War.

Intro

This is a brief account of the Peloponnesian War. I tried to put into perspective by using popular culture references like movies and books.

The hardest thing is the names. This is where most folks get lost. But hold fast, we are going to be looking at some other exciting times in history. My job is to lead us through this rabble of dates and times to show us how it’s all tied together.

We looked at the two most exciting books of the ancient world- ‘The Iliad’ and ‘The Odyssey’. We had to see how recorded history started and why these two great works matter to men fighting and dying in these wars.

Literature (movies, art and books) all our expressions of a national identity and culture they represent. This will be important down the road as we look at why the Islamists attacked us. What is going on today in Iraq and Afghanistan and what it means for us.

I am afraid our involvement in that part of the world is far from over. Understanding it is important. I will inch us there a day at a time in less than 1,000 words each day.

Thucydides

The incomplete text written by Thucydides recounts the history of the Peloponnesian war. It famously ends mid-sentence in 411 BC, several years before the conclusion of the war.

Thucydides Picture

Explanations of the names

Lacedaemon- the capital was named Sparta. Lacedaemon has too many syllables so the stoic warriors of Lacedaemon were forever known as Spartans. That is why their symbol is the Greek alphabet “Lamda” on their shields in the movie “The 300.”

king-leonidas-the-battle-of-thermopylae-300

Many of the Greek city-states warriors were named after their capitals. The largest city was Athens. So, all the tribes that fought on one side in the Peloponnesian war were the Athenians and the other side was the Spartans.

In the classical tale ‘The Illiad’,the Greeks are often referred to as “Achaeans,” the name of a large tribe occupying Greece during the Bronze Age.

It just makes it easier to keep track of the largest armies. Much like the Allies (Britain, United States) and Axis (Japan, Germany, Italy) in World II. There were actually large confederations of states in all these wars, but you would lose the reader by making it too complicated.

Background

Before the Peloponnesian war Sparta and Athens had been respective allies in a long struggle (499-488 B.C.) against the Persian Empire.

An alliance of Greek city-states fought in the movie “The 300” at the Battle of Thermopylae was. King Leonidas led the alliance of Sparta against the Persian Empire of Xerxes I. The battle took place over the course of three days during the second Persian invasion of Greece in August or September 480 BC, at the narrow coastal pass of Thermopylae (‘The Hot Gates’).

King Leonidas

Simultaneously the naval battle at Artemisium featured in the sequel to “The 300” took place. The Persian invasion was a delayed response to the defeat of the first Persian invasion of Greece, which had ended by the Athenian victory at the Battle of Marathon in 490 BC.

Xerxes had amassed a huge army and navy, and set out to conquer Greece. The Athenian general Themistocles (hero of the second movie) had proposed that the allied Greeks block the advance of the Persian army at the pass of Thermopylae. At the same time, the Greeks blocked the Persian navy at the Straits of Artemisium.

Victory, however glorious it was, brought dissent.

The Peloponnesian War

Fought in Greece the Peloponnesian war lasted from 431 to 404 BC between the Athenian empire and the Peloponnesian League- an alliance of city-states led by Sparta (Lacedaemon).

Peloponnesian War

50 years before the outbreak of hostilities in 431 BC, the city-state of Athens had accumulated enormous monetary reserves and extensive political influence in the Aegean region and beyond.

Athens’ political supremacy led to empire. Her traditional enemies viewed Athenian ascendancy with suspicion. Opposition to Athenian centered on Sparta, the nucleus of the Peloponnesian League.

For several years political tensions mounted. Diplomatic failures occurred until hostilities broke out. The war sputtered into life. Athens and Sparta took opposing sides in several minor local outbreaks. Over several years Sparta’s superior land forces conducted annual destructive invasions of Attica (an administrative region that encompasses the entire metropolitan area of Athens, the capital of Greece).

Athens’ superior naval forces conducted constant raids along the coast of the Peloponnesus (a large peninsula and geographic region in southern Greece where Sparta is). The war rapidly spread into adjoining geographical areas.

First Phase

The first phase of the Peloponnesian war, ranging from 431 to 421 BC. Marked by a series of destructive but inconclusive engagements. It concluded in an uneasy armistice. This phase of the war is sometimes referred to as the Archidamian war and concluded with the Peace of Nicias.

Both belligerents continued intense political and diplomatic maneuvering, accompanied by occasional minor military actions. Within a few months, the Peace of Nicias began to disintegrate.

Second Phase

In 415 BC, when Athens launched a massive military attack upon Syracuse in Sicily. Due to various factors, including an incompetent leader, the Athenian attack proved disastrous.

Most of the Athenian armed forces were annihilated in 413 BC. This second phase of the Peloponnesian war, thus resulted in a decisive and irreversible setback for Athens.

Third Phase

The third phase of the Peloponnesian war, ranging from 413 to 404 BC, is often referred to as the Decelean War, or the Ionian War. During this period Sparta gained help from Persia and successfully encouraged many Athenian subject cities to revolt.

The net result was a gradual but inexorable undermining of Athenian political power. It marked a remarkable decline in Athens’ naval military power. Following a disastrous defeat at Aegospotami, Athens surrendered.

The net effects of the war included widespread economic depression, the transfer of effective political leadership from Athens to Sparta, and the establishment of far-ranging political systems which endured many minor civil wars for the next several decades.

The results: The technologies employed in warfare were revolutionized. Historians nearly universally agree that the Peloponnesian war marked the end of the Golden Age of Greece.

Peloponnesian War Slide

The Odyssey and PTSD

Intro

Today we will get right down to the meat of second greatest works of fiction of all time.

Background

‘The Odyssey’ is one of two major ancient Greek poems attributed to Homer. It is, in part, a sequel to ‘The Iliad’. The poem is a fundamental part of the modern Western canon.

Odyssey Book Cover

The Story

The story centers on the Greek hero Odysseus and his journey home after the fall of Troy. From ‘The Iliad,’ we learn what a crafty and brave commander that Odysseus is. The Trojan Horse was his idea, and he led the raid into Troy.

It takes Odysseus 10 years to get home after the 10 year long Trojan War. They think he is dead because he has been gone so long. His wife Penelope and 20 year old son Telemachus must deal with a group of unruly suitors. If they marry Penelope they become King of Ithaca and gain her riches.

Penelope has remained faithful to Odysseus while he was gone. Telemachus hates the suitors and only wants his father, whom he has never met, to return home.

The majority of the story center on the choices that Odysseus muse make to get home. Themes throughout the book are the influence on events of choices made by women and slaves not just fighting men.

Odyessey map
The Journey of Odysseus

The beautiful nymph Calypso holds Odysseus captive on her island Ogygia. Athena, Odysseus’ strongest supporter among the gods, resolves to help him. Poseidon, the god of water, tries to kill him at every turn.

The story is really about the journey itself. ‘The Iliad’ took place on the battlefield while ‘The Odyssey’ takes place on fantastic islands and foreign lands. ‘The Odyssey’ is a tale of wandering.

In the end, Odysseus arrives back home. Using his wits he outsmarts all the suitors and reunites with his family.

Odysseus and PTSD

After the Trojan War, Odysseus sets off on his journey back to Ithaca. He survives encounters with the Lotus Eaters and Sirens only to face his ultimate challenge: the homecoming. Homer’s epic poem can tell us about how soldiers cope when conflicts end.

Homer’s ‘The Iliad’ is the first and the greatest poetic account of the first type of war: war on the battlefield that takes place far from home. But it is ‘The Odyssey’ that takes on the second kind: the war of the homecoming.

Even in antiquity the idea of reintegration was an issue for soldiers. There are some real lessons in ‘The Odyssey.’

There is a new account of the travails of the returning warrior, to state it brutally: it means coming “out of one war into another.” That next war may be the longest one of all. That is why “The Odyssey’ is the perfect vehicle to use to explain it PTSD. It is a long wandering to a happier place- An odyssey for happiness and to come to terms with your wartime experiences.

‘The Odyssey’ is a poem that we tend to remember as the hero’s colorful, salt-caked adventures on the high seas. In his adventure he encounters witches, nymphs and Cyclopes, and a journey to the land of the dead.

Through it all, his shrewd mind and fast wits he outsmarts the terrors in his path. He strives for a decade to reach his home after the sack of Troy. He drags his crew bodily away from the island where the inhabitants gorge themselves on the memory-wiping, pleasure-giving lotus. This is a metaphor for drugs or alcohol. Anything that makes a veteran forget his pain.

He withstands the ruinous song of the Sirens, who long to lure him to his death, by having himself lashed to the mast by his crew. This is a metaphor for suicide when the pain becomes too much to bear.

Odysseus is the original unlikely survivor, the man who always struggles free of the car crash and walks clear of the wreckage as the flames curl out. He constantly is beset by grief in the loss of his friends. His journey home never seems to end.

Just as he thinks he is about to get home another tragedy happens. More of his friends die and he continues to grind on. Throughout the tale you can tell it wears on the brave warrior.

The Story of the Second War

‘The Odyssey’ is the second war: the war of the homecoming. As Odysseus struggles to return home, he outwits the terrors in his path. His journey home never seems to end. Tragedy after tragedy happens. More of his friends die, but he continues to grind on. Knowing good men died while you lived. At times, it is almost unbearable.

This is a type that runs through storytelling from archaic Greece to Hollywood. Look at Sandra Bullock’s character in the blockbuster “Gravity.” I know what is like to live with this pain. Knowing good men died while you lived. At times, it is almost unbearable.

What to do?

The essence of the story is that of a veteran combatant who, after a long absence, must find his way back. Back home into a household, he finds threatened by outside forces and dangerously altered while he was gone.

Odysseus is at first unrecognizable to his wife. He comes back “a different person” – literally. He has disguised himself and assumed a false name. Most military spouses will understand the metaphor of the warrior utterly changed by war.

The necessary process of recognition and reintegration is accomplished, but only violently and painfully. And so, ‘The Odyssey’ speaks so urgently to our times.

‘The Odyssey’ invites us to ask important questions, as all great literature does.

Remember Odysseus name in Greek means, “man who suffers.”

Can soldiers ever, truly, return home? Will they “recognize” their family, and vice versa? Can they survive not just the war itself, but the war’s aftermath? Will they, in some dread way, bring the war home with them? The Odyssey says: you thought it was tough getting through the war. Now, see if you can get through the homecoming.

So are the experiences of these two, man and wife, Odysseus and Penelope are intertwined. They are made the same by the poet. There is recognition of the importance of this – the equality of experience and of pain – among the long-enduring wives in the David Finkel’s book “Thank You for Your Service.”

One in particular identifies the possibility of healing in her husband’s coming to see that, “…he could tell her anything about the war, anything at all. That she wanted to hear it. That she could take it.”

At the end of the poem, Odysseus and Penelope go to bed, they loosen their limbs in love, and tell each other stories about the war.

In the end, it is possible to come home. But you must first realize you are different, the times have changed and in recognizing this you can heal.

The Odyssey

 

 

Visiting French Lick, Indiana

Military history is what I know and love, but my second favorite thing is travel. I love telling you about neat places and interesting people I met.

French Lick, IN- June 6, 2015

I visited a beautiful place in Southern Indiana.

I love Indiana. Folks in the Hoosier State are highly law-abiding citizens who at the same time are a happy-go-lucky, easy going folks. They wave to you as you walk down a country road or get over from the passing lane to let you drive by.

Hoosiers remind me of Oregonians. They have a value system developed around a strong work ethic, modest integrity and helping others. Maybe it’s due to large agriculture communities and not so long ago both places were the edge of frontier life.

There is a practicality, piety and a reverence for military service. People in both places feel a strong moral obligation to help their neighbors and want to be involved in their community.

French Lick and West Baden in the heart of southern Indiana are the best embodiment of this way of life. With its mineral water baths that were rumored to cure darn-near anything, people flocked from all over the country to vacation here.

Rich clients that included Al Capone and several Presidents had a casino, live performances and horseback riding to keep them busy. There was a bank and stock brokerage on-site so business men could continue to work while on vacation.

Southern Indiana

All of northern and central Indiana is flat as a board, perfect for growing corn, soybeans and the raising of pigs and cows. About 30 miles south of Indianapolis the land begins to get hills as you push south into Kentucky. The hills aren’t big, but they are constant.

The scenery is majestic and the people are colorful. In the center of all this character in southern Indiana beauty of big trees and rolling, green hills is French Lick.

West Baden Hotel

The jewel in the crown of French Lick and is the West Baden Springs Hotel. The hotel went from being called the “8th Wonder of the World” to total disrepair.

A fire destroyed the original hotel in 1901, it was the Walt Disney World of its time. It was rebuilt in less than a year, but the stock market crash of 1929 cleared the hotel out almost overnight.

The hotel was sold to the Jesuits for $1 in the 1930’s and was a seminary until the 1960’s. For a stint it was a private college until 1989 it was closed for safety reasons.

Starting in the late 1990’s there was a $600 million renovation. Now the place feels like it did in the roaring 20’s. With the added amenities you get a world class resort.

It has a 100 feet tall and 600 feet diameter awe-inspiring atrium. It is jaw-dropping, mind-blowing, people stopping to stare beautiful. It is unparalleled in its majesty.

Palm trees grow here and birds have free range and on a sunny day, you will think you are in the middle of a sunny Italian countryside. It is a beautiful in photos, but so much better as an experience in-person. Balcony rooms make you feel like you can touch the sky.

French Lick Springs Resort

A mile to the west of the West Baden Hotel is the French Lick Springs Resort Spa. Time seems to slow as you enter the Crystal Lobby, it is like taking a step back in time.

There is a veranda with a golden banister and the crystal chandeliers cast the perfect light on the softly colored, Italian marble. It made me think of the Grand Ballroom in Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby.”

The last scene is a Norman Rockwell dream of summer in Indiana: the girlfriend and I are sitting on the front porch of the hotel in white, creaking rocking chairs. We can hear the tittering of lazy summer sprinklers that accents the smell of fresh cut grass, we are sipping sweet tea chilled by ice making the glass sweat.

We hear the laughter of children playing in front of us, and behind us is a small old-time jazz band belting out a familiar but forgotten tune. We watch a horse-drawn carriage go by with the driver giving a tour of the place.

The last soft streaks of the setting sun disappear over the horizon. It has been a great day.

The Spartans and the Battle of Thermopylae

Intro

This is where stuff begins to get exciting. In the intro to the Greco-Persian wars we examined the concept of East versus West. We are watching this unfold today from 9/11 although way to Iraq today. But first we need to examine the subjects and battle of the movie “The 300.”

King Leonidas

East versus West

For 2,500 years there has been a “clash of civilizations” between the East and the West. It has been a battle of ideas and beliefs. It began with ancient Greece- the ancestors of Western Democracy and Persian Empire- the ancestors of ISIS, Al Qaeda and the modern Middle East.

History swept to Rome, which is credited for the modern concepts of citizenships and the rule of law. Although Christianity was born in the East it changed by the time it arrived in the West.

Religion was used as a tool by the West to attack the East during the Crusades. This transformed the relationship between the East and West into one of competing religious beliefs. The secular against the sacred, ideas of the new world and modernity against those of old beliefs and ancient customs.

The West seeks to spread democracy, but runs into the secular values of the East. This was why airplanes were flown into buildings in New York City. This is why America invaded Iraq in 2003. This is what happening in today in Iraq with ISIS. How did this begin and why?

The Spartans

The Spartans are a difficult people to understand. They were superb warriors who played a crucial role in protecting Greek democracy, their own society was inward-looking, caste-bound, highly stratified, and unsociable (Cummins, 2009).

A group of villages formed a single city-state city called Sparta in the 8th Century BC. Once they had enough human agricultural resources their strange and disciplined civilization developed.

king-leonidas-the-battle-of-thermopylae-300

They were three layers of their society. At the top were Spartiates- they could vote and they made up the officers of the Spartan army. Next were the Perioikoi or “Neighbors”- free men who could not vote marched with the Spartans and acted as NCOs. At the bottom were the Helots, a workforce of farmers and their children.

In Stephen Pressfield’s historical novel “Gates of Fire: An Epic Novel of the Battle of Thermopylae” the story unfolds in flashback. Xeo, the hero, is a Helot a gravely injured Spartan squire who tells the tale of the epic battle.

He tells about the extraordinary discipline of the Spartans. Any infant boys with deformities are left in the hills to die of exposure. At age seven Spartan boys enter a brutal training program. They are starved and beaten so they learn to forage and steal.

This is what waited for the Persians when at the pass at the “Hot Gates” of Thermopylae.

Background

The Greeks thought everyone who wasn’t Greek a barbarian. The two cultures were on a collision course.

In 500BC, the Persians invaded some of the Greek city-states in Asia Minor (now Turkey) to discourage Greek colonies from revolting against their Persian overlords. The war lasted six years. It left the Persian King Darius determined to seek revenge on the Greeks.

First Greco-Persian War- Marathon 490BC

The first Persian invasion of Greece happens in 490BC. In Athens the decision is taken to send an army to confront the Persians, rather than concentrate on the defense of the city.

At Marathon 10,000 Greek hoplites confront perhaps 25,000 Persians. The Battle of Marathon took place was fought between the citizens of Athens, aided by Plataea, and a Persian force commanded by Datis and Artaphernes.

The battle was the culmination of the first attempt by Persia, under King Darius I, to subjugate Greece. The Greeks perform a double envelopment defeating the Persians.

Preparation

Persian King Darius dies in 486BC. His son, Xerxes (featured as the “God King” in “The 300”) prepares for battle and his march to Greece (484-480BC). He not only wanted to punish the Greeks for their upstart victory at Marathon, but he also to use Greece as a launching point for a larger push to the west (Cummins, 2009).

For the invasion Xerxes amassed the largest force of men and ships ever assembled, he sets out to conquer Greece. At the same time he sends an army of Carthaginians to overrun Sicily. The plan was to have the two forces open the gates to wealth and control the western Mediterranean.

Second Greco-Persian War- Battle of Thermopylae

“The Histories” by Herodotus is the primary text for the Persian invasion of Greece 500-449BC. It tells the story of one of the famous last stands in history- the Battle of Thermopylae (480BC).

The movie “The 300” is based on this battle. It is an overdone epic, but it does a great job of detailing the warrior culture of Sparta. The three day battle of Thermopylae was a critical contest in Xerxes’ massive invasion of Greece (Bradford, 1980).

Almost the only way for Xerxes’ army to reach central Greece was via a narrow pass between the mountains and the sea, at a place called Thermopylae, meaning “hot gates,” for its sulfurous springs (Cummins, 2009). Leonidas and his band of three hundred Spartans and eight thousand other Greeks arrive ahead of the Persians.

The Battle

With the roar of the sea in the background and the rotten egg smell of the sulfur springs the Spartans prepared for battle. Leonidas-whose name means “lion-like” and was rumored to be descended from Hercules- took command.

He directed the defense and barked orders with the urgency of both anger and desperation. He knew the Persian war machine was coming. The battle would make them legends.

On the first day the Spartans spitted the Persians on spears and hacked them down with swords. They baited the Persians forward by pretending to fall back only drawing the Persians further into the pass before falling them in mass.

On the second day Leonidas was faced with a decision to turn back and leave the pass to Xerxes or to die with honor. He sent back his entire army except his 300 Spartans, 900 Helots, and 400 Thebans who choose to stay (Cummins, 2009). His men combed their long hair, sharpened their swords and prepared for glory.

On the third day Leonidas fell and a fierce struggle began over his body. The Greek force drove off the enemy four times, killing numerous noble Persians, including two half-brothers of Xerxes (Cummins, 2009).

Surrounded on a small hilltop the Greeks made their last stand. “In this place,” writes Herodotus, “they defended themselves to the last, with their swords, if they still had them, and if not, even with their hands and teeth,”

250px-Thermopylae_map_480bc
map of the battle of Thermopylae

Unable to defeat them in hand-to-hand fighting the Persians drew back and killed the defenders with arrows.

Cost of Victory

Even though the Persians won the Greeks had won the psychological battle. The Greek stand of a few hundred men against hundreds of thousands of Persians was powerfully symbolic. The Greek forces at Salamis and Plataea followed the inspiring example of Leonidas and defeated Xerxes.

Xerxes was almost driven mad by the outcome of the battle.

The death of Leonidas and his three hundred men…was seen at the time for what it was: a torch, not to light a funeral pyre, but to light the heretofore divided and irresolute Greek people (Bradford, 1980).

Had there been no stand at Thermopylae, it was almost for certain that central and southern Greece would have fallen to Xerxes.

The bloody stand made by Leonidas and his small band Spartan army has become the very emblem of patriotism, courage and sacrifice (Bradford, 1980).

 

Bibliography:

Bradford, E. (1980). Thermopylae: The Battle For The West . Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press .

Cummins, J. (2009). History’s Greatest Wars. New York : Crestline Publishing .

Herodotus (Author), J. M. (2003). The Histories, Revised (Penguin Classics). New York : Penguin Classics.

Pagden, A. (2008). Worlds at War: The 2,500 Year Struggle Between East and West. New York: Random House Publishing.

Thucydides- ancient Greek General and Historian

Thucydides

Thucydides (born circa 460 BC and died circa 395 BC) is an ancient Greek general and historian. He is considered by many scholars to be the first to use rigorous methodology in the presentation of history.

Thucydides Picture

Very little is known of his life beyond a few glimpses provided by what he writes in his own text. At some point he contracted the plague, but recovered. He owned gold mines in Thrace (modern day Hungary). He served as an Athenian general in Thasos during 424 BC.

His work “The History of the Peloponnesian War” (431-421 and 421- 404) is his only surviving work. He was not only a historian of the conflict, but he fought in it.

He was the commander of an Athenian fleet against the Spartan invasion of Thrace in 424-423 B.C. His failure to defend Amphipolis from conquest by the Spartan General Brasidas resulted in his exile for 20 years.

While in exile in Athens, he decided to write about the history of the war. His account, his divided into four sections and eight books: an account of the Ten Years War (431-421 B.C.- Books 2 to 5.24), the interwar period (421-415 B.C.- Books 5.25- 116), the Sicilian Expedition (415 B.C.- 413 B.C.- Books 6 & 7), and the so called Decelian War (413B.C. – 411 B.C.- Book 8).

It was clearly written or heavily edited after the conclusion of hostilities in 404 BC, but nevertheless ends mid-sentence during the summer months of 411 BC. No one knows why.

Background

Thucydides tells the reader that he began his work sometime after the war began. Much of it is written in the character of eyewitness accounts. The twenty years in Thucydides telling, describes in arc of political and moral decline for Athens. Athens is defeated in Sicily.

This long war had all the social and economic impact of World War I and II in the modern age. The death toll was high and the war stretched into several generations.

The real accomplishment of Thucydides work is his attempt to be as truthful as possible. He wanted his history to be a scientific study of men at war. His writings was not about assigning blame but an exploration in studying power and the workings of man. He believed this to be the true purpose of history.

His work of history is a military record without social or political commentary apart from war. Much of the history is told through speeches.

Pericles’ Funeral Oration

The most famous passage of Thucydides; history is the funeral eulogy by Pericles. In it, he describes the moving ideals of Athenian democracy versus the harsh world of the Spartans.

In 431, shortly after the Peloponnesian War had broken out, Pericles delivered his famous speech. It is to commemorate those troops who had fallen in battle. It was recorded, and may have been rewritten by Thucydides.

It is one of the primary sources on which our understanding of ancient Athens is based. It provides a unique insight into just how Athenian democracy understood itself.

In the speech Pericles relates the special qualities of the Athenians. The speech redefined many traditional Greek virtues in a radically new light.

Historical Impact

Throughout history Thucydides’ text has been used by all the great empires as a learning tool. From the Romans to the British Empire in the 19th Century Thucydides was taught as a key text to understand the power and warfare.

His work became the standard by which all recorded history was later judged. Many historians compare Pericles’ Speech to Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. Whether Lincoln was inspired by Pericles no one really knows.

Thucydides Statue
Statue of Thucydides

Most striking of all, both speeches conclude by challenging the living to live up to the standard set by the fallen. “So dies these men as became Athenians,” says Pericles. “You, their survivors, must determine to have as unaltering a resolution in the field.”

I think Lincoln expresses that thought better: “It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion.

Thucydides-Quotes-2

Herodotus- The First Historian

Intro

Herodotus was the first real historian. A lot of what we know about Ancient Greek History came from him. Let me tell you an awesome story.

The First Historian

Herodotus (circa (c) 484-425 BC), Greek historian, is called the Father of History. He wrote “The Histories” (also called The History) considered as the founding work of history in Western literature. It is the first true history in recorded history.

Herodotus

It predates Thucydides (born circa 460 BC and died circa 395 BC) and his work “The History of the Peloponnesian War” (431-421BC and 421- 404BC).

“The Histories” was written (450c-429BC). It was his life’s work. It is the earliest extensive historical inquiry. At this point in Greek history we start to see literary works written in prose.

The work outlines the Greco-Persian Wars. It talks about the failed invasion of the Persian Empire into Greece, which ended in 479 BC.

Herodotus the man

He was born c. 484BC in Halicarnassus (modern day Bodrum, Turkey). He was in Asia Minor (Turkey) when the Persians were coming from when they attacked Greece. His perspective is interesting.

Herodotus Statue
Herodotus Statue

He is sympathetic to both sides in the wars, this duality is reflected in his writings. He is not seen as a “pure Greek” like the Athenians and Spartans.

He immigrated to Athens, where he taught. Finally, he moved to Thurii (in Southern Italy). The bulk of “The Histories” were written in Athens.

He is known as “The Father of History” but also been called the “Father of Lies” by both Plutarch and Cicero.

The Works

The works are divided into nine books. It was meant to one continuous work. It was organized into 9 pieces by later editors.

They were originally divided into 28 “logoi.” Each “logos” or pieces are designed as lectures to be given in public. Each sermon takes about three hours to recite.

This was exciting stuff in Ancient Greece. Whole days were spent listening to public lectures and learning. It was their version of TED Talks, lol!

He begins by tracing the history of the Greco-Persian interactions and climaxes at the Battles of Plataea and Mycale. No one is sure when the works actually start.

Some scholars say it dates the war as far back as 550BC. He doesn’t use dates. He ends up in 479BC when the Greeks are expelled the Persians.

Outlines of the Histories

Book 1

  • King of Lydia 1 (716BC-547BC)
  • The story of King Croesus- He conquers the Greek in Asia. He is defeated by Cyrus (560BC-546BC).
  • The Life Story of Cyrus the Great (? -530BC)

Book 2- This is the most famous of the books

  • The Land of the Egypt- Tells the physical description of Egypt.
  • Egyptian Customs and Society
  • History of Egypt and Min to Sethos (c 3000- 690BC) – Most of the information he collected came from local legends from Egyptian priests.

His descriptions of the pyramids and the great labyrinth. He describes them in detail and how they were built. He tells the stories of the Egyptian kings, queens and courtesans.

The pyramids were ancient even in his day.

Book 3

  • Tells the Persian king Cambyses’ expedition to Egypt. He aligns himself with the Arabs -which offers Herodotus an opportunity to digress on their customs and habits-, defeats the Egyptians at Pelusium (530-522BC)
  • Spartans make war on Polychaetes of Samos (525BC)
  • Magi Revolt, Persian Smerdis’ Reign, Darius Ascension (522-521BC) – Magi begins the invasion in Greece.
  • Reign of Darius with descriptions of his realm (521-486BC)

Book 4

  • Description of Scythia (modern day Ukraine) and Scythians
  • Darius’ Expedition to Scythia (513BC)
  • Libya and the Persians

Book 5

  • Darius’ European Campaign and Hellespont, Thrace (512-511BC)
  • The Ionian Revolt (499-494? BC)

Book 6

  • Kleomenes, King of Sparta, Aegina, Athens (521BC)
  • Marathon Campaign (490BC) – The Battle of Marathon took place in 490 BC, during the first Persian invasion of Greece. It was fought between the citizens of Athens, aided by Plataea, and a Persian force commanded by Datis and Artaphernes.
  • The battle was the culmination of the first attempt by Persia, under King Darius I, to subjugate Greece. The Greeks perform a double envelopment of the Persians.

Book 7

  • Details the Persian King Xerxes preparations for battle and his march to Greece (484-480BC)
  • Maneuver to the north; The Battle of Thermopylae (480BC)

Book 8

  • Naval Battles of Artemisia (480BC)
  • Battle of Salamis (480BC)

Book 9

  • Battle of Plataea (479BC)
  • Battle of Mycale (479BC)

The battles were on the same day. The Persians are defeated and leave.

Impact

Throughout “The Histories” Herodotus is extremely descriptive of the geography of what is called the “barbarian lands.” It is debated among scholars whether he was a geographer or historian.

To him history means inquiry, knowledge acquired by investigation. He was obsessed with the study of the past, specifically how it relates to humans.

He traveled extensively. Many of his descriptions come from second hand sources. He details it in his writing.

1280px-Herodotus_World_Map

Herodotus as “Philobarbaros” (barbarian-lover)

Herodotus is criticized for not being pro-Greek enough. This suggests that Herodotus might actually have done a reasonable job of being even-handed as an historian.

Greek culture was extremely xenophobic during the time of Herodotus. If you don’t speak “Greek” you are considered a barbarian of a savage culture.

It is very unusual not only to describe the barbarian culture and lands. Herodotus writes with very prejudice. Herodotus is “open minded” sees culture as a construct- this is unique in his time.

Herodotus the Credulous

“The Histories” contains some passages of rather ridiculous descriptions to modern readers. He borrowed information to write his stories. But most of his descriptions of Egypt are dead on.

Essential Reader

“The Histories” is the primary text for the Persian invasion of Greece 500-449BC.

It tells the story of one of the famous last stands in history- the Battle of Thermopylae (480BC). The movie “The 300” is based on this battle. It is an overdone epic, but it does a great job of detailing the warrior culture of Sparta.

It tells the story of the Battles of Plataea (479BC), Mycale (479BC) and Marathon (490BC). It gives detailed descriptions of “barbarians” cultures in and around Ancient Greek.

Herodotus Legacy

He is a key figure in the emergence of civilization. He was not a politician and but a writer. He shares the honor with Augustus and Constantine the Great. He wrote of one of the most important texts of all times. He is justifiably called “The Father of History.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Greeco-Persian Wars

Intro

“The 300” is an epic movie that is based on real events. The story centers of the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 BC during the Second Greco-Persian War. The battle is described by the ancient Greek historian Herodotus.

King Leonidas

Although a bit over the top the film delivers a few important messages. One is that war is the ultimate exchange of cultures. It is the extreme sharing of ideas, beliefs and ultimately men at war.

Leonidas (played by Gerard Butler), standing on a mountain of dead Persians, replies laconically to the Persian king Darius, “We’ve been sharing our culture with you all morning.”

In that movie and in history the Greeks represent the rational Western democracy fighting a desperate battle against the tyranny of eastern (read: Oriental) fundamentalism.

To the diehard fanatics of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) this fight is the other way around. Arab Islamic culture is steeped in oral history and tradition, today’s battle for the Middle East is simply another round in a long war. How did we get here?

The Greeks

Greece was the birthplace of western civilization. For a 1,000 years, this strong and charismatic people devised the most advanced technological feats the world had ever seen to that point.

A new generation of thinkers appears. Much of Western philosophy finds its basis in the thoughts and teachings of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. A new understanding emerges and a way to look at the world is formed.

Great feats of technology were created. How these people moved truly gigantic stones and created great works of marble is an ancient miracle.

Technological wonders were fueled by leaders who united a people and launched them to point of the empire.

This brilliant burst of culture and creativity would fall victim to savage battles that would pit brother against brother. It would be a duel to the death that would lead to the end of a golden age.

The Greek City-States

In Greece a number villages started to band together. It was done in part for protection and in part for more organized trade. Once a group of villages came together they formed a city-state.

There were hundreds of city-states in ancient Greece. Some were large and some were small. Each had its own army in the form of a local militia. Some were large enough to have a navy.

Each had its own traditions. All of them were linked by language and culture. Not too different than the way the British and Americans see one another today. To quote Winston Churchill, “Two people separated by a common language.” There were more similarities than differences.

The citizens of the area identified with their city-states. They would say there were from their geographical city-state. All though they all spoke the same language and worshipped the same gods.

The largest and most powerful of the city-states was Athens.

They banded together to fight when threatened by an outside force. Later they would band together to fight each other.

The Persian Empire

Started by Cyrus the Great in 559 BC the Persian Empire rose of out of the grasslands of what is modern Iran. Persia was the superpower of its day. Enormously wealthy and self-confident it dominated the world.

It spread from Pakistan in the east, west to through Central Asia, to Macedonia in the north to Egypt in the south. It was home to 20 million people out of a time when the world population was estimated at 100 million. Persia was the most multi-ethnic and multi-cultured empire the world had ever seen.

Persian Life

The Greeks thought the Persians were barbarians. In reality, the Persians were quite advanced and civilized. They built roads, brought peace to far-flung parts of their empire ensuring fair trade. They introduced the first coinage system to the world.

Persian aristocracy lived by knightly virtues of chivalry and courage. Where they differed from the Greeks was that they were ruled by an autocracy. The Persians called their king, “One King” or “Great King.” He and he alone governed all of the provinces of this vast empire.

Greek Ideals

The Greek city-states had a touchy relationship with each other. Like arguing brothers, they often fought over the smallest details. But when threatened, they came together. Brother, can fight brother, but no outsider fights a brother alone.

They shared a strong kinship of a strong democratic spirit. These ideals permitted open debate and favored representative government based on majority rule. They saw the greatest threat to this way of life as being ruled by one king. It was an idea of freedom they were willing to die for.

The Stage is Set

The differences of view of philosophy and political viewpoint set the two cultures on a collision course. As the Persian Empire continued to expand it started to look towards the Greek city-states.

The wars would last over 50 years.

 

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