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Post 20

Wednesday, August 13, 2008 - 11:28pmSanction this postReply
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Phil,

That link's article refutes itself. It is clearly a system, however clever, that has established jurisdictional law over an established geographical area where the law was enforced.

If you owed someone money and didn't pay or if you committed a crime, you could have been made to pay and the "customs" or laws were known in advance and not optional. This was a state (or collection of states) no matter what you call it.

If anarchists observed the need for rules in logic, they might come to see the need for rules in society.



(Edited by Steve Wolfer on 8/14, 12:13am)


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Post 21

Thursday, August 14, 2008 - 6:49amSanction this postReply
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Getting back to the topic, Beauvais is a good place to see the difference we're talking about, between the Dark Ages and the high Middle Ages.  Just west of the cathedral is a a forlorn and unappetizing little church called the basse oeuvre from what historically careful people like Claude Shannon call the Dark Ages.  It's made of rough haphazardly-mortared with hardly any windows and hardly any thought to design.  If the cathedral builders had ever finished Beauvais, they would have torn it down, and this instructive contrast would be lost to history.

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Post 22

Thursday, August 14, 2008 - 12:19pmSanction this postReply
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Just a note to say Cluade [sic] has not been banned. I've simply taken to not approving messages with insults in them. He is free to post thoughtful comments as long as he avoids insults.

Awwwwww, jeeeeez....yous gize..... (shucks).

I knew you would find a diplomatic way of inviting me back.

Now for some "thoughtful comments":

1. Re Wolfer:

Christian apologists like to ignore the Inquisition as if it was some sort of misapplication...

Source?

The Inquisition (by which he means the Spanish Inquisition unless he wishes to clarify) lasted from 1478 to 1834, making it co-extensive with the Renaissance and much of Industrial Revolution, not with the Middle Ages (Dark or not).

Sure makes for some highly motivated and frantic historic revisionism

C. S. Lewis...a revisionist? Source that assertion, please. That Lewis's researches into, and statements about, the Middle Ages contradict your notions about the era doesn't make him a revisionist.

2. Re Ted Keer:

For those who care how actual academic and professional historians use the term, "Dark Ages" is now used to refer to the period in Western Europe after the fall of the Western Empire in 476 AD until the return of some level of historicity, usually with the crowning of Charlemagne circa 800 AD or the founding of the Universities, around 1,000 AD.

See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Medieval

But as I've already posted earlier, that careful distinction between the "Dark Ages" (more correctly called by professional historians "The Early Middle Ages") and "The Middle Ages" per se (meaning from the fall of Rome to the rediscovery of classical culture around the 15th century) is not observed by Objectivists, most of whom are NOT academic and professional historians. Your careful distinction was not observed in the quote I provided from AynRand.org, nor was it observed in the quote I provided from an essay by Robert Malcolm.

And by the way...for those who now wish to observe this distinction but still prefer "Dark Ages" to "Early Middle Ages", you might keep this in mind (sourced from above link):

Note 8: When the term Dark Ages is used by historians today, it is intended to be neutral, namely to express the idea that the events of the period often seem "dark" to us only because of the paucity of historical records compared with later times. William Chester Jordon. Dictionary of the Middle Ages, Supplement 1, 2004. Kathleen Verdun, "Medievalism" pp. 389-397. Sections 'Victorian Medievalism', 'Nineteenth-Century Europe', 'Medievalism in America 1500-1900', 'The 20th Century'. Same volume, Paul Freedman, "Medieval Studies", pp. 383-389

Dorothy Sayers, a noted scholar in medieval literature as well as a famous writer of detective books, strongly objected to the term [i.e., "Middle Ages"]. In the foreword to her translation of The Song of Roland, she writes "That new-washed world of clear sun and glittering colour, which we call the Middle Age (as though it were middle-aged), has perhaps a better right than the blown summer of the Renaissance to be called the Age of Re-Birth."

Dorothy Sayers, by the way, was a writer whom Rand admired. She also was no "revisionist" but a noted scholar of medieval literature. Her verse translation of Dante's "Divine Comedy" was, for many years, the official one for Penguin Classics, and her translation of the medieval French "Song of Roland" is still considered one of the great English versions.

There is no Objectivist Historian or work of Objectivist history that uses the term in the way that bothers Claude.

Please source this, just as I sourced above to AynRand.org and Robert Malcolm's essay (and I could also use Wolfer's later responses which continue to use "Dark Ages" synonymously with the entire Middle Ages). Except for Bob Hessen, I don't know of any professional "Objectivist historian", nor do I know of any work of "Objectivist history" (whatever that means...you mean, there are works of "Kantian history" and "Humean history", too? I don't understand your terms). So...CITE NAMES AND PUBLICATIONS OF OBJECTIVIST HISTORIANS AND TITLES OF OBJECTIVIST HISTORY. Thanks.

Re Robert Malcolm:

The correct spelling is "Christendom", not "Christiandom." Also, it would help tremendously if your clarifications of your earlier essays didn't take the form of merely reposting the entire thing.


Re Peter Reidy:

A point that Lewis documents amply in the quote that started this thread off, but whose importance neither he nor Shannon seems to grasp, is that this putatively sophisticated medieval mindset was a way of making do with the fact that nobody since Plato, Aristotle or Cicero had done anything important in the subject matters they addressed in the subsequent thousand years or so. No amount of cleverness, bookishness or intellectual complexity on the medievals' part can get around this, and that is why Objectivists think badly of the era.

Not sure what Cicero is doing there but we'll let it slide. If you're asking for a partial list of great names of thinkers who contributed in various ways to the intellectual understanding the universe as it was modeled in the Middle Ages, that's easy (in no particular chronological order):

Albertus Magnus, St. Thomas Aquinas, Peter Abelard, Avicenna, Averroes, Augustine (very early Middle Ages), Anselm, Boethius, Johannes Scotus Eriugena, Alhazen, Bīrūnī, Al-Khwarizmi (who invented algebra), and many others.

I might also remind you that except for some refinements from relativity and quantum physics, we still have pretty much the same model of the solar system and universe established by Kepler and Newton...I could just as easily say "nobody since Kepler and Newton had done anything important in the subject matters they addressed in the subsequent four hundred years or so. No amount of cleverness, bookishness or intellectual complexity on the moderns' part can get around this, and that is why Objectivists think badly of the 17th, 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries."

Lesson: when you have a model that works - that answers some questions, allows you to ask others, nicely explains observed phenomena, and allows you to make predictions (the Ptolemaic/Aristotelian model allowed predictions of eclipses many years in advance), don't throw it out too quickly. Like anything else in science: if it's useful, keep it.

Post 23

Thursday, August 14, 2008 - 4:29pmSanction this postReply
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Claude, how can I source a lack of Objectivist historians? Isabel Paterson's God of the Machine comes closest to an Objectivist analysis of history, although Paterson was largely an influence, not a student of Rand's. You tell me if you find a Objectivist with a graduate degree in history who thinks Queen Elizabeth played with King Arthur or knew Robin Hood.

Post 24

Thursday, August 14, 2008 - 6:16pmSanction this postReply
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Steve:

So, since by definition an anarchy cannot have laws, then anything that has laws cannot be an anarchy (regardless of any other characteristics). 

Cool.  I will have to remember this argument form for those days when my mind is on vacation...  Saves a whole lot of thought.


Post 25

Thursday, August 14, 2008 - 6:31pmSanction this postReply
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Claude, how can I source a lack of Objectivist historians?

 

So why did you bring up a non-existent group of entities in the first place? You originally wrote:

 

There is no Objectivist Historian or work of Objectivist history that uses the term in the way that bothers Claude.

 

Quite true. Use or misuse of a term on the part of two non-existent things has never bothered me much.

 

My original post merely said “Objectivists still frequently use phrases such as ‘the Dark Ages’…

 

And that is perfectly true. I scarcely need to add “except of course for two classes of entities that don’t exist: Objectivist Historians and works of Objectivist History which, if they did exist, would doubtless be very careful to clarify the term ‘Dark Age’ so as to pertain only to the Early Middle Ages.”

 

Objectivism proper has no stake in the misuse of technical terms

 

No one does, unless he’s trying to push an agenda. So why do so many Objectivists – such as many on this board and on the AynRand.org board – continue to misuse the technical term "Dark Ages"? Are you claiming it’s lack of knowledge on their part?


Post 26

Thursday, August 14, 2008 - 10:01pmSanction this postReply
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Is this the aynrand.org board? What happens there is of no consequence here.

To deny that noted historians exist is not to engage in a discussion of non-existent entities. You know this, and your sophistry does not merit further effort on my part.

Post 27

Friday, August 15, 2008 - 12:42amSanction this postReply
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Is this the aynrand.org board? What happens there is of no consequence here.

You're denying that those who post at AynRand.org are also Objectivists? I never limited my original post to “Sense of Life Objectivists on RoR.” I wrote

“Objectivists still frequently use phrases such as “the Dark Ages” to describe the time between the fall of the Roman empire and that rediscovery of classical Greek culture by Europeans around the 15th century known as the Renaissance.”

“Objectivists” = those who post on AynRand.org
“Objectivists” = those who post on RoR

Whatever small doctrinal differences there are between the two groups is irrelevant as to how they think about the Middle Ages. My two quotations -- one from there, one from here -- prove that.

To deny that noted historians exist is not to engage in a discussion of non-existent entities.

It isn’t? Seems to me that just by merely mentioning that “X doesn’t exist” is to engage in a discussion (however brief) of a non-existent entity.

To deny that X exists = To affirm that X does not exist = To engage in discussion (however brief) of a non-existent X.

So sorry, but that’s the way logic works.

We all agree with you: Objectivist historians don’t exist. Now, what has that to do with the matter at hand – the matter I originally posted above – such as Robert Malcolm’s conflation of the term “Dark Ages” to cover the entire 1,000+ year period from fallen Rome to “awakened” Europe?

And what has that to do with Steve Wolfer’s same misuse of the term, not to mention his chronological error of putting the Inquisition in the Middle Ages?

Still waiting for a cogent, simple reply to these questions.

Finally, what has any of this to do with the essence of the Lewis excerpt I posted above: that the thousand-year period we’re speaking of was intellectually fertile – in astronomy, physics, math, philosophy, literature, poetry, music, painting, architecture – and was not at all “dark” except for those who refuse to study it?


Post 28

Friday, August 15, 2008 - 8:08pmSanction this postReply
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Finally, what has any of this to do with the essence of the Lewis excerpt I posted above: that the thousand-year period we’re speaking of was intellectually fertile – in astronomy, physics, math, philosophy, literature, poetry, music, painting, architecture – and was not at all “dark” except for those who refuse to study it?



How drole - considering my source for the period was Art of the Western World......


Post 29

Saturday, August 16, 2008 - 1:04amSanction this postReply
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How drole - considering my source for the period was Art of the Western World...

By Cole? I doubt it. Please source -- as in quote directly from the text -- anything that's in this paragraph:

In the realm of Art, this was as much a case of devastation as elsewhere. Where once there were concerns with the complexities of the world around, the intricacies of details, from the crevices of the flesh of old people, the dimpling of the flesh of the young, or the shimmering folds of windblown cloth - no more, only phantasms with barely human faces, all much alike, like peas in pods, shrouded to cover formless bodies. Where once attention had been given to types of the plants and animals, seeking to depicting them as specifics sufficient to fool birds and people, or just to delight in the images - no more, just vague shapes, if even that at all. It was not just that there were no longer any interests in realism [tho the religious fervor was so overwhelming that indeed there seemed little if any such interests], but that whereas what interests remained, such became forbidden, and very coercively so - an affront [or threat ?] to the stated doctrine.

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Post 30

Tuesday, August 19, 2008 - 12:03pmSanction this postReply
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Getting back:

#22 claims in defense of the Middle Ages that ancient science "worked" for people of the era, and they had no reason to doubt, e.g., the old cosmology of circular orbits around the earth.  That is one of the most damning points you could make about the era.  They had no reason to doubt because nobody was looking for new evidence.  Observational data were raising doubts about the old cosmology even in classical times.  Ptolemy's system was an attempt to square it with these new observations.  Attempts to explain away new findings and reconcile them with received theory are historically an early stage in the fall of a theory.  (Phlogiston went through this in the 18th century and socialism in the latter part of the 20th.)  Then people stopped asking questions for about a thousand years.  If the explanations of Aristotle and Ptolemy were the best available until Kepler and Copernicus came along, I say QED.  The same goes for medicine and anatomy.  Aristotle cut up just about anything he could lay his hands on and gave us scholarly accounts of his investigations, yet nobody took the next step (cutting up humans) until the Renaissance.

Our contemporary notions of the universe have a lot in common with what Kepler and Copernicus and Newton found, but that doesn't make them essentially the same as European astronomy and biology in 1200 were essentially the same as they had been in 200.  Modern natural science has kept looking because it understands that its task is not to make the old guys look good.

You name twelve eminent intellectuals of the period in #22.  Five are Moslems whose accomplishments have nothing to do with Christian-dominated Europe, and Augustine belongs to the late Roman empire.  That leaves six.  My claim of no progress at all is an overstatement, but six heavy hitters in all those centuries, none in the natural sciences, isn't an impressive record.

I'll take your word that Lewis was an eminent medievalist, but he is much more famous as a popular salesman for Christianity, a favorite of the National Review crowd and of the kind of highbrow religionist who understands that agape is not something you eat at a cocktail party.  This is what he has to say, like a lawyer with a slam-dunk guilty client who insists on going to trial.  What the lawyer says may sound lame, but it's the best he can do and - who knows - some jury might buy it.

The entire Lewis quote flirts with a cultural relativism that is out of character for a Christian conservative.  My observation, and not only mine, has been that people go in for relativism, agnosticism or solipsism when they don't have a case.  Stephen Hicks is one of several who've noted that when socialists got to that point they called it postmodernism.

Finally, I mentioned Cicero because Lewis mentions him in #0, along with Plato and Aristotle, as an ancient author whom the medievals considered authoritative.

(Edited by Peter Reidy on 8/19, 12:15pm)


Post 31

Wednesday, August 20, 2008 - 2:53amSanction this postReply
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#22 claims in defense of the Middle Ages

The Middle Ages are not on trial here. What’s on trial is the superficial knowledge of many Objectivists who often mischaracterize all of the Middle Ages (not just the so-called “Early Middle Ages”) by calling it the “Dark Ages.”

that ancient science "worked" for people of the era,

If by “worked” you mean “provided a satisfactory framework of explanations that corresponded to observations (such as they had) and conformed to their metaphysical assumptions, then yes. Not only is that no different from today, but from a psychological perspective, their science “worked” better for them than our science “works” for us. I doubt that anyone except a theoretical physicist would take much intellectual satisfaction in being told that our universe is simply one of an infinite number of universes – some where water runs uphill; some where there’s no water at all; some that are complete empty; some that are densely populated; some in which the speed of light is other than what it is in our universe; etc. This “foam” of alternative universes is now called ominously “The Landscape” and is a staple of String Theory – in competition with the Standard Model (QED, Electro-Weak Theory, QCD, + General Relativity) to be the champion theory of cosmology and physics. Aside from its bizarre assumptions (which were made to simplify the Standard Model) and its lack of any sort of test in experience, I can truthfully say that it doesn’t “work” for me.

and they had no reason to doubt, e.g., the old cosmology of circular orbits around the earth. That is one of the most damning points you could make about the era.

Do you have any doubts about the Copernican system even though it isn’t actually true? No? Well, that’s very damning. The sun is not literally the center of the solar system.

They had no reason to doubt because nobody was looking for new evidence.

As a matter of fact, ad hoc additions were being made to the Aristotelian/Ptolemaic system all the time…so much so that by the time the High Middle Ages rolled around, there were something like eighty cycles, epicycles, eccentrics, etc. revolving around the Earth. Obviously, the lack of simplicity in the model was one of the great incentives to throwing it out. However, while it contradicted some astronomical data, it was also still very useful and accurate for other things: like predicting eclipses. That was also a powerful reason not to be too hasty in throwing out the whole model.

What really put the nail in the coffin of Aristotle/Ptolemy was not astronomical observation, per se (because, if one was willing to live without a simple model, one could always keep adding more and more cycles and epicycles) but a new understanding of physics; specifically the Newtonian idea that gravity is a kind of force emanating from an object, proportional to its mass, and weakening inversely with the square of the distance. Once estimates of the relative sizes of the Earth and the sun had been made, it was no longer possible to accept that the much bigger mass was revolving around the much smaller one. We must be governed by the sun's gravity, and not the sun by ours.

Your notion that somehow the intellectuals of the day, not to mention the man in the street, were somehow natively incurious about the world around them, is frivolous and unsupported by any scholarship.

Then people stopped asking questions for about a thousand years.

Not likely. See above.

If the explanations of Aristotle and Ptolemy were the best available until Kepler and Copernicus came along, I say QED. The same goes for medicine and anatomy. Aristotle cut up just about anything he could lay his hands on and gave us scholarly accounts of his investigations, yet nobody took the next step (cutting up humans) until the Renaissance.

I guess that might be a good reason to damn Aristotle, then. What was he afraid of, especially since his father was a doctor and he was trained in medicine? As a matter of fact, there are quite a few books published on medieval surgery – including their invention of some of the modern instruments of surgery (double-edged scalpel), as well as (surprise!) the use of anesthetics and some understanding of asepsis.

Modern natural science has kept looking because it understands that its task is not to make the old guys look good.

Scientists, like all other people, run with the pack. Their grants depend on it; their tenures depend on it; their careers depend on it. It’s as rare to find an independent scientist today as it was in other eras of history. Human nature doesn’t change.

You name twelve eminent intellectuals of the period in #22. Five are Moslems whose accomplishments have nothing to do with Christian-dominated Europe

I see. Now, when Objectivists misuse the term “Dark Ages” to refer to all of the Middle Ages, do they limit that only to white, Christian Europe, or do they include people of color living under Islam and Hinduism? I didn’t know that Rand so limited the phrase. Could you source that for me and find me an actual quote in which she (or any other notable Objectivist) excuses the Middle East and India from the general damnation of the Middle Ages?

, and Augustine belongs to the late Roman empire.

Not quite. Augustine is usually viewed as a bridge between classical and Christian eras. Many writers include him – his thinking, that is – in the Early Middle Ages. See:

http://www.philosophypages.com/hy/3b.htm

That leaves six. My claim of no progress at all is an overstatement, but six heavy hitters in all those centuries, none in the natural sciences, isn't an impressive record.

I didn’t know you only wanted to damn white European Christians. Here are some high achievers you can throw darts it if you like:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Grosseteste
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roger_Bacon
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Philoponus
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jean_Buridan
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theodoric_Borgognoni
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_of_Maricourt
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Duns_Scotus
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_of_Ockham
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Bradwardine
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Heytesbury
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Swineshead
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Dumbleton
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nicole_Oresme
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Albert_of_Saxony_(philosopher)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marsilius_of_Inghen


I'll take your word that Lewis was an eminent medievalist, but he is much more famous as a popular salesman for Christianity,

With the popular reading public he’s famous as the author of many books of Christian apologetics: fantasy (Chronicles of Narnia); science fiction (Perelandra); and works such as “The Screwtape Letters.”

The scholarly public, on the other hand, knows him as the author of “The Abolition of Man” (an essay on modern education); “The Allegory of Love” (on the cult of The Madonna of the Middle Ages evolving out of Ovid’s love poetry); “Studies in Words” (on a perceptible change in human consciousness through a study of the etymology of certain words in western culture); and “The Discarded Image.”

He was originally much better known as a medievalist than as a Christian apologist because he made his living as a medievalist: he was a don at Oxford. By the way, he also started out as a convinced atheist.

a favorite of the National Review crowd and of the kind of highbrow religionist who understands that agape is not something you eat at a cocktail party. This is what he has to say, like a lawyer with a slam-dunk guilty client who insists on going to trial. What the lawyer says may sound lame, but it's the best he can do and - who knows - some jury might buy it.

I take it you don’t like C. S. Lewis.

The entire Lewis quote flirts with a cultural relativism

I don’t know what you mean by “flirts”. You mean it doesn't damn an entire historical era outright, but even finds something worthwhile in it?

that is out of character for a Christian conservative. My observation, and not only mine, has been that people go in for relativism, agnosticism or solipsism when they don't have a case.

If it's out of character, I guess it's because Lewis was a scholar first and a "Christian conservative" second.

And what "case" is Lewis trying to make, in your opinion?

Finally, I mentioned Cicero because Lewis mentions him in #0, along with Plato and Aristotle, as an ancient author whom the medievals considered authoritative.

Lewis wrote that whoever it was – could be Plato; could be Aristotle; could be Cicero; could be Demokritus – the medieval was reluctant to disagree (or as Lewis puts it, to say “bosh!”). Cicero, however, had nothing to do with building up the cosmological/theological model of the Middle Ages.

Post 32

Monday, September 15, 2008 - 12:16pmSanction this postReply
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  Claude, thanks for your essays here.  That Ayn Rand glossed the terms "Dark Ages" and "medieval" is canonic.  Your essays were interesting.

In point of fact, I am working on a couple of articles about the Great Medieval Fairs.  They depended on sophisticated modes of trade and commerce, including agency and money of account.  Money of account, in particular, was a special invention of the bankers of that time.  It was not known to the Greeks and Romans. Medieval commerce depended on abstract units that were independent of the actual coinages.  Agency and contract worked across perhaps a thousand separate polities and perhaps a hundred social entities that crossed such lines.  I won't get into the "functioning anarchy" debate here and now, but clearly, there was no single agency of enforcement, and yet trust existed.

Objectivism, of course, has a strong Hellenist component.  So, it is easy for us to broadly nod to the reasonable Greeks and condemn the superstitious medievals.  Easy, though, does not mean right. 
What really put the nail in the coffin of Aristotle/Ptolemy was not astronomical observation, per se (because ...
Right.  The Copermican model was debated for 150 years until Newton showed that the orbits were elliptical as one case of the conic section demanded by the geometry of central force motion.  Even so, that the Earth is not the  center of the universe was not shown until Bessel in 1832 and that the Earth rotates on its axis was not proved until Foucault in 1851.  In fact, the reason for the debate in the 1500s and 1600s was that working from tables going back millennia, the Earth-centered system was a better predictor that the Sun centered.  The problem of Mars, was especially vexing because the sun-centered model (with circular orbits) was so obviously incapable of accurate prediction.

More to the point, perhaps, Aristarchus of Samos was generally thought to be wrong in his own time.  Archimedes attempted to measure stellar parallax and failed to find it.  So, Archimedes figured that either the Earth is the center, or else (hey, maybe...) the universe is fantastically larger than we imagine. 

Aristarchos argued for the large universe model, but he was ignored.  That is to the point here.  We Objectivists are hellenists by default, but if you closely examine the times and places with an open mind, you realize that while life can be sunny or sucky for days or centuries, life goes on pretty much the same all the time.  Why we have Golden Ages and Renaissances and (apparently) exactly one Industrial Revolution is a complicated question.  I believe that many factors come into play at the same time. No one thing makes or breaks you. 

Ted Keer has touted the works of Cardinal Mercier, a scholasticist of the 19th-20th century whose textbook on philosophy is, indeed, a brilliant work.  The Catholics were no more right nor wrong than the Epicureans or Stoics or Parapetitics.  I have a special fondness for the Cyrenians. Those much-praised Athenians expelled Anaxagoras, prosecuted Aspasia and voted to exile Socrates.   They also ditched their democracy and let an oligarchy slaughter people for their money. 

The Library of Alexandria was a great center of learning, but perhaps the better outcome was when Ptolemy VIII Physcon expelled the leading teachers.  When the grammarians Aristarchos (of Samothrace, not the astronomer) and Apollodoros fled, others left as well, and these scholars then lived on their own in other places, thus spreading learning farther and wider, all that c. 146 BCE.

 We pick and choose what to embrace, what to ignore, what to condemn, based pretty much on who we know ourselves to be inside.

Again, thanks for your work.

(Edited by Michael E. Marotta on 9/15, 1:03pm)

(Edited by Michael E. Marotta on 9/16, 11:59am)


Post 33

Wednesday, October 22, 2008 - 5:22amSanction this postReply
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Starting to write the first article on the fairs of Champagne, it is clear to me now, after a month of reading, that the Middle Ages have been unfairly ignored by canonic Objectivism. 

Steve Wolfer said something that is common to the mainstream of Ayn Rand studies, that Rome, riding on the intellectual power of Greece, was a time of general (if modest) achievement.  Actually, about the only thing Rome had going for it was sunshine: it was a Mediterranean landscape. Compared to the Middle Ages, the Roman civilization, especially the successful republic and Empire from about 88 BC forward, was a time of general poverty -- again, compared to the Middle Ages. 

Objectivists hate Christianity, so, seeing the medieval Church, denigrate centuries of culture, art, architecture and music.  However, perhaps the salient reason why the Roman Catholic Church was, indeed, Roman, was that state and religion were contiguous in ancient Rome.  Coins of Julius Caesar celebrated his priesthood as a means to enhance his popularity.  Of all the coins of Rome from 200 BC to 400 AD, I assert that 90% had religious messages (icons, images, mottoes, legends) on both sides.  Catholics call the Pope "pontiff" but "pontifex" (bridge-builder) was a priest from the Roman republic.  In ancient Rome, Church and State were One.  Jews and Christians were executed for public entertainment and called "atheists" because they refused to acknowledge the divinity of the emperor -- not usually the living one (though there was that) but of the dead ones who had been declared gods by the Senate. 

If we delimit the "middle ages" as being from 1000 to 1500 AD, you would be challenged to find any 500-year window in Rome's 1400 years that could compete in terms of new inventions, new ideas, new foods or new clothing styles, or a general increase in prosperity. In fact, that the Middle Ages were more prosperous than even the Pax Romana is easy to prove from numismatics, i.e., from the physical evidence of economics.

Were the Middle Ages a glorious and wonderful time, far superior to our own?  Of course not!  But, neither were they hell on earth. 

(Edited by Michael E. Marotta on 10/22, 5:28am)


Post 34

Wednesday, October 22, 2008 - 5:43amSanction this postReply
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Aesthetically, it might be considered somewhat differently...


Afterglow



The surprising thing about the Romans, artwise, was that they formulated so little in the way of originality about it. Almost all of their sculpturing, for instance, were merely imitative of Grecian ones. They just changed things like the drapery to the styles the Romans wore, or simply outrightly copied the popular Grecian sculptures renown from the centuries before. It is thanks to this latter, tho, that, as previously said, we have been able to gain, second-handedly, knowledge about them, since the originals are as yet still lost to us.



It was only in the arena of domestic dwellings - in effect continuing the process of the Hellenistic individualism - that there was anything in the way of advancement. That was the introduction, by way of their friezes, of landscape renderings. Most of the examples which have survived are of the garden variety - trees, flowers, bushes, walls dividing the areas, and the assorted birds and other wildlife nesting or flying amidst. Like their still-lifes, which also flourished in popularity, the landscape renderings were very much in the way of being personal visualizations, and very much contemplative as a consequence - something which obviously had given the owners a sense of peace and serenity away from the travails of public life. As an added incentive, it may well have also been attempts at providing the appearance of gardens without the efforts required of actually having them. This could especially be so since these renderings were found in habitation areas such as the crowded complexes within a city, which would not have allowed for the real thing, at least one of the extravagant sizes often depicted [too, depicting gardens would not have required their upkeep, with the expense of gardeners and so forth].




 

But that was much the extent of the development, at least in regards to paintings and sculptures. Apparently, the codified thought of conformity so expounded in the laws as developed by those Romans seemed to have stifled originality in all but a selected area - non-fictional literature. It was in their essays, histories, orations, and so forth - all those things involving rhetoric - that they put their energies and the extent of their aesthetics in the field of Art. Their odes, for instance, as well as their plays, were but little-original creations, efforts in imitation of Greek efforts - and again tuned to Roman tastes and subjects.



The actuality was even worse than that. Even the Arts like sculpture, the murals, still-life and other paintings, even the music - all were usually done by Grecian artisans and artists who had been imported to Rome for the purpose. The Roman himself basically was not interested in doing any of those endeavors - he considered himself to be a "man of letters", or rather he was raised to consider himself as such. His primary leisure, however, was spent in sports - gladiator spectatorings of military prowess, for instance, not the Arts.



Much of the reason for this state of affairs is the fact that, like ancient Egypt, the Romans live in an agonic social structure - the difference being, however, that, unlike the Egyptians, theirs was not an insular society, cut off by barren lands and sea, to keep them in isolation. Instead, there was a continuous need for a lengthy time of conquesting and governing the acquired territories, and keeping the outer fringed barbarians at bay.



While this allowed enough in the way of leisure time to become a person of letters, it did not make for the extended time needed for Romans to do sculpturing or painting - especially at the various outposts, even worse among the hustle and continued bustling associated among, say, the senators at Rome. Far better it was to be the essayist or historian or poet or [when in Rome] the orator, all utilizing the rhetorical skills taught while growing up.



Furthermore, there were the engineering feats to engage in, something also of major importance to the Romans. They then let the feats of architecture become as substitute for the Arts such as sculpturing. The public building became the arena for the expressions of aesthetics, their attempts in tribal glorifications.



Yet there was still a need for the personal. It is an inborn trait of being human, however much tribal influences dictate the public sphere. So, even tho the sculpturing and painting that was done was largely produced by imported artisans and artists, mostly from Greece, the fact that there was a lot of domestic dwelling aesthetics showed that there was a sense of the individual, and that to the Roman it was of importance - even as it was ignored socially. That was one of the reasons, perhaps, for the introduction of landscape renderings - and, to a lesser extent, the other background renderings, such as room extensions, whether whole rooms or alcoves wherein were painted vases of flowers or other artifacts desired to be remembered. Here, it would seem, Romans conceived themselves as being "in the world", firmly grounded in reality - for those backgrounds were of the world around them as they had seen, and as they, in the sense of landscapes, had remembered or wished them to be.






The real major problem with all of this was that the Roman, while seeing value in these endeavors of contemplation, did not see them as something which they, the Romans personally, could engage in doing - it would have been thought of as being very beneath them as a Roman. In an agonic society, the worth is resolved only within the public - the private, such as it was, was considered beneath any official consideration, for it detracted from being the public person. That, too, was why the works were done by imported artisans and artists, for these same artisans and artists were considered as slaves and thus "lesser beings". Moreover, as it was with the Greeks in their earlier history, there was also a disparing view of those who sought to do the Arts "for a living", as a commercial venture - the concept of the trading syndrome did not sit very well if at all in the consciousness of the Romans and their taking syndrome mentality.



The consequence of this was an inevitability - a loss of incentive for creativity in the Arts, one of the Trading Syndrome virtues. While it could have been said that because of the vastness of the empire, there was great potential in the endeavorings, by the same token, because of the agonicness of the social structure, there was then perceived little desire for actualizing that potential - it simply would not have been rewarded.



Contemplativeness, however, is still a necessity of being human. If there is little if any real social approval of it in regards to the world around them, then it will of consequence be turned to contemplations of other realms, whether real or not, whether appropriate to human qua human growth or not. In other words, it opened the way for the infiltration of Christianity, the most profoundly anti-human aesthetic perversion of the agonic taking/tribalist syndrome to appear - even as it was postured as being a doctrine of love and hope in a disparing world. The consequence of that, which lasted for hundreds of years - to nearly a millenia - was that era which gave identity to the true nature of the religion, the Dark Ages.





Post 35

Wednesday, October 22, 2008 - 5:50amSanction this postReply
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Ashes to Flames



The Dark Ages were dark on principle. There have been many apologists over the years who have striven to present that era as if it were accidental, or only co-incidental - that the period of history embracing Christiandom need not have been that way. But ideas have consequences, and philosophical ideas, of which religions are variants, which espouse the "virtues" of the taking/tribal syndrome, which espouse a cry of justification, in its raw-naked essence, of acting like human-styled animals, on principle deliver that kind of consequence. A doctrine which viewed the world as a terrible place to be in; a doctrine which claimed that the joys of the world, such as they were obtainable, constituted glorifying the imperfect and thus depraved, at the expense of the spirit; a doctrine which conjured all manner of horrifying consequences to choosing material pleasures over spiritual ones, and then claimed that the spiritual pertained to another world, a hereafter; a doctrine which then proceeded to implement those horrors through coercions in this world, not content to let their god take care of the matter; a doctrine which then also claimed that this hereafter was at the grace of this God, a being which had damned humanity for even existing, under the cry of Original Sin - such a doctrine could have had no other consequence than the viciousness of stifling human growth.



In the realm of Art, this was as much a case of devastation as elsewhere. Where once there were concerns with the complexities of the world around, the intricacies of details, from the crevices of the flesh of old people, the dimpling of the flesh of the young, or the shimmering folds of windblown cloth - no more, only phantasms with barely human faces, all much alike, like peas in pods, shrouded to cover formless bodies. Where once attention had been given to types of the plants and animals, seeking to depicting them as specifics sufficient to fool birds and people, or just to delight in the images - no more, just vague shapes, if even that at all. It was not just that there were no longer any interests in realism [tho the religious fervor was so overwhelming that indeed there seemed little if any such interests], but that whereas what interests remained, such became forbidden, and very coercively so - an affront [or threat ?] to the stated doctrine.



Yet - tho this pestilence of anti-life virulently rumbled across the face of the European lands, it didn't do so with equal effects, especially along its edges of influence. There were, here and there, always a few humans who differed in the extent of the despair imparted on the view of the world. While a lot of the ancient writings had been lost during this upheaval, there were still a number of ancient works scattered among the landscape which kept some memory of old time to persist. What remained visible, however, were throwbacks -the intellectual level of the Arts had reverted to the decorative level, skills reduced to the geometrics of design. True, tho there were some collectors of antiquity [Charlemagne was far and away the most important, even seeking to revive the old with a blending of Christianity with his Holy Roman Empire], these were alpha-male figures seeking to aggrandize their positions with authoritative symbols, and thus were acquiring already done works. The skills required of making more like them were largely lost and needing to be rediscovered. Throughout Europe, what aesthetic works were still being done were being done for the glory of the church, in large part in the building of cathedrals and monasteries, sculpture largely being confined to base reliefs. It was one thing, however, to be able to project images in base relief - quite another to be able to bring them out from the walls, to "release" them as it were, and still another level of expertise to be able to carve "in the round". In any case, whatever works were done were also done anonymously, part of group efforts, as "slaves of God".



Indeed, it would not be until the thirteenth century when some of the figures would "step out" from the cathedral walls - and it was also around that time that recognition of individual sculptors began to be granted. Even there, tho, in these outstepping figures, the emphasis was on the frontal view, and the figures displayed little of any knowledge of anatomy [no surprise - it was a forbidden subject] beneath the swathing robes. It would actually not be until the fifteenth century that the first life sized sculpture in Western Europe meant to be seen in the round was created - Donatello's David.



What caused the transformation? What began breaking up the sickness that was Christiandom? Several reasons. For one, the peak of religiousness came at the millenium and, when nothing happened, when no last judgment took place, a number began asking about the possibility of life becoming better than it was, if one had, after all, to live it. Another reason, in line with the first, was that in the course of the pestilence rolling across the lands, quite a number of people died from one cause or another, crops failed, and the petty local governments began losing their hold upon the locals. There was, as consequence, a shortage of labor and food. In line with this, was the fact that traders still abounded the landscape, tho often under cover of some sort or another, operating minimally or in different areas than before. With the breakdown of the totalitarian authority of the churches amidst much internal bickering of doctrinal interpretations, and the isolationism of the countryside, those who traded began to perceive that they had a better chance than before of enlarging their sphere of influence, especially with discoveries of new foods and ways of cultivating the lands, as well as other assorted products to sell.



It was, indeed, the rise of the merchant guilds that fostered in large part this renewal of a sense of positive living, of life being made more worthwhile. As they accumulated their wealth, they reimbibed the sense of of individualism among the talented by way of commissions – at first to help improve their local churches, then secular buildings, including their own. This individualizing of talent in turn spread to among the populace at large in a myriad of ways, much to the consternation of authorities everywhere [including, eventually, themselves]. Along with this, it was, oddly enough, Francis of Assisi who helped shift the non-worldly attitude of the church to recognising the benevolence of the world – fostering a renewal interest among many in depicting natural objects once again, the birds, flowers, trees, the little creatures.



Not only that, a number of the ancient texts were rediscovered, the works of Aristotle among them. Thomas Aquinas, in his scholarly study of Aristotle's writings, acknowledged that the ancient Greek was right about reason – it wasn't a handmaiden of faith, but an autonomous faculty which humans possess and which humans must learn to use, because it wasn't an automatic faculty. He also pointed out that the world was indeed real, not a simulation, not a terrible phantasm as many had mistakenly believed. Moreover, life need not be a cursed thing, but be lived and enjoyed, and that it could be virtuous to do so.



What effect did this have on the Arts? For one thing, while the subject matters, of course, remained religious, the presentations shifted dramatically. From the flat, highly decorative works of the earlier times, in many cases complete turnarounds became evident. In sculpture, this meant greater understanding of anatomy [most often surreptitiously acquired], which thus allowed for greater realism in such matters as the turning of heads, placements of hands, overlays of cloth folds across the bodies – and the ability to convincingly push out the figures from the recesses of the base reliefs. Along with this was the development of individualized expressions, which then permitted 'dialogues' between the various figures. This, in effect, opened up a flowing of expressed emotions not seen in many centuries. Individualization also went in another way – in the qualitative differences as noted among specific sculptors. Consequently, their respective names became allowed to be recognised and recorded. Before this time, the works were predominantly anonymous, as the efforts were a part of tribal endeavors, to the glories of the group – the cities, communities, or nation/states.


Where did much of the initial transformation take place? It was where,actually, it would have had to take place – among an area in which trading of some sort had been retained, the Tuscany city/states of especially Pisa, Siena, and Florence. Nicoli Pisano, who worked in the latter half of the thirteenth century, seems to be about the earliest mentioned. He was a founder of a very influential school of sculptors, and became famous for his carved pulpits. His son, Giovanni Pisano, became even more famous, taking sculpture much further than his father.



While Nicoli's carvings had recognisable human figures ennobled and idealized, the first since Roman times, it was Giovanni who liberated the figures in the cathedrals, especially Siena's, giving them agitated and passionate personalities, each possessing different character and moods. The works of these two were tremendously influential, as they made much usage of ancient poses and models couples with their own individual experiences.



Whereas sculpture seemed to have gotten its restarting in Siena, it was in Florence that painting revived. A painter named Cimabue was the earliest noted. His “Crucifix” for the Franciscan church of Santa Crose shows a radical departure from earlier anonymous crucifixes.



Before Cimabue, Christ had been depicted as a hierarchal immortal presence, dominating and unscathed by the crucifixion.In contrast, Cimabue portrayed Christ as dead, the body hanging quite limply on the cross, with no sign of life. In effect, he humanized Christ, showing a being who had lived and died, but who would come alive again – a direct reflection of Saint Francis and the Franciscan teachings. Giotto, living about the same time as Cimabue, carried the break from the past much further.



His renderings of figures projected weight – they had a sense of volume, of having bones and flesh beneath the robes, earthly realism that made the images as if living presences that existed in the world of the observer, not in some symbolic space “elsewhere”. Others followed. There were Duccio and Lorenzetti in Siena, for instance, making painting and sculpture once more concerned with the issues of beauty and the human figure, drawing the viewers into the works, creating a sort of contemplative “dialogue” between the spectators and the works of Art.



But the feats of Giotto, however, should not be underrated. Almost singlehandedly he revived painting as re-presentational efforts. This was not just with regards to the figures, but in establishing earthly backgrounds, attention to details of plants and birds and insects – and establishing [or rather, re-establishing] illusionism as an art form in the clever usage of drapes and “sense of interiors” of rooms and alcoves. True, the specific artifacts presented were heavily symbolic of one thing or another, a direct and imperiated influence of religion. Still, they were presented as if they really were there to see, and this was a remarkable transformation of religious interpretation.

 


I emphasize this. Furthermore, I note that this transformation was, like the first renaissance of ancient Greece, being done under the eagus of religious fervor. It was not a case of discovering, fresh, the trader syndrome aspect of viewing the world and then displaying contemplatives of it. It was something almost as much a feat, and, under the circumstances of the heavy influence of religion, the only probable way. It was instead a form of wrangling out from under the taking/tribal syndrome view of existence which was the essence of religion – a means to assert, as much as possible, a this-earth view of the world, even if still tainted with the strappings which had made this new view so impossible to see and be for the longest of times.



Make no mistake, re-interpreting religion was the only way to go. In terms of a moral code, none knew of any other, only differing versions or ways of seeking to uphold the only one they knew of – in light of obviously changing times and circumstances. Even the pagan writings of Plato were simply incorporated – the central themes were recognised as being essentially the same, only the details differing. As for Aristotle, Aquinas just took the issue of the “prime mover” as meaning the acceptance of a Creator, even as the issue of “A is A” and “existence exists” meant no such dualism of worlds as Plato held [tho, as mentioned earlier, Aristotle did indeed harbor a number of Platonic influences which contradicted his major understandings regarding reason and reality].

 


True, the essence of the trader syndrome was around, tho there doesn't seem to have been anyone who actually compiled those virtues as a separateness. At best, there were only attempts at trying to reconcile some of them to church teachings, somewhere, anywhere, to justify them, somehow, under what must have seemed to have been at time almost impossible situations – especially when these different notions, being claimed as supportive by scripture, as if of “the Devil's quoting”. Nonetheless, the cornerstone had in effect been set, thanks to Aquinas. With the issue of reason being established as a necessity of human life, it also established, however covertly, a support of individualism – for only the individual reasons and forms judgments, as it is not a tribal thing, and it is the absolute of reality that establishes which individual's judgments are correct, not group consensus. This was very apparently so with regards to trading affairs, wherein the wrong judgment often meant ruin or at the least noticeable setbacks.



Moreover, this time around, trading was also beginning to be recognised as dealing in some manner with a “sum-plus” view of the world, in that, at least to some extent, there was a gain without a loss for others. This was so even tho the merchants, like most all the other occupational skills, were enclosed in guilds, coercive groups that forceably limited competition within each sphere of specialized endeavor – with the view that if there were these gains on both ends of the tradings, there could not be enough “newness” go go around if left unchecked.



Still, this curtailing of “spreading the riches” did allow the guilds to be able to display their “social” worth be becoming patrons of the Arts of their respective city/states – it was a matter of community pride. In Florence, for example, the merchants guilds held what has generally come to be known as the most famous competition in the history of Art – doing the bronze doors of the Florentine baptistery, won by Lorenzo Ghiberti, and gaining for him immortal fame for the imaginative quality of his work. The competition and the results helped make Florence the most preeminent of the city/states, and home of one of the greatest aggregation of creative personalities ever gathered in one area – architects, sculptors, painters, writers, imaginative leaders and inventive thinkers – all who saw themselves as at the vanguard of a new age.



Ghiberti was followed by Donatello, who, as mentioned,was the first of those times to create, in his “David”, a life-sized statue meant, for the first time since ancient times, to be seen in the round. There are actually several firsts about this work. Unlike Ghiberti's doors, which were for a part of a church, or Pisano's sculptures, again for churches, Donatello's “David” was a privately commissioned work – that is, it was for the personal enjoyment of Cosimo de'Medici.



Not only that, the figure was the first unabashedly nude figure since antiquity. Indeed, it was not merely nude, it was naked, with no residue of sin or shame being associated with the human figure. Furthermore, a figure in the round is a sculptural study different from one meant to be seen from one angle, the front. Compositionally, there is a need of knowing the figure from all angles, so that there is interest from whichever side the viewing is. Moreover, making “David” did not remove the religious element from the work – but it gave it the ultimate in the Franciscan sense. “David”'s nudity, in effect, underscored his moral victory – naked and thus vulnerable, he won over Goliath because God was on his side, and by setting him as a reflection of this, Donatello had the statue's meditative state engage the viewers' thoughts of transiency and mortality. While the statue was therefore [as all statues actually are] symbolic, it was also highly individualistic. Indeed, it was in the area of sculptures that the most direct communication of the interests in the individual first excelled – portraiture – and it created quite an industry in busts which reflected not just the physical likenesses [as was also so in the Roman examples], but the “inner person”, the “character of the mind” - totally devoid of religious association, the first truly complete break from otherworldliness, the first truly secular Art.



Painting, too, took a turn to portraiture in this “character study” way, shifting from the impersonal profile to three-quarter views disclosing much expression. Not only that, the eyes of the portraited were turned to looking right at the viewer, thereby drawing in the viewer with that eye-to-eye contact. Where once used to indicate power and position, by way of the articles of clothing and decorations and such wrapped around the figure, the portrait changed to expressing senses of life and relationships within the world – and to the world, as the backgrounds and views often showed.



But when it was not portraiture, the the influence of religion was felt in some way or manner, Mythology was utilized – for instance, Botticelli's “Birth of Venus” was one of the earliest Renaissance treatments of the female nude in painting, and the nudity was allowed precisely because of it being about a paganism.



Since the ancient texts were not forbidden, indeed were poured over and studied with great attention, so, too, were the visualizations of those texts, often contemporized to draw parallels, where possible, thus allowing contemporary subjects to be “immortalized” in a manner that never would have otherwise been attained. Like the portraits, too, these were utilized on the walls of the polazzos, buildings which in addition to being homes, were also the seats of family businesses – with the families themselves being extended ones, clans whose members were associated with the businesses. Thus not only was the manner very secular, but there were a lot of walls to cover and fill, and a number of patrons to issue commissions.



This is not to say that religious paintings and sculptures themselves wained – far from it. Most works still were for alters and other enclosures of churches scattered across the land. But the total hold of the churches as the only expressions for a God devotion was gone, and there were a number of artists willing to take the risks in stretching the non-churchness as far as possible without actually being excommunicated. And it was not enough to say that these painting works had backgrounds to them, thereby setting the performers on the world – but that the backgrounds presented an ordered, calm world, with contemporary dwellings, cultured scapes, and bright sunlit skies. This was a pro-life, invigorating view of the world it there ever was one. Furthermore, these were being rendered in as crisp and unfuzzy a manner as it was possible with the materials at hand, especially fresco types where the pigments were mixed with the plaster and applied to a prepared wall – much the same as it had been since before the Dark Ages period, in those days of antiquity. Mixing pigments in oil had been known for about a hundred years, but very rarely used until now. It would be in the north countries of Flemish cities that the superior usability of this medium would be discovered as its usage spread across the European lands.










 


Post 36

Friday, July 30, 2010 - 1:48pmSanction this postReply
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Hi Michael, you wrote:

...when I wrote an article about the great fairs of medieval Champagne (whence the troy ounce for precious metal, for instance), I began with an open mind. I found many citations from academic historians about the details of mercantile life in the late Roman and early medieval periods, what we call "the Dark Ages." They were not the best of times. But the Roman Empire was little better.


Micheal I'm just curious how you arrived to this conclusion, could you expound on why the Roman Empire was little better? I wouldn't want to live through either era, either meant a brutish and short existence, unless perhaps I was a Roman aristocrat. So I suppose it all depends on who you were in the Roman era. If you were slave then that existence certainly was horrific. But is life-span the important standard for evaluating the two eras? Or is it the relative level of the quality of scholarly pursuits and tolerance for scholarly dissent?

Arbitrarily, the Hellenistic Era is said to to have run from Alexander to Cleopatra, but Roman armies reduced Greece 171-143 BC. Dramatic as Aleander was, his world was already Hellenized. Philip arranged a marriage for his other son to the neice of Mauloseos, (The "Mausoleum" was his tomb.) That family of Carians was, in fact, Lycian or maybe even Persian, the descendants of previous rulers.


Well from what I understand Alexander spread Hellenistic culture from Anatolia through Mesopotamia and a huge chunk of central Asia (up to Afghanistan) and Egypt. Phillip II conquered mostly what is today modern Greece.

Also are you only objecting to the dates chosen by many Historians for calling this the Hellenistic era or is this a broader criticism on the notion of categorizing and differentiating certain chunks of time as separate and distinguishable eras?

"So far has Athens left the rest of mankind behind in thought and expression that her pupils have become the teachers of the world, and she has made the name of Hellas distinctive no longer of race but of intellect, and the title of Hellene a badge of education rather than of common descent." -- Isocrates.

The basic premise is false. No one said, "Hey, it's 458 AD, put out the light, will you, it's time for the Dark Ages." ... 'Whoa! 1215 AD already, almost slept through the Aquitaine Renaissance!"


Ok, but why not differentiate the eras in their relative levels of scholarly pursuits? Wouldn't you say the period historians commonly refer to as the Dark Ages was a period of time where scholarly pursuits mostly consisted of arguing who had the correct interpretation of holy scripture? Phil characterizations were certainly cartoonish, but the term Dark Age I still think has a valid use in the respect we are comparing the culture of one time period to another.

Those much-praised Athenians expelled Anaxagoras, prosecuted Aspasia and voted to exile Socrates. They also ditched their democracy and let an oligarchy slaughter people for their money.


Perhaps one shouldn't mistake praise to mean religious worship. I think the important point is to recognize what was good about that culture and see what positive attributes could be learned and applied to our lives while recognizing what was bad about that culture so as to understand how we could avoid those attributes, or simply to examine if there are similar obstacles we face today. Perhaps the kind of praise that is reasonable would be for admirable achievements, the comparative level of what those achievement were as opposed to what was accomplished before and what we owe today to those beginnings.

Also just a clarification, it wasn't something as simple as "the Athenians ditched their democracy". It was a coup orchestrated by a number of wealthy Athenians in collusion with Alcibiades.

(Edited by John Armaos on 7/30, 1:55pm)


Post 37

Sunday, August 1, 2010 - 4:36pmSanction this postReply
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John, I apologize for not seeing your post earlier.  An optimist sees the glass half empty; the pessimist sees the glass half full; the engineer sees a glass twice as big as necessary.  What I mean is that, as you say, life as a well-off Roman was better than life as a well-off Dark Age lord.  Allow me to suggest we (you and I as "we" and also "we" as in "everyone")  generalize too easily from what we prefer.  The truth may be better expressed from a different perspective entirely. 

You stress scholarly pursuits.  My view is that it was not the Romans valued them, but that they did not.  Philosophy was not important enough to persecute.  It is said that during the Pax Romana you could travel the length and breadth of the empire unmolested.  I know the same story from various good times in Chinese history. It is said that Rome held all of Gaul with fewer men than are in the Paris police department today. 

Yet, the Social Wars, the Marian Wars, Caesar and Cleopatra, Nero's madness, and more all may just puncuate the times ... or maybe define them.   For me, the best part of being a Roman was bathing.  Germans were not so much into bathing.  But neither were they into slavery.  Women had more rights among the German tribes than among the Romans.  So, I don't know.  We could go around and around on this.  I grant fully that the good times were better, no argument there.
JA:Well from what I understand Alexander spread Hellenistic culture from ...  Also are you only objecting to the dates chosen ... 


I understand and I agree that Alexander spread hellenism.  Even into the 100s AD "Indo-Greek" culture survived, but it was a process that Alexander was a part of.  In fact, he destroyed one city of Greeks descended from some who refused to fight the Persians a hundred years earlier. So, there were Greeks settled far upcountry away from home.   I like the term "Helliades" which means the Greek World (the koine, the union) from the Crimea to Spain from the Danube to the Nile.  That started about 700 BCE.  So, Alexander was a continuation of a process.

 When Pergamum decided to build its own huge library, Alexandria refused to export papyrus to them, so they resorted to sheepskin: (parchment < pergamion.) 

My point was that the continuation of Greek learning in Constantinople which you cited was a long, old, and deep tradition. So, that scholarly pursuit you value was very much a part of their world, as you said.   

And even as for the Romans, Tiberius wrote a multivolume history of the Etruscans in Etruscan, a language now almost totally lost.  You know about Marcus Aurelius and Julian the Apostate, of course, both emperors writing philosophy in Greek.  So, yes, again, that  scholarly tradition was root and rock to some of them.

We all like learning.  But at the same time, I look to trade and commerce as a measure of civilization.  There, too, the Dark Ages were not the best of times.  As the Roman empire slid into "military anarchy" taxes and monetary inflation (debasement) had driven silver from circulation and people put their coins to "plate" that is into housewares.  When the barbarian looted Rome, they hauled that all off.  For centuries Dark Age warlords hoarded the stuff -- like Wagnerian dragons -- while the world around them nearly died for the lack of money.  ... but only nearly... not entirely.

Trade and commerce continued.  We know from records that contact between the Rhine and Levant continued through the Dark Ages.  It was like being in the middle of a Roman civil war lasting eight or ten generations. And as you noted several times, this was only in the West.  In Constantinople, Rome continued.  But all the pagan philosophy schools had been closed (http://www.bede.org.uk/justinian.htm)
by Justinian in 529.  And... even so (generalizations being what they are), the first universities in the 1100s, had their roots in teaching houses of the Eastern Empire. 

(Edited by Michael E. Marotta on 8/01, 4:41pm)


Post 38

Wednesday, June 17 - 6:56pmSanction this postReply
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Music, architecture, biology, astronomy...  What We Owe the Middle Ages from Prager University here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cqzq01i2O3U



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