Culture and Life: The Great Civilizations of Ancient Times and the Men that Made Them

Pericles, looking across at the two great leaders before him, smiled slightly and prepared to indulge his audience on the benefits of Athenian greatness and honor.  As I have just stated in my speech, the Athenians are not to be taken lightly.  We are a breed of people that value our freedom, so much so, that our constitution favors the many instead of the few.  We strive for demokratia and equal justice, which extends to even the ordinary of our citizens.  There are many monuments and literature that express the greatness that it Athens, the Parthenon is one such of these monuments.

In our society, we cultivate refinement.  I have just stated that our nation strives to fight off poverty; the disgrace is not owning up to the fact that you are poor but doing nothing to fight against it.  The merit of a citizen in Athens more than outweighs the demerits of an individual.  Athenians have a sense of courage and duty to uphold and a feeling of honor in themselves that they are fighting for the community as a whole, a collective group of people fighting for one another and the freedoms that they enjoy.  My fellow Athenians uphold the concept of arête, our ideal of excellence and virtue, which exists as a principal basis for our society.  The ‘rewards for arête are greatness, there we fins the best citizens.’

Our nation has also observed trade coming into out harbors from all cities around the world.  The Athenians have spread out across the Mediterranean and explored places foreign to the likes of your two nations.  We also take pride in the fact that we allow everyone into out city, ‘we throw open our city to the world, and never be alien acts exclude xenoi [foreigners] from any opportunity of learning or observing.’  By these acts, our navy has become strong and powerful, our nation one united force fighting against a submission from our freedoms.  With out courage and out careful calculations we are stronger than any army in force and by our own wits.  We commemorate our great achievements by building monuments to our greatness.

The Parthenon, practically one of the greatest monuments the Greeks have ever made, represents Athens to perfection.  The building itself is entombed in stone figurines depicting the prominence of the Athenian state.  The patron goddess Athena is portrayed on the east pediment of the monument as she is born from the head of her father, Zeus.  She represents metis (wisdom and cunning) and strategic warfare.  Everything that the Athenians think are good skills to have, they and swift and skillful while being cleaver and smart in their actions.  The patron goddess of the city is also very inventive and exudes progress and civilization within the world.  Agriculture is a main factor in the Athenian economy that is why she is associated with olives.  She is a tamer of wild animals and a civilizer representing herself an organizer for the community.

The Parthenon was dedicated to the goddess of the city Athena because she represented virginity.  Not to be completely crude or anything but metaphorically she has not been sacked.  Athens is a strong city with defenders standing up for their own justice and personal freedoms.  The Parthenon is also metaphorically representative for purity of the city and that she is not controlled by anyone other than herself.  The frieze around the entire Parthenon is illustrating the Panathenaic festival.  It is a major festival for Athena Polis, the part of Athena representing the city.  A wooden statue representing Athena receives a peplos, or gown, that portrays the gods fighting the giants.

One of the main things that are represented on the Parthenon is the competition between Athena and Poseidon for the patronage of Athens.  It is located on the west end pediment and took place right on the acropolis.  They each gave a gift, Athena the olive tree and Poseidon the salt spring, then the Athenians choose which one was more useful to the community.  Obviously, they choose Athena’s olive tree, which stands to be one of the most agricultural staples of the area.

Almost everything on the Parthenon includes the Greeks fighting another peoples.  The Greeks were a nation that enjoyed fighting not just other nations but also among themselves as well.  On the golden and ivory statue of Athena that was placed inside the Parthenon, she is holding the deity of Nike in her right hand, which is the symbol for victory.  On her crown are winged animals including the sphinx, griffin, and winged horses and she has an aegis, a protective medallion of medusa’s head, on her chest.  She has a spear next to her left arm signaling that she is ready to fight at any time.  There is a snake on her shield and the inside depicts the battle of the giants while the outside is the battle with the amazons.  On her sandals is the Greek’s battle with the centaurs.  All of these battles mirror scenes that are on the Parthenon itself in the metopes.  The statue in itself is a very imposing figure.

The whole figure is standing on the birth of Pandora, which is carved into the base of the statue.  This in fact is important because the gods choose to make the perfect women, which eventually brings evil into the world.  It is representing that women bring down the world, however, since Athena is standing on top of it, it shows that she is above all of that even though she is a woman herself.  Athena has many male qualities because she is war like and has a great deal of wisdom; she suppresses the female side of things.  This also states that people have potential for great evil within themselves.  All of the battles are of the Greeks fighting monsters of their time.  The Athenians mainly have taken it upon themselves to civilize and tame the rest of the world and fight against the tyranny that threatens to suppress them.

Pericles stared both Khufu and Solomon down.  Just as we Athenians fight collectively, say when we will go to war collectively, and defend the peace and justice of our nation collectively, we built the Parthenon collectively.  We did not have to have our people made to build this monument.  They did it out of love for their nation and it is a representation of them and all who built it.  They will be remembered for their contribution to the Parthenon and all that it represents.  The Athenian primary value if freedom.

In the story of Antigone written by one of our most famous writers, Sophocles, it focuses on the self-examination of oneself and ones character.  In a Greek mindset, without community you cannot become fully human.  Antigone feels that she has an obligation to her brother since he is part of her family to give him a decent burial.  It tended to be the woman’s job in the family to attend to the burial rights of the rest of the family and the gods demanded it of her.  The new king Creon is trying to establish his position as king and he says that the defense of the city comes above everything else.  As the story progresses he becomes more and more separated from the people.  His son and the prophet represent the people and they think that Antigone was right in trying to bury her brother.  It was not up to Creon to decided whether Antigone’s brother should have a decent burial or not, it was for the gods to judge his character in the end.  Everyone citizen is entitled to a decent burial.  In the end Antigone, even tough she was right all along, still dies.  In the Greek world being right does not mean that the gods will always be there to protect you, it does not guarantee anything good will happen.

The world should recognize the importance of Athenian policy and how advanced our way of life is to the world.  Khufu snorted, the most important notion in the Egyptian culture is the concept of ma’at, which is universal order and social justice.  The pharaoh is responsible for maintaining ma’at and the pyramids help to preserve the balance.  Khufu looks over at his companions.  I am god, I bring everything together, and I keep the balance between order and chaos.  Everything leads back to the pharaoh; the pharaoh is the center of Egyptian culture.  There is no separation of church and state and the pharaoh is all-powerful within his state, the pharaoh is the head priest throughout the land.

The Egyptian society was built around building monuments for their pharaoh; they built a place for his burial.  The burial was very important in Egyptian life, especially for the pharaoh because when he dies he had to go and continue the balance of power between chaos and order.  With the switching of pharaohs, times were scary because the people did not know if the pharaoh was going to come back and restore chaos in the land.  Everything has to do with the pharaoh; he dominates the society and life.  Values of a burial are a major thing in Egyptian life.  Even after Sinhue ran away from the empire because there was a switch in the pharaoh and they did not know if the world was going to continue on the same or if there would be some dramatic shift in what was going to happen, Sinhue wanted to some back to Egypt to be buried.  Sinhue in the end is willing to give up everything, his success, family, friends, and career, to go back to Egypt and be buried with the pharaoh’s blessing.  Being a warrior and smiting people is important for everyone to do.  The highlight of Sinhue’s life was being able to build his own tomb and delivering the pharaoh’s sarcophagus to the pyramid where he would be laid to rest.  The Egyptians put a great deal of importance on the afterlife.  The society places complete dependence on the pharaoh.

Fighting was also a major phenomenon in Egyptian culture and threw five thousand years of Egyptian culture the pharaoh is mostly depicted smiting foreign enemies, most of these we in the pyramids themselves.  The pyramids represent the mound, the emergence of land from the Nile where the first creation started.  Each king reenacts the first moment of reemergence into the world; it is a model of social and political kingship, an eternal palace for the pharaoh to reside in.  The pyramids represent the rebirth of order and the rebirth of the pharaoh.  Pyramids were state funded off of taxes from the people usually being around fifty percent.  The pharaoh used to draft citizen labor to build the pyramids and they had to use the Nile to get the huge stones to the sites where they were building the pyramids.  The Nile is a major agricultural factor in the Egyptian culture.  It provides the life source from which everyone lives by including farming, trade, and other resources.  They depend on it for practically every aspect of their lives.  The cycle of the sun is also very important; it determines almost everything about the Egyptians lives.

Solomon stood up and laughed at everyone.  For the Jewish people the only thing really to worry about is obeying go.  Jews are the chosen people of god but they fall away from god and make mistakes because humans are fallible, so god has to punish them to keep them in line.  All God wants is for his people to obey him.  The temple that I had built is the only place people can sacrifice to god and the only place for Passover.  It was built by conscripted labour, the people should have been happy to built it, I had to raise taxes and money to afford the cost.  God cares about obedience and rewards with a successful community, it is mostly about everything in this life, nothing after death because then god is not with you anyways.  The temple represents the one true relationship between god and the people.  It is the main place for people to connect with god, a place of meditation, and where individuals can meet god.  The priests are in charge of the temple and perform sacrifices, which are very important to the community.  The temple was also a function to the community, god’s temporary residence translating to the house of god’s name, which was a sign of election and the divine presence of god.  Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement for past sins is a major festival that my people celebrate.  It is centered around the temple and helps to purge the community of everything that is bad, which also helps to bring all the community together while reconfirming who they are.

King Solomon spoke up.  In the story of Joab from the Hebrew Bible, Satan and god want to test where Joab’s loyalties lay.  It shows that innocent people can suffer for no apparent reason.  Joab does everything right and obeys god, however, with the divine wager he losses his family, his cattle die, he gets boils, and basically his life sucks.  All he wants is justice, he asks for proof of what he did wrong and wants to be able to defend himself.  Tries to explain why there is so much suffering in the world, even for the people that are good and obey god.  In the end, Joab gets all of his stuff back and his life is ‘renewed.’  Thus, the moral is that god does not owe us an answer for why things happen; you can do everything possible and still suffer.  Although, god does have tolerance for his people.

Pharaoh Khufu, King Solomon, and Pericles continued to argue over who civilization was the better one.  All along as I watched them fight I realized that we really couldn’t judge one civilization a certain way, every civilization has its good and its bad aspects and every aspect could have a potentially good and a bad side.  For example, in Athens democracy is good for the people but there is also the draw back that it takes a great deal longer for any decisions to get made and there are a great deal more arguments among the people where as with Khufu in Egypt making all of the decisions for the people the results could be instantaneous.  Although, unlike either Egypt or Jerusalem, Athens had s basis for scientific inquiry that was separate from that of the state so there could be more advancements in technology for the greater good of all.

I think that we should really try to avoid imposing our cultures on others by getting a general understanding of other cultures.  Personally, I know that I have experienced many other cultures values first hand by traveling, which really did open up my eyes and made me realize the imperfections in my own culture.  There are certain aspects to culture that should be taken into account as universally morally wrong such as murdering people, but other than that people should try to be more open minded and view other cultures as a learning experience and a way to reflect on their own.

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~ by wolfangel87 on November 18, 2010.

One Response to “Culture and Life: The Great Civilizations of Ancient Times and the Men that Made Them”

  1. Good!!! Bookmarked this page that has this amazing content. Will come back to see if there are any updates. You, the author, are a master. Thanks

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