Greek Civilization

Greek Civilization

Greek Civilization

Greek Civilization

Excerpt

The Greeks were, in their time, a people like other peoples. For centuries they knew only that slow, plodding, primitive existence that emerges, or fails to emerge, into civilization.

More than that. Throughout the whole of their history and even during the brilliant and manifold flowering of their masterpieces in the age of Sophocles, Hippocrates and the Parthenon, the Greek people--including that vital burning heart of Greece that we call Athens, that 'Hellas of Hellas'--the Greek people did not cease to maintain and even to cultivate the strangest customs and superstitions--so strange, so 'Polynesian', so purely grotesque or atrociously cruel, that the historian might well think himself thousands of miles removed from any kind of civilization.

Ancient Greece is a living paradox which illustrates the astonishing complexity of the concept of civilization and the immense difficulty primitive man had in wrenching himself out of a blind animality in order to contemplate the world as a man.

Primitive men always fear that Spring will forget to replace Winter. So every year in Athens, to insure the return of Spring, the people solemnized the marriage of Dionysus, the goat-deity or bull-deity, with the 'queen' of Athens, that is, the wife of the king archon who was the first magistrate of the city. On this occasion they opened a country temple which was closed during the remainder of the year. Hither the people came in procession, headed by the authorities who had been democratically elected, to fetch an old wooden statue of the god and to carry it, amid the singing of canticles, into the house of the 'king'. Here it would spend the night in the 'queen's' bed. The princess had to be an Athenian citizen by birth and to have been wedded, as a virgin, by her husband the magistrate. The marriage of the god with the first lady of Athens--not a symbolic but a consummated marriage: the Greek word indicates this--insured that fields, orchards and vineyards should be fertile and herds and families fruitful.

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